Ban Ki-moon: What's Important Is 'Protecting Human Rights' And 'Lives'

Originally published on June 27, 2011 7:54 pm

NPR's Robert Siegel spoke to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. As we reported last week, the U.N.'s General Assembly voted unanimously to keep Ban for another five-year term.

Robert's conversation with Ban ranged from Libya to Syria to a new report about this leadership. Here are some of the highlights:

-- Robert pressed Ban on why the United Nations approved military action against Libya but hasn't taken any action against countries like Syria or Bahrain. Ban said he had taken "strong views and positions on Syria." He said the United Nations sees no difference between countries when it comes to "protecting human rights and human lives."

When Robert asked him if he could pinpoint the Libya doctrine, that is why take action in Libya and not in other countries, Ban said this:

"The international community has recognized the important principle of the responsibility to protect," Ban said. "When a government is not able to protect their own people or when a government is not willing to protect their own population, the international community should be prepared to take necessary action."

-- Robert asked Ban about a recently completed report by the U.N.'s external oversight body, The Joint Inspection Unit. The report was very critical of Ban for his hiring practices. They said he was secretive and they alleged he tried to stonewall their investigation. Here's what Ban had to say about that:

"I always accept constructive criticism as a basis for reflection and change in management. Recently I have established a change management team ... to make this organization more efficient, effective, transparant and accountable and objective," he said.

-- Ban talked very carefully about the possibility that the U.N. could recognize an independent Palestinian state. He emphasized that what's important, right now, is for Israelis and Palestinians to get back to the negotiating table. He said that the Quartet on the Middle East — which is comprised by the U.N., the U.S., the European Union and Russia — would soon meet to discuss the issue:

Tune into All Things Considered on your local NPR member station to listen the full interview. We'll post the as-aired version of the interview a little later tonight.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Secretary-General, welcome to the program.

SIEGEL: Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure.

SIEGEL: I'd like to begin with Libya. You were a strong advocate of international action against Libya. You have not advocated similar action against Syria. Can you explain the difference between the two situations in your view?

SIEGEL: I have spoken to President Assad and issued a statement. I have been very vocal. Of course, the background of the situations may be different from Libya to Syria, but when it comes to a fundamental principle of protecting human rights, protecting human lives, it is all the same. I sincerely hope that Security Council will also be able to speak in a coherent manner.

SIEGEL: It appears that NATO, perhaps the Security Council as well, underestimated Colonel Gadhafi's staying power. Would it still serve the aim of protecting Libyan civilians if the fighting there actually did evolve into a protracted civil war?

SIEGEL: Our goals are fourfold. First, immediate and verifiable cease-fire. Then, extend our humanitarian assistance to many people who are in need of such help. And thirdly, we will continue to have this political dialogue. And lastly, we have already begun the early planning for peace building and peacemaking.

SIEGEL: But isn't it contradictory to say that you're still involved with in a political dialogue and also to say that Colonel Gadhafi, who might be a party to that dialogue, is now indicted by the International Court. Doesn't that mean that he cannot conceivably be a party to any resolution of this conflict now?

SIEGEL: No, this decision by the International Criminal Court is the one which we have to respect, being the independent international judiciary system. The question of Colonel Gadhafi is something which we have to deal with, but most of the international community member states believe that he should not be part of this political dialogue. And that is what the African Union also believe, as was stated by the key leaders of Africa most recently.

SIEGEL: Given the number of countries in the broad Middle East region that have, in one way or another, fired on their own people in the course of controlling protests from Syria to Bahrain, is there in your mind a clear standard that justifies multilateral intervention approved by the U.N. Security Council as it's happening in Libya but that doesn't extend to the Syrias and the Bahrains of the world?

SIEGEL: While the situations in the Arab world and North Africa have been very much worrisome, I believe that the general trend has been a positive one, where people have begun speaking out for their greater liberty and the participatory democracy. Now, in the situations in Bahrain and Yemen and Syria, we need to have a unified voice.

SIEGEL: But the international community's response to Libya appears to be unique. The problem seems to be general. The response in Libya seems to be specific and unlike the others. In a word, can you explain why? What is the Libya doctrine that makes so much sense to the Security Council?

SIEGEL: When a government is not willing to protect their own population, then the international community should take necessary action. This is what we have seen in the case of Libya, and I hope that this responsibility to protect the principle will get a wider and deeper support so that all these principle can be applied elsewhere.

SIEGEL: And on your role as a manager, there is a - as I'm sure you know, there's a report out by the U.N.'s Joint Inspection Unit. It's very critical. It faults you on hiring practices, too much secrecy, prolonged vacancies. And then they say that you stonewalled them as they were trying to look into this. Do you acknowledge that criticism, or is it unfair? Is it something you intend to do differently in your second term?

SIEGEL: I have had very close coordination and consultation with the members of Joint Inspection Unit. I have taken note of their criticism or their recommendations, and I have been making the senior appointment transparent and objective way based on merit, based on gender equality as well as equitable geographical consideration.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious. Since you sought a second term, is this a good job? Is it a satisfying job to hold, or is it a matter of always running up against obstacles and difficulties in reaching agreement on things?

SIEGEL: It's a very difficult job, but as a secretary-general, I'm much more committed and I devote all my time and energy in addressing international peace and security development and protecting human rights all around the world to make this better for all.

SIEGEL: Well, Secretary-General Ban, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SIEGEL: Thank you very much. It has been a great pleasure.

SIEGEL: Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, spoke to us from the U.N. in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.