New York

16 December 2013

Secretary-General's year-end press conference [full transcript]

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to see you in this press conference. Welcome to our traditional end-of-year press conference.

I would like first of all to touch on some leading challenges for the coming year.  Ladies and Gentlemen, let me begin with a look back on the crises and vital work of the past 12 months.

2013 was the year in which the Syrian conflict deteriorated beyond all imagination.

The people of Syria cannot afford another year, another month, even another day of brutality and destruction.

I just briefed the Security Council on the final report of the investigation mission led by Professor Åke Sellström.  We should all be deeply concerned by its findings that chemical weapons were used not only in the August attack in Ghouta area of Damascus, but on several other occasions, including against civilians.

I will soon issue invitations to the International Conference [on Syria] that I will convene on Wednesday, 22 January next year.

Everyone involved must do everything in their power to help the conference succeed.

I appeal to the Syrian authorities to end the violence and provide humanitarian access.

I call on States and organizations with influence on the Syrian sides to help them prepare for constructive engagement.

The humanitarian situation continues to worsen.  We have started distributing winter aid to help people cope with the harsh conditions that are taking hold.

We must also overcome the severe and chronic underfunding of the relief effort. The 2014 appeal for Syria launched today in Geneva is the biggest in the history of the United Nations: $6.5 billion to meet needs inside Syria and to help the more than 2 million people who have fled the country.  I call for generous support, including at the pledging conference I will convene on January 15th in Kuwait.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

2013 was also the year in which the Central African Republic descended into chaos.

I am gravely concerned about the imminent danger of mass atrocities.  I call on the country’s transitional authorities to protect people.  I appeal to religious and community leaders to prevent polarization. 

I welcome the deployment of African and French troops, which is already making a difference.

Human rights observers are on their way.  The United Nations will establish a commission of inquiry to investigate reports of atrocities.  Perpetrators must be held to account.

We are also scaling up the humanitarian response.  We are also scaling up the humanitarian response.  The entire population of 4.6 million is affected, half of whom are children.  More than 600,000 people are displaced, and nearly 70,000 have fled the country. Earlier this month at the Paris summit on the crisis, I joined other African leaders in stressing the need for decisive action to avoid further suffering.  We must do more to meet this test of global solidarity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Alongside these crises, 2013 was a promising year for diplomacy.

The United Nations reached a landmark agreement on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

The General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty, realizing a long-held dream.

Member States agreed on a roadmap for shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

The Warsaw climate conference last month kept negotiations on track for an agreement in 2015.

Across the Sahel and West Africa, peacekeeping and mediation promoted stability.

I commend the people of Mali for the peaceful conduct of yesterday’s legislative elections.  Saturday’s bombing attack in Kidal will not deter us.

My visit to the region last month mobilized both political and financial support, including more than $8 billion in new pledges from the World Bank and European Union.

2013 was a year of heightened UN-World Bank cooperation and partnership.  The World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and I also travelled together to Africa in May to support the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region that was brokered by the United Nations in February.

The United Nations has also equipped its peacekeeping operation, MONUSCO, with new tools that have produced good results.  We had further welcome news last Thursday with the signing in Kampala of declarations by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the M23 group ending their hostilities.

Another highlight of 2013 was the agreement reached last month between Iran and the P5+1 countries on Iran’s nuclear programme.  I hope that this initial understanding will be followed by a comprehensive agreement on all outstanding concerns.   I also encourage Iran to provide full cooperation to the International Atomic Energy Agency. I welcome the Government of Iran’s desire for an improved relationship with the international community, which could have important consequences on a number of issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want this diplomatic momentum to carry over into the New Year.

We must make 2014 the year of protecting people – their security, their fundamental rights, their basic well-being.

The coming year will be a key period for difficult transitions in Afghanistan and the Arab world. 

I urge Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to show the leadership and foresight that will at long last produce a comprehensive peace agreement.

I appeal to the parties in Ukraine to act with restraint, and to uphold the [democratic] principles of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  I spoke again to President [Viktor] Yanukovich of Ukraine this past weekend to encourage dialogue on the country’s future path.

I call on all sides in Thailand to refrain from violence.  I welcome the Government’s decision to resolve the country’s political tensions through a democratic process.

In the wake of the latest dramatic developments in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I call again on the DPRK leadership to work towards the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to abide by global human rights norms.  The period ahead should be used to build confidence in the international community and to improve living conditions for the country’s long-suffering people.  I stand ready to offer my good offices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year ahead will be crucial for development.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the end of 2015 means accelerating efforts now, especially on lagging goals like sanitation and maternal health.

Agreeing on a new agenda and on a set of sustainable development goals requires intensified discussions.

And reaching a climate agreement in 2015 means doing heavy lifting in 2014.

I will convene a Climate Change Summit meeting on 23 September next year.  I want this to be a solutions summit on the road to the climate action the world so urgently needs.

2013 was another year of extreme weather -- as we saw most recently with Typhoon Haiyan.  On Thursday, I will depart for Manila and Tacloban for a firsthand assessment of the aftermath.

Our efforts to strengthen the UN made inroads in 2013.  The United Nations entered a new era with the deployment of Umoja, our Enterprise Resource Planning system, to all peacekeeping operations.

I continue to talk with Member States about two other pillars of management reform: mobility and partnerships.

We are committed to working more efficiently and effectively.  The approval of the 2014-2015 budget proposal is of critical importance at a time of growing demands.

Finally, 2013 will be remembered as the year in which the world bid a sad but celebratory farewell to Nelson Mandela.  On Thursday, the General Assembly will hold a memorial so that the United Nations can offer its own tribute to a man who embodied what we work for every day.

I can think of nothing I would rather see in 2014 than for world leaders to emulate his example in upholding their moral and political responsibilities.

In that very spirit, it is my pleasure to congratulate one of those leaders -- our greatly admired former colleague Michelle Bachelet -- on her election yesterday as President of Chile.  We look forward to the great things she will accomplish in this new role.

Thank you for your attention.  I wish you a joyful holiday season. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, my question is about the Central African Republic. You said it’s descending into chaos and recent reports as of this morning by human rights agencies and organizations have said that there’s been a dramatic escalation in the violence. You have a 90-day period to report to the Security Council on this. Would you consider and have you considered accelerating that in order to try to deal with a more formal peacekeeping operation, or at least troops, and at least to give your options to the Security Council? Thank you.

SG: The situation in the CAR has become one of the most serious crisis issues for the United Nations to manage. As I said earlier, this Security and Peace Summit Meeting in Africa, which was hosted by President [Francois] Hollande of France, provided us a very good opportunity. We had very intense discussions with key African leaders, where I presented my own visions and proposals. As you know, the Security Council has agreed to deploy MISCA [International Support Mission for the Central African Republic], an African-led peacekeeping operation. During our discussions, there were a lot of African leaders who were hoping that the strength of MISCA should be enhanced to a minimum of 6,000 [troops], and also they hoped that MISCA should transform into a United Nations peacekeeping operation. In fact, the five recommendations which I presented to the Security Council included a fifth option [which] was to transform, establish a United Nations peacekeeping operation. Now, at the request of the Security Council, as you said, I am going to present my own, another, assessment report with the recommendations reflecting what has been discussed with and expressed by many African leaders and also key Member States. I will continue to discuss this mater with the Security Council.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. I would like to take your mind off daily occurrences for just a moment. You have now concluded your first mandate as Secretary-General of the United Nations and you are well into the second mandate, some seven years altogether. What is the most important lesson you have drawn from this long experience, which will be guiding you in the rest of the mandate? Thank you.

SG: That may require me more time, longer time, to exchange views on that. I have experienced many things and learned a lot of lessons in addressing many difficult issues.

First of all, I am just amazed that there are still so many challenges unresolved. The number of crises now seems to be increasing than during my first term. At the beginning of my first term, the situation in Darfur was the key, most serious issue. Now you have so many issues: Syria, CAR, Mali, you name all these issues.

Then, another important lesson is that nobody – no organization, no country, however powerful, however resourceful one may be – can do this alone. That is a very important lesson which I learned, and that is why I have been appealing and reaching out to Member States: please, let us work together. The Secretary-General, or even the United Nations, cannot do it alone. We need support from many regional and sub-regional organizations. We need support from business communities, we need support from religious communities and local communities and even philanthropic organizations, first of all, to solidify our political will. Second, to mobilize our resources which are used as tools – if we do not have effective tools, how can we do it? That is why I have proposed to the General Assembly: let us have some more structured and effective way of mobilizing this support from all of the Member States and business communities and civil society. That is what I proposed in the form of a partnership facility. That is one very important lesson.

Another lesson is that I have seen some weakening political will. Sometimes, national interest prevails over some global problems. We first try to address all global threats, global crises. Good global initiatives and solutions will help domestic solutions, too. Of course, good domestic solutions combined together will help global solutions. When hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people, are suffering from abject poverty and diseases and global sanitation and health issues, we have to really mobilize our solidarity. That is an important lesson which I have learned, but I really count on Member States to raise their political leadership role and work together with the United Nations. That is my appeal to them.

Q: You just stated that the humanitarian situation is dire in Syria, severe and chronic, and the financial solution is still difficult. You just announced also the $6.5 billion [appeal] in Geneva. And you also said that there will be another meeting in Kuwait on 15 January. The international group of support for Lebanon will be meeting there, too. What do you expect to achieve on 15 January? And also, how can we find the solution in addressing the situation, the Syrian refugee situation in Lebanon, in order to also find a solution to crisis in Lebanon because the crisis situation, the humanitarian situation, is also a problem for Lebanon? Is it possible to create new camps inside Syria? There are certain places in Syria where there is peace and it is not all as dire as you can find in Syria. Thank you very much.

SG: Thank you. This is again the most troubling situation we are having. While the fighting goes on, even though we have very good agreement on the destruction of chemical weapons, that does not mean that people are safe. We are addressing very important part of this Syrian file, but the most important and sad and tragic thing [is happening] to the people, civilians, very helpless women and young children and vulnerable groups of people. That is why the United Nations has been mobilizing all of its humanitarian-related agencies. I have been speaking to all the leaders to please give your very generous helping hands to them. I know that while most of the countries in the world are going through a very difficult financial, economic situation, when a tragedy continues in this way, without knowing when there will be an end, it may be very difficult to expect continuous generous helping hands; that, I fully understand. Even then, I believe that the international community and particularly world leaders have a moral responsibility, political responsibility, to help those people. There are 9.5 million people who have been affected. That is almost half of the total population. Most of the infrastructure, schools and sanitation facilities, hospitals, have been destroyed. The Government may not just be functioning properly. It is not because of the wounds caused by the fighting, but it is because of the lack of sanitation, lack of immediate medical support, that people are just simply dying. So we have to really be serious in addressing this issue as human beings. Now 2.3 million people are now refugees in the neighbouring countries, most seriously in Lebanon; it may reach soon 1 million refugees in Lebanon only. Then Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and even in Egypt, more than 100,000 people, and in North African countries. That is why I have decided to convene this pledging conference, which was quite successful this year in January, in Kuwait, and I am reaching out to Member States to come to Kuwait to really show their solidarity, humanitarian solidarity.

Now, the situation in Lebanon is very much complicated now. On top of the lack of Government formation, then this tragic humanitarian pressure and burden really makes [the situation for the] Lebanese Government and people much, much more difficult. I have been discussing this matter with Prime Minister [Najib] Mikati, President [Michel] Sleiman on many occasions. They are appealing to lessen, alleviate this burden, extraordinary burden. And I am very much sympathetic about that. That is why I have established the International Support Group for Lebanon last September to discuss all political, security and humanitarian issues focused on Lebanon. I will continue to do that.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. I’d like to ask you about the situation in the Korean Peninsula, in regard to the issue… There are some reports and analysis that after the execution of Jang Song-thaek in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], the military hardliners are gaining more power than ever, as the execution changed the power balance in that country. So my question is: do you have any concerns that this might affect the progress or development of the denuclearization of the country, the region, and the improvement of human rights, because the hardliners are very much concerned about putting the country more into a brinkmanship model?

SG: The recent report coming from DPRK was very dramatic and surprising, surrounding the execution of Jang Song-thaek, who used to be the number 2 leader. At this time, I would appeal to all the parties concerned surrounding the Korean Peninsula that, while they must be vigilantly and carefully watching the development of the situation, not to take any premature actions. I do not hope that because of that, there will be an increase of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.  And I am also very closely watching this situation.

At the same time, once again, I stress that the DPRK must comply with all relevant Security Council resolutions and also stress, focus more on improving the living conditions of their own people and also adhere to international human rights norms.

When it comes to this execution, my Spokesperson has already announced that when it comes to the death penalty, the United Nations has taken a very clear position: that under any circumstances, the United Nations is opposed to the imposition of the death penalty. This is a very fundamental human rights issue. I am still very closely following this situation. But at this time, it may be a little bit premature to speculate on any other further situations.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. In your reports to both the General Assembly and the Security Council on Syria’s chemical weapons, you have called for accountability. How do you believe that this should be done? Are you planning to set up some kind of a commission? Should the General Assembly or the Security Council or the Human Rights Council, should somebody else take this on? But since this is such a serious issue, how do you think that this can be carried out?

SG: I have been consistently, emphatically stating that the perpetrators of gross violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, must be brought to justice. The perpetrators must be held accountable. This is a fundamental principle. As you know, the Human Rights Council has established a Commission of Inquiry and they issued their own report. Now, I will continue to discuss and consult with Member States on what kind of measures should be taken and when and how. These are subject to continuing consultations with Member States.

Q:  Thanks for doing this briefing, and we hope to have more of them in 2014. I wanted to ask you about one of your policy moves in 2013, this post-Sri Lanka Rights Up Front Plan that both you and the Deputy Secretary-General have spoken about. What I wanted to know: is the plan now effective? Is it UN policy? I notice that the Deputy is meeting with Sri Lanka’s Defense Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, this morning, and I wanted to know: is there any relation between the two?

Finally, someone said, I am sure you have seen this criticism by Medecins Sans Frontieres about the UN – what they describe as inaction in Central African Republic, of sitting in bases, maybe out of security concerns, but not going out and helping people in Bossangoa and Bangui. Do you see any relationship between that plan and the need to take humanitarian action on the ground?  Thank you very much.

SG: First of all, on this Rights Up Front Action plan, it is what we learned from the recent situation in Sri Lanka. As you know, I established a Panel of Experts and the Panel of Experts requested me to see whether the United Nations had done all… addressed properly. We had a very serious internal review. As a result of this we established this very important action plan. Of course, this Rights Up Front Action Plan is not aiming at any particular country or any particular case. This will be used for all countries and all cases, all situations.  That is why I have submitted this to the General Assembly, with my strong recommendation.  The President of the General Assembly has circulated to the Member States, so that this will be a sort of guideline to protect human rights, and prevent any further possible human rights violations in any cases. I am very firm. We discussed this matter even this morning among our senior advisers.

On CAR, I took note of all the criticism by Medecins Sans Frontieres. We are now beefing up our action to help the Central African Republic. Because of the very dire and dangerous security situation, it was very difficult in some cases to deliver, and the Government is not functioning. There is no such functioning government. This transitional government is not properly functioning. Now, with the deployment of MISCA and the French Sangaris contingent, the situation has now been controlled. With this we will continue to beef up our capacity. I have discussed this issue with Valerie Amos yesterday, and we are doing our best, as much as we can.

Q: Thank you Martin, Mr. Secretary General, there appears to be an increased tension between Africa and the United Nations. Two examples come to mind: the most recent ICC [International Criminal Court] deferral request regarding the Kenyan appeal, and then the broader question of UN reform, which we raise in these press conferences every year.  What is your analysis of that tension? I know you have engaged with a number of Heads of State from the African continent. What is your analysis and understanding of that tension, and what mitigating role, if any, can your office play in easing those tensions before they spiral out of control?

SG: First of all, I would not agree to your generalization of tension between Africa and the United Nations. I make it quite clear that Africa is a number one priority for the United Nations. We are maintaining a very, very good partnership with the African Union. So, you will not be able to see such a strong partnership which has been maintained between the UN and the African Union. Of course, there are some cases when we may have a difference of opinion between the United Nations, any specific cases. So, characterizing it as tension between the AU and the United Nations may not be appropriate.

On your specific case of the International Criminal Court, I am encouraged that the African Union leaders have taken very prudent and wise decisions not to take any such premature decisions. When they call for an extraordinary summit to deal with the Kenyan President and Vice President case, vis-à-vis the ICC, they all gathered and they took very practical decisions. I myself, in accordance with the agreed framework between the UN and ICC, have been closely coordinating and I met the President of Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute several times, and even she herself went to this extraordinary summit meeting.  As a result of all this, I believe that the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute has taken the important decision in amending some rules of procedure, where very high responsible persons with extraordinary national political and security responsibilities may not necessarily be physically present at the time of a hearing, so it can be used through some other technical means, for example a video, et cetera. So I think this is quite a good solution. I was deeply concerned at the time of… at the beginning of this crisis, that there may be some conflict between some African countries and the ICC. Now, the ICC is an independent international justice organization whose work and mandate is distinct from that of the United Nations. Their mandate and their principles should be fully upheld and respected. Thank you.

Q:  2013 is now ten years since the crimes in Darfur, and the war is not over. In the first half of this year 300,000 civilians were displaced, and the Sudanese Government continues to target civilians in many areas of the country, especially from the air.  Should the Security Council put an arms embargo on the entire country, because it doesn’t work in one section of it, including South Sudan, and should there be an embargo of combat aircraft?

SG: The situation in Darfur is still a source of concern, with one of the biggest UN peacekeeping missions – UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operations in Darfur] – deployed, we have seen many such violent [incidents] taking place there. We have not been receiving full administrative support from the Sudanese Government, to which I have been raising [that issue] all the time. Plus, there are many difficult, different situations now. There are very serious humanitarian issues in South Kordofan and Blue Nile area, to which the United Nations and international humanitarian organizations have not had access. I have raised this issue many times, repeatedly to the Sudanese authorities.  I again urge them to help address these humanitarian situations. The relationship, again, between Sudan and South Sudan has been quite bumpy. Now, with the summit meetings several times, they seem to really have tried to maintain a better relationship. All this combined situations affect the situation in Darfur. This is still remaining as one of our sources of concern and we are doing our best to address this situation.

Q:  Mr. Secretary-General, are you working on a ceasefire in Syria before Geneva II conference, or maybe during the conference? Do you see that it is possible by any chance to reach a ceasefire agreement in January?  Have you discussed this matter with the parties in the region and inside Syria – the Government and opposition?

SG: That is a very important point, that we must have a cessation of hostilities before we begin political dialogue on Syria in Geneva. We have been urging and appealing that there should be humanitarian access and there should be a cross-border humanitarian convoy. And most importantly, this fighting must stop. The fighting must stop. We had proposed – as you may remember, former Special Envoy Kofi Annan and now Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi on various occasions appealed and proposed to have a ceasefire, even temporarily, just for a few days during religious holidays. But those appeals have not been adhered to. Now, with this Geneva II conference approaching, I am really going to discuss this matter with the Security Council, and I am urging all the countries who may have power and influence over the parties to just stop fighting, so that we will be able to address a political solution. There is no military option. There is no military option. Only through political dialogue can we resolve this issue. We will continue to discuss this.

Q:  Thank you, Secretary-General. Back to the Syrian chemical weapons issue: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today announced that Russia is ready to send warships to ensure the security of the ships carrying Syrian chemical weapons.  I wanted to ask you if you welcome such cooperation, and can you please provide us maybe with the names of the countries that expressed their willingness to take part in this operation? Thank you.

SG: In principle, I really welcome all such very kind offers to provide a naval escort. The destruction of chemical weapons involves a lot of difficult challenges. First of all, we have to collect all these chemical weapons and bring them over land – transportation to a certain port. From the port they have to transport safely these chemical weapons to a certain point where these chemical weapons could be destroyed, permanently. That involves overland transportation and security and whether some countries will provide port facilities, and whether some countries will provide naval transportation – shipping - and naval escort. I have been discussing with many countries, like the Norwegian and Danish Governments, who have proposed such proposals for shipment.  And the Croatian Government has also expressed some interest. I discussed with some key permanent members if they are also willing to provide. Then there is another international law related issue: whether these naval escorts and shipping are willing to enter into territorial waters of Syria. Depending upon the countries, some countries are making some concerns about going there, some countries, “Well, we will not mind, we will enter even into territorial waters of Syria.” So it has a lot of technical and legal issues, so therefore I am not in a position at this time to make any final answer to you. The joint mission representative Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag, is cooperating, consulting with the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and other concerned countries. So, you may have to wait. We are accelerating our efforts to finalise the modalities.  Thank you.

I hope to see you during the UNCA dinner. Let us see what will happen. I have great expectations. Thank you.