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UN must move from sound bites to action

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  • Shaji John K
    UN must move from sound bites to action Steve Crawshaw* | International Herald Tribune | January 24, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2007
      UN must move from sound bites to action

      Steve Crawshaw* | International Herald Tribune | January 24, 2007


      During his first few weeks as UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon
      seems to have had a hard time treading the line between his
      diplomat's desire to be Mr. Nice, and the requirements of a job in
      which speaking truth to power is essential.

      Ban's reluctance to condemn the death penalty outright was
      dismaying, especially in the context of Saddam Hussein's execution —
      though he subsequently discovered stronger language. On other
      issues, he has made the right noises, but he must move from sound
      bites to action.

      This week, Ban embarked on his first foreign trip as secretary
      general — arriving first in Brussels and Paris before heading on to
      Kinshasa and then Addis Ababa for the African Union summit meeting
      next week. This trip will give him the opportunity to show he
      intends to be a real leader on human rights — even at the risk of
      causing offense.

      With the continued killing in Darfur, real pressure is needed on
      Khartoum — including from the secretary general himself. Even now,
      despite Sudan's resumption of indiscriminate bombing, and the
      spillover of violence into eastern Chad, there has been too little
      pressure for Khartoum to end its abusive polices. Instead,
      shamelessly, Sudan is even seeking to be elected as chair of the
      African Union at the meeting next week.

      Some of the necessary diplomatic skills will come easily to Ban, who
      was South Korea's foreign minister before taking on the UN post. But
      gentle words only go so far. Outspokenness is needed, too — above
      all from the secretary general, with his international authority.
      Sudan continues to resist efforts to strengthen the African Union
      force in Darfur with UN troops. That must change. For huge numbers
      of civilians across the region, caution has already proved deadly.

      In Congo, too, Ban must not mince his words about the scale of the
      problems still facing the country, though many will be eager for him
      to do so. After a series of wars resulted in millions of civilian
      deaths, elections last year brought some hope for stability. But the
      situation remains deeply unstable. Any weakening of the UN
      peacekeeping force, in size or mandate, could risk Congo slipping
      back into chaos.

      On his return to New York, Ban must emphasize that human rights
      cannot be sidelined. So far, his much-repeated mantra has been on
      the importance of UN reform. Few would disagree that management and
      structural reform is needed. But what price better management if Ban
      does not provide a voice for the unheard victims of abuse around the
      world? Ban talks of the need for "harmony." So far, so genteel. But
      there is also the danger of a false harmony, achieved by placating
      powerful and abusive governments.

      In some areas at least, Ban has sent positive signals, including an
      emphasis on women's rights. A United Nations panel recently
      acknowledged that the UN's own contribution to achieving gender
      equality has seemed "incoherent, under-resourced and fragmented."

      That can change. But Ban's own commitment will be needed to make the
      panel's recommendations happen — including a more streamlined
      approach and the creation of a unified body responsible for gender
      equality which could at last be more effective in working, for
      example, towards the goal of achieving girls' full access to

      Above all, Ban must help move things from fine words to tangible
      reality. World leaders agreed in 2005 on their shared responsibility
      to protect civilians from serious war crimes and genocide. So far,
      that policy remains mere rhetoric, as the continuing nightmare in
      Darfur vividly reminds us. With sufficient determination, Ban could
      move the policy towards reality for the first time.

      He can also help reinvigorate the new Human Rights Council, which
      during the past year has been entangled in politicking of the most
      self-defeating kind.

      Human rights are not a fringe issue, to be dealt with only once
      the "grown-up" issues of peace and security are out of the way. On
      the contrary, the protection of human rights promotes peace and
      security. In theory, Ban accepts the linkage, which his predecessor
      frequently emphasized. But in practice that means that boldness will
      sometimes have to trump caution. If Ban wants to be favorably
      remembered by history, he will do well to bear that simple truth in

      *Steve Crawshaw is United Nations advocacy director at Human Rights
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