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United Nations: A New Chief

Ban Ki-Moon, the South Korean who took over as secretary general of the United Nations on January 1, inherits a daunting and long list of expectations, some of them conflicting ones. He also takes over at a time when disenchantment with the UN is very high.

Like all UN chiefs before him, Ban could become secretary general not because the majority of the 192 member-countries voted for him, but because the five permanent members of the Security Council endorsed his candidature. A large part of the world will be scrutinising his statements and actions in that light. At his first press conference, Ban was asked if the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein should have been executed. His answer was that Saddam was responsible for unspeakable atrocities against the Iraqi people and added that the issue of capital punishment is for every member state to decide. But, they should pay due regard to all aspects of humanitarian law. The American Right happily commended his answers only to turn vituperative when Ban urged Iraq to commute the death sentences of two former members of Saddam’s government. This was put down to pressure from “UN careerists and anti-death penalty lobbyists”. Perhaps the biggest blow to UN prestige came with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US. Though the former secretary general Kofi Annan was accused of “lecturing” the US at every step, the Security Council failed to either prevent the invasion or even come out unequivocally against it.

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