UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon(C, front) is seen during a meeting held by theUnited NationsSecurity Council to pay tribute to him at the UN headquarters in New York, Dec. 14, 2016. The UN Security Council on Wednesday paid tribute to outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, acknowledging his contribution to international peace, security and development. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after racking up the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been lavished with praise in the last days of his 10-year tenure although he has been also criticized on other fronts.
The 72-year old former foreign minister of South Korea steps down Dec. 31, after serving the maximum two terms of five years each. He will be replaced by a former prime minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, 67, who headed the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for 10 years, ending last year.
Ban's departure does not necessarily mean his disappearance.
It is widely speculated he may be the next president of South Korea and only the other day Ban indicated he will consider upon retirement involvement in South Korea politics which he described as in "turmoil" after impeachment of scandal-wracked President Park Geun-hye earlier this month.
The 193-member UN General Assembly and the 15-nation UN Security Council recently passed resolutions honoring his work. Representatives of regional organizations and member states lauded his tenure.
Ambassador Maythong Thammavongsa of Laos, speaking on behalf of Asian and Pacific countries in the Assembly, praised Ban as a "secretary-general who has displayed such great professional and personal qualities and who has contributed, through many initiatives that have been welcomed by all, to helping the Organization to make progress towards modernization and democratization."
The praise also was extensive outside UN Headquarters, with personal congratulations ringing from leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama to Mayor Bill De Blasio of the City of New York, UN Headquarters host city, who proclaimed Dec. 13, 2016 as "Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Day."
The UN chief was widely praised more inside UN headquarters than he was afield where his ratings were mixed.
"The recent outpouring of praise for Ban is well intentioned but rather excessive," Richard Gowan, UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Xinhua News Agency last week. "Ban certainly deserves credit for his hard work, and his commitment to fighting climate change in particular."
The Paris accord calls for limiting the global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Also, the 17 SDGs that nations agreed to in 2015, under Ban's stewardship, seek to "leave no one behind" in sustainable development by 2030.
Gowan said Ban "struggled with significant parts of his portfolio, and was especially weak when it came to crisis management."
One such scandal was sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, particularly in the Central African Republic (CAR).
However, Gowan said the secretary-general has been "commendably frank about some of his own errors," particularly the UN failure "to respond effectively to the mass killings that took place during the end of the Sri Lankan war in 2009," and the Haiti Cholera crisis where Ban "only just apologized for the UN's role in mismanaging the Haiti cholera outbreak" in 2010 that killed some 10,000 people.
The world organization blamed the outbreak on poor sanitary conditions at a Nepalese camp of UN peacekeepers. Victims were helped and programs initiated to prevent new cases but Ban didn't admit responsibility until only last August.
The sticking-to-his guns trait surfaced again after he said, during a visit to a camp in Western Sahara, that it appeared under "occupation."
That upset Morocco which annexed the region after the colonial power Spain surrendered it in 1975.
While he expressed regret through spokesman Stephen Dujarric at the "misunderstanding," there was no retraction.
Jonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, writing in a New York Times opinion piece during Ban's seventh year in office said, "The U.N. under Ban's stewardship has managed to get some things right: (generally) providing effective relief to refugees, (generally) doing a decent job on peacekeeping."
But criticism continued to come down on the world organization over Syria.
Ban did assign three personal envoys to handle the crisis -- the first two resigned in hopelessness.
The Security Council, divided over the Syrian conflict, has been ineffectual.
In his speech during the high-profile annual General Debate in the UN General Assembly this past September, Ban lamented an even longer-running problem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Ten years lost to illegal settlement expansion," said the UN chief. "Ten years lost to intra-Palestinian divide, growing polarization and hopelessness. This is madness. Replacing a two-state solution with a one-state construct would spell doom: denying Palestinians their freedom and rightful future, and pushing Israel further from its vision of a Jewish democracy towards greater global isolation."
He immediately met vociferous Israeli opposition to that statement.
Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ban has been a champion of equality, regardless of gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer and intersexual orientation.
He oversaw the establishment of UN Women, putting UN agencies affecting women under one umbrella for women's empowerment, appointed the first envoy for youth, focused more on prevention of natural and man-made disasters, advocated stopping the flow of illegal arms as the world faced mass migration.
"Ban has at least been willing to criticize his own performance, and he has improved as secretary-general over time," Gowan told Xinhua.
Ban, a South Korean national who loves Chinese classic philosophy and calligraphy, visited China for 11 times as the UN chief, and met on various occasions with Chinese leaders, who lauded his active role in enhancing the cooperation between the United Nations and China over the past decade.
Ban is leaving, not unusually, a host of unsolved issues for his successor. In addition to the aforementioned, they range through conflicts, mostly in Africa, and most recently the bloodshed in South Sudan, to terrorism, xenophobia, the seemingly endless quest for UN reform, demanded by the membership, which sometimes thwarts its progress because of special interests.
Asked at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York earlier this month what his biggest problem was, Ban replied, "The lack of empathy and lack of compassion of the world leaders," blaming them for "focusing on their very narrow personal or regional interests."
People express their grievances and leaders react by using "military and police forces," he said.
For Guterres, Ban has published a briefing book, for his new role. It's 345-pages long.