3 April 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, and welcome to the briefing.

I realize you have just had a briefing by the President of the General Assembly, and I will be followed shortly by the President of the Security Council.  I don’t know whether that counts as the meat in the sandwich, but I am here to brief you.

**Security Council

So, this morning the Security Council adopted their programme of work for the month and they also discussed the situation in Mali in closed consultations.

And as I just mentioned, right after this briefing, Ambassador Susan Rice, the Permanent Representative of the United States and President of the Security Council for the month of April, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work.

** Mali

On Mali, United Nations agencies are expressing grave concern over the humanitarian situation in Mali, where thousands of people have been displaced by fighting and severe food shortages.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says that in the past five days, more than 2,000 people have fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania because of the recent insecurity and the political instability.  It adds that the north of the country is becoming more and more dangerous due to the proliferation of armed groups in the region.

The World Food Programme, WFP, says it has been forced to suspend food distribution in several regions in the east and north of the country after its offices and warehouses were ransacked and looted.

According to UN agencies, the fighting in northern Mali between Government troops and a Tuareg rebel group erupted in January and has since uprooted more than 200,000 people, who have either sought safety in neighbouring countries or in other parts of Mali.  The situation has worsened since the Tuareg fighters captured several big towns in the north last week, preventing UNHCR and other agencies from reaching those in need of assistance.  And UNHCR is calling on all parties to refrain from any action that could put fleeing populations in danger or hamper their movements to safer areas.

**Question of Palestine

In a message to the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine this morning in Geneva, the Secretary-General said obstacles have again prevented Israelis and Palestinians from finding sufficient common ground to continue discussions.

Numerous topics require urgent attention, including the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention.  The Secretary-General said he repeatedly expressed concern about this, including during his visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory in February.  Political momentum between Israelis and Palestinians in the months ahead is essential.  Its absence only makes each day more uncertain.

And he said that a viable Palestinian State, living side by side in peace with a secure Israel is long overdue.  And it is crucial that Israeli and Palestinian leaders resume direct talks aimed at reaching an agreement for a two-State solution, as called for by the Quartet.  And the Secretary-General’s message was read by Maxwell Gaylard, Deputy United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

**Human Trafficking

At a General Assembly interactive dialogue this morning, the Secretary-General said that human traffickers have no place in the world that we are striving to build. He said that we need to make sure they have no way to operate.

The Secretary-General encouraged all countries and people to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Human Trafficking, which provides crucially important legal and financial aid to victims. And his full remarks are available online.

Also speaking at the event was Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  He called human trafficking a challenge of extraordinary proportions, with $32 billion being earned every year by criminals running trafficking networks.

**Noon Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.  A group of experts from the UN Mine Action Service, including the head of the Unit, Agnès Marcaillou, will join me at the noon briefing tomorrow.

Questions, please.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] WFP has suspended its activities in Mali, in certain regions due to security.  What is it doing to help Mauritanians receiving coming refugees?

Spokesperson:  I would need to check fully with WFP.  I am sure they have the details of precisely what they are doing.  But, obviously, the focus would need to shift to where it is possible to give aid and assistance, while it is not possible in the areas that are suffering at the moment because of rebel activity and because of political instability, particularly in the north of Mali.  It is proving and has proved extremely precarious for UN staff, both local and otherwise, to be able to operate in the area.  And obviously, we hope that that can be rectified as soon as possible.  There are many people in need of help, and already were in need of assistance long before this most recent outbreak.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yeah, on this Secretary-General’s retreat with the members of the Security Council tonight and tomorrow — what is it about, can you please tell us?

Spokesperson:  This is a regular occurrence as you know, where members of the Security Council meet with the Secretary-General to discuss all kinds of topics.  I am not going to prejudge what they might discuss, but there is nothing unusual in this.  He does this regularly and the Security Council members do meet with the Secretary-General not just in that format, but in this one, too.

Question:  [inaudible] follow-up on [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  Where?

Spokesperson:  At Greentree, I believe.

Question:  A follow-up on this thing that the Secretary, I mean the Secretary-General message that he gave Palestinian, I mean, does the Secretary-General have some sort of, I mean, is he going to give some sort of a new plan to either the Quartet or something to somehow jumpstart these talks which have totally, seems to be totally dead for now, because of lack of Israeli agreement on settlements?

Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly believes that the Middle East peace process is at a dangerous impasse at the moment, and it is obvious that more needs to be done.  There was an encouraging start to the year, as you know, helped by the Jordanian authorities, the Jordanian government, and it was with that background, as you know, the Secretary-General actually visited the region in January.  As we have also noted, obstacles have emerged subsequently that have prevented those two sides from finding sufficient common ground to continue.  Obviously, we would hope that that can change as soon as possible, and the Quartet is pushing for that and continues to do so.  And Robert Serry, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, obviously works with the other Quartet envoys on this matter.  Yes, Matthew, and then Ozlem, yes?

Question:  A follow-up on Mali and then something about the budget.  On Mali, some are saying that the ECOWAS sanctions, you know, they, they’re closing the borders, that there are already people lining up for gas, they are not targeted in any way.  So, I heard you say that the UN humanitarians are concerned about shortages, but is there, what’s… I mean, Valerie Amos, for example, on South Sudan said that they should keep pumping oil because of humanitarian needs.  What does the UN say about a sanctions regime that would essentially close the border and block the entry into, of consumer goods like gasoline.  Is that, how is it consistent to talk about shortages when they are being caused by the sanctions?

Spokesperson:  Well, these are measures that have been introduced by the regional organization, ECOWAS.  I would refer you to them to ask about that.  From a purely humanitarian point of view, it is obvious that the sooner that the political side of this can be dealt with, and we can get back to constitutional order in the country, the easier it will be to deal with the humanitarian crisis that existed even before this, and has obviously been exacerbated by the developments of recent days.  I think that’s what we have at the moment.  Yeah.  Ozlem?  I will come back to you.

Question:  [inaudible] Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus, Mr. Downer submitted his report to Secretary-General, can you please confirm it?  And about a meeting in the middle of April, are they going to meet on 19 April this month?  And what will happen during that, after that meeting?  Can you…?

Spokesperson:  Let me check on that, Ozlem.  I don’t know, is the short answer.  Let me check.  Yes, Benny, yeah?

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor, Alexander Downer, had submitted his report to the Secretary-General. He also noted that their meeting would take place in mid-April.]

Question:  There are a few appointments that need to be made; Akasaka has left quite a while ago, I understand, he is not in, there is no, not yet any appointment to replace him.  I guess that Pascoe is soon to leave.  Can you, can you estimate when these appointments will be made?  Is there any time gap after which, uh, that the Department – your Department, actually,…

Spokesperson:  Actually, not, but…

Question: …might, might not function without your thing, you know?

Spokesperson:  Well, well, Avni, if I may…

Question:  My name is [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Mr. Akasaka left just a few days ago, really — I believe it was 26 March.  And as you have already heard, Mr. Pascoe is not leaving just yet.  So, as you will also have heard the Secretary-General has made appointments, and we have said consistently that we will continue to make appointments as they are made.  At the moment, I don’t have anything else.

Question:  So, if there is no time frame in which you know, if there is a lack of USG at the head of a Department, the Department might fall apart?

Spokesperson:  Perish the thought, Benny, perish the thought, Benny!  I think you can take it as read that the recruitment process for these positions — and I am talking in particular about the ones that were recently advertised, unusually so, as you know, — but that’s a recruitment process that is under way.  And when it is completed, we will make the appropriate announcements.  I don’t have anything at the moment.  I think you can also rest assured that our colleagues in the various departments are perfectly able to keep things moving along quite smoothly.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, actually just one follow-up on that; I just, it’s just I wanted to know how you’d explain it.  Some people say that, you know, DPI, DGACM, DESA — these were all advertised in The Economist and there is a whole process, where as DPA wasn’t.  So, some people interpret this to mean this is designated for the United States, maybe for Jeffrey Feltman.  And I just wonder, what is the rationale for advertising some empty USG posts and not others — other than the explanation that I have just offered you?

Spokesperson:  Well, it sounds like you are doing my job for me.  So, I am not sure I need to answer that.  I think put simply, there is a transparent process under way to appoint senior officials, and when we have announcements to make on these appointments we will do so.  I don’t have anything else at the moment.

Question:  [inaudible] follow-up?

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  One more thing on DPA?

Spokesperson:  I will come back to you, Benny, yeah, yeah.

Question:  Okay.

Question:  This is a follow-up to that, as you know, I asked you several times on this, the same topic or so.  Any how, do we know the exact date when the new appointed Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Europe is starting actually to work?   It is only announced and it is on the website that it was 9 March, I believe, but after that, we don’t know anything and we cannot even check.  Do we know actually the date?

Spokesperson:  Let me check for you.  I don’t know the answer to that.

Question:  And also, the… for, kind of philosophical again, actually, it is not philosophical at all…

Spokesperson:  Well, it is just as well, if is me, right.

Question:  What is the panel of the, panel is consistent of whom actually that was appointing and it has appointed several of the appointees that you have [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you will understand that we don’t go into the details of who sits on what panel, but I think, put simply, it is possible to say that the appropriate people who have the right expertise would be taking part in those kind of recruitment panels, but — or appointment panels — but I am not going into further details on that.  Yes, Benny, sorry?

Question:  [inaudible] you said that Pascoe was still and, and…

Spokesperson: Working very hard.

Question:  Working very hard, I see, but isn’t there like a mobility issue that the Secretary-General insists on and isn’t that just on the cusp of the mobility…

Spokesperson:  Actually, not if you look at it very carefully, Benny.  But, what has also been said quite clearly is that there needs to be flexibility, because in some cases, take for example, Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang, there is a rather important event coming up — Rio+20, that’s in June.  So, therefore, you need to be a little bit flexible so that people who have a specific task to complete can do so.  And I think that it is in that context.  Yes, and then I will come back to you, yes?

Question:  Yes.  About the UN Mission in Libya, are you aware that it looks like that the migrants from Africa, they are starting again, this whole starting again to arrive into, into Sicily, to especially the island of Lampedusa, we have reports of a tragedy happening just in the last couple of days; people started to die again, so now because the UN Mission to Libya has also, you know, as a human rights concern should monitor this.  Is it monitoring what is happening on this kind of migration that is very dangerous at sea?

Spokesperson:  Let me check for you.  Just a couple of points very briefly:  One is that UNHCR and IOM — so the refugee agency and the International Office for Migration — would be looking at that in more detail.  That doesn’t mean that the Mission itself doesn’t have an overview of that.  Let’s see what we can get for you.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Great, thanks a lot, I want to ask you [inaudible] last night in the Fifth Committee, there was a… usually no votes are taken, but last night votes were taken, three votes, and the way was, at least I, have… that I saw it was Ban Ki-moon’s change management proposal which the EU and the US wanted to, you know, go through without GA review.  In fact, it has been made subject to GA review.  Many people decried it, the G-77 won the vote — 93 to 47, and I just wonder, what does, what does the Secretary-General think?  Does he, does he now intend to bring those proposals to the GA?  And also one smaller question that arose was this position, this, Robert Orr, Mr. Robert Orr position of public-private partnerships, is it in the budget?  What Department is it in and how is it funded?

Spokesperson:  On the latter question, I’d have to check with you, Matthew; I’ll check for you, Matthew.  On the first part, I think I’ll probably have something to say a little bit later on this, but I don’t have anything right now.  Okay.  Right, okay, thanks very much indeed.  Have a good afternoon.

[The Spokesperson later said the following:

The Secretary-General appreciates the interest of all Member States in the recommendations included in that report.  In particular, the Secretary-General notes the constructive comments and feedback received over the last several days.  The Secretary-General provides his assurances that he will, as requested, seek consideration and prior approval for the implementation of those recommendations referred to in the resolution.]

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For information media • not an official record