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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Headquarters

17 December 2008


Opening remarks at Year-End Press Conference, The Responsibility to Deliver

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It's a great pleasure to meet you.

As you know, this will be my last official press conference for this year. Before going on, let me say a little bit more -- that you need to be prepared. I may speak a little bit longer than usual; it may go on 12 minutes or 13 minutes. But I want to also wish you a very enjoyable and happy holiday, and I really thank you for all your support and friendship. You have been spending so many days -- and nights -- covering the news and our work at the United Nations and in the world at large. Thank you very much again for your hard work and support.

This has been a difficult year for all of us. I have called it “the year of multiple crises.” The coming year promises to be no less difficult. Our commitments and good intentions will be tested as never before.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the realm of human rights, we speak of the responsibility to protect. In the larger sphere of common international endeavor, we should speak of the responsibility to deliver. Looking back at 2008, I would say frankly that our record has been mixed.

I am pleased at the way the world has come together in the face of economic recession. Yet I fear we are only at the end of the beginning. This crisis will challenge the sense of global solidarity that is key to any solution.

I am pleased with our success in keeping climate change high on the global agenda. Yet the real test lies just ahead. I will speak more about that in a moment.

I am pleased at how we responded to natural disasters, like in Myanmar and Haiti and in many other places. Yet I am disappointed by the unwillingness of the government of Myanmar to deliver on its promises for democratic dialogue and the release of political prisoners.

UN forces have held the line in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with bravery under the difficult circumstances. Yet we have not been able to protect innocent people from violence.

Our record on human rights is on trial -- in many places, in many ways. In this 60th anniversary year, we must stand strong for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our deployment in Darfur has been slower than I wished, despite our best efforts. The joint UN-African Union force will be 60 percent deployed by year's end, and 85 percent by March of next year. Yet we still lack mission-critical assets, including helicopters. Meanwhile, renewed fighting and political rivalry makes a political solution difficult and does nothing to advance the security of Darfur's people.

More positively, we can take pride in the quiet diplomacy that has helped preserve the vital Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan. We oversaw successful democratic elections in Nepal and Sierra Leone. We can be cautiously optimistic about progress in Liberia, Bangladesh and Cote d'Ivoire.

We have managed the potentially explosive situation in Kosovo through quiet diplomacy. EULEX has deployed without incident, and I am confident that we can proceed to reconfigure the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) with full cooperation from all sides, in conformity with relevant Security Council resolutions.

We have coped particularly well with one of the year's most serious challenges. The food crisis no longer dominates news headlines, but it has not gone away. I am pleased at how the UN system has come together to tackle the problem in its fullest dimension: nutrition, agricultural production, trade and social protection. We are well on the way to changing decades-old policies in agriculture and public health -- mainstays of our work in promoting the Millennium Development Goals and protecting those most vulnerable to climate change, poverty and economic crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Further challenges lie immediately before us. 2009 will be the year of climate change. This weekend, I returned from Poznan, Poland, after having attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference. We made progress. We agreed to a work plan and had a good exchange of views on a shared vision for long-term cooperation. We agreed to operationalize the Adaptation Fund. All recognized that climate change cannot await a resolution of the economic crisis. Most agreed on the need for what I call a “Green New Deal.”

We have only twelve short months to Copenhagen. We have no time to waste. We must reach a global climate change deal before the end of the year -- one that is balanced, comprehensive and ratifiable by all nations.

Success will require extraordinary leadership. The European Union's historic agreement on the climate change and energy package, reached last weekend, demonstrates its commitment. I salute President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Commission for their strenuous leadership. The United States under its new President-elect, Barack Obama, also promises bold new leadership.

I myself will continue to push the pace and galvanize political will. I plan to convene a climate change summit at the beginning of the 64th General Assembly. But I expect that world leaders will need to meet before then -- perhaps often -- if we are to conclude 2009 in triumph. Working together, we can fulfill our responsibilities to the planet and its people, and our responsibility to deliver.

Before turning to your questions, let me briefly speak to several issues of peace and security for the coming year.

First, the Middle East. Below the radar, Israelis and Palestinians have engaged in direct, intensive negotiations. They have created trust where none existed and a framework for negotiation. Only they can reach agreement. But we must help. On Monday, the Quartet met to support a Security Council resolution to re-affirm basic principles and reinvigorate the Annapolis negotiations. Yesterday that resolution was adopted overwhelmingly by Council members. It is important to keep up this momentum so that, potentially, 2009 could be the year of peace in the Middle East.

Second, Iraq. Security has improved. Provincial elections are scheduled for January. I expect that Iraqis of all ethnic and political affiliations will participate. I urge Iraqi leaders to work together in a spirit of reconciliation as they assume full responsibility for their national affairs. All this requires strong UN support, and we shall give it.

Third, Zimbabwe. The humanitarian situation grows more alarming every day. Zimbabwe stands on the brink of economic, social and political collapse. I said so to President [Robert] Mugabe in Doha several weeks ago. I told him things needed to change, urgently, and that I and the UN stand ready to help. The president agreed to receive my envoy, Haile Menkerios. Now we are told that the timing is not right. If this is not the time, when is?

For the past eight months, the Southern African Development Community has insisted on leading international diplomatic efforts -- with little result. When the international community or a regional organization takes on a mission, it also takes on the responsibility to deliver. As I told the Security Council on Monday, we need a fair and sustainable political solution in Zimbabwe, as provided under previous agreements. And we need it fast.

Fourth, Somalia. The danger of anarchy in Somalia is clear and present. So is the need to act. I have spoken with the leaders of 50 countries and three international organizations about organizing a Multinational Force. Not one nation has volunteered to lead. Yesterday, therefore, I proposed to the Security Council a series of steps that 1) advance the Djibouti peace process, 2) deal with piracy and issues of humanitarian access and 3) reinforce the current African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and set the stage for a possible UN peacekeeping operation.

The Council's decision to authorize international action against pirates on land in Somalia is therefore welcome. It is also timely. Just yesterday, pirates seized four ships in the Gulf of Aden.

Last, Afghanistan. I am gravely concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation. Insurgent attacks are increasing. A political “surge” and a clear change of direction are required. The United Nations remains committed to carrying out its mandate, focusing on strengthening Afghan institutions and better coordinating international civilian efforts. It is our responsibility to deliver, for we know only too well the consequences of failure.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During this year, the last 12 months, I have had more than 700 bilaterals, including around 350 meetings with presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers. I spent 103 days on the road in 2008, visiting 35 countries and flying 254,128 miles; this becomes more than 400,000 kilometers, according to my over-worked travel office. Numbers do not equal results; I know that, of course. But they are a measure of our sincere engagement with all concerned parties.

Like you, I look forward to a holiday and the chance to read something other than briefing papers, as you recommended to me.

I thank you very much for your attention, and I am ready to answer your questions.