Ban Ki-moon wants to go out with a bang. In his final opening assembly of the United Nations, the usually bland Secretary-General lashed out at a number of countries. Leading the list: Syria.
Rather than speaking in foggy diplomatic language, Mr. Ban singled out the Syrian government as a group that has "killed many innocents," and "continues to barrel-bomb neighbourhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees." And he hinted that Bashar al-Assad's government was to blame for a recent "sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack on a UN-Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy."
This was unusual for a secretary-general often criticized as "plodding," "bureaucratic" and "dull."
The convoy did manage to bring some aid to the town of Urum al-Kubra, northwest of Aleppo, and intended to provide for 78,000 people. But then a night-time air strike destroyed more than half of the trucks, and their cargo. A UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O'Brien, said that this was possibly a war crime, since the target clearly had no military value.
It's an understatement to say that this attack has created a severe disincentive for anyone considering delivering any more aid. Perhaps that was the intention. One wonders why the perpetrators even bothered to observe the week-long ceasefire.
Mr. Ban seemed to be pointing the finger at the Syrian government of Mr. Assad when he spoke of "atrocities." Certainly the regime's habit of barrel-bombing neighbourhoods during the Syrian civil war has qualified.
The air strike in Aleppo province has done much to wreck the tenuous co-operation between the United States and Russia in Syria. The Americans hold the Russians answerable, on the grounds that they had committed themselves as part of this ceasefire to ground "air operations in places where humanitarian assistance" was flowing. The implication is that the Russians either helped to carry out this attack, or stood aside and allowed it to happen.
Ban Ki-moon's act of naming and shaming the Assad regime is refreshing. If he'd like to continue with his campaign of undiplomatic honesty, he should next turn to criticizing Russia.