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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón

Cartagena, Colombia, 11 June 2011

SG: Buenas tardes para todos. Es muy chévere de estar aqui con ustedes.

As I am completing my three-day visit to Colombia, I am leaving tomorrow as you may know, I would like to say a few words about what I have discussed with President Santos.

Before that, I'd like to just explain my own observations, what I have just seen, flying over in a helicopter the flood-affected areas.

Today I have seen towns, fields and roads devastated by the floods.

Farms ruined, homes destroyed, families left in pain, wondering how they will recover.

It has affected me deeply.

I have seen the impacts of Cyclone Nargis and Pakistan's floods in the past.

I know this is the worst natural disaster Colombia has faced in decades.

My heart goes out to the 3 million Colombians who have been affected, one-third of them in this Caribbean region.

I commend the actions of the Government led by President Santos to help those people.

Many Colombians, even those with little themselves, have also great shown solidarity for their compatriots, through “Colombia Humanitaria.”

But let us commit to do more. We cannot rest.

Many more still need help, especially people in remote villages, and those in areas affected by conflict.

Help and solidarity must reach all Colombians, whatever their origin: Afro-Colombian people, indigenous groups, women and children.

More than one million people affected by these floods were already internally displaced.

Many are struggling with poverty and have no permanent homes.

The United Nations stands ready to help Colombia's most vulnerable people.

It is that message and our common goal to strengthen our work together that has been at the heart of my visit to Colombia and my meetings with President Santos.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last night, I was honoured to witness a historic moment for the Colombian people when President Santos signed the new Victims' Rights and Land Restitution measure into law.

This is an important step towards peace and reconciliation, justice and stability, even though we know that implementation will not be easy.

I told President Santos that the United Nations stands ready to continue to support Colombia as you now move into the difficult implementation phase.

Muchas pilas!

We also discussed Colombia's progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs], including welcome reductions in maternal and child mortality.

This morning, during a three-hour-long meeting with Cabinet ministers, civic community leaders, UN senior advisors, the UN Country Team and the President himself present, we discussed the strategic achievements and challenges. And we discussed ways and means [for] how the United Nations can work together with the Colombian Government to help the Colombian Government to realize the Millennium Development Goals, lifting millions of people from poverty and helping all of these people whose human rights have been abused and violated and how to bring this justice system into practice.

This has been the most rewarding meeting I have ever attending during the last 4.5 years as Secretary-General. I have been meeting many presidents, many development workers and ministers, but this has been the most intensive and in-depth discussion, and I appreciate such a strong commitment and leadership and vision of President Santos, and I am sure that with that strong leadership, Colombia will be able to meet the target of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

In closing, I would like to thank Colombia for its engagement with the United Nations.

Colombia is an important voice regionally and globally on so many issues: through its current membership of the Security Council, its leadership within UNASUR [the Union of South American Nations], and its growing interest in South-South cooperation.

I am pleased to be in Cartagena where leaders recently signed the agreement that solved the Honduran crisis. Let me also commend you, Mr. President, for all you have done to re-establish relations with Ecuador and Venezuela.

I also greatly appreciated Colombia's strong support to promoting lasting engagement in Haiti. That solidarity was on full display when President Santos chaired a Special High-Level Session of the Security Council on this matter last April.

Finally, let me just say that in a larger sense, I am here because we are entering a new era of engagement and partnership with the region. The continent is rich in experiences that are relevant to the global agenda on human rights, transitioning to democracy, combating poverty, tackling climate change and so much more.

I am convinced that the region can play an even bigger role in the United Nations, and the UN can play a bigger role in the region. I want to make our strong partnership even stronger, deeper, and more strategic.

I see a continent confronting its past but with its eyes on the future. I see leaders reaching out to share their experiences with the world while working in common cause to reduce inequality and social exclusion, promote human rights, and build a future grounded in sustainable development.

President Santos, I want to thank you for helping to lead not only Colombia, but the region on this road to the future.

Lastly, I'd like to thank you very much. I'm honoured by your such strong support for my re-election as Secretary-General of the United Nations. With your strong support, I hope I'll be able to get the full support of the Member States of the United Nations. You can count on me. That support will get me even more motivated and more committed to work in the future, and I am looking forward to working very closely with you for peace, stability, development and human rights, not only in Colombia, but in this region and around the world.

Muchas gracias, Señor President. Y un saludo especial al pueblo costeño.

Q: [Question in Spanish on the Secretary-General's message to President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria]

SG: I'm deeply concerned about what is happening in Syria. I have issued many statements and I have talked to President Assad several times, and I have urged him in person, through my telephone talks, that he must take bold and immediate decisive actions to listen to the people and to take necessary measures to reflect the will of the people. I'm deeply concerned and saddened that so many people have been killed in the course of peaceful demonstrations. I again urge President Assad and his governmental authorities to take maximum care to protect human lives. And I'm urging again to allow the humanitarian team to enter Syria so that they can find out the humanitarian situation and deliver the necessary humanitarian assistance to those who are in need of this urgent help, and at the same time, urge him again to receive the Human Rights Council-mandated human rights assessment teams. These are necessary at this time in parallel with what he will have to do to democratize his country.

Q: [Question in Spanish on what the Secretary-General saw when flying over the flooded areas of Colombia]

SG: As I have said, it was quite heartbreaking and [I am] very saddened to see what had happened to your people during this flooding. The United Nations Country Team and humanitarian assessment team have been working very closely, how we can help first of all, but I appreciate, as I said in my earlier remarks, President Santos and his government have taken early stage, necessary actions to help those people who are displaced persons. The number of displaced persons is in the millions and it may be beyond the capacity of any government and therefore it will be necessary for the United Nations to discuss this matter with other members of the international comm. When I return, we will discuss this matter. In fact, I'm accompanied by Assistant Secretary-General for humanitarian assistance [Catherine Bragg] here.

Q: In terms of levels of poverty and human rights, can you provide your assessment of what you've seen on the ground and what mechanisms you're considering for implementation on the ground when it comes to achieving the MDGs for Colombia?

SG: Basically, Colombia is a middle income country and I believe that if everything goes well, Colombia will be able to meet this target of the MDGs. This is what I have been briefed by our UN Country Team. At the same time there is a huge gap between rich and poor people. The poverty rate is more than 45 per cent and the absolute poverty rate is over again 15 per cent. This is a serious gap which needs to be corrected by the government in an urgent manner. We discussed this matter this morning, and yesterday we had a discussion with our Country Team leaders. With the active involvement of the government and also the UN Country Team, I hope this will be addressed properly. At the same time, there is concern about the status of minority groups, like indigenous groups. Their well-being, their status, socially and economically, should well be addressed.