23 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.


** Somalia


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has confirmed today the deaths of two staff members and a colleague working for a cooperating partner organization in Somalia, in an incident that illustrates the risks that humanitarian workers can face while working in one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous environments.


The attack took place this morning in Mataban town in Hiraan Province in central Somalia.  Two WFP members of a monitoring mission were shot, as was a third person who worked for Doyale, one of WFP’s NGO partners.  The mission was in the area to monitor a general food distribution, as well as camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).


WFP has condemned the killing of people who devote their lives to helping others and extends its deepest condolences to the members of the families of those victims.  And WFP is providing food for IDPs and malnourished children in Hiraan Province, which was badly affected by this year's Horn of Africa drought but was not officially declared to be in a state of famine, as were some other parts of Somalia.  And I may have something further on this later.


**Secretary-General’s 9/11 Memorial Visit


The Secretary-General paid a visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York’s Lower Manhattan this morning.  The City of New York authorities invited the Secretary-General after he expressed the wish to visit the site.  The Secretary-General was accompanied by the Deputy Secretary-General, Mrs. Ban and a small number of senior officials.  The Secretary-General was keen to visit the Memorial to offer his respects to those who were killed in the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.


**Press Conferences


Today at 12:30 p.m., here in this auditorium, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, will be here to brief you on topical matters on the UN Security Council agenda.  As you know, Ambassador Churkin is the President of the Security Council for this month.


Questions, please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  [inaudible] is this bombing in Damascus.  What’s the UN’s knowledge of who may be behind it and what’s your comment on it?


Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously aware of the reports and I would expect to have something a little later.  But, as you will have heard me say already this week, the Secretary-General is increasingly concerned about the escalating crisis in Syria and violence from whichever quarter is clearly unacceptable and has to stop immediately.  I would hope to have something further directly addressing this day’s events a little later.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Martin, this is about the situation which exists now in Iraq, which you issued a statement yesterday.  But, the thing is that the killings and the violence seems to be spiralling over there.  The Secretary-General’s Representative in Iraq, has he said anything new about the situation, or can the situation be reprieved, or the crisis keeps on multiplying?


Spokesperson:  Well, you are right that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has spoken out about the violence and also about the unfolding political crisis there, but I don’t have anything further to add beyond what Mr. Kobler has already said in the last couple of days.  Anything else?  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible] I guess quite a few questions.  A couple are on Sudan.  One, there are reports by the, I guess, newly-formed Revolutionary United Front that the Sudanese army is bombing in North Darfur and also they are fighting in South Darfur, and I have seen that… I see these daily [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] press releases, but they don’t seem to acknowledge this fighting.  Is it not taking place, or are they not going out to verify it, or they are just not putting it in the statements?


Spokesperson:  Which fighting are you referring to particularly?


Question:  Bombing in North Darfur described by the spokesmen of the Revolutionary United Front, and also an announcement by LJM that they themselves are fighting with the Government in South Darfur.


Spokesperson:  Right, okay, I will check with our colleagues.


Question:  And I wanted to, yesterday, I think actually you were there when Ambassador Churkin spoke at the stakeout after the consultations on Libya.  I wanted to ask you because it seemed like a very direct remark that he made.  He said that in his view, the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was misled by the Secretary-General of [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] that there had been no civilian casualties, and that Ban Ki-moon then went public with it and it reflected badly on the UN.  At least that’s… those are phrases that he used.  And I just wondered, what is, in the sense of, did Ban Ki-moon’s statement in this room that 1973 was fully complied with, did that mean that there were no civilian casualties or was there some level of civilian casualties that would be consistent with the statement that 1973 was complied with?


Spokesperson:  I don’t really have anything further to add beyond what the Secretary-General had to say on that, Matthew.  Okay, anything else?  Yes?


Question:  Yes, concerning the attacks against the journalist and human rights defenders and lawyers in the North Caucasus, the UNESCO Director-General and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for the authorities in the country to conduct an investigation into the recent murders of the journalist Gadzhimurad Kamalov in Dagestan.  How concerned is the Secretary-General about escalation of violence in this part of the world?


Spokesperson:  Well, he is obviously aware of these reports, including on that most recent death of a journalist in Dagestan.  But, I think I would simply refer you to the statements that you have just mentioned from UNESCO and from the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.  Yes, at the back there, yeah?


Question:  Recently, the Syrian Government said the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been “not professional enough, selective and subjective” because of the report they presented here at the United Nations.  What do you have to say about the [inaudible] of the Syrian Government?


Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure that Ms. Pillay can speak for herself on such remarks from the Syrian authorities.  But, it is clear that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has carried out its work in an extremely professional manner.  What would be really helpful would be for the Syrian authorities to allow the mandated Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry to be able to have access to Syria and to be able to speak to the authorities and to others about what has been happening there in recent months.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General spoken to anyone from the Syrian Government, maybe someone from the Mission here?  What has been said?


Spokesperson:  Not in recent times, no.  Yes, please?


Question:  Today at the briefing in Moscow, official spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry sharply criticized the Secretary-General of the United Nations for his statement in this room on 14 December, when he said that NATO strictly adhered to the resolution 1973.  And according to Russian spokesman, Secretary-General when doing statement on such important issues should take into consideration the positions of all Member States.


Spokesperson:  I have seen Mr. Lukashevich’s remarks, which he made at the press briefing yesterday, in fact, rather than today.  I don’t really have anything to add.


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you on Sri Lanka.  I know that a week ago I saw the statement by the Secretary-General that the UN will be studying the report closely and that he hopes that they would… that the Government of Sri Lanka would move forward to address accountability concerns in good faith.  Today, the Ministry of External Affairs there has said that they will take legal action against NGOs which have criticized the lessons learned and reconciliation report. So I wonder, does that seem to be a good-faith response to the report, and also, in the week since their last statement has the UN actually studied the report and do they have any comment on it?


Spokesperson:  I think you can take it for granted that if we said the report is being studied, it is being studied.  And if we have anything further then I will let you know.  Other questions, please?  Okay, we’ll make this the last one.


Question:  Okay, this will be kind of… this may cover news events of later today.  Does the Secretariat have any…?


Spokesperson:  We’re doing… this is the crystal ball club, is it now?


Correspondent:  No, no, this is the budget.  I mean it has to do with the budget.


Spokesperson:  Right.


Question:  And, so since there apparently won’t be other briefings after this, the budget still not agreed to and there is some talk among UN staff even of strikes because of what is being… especially lower-level staff, how they are being impacted by the negotiations, what has been the Secretariat’s… what’s the response, I guess, to the sense that obviously belts are being tightened, but it seems at least among UN staff that those on the top are getting raises and those on the bottom not only are not getting raises, but have been downgraded to contractor status and otherwise, and do you predict the passage of the budget today, as the Secretariat?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, I may be many things, and perhaps not terribly much, but I don’t do fortune-telling here.  What I can tell you is that the budget negotiations are obviously in the hands of the Member States.  And when they reach a decision, I am sure that you will know about it the same as we do.  When it comes to what’s in the proposals that are on the table, they are precisely that.  They are proposals as part of a negotiating process.  And the question that has been raised by the Staff Union about potential pay cuts, this refers to one proposal in nearly 100 pages of negotiating proposals that are on the table at the moment.  And I think we need to wait to see the outcome of the negotiation, which is, as I say, in the hands of the Member States.


Correspondent:  Just one, and thanks a lot, I just want kind of… because I mean, I understand ultimately they will vote in the Fifth Committee and then the [General Assembly].  But I mean, I see many Secretariat officials over there and I would assume that at least, as just sort of keeping up minimal payments in order to keep the services, I mean, I have heard Ban Ki-moon say that… that it is not… they are… it’s not that the Secretariat has no role in the budget talks, they are, I guess, agitating…


Spokesperson:  No, I think you are either misunderstanding or misrepresenting what I am saying.


Correspondent:  All right.


Spokesperson:  What I said is, it is a matter for Member States to decide.  It is their negotiating process.  Are members of the United Nations Secretariat on hand?  Yes, of course.  But, it is a negotiating process between Member States, and the outcome?  Wait; we will see.


Question:  [inaudible] I guess, when it is finally reached, will there be… do you think there will be some statement from the Secretariat on how this impacts the UN at the staff and sort of day to day operations or ability to…?


Spokesperson:  I think that we would want to look very closely at what is decided, and then we will see, yeah.


Okay, thank you very much and I hope everybody has a restful time in this holiday season.  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record