15 November 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General’s visit to Bangladesh continues today.  He began his morning by meeting with officials from the non-governmental organization BRAC which focuses on development.


The Secretary-General then travelled by helicopter from the capital, Dhaka, to the north-east region of Moulvibazar.  There, he visited a community health clinic to spotlight the importance of ensuring access to women’s health care in rural areas.


Upon returning to Dhaka, the Secretary-General held a bilateral meeting with the Minister of Finance.  He then gave a public address and was given an honorary doctorate at Dhaka University.  He told the hundreds of people gathered that if Bangladesh is to create the prosperous future that it deserves, it will only do so through national unity and common cause.  He also held a press conference afterwards.


** Syria


The members of the Security Council issued a statement to the press on Syria this morning, in which they condemned in the strongest terms the attacks against several embassies and consular premises in Syria.


The members of the Security Council reiterated their call on the Syrian authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel, and fully respect their international obligations in this regard.


**Security Council


This morning the Security Council discussed the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


This afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, will brief the Security Council on the situation in Sudan and South Sudan.  Ms. Johnson will participate by videoconference.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Sudan


You will have seen that yesterday we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the recent tensions between Sudan and South Sudan.


In it, the Secretary-general expressed deep concern over the escalation of rhetoric between the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan, particularly in regard to cross-border support of rebel groups and incursions into one another’s territory.


He called on both Governments to exercise restraint in managing border tensions and to recommit to a negotiated settlement of outstanding post-Comprehensive Peace Agreement issues.


** Kenya — Refugees


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that insecurity, as well as heavy rains and the accompanying risk of waterborne disease, are affecting aid efforts in the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya.


The agency is exploring options to gradually resume full operations despite continued security incidents in and around Dadaab.  The situation has been complicated by an outbreak of cholera.  There are now 60 cases in the camps, according to the agency.  UNHCR has increased levels of chlorine at water points in the camps and is promoting hygiene practices among the refugees.


Meanwhile, in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado area, a nutrition survey at the Kobe and Hilaweyn camps has found high levels of malnutrition among children under 5 years of age.  Health and nutrition programmes have been set up to address malnutrition progress, which has been slow, according to the survey.


However, UNHCR says that the number of deaths among children under 5 has decreased dramatically compared to the very high level seen at the height of the refugee influx this summer.  This reflects improved access to quality health care and nutrition services, as well as improved water and sanitation facilities.


There is more on this in the Geneva briefing notes.


**Press Conferences


And press conferences tomorrow, 16 November.  Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference on “Human Rights and Regional Development”.  The speaker will be Dr. Javad Larijani, Iranian academic and politician.  This event is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.


That’s all from me.  Questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you.  I would like to know if you have any… there is any plan to send a UN assessment team to Syria?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, to the best of my knowledge there is no plan right now.  The Secretary-General issued his statement supporting the Arab League’s efforts and initiatives over the weekend, and we are looking to see what the next steps are in Syria.  He has called on the Syrian officials, or Syrian Government, to stop killing citizens, he has called for an end to the bloodshed on both sides, and he has called for a process of dialogue and pacification of the country.


Question:  But no plan to send a UN assessment team there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, no.


Question:  Another thing, do you know how many Syrian refugees are in Lebanon?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t believe… we can try and find out for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that just over 8,000 Syrian nationals are hosted in six camps in Turkey.  However, Syrians have come to Turkey (anyone can enter on a passport without a visa) and many seem to be staying.  These numbers are not well known.  With respect meanwhile to Lebanon, the number of registered Syrians with UNHCR and the High Relief Commission is 3,581.  Like Turkey, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Lebanon, too, and it is known that many families have joined workers there.]


Question:  Because we have a number, but it is always the same number.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll try and find out for you.


Question:  It’s like the casualties; it’s the same number.


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the casualties, unfortunately, have gone up, they’re over 3,500 now.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you.  The Quartet, as you know, has called on the parties to the conflict to resume negotiations immediately and without preconditions.  Does the Secretary-General consider that the continuation of the building of the settlement is a form of preconditions?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has always said that the building of settlements in the occupied territories is against international law and against Security Council resolutions.  And he continues to stand by that.  He has also called for both sides to exercise restraint and not to engage in provocative actions, and that is what he continues to call.


Question:  With regard to Syria, the safety of diplomatic missions, we have seen prior the US Ambassador has been subjected to harassments that caused US problems for him, over the weekend the attacks on the embassies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.  In the light of this continued pattern, what are the measures that exist to protect diplomatic missions that are currently serving in Syria, because the attacks have been quite selective based on the countries’ political positions, whether in the Arab League or in general with the supporting of the oppositions in Syria?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s up to the Syrian Government to… under international law to provide protection to diplomatic premises, and it is also up to the individual diplomatic premises to have their own security in place.  We are not going to tell them how to do that.  That’s something that’s up to them.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I have some questions on Sudan, but I wanted to ask you first something closer to home.  Just this morning, the city administration here in New York evicted people, peaceful protesters who have been at Zuccotti Park for two months and then they won a court order and still the police have not allowed them back, and I wondered, one if there is… either if there is a comment or if anyone from the UN system here has ventured some eighty blocks south to take a look at this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have no comment on that.  This is a question for the New York City authorities to take up and it is something they are doing in order to maintain what they consider to be a proper situation.


Question:  Although I understand in other situations you have, you know bullets flying in the case… I mean the UN does take an interest in the right to peacefully protest, so I am just wondering, you said it before about Oakland that if they used tear gas… they must have had to use tear gas… I just wondered is this really… this is really the UN’s line that anything that happens in the US is… what does it take, I guess is what I am saying, for local authorities to not be given full deference by the UN?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I am not going to get into that kind of discussion, Matthew.  The situation here is in New York, the City is trying to apply its bylaws.  There is a court system in process, and we will see how the police respond to whatever the courts decide.  But the government has to decide, it has decided, that they want to vacate the park, and that’s what they have done.


Question:  Okay, I…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Anyone else?


Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation signed an agreement with the United Nations in the field of coordination of fundraising and preparedness for disaster relief.  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General to this important agreement?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry, could you repeat that?


Question:  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General to this important agreement?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I didn’t hear the first part, I’m sorry.


Question:  The UN has signed an agreement with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in the field of fundraising and disaster relief programmes, and is there any reaction from the Secretary-General on this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific reaction on that, no.  But normally, if the UN signed it, obviously the Secretary-General agrees that fundraising for disaster relief is a very worthwhile thing to pursue, and he has tried to do it himself.


Question:  Do you know when the Secretary-General will have a press conference with the press, with us?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, there is nothing planned yet.  I don’t have a date.


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Sudan and Western Sahara.  In Sudan, there are these satellite photographs of the Sudanese armed… air force building up bases right next to South Sudan.  So I am wondering if that is something that the UN can verify, or when you said that Mr. Ladsous is going to be speaking about Sudan, is that only Darfur or does he have some jurisdictional ability to speak about the rest of Sudan?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to see what he says this afternoon on that.


Question:  I mean it’s a pretty… okay.  I guess, will you… he be sure that he will do a stakeout and take questions then?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not sure about that, I don’t have any information.


Question:  Well, then how can we wait and see what he says?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, because you will be able to hear what he says on television.


Question:  I know, but this is a question.  Is he going to answer that question?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll try and find out for you.


Question:  Okay.  And I want to ask on Western Sahara; this is just factual.  The president of Polisario has said that he has written to Ban Ki-moon about hunger strikers in a Salé jail.  These are Polisario members from Western Sahara who are on hunger strike, and at least he says he has written a letter to Ban Ki-moon.  One, has it been received and two, what does the Secretary-General think of these hunger strikers in a territory with a UN peacekeeping mission for many decades now?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll to find out.  I don’t have any information on the letter for you, okay?


Okay, thank you so much.  Have a nice afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record