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Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General

SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PRESS ENCOUNTER

MONDAY, 19 AUGUST 2013

 

Thank you, good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is a great pleasure for me to meet you in this newly renovated press room. I hope you will enjoy working in this room and provide all of the time good news to people around the world. It is a great pleasure to see you today.

 

As you know, this is a solemn day at the United Nations. It is also the tenth anniversary of the attack on our headquarters in Baghdad, ten years ago exactly today. Twenty-two of our colleagues, including Sergio [Vieira] de Mello, were killed that day – and many more since, as we have observed in honour of those fallen colleagues.

 

In honour of all humanitarian workers who have died in the line of duty, we mark every August 19th as World Humanitarian Day.

 

We still face grave threats around the world. Let me be clear: attacks against the United Nations and our partners are attacks on the people we serve.

 

On World Humanitarian Day, I call for greater protections for humanitarian workers and assets – and accountability for those who would do them harm.

 

Let me now turn to other pressing issues.

 

On Egypt, I am alarmed by ongoing developments and the widespread outbreak of violent protests and excessive use of force. I strongly condemn attacks on churches, hospitals and other public facilities. There is no justification for targeting civilians or destroying infrastructure and property so important for Egypt's future.

 

Preventing further loss of life should be the highest priority. I urge all Egyptians to exercise maximum restraint and resolve differences peacefully.

 

With such sharp polarization in Egyptian society, both the authorities and the political leaders share the responsibility for ending the current violence. They should spare no effort to swiftly adopt a credible plan to contain the violence and revive the political process hijacked by violence.

 

The United Nations stands ready to support Egyptian-led approaches to resolving the current crisis. I have asked the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr.  Jeff Feltman, to hold wide-ranging discussions in Cairo starting from tomorrow with a focus on how the United Nations can best support initiatives to restore peace and forge reconciliation in Egypt.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just returned from a trip to the Middle East region and Pakistan.

 

In Pakistan, I met everyone from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to young students focused on education and a better future for their country.  I left confident that the close bonds between Pakistan and the UN are growing even stronger.  We will continue to support Pakistan as it tackles challenges at home and strengthen their relationship with neighbours.

 

I then travelled to Jordan, Palestine and Israel to underscore the United Nations’ commitment to a just and lasting peace. There is at last a fresh opportunity for real progress towards a peace agreement. Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize this historic opportunity.

 

There is no time to lose. Achieving an agreement will require vision, statesmanship and courage.  It will take sacrifices, understanding and leadership from both sides. The negotiators and leaders will have to make tougher decisions and even more difficult choices. This is not a zero-sum game. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to arrive at a solution that clearly benefits both Israelis and Palestinians – and we will continue to support all efforts to meet that goal.

 

Staying in the region, after five months of effort, I am pleased to report that the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic began its work today. As agreed with the Government, the team will conduct its activities in the country for up to 14 days. That period can be extended by mutual consent.

 

The Mission will contemporaneously investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Asal as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by Member States.

 

As I have made clear many times, in order to credibly establish the facts, the Mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents. This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of post-mortem examinations.

 

The serious security situation inside the country will undoubtedly affect the Mission’s activities in Syria. Despite these circumstances, I have full confidence in the professionalism of Dr. [Ake] Sellström and his expert team.

 

The Government and all other entities within Syria must ensure the safety and security of the Mission. I appreciate the assurances I have received on this.

 

I also applaud the staff of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization for supporting the Mission.

 

This is the first probe of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. I firmly believe that an effective mechanism to investigate allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons will help deter their future use.

 

Let me state again clearly that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances must be held accountable and would constitute an international crime. Anyone responsible must be held accountable.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

I will continue my travels later this week and depart Wednesday for an official visit to the Republic of Korea. And then I will visit the Netherlands to part in the centennial anniversary of the Peace Palace, and then Austria to participate in a retreat between the United Nations and the European Union co-organized by myself and President [José Manuel] Barroso of the European [Commission].

 

Ladies and gentlemen, finally, and most sincerely, I know the UN press corps is grieving.

 

Just this past Saturday was the funeral for Graham Usher, a distinguished writer on the Middle East.

 

And on Friday, television cameraman Glenn Gabel was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to work at the United Nations.

 

Both men died far too young.

 

Their legacy is in the tremendous work they did to help people better understand the world around them.

 

I want you all to know that my thoughts are with you, and especially with Graham's wife Barbara, and Glenn's partner Kristen, and their two young sons, Sawyer and Jax.

 

Thank you, and I will now answer a few questions.

 

Thank you very much.

 

Q:  On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, thank you very much for holding this briefing and also we thank you for the sentiment expressed for our colleagues.  My first question to you is, given the harrowing situation that exists in Egypt right now and that you were in that Middle East area, don’t you think if you could have gone to Egypt, your high moral authority could have somehow helped abate the situation in Egypt and could have avoided the killing of so many people.  And that is one thing that people have been wanting, for you to exert your moral authority to end what is happening in Egypt. Thank you.

 

SG:  I agree with your point. While we have really been exerting all our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to support the people in Syria and to resolve the Syrian crisis by peaceful means through dialogue, at the same time our attention had to be focussed on the current situation in Egypt. So many people have been killed by violent protest and use of excessive force by the current authorities. I have strongly condemned such violent actions, and before this unacceptable situation had happened, I had been speaking to all the leaders of the Egyptian interim authorities and also leaders around the region.  And, after that, I have been also speaking a lot with world leaders, even though I have not been releasing each and every telephone call of all diplomatic efforts.  I have been doing all that I have had to do and finally, I decided to dispatch Under-Secretary-General [Jeffrey] Feltman to Egypt.  I have been urging them that this not a time for retribution, this is a time for reconciliation. And whatever grievances might be there, these grievances and complaints by both sides should be resolved through dialogue. For that, I have been urging that political space for the Muslim Brotherhood should be expanded, because their political space has been very limited; by allowing Morsy to be freed, released and, if not, a transparent legal process should be taken. And all these efforts will have to continue. And I urge again the leadership of the current authorities and also leaders of political parties and all other society leaders, they should engage in dialogue. This is an Egyptian problem and the Egyptian people, they have the right, the responsibility to resolve by themselves for their better future. And I will continue to focus on that. As you know, finally, the Security Council last week took up this matter and I appreciate the Security Council for [putting] such good attention on that.

 

Q:  Mr. Secretary-General, you mentioned that anyone who used chemical weapons, or found responsible for chemical weapons, must be held accountable. How do you intend to hold them accountable, since the mandate of the Ake Sellstrom mission is to find out whether chemical weapons have been used or not, but not to find out who used them. So do you intend to enlarge the mandate of this mission, to include finding out the identity of the culprit who used the chemical weapons? Otherwise, how can you implement accountability? Thank you.

 

SG:  As you said, it is right that the current mandate of this expert team to investigate chemical weapons use does not have the authority to determine who has used against whom. They will have to determine, through their investigation, whether the chemical weapons were used. Then on the basis of their final and scientific and expert level investigation report, then it is up to, again, the international community to determine what course of action should be taken to prove this, first of all, accountability and what needs to be done. Under any circumstances, whatever the reasons may be, use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law and international human rights law. Thus those whoever might have used should be accountable. That is a firm principle.

 

Q: On Friday, you said to students that, at the United Nations, Israelis suffered from bias and discrimination sometimes. What do you, as Secretary-General, intend to do about it and can you elaborate - what did you mean by that?

 

SG: During my visit to Palestine and Israel, I had quite moving experiences of meeting young students. In Ramallah, I had a videoconference with students joining from Gaza and there were many students from the West Bank. And in Jerusalem I had quite a number of young students who came to Government House. Discussing and exchanging views with the young people was quite inspiring and moving and I was able to learn what their aspirations and what their challenges and their frustrations were. Later, I found that, in one case, what had happened was that incitement against Israelis and Jews by a certain group of people at the summer camp. This was raised and reported. And this investigation is going on. But the United Nations doesn’t have any role in that. It was simply a summer camp conducted in UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency] facilities. The investigation is going on.

 

Now, incitement against any group of people or any religion or tradition and disrespect against any traditions and region and people, ethnic group is unacceptable.

We are living in an interconnected world, a very diversified society. You are coming from all different countries, Member States. They have all their own different unique traditions and understandings and history - so all these traditions should be fully respected. That is why the United Nations has launched the Alliance of Civilizations. Through this initiative, we have been really trying to promote mutual understanding, better understanding and respect for others. When we have experienced many conflicts here and there, I think it is all the more important at this time to fully appreciate and respect other traditions and understandings and history.

 

Q: But you said that at the UN there was discrimination against Israel according to quotes that I saw.

 

SG: No, I don’t think there is discrimination against Israel at the United Nations. There may be some what I can say… the Israeli Government in fact, you know, raised this issue that [there’s] some bias against Israel. But Israel is one of the 193 Member States, thus Israel should have equal rights and opportunities without having any bias, any discrimination. That’s a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter and thus Israel should be fully given such rights.

 

Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary-General. A different topic completely - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe will be inaugurated for the seventh time this coming Thursday. I wonder if you sent him your warm congratulations. What are your thoughts on whether it was a free and fair election in Zimbabwe and what do you make of SADC’s [South African Development Community] call this weekend for sanctions against Mugabe and some of his senior officials that those sanctions be lifted?

 

SG: For any sanctions imposed upon Zimbabwe is something which needs to be discussed and done by the Member States, by, you know, intergovernmental bodies. For the democratic process in Zimbabwe, I had been urging the Government of Zimbabwe and President Mugabe himself, on many occasions, that there should be fair and credible elections, there should be full respect for human rights and they should accelerate more to improve the well-being of their people. That has been my consistent message. I have taken note of the election which was held recently. I know that there have been some assessments by different groups of monitors and I hope that all these controversies or current assessments should fully reflect the will of the people, in line with international democratic principles.

 

MARKING WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY, U.N. HONOURS FALLEN STAFF

  • The United Nations today marked the tenth anniversary of the bombing of its headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, an attack that claimed the lives of 22 United Nations and aid agency staff including the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
  • The Secretary-General laid a wreath at UN Headquarters in New York and participated in a memorial service in honour of fallen staff with a special tribute to victims and survivors of the bombing in Baghdad.
  • In his remarks, he said that this date is carved in the collective memory of the United Nations family and it is now rightly enshrined as World Humanitarian Day.
  • Events have also being held in more than 50 cities around the world to celebrate World Humanitarian Day, including Colombia, Madagascar, Mali, Pakistan, Panama, Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire, among other countries.
  • Monday also saw the official start of a global campaign called “The World Needs More__”.  This campaign enables leading global brands to sponsor a word they believe the world could use more of.
  • Until 24 September, people can “unlock” money pledged by these brands by sharing the sponsored words through social media, SMS or through the campaign website. Every time a sponsored word is shared, US$1 will be unlocked and go towards aid efforts in the world’s most underfunded humanitarian crises. People will also be able to donate directly.

 

SECRETARY-GENERAL TO TRAVEL TO THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA

  • The Secretary-General will depart New York on Wednesday, 21 August, for the Republic of Korea.
  • On Friday, 23 August, in Seoul, he will meet with H.E. Ms. Park Geun-hye, the President of the Republic of Korea, as well as the Prime Minister, Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  • The Secretary-General will also engage with the diplomatic corps in the country to accelerate the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Friday. He will also attend an event hosted by the UN Academic Impact.
  • Over the weekend, the Secretary-General will speak at the opening of the World Rowing Championships in Chungju City. He will then visit his hometown, Eumseong, and interact with students and local leaders.
  • On Monday, 26 August, the Secretary-General will attend a roundtable organized by the Global Compact with a group of leaders from the private sector. He will also participate in the Post-2015 Korea Forum hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that day.

 

PROTECTING CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT DEMANDS POLITICAL ACTION, PREVENTION, BAN TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

  • The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the Security Council’s open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
  • His remarks coincided with the marking of World Humanitarian Day today, and he repeated his call for greater respect and protection for humanitarian workers and assets everywhere.
  • The Secretary-General said that protection civilians demand timely political action and prevention. He added that this means helping governments – who have primary responsibility for protection – to build the necessary capacity, and that it may include a presence or preemptive action by uniformed peacekeepers.
  • He said that United Nations peacekeeping operations take an integrated approach to protecting civilians that addresses a wide spectrum of possible measures, and that the protection of civilians remains at the core of nine current UN peacekeeping operations.
  • The Secretary-General noted that the creation of the new mandate for the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the strengthening of the mandate of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) offer opportunities to enhance our ability to protect civilians. 

 

MORE THAN 20,000 SYRIANS CROSS INTO NORTHERN IRAQ IN RECENT DAYS, U.N. REFUGEE AGENCY REPORTS

  • The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that 3,000 more Syrians have crossed into the Kurdistan region of Iraq today so far. It estimates that more than 20,000 people have crossed into Iraq since last Thursday.
  • UNHCR is working with multiple partners to deal with the continuing influx to find accommodation, prove food and water, and transport people to an emergency reception centre in Erbil.
  • For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its local partner Harikar have distributed more than 125,000 litres of water since Thursday and is also working to ensure that unaccompanied and separated children are identified, registered and provided with all necessary support.
  • UNICEF says that the vast majority of those crossing are children, women and elderly people, with many having camped in tents by the river for the past few days waiting for the crossing point to open.

 

U.N. DEPUTY CHIEF FOR HUMAN RIGHTS TO VISIT D.R. CONGO

  • The United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 22-28 August.
  • During her visit, Ms. Pansieri is due to meet members of the Congolese Government, as well as senior officials from the security forces and the judiciary.  She will also hold talks with representatives from civil society and the different UN agencies working on human rights issues in the country.
  • The Deputy High Commissioner will visit the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to evaluate the human rights situation there and the work undertaken by the UN Joint Human Rights Office, in particular with regard to the reinforced deployment of the UN Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO).
    She is due to hold talks with local authorities and civil society representatives in Goma in the province of North Kivu, as well as Bunia, where she will visit a prison.