New York

19 August 2021

Secretary-General's press encounter on Ethiopia, Haiti and Afghanistan

Good afternoon. 

Today is World Humanitarian Day and our thoughts are with humanitarians and the many millions of people that they strive to help every day. 
They are providing life-saving support in places like Haiti — where our hearts ache at the suffering and devastating toll from the recent earthquake.  The UN is on the ground providing relief — including medical supplies and health care, clean water and emergency shelter. 
The Deputy Secretary-General is traveling to Haiti to see how we can boost our support to the Haitian people.
Today is also the national day of Afghanistan.  And I want to extend a special message to the people of Afghanistan during this trying time. The United Nations is with you and committed to stay and deliver to help advance peace, opportunity, and human rights for all. 
On this World Humanitarian Day, I am particularly concerned with the situation in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian people have suffered too much.
Humanitarian conditions are hellish.
Millions of people are in need.
Infrastructure has been destroyed. 
We have heard first-hand accounts of women who have been subjected to unspeakable violence.
The spread of the conflict has ensnared even more people in its horror.
It is time for all parties to recognize that there is no military solution, and it is vital to preserve the unity and stability of Ethiopia which is critical to the region and beyond.
To give peace a chance, I am making an appeal for action on three fronts. 
First, I call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities. 

Second, unrestricted humanitarian access everywhere must be guaranteed, together with the re-establishment of public services in all affected areas.  
Third, conditions must be created to allow for the start of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue to find a solution for the crisis.
Such a dialogue can contribute to addressing the underlying causes of the conflict and ensure Ethiopian voices direct the pathway to peace. 
The UN will continue to work together with the African Union and regional and international partners to support the Ethiopian people on the way to peace and reconciliation. 
Now is the time to put an end to the suffering. 
All of these steps are critical to make it happen. 

Thank you. 

Question:  Hi, Secretary-General. Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting. You called for a cessation of hostilities, unrestricted access in terms of humanitarian access, and political dialogue. What support do you expect the Security Council to give you in terms of that call? And can you tell us who you've been talking to in the region over the last few days? Have you talked to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia? What was your message to him?
Secretary-General:  I've been in intense contacts, in trying to create the conditions to make the cessation of hostilities happen. I consulted with [African Union Commission] Chairperson [Moussa] Faki in order to guarantee that the UN and the AU will be in the same line, and I think we see eye to eye on what needs to be done.
I had several contacts with [Ethiopian] Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed], and I asked Martin Griffiths, as my personal envoy, to have contacts, he had met, but to have contacts again with Mr. Debretsion [Gebremichael], and we did everything to try to convince both sides of the importance of a cessation of hostilities.
At the same time, I've been talking to several countries in the region and I've been noticing that there is, in all countries of the region, a clear, a clear perspective that it's essential to preserve the unity and stability of Ethiopia, and it's essential to end the hostilities.
Now, I've been in close contact also with other initiatives. There is an American initiative taking place, as you know, so we are all, I believe, pushing in the same direction. I briefed the Security Council yesterday, and I... the Security Council will be meeting again next week, and I hope that this appeal that I make can be shared by the whole of the international community.
Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. The Ethiopian Government has been blocking all humanitarian aid from getting into Tigray, to the point where NGO staff and others have been, have been having to ration their own food and people are starving. What can the UN do? What should the UN do to try and end this blockade and get food to the people in need?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, we have been actively working inside Tigray and also in the areas around where people are having serious problems at the present moment, and we have been insisting with all the parties, and particularly the Ethiopian government, that full humanitarian access must be granted, and I once again spoke with the Prime Minister... even this morning, on... on this issue.
It's very important that both sides accept cessation of hostilities, and it's very important that everybody understands that the re-establishment of public services and full humanitarian access to all the areas – Tigray, Afar, Amhara – full humanitarian access is absolutely essential.
Question: And what was their response?
Secretary-General: With?
Question: What was the response when you... when you said...
Secretary-General:  There was a commitment that things would improve, but we will need to see what happens in the next few days.
Question:  Thank you, Secretary-General. A question for you on Afghanistan. We heard yesterday from some of the UN officials on the ground about the importance of the airport in Afghanistan and what might happen after the US gives up control of the airport. Do you think there's a role for the UN to play in running and possibly securing that airport? And what will you be asking from the UN Security Council? What will you be asking for, in terms of a new mandate, an expanded footprint, for the UN in Afghanistan?
Secretary-General:  First of all, I'm not asking for the UN to manage the airport. I think that the present situation is extremely fluid. We need to be careful in advancing with any proposal for which we have not the capacity to deliver. I think it's important that there is a guarantee of effective safety in the airport, and that a way is found for a transition for a normal situation in the future, but this is part of the whole package of discussions that necessarily will have to take place with the, between the international community and the Taliban

On the other hand, on the other hand... sorry, the second?

Question:  Just with regard... so you're saying you don't see a role for the UN in running the airport. Is that correct?
Secretary-General:  I don't think the UN is asking, and I don't think we have the capacity to run the airport. We can cooperate, obviously, with all the parties, if our presence is considered useful, but to think the UN can run the airport in the present circumstances, knowing what our presence is on the ground is, of course, I think not realistic.
Question:  Now to the second question. Do you think the UN presence should be expanded? Do you think the Security Council should give you a bigger mandate?
Secretary-General: We have a mandate that is to be reviewed. And obviously, the review of the mandate depends on what kind of situation we will have. I asked the Security Council, in my meeting and then in the closed session, that it's very important for the international community to be united, for all members of the Security Council, but in general, for the international community to be united, to use the only leverage that exists, which is the interest of the Taliban for legitimacy, for recognition. And for that to be possible, I think, it's important that the international community speak in one single voice, considers, or makes it clear, that it's essential to have an inclusive government representing all the different ethnic groups that exist in the country.

That there will be full respect for human rights, and, in particular, the question of women's rights is very important for us. And there will be the possibility to evacuate without problems those people that would be in danger, to be able to leave. And finally, that the territory should never be used again by any terrorist organization, wherever area of action.
So, I think it's very important for the international community to be united and to have a common front in discussion with the Taliban for these conditions to take place. If we are successful on this, I think there is a perspective for a renewal of the mandate with one kind of characteristics. If things go wrong, of course, we will have to look into a mandate adapted to whatever will come.
Question:  Secretary-General, James Bays from Al Jazeera. As you just said, the Taliban are signaling that they are offering an inclusive government. That suggests the window of diplomacy is open. Have you spoken to the Taliban leadership? If not, are you urgently trying to do so?
Secretary-General:  I have not spoken myself, but our people in Afghanistan are in close contact with the Taliban and very strongly conveying that message.
Question:  Will you speak to them?
Secretary-General:  I mean, I'm ready to speak myself when it is clear with whom should I speak, for what purpose. I was in close contact yesterday, the day before yesterday, with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar. We are following the Qatar Initiative and supporting it. Let's hope that there will be a way for an inclusive government in Afghanistan.
Thank you very much.