UN Headquarters

13 September 2017

Opening remarks at press conference prior to the opening of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly

António Guterres

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a press conference ahead of the general debate of the 72nd session of the General Assembly beginning on 19 September.  UN Photo/Mark Garten

I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media. Thank you very much for your presence. It’s good to meet all of you once again.

We have a very busy week ahead. Global leaders will gather here next week at a time when our world faces major threats – from the nuclear peril to global terrorism, from inequality to cybercrime. Hurricanes and floods around the world remind us that extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe, due to climate change.

No country can meet these tests alone. But if we work together, we can chart a safer, more stable course. And that is why the General Assembly meeting is so important.

Today I want to mention two issues at the top of global concerns – and two reform initiatives. 

First, the situation in Myanmar. Grievances that have been left to fester for decades have now escalated beyond Myanmar’s borders, destabilizing the region. 

The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. When we met last week, there were 125,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled into Bangladesh. That number has now tripled to nearly 380,000. Many are staying in makeshift settlements or with host communities who are generously sharing what they have. Women and children are arriving hungry and malnourished.

I urge all countries to do what they can for humanitarian assistance to be provided. 

As you know, I wrote an official letter to the Security Council to express my concern. I welcome the Council’s decision to discuss this crisis today. 

I have condemned the attacks made by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Rakhine State, but there have been disturbing reports of attacks by security forces against civilians, which are completely unacceptable. Aid activities by UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations have been severely disrupted.

I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country.

I urge them to ensure the delivery of vital humanitarian aid by United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations and others.

I repeat my call for an effective action plan to address the root causes of the crisis. The Muslims of Rakhine State must be granted nationality or, at least for now, a legal status that allows them to lead a normal life, including freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services.

Turning now to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The nuclear and missile tests by the DPRK have created great instability and tension on the Korean peninsula, throughout the region and beyond.

Unity in the Security Council is critical. This week’s unanimous adoption of a new resolution sends a clear message that the DPRK must comply fully with its international obligations.

I call on all Member States to ensure the full implementation of this and other relevant Security Council resolutions.

But Security Council unity also creates an opportunity for diplomatic engagement – an opportunity that must be seized.

The solution can only be political. Military action could cause devastation on a scale that would take generations to overcome.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would also like to announce two new initiatives to strengthen the work of the United Nations that are part of my broader reform agenda.

When I took office, I called for a surge in diplomacy for peace. Since then, I have increased my own engagement and worked to improve our institutional capacity to conduct mediation.

As part of this effort, I am announcing today the establishment of a new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.

The Board is made up of 18 internationally-recognized personalities who bring experience and skills, deep knowledge and extensive contacts to this extremely important task. The names will be distributed to all of you.

I will look to the Board to provide me with advice and to back specific mediation efforts. I am confident they will help us to collaborate more effectively with regional organizations, non-governmental groups and others involved in mediation around the world.

Today I am also launching my gender parity strategy for the United Nations. This roadmap fulfils an urgent need, a moral duty, an operational necessity – and a personal priority.

The strategy now completed aims to achieve parity at senior levels by 2021, and across the board by 2028. I have already started to do my part. Since January, over half of my appointments to the Senior 

Management Group have been women – a total of 17 women and 15 men so far, including both appointments and renewal of mandates. There is a large majority of men in the present mandates, which means that in the new appointments, the high percentage of women is even higher.

But more than statistics, we will need to change our own attitudes and approaches. We must lead by example on gender equality and women’s empowerment, which is one of the greatest human rights challenges and opportunities in our world. 

Finally, I know the headline crises rightly fill our screens and working agendas every day. But I want to shine a spotlight on an under-reported emergency.

In the Central African Republic, we have seen a 37 per cent increase in refugees and displaced people in just the last three months.

This is grave cause for concern in a country where more than half the population are in dire need of assistance. I hope global leaders will give this crisis their attention during their talks next week. 

I would also like to highlight that when we do act together, we can achieve results.

The international humanitarian system sounded the alarm earlier this year about the threat of famine in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria. I remember this was my first press conference in this room.

Despite serious food insecurity in these countries, which has tragic consequences, famine as such has so far been kept at bay – thanks to coordinated efforts by governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, donors, and the United Nations system. I want to express my deep appreciation to the work of all my colleagues in the UN humanitarian agencies. You, the media, have also played a very important part.

Some 13 million people in these four countries are receiving life-saving aid each month. We must continue to meet the needs of all those who look to us for support. 

But this is a reminder that when we act together as united nations, we can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

Thank you very much for your attention, and now, of course, I will be able to take your questions.