New York

30 July 2012

Press encounter by the Secretary-General

SG: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.  It is a great pleasure to see you all. 

As you know, I came back from a long, hectic trip to China, the Balkan States and London. I came back last weekend.

In China, I had intensive discussions with President Hu Jintao, Vice President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other leaders. I also spoke directly to the country’s people through a live interview on Weibo.  As you know, I also participated in the China-Africa Cooperation Forum; that was for the fifth time.  And I met on that occasion many African leaders who were attending that Forum to discuss the situation in Sahel, Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan – many other issues of our common concern.

From China, I proceeded on a six-day, seven-stop tour to all parts of the former Yugoslavia. This was the first such trip by a United Nations Secretary-General. 

On each stop, I stressed the importance of dialogue, mutual respect, reconciliation and understanding.  I came away deeply impressed by the resilience and dynamism of the region. 

In Kosovo, I had good meetings with the leadership as well as the UN Mission in Kosovo. I am grateful for their important work under Security Council Resolution 1244 to build democratic institutions, protect the rights of minorities and promote confidence.

I told leaders in Belgrade and Pristina that I expect serious and sincere commitment to dialogue on both sides. All issues, particularly tensions in the North, must be resolved peacefully.

I was also deeply honoured and moved to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina and pay my respects at the Memorial Centre in Srebrenica.  I delivered a solemn pledge to the families of the victims – and an appeal to the international community – to honour their memories and do them justice with our actions.

In London, I attended a ceremony on the Olympic Truce, together with [UK Foreign Secretary] William Hague, and held a number of bilateral meetings.

Throughout my trip, I was focused on the tragic and intolerable situation in Syria.

I met in London with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.  He is working for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but he needs the international community’s united and concrete support to succeed.

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping [Operations], Mr. Hervé Ladsous, recently travelled to Syria, where he called on the Government to halt its use of heavy weapons and demonstrate a commitment to ending the armed violence.

Government officials have repeatedly said that they would honour these commitments. We are still waiting for them to act.

In his meetings with the Syrian opposition, Mr. Ladsous stressed that all sides must commit to ceasing armed violence.

The Government is adding to its brutal crackdown by attacking heavily populated areas with fighter aircraft and helicopters.  The armed opposition groups have also stepped up their attacks.

Each day, as the violence spirals, more Syrians are killed, injured, tortured or forced to flee their homes or their country.

The Joint Special Envoy and I are deeply concerned about the situation in Aleppo.  Violence there has already caused large numbers of civilians to flee their homes.  I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of other heavy weapons on civilians in Aleppo and other locations in Syria.  I remind the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and urge them to exercise restraint and avoid any further bloodshed.

Let me also reiterate my concern about weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.  The use of these arms is prohibited under international law.  Any use of such weapons would be an outrageous crime and a major concern for the entire international community.

I call on the Government to renounce the possibility of using these weapons under any circumstances, and to ensure the safety and security of stockpiles.

We all feel the urgency of the moment.

The violence has made it impossible for UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] to carry out its normal operations, but the Mission still receives daily requests to patrol, respond to incidents, facilitate local ceasefires and assist in other ways.  The teams maintain contact with both sides and take any opportunity to engage.

We are continuously assessing the situation and our options.  We have also intensified our humanitarian operations.  As many as two million people are affected by violence. 

More fighting is not the answer.  Further militarization of this conflict will only perpetuate the devastation and prolong the suffering.  A sectarian civil war would also gravely imperil Syria’s neighbours.

The only solution is a Syrian-led transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. 

UNSMIS remains a key tool.  The six-point plan and the Geneva communiqué remain the foundations for a peaceful resolution.

I call on all sides to take immediate steps to meet the Security Council requirements, and give Syria the chance it needs to move beyond the violence and onto the path to peace.

Finally, let me briefly comment on the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. I was disappointed that negotiators were unable to agree on a text. We must press on, building on the negotiations over the past four weeks to achieve a strong treaty that stops the deadly human toll of unregulated weapons.

Thank you very much. 

Q: What evidence do you believe, if any, that the Syrian Government would ever cooperate with what you are talking about? Your own Force Commander, Mr. Babacar Gaye, has said that he has not seen any cooperation, really. And he also said that he personally witnessed shelling in Homs. So, if that’s the case, do you really see beyond the extension for your observer force there, any reason for them to be there when it expires?

SG: That will have to be discussed within the Security Council, by the Security [Council] members. Of course, General Gaye will continuously report. And I have convened the Syrian Crisis Management Meeting today. We have established this Syria Crisis Management Team.  In my absence, the Deputy Secretary-General will convene this meeting on a regular basis, but we can convene it as the situation develops. 

It is important, again and again, that the Syrian Government must fully cooperate with the UN Mission, and must cease these violent measures.

We are deeply concerned that they are using all sorts, all kinds of heavy equipment, including military airplanes and attack helicopters and heavy weaponry. This is an unacceptable situation.  Every day, more than 100 people are being killed. This cannot go on like this. Therefore I have been really urging - even during my trip, at every stop, I have been urging Syrian authorities and opposition forces to stop fighting and to leave it to political resolution, through political dialogue. 

Yesterday, the convoy of General Gaye was attacked by armed attacks.  Fortunately there were no injuries.  As you may know, more than a dozen of [our] armoured vehicles have been attacked and destroyed completely. It is quite fortunate that nobody got injured by these attacks.  It was only because of these armoured vehicles, which protected our mission. Our Mission, even though we officially suspended monitoring, but it was not that we completely stopped our monitoring activities – we have not been hunkering down that way.  We have been trying to do targeted monitoring and verification activities. That was again part of the process when General Gaye and his team were targeted twice.

The situation is getting worse and worse.  I am deeply concerned about this situation.

When I discussed this matter with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, he expressed serious concern about the current situation.  We really need the united international community’s action and political will to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

Q: What has Mr. Annan been doing now? He has been very quiet since the Security Council and the Government and the Syrian opposition have given their response to his efforts.

SG:  He is actively engaging with the parties concerned, as you know. I don’t agree that he has been silent, quiet.  He has been actively engaging and he has been talking with the parties concerned over telephone or by meeting people, and I also have been working very hard on that.

Please note that this is our top, most urgent, priority and emphasis.  We are doing our best to resolve this issue as soon as possible. We discussed with Kofi Annan the future course of action.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, as a follow-up to what you just said on Syria, considering the inaction in the Security Council, do you see any international action outside of the UN Security Council – how do you see it?  And also, I would like to ask you about the Rohingyas in Myanmar; what’s happening there and what the UN is doing. Thank you.

SG: I have seen the report of such an action outside of the Security Council. What is important at this time is that the Security Council has adopted a resolution, giving us a mandate by establishing UNSMIS. The Geneva Action Group also issued a joint communiqué, and Kofi Annan has his own six-point peace plan, which has been supported by the Security Council and Geneva Action Group. Therefore, this situation should be resolved and guided by these plans, which have been supported by the international community. I am not in a position to comment on that idea.

On Myanmar, the Special Rapporteur [Tomas Ojea Quintana] is going to have his own assessment through his press conference. So I am waiting for his own report and assessment.  As you know, my Special Envoy, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, was there a couple of weeks ago, and we are very seriously consulting on this matter with the Myanmar authorities.  Let us wait for the final assessment on that.

Thank you very much.