2 February 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.


So good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


** Yemen


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, just released a statement expressing her relief after the release of the seven humanitarian workers who were abducted in Yemen on 31 January.  All have been released unharmed.  They are now in Sana'a and are in contact with their families.


Ms. Amos said that the incident serves to remind us of the dangers faced every day by humanitarian workers helping people in crisis situations around the world and whose only aim is to provide assistance and protection to people in need.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Egypt


I also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the outbreak of violence in the Port Said stadium in Egypt.


The Secretary-General is saddened by the death of more than 74 people and the injury of hundreds of others following the outbreak of violence yesterday evening at the end of a football match in the city of Port Said, Egypt.  He extends his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and wishes a speedy recovery to those who were injured.


The Secretary-General trusts the Government of Egypt will take appropriate measures to respond to this tragic incident, with the full cooperation of all concerned.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General is on the last day of his trip to the Middle East.  This morning, he was in Gaza, where he visited a school and housing project, both run by the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA.  The Secretary-General noted the progress made in building houses at the Khan Younis site he had visited on his last trip in 2009.  He said he would again urge Israel to remove restrictions so that work can be further accelerated.


You will have seen that we also issued a statement on the Secretary-General’s visit to Gaza, in which we said he was concerned about the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.


The Secretary-General later travelled to Erez in Israel where he visited Sapir College, where he met with survivors of a rocket attack last year on a school bus.  He said that nothing justified the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars into Israel.


Shortly, the Secretary-General will deliver a keynote address to the Herzliya 2012 Conference in Tel Aviv.  He’s expected to speak about the Arab Spring and the impact on the region.  He is also scheduled to meet Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak before leaving the country.  The Secretary-General is due back in New York tomorrow.


**Security Council


The Security Council has adopted its programme of work for the month of February.  And Mr. Kodjo Menan, the Permanent Representative of Togo to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for this month will be here to brief you at 12:30 p.m.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, is calling on all political actors to preserve the peaceful atmosphere which has been observed throughout the country since the announcement of the provisional results of the national legislative body.


The Mission is encouraging all candidates and political actors to use the legally prescribed channels for the resolution of disputes and to refrain from the use of force or violence.  The Mission also encourages the Supreme Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction over electoral disputes, to examine with due diligence any and all disputes referred to it with a view to contributing to a peaceful political climate and the strengthening of the rule of law.


MONUSCO reminds all parties concerned that it is continuing to monitor closely human rights violations and acts of violence committed, notably in the context of the elections.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo — Humanitarian


And also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the humanitarian community has appealed for $718 million to provide emergency assistance in 2012 to hundreds of thousands of Congolese.  The fund will allow aid organizations to respond to the numerous humanitarian needs of Congolese affected by conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters and the lack of access to basic social services.


Last year, despite the many constraints that humanitarian organizations faced, 7 million people benefited from health-care services, and more than 200,000 children in conflict zones continued to have access to education and more than 3 million people received food assistance.


**Armstrong


I was asked yesterday about Jeffery K. Armstrong, a former United Nations employee.  Mr. Armstrong was convicted by a federal jury for fraudulently holding concurrent jobs at the United Nations and the US National Labor Relations Board.  He was sentenced on 27 January 2012 to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $128,153 in restitution to the United Nations.


The United Nations fully cooperated with the United States authorities in this matter and is pleased that the United States Court has ordered that restitution be made to the United Nations for the loss it suffered from Mr. Armstrong’s actions.


Questions, please?  Yes, Karim?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, there was an incident this morning during Ban Ki-moon’s visit in Gaza, where he was pelted with stones.  So, I wanted to know if you have any more details.  Was Ban Ki-moon inside or outside the car, and was it just a few people or a larger crowd?


Spokesperson:  He was inside his vehicle at that point.  And I think you will have seen, one, that we issued a statement in which we mentioned the concern that the Secretary-General has for the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.  And the Secretary-General also was asked about this topic when he spoke to reporters at Khan Younis having visited these housing projects and schools, both of which are funded and run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA.  He said that he fully shared the frustrations and concerns of those people who had been waiting at the crossing point.  And he said that’s why he was in Gaza for the third time.  There are very dire social, economic and humanitarian problems; this is what he said, people need to be able to move freely and goods must be imported and exported without restrictions.  He said that’s why he has been urging the Israeli authorities to lift completely and unconditionally the restrictions that there are on the crossings.  So, that’s what I have for you.  He has spoken about it.  But just to be clear, he was inside his vehicle at that point.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.


Spokesperson:  I will come to you in a second.


Question:  As a follow-up to the question just asked by our colleague; was there any concern at all about the safety of the Secretary-General during this incident?


Spokesperson:  I think everything was well handled and the Secretary-General was able to continue on what was an important visit, as I just mentioned, to the Khan Younis girls’ school and housing project where progress has been made since his last visit.  Building materials have been delivered and clearly what is needed now is for more construction materials to be delivered.  I think the Secretary-General understands the frustrations of the people of Gaza and that’s why he was visiting now for a third time.  Yes, Masood — I’ll come back to you in a second.  Masood and then I am coming to you.


Question:  Martin, just on a point of clarification on the Secretary-General’s visit to Jerusalem yesterday where he said that the settlement activity is not helpful, quote, unquote.  Does that mean it is legal, but not helpful? 


Spokesperson:  I think he said very clearly, as well, that it is illegal.  I think that that is quite clear.  Yes, George?


Question:  [inaudible] with the previous questions about this little episode with the Secretary-General’s car.  Where was he in Gaza other than just at Khan Younis?  I got the report this morning about his comments at Khan Younis and the housing project there.  Was he also in Gaza City, and where did this episode occur, in fact?


Spokesperson:  It occurred at the crossing point into Gaza from Israel, at Erez, and as you know, as he left Gaza, he went to visit this college — the Sapir College — where he was able to meet Israeli…


Question:  So it was on the way over the… through the crossing to Sapir College?


Spokesperson:  On the way into, at the start of the visit to Gaza, on the way through the crossing point as the motorcade came through the crossing point, they were already then inside Gaza at that point.


Question:  So, was he in Gaza City at all as well?


Spokesperson:  I think the focus…


Correspondent:  Khan Younis is at the opposite end of the street down near the Egyptian [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  Well, the main focus of the visit was to Khan Younis.  He also visited UN staff at their offices.  But that’s as much as I have for you.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew? And then I’ll come to the back, yes. 


Question:  Yeah, yeah, questions on Sudan, Sri Lanka, but I wanted… well just one follow-up on this, just to get your response to it.  They… you know, it’s said that in the crowd of protesters were, you know, obviously family members with people in prison and, you know, quote, “they accused Ban of refusing to meet with them”.  So I wanted to know, was there any formal request made?  Did he, and also on this issue of… I mean, was there any idea of meeting, you know, with Hamas?  Would that have been seen as productive, and specifically these families if they are accusing him of not meeting, was there a request and should he have met with them?


Spokesperson:  There was a meeting scheduled with representatives of civil society.  At a certain point it became clear that those representatives did not wish to attend that meeting.  It was made clear that a UN official — not the Secretary-General — was prepared to meet with the representatives, but this offer was not accepted.  I think the Secretary-General feels that this was a lost opportunity for him to engage with civil society representatives in a scheduled meeting.


Question:  The people that were scheduled to attend didn’t want to attend with him, is that…? I just want to understand…


Spokesperson:  No, no, the point is that others had wished to attend that meeting and this was not something that could take place.  Okay.  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  A question on that.  Did he make his comments about jailed Palestinians before or after the demonstration?


Spokesperson:  Well, he has spoken out about this topic before, as I have from here.  And so that’s the first thing.  The second thing is that he was asked subsequently — but he’d already raised the topic, and will continue to raise the topic with Israeli interlocutors.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Martin, on the same question again raised by other colleagues here, was there any damage to the cars that the Secretary-General was riding in?


Spokesperson:  I really don’t know the answer to that.  I suspect not, but I do not know the answer to that.  Yes, I am sorry.


Question:  It’s all right, Martin.  Thank you.  Good morning.  Yesterday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that he wanted to end the combat role of US troops in Afghanistan and maybe change it to more of an advise-and-assist role.  I hear the lobbying is happening, plus NATO countries in Europe are trying to make that a force-wide decision that’s a year early.  Is that good news for the SG and did he made any response or comment at all?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think the Secretary-General has made any comment on that just at the moment, but obviously we are aware of this development.  If I have anything further from our mission in Kabul, I would let you know.  As you know, the Mission has a very defined, an important role on the civilian side.  And that role is likely to grow over time, of course.  But I don’t have any specific response at the moment to this latest development.  We’re certainly aware of it.  Matthew?


Correspondent:  Sure.


Spokesperson:  Last question, because I can see that the Ambassador of Togo is here.  So, this is the last question, Matthew.


Question:  Okay, it is a Sudan question, it is double pronged.  One has to do with whether the UN system can confirm the reported bombing of a Samaritans Purse school of children in the Nuba mountains of Sudan, and once, when they do, if they have any comment on it.  The other one is just simply to understand when Hilde Johnson said she would provide the date on which she was subsequently informed that the Russian helicopters would, in fact, not fly.  Can the date be provided, or in the alternative, some type of a reason for not providing the date?


Spokesperson:  I hear what you are saying on the second point.  On the first, I will check.  Thanks very much.  And I give the floor now to the Permanent Representative of Togo, Ambassador Menan.  Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record