New UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ran into trouble on his first day of work over late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's execution when he failed to state the UN's opposition to the death penalty and said capital punishment should be a decision of individual countries.
The UN has an official stance opposing capital punishment and Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan reiterated it frequently.
The top UN envoy in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, restated the UNs' anti-death penalty position on Saturday after Saddam's hanging.
Ban, however, took a different approach, never mentioning the UN ban on the death penalty in all its international tribunals and the right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.
"Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people and we should never forget victims of his crime," Ban said in response to a reporter's question about Saddam's execution on Saturday for crimes against humanity. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide."
His ambiguous answer put a question mark over the UN's stance on the death penalty. It also gave the new chief an early taste of how tricky global issues are and how every word can make a difference.
Michele Montas, Ban's new spokeswoman, insisted there was no change in UN policy in what she described as "his own nuance" on the death penalty.
"The UN policy still remains that the organization is not for capital punishment," she said. "However, the way the law is applied in different countries, he left it open to those different countries."
The death penalty is legal in Ban's homeland, South Korea as it is in many other countries including the US, Russia, China and much of the Middle East.
Ban, who took over on New Year's Day from Annan, is the first Asian to serve as secretary-general in 35 years.
Tuesday was his first day of work at UN headquarters.
Dozens of staffers applauded and joined a throng of cameramen and photographers snapping photos as he entered the building.
He immediately went to the Meditation Room and bowed his head in tribute to UN peacekeepers and staff members who died in service.
Ban then launched into a series of meetings with UN staff and surprised many when he walked into the staff cafeteria for lunch.
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