Secretary-General's press conference at Al Sawy Culturewheel Centre in Cairo
Cairo, Egypt, 21 March 2011Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to see you.
I trust you have heard the speech I just delivered, so I will be brief now.
As I conclude my visit in Egypt and depart shortly for Tunisia, let me emphasize three points.
First, Egypt's democratic transition is well under way. The challenge now is to make it irreversible.
My clear impression after meeting with the Government, civil society and young people is that Egyptians are rising to the challenge.
There is much hard work ahead. There have been obstacles. More are sure to follow. But Egypt's people have achieved a fundamental break with the past.
Second, what happens in Egypt has tremendous implications for the wider Arab world, for the Middle East peace process and, indeed, for people everywhere.
Egypt's revolution has been largely peaceful. So has Tunisia's. This shows the power of non-violent resistance to change history. My hope is that Egypt will continue to serve as an inspiring example.
But in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, peaceful protests and legitimate demands have been met with further repression.
And in Libya, civilians have faced brutal violence and incitement unleashed by their own Government. Through recent steps by the Security Council and other steps, the international community is showing its determination to protect the Libyan people.
Third, the United Nations stands ready to help, if asked.
Each country must be in charge of its own destiny, and must lead the process of change. But the United Nations has been deeply involved in many successful democratic transitions over the years. We are ready to make our expertise, best practices and lessons learned available.
I thank the people of Egypt for the hospitality they have extended to me at this landmark moment in their history. I look forward to the success of the transformation on which they have embarked, and hope it can be emulated elsewhere.
Shukran jazeelan. Now I would be happy to take your questions.
Q: People like Qaddafi and Ben Ali who committed crimes against humanity, will the United Nations prosecute these people if their own local governments did not prosecute them?
SG: The United Nations position has been consistent and clear: those who have committed crimes against humanity should be brought to justice. We have seen, particularly in the case of Libya, that those crimes could be within the jurisdiction of international humanitarian laws and international human rights laws. The United Nations Human Rights Council has constituted an independent commission of inquiry and they are soon beginning activities to investigate those crimes which have been committed during this crisis.
Q. How is the United Nations, with its several UN agencies in Egypt, to help the country through this transitional period, and how about using youth to volunteer with the United Nations?
SG: This is a very good question. First of all, I appreciate the willingness of yours and of many other young people to join in volunteering their work. Certainly I will ask the United Nations agencies in Egypt to discuss with you the possibilities of such opportunities, and we will do that in close coordination with the Government of Egypt.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. I am very glad to welcome you to a free and new Egypt. I had the privilege and honour of covering you for the past four years and I hope you will be in Egypt all the time. When I left New York, there was resolution 1970, saying only a no-fly zone. Resolution 1973 says “all necessary measures”, including maybe possibly beyond the no-fly zone. Can you assure us, sir, that you would oppose the invasion by foreign troops of Libya? And my second question, sir – of course I hear you all the time talking about the Middle East peace process but since I came, I hear from citizens on the street, “Why did the international community interfere so quickly about Libya while Israel goes and bombs Lebanon, goes and bombs Gaza, and we don't hear any intention, besides your efforts in the Quartet, about this?” Can you see any serious intention of criticism, beyond the statements?
SG: The violence which the Libyan authorities have visted on civilians was clearly a violation of international humanitarian laws and against international human rights law. The international community, including myself as the Secretary-General, has been repeatedly urging them to stop that violence -- killing their own people, who were the peaceful demonstrators and unarmed. And killing indiscriminately those unarmed citizens is an unacceptable crime. That is why, under the strong recommendation of the League of Arab States, I have recommended the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone with the belief inside the United Nations Security Council that the longer we waited, the more civilians could have been be killed. Time was of the essence. There was understanding on the urgency of this situation, seriousness of this situation and graveness of this situation, that is why the Security Council had acted swiftly and in united way and in a decisive way. I was in Paris last Saturday to attend an emergency summit meeting. There was unity of support. The consensus was very strong among leaders and that is why they have taken decisive action. Please remember that the main purpose of (resolution) 1973 is to protect the civilian population and to have the Libyan authorities stop the violence. And you are talking about some different situations. When the Gaza was broke out, I did my best to, first of all, realize a cease fire, then to have been able to have this cease fire from the Israeli Government. It is unfortunate that still the situation has not improved this is serious, the humanitarian issues, and human rights issues. I am still working very hard in close coordination with the Member States to preserve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and to promote reconciliation between the Palestinian people as well as more importantly to achieve this vision where Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security. That is our goal to achieve still, we have to work hard.
Q: Do you oppose an invasion of Libya?
SG: Of course, the purpose of 1973 is not occupation it is to stop the civilian killings and to save the human lives.
Q: What are the most impressive exchanges that you had today with those young people in Egypt?
SG: I have met various groups of people in Egyptian society, starting with Government leaders, civil society leaders, young leaders and finally I have invited many people, hundreds of people, covering various walks of life in Egypt. My meeting with youth leaders who made this change happen on the streets five weeks ago was very impressive they had their visions, they had shown me a strong sense of responsibility and mission as the leaders of tomorrow. They were committed but they really wanted to get support from the international community and the United Nations, starting from socio-economic development, and trying to promote gender equality, gender empowerment, and they also asked the United Nations to do more in promoting further fundamental principles of democracy. It was quite impressive and I was very much moved by their commitment and passion, and their vision to have their culture developed and changed in a more democratic, more participatory and more prosperous country in the future.
Q: Mr. Ban Ki-moon, today after you finished your meetings at the Arab League you tried to go to Tahrir Square, but some protestors prevented you from doing so please comment.
SG: While in Egypt, I have been warmly welcomed by many people, Government and citizens, some positive, sometimes unexpected. That was some unexpected welcome. This is now a democratic free society, where people have freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, whether positive or negative, against or for the Government or for the United Nations. I am prepared to receive any such expression, whether it is against the United Nations or for the United Nations. But I believe that, while the freedom of expression is ensured, such expression should not be violent or threatening, which is usually also recognized as a principle of democracy. I am prepared to listen to all the voices of the people.
Q: The nuclear file is high on your agenda regarding the kind of serious situation in Japan, don't you think that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needs to upgrade its preparedness to be able to deal more efficiently with nuclear disasters? And do you think that Egypt and other countries should drop the idea of building a nuclear power plant for peaceful purposes?
SG: The recent earthquake tragedy and devastation by the tsunami in Japan has saddened everybody. That was an unprecedented, big tragedy. I am sure that with the strong determination and the good will of the Japanese people they will be able to recover from this devastation. At the same time this nuclear reactor accident has caused great alarm in the international community. I have been discussing this matter with the Japanese Prime Minister, the Secretary-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Amano, how we can address this crisis. I believe that the Japanese Government together with the IAEA and together with the help from many countries, in particular their nuclear scientists and nuclear workers, will be able to take some immediate measures to contain, but still the situation is serious. This incident has highlighted the importance of reviewing the safety code of nuclear power and nuclear plants. There are many countries who use nuclear power energy. I believe still that nuclear energy is the cleanest energy but there needs to be safeguards, there needs to be technology codes to show how we can upgrade the safety standards on nuclear energy. I am going to participate in an international nuclear summit which will be held in Kiev in April, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl incident. Again this will be a very important occasion on which we can discuss how the international community can strengthen the safety level, safety measures and design nuclear reactors. I sincerely hope that the international community, under the leadership of the IAEA, will work hard to prepare against any such occurrence in the future. Thank you very much.
Off-the-Cuff on 21 March 2011