By Jaya Ramachandran
As a result of widespread insecurity, the squandering of vast funds on deadly weapons instead of economic development, and the growing impact of climate change, the world today is in a race against time to save itself.
Sounding this alarm at the opening of the 67th UN General Assembly’s annual general debate on September 25 in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “This is a time of turmoil, transition and transformation – a time when time itself is not on our side.” Several heads of State and government and other high-level officials are expected to present their views and comment on issues of individual national and international relevance at the debate, which ends on October 1.
Ban greeted significant advancement on some fronts, noting that extreme poverty has been cut in half since the year 2000; democratic transitions are under way in the Arab world, Myanmar and many other countries; Africa’s economic growth has become the fastest in the world; and Asia and Latin America are making important advances.
“Still, we must raise our levels of ambition. We need more from each and every one of you. And the world needs more from our United Nations,” he added. “Your people want to see results in real time, now, not the distant future,” Ban told heads of state and government from around the world.
He stressed that the severe and growing impacts of climate change “are there before our in December 2011 member states had agreed to reach a legally binding agreement by 2015. Now, you must make good on this promise,” he said. “Time is running out on our ability to limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees centigrade. Changing course will not be easy. But to see this as only a burden misses the bigger picture. Sustainability and the green economy offer compelling opportunities to promote jobs, growth, innovation and long-term stability. The future we want can be ours – if we act now.”
Commenting on the situation in Syria, where more than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago and some 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid according to UN estimates, Ban deplored a situation that grows worse by the day and threatens a regional calamity with global ramifications.
“The international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control,” he warned, calling on the international community, especially members of the Security Council and countries in the region, to concretely support the efforts of Joint UN-Arab League Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.
“Brutal human rights abuses continue to be committed, mainly by the Government, but also by opposition groups. Such crimes must not go unpunished. There is no statute of limitations for such extreme violence,” said Ban.
Turning to the Middle East conflict, he said the Palestinians must be able to realize their right to a viable State of their own after decades of harsh occupation and humiliating restrictions in almost every aspect of their lives, while Israel must be able to live in peace and security, free from threats and rockets.
“The two-State solution is the only sustainable option,” he said, referring to the internationally endorsed plan for Israel and a Palestinian State to live side by side in peace. “Yet the door may be closing, for good. The continued growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory seriously undermines efforts toward peace. We must break this dangerous impasse.”
Ban rejected both the language of de-legitimization and threats of potential military action by one State against another. 2Any such attacks would be devastating. The shrill war talk of recent weeks has been alarming – and should remind us of the need for peaceful solutions and full respect for the UN Charter and international law,” the UN chief added.
He called on Iran to prove the solely peaceful intent of its nuclear programme and on North Korea to move toward de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
In an apparent reference to the publication of an anti-Islam video and the violent reaction in Islamic countries, Ban noted that “a disgraceful act of great insensitivity has led to justifiable offense and unjustifiable violence. Freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental. But neither of these freedoms is a license to incite or commit violence,” he said.
“Yet we live in a world where, too often, divisions are exploited for short-term political gain. Too many people are ready to take small flames of difference and turn them into a bonfire. Too many people are tolerant of intolerance. The moderate majority should not be a silent majority. It must empower itself, and say to bigots and extremists alike: ‘you do not speak for us’.”
Ahead of the General debate, on September 21, Ban had called on member states to sign, ratify or accede to various international treaties during the Treaty Event as part of the UN’s continuing effort to strengthen the rule of law around the world.
“The Treaty Event provides a distinct opportunity for States to reaffirm their continuing commitment to strengthen the rule of law at the international level,” Ban said in his letter of invitation to Member States and their delegations while urging them “to join efforts to advance the universal application of the framework of internationally agreed upon norms and standards.”
According to the UN, the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, including the State itself, are held accountable to publicly promulgated laws which are equally and fairly enforced, independently adjudicated, and consistent with international human rights standards.
This year’s Treaty Event, entitled ‘Strengthening the Rule of Law,’ is being held from September 24 to 26 and from October 1 to 2, to coincide with the General Assembly’s high level meeting on the Rule of Law.
“The Charter of the United Nations and other multilateral treaties developed under the auspices of the United Nations and deposited with me form a comprehensive legal framework of norms and standards regulating the conduct of nations, and also, indirectly, the conduct of people,” Ban continued. “They are one of the major successes of the United Nations since its founding.”
The annual treaty event, which was initiated in 2000, is an awareness-raising occasion by the UN Secretary-General, who is the depository of the 550 multilateral treaties that establish the rules of conduct for States. The event is intended promote participation in the treaty framework internationally and nationally.
Since it was established, the Treaty Event has resulted in 1,679 treaty-related actions, including signatures, ratifications, and accessions. Only two treaties, however, have achieved 100 per cent participation while others have a broad participation but fall short of the goal of universal participation.