9 May 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 everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Syria


As many of you will already know, at around 11:20 this morning in Syria, an explosion occurred in the vicinity of a convoy of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), soon after it had crossed a military checkpoint on the road approaching the town of Dar’a.  The Head of the UN Mission, Major General Robert Mood, was in that convoy.


Several Syrian soldiers from the rear escort vehicle of the convoy sustained injuries and were taken to the hospital for treatment.  There were no casualties among the members of the UN Mission.  Major General Mood said that the explosion was a graphic example of what the Syrian people are suffering every day.  And he reiterated the need for all forms of violence to stop.


I can tell you that the Secretary-General spoke by phone with Major General Mood this morning to express his concern and to thank the observers for their work under difficult circumstances.  You can expect the Secretary-General to say more about today’s events and the situation in Syria, when he addresses the General Assembly this afternoon at 3 p.m.


**Afghanistan


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, visited an informal settlement in Kabul today.  During her visit to Parwan Se settlement in Kabul City, Ms. Amos met with some of the 80 families living in the settlement.  She witnessed first hand the many hardships of living in lean-to shanties, with little access to water and sanitation, basic hygiene, health, education and access to regular income.  We have more details in a press release.


Also, the United Nations in Afghanistan today donated the first series of more than 60 cars and vans to support Government efforts to strengthen the rule of law, justice and the well-being of workers.


**Darfur


Yesterday, there were hostilities between the Sudan Armed Forces and elements of Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi in and around the area of Greida which is approximately 100 kilometres south of Nyala in South Darfur.  The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is working to ascertain the facts.  At this time, it is our understanding that the armed elements have left Greida and hostilities have stopped there.  UNAMID investigation patrols have been dispatched and more information will be made available as it comes in.


**Yemen


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that an estimated 967,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Yemen.  Aid organizations are asking for about $40 million to help more than 267,000 children who are at risk of dying of malnutrition if they don’t receive proper treatment.  There has also been an increase in the number of children affected by land mines or unexploded ordnance.  In the first three months of this year, 13 children have been killed and another 12 have been injured.


**Travel and Health Report


The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued the latest 2012 edition of the International Travel and Health Report.  It says more than 900 million international journeys are undertaken every year.  Global travel on this scale exposes many people to a range of health risks, which can be minimized by precautions taken before, during and after travel.  The 2012 edition of International Travel and Health provides updated information on vaccines and their requirements, malaria and yellow fever risks, and new information for last minute travellers.  More details are available on the World Health Organization’s website.


**Kenya


I was asked yesterday about a security incident in Kenya.  We can confirm that three UN security personnel were wounded in a robbery in Kenya while they were off duty.  All three are in good condition and are receiving medical treatment.  The robbery and shooting are being investigated by the Kenyan authorities.


**Press Conferences


And then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference to launch the “Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2012”.  Speakers will include Robert Vos of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Amr Nour, Director of the Regional Commission’s New York Office.


Questions, please?  Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure, I wanted to… glad you had that report on… on the fighting in Darfur, but I wanted to ask you, the South Sudan continues to… to assert that Sudan has continued aerial bombardment of its territory after that resolution that passed, and so with UNMISS there, I am wondering, do they… what do they do when the Government of South Sudan makes such allegations?  Do they go out and try to verify it and have they found it or… or do they deny it?


Spokesperson:  Well, there were reports on the 4th, so on Friday, of alleged Sudanese Air Force attacks against SPLA positions in Panakuach and Hufra and Lalop.  And so a mission patrol then visited Panakuach on 7 May.  And the patrol confirmed at least two craters there consistent with reported bombings.  A patrol to Lalop on 4 May also confirmed three craters caused by recent bombings, and two injured civilians — one woman, one child.  So that’s the latest that we have.


Question:  Sure, now and just to… I mean, maybe they haven’t responded to these yet, but today, the… the spokesman of the South Sudanese Army has said that… that there has been bombings in Unity State, Upper Nile, western Bahr el Ghazal and northern Bahr el Ghazal.  They named the towns and so… I mean, I don’t mean to, but it seems like… does the Sec… does the Secretariat or… or Hilde Johnson have any comment on this… this confirmed [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, simply to say that what we have seen reported overnight, we are aware of the reports, I mean, but what we have confirmed so far are the incidents that I have referred to that took place on 4 May.


Question:  And just to… this would be a violation of the resolution, you mean?


Spokesperson:  I think that would be for the Council to determine.  But, at this point, I am simply telling you that that Mission did send patrols to the locations I mentioned.  And if there are subsequent allegations that need to be checked out by the Mission, and it is in an area where they have access, then I am sure that that’s what they would do.  Yes, Ozlem?


Question:  I thank you.  Martin, the Secretary-General, as you know, has called the two leaders in Cyprus — my question is on Cyprus — and he told them that there is not much progress on the core issues in the Cyprus talks, so he is not going to call for an international conference.  And so does it mean that the Cyprus talks have been frozen right now?  Do you… can you give us some information about the prospects of the talks, what is going to happen next?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think that Mr. Downer has been continuing his conversations with the leaders on the island, and I don’t have anything further beyond what has already been said in recent days, including after the telephone calls that were made.  If there is an update that comes in, then I will let you know.  But certainly, the Special Envoy does of course remain in touch with the leaders.


Question:  So, the talks have not been frozen?


Spokesperson:  I think we’d have to check, I do not have any information on that, except to say what I have just told you.  Yes, other questions?  Yes, Masood, then Talal, yeah?


Question:  Yeah, on this attack on the UN observers in Syria, so far there has been no determination as to who has carried out that attack?  Has there… has there been in… has there been update on that so far?


Spokesperson:  No, no.  That is something that is difficult to determine.  I think General Mood was quite clear that this is something that is facing Syrian people everyday in different shapes and forms, and that is the focus for us to seek ways to ensure that the cessation of violence really means just that.  And that the killings should stop, as the Joint Special Envoy said yesterday.  Yes, Talal.


Question:  We understand that the webpage of the Secretary-General, un.org/sg, has been hacked this morning, and the message was [inaudible].  Is there any truth in this?  And if so, can you give us some details?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve been checking into those reports.  We are not aware of any hacking incident on the website itself.  We are checking into that further, we are not aware of any hacking incident on the website itself.  So we will let you know if there is anything further on that.  But that’s what I have at the moment.


Question:  What are you checking on that?  You are not checking hacking, what are you checking?


Spokesperson:  Whether there have been any security incidents related to the website.  So that obviously needs to be looked at, because if a website is up and running, when you first are aware of people reporting an incident, you then need to look back in time to see whether something took place when you were not on the website at that time.


Question:  My question is really what prompted the checking?


Spokesperson:  Because there had clearly been indications in the media quoting activists of one kind or another who have said that they have done that.  So obviously that then needs to be checked.


Question:  But this morning, many UN workers were not able to log in, there was Internet interruptions, so they were told it’s because of this hacking.


Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you that I have been, with the help of my office, checking on this.  As I sit here now, there was no hacking incident that we are aware of, and the our colleagues who deal with security, technical security, are looking into what may or may not have been happening, so that we can then say with certainty.  At the moment, I cannot say anything about it.


Question:  So that’s the reason why we can’t log on over here also, to Internet and so forth?


Spokesperson:  I think if you are referring to the difficulties there have been with WiFi in the building…


Correspondent:  Yes.


Spokesperson:  …I suspect that that’s something different.


Question:  I’m sorry.  And so yeah, that difficulty continues this morning?


Spokesperson:  I am aware, even…


Correspondent:  I think everybody in that area has been experiencing [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  Yeah, we are aware of those difficulties, and I know that they are being looked into, and I do understand the frustrations that you have in not being able to work if the WiFi is not working.  So we are obviously looking into that.  Yes, other questions?  I am just checking around the room, yeah?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about this incident in… in Ramallah where the UN building was suppo… was apparently blocked.  Is that… is that true?  What… what were the effects of the blockage and what’s the UN’s response to the protesters issue that they’re raising about Palestinians in Israeli jails?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any specific details on that incident that you are referring to.  I have obviously seen the reports, and I have seen photographs that go with those reports.  But I don’t have any further details along the lines of the question that you have raised about the possible impact on the work of the office.  But what I can tell you is that, obviously, Robert Serry, already last Friday, had made clear that, as the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, he was deeply troubled by reports about the critical condition of at least two detained Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike for more than two months.  And as you will know, he urged all sides to find a solution before it’s too late, and he called on Israel to abide by its legal obligations under international law, and do everything in its power to preserve the health of the prisoners.  What I can tell you is that Mr. Serry has been in touch with the Israeli authorities about this matter again this week.  And I can also tell you that obviously the Secretary-General shares those concerns and fully supports the efforts of his Special Coordinator in seeking to liaise with the Israeli authorities on this matter.


Question:  Can I ask, another… another of the envoys, Terje Roed-Larsen, did a stakeout yesterday and, I mean, among other… I… I asked him about… about Bahrain, because I was aware that he’d travelled there with the… with his UN-paid staff member.  He said he wouldn’t comment on Bahrain whatsoever, including the… the recent arrest of Nabil Rajab and he said we should… I should ask you, so I guess it is a two-pronged question.  One, does the Secretary-General, or anyone in the Secretariat that happens to be covering Bahrain, have any comment on this arrest of Nabil Rajab, apparently simply for what he said on television?  And also I wanted to understand Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, he was talking about the Arab Spring, and winds of change, so is his work for the UN entirely limited to Lebanon and that part of Lebanon that is covered by, you know, 1559, or is… does he have some wider mandate for the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  I think you know what his mandate is.  He also happens to be an extremely experienced and expert individual in the region and his thoughts on those matters are obviously of interest to the Secretary-General.  On the question of this Bahraini activist that you mentioned, you will have seen that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had something to say about this matter at the Geneva press briefing yesterday.  And I think that that’s where we are at the moment.  The Office said that it has been in touch with the Bahraini authorities about their need to stay in line with the Independent Commission of Inquiry that called for people to be able to exercise that freedom of expression fully.  So that I think is as much as I have on that at the moment.


Question:  And just… I am just… because I want to…


Spokesperson:  Let me check on other questions, Matthew.


Correspondent:  Okay, sure.  This is related to Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, but it’s fine.


Spokesperson:  Yeah, well, it is fine, Matthew, because it’s a briefing and I’d like to share it around and then come back to you.  Yes, Talal, and then Masood?


Question:  Just a follow-up on Matthew’s question, with Robert Serry, we’ve seen his statements and pleading with the Israeli authorities, but did — and we heard what you said that the SG supports him fully — but did the SG issue a statement himself here?


Spokesperson:  As you well know, Mr. Serry reports to the Secretary-General…


Correspondent:  I understand.


Spokesperson:  …and is working on his behalf as the Special Coordinator on the ground right there.  So when Mr. Serry speaks, it is obviously with the knowledge and on behalf of the Secretary-General.  I would anticipate that we will probably have something a little… a little further on this, perhaps a little bit later today.


Question:  And Kofi Annan, we understand, is going to Syria.  Do we have any details at all, when and why, where?


Spokesperson:  No, Ahmad Fawzi, his Spokesman, has said that, or confirmed that Mr. Annan does intend to travel there soon, but I don’t think the details have been worked out.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Just to follow up on what [inaudible] this… there has been no direct contact between Secretary-General and the Israeli authorities on this issue at all, on the issue of the hunger strikers, since Mr. Serry’s statement?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I said…


Question:  …no direct contact so far?


Spokesperson:  As I have said to you, Mr. Serry is on the ground, and his role is precisely to liaise with the Israeli authorities, the Palestinian authorities on this matter, of course with the full knowledge and authority of the Secretary-General.  And it is obvious, as I said earlier, that the Secretary-General shares those concerns that have been publicly articulated by Mr. Serry, most recently on Friday and I have just reiterated them now.  And I have also made it clear that Mr. Serry has remained active this week in his contacts with the Israeli authorities on this matter.


Question:  But you also said that the SG will say something soon?


Spokesperson:  I said I would anticipate and would hope that there would be something a little bit later.  And obviously, if and when I get that, we will make sure that you have it.  I think you share my pain.  Okay, right, okay, yes, Matthew?


Question:  This is a follow-up I wanted to ask about Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, I’ve just… from what you said, it struck… I mean, is it fair to say that he is… he… he… he is an adviser… he is one of Ban Ki-moon’s advisers on issues beyond Lebanon, and I am looking at the… at the public financial disclosure page of the Secretary-General and I am wondering, are part-time envoys or advisers like Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen covered by the public fina… are they requested to make public financial disclosure? And if not, why not, given that having outside employment might raise more conflict of interest issues than being a full-time UN employee covered by Article 11… 100 of the Charter?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check for you, Matthew, on the latter part of it, and I think it is obvious what Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen’s specific mandate is.  It is also obvious the expertise and experience that he has.  And I think that it is obvious that he does not need to speak in an official capacity to be able to contribute to the Secretary-General’s thinking on these matters.


Question:  I mean, it is… I just want to ask you this, there is a session going on in the North Lawn of the budget committee, and in it there is the report of the Secretary-General on special measures to protect from sexual abuse.  And in it, it was said that… that in 2011, 100 such allegations, or more than 100 were received by… by the UN, but in going through the report, it doesn’t say… it doesn’t obviously specify what Member States, what missions, and of the 102 complaints, it seems to say that only 25 were turned over to Member States and of those, only eight were actually investigated by Member States, and I wanted to know, is that… I mean, I don’t know if you can… if you will know right now, but I mean, I’ve gone… I’ve… I’ve gone as far as I can with the public document, but it seems… I wanted to know, it’s… it had been said that there would be greater disclosure, there would be sort of more accountability.  What happened to the 75 complaints that weren’t given to Member States and… and what has happened in… in… at each stage there seems to be a winnowing out of numbers and I just wonder if there is some explanation for that that is not in the public report?


Spokesperson:  I’ll see if we can find that explanation, Matthew.  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record