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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Remarks at Joint Press Encounter with President Heinz Fischer

Vienna, Austria, 16 February 2012

SG: Thank you your Excellency President Fischer for your kind hospitality and kind welcome.  I always feel at home whenever I come to Vienna not because I was serving as Ambassador many years ago but because this is another home of the United Nations .. the UN office in Vienna is one of the four largest missions in the world. And I’m very grateful for such strong support and commitment of the Austrian Government and people for multilateralism in working together with the United Nations in keeping peace and security and on development and human rights issues.

Ladies and gentlemen. Guten morgen und Grüss Gott. It’s a great pleasure to meet you today.

Vienna is the place where we carry out vitally important work on some of the leading global challenges of our time.

This morning I participated in the Third Ministerial Meeting on combating the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan and its neighbours. 

Tomorrow morning I will help commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Austria plays a lead and vital role in the global fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.  Austria’s active participation in and support for the Paris Pact conference particularly demonstrated in today’s Third Ministerial Meeting of the Paris Pact Partners is greatly appreciated.

President Fischer and I covered many important issues, global issues and visionary issues in our wide ranging discussions. 

We also discussed the protection of civilians, particularly the need to help UN peacekeeping missions to discharge their mandates in this area more effectively.

 

Defence Minister Darabos, President Fischer and I discussed the current situation in the Golan Heights where Austria is now sending the largest contingent to UNDOF.  I am receiving daily reports from the Force Commander of UNDOF and they are now on full alert taking all necessary preparations considering what is happening in Syria.

 

We also discussed the rule of law, an issue that Austria and President Fischer has been very active in promoting at the United Nations. 

 

I know this is something to which President Fischer attaches great importance, and I look forward to seeing President Fischer in New York in September for the General Assembly’s High Level Meeting on the Rule of Law – the first such event of its kind on this subject.

 

I also thanked President Fischer for Austria’s strong support of human rights and also human security.  Their contribution in the Human Rights Council is very much appreciated.  And I expressed gratitude for Austria’s continued commitment to promoting peace and development in the Western Balkans, including Austria’s successful integration of 80,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I understand that President Fischer is also taking a very important initiative of visiting those countries including Croatia soon.

 

We also discussed Libya, Iran and the Middle East peace process.

 

On Syria, I continue to be gravely concerned at the level of violence and mounting loss of life.

 

I call again on the Syrian government to comply with international humanitarian law and immediately end the shelling and use of force against civilians. 

 

The High Commissioner for Human Rights told the General Assembly on Monday, February 13th, that Syrian security forces have killed well over 5,400 people last year -- men, women, children… military personnel who refuse to shoot civilians.

Thousands more are reported missing; 25,000 people have fled to other countries; and more than 70,000 are estimated to have been internally displaced.

Every day those numbers rise.  We see neighbourhoods shelled indiscriminately.  Hospitals used as torture centres.  Children as young as ten years old jailed and abused.  We see almost certain crimes against humanity.

The lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government license to continue this assault on its own people.

The longer we debate, the more people will die.

During recent days, I have been meeting and speaking with world leaders in New York and here in Vienna.

Yesterday, I had a telephone talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu of Turkey.  I am going to have a series of bilateral meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Alain Juppé of France, also Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger of Austria and others.

 

As you are well aware, the General Assembly is going to adopt a draft resolution to back up the Arab League efforts.

 

The UN Secretariat and myself is now considering all the necessary options once either the General Assembly or the Security Council takes a decision on Syria.

 

I commend the continued efforts of the League of Arab States to stop the violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of the crisis that meets the democratic and legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

Once again, I urge the international community to speak in one voice:  Stop the violence. Stop the bloodshed. 

On Sudan, I have been increasingly concerned by the lack of progress in negotiations on post-independence issues. 

The situation is both complex and precarious. 

That is why I welcome the signing earlier this week of a Memorandum of Understanding on Non- Aggression and Cooperation between the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan. 

I urge both Governments to maintain the positive spirit that led to this step.

Neither country can afford a relapse into war. 

Any breakdown in trust will have profound humanitarian consequences.

I will continue to do my utmost to avoid any further escalation and help both sides to reach agreements on all outstanding issues.

Thank you very much. Danke schoen.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you have repeatedly stressed the importance of a Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime in Syria. This afternoon, as you said, you have the possibility to talk to Mr. Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia. What are you going to tell him concerning this matter? And what can a country like Austria do to support a solution in this crisis or in this civil war, as you might call it?  Thank you.

SG: It was a regrettable thing that the Security Council was not able to take the draft resolution taking coherent, and in one voice, one action but now this is behind us. We have to look for the future. Then we will discuss and assess the current situation what is happening in Syria. Foreign Minister Lavrov was himself in Syria discussing this matter seriously with President Assad and I appreciate such personal efforts. But what is important at this time is how the international community led by the United Nations can formulate the political framework where there will be a ceasefire, there will be an end of the violence and discuss how this situation could be resolved peacefully without causing any further violence to the people. The second important issue, and that is even more important at this time, how to provide humanitarian assistance to many people who have been affected, who really need support from the international community. We have a serious access problem we will discuss together with the world leaders how we can establish the humanitarian access. The Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations, OCHA, is now discussing this matter, taking all necessary measures to have some forward logistic support framework. We need support from the whole international community and there will be another important meeting “Friends of Syria” on February 24th in Tunisia. I hope this conference will also provide a political framework as well as how we can work on humanitarian support. These are all issues which I would like to have a very close coordination and discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov and also with Foreign Minister Alain Juppé of France. 

Q: Mr Secretary-General, how do you view President Assad’s announcement of a referendum on the constitution?

SG: I read that in the report.  It’s their decision to have a referendum but what is his important at this time is that first the Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people, must stop violence. And this violence should stop from all sides whether by national security forces or by opposition forces. We are working on this political framework, this may be one of the elements which should be included, how they are going to have, what kind of  a political system in future they should have, this referendum may be one of them. But what is most urgently needed at this time is first stop the violence and then discuss in an inclusive manner their political future and at the same time in parallel with this we should be able to provide humanitarian assistance to many people who really need the medical support, who really need all this basic necessary things.