United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Tehran on Thursday that he believes the structure of the UN should be reformed so that it can become more representative, more democratic, and more transparent.
He also said that Iran would benefit from fully drawing on the activism of its civil society.
Ban made the remarks during a speech at the School of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. A number of professors, students, and reporters attended the event.
He arrived in the Iranian capital on Wednesday to attend the 16th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which opened on Thursday and closed on Friday.
At the beginning of his speech, Ban commented on the fact that pressure was exerted on him by certain international officials to boycott the NAM summit in Tehran and said that he decided to visit Iran because he believes in “the power of engagement” and “the power of diplomacy” and has a responsibility toward every UN member state.
In addition, he stated that he decided to travel to Iran because the summit in Tehran would bring together delegates from 120 countries, which could provide a great opportunity for him to hold talks with leaders of Iran and other countries.
He also said that he believes in “finding peaceful solutions to even the most difficult challenges” and believes in “the values of the United Nations.”
“That’s why I am here,” he added.
Iran should fully draw on the activism of its civil society
On the situation in Iran, the UN secretary general said, “I also have a strong sense that the people of Iran know what kind of society they wish to build. I wanted to come and encourage you, to know what your aspirations are and how (the) United Nations can work together.
“I very much welcome to see for myself directly, personally, a country that figures prominently in the global awareness.”
He added, “Today, we look out upon a global landscape full of challenges, a prolonged economic crisis worldwide, job crisis, climate change, a rising tide of intolerance.”
More “effective” international cooperation is required to overcome these challenges, Ban said, adding, “We need every country to see the national interests in the global interests” so that the international community can prosper.
The UN secretary general noted, “Here in Iran, poverty and maternal mortality are down. That’s good. Literacy for girls is up. Women now make up more than half of all universities in Iran. That’s again fantastic. This welcome trend must continue with women entering an ever broader range of professions and fields of study.”
However, he said, “There are many areas (where) you have to do more when it comes to women.
“In a larger sense, I believe Iran would benefit from fully drawing on the activism of civil society. Of course, unleashing the potential of civil society means accepting its diversity of views, even when these views might seem challenging to authorities. Social activism and critics should never be conflated with national security and seen as a threat to the society or the state.
“I have grown up in a country where all this democratic transition has formed through (a) very turbulent, very turbulent period. We were, at least, under the military dictatorship thirty- two years, but, before and after it, there was a lot of social and political turbulence. Their excuses, all politicians’ pretexts, were that this is not beneficial for national security. So they always tried to identify the voices of social, civil society with their national security priorities. I think this should not be conflated with national security.
“I know that the state of the economy is at the forefront of concerns; rising prices, declining economic opportunity, a lack of jobs. I know this is hitting young people particularly hard. Expanding opportunities for youths is a generational imperative.
“This is especially true in a place like… Iran, which has one of the youngest populations in the world, with more than 60 percent of your population under the age of 30. So you are very young people on average.
“You are also a highly networked society. Well over half of your population uses the Internet, again, led by young people. With freedom and space, Iran’s young people can be a primary engine for driving your country’s progress and standing.”
He added, “You know that to build a future of opportunity and hope for all of the people of Iran, important issues must be addressed and universal values upheld. The United Nations and the international community are fully behind the people of Iran in your long struggle for democracy and human rights.
“The first human rights charter was developed by Cyrus 2,500 years ago. This is something… very commendable… (that) you should be very proud of. Today, Iranian scholarship and Islam itself offer a rich and pluralist tradition of interpretation and application of the law, and I encourage Iran to allow greater space for different and divergent perspectives to play out in public debate.
Iran nuclear issue should be resolved diplomatically
Elsewhere in his remarks, Ban commented on the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, saying, “It is in Iran’s interest to take concrete steps to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. That is why I urge Iran to uphold its responsibilities as a UN member state and party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions.
“And I urge all parties in the region to recognize the need to resolve this situation through diplomatic and peaceful means.”
Meeting on nuclear-weapons-free zone in Middle East to be convened soon
The UN secretary general also commented on the proposal for the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, saying, “Let us remember that it was Iran itself, 38 years ago, you proposed the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
“Efforts that would lead to a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction are already underway. I have appointed a special envoy, and he is now working very hard to convene this meeting… This represents a unique opportunity for all states in the region to constructively address common security problems on an equal level.
I know Iran feels unduly singled out
During his speech, Ban also noted, “I understand that Iran has suffered at the hands of external actors. You went through a terrible war with your neighbor. You have felt unduly singled out.
“But I also know that you can overcome the current difficulties and build a better future.”
I acknowledge that UN structure should be reformed
On the calls that the structure of the UN should be reformed, Ban said, “I personally believe, and most of the member states believe, that the Security Council and other UN bodies should be reformed, should be changed (to make them) more representative… more democratic, more transparent… There is no doubt about that.
He also enumerated a number of the accomplishments made by the UN and said that no war crime or act of genocide, even those committed before the establishment of the UN, can escape justice because many international tribunals have been established in this regard.