Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the 193-Member General Assembly on 8 January to outline his priorities for 2015, the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, in the areas of development, peace, and human rights.
“With vision and solidarity, we can make this year a turning point in serving 'We the peoples' and ensuring human dignity for all," the Secretary-General began using the opening words of the United Nations Charter. "2015 can and must be the time for global action."
Calling 2014 “a year of turmoil,” Mr. Ban noted that more than 100 million people needed assistance and an unprecedented number of United Nations personnel have been deployed to highly volatile security environments.
He outlined “serious challenges to diplomacy and, indeed, our common humanity, as conflicts raged and extremism rose," including in places such as Syria where the conflict will soon enter its fifth year, or in South Sudan, which is now in its second year of crisis following independence.
“Horrendous violence continues in parts of the Central African Republic, northern Mali and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” added Mr. Ban, raising concerns also about the upsurge in fighting in Darfur and other parts of Sudan.
In particular, Mr. Ban emphasized the global threat posed by terrorism. He used today's speech to again decry the "despicable attack" against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people were killed on 7 January.
He noted the presence of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and in Iraq which was adding "a volatile dimension" to those crises.
"Groups responsible for atrocities have capitalized on a legacy of atrocious governance towards disenfranchised populations," Mr. Ban said from the General Assembly Hall podium.
He also appealled to the "brutal" extremist groups Boko Haram and Da-esh, also known as ISIL, which are responsible for hundreds of kidnappings, including of children.
"It is in your power to end these acts and to save lives," Mr. Ban said. "As Secretary-General and as a father and grandfather, I appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of all abductees so that they can return to their families and resume their lives."
The response to brutality and extremism must be addressed not just by military action, which Mr. Ban deemed important in his address, but by engaging in wide-ranging efforts that also address "the conditions that give rise to such poison in the first place."
Mr. Ban also cautioned that those conducting military actions against terrorists must fully observe human rights: "Failure to do so can be counter-productive, since we have seen time and again that this is a recruiting agent for terrorists."
Looking to the coming months, Mr. Ban said that the transition in Afghanistan will require "strong support." Afghan forces have taken control of the security of their country on 1 January, for the first time in 13 years. Meanwhile, the unity government of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has yet to appoint a cabinet. The UN is working in support of the government and the Afghan people, at their request, through the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the dozens of UN agencies, funds and programmes in country.
The conflict in Ukraine, which has so far killed more than 4,000 people, "reanimated the ghosts of the Cold War," Mr. Ban said, endangering security and stability in Europe. The number of people uprooted within Ukraine is now more than one million, according to figures just released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Several countries around the world are preparing for elections, Mr. Ban noted. Among them, Burundi. The UN Electoral Observation Mission in the country became operational on 1 January.
In his speech, Mr. Ban also cautioned that while the electoral processes are moving well in some countries, in some they seem designed "to prolong incumbencies instead of strengthening democracy - and thus risk provoking violence conflict."
In Libya, the Secretary-General warned that "the chaos is spreading." UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon is continuing to work behind the scenes to convene talks aimed at bringing the political crisis to an end.
Mr. Ban also noted the growing violence in Yemen despite the formation of a new government on 7 November with the aim of ending political turbulence and bringing about a transition towards democracy. On Wednesday, a bomb blast in Sana'a reportedly killed dozens of people and wounded dozens more outside of a police academy. The UN condemned the attack.
the Secretary-General urged Israelis and Palestinians to ease the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and move away from confrontation and towards a negotiated settlement.
"We must not resign ourselves to any further worsening of the conflict," he underscored.
In his speech, Mr. Ban noted the importance of focusing attention on humanitarian action and human rights. The year 2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the Security Council’s landmark Resolution 1325. Passed unanimously on 31 October 2000, the resolution was the first time the Council specifically addressed the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is considered a blueprint for advancing women's rights. A timely moment to ensure that gender equality and the human rights of women underpin the new development agenda that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“Women empowerment, participation, education and health... are central to all our activities and hopes," said Mr. Ban.
In addition, he noted that a decade ago Member States endorsed the Responsibility to Protect, and he highlighted the importance of his Human Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to ensure the United Nations acts earlier, more effectively and “as one” to prevent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
“The United Nations must be ever more fit for purpose."
United Nations peace operations are currently under review by a high-level panel that will make a comprehensive assessment of this crucial part of the Organization's work, now and for the future. It is the first such panel to examine both peacekeeping operations and special political missions.
Chaired by Jose Ramos-Horta, the panel is considering a broad range of issues facing peace operations, including the changing nature of conflict, evolving mandates, good offices and peacebuilding challenges, managerial and administrative arrangements, planning, partnerships, human rights and protection of civilians, uniformed capabilities for peacekeeping operations and performance.
The last major external review of peace operations was undertaken in 2000. The landmark outcome, known as the Brahimi report after that panel's chair, Lahkdar Brahimi, called for, among others, a renewed political commitment on the part of UN Member States, significant institutional change, and increased financial support.
"From development to peace to human rights, the United Nations must be ever more fit for purpose," Mr. Ban said in today's address.
He added that a United Nations that is properly serving the world’s people is one that is always scanning the horizon for new challenges and emerging issues, such as cybersecurity, vowing that the UN should not wait for a crisis to forge a response.
“If our work unfolds as it should," Mr. Ban said concluding his speech, "by the end of this year, our Organization will be enriched with a new vision for development, new ideas for the maintenance of peace and security, a renewed embrace of human rights, and a stronger United Nations to help bring it all to life."
Full text of the Secretary-General's speech is available at http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=8312