New York

16 September 2015

Secretary-General's press conference (full transcript)

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

This year’s session of the General Assembly opens at a time of turmoil and hope.

Turmoil -- because conflicts have deepened in so many places, and civilians are paying the price.

Hope -- because a historic number of world leaders will gather here at the United Nations to forge solutions and adopt an inspiring new development agenda.  

It will start with His Holiness Pope Francis, who I look forward to welcoming here on September 25th.  His call for climate action and a global ethical mobilization has resounded across the world, among people of all faiths.  

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development embodies the yearnings of people everywhere for lives of dignity on a healthy planet.  It shows what Member States can achieve when they work together in solidarity.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda adopted in July of this year provides a financing framework to implement the new agenda.

Now we look to Paris in December for a universal agreement on climate change.  

I am encouraged by the phenomenal changes that are under way.  New investments in renewable energy, and major commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse emissions, are putting wind in the sails of climate action.

I am concerned, however, that not enough is being done to keep temperature rise under the 2-degree Celsius threshold.  I urge world leaders to raise ambition – and then match ambition with action.  

With political will and resources, we can transform our future and do more to prevent the kinds of crises we see in far too many places.

In Syria, the combatants are defying all norms of humanity.  My Special Envoy continues his efforts.  But responsibility for ending this horror rests on the parties, and on the neighbours and external forces that are fuelling the fighting.

In Yemen, the escalating conflict and especially the aerial attacks are devastating the civilian population.    I urge the Yemeni parties to immediately rejoin the political process under the facilitation of my Special Envoy, and in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2216.  There is no military solution to this conflict.

In Libya, recent weeks have seen progress, and my Special Representative continues to press the parties to form a Government of National Accord.  A political framework is also critical for urgently putting in place sustainable security arrangements.

In South Sudan, more than 200,000 displaced people are now sheltering at UN peacekeeping bases.  Thousands more are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.  All efforts must now focus on implementing the new peace agreement. I urge the two leaders to uphold the recent commitments they made to end this brutal conflict.

Around the world, 100 million people – about one of every seventy people on earth -- need lifesaving support.  Yet all our humanitarian appeals are chronically under-funded.

Brutal conflicts, breakdowns in basic governance, economic despair and other factors have generated displacements of people not seen since the Second World War.  Sixty million people have fled their homes.

Men, women and children fleeing war and persecution deserve real support, including asylum.

I ask those standing in the way of the rights of refugees to stand in their shoes.  

People facing barrel bombs and brutality in their country will continue to seek life in another.  

People with few prospects at home will continue to seek opportunity elsewhere.

This is natural.  It is what any of us would do for ourselves and for our children.

I commend those countries that are admirably doing all they can for people in need.

Lebanon is hosting Syrian refugees equal in number to 25 per cent of its population.  

Jordan is also a major per capita host, providing shelter to Syrians equal to almost 10 per cent of its population.

And nearly 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population -- some 2 million people -- today live in Turkey.

I salute leaders and citizens in many other countries, including Germany, Sweden and Austria, for opening doors and showing solidarity.  I am also grateful for the financial generosity of many countries in addressing the humanitarian consequences, in particular the United Kingdom and Kuwait.

On September 30th, I will convene a high-level meeting to mobilize a humane, effective and rights-based response to the refugee crisis.  I urge all states to shoulder their responsibilities and live up to their legal obligations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s crises highlight the failures of long-established peace and security and development responses.

My concern led me to establish a high-level panel, which reported to me earlier this year.  Last Friday I issued my own assessment of the future of United Nations peace operations.  My report sets out the actions I believe we must take to maximize our impact today while putting in place the foundations for more long-term transformation.

I am calling for three key changes: 1/ an urgent emphasis on conflict prevention and mediation; 2/ steps to improve the speed and agility of UN peacekeeping and political missions; and 3/ deeper partnerships with regional organizations, in particular the African Union.  

We do not have many opportunities to reform UN peace operations in such a comprehensive way. It is essential that we act urgently and collectively.  I am moving ahead with what can be done under my own executive authority.  Much depends on the General Assembly and the Security Council, and I urge Member States to give this effort their full support.  

The future of UN peace operations also depends on concerted action to rid UN peace operations of sexual exploitation and abuse. It is shameful when UN and other personnel sent to protect people compound the suffering and become part of the problem.

I have set out a number of new measures, and doing everything within my authority to stamp out this unacceptable behaviour. I have stressed to all my special representatives the need for their vigilance and leadership. Member States must also do more to train their personnel and hold them accountable.  Tomorrow, I will meet with troop and police contributing countries to emphasize this point.  

Despite many challenges on [many] fronts, the forthcoming session of the General Assembly – my ninth as Secretary-General -- is filled with possibility.  I am determined to press ahead as we serve “we the peoples” in our 70th year.

Thank you very much. I will be happy to answer some of your questions.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, thank you for the press conference and thank you for choosing this very busy time and find time for us.  I have two quick questions.  One is this: that why does UN continue to look impotent in front of the migrant crisis?  And the second one is: is it time that the female Secretary-General will be your successor?

Secretary-General:  I have been urging in addressing all the challenges we face... this is a human society.  You always produce, make problems.  When we show solidarity and work with the unity of purpose, I think there is nothing which cannot be overcome, which cannot be resolved.  One good example why we are failing is in Syria.  Continuing [for] five years, such a tragic situation in Syria has created unexpectedly much more problems, not to mention destruction and killing and humanitarian crisis.  But extremism and terrorism, ISIS and Da’esh, this kind of a continuing crisis has created the perfect breeding ground for these extremists and terrorists to put their ground firmly.  That, we have to address.

For your second question, as I'm continuing until the end of next year, I have been hearing a lot of voices coming from many quarters of the world, saying that this is the time for a woman – a qualified, accomplished and leadership woman should lead this United Nations.  As I'm very much committed to gender empowerment and gender equality, and as I'm the eighth Secretary-General, male, then I think it is high time for Member States to discuss and consider this kind of aspiration of many people.  It's not only women or female… women community.  Many people are asking for that.  But as the Secretary-General at this time, while I recognise that there are many qualified, experienced, and committed women leaders, it's entirely [up to] Member States of the United Nations to decide who should be the best person who will lead this organisation.  As far as I'm concerned, I will continue to exert all my efforts to do my job as the Secretary-General, until last day of my mandate, to leave this United Nations in best of conditions.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Jonathan.  If I could ask you to just ask one question so we can get in as many as possible.  Jonathan?

Question:  Jonathan Wachtel with Fox News.  Sir, the Pope will be coming here.  You mentioned you have lot of common positions with him.  What are you going to say to him if he takes it out on you, says: Sir, you haven't shown enough leadership?  Look at all these problems like Syria and everything else.  What can you really do?  How can you intervene to really make a difference?

Secretary-General:  I'm really looking forward to the visit, historic visit of his holiness, Pope Francis.  We have welcomed in the past, several Popes in the past, but no Pope has come at the time of the opening of the General Assembly.  So this is quite historic.  His time coincides with such a historic opportunity when all the leaders of the world are gathering to discuss about our future and how to preserve this planet Earth, environmentally sustainable.  This is a time of hope and great expectation.  And this will be my fourth time to meet Pope Francis – third time in Vatican and… three times.  And the first time in New York.  We have been discussing many issues, including poverty eradication and migration, refugee issues last time and, most importantly, climate change.  I do appreciate... I'm very much grateful for his humanity.  He's a man of humility and humanity.

We expect that he will send his spiritual guidance to all the Member States of the United Nations so that we will take this opportunity again, recommit ourselves to address with a sense of humility and humanity and also unity of purpose for the United Nations, addressing many issues, including climate change and migration, poverty education, gender empowerment and many crises where many people are literally dying.  Therefore, I really count on his leadership.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  James?

Question:  Secretary-General, refugees from war and conflict at great risk have travelled across land and sea.  As we speak right now, some of them are at the Hungarian border.  And as we speak right now, they are being attacked by riot police firing water cannon and tear gas.  Can I have your comment on what is going on right now at that border?  And do you believe Hungary is breaching international humanitarian law?

Secretary-General:  First of all, I would like to tell you that I have been speaking to most of the European leaders, including Prime Minister [Viktor] Orbán of Hungary, and I have emphasized the importance of addressing this issue in accordance with relevant international Conventions, like international Refugee Conventions and international humanitarian and international human rights.  And he told me that he would do his best.

I was shocked to see how these refugees and migrants were treated.  It's not acceptable.  What is important at this time that... I know that there may be some domestic issues, problems.  It's not that all the countries... in fact, all the countries have their domestic problems, but since they are the people who are fleeing the violence and persecution, we must ensure our compassionate leadership.  We have shown them caring hands, not to mention international humanitarian law, but as a human being, we first and foremost we have provide the lifesaving assistance and shelter and all sanitation.  Then we can discuss how they should be treated, accommodated.  I'm very much appreciative that the European Union has been discussing this matter very closely.  But I know that there are some differences of positions, depending upon the countries.  That is why last April, together with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the (European Union) High Representative, Madame (Federica) Mogherini, we went to the Mediterranean Sea on a naval ship.  I watched how difficult these search and rescue operations are, how many people are just risking their lives for a better future.  But these... of course, they are coming, risking their lives to have better future.  But mostly, the first priority for them will be to save their own lives, because they cannot live there.  So they must be treated with human dignity and human rights.  That's my consistent message to European and Asian leaders, wherever this migration and refugees are coming.

Spokesman:  Raghida?  Your microphone, please.

Question:  Apologies.  I know it's your ninth assembly.  It's my 39th this year, 39.  And I just want to ask you kindly to make sure that we at your press corps are treated equal to the visiting press corps with the Presidents, because we are considered to be yours.  I'd like that you consider that and influence DPI (Department of Public Information) decisions accordingly.

My question to you is actually inherent in Jonathan's point, when he somehow mentioned the... when he mentioned somehow the potential accusation that you have lacked or you're not active in moral leadership on Syria.  Do you feel that your hands have been tied by the Security Council members, who have now reduced Syria to the issue of ISIS and terrorism?  And what can you do, Mr. Secretary-General, right now?  You have called on everyone else to do something on Syria.  What else can you do?  Do you agree or disagree that it's time, for example, President [Vladimir] Putin says you need to give more arms to the Government.  Do you agree with that?  Is this in the spirit of Geneva, against the spirit of Geneva?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  It's very sad and tragic, and for me it's heartbreaking as the Secretary-General, sometimes I have been thinking how and what can I do to address this issue?  We have seen many divisions among the parties.  First of all, Syrian people are divided among themselves.  The United Nations, particularly the Security Council, is not able to find unity, particularly among members.  The regional powers, they are also divided, depending upon the countries.  This kind of division really makes this situation unsolvable.  That, I deeply regret, why we have not been able to find such solidarity and compassionate leadership and unity of purpose.  When the Security Council showed solidarity and unity, we were able to deliver very expeditiously.  A good example is investigation on the allegation of chemical weapons use.  We were able to take immediate action and we delivered.  The second time, we are now going to deliver.  We are going to organize this investigation team.  I sincerely hope that this kind of solidarity should be shown again.  Then, what we have seen in the case of Iranian nuclear issues, the P5s and European Union, they have shown perfect solidarity and unity.  When I was speaking to all the leaders of the P5 and Iran and the European Union, after this deal was announced, my main message was that now is time for you to show solidarity and unity in addressing Syrian crisis.  I'm going to urge them again.

Question:  But the issue is about arming.  The issue is about everybody is intervening in Syria in the name of fighting ISIS, and President Putin himself said, we are supporting the Government militarily.  We will continue to, because this fight is against ISIS and we need that.  Is this in the spirit of Geneva, of the resolutions, of what you want, sir?  Is this the way you feel it will be more militarized or useful?  What's your opinion?

Secretary-General:  By this time everybody should know, including those parties involved, that there is no such military solution; only political solution through inclusive dialogue can solve this problem.  That is why even though we are not in a position to provide, present any comprehensive framework for solution, last month, together with Staffan de Mistura and I, in July, on July 29, we presented this idea of establishing working groups, four working groups, covering all these areas, the political and constitutional issues and safety and protection, and also military and security issues, as well as reconciliation, institution building, and development.  Those four areas cover all the areas.  Of course, we may still lack the political dialogue.  And we are in the process of finalizing this, establishing this one, during this month.  Then we will move ahead in parallel in trying to expand the political space as much as possible.  And I'm going to have a meeting with the foreign ministers of P5 this month on the margins of this.  We will discuss – the topic of our meeting will be on Syria.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Somini -- all the way in the back.

Question:  Thank you.  To follow up on that: As Russia increases military support to the Syrian Government, what is your assessment specifically of that?  And what do you expect members of the P5 to do now, especially after the Iran nuclear deal?

Secretary-General:  I have seen such reports and my response was that there is no military solution.  I'm concerned about the parties arming and providing arms.  This kind of a situation will only help the situation growing worse and worse, deteriorating.  Therefore, I am again urging the parties... all the parties and particularly the members of the Security Council -- they show their solidarity by this time.  It's been almost five years.  You have seen a number of people killed, more than 200,000, 250,000 people.  And the number of people who are refugees: more than 4 million.  And number of people, you know, half of the population, they need urgent humanitarian assistance at this time.  We have seen such terrible scenes on the media.  The whole complete disruption.  This country has been completely destroyed now.  I do not know how long they will have to take to recover, reconstruct this one.  So I think even though we have spent almost five years now, we have to take action now.  

Spokesman:  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General.  Looking back at the last 70 years of the United Nations, this organisation was born out of a war, and yet today we're facing the greatest humanitarian crisis, refugee crisis, major conflicts in Africa, the Middle East.  People looking back at this would say, well, what has the UN done?  Has it done anything?  Has it lived up to what it was supposed to be formed to achieve?

Secretary-General:  This is quite a serious question, which may require long, long answer.  But because of our time limit, if I may just say the United Nations born in 1945, and 70 years now, 2015, the United Nations now is a completely different United Nations.  And the circumstances and conditions and the level and depth of progress and transformation of this world has been phenomenal.  So we are living in a completely different society.  During last 70 years, I think United Nations, while I am very much conscious of such criticism, effectiveness, efficiencies, accountability, transparency, and even relevance of the United Nations, I am very much conscious of this kind of criticism.  But if you look back, it is the United Nations... most of the important global decisions have been made here.  Most importantly, decolonization has brought so many countries to an independent and free society.  That has grown, with the strong awareness on the importance of human rights, human dignity and equality and justice issues.  This is what the United Nations has contributed to the healthy and peaceful society.

Now, with all this technology development and diversification of all these societies, I think we have seen more problems than solutions.  That I regret.  But if you think had there been no United Nations, no common ground where all the members of the United Nations could sit down together and discuss all the issues, I'm afraid to tell you that the world might have been much bloodier, much more tragic without the United Nations.  That does not mean that we should [have] some complacency.  No.  We are doing our best efforts to make ourselves change, adapting to a changing situation.  This is what the United Nations is doing.

The Sustainable Development Goals, even though they may have nothing to do with crisis, but it is, I think, the most important vision the United Nations is now presenting to the people of the world.  When there is no development, sustainable development, then it will again provide a breeding ground for complaint and despair, political instability.  So development is the key of all our pillars of the United Nations Charter: peace and security, development, human rights.  I think among these three pillars, key is development.  Of course, they are all interconnected.  I am proud to serve as the Secretary-General, even though we have to work much more.  I'm conscious of that.

Spokesman:  Abdel Hamid?

Question:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary-General, the United Nations stands for international law, human dignity, human rights, and development.  And my question is about one State of the whole 193 that has stands above the law.  The United Nations tell that State: do not build settlement.  They don't listen and they build settlement.  The United Nations tell that State: do not build the separation wall.  They don't listen.  They continue building the separation wall.  The United Nations tell them: join NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty).  They don't join NPT.  The United Nations tell them you cannot have whole 6,000 prisoners and detainees.  They don't listen.  The United Nations condemn them when they…

Spokesman:  If I could ask you to find a question mark, please, with respect.  Thank you.

Question:  Why that State stands out above the law?  What can you do to tell that State to abide by the law, by international law?  Thank you. 

Secretary-General:  The fundamental principle is that all the Member States of the United Nations, they have obligation to abide by all the resolutions and decisions of the Member States, and there is no country above the law.  That is a fundamental principle, like human rights.  Every human being is equal.  All the Member States are equal.  We have seen some countries who have been late or who have not been implementing or abiding by the resolutions.  The Security Council has been acting on this, trying to take some punitive measures through the imposition of sanctions and some other issues.  But as you said, I agree with your point.  There are some countries who have not been faithfully implementing all these resolutions.  That is why it's important that we help all the Israelis and all Palestinians so that they can sit down together.  Again, on the margins of this General Assembly, we are going to have Quartet principals’ meeting, together with some key Arab countries, and I'm... we are going to discuss this matter very, very seriously.

Spokesman:  Apostolis, Cyprus News Agency?

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, do you expect that during your tenure to see the Cyprus issue solved, if you could give us an update on the negotiations, and when do you expect to get more personally involved?

Secretary-General:  I'm encouraged that the two leaders are meeting and negotiating in a detailed manner.  And since the formal resumption of negotiation on May 15 of this year, we have witnessed both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots approaching the talks with a positive, constructive and problem-solving spirit.  And this has helped to generate fresh and important momentum, as well as significant progress in the talks.  I have been greatly encouraged by the two leaders' commitment, recently reaffirmed on Monday, September 14, this week, to continue to work tirelessly in order to reach a comprehensive settlement as soon as possible.   In this regard, I also welcome their agreement to intensify their work and to increase the frequency of their meetings.  My Special Envoy, Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide, is staying in the region, and he's closely coordinating with the two leaders.  And I'm also looking forward to meeting the leaders during the time of General Assembly and discuss further, and I'll add my political support.

Spokesman:  Olga?

Question:  Thank you.  Secretary-General, during this session of General Assembly, as you mentioned, you are calling for a meeting on refugee crisis and also on the Middle East Quartet, but will you also try to organize any side events to bring together, for example, Presidents [Barack] Obama and Putin or Presidents Putin and [Petro] Poroshenko during their visit to GA?

Secretary-General:  First of all, I have seen the report that President Obama and President Putin, they may have their bilateral meeting.  I myself will have bilateral meetings with President Obama and President Putin and President Poroshenko, and I have a list of more than 100 bilateral meetings scheduled now.  This is a real timing and venue and forum where world leaders, whatever the differences they may have, sit down together to discuss and resolve all the pending issues through dialogue, inclusive dialogue.  On the Ukrainian situation, we've been... the United Nations has been involved, even though we have not been directly involved in the Minsk, Normandy type meetings, we have been providing humanitarian assistance and we have been deploying human rights teams, and I have been continuously discussing this matter with President Poroshenko and President Putin, and I'll continue my own efforts.

Spokesman:  Margaret?

Question:  Secretary-General, following up to Edie's question about the UN at 70, you're nearing the end of your term.  Could you tell us a little bit how your legacy will fit into the 70-year history of the UN?  Where do you see your legacy being so far?  Because we know you still have time but so far.  

Secretary-General:  I hope I will be able to answer your question this time next year. [Laughter] It's too early. [Laughter] Too early for me.  It's Member States who will assess my legacy and my contributions to the United Nations.  But I still have a lot of things to do. Wait until next year.

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for this press conference.  My question is about reforms at the United Nations.  Each one of your predecessors has proceeded to reform the UN, you yourself included, and yet there are people who think that these reforms are not leading to deep changes -- in other words, to innovation in the United Nations.  The Charter in its article 109 provides for ways of reforming or amending the Charter, through a general conference.  Do you think the time has come to reform the Charter?

Secretary-General:  When it comes to reform, we have two issues, two broad issues.  One is institutional reform and “change management”.  Institutional reforms are largely in the hands of the Member States.  Recently, with the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, we have been hearing lot of voices from Member States that we should really accelerate these institutional reforms, including the Security Council.  In fact, ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) has made good reforms already.  Then strengthening or revitalizing the General Assembly.  On these two issues, I think Member States have made some progress at this time.  In terms of revitalizing the General Assembly, recently, they have adopted a resolution, particularly in making General Assembly’s role in selecting and appointing the Secretary-General process in a more transparent and more representative way.  And on Security Council reform, I think I have always favoured expanding the Security Council in order to make it more broadly representative and democratic and transparent.  The world has changed and considering such huge, dramatic changes in the international community, the Security Council should also be able to adapt to this changing situation.  I have taken note that the General Assembly has adopted the resolution based on the recommendation of the facilitator on this.  I think this kind of process, even though it has been taking long and very slow process, is, I think, the right direction. 

When it comes to “change management”, you will see, again, on the occasion of 70th anniversary, we are now going to launch the Umoja, as of November 1.  That will be a phenomenal, again, transformation, when it comes to our working in a... system-wide working.  And mobility has already been agreed, supported by the General Assembly, and it will be put into practice from next year.  So we are making a lot of changes in terms of efficiencies and accountability, transparencies of change management of the United Nations.

Spokesman:  Go, Go.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  There have been some criticisms to your visit...

Spokesman:  A little louder, please.

Question:  There have been some criticisms to your visit to Beijing, especially for attending the military parade there, that this could be against the UN neutrality or impartiality.  How do you respond to that?

Secretary-General:  I have seen some reports coming from Japan.  Now, you know my position.  Therefore, I do not see the need to further comment on what I consider inappropriate statements.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  I'm sorry.  We'll get more opportunities later during the GA.

Secretary-General:  Thank you.