Secretary-General's press conference at IMO Headquarters
London, United Kingdom, 3 February 2011Secretary-General Mitropoulos, Dear colleagues from WFP and UNODC, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It's a great pleasure to meet you on the occasion of my visit to the United Kingdom.
You just heard my speech, so I will be brief now in order to get right to your questions.
Let me just reiterate two main messages:
First, piracy is a global menace. We need to confront it with a strategy that focuses on deterrence, security, the rule of law and development. I commend the International Maritime Organization for its efforts to strengthen global cooperation on this challenge.
Second, the situation off the coast of Somalia is completely unacceptable. The violence and hostage-taking are distorting the Somali economy and disrupting shipping lanes that are vital to people around the world.
The United Nations will continue to support Somalis in their efforts to fight piracy and, more generally, provide effective governance and basic services.
The situation was among the main topics I discussed at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, which I attended just before coming to London.
I co-chaired with the African Union chairman as well as chairman of [inaudible].
My talks in Addis also focused on resolving the dangerous stalemate in Cote d'Ivoire and ensuring stability in post-referendum Sudan.
And of course, I am closely watching developments in Egypt.
The protests reflect the great frustration of the Egyptian people about the lack of change over the past few decades. This discontent calls for bold reforms, not repression.
The United Nations has been warning about the democracy deficit and other challenges in the Arab world through successive Human Development Reports dating back to 2002.
I am concerned about the growing violence. I have urged all sides to exercise restraint. Violent attacks against peaceful protestors are completely unacceptable.
It is important to ensure an orderly and peaceful transition. I have urged all parties to engage in such a process without delay, with full respect for human rights, in particular the freedoms of speech, expression, association and information.
We should not underestimate the danger of instability across the Middle East. The United Nations stands ready to support the bold reforms that are needed to meet the people's aspirations.
Finally, a word on my strategic priorities as the Secretary-General for the year ahead. We hope to build on the achievements late last year in Cancun as we look toward this year's negotiations and the conference in South Africa. We are also preparing for the Rio 2012 conference on sustainable development – the next Earth Summit.
UN Women is up and running, and I have high hopes for what this new UN agency can achieve. We will continue to promote nuclear disarmament, protect human rights and ensure rapid response for countries in crisis.
All of this requires an effective United Nations. Strengthening the Organization – making it more transparent and accountable, more effective and efficient– continues to be among my top priorities.
So thank you very much. I, together with the Secretary-General and other colleagues, will be happy to answer your questions. Thank you.
Q: Last week at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), we heard the commander from European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR) describe an inadequate response from ship owners in terms of best marital practices. We heard the chairman of a UN contact working group describe a lack of political will [to solve] the Somali problem. In the light of that, and if this is an accepted situation, what tools will you use to convince government leaders and organizations that this is a serious problem that really needs solving?
SG: Again, piracy is a menace and is outpacing efforts by the international community. This is hampering smooth trade and is hampering shipping lines and it is again obstructing smooth humanitarian assistance to the people who need the immediate and urgent assistance. Therefore, [combating piracy requires] coordinated international efforts, while we encourage the Somali Government to strengthen their institutional capacity, their domestic institutions. But since they are a very weak Government, we need to support them. We need to provide good opportunities for the young generation so that their future will be better than [if they were to go] out into the sea. Therefore, we need to, first of all, strengthen international cooperation. That is what I have been doing as a Secretary-General. I have convened, several times, international pledging conferences, international support conferences for Somalia. I do not agree that there is a lack of political will - there is heightening of political will. Everybody understands that this is a very serious issue. That is why I have appointed Mr. Jack Lang, who has [put forward good] recommendations. I'm in the process of reviewing these recommendations. Many countries have provided ships, naval protection and they have supported the trust fund. And the IMO has also coordinated with the shipping industries. I think that we are all there coordinating. This meeting today at the IMO will help to raise, first of all, awareness and strengthen the political will.
Q: I have come in contact with thousands of these seafarers around the world, and one thing that is frustrating them and raising a level of anger and concern is the [system of] catch-and-release, that's happening so prevalently. One of the possible solutions that was discussed in one of the forums was a pirate prison ship. One of the challenges to that was the jurisdiction under which it could be held. There are many [inaudible] willing to prosecute the pirates, [but] seldom are they willing to retain and incarcerate them. If the countries that are not supplying naval forces to the exercise, if they were to finance and support that, would the UN be the jurisdiction for such a vessel because that seems to be the challenge, the non-jurisdictional vessel?
SG: That is a very important part of addressing piracy issues, in relation to deterring pirates. There are some political and legal and financial implications in this. The United Nations has been very seriously considering all ways and means to treat and address these pirates arrested. How can we do that? In many cases these naval ships had to be releases because of legal jurisdiction problems and practical problems to bring them back to the countries whose ships have arrested them. This has caused a lot of challenges for us. That is why last year I have summated my own recommendations. There are several different options. The Security Council has been discussing this and after that I appointed a special advisor to address this issue. He has been dealing with this issue, meeting with many countries along the coast lines. We appreciate very much the [support of the] governments of Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles, who have been accommodating these arrested pirates with the European Union and the world community, providing financial support for them to arrest and prosecute and accommodate them in the prisons. But they have limits. This is why we are now very seriously reconsidering these options put forward by my special advisor, Mr. Jack Lang. We are going to discuss his recommendations with the IMO, the seafarer community, shipping community and the Security Council. He has informally briefed the Security Council after he briefed me. So please know that we are taking very serious consideration in dealing with this.
Q: Secretary-General, can I ask you very briefly, take you back to Egypt. There are lots of reports today that there are journalists being attacked in Cairo, that camera crews are being threatened with being shot if they continue to film. Can I get your reaction on that? And in addition, five European countries - UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain - have said that the transition should start now. Do you agree that that transition should start immediately?
SG: I already gave my statement yesterday, together with the Prime Minister David Cameron, and I have already stated my position again this morning to you. The freedom of speech of the peaceful demonstrators or journalists, it should be fully guaranteed and protected. That's a ground principle of democracy. And the Government should listen very attentively to the wishes of people. This is the beginning point. Now, many people are asking that the government should [undergo] reforms. There have been calls for a transition - a well-ordered, peaceful transition, the sooner the better. I have stated my position this morning that the transition should begin now.
Q: There seems to be a cycle of violence now, where people are taking action against pirates, including the South Korean military and the pirates upping the level of violence that they are undertaking and ship owners in response are getting armed guards. That seems to be the upward cycle of violence people have been worried about for a long time. I wonder what you think can be done to counter that very immediate problem that led to a death yesterday.
SG: On your question, I think that we need to take [action on] three fronts. First of all, I think more must be done to deter attacks, all those pirates and pirate ships, motherships. We need to move beyond the impressive and ongoing deterrence efforts and make sure that they are carried out in concert with the international community with the other elements of strategy. And second, we must tackle the basic causes, which are happening onshore. That means, we have to provide livelihoods to young people - decent job opportunities, so that they will not be going out to sea. And thirdly, Somali people, especially the youth, I think need the strengthened governance of the Somali Government. The United Nations has been taking a comprehensive approach in addressing the Somali issues, all together, including piracy issues. First, the strengthening of the Transitional Federal Government, the rule of law, should be established. Then we are increasing support to the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The Security Council has authorized [increasing the force by] 4,000 more soldiers. I'm now working with the two contributing countries to ensure a rapid deployment. Then thirdly, the United Nations is in the process of increasing our actual presence in Somalia - in Mogadishu, Somaliland and Puntland - to have a more effective coordination with the Somali Government as a way of strengthening institutional capacity.
Off-the-Cuff on 3 February 2011