Ban Ki-Moon: I am willing to take any measures for human rights

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon discusses intervention in Libya, the situation in Yemen and Syria, and the argument between Bahrain and Iran. He reiterates Israel's human rights violations and the importance of the peace process. He speaks finally of his hopes for the Arab region.

Ban Ki-moon is secretary general of the United Nations. He was interviewed by Raghida Dergham for the Global Viewpoint Network in Cairo on March 21.

Raghida Dergham: Is the UN Security Council action in Libya a preview of the same thing being done in other parts of the world? Is Yemen next for an international Arab intervention?

Ban Ki-Moon: You have seen what has happened in Libya. We had many civilians being indiscriminately killed by government forces and even some mercenaries, according reports. This was a totally unacceptable situation, and the longer we wait, the more people would have been killed. That’s why, upon the strong recommendation of the Arab League, the Security Council has taken a swift action, decisive action. Now, if you look at the history of the United Nations, this swift action was very unprecedented.

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Yemen's president must do more

Dergham: You are now saying that, in Yemen, it is not enough for Ali Abdullah Saleh to dismiss his government. You are saying more is needed. Do you want him to leave?

Ban Ki-Moon: The future of any leader or political systems is to be determined by the people of the country. What I am urging him to do as the president of Yemen is to take bold reform.

Dergham: Yes, but he offered some reform, and then the opposition said it is not enough. Then he dismissed his whole cabinet, and you said it is not enough. What do you want him to do? Do you want him to step down? If he does what Muammar Qaddafi did in Libya and kills more people50 people were already killed in one day – do you think the Security Council should apply the same measures in Yemen as it did in Libya?

Ban Ki-Moon: This is what the Security Council will have to decide. What I am urging is that he should immediately engage in broad-based dialogue with a sense of patience, with sense of flexibility and compromise. The power of the leader is given to him by the people, so he has a duty to engage and listen more attentively and carefully to the aspirations of the people.

We have seen in the past where leaders have not been open-minded or have not been flexible. That’s why the people came out to the streets and shouted and chanted for more reforms and more freedoms. This, he has to listen to.

Dergham: Are you willing to go to Yemen and try to open a dialogue, to be a conduit for a dialogue, between Ali Abdullah Saleh and the opposition in order to avoid such a bloodshed?

Ban Ki-Moon: I am still very closely following the situation. I have been urging restraint through my statements. I have condemned this killing of people and using live ammunition to kill people. So, this is not acceptable again.

Not the time for political solution for Qaddafi

Dergham: You sent your political representative to Libya, but then in the end, endorsed a military operation. So what is his job now? Is there only a military end for the situation in Libya, or is there space for politics – for a political solution?

Ban Ki-Moon: He had good consultation with the Libyan authorities in Tripoli last Sunday, and he is also meeting at this time with others. He will report back to me his findings. His mandate is to see how we can provide urgent, imminent humanitarian assistance and also discuss on a broader dimension the situation of Libya.

Dergham: Is there a political horizon for a solution still with Muammar Qaddafi?

Ban Ki-Moon: I don’t believe this is the time for any political situation. First, they have to stop military fighting, and there should be a firm cease-fire; we have to monitor it, and we have to expand our humanitarian support for those people inside Libya as well as those streaming out of Libya.

Dergham: If the regime upholds the cease-fire, then will it be time to negotiate and talk? Or is the Qaddafi regime finished and over with?

Ban Ki-Moon: I will have to discuss this with the Security Council member states. I am going to brief the members of the Security Council when I return on Thursday. By that time, I will be able to get more findings from my special envoy. And we will watch very closely the situation.

ICC should and will investigate Qaddafi

Dergham: If Muammar Qaddafi is to step down, should he be accused of crimes against humanity?

Ban Ki-Moon: The International Criminal Court [ICC] prosecutor has declared that he is going to investigate Qaddafi based upon Security Council Resolution 1970, and the Human Rights Council has established an independent commission of investigation. Those findings will be submitted from May to June, so based upon all these findings and recommendations, I believe that the ICC and UN Human Rights Council will make the necessary decisions.

I have stated publicly that the situation which has happened in Libya could be a violation of international human rights and international humanitarian laws.

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Dergham: What if Muammar Qaddafi refuses to step down? Do you fear a quagmire for the international community? Is there an exit strategy?

Ban Ki-Moon: He is completely isolated. He has lost his legitimacy. Then it is for the Libyan people to decide and to determine.

Dergham: Is this UN intervention in Libya about supporting the opposition to bring Qaddafi down?

Ban Ki-Moon: The coalition and the United Nations support the Libyan people.

An ethnic dimension to situation in Bahrain

Dergham: You have had discussions with the king of Bahrain in the last couple of days. What are you trying to do about Bahrain? Are you going to intervene as the United Nations? Have you been asked?

Ban Ki-Moon: The situation and background of the crisis in Bahrain seems to be different. There is an ethnic dimension to the unrest between Shiites and Sunnis. I have been urging King Hamad of Bahrain to engage in dialogue immediately. I have also urged the opposition leaders to take part in the national dialogue.

Dergham: So have you offered your good offices to mediate between the opposition and the government of Bahrain?

Ban Ki-Moon: I have offered, and we will have to see when and how my offer could be initiated. I am discussing this matter with the Gulf Cooperation Council as well.

Have to be careful with conflict between Bahrain and Iran

Dergham: The Bahraini government has accused Iran of intervening in internal issues of Bahrain. Do you agree that Bahrain has a case?

Ban Ki-Moon: I have received a call from the Iranian foreign minister, and I have received an official note from the Bahrainian government stating their respective positions. I am in the process of dealing with contrasting positions.

Dergham: So what are the Iranians saying? We know what the Bahrainians are saying. What are they asking you?

Ban Ki-Moon: Of course they are asking me to intervene. These are conflicting arguments of two member states. Therefore, I have to very carefully consider how the United Nations handles this matter.

My public record on Iran is clear

Dergham: You have been positioning yourself as a person who champions the Arab revolution for democracy against autocracy and for the right of individuals to express their freedom and liberty. But you have been conspicuously quiet when it comes to Iran, which has also been cracking down on demonstrators. Why have you not been critical of them as well?

Ban Ki-Moon: I have condemned them many times in public and in private. I have received so many complaints and protests over that condemnation. My public record is clear.

Dergham: Since the crackdown continues in Iran, what are you planning to do next?

Ban Ki-Moon: The international community has been condemning and urging them to take reform measures in a democratic way. I will continue to do that.

Syrian leader should listen to their own people

Dergham: What do you want the Syrian government to do now?

Ban Ki-Moon: Here, too, I have been urging the leaders to listen to the aspirations and challenges of their own people, and engage in dialogue and take very bold measures. Normally, to their regret, these measures and bold reforms come too late, too little.

Dergham: Have you made any phone calls to President Bashar al-Assad about the current unrest in Syria?

Ban Ki-Moon: Not yet. I am closely following the situation. I have been preoccupied with the Libyan situation.

Dergham: Do you plan to?

Ban Ki-Moon: Let us see. I am willing to take any measures when it comes to the fundamental principle of human rights.

I have been vocal against Israel's policies

Dergham: Critics say you have been outspoken about the democratic process in the Arab world, but you have been rather lenient with the Israelis in terms of confronting them on Palestinian rights. Is that unfair to you?

Ban Ki-Moon: It is unfair. I have been very vocal against Israel and their settlement policies and their lack of cooperation in the Middle East peace process. I am deeply concerned by the lack of progress of the Middle East process.

But at the same time, I have been urging a clear position of the United Nations that whatever is happening in that part of the world in terms of democratic wind should not affect the ongoing peace process in the Middle East.

Now it seems to be the case that Israel has been concerned and watching very carefully what has happened in Egypt and what may happen in Jordan and the neighboring area. I have been urging this should be separate, and the peace process should continue on its own purpose and merit.

Dergham: As a man who believes in human rights, do you believe that continued occupation is a violation of human rights of the individuals under occupation?

Ban Ki-Moon: The United Nations has made it quite clear that it [occupation] is against international law.

Preventive diplomacy has gained priority with my administration

Dergham: You came to Egypt and Tunisia after the events here. Why haven’t you decided to go into places to help avoid bloodshed like in Yemen, in places like Bahrain, Morocco, Syria?

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Ban Ki-Moon: I have been consulting and talking to almost all the leaders in the region. Sometimes it is known to the public and sometimes not known. But I really want to help them – the leaders – by speaking to them very genuinely, in a sincere manner. I am going to continue to do that. This is a part of the preventive diplomacy and facilitation that is gaining more priority within my administration.

International coalition will be successful in Libya

Dergham: Is this going to be an open-ended military operation in Libya?

Ban Ki-Moon: No, I don’t think that should be. First, Libya should stop fighting and end their hostilities.

Dergham: If they don’t?

Ban Ki-Moon: As long as they don’t, the no-fly zone and military operation should continue.

Dergham: Are you worried about the quagmire?

Ban Ki-Moon: I think this is different than other situations. I believe that the international coalition will have a successful operation.

Dergham: You mean in the short term? Do you think it will take a short time?

Ban Ki-Moon: That’s what I hope, and that’s what I understand the international coalition forces will do.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity

Dergham: What are your worries and hopes for the region?

Ban Ki-Moon: First of all, my own views have to be separated from my mandate as the secretary general.

I believe this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I was one of the students who went out to the streets in Korea when I was young, asking for more freedom and bold reforms and changes. Then Korea achieved democratic development as well economic prosperity.

More than 20 years ago we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the changes in Eastern Europe, then freedom and the market economy. Now we are seeing this sweeping wind of change across the Arab region. It is only natural that people’s wishes and aspirations should be realized by the leaders of the region.

As this wind of change blows, it is up to the leaders to seize this opportunity to look for the better future for their own people through bold reforms before it is too late, before [the people] are forced to take action.

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We have seen what had happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Had the [leaders] taken earlier some fundamental and bold measures, they could have met the expectations of the people. So I am again hoping that there will be due changes, and there will be more freedom and more participation in democracy, and more prosperity in this part of the region.

© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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