Egypt: Secretary General Ban Calls on Leaders to Take ‘Bold’ Steps to Address Protesters’ Concerns

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–31 January 2011 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on Egypt’s leaders to take some “bold measures” to address the concerns of the scores of thousands of people who have been demonstrating for change, stressing at the same time that the protests must be peaceful.

“I have been repeatedly saying that the leaders of any country, including Egypt, should first of all listen attentively, most sincerely, to the voices of people,” he told a news conference yesterday in Addis Ababa, where he is attending a summit meeting of the African Union (AU). “And they have a broad responsibility, first of all, to provide decent jobs and good opportunities to maintain a decent living.

“This is what I have been urging them. At the same time, it is important that the Governments ensure that a proper channel of communication is ensured – their freedom of speech, expression, and their freedom of association should also be ensured,” he added, underlining that this expression should be done peacefully in a way that does not lead to social and political instability.

Asked directly what concrete steps he thinks President Hosni Mubarak should take to show that he is listening to the voices of the people of Egypt and if he thinks the appointment of a new Government is sufficient, Mr. Ban replied: “I would leave it to the Egyptian leaders. Reflecting all these concerns and wishes, they should take some bold measures to address their concerns.”

As the demonstrations calling for Mr. Mubarak’s resignation accelerated last week, Mr. Ban urged all Egyptians to ensure that political protests do not lead to further violence, and he called on the Government to see this “as an opportunity to engage in addressing the legitimate concerns of the people.”

On Friday he told a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum, that a fundamental principle of democracy is to protect and ensure the freedom of speech of the people, and he stressed that the situation in Egypt and the wider region must not lead to further violence.

Also last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Egyptian Government to exercise restraint and initiate investigations into reports of the use of excessive force, particularly the killing of at least five and possibly more civilians.

“It has been brought to my attention that since the street protests erupted, police have confronted protestors with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons, and arrested more than 1,000 people, including political opponents,” she said. “While maintaining rule and order are important, the responsibility of the Government to protect the rights to life, liberty and security is paramount.”

She called on the Government to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including by restoring free use of mobile phones and social networks, which were reportedly cut to impede demonstrators from mobilizing.

“People must be entitled to express their grievances against violations of their civil and political rights as well as their frustrations at lack of realization of their economic rights, the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living,” Ms. Pillay said.

“And governments in the region and around the world must take heed. Suppressing citizens’ voices, silencing dissent and stifling criticism will not make the problems go away. Recent events in the region highlight the fact that tackling serious problems by resorting primarily to high-handed security measures only causes them to fester and eventually erupt on a large scale.”

The protests in Egypt are taking place just weeks after anti-government demonstrations led to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia earlier this month.