Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Opening remarks at press encounter

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 12 August 2014

Good afternoon everyone. It is a great pleasure to see you. It has been about two weeks since I saw you last. The world continues to experience tumult and turmoil, with several crises occurring at the same time. I would like to say a few words about three of the emergencies.

First, the situation in Iraq.

During my visit to Baghdad and Erbil last month, I urged Iraqis to support the democratic process. I welcome the movement toward the formation of a new government. Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abbadi now has the important task of forming a broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society. It is imperative that the security forces refrain from intervening in the political process.

The people of Iraq – all Iraqi people – need security. Yet the poison of hatred and brutality is spreading.

The so-called “Islamic State” – IS - is a threat to Iraq, Syria and the region. I am profoundly dismayed by its barbaric acts, including accounts of summary executions, boys forcibly taken from their homes to fight, girls abducted or trafficked as sex slaves.

The plight of the Yazidis and others on Mount Sinjar is especially harrowing. UN humanitarian personnel are in the area, doing what we can. Air drops of food and water are reaching some of the trapped people. But the situation on the mountain is dire. And even when people manage to find a way out, they remain exposed to searing heat and a perilous odyssey.

I urge the international community to do even more to provide the protection they need. And I condemn in the strongest possible terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse the extremist ideology of “IS” and associated armed groups.

Let me now turn to the situation in Gaza.

The most recent ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, appears to be holding. But that is not enough. I strongly hope that a durable ceasefire will be reached soon.

We must use this cessation of hostilities to address urgent humanitarian needs. The toll of death and destruction is staggering.

According to preliminary information, nearly 2000 Palestinians have been killed -- almost 75 per cent of them civilians, including 459 children. There were more children killed in this Gaza conflict than in the previous two crises combined.

More than 300,000 people are still sheltering in UNRWA schools, government and private schools and other public facilities, or with host families. At least 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged.

Most of Gaza’s households have little or no water supply. Hospitals meant to cope with disaster are themselves disaster zones. The new school year was scheduled to start in less than two weeks, but a great many of the buildings will not be ready or are totally unusable in their current state.

The United Nations will work with regional and international actors to rebuild. But unless we address the underlying causes of the conflict, another round of violence and vengeance is almost guaranteed.

Israel’s duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas and other threats is beyond question. At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality. Reports of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.

I have called for an investigation into the repeated shelling of UN facilities harbouring civilians. I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finally, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO announced today that the death toll has surpassed 1,000. Three steps are especially urgent:

First, addressing the severe lack of capacity in the most severely affected countries. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have only recently returned to political stability following years of conflict that destroyed or disabled their health systems. I urge the international community to respond urgently to the shortage of doctors, nurses and equipment, including protective clothing and isolation tents. We need all hands on deck.

Second, a coordinated international response is essential. I remain in close touch with Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. In the days ahead, the UN system will further strengthen the way we are dealing with the outbreak.

To that end, in close coordination with Dr. Margaret Chan of WHO, I have designated Dr. David Nabarro as Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Ebola Virus Disease. Dr. Nabarro will be responsible for ensuring that the United Nations system makes an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the outbreak of Ebola.

Third, we need to avoid panic and fear. Ebola can be prevented. With resources, knowledge, early action and will, people can survive the disease. Ebola has been successfully brought under control elsewhere, and we can do it here too.

Thank you very much for your attention.