31 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.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General arrived in Jordan this morning.  He has held talks with King Abdullah, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.  You will have seen we issued readouts on all of those encounters.  The Secretary-General thanked the King and Government for Jordan’s efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks.  They also discussed the crisis in Syria. 


At a press conference with the Foreign Minister, the Secretary-General said the Security Council meeting on Syria was crucially important.  He said he sincerely hoped Council Members would be really united this time, and speak and act in a coherent manner reflecting the wishes of the international community and the Syrian people.  The Secretary-General again appealed for the killing and bloodshed in Syria to stop immediately.


**Security Council


And I don’t think I need to tell you that the Security Council is meeting on the situation in Syria this afternoon at 3 p.m.  And that’s an open session.


**Camp Ashraf


The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says that further steps have been achieved in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the United Nations and the Government of Iraq on 25 December last year on the situation of the residents of Camp New Iraq — formerly Camp Ashraf.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Human Rights Office of the Mission in the country have now confirmed that the infrastructure and facilities at the new site, Camp Liberty, are in accordance with the international humanitarian standards stipulated in the Memorandum.


The Mission also says that UN monitors are ready to start round-the-clock human rights monitoring during the transport of residents from Camp New Iraq as well as upon their arrival at Camp Liberty.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, welcomed this further step to ensure that the proper conditions are in place for voluntary relocation.


**Haiti


The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it is extremely disappointed at reports that former Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier may face charges only of financial corruption rather than ones relating to serious human rights violations.


The High Commissioner has consistently reminded Haiti of its absolute obligation to investigate well-documented serious human rights violations and to prosecute those responsible for them.  The Office of the High Commissioner is urging the relevant authorities to ensure that justice is, belatedly, delivered to the many victims of human rights abuses committed under the government of Mr. Duvalier.


**Refugees


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2011.  This makes 2011 the deadliest year for this region since UNHCR started to record these statistics in 2006.  The agency adds that last year was also a record for the number of arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean — with more than 58,000 people arriving.


The majority of last year’s arrivals by sea landed in Italy.  Most were migrants, not asylum-seekers, according to the agency.  And there is more in the briefing notes from UNHCR.


**Press Conferences Today


Immediately following this briefing, at 12:30, there will be an end-of-term press conference by Ambassador 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. here, there will be a press conference by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, along with Mr. Nabil el-Araby, Secretary General of the Arab League.


Questions, please?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you have just said, the Secretary-General on Syria called on President Assad to stop immediately the killing and the bloodshed.  And as you know, the Secretary-General has been doing this for weeks now.  Should he use a different language at this stage, like other Governments have done and speak about humanitarian crimes and about threats to peace and security?


Spokesperson:  Well, in fact, the Secretary-General did speak about the threat to peace and security that is actually already visible and tangible in the crisis in Syria.  And indeed he said it was a threat to the three pillars of the United Nations since they were including development and human rights, as well as peace and security.  So, I think the Secretary-General has repeatedly said what needs to happen, and as I just mentioned that it needs to happen immediately, it is a sign of the significance that many Member States attach to this matter that it is being discussed in the Council this afternoon.  And it is for the Member States there to decide on their course of action.  But the Secretary-General has been clear in his view that he believes that it is time for coherent and united action in the Council.  Right, other questions, please?


Question:  Sure, Martin, I wanted to ask you several questions about Sudan and something in-house.  But first I wanted to ask you about this Sri Lanka issue that I was asking you about yesterday — Mr. Silva.  You, at least if I understood you correctly, you said that the Secretary-General and the Secretariat had no role, no, you know, no part in the selection and to ask the Asia group, so I did.  And what I have learned from that is that Under-Secretary-General Malcorra met with a number of Member States and provided them recommendations or suggestions on, on what basis to appoint people, that they be senior, for example, but apparently didn’t say don’t appoint an alleged war criminal.  So it seemed inconsistent to me with what you had said about the lack of any role from the Secretariat and I wonder if you would like to now say does the Secretariat have any problem with the person alleged to be a war criminal being a senior adviser on peacekeeping operations to the UN?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, not for the first time, you are mixing things up.  It is simply a fact — and I mentioned it yesterday and I am not going to read out the whole list again — it is a fact that the General Assembly mandated — and you can shake your head if you wish on camera — but it’s simply a fact that the General Assembly instructed the Secretary-General to appoint this group, and as you know, five eminent persons were to be selected by the Secretary-General, and the others within that group were to be selected by the various different groups, including the Asia group.  It was for them to select someone, and they did.


Question:  Would you acknowledge that Susana Malcorra met with Member States and provided recommendations and criteria for the selections?  Because I am told that by the Asia group, that’s why I am asking and why I am shaking my head.


Spokesperson:  The point here is… the point here is that the Asia group or the other groups selecting their candidates, their nominees, did so, and it is for the Member States to decide how that is done.


Question:  One follow-up, because you just said and I… you just said that the Secretary-General urges the Security Council to be united and coherent on Syria, so clearly in some cases the Secretary-General does provide guidance to Member States, and I guess I just wanted to be clear on this case.  The idea of an alleged war criminal advising Ban Ki-moon on peacekeeping is not one in which he sees fit to provide guidance to Member States?


Spokesperson:  As you well know, this is a matter for Member States in selecting people to appear on an advisory group, and I think you know that very well.  Okay, other questions.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you very much.  Regarding Syria, since the Secretary-General is in the region, will he be willing to visit Syria as a last resort, trying to convince the Assad regime to adhere to the proposed plan from the Security Council in order to avoid further escalation to the situation?


Spokesperson:  At the moment, the focus is on what is happening here in New York at the Security Council.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  While the Secretary-General is in Jordan, did he convey to the monarch of Jordan his concerns about sending mercenaries to Bahrain to crack down on the peaceful there, protesters there?


Spokesperson:  I think you have seen the readout that we issued, Nizar.  I don’t have anything further.


Question:  Away from that, away from that, did he mention this as [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  As I say, Nizar, I think you have seen the readout, that’s what we have on that.  Yes, Iftikhar?


Question:  Martin, as you know, there are so many developments taking place with regard to Afghanistan — United States-Taliban talks, Afghan-Taliban talks, Pakistan-Taliban talks.  In all this, since the UN is the player in the Afghan reconciliation process, what role is the UN playing in all these [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you will have seen the remarks by the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jan Kubiš, not so long ago on precisely this topic, and I didn’t really have anything further to add at this point.  What I am going to do is to have a word with the Mission to see if we have anything further that we can add beyond what Mr. Kubiš said just the other day.


Question:  After the new Special Representative made those remarks, there had been more [inaudible] direct Taliban-United States talks [inaudible], so I wanted to know when United States… UN has any observer role, facilitating role in all of this.


Spokesperson:  I’ll come back to you on that, Iftikhar, yeah?  Okay, other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you on South Sudan, this issue that… of the… there is more details now coming from media and the Government of South Sudan about the killings in Warrap State, I wanted to know what UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] can say.  And also I have been trying to get an answer to this:  the Permanent Representative of the TCC has told me that his country offered two assault helicopters to DFS [Department of Field Support] two months ago.  And I have asked DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and they’ve said it is neither here nor there, but given that the issues and Ban Ki-moon’s, quote, “begging for helicopters”, it seems to be both here and there.  Can you confirm that these helicopters were offered, and if they weren’t accepted, why weren’t they?


Spokesperson:  I think you know, Matthew, that the answer was contained in the e-mail that you received from DPKO and DFS yesterday evening.


Question:  The phrase used was “it’s neither here nor there” and I don’t…


Spokesperson:  Did you read the next sentence after that?


Question:  I sure… yes, I did, I did.


Spokesperson:  What did it say?  Do you want to read out that sentence?


Question:  I guess they are saying that they weren’t… think about… there are negotiations about helicopters, but Ban Ki-moon has given a speech…


Spokesperson:  That’s actually not what the sentence says, Matthew.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  That’s actually not…


Question:  It says that they weren’t, they didn’t meet the criteria.  How didn’t they meet the criteria?


Spokesperson:  Well, there you are, you have just answered the question, okay?


Question:  That’s not an answer, when people are dying [inaudible].


[The Spokesperson later noted that the email sent to the correspondent by DPKO-DFS stated that:  “Your remark that an unnamed Member State has told you that they have been willing to provide helicopters to UN peacekeeping for the past two months is neither here nor there.  While the UN has engaged in talks with a number of Member States, there have been no offers made for military helicopters that meet UN peacekeeping requirements.”]


Spokesperson:  So, just to come back to the point that you raised at the beginning, Matthew, about what has been happening in Warrap State, the Mission as I mentioned yesterday has sent a team and we are waiting to hear back from that team.  You also asked yesterday about, did the UN have any proof about the arming of militia?  The Mission doesn’t have any proof of this, and the South Sudanese authorities have not approached the Mission about this topic at this point.  Okay, other questions, please?  All right, thanks…


Question:  Can I ask one in-house question?  It is, and I’ll just… I’ll just pose it, I don’t know if there will be any follow-up because it may be that you don’t know, but maybe we’ll get an answer.  Several DSS sources have told me, and so I would like to ask you if it is true that in the recent past, in the North Lawn building, a hangman’s noose was found.  They found this, the officers, extremely troubling, and they’ve remained troubled that it was taken down, but apparently to their knowledge nothing has taken place.  And they have talked about some instance where the Swastika, in 2006, which may be five years ago, but they would like to know and, one, can you confirm finding of this noose, and two, what is the UN going to do about it?


Spokesperson:  I’ll ask, Matthew.


[The Spokesperson later added that the Safety and Security Service is aware of this matter.  An investigation was launched immediately, and that investigation is being finalized.  For that reason we cannot say more at this stage, he said.]


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record