Ban Ki-moon was born in a small farming village in the North Chungcheong Province of what is now South Korea. He was raised there and received his education in Seoul, South Korea and Harvard University in the U.S.
Ki-moon’s religious affiliation is a matter of dispute–and he seems to feed the speculators. The Economist once reported him as a Christian, then corrected their mistake and we know his mother is a Buddhist.
But Ki-moon, who is known for deftly skirting uncomfortable questions, has been directly asked what his religious views are. He responded:
Now, as Secretary-General [of the U.N.], it will not be appropriate at this time to talk about my own belief in any particular religion or God. So maybe we will have some other time to talk about personal matters.
However, Ki-moon believes strongly in worldwide religious tolerance, inter-cultural respect and ongoing dialogue. He has said:
Now, we all have differences of religions and ideologies. It is, I think, very desirable, therefore, to engage in dialogue. We need to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the history and ideology of other, different cultures.
Wise words from the steward of the world’s most powerful and important international body.
Ki-moon’s diplomatic position as the Secretary General of the United Nations puts him in a unique position to comment on the relevant and prevailing political issues of the day. His mission is the mission of the United Nations, which is–broadly put–to maintain peace in the world, to promote friendly international relations, to uplift the poor, hungry and oppressed peoples of the world and to host nations in their efforts to achieve these goals.
Since taking his post at the U.N. in 2008, Ki-moon has been forced to address many serious issues, including issues of major concern such as nuclear proliferation, the attempted genocide in Darfur, terrorism and extremism in the Middle East, Syria, the West’s banking crisis, etc, etc, etc. You can start a general inquiry into his policy prescriptions by checking out his Wikipedia page or have a look at this list from one of my favorite publications, The Guardian.
Where he is a bit more interesting–and divergent from his predecessors–is his focus on the environment and gay rights. Ki-moon has spearheaded many initiatives and led the global conversation into these areas. He said of the environment:
The world is now experiencing unprecedented challenges. Climate change is fast happening – much, much faster than one would have expected. Climate and ecosystems are under growing strain… I will do my best to mobilize the political will and resources so that the member states can agree to a new legally binding global agreement on climate change. We have to have sustainable development.
And he really broke new ground bringing LGBT issues to the forefront. Ki-moon basically said that the U.N. had a duty to protect the rights of gay people, based on its original charter:
The very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ All human beings – not some, not most, but all. No one gets to decide who is entitled to human rights and who is not.
By U.S. standards, he’s quite liberal. But I’m sure he doesn’t see it like that, he’s just upholding the U.N. philosophy of peace, tolerance and responsible social development.