|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters
Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press conference held in New York today, 6 October:
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure to see you again. I think we are meeting quite often these days.
I hope you have gotten some downtime after such very hectic weeks.
With the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] Summit meeting and general debate behind us, this is a good moment to take stock.
I won’t go into great detail, since you have already written so much about this General Assembly.
DPI [Department of Public Information] counted more than 28,000 stories on the MDG Summit alone.
But let me touch on a few highlights, and where we go from here.
First, the very successful MDG Summit meeting:
We came away with fresh resources, backed by concrete plans for action and delivery. This is very significant at a time when many Governments are tightening their belts.
I was especially pleased by the overwhelming support by the UN General Assembly Member States for our Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.
We saw $40 billion in hard commitments — not mere pledges.
The next test comes at the G-20 summit, six weeks from now in Seoul.
Development issues will be high on the agenda, and it is critical for the United Nations to speak with one voice.
Later this month, the President of the General Assembly will host a special meeting at which the UN membership will set forth its expectations for the Seoul G-20 summit meeting.
On the Middle East, we had a timely meeting of the Quartet together with the League of Arab States Follow-up Committee members.
In recent days, I have spoken with principal players on each side, including Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu of Israel and President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, as well as US Special Envoy George Mitchell.
All told me that they were committed to finding solutions to the problems immediately before us. All want to keep the peace process going.
As you know, I had a good meeting this morning with the opposition leader of Israel, Ms. [Tzipi] Livni. I urge Israel to restore settlement restraint, under its Road Map obligations, and I urge Arab leaders meeting in Sirte this week to keep doors open and support President Abbas.
Negotiations should move forward intensively, focused on resolving core issues — not talks for the sake of talks.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon came up in a number of meetings. I want to be perfectly clear. This Tribunal is independent, with a clear mandate from the Security Council to uncover the truth and end impunity.
That work is important, and it must go ahead. I urge all Lebanese and regional parties not to prejudge the outcome, nor to interfere in the Tribunal’s work.
On Sudan, we have less than 100 days before the referenda scheduled for 9 January next year.
The stakes could not be higher.
Handled properly, the January ballot could help build a future that improves the lives of all Sudanese. Handled poorly, it could spark conflict, with consequences across Africa and beyond.
We worry at the lack of progress in forming the Abyei Commission.
More positively, dates have now been set for the registration of voters — though a bit later than we hoped.
We can also be encouraged by last week’s high-level meeting.
Both sides, north and south, agreed that the vote should take place as scheduled, and that they would accept the results. They further agreed that negotiations on their common future should take place peacefully within the agreed framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The international community was united firmly in support. The Security Council mission arrives in Sudan today. My recently appointed panel, which will monitor the vote and offer its good offices, arrives on the ground early next week.
Let me close with a few words on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has released the final mapping report. We fully respected her independence, and that of her team.
Neighbouring countries have presented their comments.
The report was not “toned down”, as some claimed. No deal was done to save face for any troop-contributing nations.
It is now up to the Government of the DRC, with the High Commissioner’s help, to act on its recommendations — especially as they relate to transitional justice.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission (MONUSCO) is reviewing its policies and operations in the aftermath of recent fighting and the rape of unprotected civilians.
This was a clear tragedy, and we must find ways to do better.
Yet I would make two points.
First, let us not forget, the fault lies with the perpetrators. They, and their leaders, must be apprehended and charged with crimes against humanity — in national or international courts.
In this regard, I am encouraged by yesterday’s arrest of Lieutenant Colonel Mayele, the alleged leader of an armed group suspected in these crimes. This is an example of how Congolese authorities and MONUSCO should cooperate to fight impunity.
Second, we must be realistic.
Bluntly put, the sheer geography is too large, the number of peacekeepers too small, our resources too limited.
That said, despite these constraints, we are taking steps.
We are improving our civilian alert system.
We will make increasing use of the tools available to us in potential areas of trouble. For example, we will do more random “spot” patrolling.
The international community must engage more fully with Congolese society to address cultural and political issues that contribute to this horrific pattern of abuse.
Helping those who are targets of sexual violence must be a larger part of our efforts.
That is why the Deputy High Commissioner of Human Rights is currently in the DRC, working with local leaders and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to consider issues of reparations for the victims.
My special envoy, Ms. Margot Wallström, put it right during her visit:
Sexual violence is one of the greatest obstacles to peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unchecked, it could destroy the social fabric of the country.
Thank you again, ladies and gentlemen. I am now ready for your questions.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, welcome back again, and we like to see you here frequently. The question is this, you didn’t mention, in your opening remarks, climate change. As we speak, negotiations in China are collapsing. That means that Cancún has already collapsed?
Secretary-General: Let us not prejudge any outcome of our ongoing negotiations and consultations on climate change. Climate change is still the highest priority of the United Nations and myself and the international community. The Tianjin meeting is part of our ongoing negotiations as scheduled, and we are working very hard. Now, what we expect from Cancún at the end of this year is that, first of all, we may not be able to have a comprehensive and binding global agreement at this time. But we have been making, and we expect that we will have, tangible progress in several areas. First of all, providing financial support to developing countries; we’re making progress. As you know, I have established a High-Level Advisory Group On Climate Change Financing, co-chaired by Prime Minister Meles [Zenawi] of Ethiopia and [Jens] Stoltenberg of Norway. They will meet in Addis Ababa in the middle of this month and will submit their final report to me, which will be submitted to UNFCCC — United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — for intergovernmental consultation on this matter.
Now, we have made good progress in what is known as REDD – Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — whose Chairman is, again, Prime Minister Stoltenberg of Norway. We have made quite a good agreement on that. And this will be again discussed by the Member States. Then other issues, like adaptation, technology transfer and capacity-building — all these five areas which we hope and expect that we will be able to have some good agreements in Cancún. Then these agreements will be discussed and built upon while we continue our negotiations next year in South Africa.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, in looking back at the General Assembly and the ministerial meetings, there was also a very big focus on both the Middle East and Africa, though you also did several other side events, particularly Somalia and on Myanmar. I wondered if you could comment on how concerned you are, or what’s being done to actually try and prevent Somalia from collapsing totally, and whether there is any possibility of doing anything on Myanmar to open up the upcoming elections to include the opposition?
Secretary-General: Those two issues were high on our [list of priorities], and I myself chaired one mini-summit meeting on Somalia where many African and Arab leaders participated. And I also chaired the Group of Friends on Myanmar on the margins of the general debate. Now, on Somalia, I was encouraged by the strong commitment of the world leaders that we need to first of all support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia in their efforts to strengthen their national capacity — army and police, as well as the capacity of their domestic institutions. For that, we need to provide, continuously, financial and political support. I think we will continue to do that. As far as the United Nations is concerned, we have some specific concrete ideas. First of all, we will increase the frequency of the senior UN political mission in Somalia, UNPOS, to visit Somalia as often as possible at the senior level to have consultations with the Somali Government and to show our strong political support.
Secondly, we will try to have our staff permanently based in Mogadishu, Somaliland and Puntland. And they will continue to have more frequent and higher-level ministerial consultations with the Government of TFG so that we can have better coordination with the TFG on the ground. These are some things which we have in our mind. We will of course continue to fight against piracy. We have great support from Member States. As you know, during the month of July, I presented some options and recommendations to the Security Council on how we can more effectively prosecute those arrested pirates and how we can better address in our common efforts to fight against piracy. So, this is still a high priority. We don’t work for the collapse of this; we work for the success and stability and security of Somalia.
On Myanmar, I have had very close meetings, consultations, with the countries concerned. And during the General Assembly, I had a meeting with the 10 ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Foreign Ministers, and today, I am going to have a meeting with the Prime Minister of Thailand. And I am going to participate in the UN-ASEAN summit meeting. During all my interactions with those ASEAN and other key Member States, an inclusive and transparent election is a high priority. This election is going to be the first in 20 years. And I have been urging and stating publicly that this election must be conducted in a transparent and inclusive and credible manner, with all political prisoners freed before the election. That’s what I have conveyed — a strong message to Myanmar — that’s what I am going to continue to press.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, in the conclusion of your opening remarks you mentioned in regard to the DRC, that “the number of peacekeepers was too small and our resources too limited”. There was reporting out of the Security Council trip to the region today by both AP and Reuters, for example, about cutbacks in MONUSCO [United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and their resources. I am going to read just a little bit from the AP story: “A $73 million budget cut has forced a major air base for the United Nations peacekeeping missions to eliminate three planes and more cutbacks may be needed, hampering operations in Congo and in Sudan”. They go on to mention the lack of helicopters, planes and so forth that could affect the ability to patrol eastern [Democratic Republic of the] Congo to prevent the kind of sexual abuse you talked about. So, my question is, to what extent have you been aware of this, dealing with this? How will the UN compensate and what danger is there that this is really going to have an impact on the very things that you are trying to combat?
Secretary-General: That is exactly why we are concerned — the increasingly limited resources for the United Nations MONUSCO operation there. As you may remember, President [Joseph] Kabila and his Government have requested to withdraw MONUSCO by the end of next year. And during my visit, I had again a meeting with President Kabila, and again in September this year during the General Assembly, with him, I have proposed to him that any further withdrawal, drawdown, of MONUSCO should be based on a joint assessment of the situation. As you know, we have already withdrawn 1,700 soldiers. So, it is now in the process of drawing down. And some troop-contributing countries have withdrawn their helicopters, and we have an acute shortage of critical assets. We are now trying to make up for all these losses of critical assets, but it is going to be quite a difficult operation again.
Despite that, the priority of MONUSCO is to protect the civilian population. We will do whatever we can do within this limited capacity. As I said, we will try to use the latest technology by distributing some mobile phones to the villagers or leaders, so that they can easily communicate with MONUSCO, who may be based nearby. The size of the DRC is almost the same as West Europe. We have only 18,000 soldiers there. So, you can just imagine the proportions of difficulties and limitations which UN peacekeepers [face]. But I am not going to be defensive about this. We are committed to protect the civilian population as much as we can. I am going to convene a strategy meeting this week, when all senior advisers are going to gather and try to first of all think about what kind of immediate measures we can take, and secondly, how we can change the mentality and culture of impunity very prevalent in DRC. It is not only in DRC. We’re going to expand in all UN peacekeeping operations’ areas. And wherever peacekeepers are stationed, we will try to do exactly the same thing, but more focused on DRC, where we have seen such tragic incidents.
Question: If I could follow up for a second. For the moment, though, it seems that you’re saying that there is really no way around the shortages and resources — helicopters and planes — that you’re faced with? You’ll have to deal with it with different ways, different technology or whatever. True?
Secretary-General: It has always been very difficult to consult with Member States to get the provision of critical assets at the right time, at a reasonable amount of support. But we will have to continue to discuss with the Security Council and key troop-contributing countries.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. You said that you met with many Arab leaders and you spoke about the Tribunal, the issue of the Tribunal was raised, and I am asking you, last week you met with Foreign Minister [Walid] Mouallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, and he asked during this meeting, according to diplomatic sources, for the annulment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. In light of the upcoming visit of [Iranian] President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to Lebanon on 13 October and also in the light of the upcoming indictment [by] the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, tension now is very high, Lebanon is on the brink of war, and what happens then? What is your concern about the 33 warrants the Syrian judiciary has issued, an arrest warrant in absentia against 33 officials, including Detlev Mehlis and his associates? Do you have any concern? Do you feel that the UN has lost control of the Special Tribunal?
Secretary-General: As I said and emphasized in my earlier remarks, I’d like to reaffirm our belief in the importance of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s work. The Tribunal has a mandate from the Security Council. This is an independent, international justice organization. It has its own mandate, its own role, and we will strive to ensure that it can go about its work. I’d like to note the role of the Tribunal’s management committee in that process. I met the Foreign Minister of Syria, Mr. Mouallem, and I met also President [Michel] Sleiman of Lebanon, and I have had many opportunities of discussing the situation, the political and security situation in Lebanon, even today, during my meeting with Mrs. Livni. The United Nations position is very firm; we will support the work of the Tribunal. Of course, as you know, I am not supposed to disclose the discussions, for confidentiality reasons, what I have discussed with President Sleiman and Minister Mouallem. As for the visit of President Ahmadinejad of Iran, I have expressed my earnest hope that his visit could be used in a constructive way, for peace and security in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole.
Question: What about the Syrian warrants against 33 personalities, including Detlev Mehlis?
Secretary-General: At this time, I have no comment on that. That’s what the Syrians did, but as far as this Court’s proceeding is concerned, then we have a firm support and this Court should go their own way, their own work.
Question: Don’t you think that the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon is at stake at this stage?
Secretary-General: First of all, as a matter of principle, whatever political statement or whatever things which have been done by the people in Lebanon or in the neighbouring countries, I have stressed the importance and firm principle that this is an independent international judicial organization, which has its own mandate, unique mandate, supported by the Security Council, so it will go on. It will go on.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, let me just fine tune what you are saying, please, if I may. Your statement is a very strong statement, and you have been held responsible by some ministers, who had said to you that, if you don’t take action in stopping the Tribunal or the indictments, that the international community will be responsible for instability in Lebanon. So, please address that, if you feel that you would be responsible now by issuing such a statement. Secondly, are these [arrest warrants] issued by Syria — that include your own investigator, Detlev Mehlis — are they legal or are they interference in the work of the Tribunal? And lastly, did you coordinate your statement with permanent members of the Security Council, because you are taking a very strong position? Did you consult with any permanent members of the Security Council over the positions they might have, vis-à-vis the Tribunal?
Secretary-General: First of all, whenever I make my statement, I consult with my senior advisers, not with the Member States. That is my statement. And, as I said in my statement, the work of the independent judiciary system should not be interfered [with] by any decisions or any measures taken by any country, or any people in Lebanon and outside. That is firm and clear. Nobody can interfere [with] or prejudge the decisions or proceedings of the Tribunal; otherwise, you will never be able to see and achieve the end of impunity. And peace and security and political stability in Lebanon should be different from this justice process. The justice process should go on.
Question: On the [arrest warrants] by the Syrian authorities that include your former investigator, the head of the body that brought about the Tribunal — are they, from your point of view, legal or illegal, or are they interference, and do you consider them interference in the work of the Tribunal, not only in the internal affairs of Lebanon?
Secretary-General: As Secretary-General, I am not here to make any legal judgments. I am Secretary-General, not a judge sitting on any judiciary organization. It is not my job.
Question: The opposition in Lebanon is blocking the funding of the Tribunal. Would this undermine the credibility of the Tribunal, and what are you going to do to find some sufficient funding for the Tribunal? And what will be the legal implications on Lebanon, since it is under a resolution under [Chapter VII] of the United Nations Charter?
Secretary-General: Now, the Tribunal was decided and established by the Security Council resolution, and the Lebanese Government has an obligation of contributing 49 per cent of its funding, and the international community 51 per cent. That is what I tried to raise, funding, together with the Lebanese Government. So the Lebanese Government has an obligation to fulfil that duty. And I would not make any comments on hypothetical questions, what may happen, as according to your questions. But there is the Tribunal’s management committee, which will deal with this matter, and the Security Council will also deal with this matter.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, I want to ask you two questions about the United Nations Office for Outer Space in Vienna. The Director of the Office [Mazlan Othman] has made some comments that the British press is having a bit of a field day with, which they are interpreting as saying that, if there is ever any contact made with aliens, that the United Nations should be the body that deals with them as the interlocutor. I wonder if you agree that if the Earth ever makes contact with aliens, that the United Nations should be the contact point, A. And B, sometimes the United Nations is accused of being a bloated organization; why do you need an office for outer space?
Secretary-General: First of all, I think the first and second questions are related. This Vienna-based Office for Outer Space Affairs was decided by the General Assembly of the United Nations, with the purpose of studying and researching for any such activities which the international community may have to deal with in outer space issues. You know there have been many discussions on how we can use outer space. On the first part, I don’t know whether I should answer, whether it is something which deserves any answer. But I understand that that particular question was denied by [Ms. Othman] herself. So that is my answer now.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, about the Middle East, in the last few months, you met Mr. [Ehud] Barak, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. [Avigdor] Liberman, and today, Ms. Livni and you have probably heard a lot of different ideas about the peace process. Do you believe that these different approaches affect the peace process in a negative way or a positive way? And when do you expect the Israeli side to submit its report on the flotilla incident? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Again, I urge the Israelis to expedite their domestic investigation process and submit the report as soon as possible, so that the Panel members could review and liaise between the Turkish investigation and the Israeli investigation, so that they will be able to have their own judgement. Again, I expressed my strong hope to Ms. Livni, even though she is the opposition leader, and that is what I have been speaking to Prime Minister Netanyahu [about], I think last week when we were talking about these settlement issues. The second issue was that particular issue.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, since June of this year, in occupied Kashmir, there is a movement going on which is independent, completely independent, of any outside influences and so forth, and 110 people have died in that movement. And there are United Nations resolutions on Kashmir which exist at this time. What is it that you can do to bring about some sort of understanding and agreement between the Indian Government and the Pakistani Government, because the resolution is about a plebiscite between India and Pakistan to ease the pain of the Kashmiris who are dying, every day — children, women?
Secretary-General: First of all, I regret the latest loss of life. I have been calling for an immediate end to violence and urge calm and restraint by all concerned. That is the position of the United Nations at this time.
Question: The second part of the question has not been answered. There is a framework for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, based on the UN resolutions, as my colleague has said. And in view of the current crisis between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, and there are tensions, don’t you think it’s time for you to step in and offer good offices to settle this question?
Secretary-General: First of all, India and Pakistan, they are neighbouring countries, important nations in that region — peace and security would have important implications. As far as this role of good offices is concerned, the United Nations normally takes that initiative when requested by both parties concerned.
Question: Back to the Congo. The report was changed, regardless of why or who. Do you think that will placate Rwanda? Or do you expect more trouble from them? And secondly, the roots of the conflict — not the entire reason for it in the East — are minerals, blood minerals. Some mines have been taken over by the Congolese army, others by armed groups. Is there anything the UN can do in the future to regulate this, as was done worldwide in Sierra Leone?
Secretary-General: Strengthening the FARDC — the Congolese national army — has always been a key concern and priority for MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. When I met President [Joseph] Kabila, we discussed this issue. The United Nations is now in the process of training their national police. This is one thing which we are now doing. While MONUSCO [has] limited manpower and resources, we are committed and ready to provide all assistance, but there is clearly a limit. First of all, rule of law operations should be primarily taken by their national Government. Because of their very big institutional capacity, the United Nations is now trying to train them. Secondly, there is a question of culture. In many parts of the society, there is not much respect for human rights or gender equality. Therefore, we will try to find out some measures and good programmes for how we can change this culture. That is what we have in mind at this time.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, two weeks ago tomorrow, cancelled his third consecutive press conference — last September, last May at the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Review Conference, and two weeks ago — booked in UN facilities and rescheduled it across the street in such a way as to systemically exclude certain Jewish media representatives — including myself — the BBC, and at least one other major media organization. Do you not agree, do you have any particular comment on all this, and do you not agree, Mr. Secretary-General, that so long as even one journalist is excluded, then freedom of the press is not free?
Secretary-General: I believe in freedom of the press. It should be open to all people without discrimination. Whatever decision President Ahmadinejad has taken, it must be his own decision. But I am not aware of that, and I am not in a position to make a comment. But in principle, all opportunities should be given equally to all people.
Thank you very much.
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