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At Lunch with Ban Ki-Moon
Reporting from the U.N. on Jan. 2, 2007
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-01-03 17:00 (KST)   
Today, Tuesday, Jan. 2, was the first working day at the United Nations for the new Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, since Jan. 1, was an official U.N. holiday.

At lunch time I was in the U.N. cafeteria and noticed that Ban and his information officer Choi Soung-ah were coming into the seating area of the cafeteria with their trays.

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As they were near where I was sitting, I invited Ban and Choi to join me. Ban sort of smiled and looked around for where to sit. He and Choi sat at the next table. Several U.N. staff people sat at the other end of the table he had chosen. As there was an empty seat near him I joined them.

A few people nearby greeted Ban saying "Annyong Haseyo." One person remarked that there should be kimchi in the cafeteria. Ban agreed.

I introduced myself to Ban telling him that I write for OhmyNews International, which is a South Korean newspaper, and I gave him my card. He said that he knew OhmyNews. He remembered that he had been interviewed by OhmyNews a few years before. As part of the brief conversation I wondered if he was excited about the new position. I got the impression that he realized that it was a difficult challenge.

I gave him a card I have for the book I am co-author of, Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. I mentioned that I have been impressed by how many South Korean netizens have been active trying to use the Internet to understand problems and to solve them.

I mentioned that there are many people who want a better world and that if there were a way to tap the potential of this resource, it would help to deal better with the kinds of problems the U.N. faces in the world. I explained how the Internet and netizens are a beginning of a way to do this.

I left, but later when I was in one of the press areas at the U.N. I saw a video of Ban going around to different offices in the New York headquarters building, and speaking with the people who work in these different offices. They in turn would explain what happened in their areas. He went into an area where there were some shops with various tools to do repairs. In another area that he visited, there was a printing facility. They were printing a 2007 calendar with the photos of all the U.N. Secretary Generals including the photo of Ban Ki-moon.

It was good to see that Ban was acquainting himself with the people and activities at the U.N.

Earlier in the day, he had arrived at the U.N. at 9:30 a.m. Shortly afterwards he held a brief press conference. He made a short statement, and then took a few questions. Several of the questions reporters asked focused on Ban's view of the recent execution of Saddam Hussein. The new Secretary General said that each nation decides if they will have capital punishment. Several reporters pointed out that the position of the U.N. had been opposed to capital punishment.

At noon there was a press briefing with Michele Montas, who is Ban's newly appointed spokeswoman. She had been a well known Haitian journalist, who with her husband Jean Dominique, ran the pioneering Creole radio station Radio Haiti. Jean was assassinated in April 2000 and Montas fled to New York in February 2003 after she received several death threats. She has worked at the U.N. for several years since then.

At the press briefing with Montas, several reporters again brought up Ban's earlier statements regarding the execution of Saddam Hussein. One person pointed to a statement from the U.N. that Saddam's trial was not credible. Other reporters referred to a statement from the U.N.'s representative in Iraq raising questions about the appropriateness of executing Saddam. Another journalist pointed out that given the situation in Iraq, some people were saying that executing Saddam was a war crime. Montas promised to look into these issues and in a few days clarify the Secretary General's position.

Other questions raised included the position of the new Secretary General on the continued military activity by Ethiopia in Somalia, whether the Secretary General would encourage discussion by the Security Council members with those it was bringing sanctions against before the sanctions were imposed, what the Secretary General's plans were with regard to North Korea, and how he would proceed with regard to the situation in Darfur. Several questions concerned the new staff appointments the Secretary General was planning.(A video of the press briefing is online here.)

Ban Ki-moon's first working day at the U.N. was an example of the challenge he faces. There are many places in the world where there is a need to have an intervention by the moral authority vested in the U.N. Secretary General in order to help challenge the forces of injustice. Also, there will be pressure on the new Secretary General by those in power to allow them to exercise their power without any restraint. Will the new Secretary General be able to speak out in favor of justice? How can those who want to see a better world provide a counterweight to the pressure that will be exerted by those who want to exercise unbridled power?

There are institutions and procedures that have developed in the course of the U.N.'s operations that make it possible for the powerful to act without any consideration for the views and needs of those with less or no power. Such institutions or practices can discredit the U.N. as an institution if they are allowed to dominate the activity of the organization. There is clearly a struggle within the U.N. over whether the power of governments like that of the U.S. will be allowed to dominate the organization. The new Secretary General has said that he wants the U.S. to be active in U.N. activity. Can there be constructive activity on the part of the U.S. that takes into account the needs of the people of the U.S. and of people around the world, rather than activity geared to the interests of the multinational corporations and other powerful sectors of U.S. society?

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"諛 珥앹옣떂, 援щ궡떇떦뿉 源移 엳뼱빞寃좎짛?"

Ban Ki-moon faces a significant challenge in the problems referred to during his first working day at the U.N. The role to be played by the press is very important in the challenge he is facing. Will the press be a public relations echo chamber for what is being done at the U.N.? Will the reporters from news organizations representing powerful interests be given access to exert pressure in the interest of those they represent? Or will the new Secretary General find a way to activate the people and the press from all corners of the globe to be part of the discussion and consideration of the problems that are pressing at the U.N.? Can there be broad ranging public dialog to help to clarify where the public interest lies and how it can prevail?

This is the difficult challenge facing the new Secretary General of the U.N. This is a problem that a broad ranging use of the Internet and a welcoming of participation by netizens can help to solve.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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