UN Headquarters

14 January 2016

Remarks at press encounter following briefing to the General Assembly on his Priorities for 2016

Ban Ki-moon

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you again.

Before I begin let me express my outrage over the attacks in Indonesia and Turkey and my condolences to the victims and people of those two countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have just briefed the General Assembly on action we must take in the coming year. Let me reiterate two points.

First, we must get off to a fast start in implementing the two towering achievements of 2015: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Both are triumphs of multilateralism. Now we have to bring them to life for every person, in every country.

Second, we must bridge the divisions that have kept Syrians in agony, plunged Yemen into darkness, and helped to spawn violent extremism.

Perhaps nothing more urgently reflects the need to act than the harrowing scenes from Madaya in Syria. In a conflict that has already reached shocking depths of inhumanity, the suffering there is another low.

UN teams have witnessed scenes that haunt the soul. The elderly and children, men and women, who were little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk, and utterly desperate for the slightest morsel.

There can be no denying their suffering.

Many hundreds of people are in such a dire state that they require immediate medical attention, including through possible evacuation. We are working to get medical teams and mobile clinics on the ground right away. I want to make a special plea for those in besieged areas of Syria. I would say they are being held hostage – but it is even worse. Hostages get fed.

These children and women and men are struggling to survive without food or medicine.

It has never been easy for the United Nations and its partners to reach those in such desperate need. But the situation is getting worse.

Today, almost 400,000 people are besieged in Syria – roughly half in areas controlled by Daesh, 180,000 in areas controlled by the Syrian government and its allies, and some 12,000 in areas controlled by opposition armed groups.

In 2014, the UN and partners were able to deliver food to about 5 per cent of people in besieged areas. Today, we are reaching less than 1 per cent.

This is utterly unconscionable.

Along with food, the people we have encountered want answers.

Who cares about our lives? Where is the international community? Who will speak for us?

Let me be clear: the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.

All sides – including the Syrian government which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians – are committing this and other atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law.

States, in the region and beyond, that can make a difference must press the parties for sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Syria. I speak specifically about members of the International Syria Support Group.

Other urgent measures are needed – such as the immediate end to the use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas, including through shelling and air strikes by any of the parties involved militarily in Syria.

No cause can justify the toll in civilian lives and destroyed schools, clinics and markets that we continue to register around the country every day.

This is fundamental to the credibility of the renewed political process. My Special Envoy, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, will continue to work towards convening intra-Syrian Geneva Talks on 25 January.

Let me also say a few words about the crisis in Yemen.

In recent days, we have seen intensified airstrikes, ground fighting and shelling. We also have worrying reports of cluster munitions attacks on Sana’a which, again, could constitute a war crime.

My Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi last week. He is now in Yemen to continue consultations with the parties on the urgent need for confidence- building measures and a new round of UN-sponsored negotiations. Release of detainees, a renewed and sustainable cease-fire and improved humanitarian access are crucial.

Finally, I would like to reiterate my deep concern about the highly unstable and unpredictable situation in Burundi. Violence could deepen inside the country and spill across borders.

The Government must take steps to build confidence, including releasing prisoners of conscience and lifting restrictions on civil society. In that regard, I welcome and commend the visit of the Security Council next week, as well as the efforts of the African Union. We must do all we can to break the political impasse and avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Thank you.