|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, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
We have with us today three young YouTube users who were recently selected by the Department of Public Information (DPI) as the winners of the “2011 Citizen Ambassadors to the United Nations” video contest. They are here in the back rows. They are Mr. Jonathan Defante of the Philippines, Ms. Sigin Ojulu of the United States/South Sudan and Sergio Valdez of Guatemala. And they are visiting UN Headquarters today for a special visit. Please see the DPI staff after the noon briefing if you want to coordinate anything with them.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, briefed the Security Council this morning on his investigations regarding Darfur. He reiterated his call for Sudan to transfer indicted suspects to the Court, noting its repeated failure to do so. The open meeting was followed by a closed meeting, also on Sudan. And Mr. Moreno-Ocampo will brief you at 12:45 in this room, right after this briefing.
This afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Iraq and Kuwait.
In a report to the Human Rights Council today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, writes that people experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in all the world’s regions.
In many cases, even the perception of homosexuality or transgender identity puts people at risk, with violations including killings, rape and physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, the denial of the rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination.
You’ll recall that, on Human Rights Day last year, the Secretary-General said: “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The Deputy Secretary-General spoke in Kampala, Uganda, today at the Special Session on sexual and gender-based violence of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. She stressed that tackling impunity and ensuring access to justice for survivors is critical. Survivors also need access to health, psychosocial and judicial services, as well as other assistance to help them rebuild their lives. The Deputy Secretary-General said that we must also recognize the wider economic, social and political consequences of the scourge. And her full remarks are available online.
The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, chaired a regular tripartite meeting today with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.
During the meeting, the officials discussed the attack last Friday against UNIFIL peacekeepers, the recent rocket launching incidents on 29 November and 11 December, the 2 December explosion near the town of Srifa, and the situation along the Blue Line. Both parties expressed their commitment to work with the UN peacekeepers to avoid any potential escalation.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says that more than 2.5 million people will need food assistance next year in South Sudan due to crop failure and high food prices, which have been aggravated by conflict and market disruption from border closures. WFP is scaling up its operations in the country — notably for children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. WFP says that border closures between South Sudan and Sudan are disrupting the food trade and affecting the Programme’s ability to replenish food stocks. It says it is critical to move food into place before the end of March, since up to 60 per cent of the country is cut off once the rainy season starts in March and April.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that nearly 7 million people across Yemen are affected by food insecurity. A household survey currently under way is expected to reveal an even higher number of people who are severely food insecure. Relief workers are distributing food to more than 350,000 displaced people in the country. For next year, aid agencies are asking for nearly $450 million to assist almost four million people.
Like I said before, at 12:45 p.m., in this room, there will be a press conference by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on Darfur.
And then tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court on key issues at the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
That’s it from me. Any questions? Yes, please?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I didn’t get well what you said about the Secretary-General in Iraq. Is there going to be a statement on the official end of the war in Iraq, or not?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, we haven’t put out any particular statement on this. Martin Kobler, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, did brief the Security Council a few weeks ago on the situation in Iraq and mentioned the drawing down of the U.S. and other military presence there. And we stand by what he said. Meanwhile, of course, our work through the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) continues.
Question: So, we are not going to have a statement on the end of the war? No?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, there is nothing anticipated on that.
Question: I have another question when it’s again ready.
Associate Spokesperson: Sure. Matthew?
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about these reports in Syria of 27 security forces killed by the Free Syrian Army. It seems to be the topic of Security Council consultations now, and I wondered whether the Secretariat that has spoken so much on Syria has any response to these media reports or any knowledge of their veracity.
Associate Spokesperson: Well, we’d need to be able to verify what is happening in terms of the media reports. The Secretary-General made very clear his own concerns about the violence in Syria, including the violence in recent days. And I would just like to restate to you what the point is he had made. In particular, he said yesterday at his press conference that in Syria more than 5,000 people are dead. This cannot go on. And as he made clear, “in the name of humanity, it is time for the international community to act”. And he maintains that.
Question: Thanks a lot. I just want to try to get one comment on this. It seems that Russia has requested this meeting and they seem to be expressing concern about the arming of the Syrian rebels, and I am just wondering whether… does the Secretary-General, in his call for this intolerable, does he believe… what is his view on countries possibly providing arms to the Syrian rebels?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, like I said, we don’t have verification of the latest reports. But, beyond that, the Secretary-General’s concern is about all the violence from whichever quarter. He wants to make sure that all the violence stops, and that the Syrian authorities and concerned countries around do what they can to bring a halt to this. Yes, please?
Question: I just wanted to ask a question about comments that were made by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Daniel Ayalon, before the Human Rights High Commissioner for Refugees’ ministerial event in Geneva last week. He basically said that the cause of the Palestinian refugee issue was not so much the dispossession of the majority of Palestinians from their homeland by Jewish militias during the 1948 war and refusal of Israel to enable their right to return under resolution 194. He said rather that it was the establishment of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] which has perpetuated the refugee status by applying unique criteria to it. And I just wonder whether either the Secretary-General or UNRWA has made any response to this statement.
Associate Spokesperson: No. We don’t go into the lengthy history of how the refugee crisis started. As you know, the historians may have differing interpretations of what brought on the refugee crisis. UNRWA, it should be stressed, was established in response to the refugee crisis. And, as you know, the presence of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency throughout the region is designed to deal with the number, the very large number of Palestinian refugees throughout the region. If the situation can be resolved and the situation of the Palestinian refugees can be addressed fairly, then UNRWA’s work will have been done, but at this stage, we are not there. It has a lot of work in a lot of countries with, as you know, tens of thousands of people.
Question: Excuse me, is there no response to the statement by [Deputy] Foreign Minister Ayalon that UNRWA is perpetuating the status of the refugees?
Associate Spokesperson: I wouldn’t react to specific comments. Over the years people have disagreed and have had their own interpretations of…
Question: This is not just a personal comment, this is on the Israeli Government official website, his statement is made. And he is a minister in the Israeli Government.
Associate Spokesperson: Like I said to you just a second ago, the creation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was in response to the refugee crisis. It is there to handle the situation, the very large situation of refugees across the region that had erupted. And its existence over the decades is testament to the fact that, throughout this time, the situation of the Palestinian refugees remains to be resolved. Yes?
Question: Alright, I’ll start. Haiti and then something in-house; I’ll ask the Haiti question first, maybe you will have a… some… maybe there is an “if-asked” on this. There are reports in Haiti of Haitian youths being beaten by UN peacekeepers in the city, in the neighbourhood of Fort Dimanche. It is in Haitian… in multiple sources in the Haitian press and I am wondering whether MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] acknowledges it, or denies it. What’s the response to this?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any information from MINUSTAH on this. I am not aware whether there is anything, any truth to that, but we will check. Yes?
Question: My question is, yesterday during his press conference, the Secretary-General expressed satisfaction on the results of the talks at Durban, but there was no comment on the fact that 48 hours later than the end of Durban, the Government of Canada announced it was retiring from the Kyoto Protocol before the end of this month, and it was about to inform the United Nations. Is there any reaction to this, any worry, any disappointment for the future?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as that goes, I would just refer you to the fact that, once Canada had taken its decision, Christiana Figueres, who is the head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), did come out with her own comments concerning the withdrawal and her own hopes for countries to remain faithful and abiding by the terms of the Kyoto Protocol. The Secretary-General has lauded the excellent work that Christiana Figueres did, including at the Durban Conference, and he supports her sentiments. Yes?
Question: I am going to repeat my Sudan question again, and hopefully eventually we’ll get an answer. Is there anyone in Peacekeeping or in Political Affairs who ties together all the different skirmishes, border wars, South Kordofan, peace negotiations in Abyei and so forth, or do we have six little different units and negotiators from Darfur to South Sudan?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as far as that goes, there is one official, as you know, Haile Menkerios, who is trying to draw in as much of the Sudan issue and all the various diplomatic efforts as is possible and to coordinate a lot of the work that is being done. You are right that there is still quite a bit of different mediation, partly because there are so many different conflicts. As you know, there is an issue involving Abyei, for which we have the UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei] peacekeeping mission; there is a situation involving Darfur, for which we have UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], and following the establishment of the new nation of South Sudan, there is also a peacekeeping mission in the neighbouring country of South Sudan. Of course each of those peacekeeping missions have their own leadership, and they have their own political and diplomatic work to do, but yes, Mr. Menkerios also does try to bring together a bit of that in his own dealing with the Government of Sudan.
Question: Exactly, they have one common denominator, which is Khartoum, yeah?
Associate Spokesperson: Exactly. There is one person who is trying his best to deal with the responsibilities of the Sudanese Government throughout these various issues. But they do remain separate issues and so, although there is an overlap, there is also some different leadership and different chains of command for each peacekeeping mission. Yes?
Question: Sure, yeah, this is mainly kind of an in-house question but maybe you can get an answer to it. I have been told that the cafeteria upstairs is slated for closure for up to six months, beginning at Christmas. And I remember when it… when they first made the switch, there was some talk of moving it back up to the fourth floor. I asked Mr. [Michael] Adlerstein; it seems that the delegates’ dining room in the back of the cafeteria is going to remain open for Member States to use. So, I wanted to know, one, what’s the rationale for closing? Are the workers going to get any compensation, or just summarily laid off for six months? And, for the people that work in the building, including the construction workers, what’s the purpose of the closure?
Associate Spokesperson: I have heard these reports, but ultimately these are questions for the contractor. It is the contractor who makes the business decisions on maintaining the cafeteria or reducing presence there. Of course, they have a contract with us and we trust that they will treat their workers fairly. But, at the same time, it is their call in terms of how to respond to what they may anticipate as reduced business because of the construction.
Question: Mr. Adlerstein yesterday said to me something about actually repairing the space. So, I would just like to confirm that there is no… that the UN is… would it like it to stay open, does it think it is a reduction in services and also probably a pretty foreseeable layoff for the workers there, or what’s the role of the CMP [Capital Master Plan] in the closure of the cafeteria and for how long will it be closed?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I think we’ve been through that before in other months where there was reduced presence of some workers and, luckily, once business picked up, they were brought back and in many cases the same workers were brought back here. And certainly we are happy to see that. As far as that goes of course, we don’t control the decisions by the contractor. So, I think you need to talk to… I believe it is Restaurant Associates?
Correspondent: It’s Aramark.
Associate Spokesperson: It’s Aramark now, right.
Question: So I just… okay. So I mean, can I take this to mean that the CMP had no role in the closure for six months, despite what both sides have been saying?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I can check whether the CMP has some way of making it easier for there to be a venue at which this could be served, because part of the problem is of course the construction activity that will take place upstairs. So, I will check on that. But in terms of whether they have a role about keeping it open, that’s a role ultimately played by the contractor — it’s their decision, not ours.
With that, have a good afternoon, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record