8 August 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.


**Secretary-General in Japan


The Secretary-General visited the Japanese city of Fukushima today, and he told reporters afterwards that he had paid his respects in memory of the many people who lost their lives.  He said that he could not express how sad he was to have seen the destruction and loss of lives there.


At the same time, the Secretary-General said that he was encouraged by what he has seen of the determination and resilience of the Japanese people and Government.  He said to the people of Fukushima, “You are united.  You are overcoming this tragedy.”


The Secretary-General added that he was sure that, with the strength and support of the United Nations and the international community, the people of Japan will be able to overcome this tragedy.  At the same time, he drew attention to the meeting that he will convene in New York next month on nuclear safety, saying that we have to learn how we can strengthen nuclear safety.


He later met Prime Minister Kan Naoto and told reporters afterwards that he was encouraged that the Japanese Government will share the lessons learned from this tragedy with the international community, particularly in the area of disaster risk reduction and preparedness and strengthening nuclear safety standards. He added that he and the Prime Minister had also discussed food security in the Horn of Africa and ways to help South Sudan.


** Syria


Before leaving for Japan, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Saturday and expressed his strong concern, and that of the international community, at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days.  He urged the President to stop the use of military force against civilians immediately.


During the conversation, the Secretary-General said he condemned the violence against both the civilians and security forces and reminded President Assad of the Syrian authorities’ obligations under international human rights law.


He reiterated his call on the Syrian Government to receive missions from the international humanitarian agencies and from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  These will be discussed further with the Minister of Foreign Affairs this week, and the full readout of the call is available online.


** Iraq


A new UN report on Iraq warns that the human rights situation throughout the country remains fragile.


The joint report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which covers the year 2010, notes that violence and human rights violations continue to affect many people.


According to estimates, around 3,000 civilians were killed in violence last year, mainly by armed insurgents and terrorist groups.  Minorities and women and children continue to suffer from indiscriminate and targeted violence.


The report also states that significant problems remain with law enforcement and the administration of justice, especially in relation to due process and the right to a fair trial.


** Somalia


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, airlifted assistance today to Mogadishu.  This was the first airlift undertaken by the agency to the Somali capital in five years.


The cargo plane was carrying more than 31 metric tons of shelter material and other aid items.  A second flight is scheduled to arrive on Thursday the 11th and a third one should follow next week.


UNHCR says that it needs funding support to continue to replenish its emergency stocks inside Somalia as they are being rapidly depleted.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, although it’s difficult to state figures with precision, tens of thousands of people died in southern Somalia from the beginning of April to the end of June — half of them younger than the age of 5.  It’s also calling for access and additional funding to help those in need.


**Security Council


Last, the Security Council will hold consultations at 3 this afternoon on Sudan and South Sudan.  It is expected that Council members will discuss, among other things, last week’s incident in which four peacekeepers of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) were killed.  And [Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations] Alain Le Roy is expected to brief.


That’s it from me.  Questions?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure, actually, I have some other questions but I wanted to ask about, and I understand the Council will discuss it, but I wanted to ask you for the Secretariat’s position on it.  On Friday, Martin [Nesirky] had said it was his understanding that the medivac [medical evacuation] helicopter was to come from Kadugli and then you squawked that in fact the request was that it come from Wau, which is in South Sudan.  So, I wanted to know, is it… what… what’s DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or the Secretariat’s position on whether permission must be sought to fly a helicopter from one country into another, even for medical evacuation?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You are absolutely right, this will be discussed by the Council, and Mr. Le Roy will take it up with Council members and we’ll see what their reaction is.  Our standpoint is the main problem, the main issue, was the vital need to get airlift to the wounded peacekeepers as quickly as possible.  And so they were trying for whatever the fastest arrangement was.  Unfortunately, you’re quite right that the Sudanese authorities raised the concern about the helicopter coming from South Sudan.  In any case, either way, from Wau and from Kadugli, there was a delay of several hours in getting the helicopter to the wounded peacekeepers; and as we pointed out, three of the four critically wounded peacekeepers later died.


Question:  Was this… was this something that in deploying UNISFA, that DPKO had done planning about?  Is there… what was their plan to evacuate injured peacekeepers if it took place?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, this is something that will be discussed in the Council later.  We’ll leave it to them.


Question:  Another Sudan question; is that okay?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.


Question:  There is… there is a newspaper called Alahdath, was, had its whole print run confiscated on Saturday by the, by Khartoum because they were running an interview of SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] North and reporting on corruption.  I just wondered, I am not sure who now in the UN system is kind of monitoring these things, but what’s the UN’s reaction to this confiscation of a newspaper for reporting on this conflict area of South, Southern Kordofan?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you are aware, the agency that deals most with the issue of this, of press freedom in general, is UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  And you should follow up with them to see how they would respond to this one.


Question:  So just in your — maybe there is a connection, maybe there isn’t — in Côte d’Ivoire since his visit here, President [Alassane] Ouattara has… his Government has suspended a newspaper called Le Temps for reporting on the visit to the United States by Ouattara.  And I was wondering, and is there any… one, is there any UN reaction from, say, UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire], does the UN… what’s the role of these peacekeeping missions ran by the Secretariat in… they have obviously sort of — I don’t want to say “partnered with” — but, do… what’s their reaction to Mr. Ouattara…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s not quite accurate.  As you know, the mission has said very critical things about the Government of Côte d’Ivoire; both the previous one and the current one.  And they have raised their human rights concerns, very regularly.  As you know, UNOCI has a human rights office that has been reporting about any particular concerns that they have, and they will continue to do so.


Question:  I mean, so — one last question on this — the… the Ouattara Government, Ouattara himself has named this guy, Martin Kouakou Fofié, who is on a UN human rights violators list five years ago, he’s named him the military chief of Korhogo, the city where [Laurent] Gbagbo is being held.  Has there been any response by the UN?  This… Human Rights Watch and others have roundly condemned this.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I’ll check with UNOCI whether they have any reaction to this particular person being named.  Certainly, on the ground level, we have made our concerns known to President Ouattara and his Government about the need for human rights to be respected by the current Government and the incoming officials.  And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.


Question:  One more?  And this was actually just kind of a follow-up.  It’s something I had asked Martin last week, and so it’s… I mean, I don’t have an answer, so it’s not really a follow-up.  It’s a reiterated question.  Everyday in the Spokesman’s… Spokesperson’s Office there is a sheet saying that the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] is on official travel from July, I don’t know, 16 through 18 — I don’t have the dates in front of me, I said it the first time – and he’d said he’d look into it.  I wanted to know, what is that official travel?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  She is on home leave.  She is on home leave in [the United Republic of] Tanzania, but she does have some official functions and we’ll let you know about those as they come.


Question:  What is, but what’s the distinction, because I have seen sometimes things listed as leave, but this has been a full month of… stated as official travel.  What’s the distinction?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, it is home leave, but it does include some official functions.


Thanks very much.


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For information media • not an official record