6 January 2012
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, and welcome to the briefing.


**South Sudan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that United Nations agencies, with the support of the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, have launched a major humanitarian emergency operation in Pibor, Jonglei State.


During the last 72 hours, assessments were carried out in several areas and more are scheduled.  The requirements already reported are significant and around 50,000 people are estimated to be in need.  A rapid response plan is being finalized.


The World Food Programme (WFP) also says it is concerned about food insecurity.  The Programme has already delivered emergency rations in Pibor to feed 1,000 people for two weeks and expects to reach 7,000 more people in the coming days.  It has also distributed food packages for 2,000 internally displaced people at Boma.


And the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, will be travelling to South Sudan this weekend.  He will be in the capital, Juba, on Saturday, and will visit a refugee site in Mabaan on Sunday.


I can also tell you that the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations has been conducting a videoconference call this morning with the UN Mission in South Sudan for an update.  The Mission is obviously aware of unconfirmed individual reports on the number of casualties following last week’s events, including the media reports today.  At this stage, it’s very difficult to get an accurate picture.  The United Nations is not in a position to confirm any such figures.  The Mission is in the process of assessing their validity.  At this point, it’s also important to examine the scope and nature of human rights violations that may have been perpetrated, and to support national authorities in establishing accountability for crimes committed.  The Mission remains actively engaged to support the Government of South Sudan to discharge its primary responsibility to protect civilians.  The Mission has reinforced its peacekeepers’ presence in key areas of Jonglei and is conducting daily land and air patrols to deter potential violence.


** Libya


The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that more than 1.2 million children in Libya will return to school tomorrow, 10 months after classrooms were evacuated due to the fighting in the country.


With support from UNICEF and other partners, the Government worked around the clock to rehabilitate buildings and clear rubble, landmines and unexploded ordnance from schools.


Nearly 30 million revised textbooks are being printed; 10 million of them are already being distributed by the Ministry of Education throughout the country.  And there is more information on UNICEF’s website.


** Yemen


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on decision makers in Yemen today to respect the prohibition in international law against amnesties for gross human rights violations.


Ms. Pillay stressed that both international law and UN policy are clear:  amnesties are not permissible if they prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and gross violations of human rights.


She said that, based on information the Office has gathered, there is reason to believe that some of these crimes were committed in Yemen during the period for which an amnesty is under consideration.  Her full statement is available online.


So that’s what I have.  Happy to take questions.  Yes, Barbara?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  This major humanitarian emergency operation; do you have any details in terms of costs or what it involves?  You mentioned WFP, of course, but is there anything else that you can give us in terms of details?


Spokesperson:  Well, I understand that a response plan is being finalized, and this involves the agencies, the UN agencies, that deal with these matters, obviously under the coordination of OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  As you also heard me saying, António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, is going to be in Juba at the weekend.


Question:  Is he going to visit Pibor or that area?


Spokesperson:  This, I don’t know.  I believe, as I have mentioned to you, Juba Saturday and a refugee site in Mabaan.  Now, clearly this is to deal with refugees.  This is a slightly different topic from the one that you are referring to now.  I am simply saying that the humanitarian agencies in general are obviously focusing on this matter and already today, as I just said, have been launching a major humanitarian emergency operation.  I think it is fair to say that the UN Appeal, 2012 UN Appeal for the Republic of South Sudan, is looking for $763 million and at the moment — bearing in mind it is for 2012 and we are six days into 2012 — 8 per cent of that Appeal target has been received so far.  As I say, obviously it is early days at this point.


Question:  A follow-up on Sudan?


Spokesperson:  Just one second.  And I am sure that our colleagues in OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, would be able to give you some more details on this.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I hear what you are saying, that Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous is doing a videoconference, but it is not just a media report.  The Commissioner of Pibor County has given very specific numbers.  He says there is 2,182 women and children killed; 959 men.  And I just wonder, maybe the UN can’t confirm that size of number, but yesterday all Mr. Ladsous said was several dozen, and there is a huge discrepancy and I wonder, is there some way to say how the UN can assess these humanitarian needs but has sort of seemingly either no idea — or maybe I am missing it — as to how many people were actually killed in this attack?  What is the UN’s working number?  It’s just, such a big gap and this is actually an official, not just a media, report.


Spokesperson:  No, Matthew, these are media reports quoting an official, okay?  That’s important to note.  And there are other reports with different numbers, and it is truly very difficult to get an accurate picture at this point.  The Mission is seeking to confirm the validity of the various reports that there are on various figures.  And I know that over the weekend they will continue to work on that.


[The Spokesperson later said that, according to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), there was no evidence supporting such figures.  At this stage, therefore, the Mission was not in a position to ascertain these figures nor assess their validity.


He also said that it was important to examine the scope and nature of human rights violations that may have been perpetrated, and to support national authorities in establishing accountability for crimes committed.]


Question:  But I know in other places the UN does come out with numbers, so this is a place where they have a peacekeeping mission.  Is it more than a hundred?  Is it more than a thousand?


Spokesperson:  As I said, Matthew, there are various reports that are out there.  They are at this point unconfirmed, and it remains to be seen what can be confirmed on the ground.  It is also important to note that the humanitarian operation is a major focus at the moment, and humanitarian agencies are working extremely hard to help people who are obviously in desperate need.  Okay, yes, Afaf, and then I’ll come to you, Evelyn.


Question:  I understand that as of a few days ago, from that videoconference that we had from the Deputy Special Rep in Sudan, in Juba, that the inter-communal violence actually dissipated.  Is that the status today?  Have things changed?


Spokesperson:  That remains the position at the moment; that those Lou Nuer people who had come in and there had then been violence, those people have now moved back.  They have left the area.  However, as I have mentioned before, there are still air and land patrols going on just to keep a fix on where these people are.  At the moment it obviously is not a normal situation.  It is very tense.  But at the moment, as I understand it from the latest reports, there isn’t violence right now, as we speak.  The focus is on the humanitarian operation that needs to take place and is taking place.  And also, the efforts to try to look into the various casualty figures that have been reported; to try to get a handle on that.  It is not easy to do.


Question:  And if I may, just to confirm, you said 763 million is the Appeal?


Spokesperson:  Just one second.  $763 million, that’s the 2012 United Nations Appeal for the Republic of South Sudan.  And it is at present 8 per cent covered.  But bear in mind that it is 6 January, the last time I looked.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, Martin, I asked you…


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon, Evelyn, then Nizar, yeah.


Question:  Are the peacekeepers playing any role in helping to put an end to this, or is that being over-optimistic for anyone to stop this?


Spokesperson:  An end to what?


Question:  The communal violence in…


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you heard a good overview from Lise Grande when she did the videoconference call with us just on Tuesday.  This was to say that there is an early-warning role.  The primary responsibility for protecting civilians does lie with the Government of South Sudan.  There is an early-warning role for the Mission, and it did carry out that role.  It also reinforced its presence in the area within the limited means that it has at its disposal.  And it also now, with its reinforced presence, is seeking to ensure that they can support the humanitarian operation that is under way.  Yes, Nizar?


[The Spokesperson later said that the UN remains actively engaged on all fronts — the humanitarian front, but also on the security and political fronts in order to support the Government and the two communities to reach a final and durable agreement.  Only a peace and reconciliation process can successfully stabilize the situation, he noted.]


Question:  Some tribes in South Sudan have expressed their view that the Government is biased, taking sides with one tribe against another.  In this case, when the United Nations is supporting Government forces, would it not look like it is supporting one side against another in a civil war, or what looks like a tribal civil war?


Spokesperson:  Short answer, Nizar; no.  The longer answer is that you will have seen that the Secretary-General spoke to the President of South Sudan, and he has made clear that this whole humanitarian crisis and the violence that unfolded in the recent days needs to be looked at in a broader context and dealt with in a political way, too.  And I think that’s really part of the answer to your question.


Question:  I have another question.  I asked you a couple of days ago about the overlooking of the interpreters’ tests here at the United Nations.


Spokesperson:  That’s right, Nizar, and yesterday I read out a fairly lengthy reply.  You didn’t see it.  I am happy to give it to you afterwards.  Other questions, yes?


Question:  Thank you, Martin, I have just two quick questions.  The first is about the Group of Experts report on Congo that was released recently.  The report is alleging that the chairman of a US-based company, CAMAC, attempted to conduct the gold transaction in Congo and the lawyers of the company are furious that the Group of Experts have made such claims based on the account of a convicted felon.  That’s the first question.  What is the reaction of the UN to that kind of a claim?  And then secondly, at his end of the year press conference, the Secretary-General did say that in a matter of days he was going to make some announcements about his new team.  I wanted to know, what is the progress on that?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the first one, I think you’d have to check with the Group of Experts if they have any further comments.  I think their answer may well be that they stand by their report.  We’ll check to see if there is anything further.  On the second question, the Secretary-General will make announcements when he is ready to do so.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about DRC and also Sri Lanka.  There are reports citing the Government, again maybe they are, maybe the Government of the DRC is somehow being misquoted, but saying that the FDLR has killed 26 people in South Kivu.  Since there is a, you know, MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] presence there, is that something that the UN can confirm, and what does this indicate in terms of the safety of civilians in the Kivus?


Spokesperson:  The United Nations is not in a position to confirm that at the moment, but I do understand that there is a mission from MONUSCO, from the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that has been dispatched to that area to look into these reports.  And to liaise with the local authorities to try to find out what happened.  That’s actually something that was already under way.


Question:  And in both these cases, both the DRC and the South Sudan one, will the UN actually end up coming out with a number?


Spokesperson:  Well, they need to do their homework first; they need to look into it, let’s see.  I can’t look into the future and say precisely what they are going to report.


Question:  Okay, and I wanted to ask you about Sri Lanka, this is, there is reports that the two Jaffna Tamil activists who have gone missing and groups in Sri Lanka have petitioned the country representative, Mr. Subinay Nandy, to press the Government to, they believe they are in military detention.  So I wanted to know, again because of the Secretary-General’s interest and I guess still studying this LLRC report, is he aware of that?  And what’s the UN system, are they, have they communicated with the Government?  Do they intend to look into the disappearance of these people?


Spokesperson:  I have seen the same report that you have, Matthew, and I have asked for some assistance with that.  I don’t have anything at the moment.  Yes, Anne?


[The Spokesperson later said that this information had already been transmitted to the special procedures of the Human Rights Council for further inquiry.]


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Do you have any details on this morning’s meeting between the Secretary-General and Professor Edward Luck, the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect?


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t, and typically we would not give a readout of internal meetings.  And that is obviously an internal meeting.  But if that changes, I’ll let you know.  Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, a technical question.  Since not most of our, my questions are recorded by UN Audio or they come somehow garbled, I mean, the voice is not clear; is it possible to put our microphones on the desk there so we guarantee a good audio?


Spokesperson:  I am not sure I quite follow you, Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, I’ll repeat.  On various occasions the audio of my questions were not carried through the system properly, and they came out garbled in a way.  Is it possible to put my, our, microphones so we guarantee that we get proper audio from the briefings and press conferences?


Spokesperson:  I think it is actually the other way round, Nizar.  There is no point putting a microphone here.  I think you can hear me quite clearly.


Correspondent:  Yes, but when we need to use the audio in our reports, it is, it has been difficult on many occasions.


Spokesperson:  There is a multi box, a split box, at the back of the room; you can plug into that and take a feed from that.


Question:  This is what we have been doing, and I have instances showing that it did not come clear at all.


Spokesperson:  Well…


Question: Other questions do come clear, except my questions.  [laughter from other correspondents]


Spokesperson:  Nizar, I think that this is stretching credibility a little bit, and let’s move on.  Let’s move on to some other questions.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Yeah.


Question:  No, I’m sorry, I mean, if you want, it is also on microphones, but it is less specific.  But since it has arisen, yesterday when Mr. Ladsous finally did do a stakeout, there was no microphone for questions, so that when you watch it, all you have is Mr. Ladsous speaking.  You have no idea what questions he was responding to, and I wonder, was it just a one-day slip up or is this reflective of the budget cuts that the Secretary-General made so much of having accomplished in December?


Correspondent:  Great question, Matthew.


Question:  I am asking, I mean, because it’s important.  He was talking about Pibor and you have, even if he doesn’t answer the question that is asked, there is no way to know what question was asked.  So it seems important [inaudible]…


Spokesperson:  I think Mr. Ladsous could hear your questions clearly, and he answered the questions.  Next, anything else?  And I can hear you perfectly well in here at the moment.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Yes, George?


Question:  I have a report which I got this morning, apparently it came out yesterday from UN Watch in Geneva, which quotes one of the senior officials of Hamas saying that the Gaza Strip, specifically the Gaza Strip only, is no longer Israeli-occupied territory and it refers, however, to some comments that Farhan made when he must have been doing the daily briefing two and a half or three years ago, saying that it is still the UN policy that the Gaza Strip is part of the Israel-occupied territory.  And a 22 September 2011 report put out by the Office of the Secretary-General speaks of a UN mission’s visit to the “ Occupied Palestinian Territory, specifically the Gaza Strip”.  Do you have any comment on that, or does the UN still seriously believe that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory?


Spokesperson:  I think we can discuss this after.  I don’t think I am going to get into a long back-and-forth on this right now.  But I will certainly speak to you afterwards about it.  Yes, okay.  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible], can we get someone in to brief about that from the UN, Martin?  It would be very helpful as this whole Palestinian statehood issue is being reviewed and things like that…


Spokesperson:  I’ll ask.


Correspondent:  …because it has come up in the past and there should be some UN clarification about the UN position on it.  And it has been historically the UN saying it is occupied territory; my understanding is because the Israelis control the border crossing; I don’t know.


Spokesperson:  I’ll ask.  I am sure there is a fairly clear response to it.  I need to check, and then I’ll come back to you.  All right, okay, have a good afternoon.  Thanks very much.


Question:  [inaudible] …memo, and I am sure you have seen the story, which I will cite to Fox News, but they say that they’ve gotten a leaked copy of the Change Management plan of the Secretary-General, and they have various critiques of it…


Spokesperson:  Two things, very…


Question:  Is it an accurate…


Spokesperson:  Two things, Matthew…


Question:  …document?


Spokesperson:  Two things, Matthew:  First of all, we don’t comment on leaked reports.  And the second is that the report from the Change Management team is still being considered by the Secretary-General.


Thanks very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record