|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. Welcome to the briefing.
**Secretary-General in Davos
This morning in Davos, the Secretary-General held a press conference at which he said revolution had swept across North Africa and the Middle East, bringing new freedoms and democracy, but new challenges as well.
He said that from North Africa to New York, and Athens to Abidjan — people everywhere are demanding change. The global debate is focused on economic inequality and social justice, including the discussions at the World Economic Forum. He said that during the events of the Arab Spring he had consistently called for leaders to listen to their people. The Secretary-General urged leaders gathered in Davos to do the same.
The Secretary-General has held a number of bilateral meetings, including with the Swedish Foreign Minister and Nigerian Minister for the Economy and Finance. We have issued readouts on those meetings.
The Secretary-General also spoke at a discussion on sustainable energy and at a meeting on “Catalysing Transformational Partnerships between the United Nations and Business”. He said that private sector engagement is increasingly recognized as a strategic way to deliver profound change. More details are available online.
The Secretary-General is also participating in a session on this June’s “Rio+20” sustainable development summit.
As you know, the annual Holocaust memorial ceremony is taking place in the General Assembly hall. This year’s observance is dedicated to the children who were victims of the Holocaust. In a message, the Secretary-General said children are uniquely vulnerable to the worst of humankind and that we must show them the best the world has to offer. He called on all nations to protect the most vulnerable, regardless of race, colour, gender or religious beliefs. And his message is available online.
You will have seen the reports on the release of a UN employee in Yemen. We can confirm that a UN staff member who had been held since 15 January arrived in a UN safe haven in Sana’a today. He is in good health and is receiving standard medical examinations and psychological counselling. The employee is a 34-year-old Norwegian who has worked as a governance team leader with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He will recuperate in his home country for a short while before resuming his duties with UNDP.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, appealed today for $1.28 billion to fund its humanitarian operations assisting children in more than 25 countries globally this year. The crisis in Somalia and in other countries in the Horn of Africa accounts for nearly one third of the total amount needed, but UNICEF says it is also important not to forget the other long-standing emergencies around the globe.
The Fund says that while some of these emergencies attract significant attention, others never reach international awareness, and many become “silent emergencies”. The 2012 Humanitarian Action for Children report is available online.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is looking at new ways to ensure uninterrupted assistance and services at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, despite insecurity and reduced humanitarian access. The measures include giving a greater role to refugees in the day-to-day running of the camp.
The agency says that refugees have always had a role in making camps work, but that this role is being expanded in Dadaab. Hospitals, for example, have remained open, staffed by refugees, nationals and a limited number of international staff. UNHCR also says that more than 30 camp schools remain open and are run by refugee teachers. There is more in the UNHCR briefing notes on this.
As you know, the Security Council will be holding consultations today at 3 p.m. on the Middle East.
That’s what I have. Questions, please?
**Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Wait a minute, please. Masood?
Question: I just wanted to ask two questions, one was this: any update on this white powder which was discovered and that you have delivered to the New York Police Department?
Spokesperson: Not really, Masood. I think Gregory Starr, the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Safety and Security, spoke at some length about this subject yesterday evening, and I don’t have anything to add to that.
Question: I also want to ask you about this follow-up on this question that I had asked you about Israel picking up the Palestinian legislators from outside the International Red Cross office. Now what they have done they have even arrested Palestinian Speaker of the Palestinian Assembly, and have also… I mean, have you… do you have any reaction to that?
Spokesperson: No, not directly, Masood. Again, as I have said before, and as the Secretary-General has said, it is important that during a tense period and when there are efforts to try to move negotiations along, however tentative those steps may be, it is important that there should be as little as possible in the way of provocative actions. And I think I would leave it at that. Yes, I am coming to you, then I will come to you, Matthew, yes.
Question: Yes, sorry, I apologize. I don’t know how to pronounce your last name, so I would rather not say it in the precaution of not erring and mispronouncing it. I am from Telemundo network. We are trying to see if any update in regards to the investigation of the 16 kilograms of drugs that were delivered last week to the United Nations. Can you elaborate further on that, sir?
Spokesperson: Not really, no. As I think I just mentioned to Masood here, the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security here at the United Nations spoke at some length yesterday evening to reporters. I think the most important aspects here are that there is an investigation under way, that’s with the host country authorities — with the United States authorities, the New York Police Department and the Drug-Enforcement Administration. As Mr. Starr made clear, the two suspicious bags were not intended for the United Nations and were not UN diplomatic pouches. And he showed a picture, which is available online, of those bags, which have a UN emblem on them but are not UN bags. And he also pointed out that the screening that goes on at the United Nations for any packages arriving worked. And that’s how the suspicious packages were discovered.
Question: Are you going to be more on guard now after this happening in terms of the screening? It was effective, of course, you have proven that that it was effective; are there any other additional measures that will be taken as a result?
Spokesperson: Well, as I just mentioned, the system did indeed work, and Mr. Starr pointed out that UN offices around the world have been alerted to be on the lookout. But this, as far as we can tell, was a one off. And as far as we can tell, this was something that was very clearly not intended to arrive here at all. And that’s where I’d leave it. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I have other questions, but I actually have a follow-up on this, and it’s a follow-up to what Mr. Starr said yesterday. Since then, a number of security people have asked — and now I will ask you, and maybe you can ask Mr. Starr — why, when the bags were discovered, there was no attempt to wait to see who might show up to try pick them up? You have said there was, you know, they weren’t intended for the UN, but it seems to many people there is no way to know that. There is no… what you know is that there is no address on them. But there is no way to know who might have gone to pick them up, but obviously by taking them out of the building, it eliminates any availability to investigate it. So I want to know why that was decided; I want you to confirm that DSS [Department of Safety and Security] under Gregory Starr eliminated something called the Special Investigations Unit, which was apart of DSS when he took it over, and the rationale for that, and finally to confirm whether there have been previous arrests of individuals in the UN mail room for the trafficking of drugs in UN bags?
Spokesperson: I’ll check on the last point, I don’t know the answer to that, Matthew, nor on the middle one. But to come back to the beginning, as Mr. Starr explained, there were no addresses when these packages, these bags arrived in Cincinnati. There was no address, either addressee or from whom these bags had come — there was nothing; nothing. So it is rather odd, then to think, well you need to wait for someone, turn up to when the bags were never intended to come here in the first place.
[The Spokesperson later said the Special Investigations Unit still existed and indeed was the lead investigative entity on this case. The Security and Safety Service is not aware of any drugs arrests in the mail room.]
Question: But if DHL has a policy, or obviously a practice, of delivering to the UN things that are simply marked with the UN logo, then clearly if somebody wanted to traffic drugs into the UN this would be a perfect way to do it, people wouldn’t write their names on it, because it if was read, they would be caught. But if it is delivered this way, so can you say, I guess, it is a DHL, but it is also a UN question. Is the UN aware of any other deliveries to the UN of items that don’t have a named addressee on them?
Spokesperson: As I have just said, the system of intercepting things that were not intended for the United Nations worked. Next question, please?
Question: Martin, how come the [inaudible] view certain areas of Syria have been declared no go to the Government forces, such as Zabadaniand [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I didn’t quite catch, because there was [inaudible].
Question: The Zabadaniarea, the city of Zabadani, which is close to the Lebanese border and its neighbourhood.
Spokesperson: What about it?
Question: I mean, how do you view that militant groups have declared these areas no-go to the Government forces?
Spokesperson: I think that the point here is that we need simply to remember what the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, including today in Davos — that the violence needs to stop and that it is important to support the diplomatic initiatives that are under way. I don’t have anything further for you on that point. Yes, please, and it is better not to speak over other people, I think.
Question: I apologize, sir, it is just that we have some technical difficulties. If you can sum up what you just told me, because otherwise I won’t be able to do my job.
Spokesperson: Well, I am sorry, I can’t…
Question: You were saying that, any specific measures — just this one question — any specific measures that you are planning to take for the screening, you obviously worried about anything… I… additionally, you are going to [inaudible], if you can summarize it please, I apologize.
Spokesperson: As I simply already said, the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security made clear that United Nations offices around the world have been alerted to be on the lookout, but this is considered to be a one off and it is clear that these packages were not intended — and that’s what Mr. Starr said — for the United Nations and did not come from within the UN system. Other questions, please? Yes? It is difficult to see you if you are under the spotlight, but please I’ll come to you in just one second, okay?
Correspondent: Thanks, no problem.
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you a couple of things. In Sudan, there have been arrests of, I mean, a number of people, but it’s specifically people, part of this group called Girifna, which is… it is a youth… they align themselves with the Arab Spring and are calling for democracy and they have said that five of their members have been “kidnapped” by Sudanese officials. Amnesty International has asked for the release of another one of their officials and I wanted to know, given the UN’s involvement in Sudan, various involvements, has… does the UN system have anything to say about the kidnapping or arrest without charge of these democracy activists in Sudan?
Spokesperson: I’d have to look into that. I don’t have any details on that, Matthew. I’m just going to come to your colleague and then I will return to you, Matthew. Yes?
Question: Going back to the issue with this package situation, I understand that they didn’t have an address where it was addressed to or sent from. But how positive then were you guys that it came from Mexico?
Spokesperson: We haven't said that. Yes, Masood?
Question: In Egypt yesterday, as you know, some… I mean the report was also in The New York Times — maybe it happened day before yesterday — that some NGOs [non-governmental organizations] were stopped and some people have been put on, I mean, no-fly list and so on and so forth. Has anything been done about that? Has the Secretary-General said anything to the Egyptian Government to let these people go? That they are being detained, I mean, these people over there performing some social functions?
Spokesperson: We are aware of the reports and I think that is being handled bilaterally as far as I can tell. If I have anything further on that, I’d let you know.
Question: About this Davos thing where the Secretary-General is, on this economic… I mean basically they are talking about economics and so on and so forth, but the Secretary-General has in the past talked about developing countries and the need to help them. Is there going to be anything else on this agenda, on his agenda, where he can again appeal to the so-called rich nations who are attending this summit?
Spokesperson: He has done it very clearly, and I just mentioned one part of what he said. He has made it very clear in his remarks today about the need to listen to what people have been saying, and not just leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, but all those leaders who are there gathered in Davos. They need to listen, and not only listen, but to do a lot more. That is what the Secretary-General said.
Question: I’m sorry, Martin, I didn’t make myself clear before, I [inaudible], I think that we realize he has been making this appeal again and again, but nothing happens. Like when he went to the G-20 summit and he asked for some sort of a funding for the developing countries, all promises were made, it has been there, nothing happened. What happens? I mean in the sense, why is there no action?
Spokesperson: Well, I think that is a rather sweeping statement, Masood. There is quite a lot that has been happening. If you look at the progress that has been made on women’s and children’s health, just to give one example, it is really quite encouraging in that area. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to do, of course, there is a great deal to do. And that’s why the Secretary-General has made sustainable development the top priority for the coming five years, because that is pulling together all those different strands, including food security and energy security — all of those different areas that can and should make a difference to the people who really need assistance. You will have heard me also mention that UNICEF is appealing for funding today to help children in countries in need. So as you can see, this is a big picture, and I don’t think sweeping statements really cover it. And I don’t think that I can also give enough detail to really satisfy you here, but that is just a quick snapshot. Yes, Matthew? Then Richard.
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, the Sri Lankan Government is, I call it bragging, but has, is announcing that Shavendra Silva, their deputy PR whose battalion is listed in the Panel of Experts report about crimes in Sri Lanka, has been, quote, “selected” to be on this Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations. I wanted to know, one, if that is true of the status, I mean, if it has actually been confirmed? And two, if the Secretary-General has any ability to block or speak about such a selection, given that some people say to put a person accused of war crimes on an advisory group about peacekeeping would send the wrong messages?
Spokesperson: Well, as I understand it, Major General Shavendra Silva was selected by the Group of Asian States as their representative. He was not selected by the Secretary-General. As to your other question, I may have something further on that a little later.
Question: Okay, and thanks. And I just wanted, because I wanted to know and you would, I am sure, know this, there was a big fight here for example of keeping Syria off the Human Rights Council and there was, it was initially a nominee of a regional group, I mean there seems to be some ability certainly of Member States, but I believe at times the Secretary-General to…
Correspondent: …not accept…
Spokesperson: Matthew, sometimes it seems you don’t listen to what I am saying. I just said I may have something further for you later, okay?
Question: I know, I did hear you say that, I just want to make sure. I am writing about it today, so I don’t… I want… is it going to be before 5 p.m., what do you have say, or…? That’s why I am asking a follow-up
Spokesperson: Don’t push your luck, Matthew. Right, Richard?
Question: I don’t have a problem using your last name but Martin, two questions. One — and I may have missed it in the elevator — for broadcast purposes, what does Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, look for in the meeting next of the Arab League coming here? What would he like to see coming out of that, the momentum or direction?
Spokesperson: What the Secretary-General has said in Davos today on camera, I think, Richard, is that he hopes that the international community can speak with one voice and that there should be unity on this matter. That it is an important topic and the people need help. That is what he said personally today in Davos.
Question: Speaking of on camera, and again, we unfortunately can’t always be here, but there wasn’t that much notification, I think, on the Gregory Starr briefing. I am asking what happened to UNTV? Just procedurally, if there was a warning or knowing that that was going to happen, was there any chance of telling them? I am just curious what happened.
Spokesperson: It was done at very short notice and that is why it wasn’t possible. That is as simple as that. We tried our best to make this happen and to make Mr. Starr available for journalists to ask questions, which is what we did. It was simply not possible in the time that we had to put in place what ordinarily would have been possible earlier in the day or with more notice. It is as simple as that. Sorry. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Martin, 12 people died in the recent couple of weeks from military gas in Bahrain. I understand that there were four people from the Human Rights Council who went to Bahrain to look, to see over the implementation of the [inaudible] report. Until now, and I asked Navi Pillay a few days ago about that, she kept just saying that they are there. We don’t have any update what they are doing. Also there are threats to arrest the chief cleric in Bahrain, and there are threats to kill him by some [inaudible] group affiliated with the Government. What is the latest on Bahrain, I mean update, and why don’t we find any kind of announcement or condemnation to these practices?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, you are absolutely right, Ms. Pillay did speak on that subject. I don’t have anything further on that at the moment. Should that change, I’ll let you know. Okay, Nizar? Yes, Matthew.
Question: Sure, and at the risk of pressing my luck, I wanted to ask again what day it was that Ban Ki-moon, in December, which is a long month, as we know, that he became aware that there were no military helicopters available to protect civilians in South Sudan?
Spokesperson: I think the best thing there, Matthew, is if you speak to our colleagues from DPKO/DFS — from Peacekeeping and Field Support — and I think they would be happy to help to provide a briefing to you on the details.
Question: And also, does this cover Ms. Johnson who also said subsequently we were told the Russians would fly, that [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: As I said, Matthew, if you get in touch with my colleagues, I think they would be able to brief you a little further.
Okay, thanks. Have a good afternoon and a good weekend everybody. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record