22 July 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, and welcome to the briefing.  Apologies for this slight delay.


** Somalia


An international meeting organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization, involving Member States and the United Nations, will be held on Monday in Rome to look at the response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa.


And meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it will provide food assistance to 175,000 people in the Gedo region bordering Ethiopia and Kenya.  The World Food Programme will soon commence distributions of food to 40,000 displaced people in the Afgooye corridor.  Airlifts will also begin in the next days to Mogadishu, where WFP is already assisting 300,000 people, as well as for northern Kenya.  The World Food Programme now has a revised appeal for $340 million for its response to this drought.  In fact, the agency’s Executive Director was in Nairobi today; Josette Sheeran will visit the Dadaab refugee camp tomorrow.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) adds that so far this month they have delivered 1,300 tons of life-saving supplies to treat more than 66,000 malnourished children in the hardest-hit areas in southern Somalia.


With more than 1,000 people arriving in Mogadishu everyday, largely from the Lower Shabelle area, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) continues its aid response.  On Wednesday, the agency distributed 1,500 emergency assistance packages, that is enough for 15,000 displaced persons in south-west Mogadishu.  Another 7,500 packages will be distributed in the coming weeks.  Overcrowding is a problem in both Dadaab and Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado camp.  To ease congestion, the refugee agency is continuing its airlift of emergency aid, including tents for more than 75,000 people.  And details can be found on the different websites of those parts of the UN system.


**Security Council


Ibrahim Gambari, the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative in Darfur, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that considerable progress has been made in the Doha negotiations in recent months.


The challenge for the international community, Mr. Gambari said, is to determine how best to impress on all sides of the conflict that a military solution is not the way to go.  Every effort should be made to reach a permanent ceasefire and a comprehensive peace agreement as soon as possible, he said, adding that the people of Darfur have suffered too long and too deeply.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


A new UN report on mass rapes and other human rights violations committed in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlights the need to reinforce the country’s justice system.


Between 31 December last year and 1 January, at least 47 women were victims of sexual violence, including rape.  The report notes that the actual number of rapes may be considerably higher.  While the investigation could not definitively ascertain who committed the violations, elements of the Congolese armed forces were consistently pointed out as the alleged perpetrators.  The report also stressed the need for urgent measures to prevent reprisals against victims and witnesses and to strengthen protection of civilians.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Roger Meece, stressed the importance of all military officers’ obligation to cooperate fully with investigations.  For her part, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recommended a vetting mechanism to ensure that alleged perpetrators of serious rights violations are excluded from security forces.


**Press Conferences


On Monday at about 11:15, there will be a press conference here on the occasion of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Youth.  Speakers will include Joseph Deiss, the President of the General Assembly; Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting of Austria; Ambassador Jean-Francis Zinsou of Benin; and international supermodel Ms. Alek Wek.


And then at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, here, there will be a press conference with the Force Commanders of the UN peacekeeping operations after they address the Security Council that morning.  This will be an opportunity for journalists to ask questions of a number of the Force Commanders who will be on hand at that press conference.


So, questions, please.  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On this Somalia food crisis, the… I mean, it has been said, reported by some of the World Bank people that Ethiopia has witnessed a bumper crop as against Somalia which is now facing famine, drought and so forth.  Is it a possibility that the World Food Programme or the United Nations agencies can get food supplies from there?


Spokesperson:  Well, the World Food Programme tries where possible to secure the supplies that it needs within the region, because that makes it quicker to deliver to those who need.  But obviously this is a matter for the World Food Programme.  I don’t have the details of how they are dealing with that.  They obviously have well-established, well-tried and tested mechanisms to deliver aid and to secure that aid in the first place, and no doubt they will be discussing this amongst other topics in Rome on Monday.


Question:  On this bombing in Oslo, did you have anything to say about this?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is certainly aware of it, and I know that he is shocked by what has happened.  It may even be that he will go to the Security Council stakeout within the next few minutes to speak about that.  But in any case, we would anticipate putting out a statement a little later.  Obviously details are still coming in.


Question:  So maybe in the next few minutes or…?


Spokesperson:  In the next, potentially.  I do not know for certain.  It may be about to be announced, but I just wanted to alert you to that possibility.  But he is certainly aware and he is shocked at what’s happened in Oslo today.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to… I mean, just on Somalia and the UN’s response… it’s you know, now… now that Al-Shabaab’s spokesman is saying that in fact it’s… it’s not true that they’re granting access, that they continue to block groups that they have banned.  So, I am just wondering, what’s the UN’s… what… what… it seems from what Mr. Bowden… what Mr. Bowden said, that there was, you know… there was, you know, access or that there was some acknowledgement by Al-Shabaab that there was a problem and food was getting in.  What’s the… I mean, it is… is… some UN agencies can get in and not others, some NGOs can… what is the… what… what should we make of this Al-Shabaab statement about blocking groups?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s clear that different parts of the UN system are operating in Somalia in different ways, in different places.  Our only interest in Somalia at this moment is to save lives.  And we welcomed the previous statement from Al-Shabaab welcoming humanitarian agencies to resume operations in areas under their control.  And we reiterate now, today, the need to increase assistance to populations in acute distress wherever they are.  So, you will also have seen that for example, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, are speaking on their own behalf, if you like, on the ground, and I think that I would refer you to what they have also been saying; that will give you a complete picture.  But just to stress that we reiterate the need to increase assistance to populations in acute distress wherever they are.


Question:  And can I ask you, just now in front of the Security Council during the Darfur briefing, it was said that… that Mr. Gambari is going to be now taking over from Mr. Bassolé for three months.  And one Permanent Representative said that’s because his contract expires at the end of the year.  Can you give some… what’s the UN’s understanding of Mr. Gambari’s… whether he is going to be wearing those two hats and for how long, and is it true that his contract, I guess UN or UN-AU contract, expires at the end of the year?


Spokesperson:  I have to look into that, I don’t know.


Question:  But is he… is it… is he the new mediator, Doha process mediator?


Spokesperson:  The answer I just gave you applies to everything you said.


Correspondent:  All right.


Spokesperson:  Okay, right.  Yes, please?


Question:  Does the new report on the rapes in the Congo indicate any kind of progress?  This has been an ongoing problem.  What’s… is there anything positive to report about whether or not it’s been changing?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think there is quite a lot to be said about that, and I know that my colleagues in the Peacekeeping Operations Department, in DPKO, will have more details on that for you to have a bigger picture, if you like.  But I think there are a couple of aspects here.  One is to note that this is a report that’s been put together by the United Nations in a very thorough way, very through way.  And it’s also something that’s been done jointly, in other words that involves the human rights part of the Mission that’s on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that’s in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This was an investigation jointly carried out — it’s known as the UN Joint Human Rights Office.  And it’s obvious from this that it’s a problem that persists, and that more needs to be done.  This is obvious.  But it is also obvious that the United Nations is throwing a spotlight on this, and is working to ensure that those responsible are held to account.  And that’s why the Special Representative Roger Meece is underscoring the importance of the obligation that military officers have to cooperate fully with these investigations that are being carried out.  So, yes, Masood?


Question:  On Gaza, where Israel has been able to successfully… been able to stop the flotilla and “air-tilla” and so forth, the situation seems, continues to be the same.  I mean, has Israel given any indication that it will ease the blockade of Gaza, although it has been making the statements by [inaudible] reflecting to mitigate the sufferings of the people in Gaza?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, a while back, in recent weeks, an undertaking was given to allow in more supplies so that the UN can carry out building work in Gaza.  And that is an important development.  It is of course not enough.  We’ve consistently said that, while on the one hand, we do not believe that flotillas are the appropriate way to send aid to Gaza, it’s clear that there is a reason for people wanting to provide aid and that is because of the closure of the frontier.  So, it’s incumbent on the Israeli authorities to do more to ensure that the supplies can get in, and that there can be free movement of people and goods through crossing points.


Question:  Has there been any talk between the Secretary-General and Israeli officials on… I mean, to ease the… I mean, so-called the Middle East process which is stagnating, release the some 8,000 to 9,000 Palestinians in their jails?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General meets periodically, regularly, with Israeli officials and speaks to them, too.  And these are the kind of topics that are of course raised when they do meet or talk by telephone.


Question:  Only one more question about the statement made by Iranian President Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad wherein he said that he is willing to accept international mediation and disavow this nuclear crisis.  Do you have anything to say about this statement?


Spokesperson:  Not specifically on that.  The key to all of this is compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, of which there are five.  And it really is for the Iranian authorities to prove to the satisfaction of the international community that their nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, and the resolutions are designed precisely to ensure that that is the case.  It’s important that the Iranian authorities cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency in the work that needs to be done to provide those assurances.


Question:  Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement, isn’t it taken as a window of opportunity to engage the international community, especially the Secretary-General with the...?


Spokesperson:  Again, I am not commenting on this particular statement because that still needs to be looked at in some detail, I think.  I am making a general statement of principle at this point.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask one follow-up on Mr. Meece and then some things about Kordofan.  But there was this incident where Roger Meece of MONUSCO was, you know, blocked in a compound, rocks were thrown and, at least the statement that was sent to me said that there was political motivation but it wasn’t clear.  Is there, has MONUSCO come to any greater understanding of what took place in South Kivu?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the information that was sent to you was quite detailed and self-explanatory.  At this point I don’t have anything further to add on that.


Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you in… in… a couple of things about South Kordofan.  One is that the Government… well two things, actually, the Government is saying that it has arrested, the… the… the… the JEM military commander for South Kordofan there.  They’ve said that, which seems to confirm that JEM is fighting there.  They have also… the Government has also released a report accusing NGOs of supporting the, quote, insurrection of… of Mr. [inaudible] and the SPLM-North, the Danish… the Denmark Ecclesiastical Organization and the Norway Ecclesiastical Organization.  I wonder, does OCHA… I mean, what… what’s the UN say?  It sounds like the UN is not able to monitor or report on Southern Kordofan, but it seems, I guess these NGOs are.  What’s the UN saying about what’s taking place in Southern Kordofan both of these reports by the Government and…?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, Matthew, we are not in a position to confirm the details, the first part of your question on a JEM commander for the reasons that we have explained before.  We’re just simply not in a position to be able to confirm that at this point.  We’ve also said repeatedly, that the United Nations system, from the Secretary-General down, is extremely concerned about what is happening in Kordofan, South Kordofan, and the reports that are emerging.  That’s precisely why the Secretary-General believes that it is important to have access, for the international community to have access, and that includes international non-governmental organizations as well as United Nations agencies.  That access is not available at the moment, certainly not to the extent that we need to be able to monitor and to be able to provide assistance to those who need it.


Question: Are the peacekeepers still there, have any actually been withdrawn or they’re still in [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  I do not know the details of how many remain, how many have withdrawn already.  I’ll see if I can get some details on that.


Okay.  Well, thank you very.  Have a good weekend.


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For information media • not an official record