This will be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s final year in office and. to initiate his final term, Mr. Ban held a speech at the United Nations General Assembly and then a press conference today about goals for this 2016, as well as long term projects and recognition of rising issues in the world. Mr. Ban stated that the international community needs to get its “priorities right”, that this is “a moment heavy with responsibility”, and that this year must be “dynamic and productive” for the United Nations.
Mr. Ban began his speech by sharing his outrage about the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey and Indonesia and by extending his condolences to those affected. Then he elaborated on the UN 2016 plans to fight climate change. Mr. Ban explained that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change must be implemented and brought to life for “every person and every country”.
Finally, Mr. Ban went into what became the most controversial part of his speech: the conflicts that have devastated Syria and Yemen. The Secretary General stated that “nothing reflects more urgently the need to act than the harrowing scenes from Madaya in Syria” but then received backlash from members of the press about why he did not react sooner to this ongoing plight of nearly half a million people starving in this Syrian town. Mr. Ban explained that the UN will continue to send food and medicine to the dangerously malnourished citizens of Madaya and then went on to labelling “the use of starvation as a weapon of war [as] a war crime”. By condemning the acts of the Syrian government as a violation of international humanitarian law, the Security Council has the right to prosecute Assad and the Syrian government. Nevertheless, Mr. Ban and the United Nations have been criticized for acting too slowly. The UN has been sending in humanitarian relief to Madaya for the last three weeks, but the people had been starving for months prior to these measures taken by the UN while these horrendous acts were only deemed a crime against humanity today. Unfortunately, it seems that the UN took assertive action only after the situation became truly dire and now it might be too late to save the surviving population that could be facing permanent physical repercussions such as organ damage. Since January 25th marks the beginning of the peace convention on Syria in Geneva, the new accusations made towards Assad may get him prosecuted by the International Crime Tribunal in The Hague.
Hopefully this coming year, the UN will have its “priorities right” and act faster on pressing issues such as this one and successfully discourage violators of international law like Assad.
Moreover, when it came to the press briefing, the Secretary General also answered questions about the situation in Yemen by saying that he has been urging all parties participating in the conflict to make careful assessments before conducting air strikes to ensure the safety of civilians. However there obviously needs to be a complete re-assessment of Saudi Arabia’s air strike program as the country has been conducting strikes on Yemen for months now killing hundreds of civilians and notably bombing a hospital.
Lastly, Mr. Ban and the press discussed the serious situation concerning the instability in the Mosul dam in Iraq that, if broken, could kill hundreds of thousands of people. Mr. Ban reassured that the UN has been studying the state of the dam very closely and that he has been working with both the Italian and United States governments who have offered to both protect and work on stabilizing the structure. Because the dam is in Iraq there has been obvious concern over its proximity to the territory controlled by the Islamic State and whether or not ISIS could use its current instability as a weapon of mass destruction killing thousands.
With that, it is obvious that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be finishing his term at a very difficult time for the international community as climate change, terrorism, war crimes and political unrest are at an all time high. Therefore, while Mr. Ban is not in a real position of power, his moral stature and his bully pulpit will give him the opportunity to address most of these issues.