The most im­pos­si­ble job in the world

The Washington Times Daily - - DECADE OF LEADERSHIP: UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY - G - By Michael Kirby

While the world was trans­fixed by the elec­tion for the next pres­i­dent of the United States, less at­ten­tion was paid to the process that de­liv­ered the next sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions, Por­tuguese diplo­mat An­to­nio Guter­res.

The po­si­tion of U.N. sec­re­tarygen­eral has been rightly called the most im­pos­si­ble job in the world. The holder of the po­si­tion must speak for the global or­ga­ni­za­tion and on causes of hu­man­ity, big and small, for all of us. The of­fice­holder needs to re­flect the ide­al­ism that lay be­hind the cre­ation of the United Na­tions. But this must be done while avoid­ing the pit­falls of geopol­i­tics and the in­er­tia of a huge and of­ten un­wieldy bu­reau­cracy.

U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon was the for­eign min­is­ter of South Korea when he was orig­i­nally elected by the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly in Oc­to­ber 2006. His re-elec­tion for a sec­ond term in 2011 oc­curred by a unan­i­mous vote of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and with­out a con­trary vote in the Gen­eral Assem­bly. His ser­vice to the United Na­tions will end Dec. 31.

It is far too early to eval­u­ate Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban’s achieve­ments, but they have been many.

In three dif­fer­ent ar­eas, I have seen him up close, although I can­not claim the in­ti­mate en­gage­ments that staff, col­leagues and diplo­mats, and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures around the world will have had.

Still, my en­gage­ments with him have demon­strated el­e­ments of his char­ac­ter that de­serve to be no­ticed, es­pe­cially as we look to the fu­ture and seek to as­cer­tain and as­sess the qual­i­ties of his suc­ces­sor.

Be­tween 2013 and 2014, I served as chair of the U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil’s Com­mis­sion of In­quiry on Hu­man Rights Vi­o­la­tions in the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (North Korea). This brought me to meet him on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions.

The chal­lenge of North Korea was nat­u­rally an is­sue that would be close to the mind and heart of a sec­re­tarygen­eral of Korean eth­nic­ity.

Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban had noth­ing to do with my ap­point­ment, and he took no steps to in­trude in any way in the in­de­pen­dence of the man­date we were per­form­ing. His ap­proach through­out was pro­fes­sional, im­par­tial and even re­served. At no time, ei­ther by ac­tion or sug­ges­tion, did he in­trude into our in­ves­ti­ga­tions. This was so, de­spite the hor­rors on the part of North Korea that were re­vealed in the public hear­ings and in­ves­ti­ga­tions car­ried out for the United Na­tions.

Still, his own com­mit­ment to mak­ing Eleanor Roo­sevelt’s Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights a top pri­or­ity for the United Na­tions be­came an im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in the work of our com­mis­sion. His com­mit­ment to the ini­tia­tive, Hu­man Rights up Front, was a theme that helped mo­bi­lize the rel­e­vant U.N. agen­cies to sup­port our in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

A com­mit­ment to hu­man rights was hence­forth to be placed “up front” in the work of the United Na­tions. It was not to be an af­ter­thought, as politi­cians and diplo­mats scru­ti­nize se­cu­rity and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions of the dan­ger­ous world of to­day.

The per­plex­ing chal­lenges pre­sented by North Korea to our world re­main un­re­solved. In­deed, re­cent events show that they are even more ur­gent now than when re­vealed. Yet, they will never be re­solved by con­cen­trat­ing only on se­cu­rity is­sues or ne­go­ti­at­ing geopo­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties.

Where “crimes against hu­man­ity” have been demon­strated, the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral has the vi­tal role to up­hold the ob­jec­tives en­shrined in the U.N. Char­ter. This puts hu­man rights “up front,” just as Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban de­manded the U.N.’s cum­ber­some ma­chin­ery should al­ways do. And we did so.

Over the last year, I have taken part in an­other project in which Sec­re­taryGen­eral Ban’s val­ues would be seen. This was the High-Level Panel on Ac­cess to Medicines, which he es­tab­lished in Novem­ber 2015 to give op­er­a­tional ef­fec­tive­ness to one of the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDG) adopted by the United Na­tions in Septem­ber 2015.

SDG 3 com­mit­ted the United Na­tions to “en­sure healthy lives and to pro­mote well-be­ing for all peo­ple of all ages.” Trans­lat­ing that big ob­jec­tive into ac­tion by 2030 is quite a chal­lenge. One as­pect of the chal­lenge is the “pol­icy in­co­her­ence” be­tween the hu­man rights ideal re­gard­ing ac­cess to es­sen­tial health care and the some­times-in­con­sis­tent op­er­a­tion of the global law on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty (for which read phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal patents).

This ex­tremely sen­si­tive is­sue has le­git­i­mate ob­jec­tives that need to be har­mo­nized on both sides of the de­bate. The easy way out would have been to leave its res­o­lu­tion to a suc­ces­sor. Yet, Ban Ki-moon grasped the net­tle. He es­tab­lished the high-level panel on medicines — and en­sured that the voices of the poor and of in­ter­na­tional pharma would be heard at the ta­ble.

The re­sult­ing con­sen­sus re­port, de­liv­ered in Septem­ber, does not solve all the prob­lems. But it brings us closer to mak­ing the lan­guage of the SDGs a prac­ti­cal ac­tion plan and not just an empty U.N. res­o­lu­tion.

The third ini­tia­tive of Sec­re­taryGen­eral Ban has been one of im­por­tance to me. It has shown his courage and em­pa­thy with the down­trod­den. This has been his less-well-known lead­er­ship on the hu­man rights of LGBTI peo­ple ev­ery­where.

The hos­til­ity and ha­tred that is still some­times felt to­wards gay peo­ple world­wide has led, in the past, to its is­sues be­ing put in the “too-hard bas­ket” of the United Na­tions. But it has been un­der Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban that, ef­fec­tively for the first time, im­por­tant steps have been taken to ad­dress the vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion suf­fered by peo­ple on the grounds of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity.

In July 2013, sup­port­ing ini­tia­tives in the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil in Geneva, Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban said in ring­ing words: “To those who are les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual or trans­gen­der, let me say, you are not alone. Your strug­gle for an end of vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion is a shared strug­gle. Any attack on you is an attack on the uni­ver­sal val­ues the United Na­tions and I have sworn to de­fend and up­hold. To­day, I stand with you, and I call upon all coun­tries and

The per­plex­ing chal­lenges pre­sented by North Korea to our world re­main un­re­solved. In­deed, re­cent events show that they are even more ur­gent now than when re­vealed. Yet, they will never be re­solved by con­cen­trat­ing only on se­cu­rity is­sues or ne­go­ti­at­ing geopo­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties.

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