Ban Ki-moon Under Fire

      September 03, 2009 11:10

      UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon looks at an ice core on the Norwegian island of Svalbard on Tuesday. Ban is on a two-day trip to the Arctic Circle to see first-hand the effects of climate change ahead of key international climate talks in Copenhagen in December. /AP-Newsis

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's "quiet diplomacy" has drawn criticism that he is failing to make an impact and playing into the hands of repressive regimes. Halfway through Ban's five-year term, the Western press is voicing concerns over the compatibility of Ban's leadership style with his position at the head of the world body.

      Ban has been unassertive in public and occasionally agreed to meet with dictators after winning what he says were palpable concessions, but the Western media is quoting critics who say the UN secretary-general should represent the UN's moral authority more forcibly.

      The Washington Post, in an article Tuesday titled "UN Chief's 'Quiet' Outreach to Autocrats Causing Discord," said his attempt to engage repressive leaders "has recently exposed the UN chief to criticism that he too often remains silent in the face of atrocities by the very leaders he seeks to cultivate." Ban's "frequent contacts with unsavory leaders have contributed to the United Nations' reputation as a forum for grubby compromises."

      It quoted Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, as saying, "The main image people have of him is sitting down with the bad guys and getting nothing."

      The Economist in June said Ban "shows signs of wanting a second term; some wonder whether he deserves it." Foreign Policy journal, pulling no punches, called him "the world's most dangerous Korean," and the Wall Street Journal referred to him as "the UN's 'invisible man.'"

      Criticism mounted when Ban visited Burma in early July and met junta leader Than Shwe without managing to see opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi or prevent her being sentenced to yet another period of house arrest. Norway's UN ambassador, Mona Juul, in a confidential memo to the Norwegian foreign minister called Ban a "spineless and charmless" leader incapable of handling crises like those in Sri Lanka, where thousands of civilians were reportedly killed in an attempt to rout the Tamil Tigers.

      Ban and his team say such criticism is unfair. Ban says he is not an eloquent politician but a diplomat who actually makes things happen. He says he persuaded the Burmese junta to give international charities access to 500,000 victims of a deadly cyclone in May 2008, and pressured Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow UN peacekeepers into the country in 2007.

      John Sawers, Britain's UN ambassador, said Ban was more aggressive than any government in the world in protecting civilians from the civil war in Sri Lanka. The secretary-general also has the support of powerful countries like China, the U.S. and the U.K., but whether he can win a second term depends on whether he can show more palpable achievements in the remaining two-and-a-half years of his first.

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