Press Releases

    20 January 2005

    Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, 19 January 2005

    Secretary-General:  Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I want to thank the representatives of Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and the United States for joining us at this press conference -- as well as Luxembourg, which represents the whole of the European Union.

    As you know, Mr. President, we are here together today to stress the importance we attach to the special session that the General Assembly is holding next Monday to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps.

    For the United Nations, the special session will have profound significance for several reasons.

    First, because the founding of this Organization was a direct response to the Holocaust.  Our Charter, and the words “untold sorrow”, were written as the world was learning the full horror of the death camps.

    Second, it is essential for all of us to remember, reflect on and learn from what happened 60 years ago.  The evil that destroyed 6 million Jews, and others, in those camps is one that still threatens all of us today.  It is not something we can consign to the distant past, and forget about it.  Every generation must be on its guard, to make sure that such a thing never happens again.  As survivors dwindle in number, and yesterday I met three of them, it falls to succeeding generations -- to us -- to carry forward the work of remembrance.

    Third, this session should also be seen as an expression of our commitment to build a United Nations that can respond quickly and effectively to genocide and other serious violations of human rights.  Of course, that work is still far from complete.

    Monday’s session will be a solemn and highly significant occasion.  I am very glad that the United Nations is joining with others to mark the anniversary of events that played such a decisive part in our history and in defining our role in the world.

    Thank you very much.  I believe Ambassador [Dan] Gillerman wants to say something.

    Ambassador Dan Gillerman (Israel):  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. President, Your Excellency, dear colleagues.  I would first like to thank you, Your Excellency, for lending your moral voice and leadership to making this momentous, historic event possible.  I would also like to thank my colleagues, the Ambassadors of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the European Union, for joining us in this historic initiative and making Monday, the 24th, what will be, I believe, one of the most solemn and historic occasions at the General Assembly.

    I would like to make it very clear that I stand here today, as will my Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on Monday, not just as a representative of Israel, and not just as a representative of the Jewish people, but also as a representative of the 6 million Jews and the many others who were slaughtered in the Holocaust and those horrible dark days of the Second World War.  They cannot speak, but I speak today on their behalf, as will my Deputy Prime Minister on Monday.

    We truly believe that Monday will be a very historical and solemn occasion.  And we believe that it is a very important day not just for Israel, not just for the Jewish people, but also for the United Nations and for the world.  And hopefully this universal initiative which will take place on Monday will do at least two things.  It will make sure that people remember and never forget, and it will make sure that those horrible atrocities never ever happen again anywhere in the world.  Thank you very much.

    General Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon):  Just to say that, as the Secretary-General said, you know that on Monday the General Assembly will hold a special session to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.  I want to stress that this is the first time that the General Assembly is holding a commemorative special session, that is to say, the importance of the fact that Monday we will hold a special session.  I think that it is important to congratulate the Member States who have requested the holding of this session –- namely, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, the Russian Federation, as well as the European Union member States.  I would like to thank them for requesting the holding of the session.

    I think that it will give us an opportunity, because it is our duty to remember, and to say it loudly, “never again”.  I hope also that it will give us the opportunity to renew our commitment to the objectives and the principles of the United Nations Charter and also to renew our commitment to human rights in general.  I am happy to say that a vast majority of Member States supported the idea of holding this special session.  Thank you.

    Question:  This is the sixtieth, it is not the fiftieth, and it is not the tenth.  Consider the UN’s history, why is this the first time that there is such a session?

    General Assembly President:  Well, in general for the General Assembly, we have never had a commemorative special session.  It has been requested by Member States and supported by a vast majority of countries and it is absolutely normal.  We are happy with it.

    Question:  Ambassador Gillerman?

    Ambassador Gillerman:  Well, I don’t know why it has not happened before.  But all I can say is that we are very, very happy that it is happening, if “happy” is a word one could use for such a solemn occasion.  I think that maybe we are at a point in history where the changes in the world are reflected also at the United Nations.  We do live in a changing world.  And we live in a world which, hopefully, presents us today with a unique window of opportunity, a very historic moment, also for making peace in our region.  And, although this was not an Israeli initiative, it was a universal initiative, but seeing as it does in a very special way touch upon Israel and the Jewish people, maybe that atmosphere has made it possible for over 138 countries, including many countries who normally may not have supported such an initiative, to come aboard and we are very gratified that this is happening.

    Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, it is certainly admirable to say “never again”, but just at this moment you yourself have a commission in Sudan investigating whether there is a genocide.  What more can be done?  This certainly will put a spotlight on the issue, but in practical terms, what more can be done?

    Secretary-General:  What more can be done in Sudan or to prevent genocide and gross violations of human rights?  I think this is one of the issues also that the High-Level Panel’s report has taken up, raising the issue of responsibility to protect, and arguing that where governments are either unwilling or unable to, the international community does have a responsibility, and the [Security] Council will have to assume responsibility.  Will that happen?  That is a question that we are all grappling with now.  And the issue of Sudan is also before the Council, but I hope that with the work of the Panel, and the discussions going on in the Council, and the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary, we will become increasingly aware of the need to act or to do something to prevent such atrocities from happening or occurring.  Of course, we are grappling with the situation in Sudan, and the Council has considered all sorts of options, and is fully seized of it, and in fact we are still searching for other actions that the Council may take.

    Question:  Ambassador Gillerman, the opinion in your country of the United Nations is quite low.  Does this session do anything to turn that around and do you feel that, for one day at least, using your own words, are the inmates not running the asylum in that place? 

    And can the Secretary-General also talk about the political dynamics of this session, since it has never occurred and there have been other opportunities, and perhaps when it is all over he can talk about the oil-for-food indictment yesterday and what it means for the UN with someone in the UN allegedly taking money, according to this official, at the end of this session?

    Ambassador Gillerman:  Well, thank you, Richard, for reminding me of that phrase, and giving me the opportunity yet again to make it very clear that when I said that I did not refer to the United Nations.  It was very clear, if anybody would have read the whole text, that I was referring to the Palestinian Authority rather than the United Nations when I did say that the inmates were taking over the asylum.  However, Israel regards the United Nations as a partner.  It is true that it is an arena where Israel has not always enjoyed understanding, compassion and full cooperation.  But we do feel that the United Nations is extremely important.  We do support the Secretary-General in his efforts to lead the United Nations towards a new millennium and carry out many of the reforms which are under way, which we believe will make it a better and a stronger organization.

    Israel has worked with the United Nations and will continue to work with the United Nations in order to make also the very tough neighbourhood we live in a better place, as well as to make the whole world a better place.  We believe in the United Nations, we believe in the ideals of the United Nations, and we feel that, on Monday, the United Nations will mark another chapter in its history which, for us, indeed, is very, very significant, and will, indeed, also probably open a new page, and a new chapter in closer and even better relations between Israel and the United Nations.

    Secretary-General: You asked about the political dynamics of this session.  I think, as the Ambassador said, we have 138 countries that have signed on.  He also alluded to the new spirit in the region and the possibility that the peace process will be re-energized.  And I think that is something that Member States in this Building are very conscious of and I hope will do everything they can to support.  And I think what is going to happen on Monday is a little step towards that direction.

    On the question of the indictment, I know as much as you do from the newspapers.  But I understand that they are in touch with Mr. [Paul] Volcker.  And so I think they may have much more information than we do.  I have nothing else to add.

    Question:  A man who has pleaded guilty has said that he understands a UN official or officials took money from the Iraqi Government in the mid-90s.  Would you order an immediate investigation, and not wait for Paul Volcker’s, as someone could still be here in some position?

    Secretary-General:  I think this is part of the issues, allegations, that the Volcker Commission should look into.  And as I said, Volcker’s group has indicated that they are in touch and aware of this.  And I’m sure whatever evidence there is, the Volcker group will follow through on that.

    Question: As a follow-up to Richard’s initial question, when you speak about the General Assembly, you speak about an immoral majority.  Do you think this event on Monday will make that majority less immoral?  And for the Secretary-General, Sir, how concerned are you that this may open the gate for other groups such as the Armenians, descendants of the victims of the slave trade, to demand a similar treatment?

    Ambassador Gillerman:  It is true that I have often referred to the automatic immoral majority against Israel at the General Assembly.  It is something which we are very frustrated with and in all my meetings with my colleagues, we try to change it.  And we do feel there is a change.  We do feel that what we have seen in this process, which will culminate in the meeting on Monday, is the formation of a moral majority, which proves that when you do the right thing, you can unite and mobilize the Member States of the United Nations to do the right thing and to vote for something which is universal, which is historic and which is very, very important.  And that make us hopeful that maybe we can see more of that also in the future.

    Secretary-General:  It is possible that, in the future, Member States would want to commemorate other events, but that is something for the future to answer.

    Question:  To follow up on a previous question.  It’s very often said that the Holocaust, which was, as you said, at the foundation of the United Nations, there was another thing that was founded in the outcome of the Holocaust, and that’s the State of Israel, which is linked in the Arab world many times here at the UN to the plight of the Palestinians.  Do you think that this is linked and do you think, in this session, it will be linked by some of the speakers?

    Secretary-General:  I think, whether I like it or not, it is linked in the minds of many people.  And so it is a reality that, at the political and other levels, we need to deal with.  And I don’t think that this event in the General Assembly is going to necessarily de-link that issue in the minds of people.

    Question (in French):  M. Ping, pouriez-vous nous expliquer en français pourquoi avoir organisé cette session?

    General Assembly President:  Le 24 janvier 2005, l’Assemblée générale va tenir une session extraordinaire pour commémorer le 60ème anniversaire de la libération des camps de concentration nazis durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale.  C’est la première fois qu’une session extraordinaire commémorative est organisée par l’Assemblée générale.  C’est donc dire l’importance de cette commémoration. Nous avons également indiqué qu’il fallait féliciter les initiateurs de cette commémoration à savoir, le Canada, l’Australie, les États-Unis, la Nouvelle-Zélande, la Fédération de Russie, les États Membres de l’Union européenne.  Une vaste majorité d’État Membres, je crois près de 150, ont appuyé l’idée d’organiser cette session extraordinaire.  D’après les règles de procédure, il en faut seulement plus de la moitié.  Au cours de cette session importante, nous avons le devoir du souvenir, et de nous rappeler qu’il ne faut plus jamais, plus jamais ça.

    Tout à l’heure, vous avez eu une question sur le Soudan.  Étant donné que le Soudan est en Afrique, je voudrais rappeler qu’il y a 15 ans, les règles qui nous gouvernaient, au sein de l’Organisation de l’unité africaine, c’était essentiellement la non-ingérence dans les affaires intérieures.  La nouvelle Charte de l’Union africaine stipule qu’en cas de génocide et de violations massives des droits de l’homme, les États ont le droit d’intervenir, ce qui est une avancée par rapport à ce que nous constatons aujourd’hui.

    Question:  As part of the message to tell the world “never again”, a lot of Member States put together an International Criminal Court to ensure international impunity will not happen.  With regards to Sudan, does the Secretary-General believe that the perpetrators of either war crimes or genocide, whatever is determined to have taken place there, should they be named, and should they be sent to the International Criminal Court?

    Secretary-General:  As you know, we’ve set up a commission to look into the situation in Sudan and to determine whether genocide has taken place or not and to identify those who are perpetrating this effort.  And I’m sure that, at the end of the day, when these people are identified, action will need to be taken.  They need to be held accountable so that we don’t give the impression that impunity is allowed to stand.  And the most logical place for them to be put on trial would be in the ICC.

    Question:  I have a question to Russian Ambassador.  It was the Soviet Army that liberated Auschwitz 60 years ago, and at the initiative of Russia and some other former Soviet Republics, the General Assembly declared May 8 and 9 the days of remembrance and reconciliation.  And there would be a special General Assembly session in May.  How do you relate these two events, the upcoming session on Monday and the upcoming session in May?

    Ambassador Andrey Denisov (Russian Federation):  Thank you very much.  First of all, I want to share the views and assessments by the Secretary-General and others who have made statements here.  Yes, the session on Monday will be the first in a row of events to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the victory of the war against Nazism in Europe.  And my country was one of those who has made a decisive contribution in the defeat of Nazism.  And actually, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1945.  So this is the first event in a row of commemorations of the great victory.  And I want to use the chance to remind that yesterday, on 18 January, was the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Budapest ghetto in Hungary, when thousands of people, men, women and children were liberated just at the last moment; otherwise, they all would have been killed.  So that is why all these facts stress, I think, the importance and the urgency of the commemorative session which will be held on Monday.  Thank you.

    Question:  Ambassador Gillerman, in the spirit of the moment, one of the reasons for the undermining of the Palestinian-Israeli relations is this wall that you have built.  Do you see this wall being dismantled very soon so that we can have a better place over there in the Middle East?

    Ambassador Gillerman:  This security fence, which is largely a chain link fence, and in only very few percentages a wall, is one of the most effective security measures taken by Israel against this horrible phenomena of homicide bombers and terrorists.  It has been incredibly effective.  The number of suicide bombings has been reduced by 90 per cent.  The number of Israelis killed has been reduced by 75 per cent, and those wounded by 85 per cent.

    Let there be no mistake:  there is a perception of calm and quiet in our region.  Unfortunately, that is not true.  The Palestinians have so far, unfortunately, not made any serious effort to stop terrorism and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.  The only reason there is a certain reduction is because of the effectiveness of the fence and the very sophisticated measures taken by the Israeli Defence Forces.  We hope very much that, now that there is a new, hopefully more moderate and responsible Palestinian leadership, they will act against terror, will resume negotiations, and I assure you that if they do, they will find in the Israeli Prime Minister, who has very boldly and courageously initiated unilateral withdrawal from the whole of Gaza and parts of the West Bank, and the Israeli Government, a very willing partner that will go with them a very, very long way towards reaching a just and long-lasting and fair settlement in our region.  Once we reach that, there will be no need for a fence.  Israel has taken fences off before, the last time at the specific request of the Secretary-General along the Blue Line in Lebanon.  We will gladly do it again once there is no need any longer for that defensive measure.  As long as there is terror, we will, however, continue to do everything we can to protect the lives of our citizens.

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