12 June 2011 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was deeply moved by the devastation he saw when he flew over the flood-affected areas of Colombia at the weekend and expressed the United Nations readiness to help the Government to continue providing succour to the estimated three million people affected.
“Help and solidarity must reach all Colombians, whatever their origin – Afro-Colombian people, indigenous groups, women and children,” Mr. Ban told reporters at a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón in the city of Cartagena yesterday.
“The United Nations stands ready to help Colombia's most vulnerable people. It is that message and our common goal to strengthen our work together that has been at the heart of my visit to Colombia and my meetings with President Santos,” said the Secretary-General.
He commended Colombia for playing an active positive role in South America and the Caribbean, especially its commitment to forging regional solidarity in support of Haiti.
Mr. Ban pointed out that South America is rich in experiences that are relevant to the global agenda of human rights, transitioning to democracy, combating poverty and tackling climate change.
“I am convinced that the region can play an even bigger role in the United Nations, and the UN can play a bigger role in the region. I want to make our strong partnership even stronger, deeper, and more strategic.
“I see a continent confronting its past but with its eyes on the future. I see leaders reaching out to share their experiences with the world while working in common cause to reduce inequality and social exclusion, promote human rights, and build a future grounded in sustainable development,” said the Secretary-General.
Responding to a question on the ongoing violent repression in Syria, Mr. Ban reiterated his concern over the situation in the Middle Eastern country, saying he had repeatedly urged President Bashar al-Assad to respond to the people's calls for democratic reform.
“I''m deeply concerned and saddened that so many people have been killed in the course of peaceful demonstrations. I again urge President Assad and his Governmental authorities to take maximum care to protect human lives.
“And I''m urging again [that] the humanitarian team [be allowed] to enter Syria so that they can find out the humanitarian situation and deliver the necessary humanitarian assistance to those who are in need of urgent help, and at the same time, urge him [President Assad] again to receive the Human Rights Council-mandated human rights assessment team. These are necessary at this time in parallel with what he will have to do to democratize his country,” said Mr. Ban.
Meanwhile, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, who accompanied Mr. Ban to Colombia, stressed the need for protection and assistance for those affected by both armed conflict in parts of the country and the recent floods.
“During my visit I met with people from some of the most vulnerable communities in Colombia, including Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and internally displaced persons, all of whom are severely affected by conflict and the massive flooding,” said Ms. Bragg, who is also the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. “I also discussed the humanitarian situation with ministers and national and local authorities,” she added.
She noted that Colombian authorities had responded impressively to the flood disaster, including through the Calamity Fund and flood response plan that is supported by international partners.
Ms. Bragg travelled to Tumaco in Nariño Department where she met national, indigenous and traditional community authorities, as well as national and international humanitarian partners.
“I am disturbed that human rights violations, use of landmines, child recruitment by armed groups, and attacks against vulnerable communities all remain serious problems in some parts of Colombia,” she said. She was, however, hopeful that the signing of the victims’ law, a historical moment, will address some of the needs of vulnerable communities.
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