Geneva, Switzerland

12 April 2012

Secretary-General's press conference at the United Nations Office in Geneva

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Bonjour Mesdames and Messieurs.  
It is a great pleasure to see you again.  I do not get a chance to see you often enough, but I am very glad to see you again today on the occasion of my visit to Geneva to chair the CEB, which stands for UN Chief Executives Board Meeting.  This is the twice-annual meeting among heads of United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, and major department heads, to deliver and to act as one United Nations.  This has been proven a very effective system when the United Nations is such a huge organization that we need to coordinate very closely among so many quite autonomous, independent organizations.   
This year’s focus will be the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, to begin shortly after the G20 summit in mid-June.  Without exaggeration, I would call it one of the most important conferences in the United Nations’ history.
At this year’s CEB we will also be discussing change management and our ongoing effort to strengthen and modernize the United Nations system.
Here in Geneva, I have just come from a meeting with the Global Migration Group, a key body dealing with an issue of growing importance of migration across the world.
I also met with the Geneva diplomatic corps and briefed them on my action agenda for the next five years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Immediately upon arriving in Geneva this morning, I spoke at length with Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States.
Today marks a critical moment in our six-point plan for ending the violence in Syria, and for creating the conditions for an inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. 
As of this afternoon, as of this moment, the situation looks calmer.  We are following it very closely.  
The world is watching, however, with sceptical eyes since many promises previously made by the Government of Syria had not been kept.  The onus is on the Government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds at this time. 
Once again, I call on the Government of Syria to fully implement its commitments under the six-point plan. 
I also call on the Syrian opposition to sustain this cessation of violence in all its forms.  
This is the time for the fundamental change of course.  Too many lives have been lost.  It is time to stop the killing.  
I appeal to all friends of Syria to exercise maximum influence in halting this tragic conflict.  
Ladies and gentlemen, 
It is difficult to fully assess the situation on the ground in the absence of UN observers.  Therefore we are working with the Security Council to send an observer team as promptly as possible.  Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan will brief the Council this afternoon, maybe within twenty minutes.  
If we are to stop Syria’s descent into chaos, the international community must speak and act as one.  
I welcome the Security Council’s recent and unanimous action. And I emphasize: further militarization of the conflict is not a solution.  
On [the] humanitarian front, the number of refugees fleeing to neighbouring Turkey and Lebanon in recent days is surging.  
An estimated one million Syrians need humanitarian assistance.  Discussions are on-going about how best to help them.  In coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the United Nations is already delivering supplies to displaced persons in Tartous Governorate in western Syria.  The whole United Nations system will continue to do its utmost to help alleviate human suffering. 
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me conclude with a few words on other important matters.
First: at the meeting of the Quartet in Washington yesterday, we discussed ways to encourage the parties to resume meaningful negotiations for a Middle East peace.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders are due to meet next week.  We must do all that we can to advance the peace process to end the occupation and promote a two-state solution.  Further delay only increases the risk of renewed conflict.
Second: the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
The international community has sent a clear and unanimous message to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Its decision to launch a so-called “application satellite” atop a ballistic missile will raise tensions in the region.
It will negatively affect DPRK’s relations with its neighbours.
I once again urge DPRK to heed the call of the international community.
Third and finally, we are gravely concerned about the escalating conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. 
I spoke yesterday with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, as well as the Permanent Representative of Sudan and some regional leaders. 
I urged both governments to cease hostilities immediately and hold a presidential summit to negotiate a durable solution to their differences. 
War would only compound the already considerable sufferings of the people of Sudan and South Sudan. 
What is required is political will and political leadership — at the moment of need.
This crisis requires the full and urgent attention of the international community.  I have discussed the situation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday as well as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Museveni of Uganda and I will be in close touch with regional and world leaders during the coming days. 
Meanwhile, our UN envoys in the region are working with both sides to prevent a renewal of open hostilities.  In this moment of inflamed tensions, it is imperative that both sides exercise the maximum restraint, in the interests of their peoples and their common future.
Thank you very much for your attention.  I will be happy now to take your questions now. 
Q: On behalf of the UN Press Association here in Geneva I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for agreeing to give us this briefing, and I hope that each time you pass through Geneva you will be able to meet with us in the UN Press Corps.  
Now, my question is on Syria.  We have a ceasefire but it is very shaky and there are lots of troops and tanks still in the cities in the streets.  What do you think about the fact that Assad only partially is complying with the ceasefire?  And if now the ceasefire is broken, what do you intend to do, what is your plan B, and are you worried that then the conflict might spread across the borders?  Thank you. 
SG: In principle, I want, really hope to see this ceasefire continue to be sustained.  It is just today they have stopped the fighting.  I would not even want to imagine that this will be broken soon.  So that is why I am urging President Assad to keep his promise and to exercise maximum restraint.  
As you said, this ceasefire process is very fragile and may be broken at any time.  If and when there is another gunshot, even a small gunshot, it may give both sides the pretext to engage in another fighting.  This is very worrisome and therefore it is important for all the friends of all the players of the international community to influence them, to advise them sincerely to keep their promises.  
As for plan B, I would not make any comment at this time, because it is just the first day of the cessation of violence.  So let us hope that with the help of all the international community, with the strong commitment of the leaders of Syria and opposition forces they keep this promise and stop the fighting, and let the political negotiation continue.  This is my honest opinion. 
Q: My question is about the observer mission.  When exactly do you think is the time to send this observer mission, could it be for example already this weekend?  And I don’t know if the Security Council is going to take this decision today, but when is the appropriate time for them to go? 
SG: As soon as the Security Council gives the mandate to us, we will be able to despatch quite quickly.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been making necessary preparations.  As you remember General Mood has led a technical mission last week.  
When I talked with Kofi Annan this morning, he told me that he would despatch back, again, General Mood and his technical team as early as tomorrow as a way of preparing this observer mission.   
The observer mission needs to have formal authorization by the Security Council.  Yesterday, I had a discussion with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  He is also very much committed to support this observer mission, and as you might have seen his remarks, I believe that the Russian Government is also very much ready to support once we have made a formal proposal to the Security Council.   We are working very hard.  I talked this afternoon with the Head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Ladsous, and he is making necessary preparations once the Security Council gives a mandate.  
Q: Hello, Mr. Ban, so nice to see you. I‘d like to switch gears a little bit right now to North Korea, if I may. First, I would like to ask you if a launch by North Korea, which seems likely, maybe it’s happening while we are here, is a violation of Security Council resolutions and if it does take place, which looks likely, would you refer the measure to the Security Council? And I am curious about your thoughts as to what can be done about North Korea? It seems to do whatever it wants to do, regardless of what warnings are given, even threats to not provide food to the people who are starving in this country. Thank you.
SG: I only hope that the DPRK authorities will heed the calls of the international community. It is clearly a violation of Security Council resolution 1874. I have made public statements already to this effect. It seems to me that, considering what they have taken measures until today, by inviting foreign journalists, showing their launching pad, that they may proceed, unfortunately. There were many countries in the region to have exercised their influence over DPRK authorities not to go ahead but there is no indication that they may not launch this one. We are very much concerned about this. There are already Security Council resolutions, sanctions resolutions. I sincerely hope that DPRK will really take reasonable action, becoming a responsible member of the international community. If and when the DPRK launches what they say is a satellite, or missile, I believe that Member States will bring this matter to the Security Council. 
Q: Yes, Good afternoon. I would like to come back to Syria. Several UN institutions have blamed the Assad government for committing crimes against humanity: mass rapes, torture, abductions, mass executions, and many more. At the same time, Kofi Annan is asking for a political dialogue between the opposition groups and the government. Given the atrocities and the violence in the last year, do you think that true political dialogue is till possible between those two parties? 
SG: At this time, to have a resolution of the situation, where we can stop and prevent further loss of human lives, cessation of violence is necessary.  Seemingly it is now done and being held.  I hope it will continue to be so.  
Then at the same time there should be a political negotiation, a political solution through inclusive dialogue.  That is necessary.  Even though we do not have exact statistics on how many people have been killed, at least more than 9,000 people have been killed.
Then there should be a separate process of accountability.  That may come now or it may come later.  But it is important that the accountability should be done.  But, first and foremost it is important that we ensure that the violence stops and there should be political negotiations going on to have this resolution of this situation as soon as possible. 
Then we will urgently have to provide humanitarian assistance.  There are tens of thousands of refugees in the borderlines of Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan, and inside Syria, as I said, there will be at least one million people who need urgent humanitarian assistance. 
So, all of this should be done at the same time in parallel or sequentially.  But first and foremost, the violence must stop, and in parallel, political negotiation and also humanitarian assistance. 
Q: Mr. Secretary-General thank you for the press conference and welcome to Geneva.  Right now Turkey is saying it might seek NATO's help in case Syrian troops violate its borders again.  And while it appears that the ceasefire is holding, apparently Assad has not pulled back his troops to barracks as the plan requires.  Part of that means there is a big intimidating presence in the streets.  How does the UN respond to this violation, to the fact that Assad is only partially complying.  What will be your reaction if he does not fully comply?  And what is the signal that you are sending as this moment to your envoy Kofi Annan and that he should send to the Security Council to deal with the situation, that is less than clear? 
SG: This is very sensitive, and in terms of a cessation of violence, a very fragile process.  Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and I, and many of the world's leaders, have made it quite clear than any militarization or any military operation is not an option; it will only complicate and worsen the situation.  Thus arming opposition forces is not desirable.  
I have discussed this matter with the Turkish leadership, but at this time we have been discussing on how to help Syrian refugees who have come to Turkish territory.  UNHCR, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and other related humanitarian offices have been providing urgent necessary humanitarian assistance to refugees there.  I sincerely hope that the international community speak in one voice and act in one voice to first of all help the Syrian people, so that they can resolve this issue as soon as possible.  No more fighting.  No bloodshed.  That is what we want.  That is what we have to achieve at this time. 
Questions/answers in French
[Kofi Annan’s mandate; role of Secretary-General as mediator in Syria]
Q: Allow me Mr. Secretary-General to pose my question in French.  I would like to test your French as you have committed to a bit of French.  Ma question est la suivante, M. le Secrétaire général: M. Kofi Annan a un mandat et ce mandat est prescrit par votre volonté, parce qu'en tant que Secrétaire général vous donnez cette mission à M. Kofi Annan.  M. Kofi Annan doit présenter son rapport devant vous ou bien devant le Conseil de sécurité ou bien devant l'Assemblée générale?  Deuxième question: est ce que vous avez essayé, pour amorcer les négociations en Syrie, de faire les bons offices entre le Président Bachar al-Assad, par exemple, et l'opposition.  Est-ce que vous avez l'idée de le faire et quand est-ce que vous allez visiter la Syrie?
SG: Merci de me poser une question en français.  J'essaierai de mon mieux de répondre en français, autant que je le peux.  Comme vous le savez bien, M. Kofi Annan a été nommé selon la résolution adoptée par l'Assemblée générale.  Mais vous devez savoir que le Conseil de sécurité  a la responsabilité pour la paix et la stabilité du monde.  Donc, il a fait déjà son rapport à l'Assemblée générale et il va faire un rapport au Conseil de sécurité maintenant, dans à peu près 10 minutes.  Ce sera le deuxième ou troisième rapport pour lui au Conseil de sécurité.  Il a été nommé en tant qu'envoyé spécial conjoint des Nations Unies et de la Ligue arabe; donc il doit aussi faire rapport à moi-même et à M. Nabil al-Arabi, Secrétaire général de la Ligue arabe.  Permettez-moi de continuer en anglais maintenant.
About your last question, since Kofi Annan has been discharging his duty as Joint Special Envoy, dealing with all of these matters, not only with the Syrians [but] also major stakeholders.  He has already visited Russia and China and Iran, he has been constantly engaging himself.  
He may, I expect him, to visit himself in Syria.  Then for my own visit, I think we will have to assess the situation.  When the situation really requires my own visit, then we will have to discuss this matter.  I do not have such a plan at this time.  Let our Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan do his work.  I think he has been doing an excellent mission.  
[Level of support from UN for Sudan; multilingualism at the UN]
Q:Monsieur le Secrétaire général, j'ai une question concernant d'abord le Soudan: j'étais récemment au Soudan (Nord) et j'ai vu que ce pays avait un message : en fait finalement, c'est de demander à la communauté internationale de ne pas le lâcher.  J'aimerais savoir dans quelles conditions les Nations Unies sont aujourd'hui prêtes à soutenir le Soudan, au delà du fait que certains pays veulent d'abord le départ de Omar el-Béchir?  Et la deuxième question si vous me le permettez: je vous ai entendu tout à l'heure répondre en français - je m'en réjouis en tant que responsable de l'Observatoire de l'utilisation de la langue française aux Nations Unies - et ce qui va effectivement dans votre mandat, c'est à dire si l'on se réfère à la résolution 306 du 9 septembre 2009.  Sauf que beaucoup de vos porte-parole ne font aucun effort pour parler le français.  Ce qui n'est pas le cas de M. Tokayev ni de Mme Momal-Vanian qui connaissent leur rôle.  J'aimerais savoir concrètement ce que vous allez faire pour que le multilinguisme - qui n'est pas un favoritisme - soit une réalité aux Nations Unies.
Q:Merci.  Encore une fois, permettez-moi de continuer en anglais s'il vous plaît.  About the situation in Sudan, I have already stated the position of the United Nations and myself as the Secretary-General.  I have been spending a lot of time and energy in dealing with this crisis.  
The South Sudan and Sudanese people, they have been working very hard to bring peace and stability and to bring this independence of South Sudan during the last seven years.  At this time, it is very important for them to sustain the expectation of the peoples of both South and north Sudan so that they can live in peace and harmony as brotherly neighbours.  This is absolutely necessary.  
There may be still many unresolved questions.  The questions of the CPA, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, have not been resolved, unfortunately, including the status of Abyei, demarcation of borders, and sharing of wealth.  All these are very important issues.  I have been urging them to resolve these issues before the national referendum.  But the referendum went ahead, peacefully, reflecting the will of the people.  Then I have urged them: all of these issues must be resolved before the declaration of the independence of South Sudan.  Unfortunately they were not able to that.  That is why we are seeing, unfortunately, the recurrence of all these incidents and fighting along the borders.  
The occupation of Heglig by South Sudan has created heightened tensions and I am very much alarmed by the continuing escalating situation.  This is really a very serious situation.  I have called on all parties to exercise utmost restraint, and called for the withdrawal of South Sudanese forces from Heglig and to provide some political space so the leaders can resolve this situation politically.
I have urged the two leaders to engage at a summit level.  I am urging again President Bashir and President Salva Kiir to meet at their level, at summit level.  The summit was scheduled in early April this month, but it was cancelled. President Bashir's visit to Juba was cancelled because of this heightened situation.
First, I think that troops should be withdrawn, the Sudanese troops in Abyei, and the South Sudanese police forces in Abyei, they must all withdraw in accordance with the agreement of June last year.  So this will provide the political space for them to resolve all these issues and engage, as soon as possible, to have this demarcation of their borders, and arrange the status of Abyei.
This wealth, oil, should be used for their common prosperity, depending upon their political will.  This wealth of oil can be a great natural resource for both countries.  It is not an issue to fight over, this wealth of oil. I am really urging at this time.
For [multilingualism]. French is one of the two working languages in the United Nations, and as Secretary-General, I try to use the French language in official conferences as often and as much as possible.  That is why I am still trying to learn and practice the French language as a way of respecting this resolution, and as a way of understanding more this whole Francophone culture, and also engage with the Francophone people.  I will continue to do that.  I am also asking senior advisors, as much as they can, to utilize one of the two working languages.
[Mali situation]
Q:Monsieur le Secrétaire général, une question sur le Mali s'il vous plaît.  Suite au coup d'État du 22 mars, le Mali est divisé en deux parties et le Président malien actuel - de transition – a dit qu'il n'hésitera pas à mener une guerre pour recouvrer l'ensemble du territoire qui est occupé pour le moment au nord.  Est-ce que vous n'avez pas peur d'être confronté à une situation comme celle qui a eu lieu en Côte d'Ivoire avec en plus de ça la problématique de la crise alimentaire au Sahel?
SG: Even during the time of the Libyan crisis, and immediately after, we were very much concerned about the political and security situation, as well as humanitarian situation in the Sahel.  That is why I have dispatched an assessment team to the Sahel, reporting to the Security Council.  We expressed our very serious concerns about the possibility of this kind of security crisis and humanitarian crisis. 
I am deeply concerned again, as I have expressed through my statement, that the crisis happened, a constitutional crisis, as well as the Tuareg rebellion, linked with AQIM, that have taken the northern part of Mali. 
With active and very strong intervention led by the international community, led by ECOWAS, the African Union, and also the United Nations, it was good to see that constitutional restoration was established and I sincerely hope that the Malian government and people will continue to build up their constitutional and political stability.  
Our concern is the occupation by the Tuareg rebels linked with the Al-Qaida Islamists.  ECOWAS leaders are very seriously discussing this matter.  I have been discussing with all the leaders in the region, starting with the Chairman of ECOWAS, President Ouattara, and all leaders in the neighbouring countries and the African Union, and we sincerely hope that this will be resolved as quickly as possible, so that the Malian people will really enjoy their genuine freedom and stability, and also development.  That is why the United Nations is working very closely with the African Union. 
Thank you very much.