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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's Press Encounter following the Security Council Briefing on South Sudan {scroll down for Q & A}

New York, 12 May 2014

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure to see you again. As you know, I came back from my trip to Abu Dhabi, South Sudan and Rome.

I have just briefed the Security Council on my visit to South Sudan.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was extremely alarmed by what I saw and heard during my brief visit to South Sudan.  The threat of massive famine is a clear and present danger.  If the conflict continues, half of South Sudan’s 12 million people will be run out of their homes, starving or dead by the end of this year.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, is sheltering more than 80,000 people -- a major advance in civilian protection that has saved many thousands of people.  But our peacekeeping bases are not designed to accommodate such an influx, the situation is fragile and many people remain unprotected.

I welcome the agreement signed in Addis Ababa on Friday between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar.  I thank the leaders of IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, in particular Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, and to the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, who pressed for this meeting to happen.

Now the onus is on President Kiir and former Vice President Machar to set aside their power struggle and accelerate the momentum for peace.

The top priority is to end the violence so people can plant their crops.  Otherwise, I am afraid that there will be serious famine after the rainy season is over. However, fighting is still continuing, and fear remains widespread.

To avoid famine, we are calling for 30 days of tranquility.  I have also called for a tribunal to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by both sides.  I urge donors to provide generous support at next week’s humanitarian conference in Norway, to be organized jointly by Norway and the United Nations on 20 May.

Let me turn now the crisis in Ukraine, which continues to escalate, especially in the east and south of the country.

Over the past weeks, there has been much violence and little dialogue.  I call on all those who have sought to undermine Ukraine's unity, territorial integrity and stability to immediately cease such actions. The authorities in Kiev should also continue to respond to such acts with maximum restraint and within the parameters of Ukrainian law and international human rights principles.

I urge all sides to find a way back to the spirit of compromise that was exhibited on 17 April in Geneva, and to implement the provisions of that agreement without delay. 

I appeal to all the people of Ukraine to express their grievances and aspirations peacefully, including by casting their ballots in the presidential elections on 25 May.

There is still time to halt the descent of Ukraine into full-blown conflict.

Finally, I wish to express my profound anguish over the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria.  I stand in solidarity with them and with the distraught families coping with this appalling abuse of fundamental human rights.

I spoke to President Goodluck Jonathan last Thursday.  He assured me that he is making every effort to obtain their release, but would welcome more information, including satellite imagery that could help in the search.  I have conveyed his message to Member States.

The threat posed by Boko Haram is not an isolated issue.  It requires us to strengthen counter-terrorism and our efforts against piracy, human trafficking and the illicit drug trade.  In a region with porous borders, it demands strengthened regional cooperation. 

That is why I have sent Mr. Said Djinnit, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa, to Abuja.  He is on the ground now for meetings with President Goodluck Jonathan and other senior Government officials in Nigeria.

As we focus on rescuing the girls, we must help those who managed to escape.   With counselling, we can supplement the support of their families and communities.

The United Nations is strongly committed to helping Nigeria address this situation and other internal challenges.

Thank you.

Q: A question, Secretary-General, on South Sudan .You proposed the idea of a hybrid tribunal. When you spoke to the two leaders, President [Salva] Kiir and [Riek] Machar, what was their reaction to this idea, because they could end up being prosecuted by that court?

SG: The human rights inquiry commission by UNMISS reveals, discovered that there is significant ground that crimes against humanity have been committed by both sides. That is why I have requested the Security Council to consider, to establish a hybrid or international tribunal to address this issue. It is up to the Member States of the Security Council to discuss this matter, to decide. But my message to President Salva Kiir and both was quite clear and loud: that we have found crimes against humanity by both sides, so you must stop this, otherwise those perpetrators will have to be held accountable. This is a fundamental principle of international human rights law. It is a firm principal of the United Nations.

Q: Secretary-General, you have sent Said Djinnit to Nigeria. He will be meeting with the President tomorrow, and you have Gordon Brown involved for issues after the release. Is there anything the United Nations can do to serve as mediator or to help rescue the girls?

SG: Because of a lack of information or intelligence, even the Nigerian Government has been appealing to us, and some countries who would have such capacity, to provide information. That is why I really sent a high-level delegation to first discuss this matter with the Nigerian President and Government officials, on what and how the United Nations and Member States can help them, and I am also going to discuss with our senior advisors tomorrow, to talk about strategy. And in any way, at this time, I do not have any specific ideas that I can tell you. But I am very much committed to work with key Member States on this.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. On Syria, you didn’t mention Syria. I wonder whether Syria is still a top priority in your agenda, and whether you still have any hope for a political solution since President [Bashar al] Assad is running for new elections and the Syrian authorities are carrying on with this.  Also, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi is going to leave us soon, as we hear every day here. How do you view the future of the Syrian crisis? Thank you.

SG: It is still a continuing priority of the United Nations, to address the Syrian tragedy in four dimensions, four tracks.

First, the political solution: Unfortunately we do not have brighter political space at this time for resuming a Geneva III meeting. I had a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi today.  We discussed various options – how we can do it. What is most troubling is that while Member States have started to discuss Geneva negotiations, the Syrian Government has announced to have an election on 3 June. It has already been stated that it is not compatible with the letter and spirit of the Geneva communiqué.

At the same time, violence is continuing, and I welcome this brief pause in Homs by which many people could leave. All this violence must stop so that we can reach more than 3.5 million people whom we have not been able to reach. They are the hardest-to-reach people, so we are really having a serious humanitarian crisis; a political solution is not being found at this time.

At the same time, we are continuing to destroy chemical weapons. Our target is 30 June. We have, as of last week, 93 percent or so have been destroyed. We will have to continue to destroy the remaining seven percent. We are closely working with the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]. There is an allegation that other chemical weapons might have been used, so investigations are going on. I hope this report will come out soon.

The human rights area - we are still continuously documenting and investigating human rights violations. It is still our top priority. At the same time, as you can see, we have many crises happening all at the same time in Ukraine, South Sudan and Central African Republic.

My message to world leaders is that we should have comprehensive overall views and positions to address all these issues, including development issues – addressing climate change and sustainable development. While leaders are focussing their time and energy on political and security issues, I think that is not desirable. We should be more comprehensive and balanced.

Q: You praised the agreement – the South Sudan agreement that was reached in Addis. But it seems that since then, both sides have said that the ceasefire has been broken, and also the Government of Salva Kiir has said there will be no election in 2015; that it should be put back two or three years. I wondered if you think that is a good thing for the country, and also what role does IGAD regional force, in your view, should play with UNMISS?  Should they coordinate militarily?  Should it be under UNMISS?  What does the UN think of that?

SG: It is disappointing that this agreement on Friday has not been implemented and has not been honoured. The fighting has taken place in the area of Bentiu, and I am urging the two leaders to abide by their agreement.

At the same time, the special envoys of IGAD met this morning to discuss this matter. We will continue to work with the IGAD leadership. I myself, as well as my Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, will continue to contact both leaders, so that they are committed to meet their obligations which they signed just a few days ago.

When political leaders commit themselves, they should honour their commitment. We will continue to do that, and I asked the Security Council that they should continuously be engaged, and render strong political messages, including taking necessary measures.

Q: Secretary-General, first a clarification. You referred to Geneva III, I don’t know whether this is something that you plan to tie the hands of the person who will take up after Lakhdar Brahimi in a Geneva process, or are you going to give them the authority to do what they want to do… but my real question is about a certain Member State now is moving with a draft resolution on accountability in Syria – going to the ICC [International Criminal Court] – and they are using 2139 as the authority, the Resolution that gives authority to move on.

You have been seen by some, Secretary-General, as rather timid recently in your criticism of the atrocities in Syria, including the catastrophic situation there. Do you not think that it is time to use your further authority, your moral authority, as Secretary-General and be less timid in dealing with these atrocious atrocities in Syria?

SG: You should never doubt my strong commitment – morally, politically – as Secretary-General of the United Nations to address this issue. Simply, the international community has been divided, and is still divided. It is not able to agree on a simple reconvening a Geneva conference. That is quite deplorable. I really hope, and I am urging the leaders of the countries concerned, to really show their political and moral responsibility.

There have been a lot of human rights violations, crimes against humanity. A Commission of Inquiry, established by the Human Rights Council, have documented and investigated all this. And I, as you said, I understand that some Member States are raising the issue of referring this to the ICC. But that should be decided by the Security Council as a collective decision. I am not in a position to comment on this matter.

But I have made it quite clear that it is a fundamental principal and position of the United Nations that whoever committed crimes against humanity and gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law must be brought to justice. This is a firm principal. Now it is up to the members of the Security Council what kind of venue they are going to take to bring all these perpetrators to justice.  I will continue to consult with the members of the Council.

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary, you were in Rome, and you met with the Pope. Just a follow-up on the question of moral stature, moral authority: In all these crises, you, like the Pope, have moral power. Did you exchange ideas on how to use it?  Did Pope Francis have some ideas for you on how to make sure that this moral power gets more effective?

SG: I have been stating and urging the position based on my moral and political power and conscience, urging the actors involved to do their own work for humanity. So many people have already been killed and the situation - this crisis has now entered its fourth year. How long can this situation continue this way? This is a totally unacceptable situation. This is why I am urging the Security Council and world leaders to be united. It is irresponsible that the world is not able to address this issue.

Thank you very much.


Off-the-Cuff on 12 May 2014