Secretary-General António Guterres‘s Press Encounter, New York, 1 February 2017
Secretary-General: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today. I just arrived yesterday from my first serious mission abroad, attending the African Union Summit. I left New York last Friday, and I came back yesterday.
The objective was very clear — to establish a higher platform of cooperation between the two organisations, both in relation to the sustainable development of the African continent but also in relation to our cooperation in peace and security in so many areas of concern on the African continent.
At the same time, as you can imagine, I have lived in my past capacity, very strongly, the South Sudan crisis. When I became High Commissioner for Refugees, my first act was to go to Uganda to celebrate World Refugee Day with South Sudanese refugees. And we helped 500,000 South Sudanese go back home when the country was created; a lot of hope was inspiring them.
You can imagine how tragic it is to see now South Sudan in a dramatic situation with the real perspectives of things getting even worse. You have seen the reports of our Special [Adviser] on [the Prevention of] Genocide and, at the same time, to see how difficult it has been to create the conditions for the South Sudan situation to be put on track for a peaceful resolution.
And so, one of my objectives was to try to establish a sound mechanism of cooperation between the sub-regional organisation IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development), the African Union and the UN in order to be able to do everything possible to avoid worst in South Sudan and to bring the South Sudanese situation into a better track for peace.
Now, after the mission, I can tell you that I believe we fully met our objectives. First of all, we established with the African Union an enhanced platform of cooperation. I was invited for a breakfast meeting with all African Heads of State to discuss the situation in the continent and the global situation. It was agreed that, in every African Union summit in January, there will be a breakfast meeting between the Secretary-General and all the African Heads of States, translating the strong commitment of Africa to a very close relationship with UN.
At the same time, we have agreed that Agenda 2063, which is the development agenda of the African Union, and Agenda 2030, the sustainable development agenda that was agreed in the summit last year, will be aligned. And there will be only one line of reporting, which means that there will be a total cooperation between the UN and the African Union in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the Paris Agreement in the years to come.
On the other hand, we managed to have a summit meeting between IGAD, the African Union, and myself. We came to a total agreement on the way forward. And that agreement was preceded by a summit of the IGAD, the sub-regional organisation itself.
We will be clearly working together with the same voice, in order to make sure that the national dialogue that will be launched in South Sudan is truly inclusive, including all the key elements of the opposition. Ex-President [Alpha Oumar] Konaré of [Mali], the African Union mediator, was fully empowered to launch a mediating process with total support from the UN, both from our representative, [Nicholas] Haysom, and from the logistical point of view.
This will be done in very close cooperation with IGAD, and President [Festus] Mogae will also be fully supportive for us in his role of monitoring of the peace process. And all together we will be acting in order to make sure that the dialogue is really inclusive. And, at the same time, in a meeting with Salva Kiir, it was agreed that we will have better cooperation, both for the UN Mission to operate more freely inside South Sudan and for the Regional Protection Force to be put in place.
We have also reached full agreement with Kenya in order for Kenya to participate in the Regional Protection Force. And I hope I have meetings with President Salva Kiir and with all the key neighbours, beyond the meetings with the IGAD and with the African Union. I hope that the conditions are now created for these three organisations, all the neighbours to work together with the same objective, to speak with the same voice, and to try to create the conditions, as I said, to avoid what could be a dramatic evolution of the situation on the ground with massacres that anybody can foresee possible and to put on track a peace process aiming at giving a future of hope for the South Sudanese.
We also had important discussions on Mali, the Mali situation that, as you know, is a very complex situation, because you have a peacekeeping operation with limited mandates, together with the counterterrorism operation in the same territory, what creates many difficulties.
I met with the G5 Heads of State — Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger. And there will be a new meeting in Bamako in the beginning of February. And we will be seeing how we can work together to improve our capacity, both to move onwards with the political process and to have a more effective approach to dealing with the very complex terrorist situation in the north.
So, on top of that, I had the opportunity to discuss with key stakeholders situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Burundi. I hope that there will be a chance for progress in all these very complex situations.
And what The Gambia episode has demonstrated is that, when the neighbours of a country are together, when the sub-regional African organisation is united and the African Union is united, then it is possible for the Security Council to decide; it is possible for action to be taken, and it is possible for democracy, human rights, and the freedom of peoples to be defended.
When there is division in the region, it is much more difficult for the UN to be able to act accordingly. I think we made an enormous progress in creating the conditions for a much more effective cooperation with the different African entities and the UN in addressing some of the most complex crises that we face.
But I would like to end by saying that our narrative about Africa must not be based on the crises that exists in Africa. There are crises everywhere. We have crises in Europe, crises in the Middle East, crises in Asia there are crises everywhere.
What is important is for us to understand the enormous potential that Africa represents, that Africa is the continent that has grown more economically in the last decade, that has remarkable success stories, that we need to also take profit of the momentum created by these facts in order to make sure that Africa is able to win the battle for sustainable and inclusive developments in the next few years, knowing that that is also the best way to prevent the conflicts that, unfortunately, have created so much suffering in the continent.
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, it didn’t take four days. I made several statements on that when I was in the African Union. As you can imagine, you can find some pieces in different media, but what was lacking was the capacity to have a comprehensive approach to the problem, because the transcription that was made of several of my interventions in relation to that when I was in Addis was necessarily truncated. And I thought it was important to come with something that represents the doctrine we have in relation to these issues, both in relation to the ban and also the very dramatic situations that refugees are facing when they have no chance to reach protection.
Secretary-General: It is obvious that, in my opinion, this is not the way and it was very clear in the statement this is not the way to best protect the US or any other country in relation to the serious concerns that exists about possibilities of terrorist infiltration. But I don’t think this is the effective way to do so, and I think that these measures should be removed sooner rather than later. That was the appeal I made.
Secretary-General: I think that it’s very all complicated things have an easy answer, and the answer is to be firm in assessing all principles and open in engaging in constructive dialogue. And that is this combination that I will try to make effective in the way we deal with US Administration or in the way we deal with any other administration in the world.
Secretary-General: I think that is clearly one of the tracks that need to be pursued in the Geneva conference that will take place in the 20th. That is, of course, one of the central issues that this conference needs to discuss.
Secretary-General: Of course, it’s part of the central discussion that needs to be made. But, of course, all the other aspects need to be also on the table. I think it’s important to have an open discussion without preconditions but that aspect you mentioned is, of course, in the core of all concerns.
Secretary-General: That’s well, I’m saying that is in the core of all concerns
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, in relation to the question, I think that if the UN would not be in Astana, we would be tremendously criticised to allow for a process to move onwards with the exclusion of the UN. I think our presence in Astana was an absolute must in order to guarantee that after Astana, we could have Geneva. And in Geneva, we could discuss the key political aspects that are essential to be on the table. Of course, in Astana, we are not all the stakeholders, and I believe that a solution will require the full commitment of all stakeholders, and Arab countries are a key component in finding a solution for the Syria crisis. In relation to the process onwards and the solutions and the need to set a moment for all foreign troops to leave, I think that should apply to everybody without exception. But this is a long process of negotiation that is starting now and I hope will be concluded positively for the Syrian people.
Secretary-General: I am planning to visit the region in the next few weeks, months, depending and obviously, my interest is to be able to talk with all key interlocutors in the region without exception.
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, in relation to a possible visit, in the phone call I had with President Trump, it was clearly agreed that, at the adequate moment, I would have a visit to Washington to also visit him. That is absolutely normal, and it will naturally happen. We had a very constructive discussion with the American ambassador on the cooperation between the US and the UN. And, you know, sometimes we talk too much about things that have not happened. And when you talk too much about things that have not happened, you trigger the happening of those things. [Laughter] So one thing you can be absolutely sure is that I will not be making comments on possibilities to enhance the post possibilities to possibly be a reality. [Laughter] What I am doing is to do everything I can to prove the added value of the UN, to recognise the UN needs reforms, to be totally committed to those reforms, and to believe that those reforms will be the best way to get the support of all Member States, including the United States of America and its new administration.
Secretary-General: No, that is at the moment, not yet has been decided on that.
Secretary-General: As you know, resettlement of refugees is, in many situations, the only possible solution. If you are a victim of torture, women and children have lost members of their families and are deeply traumatised, people with complex health situations. Resettlement has proven and when I was in UNHCR, we were resettling about 100,000 people around the world. And you can’t imagine what it is to go one day to a city in the United States or in Canada or in Australia or in Sweden and talk to a family that came a few years before in the most desperate conditions that had no chance staying in a refugee camp or in the slums of a city in the developing world, even if their countries would be very generous, and to see that, all of a sudden, their children are here or in Canada or in another country and they are in a university that they were able to have a small company that they are operating, giving jobs sometimes to other refugees and to locals, I mean, resettlement is a must from the point of view of refugee protection. And the United States has been always in the forefront of resettlement, and Syrians are those refugees that, at the present moment, have the most dramatic needs in the world. So I strongly hope that the US will be able to re-establish its very solid refugee protection in resettlement, and I hope that the Syrians will not be excluded in that process. In relation to the measures that were taken, I already expressed my clear opinion about those measures. I think that those measures indeed violate our basic principles, and I think that they are not effective if the objective is to really avoid terrorists to enter the United States. We are dealing with very sophisticated global terrorist organisations. If a global terrorist organisation will try to attack any country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hotspots of conflict today. They might come with passports from the most, I’ll say, developed and credible countries in the world, or they might use people that [have] been for decades sometimes inside the countries. And that is why it is so important not to have measures that spread anxiety and anger, because when we adopt measures that spread anxiety and anger, we help trigger the kind of recruitment mechanisms that these organisations are now doing everywhere in the world. And that is why we have been so strongly pushing for the capacity to have very strong measures in relation to management of borders but, at the same time, not to base them on any discrimination linked to nationality, religion or ethnicity.
Secretary-General: I think that he has said nothing else but what is written in the resolution of the Security Council. So it is clear that that’s what the resolution forecasts, and it is clear this is a possibility that might be used. What we want is the success of the Geneva conference, and the success of the Geneva conference implies that there is a meaningful representation of the Syrian opposition in Geneva, and we will do everything to make sure that that happens. But this is not the moment to enter into discussions on secondary issues. What we need is to conjugate all our efforts in line with Security Council resolution and Geneva Communiqué to make Geneva a success. And that’s, I think, the interest of all of us.
Secretary-General: I think that what is important is to have this time substantive discussions on the central issues, and I hope that this will be possible.
Secretary-General: Well, I don’t know exactly what is meant by that concept. That concept has been used with different meanings in different situations. I would say three basic things: First, we have nothing against the creation of areas where people can live in safety. Second, that can never undermine the right to seek asylum. So, when people, for instance, decide to create safe zones to not allow people to leave those zones, this is something that is not acceptable. And, third, we have in history different examples of safe zones. And some of them were tragic. Srebrenica was a safe zone. So, again, it’s difficult to comment on something we don’t know what it is. Let’s see what it is, and then we will make the adequate comments.
Secretary-General: Before I can announce the name, there is a procedure. That procedure is to submit to ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) for the post to be created. And the worst thing I can do is to announce someone before the post is created, because that will be against the rules. And so you will wait a little bit more.