Courtesy of UN
Meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement tend to occur without much discussion or controversy, as members of the 120 nation-strong group, comprised primarily of countries of the global south that refused to lumped in on either side of the Cold War, meet to discuss the issues and draft positions. This year has proved an exception to this rule, as the 16th Summit of the NAM kicked off in Tehran – with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the primary guest of interest.
Mr. Ban drew some derision after announcing his attention to visit Iran for the NAM Summit, given the countries budding nuclear program and hostile relations with Israel and several Western countries. The SG insisted that these challenges made his visit all the more pertinent, and went through on his plan to visit the Islamic Republic last week.
As expected, Mr. Ban used the occasion to encourage a peaceful resolution to Iran’s disputes with its neighbors, and for greater democracy within the country’s border.
“Restricting freedom of expression and suppressing social activism will only set back development and plant the seeds of instability,” he noted. “It is especially important for the voices of Iran's people to be heard during next year's presidential election.
“I encourage Iran to allow greater space for different and divergent perspectives to play out in public debate. Many other countries with strong Islamic traditions have in this way found a path to complying with international standards, for instance on the use of corporal punishment or the death penalty, while remaining true to their Islamic identity and values.”
Mr. Ban’s pleas for peaceful conflict resolution and expanded civil liberties drew on the country’s strong sense of Islamic tradition; as did his firm suggestion that Iran abide by international standards when it comes to nuclear weapons, the primary point of dispute that Iran has had with its neighbors.
“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.”
The SG also reminded Iranian leaders that shortly after the Revolution of 1979, it was Iran itself that called for the Middle East to be a nuclear weapon free zone.
In order to support a safer, stronger Iran, Mr. Ban cited the power of civil society to do good within a nation, and the valuable asset that a well-developed civil society could have for Iran. He reminded authorities that harnessing this power would not be seamless, and may require a greater respect for conflicting opinions.
"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."
After his trip to Iran Mr. Ban returned to UN Headquarters in New York, where he plans to address the General Assembly on the deteriorating situation in Syria; a country with close international ties to Iran. He and international institutions hope that his address in Tehran can ease tension, and bring relief to this troubled region.