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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter upon return from Chile [unofficial transcript]

New York, 8 March 2010

SG: Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you.

As you know, I visited Chile over the weekend.

I was there to express my solidarity, and of the United Nations and the international community as a whole, with the people [and Government of Chile] following the devastating earthquake.

I also had a meeting with my staff and inspected the extent of the damage of the UN office there.

I really wanted to have a fuller picture, a clearer picture, at first-hand, at the extent of damage, to better assess how the United Nations can help Chile overcome.

I saw some of the worst-affected areas, in Concepción. I was able to fly over the tsunami-hit areas.

Grief was widespread. But there was also a strong sense of unity among the people – workers and families of the victims, and Government leaders, and survivors. This was quite heartening for me.

That unity was reflected in the outpouring of support from the general public, the business community and others. The telethon fundraising event in which I participated together with President Bachelet and incoming President Piñera raised $60 million, twice what was expected.

I met both the current President - Michelle Bachelet, and her key Cabinet members. We had a joint meeting between the Chilean Government and the United Nations. Then I met with the incoming President, Sebastián Piñera, and I had another opportunity of engaging in in-depth discussions with the incoming ministers – Foreign Minister, Planning, Finance, Public Works, and Health Ministers. We discussed, and as a result of our discussions, we agreed to establish a joint working group between the United Nations and the Chilean Government, to try to identify the areas where they needed [help] most urgently. Those areas are shelter and sanitation, mobile hospitals, electric generators and communications and small-scale fishery support. There are several areas which the Chilean Government wanted to have a targeted support from the international community.

I stressed to both the strong commitment of the United Nations to help the country pick up the pieces and build back better.

I have, as you are aware by this time, authorized $10 million from the CERF, the Central Emergency Response Fund. The United Nations and the Chilean Government will work very closely together.

I will brief the General Assembly on Wednesday morning, and will see how the United Nations Member States can help the Chilean Government and how Member States can do their part.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now turn to some of the very serious situations in some parts of the world.

In Nigeria, I am deeply concerned that there has been more inter-religious violence, with appalling loss of life. I appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint. Nigeria's political and religious leaders should work together to address the underlying causes and to achieve a permanent solution to the crisis in Jos.

On Iraq, I applaud all those Iraqis who exercised their constitutional right to vote despite the very serious and difficult challenging security situation. My Special Representative, Mr. Ad Melkert, will have an opportunity of briefing you, with more to tell you at his own briefing later today.

Finally, as you know, today is International Women's Day. Gender equality and women's empowerment are among my top priorities. Women are central to the Millennium Development Goals and all our hopes for progress and peace and stability and human rights.

For that reason, I am pleased to announce that Ms. Ann-Marie Orler will be the new Police Adviser for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Ms. Orler brings great experience to the job, including in the Swedish National Police.

She has been the United Nation's Deputy Police Adviser since 2008, and has led the global effort to recruit more female police officers for UN peace operations.

Now, the United Nation's top cop is a woman.

That is a wonderful way to celebrate International Women's Day.

Ms. Orler will be at the noon briefing today to take your questions.

Thank you very much, and I am ready for your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the subject of another trip you are about to take, or will be taking in a couple of weeks to another conflict zone, the Middle East, can you tell us about where you are going to be going in the Middle East, I guess after the Quartet, and what your role is going to be, and how you see the launch of these so-called indirect negotiations that are resuming between the Israelis and Palestinians?

SG: As you know, during the last couple of months I have been extensively engaged with the Americans and Israelis and Palestinians and other Arab leaders, to facilitate the early resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Now, this Quartet meeting which will be held on 19 March in Moscow, will provide the Quartet principals a very good opportunity – first of all, to assess and encourage the earliest possible resumption of the proximity talks which will eventually, I hope, lead to direct negotiations between the parties. I will do my part, as Secretary-General, representing and reflecting the wishes of all the United Nations Member States.

I am considering visiting some countries in the region, but that will be announced soon. I am in the process of discussing this matter to engage myself and to facilitate this Middle East peace process.

Soon after that, I will participate in the League of Arab [States] Summit meeting which will be held in Sirte, Libya, on 27 March. There I will engage in bilateral or group meetings with the Arab leaders, so that both Arab leaders, and the United Nations, and all concerned parties can promote this peace process.

This afternoon, as you know, I am meeting Vice Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. [Silvan] Shalom.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, late last week you spoke with the President of Sri Lanka, and said that you are going to name a panel, to advise yourself, on accountability. Over the weekend, the President said that you had no right to do it and had a very different read-out of the call than we received, at least the way I hear it. Can you explain what the purpose of the Panel is and when you think you're going to name it? And also the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, also over the weekend, confirmed that he sought a job for his son with the UN. I wonder if you think that is appropriate, and is such a job going to be given?

SG: As you said, I had a frank and honest exchange of views with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, Thursday night, last week, over issues that were of concern to both of us. This included moving forward on political reconciliation, further movement on the condition of internally displaced persons, and the establishment of an accountability process. I am concerned with the lack of progress of the joint statement which both I and President Rajapaksa had agreed during my visit last year. I raised this issue and discussed [it]. I made clear to President Rajapaksa that I intend to move forward on a Group of Experts which will advise me on setting the broad parameters and standards on the way ahead on establishing accountability concerning Sri Lanka. For that purpose, we have agreed that I dispatch [Under-Secretary-General of Political Affairs] Lynn Pascoe in the very near future.

Q: Do you think that it's appropriate for the Foreign Minister of a country with which you are dealing with on possible war crimes to be seeking a job for his son with the UN?

SG: First of all, I am not aware of that particular case of job application of the Foreign Minister's son. As a matter of fact, any recruitment process will have to be dealt with in a most transparent and objective manner by the selection committee members. That is what the United Nations has been [using] as a principle.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on Myanmar, they've adopted new laws preparing for the elections, but they're also going to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up. What do you intend to do? Are you going to go back there this year? Are you going to appoint a new Envoy? There have been some rights experts here that have said that even the most free and fair elections won't solve the problem, because they need a new constitution.

SG: I have been very closely following and monitoring the situation in Myanmar. I have sent, about ten days ago, a letter to Senior General Than Shwe, first of all expressing my concern about the lack of progress and also emphasizing the importance of the election which will held this year to be a most credible, inclusive and transparent manner. For that purpose, there should be administrative measures taken. I took note of the report that there was an announcement on Myanmar State media on the enactment of election laws. That is what I had been urging the Myanmar authorities to do as soon as possible. First of all, I have been following up on that and I will continue to follow this matter. Most importantly, all the political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released as soon as possible, so that all of them can take part in elections. That would make the elections inclusive and credible. I repeatedly emphasized that, without the participation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all key political prisoners, the elections would not be inclusive.

Q: And on the Envoy?

On the Envoy, I am still in the process of finding a good candidate. But, at this time, my Chef de Cabinet, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, who has wide experience, knowledge and network with Myanmar, is now taking care of this job.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the Iraqi refugees issue is becoming a big problem for countries like Jordan and Syria. During your upcoming trip, do you plan to bring this issue up with the Arab leaders?

SG: I have been expressing my gratitude to the leaders of Jordan and Syria for their accommodation of Iraqi refugees. I know that, despite their economic difficulties, they have been generously accommodating and taking care of these refugees. For them to be able to return to their homeland, peace and security should be restored as soon as possible. That is what the current Iraqi Government has been trying and is going to do through a more democraticizing process, as we have seen yesterday, through elections. We are in a constant process of discussing this matter and providing necessary humanitarian assistance to those refugees.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you have been talking about your commitment to women's rights and all the things that you have been pressing for, and yet we recently had this case of sexual harassment by a UN employee – [Cynthia] Brzak I think is her name – who was dismissed because your predecessor had not lifted the diplomatic immunity of the man in question. Is that not a policy you think you should tackle, to really put some teeth into your commitment to women's rights, lifting this policy of diplomatic immunity in the case where UN officials are accused of sexual harassment?

SG: I think that, as far as the United Nations is concerned, we have taken right and correct measures in that case. Now it is in the hands of the judiciary process. I have taken note of the decision of the US court here, not allowing for her to pursue this case by reason of immunity and privileges. That is the court's decision. We had taken all necessary administrative and legal measures at that time, when it had happened. But it will continue to be the firm policy and position of the United Nations.

Q: On Chile and Haiti. Both countries need shelter and tents, and they need it quickly, and there don't seem to be enough in the world. Are they competing with each other for this kind of resource?

SG: This is a very serious challenge for the international community, when we were actively, heavily engaged in helping the Haitian people, then another powerful earthquake devastated Chile. The extent of destruction in Chile was also beyond description. I was appalled by such destruction by an earthquake. As far as these priority elements, shelter is very important and an urgent one for both Haiti and Chile. For Haiti, we have provided almost forty percent. My last figure was 300,000 tents had been provided, but we need at least one million tents, because two million people have been displaced.

The Chilean Government also appealed for the urgent provision of shelter. I have also participated with the President-Elect in a very moving event when young boys and girls were volunteering to build this temporary shelter – this was called Un Techo para Chile. This was a “Roof for Chile” in English. I was very moved by such volunteer work.

The Chilean Government told me that, as far as funding is concerned, the Chilean Government may have the capacity to provide all this. But they need some targeted support, like shelter, generators. There are many items which we have received and I will discuss with Member States, and OCHA [Office for the Coordination Humanitarian Affairs] has been working very hard to provide as swiftly as possible all those required items. That's why I was there and why I will continue to work hard.

Thank you very much.