|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by General Assembly President
Through the direct engagement of its Member States, the General Assembly had been able to respond promptly to many important and serious situations during its current session, the President of the 193-nation body said today at a Headquarters press conference on a wide range of issues, including the upcoming Rio summit on sustainable development, the crisis in Syria, and combating violence against women.
Nassir Abdualziz Al-Nasser, of Qatar, announced that tonight he would host an important and special cultural event in the General Assembly Hall, to support the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women. He said that the event, featuring the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and addresses by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, would draw attention to the problem of violence against women and girls.
“This is an issue on which we all need to come together, to fight this type of violence,” said Assembly President Al-Nasser, explaining that it was estimated that six out of 10 women worldwide had suffered from physical or sexual violence. “This is unacceptable. So, we must all come together and deliver much-needed assistance to the victims, and offer our support in addressing this crime,” he declared, adding that UN Women was a “very important” new body that needed more support and attention from Member States.
To that end, he announced that following his earlier call to Member States, a number of Governments had begun contributing hundreds of thousands – even millions - of dollars to the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Tonight, and after tonight, the Organization was hoping to see more contributions to that important Fund, from Governments, the private sector, philanthropists and other organisations. “We can make a real and positive difference in the lives of millions of women and girls across the world,” he said.
Tonight’s special event would also be a celebration of the sixty-sixth session of the Assembly, which, he said, “remains the world’s most representative, most legitimate and truly universal body.” Indeed, the people of the world are looking to the General Assembly and to the United Nations as a whole, for support, assistance and as a moral compass in these troubled times. In that context, he said that that Syrian people and the people of the Middle East “deserve a united voice and urgent action from the General Assembly and the UN for the restoration of peace, unity and order in Syria.”
He announced that, as follow-up to its 16 February resolution on Syria, “and out of deep concern”, the Assembly had invited Secretary-General Ban, as well as Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the Arab League, Kofi Annan, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to brief Member States in an open session tomorrow.
Describing the situation on the ground in Syria “as very disappointing and, frankly, appalling”, he said that the international community had followed the recent horrifying developments, especially the massacre of more than a hundred people – including women and children – in the village El-Houleh. “I have condemned the El-Houleh massacre and the ongoing violence in the strongest possible terms. Those responsible must be made to face justice,” President Al-Nasser said.
Turning to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as “Rio+20” after the Brazilian capital hosting the event from 20 to 22 June, he said that as a top priority for his Presidency he had convened a number of key events to gather support for all the preparations that had been taking place – especially behind the scenes – to ensure the summit was a success.
“I have continued to advocate the importance of Rio+20 in meetings and bilateral discussions with world leaders and important partners, here in New York and during my travels,” he said, telling reporters that he been pushing for the full engagement of Member States and civil society, in order to overcome differences and narrow any remaining gaps.
Throughout the negotiations, it would be very important for all participants to focus on the big picture and not just individual national interests or individual group interests. Rio+20 would be about setting the world on the right course for sustainable growth for future generations, he said, stressing that: “The real work will begin after the conference is over, when we will need concrete action on various key areas of concern.” He also stressed the importance of Governments’ commitment to action, and voluntary commitments from all stakeholders, to support implementation of the summit’s outcomes.
“If Rio+20 fails, we all lose. We cannot afford to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We cannot afford to be negative and divided,” he said, calling for consensus to ensure success in the agenda for sustainable development and global prosperity, especially when considering life beyond the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In the days ahead, his Office would be engaged, and available to help, towards progress on any outstanding issues.
“Personally, I am a born optimist. I have learned over the years of my multilateral diplomatic experience that one has to be optimistic when you are working with 193 sovereign Member States,” he said, adding that he also believed that with genuine political will and a sense of global solidarity, “we can achieve a great deal at Rio.”
He went on to say that he had recently convened a high-level meeting on mediation, his main priority for the Assembly’s sixty-sixth session, and he had also convened a very successful meeting on the state of the world economy. He would distribute the Chair’s summary of that meeting to all participants, and would also transmit it to the Secretary-General so that he could have it at his disposal when he attended the upcoming G-20 Summit in Mexico.
Responding to questions on the situation in Syria, he said that the Arab follow-up committee on that issue had met last week and had issued a statement. He could not say that all Arab countries agreed with the outcome “maybe one or two Aran countries are not in agreement” – but the Secretary-General of the Arab League had urged him to transmit the statement to Member States.
That meeting had, among other things, called for more action by the Security Council and the Assembly. They expressed support for Mr. Annan’s six-point plan “but they are not happy with what’s happening on the ground.” He told one correspondent to remember that the Syrian Government had agreed to implement that plan, but thus far, had taken no real action to do so. To a reporter who questioned whether the reticence of some come countries in the region to back the plan was because it did not call for President Assad to step down, he said: “We are not talking about regime change here, we are talking about bringing an end to the violence.”
When a correspondent noted that the crisis was now spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon, he said that was a cause for serious concern. He said that Mr. Annan was disappointed that the six-point plan “is not going anywhere”. Since Mr. Annan’s mandate had been generated by the Assembly, Mr. Al-Nassir said that he had convened tomorrow’s meeting so the Special Envoy and other officials could address Member States. Mr. Annan was expected to brief the Security Council in a closed-door session tomorrow afternoon.
“The two important organs of the United Nations - the Security Council and the General Assembly – are on top of this issue,” he said, adding that after tomorrow’s meeting, Member States would decide on the next steps. He went on to say that he was very pleased to hear of a new initiative to end the violence in Syria and to prevent it from spreading elsewhere, especially to Lebanon, “which is very sensitive”. He would not hazard a guess about what the Assembly or the Security Council would do after tomorrow. “We will see Member States’ reaction to the briefings; then we will see what’s next,” he said.
Responding to another query regarding gender equality and women’s rights in the Arab World, he said that while he was not representing the region, in his capacity as the President of the General Assembly, he had linked the celebration of the sixty-sixth session to UN Women to generate support for “this great and important United Nations body.” Indeed, Member States had created UN Women and therefore, had a commitment to support it. “They cannot do their important work without resources,” he said, also stressing that many countries did not know about the Trust Fund, so tonight’s event would help generate interest in that mechanism.
To a question on Security Council reform, he said that while he had “been on top of the issue since day one” of his presidency, the ultimate decision must be taken by the Member States. He believed that delegations were still working on gathering new ideas that might lead to consensus. Still, without good will among Member States, the efforts of any Assembly President could only achieve so much. “We are trying. We have some ideas and some groups have specific notions on reform,” he added.
* *** *