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U.N. Chief Seeks Second Five-Year Term from 2012

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 6 2011 (IPS) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who completes his five- year term by the end of this year, offered himself “for consideration” for a second five-year term as chief administrative officer of the world body.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discusses Libya with the head of Arab League in February 2011. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discusses Libya with the head of Arab League in February 2011. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Hours before he made the announcement Monday, Ban addressed the 53- member Asian Group, which unanimously gave its endorsement supporting the secretary-general’s request.

At least 28 Asian countries, including Japan, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Qatar, openly expressed support for his candidature.

The Asian Group, one of the largest regional groups at the United Nations, represents more than 60 percent of the world’s population.

Since various regional groups have held the post for two consecutive five-year terms, it was Asia’s turn to field a candidate for a second term.

A former foreign minister of South Korea, Ban said he was not taking “anything for granted” until both the 15-member Security Council and the 192-member General Assembly formally elect him to office, possibly by the end of June, while he continues to complete the remaining six months of his first term.

Addressing reporters, he said he has sent letters this morning to both U.N. bodies “offering humbly” his services for another five years beginning January 2012.

According to his critics, including human rights groups, Ban’s primary weakness was his refusal to be vociferous in his condemnation of civilian killings and human rights abuses by the five veto- wielding permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

But at his press conference Monday, Ban defended his record, pointing out that he continued to take a tough stand against all repressive regimes and violators of human rights.

Asked whether he will be more outspoken against the P-5 once he gets his second term because he does not have to fear their vetoes, Ban said: “First of all, I would like to make it quite clear that, when it comes to universal human rights, there is no distinction or difference. I will make the same priority issue on that.”

Ban has consistently maintained he did “discuss” human rights issues in his private talks with world leaders – “where diplomatic discourse has sometimes to be conducted in confidence”.

When Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt failed to win a second term in late 1996, he lost the post of secretary-general because he irritated a single member state: the United States.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority in the Security Council voted for him (14 out of 15 votes), he was drummed out of office when the United States cast its veto against him.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Asian diplomat told IPS that Ban most likely has received private assurances from the P-5 that his candidature will not be vetoed by any of them.

In Korean culture, he pointed out, failure is not an option. “Anything short of a second term for Ban Ki-moon,” he said, “would be the equivalent of committing political hara-kiri.”

A downfall will also be construed as a monumental disaster for a country fast emerging as one of Asia’s major political and economic powers wielding immense clout in the international arena.

Sam Koo, a former Korean ambassador for cultural cooperation and an ex-senior U.N. official, told IPS that Ban was a role model for young Koreans.

He has inspired an entire generation of young Koreans to think and act globally, he said.

The result? “We now have tens of thousands of young volunteers seeking overseas service (the Korean overseas volunteers are number two in size only after the U.S. Peace Corps),” said Koo, a former journalist who worked for the Associated Press (AP) in Rome.

“Ban has carved out his unique efficient style of diplomacy combining (Dag) Hammarskjold’s energy and quiet passion and (U) Thant’s consensus-building skills in just over four years of service,” he said.

“We all have great expectations for his second term,” said Koo, who was also the representative of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Tokyo.

Both Hammarskjold (of Sweden) and U Thant (of Myanmar) held the post of secretary-general during 1953-1961 and 1961-1971, respectively.

Surprisingly, Ban also had strong support from Sri Lanka, a country which has been critical of the secretary-general for establishing a U.N. panel of inquiry to probe war crimes charges.

Asked about the overwhelming Asian support for Ban, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Dr. Palitha Kohona told IPS the unanimous endorsement “strongly reflects Asia’s recognition of and confidence in Ban Ki-moon’s unobtrusive style of leadership, his distinctly Asian approach to problem-solving, his quiet diplomacy, his dedicated search for solutions to problems affecting humanity, in particular developing countries, and his hard work.”

At a time when Asia is reasserting its leadership role in the global arena, said Kohona, “Ban Ki-moon would be the ideal Asian to continue to lead the United Nations.”

At his press conference Monday, Ban was challenged on his double standards in judging the mass demonstrations sweeping across the Arab world where thousands of civilians have been killed.

Asked why he was not firm in his condemnation of Yemen and Syria, Ban said: “With my due respect to you, I don’t agree that I was not firm enough as I’ve been to other situations.

“I have been speaking quite firmly with President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh of Yemen and also President (Bashir al) Assad of Syria. In fact, you name any country, I have been speaking with almost all the leaders in the region, whether there were demonstrations or not.

“Because, wherever I saw some potentiality of such aspirations moving out, then I have discussed this matter, so that they would take necessary measures, and listening more attentively to the aspirations of their people. That is why you have seen in some areas still they have been trying to manage the situation.”

Asked whether he would be willing to ask President Saleh and President Assad to leave their respective countries, he deftly sidestepped the question: “That will have to be determined by the people of both Yemen and Syria.”

“My message to the leaders in the region has been consistent: that the leaders have a very important responsibility to reflect the will of their own people and listen carefully, more attentively to their will and aspirations,” he declared.

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