New York

17 December 2014

Full transcript of Secretary-General's year-end press conference

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to see you at the end of this year.  I am very glad to see you so bright-eyed after last night's UNCA [Awards] dinner.  In fact, we have some pieces of cake left if anybody wants. You are welcome. Thank you for all your friendship and cooperation and support for all United Nations work. Thank you very much.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since I have just come back from Lima, after attending the climate change meeting, let me begin with climate change.

In Lima, Governments built on the success of the Climate Summit meeting, which I convened in September this year, and put in place the building blocks for a meaningful, universal climate change agreement in Paris next year.

Member States advanced on several fronts.

First, they agreed on a draft negotiating text to serve as the basis for the next round of negotiations beginning in February in Geneva.

Second, they provided clarity on the mitigation and other commitments to be included in the national plans of action -- or what we call INDC – this is an abbreviation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions -- due in March.

[Third] they built confidence and trust, most notably by capitalizing the Green Climate Fund with an initial $10 billion.

Fourth, they advanced an action agenda designed to show the wealth of opportunities offered by the transition to a low-carbon pathway.

Taken together, these steps maintain the momentum towards Paris.  There is still a great deal of work ahead on finance and other difficult issues.  But all governments, along with business and others, civil society, now agree they must curb the growth in emissions.  In my eight years as Secretary-General, that was the eight COP – Conference of Parties – meeting, and that was the most encouraging conference of parties I have attended.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have also made progress this year towards finishing the job of the Millennium Development Goals -- and laying the groundwork for a new agenda, including a set of sustainable development goals and the resources needed to achieve them.

In the year ahead, three high-level meetings -- in Addis Ababa, in New York and Paris -- give us the opportunity to chart a new era of sustainable development.  As you know, in July there is going to be a high-level conference on financing for development, and in June the President of the General Assembly is going to convene a high-level meeting on climate change – just in the mid-point of the December roadmap. And thirdly, we are going to have a special session on sustainable development in September, a summit meeting.

As I indicated earlier this month in my report, “The Road to Dignity,” the stars are aligned for the world to take historic action to transform lives and protect the planet.

Alongside these gains, the world has just come through a year of discord, disease and disruption.

Peace operations, diplomacy and humanitarian capacities have been pushed to the limit.  More than 100 million people need assistance and more than 50 million people have been driven from their homes – the most since the Second World War.

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has challenged the international community in unprecedented ways.  

The United Nations mobilized its first-ever system-wide emergency health mission - UNMEER.

Tonight, I will leave to visit Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone, the four countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak, as well as Ghana, where UNMEER headquarters is located.  So this will include five countries during my visit. I will be accompanied by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO, and Dr. David Nabarro, Special Envoy on Ebola. Mr. Tony Banbury, Special Representative in Ghana will join me through all the affected countries, from Ghana.  I want to see the response for myself, and show my solidarity with those affected and urge even greater global action.  

Ebola responders are doing heroic work.  Local communities and national governments are highly engaged.  There has been an impressive outpouring of life-saving contributions from across Africa and across the world.  The Ebola response strategy is working, and we are beginning to see improvements.

But now is not the time to ease up on our efforts.  As long as there is one case of Ebola, the risk remains.  We must do everything we can to get to zero.

At the same time, we remain short of people and resources.  Moreover, Ebola continues to drive up food prices, keep children out of school and draw oxygen away from business activity.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year in Syria, the successful dismantling of the chemical weapons programme has been of little consolation to the people who have seen the war rage on.

In South Sudan, the UN’s “open gates” policy saved many thousands of lives, but the situation at our peacekeeping bases -- where we are sheltering 100,000 people -- remains fragile, as it does throughout the country.  

Nigeria and Iraq saw the spread of extremist insurgencies.

In Ukraine, the situation risks freezing in place, with regional and global implications.  

Instability remains widespread in Afghanistan and the Sahel.

Following this year’s hostilities in Gaza, the leaders of Israel and Palestine have a responsibility to step back from the brink, ease the current tensions and salvage a two-state solution that is looking ever more remote.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The year 2015 must be a time for global action.  I would like to highlight four imperatives.

First, the world must keep ambition high to forge a new development agenda and secure a climate change agreement.

Second, 2015 must be the year in which we end the nightmare in Syria -- and avert the escalation of other worrying situations.

Third, we must do more to counter extremism and the rise of far-right political parties that target minorities, migrants and in particular Muslims.

Fourth, we will continue to adapt the United Nations itself to a new global landscape.

A number of key reviews of the United Nations’ work will come to fruition in 2015, including panels on peace operations which I launched last month, peacebuilding review by the General Assembly, and humanitarian financing and implementation of the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  These assessments are an opportunity to build on the other reforms we have pursued throughout my tenure.

In my travels this year, I have seen so much suffering, from Bangui to Gaza to the Dadaab refugee camp.  I have met so many people whose lives are at risk, who are struggling to build better lives for themselves and their families.

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations next year, we have a duty to answer the call of people across the world for shared prosperity and a sustainable future for all.

I would like to extend my best wishes to all of you for happy holidays and a happy New Year. 

Questions and Answers

Spokesman: Thank you.  We'll take your questions.  As a reminder, we don't have too much time.  Please keep your questions short and limit the preamble. 

Q: Thank you.  I'll make it very fast.  On behalf of the U.N. Correspondents Association: Happy New Year and thank you for all these briefings. I'm Pamela Falk from CBS News.  I made it fast.  My question is about Cuba.  As you've seen, the U.S. is beginning normalization process.  UN General Assembly's voted annually to lift the embargo.  Can you comment on where the United Nations might go with that, especially since you visited Cuba?  Thank you.

SG: I have been informed in advance by the U.S. Government.  This news is very positive.  I'd like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalizing relations.  As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasized through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time that Cuba and the United States normalize their bilateral relations.  In that regard, I heartily welcome today's development.  I sincerely hope these measures, this announcement will help to expand the further the exchanges between the two peoples who have been separated quite a long time.  The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations.  Thank you.

Q: Secretary-General, you said that 2015, you hope, is the year to end the nightmare in Syria.  Your representative, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, seems to be doing crisis management, just management for a very terrible place, a terrible event in Syria.  Do you approve of the piecemeal approach that's being criticized by Mr. de Mistura?  And what makes you confident that you would resume the Geneva I or II process?  

SG: Of course, we'd like have comprehensive peace and stability and development.  And that is basically our principled approach.  But what the Special Envoy, Mr. de Mistura, has been doing is not piecemeal.  He has proposed a freeze in Aleppo.  This may look like that way, but this is not the substitute for a broader and comprehensive peace arrangement.  But when you want to really have a broader, comprehensive approach, you should have all elements, I think, starting from smaller things or easier things.  Of course, even having this partial freeze in Aleppo is not easy.  I'm encouraged that through his meetings with President [Bashar al] Assad of Syria and many actors in the region, this is gaining political support.  Most recently, European Union foreign minister all gathered and supported his idea.  We will try to build upon [it].  But what is most important at this time, after almost four years of killing each other, the violence must stop.  Regardless of what kind of argument or difference of opinions there may be, the violence must stop and they should sit down together to talk about their own future in a peaceful manner.  This is what exactly de Mistura is doing.

Q: On the Geneva basis, will they sit down?  Is it based on Geneva?

SG: As we started the Geneva meeting, then whatever it may be, we need to sit down together, sort of a Geneva II or whatever it may be called.  But the -- unfortunately, the atmosphere has not been created.  I'm making, again, clear that this Aleppo is not the substitute.  As you say, it's not the piecemeal approach.  This is a part of comprehensive approach.

Q: Thank you, Secretary-General.  I have a question on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] human rights issue.  This year, we have seen a lot of unprecedented development in this issue.  COI (Commission of Inquiry) report pointed out a lot of allegations, examples of the human rights violations in the country.  But the country has not accepted it.  And next week, the Security Council is expected to talk, have a discussion about that issue.  So what's your view on this latest development on the issue, and do you think that discussion at the Security Council will help the situation get better?

SG: The human rights situation in DPRK has become acute attention -- it has received acute attention from the international community.  Most recently, the Third Committee has adopted the resolution and the General Assembly is going to take action on this, and there is again a discussion in the Security Council that the DPRK agenda should be adopted in the Security Council.  These are the matters for the Member States, either General Assembly or Security Council to determine.  In many situations of serious humanitarian and human rights violations, there has been a risk of all this social, economic and political instability.  We have seen many such cases.  First, there's displaced people and refugees and which are also impact negatively to to the well-being of people.  And as Member States, and I myself as the Secretary-General, through my own report to the General Assembly, I have made it quite clear that DPRK should listen carefully, sincerely to the course of the international community to promote and protect the human rights and also do all that they can to increase the well-being -- promote well-being of their own people.  That's my sincere wish.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, earlier, you mentioned the situation in Ukraine and its impact on the original -- the situation.  And earlier Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov emphasized that Russia supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  From your point of view, how can it stabilize the situation?

SG: The situation in Ukraine has been a source of deep concern for the whole international community.  Not to mention the people of Ukraine and the countries and people in the region.  This situation in Ukraine has very serious global implications.  That is why the whole world, particularly European Union, and Americans -- USA, and Russia, they have been heavily engaged. 

I'm, again, deeply concerned by the continuing situation, negative situation, in Ukraine.  While the recent agreement seems to be holding, still we have seen a lot of casualties.  Just since 5 September, when the parties have agreed on the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, more than 1,000 people have lost their lives.  It has impacted very seriously politically and economically, and it's going to impact even the economic situation, regional economic situation.  Therefore, I'm urging again that the parties should sit down together to abide by, fully, the letters and spirit of Minsk Protocol and Memorandum.  This was the one -- the result of the very intense consultation and negotiations with the help of -- with facilitation of many important regional countries.  I'm urging them again to really abide by this.

As far as the United Nations is concerned, the human rights monitoring mission will continue next year.  The mandate was until December, this month, but it has been extended.  We will try to mobilize humanitarian assistance to deliver all this assistance, whoever may be in need.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, thank you.  You have spoken out strongly on the slaughter of children in Pakistan yesterday.  Subsequently, have you been in touch with the Pakistan leadership?  And, sir, don't you think there should be much stronger international response and support to countries like Pakistan, reeling under the threat of terrorism?

SG: Recently, the international community has been troubled by all this spread terrorism and extremism, here and there.  What we have seen, what happened in Pakistan is a totally unacceptable.  That is why I have condemned it in the strongest of possible terms.  We have seen so many such things, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and Nigeria and Somalia and elsewhere.  It's important, most important at this time how the international community must mobilize all resources and political will and help the capacity building of those countries affected to address this extremism and terrorism.

As you know well, the United Nations has established a Counter-Terrorism Centre under the Department of Political Affairs.  We are now actively engaging with the countries who are in danger, who are vulnerable to terrorism and extremism.  And we will try to help those Member States to strengthen their national capacity.  For example, we have been in contact with Nigerian Government to organize a sort of capacity-building workshop in January next year.  And I will also consider what we can do with Pakistan and other countries.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  As I'm sure you know, there have been some intensive meetings going on in the past few days on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibilities of trying to get some action here at the United Nations.  What would you like to see come out of the Security Council?  What kind of a resolution?

SG: I understand that active discussions are taking place on the issue between members of the Security Council and relevant stakeholders.  This is ultimately a matter for Security Council to decide.  That being said, I would certainly welcome the Council's engagement and guidance to advance the Middle East peace process.

I have been personally meeting and engaging with the leaders of Palestine and Israel and leaders in the region and global leadership as a member of the Quartet and as the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  We are strongly urging again that the Israelis and Palestinians, the leadership, they should sit down together and resolve all this.  The Security Council can take their actions, but it is ultimately up to two parties, two leaders, so that they can discuss all the pending issues.  I believe that they have identified all the issues.  They know what are the fundamental issues to resolve.  I have been urging, and I'm urging again, that those two leaders should discuss this matter so they can realise a two-State solution, two-State vision where Israeli and Palestinian people can live side by side in peace and security.  This is the two-State vision.  And I hope that we will see such peace and stability will come to their people in the New Year.

Q: Just as a quick follow-up: You mentioned the Quartet.  It seems to many of -- many people and many observers that the Quartet has really failed to produce any significant progress.  Would --

SG: While principal-level Quartet has not been taking place for some time, the envoys have been continuously meeting among themselves and to discuss and provide the recommendations for the principal leaders to engage with concerned parties.

Q: Thanks.  On -- the U.S. recently released its report on torture over the last 11 years or 12, 13 years.  And the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned that.  What lessons do you think should be taken away from this scandal, if we can call it that, and particularly in terms of not just the torture or enhanced interrogation techniques that were used but also countries cooperating with secret detention centres and things like that?

SG: The release of the torture report by the U.S. Senate shows that torture is still taking place in many parts of the world, around the world.  As you know there are 156 countries who have joined this Convention against Torture.  It is a stark reminder that we still need to do much more to stamp out torture practices everywhere.

As I have often said, the prohibition of torture is an absolute principle.  There are no situations where it should be used, under any circumstances.  The release of this report is to be commended. Only by shining light on what happens in the dark area, I think, we can stop this torture.  This is one of the important principles to promote human dignity and to protect the human right.

Now, this has started a conversation, not only in the United States and around the world, and I am urging that all the countries and particularly political leaders and security-related officials to do their utmost efforts to protect the human rights and human dignity.  Now, as this report has been released, this should be the start of a discussion on how the international community can completely stamp out this torture practice.

Q: I have two questions.  One is about your trip to Ghana.  In addition of the fact that you wanted to see the response on the ground yourself, do you have any specific good news to share with the people on the ground who are looking for one thing, which is vaccine or medicine?  And my second question is in French, if you don't mind:  L’Assemblée générale vient de lancer officiellement la Décennie des personnes d’ascendance africaine. Comment est-ce que vous entrevoyez ces dix prochaines années et qu’est ce qui à votre avis pourrait changer dans les relations, à la fois du côté des personnes d’ascendance africaine et des auteurs de la traite transatlantique?

SG: Your first question, as I have said already, the main purpose of my visit is evident and clear, that I just wanted to demonstrate my strong solidarity on behalf of the United Nations, on behalf of whole international community.  The people have been dying without much help.  Therefore, that is why United Nations really mobilized in an unprecedented way the massive, massive support, financially and logistically providing all what we can do to treat them.

As you know, we have stated our five principles, five proposals in establishing UNMEER.  First, to stop this Ebola virus.  Second, take all necessary measures to provide necessary essential services.  And preserve stability in the country, politically and economically, and prevent further outbreaks of this Ebola.  So, all these proposals and goals are being met.  Where our strategy has been properly placed, I think we are seeing -- we have been seeing the result.  This curve is now bending, but there's no time to be complacent.  We have to make sure that the last patient, last case should be cured and treated.  That's our goal.  That's why I'm going there.  I'm going to meet all the leaders, five presidents of five countries, and I'm going to meet our staff of UNMEER in all these five places.  I will try to visit some facilities provided by key countries like United States, United Kingdom, French and some other places, local treatment centres, and I will also meet our UN staff to share my strong support.

Then I'll discuss further with the Member States what needs to be done.  As I said, still we are in need of much more support and logistical and financial support.  The speed of this virus is, in a sense, outpacing what international community has been doing.  This is my main purpose.  I will have opportunity of meeting you upon my return.  I'll just brief you what I have seen, what international community will need to do more. 

A votre question, en français, merci de votre question en français. A travers le monde, les personnes d'ascendance africaine continuent de faire face à des inégalités en raison de l’héritage de l’esclavage et du colonialisme. Elles sont souvent parmi les plus pauvres et les plus marginalisées. Elles font face à la discrimination et nous devons faire plus pour leur garantir un traitement équitable, notamment en matière de justice et de maintien de l’ordre. Cette décennie est l’occasion de lancer des actions communes et concertées. J’espère que dans dix ans, leur situation se sera grandement améliorée à travers le monde. Je compte sur l’engagement de tous, y compris les États membres, pour faire la différence par des initiatives concrètes. Vous pouvez me compter en tant que Secrétaire général, je vais travailler étroitement avec les Etats membres en particulier l’Union africaine et les pays d’ascendance africaine. Merci.

Q: Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  The Palestinian people have been subjected to the most brutal occupation for 47 years.  Occupation is illegal, as you know, and you keep saying and you're proud to be the custodian of the UN Security Council resolutions and those of the General Assembly.  There are many Security -- General Assembly resolution mandates of people who are under occupation to resist occupation.  Their land has been confiscated --  My question is, do you agree, sir, that it's time now to speak out for a real contiguent [sic] and independent Palestinian state and if everything fails in the Security Council, do you also agree that the Palestinian people have the right to resist occupation?

SG: As you said, there are numerous General Assembly resolutions and Security Council resolutions.  It's up to the Member States.  Responsibility should rest with the Member States to implement and abide by these resolutions, particularly when the Security Council resolutions are binding ones.  Unfortunately, because of lack of political will of concerned parties, Palestinian people have not been able to enjoy what they should enjoy, as a human being.  That's why negotiation is important.  But there seems to be, still, lack of political will to sit down together and there's a lag of political atmosphere which are conducive to the resumption of dialogue.  Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that the parties concerned should take very careful and sincere positions to create the certain political atmosphere and refrain from taking unilateral actions.  Of course, this occupation is illegal.  It has been clearly defined by the United Nations resolutions, by the Security Council.  Therefore, it is -- what is more important is that while international community are now ready to support their cause, it's after all the two parties directly concerned who have to sit down and be ready to engage in dialogue.  I have been meeting the Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and his predecessors and I have been meeting President [Mahmoud] Abbas numerous times; I have been repeating them.  As a neighbouring -- as neighbours, they have no other alternatives but to leave in peace and security and harmoniously.  They cannot have any options to change their neighbours.  They have to live together.  That's their destiny.

Q: Thank you.  In light of the lessons that the international community has learned from the Ebola outbreak, I wonder if you can comment on whether and how the World Health Organization (WHO) can be reformed to respond more quickly, more aggressively, for the next outbreak.

SG: This is a question which Member State will have to discuss among the members.  WHO is one of the specialized agencies and it has its own membership.  They have their own way of addressing the issues, how they can reform and how they can change their systems to be more effective and efficient.  I am aware of that kind of a sentiment raised in the wake of Ebola outbreak.  I hope the Member States will discuss this matter.  As Secretary-General, I am always ready to work very closely with specialized agencies, particularly WHO.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.