By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Ban Ki-moon, the eighth United Nations Secretary-General, is a dawg. He’s a University of Washington (UW) Husky, that is. The university awarded him a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Oct. 27 at Meany Hall for the Performing Arts.
Known as an advocate for universal human rights and social justice, Ban has been a major proponent of women’s rights in Africa and India. Putting an end to female genital mutilation, child brides, and “honor deaths” are on his to-do list with the United Nations.
UW Regent William Gates awarded the honorary degree to the Secretary-General.
“On a planet too often harmed by unbridled power and arrogance, you are a passionate advocate for the rights of the weak and the dignity of the downtrodden,” he said of Ban. “In an age where there is no shortage of cause for cynicism, you carry forth the promise of a brighter tomorrow and offer proof that quiet, steadfast diplomacy can prevail over force.”
Ban might not have sought this particular degree from the UW but said he had wanted to attend the UW.
Years ago, he learned that the university was offering a full-ride scholarship to sponsor one student for its China Studies program. After several interviews and waiting for calls, Ban was first runner-up for the competition.
“I am finally a Husky,” he said, smiling. Audience members laughed with him.
After receiving his degree, Ban gave the annual Severyns-Ravenholt lecture. The topic: climate change.
As the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen nears, Ban could play a major role in bringing nations together to advocate environmental stewardship and work toward building policies that would work toward a healthier environment. “We share a vision of a just and healthy world,” Ban said to ceremony attendees — most of whom were students and community members.
“We must unite and work toward a better world,” Ban said. “A world where human rights are cherished and protected. A world where children do not go hungry … where girls and boys go to school and live healthy lives. These are the dreams of the U.N.; these are the rights of humankind.”
Ban said that in receiving the honorary degree from the UW, he is accepting the degree on behalf of the UN as well.
Like students at the UW, he said, the UN pledges “to protect future generations and promote social progress.”
Ban has come a long away from his hometown in Eumseong County, South Korea. In addition to Korean and English, he can speak French, German, and Japanese.
In 1970, Ban earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Seoul National University. He then earned a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University in 1985.
In April 2009, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Malta.
Ban joined the Ministry of Foreign affairs after graduating in 1970. He spent much of his time as vice consul in New Delhi.
In 1974, Ban was granted a posting to the United Nations as First Secretary of the South Permanent Observer Mission. He became director of the nation’s UN division after former South Korean President Park Chung-hee was assassinated in 1979.
After serving as ambassador to Austria, chief of staff to General Assembly President Han Seung-soo, and foreign minister of Korea, Ban campaigned for UN Secretary-General in 2006. By October 2006, he received support from all members of the UN Security Council. He was elected Secretary-General by the 192-member General Assembly.
As Secretary-General, Ban dealt with nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, genocide in Darfur, and violence in the Middle East. AIDS, environmental destruction, and international terrorism were regular subjects of debate within the United Nations.
The Secretary-General received sharp scrutiny when he did not condemn the death penalty that the Iraqi High Tribunal imposed on Saddam Hussein — the death penalty being held as a high human rights concern.
Ban has also declined to get involved with determining Taiwan’s status as a nation.
But in the midst of this, the Secretary-General took center stage in the reform of UN bureaucracy and met with world leaders to ease conflict in the Middle East.
He declared global warming as a key issue of his administration, urging former President George W. Bush to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. He urged for environmental stewardship again in 2007 when he spoke to the UN General Assembly.
In a special meeting in September, Ban criticized world leaders for not taking enough action to reverse climate change, and he warned U.S. President Barack Obama of the “irreversible catastrophe” that could ensue if action is not taken.
The discussion will likely continue in Copenhagen. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.