Bern, Switzerland

11 September 2012

Secretary-General's joint press conference with President of Swiss Confederation


Thank you, President Widmer-Schlumpf, danke schön.


Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, it is a great pleasure to see you. 


I am just going to wind down my visit to Switzerland.  I am extremely honoured and happy to visit Switzerland on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Switzerland joining the United Nations. 


Ten years ago yesterday was the day when Switzerland joined the United Nations.  Over the last brief period of ten years, Switzerland has shown strong leadership and commitment to peace, development and human rights of the United Nations and of the international community.


But the Swiss relationship dates back to before the United Nations was founded.  Their relationship dates back to the time of the League of Nations, and Geneva is the number two headquarters of the United Nations. 


We have four regional headquarters: in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Kenya.  Among the four, in terms of strength, number of agencies and the number of staff, Geneva is home to the most number of staff and the most number of agencies.  


We have benefitted from the Swiss Government’s strong and generous support – politically and financially. I am very much grateful. 


I had the extraordinary honour of addressing the Swiss Parliament this morning. 


We discussed all of the issues of the United Nations ideals and objectives.  Yesterday, I had again the very useful occasion of meeting with the professors and intellectuals and many young students at the University of Geneva.  We discussed what Switzerland has been contributing over the last ten years, and what the international community and the United Nations can expect from Switzerland in the coming many, many years as a very responsible member of the United Nations.


With President Widmer-Schlumpf, we have covered a number of very important issues and a wide range of common concerns, starting from the situation in Syria, and also sustainable development and how we could work together to meet the target of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, what should be our vision and priorities for [the period] post-2015.


I will not go into more detail about what the President has just explained in detail, but as far as I am concerned and the United Nations is concerned, the Swiss Government and people have been very strongly committed in meeting and realizing the ideals and objectives of the United Nations. 


During such a short period of time, the Swiss have contributed a lot. 


First, the most successful and important contribution is having played an important and instrumental role in establishing the Human Rights Council.  That is regarded as one of the most important institutional reforms of the United Nations.


The Swiss have held the Chairmanship of the Peacebuilding Commission in the Burundi Configuration – this is a great contribution. 


Also you have produced many [people with] leadership roles in the United Nations system.  Dr. Joseph Deiss was the President of the General Assembly until September last year and I worked very closely with him.  You have also provided many senior staff of the United Nations and many effective mediators for preventive diplomacy.  


You have been very generous and I am very grateful for such very generous humanitarian assistance of the Government for the people in Syria who have been affected by the situation.


We are counting on the continuing support and leadership of Switzerland, and in that regard I am very happy to be a part of this celebration of the tenth anniversary.   


But I think we will have to go a long way to realize all of these goals and objectives, realizing sustainable political stability all around the world, particularly in the Arab countries that are in transition. And also meeting the target of the Millennium Development Goals and establishing the vision of sustainable development in the coming years. And also protecting human rights, particularly those of people who are marginalized, poor people, women and girls, and the many poor and sick people.


I think these are a common commitment and I think these are a common collective responsibility that we can and we should work together in the years to come. 


Thank you very much. 


Q: Mr Secretary-General, many years ago I had a long interview with former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  He told me that it was not a problem that we do something in line with United Nations decisions, but the problems were the huge superpowers.  When we remember that NATO has bombed Serbia without a Security Council resolution and that was against international law, now we have a situation in Syria where the superpowers cannot make a common decision.  So what is your opinion about the effectiveness of the United Nations today in the whole world, especially in the sense of peacekeeping and peace protection?  If we say that, for very short-term style, from one to five, one being the worst position of the United Nations and five being that somehow we succeed to do something.


SG: While we may be frustrated and troubled by not being able to address the situation in Syria which has reached intolerable circumstances, where more than 20,000 people have been killed, where both sides are determined on military means to resolve this issue, we should not be overly pessimistic about the strength and commitment of the international community, particularly international organizations. 


There may be some inefficiencies and ineffectiveness.  There may be some cases where Member States are fully united, and where they are divided in some cases, as we have seen in the case of Syria.  


All Member States must have the common sense of common responsibility in addressing this kind of situation in Syria where human rights and human dignity are abused and violated. 


I have been urging the Security Council to be united.  And all of the regional neighbouring countries should also be fully united.  In that regard, we should continue to work toward that direction. 


As you know, the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, is going to soon have meetings with Syrian authorities, including President Assad, and he has already been engaged with key stakeholders through diplomatic means, and through also the collective will of the international community. 


We should resolve this issue as soon as possible.


First and foremost, the violence must stop by both sides, regardless of what their political grievances or problems may be.  It is not acceptable at all.


Those countries who may have influence over the two parties should exercise and should be united in their influence. 


Then thirdly, they should immediately begin the political dialogue to have a political resolution, reflecting the genuine aspirations of the Syrian people.  That’s the way in which we are now moving forward.  Thank you. 


Q: Mr. Secretary-General, when I listened to your speech in Parliament, there were no critical words. It was a birthday speech somehow, but are there some wishes you have as far as Swiss engagement is concerned, such as in peacekeeping missions?  Would you wish to have some more Swiss blue helmets?  Can you give some ideas about your wishes?


SG: As Secretary-General of the United Nations, my mission is not to be critical always, but sometimes, unfortunately, I have to criticize some Member States for their not fully cooperating, for their not fully adhering to the principles of the United Nations Charter, that’s my job.


As far as Switzerland is concerned, I have many, many positive things to be appreciative of, this is what I said this morning to the members of the Parliament.  As I said, during such a short period, Switzerland has been making a great contribution. 


Of course, I know there is a sensitivity of neutrality of Switzerland’s Government.  But in the United Nations Charter, there is no such provision that requires that Switzerland may have to compromise its neutrality. 


Even keeping your neutral position, you can contribute even more, particularly in the peace and security area.  I know that providing blue helmets at this time may require political consensus, but there are many other ways – by training those peacekeepers of the developing world, and by providing some other active service, like medical support and other logistical support. 


Those may be some steps and measures that Switzerland’s Government can more actively participate in: in the area of mediation, preventative diplomacy, humanitarian issues and upholding human rights.


I think that you are one of the champion countries and I can only expect more to come from Switzerland’s Government.


Q: Mr. Secretary-General, allow me the question: there is this discussion going on here in this country about Switzerland maybe applying for a seat in the Security Council at some point in the future.  Do you think, to be quite frank, that’s a realistic goal, and if so do you understand that there are some people being afraid that the Swiss neutrality could be endangered, to put it in extreme words?


SG: I understand that this is something which you are aiming at, I think, in another decade, after ten years or more.  It is up to the decision and position of the Swiss Government and people to apply for any positions of the United Nations. Just by being a member of the United Nations, you are entitled to apply for any council – the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council – whatever positions, even you can apply.  Even very distinguished Swiss nationals have been working as mediators, trying to prevent further conflicts.


The members of the Security Council, if and when you are elected, will have to make sometimes very hard and difficult decisions, affecting international peace and security, and human rights.


I understand that when you decide to run, to present your candidature, then you will have to be prepared to have to make such a very hard, difficult decision.  But after all, that’s the decision of Swiss government and people.


Q: Mr. Secretary-General, when you think of reform of the United Nations, what comes first to your mind?


SG: Are you meaning the reform of the Security Council or reform of the overall management changes?  I will try to answer briefly.


When it comes to institutional reforms like the Security Council, this will have to be done by the Member States.  Member States have been discussing this matter during the last 20 years without much progress, most recently during the last four or five years.  They have been accelerating this process, they are now discussing this matter in informal General Assembly sessions.  


The former president of the General Assembly, Dr. Joseph Deiss, has also been making a lot of diplomatic efforts to make progress but I understand there has not been such prevailing consensus among the Member States.  


It’s true also, at the same time, Member States agree there should be a reform of the Security Council in a more democratic, more representative, more transparent manner – there is no objection to that.  There is almost a unanimous view on the need and importance of Security Council reform.  But simply for any detailed matters, modalities, they have to work on that.  


On other issues generally, one of my priorities is to make this Organization more efficient, effective, transparent and accountable to the international community in terms of the manner of our work styles, and in terms of delivering our services to many people who need United Nations support.  So this is actively, very seriously, being promoted.  I am going to present my proposal to the General Assembly this year.