10 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 everyone.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Syria


The UN-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, has condemned in the strongest possible terms the attacks that took place earlier today in Damascus.  He is saddened by the loss of life resulting from the two blasts and extends his condolences to the families of the victims.  These abhorrent acts are unacceptable, said Mr Annan, and the violence in Syria must stop.


He reiterated his call to all parties to adhere to the cessation of violence.  Any action that serves to escalate tensions and raise the level of violence can only be counter-productive to the interests of all parties.  The Joint Special Envoy calls on all parties to avoid further bloodshed and to protect civilians. The Syrian people have already suffered too much.


Major General Robert Mood, the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), visited one of the sites of today’s attacks and said it was yet another example of the suffering brought upon the people of Syria from acts of violence.


**Security Council


Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, will brief the Security Council this afternoon on the work of the UN Mission there. Afterwards, he intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout. 


And this morning, the Council has been holding a meeting to receive updates from the Ambassadors chairing the Security Council Committees that deal with Al-Qaida, counter-terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.


**Palestinian Prisoners


Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, expressed his grave concern today about the medical and health conditions of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons.


He appealed to the Israeli Government to find an acceptable solution, noting that the hunger strikers’ demands are generally related to the basic rights of prisoners, as stipulated in the Geneva Conventions.  Mr. Grandi reiterated the call by the Secretary-General, which we shared with you yesterday, that those under administrative detention be brought to trial or be set free.


The Secretary-General also urged all concerned to reach a solution without delay.  He fully supports in this regard the work of his Envoy in the region, Robert Serry, who is actively engaged on this issue with the parties on the ground. Mr. Serry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today, and they agreed on the need to resolve the issue of Palestinian prisoners immediately.


**Afghanistan


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, visited Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan today.  While she was there, she met families affected by natural disaster and conflict, as well as with members of the humanitarian community.


In Mazar-i-Sharif, Ms. Amos met with families displaced by conflict in areas of the north that had been previously seen as calm.  She heard stories of the violence and intimidation which had resulted in their displacement.  She called on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, saying, that every effort must be made to minimize harm to civilians and to protect them.  We have more on this in a press release.


**Food and Agriculture Organization


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said today that there is increasing convergence on how to boost food security and development, but that funding is a significant problem. A dramatic example is the funding gap for FAO initiatives in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.


Speaking at the an international economic forum in Madrid, the Director-General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, said that in the Horn of Africa, we are losing the window of opportunity to build on recent achievements to increase the resilience of families facing drought.  Da Silva said that with one in every seven people in the world suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, “fighting hunger is a challenge too great for FAO or any Government to overcome alone”.  He said it must involve civil society, private enterprise, international agencies, and the governments of developing and developed countries.


**Website Incident


Yesterday, I was asked about a possible hacking incident against the UN website.  The Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) has informed us that a “denial of service” attack against the United Nations network infrastructure took place beginning on 8 May.  This attack flooded some of the Organization’s Internet connections and temporarily affected the availability of the UN website, however, the website was not hacked and no unauthorized access has been detected.


**Press Conferences


Following this briefing, 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.  This is the flagship publication of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  Speakers will include Robert Vos of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and Amr Nour, Director of the Regional Commission’s New York Office.


And then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Nihal Saad, who as you know is Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you.


That’s it.  Questions, please?  Mr. Abbadi, and then Ali. Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Yesterday, in a declaration issued in Barbados, 20 small developing island States have announced new action designed to reduce fuel, fossil fuel use and also to reduce poverty.  We know the importance that the Secretary-General attributes to sustainable development; does he have any reaction of this new important development?


Spokesperson:  I have to check specifically on that initiative.  Obviously, in general terms it is important to look at what regional groups and individual countries can do to help with the push for sustainable development and particularly sustainable energy.  As you know, he Secretary-General and others have launched a sustainable energy for all campaign drive and initiative.  This is an important part of ensuring that there is sustainable development.  If I have anything more specific in response, then I’d let you know.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There are accusations in Syria, both the Government is accusing terrorists groups and the opposition accusing the Government that those explosions in the capital and elsewhere in Syria are perpetrated by either side.  And my question is whether you have any evidence, the United Nations, that these are terrorist attacks, and whether yesterday’s attack against UNSMIS or at the time when the convoy was passing by in Dera’a was to convey any message to the UN Mission there?


Spokesperson:  Look, we don’t have any specific evidence on yesterday’s incident.  It is obvious that the convoy was passing by and there was an explosion.  It is obvious that, as has been reported, none of the UN personnel in that convoy was hurt, but that some Syrian military personnel and I believe a Syrian journalist were wounded in that last vehicle in the convoy, which was a Syrian vehicle.  But we don’t have any evidence, specific evidence, on targeting.  But there is a general point here that — and the Secretary-General has said this repeatedly, and he reiterates it again today — there is an urgent call on all sides fully to comply with their obligations to cease armed violence in all its forms, and to protect civilians, as well as to distance themselves from indiscriminate bombings and other terrorist acts.  And let me just say that of course the Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s attacks in Damascus, which killed more than 50 persons and injured scores of others.  All sides must abide by Security Council resolution 2043 (2012) and the six-point plan, which commit the parties to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. 


Question:  Can I follow up?  Does the Secretary-General share the worries that Syria might be slipping into chaos or civil war?


Spokesperson:  Well, following today’s events, the attacks in Damascus, the Secretary-General underscores once more the need for immediate and full cooperation with UN efforts aimed at ending all violence and human rights violations, securing humanitarian access and facilitating a Syrian-led political transition leading to a democratic and plural political system in Syria.  And the United Nations is committed to continue doing all it can to achieve these goals.  You will have heard also what the Secretary-General had to say in the General Assembly yesterday on this topic.


Question:  A follow-up?


Spokesperson:  Yes, please?


Question:  I have a follow-up also.


Spokesperson:  Yes, I’ll come to you, just one second, I will come to you, Rhonda.  Yes?


Question:  My question is about the UN travel cost.  The European Union has said that it won’t send any delegation to Rio for the Rio+20 meeting because of what they call “extortionate hotel fees” in Rio at this period.  I know that the UN is going to send quite a few delegations there, so I was wondering if there was any concern in the UN or in the UN agencies about these hotel fees, and if so, do you intend to reduce the delegation to make some, you know, budget cuts basically?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check with you on the details about delegations, but what I do understand is that the costs for part of the UN presence at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Summit will be covered by the Brazilian Government.  Rhonda?


Question:  Yes, with respect to the follow-up, and then I will ask another question.  Do you know if the Secretary-General has read the Arab League observer report, the mission report, observer report mission, which was submitted to the Security Council as part of a public document at the UN, because there was an observer mission in Syria and they published the report that’s part of the UN documents and there were lessons that they indicated.  And I wondered if the Secretary-General is familiar with that document and, if so, what the lessons are from that that he draws, because it did deal with the fact of there being terrorists attacks in Syria and the problems of… of… of a press that wasn’t accurate and of… of being able to identify things that were happening and understand them.  So do you know if this… if the Secretary-General is familiar with that document?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is well briefed on what is happening in Syria, of course, and all matters relating to that.  I think it is clear that lessons were learned from the previous League of Arab States mission.  And as you know, that’s one of the reasons why there is a Joint Special Envoy for the League of Arab States and the United Nations, and that this mission, which is under a Security Council resolution, of course, is multinational in its composition.  And you will also have noticed that there is on the ground reporting from journalists from outside of Syria, I mean, and that has certainly increased in the recent days, I would say.


Question:  I have another question.


Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  And the other question is…


Spokesperson:  Is it to do with Syria?


Question:  It’s a different question.


Spokesperson:  Right, well, I will come back to you, I just want to see if there are other questions related to Syria.  Masood?


Question:  I have a follow-up on what Ali asked.  Is there… did the United Nations at any point in time, has now, I mean, since the attack today which killed so many people and yesterday, is there a connection between these two that can be said, yes, it is a terrorist attack, and were they the Government forces as against the opposition?  Has that been… determination been made as yet?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think it is necessary to make that determination really.  It is still quite possible to speak quite clearly as we have just done, as I have just done on behalf of the Secretary-General, to say that it is an urgent call from him on all sides fully to comply with their obligations to cease armed violence in all its forms and to protect civilians as well as to distance themselves from indiscriminate bombings and other terrorist acts.  That’s where I’ll leave it, okay.  Stefano?


Question:  [inaudible] follow-up on Syria?


Spokesperson:  I understood that you had wanted to ask an entirely different question, I am coming back to you, I am coming back to you.  Yes, Stefano?


Question:  Yes, about Syria, two days ago the Syrian Ambassador Ja’afari at the stakeout at the Security Council he accu… that was before the terrorist attack, he accused specific countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, to support terrorists inside the country.  And then, on my specific question, because he was talking about also Al-Qaida, I specifically asked, so are you saying that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Qatar are supporting Al-Qaida inside the country?  He practically said, yes.  He said they are like they give hospitality to those terrorist organizations.  I think this is… is a big…


Spokesperson:  What is your question?


Question: The question is, what is the reaction of the United Nations and the Secretary-General to this?  Do you have any information, any report that say that, first of all, the Al-Qaida is in the country and if this organization is supported by two important countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar?  Qatar is also is the presidency of the [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  Stefano, Stefano, no, we don’t have any comment on what the Permanent Representative had to say on that.  I think I have spoken at some length on this topic today, and on other days, as has the Secretary-General.  And what I have said today I think encapsulates what our position is on this.  Rhonda, and then I am going to move on to other questions.


Question:  Okay, so with regard to this, one of the lessons of that observer mission was that in the continuation of that mission which was… was being recommended, they said that there had to be built in something with regard to taking into account that there were armed opposition and violent acts by… by forces outside of the Government in Syria.  And so they had a recommendation for the agreement that it would… it would build in a way of accou… of dealing with that.  That was a piece of the lesson that they drew.  So I am wondering if the Secretary-General has looked at that lesson, and you know, taken that…


Spokesperson:  Of course, of course that’s… I don’t think that the Secretary-General needed to read that report to understand what needed to be done and what needs to be said.  And that is that all sides need to comply with their obligations; all sides, whether opposition or Government. Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about Sudan.  There continue to be South Sudan and Sudan alleging that the other… that the two sides have… have violated the resolution of cross the border.  So you… yesterday, you had a report as of 4 May bombing South Sudan.  Have, has there been any progress, number one in… in… un… un… UNMISS, double-s, confirming or denying other things, and also, Omer Al-Bashir has… has now said that the… the UN can’t tell them what to do, they… they’re… they’re… they’re… they have said that they will not comply with the part of the resolution about negotiating in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and will in fact celebrate Friday prayers in Kauda in sou… in Southern Kordofan and I wonder if there is any response by the Secretariat to this escalation.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further update at the moment from the Mission on the reports that have been mentioned about possible further aerial bombardments, I don’t have that at the moment.  With regard to the remarks that you mentioned by the President of Sudan, no, we don’t have any comment on that.  It is a Security Council resolution; you may wish to check whether members of the Security Council have any comment on that.  We do not.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  A Syrian diplomat in the Security Council said that the Syrian authorities has refused the visas to three observers; one Swedish one, Danish and one Italian.  So could you confirm that you have any information on that?


Spokesperson:  I think it has been said from here, including in my absence, that we are not going to get into those kind of details on nationalities and so on.  I don’t have anything for you on that.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  I’m sorry, I wanted to go back to Syria.  There are…


Spokesperson:  We’re still on Syria, in a way, but yes. 


Question:  There are some reports indicating that there was… there is a school located on the road where the bomb exploded, and that some schoolchildren have been killed and injured.  Do you have any confirmation on that?


Spokesperson:  You mean from yesterday’s incident?


Correspondent:  Yesterday.


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  We can check, but no, I don’t have anything on that at the moment.  Rhonda, you have another question?


Question:  Yes, a different question.  It’s… in 2008, the UN Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the NATO signed a joint agreement for cooperation between the two Secretary-Generals and the Secretariat, and I wondered how that agreement is being implemented by the UN Secretary-General and who… who you could get information about that from, at the UN.


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s a rather technical agreement in the sense that it is for cooperation between the secretariats of the respective organizations.  If you have some specific questions, feel free to come to our office after the briefing and we can see if we can help you further.


Question:  But I mean…


Spokesperson:  Wait a minute.  Yes?


Question:  No, I’ll actually do a follow-up on that, and then I have a few other things, but there… in the World Press Freedom Day, in the event that was held in the North Lawn building, the Committee to Protect Journalists said that there… that the bombing of a TV station in Libya during the Libya campaign was of much concern to them and should be probed.  Given that you have the Secretariat, number one, I mean, I know… I remember the statement of the Secretary-General that the campaign in… in… in Libya complied with the resolution and I suppose international laws, does he have any… given that a respected freedom of the press group is saying that this… it’s problematic to say that that this was okay to bomb a TV station, does this… does his agreement with NATO in any way implicate the need to probe these things as raised by CPJ and others?


Spokesperson:  As I’d just said, it’s a rather technical-level agreement on cooperation between secretariats and I don’t believe that it goes beyond that. With regard to the underlying question that you pose, it’s for NATO to address whether there should be any closer look at this particular topic.  Of course, as the Secretary-General — meaning the United Nations Secretary-General — said on World Press Freedom Day, and has said on other occasions, journalists need to be able to carry out their professional work without fear of harassment or worse.


Question:  I have a question on Prageeth.  I am sorry, I am just… just ticking this one out, the same… at the same event, there was about… there was a petitioning of the Secretary-General by CPJ and others on the case of Prageeth, a journalist in Sri Lanka that was… disappeared more than a year ago and I remember there was some back and forth about was the letter received, but has the sec… has there been any follow-up by… by the UN system on this case, and… and… and what… what’s the status of… of the… of the response to the petitioning?


Spokesperson:  Let me check for you, Matthew.  Yes, Rhonda, and then…


Question:  [inaudible] with… with regard to that, and then my follow-up.  With regard to this… the Secretary-General, according to NATO, when these partnership agreements… what they claim is the partners should not be criticizing NATO.  So I am wondering if the Secretary-General feels that he has some obligation under this partnership agreement of secretariats that he cannot criticize NATO.


Spokesperson:  I think, I don’t really think I need to answer that question, actually…


Question:  The other…


Spokesperson:  I need to… yes, please.  Please, listen, there are lots of, well, I wouldn’t say lots, but there are quite a few people with other questions, including Mr. Abbadi, did you have another question there?  Right, Masood, and then I am coming back to you, Rhonda.


Question:  Some… the Human Rights Watch this morning has said that there had been increase in crackdown on Islamic groups in United Arab Emirates and that they have shown concern about what has happened, certainly that this happening in the United Arab Emirates, which is never reported.  Has that been reported by the United Nations that the… in the UAE, that this has been going on and that this crackdown has began?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on that, Masood, I don’t.  Yes, and then I am coning to you, Matthew.  That will be the last question, because we have another press conference starting in one minute.


Question:  Okay, I wondered if you know if the Secretary-General plans to travel to any of the NATO… the NATO meeting happening as part of his travels.  Does he have any plans… in Chicago there will be the meeting [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  If and when we have some travel plans to announce, we will do so.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you, the… the… the Security Council diplomats have said that… that the Secretary-General has proposed as the new SRSG for Western Sahara or MINURSO, a Mr. Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber of Germany, and that for some reason it hasn’t yet been announced and that the Secretary-General was meeting with the Moroccan Foreign Minister who, or has already met at 11 am.  First, I wanted to know, one, are you… will you confirm that he is the proposed candidate and… and… and… and is it the case that in fact an eleventh hour opposition to this is being heard from Morocco and is that… is this what is normally done when the Secretary-General makes an appointment?


Spokesperson:  I think I would classify that as a loaded question, and if and when we have an announcement to make, we will make it.  Thank you very much, thank you very much.


Question:  [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  I think they will, yeah.  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record