Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Opening remarks at press encounter in New York

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 19 August 2013

Thank you, good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to meet you in this newly renovated press room. I hope you will enjoy working in this room and provide all of the time good news to people around the world. It is a great pleasure to see you today.

As you know, this is a solemn day at the United Nations. It is also the tenth anniversary of the attack on our headquarters in Baghdad, ten years ago exactly today. Twenty-two of our colleagues, including Sergio [Vieira] de Mello, were killed that day – and many more since, as we have observed in honour of those fallen colleagues.

In honour of all humanitarian workers who have died in the line of duty, we mark every August 19th as World Humanitarian Day.

We still face grave threats around the world. Let me be clear: attacks against the United Nations and our partners are attacks on the people we serve.

On World Humanitarian Day, I call for greater protections for humanitarian workers and assets – and accountability for those who would do them harm.

Let me now turn to other pressing issues.

On Egypt, I am alarmed by ongoing developments and the widespread outbreak of violent protests and excessive use of force. I strongly condemn attacks on churches, hospitals and other public facilities. There is no justification for targeting civilians or destroying infrastructure and property so important for Egypt's future.

Preventing further loss of life should be the highest priority. I urge all Egyptians to exercise maximum restraint and resolve differences peacefully.

With such sharp polarization in Egyptian society, both the authorities and the political leaders share the responsibility for ending the current violence. They should spare no effort to swiftly adopt a credible plan to contain the violence and revive the political process hijacked by violence.

The United Nations stands ready to support Egyptian-led approaches to resolving the current crisis. I have asked the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Jeff Feltman, to hold wide-ranging discussions in Cairo starting from tomorrow with a focus on how the United Nations can best support initiatives to restore peace and forge reconciliation in Egypt.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just returned from a trip to the Middle East region and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, I met everyone from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to young students focused on education and a better future for their country. I left confident that the close bonds between Pakistan and the UN are growing even stronger. We will continue to support Pakistan as it tackles challenges at home and strengthen their relationship with neighbours.

I then travelled to Jordan, Palestine and Israel to underscore the United Nations’ commitment to a just and lasting peace. There is at last a fresh opportunity for real progress towards a peace agreement. Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize this historic opportunity.

There is no time to lose. Achieving an agreement will require vision, statesmanship and courage. It will take sacrifices, understanding and leadership from both sides. The negotiators and leaders will have to make tougher decisions and even more difficult choices. This is not a zero-sum game. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to arrive at a solution that clearly benefits both Israelis and Palestinians – and we will continue to support all efforts to meet that goal.

Staying in the region, after five months of effort, I am pleased to report that the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic began its work today. As agreed with the Government, the team will conduct its activities in the country for up to 14 days. That period can be extended by mutual consent.

The Mission will contemporaneously investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Asal as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by Member States.

As I have made clear many times, in order to credibly establish the facts, the Mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents. This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of post-mortem examinations.

The serious security situation inside the country will undoubtedly affect the Mission’s activities in Syria. Despite these circumstances, I have full confidence in the professionalism of Dr. [Ake] Sellström and his expert team.

The Government and all other entities within Syria must ensure the safety and security of the Mission. I appreciate the assurances I have received on this.

I also applaud the staff of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization for supporting the Mission.

This is the first probe of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. I firmly believe that an effective mechanism to investigate allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons will help deter their future use.

Let me state again clearly that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances must be held accountable and would constitute an international crime. Anyone responsible must be held accountable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will continue my travels later this week and depart Wednesday for an official visit to the Republic of Korea. And then I will visit the Netherlands to part in the centennial anniversary of the Peace Palace, and then Austria to participate in a retreat between the United Nations and the European Union co-organized by myself and President [José Manuel] Barroso of the European [Commission].

Ladies and gentlemen, finally, and most sincerely, I know the UN press corps is grieving.

Just this past Saturday was the funeral for Graham Usher, a distinguished writer on the Middle East.

And on Friday, television cameraman Glenn Gabel was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to work at the United Nations.

Both men died far too young.

Their legacy is in the tremendous work they did to help people better understand the world around them.

I want you all to know that my thoughts are with you, and especially with Graham's wife Barbara, and Glenn's partner Kristen, and their two young sons, Sawyer and Jax.