Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 05 May 2009
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you. I am sorry that I couldn't have a press conference with you last month, because of my very hectic schedule. I am pleased to have this monthly regular press conference today.
Yesterday, as you know, I briefed the General Assembly on the latest developments regarding the H1N1 epidemic.
As you know, this outbreak is yet another reminder that we live an interconnected world. A threat to one country is a threat to all, requiring a collective, global response.
I understand that the World Health Organization does not plan at this time to raise its alert level.
That said, there is still much that is not known about this new strain and the dangers it poses. We must therefore be prepared.
Whatever trajectory the current outbreak may take – and so far we have been fortunate that its consequences have been relatively mild – we have learned valuable lessons.
Our watchword in potential health crises, now and in the future, must be solidarity -- a global solidarity.
In this spirit, I will therefore be asking governments in the coming weeks to:
First, reach agreement on sharing of samples of viral and other materials, as well as data on outbreaks, in line with the International Health Regulations;
Second, agree to establish coordinated long-term financing mechanisms for supporting poorer countries so that they are able to build their defenses against global health threats;
Third, ensure that WHO has all the resources it needs, when it needs them;
Fourth, reverse restrictions on trade and travel unless there is clear scientific evidence that it is necessary.
I will begin these discussions in earnest when I travel to Geneva later this month for the World Health Assembly.
I will also meet with donors, technical partners and the private sector, including pharmaceutical companies, to explore how all can contribute.
As I say, we still do not know how this particular health challenge will proceed and we must be prepared. As previous pandemics in the 20th century showed, the situation can unfold in stages – what begins as mild in the first stage might be less so in the next.
As we look forward, we must remain vigilant and alert to the warning signs. This will help ensure the proper response that benefits all the people of our world. And I am very pleased to sit together with Dr. David Nabarro who is working as a senior UN Coordinator for Influenza, and who will be very happy to answer any questions you may have after presenting my remarks.
Let me turn, here, to the Middle East.
This morning I transmitted to the President of the Security Council a summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry regarding incidents affecting United Nations personnel, premises and operations during the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.
Let me emphasize from the outset the independent nature of this Board and its work.
I want to thank the chairman, Ian Martin, and its Members for concluding this inquiry. I recognize the difficulty of conducting investigations such as this one.
I wish to place on record my appreciation for the cooperation provided by the Government of Israel in the course of the Board's work. The Board also appreciated its reception by the Palestinian Authority and meetings with local authorities in Gaza.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would emphasize that a Board of Inquiry is not a judicial body or court of law. It does not make legal findings and does not consider questions of legal liability.
My purpose in establishing this Board was to develop a clear record of the facts surrounding these serious incidents and their causes and to determine where responsibility might lie, bearing in mind the complexities of the overall situation.
As with all United Nations Boards of Inquiry, this report is an internal document.
It contains information shared with the Board in strict confidence. It also contains information whose disclosure could prejudice the security or proper conduct of the UN's operations.
For this reason, the Secretariat is releasing a summary of the Report for the purposes of sharing its findings with the Security Council and other bodies.
This summary is a faithful and objective reflection of the Board's full report. I fully respect complete independence of the Board's activities and assessments.
As to those matters that did not fall within the Board's terms of reference, it is not my intention to establish any further Inquiry. I intend to address any other incidents relating to UN personnel on a case by case basis, and through dialogue with the Government of Israel.
The Government of Israel has informed me that it has reservations and objections to elements of the summary. At the same time, I am pleased that the Israeli Government has agreed to meet United Nations officials to address some of the Board's recommendations, in so far as it relates to Israel. It has further confirmed to me that it is eager to improve existing coordination mechanisms.
The plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is reflected in the report of the Board of Inquiry. We should keep in mind that Israeli civilians in southern Israel faced and continue to face indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.
In a larger sense, the report reminds us that there has still been no progress on the critical elements that would secure long-term peace for the people of the region.
As I have said before, we need a durable ceasefire, which includes an end to arms smuggling, the opening of the crossings, recovery and reconstruction in Gaza, and steps toward Palestinian reconciliation.
More importantly, we need to give new momentum to the search for a resolution of the conflict in the Middle East. For this, direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must resume, and the international community must engage.
I understand that US President [Barack] Obama will meet Israeli President [Shimon] Peres today and Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud] Abbas in the near future.
I also commend Russia for convening a special meeting on the Middle East in the Security Council on 11 May. I hope this will be an opportunity for the international community to reinvigorate the process.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me turn to other areas.
With respect to the crisis in Sri Lanka, I have been monitoring the situation daily. This morning, I spoke once again to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka.
I called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting. This would allow more desperately needed aid, above all food and medicines, to get in. It will allow the UN to have access to the conflict zone to assess the situation properly. It will save lives.
I have urged the authorities to avoid the use of artillery and heavy weaponry in zones where civilians are especially at risk. I have also appealed to the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] to let civilians go and stop forced recruitment. Above all, there is an urgent need for the two sides to bring the conflict to a peaceful and orderly end.
It is very important that the Government lay out the conditions under which this conflict can end without further bloodshed.
I repeat: Protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law, must be priority one. The world is watching events closely, including for violations of international law.
On Nepal, let me add that I am seriously concerned about the political situation. I call for dialogue and consensus to preserve and enhance the gains made from the peace process.
Last but not least, the economic crisis is still with us. Following up on the G20 Summit in London, we will support a Global Jobs Pact to generate decent work, a mainstay of any global stimulus. We will also launch a UN Global Vulnerability Alert, an early warning system on the social fallout of the economic crisis.
Taken together, these issues provide a sobering reminder of the scale and velocity of change in our times.
We are living in an age when a credit crunch in one country can trigger the biggest global economic crisis in decades; when melting ice can threaten a tropical island; when an upheaval in one area can spread through a region and spill into the seas: when a cough in one corner can infect the world.
All of this cries out for global cooperation. We must harness power, purpose and principle to build a new multilateralism.
Thank you very much for your attention, and with that, I will be happy to take your questions.