Transcript of Press Conference by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 17 June 2014

17 June 2014

Photos: Action Press/Virot

Mesdames et messieurs,

Bonjour. Good morning. Je suis ravi d’être de retour à Genève. Et c’est un plaisir de vous revoir tous ici.

Je suis arrivé hier soir de la Bolivie où j’ai assisté au sommet du Groupe des 77 et de la Chine. Je suis ici à Genève pour les évènements marquant le 50ème anniversaire de la CNUCED (Conf érence des Nations Unies sur le Commerce et le Développement).

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Later today, I will travel to Lausanne to meet with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and other members of the IOC Committees. Tomorrow morning, I will attend a youth employment event at the International Labour Organization.

Let me begin with a few issues and then open it up for your questions.

I am deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq, including the reports of mass summary executions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There is a real risk of further sectarian violence on a massive scale, within Iraq and beyond its borders.

I encourage all Iraqi leaders – political, military, religious and community – to ensure that their followers avoid acts of reprisal and come together in an inclusive spirit to address this serious threat to the country.

In Syria, I am disheartened that the conflict is now raging into its fourth year. Syrians continue to endure appalling suffering, as documented by the latest report of the Commission of Inquiry that will be presented later today to the Human Rights Council.

It is imperative that all regional actors, and all those with influence over the Syrian parties, work together in favour of a peaceful and political solution.

In Ukraine, I condemn the growing violence, including the downing of a Ukrainian military airplane. Polarizing rhetoric – as well as acts such as the attack on the Russian embassy in Kiev — only increase tensions.

I urge the parties to do all they can to de-escalate the situation, bring Ukraine back from the brink and work towards a solution through negotiation and dialogue.

I know that you were briefed yesterday by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. I would reiterate that two other hotspots demand our attention but are at risk of falling from the radar: the Central African Republic and South Sudan. As you know, I visited both countries in recent months.

In the Central African Republic, almost a million people have been forced to flee their homes. We are receiving regular reports of horrific violence against women, boys and girls. Religious sites and sports events have been attacked. Thousands of children have been recruited by armed groups.

The establishment of the United Nations peacekeeping operation, MINUSCA, is an important step. We are working closely and hard with the African Union and the European Union to ensure a seamless transition on September 15. But the people of Central African Republic need more help now.

The situation in South Sudan is also of grave concern. Both the Government of South Sudan and the Opposition force must uphold the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, and begin the process to form the transitional government as agreed by President Kiir and former Vice-President Machar.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission – UNMISS – is protecting some 93,000 people within its sites. Humanitarian agencies are faced with the need to assist up to 1.5 million displaced throughout the country, and some 3.5 million people – a third of the population – who are enduring alarming levels of food insecurity.

It is essential that the pledges made at last month’s donor conference in Oslo are translated into funding to save lives now.

Finally, let me mention three matters that may be of particular importance to the human rights and humanitarian community here in Genève.

First, as you know I nominated a new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan. I am pleased that the General Assembly approved that nomination yesterday by unanimity.

I know that he looks forward to working with you very closely and I am sure that he will be a dynamic presence here in Geneva. I want to use this opportunity to thank High Commissioner Navi Pillay for her outstanding work and her fearless defence of the rights of the most vulnerable around the world.

Second, the first of several regional consultations to prepare for the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 starts tomorrow in Cote d’Ivoire. I ask all involved to take this opportunity to offer new ideas and solutions to reduce vulnerability and better serve people caught up in conflict and disaster.

Third, Friday is World Refugee Day. This has been one of the worst periods for forced displacement in decades. I urge the international community to intensify its support for all those fleeing from conflict and to work for lasting peace.

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

Question: On behalf of ACANU I want to welcome you to Geneva and I would like to thank you for making space in your busy agenda to meet with the press. We really appreciate that. My question is, with all these crisis and conflicts, the role of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, it is fundamental. I would like if you could tell us a bit more on your decision to choose Prince Zeid of Jordan, to be the successor to Madame Pillay. Why him?

Secretary-General: That is quite an easy question for me to answer. As you know, I have been working very closely with Prince Zeid since a long time. His contribution, his integrity and reputation as a human rights defender as well as his contribution to rights of vulnerable groups of people, including his chairmanship of an investigation into sexual violence, and many other issues, has been well known to the human rights community and the international community, broadly.

I first began to know him since 2001 when I was working as the Chef de Cabinet to the President of the General Assembly in 2001. And since then, for the last 14 years I have been knowing and working closely with him. He’s now serving as a member of the Security Council, contributing to peace and security and human rights.

We have been searching widely to find a successor to High Commissioner Navi Pillay. This position, Human Rights High Commissioner, is one of the most important jobs, as you may agree. Of course, you know, all other positions are very important, but human rights is one of the three pillars of the United Nations Charter. Therefore we wanted to have somebody who has quite a known record in human rights, and therefore I have been searching out through civil society.

I met non-governmental organizations, NGOs, related to human rights, earlier this year in Geneva. And in the course of this selection we have also consulted with human rights communities, and of course Member States. There was a broad, almost unanimous decision among the selection committee, as well as Member States and the human rights community. I was very pleased to find such a dedicated person, man of integrity, man of experience and vision, and fearless defender of human rights, who will be succeeding Navi Pillay. Thank you.

Question: The United Nations has been, the Security Council is famously unable to do anything to bring peace to Syria, and now we have the violence spreading in Iraq. I just wonder what kind of proposals, solutions you might be thinking about, whether you think there is anything the UN can do in this situation?

Secretary-General: First on Syria, there are many areas the United Nations has been engaging; at least four areas: political, humanitarian, human rights and non-proliferation. As you know we are making progress in destroying the chemical weapons. But there has been much problem and lack of progress in political solutions. In the absence of a political dialogue, we have been really doing all our efforts to bring humanitarian assistance to all the people. As you are already well aware, almost half of the total population, 9.3 million people are affected. We have been urging the Security Council to facilitate the unimpeded access to the hard-to-reach people – 3.5 million people – you must have heard a lot from Valerie Amos on this matter. I sincerely hope the United Nations Security Council will take as soon as possible early action on the proposed resolution on this matter again.

On the Iraq side, this is again a very serious concern to all of us. I have been urging Iraqi Government leaders, including Prime Minister al-Maliki, to reach out for an inclusive dialogue and solution of this issue. Last week I spoke over the phone with the Prime Minister al-Maliki and I have been reaching out to the leaders in the region; Turkey, Iran and other areas. I hope that with the strong support of the regional countries and international community in a broader sense we will be able to help the Iraqi Government to first of all restore peace and stability in their country.

I strongly urge that the Iraqi Government will reach to have some much a broader and more inclusive solution of this issue. I strongly condemn all the terrorist attacks, in killing civilian populations and kidnapping diplomatic officials. Those are unacceptable human rights violations. I have been urging many times that all perpetrators of these gross violations of human rights should be brought to justice.

Question: Good morning. I’d like to ask you on Syria; more than a month ago you announced the resignation of your Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. And so far you haven’t managed to find or to nominate a successor. Why is it so difficult for you to find a successor? Are there any candidates at all for this job?

Secretary-General: As you‘ll agree, this is a very important position. We have been taking stock during the last few weeks and we are now accelerating this process in searching for any possible candidates. In fact I am going to have a consultation meeting tomorrow here in Geneva with Secretary-General El-Araby of the League of Arab States.

Since this position, the Special Envoy, should be a person who can first of all have good knowledge and experience in the region, and should also be accepted and respected by all the concerned parties in the region, and more broadly the international community. Therefore it has been taking time, but I will try to minimize the vacuum. But while the departure, resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi was reluctantly accepted by me, at the same time Lakhdar Brahimi has always been here with us, we have been trying to get his advice and opinions from time to time and I’m sure that he’ll continue to do so.

Question: Secretary-General, returning to the situation in Iraq, I wanted to ask you about ISIS. There has been a lot of talk about whether the Government in Baghdad will invite Iran or the United States to help to strike ISIS, or one of those countries might do so unilaterally? I wondered what would be the posture of the UN in such a situation? And if I may just follow up on an earlier question, on your earlier point about inclusive dialogue. Are you talking about inclusive dialogue with ISIS? Do you want Baghdad to talk to ISIS? Thank you.

Secretary-General: The first part of your question, I believe that’s not something which I should mention. I know that many concerned countries are considering their own options of how to help the Iraqi Government in immediately addressing these current terrorist attacks. That may be decided upon their own sovereign decision in close consultation with the Iraqi Government. I myself have been discussing this matter with the Iranians, the Turkish and some other concerned Governments on this matter, including of course the Iraqi Prime Minister.

Inclusive dialogue is the key essence of good governance and leadership in any country. I have been urging many country leaders, leaders of many countries where they have political and security problems. The commonality of all these problems comes from the lack of reaching out to people.

As you might have been hearing from me so many times, since the beginning of this Arab Spring, I have been stating very strongly to all the leaders concerned that they should listen attentively and carefully to the voices of people, what their challenges and their aspirations are.

A large part of this problem comes when the leaders, when they are elected or they are given this mandate, they take it as for granted. Legitimacy of leadership comes not necessarily from election. Of course election is a very important means and procedure of democracy. But legitimacy comes from election as well as good governance, and respecting human rights, and reaching out to all the people, whatever their ethnicity or religion.

When some of these elements are lacking, then it’s only natural that the people have concerns. This kind of political stability often leads to a breeding ground of extremism and terrorism to infiltrate into the society.

Therefore I have been really urging, and I urge again, that all the leaders in the world, they should really pay attention to the aspirations of the people before their aspirations and grievances are demonstrated by such political instability which will allow the infiltration of extremism. That must be prevented. That is my message today.

Question: There has been a lot of talk recently about the possibility of Iraq breaking up into three federal states, essentially breaking up as a united State – are you concerned about that happening? And do you think that the area is on the brink of a regional war?

Secretary-General: I would not predict or prejudge any such things. What is important at this time is that the Iraqi Government should have one State, whether they are Sunnis or Shi’ites or Kurds, they should be able to harmoniously live together, respecting and upholding human rights and values of the United Nations. That is the basic essence. When any part of this is lacking, it only creates a problem like we are seeing.

I am very concerned about all these situations that are happening here and there, in Africa, in Middle East and elsewhere. Therefore, it seems to be a very important time for all world leaders to look at any possibility, if there is any source of grievances or discontent among people. I have been discussing this matter with key regional leaders and there have been many such concerns raised in the past which have not been addressed properly.

Question: A part of my question was whether you think the area was on the brink of a regional war.

Secretary-General: I said that I would not predict or prejudge any such kind of scenario at this time.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Pinheiro was right sitting on the very same spot you are sitting now, who just presented his latest Syria report, was writing a very sharp attack yesterday on the international community saying that the failure to reach a political solution in Syria it’s not due to a failure of Lakhdar Brahimi or Kofi Annan but because of the split of the international community who is not been willing to find a political solution. So my question is, do we have an old new Cold War mentality among the leading nations, that you cannot bridge this split? Thank you.

Secretary-General: There may be many reasons why the Syrian people have to endure this kind of tragic situation. First of all, the Syrian people are divided; the international community is divided, and also the regional community is also divided. Therefore, largely in three senses they are all divided. That’s the reason why this crisis has not been able to be addressed as soon as there was a problem. I sincerely hope that first of all, all the countries who’d have influence over the two parties they should exercise their influence over them, that there is no military option. There is some false expectation that either side seems to believe that they are winning militarily. But that’s a wrong perception. Without a political solution they will not be able to do that. I’ve taken note of all this Presidential election and the context of the current situation, that we will have to find out some political parameters within which we have to continue our dialogue. It’s very sad that we have not been able to resume the Geneva Conference. We are working very hard. With maybe the appointment of the Special Envoy we will have to really seriously engage in political dialogue. At the same time we will continue to strengthen our capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance for all those people who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Question : You’ve told us your opinion on various crisis zones around the world. I’d like to ask about something a little more lightweight and brighter. The Red Devils, as in the South-Korean National Football team, will be opening their world cup campaign this evening. I understand that you’re Secretary General of the UN ,so you kind of have to be neutral but do you have any message for Koo Ja-Cheol and the other players in your homeland’s team, will you be watching and what kind of result do you forecast?

Secretary-General: This is a very delicate and sensitive question for me! I’ve been asked this question in fact previously. I may not hide my own sentiment and support for the Korean team but as Secretary-General it would be very important that I need to be impartial. I’m supporting all the teams who are participating in the World Cup! But you should know, at the same time, that when the Korean team is competing with any other team, starting from Russia today, you may expect that my heart may beat much faster than in normal time. Just to keep my neutrality I decided not to watch the game, and I will get the report from my staff early tomorrow morning. That may really help my own way of engaging hectic programmes starting from tomorrow. Again I wish all the best to all the teams.

Sport has an extraordinary power to spontaneously unite the people. That is why I’m going to have a very close collaboration with the IOC and FIFA and that is why I have been participating in the Olympic Games and FIFA; I’ve been participating in two Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies and also two FIFA World Cups. I have appointed a Special Advisor for Sports, Peace and Development, and we have signed for the first time a Memorandum of Understanding with IOC. And for the first time the United Nations General Assembly has designated April 6 of every year as International Sports Day for Peace and Development. This is one of the very important powerful tools and means to promote reconciliation, harmony and development and peace.

Two years ago I travelled to Zambia with the IOC President, then President Jacques Rogge -he is now Honorary President-, and I am going to visit Haiti next month with the IOC President, again to promote peace and stability and economic development through sports. The IOC has contributed a huge sports complex for youth in Zambia two years ago, and they are going to do the same thing in Haiti. I highly commend such an initiative.

And as you know I have appointed Honorary President of IOC Jacques Rogge as my Special Envoy for Refugees and Youth. So there is a very close collaboration between the sports community and the United Nations. This will be a continuing initiative and commitment.

Thank you very much.