U.N. chief highlights global concerns at last General Debate speech

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon highlighted serious concerns about a range of issues — from Syria and climate change to North Korea — that world leaders must tackle at his last annual high-level gathering that kicked off Tuesday.

“Gulfs of mistrust divide citizens from their leaders. Extremists push people into camps of ‘us’ and ‘them,'” he said in his final speech delivered at the yearly meeting that draws top dignitaries every September. “The earth assails us with rising seas, record heat and extreme storms. And danger defines the days of many.”

The next secretary general who takes up the post after Ban’s 10-year term ends on Dec. 31 will address next year’s September session.

“I also stand before you with deep concern,” Ban warned.

Today’s global complexities, he said, are more “protracted and complex.”

For the sixth year, the ongoing strife in Syria, he explained, “is taking the greatest number of lives and sowing the widest instability.”

Ban took aim at the many groups killing the innocent there but pointed out that “none more so than the government of Syria,” which carries out barrel bombing campaigns in neighborhoods.

“Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all sides of the Syria conflict against Syrian civilians,” he explained.

Beyond hotspots in places like Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, he also mentioned the situation in North Korea where their nuclear progress is causing alarm.

On Sept. 9, the North detonated its fifth and most powerful underground nuclear device yet and has launched 21 ballistic missiles since the beginning of the year.

As the Security Council is working to hammer out a new sanctions resolution, Pyongyang on Tuesday made claims about testing a new high-powered rocket engine for launching geostationary satellites.

On the latest nuclear test, Ban said it “has again threatened regional and international security” while ordinary citizens continue to suffer as their lives worsen.

“I urge the leaders of the DPRK to change course and fulfill their obligations to their own people and to the family of nations,” he added, referring to the country by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Meanwhile, in Asia he pointed to two successes. The situation in Myanmar has “entered a promising new phase” he explained, while in Sri Lanka “healing efforts have deepened.”

“In both the countries, true reconciliation rests on ensuring that all communities, minorities and majorities alike, are included in building a new union,” he noted.

Meanwhile Ban “expressed regret” over two contentious issues that have tarnished the world body’s reputation. He addressed the sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers as well as the cholera outbreak in Haiti after peacekeepers arrived in the aftermath of the 2012 earthquake there.

“A package of material assistance to those most directly affected” is being prepared to help the Haiti victims, he said.

Despite the myriad of competing crises, there was progress on other fronts. As an advocate of measures against climate change, he hopes the Paris Agreement will be signed into force before the end of the year.

“Yet ten years in office, I am more convinced than ever that we have the power to end the war, poverty and persecution,” he added. “We have the means to prevent conflict. We have the potential to close the gap between rich and poor, and to make rights real in people’s lives.”

Ban’s speech kicked off the General Debate that draws presidents, prime ministers and other high-level officials and continues through next Monday.


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