03 October 2016

Transcript of Secretary-General's press conference at The Palais des Nations

Mesdames et Messieurs, bonsoir,

Cette conférence de presse est peut-être la dernière que je tiendrai à Genève, après dix années passées au poste de Secrétaire général de l’Organisation des Nations Unies.

Merci de votre intérêt et de votre mobilisation pendant cette période.

J’ai fait, en tant que Secrétaire général, plus de 40 déplacements en Suisse.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As Secretary-General, I have visited Switzerland more times than any other country in the world.

This Palais des Nations is my second home. I thank Switzerland for generously supporting our Strategic Heritage Plan, which is securing these premises for future generations.

Geneva is the UN’s starting point to lead the world’s response to humanitarian suffering, human rights abuses, pandemics, labour problems and more.

Geneva also generously hosts important mediation processes.

Many of you have been closely following the Syrian talks. Thank you for keeping the spotlight on this catastrophic crisis.

My Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has been doing everything possible to impress on the parties – and influential countries – that there can be no military solution.

We are out of words to express our outrage at the carnage, especially in Aleppo. The brutality is unrelenting. I strongly condemn the deliberate campaign against civilians and health workers and humanitarian personnel trying to save them. The parties have first obligation, countries with influence are also responsible for ending the attacks.

All must act for the thirteen and a half million Syrians who desperately need help – and for stability in the region and our world.

I told the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee this morning that wilful and blatant disregard of international humanitarian law is creating large-scale suffering and long-term damage. This must be met with a forceful, global response.

In Yemen, the humanitarian situation is alarming. Four out of five Yemenis need assistance to survive – more than 21 million people.

All parties must cease all military activities. Targeting civilian areas is a violation of international humanitarian law.

Tens of thousands of people are living in famine conditions in Borno and Yobe states. Nearly a quarter of a million children suffer severe acute malnutrition in Borno state alone and 4.5 million people face acute food insecurity across the four affected states.

We cannot forget the Chibok girls. I call for their immediate release, along with all the others who are denied their basic human rights.

Our humanitarian appeal for the response to north-east Nigeria is only 25 per cent funded.

I call again for international political and financial support to meet people's urgent needs and achieve long-term development across the Lake Chad Basin region.

Around the world, I am deeply alarmed about the growing number of reprisals against those cooperating with the United Nations on human rights. Such acts undermine the effectiveness and credibility of the United Nations, and are an attack on the Organization itself.

These courageous individuals are often our only eyes and ears in extremely tough environments – and we owe them our best possible support.

I have decided, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to designate my new Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Mr. Andrew Gilmour, to lead our efforts within the UN system to put a stop to all intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the United Nations on human rights. This will foster constructive dialogue with Member States and others.

We live at a time of rising xenophobia. I am extremely concerned by its manifestations in Europe. This continent must stay true to its values – and reject discrimination.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last week in Colombia, I witnessed the signing of the Peace Agreement. I have seen the results of yesterday’s plebiscite. We would have hoped for a different result but I am encouraged by the commitment expressed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP Commander Timoleón Jiménez. To support them, I have urgently dispatched my Special Representative, Mr. Jean Arnault, to Havana to continue his consultations.

In Cartagena, I witnessed the profound desire of the Colombian people to end the violence. I count on them to press ahead until they achieve secure and lasting peace.

Globally, we have seen that progress is possible. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change show that leaders can tackle sensitive issues and advance together.

The Paris Agreement was signed by 175 States parties on April 22nd. That was the record number of countries to sign any multilateral agreement in history. The previous record was set in 1982, when 119 countries signed the Convention on the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay in Jamaica.

Now, the Paris Agreement has 191 States parties – only six have yet to sign. We are very close to entry into force. We have crossed the threshold of 55 ratifications, by September 21st and I expect we will cross the threshold of 55 per cent global greenhouse gas emissions very soon.

The United Nations is forging consensus and mobilizing solidarity. Let me be clear: there is a difference between ‘consensus’ and ‘unanimity’.

At the United Nations, countries should not insist on unanimity when all we need is consensus for progress.

The United Nations sometimes operates like an executive board with 193 members. That is far more than a typical executive board – especially because each of those 193 countries thinks they are the chairman.

Too many good ideas needlessly die from this insistence on unanimity.

That is why I have called for the President of the General Assembly to explore, with my successor, the establishment of a high-level panel to find practical solutions that improve decision-making at the United Nations.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media,

At this time of great peril and promise, I am inspired by the work of the United Nations in Geneva. It shows our collective potential to overcome challenges and build a better future for all.

Thank you, thank you very much

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary-General, first of all, thank you very much for this opportunity to talk to us again. We have always been appreciating your cooperation and your openness in the last 10 years here with the press corps in Geneva and we have prepared two presents for you, but first of all, we would like to ask you some questions before we hand over the presents to you. My question would be on your successor. What do you think is the single most important character trait the Secretary-General of the United Nations should have? Thanks.
SG: That is a very important question. First of all, I would like to make it clear that it is not me, but the Member States of the United Nations who will elect my successor. This very transparent process has been taking place during the last couple of months. I sincerely hope that the Member States will elect my successor as soon as possible so that there can be enough of a transition period for new Secretary-General.
As for the new Secretary-General, whether [it may be a] she or he, according to my own experience during the last almost 10 years, is that one should have a very far-reaching vision for the future of our world, the people and planet, and particularly with some compassionate leadership for the many people who belong to a vulnerable group of people – poor and sick and people with different sexual orientations or socially, economically weak people. We have a very good vision, the Sustainable Development Goals, targeting by 2030, and also a climate change agreement, so all these frameworks are there. Therefore, I believe that my successor will be in a better position to implement to make this world, people and planet, on a sustainable path. At the same time, one needs to have a sense of balance: How to balance between the visions, ideals and reality on the ground. That, you may call it flexibility, but flexibility, not for the sake of flexibility, for the better common good, and one should always have a strong compassionate leadership, far-reaching future-oriented vision, with the balance between ideals and reality. Those are some which I can suggest.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you mentioned Geneva. Now that the funding of the renovation of this building has been secured, how do you see the importance of the role of this seat inside the UN family in the next five or ten years? Do you think that there will be a new pole of topics that will be attracted here. And more broadly, you mentioned Syria and Yemen. It seems that the capacity of the UN to help the deliver as a mediator is at stake and is challenged. Do you think there will still be a role for the UN in that manner in the five to ten years to come?
SG: First of all, first part of your question: As you know, this Strategic Heritage Initiative is now being done, continuing, with the very generous support of Swiss Government. We are deeply grateful for such very concessional support with no interest, 400 million francs, that is quite generous. With this support, I hope that, as soon as possible, this very historic building, headquarter of Geneva, will really be born with much more high-tech modern and up-to-date efficiency, efficient and effective premise of the United Nations.
Second one: I don’t believe it is a matter of the diplomatic capacity of the United Nations. As you know, I have appointed, I think, top-class diplomatic negotiators, starting from my distinguished predecessor Kofi Annan, then Lakhdar Brahimi, and Staffan de Mistura, by any standards, criteria, they belong to some of the best diplomats. It is not the lack of their ability, it is simply because of lack of political will of the parties. I am deeply troubled that even almost after six years, the United Nations’ heavy engagement, we are still seeing violence continuing. I sincerely hope that people just get rid of these impractical ideas that a military solution will be making some solutions. There is no military solution – there is only a political solution. The continuing violence, continuing killing and continuing destruction of Syrian society – this will not give any hope for the people. It is heartbreaking to see every day. As you may remember, on 28 of September, I made the most strongest and most stern appeal to the members of the Security Council that they should take political leadership, but divisions which we have been experiencing, at least three areas, Syrian people are divided into largely two, but when it comes to Syrian armed groups, there are more divisions among themselves. Then regional powers are divided, the Security Council is divided, then it has provide some perfect storm, where this Syrian crisis has not been able to be resolved. Again, I sincerely urge, in the strongest possible terms, the Security Council and regional powers and Syrian people: Unite and look for their better future. How long can they just continue to kill their people and destroy their countries? Who will be rebuilding this country? They have to really work for their better future. At the same time, there is a transitional governing body which was agreed upon on June 30, 2012, with the facilitation of Kofi Annan at that time. I think that should be the backbone of the negotiations. Thank you very much.
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Ban. Thank you for your statement on Colombia, but I would like to hear your comments on the situation in other countries in Latin America. In Mexico, people are living a severe crisis of human rights, impunity and corruption. Till now, there has been no satisfactory response from the authorities on the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala. There have been massacres and abuses of authority. So, my question is, what is your message to the President of Mexico, and, if possible, if you can comment on the situation in Venezuela, where a severe humanitarian crisis is developing and the Government denies it? So, what is your message for President Nicolas Maduro? Thank you.
SG: Mexico is one of the G20 countries, and also it is part of the NAFTA agreement. It is a very important regional and global power, country. Therefore, we expect that all what they do should be based on good governance, free from all these corruptive practices. I sincerely hope that the Mexican Government, leadership, will continue to democratize based on consensus of their society, and make improvement on their good governance issues.
On the Venezuela situation, we have been closely following the situation there. I know that the economic situation is very difficult, and there have been many protests expressed by the people, not only by political parties. Again, all these issues should be very seriously listened to, the voices of the people, and these issues should be addressed very seriously as soon as possible, respecting the freedom of assembly and freedom of the media. This is my comment on this.
Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, moi je viens du Moyen-Orient et si je vous transmets un message de la région – de l’opinion publique – c’est que les Nations Unies ont échoué dans plusieurs endroits – en Syrie, au Yémen, en Libye et surtout dans les territoires occupés où la colonisation continue toujours. Aussi, la question que je vous transmets est: est-ce qu’on a toujours besoin des Nations Unies puisque, pratiquement, ce sont les grandes puissances qui dictent la loi et vous, donc, ne faites qu’agir en conséquence de ces diktats ?  Pour vous aussi, Monsieur le Secrétaire général : durant ces huit dernières années que vous êtes au sommet des Nations Unies, comment vous décririez votre rôle, surtout au Moyen-Orient ?
SG: With all due respect, I do not agree that it is the work of major powers dictating on certain countries to resolve the issues. It is either the General Assembly or the Security Council, or some regional or sub-regional organizations, which have been making decisions, based on their very close consultations. In most of the regional or sub-regional organizations, United Nations has been participating, or has been a party, in making decisions. Therefore, it is not the United Nations, it is the parties who have not been respecting and implementing all those agreements or decisions, resolutions, whatever it may be called by the parties. Therefore, I am still very much troubled that all those areas where still violence is continuing, we have not been able to see, as you just mentioned: Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
When it comes to the Middle East peace process, the Security Council has adopted numerous resolutions and, as a member of the Quartet, as one of the principals of this Quartet process, I have been deeply involved and engaging with the leaders of the two parties and also leaders of the regional countries. A lot of time and the energy have been spent on this issue. During my time, unfortunately, three wars have taken place in Gaza – it is unprecedented that in such a short period of time, what has taken place so often, [between] late 2008 until 2014. So, I very much regret that the leaders of the two parties have not been engaging sincerely for the peaceful resolution of these long-pending issues. The two-state solution has been fully supported by the international community – they have identified most of the issues. The issues are all on the table. It is a matter of choice, what kind of solutions or ideas they can take. I have been urging both Israeli and Palestinian leaders that it is a matter of your choice, it is a matter of your political will. If you really want to make sure that this two-state solution works so that the two peoples can live side by side in peace and security – then it depends upon your leaders. After all, it is your future, it is your country, it is not the United Nations, regional powers – we are there to facilitate the process. I sincerely hope again that they should sit down together and engage seriously. This process has been dealt without any resolution, longer than six decades. It is high time, they should listen to the voices. Recently, I met Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Abbas on the margins of the General Assembly of the United Nations. I have been very genuinely, honestly, urging them to engage in dialogue.
Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, vous travaillez depuis longtemps pour l’ONU et vous avez vécu de nombreux événements importants durant vos mandats; alors, face à la grande mutation du monde, selon vous, quels sont les principaux défis pour le monde d’aujourd’hui?  Et puis, Monsieur le Secrétaire général, pourriez-vous nous dire quel est l’événement le plus inoubliable pour vous lors de votre travail à l’ONU ?  Merci.
SG: There are, of course, many fires still burning. I think these are all because of the lack of commitment to peace by the leaders of the world, particularly leaders of parties to the conflict. There have been many efforts by the United Nations – mediation, facilitations and through Special Envoys and Special Representatives. I think I have appointed the most number of Special Envoys and Special Advisors, Special Representatives, and we have established some preventive diplomacy teams. Within 48 hours, whenever there was a problem, we have been sending our mediators.
But what is most important is the lack of political will. The leaders have the tendency to address all the issues only in their own national interests. But this world is very small, tightly interconnected. One thing which is happening in other parts of the world can affect many countries across the oceans, across continents. Therefore, the leaders should base their policy decisions on the future-oriented and global common good. That is one thing.
There are very worrisome tendencies that in many cases, injustice, impunity and inequality are still very prevalent. That becomes the source of conflict, discontent, grievances by the people.  When the Arab Spring took place, I was urging the leaders in the region: Please listen carefully to the voices and aspirations of your people. What are their grievances, what are their concerns?  Most of the leaders, they have not been listening to the voices of the people. That is what we are still seeing. The United Nations has a limited capacity. When it comes to terrorism, violent extremism – not a single country, not a single organization, can handle this matter [alone], unless there is very interconnected, tight collaboration and solidarity shown by world leaders. While this kind of lack of good governance, injustice, impunity, inequality has been prevalent, it has allowed, unexpectedly, some room, some vacuum, for extremism and terrorism, to take root. It has become a global issue now. We have to address all of these issues.
About unforgettable events, it is very hard to just choose one or two. There have been many moving, touching moments, that I really felt as a human being, not only as Secretary-General. There have been so many heart-breaking moments, when I saw so many people suffering from unnecessary conflict, unnecessary death which can be prevented.  All these crises which we are now experiencing could have been resolved had world leaders paid more attention to prevention. The United Nations, during my period [as Secretary-General], has paid more attention to preventive diplomacy, rather than just countering and defeating and trying to solve the problems once a fire has broken out. Once something has broken out, it has its own dynamics to spread and it is very difficult. That is why I have been really emphasizing the importance of preventive diplomacy. Thank you.
Q: I have a question with regard to the cholera outbreak in Haiti. It is now six years since the epidemic started, and probably more than 10,000 people have died. All the scientific evidence points to this Nepalese peacekeeping camp. Is the UN still in denial or is there some sort of acknowledgment? We received a press release here in Geneva at the end of August that was quite vague. Don’t you feel that double standards, asking for accountability by States for the respect of human rights, for redress, represent a blow to the credibility of the United Nations?  Thank you.
SG: It is not a double standard. I don’t agree that the United Nations has been applying any double standard. On this specific, particular issue, on September 20, while making my final report as Secretary-General, I expressed my regret on two issues during the last ten years of having served as Secretary-General. I expressed two regrets. One is sexual violence and exploitation committed by United Nations peacekeepers and UN staff which should never have happened, should have been prevented much earlier. We have taken zero tolerance policies, but sometimes it has not worked well. For that I express my deep regret.
On the Haitian cholera epidemics, I again expressed the United Nations’ moral responsibility and expressed my regret. We should have done much more, regardless of legal immunity issues or who has caused this. I am not a scientist on this matter, but there was a high-level panel which examined this, which has been questioned by some Member States or some other parties.  In any case, we are very much concerned about the continuing cholera epidemics in Haiti after six years, after the earthquake. Then, I proposed to the General Assembly that, while we feel the moral responsibility, I affirmed the United Nations’ commitment that the UN will do all under its power to, first of all, treat the patients and stop these epidemics, and support the families of the victims and the victims, who are now suffering from cholera – prevent and stop and support. In that regard, I proposed to the General Assembly that we will take some new approach on this issue and will come back to the General Assembly to report on my new approach. I am going to make it soon, a report to the General Assembly soon, and I have already been in touch with some key countries who can support it. I hope that the Member States will just support my new approaches. We are very much, sincerely addressing this [issue]. It is not that we have not done it, but there was largely lack of support from the Member States.  We have mobilized a lot of money, US$9.9 billion in 2010, to support the reconstruction of Haiti. But after that, because of the continuing domestic political instability, where they have not yet been able to elect their President, then the Government is not secure there. But regardless of what is happening there, the United Nations feels moral responsibility, and we will do all that we can and we should. Thank you very much.