|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, everyone, and welcome to the briefing.
In Addis today, the Secretary-General received the report of his High-level Panel on Global Sustainability from the co-chairs of the Panel, President Zuma of South Africa and President Halonen of Finland.
The Secretary-General said that sustainable development was a top priority for his second term. He added that we needed to chart a new, more sustainable course for the future, one that strengthens equality and economic growth while protecting our planet. As you know, the 22-member Panel was established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity. Its final report is entitled “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”. It contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to incorporate it into economic policy as quickly as possible.
The Secretary-General noted that he already moved ahead on two of the Panel’s recommendations — strengthening the Sustainable Development Strategy for the UN system and launching the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative. He also said that the report was a valuable input in the lead-up to the “Rio+20” Conference in June and called on Government Ministers and policymakers, business and civil society leaders, and young people to work together to create a future worth choosing.
On Sunday the Secretary-General attended the African Union Summit. Addressing the leaders at the opening ceremony, he said he saluted the leaders’ efforts to build African prosperity. He said the challenge was to transform Africa’s potential into progress for all.
He said 2011 had been a year of high drama. He told leaders there had been operational and strategic differences in how the United Nations had addressed the situations in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya. He saw this as natural in an organization as varied in its membership as the United Nations, but that differences had been handled through dialogue, engagement and collaboration.
On human rights, the Secretary-General noted that one form of discrimination had been ignored or even sanctioned by many States for too long — discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This has prompted some Governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even as criminals. He said confronting this discrimination is a challenge but we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
He held a press conference and had bilateral meetings with several African leaders while in Addis Ababa. And we have issued a number of readouts on those meetings. The Secretary-General leaves for Jordan this evening at the start of his latest visit to the Middle East.
This morning the Security Council is holding consultations on South Sudan, as you will have seen. It is also meeting on the report of its 1988 Committee, which deals with measures in connection with individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with the Taliban.
Tomorrow at 12:30, there will be an end-of-term press conference by Baso Sangqu, who is the Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of January.
And then at 5 p.m., there will be a press conference by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, along with Mr. Nabil el-Araby, Secretary General of the Arab League.
Questions, please? Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, the Government of South Sudan are saying, I mean, one, that 79 more people have been killed in these tribal conflicts, and this time in Warrap State, but they are accusing Sudan of arming the Nuer rebels to attack the Dinka, and I wanted to know: one, what UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] did to reach this point of conflict, and two, whether UNMISS has any, you know, evidence to prove or disprove that Sudan is arming the tribal militias.
Spokesperson: Well, we are certainly aware of an attack by an unknown armed group that took place in Tonj East County in Warrap State on Saturday, on the 28th. At this stage, we are not in a position to confirm any details about the casualty figures. The UN Mission in South Sudan has dispatched an integrated team, along with the Governor and other State officials, to the location and is in the process of assessing the incident.
Correspondent: [inaudible] helicopters again, if I could just, because it came up in the Council. One, I wanted to just, I guess, get a confirmation that the UN currently has these two Bangladeshi helicopters, I am told, for only, on a three-week contract. And also I know that, and thank you for referring me to DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]/DFS [Department of Field Support], I did ask with them, but I still don’t have either the date on which the Secretary-General knew that the Russians wouldn’t fly nor the date promised by Hilde Johnson of when she was subsequently informed of that change. And they sent me a lengthy answer, but it didn’t have these two pieces of information that I had been asking you for.
Spokesperson: Well, as you rightly say, you did receive a lengthy answer on that topic and I don’t have anything further on that.
Correspondent: It did not respond to what I have been asking you, and you told me if I ask them I’d get the answer, but I didn’t.
Correspondent: Because, I mean, I don’t mean to be ru… I am just trying to, I mean, sitting right there, Hilde Johnson said “I will give you the date after the briefing”, and I am still waiting for it.
Spokesperson: Well, as I say, Matthew, I don’t have anything further at this point. Yes, Masood?
Question: As a follow-up on my question last week, Friday, about this, about Yemen. Now that the President of Yemen is here now in New York, apparently his treatment, does… is there any update on Yemen as to the… their own schedule for elections and so forth and transition to power? Do you have any information? Does… has the UN representative over there conveyed anything to you?
Spokesperson: Not beyond the briefing which Mr. Benomar gave himself last week to the Council, which was, I think, the snapshot we have at this time. He, as I think I mentioned to you, expressed the need for those elections to go ahead on schedule and I think that’s where we are. But he did brief the Council last week. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask about… and… well there’s two things, security and Sri Lanka. But on Sri Lanka, I understand that on Saturday, I got an answer, I guess, you know, from your office that Mr. Shavendra Silva, who is named, whose battalion is named, in the Secretary-General’s report on Sri Lanka, was called an alleged war criminal, was not, I just wanted to understand, is there any discretion, number one, on the Secretary-General’s part in terms of accepting a regional group’s nominee to his, to Ban Ki-moon’s Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations if there are these charges pending? And whether or not that is the case, I have asked you before, but whether the UN can state whatever happened to the Sri Lankan peacekeepers that were repatriated from Haiti even charges of sex with underage girls, were they disciplined and this, and this also going to the question of whether taking advice from Shavendra Silva is a good idea for the UN’s credibility?
Spokesperson: Well, on the latter point, I think that’s something that you need to check with the Sri Lankan authorities. On the first point, the answer to your question was in the answer you received. It is simply the case that the General Assembly instructed the Secretary-General to establish this senior adviser group, and the General Assembly stipulated that the membership should comprise five representatives nominated by troop-contributing countries, five nominated by financial contributors and one representative named by each of the five regional groups. And as you well know, this particular individual was nominated by the regional group concerned — Asia. So the General Assembly instructed the Secretary-General to establish this senior adviser group. And so, the Secretary-General’s responsibility himself relates to the five eminent persons that he was asked to select himself, and that does not include the person you have mentioned. The person you have mentioned was nominated, selected, by the regional group, and that’s fully in line with the General Assembly resolution that covers this.
Question: Just one last thing on this, because some people, I mean, does the Secretary-General have any views of having as an adviser the individual named in his own report and did he have any view… I mean, did he like the idea, for example, of Syria being denied a seat on the Human Rights Council given the issues raised, does he think it is good for the UN’s reputation and credibility that automatic and clean slates or referrals like this? Does he have any comment at all or is he going to accept it and it is going to go forward?
Correspondent: I understand what he said, I just…
Spokesperson: Well, evidently not because it is a matter for Member States. And I think that you’re knocking at the wrong door. If you have the view or you are conveying the view that you’ve just expressed…
Correspondent: Many say so.
Spokesperson: Well, yeah, they may do, but many — if that’s the case — would need to address it to the Member States in the General Assembly, because if there is a resolution from the General Assembly, the Secretary-General needs to carry out that mandate. It is as simple as that. And as you well know, the five people nominated by the Secretary-General do not include the person that you have mentioned. That person was selected by the Asia Group of countries. And I think you would perhaps need to mention it to them. It is a general point that — and to come back to the point you raised about the other areas, including Syria and the Human Rights Council — this is something for the Member States, they decide that. It is not for the Secretary-General to decide. Yes?
Question: On the issue, on the African Union and the gay rights, what are the proposed plans that the Secretary-General has to deal with those issues?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has spoken out about this topic, not for the first time. Of course, to do so at the African Union Summit gives it additional prominence and underscores his determination to ensure that there are universal rights that are universally applied. So that’s the first thing. The second is that there are other events coming up that are related to this topic, and I think we’ll probably be able to give you some more details on that in due course. I am thinking in March there is an event that is related to this. Yes?
Question: Will the Secretary-General be, I mean, his appointments in the cabinet that he is trying to appoint new Under-Secretary-General… Secretary-General complete his new… for his new tenure, has he completed that? Is he… there going to be more announcements and who is going to be his Chef de Cabinet now that…?
Spokesperson: Well, Masood, I think you heard the Secretary-General sitting right here where I am sitting now speaking on that topic, and I don’t have anything beyond that at the moment. As and when there are announcements to be made, I am sure that they will be made, either by him or by others concerned.
Question: How long does it take to complete this process? I mean, is it going to take the whole year or just within two months or…?
Spokesperson: I think it depends on the appointments you are looking at, because, as the Secretary-General made clear, there will need to be a period of transition, taking into account, for example, the “Rio+20” summit in Brazil in June. So I don’t think you are going to see everyone change overnight, I don’t think that’s how it is supposed to work. The idea is for it to be a smooth transition and it takes into account a number of factors, including the one I just mentioned. Yes?
Question: I want to ask a security question, I will try to do it… it’s following up on last week’s 14 kilograms of cocaine story. First, some other security individuals have stepped forward and said that about, you know, whatever, some… in the recent… this month, January, there was three separate UN bomb sniffing dogs sat down, i.e., identified a package that arrived in the mail room as being problematic and asked that the bomb squad be [inaudible], and rather than that happen, the package was allowed to drive off to parts unknown. And I wanted to know, since it was driven off, it doesn’t seem to now implicate security, but they have a deep concern that there is something wrong with the way in which security is dealing with the mail thing, which seemed to also… it is the same question of why the 14 kilograms of cocaine were spirited out of the building before waiting to see who would pick them up. So I wanted… the final thing is I got the answer, and I appreciated it; there is a 2006 indictment of a UN mail room employee called Osman Osman. It was a pretty big case in which he was distributing khat from Somalia throughout the United States, it’s a federal indictment. So I wondered, you said that they were unaware of any arrests, maybe they didn’t understand, was there some limited time frame they were looking at or are they unaware that that took place?
Spokesperson: Do you recall what was the outcome of that case, Matthew?
Correspondent: No, he was arrested; my question was whether he… you wrote back and said they are unaware of any arrests. I mean, that’s a…
Spokesperson: As I said, I would like to ask further about that, and that’s what I did. When I have something, I will let you know.
Question: On this other one, it seems kind of serious and I understand there is a policy of not, that’s why I am asking, it is a past event, so it’s… but they have a concern and apparently they are not able to address it internally for whatever reason. And it seems to implicate all of us. I am saying this idea that if a package identified as potentially containing explosives is identified by UN security, is the protocol to actually check the package or just let it go, you know, continue on freely on the streets of New York?
Spokesperson: Let me check, Matthew. Okay, thanks very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record