His Excellency Ban Ki-moon
In an exclusive interview with Kuwait News Agency prior to his departure for Kuwait, to attend the Second International Pledging Conference for Syria, His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, expressed his views on the donor conference and its importance to the humanitarian crisis brought about by the Syrian conflict.
Nearly 10 million people within Syria are estimated to have been affected by the ongoing crisis in that country. The United Nations numbers show that 6.5 million people have been internally displaced, many of them more than once, and over 2.3 million are registered as refugees in neighboring countries. Last month, the UN issued its biggest ever appeal of US$ 6.5 billion for humanitarian assistance to Syria and neighboring countries in 2014.
Meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League appointed peace envoy to Syria, has been fervently pushing the warring parties in Syria and their international backers to support the UN backed Geneva II Peace Conference slated for 22 January.
Geneva II is seen as the best prospect for a peaceful solution to the Syrian civil war by bringing together representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition to discuss a transitional government for the country. It is against this background that the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, due in Kuwait on January 15, takes on added significance.
At the onset of the interview, the UN Secretary-General expressed his gratitude to Kuwait for its "very generous support and vision" to end the humanitarian crisis of the Syrian people, and insisted that the Geneva II Conference to find a political solution to the three-year conflict in Syria "must be a success." He added, "We are very grateful to His Highness the Amir of Kuwait for this very generous support and vision to end the humanitarian crisis of the Syrian people.”
The Secretary-General voiced his concern that the humanitarian situation inside Syria and in neighboring countries has reached a "very serious ... and critical" level, with more than 6.5 million Syrians internally displaced and more than 2.3 million refugees in neighboring and other countries.
Almost half the population has been affected, he added, and 40 percent of the hospitals have been destroyed and another 20 percent not functioning properly. "This is a very sad situation." Ban recalled that the UN has appealed last month for $ 6.5 billion for the year 2014 for Syria alone. "I sincerely hope that member states will come (to the Kuwait Conference) with generous helping hands" to help the Syrian people inside and outside the country.
Expressing regret that the UN received only 70 to 80 percent of the USD 1.5 billion generated at the first Kuwait Donor Conference held last January, Ban pointed out that at that Conference, Kuwait had pledged and delivered $ 300 Million, 75 percent of which went to the UN and its specialized agencies and 25 percent to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "We are also very grateful for such generous contributions of the Kuwaiti Government," Ban said.
The neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees should also be given continuous support, he said. "It must be a heavy burden on them. That is our moral responsibility." Ban conceded, however, that the UN is experiencing "serious funding gaps ... I should admit that there seems to be some fatigue among donor countries because of this continuing violence. Until when and how much the international community should be responsible for all these tragedies?" he wondered, stressing that the UN and the international community must, nevertheless, continue to help the Syrian people.
On the continuing conflict in Syria, Ban said the countries that want to perpetuate this situation "should realize that there is no military option. There is only a political solution, a sustainable solution to the Syrian people." That's why, he explained, "I am doing my best efforts, together with Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, to bring an end to this violence through political negotiations" at the upcoming Geneva II Conference for Syria.
Ban expressed "sincere hope" that member states will go to Geneva II Conference with a "strong political commitment to end this crisis. And in order to have a political solution, there should be some unity and strong solidarity of the international community." "The Geneva II Conference must be a success," he insisted. "There are no other options. We must exert all our efforts, all our wisdom and resources. That's why I am urging the participants to come with a strong commitment and to urge the Syrian parties to end violence." "Let's see what kind of result we will have (at Geneva II Conference), and after that I will have to discuss a further course of action," he said.
Speaking about the Kuwait-Iraq relations, Ban said he is "encouraged by continuing improvement" in the political and other relations and their reconciliation efforts.â€¨"Let me express my sincere appreciation and commendation for the visionary leadership of His Highness the Amir in trying to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue and in a peaceful manner," he said. On the recent developments in Iraq, Ban said he is "deeply concerned" about the current security situation and the level of violence which has reached an all time high since 2008, recalling that more than 7,800 people were killed during last year alone and more than 10,000 were injured.
"There should be a strong measure taken by the Iraqi leaders to promote reconciliation among the parties concerned and resolve their differences through peaceful means so that they should be able to address the root causes of this crisis," he urged. He also expressed hope that the security situation in Iraq "will not affect the improvement of bilateral relations between Iraq and Kuwait."
On the recent increase of terrorist attacks in the region, Ban said terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstances whatever the causes may be. He said the international community "must unite and address this terrorism issue with solidarity and close coordination and cooperation, by exchanging information, aligning their capacities and helping the countries affected by terrorism improve their capabilities to fight it. We should do our best not to provide any breeding grounds where terrorists and extremists can thrive. This is an important way." Another way, he suggested, is through education which is the "most important building block in addressing all the issues of our society."
Ban said educating and enlightening people significantly reduces the risk of being affected by extremism and intolerance. Through proper education, he explained, young generations will grow up more tolerant, more understanding and more respectful of other ethnicities, cultures, traditions and civilizations. He agreed with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, who told the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee late last year that "Education is a security issue." "I think there is some reason to that kind of logic," Ban said of Blair's assertion.
Ban recalled his 2012 Global Education First Initiative, explaining that "education is the basic foundation through which we can not only educate the people, but also strengthen their understanding of other cultures and traditions and raise their level of tolerance."