|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Secretary-General Highlights Syria, Mali Situations in Special Davos Address,
While Stressing Need to Tackle Preventable Longer-Term ‘Silent Crises’
Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special address to the World Economic Forum, as prepared for delivery in Davos, Switzerland, on 24 January:
It is a pleasure to be in Davos and here with all of you. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this special forum. I want to use our time together to highlight two immediate crises facing the international community and the United Nations: the dire situations in Syria and the Sahel.
Let me start by offering a bit of broad context. These are times of tremendous turmoil and change. I call this period the Great Transition. The old order is breaking down; new arrangements are taking shape.
We see this happening in economic terms. The developing world is becoming the locus of global growth. Dynamism is moving from West to East and from North to South. We see it environmentally. Slowly but steadily, we are coming to realize the risks of a carbon-based economy. Slowly but steadily, we are moving towards an era of sustainability and green growth.
A demographic transformation is also under way. Some societies are ageing, while others grow remarkably young. And people everywhere are on the move — from country to country in search of safety and opportunity, and from rural areas to cities on a rapidly urbanizing planet.
And finally, the Great Transition is deeply political. People are demanding accountability, human rights, an end to corruption and misrule — and they are doing so with a force that has taken the world by storm and by surprise.
These transitions bring both hope and uncertainty. People experience new freedoms, but worry just the same about jobs and instability. The winds of the Arab Spring have swept away some repressive rulers but left many questions swirling in the air. We are not passive in the face of these trends and events. With wisdom, foresight and a greater sense of collective responsibility, we can build a better future for all.
I would like to use this platform today to issue a call to action on two immediate crises: the death spiral in Syria; and the widening turbulence in Mali and the Sahel. Let me take them each in turn.
The military confrontation in Syria is exerting a tremendous toll on the civilian population. Well over 60,000 people have been killed. Yet the political environment remains polarized within Syria and across the region. A deadly military momentum prevails inside Syria, and among those States that are helping to fuel the conflict by sending weapons to one side or the other. I call again for such arms flows to stop.
The conflict in Syria is driven by a profound political crisis. It must be resolved by political means that bring real change, a clear break from the past, and fulfil the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. Unfortunately, the Syrians are still not able to sit at the table to work out the practical details of a transition plan that protects Syria’s citizens and preserves the vital institutions of a State. They are failing to recognize each other, let alone speak to each other, while their country is in flames.
However difficult this situation is, we must push for a political solution. Seemingly intractable divides have been bridged in other conflicts and contexts. As long as there is a possibility to end this crisis through talks, that is what we must keep doing. Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi continues his diplomatic efforts. We are focusing on finding convergences that can form a foundation for building a political process to replace the military momentum. Mr. Brahimi enjoys my total support and that of the Arab League Secretary-General, Nabil Elaraby.
It will be essential for the Security Council to overcome the deadlock, and find the unity that will make meaningful action possible. The alternative — letting the sides fight it out, resigning ourselves to Syria’s destruction with all its regional implications — is too costly and unacceptable. That would be an abdication of our collective responsibility to protect. The world, and above all the Security Council, must uphold its responsibilities.
The situation on the ground is already catastrophic and continues to deteriorate. More than 4 million people are in need of assistance — a fifth of the country’s population. Nearly 700,000 people have fled the country. Winter and the deepening violence and political stalemate make it likely that these numbers will grow. I commend Syria’s neighbours for hosting these refugees. I urge them to continue to allow those seeking refuge to cross borders to safety, and I urge the international community to support the host countries to avoid unnecessary strain on local communities.
In Syria, schools across the country continue to fill up with displaced people seeking shelter, thereby displacing girls and boys seeking an education. Many children have now gone two years without schooling, and have been cast into a world of waiting — and of witnessing their cities and their very futures crumble around them.
The humanitarian assessment team that just visited the country was besieged with requests not just to provide assistance, but to understand the psychosocial impact the crisis is having. Last month, I myself visited two refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, and heard the disturbing stories of those who had fled — and their worries about family members left behind.
We continue to see unrelenting human rights violations. I am profoundly concerned about the crimes that have been committed — and about those that could still take place if already high sectarian tensions explode into mass reprisals and killings that irreversibly damage the intricate mosaic of communities that all Syrians have been long proud of. We must do everything we can to guard against this. Both the Syrian Government and the opposition must avoid and prevent rifts along confessional and sectarian lines. It must be made clear to everyone carrying a gun or in a command position that all perpetrators of crimes in Syria will be held to account.
Despite the dangerous security environment and the limitations imposed by the Government, humanitarian agencies are feeding 1.5 million people and providing basic relief supplies for some 400,000 people. But it is just not enough. We have been able, on occasion, to establish tactical, very temporary ceasefires that permit assistance to move. Even a few hours can make a difference.
The humanitarian community needs $1.5 billion for the next six months — the largest-ever short-term appeal. However, our appeals to date have been woefully underfunded. That is why I am convening a pledging conference in Kuwait on 30 January. For many years, Syrians have shown great generosity and solidarity in hosting refugees from Palestine, Iraq and Somalia. The international community should come to Syria’s aid in its own time of need.
The crisis in Mali is deepening. The country is under grave threat from extremist armed insurgents. A toxic mix of poverty, extreme climatic conditions, weak institutions, drug smuggling and the easy availability of deadly weapons is causing profound misery and dangerous insecurity in and beyond Mali.
More than 350,000 Malians have fled their homes. Eighteen million people across the Sahel region are affected by the consequences, including the threat of food shortages. Mali has called for help in restoring its constitutional order and territorial integrity.
France has taken an important decision to deploy troops following the troubling move southward by extremist groups. The African-led International Support Mission to Mali is taking shape, organized by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) with support from the African Union and other troop contributors.
The United Nations is fully committed to helping Mali in its hour of need. That assistance will necessarily run from security efforts to those in the humanitarian and political areas. Our humanitarian agencies are focused on getting food, water and other assistance to internally displaced people and other vulnerable populations. The protection of civilians is a growing concern. There are reports of sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and reprisals against civilian Tuareg and Arab populations. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into alleged war crimes.
I have dispatched to Bamako an advance United Nations team to assist on both the political and security tracks. The team includes expertise on political affairs, military planning, human rights and gender concerns. Additional staff will deploy in the days ahead, giving us a presence on the ground able to lend full support to the process. The team has already begun discussions with Malian partners on a transitional road map that would cover all key issues.
Solutions will not come quickly or simply. Mali is at heart a political challenge requiring political solutions. It was the coup and the collapse of Mali’s democracy that opened the way for extremists. Gains in restoring security must be matched by efforts to restore legitimacy in Bamako, while leaving the door open to negotiations with those groups that renounce terrorism.
I am personally committed to ensuring that the United Nations stands ready, once the regrettably necessary combat operations are over, to undertake a major system-wide effort for peacebuilding, governance and security-sector reform, physical reconstruction, and regional cooperation. This is a moral imperative for all in the international community.
Let us also remember the bigger picture. What happens in Mali is affecting the entire region. And we cannot expect to address the issues in Mali unless we confront the challenges affecting the broader region. The Governments and people of the Sahel need our full support. The United Nations has mobilized over $1 billion to support the immediate needs of affected populations, including more than 1 million children under the age of 5 at risk of acute malnutrition. While recent rainfall promises a better harvest season, the warning lights continue to flash.
My Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, has been focusing on four key issues — security, governance, humanitarian requirements and development. And he is engaging a full range of stakeholders, including women, religious and business leaders, representatives of the region’s tribes, and others. The goal: an integrated strategy that would address all dimensions of this sustained and systemic crisis.
Mali and the Sahel will be on the agenda at the African Union Summit that I will attend after leaving Davos. I urge all leaders to do their part in the collective response to Mali’s plight, and I reiterate the UN’s strong commitment to do ours.
Here in Davos today, we have also been looking beyond crisis to the far horizon, the shape of the world a decade or two from now, the need to provide water, energy, food and health for an expanding human population. That far horizon is actually nearer than we think. Those supposedly longer-term issues are actually silent crises with us today: the death of children from preventable diseases; the melting of the polar ice caps because of climate change.
Our duty is to show solidarity with those today seeking democracy and dignity, and with those tomorrow, our children and theirs, who have a right to inherit a world of stable societies and a secure resource base. My fervent hope and determination is to rise to these tests, from Syria to the Sahel, from climate change to extreme poverty. Let not our inaction today lead to harsh judgement tomorrow.
People and policies are connected like never before. We must pull together because we are tied together. From Syria and Mali today, to the foundations for peace and prosperity tomorrow, that is my call to action to you and to the world at this time.
* *** *For information media • not an official record