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Ban Ki-moon Inaugurated
Pledges to uphold the interests of the United Nations above all else
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-15 13:33 (KST)   
In the ceremony inaugurating him as the new Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon from the Republic of Korea promised to uphold the interests of the United Nations above any national interests and "not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any government or other authority external to the Organization." The Secretary General designate will take office on Jan. 1, 2007.

The inauguration ceremony to administer the oath of office to Ban was held at a session of the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, Dec 14. Spokespeople of the regional representatives presented short speeches to thank the outgoing Secretary General, Kofi Annan, for his service to the United Nations and to consider some of the highlights of the events of the past 10 years during the course of Annan's tenure as Secretary General of the U.N.

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In his remarks thanking Annan, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of the Republic of South Africa, speaking for the regional group of 77 and China, expressed his sentiments that Annan will be missed. Among the achievements of the outgoing Secretary General, Kumalo noted,"You always spoke softly but your voice was loudest when you fearlessly told the truth to the powerful, reminding them never to forget those who are called, 'the least among us.' Even when circumstances forced you to stay quiet, your silence was even louder."

While only a few brief references to specific events during Annan's tenure in office were mentioned during the speeches, the ceremony led me to recall two important developments which were not included.

One was the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis in November 2005.

The WSIS event was unusual for the United Nations as it reflected the pressure of the people of the world to benefit from the technical and communication advance that the Internet makes possible. Heads of state from a number of nations were present. and the summit was asked for a commitment that people around the world not merely be treated as victims or as customers, but rather be empowered to speak for themselves and have their voices enter the global conversation.

The second event which stands out was the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S. and Great Britain had come to the U.N. asking for a resolution supporting their planned invasion. The U.N. did not support their attack on the sovereign nation of Iraq, but neither did it condemn the invasion. The power of the U.S. government in the Security Council was a force that limited the U.N.'s ability to condemn the aggression against Iraq.

While none of the speeches about Kofi Annan's term in office spoke to these events, the General Assembly ceremony presents the occasion to think back over the past 10 years of developments at the U.N. and to project ahead to what the future may bring.

In his speech in honor of Annan, Kumalo reminded his audience that the issue of Palestine was not solved. "I also dare say that on 31 Dec. 2006 when you leave office," Kumalo said to Annan, "the light of hope for the people of Palestine who live under occupation will shine even less bright."

Ban Ki-moon's short speech after his inauguration was directed to what seemed administrative matters with regard to the U.N. operation and toward the general problem he referred to as dissension or lack of trust within the U.N.

When asked about this focus later at his short 30-minute press conference, Ban said there were two aspects to his goal to restore trust in the U.N. system. One had to do with U.N. efficiency, the second had to do with distrust among member states and between member states and the U.N. Since he did not elaborate further, one can only speculate about what he was referring to.

Other questions asked at the press conference were helpful in adding specifics to the pressing world issues that Ban will have to broach when he takes office officially in January 2007.

These include the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons and the complaint of North Korea that there are economic and security issues by other countries that led them to act as they did with regard to developing nuclear weapons. Ban expressed his support for the return of the parties to the 6-party talks, to begin Dec. 18. He noted that he will place a high priority on following the developments. Also he added that he would think about what he needs to do to facilitate the negotiation process.

Other questions referred to the problems in the Middle East, the Security Council discussion about Iran's nuclear program, Israel's recent admission that it possesses nuclear weapons, the problem in Darfur, and other pressing issues. In a number of his responses, Ban said he would endeavor to consult those involved in the conflict and others in the troubled region in his efforts to help make progress on solving problems.

Another question raised was how he felt about the desire of a number of member states to see the permanent membership of the Security Council expanded to include two African and two more Asian members.

Ban's response was that this was by far the most important issue at the U.N. and that it is necessary to have expansion and reform of the Security Council. He promised that he would try to facilitate consultations to help this to occur.

The press conference was dominated by questions from reporters for large mainstream media organizations. Ban has by now had two press conferences at the U.N. but the range of questions he has been asked has been limited by the short period of time provided for the press conference after Ban makes a statement.

Originally, Ban promised to be available to hear from the many people involved in disputes and problems and to take into account their viewpoints. While it is still early in his assumption of the office of the Secretary General, this pledge suggests that he will also provide time to hear from the press, and from a broader set of the media than primarily from mainstream commercial outlets. How often the Secretary General-designate will be available to hear from reporters and to respond to their concerns and questions will provide a measure of how seriously he takes his promises in practice.

The inauguration of Ban Ki-moon as the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations provides a challenge to the people of the world to put the needed pressure on the U.N. so that his tenure in office will merit similar or even greater words of praise than that of the Secretary General in whose footsteps he follows.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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