TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN
AT HEADQUARTERS, 27 JUNE 2001
The Secretary-General: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Let me start by saying that I am deeply honoured by the vote that has just taken place in the Security Council and I am grateful for the trust and support they have given me. But I hope you will understand that I do not wish to speak much about it at this press conference. As you know, this is a matter on which the Council recommends, but it is for the General Assembly to decide. Until the Assembly has taken its decision, I believe it would not be proper for me to get too much into this and I hope you will bear with me
In any case, that is not today's subject. Today, as you know, is the final day of the special session on HIV/AIDS, which I think we should all recognize as a truly historic event.
It is historic for two reasons. First, the level of attendance shows that the world is at long last waking up to the gravity of the HIV/AIDS crisis. And second, the Declaration that will be adopted later this afternoon provides us with a clear strategy for tackling it.
It is clear that all political leaders in important areas of both the developed and the developing countries are now taking this challenge very, very seriously and I have attended some very important meetings with them and I have had the chance to discuss with them one on one. I hope this level of commitment will soon spread to all countries, especially those in Asia and eastern Europe where infection rates are going to rise steeply in the next year or two.
But I am perhaps even more impressed by the strong participation of non-governmental activists -- within national delegations, at a wide range of parallel events, in the round tables, and as observers in the plenary sessions.
You can feel their presence and you feel the presence of these activists everywhere, and they really have transformed the atmosphere of the building -- as they do at all the best United Nations events.
I am more than ever convinced that such partnerships are essential to our success in the new century. Of course they bring problems and controversy with them, but so does every new idea.
In the last two days, some painful differences have been brought into the open -- but that is the best place for them. Like AIDS itself, these differences need to be confronted head on, not swept under the carpet.
What is important is that, after today, we shall have a document setting out a clear battle plan for the war against HIV/AIDS, with clear goals and a clear timeline. It is a blueprint from which the whole of humanity can work, in building a global response to a truly global challenge.
And if there is one idea that stands out clearly from the Declaration, it is that women are in the forefront of this battle. It can only be won if women are fully educated and enjoy their full rights, including a full say in devising society's collective response. It has been said that "girl power is Africa's own vaccine against HIV", and that should be true for the whole world.
Equally important, everyone now recognizes the need for additional resources, and we have heard some impressive pledges of money during the session.
I hope that before and during the G8 summit in Genoa next month we shall hear even more.
The strong and widespread support for my proposal of a Global AIDS and Health Fund is particularly gratifying. I have now had the chance to discuss this proposal with many different parties, and I am working with all stakeholders -- the G-8, other donors, developing countries, foundations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector -- to convene a group to finalize the details of the Fund. This transitional group will complete its work in time for the Fund to become operational by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, there have been many immediate offers of contributions from both public and private donors. In fact, UNAIDS is already receiving cheques: here is one for a thousand dollars, from a private citizen, and I am delighted to say it is marked "first instalment". This is a multi-year effort and I hope the governments will also share her view.
I have asked the United Nations Foundation to set up a special account to receive these contributions, which will be tax-exempt for United States citizens and taxpayers, and to hold them in readiness for transfer to the Fund as soon as it is operational.
All in all, I feel even more confident today than I did three days ago that we can defeat this deadly disease.
Let me now take your questions.
Question: I have two questions. The members of the Security Council have highly praised your action. Now your position is stronger than ever. Do you have on your agenda something to do in the next few days or months, for example, another initiative for the Middle East?
The Secretary-General: I think all of us have a lot to do. In the next couple of months, I will continue my efforts to get this fund established, and, of course, I will work with other leaders around the world to try to bring to an end the tragedy in the Middle East. I am in daily contact with the leaders in the region and beyond, and that effort will continue.
Of course, during the last session of the General Assembly, the Member States gave us an important agenda: the Millennium Declaration, which I think we should all work very hard to implement. So I am not going to be short of work.
Question: One of the standard catch-phrases in United Nations parlance is sustainability. We have seen momentum rolling on the United Nations AIDS front. How are you going to sustain this momentum so that today’s event does not lead to a denouement but rather is the beginning of a new something?
The Secretary-General: I think that the question should really be, how are we going to sustain it? It is a fight that everyone must get involved in. I have talked of complete social mobilization: we need governments, we need the private sector, NGOs and individuals to get involved in the fight. I think that what is unique about this special session is that it was not limited to officials from governments but included AIDS activists, NGOs and the private sector, and I suspect that when they go back home, they are all going to maintain the momentum that we have created here.
I myself have arranged to see some of the key constituencies regularly. I will be meeting with the pharmaceutical companies periodically. I will engage the civil society, and we will work with governments to refine and come up with their own national plans to fight the epidemic.
I think that the only way we can ensure that we maintain the momentum and sustain it is to get that broad participation at the local level, at the national level, and for all of us to stick there with it. Because if we do not, I am afraid that we are going to fail. It is a fight we cannot afford to lose.
Question: It was the Security Council which, oddly, chose today, during this important AIDS conference, to discuss your nomination, so I must ask about a comment made after the Security Council meeting by the Chinese Ambassador. He said, “With this nomination come high expectations from the United Nations for the Secretary-General” and “wishing him to do much better in the second term”. Do you agree? Could you do a better job?
The Secretary-General: I think that there is always room for improvement. Let me say that I think we have a major challenge ahead. But I do not think that the challenge should be only for the Secretary-General. The little that I have been able to achieve has been possible because of the cooperation of the Member States and the excellent United Nations staff who work to support me. I would hope that the challenges ahead will galvanize the will and the energy and the resources of the Member States as well. So I can assure the Member States that I will continue my efforts to work as hard as I have in the past five years and that I expect them to join me in tackling the challenges we face. I think that together we can make some important strides.
Question: You have just said that women must be in the forefront in the battle against AIDS. Yet we know that in many countries in Africa and in the most affected areas women indeed have very low status and little power. What, specifically, do you think can be done right away to help change societal attitudes and to empower women?
The Secretary-General: In my discussions with the leaders, and particularly at the Abuja summit, we did encourage them to bring in women’s groups, to engage them as they draw up their national plans for AIDS -- and not only that, but to ensure that they have the resources and the support to play their part. And in some of these countries, women are playing a very important role. I was also encouraged to see that quite a lot of them had a reasonably large number of women in the delegations that came for this conference.
But I think it starts with empowerment. It starts with education, particularly of young girls -- and I am not talking of education in the traditional terms. They can educate them on how to protect themselves, on how to look after themselves. It can begin in the communities, in the schools, in the churches. And I think in some societies it has already begun. I think on the scientific level a lot is also being done. I am encouraged by the work being done on microbicides to be able to give women the power and the means to protect themselves.
I would encourage governments to consult them, to make them part of the solution, and to bring them into the fight against AIDS.
Question: You mentioned the uniqueness of this session in being more open to activists. It was especially significant that a controversial activist who was objected to by 11 members of the Assembly was allowed to speak. Does this signal a significant change in United Nations policy towards activists?
The Secretary-General: I hope so. I have been very clear right from the beginning that we need to open up this Organization, we need to bring the United Nations closer to the people, and we need to work in partnership with civil society, with the private sector, with foundations. I think I have demonstrated that I am determined to do that. I think that the Member States are beginning to open up; the Member States are accepting it, and they are working very closely with non-governmental organizations. I think you can take it that we are moving in the right direction, and that that is the order of things to come.
Question: You have received a number of very critical reports concerning the management practices of the United Nations drug programme, and I wanted to see whether you still feel you have full confidence in the leadership of Pino Arlacchi and whether you intend to recommend him for a second term next February.
The Secretary-General: You are right that I have received those reports, which we are studying. I am going through the required procedures and reviews before I make a judgement.
Question: Can I ask: How much genuine consensus is there on the issue of women’s empowerment? Are you able to confirm that, up until just a few minutes ago, before this press conference, we understand that the Islamic States still had some concerns about the whole issue of women’s empowerment and the wording in the declaration?
The Secretary-General: I think my earlier comment referred to actions by governments at the national level and in embracing the important contribution women do make and can make. As far as the text is concerned, my understanding is that we are very close to an agreement. I do not have the details of the event or the incident you refer to, but I would hope that all governments realize that any society that refuses to use the talents of 50 per cent of its population is likely to lose out. I think women, trained, educated and empowered, bring a lot to society. In fact, one of my own most active and effective collaborators is Dr.[Thoraya] Obaid from Saudi Arabia, who is very active and who speaks quite eloquently on these issues.
Question: Can you be more specific about the group you said you were convening to finalize details of the administration of the fund? Who, when and where? And what is your personal vision of how this should be set up? What group should be involved in it? Who should be the banker, for example? Et cetera.
The Secretary-General: Let me begin by giving you the structure of the fund as we see it. The fund is seen as a private-public partnership. The board would have members from government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, by government, I mean donor and recipient governments, and some United Nations representatives. We would hope to keep the board quite small; there will be a scientific panel that will advise us on the approaches we are adopting -- the most effective way to tackle the issue and how effectively to use the money that we have raised. There will be a small secretariat that will handle the day-to-day operations. We intend to keep it light, responsive and non-bureaucratic. Governments at the national level will make applications to the fund, and, based on the need and the quality of the applications, the board will decide on releasing money or not, and on how to act.
So, the board will be quite broad. In the next week or two I hope, working with all these stakeholders, to come together with a transitional team to work on the details of the fund and to move ahead with the elaboration and the terms of reference of the board, so that we will set it up by the end of the year and will have the fund running.
Question: On the issue of the fund again: How can you ensure that the fund will not fall prey or be held hostage to some of the divisions that we have seen and that you alluded to yourself among Member States?
The Secretary-General: We have had a very good experience. You know, recently we set up another fund: GAVI, the global fund for vaccines. We have raised more than $1 billion, and we have a private-public partnership and have set up a structure that has functioned very effectively. There is no quibbling, no divisions, no disagreement. And we really would hope to replicate that experience. The fund will be a global fund with its own rules, with the kind of partnership I have referred to. And since we are all focused on the objectives, I do not expect any differences.
Obviously, there will be some pressure from all the governments that would want to be able to access the money and to get help and support, but, quite frankly, given the consensus and the convergence of views on how we should move forward, I think that once the board is established we will have very few differences. Of course, until then, there will be lots of pressure as to who should be on the board. Dealing with that and establishing the board in the next few weeks or a month is a difficult one. But once that is done, I do not expect much difficulty or disagreement.
Question: Now, in South Asia, the two new nuclear Powers are about to initiate a dialogue for peace on an issue which has been of concern to the United Nations for the last 50 years: Kashmir. Do you have any comments or advice for the leaders who will be negotiating on the 16th? And do you think that, during your second term, the people will see any resolution of that problem?
The Secretary-General: As you know, I was in the region in March and had a chance to talk to both leaders and also to some of the political leaders in the region.
I am extremely happy that the two leaders are going to meet, and I have written to both of them, encouraging them to really make a genuine search for a solution. I think both leaders are going into that meeting with the right spirit and very positive expectations. I hope they will stick with it until they find a solution. I do not expect that at the first meeting they will be able to solve all of their problems. However, it is an important step, and I think there are great hopes for the region. I can say that they have my full support, and I believe they also have the support of the people in the region and around the world.
Question: What kind of efforts is the United Nations going to undertake to reach out to rural communities? A lot of migrant workers come to the city and urban areas, become infected, and transmit it to their spouses and sexual partners, and in this way the infection is spread on a large scale.
The Secretary-General: I think in our own development work with governments, we have tried to encourage them to pay attention to rural development because often it is the failure of rural development which attracts thousands and millions of people to the cities and shantytowns and gets them into the kind of situation where they become unemployed and become exposed to the risks you have mentioned.
I think with our own organization, Habitat, and with the work we are doing with local governments and mayors of cities around the world we are encouraging a balanced development between big cities and rural areas. Once you have opportunities for employment in the rural areas, people stay there. You develop other poles of development, so people do not all have to rush to cities, where they risk greater exposure because in cities there are no jobs and girls are exploited, leading to the sort of consequences you have mentioned. Some of the governments I have met on my trips or seen here this week are very conscious of this problem. I hope in their national development plans they will take measures to deal with this issue. For those of you who do not know Peter Piot, he is the head of UNAIDS and one of our key actors in this area.
Question: As you know, several nations here have asked that we respect their cultural sensitivities in naming vulnerable groups. As the international leader who espouses the concept of humanitarian intervention that need not necessarily recognize national borders, I am wondering if you feel we do need to respect these cultural sensitivities, when in effect they amount to the oppression of individual rights of certain groups, such as those of gays and women.
The Secretary-General: I think in my own statement to the General Assembly I made it clear that we are dealing with a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions, and that we need to deal with the disease and those affected in a humane manner, accepting that regardless of their religious beliefs, regardless of their orientation, they are human beings with human rights which ought to be respected. We should really deal with the individual on his or her own merits and do whatever we can to help them by preventing the disease, and take care of them once they are infected. We also need to make sure that corporations do not drop them once they are infected but indeed adopt measures to support them, help them, give them care and retain them in service, rather than cut them off and ostracize them.
Question: As the previous question noted, the draft document has omitted references to high-risk groups, such as gay men, sex workers and intravenous drug workers. Is this a victory for prejudice? Are you comfortable and confident that the countries who are uncomfortable with the language in the document will now go back and be able to reach these groups?
The Secretary-General: I think the fight is not going to be won in a day. I think that everyone here has learned something. I am sure the discussions and the debate which have taken place have been heard and listened to. In some countries it might take a bit longer to get them to recognize the realities of what we are dealing with, that they need to respect the rights of every individual and the choices people make without ostracizing or stigmatizing them, and that we need to confront the issue head on. I think the debate and the discussions that have taken place here, which have been covered in the press and media, are being read about in some of these countries, leading to the beginning of debate in those places. The discussion is not going to go away. That in itself is a very positive development.
Peter Piot (UNAIDS): I would like to say that it is not correct to say that reference to those who are most at risk, are most vulnerable and should be included in the fight against AIDS has disappeared. Actually, I am surprised that people are surprised that this was a subject of debate. This is a debate that has gone on in every single country we have been working in, including my own country, Belgium, and the same situation has occurred in other countries in Europe. I would say that for us it has been a very good thing that this debate has taken place, because we went to the core of the problem, such as the discussion on gender issues and the vulnerability of women and the role of women, as the Secretary-General has mentioned.
Question: With reference to the question of the fund, can you tell us, with respect to the $7 billion to $10 billion that has been calculated is needed for an adequate fight against HIV/AIDS, how much do you think ought to be in the fund? Also, what kinds of things would you anticipate the fund should be doing that cannot be done now by existing bilateral and multilateral programmes? Why is the fund needed?
The Secretary-General: First of all, I hope the fund, once it is established, will focus on AIDS. However, we also have windows for tuberculosis, which is an opportunistic disease, and also for malaria. I would hope that most donors would give us flexibility, but I suspect that some will target their funding, saying they want their donation to go to AIDS. Others may want their funding to go to malaria, and some may even be very specific that their funds should be used to tackle mother-to-child transmission.
You raised a question about what the fund can do that is not being done today. First of all, we do not have the funds. We are trying to raise the level of funding to fight the epidemic. Without the resources and the means, there are lots of things that we could not do. I hope the fund will be able to assist governments in raising the level of health care, in raising the level of resources they apply to the disease.
You asked about how much of the fund I expect to go through the fund or through current sources. I think that is an issue that governments are discussing. Some of them have approached me about it. I would want to see the level of funding for AIDS raised, with an additional expenditure of $7 billion to $10 billion. Harvard University estimates that AIDS has already cost the world $500 billion. So, $10 billion a year to fight the disease would not seem like much, but in fact be eminently sensible. I believe that those who may decide to increase their bilateral donation and truly put in additional resources will be meeting the objectives that we have set for the fund. We would want to see expenditure on the disease increase about five-fold. Yes, I would like to see quite a lot of it go through the fund because we think it would be easier for the fund’s recipient countries, who do not have to apply to so many different agencies or governments to get assistance. We would be able to assess in a much more cohesive and organized way.
But if a government were to come to me and say, look, I have a good programme with country A, in Haiti, for example, and I want to increase my funding by $100 million or $200 million, but I want to continue with this programme, I am not going to say no. I would be very happy. It would be an addition and power for the cause.
Question: The Iraqi people appreciate the positive role played by the Secretary-General to ease the suffering of Iraqis. My question: is there any reaction from you regarding the killing of Iraqis as a result of the no-fly zone imposed on Iraq?
The Secretary-General: The question of no-fly zones is one of the issues that the Iraqi authorities have discussed with me each time we have met. This no-fly zone was imposed by two members of the Council, and they are enforcing it. I know that there is a question of whether this is an action sanctioned by the Security Council or one unilaterally imposed by the two countries. I noticed recently that Iraq had indicated than the air action had killed 23 people, which the United States and the United Kingdom denied. But I hope that as the Council continues its discussions and its attempts to find a way out of this impasse, we will be able to move forward, and that sooner rather than later the issue of no-fly zones will also be put behind us.
You know my position on this, and I have indicated that when you analyse and read the Security Council resolutions I do not see the Security Council resolutions as a basis for that. But there is a debate. The two countries believe that the Security Council has given them legitimacy to enforce the no-fly zone.
Question (spoke in French): You spoke briefly about Haiti, one of the countries that has been hardest hit by the AIDS scourge. During her speech the First Lady of Haiti mentioned that assistance to this country was halted, even though this country was the hardest hit by AIDS. A moral, ethical, question was thus posed to the international community. Does this question disturb you? Are you concerned that assistance to the country hardest hit by AIDS was halted?
The Secretary-General (spoke in French): I was not in the Hall, but I heard talk of what was said by the First Lady of Haiti. I believe that it is not fair to halt support and assistance to a country that is being so severely stricken. Every effort must be made to help Haiti. I promise you that I am going to work personally towards this end.
Peter Piot (spoke in French): I met with the Haitian delegation right before this press conference. We discussed this problem. Our position is very clear: as regards international cooperation in the area of AIDS, political issues and conditions should not be confused with humanitarian assistance. For example, currently very important bilateral and multilateral agreements are being negotiated to promote efforts to combat AIDS in Haiti because recently fresh momentum has been found.
Question: What is your response to critics who say that this declaration is just rhetoric, and that people will leave here and go home and nothing substantive will change? In other words, what is the importance of this document to the most-affected nations?
The Secretary-General: I must say that is the kind of comment we hear after almost every large meeting. But let me perhaps try and answer your question this way. Over the last 10 or 15 years or so, the United Nations has organized a whole series of meetings, and the results have formed a body of work that has been extremely useful to governments around the world. In fact some have been considered breakthroughs in terms of social development and social mobilization and awareness raising. I think one can refer easily to the Women’s Conference and
its impact on the empowerment of women and on encouraging women’s organizations to come together and work in partnership to push their own interests. And I think that when you come to a gathering like this it is sometimes difficult to quantify the achievement, but what I can tell you is that people are going to walk away from here with ideas, with new contacts, with networks and people they can call on so as to exchange ideas and learn from best practices around the world. I think that more than the amount of money that the fund will be able to raise, we have focused awareness on this issue in a manner that the world had not previously seen. And I hope that this conference will energize people at the grassroots level; it will encourage them to become involved; it will encourage them to ask their governments and parliamentarians, “What are you doing about this disease?” “When you were at the United Nations you promised this and that. When are you going to implement it?” We are establishing a yardstick, a standard against which people can measure their own performance, that the average citizens can use to challenge their governments regarding what they have done and what they are not doing. And so I think that there are many, many positive aspects of a meeting like this that are not patently obvious today, but that will have an impact on the societies and governments that are participating in this meeting.