Secretary-General's press conference at United Nations Headquarters
New York, 23 December 2013
I have just come back from a visit to the Philippines.
I visited Tacloban and I saw the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. I was deeply moved by the plight of the area’s people – and impressed by the resilience of the people.
Business was slowly returning to normal and people were actively trying to clear debris with the United Nations and other international humanitarian teams.
The United Nations is doing everything possible to support the relief effort of the Philippines. More than 4 million people are getting food and hundreds of thousands are receiving life-saving supplies. But we have less than a third of the funding we need for our $791 million appeal which we had launched the other day. I call on countries to contribute urgently.
While I was in the Philippines, I received continuous updates about the deteriorating situation in South Sudan.
Earlier this morning, I convened a crisis management meeting, attended by my senior advisers. Ms. Hilde Johnson, my Special Representative for South Sudan and Mr. Haile Menkerios, Special Representative to the African Union, joined by video conference.
The situation is of mounting urgency. I am especially worried by reports of ethnically targeted killings.
Tens of thousands of people are displaced, including some 45,000 seeking protection at the bases of our Mission, UNMISS.
I am determined to ensure that UNMISS has the means to carry out its central task of protecting civilians.
I will be spending most of today calling regional leaders and others to bolster military support for UNMISS, as well as political backing for efforts to defuse the crisis.
Also today, I will be sending a letter to the Security Council containing my recommendations for boosting the protection capacity of UNMISS with additional troops, police and logistical assets. We are already approaching countries to help meet the new requirements. We are also looking at other peacekeeping missions, while taking care not to reduce their capacity to respond to threats where they operate.
UNMISS is protecting civilians at its bases, supporting humanitarian deliveries, monitoring the human rights situation and investigating reports of abuses. We have lost two peacekeepers in the past week and one was wounded. I commend our brave peacekeepers, as well as the mission’s staff and leaders.
Let me be absolutely clear. The world is watching all sides in South Sudan. Attacks on civilians and the UN peacekeepers deployed to protect them must cease immediately. The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences – even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks.
I have consistently called on President Salva Kiir and opposition political leaders to come to the table and find a political way out of this crisis. Whatever their differences may be, they cannot justify the violence that has engulfed their young nation. They must do everything in their power to immediately ensure that their followers hear the message – loud and clear – that continued violence, ethnic and otherwise, is completely unacceptable. Now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to show their people and the world that they are, above all, committed to preserving the unity of the nation that was born out of their long struggle for independence.
Let me also stress the need for South Sudan’s neighbours to act constructively and refrain from actions that could spark further divisions.
I would also like to address a public message directly to the people of South Sudan:
The United Nations stood with you on your road to independence. We will stay with you now.
I know that the current situation is causing great and growing fear. You are seeing people leave the country amid increasing chaos.
The United Nations will stay with you. We will do our utmost to protect you, to provide the humanitarian assistance you need, and most of all to help the country re-gain the path to peace.
Let me now say a few words about Syria.
We are doing everything we can to help ease the suffering. We have been working hard to convene the International Conference on Syria. After the meetings held Friday last week in Geneva, we are on track to convene the Conference on 22 January next year.
I am in close contact with Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahim for all detailed preparations.. As he announced on Friday, the invitation list is near complete. I hope the question of Iran’s participation is resolved soon. As I have said before, Iran needs to contribute to peace in Syria along with others in the region. We expect the Syrian Government and opposition to focus hard in the coming days on making their delegations as strong and representative as possible.
Negotiations will be difficult, but without them, there is only bloodshed and despair on the horizon. I count on those with influence to encourage the Syrian parties to come to the Conference with the serious intention to end the war and agree on a peaceful transition.
Meanwhile, I call on the sides to free detainees, end sieges and allow greater humanitarian access. I appeal to them to reduce the horrific violence. I utterly condemn the recent use of so-called “barrel bombs”, which has added yet another appalling dimension to the fighting.
All involved in this conflict should signal their intention to open the way for a new future.
I count on all members of the international community to continue to generously support the people in Syria and the neighbouring states who need help. I am doing everything possible to generate broad participation at next month’s pledging conference which will be held on January 15th next year in Kuwait.
Q: You mentioned your interest in bolstering the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. Can you explain how many troops you think might be necessary to do that, and what will their mandate be – evacuation and protection and what else in particular?
SG: As you know, we have 7,000-strong human resources – peacekeepers and police – but, as you will agree, we are in shortage of our human capacities, and other resources, too. That is why we are actively working very closely with the Security Council members so that we can increase this limit by transferring and by having support from troop contributing countries. I’m not in a position at this time to tell you more exactly how many people we may need, but we have discussed this morning and you will be able to know soon because I’ll be sending my recommendations this afternoon to the Security Council.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, have you had any contact with Salva Kiir to ensure the safe airlift that happened earlier today for the US citizens and 300 foreigners from other nationalities out of South Sudan? And my second part: with regard to the Geneva Conference in January, Navi Pillay issued a statement that it is confirmed and proven that the atrocities have been conducted, both by the Syrian regime as well as the opposition. Is there any mechanism to filter out the groups that were responsible for conducting such atrocities before going to Geneva? Thank you very much.
SG: On first question, I have been constantly talking with President Salva Kiir, but I’m going to speak with him again today or tomorrow, as soon as possible. And as I said, I’m going to reach out to many African leaders who would be in a position to render their support, resources and support, as well as who would have influence on these issues. This is what I’m telling you – I’ll be in close touch with the Security Council members for what I’ll be doing and you’ll be able to know through our Spokesperson.
For your second question, I have been repeatedly and consistently stating that those people who would commit gross violations of international human rights laws and international [humanitarian] laws, who would commit crimes against humanity and war crimes, will be held accountable. That means whoever it may be – Government and opposition forces – whoever does commit [these crimes] should be held accountable. We will make it again clear so that they will have to think twice before they commit crimes. This is a very important and fundamental principle which will be applied all around the world, not only in Syria, but in South Sudan and the Central African Republic. My message and the United Nations position has been clear and consistent.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the Syrian talks, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, in his press briefing to the correspondents on Friday, said that Iran’s participation would be, I mean he suggested it would be necessary for these peace talks. Do you think that without Iran’s participation, any talks can succeed in Syria? That is one thing. The other thing I wanted to ask about is drone strikes, which are again creating a problem in Pakistan. Can you please go into that? Thank you.
SG: For your first question on Iran, you have heard me and Lakhdar Brahimi saying that we support Iranian participation. Iran can play a very important role. It’s a very important regional power. Therefore, logically speaking, and practically and realistically, they should be a part of this meeting so that all of the participants in this meeting should be committed to the outcome of the Geneva II Conference for effective and efficient, full implementation. In that regard, we believe, and Dr. Brahimi again made it clear, that they should be invited. But unfortunately, there are some divisions of opinions, positions, on this matter between important Member States of the Security Council. Therefore, we are still trying to address this issue as soon as possible. As I said, the invitation list is nearly complete and I’m going to issue invitation letters soon, before the end of this month. That’s one thing. Let us see how this consultation will continue.
On drone issues, again, I made it quite clear that the use of armed drones – we do not use in the UN [the term] “drone,” but “unmanned aerial vehicles” – when it comes to armed [unmanned vehicles], then that should be regulated and controlled by existing international laws, including international human rights laws. Particularly with the [development of] technology, when [they] come into the hands of unauthorized users, that really creates a much, much more serious problem. And the uses of these armed, unmanned aerial vehicles should strictly adhere to the existing international laws, relevant international laws, [on] whether [a] target is a legitimate target. I’m sorry to have seen that many such incidents have happened where civilians have been attacked and killed. That is very much regrettable. I am again appealing that they should be controlled and regulated, strictly within relevant international laws.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, South Sudan: you mentioned you have asked neighbours to act constructively and refrain from action. Considering conflicts on the border, has Khartoum acted constructively or unconstructively? And have you spoken to [them]?
SG: We expect that all of the countries in the region, including Sudan, should act in a constructive way so that this situation will not further spread, will not have further complicated regional implications. That is why I’m urging all of the neighbouring countries to take very cautious and prudent measures before they do anything. It’s very important, very important, that this should not have any further regional implications, which are already very complex.
Thank you, I wish you happy holidays. I’ll have an opportunity of meeting you. Thank you very much. Thank you.