21 June 2011
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**General Assembly Appointment of Secretary-General


The General Assembly expects to take up the agenda item “Appointment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations” at 3 this afternoon.  The Assembly’s action comes after the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1987 (2011) last Friday.  The Secretary-General will attend the General Assembly meeting.  And we expect that afterwards, he will speak to reporters at the General Assembly stakeout, at approximately 6 p.m.  Needless to say, that schedule depends on events this afternoon and may change accordingly.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding a debate this morning concerning piracy off the coast of Somalia.  Patricia O’Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s recent report concerning modalities for anti-piracy courts.  She emphasized that, if the Security Council wishes to request the Secretary-General to address any of the modalities considered in the report, with a view to moving towards the establishment of Somali specialized courts, her office will do so as a matter of priority.


** Cyprus


The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met today in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, told reporters that it was a constructive meeting.  The talks focused on preparing for the leaders’ meeting with the Secretary-General in Geneva on 7 July.  They also discussed governance and power-sharing issues.  The leaders will meet again on 30 June.


** Syria


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) participated in a Government-organized mission to the Syrian town of Jisr al Shugour yesterday.


A UNHCR staff member reported that villages were increasingly empty from around 40 kilometres away from Jisr al Shugour.  There was no evidence of people working in the fields.  And Jisr al Shugour itself was almost deserted, with most shops shuttered and closed.  No displaced populations were encountered, but the fact that Jisr al Shughour and surrounding villages are empty indicates significant displacement.


The refugee agency staff met briefly with staff of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent who described food and medicine shortages in the area.  But other than this brief interaction, the mission was not able to conduct any humanitarian assessments.


**Questions from Monday


I was asked yesterday about our reaction to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s speech earlier that day.  What I can tell you is that, as you know, the Secretary-General has spoken before about the need for President Assad to stop the violence and to initiate genuine dialogue and reforms before it is too late.  The Secretary-General has taken note of reforms pledged by the President in his speech yesterday, and he urges the President to carry out these measures without delay and in a way that is both genuine and credible.  They should be part of a broad and inclusive process of change and democratization.


I was also asked about a report that food distribution to El Geneina, in Darfur, has been halted.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has confirmed that the food distributions to El Geneina are on track, and any reports suggesting that such distributions have stopped are inaccurate.


And as for any reports of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) losing control of heavy weaponry, it’s quite simple:  the UN Mission in Sudan does not have heavy weapons.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow I will have as my guest, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and she will be here to brief you on her recent trip to Chad.


Questions, please?  Yes, Richard?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Hello.  I don’t know if you mentioned this earlier, but maybe the schedules are different.  Does the Secretary-General plan to stop — or you already said — at 6 p.m. at the stakeout today?


Spokesperson:  Say again?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General plan to stop to speak to reporters at 6 p.m. today?


Spokesperson:  You’re right; I did mention this at the outset.  We expect that after the General Assembly session, he will speak to reporters at the General Assembly stakeout at approximately 6 p.m.  But of course, because of the nature of the event, that could change, the timing could change.


Question:  There was probably an erroneous wire report a few days ago; when was the last time he spoke to President Al-Assad of Syria?  I know he’d said in Brasilia “I’ve spoken to him”, but I think it may be that was past tense…


Spokesperson:  It was past tense, that’s right, and the Secretary-General — I can’t remember the exact date — but the Secretary-General has spoken to President Al-Assad of Syria on a number of occasions.  Three times, if I remember correctly, in relation to the events that have been unfolding there.  But as you know, the most recent call was already some time ago now.  Yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that they last spoke by phone on 4 May.  They also spoke by phone on 25 March and 9 April.]


Question:  Sure, Martin.  Just now, across the street, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are screening this film, The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, that I asked you about I guess a week ago… among other things, it concludes that the Secretary-General has ignored the recommendations of his own panel to start an investigation into the war crimes that it depicts.  I am wondering if, in the… since he came back… one, the Secretary-General has had any opportunity to see this video by this Channel 4, which is now widely available.  And two, if he has any response to what it concludes with?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I have already answered this question.  The notion that he has ignored the recommendations of the panel is just simply not true.  As you know, he is already implementing the recommendations that deal with the internal workings of the UN at the time with safeguarding the material that was gathered during the course of the Panel of Experts’ work.  And also, to ensure that there will be regular follow-up to keep an eye on the process that is under way through a national mechanism in Sri Lanka.  As for the follow-up, we have repeatedly said that it requires either national consent or a mandate from an intergovernmental body.  And that hasn’t changed.


Question:  Has the status of this…


Spokesperson:  And I’ll come back on the other, just in a second, ask your follow-up, but I wanted to continue on the nature of the film itself.  But ask your follow-up question.


Question:  Okay, oh sure, sure, absolutely.  I just wanted to know, what is the status of his inquiry into the UN’s own actions that was announced in April?  Has any actual… has that begun, has the process begun?


Spokesperson:  The process of coordinating between different parts of the UN system to ensure that the kind of internal look at how events unfolded and what lessons can be learnt from that, that’s being coordinated between different agencies and different parts of the Secretariat at the moment.


Question:  And in terms of looking, is it… is it… just asking yes or no, has he seen the film?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think the Secretary-General has seen the film.  As you well know, he has been on the move quite a bit.  He has been briefed on the film; he is aware of it.  And certainly, you were there yourself with the Secretary-General in Sri Lanka.  I think you know well yourself that the Secretary-General did much more than a whistle-stop tour to one refugee camp, and that he most certainly did speak to refugees in camps.  And I think that you were a witness to that yourself.  This is something that is not correctly portrayed in that film.  Okay, other questions, please?  Yes, the last one.


Question:  Well, could I, it seems like it’s a pretty big day?


Spokesperson:  That’s precisely why, Matthew.


Question:  Okay, well, I have two questions concerning both what the Secretary-General did this morning and about this afternoon.  So, there seem to… they are directly related and should be asked before.  One is, this morning he had a meeting with his Advisory Board on Water, after which there was, I guess, no questions were allowed, but there was this press… seeming press availability.  So, I wanted to ask you, in the meeting that he attended, was the UN’s own sanitation practices in Haiti regarding peacekeepers in MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] discussed?


Spokesperson:  There was not a meeting; there was the public event that you attended, Matthew.  That was it.


Question:  Okay, all right.  The second question is, is that…?


Spokesperson:  And you were there.  You saw it, I saw you there.


Question:  I was there.  I thought actually questions could be asked.  I thought…


Spokesperson:  But it was an event to launch something.


Question:  Okay, okay.  The other question is about GRULAC [Group of Latin American and Caribbean States] and it’s… one of the GRULAC members has confirmed that in the meeting between the Secretary-General, and GRULAC and I guess that would be either June 6th or 7th — that the critique, among the critiques made was that Latin America and the Caribbean have not been prominent enough during the Secretary-General’s first term.  This is explained by some as one of the reasons that they didn’t deliver the endorsement on the same schedule as the other regional groups.  And I just wonder, what is the Secretary-General’s response to that critique?  Has he heard it, what does he think of it, are there any intentions to do differently in the second term?


Spokesperson:  I think the immediate response is he has just come back from a long trip around four countries in Latin America.  Earlier in the year, he was in Guatemala and in two other countries in South America, and he has visited frequently different parts of Latin America.  And indeed he also, as he said, he has visited Central America.  The other point is that you’re perfectly capable, and it would appear that you already have done, to speak to people from the Member States concerned with regard to that meeting.  And I think it is quite enough to say that the Secretary-General respects the views of all the Member States, and obviously amongst 192 countries, there will be countries that would prefer to have seen the Secretary-General visit more rather than less.  But it is a question of planning carefully for trips.  And that will continue.


Question:  They seem to be talking about more than trips.  But I mean, what I wanted to know was, was that trip a response to the critique?  I just want to know, they seem…


Spokesperson:  Matthew, that is extremely frivolous, because you know full well that visits take a long time to plan.


Question:  That’s why I asked you; I was asking about the critique and you said he just took a trip.  But I am saying the critique that was made…


Spokesperson:  What I am trying to say is quite clearly that there are plenty… he has been to Latin America, he has been to other parts of the world frequently, simply because he would like to interact with the people of those countries and also to ensure that the priorities that the United Nations has — whether it is on women’s and children’s health, whether it is on sanitation — that he is able to be there, speak to people, deal with it first-hand and ensure that these matters are put in the spotlight where they belong.  Yes, Ben?


QuestionAl-Jazeera, and it’s been posted online, has video of an UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] compound in Kauda in Southern Kordofan being bombed.  It’s an aerial bombardment on 14 June.  Do you have any reaction to that?  Have you seen this video?


Spokesperson:  Not…


Question:  Confirmed apparently by UN members, UN personnel on the ground that this happened.


Spokesperson:  Well, I haven’t seen that particular piece of video myself, and I’ll have to check whether our peacekeeping colleagues have.  We’ve said last week already, if I remember correctly, that there had been aerial bombardments and that, on one occasion in particular, a number of bombs landed very close, within 150 metres, if I remember correctly, of a Mission compound.  I don’t have any details beyond that.  Maybe it is the same incident; maybe it is something different.  I’d have to check.  Okay, thank you very much.


[The Spokesperson later added that, on 19 June, at least seven bombs were dropped within 500 meters of the Kauda team site.]


* *** *


For information media • not an official record