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Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters

11 June 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to our monthly press conference.

As you know, the World Health Organization has now indicated that the world is experiencing an influenza pandemic caused by the new H1N1 virus.

It has, therefore, elevated its alert to Phase 6.

Let me stress:  this is a formal statement about the geographic spread of disease.

It is not in itself a cause for alarm.  Though infectious, this new virus has so far not been as severe as had been feared and death rates have been low.

But … we must be watchful.  We do not know what picture will emerge in the coming months.

The virus has hit mainly developed countries.  That is likely to soon change ‑‑ and it will have consequences.

Poorer countries have less developed health systems.  People tend to seek health care later.  And there is often a higher level of other diseases in the general population.

Bear in mind, as well, that the southern hemisphere is only now entering the flu season.

We must, therefore, be prepared.

Our best response is a firm demonstration of global solidarity.

Like other diseases, H1N1 respects no borders . The most effective way to fight it at home, for any country, is to fight it wherever it breaks out.

We will, therefore, work with national Governments and the World Health Organization to ensure that our response is as well coordinated and as effective as possible.

I would like to make three quick points going forward.

First, access to vaccines and antivirals ‑‑ in addition to antibiotics and other commodities ‑‑ is crucial.

That is why Dr. Margaret Chan and I mobilized more than two dozen pharmaceutical companies for a meeting in Geneva last month.  They agreed to contribute part of their vaccine production to vulnerable nations, upon request by WHO.  Manufacturing of pandemic vaccines has already begun, and the first doses will be available in September 2009.

At the same time, virus samples and other information about the disease must also be widely and openly shared.

Second, we must guard against rash and discriminatory action, such as travel bans or trade restrictions.  Our response to any pandemic must be grounded in science.

Third, the impact will be felt far beyond the health sector and it will require coordination on every front.  We must safeguard the interests of those who are most vulnerable.  I ask the International [Committee of the] Red Cross and our NGO partners to join us in this work.

I will convene a meeting of the Influenza Steering Committee here on Monday morning to map out our immediate next steps.  This will occur prior to the opening session of my Forum on Advancing Global Health in the Face of Crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are also in a crucial moment in the global economic crisis.

Later this month the General Assembly will host the UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development.  That will be followed by the July G-8 Summit in Italy ‑‑ and the September meeting of the G-20 in Pittsburgh.

Here, too, my priority is the needs of the most vulnerable.  I am sending a letter to the leaders of the G-8 countries stressing my concerns.

In Gleneagles in 2005, leaders pledged to increase development assistance by $50 billion by 2010, half of it for Africa.  Today, only 10 per cent of what was pledged to Africa has come through.

The economic crisis cannot become an excuse to abandon commitments.  It is even more reason to make them concrete.

If we are to “seal a deal” on climate change at Copenhagen in December, we will also need additional resources for climate adaptation and emissions mitigation in developing countries.

In short, the road to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 runs through New York, through l’Aquila, through Pittsburgh and through Copenhagen.

Let me turn to several peace and security issues.

On the Middle East:  I look forward to the next meeting of the Quartet, tentatively scheduled later this month in Italy.

There is encouraging momentum on which to build.

I congratulate the Government and people of Lebanon on the recent elections.

[United States] President [Barack] Obama’s address in Cairo has lent new momentum to the peace process.

The rights of both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis, to self-determination, statehood and security are the basis of any policy going forward.

We must deal with obvious humanitarian challenges.  As I have said before, the Gaza blockade is devastating the population and achieving little in security and political terms.  If the crossings continue to remain closed for most goods, the people of Gaza will slide into even deeper hardship, with the risk of further radicalization.

On the issue of settlements, the UN position is well known.  It is critical that Israel freeze settlement expansion and dismantle outposts as the Quartet, and more recently US President Obama, have asked.

Last week, I briefed the Security Council on my recent visit to Sri Lanka.

The Government made a number of commitments in the joint communiqué at the conclusion of my mission.

Today, I sent a letter to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa following up on these commitments, particularly those concerning a transparent and fully accountable inquiry into potential violations of international law during the final stages of the conflict.

The Government has addressed some concerns I raised over humanitarian access to the IDP camps.

I am also encouraged by the Government’s commitment to return 80 per cent of those displaced in the fighting to their homes by the end of this year.

That said, conditions in the camps remain difficult, and I will continue to press for improvement, not least in vital areas such as freedom of movement and family reunification.

Most importantly, if history is not to repeat itself, the Sri Lankan Government must reach out to its Tamil minority, as well as to others.  The first steps toward reconciliation must ‑‑ I repeat, must ‑‑ begin now.

Lastly, I am following the situation in Pakistan with grave concern.

This week’s attack in Peshawar claimed many lives, including two UN staff and three Pakistani nationals supporting UN programmes.  I salute their commitment, and I grieve with their families.

As you know, the fighting in Pakistan has displaced an estimated [two] million people.  We stand ready to help the Pakistani Government to the maximum amid this humanitarian crisis.

We have launched a $543 million funding appeal.  So far, we have received roughly one quarter of that amount.

As a result, there could soon be serious breaks in the food pipeline.  Current stocks of essential drugs will be depleted by the end of this month.

I, therefore, appeal to the international community, especially major donors, to respond quickly and generously to Pakistan’s urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs.

We must alleviate distress and avoid putting the country at risk of a spiralling secondary crisis.

Thank you very much for your attention, and with that, I will take your questions.

Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  It is customary for you to begin your appearances before us with statements about various world crises.  Today, as President of the United Nations Correspondents Association, I have been asked to start the first question with a brief statement about an internal crisis.

The United Nations’ upcoming multi-year renovation of this Headquarters building requires the UN press corps to understandably adjust to a more cramped temporary location.

However, the Correspondents Association expresses its deep concern about current plans by UN management to not provide proper office enclosure and security.  Our association rejects any attempt by your management team to impose, even indirectly, thousands of dollars in fees in order to get a roof over our office or to earn the right to move back into a completed UN building.

The question is this.  I’m sorry if this sounds too long.  Mr. Secretary-General, do you agree with your adviser that it is time to break with more than half a century of tradition at the United Nations and start charging journalists for working space?  And do you think it is more important that journalists’ working space conform with a new UN green policy regarding open space and non-private offices, even if it makes impossible for many of them to do their job?  Will you help us in this matter?  Thank you and I’m sorry.

Secretary-General:  I am aware of your interest and concern.  I think it is necessary for us, for me, for the Secretariat, to provide a good working atmosphere for you.  I understand that there had been consultations during the last couple of months between the UNCA presidency and my Assistant Secretary-General for CMP [the Capital Master Plan], and also my Secretariat senior advisers.  I was told that a solution is close, I hope.  I would suggest that you continue consultations with concerned senior advisers.  Thank you very much.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, we need also your position in terms of direction.  It is you who will give the general strategy and direction.  Just in support of our President, we really need you to be giving that order at the top and then the negotiations will be easier.  If you don’t mind taking a look at our concerns in order to cover you better.  We can’t be cramped in the way it’s been suggested and we can’t be losing the very essence of a journalist’s work, which is privacy of doing our jobs and hopefully scooping one another.  We need you on that, please.

Secretary-General:  Let me think about that.  If you really need direction for all the matters happening in the world and inside this house, you may have several more Secretaries-General.  I am aware of your concern, and my suggestion is that you please continue to have a dialogue.  I’ll try to look at this issue.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, you commended the Government of Sri Lanka for promising to return 80 per cent of the internally displaced people [IDPs] by the end of the year.  But there are reports around today that these people are going to be in those camps for at least another year.  And many of them have been there for a year already.  Also again, human rights organizations are criticizing the Government of Sri Lanka for failing to organize what you touched on:  this transparent, open inquiry into what really happened, particularly in the last two weeks of the war against the Tamil Tigers.  Can you comment on that, please?  What pressure can you put on the Sri Lankan Government to make sure that they do return people in those IDP camps, 80 per cent of them anyway, by the end of the year?

Secretary-General:  First of all, it is critically important that the Sri Lankan Government follow up what they have agreed to with me during my visit, including this 80 per cent of displaced persons to be returned to their homes by the end of this year.  I welcomed and encouraged this commitment.  And I also stressed strongly the full and transparent process of accountability.  This is exactly what is promised and written in the joint statement at the conclusion of my visit.  I have again reiterated the importance of following up these promises in my letter, which I sent yesterday.  And I’m closely following up this issue.  Thank you.

Question:  My question continues the idea of war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  The Sri Lankan Government has said quite clearly that they’re not going to investigate allegations of war crimes.  The Human Rights Council has ruled against a probe.  The Security Council looks like it’s not going to take action.  Under these circumstances, Human Rights Watch would say that it’s your responsibility and your mandate as Secretary-General to launch your own investigation.  My question is, under what conditions would you launch your own probe?

Secretary-General:  What I can tell you is, as I have repeatedly stated publicly, that whenever there are serious and credible allegations on the violation of international humanitarian laws or international laws, there should be a proper investigation.  Any international inquiry, to be meaningful and to be credible, it should be first of all very fair, impartial and transparent, and should get the full support from the Member States of the United Nations.  That is what I can emphasize.  And I would continue to stress the importance of taking necessary measures by the Sri Lankan Government, to take effective procedures to address these accountability issues.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, are you still planning to travel to Myanmar?  And, if so, when and what do you hope to achieve there?

Secretary-General:  As you know, promoting democratization, including the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, has been one of my top priorities and it will continue to be my top priority.  And I have been constantly engaging in dialogue with Myanmar authorities, and through my Special Adviser, Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari.  When the time is appropriate and conditions are ripe, as I said many times, I’m ready to visit Myanmar.  I’m working on that now.  When the time comes, I will let you know.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, touching upon the situation in Pakistan, where two UN employees were killed yesterday and several Pakistanis also, under the present circumstances, and you are saying that you also appealed to the international community to speed up aid for Pakistan otherwise secondly, the situation would reoccur.  In that situation, as it develops, do you see the international community coming forward, and will you be able to persuade them to bring up that money?  And in those circumstances, the inquiry of Benazir Bhutto, which you had ordered, will that actually be able to take place?  Will you be able to send people over there, to that Commission ‑‑ that Commission that is apparently complete?

Secretary-General:  I am trying to mobilize the necessary humanitarian assistance.  This is exactly what I did today.  I’m appealing to major donors to generously and quickly provide the necessary funding so that we can provide humanitarian assistance to almost 3 million displaced persons.  And for that Bhutto Commission, we are almost close to formally announcing the start of this Bhutto Commission.  I have recently identified the third Commission member; therefore, I’m now in the final stage of consulting with the Pakistani Government on this matter.

Question:  Before my departure, which is still in two weeks’ time, if I may ask, may I touch on North Korea, please?  We understand that the Council is debating on a new resolution with new sanctions ideas.  I am not asking directly for a comment on something that is under discussion in the Security Council.  But generally speaking, when the Council does decide for sanctions, we know the experience of Iraq or the conflict diamonds in Africa which was not really implemented; generally speaking, how important is it for countries to implement sanctions as required by the Security Council?  And North Korea is alleged to be planning a new launch of missiles; what pressure will you give to them?

Secretary-General:  As everybody knows, the Security Council now seems to be ready to take action on the DPRK’s nuclear test.  It has been my consistent position that the Security Council should take a unified position on this issue.  Now, once a Security Council resolution is adopted, it is again very important for all the members of the United Nations, including the DPRK, to fully comply and cooperate with this resolution.  We have seen such cases where some of the Security Council resolutions which are binding have not been implemented.  As Secretary-General, I have been doing my best to help implement these Security Council resolutions by the parties directly concerned and also other members of the United Nations.  This is very important.  But as I expect the Security Council will soon take action on this, I will [wait] until the Security Council takes formal action on this matter and state my positions.

Question:  As an expert on the Korean Peninsula, how dangerous do you think the situation is now?

Secretary-General:  Peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula has very important implications, not only on the Korean Peninsula but to overall peace and security in the region.  And this particular case of DPRK’s nuclear programme, it has global implications.  The whole world is now very seriously engaged in preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials.  And this is a very important objective of the international community at this time.  This hampers the ongoing efforts of the international community.  And the United States and the Russian Federation have started their nuclear disarmament to find a successor treaty to the START treaty.  Therefore, all these actions taken by DPRK run counter not only to the Security Council resolutions, but also the ongoing international community’s efforts.

Question:  Mr. Secretary, you spoke a little earlier about encouraging momentum produced by the elections in Lebanon and also by President Obama’s speech and on the peace process momentum.  How exactly do you see your role as Secretary-General in supporting and enhancing this momentum?  Have you been contacted, for example, by George Mitchell to see how the UN can play a role, and what did Dennis Ross carry to you as a message from the President or the Secretary of State?  Was it on Iran exclusively?  What did you discuss?

Secretary-General:  You know my consistent policy and position on the situation in Lebanon:  democratization, peace and stability in Lebanon.  I have been very closely engaged with the parties; important key players, including the United States and, of course, the leaders of the Lebanese Government, and the leaders of the neighbouring countries in the Middle East.  I am very much encouraged by the election results, which have been largely free from violence.  It means that the Lebanese Government and people have [taken] a step forward towards mature democracy and better security and stability there.  A more important task at this time would be the formation of a Government.  When I have spoken with the President and Prime Minister of Lebanon, and Mr. Saad Hariri, I have strongly encouraged that they should form this Government as soon as possible, so that they can address other issues.  I am going to closely monitor and discuss this matter and coordinate not only with the Lebanese political leaders, but also other key leaders.

Question:  What are you willing to do to help Mr. Obama with the momentum on the peace process?  What exactly have you been asked to do?  What are you willing to come up with?  And the Dennis Ross part, also?

Secretary-General:  As a member of the Quartet ‑‑ a principal ‑‑ I am going to participate in the Quartet meeting later this month in Italy.  I have been discussing this matter all the time with the key principals of the Quartet, as well as other world leaders, including President Obama.  I said that President Obama’s speech was historic.  It has a far-reaching impact, not only [in] the region, but beyond the region.  It was a very encouraging and fantastic statement, which has been widely accepted and appreciated by the whole world, including Middle East leaders.  That is what I am going to contribute myself, as Secretary-General.

Question:  On the Middle East, George Mitchell has been in the area, he has been speaking about reconstruction of Gaza, for example.  He called for the United Nations to take the lead part in this reconstruction, for example.  Are you able, are you willing, to take the lead in the reconstruction of Gaza, providing, of course, the Israelis lift the ban on reconstruction material and everything else?  Would you be able to do that, are you able to take the lead on reconstruction of the destruction in Gaza?

Secretary-General:  For detailed matters, we will discuss during our forthcoming Quartet meeting, but as a matter of principle, I am ready, I will always stand ready to do whatever I can, including leading the reconstruction of Gaza.  But this requires coordination, and also support from all the parties concerned, including the Quartet principals.  This is exactly what I am doing, and I appreciate the Special Envoy, George Mitchell, who is now in the region travelling, and also President Obama, [United States] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ‑‑ they have been making strenuous efforts now to revive the Middle East peace process.  I have been discussing again this matter with the new American Administration.  I met Vice-President Joseph Biden last week in Washington and this has always been a top agenda priority.

Question:  You have the issue of lifting the ban first, to get reconstruction material into Gaza?

Secretary-General:  I raised this issue, discussed it so many times with Israeli leaders, including [Israeli] President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak and the Vice Prime Minister [Silvan] Shalom, when they were here, and I will continue to do this.  We have proposed a package of proposals to the Israeli Government.  I hope that they are now considering our proposals to allow these construction goods, and all others, in addition to humanitarian goods ‑‑ we need those materials to be delivered inside Gaza so that we can really start reconstructing this community.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary-General.  Now that Lebanon conducted a successful parliamentary election, what signs, models and lessons should the Arab world and other countries in the region learn from the Lebanese experience, especially now that we are going to see a presidential election tomorrow in Iran?

And I have another follow-up on the Israeli official visits to your office, and next week I think Mr. [Avigdor] Lieberman is coming.  What are you going to tell him, exactly?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I am looking forward to meeting Foreign Minister Lieberman next week.  I think my discussion with him, though it will be the first time meeting him myself, we have had telephone talks.  We will discuss a wide range of issues pertaining to the Middle East peace process, as well as this very immediate humanitarian assistance, including the construction materials issue.  Except food and water and medicines, nothing has been allowed to be shipped inside Gaza, so the situation has reached quite a difficult point.  I have been urging this issue to the Israeli authorities.  I am sure this will be one of the key issues.

Now, on Lebanon, we have learned all these models.  This is up to the people, what kind of model they will establish, they will form, that is up to the people to decide in Lebanon.  What we can learn from Lebanon is that when the political leaders of a country cooperate with a sense of understanding and flexibility ‑‑ and this is something which I would like to see the other leaders in the region follow, then we would be able to reduce the differences of opinions and we will see peace and stability quicker.

Question:  And on the Iran elections?

Secretary-General:  Let us see what the choice of the Iranian people will be, but I am not in a position to make any comment at this time.

Question:  Secretary-General, you said that you spoke with Israeli leaders ‑‑ did you ask them to pay $11  million to the United Nations which is promised to the Members of the UN?  And how has he responded to you?

Secretary-General:  I raised this issue officially, and my Legal Counsel ‑‑ Ms. Patricia O’Brien ‑‑ is now making a detailed evaluation and assessment and proposals.  You may know that for the damage and losses of UN facilities and premises, I have requested $11.2 million.  This will be again assessed by both the United Nations and the Israeli Government.  But there are other issues ‑‑ loss of lives, and many other related issues, which will be the subject of continuing consultations and discussions.

Question:  When do you expect to make a decision on the Board of Inquiry, sir?  And why not expand it to include other damages that were inflicted on the Palestinians, if you accept the principle that Israel should pay compensation for damages?

Secretary-General:  I made it quite clear in my summary report to the Security Council that my summary was focused on the terms of reference and mandate which was given to the Board of Inquiry at that time.  I am now in the process of taking the implementation process one by one, gradually.  For other matters, broader issues, which have happened to the general public in Gaza, or some other issues, the United Nations Human Rights Council has taken a decision and Judge [Richard] Goldstone has been in Gaza and he is now taking necessary actions.  I have supported his mission.  I met him in Geneva last month and I pledged my full support, and I also conveyed my support, and requested the Israeli Government to provide full support to Goldstone’s mission.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, do you believe a man such as the Egyptian Cultural Minister, who said that books should be burned, should head the UN’s top cultural organization?  And also, do you see yourself as a two-term Secretary-General?

Secretary-General:  I am also aware of these remarks made by the Egyptian Cultural Minister, who is running as a candidate for Director-General of UNESCO [UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization].  I am sure that members of UNESCO will make the necessary decision and use their judgement on this issue in selecting the next Director-General.  That is not what I am here to comment on.

For your second question, for my second term, it is a bit early for me to answer.  First of all, as a matter of principle, it is not for me to decide and judge.  As I mentioned earlier, I believe in results, not rhetoric.  If I am to be remembered as Secretary-General, I want to be judged and want to be remembered, for what I have achieved, not for what I have said.  I have again never put my personal considerations ahead of public service, public commitment.  I have been, always, during my 36 years as a public servant in the Republic of Korea, on the job I was given.  I have been faithfully implementing, executing the mandate I was given at the time.  By doing that, I have been given higher and more important positions, and that is why I am now working as a Secretary-General of the United Nations.  This is what I can tell you at this time.  When the time comes, I hope the Member States will judge what I will have achieved by that time. I am just now approaching the midpoint of my tenure, but I can understand this might be a natural question or curiosity, but I am sure that I will have another opportunity to answer that question.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for this press conference.  About two and a half years ago, upon assuming your responsibilities as Secretary-General of the United Nations, you pledged to have an administration that is open and transparent.  And yet when the investigative team in Gaza submitted its report, you decided to publish only the summary.  How do you conciliate between this decision and your declared intention of being transparent and open?  And how difficult, lonely and agonizing was that decision for you?

Secretary-General:  When it comes to transparency, accountability, that has been my top priority and virtue.  I am going to continue to do that, to make this Organization, and the work of the Organization, transparent and accountable and efficient.  On specific questions about the transparency of my BoI report, I think I made it quite transparent.  The reason why I summarized it was because of some very specific confidentiality which needs to be protected, which was provided by the Israeli military authorities.  I think I thought it was fair to protect those particular, specific confidential matters that were not much related to the overall conduct of this report.  That is why I wanted to summarize this report, rather than to submit it in its entirety. I think I have kept my commitment and my virtue to make everything transparent and in an accountable way.

I have time for only one last question.

Question:  There is an article in today’s Economist, called “Ban Ki-moon ‑‑ the score at halftime”.  It reviews half of your first term.  I want to ask you to respond to it.  Under the rubric “truth to power” they give you a 3 out of 10, and they use the example of Sri Lanka ‑‑ they say that Mr. Ban denied that the UN had leaked grim civilian casualty figures.  On management they give 2 out of 10.  There are some better grades, I acknowledge.  On management, they say there is a problem with communicating with senior staff, that you have to show more leadership in drumming up peacekeepers.  I might add to that, protection of whistleblowers and free press.  I just wanted to know, do you agree with any of this critique?  Are there things you intend to do better in a second term?  What do you make of this piece in the Economist assigning those two grades?

Secretary-General:  I would regard it as the judgement of the Economist.  There may be a different judgement on my performance.  First of all, during the last two and a half years, I had three priorities.  First of all, to catalyse a global response to critical global issues – like climate change, managing the consequences of the international economic crisis, global health and global terrorism.

On climate change, you may agree with me that from almost dead ‑‑ if not dead, a dormant status ‑‑ this issue has risen to the level of leaders of the world.  It has become a top priority issue of this world.  I am going to really work hard to seal the deal in Copenhagen in December.  I am working for all humanity, for the future of Planet Earth.

To deliver results to those most in need, you should know that I have been working very hard to represent the well-being of the most vulnerable people.  I have been working as the voice of the voiceless people, and defend those people who are defenceless.  You see my performance on the record.

On reform, you should understand that this has been accumulating over the last 60 years.  During the last two and a half years, I can proudly say that I have made significant changes in the working culture of the United Nations, to make this most transparent, accountable, efficient and mobile and effective.  I don’t claim that I have finished the job.  There are much more things to be done in the reform process of the United Nations.  Look at these accumulated, very cumbersome, bureaucratic systems of the United Nations.  I am also in a very difficult position to move these reform processes ahead.  Have you ever seen somebody who has been working, as passionately as I have been doing to change this working culture of the United Nations?  There will be some complaints.  People just love business as usual.  They simply don’t want to change.  This is what I really wanted to change.

You should look very closely and follow me, what I have been doing, what I have in my mind.  I have never left climate change [or] reform of the United Nations.  I will continue to do that, whatever somebody may say.  But be sympathetic, and just try to closely follow what I have been doing, not just based on conventional wisdom.  Fix your eyesight and vision on the twenty-first [century].  Don’t look at the 1950s, 1960s, where the United Nations was the only universal body.  Now you have so many international actors ‑‑ the European Union, the African Union, the OAS, ASEAN ‑‑ the United Nations must work together in close coordination with all these organizations.  And we need the full support of the Member States.  Without the political support, without resources provided by the Member States, it is difficult, however capable a person may be the Secretary-General.  It is just impossible.  I need more political support.  I need more resources by the Member States.  Then judge my support on the basis of that.  The mandate should be supported and accompanied by the resources and political support.  Don’t just look at my performance on the basis of just vague or conventional perceptions of the United Nations.  The world has changed.

Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.