Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is demanding international action to stop the war in Syria, saying that it is “a regional calamity with global ramifications”.
“It is the duty of our generation to put an end to impunity for international crimes in Syria and elsewhere.“
– Ban Ki-moon,
In his annual state of the world speech at Tuesday’s opening of the UN General Assembly’s ministerial meeting, Ban said he was sounding the alarm about widespread insecurity and injustice, inequality and intolerance in many countries.
US President Barack Obama is expected to give one of the opening speeches and, six weeks before the presidential election, is expected to speak on Iran and the recent protests that were caused by an anti-Islam video produced in the US.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst said that his “guess” was that “most of the people in the swing states will not be listening, but the president will have to give certain sound bites so that the American people understand that he is first and foremost an American president and not just a world leader”.
“He is probably not going to be big on specifics, but he needs to address the Arab world, and say that America is not an enemy of Islam, as he said in 2009.”
“On Syria, Obama is going to ask for more support from the Russians and Chinese, but overall he is going to de-emphasise those points that are not going to make him look good – the Iran issue, peace between Israel and Palestine, the Syrian issue and the protests in the streets of the Islamic world.”
Putting the spotlight on Syria, Ban said “the international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control”.
Ban said the 18-month conflict was a growing threat to international peace that required attention from the deeply divided UN Security Council.
He also expressed “profound concern” at continuing violence in Afghanistan and Congo, unrest in Africa’s Sahel region, the dangerous Israeli-Palestinian impasse and “shrill war talk” from Israel.
‘Brutal’ rights abuses
“The international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control,” Ban told world leaders, adding that “brutal” rights abuses were being committed by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“I call on the international community – especially the members of the Security Council and countries in the region – to solidly and concretely support the efforts” of UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
“We must stop the violence and flow of arms to both sides and set in motion a Syrian-led transition as soon as possible,” Ban added.
Russia, Assad’s main ally, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions which could have led to sanctions against the Syrian government.
Ban said the crimes being committed in Syria must not go unpunished. “There is no statute of limitations for such extreme violence,” he insisted.
“It is the duty of our generation to put an end to impunity for international crimes in Syria and elsewhere.”
Ban said he wanted his address to the 193-member UN to “sound the alarm about our direction as a human family”.
The UN secretary-general condemned governments which spend “vast and precious funds on deadly weapons” at a time of growing climate change, economic crisis and growing poverty.
He said that “the door may be closing for good” on chances of creating separate Palestinian and Israeli states because of the growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
“We must break this dangerous impasse,” he said.
Ban called the anti-Islam internet video which has inflamed protests across the world “a disgraceful act of great insensitivity” which he said had caused “justifiable offence and unjustifiable offence”.
“I am profoundly concerned about continued violence in Afghanistan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said.
“The crisis in the Sahel is not getting sufficient attention and support.”
“Poverty, fragility, drought and sectarian tensions are threats to stability across the region,” Ban said. “Extremism is on the rise,” he warned, referring to the Islamist groups who have seized northern Mali.
“The international community needs a major concerted effort to address this alarming situation,” he added.
The UN leader called on Sudan and South Sudan to resolve all the differences that brought them to the verge of war this year.