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UN: New Secretary-General Vows To Restore Body's Dignity

Ban speaking to the General Assembly after being sworn in as UN secretary-general (epa) UNITED NATIONS, December 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- After being sworn in as the new secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea pledged to work hard to restore the integrity of the international organization, which has been plagued in the last few years by allegations of mismanagement, corruption, and sex scandals.

On January 1, Ban will inherit an organization with a $5 billion annual budget and some 92,000 global peacekeepers.

Described by close associates as an efficient and quiet administrator, Ban does not possess the charisma and flamboyance of his predecessor, Kofi Annan of Ghana, who will step down on December 31. But he is known as a relentless negotiator capable of getting along with almost anyone and for bringing opposing parties to the table.

Challenges Ahead

In a 1962 photograph of former U.S. President John Kennedy with a group of visiting foreign scholars at the White House, a 19-year-old Ban Ki-moon cracks a smile in the back row.

During his first visit to the United States, Ban later recalled, he was deeply impressed by Kennedy’s vision and by the liberal ideas flourishing on U.S. student campuses.

Forty-five years later, Ban will take over an organization which has had great moments since being established in 1945, but which has also lost some of its credibility with tainted missions in Rwanda, Serbia, and Sudan.

In his acceptance speech at the UN General Assembly today, Ban promised to work hard to restore the dignity of the UN.

"I will do everything in my power to ensure that our United Nations can live up to its name and be truly united, so that we can live up to the hopes that so many people around the world place in this institution, which is unique in the annals of human history," he said,

A Pledge To Reform

Ban is the second UN secretary-general from Asia. The first was U Thant of Burma (formerly Myanmar), who served from 1961 to 1971. Ban replaces Annan, who won the Nobel Prize in 2001.

Ban pledged to continue the push to reform the United Nations -- a process that was started by Annan in 2005 after the world body was heavily criticized for not being able to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Among the major areas set for reform are downsizing the bloated administrative operations, streamlining the decision-making process, and improving the efficiency and credibility of UN peacekeeping forces.

Annan has repeatedly said that reform of the UN Security Council, the world body’s most powerful executive organ, should be among the first priorities for any incoming secretary-general.

Ban said he is ready to advance negotiations.

“Unfortunately so far, during last 10 years, member states have not been able to agree on this matter. As secretary-general I will try to facilitate the consultations among the member states so that a possible consensus formula could be drawn out among the member states on this matter,” he said.

Among the proposals is increasing the number of the council's permanent members from five -- China, Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States -- to nine, but withholding veto power from the new members. Another is the increase of the permanent membership from 15 to 24 countries -- each elected for a period of two years.

Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan have been considered as possible candidates for the Security Council’s permanent membership, but none of the proposals has gone beyond informal discussions.

Annan has said the structure of the council reflects the realities of 1945, when the UN was established, but not the realities of the 21st century.

Improving Systems

Ban pledged to set high ethical standards and to try and improve morale, professionalism, and accountability among staff members.

"As secretary-general I will aim to reward the talent and skill of staff while making optimal use of their experience and expertise," he said. "I will seek to improve our system for human resources, management and common development, offering opportunities for training and mobility."

Asked whether he intends to appoint at least one woman as a deputy, Ban said that he is studying several candidates.

“I am reviewing several candidates’ names, with the emphasis preferably on women candidates, to work as deputy secretary-general for me, who will assist me and who will also work for the management reform as well as work for all these implementation of the [UN] development goals.”

Ban is well acquainted with the UN. He has worked within the organization in various capacities for more than 10 years. His selection is also thought to have been influenced by the UN's so-called geographical principle -- the notion that the post should be rotated among continents.

Ban married his high school sweetheart and they have three children. One of Ban's daughters now works for UNICEF in Africa.

UN Peacekeepers

UN Peacekeepers
UN peacekeepers in Haiti in February 2006 (AFP)

MISSION In cases in which international intervention in regional conflicts is deemed necessary, peacekeeping missions authorized by the UN Security Council provide legitimacy by demonstrating the commitment of the international community to address such crises.

MANDATE UN peacekeeping missions are prepared, managed, and directed by the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The unique mandates of peacekeeping missions falls under the authority of the UN's Security Council and General Assembly, and under the command of the UN secretary-general.

MONEY Funding for UN peacekeeping missions is provided by UN member states. All are legally obliged to pay a share under an established formula. The leading financial providers as of 2006 were: the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, China, and the Netherlands.

MORE All UN peacekeeping missions share the goals of alleviating human suffering and creating conditions for self-sustaining peace. Missions can consist of armed or unarmed military components, depending on their mandate, and various civilian tasks.

Military operations can include:
· Deploying to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spillover of conflict across borders;
· Stabilizing conflict situations after a cease-fire in order to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
· Assisting in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
· Leading states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance, and economic development.

HISTORY There have been 60 peacekeeping operations since 1948. Fifteen peacekeeping missions were in operation in mid-2006, employing more than 60,000 troops, 7,000 police, and over 2,500 military observers. Peacekeeping operations in 2006 were supported by uniformed personnel provided by 109 countries.

(source: UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations)


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