U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered a full-throated, and thinly veiled, broadside against a host of world leaders from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit during his tenth and final speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
“In too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power,” he said. “My message to all is clear: serve your people. Do not subvert democracy; do not pilfer your country’s resources; do not imprison and torture your critics.”
Ban charged South Sudan’s leaders, which includes Kiir, with having “betrayed their people” by pursuing a violent path to power. He blasted Syria’s Assad for prosecuting a brutal military campaign to cling to power at the expense of millions of brutalized victims of war.
“Many groups have killed many innocents — but none more so than the government of Syria, which continues to barrel bomb neighborhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees,” he said.
Ban excoriated the outside powers that have supported the warring parties on both sides of the conflict. While Ban didn’t name names the list of regional or global powers — from Russia and Iran to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States — that supported the combatants — is long. “Powerful patrons that keep feeding the war machine also have blood on their hands,” he said. “Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all side.”
In what appeared to be an implicit criticism of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and nationalist, anti-immigrant leaders in Europe, Ban criticized politicians for scapegoating foreign migrants, especially Muslims, and engaging in “cynical and dangerous political math.”
“Muslims in particular are being targeted by stereotyping and suspicion that have echoes of the dark past,” he said.
Ban also voiced particular frustration that efforts to welcome an independent Palestinian state during his tenure have foundered. “It pains me that this past decade has been lost to peace. Ten years lost to illegal settlement expansion. Ten years lost to intra-Palestinian divide, growing polarization and hopelessness.”
“This is madness. Replacing a two-state solution with a one-state construct would spell doom: denying Palestinians their freedom and rightful future, and pushing Israel further from its vision of a Jewish democracy towards greater global isolation.”
Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, fired back shortly after the speech. “The real madness belong to the U.N.,” he said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on Palestinian terror and incitement, and instead of compelling Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, the secretary general chose to criticize Israel once again. This is an obsession with Israel and it must end.”
He also expressed remorse over two internal scandals that have roiled his tenure at the U.N., the exploitation of women and children in the Central African Republic by U.N. peacekeepers and the outbreak of cholera in Haiti, which was introduced into the country be Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers.
“I would like to use this moment to express my regret,” he said, noting that the incidents “tarnished the reputation of the United Nations and, far worse, traumatized many people we serve.”
In Haiti, the U.N. had denied responsibility for years, but Ban said he was working on an aid package for victims and their families in the impoverished country.
John Hudson contributed to this report.