Secretary-General’s press conference at the 26th African Union Summit [with Q&A]
Addis Ababa, 31 January 2016
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, bonjour mesdames et messieurs. I am very pleased to be here with some of our senior advisers of the United Nations, who are sitting in the front line and are sitting with me.
I will start with a few words on the talks in Geneva that are aimed at bringing an end to the horrific five-year-long conflict in Syria.
I am glad these talks have started. The Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is now leading the talks. These talks are long overdue.
I urge all parties to put the people of Syria at the heart of their discussions, and above partisan interests. Civilians, including children and women, have been bearing the brunt of this conflict. We must urgently see an end to the fighting, the sieges and the other terrible human rights abuses that have characterized this war.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now I will say a few words about the business of this very important and interesting summit. The African Union is a key regional partner for the United Nations. We count on our strong relationship to support African governments in realizing the aspirations of their people for peace, sustainable development and human rights.
I commend this year’s summit theme: 2016, the African year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women.
The African Union has solid legal instruments backing human rights and women’s empowerment, and it is making great progress in putting these into action.
The trial of the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, in Senegal is a significant step, and the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan sent a strong signal that the African Union will not stand by while civilians are slaughtered and leaders fail to lead.
Respecting human rights means accountability for the most serious crimes of international concern.
In my meetings with African leaders, we discussed the importance of ending the conflict in Burundi including regional and international efforts to encourage political dialogue. I expressed the support of the United Nations for the African Union’s efforts.
On South Sudan, I expressed my concern that leaders have failed to meet the deadline for formation of a Transitional Government. This is essential and urgent to end the unimaginable suffering of the South Sudanese people.
In my discussions on Libya, I underscored the need to build upon the agreement on the government of National Accord and encouraged all Libyan actors to support and join this effort, to help restore peace and stability.
And on Somalia, I discussed with regional leaders the importance of increasing support to AMISOM, to consolidate gains and provide the necessary support to national security forces. I thank all the countries that are contributing to this effort.
Our partnership with the AU on conflict prevention and resolution, and countering violent extremism, is critical
And as we work to address the threat of violent extremism around the world, we must never lose sight of the importance of respecting human rights. Counter-terrorism policy that ignores people’s rights or tramples on their dignity is counter-productive. I call on all African Governments to support the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism that I presented earlier this month to the United Nations General Assembly.
Good governance is another important area for cooperation. I salute the countries on this continent that held peaceful and democratic elections in the past year, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Tanzania and others.
I hope this positive trend will continue. We have all seen the tragic results when leaders use legal loopholes to ignore the will of their people and cling to power.
Last year’s landmark agreements on a Sustainable Development Agenda and climate change could not have happened without the constructive and active engagement and leadership of African governments.
I have asked African leaders to take strong ownership and implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement on Climate Change. I hope as many senior leaders as possible will come to New York on 22nd April to sign this agreement, which promises great gains for the people of Africa.
The World Humanitarian Summit that will be held in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May will build on these agreements. It will be the first opportunity for the world to come together and act on the pledge to leave no one behind, and to help those furthest behind first.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This afternoon, I will visit Ziway Dugda Woreda in Oromia region to see for myself the impact of the long spell of drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.
I will be accompanied by His Excellency Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and Ms. Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, and by the Deputy Emergency Coordinator, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, and others.
Through this field visit, we will be able to understand the health, food security and water challenges and distribution problems people face. We will be meeting local officials and people affected by the drought.
After that, I will leave Addis Ababa with many indelible impressions and memories of the African Union.
Today is an emotional moment for me: my final day at my last African Union summit in Addis Ababa as Secretary-General. But I will return to Africa many times before the end of the year, and I will continue to work hard on African issues until the last day of my term.
You, the media, are an important part of this summit and I wish you every success in your work.
Questions on reform for better representation of Africa in the United Nations and the situation in Somalia.
Secretary-General I will answer your first question. The first part of your question about reform of the United Nations, including the Security Council: Member States have been working very hard to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the United Nations system, including the Secretariat and particularly, the Security Council.
ECOSOC, Economic and Social Council, has already taken quite significant reform measures and the General Assembly also has taken quite significant reform measures to strengthen the role of the General Assembly. Now, at the core of this reform of the United Nations, I think there is the Security Council reform.
Member States have been discussing that matter longer than two decades. I understand that there is almost a consensus, widely shared belief that the Security Council should be reformed in a more democratic, representative and transparent manner. In fact, Member States have been working very hard, first through a Working Group then recently, during the last six-seven years, in a informal General Assembly negotiations – on a negotiations basis.
I think they have identified many important elements to make the Security Council reform possible and effective. At the same time, it is true that many Member States, almost all the Member States, have presented all different ideas which have not been able to be reconciled among so many important elements. It is a matter of how they reconcile all these very seemingly important elements to make some consolidated proposals to Member States. That is up to Member States now.
The General Assembly President has been appointing a facilitator who has been trying to accelerate this process. I sincerely hope that they will continue reflecting the views of many parties, including the African Union. That is my wish and on my part, as Secretary-General, I have also been working very hard to make the Secretariat more effective and transparent and efficient. Thank you very much.
On your second question, on Somalia, I met with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud this morning and the peace and security and human rights issues in Somalia have been a very important agenda and topic for the African Union. How to consolidate the stability, the peace and stability of Somalia, fighting back against Al Shabaab terrorist actions has been a key concern of the international community.
There have been as you said progress and some setbacks but largely, Somalia is going on the right track, they are moving and are making significant progress. I have urged the President of Somalia this morning that wherever they have been able to recover territories from the control of Al Shabaab, they should expand their role and power as much as possible, and there should be good governance.
The United Nations, led by UNSOM and my Special Representative, are working very hard and we are ready to provide all the support. But it’s not only the Somali people or the United Nations: we need all support from the international community. I think we should be proud of what we have been achieving so far but I told him [Somalia President] that it was not time to relax, we have to move on to make sure that there is a clear political roadmap.
One encouraging thing is this political roadmap, including the establishment of a bicameral parliament, particularly with minimum 30% representation in the parliament. That is quite commendable leadership. Thank you.
Question about Burundi and the sending of peacekeepers in the country.
Secretary-General: First of all, I would like to appreciate and commend the leadership of the East African Community and the African Union’s role for their consistent diplomatic efforts to bring peace and stability in Burundi. Unfortunately, the situation in Burundi has been deteriorating. Many people have been killed and almost every day, we see such kind of violence taking place. There have been many people, I think at least one million people, who have been [affected], displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries. Therefore, this security situation and political instability and humanitarian crisis have been deteriorating.
The United Nations has been always urging, particularly Burundian political leaders, including President Nkurunziza to engage in inclusive dialogue, listening carefully what the concerns and aspirations of Burundian people are. At the same time, I have been discussing this matter, working very closely with African leaders, starting from AU Commissioner Madame Zuma, then former President Kikwete who was chairing EAC, and President Museveni and many other leaders, urging them to help resolve this situation.
But first and foremost, it is not the United Nations, it is not the neighbouring countries’ leaders, it is basically Burundian people and Government that should resolve this issue through inclusive dialogue. Since we have not seen much expected outcome, it has become source of great concern, not only in the region but in the continent, and in the world.
That is why I met the Second Vice-President of Burundi yesterday, with the Foreign Minister, and in my interactions with the African leaders yesterday and today, the Burundian situation has been one of the top priorities and I am exerting all my efforts through my Special Adviser, Mr. Benomar who is now sitting here – if you have any further questions you may direct them to him, any additional question. Anyway, we are very much committed to bring peace and stability, and human dignity to Burundian people.
Question on whether the Secretary-General is disappointed that the AU dropped the project of sending peacekeepers in Burundi.
Secretary-General: Nous sommes très preoccupés par la situation qui continue au Burundi. Je suis en train de travailler étroitement avec les dirigeants de l’Union africaine et aussi en particulier au travers de mon Conseiller spécial, Jamal Benomar, pour faciliter le dialogue inclusif. J’exhorte le Président Nkurunziza de s’engager dans un dialogue inclusif avec toutes les parties du Burundi. J’espère la paix et la stabilité. Les droits de l’homme devraient être protégés. Je suis engagé, je ferai de mon mieux pour travailler avec les dirigeants burundais et aussi avec les dirigeants de l’Union africaine.
About the proposal of deploying peacekeepers, either by the United Nations or the African Union, I have taken note of the decision by the African Union Peace and Security Council to deploy at least 5,000 peacekeepers there. It hasn’t been agreed upon with the Burundian Government. I myself have proposed to the Security Council, as one of the options - one of the options – the idea of deploying some peacekeepers. That was one of the ideas.
I want to support all possible options which can help in contributing to peace and stability, and protecting human rights in Burundi. But basically, it is up to the African Union, and also in close consultation with the Burundian Government, what kind of measures should be deployed.
As far as the United Nations is concerned, in accordance with the Security Council resolution and with the consent of the Burundian Government, we have deployed a small political mission led by Mr. Jamal Benomar. We are now trying to use this special political mission as a way, as a means, to help facilitate a dialogue, [this work] is still ongoing.
I have been urging African leaders to speak and act in one voice. It is a matter of human dignity and human rights. The longer this situation continues, the more people will be killed and affected, and we have almost one million people who have been affected, refugees and displaced people. We cannot wait any longer, that is why it is a matter of urgency, that I am urging African leaders to act in one voice, and also particularly urging President Nkurunziza and his Government to listen very carefully and engage in inclusive dialogue.
Question on global terrorism.
Secretary-General: Your question may cover broad aspects of our world, starting from peace and stability, security, development and human rights issues. We are very much concerned that this world is now suffering and experiencing an unprecedented number of conflicts and crises, humanitarian crises and crises caused by violence and conflicts.
Why are we having so many crises at once? Never in the past have we seen so many crises happening all at one time. At this moment, we have crises in at least 37 countries and places. This is a fact of life. We have so many people who have been affected, more than 120 million people need humanitarian assistance. If we add all these 120 million people scattered around the world who need our support, if we established a country with these people, this country would become the eleventh largest, with the eleventh largest population. That is a huge challenge, how to address this.
We are still lacking funding to provide humanitarian assistance to these people. We have not been seeing much progress in facilitating dialogue and resolving these crises, starting with Syria, which has been continuing for five years, and come March, it will be the sixth year. More than 250,000 people have been killed, half of the population has been displaced and are refugees. This kind of situation has been happening in many places, especially on this continent, therefore I am urging world leaders first of all to respect human dignity and good governance. That should be the guide of their leadership.
Yesterday in my statement I have been asking world leaders, particularly African leaders, to respect human rights, to respect the Rule of Law and to respect the constitutional processes rather than clinging to power. Without engaging in inclusive dialogue, without listening to the views and aspirations and concerns of the people, then we have seen too many crises and demonstrations by the people. That’s the beginning of crises.
As far as the United Nations is concerned, we are putting more priority on preventive diplomacy. When there are certain symptoms, then leaders should address these symptoms, before these symptoms fester into an eruption of crisis. That’s my advice and my earnest appeal to world leaders, but somehow unfortunately we have not been able to see a harmonious and peaceful world at this time.
At the same time, world leaders have given some good sense of hope and promise last year. Last year they adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and for the first time they adopted the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. I believe that if world leaders implement these visions, the sustainable development vison and commitment on climate change, then we will be able to deliver much, much more, making sure people will be able to live in a much more sustainable and healthier world, and we will be able to maintain the environment in a sustainable way.
I could go on but because of the time limit I am answering your question in a general way.
Question on United Nations reform
Secretary-General: It’s not only African leaders who have been urging reform of the Security Council. I think all world leaders have been raising this issue. It is one of the top concerns and priorities of the United Nations to see the Security Council more representative, and more accountable, and more democratic. Security Council members themselves have been trying to improve the way they conduct their business, in a more transparent way.
But the core elements of reform: how to expand, how many members should be sitting in the Council, who should be given seats as permanent or non-permanent members, what about [indistinct because of cellphone ringing], there are many very complicated and difficult elements when it comes to Security Council reform.
I would suggest that Member States should show some unity of purpose rather than promoting their own individual elements based on their national interests or individual interests. When Member States are engaging based on their national and regional interests, I don’t think Security Council reform will be realised.
Even the African Union, while they have made their proposals in the African Union’s name, when you go down to the details, still I think the African Union has different views among the countries. So it’s important that the African Union should speak with one voice when it goes down to the details.
Off-the-Cuff on 31 January 2016