17 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.


**Welcome to Students


Before I start, I would like to welcome some students here from the Shanghai High School in China.  We welcome you all.  Thank you for joining us.  And I must say, I haven't seen this many ties and jackets and sartorial elegance since I began briefing this group of journalists.  Congratulations, you all look very sharp!


**Secretary-General Travel


The Secretary-General is in Luxembourg today.  It is the first visit by a UN Secretary-General to the country since 1989.


This morning, he had an audience with the His Royal Highness, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and met senior political figures, including Mr. Jean-Claude Junker, the Prime Minister and Mr. Jean Asselborn, the Foreign Minister.


He also addressed Parliament, as well as the University of Luxembourg.


In his speech to Parliament, he praised Luxembourg for its generosity in official development aid.  He told MPs that Luxembourg provides more than 1 per cent of its gross national income in official development assistance, far surpassing the global target of 0.7 per cent.


He later told students at the University that it used to be the case that if you wanted to be part of the United Nations, you studied political science.  But, today, he said, it doesn’t matter what degree you earn, as long as you have passion and creativity, a sense of mission and a conviction that you can make a difference.


The Secretary-General ends his three-nation European trip in Luxembourg on Wednesday and is due back in New York on Wednesday afternoon.


**Secretary-General on Syria


During his encounter with the media in Luxembourg, the Secretary-General discussed the current situation in Syria.


He noted that the first task for the team of six unarmed military observers is to reach out to the Syrian authorities and security forces, as well as to the opposition, to ensure that their mandate and role on the ground is understood.


He said that it is the Syrian Government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access and freedom of movement within the country for these observers.


What is important at this time is that all violence cease and a peaceful environment be consolidated.


On the humanitarian situation, the Secretary-General said that 1 million people are in need of humanitarian support.  It is the responsibility of the Syrian authorities to protect the freedom and safety of the humanitarian workers whose impartiality and independence need to be respected.  Humanitarian teams should be guaranteed their freedom of movement by the Syrian authorities.


** Sahel


In his address to the Luxembourg Parliament, the Secretary-General also spoke about what he called the cascading crisis sweeping the Sahel.  He noted that, across the region, we see growing conflict and unrest, more people being displaced, rising food and fuel prices, and severe drought.


The statistics are sobering:  15 million people are directly affected.  More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year — and another 1 million are threatened right now.  He said that many thousands returned home to the Sahel.  Some were migrant workers, others are armed fighters — criminal elements bringing with them large quantities of light and heavy weapons and ammunition.


In Mali, the Tuareg rebellion in the north has uprooted at least 200,000 people.


Neighbouring countries are assisting refugees who escape across borders, but those who are internally displaced receive little help.  Humanitarian agencies cannot access many parts of the region.


He concluded by saying that a multifaceted crisis demands a multifaceted response.  Yet, still, international response plans across the region are less than 40 per cent funded.  And the crisis has yet to peak.  He called on the global community to act quickly to address this crisis.


** Yemen


After a two-day mission to Yemen, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg, today underscored the need for a strong commitment from the international community to support the millions of people in Yemen facing a worsening humanitarian crisis.


New data shows that food insecurity in Yemen has doubled over the last two years.  Five million people, or nearly a quarter of the population, are severely food insecure, meaning that they are not able to grow or buy enough food for their family and need urgent assistance.  At least 800,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition.  Degradation of health, water and education systems pose long-term challenges to Yemen’s recovery.


In 2012, humanitarian partners have expanded their programmes in Yemen, requesting total funding of $447 million to address humanitarian needs.  However, the humanitarian response plan is currently only 20 per cent funded, leaving a gap of almost $360 million.  Growing humanitarian needs, beyond the areas directly affected by conflict, will have to be considered when the humanitarian partners again review the 2012 response plan at mid-year in June.  The full press release is available online.


**Sudan/South Sudan


Last night, we issued a statement on the situation in Sudan and South Sudan in which the Secretary-General called on both parties to end the fighting immediately.  He also called on the Government of Sudan to cease all aerial bombardment of South Sudan territory, and the Government of South Sudan to withdraw immediately from Higlig.


The Secretary-General urged Presidents Bashir and Kiir to fulfil their responsibilities to maintain peace and stability, and also to recommit to resolve all outstanding issues through peaceful dialogue and to convene the planned presidential summit as soon as possible.


Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde Johnson, said that the loss of lives resulting from indiscriminate bombings in Bentiu and Mayom was unacceptable.  She also called on both parties to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, protect civilians and guarantee the safety of international aid organizations and United Nations personnel and assets.


And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged the governments to stem the violence on both sides before it seriously undermines the peace agreement that was reached after decades of armed conflict.  Those three statements are available online.


** Guinea-Bissau


We also issued a statement on Guinea-Bissau yesterday.


The Secretary-General welcomes the efforts undertaken by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and other partners of Guinea-Bissau to facilitate the restoration of constitutional order in the country and reaffirms the continued support of the United Nations to these efforts, including through the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office for Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS).


He said he remained concerned over the deepening political crisis, as well as over the continued detention of Guinea-Bissau's interim President, the Prime Minister and other national officials and reiterates his call for their immediate release.  The full statement is available online.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council met in closed consultations to discuss the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO.


**Envision 2012


Now in its fourth year,  “Envision 2012:  Stories for a Sustainable Future” is currently under way, connecting United Nations experts and non-governmental organizations with some of the most creative minds in filmmaking and new media, and enables them to work together to find new and compelling ways to create momentum for social change.


Anchored by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and held at the Ford Foundation's New York headquarters, the event is helping to build momentum for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, being held in Brazil from 20 to 22 June.


The event focuses on developing a better global future with opportunity for all, building on three key issues:  just and sustainable cities; clean water; and green energy.  The conference, a unique partnership between the Creative Community Outreach Initiative of the United Nations Department of Public Information, the Independent Filmmaker Project and the Ford Foundation, was founded on the shared belief that storytelling and documentary film can be powerful tools in building a better future for all people.


Today, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Envision is streaming live at www.envisionfilm.org.  The webcast will be available on demand after the event at www.un.org/webcast.  Full details of the programme are now available online.


**MONUSCO


Yesterday, I was asked about a project in the Walikale area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The UN Mission in that country, MONUSCO, informs us that the Community Development Project in the Walikale area to assist female survivors of sexual violence was approved by the Mission's Local Project Review Committee in Goma on 21 February 2011.  It consists of 2 manioc mills and 3 rice huskers, and the initial budget was $12,000.


The Local Project Review Committee decided to allocate an additional $3,000 in March 2011 following a consensus on the necessity of constructing buildings to protect the equipment, which would also serve as storehouses.


According to the agreement between MONUSCO and the local partner, Coordination Locale des Actions Feminines pour le Developpement, this local partner is responsible for ensuring the timely construction of these buildings, which unfortunately has yet to be completed.


The delivery of cement has proven particularly problematic.  Walikale is very difficult to access from Goma, and MONUSCO logistics experts determined that air transport of cement would be too dangerous.  The only alternative was to purchase cement directly from the Walikale market, and that option has been very expensive.


To cope with the unexpected financial burden, the Local Project Review Committee has agreed to release an additional $10,000; however, these funds will only be made available upon receipt of the second interim progress report for the initial $3,000 and that progress report from the local partner is still pending.


MONUSCO has consistently taken corrective measures to ensure the completion of this important project.  Through colleagues based in Goma, the Mission will continue to liaise with the local partner to ensure that the project becomes a reality which will enhance the quality of life for the survivors of sexual violence in the Walikale area.


That’s it from me.  Questions please?  Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, there is a report today that hundreds of prisoners in Israeli jails have gone on hunger strike in protest of this… conditions in jail and, of course, against the occupation…


Deputy Spokesperson: I am sorry I can’t hear you.  Could you speak up a bit?


Question:  Hundreds of prisoners in Israeli jails…


Deputy Spokesperson: Yes.


Question: …have gone on hunger strike and protesting the conditions in jail and the… they are fearing incarceration, continued incarceration, so do you have anything to say about that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what we have to say basically is that Mr. Serry is in constant contact with the authorities in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, and that we expect fully that the prisoners will be treated according to international humanitarian law.  That’s all I have for you at the moment on that.  Erol?


Question:  Eduardo, since you know that at the last visit with the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Thaci, he met the Secretary-General he invited him not only to visit Kosovo, but the region.  As you also know, many others regional leaders invited Mr. Secretary-General.  Now, in his sixth year of duty as the Secretary-General, he hasn't visited the Balkan region.  Are there any plans to go there?  Is he willing to do so, and why is he, as one would say, avoiding the region?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think he is avoiding the region; the Secretary-General has a remit from [193] Member States in the course of his duties, he tries to visit as many of them as possible.  If and when we have an announcement on a trip to the Balkans, we will let you know.  We don’t have anything right now.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Eduardo, I am going to ask a follow-up about the Walikale thing, but first, I wanted to ask you whether UNMISS in South Sudan can confirm this shooting down of a MiG jet of the Sudanese Air Force and, if so what… what the UN thinks this means in terms of it being outright war between the two countries.


Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything on the shooting down of any plane, reportedly, plane, but you will see in the Secretary-General’s statement, and I think that speaks for itself.  The statement was issued yesterday and that stands.


Question:  But, I guess, what I don’t understand is, if UNMISS is, is present in the country, this seems to be a major, it’s been reported in many media, have they… are their… endeavouring to confirm the shooting down of a jet, because it seems like a big thing in international relations.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will find out, Matthew.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Department for Peacekeeping Operations had informed his Office that the plane reportedly went down on Sudanese territory, which the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, does not have access to.]


Question:  Okay.  And I also wanted to ask you about Western Sahara, the, the other topic on the Council’s agenda this morning.  I mean, I had asked yesterday a little bit about freedom of movement and still I don’t have an answer, but I wanted to ask you this, very specifically, there is in the report of the Secretary-General on Western Sahara, it says that the Moroccan Government has informed MINURSO that it cannot open any office in Dakhla, which is a place where there was violence last September, where the Special Envoy, Mr. Ross, has expressed a desire to have a presence of the UN political officers.  Does the Secretary-General think that… that in the same way that he is calling for freedom of movement in Syria, that this now one year, well, half a year blockage is… is a problem and does he think that the UN should be able to go to this place, Dakhla, in Western Sahara?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has always called for freedom of movement for United Nations missions in Member States and that stands to reason.


Question:  So, what is MINURSO actually doing about it in terms of actually getting freedom of movement to go there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, they are in discussions with the Moroccan Government.  Yes?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that paragraph 27 of the Secretary-General’s report on Western Sahara stated that “The military component remains deployed at nine team sites and at liaison offices in Tindouf and in Dakhla.”]


Question:  This, $12,000 for this Walikale projects sounds, really sounds like chicken feed, it’s almost as if you’re short-changing the victims of these rapes.  Can’t UNDP get involved and cough up some money for a project like this, instead of relying on local, uh, a local committee you are saying they come up with this [inaudible]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the funds are UN funds.  Now, you know, I’ve worked in diplomacy for a long time, and I can tell you from the government I used to work with, we used to do small local initiatives projects that paid off very handsomely.  You don’t have to invest a lot of money to be able to better the lives of people in a certain village.


Question:  But, you do in this case.  It wasn’t enough money, you said.  [inaudible]


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said, as I said in the statement, the local committee has earmarked an additional $10,000, once the partner has submitted his report on the spending of the original $3,000.  So, the money is there; it is pending the report of the partner agency to give the report that the funders need in order to process the $10,000.


Question:  Once the project is up and running the salaries of the women involved would come from, uh…


Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the whole…


Question:  …whatever they produce?


Deputy Spokesperson:  …the whole issue of the small domestic projects is for these people to become self-sustaining.  The process is to give them the access to the livelihood they need in order to survive and to prosper and to provide their families with what they need in terms of education, health and food and shelter.  So, obviously, the whole purpose of this is for the women who are victims of sexual violence to be able to earn a living and to run their own business.  Matthew?


Question:  I want to ask the same thing; follow-up since, I mean, I asked you the question and, wrote a story which said, and I am waiting to see if you, if DPKO can rebut this, that number one, this was a quick implementation project.  It was supposed to be completed in three months, although it began in 2011.  In fact, Mr. Meece asked the Indian brigade in North Kivu, to install it and they refused, because they said it makes no sense to install mills that are based on generators and fuel that’s not present in the community — they should have used a water-based mill.  What’s the, it seems like there is a critique being made that the whole project is ill-conceived, ill-suited to the area and that, that, even the peacekeepers said that they didn’t want to install it.  So, I want to know, what is the response to that, that portion of it.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check into that, I don’t have any information with me.  Erol?


Question:  On the Rio+20, how is the leadership going?  Is the leadership confirming that it is going to be part ofit?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the leadership is confirming en masse they are going to be attending.  I think it is going to be a very well-attended Conference by leaders celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Rio conference.


Question:  Okay.  All right, and just technical one; is the Secretary-General going to deliver this progress report on Syria himself, or somehow [inaudible]


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General only arrives tomorrow afternoon, so I imagine he will be doing something by letter and may, depending, we don’t have that information yet, he may do it or he may give the assignment to a senior official.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thanks, Eduardo.  As you know, the Secretary-General is very concerned about the shooting in Syria, continuing shooting especially in Homs.  Some observers believe that we have here a very complex situation.  Their argument goes as follows:  the shooting will not stop because of the unarmed observers; they are not armed.  The second argument, part of the argument, is that, even if the shooting were to stop and we have peace, people will go down the street and begin to demonstrate for the removal of President Assad, in which case, under those conditions, they will shoot again.  So, what does the Secretary-General think of the conundrum?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is not under any illusions — he knows, and as has been stated also by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and others, this is a very complex mission.  It is a very complicated mission.  The Secretary-General has called for violence to stop from all sides.  Obviously, it is essential for there to be a proper monitoring mission for the violence to stop from all aides.  And very importantly, the international community has also come together in terms of the Security Council resolution on Saturday and the General Assembly resolution of last month on this issue also.  So, there is a call by the international community for reason to hold and for violence to end.  It’s like I said, it is not a very easy process, but we are hopeful that reason will prevail and that the Syrian people will be able to enjoy peace after a year of killing and bloodshed.  Masood?


Question:  Yes, on this, multiple terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, which the Secretary-General had condemned yesterday, has there been a report by the UN mission over there as to what really happened; is there assessment of the situation over there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UNAMA assessment of the situation is obviously reported to the proper authorities here, and it was taken into account in the drafting of the Secretary-General’s statement.


Question:  With regards to this Syria, has there been initial report by the observers who arrived there [inaudible], what is the situation there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, they have arrived, and as the Secretary-General said, they have been meeting with Syrian counterparts and trying to meet with the opposition in order to ensure that both sides know what the role of the observers are, and to convince them to reduce and eliminate the violence so that the main contingent — if the Security Council agrees it is feasible to send them — can go do its job and bring some peace to the people of Syria.  Giampaolo?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General expect that this number of observers can be to 250 or 300 as needed, probably?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is a figure Mr. Kofi Annan has concluded is necessary for the project to take shape.  Obviously, it is predicated on the fact that there be a cessation of violence.  So, there has to be a cessation of violence.  That’s something the Secretary-General and the international community have been calling for for some time now, and there seems to be the international community speaking through the United Nations Security Council and insisting that the violence end, and that the UN observer mission be able to do its job properly.


Question:  Yesterday, you defended Israel’s right to arrest and deport peaceful demonstrators arriving in their country.  What comment do you have about this incident where an Israeli deputy commander struck a peaceful Danish protester in the face with a rifle yesterday?  It was widely seen on video.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we believe that the human rights of all people should be protected, and we understand that the Israeli Government is taking measures to discipline this military officer, and that’s a matter for them to handle.


Question:  You said yesterday you’d come back with information about whether Israel had the right to tell countries to prevent their own citizens from boarding in their own country.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not so much that Israel has a right; it is under IATA regulations, passengers who are not allowed in by a receiving country have to be flown back on the carrier, at the carrier’s expense, and probably be fined by that country.  Therefore, the carriers themselves are probably monitoring and policing the situation, in order to ensure that they are not stuck with a big bill at the end of the day.


Question:  And it doesn’t matter to the UN why they were barred from going there?  I mean they are not terrorists on a terrorist list.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it is a question, each country has a right to control the migration flows and the travel flows of their country; that’s a fundamental right of every country to do so.


Question:  But, the UN could disagree with that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN respects the sovereignty of countries to take these decisions.  We are not going to get involved in countries’ immigration questions; we don’t do that.


Question:  A follow-up on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  You just said that the UN has the, is respecting the sovereignty of the country; there is a concept, R2P, as you know, which is responsibility to protect, when the countries are not obeying and not protecting the human rights, sovereignty is somehow put in the second role.  Your comment?


Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s right, but in this case, the human rights, the basic human rights of the people who are not being allowed to travel to Israel are not being impinged.  Israel is simply applying its immigration law and that’s the situation.  They have the right to impose their immigration criteria [inaudible] of the country.


Question:  So, this is not violation of human rights?


Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, no.  You’d have to ask the Human Rights Commissioner to find out if they have any views on that.  Matthew, last question.


Question:  No, I have two questions:  one is, it has to do with, there was a meeting yesterday in the North Lawn of the, by DPKO, Office of Military Affairs, informal TCC meeting, advance team to Syria, and it seemed, I was told that, in fact, only some countries were invited, some weren’t invited.  And I wanted to know, since this was a, you know, public meeting in a public building, what’s the criteria?  Maybe you either have this now, or can get, how does DPKO decide which countries to even invite to such a briefing?  It was a large… it was done in a large conference room; at least 40 countries were invited, but some were not invited.  I was also told the representative of Syria, probably not invited, was inside the room.  So, I wanted to know, I want to get a readout from you about how these countries were invited and whether, in fact, DPKO is giving in to the Syrian request that it get to choose the nationality of observers sent to the country.


Deputy Spokesperson:  We can try and find out from DPKO.


Question:  And the other one, I think you will expect this one, I want to, I want to thank your office for, for… there was an incident yesterday in which an individual had a seizure, apparently, and an ambulance was called, and I want to preface it by saying thanks for at least sending some part of the answer, I am only asking a follow-up question.  Many people within the audio unit, studio H, almost without exception, say that there was a delay in the ambulance arriving, that they had, in fact, had to go out to the street and talk to security to allow the ambulance to come in.  Your response says that the ambulance went somehow to the wrong post, and this explains the delay.  I guess what I want to know is, has it been conveyed to UN security that New York City ambulances have an absolute right to enter and, in a normal building, they couldn’t tell the ambulance you have to go round to the back.  People are pretty upset about it, so, I guess I want to know, was this some kind of a mistake on the UN’s part, or is it a policy to not allow ambulances in?  The reason I am asking is because all of us work in here.  Anything can happen.  There was a journalist at one time that actually expired in the previous third floor of the building, there was a man who died in publishing — all of these incidents staff members tie to ambulance problems, and so, is the problem solved or not solved?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the problem is solved, but I can find out that question.  As to why that post, or the visitors’ entrance, was chosen is because it was a more convenient area from which to wheel the person out than 105; and with all the construction, everything going on, it can be very difficult to get stretchers and to get stretcher carts in and out of various parts of the building.  So, I think the process was to get the ambulance to the place where they can most expeditiously address the situation, get the patient out and get him quickly to get help.


Question:  There are a, I mean, a number of the people, the staff members that went outside were told, were present and telling me, that the ambulance was told you can’t come in this way  And so, my question is, if you can find out, if somehow this makes sense to not allow ambulances in through that particular post?  Has this been conveyed to EMS and the Fire Department?  Because, obviously, yesterday it didn’t take place and, thank God the person is still among us, but…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh yeah, the person is fine.


Question:  Yeah.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Matthew.  Thank you, we’ll get back to you on that.


Question:  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.  I hope the students have enjoyed this; and found it entertaining, or informative, anyway.  Thank so much for coming.


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For information media • not an official record