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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a news conference ahead of the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 17, 2013. Over 100 heads of state are expected to attend the general debate of the General Assembly which begins in New York on September 24, 2013. (Reuters/Mike Segar)
Thank you, Mr. President, for convening this important session on the first day of the 68th Session of the General Assembly, and thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your briefing. I would like to thank Dr. Sellstrom and his team for their important work, carried out with bravery and great care. What is happening in Syria demands the world’s attention and it demands urgent action.
More than 100,000 people have been killed, a generation of Syrians scarred, and a country and region forever changed.
As we have just heard, Dr. Sellstrom’s report confirms unmistakably that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21. We’ve seen the videos. We’ve heard from humanitarian workers. And yesterday we heard from the UN’s own experts. The stories are haunting – hospitals packed with people suffocating from poison gas. The images and testimonies are a call to all of us to action. As Assad waged war on his own people with the full force of his military– including chemical weapons on multiple previous occasions – the United Nations was not able to come together on a meaningful response.
The United States offered in-depth briefings by our leading intelligence officials, who shared with many of you the evidence that they had collected, and they responded to your questions. The evidence of the events of August 21 is clear: in the days before the attack, Assad’s chemical weapons experts prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to regime troops. They then fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 12 neighborhoods that the regime had been trying to clear of opposition forces. It defies logic to think that the opposition infiltrated this regime-controlled territory to fire rockets on its own opposition-controlled areas—and only into opposition-controlled areas—on a massive scale.
After the chemical weapons attack, senior regime military officers reviewed the results, and the regime increased its shelling of these same neighborhoods in the days that followed. The United States has studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site, and our samples tested positive for sarin gas, just as Dr. Sellstrom’s samples did. And let’s remember here today that every reference to a “biomedical sample” refers to a person, a flesh and blood human being who suffered a monstrous attack. The 1,400 people killed in the attack are not here to testify today about what happened. The more than 400 children will never wake up to tell us their dreams for their futures.
For a crime of this magnitude, it is not enough to say “chemical weapons were used,” anymore than it would have been enough to say that “machetes were used” in Rwanda in 1994. We must condemn the user, and here we must acknowledge what the technical details of the UN report make clear: only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack, the largest attack in 25 years.
The 12-centimeter rockets that the UN says were used in the attack and that tested positive for sarin are the same rockets used by the regime in previous attacks. We have reviewed thousands of open source videos related to the current conflict in Syria and have never once observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket. We also learned yesterday in the Security Council that the quality of the sarin was higher than that of the sarin used in Saddam Hussein’s program. And the rockets found on the site were professionally made and, according to Dr. Sellstrom, they bore none of the characteristics of jerry-rigged, improvised weapons. They had sophisticated barometric fuses to disperse the nerve agent in the air and not on impact. This was a professionally executed massacre by the regime, which is known to possess one of the world’s largest undeclared stockpiles of sarin. To think otherwise is to willfully blind oneself to the facts that have been presented.
Assad’s use of chemical weapons crossed the world’s redline and the international community has a responsibility not to stand by while Assad uses weapons that the world long ago agreed should never be used. And we all must recognize that the price of failing to hold Assad accountable is just too steep. The risks could extend well beyond Syria to the region and beyond. The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is a colossal threat to the security of people everywhere.
The progress made last Saturday in discussions between the United States and Russia marks an important step toward moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed. This framework seeks the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons, which could end the threat that these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and to the world. In order for the framework to be implemented in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, the Security Council must be prepared to back up the agreement reached and to enforce it through a robust, binding resolution. There must be consequences for non-compliance and for any obstruction or any delay. We must be willing to hold the Assad regime to account to live up to its public commitments, and that requires meaningful action in New York in order to ensure that the officials we send to carry out the destruction and removal of Syria’s chemical weapons have the mandate and the tools that they need to do so, and do not themselves become unwitting bystanders to continued obstruction or further chemical weapons use by Assad’s forces.
Mr. Secretary-General, the UN has a crucial role to play here, supporting and working alongside the OPCW and member states. We know that the OPCW will be asked to take special steps to enable the quick destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program, including a stringent verification process. As I said earlier today in the Security Council, the degree of difficulty here, on a scale of 1 to 10, is an 11. We need to maximize the chances for success by giving the mission our strong backing. We must reinforce this effort through the Security Council to ensure verification and effective implementation. We hope that states will also step forward -- as my government has committed to do -- to support the OPCW and the UN in their efforts.
Finally, whether by chemical weapons or by conventional weapons, the violence against civilians in Syria has gone on too long and it must stop. An agreement on the destruction and removal of chemical weapons is not a substitute for a political solution. The 100,000 or more dead Syrians makes it gravely clear that a political transition is urgently needed to end the violence. We, in the United States, remain committed to convening a Geneva conference as soon as possible and practicable.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General and thank you. Mr. President.
Source: State Department via Storyful
Good morning and thank you all for joining us for this Peace Bell Ceremony.The International Day of Peace is a time for reflection – a day when we reiterate our belief in non-violence and call for a global ceasefire.We ask people everywhere to observe a minute of silence at noon local time.We honour those killed in conflict and the survivors who live with daily trauma and pain.And we call for combatants to lay down their arms and end hostilities.Perhaps nowhere in the world is this more desperately needed than in Syria.The death and suffering has gone on too long.I repeat my call to all parties and their supporters to work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through negotiation.Ladies and Gentlemen, the theme of this year’s observance is “Education for Peace”.When Malala Yousafzai came to the United Nations in July, she said: “One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”These are our most powerful weapons.That is why I launched the Global Education First Initiative last year.Every girl and every boy deserves to receive a quality education and learn the values that will help them to grow up to be global citizens in tolerant communities that respect diversity.Governments and development partners are working hard to meet this goal.But we must do more – much more.We need to accelerate momentum in countries with the greatest needs, such as those affected by conflict.I have travelled to many war zones. I have visited families in refugee camps. The plea is often the same: “Education first”.The UN family-- including UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Food Programme – is working in conflict and post-conflict environments.We are building schools, developing curricula, training teachers and providing nourishing breakfasts and school lunches.These initiatives can transform the lives of children and help address the root causes of conflict.On this International Day of Peace, let us pledge to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect.When we put education first, we can reduce poverty and end hunger, end wasted potential, and build stronger and better societies for all.After a moment of silence I will ring the Peace Bell.Let us pledge to amplify the message it carries, so it can echo in the sound of school bells around the world.Let us commit to peace everywhere.Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.May I invite all of you to observe a minute of silence.
US government officials have said that al-Bashir has applied for a visa to attend the UN General Assembly, which is scheduled to hold its general debate from September 24 to October 2, 2013. He is subject to two arrest warrants by the ICC for crimes in Darfur – one for genocide and another for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC opened an investigation after the Security Council referred the Darfur situation to the court in Resolution 1593 in March 2005.
“If al-Bashir turns up at the UN General Assembly, it will be a brazen challenge to Security Council efforts to promote justice for crimes in Darfur,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice program director at Human Rights Watch. “The last thing the UN needs is a visit by an ICC fugitive.”
A visit by al-Bashir would be the first to the UN or the United States by someone subject to an ICC arrest warrant. Many countries, including ICC members and non-members, have avoided anticipated visits by al-Bashir by encouraging him to send other Sudanese government representatives, rescheduling or relocating meetings, or cancelling his visits. They include South Africa, Malaysia, Zambia, Turkey, Central African Republic, Kenya, and Malawi.
The US has condemned al-Bashir’s potential General Assembly visit. On September 16, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, called it “deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate.”
Pretty much across the board, in every country and in every industry, women continue to be undervalued, underrepresented and underpaid. Today, two-thirds of those who live in abject poverty are women and girls. Two reasons that likely contribute to this predicament are that two-thirds of the global illiterate population is women due to lack of access to education, and only between 10 and 20 percent of women in developing countries have land rights. Add to this that women make up less than 19 percent of parliamentarians and 10 percent of heads of state. In other words, women’s voices are absent in addressing the issues that most affect their lives and the lives of their families.
While those who work in global development seem to clearly acknowledge the benefit of empowering women and girls, it seems to be more in theory than in practice.
One blatant example is the lack of financial support for UN Women by UN member states. “Since the creation of UN Women, words have not matched funding action,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in her first press conference last week as Executive Director of UN Women. She called the limited funding, “the elephant in the room.”
So what’s really going on here?
While I agree that the limited financial support for UN Women is the elephant in the room, I think there is an even bigger elephant blocking that one: Religion.
In 2000, world leaders identified eight anti-poverty goals that included, "poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a global partnership for development."
The 2015 deadline for achieving those Millennium Development Goals looms large over this year's meeting of the UN General Assembly
“The upcoming year will be pivotal for this Assembly as we seek to identify the parameters of the post-2015 development agenda,” 68th General Assembly President John W. Ashe said in his opening address to the 193-Member State body, where scores of Heads of State will take to the podium next week in the annual general debate.
“The magnitude of the task before us will require decisive action and the highest levels of collaboration and we must prove ourselves and our efforts to be equal to the enormity of the task.
The year 2015 is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight anti-poverty targets agreed by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, setting specific goals on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a global partnership for development.
To this end Mr. Ashe, a national of Antigua and Barbuda, has declared “The Post 2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage” the theme for the 68th General Assembly, a theme underscored by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“We will intensify our efforts to define a post-2015 development agenda, including with a single set of goals for sustainable development that we hope will address the complex challenges of this new era and capture the imagination of the people of the world, as the MDGs did,” Mr. Ban told the 193-member body, adding that attention would also be focussed on speeding achievement of the MDG in the 1,000 days to the deadline.