23 January 2008


23 January 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The Secretary-General:  (Translated from French) Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the press; Mr. Daniel Pruzin, President of the Association of Correspondents Accredited to the United Nations (ACANU) at Geneva.  First, my best wishes for your health and happiness in 2008.  I am happy to be with you again here in Geneva.

Nevertheless, there is a great sorrow overshadowing this first meeting of the year.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you will permit me, I shall continue in English.

Just before coming here, I attended a memorial service for the UN staff members who tragically lost their lives in Algiers last month.  I met some of their families, as I did in Algiers after the bombing.  There, and here today, we met young children who have lost a parent, parents who have lost their son or daughter, and spouses who have lost their loved ones in the most brutal way imaginable.

What we remembered at today’s ceremony was a savage loss inflicted on the entire United Nations family.  Our colleagues worked at the United Nations in Algiers not to pursue a political mission, and definitely not to promote the interests of one group of nations or peoples over those of another.  They were there to work for development, support sustainable growth and promote employment and training.  As with our colleagues who died in Baghdad, the UN staff in Algiers was there to help build better lives for the men, women and children whom the UN exists to serve.

In spite of what happened in Algiers, in spite of what happened four years ago in Baghdad, it is crucial that we pursue, against all odds, our efforts to serve the poor, the oppressed, the victims of conflict and human rights violations, and all those who need our help the most.

We must take steps to improve our security worldwide.  We will never be able to work completely free of threats to our safety, and we must never become a fortress, walled off from those we are there to support.  But we will need to learn to balance our mission on behalf of other people with the need to protect our own.  I pledge to work with Member States to make it so.

To this end, in light of the recent event, and after consulting with the countries concerned and receiving their understanding, as I have already declared during the ceremony, I am setting up an independent panel of experts to review the safety and security of UN personnel and premises around the world.  We are pursuing our consultations on the precise composition of the panel, and its terms of reference, which we hope to finalize very soon.  Such a panel will address the strategic issues vital to UN staff security.

What is important is that concerted efforts be made to fight international terrorism and prevent such acts from occurring.  We must all do more.  The bombing in Algiers strengthened my resolve and commitment to work tirelessly to put an end to terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, I believe that what we do is important to the lives of millions of people and I want to thank you, our UN correspondents, for helping to make that work known.

Your professionalism and your commitment as journalists are particularly important this year as we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  There is virtually no aspect of our work that does not have a human rights dimension.  Whether we are talking about peace and security, development, humanitarian action, the struggle against terrorism, climate change, none of these challenges can be addressed in isolation from human rights.

A number of events and campaigns will be held throughout the year to highlight the importance of this document and what it stands for.  I myself will be involved in a number of events in this connection.  This year, I will also create a task force on the global scourge of violence against women and take steps to make operational the Responsibility to Protect.

Next week, prior to attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, I will visit Rwanda, where the international community’s collective failure to prevent the 1994 genocide ultimately led to the endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

I will also use this milestone year to call for the universal ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The rights to education, health, the right to be protected from hunger and extreme poverty are among these economic and social rights.  And so I say, let 2008 be the year of the “bottom billion”.

That’s the phrase some economists use to describe the poorest of the world’s poor.  They are the forgotten ones, the nearly 1 billion left behind by global economic growth.

I shall work over the coming year to strengthen the UN’s role in development.  We are at the midpoint of a great campaign to end world poverty, set forth in the Millennium Development Goals.  Too many nations have fallen behind.  But I remain convinced that the MDGs are still achievable if we act now.

This will require inclusive, sound governance, increased public investment economic growth, enhanced productive capacity, and the creation of decent work.  Success in some countries demonstrates that rapid and large-scale progress towards the MDGs is feasible if we combine strong Government leadership, good policies and practical strategies for scaling up public investments in vital areas with adequate financial and technical support from the international community.

We don’t need new promises.  We need fresh ideas and fresh approaches and the political will to follow through on the promises that Governments made eight years ago.

We need to find new ways to honour our commitments, the commitments already made in the Millennium Declaration, the 2002 Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, and the 2005 World Summit.

These promises remain to be fulfilled.  That is why, last year, I established the MDG Africa Steering Group.  In April, world leaders will gather in Accra, Ghana, for the UNCTAD Summit on trade and development.  In September, we will host a high-level meeting at the United Nations in New York.  The goal is to galvanize the world’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, with special attention to the poorest of the poor.

Among the basic needs of the poorest is access to clean water and this is what we will be discussing in Davos, my next stop on this trip.  This year, the World Economic Forum will put a critical focus on water.  As our global economy gets richer, it gets thirstier.  We have done much to make progress on the UN goal to halve the number of people without safe access to water by 2015, but it is clear to me that there is an urgency to make sure the poorest of the poor will not continue to suffer.  Also, when we talk water, let’s not forget about the sanitation aspect of it.  We are far from achieving the sanitation target of the MDGs.  2008 has been declared the United Nations International Year of Sanitation, and this needs to be considered as part of effective water resource management.

From Rwanda, I will be travelling to Addis Ababa to attend the African Union Summit meeting.   Darfur, Somalia, the DRC, and Côte d’Ivoire are expected to feature high on the agenda.  I intend to hold bilateral meetings with as many African leaders as possible.

On these issues or any other, ladies and gentlemen, I will be glad to answer your questions.

Je vous remercie.  Thank you very much.

Question:  On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, UNCA, we would like to welcome you, Mr. Secretary-General, back to Geneva.  You may recall at the dinner we hosted for you last spring, I stressed how important it was for us that you meet with the Geneva press corps on your visits to Europe.  We are very pleased that you have done so on this occasion.  More importantly, on behalf of UNCA, we would also like to express to you and the entire UN family our condolences and sorrow at the senseless loss of life in the Algiers bombings.  Thank you.

The Secretary-General:  Thank you very much again for your very kind words of sympathy and also welcome to Geneva.  Thank you very much.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, you just spoke about water.  The situation in Gaza is exploding because of the cuts, etc., etc.  Israel announced today that 7,300 more units are going to be built in five Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.  They have cut off again fuel and gas.  You know, of course, that 200,000 people have crossed the border into Egypt.  So, could you comment on the whole situation?  How do you see it?  How do you see the repercussions of that humanitarian crisis?  Thank you.

The Secretary-General:  This is really a serious situation and I am as deeply concerned as anybody else.  I know that the Human Rights Council is meeting and also the UN Security Council has met.  I myself have taken my own efforts to address this issue, to help ease the tensions, as well as the humanitarian suffering, of the people in Gaza.  As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have a broad responsibility on humanitarian issues.  And this is what I have been repeatedly urging to the parties concerned.  Just before my departure from New York, I have spoken to Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and urged [him] strongly to ease these restrictions on crossing and to provide the necessary fuel and supplies so that the people should not suffer any longer.  They were going through a very difficult period.

What I would like to urge to the parties concerned [is], first of all, first and foremost, they should try to resolve all the issues, all the political issues, however complex, however difficult they may be, to resolve in a peaceful means, through dialogue.  I know this very serious security concern of [the] Israeli people and Government and also I admit their legitimate security right to defend their country from all these security problems, or rocket fire coming from Gaza.  At the same time, I would hope that the Israeli Government should not take such a collective punishment to the general public.  They are innocent, just civilians who are managing their day-to-day lives and the economic situation has been seriously deteriorating.  And again, at the same time, I would urge these people to also respect the security and safety of Israelis.  They should stop immediately firing rockets into [ Israel].  The international community has started, taken a very important initiative last year in Annapolis, and the dialogue has been going on.  The Middle East peace process has been going on.  We should not discourage or frustrate this Middle East peace process so that we will be able to see, first of all, the end of this conflict by concluding a peace treaty by the end of this year.  As the Secretary-General of the UN, as a participant in the Quartet, I will spare no efforts in trying to help facilitate this process.

Question:  (Translated from French) Mr. Secretary-General, as you know, the international community has recently intensified its diplomatic activity regarding the independence of Kosovo.  It is even being said that Kosovo will proclaim its independence this coming 4 February.  Following last week’s debate in the Security Council in New York, a resolution on Kosovo was approved yesterday in Strasbourg.  Today, for example, in Zurich, Madame Condoleezza Rice, the head of the American diplomatic corps, met with her Swiss counterpart, Madame Micheline Calmy-Rey.  They discussed the independence of Kosovo.  Do you think that Kosovo will become a new member of the United Nations once it becomes independent?

The Secretary-General:  To the specific question on what you asked about UN membership, it may be too early for me.  It’s not the right time for me to say anything about that.  The situation in the Balkans, particularly involving Kosovo, is very serious and regrettably there has been no agreement and no progress in dialogue.  I had hoped that the Troika could have agreed on these mutually acceptable resolutions on this issue.  On all these matters, I will assess the situation as the situation develops in the future.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, I have a question on the environment.  You have been to Brazil in December.  You visited the Amazon.  The preliminary data for 2007 show an increase of deforestation in the Amazon in Brazil for 2007 due to agriculture and agro-business practices.  Do you think that countries such as Brazil should review its policy or its strategy of development in order to preserve the forest?  What should you recommend at this point for the deforestation to be stopped?

The Secretary-General:  Deforestation is one of the serious areas, which the international community should take collective measures to address.  Because of the deforestation, there is this great amount of greenhouse gas emissions.  This is exactly the issue which I have discussed at length with President [Luiz Inácio] Lula [da Silva] of Brazil when I paid an official visit there last year.  He assured me that he will take all necessary measures to address this deforestation issue.  In fact, he told me that the Brazilian Government has been able to significantly reduce this rate of deforestation in the Amazon River Basin.  I myself toured that area together with the Environment Minister, and also the Governor there in that area.  I thought that it should remain as the common heritage of the international community, for humanity.  I have urged the local leaders and the Central Government leaders to address this issue.  As you may recall, during the Bali Conference, there was a Deforestation Fund established.  The World Bank has pledged a significant amount of contributions and also the Norwegian Government has also contributed quite a significant amount.  If I correctly remember, it was more than $500 million or so.  We will continue to expand this Fund as much as we can and I will continue to discuss this issue, together with all other issues pertaining to climate change in a more comprehensive way.

Question:  (Translated from French) Mr. Secretary-General, how would you assess your performance since you started this job?  More concretely, do you feel that the United Nations has recovered its credibility for pursuing reform, finding the financing needed for its various consolidated appeals, and at the same time, remaining the mediator for peace on Earth?

The Secretary-General:  (Translated from French) Thank you very much for asking me this question in French.  I believe that you are aware of my passion for the French language.  I am still in the process of learning French, but for now, if you will permit me, I’d like to respond to your question in English.

During my first year, last year, I have spent much time and energy to make this Organization more [trusted by] the international community and Member States through reforming, by making this Organization more efficient, more effective, more transparent and accountable.  This is my motto.  Of course, this will be an ongoing process.  Reform of the Organization at any time, one cannot be totally satisfied with the progress.  I know that.  I’m always committed to carry out this reform.  You will see in a few days time, upon my return, as a sign of my commitment and demonstration of my firm commitment to make this Organization accountable and transparent, I am going to sign, together with all my senior advisers, a compact in which all the senior advisers will have to identify their priorities.  And their performance will be viewed and assessed at the end of their mandate for reappointment or whatever, for promotion, for personnel management purposes.  This will be the first time ever in the United Nations.  I will try to make accountability as one of the top priorities in the process of my reform.  As I laid out in the beginning of January, I have laid out the full accountability of all the parties.  The first accountability is between myself, as Secretary-General, and my senior advisers.  And accountability from the Secretariat vis-à-vis Member States.  And accountability from the Member States vis-à-vis the Secretariat and the Organization.  And accountability among Member States themselves.  And finally, most importantly, accountability of both the Organization and Member States vis-à-vis the international community, the constituencies of the United Nations system as a whole.  And, therefore, I am now still working very hard to carry on my reform process.  Thank you very much.

Question:  Secretary-General, in your introductory remarks you talked about the struggle against terrorism.  Since the Security Council adopted its relevant resolutions in October and November 2001, nearly 1,000 persons from all over the world have been put on the terrorist list by the Security Council, with severe consequences for their respective professional or private lives, mobility, etc.  Many of those persons have by now been cleared through thorough investigations by national courts and investigative bodies.  But despite these clearances, these people are still on the list and the national Governments say they can’t do anything as long as the Council is keeping them on the list.  My question is, isn’t it high time for you to intervene and put an end to this illegal practice, as is the judgement by the European Court?  And couldn’t you, or shouldn’t you, at least get a legal opinion from your head of the legal department of the UN?

The Secretary-General:  I have read that report adopted by the European Parliament on this issue of sanctions.  This is a subject which I will have to consult with the members of the Security Council on.  Because it is the Security Council who puts the names of individuals or companies or countries on the sanctions list.  When you termed it an illegal practice, I do not know whether it is illegal but we will have to look at this case.  And of course, from my end as Secretary-General, I will discuss this matter with my Legal Counsel, what would be the ways and means to address these concerns.  But primarily this issue falls under the jurisdiction of the Security Council.  I will consult with them.

Question:  Secretary-General, you just said that you are going to set up an expert panel to review security of UN offices around the world.  Can you give us some more details about that, of who will be the experts, how many experts there will be, who are you consulting with and what’s the time frame?  And secondly, on a broader level, what is your vision about security for the UN staff in general?  Did you think the UN has to come up with a new set of criteria for the host countries, with a whole new strategy?  Thank you.

The Secretary-General:  First of all, as the Secretary-General, I feel it very unfortunate and sad that the United Nations has become the target of terrorist bombings, already for the second time, after the terrorist bombing which happened four years ago in Baghdad.  There may be many areas strategically where we will have to look at this issue. Primarily, the responsibility of protecting United Nations staff and premises falls on the host Government.  And we do expect that the host Governments, wherever the United Nations operates, should provide adequate and necessary protection and facilities and measures.  This is what I am going to discuss with Member States.  And on this specific case of the Algiers bombing, I would like to make it clear this time that there has been some incorrect reporting about the relationship and consultation process between the Algerian Government and the United Nations.  As I said here, just about an hour ago during a very solemn ceremony, I have had extensive consultations with the countries concerned and I got the understanding of the countries concerned, and I am now in the process of identifying some experts who can participate and work as members of this independent panel for a period of six weeks.  This is what we have in mind.  It may take some more days to get support and assistance from the necessary and concerned parties of the Member States.  And when they finish their work to assess the security conditions and situations all around the world, including Algeria, we will report to the General Assembly for their consideration [of] how we can strengthen the measures of safety and security of UN staff and premises.  As far as I am concerned, and the United Nations is concerned, the safety and security of our staff and premises is of paramount concern.

Question:  I want to ask about the North Korean nuclear problems.  In these months there is no real progress on this issue.  And while North Korea is claiming that they have done all their obligations by last year, the others don’t think so.  And the six-party talks cannot be set.  What do you think about this situation and what do you urge on North Korea?

The Secretary-General:  One of the encouraging developments in the situation of peace and security scenes in the international community last year was the agreement among the six parties on this North Korean nuclear issue.  The six parties agreed, and particularly North Korea has committed [itself], to take the necessary measures for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, including disabling the nuclear facilities, materials and programmes with the ultimate goal of dismantling and thus completely denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.  I know that there have been some concerns in the process of implementation of these commitments.  I would again urge all the parties concerned, all six parties, that they should do whatever within their power to expedite the implementation of this very important joint statement agreed among the six parties.  This was, and I still regard it as a very encouraging development, the situation on the Korean peninsula.  And there have been, as you may recall very well, that very encouraging development of the reconciliatory process, exchanges and cooperation between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK.  This will also create a very favourable atmosphere in furthering peace and security on the Korean peninsula.

Question:  (Translated from French) Mr. Secretary-General, could you tell us why you have decided not to attend the special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation in Gaza, and is this connected with the fact that the United States and Israel have decided not to attend that session?

The Secretary-General:  First of all, it is not correct that I have not decided to attend the special session of the Human Rights Council.  I am aware that the Human Rights Council has convened a special session this afternoon although I did not receive any invitation to attend, in fact.  If you may look at my schedule in Geneva, a very brief visit, I have had numerous commitments.  Right after this I have to fly to Davos.

As per the substance of the question, I have made known in very clear terms, as I have already stated, what my position on the escalation of the situation in Gaza is.  I appreciate that the Council is looking in depth into this particular situation.  And it is rightly doing so.  I would also appreciate if the Council will be looking with the same level of attention and urgency at all other matters around the world.  There are still many areas where human rights are abused and not properly protected.  That is why I am emphasizing the importance of raising the awareness of this principle of human rights, particularly during this sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Human rights victims wherever and whoever they may be, they deserve protection of their rights.  And this is exactly what the United Nations and the international community as a whole should do.  The Human Rights Council, with the introduction of the universal periodic review, will also ensure a very thorough review of the human rights situation of all Member States.  I am sure that I will have another opportunity when I come to Geneva to attend the Human Rights Council.  And you have my firm commitment to this principle of human rights.  Thank you very much for your participation.

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*     Reissued to include translated text originally delivered in French.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.