“If the challenges ahead appear daunting, let us remember that great expectations are placed on us,” Mr. Ban told staff during a town hall meeting held at UN Headquarters in New York, in which colleagues from around the world participated via video-link.
“The world recognizes the indispensable nature of the United Nations. Let us take heart from the fact that multilateralism is alive and well and in greater demand than ever – that people look to us for global solutions to global problems.”
Noting that 2008 will be a milestone year marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mr. Ban said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) would be strengthened “so we can deliver more results on the ground,” and he would create a task force on the global scourge of violence against women.
In peace and security, he cited the establishment of the hybrid UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) which will be the Organization’s largest peacekeeping operation when it reaches its mandated level of some 26,000 troops and police in an effort to bring peace to that war-torn region of western Sudan.
“Our task now is to strengthen our capacity for preventive diplomacy, and instil a more integrated and effective UN approach in responding to conflict and supporting sustainable peace processes,” he added, noting the need to continue reforming the Department of Political Affairs and enhancing the peacebuilding system to prevent countries emerging from conflict from slipping back into bloodshed.
Mr. Ban called for redoubling efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of social ills such as extreme hunger and poverty, infant and maternal mortality, and lack of access to health and education, all by 2015, adding that Africa must be the priority, as many countries there are in danger of falling short.
He stressed that the poorest countries are also among those most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
“So we must act on the mutually reinforcing relationship between climate goals and development goals. Climate change will remain a top priority, both because of the desperate urgency of the issue itself, and because of the tight negotiating calendar,” he added, referring to the agreement at last month’s conference in Bali to have a treaty on greenhouse gas emission targets ready by the end of next year.
All these needs will also require revamping the UN’s internal workings, and Mr. Ban cited the streamlining of the world body’s contracts system and a continued focus on better governance, performance, accountability and transparency.
Stressing the primacy of staff security and safety after last month’s bombing of UN offices in Algiers, he declared: “The tragedy in Algiers also strengthens our resolve to explain even more clearly and consistently to the public the role of the United Nations, wherever we operate – why we are there, what we are doing, what we stand for and what we don’t.
“We must make clear we are not there to represent any one group of nations over another. We are there to clear landmines, build schools, run clinics, advance the rule of law, provide emergency relief, help protect the environment, promote human rights, keep the peace in troubled lands – in short, build better lives for the men, women and children we exist to serve.”