Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Opening remarks to the press at news conference

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 22 January 2013

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to see you. Since this is my first press conference this year, I would like to extend my best wishes to all of you and your families, and your organizations’ good success and prosperity and happiness. And I thank you for your strong support and friendship, and covering the news of the United Nations throughout last year. But I also look forward to working with all of you, this year and beyond.

As you know, I have just spoken with the Member States about the challenges and opportunities and priorities of the United Nations, this year and ahead.

We made solid progress last year across a wide agenda of crisis and long-term peace and development. As I told the Member States, I am encouraged but not satisfied. We continue to face tremendous troubles and turmoil.

The calamity in Syria is without doubt our main immediate test.

The humanitarian situation is dire and getting worse and worse. Millions of people are struggling to survive. More than 650,000 people have fled the country. Lack of food and denial of access to medical treatment, inadequate shelter and heating during a harsh winter are taking their toll.

We continue to see unrelenting violence and human rights violations. The use of heavy weapons in urban centres is causing terrible damage, with whole towns and neighbourhoods emptied or destroyed. Sexual violence is widespread. I want to stress the need for accountability and justice for the crimes we have seen – and for crimes that could still take place if already high sectarian tensions explode into mass reprisals and killings.

Despite the dangerous security environment and the limitations imposed by the Government, humanitarian agencies are trying to reach as many of the vulnerable and displaced as we can. The humanitarian community has requested $1.5 billion for the next six months -- the largest-ever short-term appeal. However, our appeals are woefully under-funded. That is why I am convening a pledging conference in Kuwait one week from now; that is, on Wednesday, 13 January.

The political environment remains polarized in Syria and in the region. The Security Council must find the unity the people of Syria need. Yet a deadly military momentum has taken hold. I call again for all states to cease sending arms to either side in Syria.

Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi continues his diplomatic efforts. We met yesterday, and reviewed the latest state of play. Our shared assessment is that we are still a long way from getting the Syrians together. The key decisions about the country’s future are in the hands of the Syrians. But the international community, and in particular the Security Council, has a grave responsibility to act to bring the desperate suffering of the Syrian people to an end.

The deepening crisis in Mali is also a high priority.

Mali is under grave threat from extremist armed insurgents. The country is calling for, and needs, our help.

I applaud France for its courageous decision to deploy troops following the troubling move southward by extremist groups. I appreciate the efforts of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the African Union and the troop contributors to AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali).

Over the past weekend, I dispatched to Bamako an advance team of the UN multidisciplinary presence requested by the Security Council in resolution 2085 to assist on both the political and security tracks. Additional staff will deploy in the days ahead.

My Special Representative for West Africa has been in close dialogue with the Malian authorities and our regional partners. Our humanitarian agencies are working to meet the growing needs of a crisis that has forced 350,000 people to flee their homes.

Yesterday I wrote to the Security Council outlining options for a UN logistical support package to AFISMA. In order for AFISMA to become operational and implement its mandated tasks, the force requires critical logistical support. At the same time, I have flagged the risks for our civilian operations and personnel in the region, and we await the Council’s decision.

But let there be no doubt, we are firmly committed to helping Mali in its hour of need. At the same time, any assistance must fall within UN guidelines, including its due diligence policy on human rights. Directly assisting offensive military actions would also place our civilian personnel in the region in jeopardy. I take this issue very seriously.

As the international community responds to the security threat, let us remember that Mali is also a political challenge. It was the coup and the collapse of Mali’s democracy that opened the way for extremists. Military gains must be matched by efforts to restore full constitutional order and legitimacy in Bamako, while leaving the door open to negotiations with those groups that renounce terrorism.

Turning to the wider Sahel and North African region, I was deeply saddened by the death toll in the terrorist attack in In Amenas, Algeria. Such acts of terrorism can never be justified. Those responsible must be brought to justice. I also extend my condolences to the affected families, to the people and Government of Algeria and to all countries whose nationals were among the victims of this attack.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn now to a third challenge for the year ahead: sustainable development. In 2013, we need to stay on track for 2015.

That is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

That is the year in which Member States have committed to reach a robust, legally binding agreement on climate change.

And that is when we should finalize a new development agenda that will build on the MDGs, including a set of Sustainable Development Goals. Global consultations are under way and I will report to the General Assembly in September.

Tomorrow evening I leave on a mission in which all of these challenges will figure prominently.

My first stop will be Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. I will meet there with the Prime Minister of Lebanon and other leaders. In addition to Syria, issues such as health, education, water, nutrition, green growth and the post-2015 development framework will be on the agenda.

From there I will continue on to Addis Ababa for the African Union Summit. I will meet with many leaders and discuss a number of crisis situations, including Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I will also take part in events focusing on malaria, maternal mortality and ways to sustain Africa’s impressive economic growth. The UN’s partnership with the African Union is strong and getting stronger.

My last stop will be Kuwait, for the Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria I am convening, together with the Emir of Kuwait. I thank the Government of Kuwait for hosting it. I urge donors to come to the table with generous pledges of support.

In closing, let me stress the urgency of these tasks.

My fear is that, on too many of today’s challenges, our trajectory may lead people a decade or two from now to ask why leaders did not rise to these tests -- and what narrow interests kept them from seeing the wider and greater good.

I am determined, through our common agenda and close cooperation with the Member States, to do better -- throughout 2013 and for these next four years of my tenure.

Thank you very much.