Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Opening remarks at press conference

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 10 February 2009

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you again.

As you know, I have been traveling for much of the past month. I have been to Gaza and seen, with my own eyes, the human suffering there. I have been to Kabul, Islamabad and Baghdad, Davos and New Delhi, and some other places. Wherever I went I spoke for ordinary people — people at risk from climate change, people living in fear or war, people who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their children and families.

Let me begin with a brief overview of my most recent trip. It began, two weeks ago, with the high-level meeting on “Food Security for All” in Madrid, Spain. We do not see many references these days to the food crisis in the news. It has been eclipsed by economic fears. But we are still not out of the woods. I call it our forgotten crisis — because it has not gone away.

Kenya recently warned of a state of food emergency, affecting one quarter of its population — some 25 million people. Kenya is not alone. That is why, with Spanish Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero, I called on the international community to keep its priorities straight.

We called, loudly, for a sharp increase in agricultural assistance to the most vulnerable nations. Spain led by example with 1 billion euros over 5 years. A time of economic hardship, I told the delegates in Madrid, is a time to get back to basics. No human right is more basic than the right to eat.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, I spoke again for ordinary people — people too easily forgotten amid the sturm und drang of economic troubles. Despite the hard times, we must not waver in our commitment to the world's poor. We reminded wealthy nations of their pledges under the Millennium Development Goals.

In Davos, I urged donors to be more forthcoming. I sought new partnerships and allies — political leaders, business executives and philanthropists. Now, more than ever, it is time to deliver. During periods of crisis, it is essential to keep our eye on the big picture. That, too, is why I went to the Davos Forum ? to speak out on climate change.

The negotiations to be completed in Copenhagen by the end of this year require global leadership of the highest order. We have no time to lose. The United States, China, India and the European Union and many other countries — all must show the way. we must provide for those least able to adapt.

I repeated this call at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, even as discussions turned to issues of peace and security. I am encouraged by developments in Somalia and was pleased to learn that additional African contingents are ready to reinforce the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The election of a new president is a direct result of my representative's efforts. We will do everything we can to assure that the African force has what it needs to act.

Darfur was a topic of intense discussion. I urged President Bashir of Sudan to cooperate fully with the UN missions and ensure the safety and security of our staff and premises. He agreed to do so. Publicly and privately, I pressed both the government and rebel forces around the city of Muhajeria to withdraw and to safeguard civilians. Both sides have largely complied. I told everyone I spoke to, bluntly and categorically, that the UN would stand its ground.

The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has improved dramatically. We agreed, however, that the ceasefire is fragile and that UN peacekeeping forces must be reinforced in order to consolidate this progress.

I welcomed Zimbabwe's progress in forming a unity government. But I told President Mugabe, very frankly, that they still have far to go. I emphasized to the President that the government must protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of all Zimbabweans. I urged him to release all those arrested or secretly detained in recent months.

I remain especially concerned about the humanitarian situation. According to the latest figures from WHO, an estimated 3400 people have died of cholera. More than 69,000 have been infected. On Friday, next week, I will send a high-level UN humanitarian assessment mission to Zimbabwe, led by Assistant Secretary General of OCHA Catherine Bragg.

From Addis, I went to Afghanistan to meet with President Karzai. This is the critical year for addressing that country's security challenges and strengthening its democratic institutions.

That presupposes a better coordinated and better financed humanitarian and development effort. It requires good governance, free of corruption.

It is impossible to come away from Kabul without a strong feeling that we need a stronger, more concerted, more strategic approach in Afghanistan, if our work over the past seven years is to succeed. Regional cooperation is essential.

I have discussed this with many international leaders in recent months, including U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. I raised all these issues, as well, in Islamabad with President Zadari, Prime Minister Gilani and others.

I emphasized the importance of good relations with India and stressed the need for a full investigation into the Mumbai attacks. I also announced the creation of an independent UN commission to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to be headed by Ambassador Heraldo Munoz of Chile.

In India, I addressed the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. I argued forcefully for “green growth” — a Green New Deal that stimulates economic growth and fights climate change by investing in renewable energy. This is a theme I will carry forward at the up-coming G20 summit meeting in London on April 2nd.

We face a global financial crisis. We therefore need a well-coordinated, synchronized global stimulus package that protects the world's poor as well as the rich. Piecemeal, nationalist, protectionist policies will only hurt us all.

I concluded my trip with a stop in Baghdad, where I met President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and other parliamentary leaders. I wanted to show solidarity with Iraq's people. I wanted to congratulate them on such a resoundingly successful election, conducted democratically and without violence. I am very proud of the UN's role. For the people of Iraq, it is an immense step forward toward participatory democracy.

Visiting Baghdad, I found a new sense of confidence and optimism. If current trends continue, I can foresee a much greater role for UN agencies throughout Iraq during the coming months.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close with a few remarks on two other crises.

I am gravely concerned at the plight of the tens of thousands of people caught by fighting in Sri Lanka. I telephoned President Mahinda Rajapaksa from India and expressed my deep concern over the high number of civilian casualties. He assured me that he would take all measures to safeguard the civilian population. I stressed that all actions must be consistent with the principles of international humanitarian law.

I remain no less concerned about the situation in Gaza. I saw, with my own eyes, how difficult life has become for ordinary people. These difficulties have not diminished since my visit. All but one border crossing remains closed. Nearly 1 million refugees depend on daily UN aid. Yet we are getting in supplies for only 30,000.

Meanwhile, Hamas militants on two occasions seized UN aid. The materiel has since been returned but I have demanded that it not happen again. Who pays the price? It is ordinary people – people without homes, without food or medicine.

That is why, in Davos, I launched a Flash Appeal worth $613 million to respond to emergency humanitarian needs in Gaza. That is why I am going to take part in the Cairo Conference on March 2nd, co-sponsored by the governments of Egypt and Norway with the United Nations and the European Union. And that is why I returned to New York determined to work harder than ever for peace in the Middle East.

It is critical that we consolidate the ceasefire, promote Palestinian unity and revive the peace process. I welcome the speed with which the new U.S. President has engaged on this issue, particularly with the appointment of George Mitchell as Special Envoy to the Middle East. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will devote every effort to helping push the peace process forward.

Lastly, I should say that I have initiated steps to establish a UN Board of Inquiry into incidents involving death and damage at UN premises in Gaza. The Board will be headed by Ian Martin of the United Kingdom and will include legal advisers and a military expert. It should start work immediately and report to me within a month.

Thank you. And now your questions.