6 December 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 and welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is in Durban where he addressed the High-level Segment of the seventeenth Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 


Speaking to the delegates, he said that we must be realistic about expectations for a breakthrough in Durban.  But, he added, we can and must move forward on key issues.


He said that he expects advances in Durban, starting with implementing what was agreed upon at the last Conference of Parties in Cancún and achieving progress on short- and long-term financing.  He also urged delegates to consider a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol in Durban.  Finally, he called on countries to not forsake the collective vision of a comprehensive, binding climate change agreement that is both effective and fair for all.  The full remarks are available online and in my office.


Also earlier today, the Secretary-General met with South African President Jacob Zuma as well as with the President of COP-17, who is the South African Minister of International Relations.  He just held a press conference with Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and we expect to have those remarks later for you a little later.  About now, he is at the launch of the Momentum for Change Initiative, which showcases projects on urban poverty and climate change.


**Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty


The Secretary-General has issued a statement welcoming the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty by the House of Representatives of Indonesia.  The Secretary-General encourages all States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Treaty and is counting upon the engaged leadership of the remaining eight States whose ratification is required for the Treaty’s entry into force.  And the full statement is online.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that the Iraqi Government has asked the United Nations to help facilitate a peaceful and durable solution to the situation concerning Camp Ashraf.  Mr. Kobler said that he believes such a solution is possible, but noted that the positions of the Government and camp residents remain far apart.


He said that the 31 December deadline set by the Government to close the camp is fast approaching.  He appealed for an extension to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found.  This would also help lower tensions.  Mr. Kobler intends to speak to reporters at the stakeout position outside the Security Council after consultations conclude.


** Afghanistan


The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemns today’s explosions in the cities of Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif that resulted in the deaths and injuries of dozens of Afghan civilians who had gathered to mourn on the occasion of the Tenth of Muharam.  The Mission expresses its condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the attacks.


It stresses that today's attacks on Afghan civilians have no justification.  Such illegal and indiscriminate attacks are completely unacceptable and those responsible are fully accountable for the deaths and injuries of civilians caused by such brutal acts.


I expect to have a statement from the Secretary-General on this topic shortly.


** Yemen


United Nations agencies have spoken out against attacks on civilians in Yemen, particularly in the city of Taiz.  The UN Human Rights Office said that the continued use of disproportionate force by parts of Government security forces is extremely disappointing.  It also called on authorities to grant immediate access to the Office’s staff to assess the human rights situation on the ground.


For his part, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen called on all armed actors in the conflict in Taiz to ensure the safety and protection of all civilians in accordance with universally-recognized principles of human rights and international humanitarian law.


The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it deplores the deaths of children in Taiz.  In the past four days alone, at least three children have been killed and seven others have been seriously injured.  These statements are available online.


**Refugees


The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that the Moroccan Royal Navy rescued dozens of people in a boat off the country’s northern coast.  Several people have drowned, with four bodies having been found so far.  The dead included a Congolese woman and her daughter, both of whom were registered refugees.


In a separate incident, two boats departing Greece with some 80 people on board — mostly Afghans — were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard on Monday after a week at sea.  The passengers were found dehydrated with no food or water.


The UN refugee agency said it has also been informed that a boat reportedly carrying many Somalis was rescued by the Maltese Armed Forces after leaving the Libyan coast over the weekend.  There is more information on the refugee agency’s website.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Sylviane?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  What, any update on Syria?


Spokesperson:  In what sense?


Question:  In what is happening with your, do you have in mind to send assess mission there or…


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the League of Arab States, it has the intention to send an assessment mission.  This is under a resolution passed by the League of Arab States.  Independent of that, the Human Rights Council, a long time ago, did already say that there should be a human rights assessment mission to Syria.  That has not yet happened despite repeated attempts and indeed repeated promises that there would be access.  A humanitarian assessment has taken place, but not human rights.  And that obviously is something that we would like to see changed.  And as you also know, the League of Arab States has mentioned in its resolution that it will be looking to the United Nations for assistance.  We are waiting to find out precisely what form that would take in their view so that we can respond to it.  We remain, obviously, and the Secretary-General remains, extremely concerned about the loss of life, the continued loss of life, that there is in Syria.  The Secretary-General has spoken about this repeatedly.


Question:  When was the last time the Secretary-General spoke with President Bashar al-Assad?


Spokesperson:  As you know, that goes back quite some time at this point.  But that doesn’t mean that there are not interactions at different levels.  And it is clear, quite clear, that the Secretary-General’s views on this topic are that President Assad [Spokesperson is handed a piece of paper] — Thank you very much.  Thanks, Anne — that President Assad really needs at this point to take the right course before it is too late.  And that course means falling into line with the League of Arab States resolution and listening to the voice of the international community.  Well beyond the Arab League, well beyond that, there are many, many countries, many people around the world, who are deeply concerned about what has been unfolding in Syria over the past few months.


I have the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on today’s attacks on Afghan civilians.


The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by today’s attacks in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, which resulted in the death and injury of dozens of Afghan civilians who had gathered to mourn on the occasion of the tenth of Muharam.


The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms such indiscriminate attacks against civilians and extends his deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and wounded.


Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General said many things in his statement, Durban, some of them you already indicated.  How did you…


Spokesperson:  Some of them, sorry?


Question:  Some of the points you already made in your introduction.  How would the Organization answer the critics who say that the UN is good at describing the problems but short of offering solutions?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has not only spelled out the problem, which he did in rather graphic terms as I think you will be aware, saying that it will be difficult to overstate the gravity of this moment, and without exaggeration we can say the future of our planet is at stake.  So, he set it out in quite stark terms.  But to answer the point, he said towards the end of his remarks that he expected from those leaders gathered in Durban four things.  And he spelled out what they were — I don’t propose to go through all of them right now.  They are available online, but the key point is he was appealing directly to the leaders there to take action.  And also, he pointed to areas where action has already been taken and there has been some progress, not least for example, the REDD+ programme, which is dealing with the problem of deforestation.  So there are concrete examples there.  He has listed some of them.  But what he is saying is, let’s prove the critics wrong, if you like, and let’s say that we not only know where we are going and how to get there, but we are prepared to take collective action that will move us down that road.  And of course, he recognizes that that road is not an easy one, but it’s a path that we all must travel together along.  Okay, further questions?  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Today was supposed to be the day that results would be released.  There are reports of a curfew in Mbuji Mayi and massing of at least the pro-Kabila Government troops in Kinshasa and other cities.  What does the UN now have to say about both the, some say ominous preparation by the Government for the results and of the results or their failure to be announced?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think pretty much what we said yesterday, Matthew, which is that the Secretary-General continues to follow the electoral events in the DRC closely, as do our colleagues in the Mission and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  And as I said yesterday, echoing what the Security Council itself has said, the Secretary-General encourages political leaders and the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to maintain a calm and peaceful environment and exercise restraint and await the results that will be declared in accordance with the national constitutional procedures.  So, the same as yesterday, in essence.


Question:  But has… I mean, has Mr. Meece either gotten… I mean, is he… they were supposed to be released and then a press conference was cancelled, is he… I just, I guess I want to get a sense of how… how involved… I understand that they are not certifying the elections but they are… it’s a pretty big mission there and there is one other factual thing I just wanted to ask, or factual or not factual, there are some reports in the French language press there that Bill Richardson, former UN… US envoy, is in Kinshasa and I wanted to know if the UN is either aware of that being true or not true.


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that, I don’t know.  I guess you could also ask…


Correspondent:  I did ask them.


Spokesperson:  …the Americans.  But if the Mission has any line on that, I’ll let you know if they are aware of it.  To come back to the first point you made about Mr. Meece, the Special Representative, the Mission is obviously following these events very closely.  But we are not going to comment on the process at this point.  That’s not what we are doing.  What we are doing is appealing for calm and for restraint at this point.


Question:  And did you have… yesterday I had asked this thing about the… whether the UN especially, its Mission in south Sudan, could confirm the taking and may be relinquishing of this city of Jaw that…


Spokesperson:  Well, I did check, and my colleagues did check.  The UN Mission in South Sudan is aware of the reports, as I mentioned yesterday, of fighting in the Jaw area on the border between Southern Kordofan and Unity State.  However, the Mission is not in a position to confirm this information at the moment.


And for its part, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is telling us that the humanitarian coordination team in South Sudan is concerned that thousands of people have been placed in severe danger following this reported protracted artillery and aerial bombardments that took place this weekend along the border that we’re just talking about.  And this of course is already coming amid a worrying increase in hostilities between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLA (North) in that area in South Sudan.  Aid agencies have been forced to withdraw staff, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is telling us, and they are concerned, that they cannot provide sustained and uninterrupted assistance, such as food and health, to the approximately 20,000 refugees in the Yida area in South Sudan.


And also, what I can mention is that plans to help 4,000 people, who had fled earlier fighting, moved to safe areas, have been complicated by reports of landmines in the area.  So, the team, and that means the humanitarian coordination team in South Sudan, has called on the Government of Sudan and the SPLA (North) to abide by international humanitarian law and refrain from further actions which could harm innocent people.


Question:  Could I, and thanks a lot, that’s really, that’s helpful.  I just wanted to… for some reasons it strikes me, like is OCHA… if they are saying that people are fleeing this area, are they… are people fleeing reports of an attack or an attack?  It sounds like they may be there or confirming…


Spokesperson:  I think the point here, Matthew, is that the Mission is not in a position to confirm it by being right there on the spot.  They are aware of the reports.  It’s obvious that something is happening, or has happened.  It’s simply that the Mission is not right there on the spot to be able to confirm the details.  I think it is as simple as that.  I wouldn’t try to see a discrepancy there, okay, Matthew?  It is a question of being there on the spot.  Yeah, other questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Martin, in his note that he sent to the, that was sent to the correspondents, the Secretary-General announces that during his second term he will respect the principle of mobility by appointing new high officials, senior officials, as head of departments and offices and bureaus, etcetera.  Would he also, during the second term, avoid appointing senior officers from the same countries to the same posts?


Spokesperson:  Well, look, that will be for the Secretary-General to decide in due course.  No post is the preserve of an individual Member State.  What we have also said, and as you will have seen, the Chef de Cabinet, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, did put out a statement, did read a statement last week where he listed already some of the posts that will be changed or the people will be changed in those positions.  And what it also said in that statement was that there will be further announcements in due course.  I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.


Question:  Can I ask…?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Actually, I had one other question, but just to follow up on that. In Mr. Nambiar, in the statement that he read, it said that, that, you know, it would be expected that people would be leaving in the first part of, the ones named would be leaving in the first part of 2012.  And then it had this proviso except for the Rio+20 that some, does that apply to both Mr. Sha [Zukang] and Mr. Shaaban Shaaban or to just Mr. Sha?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know the exact details.  But it is obvious that Rio+20 is a major event next year.  It’s on from 20 June to 22 June.  It is a major event and as you well know, Mr. Sha in particular, is the Secretary-General of that conference.  So, I think it is implicit that his presence would be required.


Question:  Yeah and I just, because Mr. Shaaban Shaaban in terms of, I don’t know if DGACM [Department for General Assembly and Conference Management] is like somehow staffing it or involved with it, but it was, there was this finding by the UN Dispute Tribunal about Mr. Shaaban Shaaban, some promotional, some promotion dispute where, it was a pretty adverse finding, and I went back and looked it, and it seemed to ask the Secretary-General to take some remedial action, it didn’t spell out what should be done, but it said that the Secretary-General should look at this finding and take some action, and I wanted to, I don’t if, I wanted to know whether it, if you could find out or maybe you know, what action was ultimately taken in that case of the head of DGACM.


Spokesperson:  If I get anything I’ll let you know, Matthew, yeah.


Question:  The other one…


Spokesperson:  And you had one last question?


Question:  Sure, this may be, I don’t know if you will have anything on this, but there are, there was a Rwandan journalist, Charles Ingabire, who was killed in Kampala about a week ago, and there are many human rights groups saying that, saying that it should be investigated.  Some people feel that it has to do with things that he was writing about his native country, and I just wonder, is the UN aware of this case, do they think, do they join this call that it should be investigated?  I mean, I know that generally there is a line that journalists should be free to do their work, but this is a, it’s a particular case that seems to be raising a lot of issues in the Great Lakes region, and I wonder if you have a comment on it.


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check.  But certainly the point that you made is absolutely right.  Journalists do need to be able to carry out their work without fear of persecution of whatever kind.  That’s obviously an underlying principle.  I obviously will check with UNESCO and others to see if they have anything further on that.


Thank you.  All right, have a good afternoon, thank you.


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For information media • not an official record