Ban Ki-moon began his second term as Secretary General of the United Nations this week by pledging to harness “the strong power of partnerships” to respond to the planet’s biggest challenges, such as tackling climate change, combating poverty and empowering women and girls. He also addressed the role of the United Nations in protecting human rights and holding violators accountable.
In an interview today with the UN News Center to mark the start of his second term, Mr. Ban, 67, stressed the need for unity, particularly among Member States and their citizens. “Together, nothing is impossible,” he said, adding that “if we strengthen these partnerships among governments, business communities, civil organizations and philanthropists, then I think all these powerful partnerships can bring us towards the right direction.”
Mr. Ban reiterated his priorities for the second term, spelling out the five opportunities he sees for the UN: promoting sustainable development; preventing natural and man-made crises and disasters; making the world safer and more secure; helping countries and peoples in transition; and encouraging gender empowerment: “We have to connect the dots among climate change, [the] food crisis, water scarcity, energy shortages and women’s empowerment and global health issues. These are all interconnected issues.”
Mr. Ban, whose second five-year term as Secretary-General began on Sunday, said “people power” and deepening globalization represented the biggest development since he first took office in 2007. “We have seen so many people – marginalized people, oppressed people – who have been yearning for democracy, their dignity and human rights. We have [a] heavy responsibility to help them in [their] transition to democracy.
Commenting on the role of the UN in the 21st Century, he noted that “Technology outpaces our current thinking, peoples’ ideas and our current way of working. We have to make our organization more nimble, more efficient and effective, and transparent and accountable.”
In his year-end address on December 14, Mr. Ban said that the UN has “never been so needed” to deal with the planet’s most pressing challenges, from the impact of climate change to growing demands for human rights to helping people facing humanitarian crises.
“This has been an extraordinary and remarkable year,” he said at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, citing the so-called Arab Spring, the birth of South Sudan as a new nation and UN Member State, and promising political developments in Burma as examples. “I believe we are at an inflection point in history. All is changing. The old rules are breaking down. We do not know what new order will emerge. Yet we can be confident: the United Nations will be at the fore.”
He stressed that the UN has helped ensure progress on advancing the principle of “Responsibility to Protect” in human rights. “In Côte d’Ivoire, [former president] Laurent Gbagbo sought to subvert the will of his people. We stood firm for democracy – and today he is in The Hague. We stood, as well, against Muammar al-Qadhafi when he vowed to slaughter his people like ‘rats.’
A fierce advocate for human rights and freedoms, he pledged to work with UN Member States to safeguard rights and advance international human rights law to ensure the mainstreaming of human rights into the policies of Member States and of the United Nations. He stated that the UN is dedicated to making sure that rights violations are brought to the attention of the international community, and that perpetrators are held to account.
Mr. Ban said that the events across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 “demonstrated again that the desire for human rights transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. We all desire a world in which every man, woman and child lives in dignity, free from want, fear and hunger; a world without violence and discrimination, with access to housing, health care, education and opportunity.”
Stressing that the United Nations is moving the world towards an era of accountability, he cited the elections and their aftermath in Côte d’Ivoire, and the trials and convictions taking place at the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, show that powerful individuals can no longer count on impunity for serious human rights violations. The decision of the international community to protect civilians facing violence from their own governments is a watershed in the application of the evolving doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect.
During the interview, he also maintained as priorities the importance of strengthened UN commitment to the rights of women and children, ongoing efforts to promote UN reform and preparations for the landmark conference on sustainable development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June.
He will lay out his vision for the United Nations during his second term later this month before the UN General Assembly in New York.