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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your presence.
Allow me to begin with a few words about the Syrian political process and the Congress that took place in Sochi earlier this week.
Much has been written and said about Sochi. I would like to share why I believe we are at a meaningful stage in the peace process.
The UN’s presence in Sochi was based on a common understanding between the United Nations and the Russian Federation on the nature and outcome of the meeting and its contribution to the Geneva process.
I want to express my appreciation for the way Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov and the Russian Federation engaged with the United Nations. The Congress concluded with a statement fully in line with that common understanding.
I would highlight three key points from the final Sochi statement.
First, it embraced a vision of Syria for all Syrians – as reflected by the 12 living intra-Syrian principles put forward by my Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, in Geneva late last year.
Second, the Congress affirmed that a Constitutional Committee should be formed under UN auspices in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254.
There is an understanding that such a Committee should at the very least comprise the Government, opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women. It would also include adequate representation of Syria’s ethnic and religious components.
Third, the Congress made it clear that a final agreement on the mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of the Constitutional Committee is to be reached in the UN-led talks in Geneva.
My Special Envoy will now draw on this Sochi outcome to meet our shared goal: full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communique.
He will also work for the talks to address the other areas determined by Resolution 2254.
We must never forget that progress towards a political settlement needs to be accompanied by progress on the ground.
Yet in the last two months, not a single convoy of life-saving relief has reached a besieged area. No medical supplies. No food.
Humanitarian aid is not getting in.
And people suffering dire health conditions are not getting out.
We are seeing disturbing new reports about the possible use of chemical weapons.
Millions of Syrians have lost everything.
I call on the government and opposition delegations and all States with influence to cooperate with my Special Envoy.
We must ensure that the UN-led process moves ahead in Geneva, credibly and seriously.
And I appeal for humanitarian access, strict respect for international humanitarian law and, in particular, the protection of civilians.
We don’t have a moment to lose.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to say a few words about sexual harassment, which is rightly gaining the attention and visibility it deserves.
I reaffirm my total commitment to the UN’s zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment.
I am well aware of the male-dominated culture that permeates governments, the private sector, international organizations and even areas of civil society.
This creates obstacles to upholding zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment, including here at the United Nations.
I am determined to remove them.
Sexual harassment, like sexual abuse and sexual violence, is rooted in the historic power imbalances between men and women.
That is why equal rights and representation are so important, and that is why I launched a gender parity strategy at the UN.
I am pleased to announce that for the first time in United Nations history, we have now reached parity in the UN Senior Management Group.
That means 50-50 among the top leaders of the UN Secretariat. In fact, it is slightly higher – we currently in the Senior Management Group have 23 women and 21 men.
This is a start.
Equality at all levels, in line with the road map approved, is critical to taking on the challenge of sexual harassment.
We are addressing it with five concrete steps.
First, we are committed to taking every allegation seriously -- past and present. I am pleased to see a strong institutional response from UN agencies in recent weeks.
Second, we must make sure all staff affected by harassment know what to do and where to go for help. We are launching a new helpline for staff within the Secretariat who seek confidential advice. This will be operational by mid-February.
Third, I have established a Task Force of leaders from across the UN system to step up efforts to tackle harassment and boost support for victims. A Rapid Response Team is producing key guidance, information and services – with an emphasis on improving support for victims. We have also enhanced our mandatory training on this issue.
Fourth, I have strengthened the protection of whistleblowers and reminded staff of their duty to call out sexual harassment and to support those affected.
And, fifth, we will shortly be undertaking a survey among Secretariat staff to give us better information on prevalence and reporting rates.
In this effort and beyond, my message is simple: we will not tolerate sexual harassment anytime, anywhere.
And we will continue to change the dynamic and put greater power into the hands of women to prevent and end sexual harassment and all abuse of power in the UN.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Mr Secretary-General, first of all, thank you so much for this conference and this opportunity. I would like to ask you a question about Sochi and the Constitutional Committee. Yesterday, Nasr Hariri, the head of the HNC, has stated that they're willing to engage positively with the process of the Constitutional Committee, but he put a condition that there must be a transitional period in Syria with a transitional governing body with full executive powers, quoting, of course, the Geneva Communiqué. Can you assure the Syrian opposition that the United Nations has not done away with the transitional period and the transitional governing body, and that you're committed to implementing it?
Secretary-General: I think it is clear in Resolution 2254 that there are three areas of concern: governance, elections, and constitutional reform. On the other hand, another element was added at a certain moment, as you know, related to counterterrorism. Now, Sochi was about constitutional reform, but Geneva is about the whole package, and so, in the context of Geneva talks beyond the constitutional... the creation of this Committee on Constitutional Reform, all the other issues of 2254 will be on the agenda.
Question: Mr Secretary-General, I wanted to ask you about North Korea because you'll be travelling to South Korea next week. We saw an improvement in relations in January. What do you think should happen now to get to another point to address the wider issues of the nuclear testing?
Secretary-General: I think there are two elements on this. One is the improvement of intra-Korean relations, and I'm encouraged by the steps that were taken. I have... I was worried about the recent news related to an event that had been cancelled, cultural event, but I think it is positive that the intra-Korean relations improve. And I was especially encouraged by the reestablishment of this hotline, military hotline to avoid situations that get out of control. But this is just part of the problem. Our objective remains the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and for that, it is absolutely essential that serious discussions takes place among the key actors in this process, and the UN will do everything possible to encourage them in that regard. Our objective remains the same: the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and we believe that the unity of the Security Council has created the conditions for that to be achieved with diplomatic engagement. That, of course, is not related to the Olympic Games, but it is something that we cannot forget.
Question: Hi, Secretary-General. My question is about South Sudan, in particular the comments that you made at the consultative forum at the African Union. You described the international communities' alignment as very successful. What has been achieved under the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) leadership, you called "remarkable", and yet in the same breath, you added your very stern words against the political elite in the country. You described them as having very little interest in the wellbeing of its citizens. So what has been so remarkable about IGAD's leadership, given the fact that the peace deal of 2015 has all but fallen apart, the secession of hostilities agreement, agreed to in December 2017, has all but been violated. What is so remarkable if the situation on the ground for the citizens you describe in your statement, if things haven't changed for them?
Secretary-General: Now, what was remarkable, and as you know, one year ago, there were different perspectives between IGAD, the African Union, and the United Nations. It was my objective at that time to have a summit between the three organisations to align our strategies, and from now on, we have been really working together. And I think what was remarkable was the possibility to launch, with unity in IGAD, in which different countries, as you know, sometimes have different perspectives... but unity in IGAD to launch this revitalisation process of the peace agreements and to reach very quickly, with all relevant parties on board -- Riek Machar was not present, but people linked to him were present -- with all relevant parties on board, an agreement on cessation of hostilities, an agreement of humanitarian access and on protection of civilians. The problem is these agreements are not being respected. And again, if you see what has happened in the last meeting we had in Addis last week, IGAD, the African Union and the UN came together again, and we had a very strong statement saying that either these agreements are respected or that stronger measures should be taken together. And you have seen I am sure the declaration of Chairperson [Moussa] Faki [Mahamat] in this regard just a few days ago. There is indeed, and I hope it will produce results, an enhanced pressure and the conscience that we might need to adopt more drastic measures.