STANFORD -- In an appearance at Stanford University, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed anger at the strife and violence in Algeria, where a government attack on Islamic kidnappers on Thursday freed some hostages but ended in the deaths of others.
During an impassioned speech to a capacity crowd at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Ban said the United Nations has been working to counter Islamist attacks in Mali.
Earlier, in a private interview with the Bay Area News Group and three Stanford journalists, Ban elaborated on U.N. efforts to bring peace to North Africa. He has condemned the Mali attacks, saying, "Terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstances."
Seeking to raise the U.N. profile in the United States and to promote its missions, the secretary-general also addressed the need to work toward sustainable development, democracy and human rights, and the empowerment of women and young people -- all among his priorities since elected to lead the international agency in 2007. He was unanimously re-elected to a second term in 2011.
Ban also waxed nostalgic about his first trip to California from South Korea in 1962, when he stayed briefly in Novato as an exchange student. His host, Libba Patterson, now 95, attended his Stanford talk. "It opened my eyes to the world," Ban said about his 8-day stay, part of a longer U.S. visit. "Here in California I first felt I could grab the stars from the sky. This is where my dream of public service took flight, in this exhilarating, stimulating world."
As he touched on the need for sustainable development, Ban pointed out that the world's food, energy and water needs will balloon in 20 years, while still one in five people in the world lack electricity. "We cannot drill or mine our way to prosperity," he said. A U.N. goal is to provide energy to all the world's people by 2030, and to increase to 30 percent the proportion of energy from renewable sources.
On the topic of civil wars, Ban spoke movingly. On Syria, given the deep divisions among the Syrian people and on the U.N. Security Council, he said, "I do not see any imminent deal or prospect" for a settlement. In Mali, he said the United States, Canada, Britain and Denmark have responded with logistical support to French intervention. African countries are also preparing to respond, although it may take time for that support to materialize.
Worldwide, the need for humanitarian assistance is dire, Ban said, yet the United Nation's resources are stretched thin and its aid coffers are underfunded. On Jan. 30, he will chair a pledging conference, where he hopes donor countries will respond to a $1.5 billion appeal to aid Syrian refugees.
In addition to promoting peace, Ban spoke about the need to empower women and young people. He has walked the walk¿: The top U.N. officials for humanitarian affairs, development and disarmament are women. So are Ban's chief of staff, and the top physician and attorney. He has appointed a special envoy on youth. And Ban has even made a parody of Korean rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" video, to promote female education.
Ban also has been an advocate for the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people. "I was brought up in a country where they didn't discuss these kind of issues," he said. "I have learned to speak out for one essential reason: Lives and fundamental values are at stake."
At conferences, he often sees the absence of women and young people at the table, he said. "I strongly believe that the priorities of youth should be just as prominent in our meeting spaces as they are in cyberspace."
While the United Nations is not at the top of most Americans' agendas, Ban reminded the audience that the organization is a beacon of hope for many people around the world, just as it was to him as he grew up in South Korea, then a military dictatorship.
Today, he said, "I still carry the same energy and enthusiasm and sense of wonder when I first landed on Mrs. Patterson's doorstep half a century ago. I begin every day with a commitment to peace and the same passion," Ban said. "Everything my life has taught me points to the power of international solidarity to overcome any obstacle."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.