From South Korea 71-year-old Ban Ki-Moon has ended his position as the 8th secretary-general of the intergovernmental body, the United Nations. It was a position, from 2007-2016, that headed193 international member nations in ‘fighting’ for peace and safety worldwide, primarily through UN peacekeeping efforts, and promoting sustainable development to reduce poverty and empower people worldwide.
Criticized for his quietness, lack of aggressive pressure on human rights issues, and for favouritsm in appointing South Koreans, he has been described as ‘dull and boring.’ He has nevertheless received countless awards, prizes, and praise.
Ban Ki-Moon (1944-) was born in South Korea and became a career diplomat in his country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first overseas post was in New Delhi, India. In February 2006 he campaigned for the office of secretary-general of the United Nations. Although a ‘long-shot’ for the head position, as foreign minister of South Korea (2004-2006) he was able to visit all of the 15 countries of the United Nations Security Council to lobby for votes.
He was elected on 13 October 2006, taking up the position on 1 January 2007, succeeding Kofi Annan.
Although he may be quiet and boring, he has strong views on climate change and global warming. He was also instrumental in making the Paris Agreement a legally binding treaty less than a year after it was adopted. The Paris Agreement, the Accord de Paris, is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the year 2020. All 195 UNFCC members signed the treaty, and 144 member states have ratified it, taking effect on 4 November 2016. The head of the Paris Conference in 2016, France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius, described it as a ‘historic turning point’ in the goal of reducing global warming.
Ban is also noted for his 7 March 2012 United Nations Human Rights Council speech, ‘’The Time Has Come’’ in which he urged the Council to place greater emphasis on promoting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights around the world. Many delegates walked out of the speech in protest. Nevertheless Ban has continued to condemn countries with anti-gay laws and the 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality. He said: “It is an outrage that in our modern world, so many countries continue to criminalize people simply for loving another human being of the same sex.” In April 2013, he described LGBT rights as one of the great neglected human rights of our time. He also said that religion, culture or tradition can never justify denial of basic rights.
In terms of global development, Ban led the 70th annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in September 2015, which had the highest attendance in years. It was at this General Assembly that he adopted the new UN goals for sustainable development. Previously the 2010-2015 Millennium Developmment Goals (MDG) focused on eight goals to reduce poverty, halt diseases, ensure food security, and provide universal primary education.
The 17 new goals for 2015-2030 are called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The focus is on eradicating poverty, protecting and preserving the planet environmentally and culturally, and ensuring prosperity for all.
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the ocean, seas and marine resources
Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies
Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Reflecting on his tenure, at Harvard’s Institute of Politics on 25 April 2017, Ban spoke with humour about the challenges of his former position.
“Most of the UN staff address me like ‘SG’ instead of Secretary-General because it is too long. At the same time, ‘SG’ stands for ‘scapegoat.’ Whatever goes wrong, that’s all the United Nations Secretary-General’s fault,” he said.
Ban emphasized the importance of the United Nations, and said that the UN helped his family survive war-torn Korea, where he grew up. “When I was a boy during the Korean War in 1950s, the United Nations saved my family, my country, and myself,” Ban said. He also spoke on contemporary issues, such as ongoing conflicts between North Korea and other nations, the threat of nuclear weapons, and climate change.
He added advice for his audience, predominantly students: “Many leaders failed you, and many leaders are still failing you. Now is the moment for you to demonstrate a new way of approaching global problems, and prove the power of global citizenship for the sake of a common future,” Ban said.
He added that he thinks students should also uphold compassion in their work in public service. “I think most of you have a lot of passion, strong passion. But I’m asking you, this passion… should be compatible with compassion, respect for others, consideration, and compassion for other people.”