(Vatican Radio) “[Pope Francis] is a man of humility and humanity, and he is a man of moral voice, and purpose.” There were the words with which the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, described the Holy Father in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio ahead of the Pope’s visit to the United Nations in New York at the end of September. “We are looking forward with great excitement [to] His Holiness, Pope Francis’ visit to the United Nations,” said Ban, adding, “I’m grateful for his compassionate leadership for peace and humanity.”
In a broad-ranging conversation with Paolo Mastrolilli, long-time US correspondent for Vatican Radio’s Italian-language news service, Ban addressed the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean basin and at the borders of Europe, persecution of minorities, climate change, sustainable development, and international political and security issues ranging from poverty reduction to the recently-reached nuclear agreement between the so-called P5+1 nations including the United States, and Iran.
Ban called on European leaders to increase their efforts to help and welcome migrants and refugees, saying, “I commend the leadership and global solidarity the European leaders are showing, but at the same time, in view of the gravity and the scale of this crisis, I would naturally expect that European leaders should do more.”
On the closely related issue of ongoing war in Syria and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities – especially Christians – throughout the whole Mideast region and beyond, Ban said, “There should be no such discrimination – against anybody – on the basis of any criteria of religion or ethnicity – and it is totally unacceptable to persecute, to discriminate [against] people on the basis of their beliefs – on the basis of who you love, what you believe.” Ban went on to say, “Migrants and refugees should be treated humanely, responsibly, under the international refugee convention, international humanitarian laws, and international human rights laws.” The UN Secretary-General went on to renew his call on European nations, especially, to show enlightened and humane leadership. “Therefore, I am urging European leaders – again – that they should open borders and provide necessary, life-saving humanitarian assistance: we have to show the compassion to these people,” Ban said.
Discussing Iran, Ban reiterated his support for the agreement, his confidence in its ability to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and his hope that all parties will ratify. He also renewed his assurances that the United Nations stands ready to help guarantee the terms of the agreement are respected. “The United Nations [remains ready] to assist in the implementation of this process in monitoring and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” said Ban.
Click below to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s extended conversation with Paolo Mastrolilli in exclusive for Vatican Radio
Please find the full transcript - edited for clarity - of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's exclusive interview with Vatican Radio, below
Paolo Mastrolilli for Vatican Radio: Mister Secretary General, on September 25 Pope Francis will visit the United Nations and address the General Assembly. Why is this visit important and what are your expectations for it?
BKm: We are excited – We are looking forward with great excitement [to] His Holiness, Pope Francis’ visit to the United Nations. This will be my fourth meeting with the Pope, but this will be his first visit to the United Nations – and, in the history of the Vatican – United Nations relations I think that this will be the first time in which His Holiness the Pope visits the United Nations during a General Assembly. He is a man of humility and humanity, and he is a man of moral voice, and purpose. Particularly at a time in which this world is experiencing many conflicts: refugees; migration; human rights abuses; climate change; we really need such a strong moral voice as the Pope’s; on this, the occasion, during which more than 150 heads-of-state and government of the world are gathering, therefore, you cannot expect any greater, more significant and important gathering of the world’s leaders, including the Pope. I’m grateful for his compassionate leadership for peace and humanity.
VR: As you’ve noticed, there is in the Mediterranean Sea a migration crisis going on – you spoke recently to several European leaders about it. Do you think Europe should do more to accept refugees?
BKm: I commend the leadership and global solidarity the European leaders are showing, but at the same time, in view of the gravity and the scale of this crisis, I would naturally expect that European leaders should do more. The refugees are fleeing wars and persecution, so they need to be protected properly and quickly. This is an unprecedented challenge for the world, particularly for Europe. It should be also noted that the European continent and people have themselves benefitted from this kind of migration and search for freedom and better opportunity. Now [that the countries of Europe constitute] the group of the largest and richest economies in the world, we hope that they will show their global solidarity and compassionate leadership and so take care of all these humanitarian situations as well.
VR: Many refugees are coming from Syria, and according to Moscow, there are now Russian military advisors operating on the field as well. Do you see the risk of further military escalation in Syria?
BKm: There is no military solution. They have been fighting during the last four-and-a-half years, and more than 250 thousand have been killed, with 4 million people refugees, and also 12 million people being affected directly by this crisis. I have been urging them to resolve this issue through political dialogue. There is a good agreement – the Geneva communiqué – which was adopted in June, 2012. That is why I have [worked] together with my Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to establish four working groups: in military and security areas; on protection and safety issues; reconciliation, development and infrastructure-building; and political and constitutional issues. This is an attempt to expand the political space, so that we can resolve all this through political means. I urge the permanent members of the Security Council to unite and show their unity of purpose at this critical time.
VR: Christians are often the victims of violence in the Middle East and in several other regions: can the United Nations help in stopping this persecution?
BKm: There should be no such discrimination – against anybody – on the basis of any criteria of religion or ethnicity – and it is totally unacceptable to persecute, to discriminate against people on on the basis of who you love, what you believe. Therefore, particularly when it comes to migrants and refugees, they should be treated humanely, responsibly, under the international refugee convention, international humanitarian laws, and international human rights laws. Therefore, I am urging European leaders – again – that they should open borders and provide necessary, life-saving humanitarian assistance. We have to show compassion to these people.
VR: The Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father, Laudato si’, addressed the care of our common home: the United Nations conference on climate change will be held in Paris at the end of the year; however, on Monday, French President [Francois] Hollande warned that the talks could fail, especially if the issue of financing for emerging nations is not resolved; what is still missing in order to achieve a global agreement on climate change in Paris?
BKm: First of all, I am grateful to His Holiness, Pope Francis, for his Encyclical, which he announced in June. When I visited him in April, he told me that he would be strongly committed to working together to address the climate change phenomenon. He said that it is morally indefensible, if we do not cut and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is the only planet on which human beings live, and succeeding generations should be able to continue to enjoy living harmoniously with nature. Now, about this negotiation process: I am concerned about the pace of this negotiation. It is moving so slowly. That is why President Hollande of France has issued [his] statement. As far as financial support is concerned: I am working closely with President Hollande, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and also the President of Perù, [Ollanta] Humala. We are working very closely with the president of the World Bank, and the managing director of the IMF, and also the secretary-general of UIS [?UNESCO Institute of Statistics?], [to explore] how we can present a politically credible framework to mobilize $100 billion by 2020, and thereafter provide $100 billion annually to developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, and small island developing states. Those countries, which are not historically responsible for climate phenomena, do not have any capacity to address mitigation and adaptation of this situation. I am hopeful that we can mobilize this money, and provide financial and technological support, and [that] we can have universal agreement in Paris in December.
VR: The next GA will adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: what will be the keys to address the issue of poverty and economic inequality, and put the economy at the service of peoples, as Pope Francis said recently in Bolivia?
BKm: Later this month, leaders of the world will come to the United Nations and will adapt the Sustainable Development Agenda, with 17 sustainable development goals. These goals are transformational, and [together constitute] a far-reaching vision of the world’s leaders, to make this world better for all, [a world in which] nobody will be left behind, so that all the people in this world can live with dignity, and also live harmoniously with our nature, with our planet, Earth. This is the only Earth we have to live on. [The SDG Agenda] encompasses all the spectrums of our life, with poverty-eradication front-and-center. In that regard, [the Agenda] is people-centered and planet-friendly. We must learn how we should live harmoniously with our planet Earth, with our nature. That is a main vision of these sustainable development goals. I expect that all member-states of the United Nations will reflect these 17 goals into their national economic social and environmental policies as binding national legislation, so that, by the time we [reach] 2030, we can live in a world of prosperity and well-being, equality, and justice. [The Agenda] even covers good governance, democratic society, and peaceful society. I sincerely hope that, on the basis of these sustainable development goals, we will make this a better world for all, in which nobody will be left behind.
VR: A final question: what do you think about the deal with Iran on the nuclear issue?
BKm: I warmly welcomed this nuclear deal, reached by the P5+1 and Iran. I am aware of certain concerns and criticism about this, but as far as I know, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and also based on my personal experience as a negotiator, dealing with North Korean nuclear issues, I believe this is a far better and far better-structured and much more rigorous agreement, which will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons for a very long foreseeable future. Therefore, I would really hope that this agreement will be ratified by all the parties concerned. The United Nations will be ready to stand – will remain stand[ing] to assist in the implementation of this process in monitoring and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agencies [sic] and this will also help the [establishment] of peace and security in the Middle East and beyond.