30 September 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.


**Security Council


This morning the Security Council authorized the deployment mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to be extended until 31 October 2012.  It requested the African Union to urgently increase its force strength to its mandated level of 12,000 uniformed personnel.


This was followed by consultations by the Committee on the Admission of New Members.  I understand that that meeting has now just adjourned.  You’ll recall that on Friday, 23 September, the Secretary-General transmitted the Palestinian application given to him by President Abbas to the President of the Security Council.


** Bahrain


The UN Human Rights Office is concerned about the harsh sentences handed down this week by a court in Bahrain to 20 medical staff, two leaders of a teachers’ association and dozens of others.


The sentences range from three years in prison to the death penalty.  Handing down such harsh sentences to civilians in a military court with serious due process irregularities raises severe concerns, the Office says.


It also calls on the Government of Bahrain to ensure that every detained person is charged with a recognizable criminal offence and has enough time to prepare a defence case.


** Pakistan


The World Food Programme (WFP) is redoubling its efforts to provide life-saving assistance to 500,000 people affected by flooding in Pakistan by the end of this month.  Damage to roads, bridges and infrastructure in affected areas continues to pose a challenge for the delivery of humanitarian aid.  The pace of the Programme’s distributions has picked up, and it now reaches nearly 50,000 new people every day.  Next month, it plans to increase deliveries to cover more than 2.5 million people.  There is more information on the World Food Programme’s website.


** Haiti


The Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has wrapped up her visit to Haiti.


Yesterday, she visited the Accra camp, which hosts 25,500 people in the commune of Delmas.  There, she spoke to residents and met with representatives of the camp’s women’s committee.  She also visited the first sewage treatment centre in Haiti which was supported by a grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  Ms. Amos said that although the number of people in camps has decreased by more than 60 per cent during the last year, there are still few alternatives for the 600,000 people who still remain in nearly 900 camps.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), funding gaps have resulted in reductions in the number of humanitarian agencies working in key sectors such as water and sanitation and camp management.  Ms. Amos has urged donors to provide additional funding for the 2011 revised humanitarian appeal.  That appeal is only 52 per cent funded.


** Cyprus


The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities discussed the internal aspects of security today in Nicosia.  Their next meeting will be on 4 October.


**Kosovo


The UN Human Rights Office is calling for an effective and independent witness and protection system inside Kosovo to be put into place.  This week, a key witness in a war crimes case in Kosovo was found dead in a German park.


While the exact reasons behind his apparent suicide are difficult to ascertain, the case adds to the Office’s longstanding concerns about witness protection in Kosovo.  Only an effective and well-resourced witness and victim protection system in Kosovo will help render justice to victims and end impunity regarding past violations.


So, that’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes, Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure, thanks.  I wanted to ask, today is the stated deadline for the Sudanese Armed Forces to pull out of Abyei with UNISFA.  Can you… what’s the status?  I mean, have they… have they pulled out or not?  And what’s the… what’s the… has the level of UNISFA deployment risen above 1,800 or not?


Spokesperson:  Well, to my knowledge, the deployment of the troops is at 1,800 out of the authorised 4,200.  To answer your first part of the question, to our knowledge, this is not the case.  We would urge the parties to implement the agreement they reached early this month, and to withdraw their forces from the Abyei area so as to facilitate the return of the displaced populations and ensure the smooth beginning of the migration season.  And also, I mean, as you know, on 8 September, the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan held the first meeting of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee.  And there the two parties agreed on a timeline for the redeployment of their forces from Abyei that was to begin on 11 September and to end today.  So, as I say, we would urge the parties to implement that agreement.


Question:  Yeah, I know that there was a meeting in the North Lawn earlier this week involving Mr. Mulet and, and the Sudanese… South Sudanese side.  Is there some… did Sudan give some explanation at that point or was… is this a surprise to the UN that… that they haven't actually met the deadline, or…?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it’s a surprise.  It’s been evident for some time.  But as I say, two things:  It’s really incumbent on the parties to implement the agreement that they reached earlier this month.  And also simply by doing so, to allow people who were displaced to return, and for those who need to, to be able to begin the migration season.


Question:  Just, somewhat just related as a scheduling thing, when… when does Mr. Ladsous… when does he… he… I have heard late September, early October… when does he actually begin as the head of DPKO?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve consistently said early October, and I would think that next week you will hear more about that.  Okay, other questions, please?  I am looking for hands, but if not, I am coming back to you.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to actually, it’s a… believe it or not, I am going to follow up on a question of a colleague yesterday, Nizar, our… our returned journalist.  I think you’d said, since… since the briefing yesterday, ESCWA has put out a statement saying that the streets in front of… of ESCWA in Beirut were closed due to a, a review of UN security ordered by Ban Ki-moon after the Abuja, Nigeria bombing.  I wanted to… is that… is that true, and if so, how does that jibe with the idea that the UN doesn’t comment on security?


Spokesperson:  It jibes perfectly.  We are not saying what’s being done; we are simply saying that security is being reviewed, not just there but everywhere.  This is something that the Secretary-General actually stated publicly during the general debate.  So, this should come as no surprise after an incident of that severity in Abuja.  But the details of what is happening in each place, I think you would appreciate, is not something that we would get into.


Question:  Okay.  Only I didn’t understand, so, it could… there… there… there is no… there is no dispute that there has been some change in security there, it’s just a question of what?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, I don’t want to get into that, I am simply saying that security as you would understand is in the process of being reviewed.  And I think that that is entirely appropriate and normal.


Correspondent:  Sure.


Spokesperson:  Okay, further questions?  If not…


Question:  Can I ask?


Spokesperson:  [Laughter]


Question:  Okay, I’ve got two more, and I’ll do them really briefly.


Spokesperson:  By all means, please do.


Question:  Yeah, yeah.  One is… is… I am sure you’ve seen these, these stories of… of late, about Tony Blair.  And so, I don’t, you know, I understand that you… that often you’ll say, you know, speak to Tony Blair.  It’s not that easy to do, as you might imagine.  But, so, I wanted to ask the UN side of it. These articles, a series of articles it quotes “Global Witness”, a respected NGO, the Daily Telegraph, they are saying that increasing questions have arisen about the double service of Tony Blair for J.P.Morgan as a consultant and as the Middle East peace envoy.  And they point to particular deals around cell phones and… and so my question really is not… I don’t expect the… I guess, the UN to say, you know, anything anti-Blair, but what is the UN’s role in reviewing those… those what respected NGOs like “Global Witness” call conflict of interest?  What… what is the… is there a kind of review that’s done for other UN officials to view whether the outside activities or other activities of Tony Blair conflict with what he does for the UN system?


Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said before, Tony Blair is the Quartet envoy.  He is the Representative of the Quartet.  He is not the UN envoy in the Quartet.  That is not his role, okay?  And so, I think you’re knocking on the wrong door here.


Question:  Who does the… who does the kind of ethics [inaudible] without, with all due… who does the review of whether there is a conflict of interest?  Is it just up to Tony Blair himself or is there some, does the Quartet have some secretariat or administrative body to review these charges?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d need to check with, first of all, I think it’s right, you could certainly check with Tony Blair’s office in the first instance.  But, also of course, you could check with the other participants in the Quartet, as well.  But, just to be clear, it’s not a UN role.  Of course, he is working with the other Quartet members, and meets them regularly in the different combinations, of course.


Question:  The other one is, I think you may have something on this, because there have been a series of articles about this potential to build a new UN building in the playground just south of here, below 42nd Street.  And there is discussion of the UN paying money, for… like maybe $65 million for the current, the black top playground… there.  Some in Congress have said it’s a bad deal and a boondoggle.  What I wanted to know is the UN’s position on it.  Two things.  Given the… the discussion of… of tightening budgets, what’s the rationale for spending that money to buy the land and is there a need for a second UN building if they… we’ve just done the Capital Master Plan and rented, you know, tenure leases on the Albano Building?  What’s the rationale for that deal and that expenditure?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to look into the exact details of this.  It’s something that’s in motion, and to my knowledge, it does not directly involve UN funding.  But, I need to come back to you on the details.  But, I think it’s something that’s in the works, and not finalized at this point.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you.  Have a good weekend, and I hope the weather holds up.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record