Secretary-General's press conference
New York, 22 January 2013
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to see you. Since this is my first press conference this year, I would like to extend my best wishes to all of you and your families, and your organizations’ good success and prosperity and happiness. And I thank you for your strong support and friendship, and covering the news of the United Nations throughout last year. But I also look forward to working with all of you, this year and beyond.
As you know, I have just spoken with the Member States about the challenges and opportunities and priorities of the United Nations, this year and ahead.
We made solid progress last year across a wide agenda of crisis and long-term peace and development. As I told the Member States, I am encouraged but not satisfied. We continue to face tremendous troubles and turmoil.
The calamity in Syria is without doubt our main immediate test.
The humanitarian situation is dire and getting worse and worse. Millions of people are struggling to survive. More than 650,000 people have fled the country. Lack of food and denial of access to medical treatment, inadequate shelter and heating during a harsh winter are taking their toll.
We continue to see unrelenting violence and human rights violations. The use of heavy weapons in urban centres is causing terrible damage, with whole towns and neighbourhoods emptied or destroyed. Sexual violence is widespread. I want to stress the need for accountability and justice for the crimes we have seen – and for crimes that could still take place if already high sectarian tensions explode into mass reprisals and killings.
Despite the dangerous security environment and the limitations imposed by the Government, humanitarian agencies are trying to reach as many of the vulnerable and displaced as we can. The humanitarian community has requested $1.5 billion for the next six months -- the largest-ever short-term appeal. However, our appeals are woefully under-funded. That is why I am convening a pledging conference in Kuwait one week from now; that is, on Wednesday, 30 January.
The political environment remains polarized in Syria and in the region. The Security Council must find the unity the people of Syria need. Yet a deadly military momentum has taken hold. I call again for all states to cease sending arms to either side in Syria.
Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi continues his diplomatic efforts. We met yesterday, and reviewed the latest state of play. Our shared assessment is that we are still a long way from getting the Syrians together. The key decisions about the country’s future are in the hands of the Syrians. But the international community, and in particular the Security Council, has a grave responsibility to act to bring the desperate suffering of the Syrian people to an end.
The deepening crisis in Mali is also a high priority.
Mali is under grave threat from extremist armed insurgents. The country is calling for, and needs, our help.
I applaud France for its courageous decision to deploy troops following the troubling move southward by extremist groups. I appreciate the efforts of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the African Union and the troop contributors to AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali).
Over the past weekend, I dispatched to Bamako an advance team of the UN multidisciplinary presence requested by the Security Council in resolution 2085 to assist on both the political and security tracks. Additional staff will deploy in the days ahead.
My Special Representative for West Africa has been in close dialogue with the Malian authorities and our regional partners. Our humanitarian agencies are working to meet the growing needs of a crisis that has forced 350,000 people to flee their homes.
Yesterday I wrote to the Security Council outlining options for a UN logistical support package to AFISMA. In order for AFISMA to become operational and implement its mandated tasks, the force requires critical logistical support. At the same time, I have flagged the risks for our civilian operations and personnel in the region, and we await the Council’s decision.
But let there be no doubt, we are firmly committed to helping Mali in its hour of need. At the same time, any assistance must fall within UN guidelines, including its due diligence policy on human rights. Directly assisting offensive military actions would also place our civilian personnel in the region in jeopardy. I take this issue very seriously.
As the international community responds to the security threat, let us remember that Mali is also a political challenge. It was the coup and the collapse of Mali’s democracy that opened the way for extremists. Military gains must be matched by efforts to restore full constitutional order and legitimacy in Bamako, while leaving the door open to negotiations with those groups that renounce terrorism.
Turning to the wider Sahel and North African region, I was deeply saddened by the death toll in the terrorist attack in In Amenas, Algeria. Such acts of terrorism can never be justified. Those responsible must be brought to justice. I also extend my condolences to the affected families, to the people and Government of Algeria and to all countries whose nationals were among the victims of this attack.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me turn now to a third challenge for the year ahead: sustainable development. In 2013, we need to stay on track for 2015.
That is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
That is the year in which Member States have committed to reach a robust, legally binding agreement on climate change.
And that is when we should finalize a new development agenda that will build on the MDGs, including a set of Sustainable Development Goals. Global consultations are under way and I will report to the General Assembly in September.
Tomorrow evening I leave on a mission in which all of these challenges will figure prominently.
My first stop will be Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. I will meet there with the Prime Minister of Lebanon and other leaders. In addition to Syria, issues such as health, education, water, nutrition, green growth and the post-2015 development framework will be on the agenda.
From there I will continue on to Addis Ababa for the African Union Summit. I will meet with many leaders and discuss a number of crisis situations, including Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I will also take part in events focusing on malaria, maternal mortality and ways to sustain Africa’s impressive economic growth. The UN’s partnership with the African Union is strong and getting stronger.
My last stop will be Kuwait, for the Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria I am convening, together with the Emir of Kuwait. I thank the Government of Kuwait for hosting it. I urge donors to come to the table with generous pledges of support.
In closing, let me stress the urgency of these tasks.
My fear is that, on too many of today’s challenges, our trajectory may lead people a decade or two from now to ask why leaders did not rise to these tests -- and what narrow interests kept them from seeing the wider and greater good.
I am determined, through our common agenda and close cooperation with the Member States, to do better -- throughout 2013 and for these next four years of my tenure.
Thank you very much.
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. On behalf of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), thank you for being here. My question is about your statement this morning about Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi. It was frankly very grim - no negotiations, no Security Council action, increased violence. Do you believe that -- he has the problem, in addition, that the [Bashar al] Assad Government has accused him of bias -- do you believe he may very well, like his predecessor Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, leave? And if so, what is the role for the United Nations in the peace process?
SG: Before I answer your question, first of all I would like to congratulate you officially for your election as President of UNCA, and also I would like to appreciate the leadership of Giampaolo Pioli -- for his leadership during the last four years as President of UNCA. I again, as I said, I count on working together with you and all members of the United Nations journalists to address and to work for the common prosperity and safety and security of the world. Again I count on your strong engagement and support and understanding.
I do not want to start my press briefing with some grim or pessimistic views. I am a man of optimism always. Without optimism, you cannot make things happen. Of course, the situation is very dire, very difficult. We do not see much prospect of resolution at this time, while we are heading towards the entry of the third year of this crisis. Come March, we are entering the third year of this crisis. We have to bring this crisis to an end as soon as possible. I am grateful to Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi for his persistent and patient and strong leadership and commitment.
I heard and read some criticism about what he said on President Assad’s statement on 6 January, a couple of weeks ago. This is what he said as Joint Special Representative, since he has been dealing with this matter. That should not create any problems in his work as Joint Special Representative, and I sincerely hope that, with this initiative, which he [took] a couple of weeks ago in Geneva in getting together with the representatives of the United States and the Russian Federation to create this transitional governing body. Recently I have also spoken with some key leaders of the countries like the U.S. and France and some other permanent members of the Security Council, to facilitate such a process. Lakhdar Brahimi is now in town. He is now engaging in consultations with permanent members of the Security Council - individually and collectively - so I am also committed to work with him and other members of the Security Council. So I have full confidence, and he will continue to work.
Q: I have a follow-up, Mr. Secretary-General, first, to the Pam’s question. You said that his statement should not have created any problems. He actually said, and I quote him here exactly: “Syrians believe that forty years of Assad family rule is too long, so change has to be real.” Do you agree with this statement? And my question is concerning the opposition and their opposition to the United Nations’ handling of the aid. They are forming a committee – a diplomatic committee, they call it - to exert pressures on the United Nations on the way the United Nations handled the aid and delivered it to the Government of Syria, the Assad Government. They have a problem with that because they think the Government is not fair in distributing this aid. What would you say to them concerning this point, and would their pressure work? But I would like to hear also please the follow-up answer. Thank you.
SG: I believe that you must have read his press conference transcript which was held in Geneva immediately after this “3 Bs” (Burns, Bogdanov, Brahimi) meeting. He said that it was what the Syrian people said. It is not what he said. Of course, you know, you should ask him again, but as I remember correctly his answer was that it is not his saying, he was simply conveying the sentiment of what the Syrian people were saying. That is one answer.
The second part of the question: the United Nations humanitarian agencies, particularly OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], the High Commissioner for Refugees and other agencies, have been visiting the scenes in Syria and have been discussing with the Syrian Government officials how to best assist people in need inside Syria. There are at least two million people internally displaced at this time. Four million people have been affected one way or another and most of the public facilities - hospitals or other facilities - have been destroyed or are not functioning properly. Therefore, the need for humanitarian support is very urgent. But our support, the humanitarian assistance, while we have been discussing with the Syrian authorities, have been through the [Syrian Arab] Red Crescent or some other independent and neutral organizations. Through them our humanitarian assistance has been delivered. I think we will continue to do that.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the Philippines is bringing the dispute with the South China Sea with China to the tribunal under the Convention of the Law of the Sea. What happens now, and what is the UN’s response to this latest action by the Philippines?
SG: I have been following this situation carefully. It is important for those countries in the region to resolve all these issues through dialogue in a peaceful and amicable way. The United Nations, if necessary, if requested, is ready to provide technical and professional assistance; but primarily, all these issues should be resolved by the parties concerned.
Q: Thank you, Secretary-General. To return to the risks in Mali, you wrote a report last year, in which you kind of indicated you believed the risks were too high. Now, have you have changed your mind, because the scope of the conflict in Mali is growing?
SG: The situation has been getting worse and deteriorating in terms of safety and security for the people in Mali and for humanitarian workers, as well as UN staff working on the ground. That is what I have conveyed to the Member States this morning. That is what I have also said this morning to you.
Therefore, while preparing and delivering my recommendation to the Security Council yesterday on the logistical support package, I have provided some options - three options - to the Security Council for their consideration. In drafting and considering these recommendations one very important point of consideration was how we can ensure that the safety and security of our staff, as well as humanitarian workers and the civilian population, can be ensured. But again, I would like to make the issues that the United Nations is strongly committed to working together with all international partners to address the extremist elements and to bring constitutional order back to the country. These are priority issues. While we believe that it is necessary to have military operations, measures to address all these armed terrorist insurgent groups with whom dialogue is not possible at this time, our priority should be, in the end, resolution through a political process.
I have deployed, as of Sunday last week – 20 January – a UN political office in Bamako. We will try to deploy more staff who will discuss with the Malian authorities and other key partners who are working and operating on the ground.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, your Special Representative on the name dispute between The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece - Mr. Matthew Nimetz, Ambassador Nimetz - has called for yet another round of negotiations on 9 January, here in New York. According to the reports, this is something new. There are some new ideas – constructive ideas – that are called upon. Since you are very well informed, what do you prefer out of those ideas, and what do you expect?
And Sir, only if you wish, and since you have [been] called by many offended people actually, and the Organization, would you address, if you will, the controversy of the Serbian song where you have been presented on 14 January?
SG: The Spokesperson asked for one question only; you are asking two questions. It’s okay, I will answer. On your first question, I have been answering on many occasions. I am encouraged that my Personal Envoy, Mr. Matthew Nimetz, was in the region, in the two countries, to have consultations at the highest levels – with the Prime Ministers of both countries. He also intends to continue his consultations. This issue has been pending [for such] a long time. This has been affecting peace and stability in the region for too long a time. During my visit in July last year, in the region, I also emphasized the importance of resolving this issue as soon as possible.
I again encourage the two countries concerned to resolve this issue as soon as possible through dialogue and with a vision, based on a vision, of a forward-looking future of the two countries as well as the peace and stability in the region. Mr. Nimetz will continue to engage. I am not here to disclose any ideas or specific proposals he has made, because they are still under consideration.
For your second question, I have read and heard some concerns raised. The purpose of the concert was to serve as a message of peace and reconciliation. It was in that spirit that I attended that concert. Like many, I am aware of the extreme sensitivities around this topic, and the different perspectives there are regarding this song. Thank you.
Q: Secretary-General, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, a new organization here, thanks for doing this. I wanted you also to know also, in the speech you gave to the GA, we would have thought it was going to be open to the press – actually to physically go in and see the responses – but it wasn’t. Maybe it is a slip up, but I would really push for more openness and transparency. I actually wanted to ask about a slightly different issue that you raised in your speech, which is management reform and budget cuts. I know that in the budget session entered in December, that you had wanted mobility to pass, it didn’t. It got deferred. And now there is a lot of talk within the UN about this memo from your Controller, Maria Eugenia Casar, saying there should be $100 million in budget cuts, and that only 30 per cent should be non-posts – i.e. 70 per cent should be posts eliminated. Given all of the programmes that you outlined in your speech – sustainable development, peacekeeping and the Congo – how can it be done with these cuts? And what to do you say to people in the town hall meeting that said that the mobility plan should be better explained or withdrawn? I’d just like to hear, if you could, you’d explain what you hope to affect with these two programmes of yours? Thank you.
SG: Your question in fact covers a wide range of Secretariat management [issues]. First, on this access issue, I will try to discuss with the President of the General Assembly for better access or more information. Sometimes, it’s not my decision. It’s the decision of the Member States to have their meeting in a closed session to allow a freer and more thought-provoking exchange of views, but sometimes, and [in] most of the cases, I know that you are very much interested in what Member States are discussing. And I will try to discuss, to facilitate, this process.
On managing the Secretariat through reform, there are many areas. One key priority, key vision, of my reform management as Secretary-General, is to make this organization, the Secretariat, a global Secretariat – adapting ourselves to changing situations, both politically and financially. The United Nations, as the largest international organization composed of 193 Member States, cannot be an exception when most of the Member States are going through a very difficult economic and financial situation. Particularly when it comes to major donors, then it is much more so.
That is why, without any direction or guidance from the Member States, I have initiated, despite a very difficult situation, budget cuts, streamlined our budget and also strengthened our budgetary discipline. It started as early as three years ago during my first term. I asked my senior managers to cut 2 percent across the board. That was my first attempt, and it was done and much appreciated.
As you know, the last biennium budget was cut almost 5 percent, again across the board. That was only the second time, I was told, in the history of the United Nations, when the UN budget was cut below the previous biennium budget line. It was quite painful, but I’m also very much appreciative of our UN staff for their patience and also [for] going through this painful reduction process that Member States have very much appreciated.
Then last year, this time, in presenting my budgetary outline for the biennium 2014-15, last year and the previous year, we have reduced a significant amount of the budget. It’s not because they were the fat – we were almost cutting even flesh, if not bones. For example, some missions had to cut 19% – in the case of UNAMA, [the United Nations Assistance Mission] in Afghanistan, 19%. And in the case of Iraq, 14%. In the case of DGACM, the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, this was $50 million. That was quite a significant budget cut, voluntary budget cut, initiated by me.
It was quite difficult. Then, on top of that, the General Assembly adopted the resolution, guidelines, that we should cut $100 million more. It’s quite difficult, but we are determined to maintain this budgetary discipline; this one of the messages which I have conveyed to the Member States. We are ready, even though it may be very painful.
On top of $60 or $70 million of budget cuts I have initiated, then if I have to cut $100 million more, then both the Secretariat and Member States should work together. It is not realistic if Member States add and add the mandates and the Secretariat is asked to cut and cut. The Member States should also look at the possibility of cutting. If we review the mandates, there are many mandates which have already [been] overtaken by new developments of the situations. Then in such cases, there should be a review so we can reduce the source of our expenditures. That was my message. I know this is a very difficult situation. Our budget outline for the next biennium will be far below the current budget outline.
While there is inflation and exchange rate differences adding to our already constrained resources, then on top of this, I just wanted to make this Organization more mobile, more agile. If you meet some of the UN staff, there are some people who have been working in one post for 10 years, 15 years, without any change. I thought that this Organization [was] somehow very stagnant. If this whole Organization is stagnant, can we really be able to adapt to changing situations very efficiently and effectively? I really wanted to make all the staff more functional – multifunctional, multitasking. It’s not that somebody is working in a silo. When you work in a silo, you do not know anything other than what you are doing. You don’t know what your colleagues are doing. We are just one team. We are required to deliver and work and think as one United Nations team.
That is why I really wanted to have this mobility. There is strong resistance, even opposition, both from staff and Member States. I can understand some concerns, a lot of them; most of them [are] family problems, family obligations, education, health or cultural. In a country like the United States or some other developed world and European countries, that is the best place in terms of environment. But remember that tens of thousands of our staff who are working in very difficult and dangerous situations – 5 years, 7 years, 10 years in one place; very difficult. Their own safety and security is threatened. If you go to Iraq, if you go to Afghanistan, they are living not in houses; they are living in Quonsets or containers. They are not able to move out of this camp –just going out of the camp means risk to your life. Then is it really fair that one stays in that very difficult, dangerous situation for many, many years, while people are just enjoying very good atmospheres like this? I just wanted to have, let’s have some fair opportunities and equal opportunities for all of the staff.
I do not understand why, sometimes, Member States are not supporting this. I can understand if some staff are reluctant to move out of New York to [the] developing world. The Member States are coming all from nations where they themselves are very mobile. Diplomats are moving from here to there after 3 to 5 years. They themselves have been moving. Then I really count on strong support from Member States to this. There is no reasonable reason to oppose this.
I sincerely hope that in March the General Assembly will agree to my proposal. I have been promoting this one during the last six years. Finally, it has gone to the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly has begun to address this very seriously. Most of the Member States are supporting this. I think I have almost consensus, except [from] a few Member States. And we have consensus, except the UN staff union in New York. It took two years to convince the staff, first of all. Now everybody is on board, except the UN staff union in New York. Isn’t it too selfish? As Secretary-General, it think it is not fair – if one really wants to stick to the UN, I do not want to move out of the UN, it’s not possible. It’s not possible. So that’s why I proposed this mobility. This is my firm belief, firm commitment.
As Secretary-General, I have the responsibility to make this Organization, Secretariat, global and mobile, agile, for my successors and for many, many years to come. I can go without doing this, but as chief administrative officer, I cannot just go like this. That’s what -- this began from me and will end from me.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, my question is on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] issue. The Security Council seems to be reaching an agreement very shortly on the reaction to the recent launch by the DPRK. But the country has long been reacting by saying that their country categorically rejects resolutions, not just the Security Council resolutions, but also the human rights resolutions by the General Assembly or something like that. So my question is, can I ask you your view on how the international community can persuade the country that seems to not be engaging with the international community, and do you expect any change this year? And do you have any message to the young leader?
SG: In principle, all Member States have a responsibility and obligation to comply with all the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and Security Council. When it comes to resolutions of the Security Council, it is a mandatory and binding one. Therefore, before we try to convince some Member States, it is extremely important for the Member States concerned to abide by Security Council resolution.
As you know, I have joined the international community when they condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s long-range rocket launch. Since then, the Member States of the Security Council have been engaged to find a way to take further action by adopting a resolution. As you said, I know that it’s very close; the Member States have almost agreed to finalization of this resolution. I sincerely hope that the Security Council will take action as soon as possible. This is my wish. And as Secretary-General, I would again urge all the countries to fully implement and abide by Security Council resolutions.
Q: : Mr. Secretary-General, my African publishers have asked me to cover anything anywhere in Africa, and it seems there is an awful lot going on at the moment, from Somalia and the Sudans and the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and its bordering countries, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali now Algeria and even the unresolved situation which I’ve been writing about in Guinea-Bissau. What are you doing, what do you think can be done going forward ,to see to it that one or more of these conflicts do not, God forbid, metastasize into a wider, deeper, far nastier conflagration?
SG: African challenges have always been [at] the top of our agenda of the United Nations – either regional conflict or political, security issues or development. At this time, the United Nations has to focus on the challenges of the African issues. That’s what I have been doing since Day One, starting from the Darfur crisis. Unfortunately, the number of crises has been increasing, particularly recently, in the last one or two years. The crisis in the Central African Republic has been added to our new list. And the DRC, while the security situation has been there for many decades, it has surfaced quite seriously to our attention, particularly over the issues in North Kivu and eastern DRC.
I have been thinking very deeply why we are not, first of all, able to resolve this issue. Before that, there are so many conflict issues in Africa. I think it starts from lack of good governance. Each and every Member State should really adhere to strong commitment to good governance, a very strong foundation of rule of law and human rights, protecting human rights. When they have a firm foundation of rule of law and good governance, I think they can also expect that they can have better socio-economic development. When there is no security, you cannot have economic development. When there is abject poverty, that also affects political stability. When there is absolute despair, then it provides a breeding ground for distrust, and distrust becomes small conflict, and a smaller conflict becomes a bigger and bigger one. This develops into regional conflict issues. Therefore, we have to address this in a comprehensive way – that’s what I have been urging African Union Member State leaders, particularly the leaders. They should have a firm, strong commitment and responsibility to the people, responsibility to the history, responsibility to the future. That, I’m going to continue. But when a crisis happens, like when fires break out, then we have to put out these fires. I do not want the United Nations to become a fire brigade all the time – whenever there is a fire breaking out, we go with a water pump and put it out. That is why I have made prevention, preventive diplomacy – whether it is a political crisis or natural disasters – we have to put and invest more money and wisdom and efforts in prevention.
You may remember in January last year, when I laid out five priorities, five generational opportunities, during my second term or even beyond, I put prevention as my Number 2 priority, only next to sustainable development, because I believe that sustainable development is the most important one. It should be the priority one for our future. But to have it, we have to prevent all these crises so that we should not waste our limited resources. We should be able to focus more on the mutual prosperity of the people. So I will continue to use more preventive diplomacy. I have appointed so many special envoys, special advisers, special representatives, and I have established many regional United Nations offices. I think in most of the regional bases, we have political missions, what we call special political missions.
Peacebuilding should also be a very important tool. When it comes to peacekeeping operations, you need to have billions of dollars. We are using $8 billion a year, just to maintain peacekeeping operations. But peacebuilding – trying to establish the rule of law, good governance, democracy, good education – after a post-conflict transition, then that will be a much wiser and easier and much more effective way of doing things. Therefore, as part of prevention, we will again try to do more on peacebuilding efforts.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. You urged donor countries to go to Kuwait with generous pledges. Do you expect the pledges to reach the $1.5 billion target, which is only for six months? And what are the prospects for the rest of the year in the absence of a diplomatic solution? Thank you.
SG: I know we are living in a very difficult world, particularly financially. Many donor countries have been asked to provide their contributions here and there. I know there are difficulties, but the Syrian humanitarian situation is now deteriorating rapidly. As I said, at least four million people have been affected and we have 650,000 people – refugees – they are officially registered refugees being accommodated in four countries, but there are much more who are waiting to be registered, who are not registered, who are being taken care of by host families. Therefore we really appeal to Member States. I do not have any concrete idea whether they will come with $1.5 billion on 30 January. As I said to the Member States, as I told you this morning, this response has been woefully under-funded. My role is to convene and urge and appeal to Member States. I would hope that if you emphasize my point so that this could give some good messages to Member States. I appealed to Member States this morning, too.
Thank you very much. I wish you all the best.