Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Opening remarks at news conference

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Geneva (Switzerland), 23 January 2008

Bonjour, Mesdames et Messieurs de la presse, Monsieur Daniel Pruzin, Président de l’ACANU à Genève. D’abord, mes meilleurs vœux de santé et de bonheur pour cette année 2008. Je suis heureux d’être de nouveau avec vous ici, à Genève.

Une ombre pèse pourtant lourdement sur cette première rencontre de l’année. Mesdames et Messieurs, si vous me permettez, je vais continuer en anglais.

Just before coming here, I attended a memorial service for the UN staff members who tragically lost their lives in Algiers last month. I met some of their families, as I did in Algiers after the bombing. There, and here today, we met young children who have lost a parent, parents who have lost their son or daughter, and spouses who have lost their loved ones in the most brutal way imaginable.

What we remembered at today’s ceremony was a savage loss inflicted on the entire United Nations family. Our colleagues worked at the United Nations in Algiers not to pursue a political mission, and definitely not to promote the interests of one group of nations or peoples over those of another. They were there to work for development, support sustainable growth and promote employment and training. As with our colleagues who died in Baghdad, the UN staff in Algiers was there to help build better lives for the men, women and children whom the UN exists to serve.

In spite of what happened in Algiers, in spite of what happened four years ago in Baghdad, it is crucial that we pursue, against all odds, our efforts to serve the poor, the oppressed, the victims of conflict and human rights violations, and all those who need our help the most.

We must take steps to improve our security worldwide. We will never be able to work completely free of threats to our safety, and we must never become a fortress, walled off from those we are there to support. But we will need to learn to balance our mission on behalf of other people with the need to protect our own. I pledge to work with Member States to make it so.

To this end, in light of the recent event, and after consulting with the countries concerned and receiving their understanding, as I have already declared during the ceremony, I am setting up an independent panel of experts to review the safety and security of UN personnel and premises around the world. We are pursuing our consultations on the precise composition of the panel, and its terms of reference, which we hope to finalize very soon. Such a panel will address the strategic issues vital to UN staff security.

What is important is that concerted efforts be made to fight international terrorism and prevent such acts from occurring. We must all do more. The bombing in Algiers strengthened my resolve and commitment to work tirelessly to put an end to terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, I believe that what we do is important to the lives of millions of people and I want to thank you, our UN correspondents, for helping to make that work known.

Your professionalism and your commitment as journalists are particularly important this year as we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is virtually no aspect of our work that does not have a human rights dimension. Whether we are talking about peace and security, development, humanitarian action, the struggle against terrorism, climate change, none of these challenges can be addressed in isolation from human rights.

A number of events and campaigns will be held throughout the year to highlight the importance of this document and what it stands for. I myself will be involved in a number of events in this connection. This year, I will also create a task force on the global scourge of violence against women and take steps to make operational the Responsibility to Protect.

Next week, prior to attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, I will visit Rwanda, where the international community’s collective failure to prevent the 1994 genocide ultimately led to the endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

I will also use this milestone year to call for the universal ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The rights to education, health, the right to be protected from hunger and extreme poverty are among these economic and social rights. And so I say, let 2008 be the year of the “bottom billion”.

That’s the phrase some economists use to describe the poorest of the world’s poor. They are the forgotten ones, the nearly 1 billion left behind by global economic growth.

I shall work over the coming year to strengthen the UN’s role in development. We are at the midpoint of a great campaign to end world poverty, set forth in the Millennium Development Goals. Too many nations have fallen behind. But I remain convinced that the MDGs are still achievable if we act now.

This will require inclusive, sound governance, increased public investment economic growth, enhanced productive capacity, and the creation of decent work. Success in some countries demonstrates that rapid and large-scale progress towards the MDGs is feasible if we combine strong Government leadership, good policies and practical strategies for scaling up public investments in vital areas with adequate financial and technical support from the international community.

We don’t need new promises. We need fresh ideas and fresh approaches and the political will to follow through on the promises that Governments made eight years ago.

We need to find new ways to honour our commitments, the commitments already made in the Millennium Declaration, the 2002 Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, and the 2005 World Summit.

These promises remain to be fulfilled. That is why, last year, I established the MDG Africa Steering Group. In April, world leaders will gather in Accra, Ghana, for the UNCTAD Summit on trade and development. In September, we will host a high-level meeting at the United Nations in New York. The goal is to galvanize the world’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, with special attention to the poorest of the poor.

Among the basic needs of the poorest is access to clean water and this is what we will be discussing in Davos, my next stop on this trip. This year, the World Economic Forum will put a critical focus on water. As our global economy gets richer, it gets thirstier. We have done much to make progress on the UN goal to halve the number of people without safe access to water by 2015, but it is clear to me that there is an urgency to make sure the poorest of the poor will not continue to suffer. Also, when we talk water, let’s not forget about the sanitation aspect of it. We are far from achieving the sanitation target of the MDGs. 2008 has been declared the United Nations International Year of Sanitation, and this needs to be considered as part of effective water resource management.

From Rwanda, I will be travelling to Addis Ababa to attend the African Union Summit meeting. Darfur, Somalia, the DRC, and Côte d’Ivoire are expected to feature high on the agenda. I intend to hold bilateral meetings with as many African leaders as possible.

On these issues or any other, ladies and gentlemen, I will be glad to answer your questions.

Je vous remercie. Thank you very much.