Brussels, Belgium

1 April 2014

Press conference by the Secretary-General with the Vice Prime Minister of Belgium and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (Secretary-General’s portion only)

Secretary-General: Thank you, Mr. Vice Prime Minister of Belgium and Mr. Secretary General of the Council of Europe; it is a great pleasure for me to visit Belgium again at this very important moment. And I’d like to thank you for your leadership and for organising this very important conference to remind the world of the importance of keeping and protecting the human rights of all the people. And I am going to visit Rwanda to participate, myself, on this on 7 April on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. I would like to really thank the Belgian Government for organizing a timely meeting to raise the awareness of the importance of prevention of genocide and protecting human rights of all the people around the world. As the Vice Prime Minister just said, the international community has always been saying, “Never again, never again”.

I myself have been to Rwanda several times and I also visited Srebrenica, and I have seen for myself the place where millions of Jewish people and other minorities were killed. Those are the lessons which we have learned, but still the international community has not been active enough. There are many areas still where we need to protect human lives. We are seeing that many people are still being killed daily in Syria. The situation in Central Africa is very dire again. That is why this meeting is raising the awareness of the international community, the importance of prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. We need to work together.

Belgium has been the centre of international diplomacy and it is only natural and very timely to have organised this meeting, and the United Nations is now at the center and front of leading this campaign. 

I have appointed a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and also I have appointed a Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. The world leaders in 2005 adopted a very important principle of the responsibility to protect. We have to operationalize this very important principle as soon as possible.  I hope that this meeting will add our commitment of all world leaders to ongoing efforts to realise and to operationalize the responsibility to protect and realise a world where everybody can live without fear and prevent this genocide. Thank you very much.

Q: When you see what is happening in Syria and in Central African Republic, how can you say that we are better armed today than 20 years ago to prevent genocide?
SG: It is tragic, it is very sad, that the international community has not been able to address this tragic situation such as the one in Syria. Three years have already passed, now this is the fourth year. We have to really mobilize political will of the international community. The Geneva II Conference has not yielded much prospect and we are working very hard to convene a Geneva III meeting.  It is important that both the Government delegation and the opposition delegation, they should come with a strong commitment and engage in constructive dialogue, before many, many more people will be killed. There is no other viable option than political solution. This is what I am going to push and at the same time we need the support from key actors like the United States and Russia who have initiated this Geneva Conference.  They should exercise, or impress upon, all the parties so that they will come with sincere and constructive minds.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, what lessons has the United Nations drawn from the mistakes it made causing the genocide in Rwanda?
SG: In Rwanda and in Srebrenica we have admitted that the United Nations have failed. We were not active enough to prevent this genocide, from which we could have saved a lot of human lives. The United Nations feels very sorry for that and we have learned great lessons - very sad and tragic lessons.  That is why the United Nations and leaders adopted this Responsibility to Protect and we are putting the human rights at the first front and the centre. Last year I have initiated this Rights Up Front action plan. We learned again some lessons from other areas.
While Member States have been saying that they are committed and committed, but we have not done enough. The Responsibility to Protect, which was adopted nine years ago, has not yet been operationalized. We have to look beyond national sovereign interest. When the leaders are not able to protect their own civilians, when the leaders are not willing to protect their civilians, then we have to apply this Responsibility to Protect. But Member States are not yet still showing a firm political will. That is why all the leaders here today are urging their leaders to show their political leadership.
Q: What actions is the UN taking specifically to prevent the situation in CAR from spiralling into genocide?
SG: I think I have explained at length. We have initiated many important programmes like Rights Up Front.  This is now being applied to all possible places and conflicts, where we can see the symptoms of mass atrocities.  That is why we are now applying it [Rights UP Front] to South Sudan and Central African Republic and any other places. As I said in the meeting, my Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and also on the Responsibility to Protect are scanning the world wherever and whenever we see some symptoms and signs of genocide or mass killings then we rush and we apply this Rights Up Front. [These] instructions have been given to all United Nations staff in peacekeeping missions and political missions and country teams and we are very closely coordinating with the Member States, so we are getting full support from the United Nations Member States. At the same time I urge again that the principle of Responsibility to Protect should be operationalized as soon as possible.