|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 everybody. Welcome to the briefing.
**Syria – Annan
This morning in Ankara, the United Nations-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, told media that he was expecting to hear from the Syrian authorities today about the concrete proposals he had left with them to consider. He reiterated his main message: that the killing and the violence must stop. He also reported that he had met with Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and the Turkish Foreign Minister, as well. He also met with Dr. Burhan Ghalioun of the Syrian National Council, who promised the Syrian National Council’s full cooperation.
This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, briefed the Security Council in closed session.
**Syria — UNHCR
The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has announced the appointment of Panos Moumtzis, previously UNHCR's Head of Donor Relations, as its Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syrian Refugees. Addressing the media in Geneva today, Mr. Moumtzis reported that the refugee agency's teams in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been working for the past year to support the Governments and NGOs in providing shelter, assistance and protection to the refugees. And there is more available on the website of the UN refugee agency.
**Syria — UNICEF
And yesterday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) denounced the reported killing of children and women whose bodies were found in the Syrian city of Homs on Sunday. According to media reports, young children were among the victims discovered in the Homs neighbourhood of Karm el-Zeytoun. And some of the bodies had their throats slit. Others bore marks of torture, according to those reports. And the full statement is available online.
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has informed the media of the outcome of a military justice procedure conducted this month by Pakistani authorities in Port-au-Prince, in relation to a case of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of the Pakistani Formed Police Unit based in Gonaives. You will recall that in January this year, I advised the media of the investigations.
A senior Pakistani official visited Haiti on 8 and 9 March to meet with Haitian authorities and informed that three individuals were found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse through a court martial proceeding undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistan.
According to the Pakistani authorities, the guilty parties will be punished, including through dishonourable discharge from service with loss of benefits and imprisonment, the latter sentence to be served immediately on return to Pakistan. The guilty parties have been repatriated and the United Nations is further liaising with the Pakistani authorities to examine the formal details of the procedures and to ensure appropriate follow-up.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has condemned the attacks against several Lou Nuer cattle camps in areas bordering South Sudan and Ethiopia, on 9 March. As we mentioned yesterday, the Mission has dispatched patrols to the areas to determine the circumstances of the clashes and those patrols have medical teams with them to provide medical aid.
The Mission says that, according to information provided by the local authorities, most of the cattle camps that were attacked are located in Ethiopia. And reports indicate that 63 wounded have been treated in Akobo hospital, but reliable casualty figures, including the number of people killed, are not yet available. The Mission calls on all communities in Jonglei to exercise restraint and put an end to inter-communal violence.
And meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is concerned that these latest attacks will result in more displacements into Ethiopia, where an estimated 15,000 people have already fled since mid-February. The agency is helping the Ethiopian authorities to relocate the new arrivals to the Fugnido refugee camp and to register them so that they can receive assistance.
Tomorrow at 12:30, there will be a press conference by the United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters on an updated version of “The United Nations Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries”.
And then at 1 pm., there will be a press conference by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) on the first International Criminal Court verdict in the Lubanga case.
Questions, please? Yes, Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin. Regarding this escalation in Gaza, are there any steps especially that the Palestinian Mission here has sent two letters yesterday calling for an international convention to stop the carnage taking place in Gaza? Many of the victims have been children, destruction of homes and properties; what is the position of the United Nations on this?
Spokesperson: Well, a couple of things. You will have seen that the Quartet addressed this matter yesterday in the language that was provided after their meeting, in which they expressed their concern and called for calm. You will also be aware that the Egyptian authorities have brokered a truce of some kind — a ceasefire of some kind if you like — that, if it holds, is of course extremely welcome for those who have been suffering bombardment in either location. And if I have anything further particularly related to whether the letters have been received, I will let you know. But I am not aware of that sitting here now.
Question: On the [inaudible] of the so-called Syrian freedom army, there was a deal or a talk between Ghalioun and the commander of that army, which is positioned in Turkey, of the… and getting some money to buy weapons. What do you think about rearming the opposition in Syria?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Special Envoy and the Secretary-General have made clear that the further militarization of this crisis is not desirable. Other questions? Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you something that seems to have been coming up on the question of Syria. What’s the Secretary-General’s understanding of how Kofi Annan upon his either return to New York or from afar will provide, you know, the information, beyond the press availability that he has done? Will he brief, as was said by one of the foreign ministers yesterday, will he brief the Secretary-General, who will in turn brief the General Assembly, or is there… is that the understanding of how it will work? And I want to ask again if it is possible to know who travelled with Kofi Annan to Syria and who they met with.
Spokesperson: Yes, I am aware of your request relating to the last question. I think you will also be aware that they have been rather busy the last couple of days. As soon as we are in a position to help you with that, we will do. On the question of reporting back, of course, there is a requirement to report back in some form to the Member States, and I think that that is being considered right now.
Question: Can I, just on the Alan Doss question, because I mean, Mr. Pascoe said he was going to go. I asked him here at a briefing on Friday, so he is busy too, I just wonder, is there some… can you confirm as seemed to be clear from television that former UN official Alan Doss travelled to Syria with Kofi Annan, and if so…?
Spokesperson: As I say, when I am in a position to help you with that, I will do, okay? Yes?
Question: Good morning, thank you. Martin, Ms. Amos’s briefing yesterday notwithstanding, what is your understanding of what she is telling the Security Council this morning, especially in regards to aid going to Syria? What’s the Secretary-General’s understanding of how soon and how much aid will be flowing to Syria? When it will go, does it depend on a green light from Damascus?
Spokesperson: Well, I think Ms. Amos spoke very eloquently and clearly here when briefing you yesterday, and the briefing today to the Security Council was in consultations — in other words, behind closed doors. So I don’t have anything for you on that. Yes, Tim?
Question: Is Mr. Annan expecting to hear today from the Syrian Government? Has he heard anything yet? It’s getting late in the day in Damascus and Ankara now.
Spokesperson: He did indeed say that he was expecting to hear from the Syrian authorities today. We haven't heard anything yet from Mr. Annan’s team. As soon as we do, then we will surely let you know, but I don’t have anything at this point. Yes, Masood?
Question: A question about Secretary-General’s visit to Nepal this April. There have been protests by several organizations, NGOs, about his visit to… especially there is a former executive director of UNICEF, Kul Gautam, according to an IPS report that Secretary-General should not be visiting, but this Government is accused of human rights violations and so on and so forth. Are you aware of that? Is the Secretary-General aware of these reports and these protests by the NGOs and so forth?
Spokesperson: Well, Masood, we haven’t announced any trip to Nepal, so I don’t really have anything for you on that. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, I want to ask you about LRA and also about the CMP. So…
Spokesperson: What’s the first one?
Question: The LRA, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Obviously, I am sure, it looks like a lot of divisions of the Secretariat are aware of this Kony 2012 or “Stop Kony” campaign. But it has now led to the Ugandan Government saying, which I think people hadn’t know, that they don’t have access, they claim, to the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. They say that one reason they are unable to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army in the DRC is that they, since the election, they don’t have access, and I just wonder, is that MONUSCO’s understanding and what, beyond the report that the Secretary-General filed in November, what steps is the UN system taking to assist and even if necessary, you know, assist the access of Uganda if nothing else to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army?
Spokesperson: Well, if we have anything further, I’ll let you know. But I think that that report in November was fairly explicit about the various steps that are being taken and have been taken, and that the various linkages between the different countries and the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). So I don’t have anything further beyond that at the moment. Obviously, as you well know, this has been quite an interesting week, given the way that the topic came to prominence through the use of social media. Obviously, it is something that many people were aware of before, but many more are now aware of it, and that’s obviously a good thing. And, particularly, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has said she was pleased to see such a lively discussion on a topic that has actually been often rather underreported. And she also hoped that that conversation would encourage people to learn all of the facts about the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony, as well as hundreds of thousands of children who are affected by conflict around the world, not just in that part of the world. And of course, she has also said that if people want to help, then they can support programmes for children who have escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army, and those programmes that would rebuild their lives and communities throughout Central Africa. If I had anything further, or have anything further for you, I’ll let you know, but what was the other question?
Question: Sure, I want to ask about on the Capital Master Plan, it’s said… one is just I wanted sort of confirmation, the other one is, I guess something new, is that, is it true that the cost overrun has increased from since the last report from under $100 million to $265 million and that there are also $146 million in associated costs, leading to a total overrun they say, at the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), some say, of $400 million and that this may call into question the building of a new building on the playground, DC-5, as has been discussed previously in this room?
Spokesperson: Well, just on the last point, that is totally unconnected, as you well know, that should anything happen on that front, it is dealt with by an entirely different body — it’s not dealt with by the United Nations itself, and I think you know that. To come to the main point, I can provide you with quite a lot of detail on this, and I will do so after this briefing, and to others to, of course. But let me just say that the revised projection — and I’ll provide the figures to you afterwards — the revised projection is due to many factors, including numerous unforeseen conditions and complexities in the basements, for example, where the lack of as-built plans is making infrastructure work very intensive. And also the amount of material containing asbestos that had to be abated exceeded the initial assumptions. On the associated costs that you referred to, these are temporary costs for some other departments that are incurred in supporting the Capital Master Plan. For example, the cost for new furniture. And those costs were not part of the Capital Master Plan budget. However, the General Assembly directed the Capital Master Plan to cover and absorb those costs. So, in summary, it is likely that there will be a discussion at the autumn session of the General Assembly about an additional appropriation. The figures that I have mentioned, I will send to you and others by e-mail.
[The Spokesperson later provided the following information to the media:
The Fifth Committee last week has begun to consider the Secretary-General's ninth annual progress report on the implementation of the Capital Master Plan that had been published in October 2011.
On 8 March 2012, ASG Adlerstein informed the Fifth Committee that the projection of the budget shortfall given in the progress report had to be revised. It is now estimated to be $265 million or 14.2 per cent over budget.
The CMP, in its progress reports, has been reporting annually on projected budget overruns since its budget of $1.876 billion was approved by the General Assembly in December 2006.
In September 2007, in its fifth annual progress report, the CMP reported a projected budget overrun of $219 million, approximately 12 per cent. This was due to inflation and delays in the execution of the project.
As the project now approaches its final stages, the recently revised projection is due to many factors, including numerous unforeseen conditions and complexities in the basements, where lack of as-built plans is making infrastructure work very intensive. Also, the amount of asbestos-containing material that had to be abated exceeded the initial assumptions.
The associated costs ($146.8 million) are temporary costs of certain other departments incurred in support of the CMP, including the costs for new furniture. Those costs were not part of the CMP budget, although the GA directed the CMP to cover and absorb those costs.
As laid out in its ninth annual progress report in October 2011, the CMP is requesting commitment authority from the Fifth Committee to utilize interest earned on the Capital Master Plan fund ($107 million) and the CMP’s Working Capital Fund ($45 million) to ensure the project can continue to meet its schedule. To complete the project, an additional appropriation will need to be discussed in the fall session of the General Assembly.]
Question: Just one last… thanks a lot for that. It’s just, at least some Member States are saying, although it is… it would be the UN Development Corporation that would actually build DC-5, it clearly is… they are considering now this idea of a contingency plan for the footprint or logistics of the UN. So they see it as connected in this way like if in fact there have been these overruns on repair, what level of confidence do they have that the building of DC‑5…? Are you saying that the building of DC-5 could never cost the UN budget money, or…? I’m trying to understand.
Spokesperson: The building, should such a building be constructed, it would be under that Corporation, which is not a UN body, okay? Other questions, please? Yes, Tim and then Nizar?
Question: So, on the MINUSTAH statement, did they say what the prison sentences were?
Spokesperson: I think you’d need to ask the Pakistani authorities about that. We are not in a position to comment on the terms of the punishment under a Member State’s judicial procedure.
Question: Obviously in this case…
Question: On this Pakistani thing, obviously, this is not going to the Mission over here; it is going directly from the Pakistani army to the UN authorities.
Spokesperson: Well, as I mentioned, if I remember correctly, a Haitian, I beg your pardon, a Pakistani official did visit Haiti, and that Pakistani official was from the Mission here. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Yesterday, two members of the Kuwaiti parliament demanded that the crimes committed against civilians in Bahrain be referred to the ICC. And Human Rights Watch earlier criticized the United Nations for lack of interest in the Bahrain crisis. Where does the latest investigations or follow-up on the commission of the Bassiouni stand at this stage?
Spokesperson: Well, that’s something that is being dealt with with the Bahraini authorities — they have spoken recently about that very topic. And if you noticed, yesterday, the Secretary-General referred very clearly to Bahrain and what needs to happen there during his remarks to the Security Council in their discussions on the developments in the Middle East and North Africa over the past year.
Question: But the authorities seem to be turning a deaf ear to these calls.
Spokesperson: Well, as I say, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said what he believes needs to happen and he said that again yesterday. Yes, Masood?
Question: Martin, yesterday, I asked this question about this situation in Afghanistan after the killing of 16 [inaudible]. You said that, you repeated the statement issued by [the Special Representative of the Secretary-General] over there. Now, what has the Secretary-General himself taken note of this and has issued anything at all?
Spokesperson: He is certainly aware, as I mentioned yesterday, and he shares the sentiments of that statement that was issued by the Special Representative. I would ask you to be a little patient and I think you will hear something shortly. Okay?
Question: One follow-up on Haiti?
Spokesperson: Yes, yes, of course.
Question: I just want to see if media has it wrong. It’s been reported by at least two global media organizations that the penalty was one year in prison, and that the crime, the alleged crime that they were found guilty of was the rape of a 14-year-old boy, and I just wonder, I understand, I mean it’s a tricky situation, but given the importance that the UN puts on child protection etcetera, is a one-year prison sentence an appropriate sentence for the rape of a 14-year-old of any gender?
Spokesperson: As I said earlier, the United Nations will not comment on the terms of punishment under a Member State’s judicial procedure, and that’s obviously a matter between Pakistan and Haiti. But, as we stated from the outset, the United Nations considers this to be a case of the most serious sexual exploitation and abuse.
All right, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record