|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, and welcome to the briefing.
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Egypt.
The Secretary-General has been following with interest Egypt’s presidential election process. These historic elections, in which Egyptians will freely choose their President from amongst numerous candidates, are an important milestone in Egypt’s democratic transition.
The Secretary-General commends the Egyptian authorities for their organization of polling and the people of Egypt for their participation, and he welcomes initial reports of a strong turnout of women voters. He also notes the calm and positive atmosphere in which the voting took place and looks forward to the credible and peaceful conclusion of this process.
The Secretary-General will be travelling to Turkey and Saudi Arabia next week.
He will arrive in Istanbul late on Wednesday, 30 May. The next day, he will take part in a Partners Forum for the Alliance of Civilizations, which is being held at the invitation of the Turkish Prime Minister and which is designed to broaden public and private support for the initiative. He will also have a meeting with his High Representative on the Alliance of Civilizations and the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Spain, co-chairs of the Forum, to discuss the way forward.
The Secretary-General will meet with the Prime Minister of Turkey. While in Istanbul, he will attend a separate event on sustainable energy linked to the forthcoming Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.
On Thursday, 1 June, the Secretary-General will co-chair a major international conference on the future of Somalia and hold a range of bilateral meetings with other leaders attending the conference.
The Secretary-General will travel to Jeddah on Saturday, 2 June, and is scheduled to hold meetings with Saudi leaders, including the Custodian of the Holy Mosques and King of Saudi Arabia. On Sunday 3 June, the Secretary-General will co-chair the second meeting of the Advisory Board of the newly established UN Counter-Terrorism Centre together with the Saudi Foreign Minister. The Secretary-General will return to New York the same day.
In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to resume talks in Addis Ababa next week under the auspices of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. He encourages the parties to reconvene in an atmosphere of goodwill and calls on them to demonstrate the flexibility necessary to reach agreement on outstanding issues. And he reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to assist the parties in implementing their agreements and supporting the mechanisms established by them. The full statement is online.
Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, briefed the press today following three days of meetings in Addis Ababa with the principal signatories of the road map to end Somalia’s transition. He said the meetings in Addis Ababa were ultimately successful, and that the agreements made there cleared away any political obstacles, allowing for the transition to go forward as planned. That transition period is scheduled to end on 20 August. Mr. Mahiga said that there is no time to lose, as the Somali parties work to ensure a process that is participatory, legitimate, inclusive, transparent and Somali-owned. We have more details in a press release.
The political polarization in Zimbabwe is acting as a major impediment to the advance of human rights, the top United Nations human rights official said today, wrapping up her first visit to the country.
During her visit, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, met with President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as with other top officials and civil society organizations. Speaking to the press, Ms. Pillay said that one very positive development during her visit had been the news that the Government is proposing to sign and ratify the Convention against Torture.
She also welcomed the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, but expressed her deep regret that the bill which would enable the body to function properly is stuck in Parliament. She urged the Commission to deal with the human rights issues surrounding Zimbabwe’s forthcoming elections. Her full remarks are available on the website of the United Nations Human Rights Office.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for fighting malnutrition to be the top priority in Yemen. This call follows a meeting of the “Friends of Yemen” in Saudi Arabia, which recognized the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen and resulted in $4 billion in pledges to address the crisis.
With more than half of children under the age of five stunted, Yemen has the second highest rate of stunting in the world. Nearly 1 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished. The Fund said that the extremely poor humanitarian situation in Yemen is a result of both chronic underdevelopment and the violence last year. The full press release is available online.
The Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the valuable role that public-private partnerships can play in achieving quality education for all. Speaking at a panel discussion this morning, she stressed that inclusive, relevant, quality education is a key condition for building more sustainable societies. Her full remarks are available online.
Two senior United Nations officials have welcomed progress made since the launch of a campaign two years ago to encourage universal ratification of global treaties to protect children. However, the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict said that while steady progress is being made, much remains to be done. Dozens of Member States have yet to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. There is more information available on that online.
**Press Conferences and Noon Guests Next Week
On Tuesday next week, it is Peacekeepers Day and there will be an official celebration here in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium at 11 a.m. And my guest at noon that day — or the guests, I should say — at noon that day, will be Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Tony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support.
And also, at 1:15 p.m., Anders Johnsson, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, will brief you on “interaction between the United Nations, national parliaments and the Inter-Parliamentary Union”.
And just a reminder that Monday is an official holiday in New York for Memorial Day. Yes, Lou?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Martin. Kofi Annan’s spokesman today confirmed that Kofi Annan will be going soon to Syria, and I am just wondering what the Secretary-General hopes can come out of a visit like this? We see that, you know, the violence is continuing, the… the peace plan is not being implemented. So what are the Secretary-General’s hopes and desires at this point in time?
Spokesperson: Well, actually the Secretary-General himself mentioned yesterday in his interview on CNN that he’d spoken to the Joint Special Envoy on Wednesday — so the day before yesterday — to talk about the further steps. And he also mentioned that the Joint Special Envoy would be visiting Syria soon, and had been invited to visit other countries. Obviously, no dates have been given for I think reasons that are understandable. He also said that he would be reporting to the Security Council, and I think it’s in that context that you would see more information along the lines that you are asking for. Clearly, it is an important part of this undertaking to have direct talks with the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition. This is done in different ways at different times; it is coming to the time when it is appropriate for the Joint Special Envoy to engage directly and personally with the Syrian authorities and with the opposition in situ.
Spokesperson: Yes, Iftikhar?
Question: There are a number of reports that Al-Qaida is fighting alongside the opposition in Syria. How will it impact on the work of the observer, United Nations observers?
Spokesperson: What the Secretary-General has said and including most recently yesterday, is that there is no firm evidence of one particular group or another operating there. But there is certainly the fear that a third force, a third element is at play in Syria and that this undoubtedly complicates the task for the monitors and the international community in seeking to ensure that the six-point plan is fully implemented.
Question: Martin, you must have seen… heard that there were… BBC was showing photographs of these groups… this group, you know, on its newscast yesterday. That’s why I asked this question.
Spokesperson: Look, as I have said, and as the Secretary-General has said, there is no hard evidence on specific groups. It is clear that there is the danger of the presence of a third force or third element in Syria. It is obvious that some of the attacks that have been seen are of the kind and nature that suggests that there is behind them a force or elements with the organizational capacity and political intent to carry out violence on that scale. Yes, Ozlem, and then I am coming to you, yes?
Question: I’m sorry, Martin, I missed the beginning of the, this noon briefing, but is Secretary-General going to Istanbul, and when is he going to attend the Somalia meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes, yes, Ozlem, the Secretary-General is indeed going to Istanbul. He’ll arrive late on Wednesday, 30 May, and the next day he will be taking part in an Alliance of Civilizations meeting. And then the following day, he will be taking part in this large Somalia conference that you referred to. He will also, of course, be meeting the Prime Minister of Turkey and the Foreign Minister of Turkey while he is in Istanbul. Tim? I beg your pardon, I will come to you in a second, I beg your pardon. Yes?
Question: Okay, thank you. Is the Secretary-General has any reaction about Baghdad talks, Baghdad’s nuclear talks?
Spokesperson: Well, yes, in fact. The Secretary-General welcomes the talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the E3+3 recently concluded in Baghdad. The Secretary-General is encouraged by the willingness of both sides to continue engaging in discussions to resolve the differences and, in that regard, welcomes the decision to hold a next round of talks in Moscow, from 18‑19 June. The Secretary-General has consistently advocated a comprehensive and negotiated political solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. He strongly supports the efforts of the E3+3 in promoting dialogue and diplomacy and hopes that Iran will take the necessary measures to build and sustain international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. In doing so, it is important for Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including on the implementation of the recent agreement between Iran and the Agency during the visit of the Agency Director General to Iran. Okay, yeah, Tim, and then I’ll come to you David.
Question: This week, the Secretary-General said that Syria was in a pivotal moment. What does he mean by that? Is the Special Envoy going to address this pivotal moment?
Spokesperson: He means that there are different elements that have come into play, the third force, potentially that we’ve just been talking about, the potential spillover effects, including possibly the violence that’s been seen in Lebanon. And so, it is in that context, it’s the failure of the two parties so far to adhere to the first point of the six-point plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy, endorsed by the Security Council and the General Assembly. In other words, to cease violence that has not happened as we had expected and hoped. The monitors are there on the ground approaching full deployment in the coming days. They are at full capacity to carry out the work that is necessary, but under no illusions that this is extremely difficult. And it is in the context of all of these different factors that the Secretary-General is referring to a pivotal moment. And I think that as I mentioned earlier, there is a report due to the Security Council and the Security Council will be deliberating on this matter on Wednesday. And I think that you’ll probably hear more at that point. Yes, David?
Question: There have been some reports in the Moroccan press regarding that the UN is considering Collin Powell as the next envoy for the Western Sahara. I don’t know if you can say anything about it, replacing Mr. Ross or you can confirm something?
Spokesperson: No, the Secretary-General has expressed, as I mentioned before, his full confidence in the work of Mr. Ross. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, first of all I want to ask, I guess this is a different take on Syria or some other countries. There was yesterday in the Budget Committee, in the Fifth Committee, there was a series of countries, including Algeria for G-77, but also including the Permanent Representative of Syria, who raised this fact that… that… that… that… the… they have been denied bank accounts in the United States, first in New York, then they were told to open something called First Bank in Wa… First Washington Bank, that was closed, and they… The reasons I am asking you is that they also said that the Secretariat, they believe, has some role in making sure that the host country agreement is complied with and that… they said that there is at least one country that is now barred from voting in the General Assembly because they don’t have a bank account and cant pay their dues to the UN. And so what is the Secretary doing… General doing about at least nine Member States that don’t have basic ability to conduct diplomatic business in New York?
Spokesperson: Clearly, this is primarily a matter between the Member States concerned and the host country. It is obvious that the Secretariat of the United Nations here in New York where possible can help, either behind the scenes or otherwise, and that has happened in the past. So I think that there is a willingness to help where possible. The primary responsibility is of course between the Member States and the host country.
Question: Sure, I just one… I mean, does this… is it… does the Secretary-General think the host country should do more? There are many States that are saying that US is required to… to… to bring this about.
Spokesperson: Well, I would ask you to listen…
Spokesperson: …carefully to what I just said.
Spokesperson: Yeah. Other questions, please?
Question: Yeah, I want to ask you about the town hall meeting and then something about, I guess, media rights and [inaudible] call it. But there was a town hall meeting yesterday of the Secretary-General, and it seems… I wanted to ask you two things about it. One is the case of Louis Maxwell, I believe, arose… of the… the UN security officer that was killed in Afghanistan, some believe by Afghan national forces, and the request was made… what follow-up has been made to bring accountability for the death of the staff member, and… and… I mean, I… maybe I am getting it wrong, but I believe part of the answer was that, you know… you know, he was a hero, a movie should be made about him, but it wasn’t clear what steps have been taken by the UN to ensure accountability. Are… is there some update on the case of Louis Maxwell?
Spokesperson: I’ll find out on that, Matthew. I think that we’ve dealt with this fairly extensively in the past. Yes, Mr. Maxwell was a hero, and yes, he lost his life saving the lives of his colleagues, and I think that that needs to be first and foremost in our minds. I am not going to go into the details of what was discussed at a staff meeting, which was for staff.
Question: Okay then, but… then I won’t frame this as a town hall meeting. I wanted to know, is it true that the UN has a policy of only recognizing homosexual partnerships or domestic partnerships if the staff members at issue come from a country that itself recognizes… i.e., if you come from a country that doesn’t recognize these type… these domestic partnerships, they… there is no rights within the UN either for partners or… or pen… you know, pen… pensions, benefits, travel, all of the above. Is that true?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as you know, has been quite outspoken when speaking about the rights for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community. And he is fully aware of the concerns of staff members from that… from the community, the LGBT community. And I know that the Secretariat on his instructions is looking into what can be done. There are complications, because of national legislation in some cases. But, certainly, the Secretary-General has undertaken, through colleagues in the Secretariat, to look into this matter. The key point here is that he has been a clear advocate for the rights of the LGBT community and I think that is recognized by people in the community.
Question: And then, it’s up to you, if you don’t mind, one…
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?
Question: No, no, I have another question, but I don’t want to…
Spokesperson: No, I am looking to see if there are other questions. And we’ll make this the last one.
Spokesperson: Thank you very much.
Question: All right. I am calling it a… a… a… I guess a media rights question, and I’m… I’ll try to frame it carefully. I have become aware that a complaint was filed with the Media and Accreditation… Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU) by a correspondent who said he had been called disgusting. In any event, a… a complaint was filed. And I wanted to know, what weight are given to such communications by MALU or the UN? And also whether journalists at the UN have a right to see whatever files or complaints are maintained about them?
Spokesperson: Correspondence between individuals is between individuals, first thing. Second, this is that there is a carefully laid down procedure for accreditation and the relevant part of the United Nations — the Department of Public Information — handles that matter and does so properly according to the rules that are in place.
Question: But are the rule… my question is, do the rules involve… of… are… if correspondence such as this is received by the head of MALU and her supervisor, Mr. Dujarric, is the correspondence kept… kept on file and is it considered when the individual applies for accreditation or reaccreditation? And can it be seen?
Spokesperson: As I say, correspondence between individuals is between individuals, and the overriding point here is that there is a system in place, there are rules and procedures, and accreditation rules that are well established and that is how the Department of Public Information deals with these things.
Question: I am asking what rules… I am asking what the rules are and I am saying that a correspondence to the head of MALU and Mr. Dujarric is not really a personal correspondence, it’s in the nature of a complaint and I am asking about the due process right of journalists covering the UN.
Spokesperson: Well I think what we have here is something that I am fully aware involves you, and I think that it would be better to be discussed offline, not on camera in the briefing, that is…
Question: But I would like to know what the procedures are, because I have very little confidence in the off-camera due process.
Spokesperson: Well, thank you for that vote of confidence, Matthew, and…
Correspondent: No, no, not in yours…
Spokesperson: …we’ll deal with it separately, I think. Thanks very much, and have a good weekend. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record