United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged that the lessons learned from Argentina’s turn from dictatorship to democracy be applied widely, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, and he called on Syria to allow humanitarian aid into areas affected by ongoing violence.
Speaking late Monday after viewing the memorial in Buenos Aires to thousands of Argentines tortured and killed during that country’s “dirty war” between 1976 and 1983, Mr. Ban said: “This is the darkest era of Argentina. At the same time, let us send a strong message of hope to many people around the world whose human rights are still being abused and oppressed and let us learn the lessons from here.”
The memorial is the former ESMA (Argentine Navy’s Mechanical School) where approximately 5,000 people were tortured, killed and later became “the disappeared” during the last military dictatorship, between 1976 and 1983, many of whom still remain unknown.
“This has been one of the most moving and saddest experiences of my life,” Ban Ki-Moon said after he visited the former detention centre. “It is very sad to visit the place where thousands of people were tortured and murdered. One thing is to read about it, and a very different thing is seeing it with my very own eyes. This is Ground Zero of the Argentine dictatorship,” he said.
The UN official then assured that fortunately the times of impunity regarding human rights in Argentina were over. He also praised ”late President Néstor Kirchner’s and President Cristina Fernández de Kircher’s leadership and commitment to protecting human rights.”
During the visit he was gifted with a white scarf, the symbol of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group and met Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo founder Estela de Carlotto.
Further on in his speech singling out Syria, the Secretary-General said that “the situation is very worrisome. This struggle has spread beyond any single square, any village or town. It has spread all throughout the country. The Government has responded with horrific attacks…
“I once again urge President [Bashar Al-] Assad of Syria to allow humanitarian access to affected areas and to allow the Human Rights Council-mandated assessment mission.”
The speech was the third time that Mr. Ban publicly called for humanitarian access to Syria. Last week a spokesperson confirmed that the Secretary-General’s attempt to telephone President Assad to discuss the latest developments had been unsuccessful.
“What we have seen during the last several months in the Arab world is that the leaders are coming with too little and too late,” the Secretary-General said.
“Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall transformed Eastern Europe, so is revolution now sweeping the Arab world,” he added, calling on the region’s leaders to take “bold action before is too late.”
Complimenting Argentina for its struggle to protect human rights, Mr. Ban said: “Argentina today is dedicated to truth, the truth about what happened here decades ago: the truth about who gave the orders, who carried out the crimes, and who knew about these crimes. You have shown that there can be no safe refuge for those who commit crimes against humanity.”
“In this world, there is no safe place now for any perpetrators who violate international human rights laws and international humanitarian laws. They must be held responsible; they must be brought to justice. This has been a fundamental principle and my strong commitment as Secretary-General of the United Nations.”
Mr. Ban is on a week-long visit to Latin America, with stops in Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
The UN Secretary General is also campaigning for support for a second mandate which begins January first. All South American countries visited have promised their support.