Secretary-General's remarks to the press at stakeout [including Q & A]
New York, 17 February 2011Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure to see you.
Recent days have witnessed extraordinary developments in Northern Africa and the Middle East. I have been closely following the situation, which is still unfolding.
Across the region, people are standing up to voice their legitimate aspirations. Civil society and young people have led the way.
Each country is unique. Each situation is different. But there are also common challenges in the region and important principles to uphold.
Throughout this period, the United Nations has been clear and consistent in supporting basic human rights and freedoms.
Above all, we have insisted on respect for the rights of peaceful protest and assembly, freedom of the press and access to information.
The reports from Bahrain overnight are deeply troubling. Here as elsewhere, violence should not be used against peaceful demonstrators and against journalists. It must stop. Those responsible must be brought to justice.
In responding to peaceful protests, authorities have an obligation to respect human rights. There should be no violence from any quarter. I urge all parties to exercise restraint.
The United Nations has been urging the leaders in the region, as elsewhere around the world, to listen attentively to the people and to respond to their legitimate aspirations. I will be reaching out again in the days ahead to leaders in the region to reiterate that message.
I will say it once again: the situation calls for bold reforms, not repression. Sustainable progress can take root in places where people are empowered, where governments are responsive, where growth is inclusive.
In a number of countries, transitions have been initiated or reforms have been promised.
It is crucial that leaders deliver on those promises, and that processes of reform are built on transparent and inclusive dialogue, with broad involvement of political parties and civil society.
Turning now to Egypt in particular, I welcome the public commitments that have been made to the holding of free and transparent elections and the enactment of measures to enable them - all as part of a transition to democratic, civilian rule.
Those commitments must be fulfilled. There must be no turning back
For many years, the United Nations has pointed to the problems which have now come so forcefully to the surface.
Both the leadership and the citizens of each country have a responsibility to work together, starting now.
The United Nations not only stands ready to help, but we are actively preparing to provide any assistance that may be requested.
Thank you very much.
Q: Concerning the unrest in the region you spoke about: In the countries where this is going on, what do you think is the commonality of the way the regimes, the leaders, have conducted themselves in recent years that makes them so vulnerable to this, that cause these things to happen?
SG: Commonality is that the leaders, first, they have to respond very sincerely and attentively to their [peoples'] aspirations. We have seen the wide[spread] demonstrations, outbursts of demonstrations and voices are now on the streets. That means they have been frustrated enough by the lack of freedom, lack of opportunities. Many young people have been frustrated by their inability to participate, with decent jobs and freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of communication should be fully guaranteed. Those have been largely neglected in the region. That is the lesson which the leaders should learn and try to change, as soon as possible, reflecting such strong voices from their own people.
Q: Specifically, Secretary-General, you spoke about Bahrain. Specifically on Bahrain, have you had any phone conversations with any of the leaders, and, specifically, what do you want the Bahraini authorities to do now? And are you worried about the spill of the Bahrain events to the other Gulf States, the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] States?
SG: As I said, I am in the process of reaching out to the political leaders in the region and I myself visited Bahrain a couple of years ago and I had good meetings with the leadership. And, at the same time, the United Nations has been providing all these recommendations and advice to the countries in the region. I hope that this kind of advice and recommendation will need to be looked at again very seriously by the leaders.
Q: My question is on Bahrain, what specifically are you recommending they do now?
SG: First of all, I am disturbed by all these violent means of trying to disperse demonstrators, the freedom of expression, freedom of access to information, particularly the journalists – their movement, their activities should be fully guaranteed. And there should be no violence and human rights should be protected. That's the basic [point] in addressing these issues. All the bold measures which I am calling for to take place, should be left to the leaders, so that they can engage in broad-based consultations, including all opposition parties and civil society.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you made a very strong statement today about the violence must stop. Are you planning to visit this country to tell straight in the face of the leader what you're saying today here?
SG: In fact, to some countries like Egypt and elsewhere, we have offered our assistance and we are now looking at opportune timing for all these visits or any technical assistance, particularly when it comes to electoral technical assistance. The United Nations is always ready and we have offered such proposals, so let us see. We are waiting for their replies.
Thank you very much