Facing a world where inequality is growing, trust is fading, and impatience with leadership can be seen and felt far and wide, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the stage for 70th General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly today with a call to “translate promises on paper to action on the ground” by backing a bold new sustainability agenda that aims to wipe out poverty and build a sustainable future for all.
“Our aim is clear. Our mission is possible. And our destination is in our sights: an end to extreme poverty by 2030; a life of peace and dignity for all,” the Secretary-General declared, noting that this session of the General Assembly had opened with a “towering achievement”: the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for, including 17 inspiring Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What counts now is translating those promises on paper into real change, said the UN chief, adding: “We owe this and much more to the vulnerable, the oppressed, the displaced and the forgotten people in our world. We owe this to ‘succeeding generations,’ in the memorable words the Charter.
“In this year in which we mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, we must heed the call of the Charter, and hear the voices of ‘we the peoples.’ That is how we can overcome the grim realities of the present – and seize the remarkable opportunities of our era,” declared the Secretary-General.
Mr. Ban’s annual opening message, which draws from his yearly report on the work of the Organization turned next to the pressing challenges of the day. Suffering is at heights not seen in a generation, he said, explaining that one hundred million people require humanitarian assistance. At least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries.
“The United Nations has asked for nearly $20 billion to meet this year’s needs – six times the level of a decade ago. UN humanitarian agencies and our partners are braving difficult conditions to reach people. Member States have been generous, but demands continue to dwarf funding,” said the Secretary-General, urging all countries to do more to alleviate suffering in countries across the world, from war–torn Iraq, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria, to Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, and the UN appeal “has been met with silence.
“Our aim is not just to keep people alive, but to give them a life ¬ a decent life,” Mr. Ban stressed, noting that Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are generously hosting several million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and that people are also on the move as never before in the Americas and the Sahel, in the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas.
Commending those in Europe that are upholding the European Union’s values and providing asylum, he urged countries to do more to shoulder their responsibilities, and recalled that he is convening in New York a high-level meeting on 30 September aimed at promoting a comprehensive approach to the refugee and migration crisis. “We must combat discrimination,” he added. “In the 21st century, we should not be building fences or walls.”
Turning to the crisis in Syria, the Secretary-General said four years of diplomatic paralysis by the Security Council and others have allowed it to spin out of control, despite the responsibility for ending the conflict lying first and foremost with the Syrian warring parties.
“My Special Envoy is doing everything he can to forge the basis for a peaceful settlement. It is time now for others, primarily the Security Council and key regional actors, to step forward,” he declared, stating that five countries in particular hold the key: Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.
Meanwhile in Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance. While calling for an end to the bombings, Mr. Ban said all sides are showing disregard for human life, but most of the casualties are being caused by air-strikes.
Regarding the Middle East Peace Process, the Secretary-General said “the world can no longer wait for leaders to finally choose a path to peace.”
“With settlements expanding and incitement and provocations on the rise, it is essential for Israelis and Palestinians to re-engage – and for the international community to pressure the parties to do so,” he stressed.
He also announced that early next year he will present to the General Assembly a comprehensive plan of action on addressing the menace of violent extremism, as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL], Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab remain major threats, especially to the women and girls who have been systematically targeted.
Furthermore, the Secretary-General commended progress made on several global issues, such as the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1countries [China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] and recent agreements in South Sudan. He called on the international community to finalize the agreement in Libya and to continue the dialogue to address tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
He voiced that he is deeply troubled by growing restrictions on media freedoms and civil society across the world and urged leaders to abide by the constitutional limits on their terms.
“Earlier this month, I put forward my vision for strengthening UN peace operations, building on the recommendations of an independent panel,” Mr. Ban explained, highlighting that the potential of women to advance peace must be unlocked.
To this effect, the Secretary-General is co-hosting a meeting today on the margins of the General Assembly, focused on UN peacekeeping and how to strengthen it in concrete and meaningful ways.
“Over the past 70 years, we have helped to liberate millions from colonialism and supported the successful struggle against apartheid,” he declared. “We have defeated deadly diseases, defended human rights and deepened the rule of law. This and more we have done – but that is far from enough.”
Mr. Ban said he is inspired by the world’s young people whose voices must be integrated more fully in decision-making everywhere.
“There is nothing we can say to the world’s children that can convince them the world needs to be the way it is,” he stated. “That means we must do everything we can to close the gap between the world as it is, and the world as it should be.”
“That is the mission of the United Nations,” he concluded.