New York

12 August 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at press encounter [full transcript]

Good afternoon everyone. It is a great pleasure to see you. It has been about two weeks since I saw you last.  The world continues to experience tumult and turmoil, with several crises occurring at the same time.  I would like to say a few words about three of the emergencies.

First, the situation in Iraq.

During my visit to Baghdad and Erbil last month, I urged Iraqis to support the democratic process.  I welcome the movement toward the formation of a new government.  Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abbadi now has the important task of forming a broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society.  It is imperative that the security forces refrain from intervening in the political process.

The people of Iraq – all Iraqi people – need security.  Yet the poison of hatred and brutality is spreading.

The so-called “Islamic State” – IS - is a threat to Iraq, Syria and the region.  I am profoundly dismayed by its barbaric acts, including accounts of summary executions, boys forcibly taken from their homes to fight, girls abducted or trafficked as sex slaves.

The plight of the Yazidis and others on Mount Sinjar is especially harrowing.  UN humanitarian personnel are in the area, doing what we can.  Air drops of food and water are reaching some of the trapped people.  But the situation on the mountain is dire.  And even when people manage to find a way out, they remain exposed to searing heat and a perilous odyssey.

I urge the international community to do even more to provide the protection they need.  And I condemn in the strongest possible terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse the extremist ideology of “IS” and associated armed groups.

Let me now turn to the situation in Gaza.

The most recent ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, appears to be holding.  But that is not enough.  I strongly hope that a durable ceasefire will be reached soon.

We must use this cessation of hostilities to address urgent humanitarian needs.  The toll of death and destruction is staggering.

According to preliminary information, nearly 2000 Palestinians have been killed -- almost 75 per cent of them civilians, including 459 children.  There were more children killed in this Gaza conflict than in the previous two crises combined.

More than 300,000 people are still sheltering in UNRWA schools, government and private schools and other public facilities, or with host families.  At least 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged.

Most of Gaza’s households have little or no water supply.  Hospitals meant to cope with disaster are themselves disaster zones.  The new school year was scheduled to start in less than two weeks, but a great many of the buildings will not be ready or are totally unusable in their current state.

The United Nations will work with regional and international actors to rebuild. But unless we address the underlying causes of the conflict, another round of violence and vengeance is almost guaranteed.

Israel’s duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas and other threats is beyond question. At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality.  Reports of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.

I have called for an investigation into the repeated shelling of UN facilities harbouring civilians.  I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finally, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO announced today that the death toll has surpassed 1,000.  Three steps are especially urgent:

First, addressing the severe lack of capacity in the most severely affected countries.  Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have only recently returned to political stability following years of conflict that destroyed or disabled their health systems.  I urge the international community to respond urgently to the shortage of doctors, nurses and equipment, including protective clothing and isolation tents. We need all hands on deck.

Second, a coordinated international response is essential.  I remain in close touch with Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.  In the days ahead, the UN system will further strengthen the way we are dealing with the outbreak.

To that end, in close coordination with Dr. Margaret Chan of WHO, I have designated Dr. David Nabarro as Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Ebola Virus Disease.  Dr. Nabarro will be responsible for ensuring that the United Nations system makes an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the outbreak of Ebola.

Third, we need to avoid panic and fear.  Ebola can be prevented.  With resources, knowledge, early action and will, people can survive the disease.  Ebola has been successfully brought under control elsewhere, and we can do it here too.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Q: Thank you, Stephane.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you for your briefing.  This is Kahraman Haliscelik with Turkish Radio and Television. Mr. Secretary-General, a few years ago when you were first here, you told us that you would try to be the voice of the voiceless.  But the recent, you know, from what I hear from my own country, Turkey, from what I hear from my colleagues in Gaza and elsewhere, that they say that the UN has been ineffective in dealing with the crises in the Middle East. What would you like to tell them?

SG: It’s not the question of effectiveness or efficiency of the United Nations or international community as a whole.  It’s the lack of the will of the parties concerned.  They have not been listening to the voices of the international community and concerns raised by myself as the Secretary-General and many world leaders in the region and around the world.  They simply have not listened to those voices of reason and they have not cared [for] their own people.  In the name of protecting their own people, they have been letting their people be killed by others.  Is that what they have to do? Therefore, this is almost the last chance for them.  They have a very limited time.  The 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire will end sometime tomorrow.  So without losing any time, they have to agree to a more durable and sustainable ceasefire. Then, I think we are ready; as I said, we are ready to build.  As I said, it’s not guaranteed whether they will be able to agree by tomorrow.  Then, are they going to resume their fighting?  The international community is going to have a donor conference again on an emergency basis. Now we are going to rebuild.  Are they going to destroy it again? And I said last Wednesday in the General Assembly – my own anger – that we have been building and they have been destroying and we have been building and destroying and building and destroying. I thought that this should be the last chance – the last chance.

Q: Thank you, Secretary-General.  On Ukraine, there have been some attempts by Russia to get a humanitarian convoy into the conflict zone in the Eastern Ukraine.  There have been some problems, but they are working with the cooperation of the Red Cross.  Would you welcome such convoys?  Do you think they are needed in this situation? Thank you.

SG: I welcome the delivery of humanitarian assistance to communities in need. This should be done with the agreement between or among the parties concerned and under the auspices of the international community of the Red Cross. We are very closely following and discussing this matter with concerned parties.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  You mentioned the Islamic State [IS] militant group, which now controls a large swath of both Syria and Iraq.  What do you believe should be done to restore the full sovereignty of both countries and to prevent the Islamic State group from carrying out its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate?

SG: First of all, if you look at the root causes of these extremist or terrorist groups penetrating into society, is the lack for inclusiveness and dialogue with all the groups of the people, religious or sectarian or whatever it may be; the leaders should have always embraced and resolved all the differences of opinions among or between sectarian or religious groups in an inclusive way, a mutually inclusive way.  This has not happened in many areas, including Iraq. That is why they have been allowing the breeding ground of these elements to take root.  So now, I really appreciate some countries, like the United States and some European countries who have been really trying to help the Iraqi government and Kurdish Regional Government to prevent the further spread of this.  The international community should act together.  First of all, promote mutual understanding among and between different groups of people, ethnically or religiously.  There should be full respect of this. And they try to listen very carefully and sincerely to the voices of the people. Now that this large swath of this territory has been occupied or affected by IS, we are very much concerned.  At the same time, it’s only the people, hundreds of thousands of people – they are suffering because of this fear and threat and also humanitarian, very dire humanitarian situation. We have very limited capacity at this time. Because of [this] very serious concern, I hope that the international community should do all that we can. First, bring out, allowing the trapped people in the Sinjar mountain area.  I hope those countries who have capacity to do all [they] can [to] allow these people to be rescued as soon as possible.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. The President of Iraq has already selected Dr. Haider al-Abbadi to form the next Iraqi government.  What words would you have to ex-Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who is hindering the formation of such a government?  And secondly, on Gaza, there are Human Rights Council efforts to investigate what happened in Gaza and to an inquiry.  Would you recommend the Security Council members to take into consideration the results of such inquiries, sir? Thank you

SG: First of all, as I said already yesterday, I commend the Iraqi President, Fuad Massoum, for having nominated Dr. Haider al-Abbadi, in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution, with the formation of a new government.  I encourage Dr. al-Abbadi, Prime Minister-designate, to form a broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society, in accordance with the constitutional time-frame. I am concerned that heightened political tensions coupled with the current security threat of the “Islamic State” (IS) could lead the country into even deeper crisis. I strongly urge all political parties and their supporters to remain calm and respect the political process governed by the Constitution. The people of Iraq deserve to live in a safer, prosperous and secure society. This is what the United Nations and our team in UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq) is doing in close consultation with Member States. 

About the Security Council taking up this issue about the violation of human rights, I understand that there is some consultation among and between the members of the Security Council about the possibility of taking [up] this issue.  But let us see how this negotiation is going on in Cairo.  At the same time, it would be important for the Security Council, when they agree on a ceasefire, a durable ceasefire, then this should be strongly supported and endorsed by the Security Council, as they did in 2009 when they adopted resolution 1860, which has provided very broad and comprehensive framework of what the parties should do to maintain the sustainability of the ceasefire and also the parties in the region and the international community to help this process be sustainable.