9 March 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 everyone.  Welcome to the briefing.


** Syria


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has concluded her two-day visit to Syria.


Before leaving for New York, Ms. Amos issued a statement in which she said that it remains essential that a robust and regular arrangement be put in place, which allows humanitarian organizations unhindered access to evacuate the wounded and deliver desperately needed supplies.  A proposal has been submitted to the Government of Syria and she has asked them to consider this matter with the utmost urgency.


Today in Turkey, Ms. Amos visited displaced Syrians in Hatay province.  And she also met the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. [Ahmet] Davutoğlu, to discuss regional contingency planning efforts.


** Syria — World Health Organization


Also on Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) is deeply concerned by the plight of the civilian population in affected areas, in particular disturbing videos claiming patients were tortured inside hospitals.  The World Health Organization’s position is very clear on this:  health facilities must be treated as neutral premises and not used by one side or the other in any type of conflict.


The main challenges faced by the World Health Organization are getting unhindered access to the population in need, the limited capacity of non-governmental organizations, and the limited presence of international and national humanitarian organizations.  Since the beginning of the crisis, the WHO country office in Syria has been able to provide ambulances and life-saving medical equipment such as ventilators, incubators for newborn babies and medical supplies for surgical operations and trauma care.


** Yemen


The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that Yemen is facing a new wave of internal displacement as tens of thousands of civilians flee tribal clashes in the north and renewed fighting between Government troops and militant groups in the south.


In light of the increasing displacement and growing insecurity limiting movements of their staff both in the south and the north, UNHCR has set up local monitoring networks trained to recognize protection risks and urgent needs of internally displaced people to alert UNHCR and help ensure continued delivery of protection and assistance.  UNHCR plans to double the number of these networks this year.


And as part of the UN country team in Yemen, UNHCR is preparing a funding proposal for emergency response, addressing the deepening humanitarian crisis and new displacement in the north and south of Yemen.  For 2012, UNHCR is seeking $60 million to address the humanitarian needs of some 216,000 refugees and almost half a million internally displaced people in Yemen.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo — Refugees


Separately, the refugee agency says that 3,000 Congolese civilians have fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo into neighbouring Uganda since the beginning of the year.  They’ve been fleeing from renewed fighting in North Kivu province.  UNHCR says the refugees have reported incidents of rape, abductions and looting.  The agency has opened a transit centre with a capacity for 1,000 people.  Fighting involving Government troops, rebel forces and local defence groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern region has now forced a total of more than 100,000 people out of their homes since late November.  There are more details available on this online.


**Press Conference


The United Nations is unveiling new guidelines today to help its peace envoys address the problem of conflict-related sexual violence in ceasefires and peace agreements.  The guidelines will be issued to all UN mediators and mission chiefs to help combat this destructive tactic of warfare.  They will also be available to those working in conflict mediation globally, such as Governments and regional and non-governmental organizations.


At 2:30 this afternoon, here in this auditorium, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe; the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström; and Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who served the UN most recently as the Special Representative for Somalia, will be here to tell you more about the guidelines.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes, and then you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted to ask two questions on Kofi Annan’s mission to Syria.  One is that opposition leaders that have been saying, have been quoted as saying that they, they don’t want dialogue and that he must be, quote, “living on mars to propose it”, and I am wondering what, what the response is.  And also, the television footage of, I guess, his visit to Cairo shows, you know, clearly the former UN official Alan Doss with him.  And so I wanted to, now that he is actually on his way, what is the size of the team, how many people are being paid and is Mr. Doss, for example, now back on the UN payroll, or is he simply travelling as the Kofi Annan Foundation’s senior political adviser?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details of precisely who is going to be going to Damascus tomorrow.  But I can confirm that the Special Envoy, the Joint Special Envoy, will be preparing to visit Damascus tomorrow, and he has been holding a number of meetings in Cairo today with some Arab foreign ministers.  He has already met the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, and he intends to meet also with the Foreign Ministers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman.  And I understand that Mr. Annan will also meet the Russian Foreign Minister this evening in Cairo.  Those are the details that I have for you at the moment.  I don’t have any details on the delegation.  My focus is on what the Special Envoy is doing, the Joint Special Envoy, and that’s what I am able to tell you at the moment.


Question:  I mean, I am sorry to focus on this money part, but it does seem relevant, I mean the, is this being paid by the Kofi Annan Foundation; is he going to be reimbursed or how could the UN not know…?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think what is really relevant, Matthew, is for Mr. Annan to be able to carry out the mandate that he has been given, and to do what he has said that he intends to do — which is at the request of the international community to seek an end to the bloodshed and to the suffering of the Syrian people, and to be able to work on a political solution so that the aspirations of the Syrian people can be met and realized.


Question:  Does the UN not know who is on the team, or you just don’t think it is relevant to say who it is, who is on the team?


Spokesperson:  I think you know what I am saying, Matthew, that the focus here is on what Mr. Annan is going to be attempting to do in Damascus, which is to speak to the officials there, and as we have already said, to engage with all of the stakeholders including the Syrian opposition.  And I think that’s the most important aspect of this.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  I am [correspondent gives his name] for the Moroccan TV.  Okay, a new round of negotiation will take place between Morocco and Polisario.  What are the topics to be discussed during this round of negotiations, and what is hoped from this round?


Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be very clear:  these are informal talks which will be starting on Sunday afternoon at Greentree, on Long Island.  And this, of course, is with the delegations of the parties to the conflict — Morocco and the Frente Polisario, and with the two neighbouring States — Algeria and Mauritania.  As I think you are aware, Ambassador Ross is expected to make a statement to the press at end of this round of talks.  I think that is provisionally set for around 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.  This is the first round of informal talks since July of last year.  And we obviously welcome the fact that the parties are meeting for this new round, and the United Nations remains committed to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.  And this is as mandated by the Security Council.  The main objective of the talks — to get to the nub of your question — remains to discuss the proposals of the parties on a settlement.  And in order to help the parties move forward in the negotiating process, the Personal Envoy will also encourage further discussion of the new ideas put forward in paragraph 120 of the Secretary-General’s last report on Western Sahara.  And in addition, the parties will continue their discussion on innovative approaches and topics for discussion such as natural resources and de-mining, without prejudice to the final status of the Territory.  And they will also review the progress accomplished on confidence-building measures.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Thank you.  My first question is whether Mr. Annan is going to be able to meet with President Assad of Syria tomorrow or after tomorrow — I don’t know.  And the second question whether you expect a meeting for the Quartet on Monday here in New York.


Spokesperson:  On the first, at this point I do not have the detailed itinerary of who Mr. Annan will be meeting while he is in Damascus on this particular trip.  If and when we have more details on that, I will let you know.  But I do not have those at the moment.  On the second, we have obviously seen a number of media reports on this topic.  I know that the Quartet envoys, not the principals, but the envoys are working at, looking at the possibility of some kind of meeting; but the details of that are still being worked out.  So, there is nothing to confirm at this point.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Martin, on this Yemen that you read, this long thing, I just want to know…


Spokesperson:  It’s not too long, but…


Question:  …since, I mean, what is the assessment of the UNHCR with respect to the situation.  Is it becoming better; because there is the election on, is it worsening; what is happening [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  I think what UNHCR is saying is that there is renewed fighting and there is a new wave of internal displacement and growing insecurity.  That doesn’t sound like better to me.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  So, I think as you will also know, Mr. Benomar as the Special Adviser on this particular area, meaning Yemen, has been visiting the country again recently, and I am sure that he will be reporting back before long.


Question:  [inaudible] because the election was supposed to stabilize the situation.  That did not happen.


Spokesperson:  Look, it is obvious that this is an extremely complex situation.  It is not something that happened overnight.  It has a long history with various different facets to it.  It is obvious that this remains a difficult topic, and that’s why on the humanitarian side, UNHCR is speaking out again about the concerns that they have.  And it is why Mr. Benomar has made another visit to the country to assess things and to be able to report back to the Security Council and, of course, to the Secretary-General.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, sure, there are competing claims by the Government of Sudan and the JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] rebels about a, what both sides say was a major clash in north Darfur.  Each side says that they prevailed.  But given that UNAMID is there with a big peacekeeping mission, I have been looking at their daily press releases, they haven’t mentioned this fighting, and I wonder, what can UNAMID say about the clashes that took place, how many people were killed and what is, how does it relate to Mr. Gambari’s generally rosy picture of things in Darfur?


Spokesperson:  Let me see what my colleagues can provide on that.  Other questions, please?


Question:  I wanted to ask about this report by the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya.  It came out last Friday, and I think I asked your deputy and he said it was too soon to look at it, and seems to, the report was a big matter of dispute in the Security Council; it says that 60 people at least were killed by NATO; it describes 18 rescuers being killed, you know, by mistake, I am sure, but… I wanted to know, is there now any statement from the Secretariat given the Secretary-General’s statement that… that NATO, think, totally complied with the Security Council mandate and with international humanitarian law.  What’s the response to this UN-affiliated report?


Spokesperson:  Let me check, Matthew, I don’t have anything for you on that.  Okay, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.


* *** *



For information media • not an official record