United Nations Leader Opens General Assembly on Somber Note

Published: September 25, 2012

The leader of the United Nations formally opened its annual General Assembly on Tuesday with a speech conveying a broad sense of crisis because of pressing problems including armed conflict in the Middle East, disruptive climate change and religious intolerance.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, opened the General Assembly on Tuesday calling the conflict in Syria “a serious and growing threat to international peace and security.”

I am here to sound the alarm about our direction as a human family,” said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, beginning six days of speeches by world leaders.

He warned about the implications of the unbridled war in Syria, the unresolved Palestinian statehood issue, Israel-Iran war rhetoric and unchecked Islamic fury over an anti-Muslim video.

In his wide-ranging speech, Mr. Ban also said global action on climate change remains unfinished business and food prices are too volatile. The economic and political crisis across Africa’s Sahel region is not getting sufficient attention, Mr. Ban said, and North Korea had to do more to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

He pointed to some positive developments, including a halving in extreme poverty in the past decade; the democratic transition in the Arab world; and Africa’s booming economic growth.

He said one of the most pressing immediate issues confronting the United Nations is the Syria conflict, which began in March 2011 and is now causing regional instability. “This is a serious and growing threat to international peace and security which requires Security Council action,” Mr. Ban said.

The Council remains sharply divided on Syria, with Russia and China arguing that the opposition needs to be curbed while the West wants President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

“We must stop the violence and flows of arms to both sides, and set in motion a Syrian-led transition as soon as possible,” said Mr. Ban. He noted that “brutal” human rights abuses continue, “mainly by the government, but also by opposition groups.” Criminal prosecution should be pursued, he said.

On the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, being given scant high-level attention this week, Mr. Ban said that when it comes to the two-state solution, “the door may be closing, for good.” The growth of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as “seriously undermines,” efforts toward peace, he said.

Mr. Ban also made an oblique critical reference to the threats traded between Israel and Iran about a possible war over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, describing the shrill war talk as “alarming.”

“I also reject both the language of delegitimization and threats of potential military action by one state against another,” he said. “Any such attacks would be devastating.”

Speaking about the outbreak of global rioting in the past few weeks over an anti-Muslim video, Mr. Ban said, “a disgraceful act of great insensitivity has led to justifiable offense and unjustifiable violence.”

While endorsing freedom of speech as a fundamental right, he said it should not be used as a license to incite nor commit violence. Divisions around the world are too often “exploited for short-term political gain,” Mr. Ban told 120 assembled world leaders.

Too many people are read to take small flames of difference and turn them into a bonfire,” he said. “Too many people are tolerant of intolerance.”


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