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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking on Aug. 30 to the 120-member Nonaligned Movement meeting in Tehran, took a swing at his hosts, saying that denying the Holocaust and threatening Israel’s existence is racist and undermines the values of the United Nations.
“We must prevent conflict between all UN member states,” he said, without naming Iran. “And from this platform – as I have repeatedly stated around the world – I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust. Claiming that another UN Member State, Israel, does not have the right to exist, or describing it in racist terms, is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold.”
Ban had been criticized in the United States and by Israel officially for attending the Tehran nonaligned summit. But no secretary-general can afford to shun a group that represents a majority of UN members because of the objections of two nations and some other critics around the world. The secretary-general used the occasion to deliver strong messages to the group as well as to Iran and to Syria.
He spoke of how the founders of the Nonaligned Movement had envisioned it as a vehicle to expand peace and freedom in the world. Then he turned to the situations still holding back many developing countries and told them it was time to look within themselves.
“You represent diverse societies joined by common goals,” he said. “I urge you to unite as well to promote and protect the values embedded in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association. For much of your membership, this internal effort should be the next frontier of action for your people.
“Our organizations must keep pace in changing times,” Ban said. “Long-held assumptions may need to change. In too many places, for example, military spending continues to dwarf investments in people. Climate change is a clear and present danger. Too many women are still denied opportunity.”
Turning to the drawn-out conflict in Syria, the secretary-general looked back over the people’s revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa. Again, he harked back to the hope the founders of the Nonaligned Movement had that freedom would be spread globally.
“Today, we see an equally powerful yearning for freedom within nations – the freedom to participate, the freedom to make one’s voice heard and the freedom to choose one’s government,” he said. “Since the last NAM Summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2009, this part of the world has been at the epicenter. Tunisia. Egypt. Libya. Yemen and beyond.
“The Arab Spring was not imposed or exported,” he said. “It did not arise from an external conflict or dispute between states. It came from within – from people. People who stood up for a better future. People who spoke out for universal values. In some places this has brought transformation and new beginnings, but in others, we see suppression and frustration.”
The UN does what it can to prevent violence, Ban said. “But prevention starts at home – by strengthening democratic institutions, safeguarding human rights, ensuring popular participation and guaranteeing the rule of law. Syria is only the latest example of what happens when that truth is ignored.
“The crisis in Syria started with peaceful demonstrations that were met by ruthless force,” he said. “Now, we face the grim risk of long-term civil war destroying Syria’s rich tapestry of communities.
“Those who provide arms to either side in Syria are contributing to the misery. Further militarization is not the answer. The situation cannot be resolved with the blood and the bodies of more than 18,000 people and counting.
“I urge all parties, in the strongest possible terms to stop the violence now,” Ban said. “The Syrian government has the primary responsibility to resolve this crisis by genuinely listening to the people’s voices.”