Ban returns hastily to UN Headquarters to deal with Libya crisis
23 February 2011 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cut short a visit to Los Angeles to return to United Nations Headquarters today to address the crisis in Libya, calling for punishment of those using violence against civilians after a long “blunt” phone call to President Muammar Al-Qadhafi.
Mr. Ban spent 40 minutes on the phone with the Libyan leader on Monday. “It was not an easy conversation. I told him, bluntly, that the violence must stop – immediately,” he told a Global Creative Forum dinner last night in Los Angeles at which he announced his early return to New York.
“Let me say directly: those responsible for violence against civilians must be held accountable. And among the events we have witnessed recently, some appear to be clear violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”
According to media accounts, Mr. Qadhafi went on state TV yesterday to call on his supporters to fight those protesting against his four decades in power and today two pilots were reported to have crashed their warplane and parachuted to safety rather than execute orders to bomb the opposition-held city of Benghazi.
Mr. Ban applauded the decision of the Arab League to suspend Libya – “the first time the League has taken such an action on the domestic situation of one of its members” – and the UN Security Council’s statement condemning the use of force, demanding an immediate end to the violence, and calling on the Government to address the legitimate demands of the population, through national dialogue in full respect for human rights.
“Together, the actions of the Arab League and the Security Council underscore the collective determination of the international community,” he said, reiterating the message he has delivered ever since protests against entrenched leaders erupted across North Africa and the Middle East: “Leaders must listen to the voice of their people.
“They must heed their legitimate aspirations for freedom and essential human rights. Those include the right to peaceful protest and assembly, as well as media freedom and information.
Above all, I have called for non-violence. These times of change call for dialogue and bold reform, not repression.”
Mr. Ban, who has spoken repeatedly with leaders of the region in the weeks since unrest first erupted in Tunisia in January, noted that for years the UN has been calling attention to the so-called “youth bulge” in the Arab world. In some countries over 60 to 70 per cent of the population is under 30.
“Our Arab Human Development Report has consistently chronicled the need for economic, social and political reform across the region. In particular, it emphasized what we called a ‘deficit of democracy’ and the need for political leaders to address it. Now the situation has exploded onto the streets,” he said.
“The current situation is unpredictable and could go in any number of directions, many of them dangerous. At this crucial juncture, it is imperative that the international community maintain its unity and act together to ensure a prompt and peaceful transition,” he added, explaining his reason for cutting short his stay in Los Angeles.
“The changes underway in the Middle East are historic. Whether in Libya or elsewhere, our message must be consistent and strong: no violence. The time for change is now. The United Nations stands ready to assist the people of the region in meeting the challenges of this great transition.”
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