All efforts for sustainable development and a stable future must involve a deep respect for human rights and the strengthening of rule of law, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed today as he concluded his five-day tour of Central Asia with a visit to Turkmenistan.
Speaking to a gathering of local officials and students at the University for Humanities and Development in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat earlier this morning, the Secretary-General applauded Turkmenistan's encouraging steps towards a climate-friendly future amid the approval of a National Climate Change Strategy and the Government's declared intention to soon approve an action plan for moving toward a green economy.
In a region marred by climate, water and other environmental issues, Mr. Ban said he welcomed Turkmenistan's efforts to work with its neighbours in order to find lasting and peaceful solutions to two of the world's most exacting problems: climate change and the growing need for sustainable development.
The Secretary-General's remarks come at a propitious time as the UN and the international community prepare to roll out a series of major events aimed at tackling the globally existential threat of climate change once and for all.
Next month, in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, for instance, delegates from around the world will meet to set out a framework for financing development. Just two months later in New York and ahead of the annual General Debate, world leaders will then adopt a new development agenda, including a set of Sustainable Development Goals, that will provide a roadmap to ending poverty by 2030 and “ensuring a life of dignity for all,” according to Mr. Ban. Finally, in December, Member States will once again meet, this time in Paris, to commit to a “meaningful, universal climate agreement” at this year's critical Climate Conference.
Despite all these efforts, however, the Secretary-General cautioned that the road to development must be sustained by a deep commitment to human rights.
“There is no peace without development. No development without peace. And neither is possible without a respect for human rights,” he stated.
Adding that violations of human rights are “often warning signs of much worse to come,” Mr. Ban reminded those gathered of his Human Rights Up Front initiative which worked to address human rights violations before they escalate.
To that point, he voiced concern about the perceived “deterioration of some aspects of human rights – a shrinking democratic space” across Central Asia. Curbing freedoms, he said, might create “an illusion of stability in the short-run” but ultimately would foster “a breeding ground for extremist ideologies.”
“The failure to respect human rights, build accountable institutions, promote political participation, and ensure opportunity for all creates gaps,” continued the Secretary-General. “Young people should be sent a message: democracy in Central Asia can work.”
“Around the world, the way to confront threats is not more repression, it is more openness. More human rights. The road to a stable future is by strengthening the rule of law. By fighting corruption. By ensuring an independent judiciary. By guaranteeing free media. By building just societies. By empowering citizens,” he added.
In separate remarks to the press, delivered later in the day alongside the Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Mr. Ban reiterated the importance of human rights for development as he hailed the Turkmen Government's decision to establish an Office of the Ombudsman to protect and promote human rights in the country.
“It is important that this institution, the Ombudsman, meets the Paris Principles that are internationally agreed standards on the status of national human rights institutions,” he said, adding that the UN remained read to provide any possible assistance. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the government and people of Turkmenistan to advance the United Nations pillars of peace, development and human rights.”
Meanwhile, during his concluding visit to the region, the UN chief also paid a visit to the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, located in Ashgabat and with a mandate to develop activities in order to help Central Asian states address regional challenges and facilitate closer cooperation.
Meeting with staff members, Mr. Ban emphasized how preventive diplomacy remained one of his top priorities to ensure the development of common understandings.
“The Centre has worked with the countries of Central Asia, developing activities to support their efforts to address regional challenges, encouraging and facilitating closer cooperation, identifying and tackling potential sources of tension and responding to domestic and transnational threats to peace and security, including through promoting the respect for human rights,” he explained.
“I am convinced that preventive diplomacy remains a sensible and cost-effective tool for maintaining international peace and security and creating conditions for steady and sustainable development.”
The Secretary-General is expected to depart from the region this evening.