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Secretary-general calls for action on Syria, touts U.N. role in Arab Spring

By Mick B. Krever, CNN
updated 9:24 PM EST, Wed December 14, 2011
"This cannot go on," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the bloodshed in Syria.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "It is time for the international community to act" in Syria, Ban Ki-moon says
  • The United Nations played "essential role in Libya," he says
  • Ban draws a parallel between Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring

United Nations (CNN) -- The United Nations' secretary-general called once again Wednesday for a cessation of violence in Syria and for international action.

"In Syria, more than 5,000 people are dead. This cannot go on," Ban Ki-moon told reporters during his annual year-end news conference. "In the name of humanity, it is time for the international community to act."

Ban told reporters he had given to the U.N. Security Council a report released by the Human Rights Council earlier this month detailing widespread abuses by the Syrian government.

U.N. action on Syria has remained deadlocked in the Security Council, where China and Russia, among others, remain skeptical about the need for them to become involved. In October, the two countries issued a rare double veto of a toothless resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

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The U.S. State Department singled out Russia on Tuesday for holding up action against Syria. "We think it is past time for the U.N. Security Council to speak up," State Department spokeswomen Victoria Nuland said.

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At issue is the so-called "responsibility to protect" -- the idea that the international community has an obligation to shield civilians from violence by their own government. It was an idea invoked for the first time by the Security Council in the March resolution that authorized military intervention in Libya.

Some members of the Security Council, including China and Russia, have since expressed concern that NATO overstepped the mandate of the Libya resolution.

The secretary-general strongly rejected that proposition Wednesday, saying the resolution was "strictly enforced."

"These changes of regime were done by the people, not by the intervention of any foreign forces or the United Nations," Ban said of the Arab Spring.

He said he was "encouraged" by the Security Council's use of the responsibility to protect principle.

"We played an essential role in the liberation of Libya," he said. "We stand ready to continue to help Tunisia and Egypt at their request."

Ban rejected criticism that he had not paid enough attention to the negative implications of the Arab Spring for women and minorities.

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"From beginning of this Arab Spring, whenever I had an opportunity of speaking or meeting with Arab leaders, I made it quite pointedly this role of women," he said. "It's not just lip service."

Ban also drew parallels between the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Industrialization and globalization has created a global "gap" between rich and poor, especially among women and youths, he said.

"I have thought, with my senior advisers, very seriously how United Nations can be relevant, and can be helpful, in addressing these issues," he said.

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