12 June 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.


**Noon Briefing Guest Today


Today, as you can see I am joined by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.  Welcome.  Ms. Coomaraswamy is here to introduce to you and discuss the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.


And after Ms. Coomaraswamy’s part of the briefing, I have a number of other items for you.  And I’ll also be happy to take questions.  But first of all, Ms. Coomaraswamy, welcome again, and the floor is yours.


[Press conference by Ms. Coomaraswamy issued separately]


So, I have a couple more items for you and I’d be happy to take questions after that.


** Syria


In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern at the dangerous intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire.


The Secretary-General condemned this escalation of armed violence, in particular the shelling of population centres and attacks against civilian infrastructure by all sides, which impairs delivery of essential services and exacerbates the humanitarian crisis.


The Secretary-General further called on all sides to stop the killing, cease armed violence in all its forms and seek peaceful political means to resolve the deepening crisis, as called for by the six-point plan.


**UNSMIS Note to Correspondents


And I did receive an update just before coming here for this briefing from the Spokesperson for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria.  And she says that UN observers trying to reach the town of al-Haffeh today were confronted with angry crowds that surrounded their vehicles, stopping them from proceeding any further. 

The crowd, who appeared to be residents of the area, then hurled stones and metal rods at the UN vehicles.  The UN observers turned back.  And as they were leaving the area, three vehicles heading towards Idlib were fired upon.  The source of fire is still unclear.  All UN observers are now back at their bases and they are secure.   


The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) has been trying to reach al-Haffeh since June 7, but has been impeded by the violence in the area.  The Mission calls on the parties to grant the UN observers immediate and unfettered access to conflict zones.


**Security Council


Roger Meece, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, provided an update to the Security Council this morning about the fighting in North and South Kivu following the mutiny by soldiers led by Bosco Ntaganda and Sultani Makenga.


The mutiny, he said, now threatens a general destabilization of the Kivus and the region and dramatically increases the general threat to millions of civilians.  Mr. Meece said that the UN Mission, MONUSCO, has credible information regarding killings on a significant scale and other serious crimes committed in the Kivus, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.  He said that the UN Mission has deployed forces and stepped up operations throughout the affected area, but its resources have been stretched to the limit.


And earlier, the Security Council adopted a resolution concerning the focus of the second phase of Yemen’s political transition, including the holding of an all-inclusive National Dialogue Conference.


And the Council extended by one year the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with sanctions concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


** Seoul Peace Prize


The Secretary-General has been awarded the Seoul Peace Prize for 2012.

He regards the award as recognition of the efforts of the United Nations.  The Seoul Peace Prize was established in 1990.


** Myanmar


Given the rapid escalation of violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is calling on Bangladesh to keep its borders open.  The Agency is very concerned about media reports quoting a statement of the Bangladeshi Border Guard force that it had turned away a number of boats carrying people from Myanmar.


The Agency is trying to monitor key crossing points along the border between the two countries following the temporary relocation of its staff in the area.  It is hopeful that its staff will be able to return soon.  There is more information available on this online.


I would also add that the Special Envoy on Myanmar, Mr. Vijay Nambiar is in Myanmar on a visit that was arranged before these latest developments in Rakhine State. He has met the President -- President Thein Sein.


And I would anticipate we would have a little bit more to say about that later.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


The United Nations is calling for nearly $200 million to respond to humanitarian needs in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or D.P.R.K., this year.  The Resident Coordinator for the country said that 16 million people continue to suffer from chronic food insecurity, high malnutrition rates and deep-rooted economic problems.


Jérome Sauvage noted that the United Nations in the D.P.R.K. remains seriously underfunded; adding that separating humanitarian needs from political issues is a prerequisite for a sustainable improvement in the condition of the people.


**Deputy Secretary-General


This evening, the Deputy Secretary-General will be honoured at a reception to recognize her contributions to global health.  This event is being co-hosted by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).


** Israel


I was asked yesterday about our response to reported violent attacks against African migrants living in Israel.


In addition to what I said yesterday, I can say that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed its alarm at the incidents of violence and targeted attacks against migrants of African origin that have recently taken place in Israel.


The Office welcomes the statement by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemning such violence, but it also regrets that the violence and targeted attacks in question have been accompanied by a harsh public discourse, which has included incendiary public statements by Israeli political figures, against migrants and asylum seekers.


Under international law all migrants, regardless of their legal status, are entitled to protection of their fundamental rights, including protection from violence and hate speech.  The High Commissioner’s Office urges public figures in Israel to avoid inflammatory and derogatory language when referring to migrants.


It calls on the Government of Israel to put in place balanced policies to manage migration and to develop appropriate alternatives to detention for migrants and asylum seekers.  Irregular migration is not a crime.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., here in the auditorium, there will be a press conference sponsored by the Regional Commissions New York Office on the presentation of the economic report on Africa for this year 2012.  The speaker will be Robert Vos of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes, Masood; Talal; Mercedes?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, sir.  There is, there is a report on Reuters just now that the United Nations peacekeeping chief in Syria has said it is a full, full scale civil war in Syria now.  Do you have any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  I haven't seen that, yet.  Okay.  Yes, Talal?


Question:  [inaudible] these observers who were trying to reach al-Haffeh were they accompanied by the usual Syrian Army contingent, usually to protect them?


Spokesperson:  I believe thee was some kind of Syrian accompaniment.  Precisely what form that took, I do not know at point.  I am still awaiting further details on this particular incident, which needless to say we take extremely seriously.  Yes, Mercedes?


Question:  Regarding the observers, the reporters on the ground are saying that the observers are staying quiet behind any protest or any violent scene that can happen, that pretty often they are not even watching directly, just hearing and taking notes of the noises on the background.  And I was wondering; how can the UN have not enough support for these people to get closer to what is happening and perhaps to make it to this kind of village that they need to reach?  And also, what is the situation of the negotiation with the Syrian government for the use of helicopters?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is very easy for people to criticise 300 unarmed observers who are seeking to cover the entire territory of Syria.  They are doing an extremely good job in extremely difficult circumstances, some of which I just described to you where they came under fire, yet again. I don’t call that staying behind and listening.  That’s extremely courageous.  The fact that they could not get through is because, as I just described to you, people in the area were throwing stones and metal rods at their vehicles.  It was simply not feasible or possible to move ahead.  I’d also remind you that the observers were – the ones who were able to provide clear evidence of what transpired in el-Houleh. Yes, Stefano?


Question:  Yes.


Another Correspondent:  These are armoured vehicles, right?


Spokesperson:  Pardon?


Question:  [inaudible] precise, armoured vehicles, right?


Spokesperson:  They have armoured vehicles; not armoured personnel carriers.  We need to be very clear about that.  They are four-wheel drive vehicles that are armoured.  But that’s not the same as an armoured personnel carrier.  Yes?


Question:  And the helicopters [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, we have addressed that already in the statement by the Secretary-General, and indeed Ahmed Fawzi, the Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy also spoke about the use of helicopters during the briefing in Geneva.  And I’d refer you to what he said.  Yes, Stefano, then Acresins?


Question:  Do we have to assume that those civilians that were throwing stones to the UN observer are pro-government?  Are you sure about it?


Spokesperson:  It is not a question of assumption at this point; we are trying to find out more details.  And to be really frank, it doesn’t matter from which side they were at that particular point; they were impeding…


Question:  It wouldn’t matter at all? It wouldn’t matter?


Spokesperson:  Do you want me to answer or not?


Question:  I think it would matter; for me it would matter.


Spokesperson:  I think the point here is that the UN observers were trying to reach the scene, and they could not.  The crowds who seemed to be residents of the area threw stones and metal rods. I don’t have any more details on which flag they were flying, who they support.  At that particular point they were simply impeding the progress of the observers to do what they wanted to do, and indeed what the Secretary-General has demanded that they be able to do. Yes? 


Question:  Once the situation in Syria, once everyone agrees that it is a civil war; how does that change efforts here at the UN; how does it change, how does that affect the peacekeeping mission?  Does it change the obligations of the opposition under the rules of international law? 


Spokesperson:  I think there are some very specific requirements when a conflict is designated as being a civil war.  And it is not for the United Nations to designate in that way.  The International Committee of the Red Cross has a role in doing so.  And there are then specific provisions that would come into play regarding humanitarian law and indeed possible war crimes prosecutions.  And this is something that the Secretary-General referred to in his remarks to you on Friday evening; I beg your pardon, Thursday evening, outside the Security Council.  So, at this point, I don’t want to go beyond that, because there has not been that overall designation.  The fact remains that whether there is that designation or not, as the Secretary-General has said and the Joint Special Envoy has also pointed out, there has been a qualitative shift and intensification and different tactics, for example, the use of helicopters. And this is obviously something that is deeply troubling.  And we are monitoring that both through the observers on the ground and here at headquarters to understand precisely what that means.


Question:  For the peacekeepers though, what’s the impact on the mission?  Has there ever been a case where peacekeepers have been on the ground in the midst of a, of a civil war, I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but normally you know, the line is they go in when there is a peace to keep.


Spokesperson:  Look, I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of UN peacekeeping.  So, I would defer to my colleagues who do have that knowledge or can find it.  I would simply say that this is a mandate from the Security Council, which 300 unarmed observers are seeking to carry out to the best of their abilities in extremely trying circumstances which the Syrian people themselves have had to endure for getting on for 16 months.  Yes, Matthew, and then Hank?


Question:  Sure, just on to decide on that, Rwanda was, was a civil where the UN was and they left, but I wanted to ask about the, the, the, the humanitarian aid plan that the UN has signed with Syria.  Médecins Sans Frontières has criticised the plan and has said that, that it fails to address the needs to ensure the neutrality of health care facilities, and I am wondering, what’s the UN’s response to this, to this respected organization’s critique of this plan, and, and is the plan public, et cetera?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll see if I can get some more information from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which has been in the lead in liaising with the Syrian authorities on this.  Underpinning everything that is done in the humanitarian sphere is the need to detach that work from what is happening in the political sphere.  That is hugely important.  The impartiality of the work that is carried out on the humanitarian front is absolutely crucial.  It applies not just in Syria, but in any other location where humanitarians are trying to carry out their work. 


Question:  Can I ask…?


Spokesperson:  Yes, and then I’ll come back to you. Yes? 


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I heard everything that you said in the statement; thank you for clarifying it numerous times.  There was no mention of Syrian government forces in that statement.  My question…


Spokesperson:  Which statement are you referring to?


Question:  The one about the attack, or rather about the peacekeepers being stopped, road blocked and then shots being fired at them from an unknown place as they left; the orig…, the initial statement that you made. Tell me, to the best of your knowledge, is it standard, I know that it’s mandated that Syrian government forces are to protect the mission of 300 peacekeepers; is it standard operating procedure that there be Syrian government forces with these teams everywhere they go?  Do you know, so far, in the two or so months that they have been on the ground, are they accompanied constantly with Syrian government forces or is it, you know, a percentage deal?


Spokesperson:  I would not use that expression to be really honest.  What happens is when the UN military observers are conducting patrols within government held areas, areas controlled by the Syrian security forces; they are indeed accompanied by Syrian security forces.  When the observers go into areas that are not held by government forces, but by others, by rebel forces, then plainly the security forces of the Syrian government do not accompany them.


Question:  So, just to be clear – forgive me – you don’t, you, you are not aware of whether there were Syrian government forces on the scene during this incident or not?


Spokesperson:  As I said earlier, there was some kind of Syrian government presence with the observers; I don’t have; I would assume, but I don’t like to assume, that they would be Syrian security forces, but I need to check with the mission to be able to say that with certainty. As to the source of fire; it is still unclear.  But this is an incident that we take extremely seriously.  Yes, Matthew, and then I am coming to Evelyn, yes?


Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot, I wanted to, to, to ask you about UN TV. One thing is that Tawakul Karman, the Nobel Prize winner from Yemen, spoke today at, at the stakeout on UN TV, including about the topic of Syria.  I mean she was speaking because the resolution on Yemen was being passed.  I am yet to see it up, and I just wanted to see what the policy, maybe you will know that or can find that what the policy is in terms of making that video available.  And I also wanted to ask about the cut off of, of Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari on, on, on last Thursday.  I had asked you and I just, I just wanted to get, it was, you’d said, called it a miscommunication, and I understand.  But, I want to understand better, because multiple people, part, a part of the chain that led to the cut off have said to me that, that an individual, Michele DuBach, the acting Deputy Director of the News and Media Division specifically called and said turn it off.  So, I, is this what you are saying was a miscommunication?  Was, did somebody miscommunicate to her, because she seemed to speak very clearly and not miscommunicate to say turn it off.  Then, later, it was turned on.  But, can we get more clarity about what led to this order to turn it off?


Spokesperson:  On the first…


Question:  It seems… sorry, I am sorry… I just wanted…


Spokesperson:  Have you finished?


Question:  Yeah, I have.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  On the first part, the remarks at the stakeout by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, we can check on that of course.  On the second part, the call made to the control room at UN Television was made on the instructions of the Director of the News and Media Division.  It is as simple as that, okay? Yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that live UN Webcast was not available this morning, because a cable was inadvertently cut by a construction crew as part of the renovation. On-demand videos of the events this morning will be available at the Webcast site.]


Question:  That’s Mr. Dujarric?


Spokesperson:  Pardon?


Question:  Is that Mr. Dujarric?


Spokesperson:  The last time I looked he was…


Question: Okay.


Spokesperson:  …the Director of the News and Media Division, yes, that’s right. Yes?


Question:  Are we ever going to learn who attacked the peacekeepers in Syria, before misinformation flies through the world that both sides are equally guilty of violence?  Uh, the uh…


Spokesperson:  I am not quite sure where this is going.


Question:  No, I am, I mean, the UN has a habit of saying armed groups attacked, whether it’s a Darfur, whether it is anywhere else, and the USG for Children and Armed Conflict has just shown how naming and shaming can produce some results.  So, I am just wondering if we will ever learn who attacked the peacekeepers in Syria, because I think they will probably have to find out.  And will we ever learn who is attacking them in Darfur and so forth?  You know.


Spokesperson:  Evelyn.


Question:  Yeah.


Spokesperson:  It happened just a short while ago.  And…


Question:  I didn’t say today; I said, ever, [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  And I think you can take it as read that our colleagues on the ground will be doing their best to ascertain what happened and who fired. I think you would also understand that it is extremely fluid and extremely dangerous and trying to ascertain who fired when and from where.  It is not always going to be easy, but I think you can take it as read that they intend to try to find out.  Yes?


Question:  Will they tell us? [Laughter]


Question:  It’s kind of a follow up; will you be able to tell us if actually there was some, they were escorted by Syrian military or not?


Spokesperson:  I’ve said more than once that I do not know for a fact; I assume so…


Question:  No, I know that you don’t know now, but do you think you will know?


Spokesperson:  …and we will try to find out.


Question:  okay.  Thanks for the [inaudible], thanks.


Spokesperson:  Okay, any other questions? Last questions then, yes?  Okay.


Question: Okay, I wanted to ask the, the UN Expert on, on, Independent Expert on Haiti, Michel Forst has said that countries including the United States, the Dominican Republic and others should cease deporting people back to Haiti, because in part of the cholera there, that many people say was introduced by the UN.  I wanted to know, what is the UN, does the UN, he is an independent obviously person, but is there a position, is there a UN position whether by MINUSTAH or, or anyone else whether, whether people, you know, described as undocumented, uh, uh, émigrés from Haiti should in fact be forcibly returned, given the conditions in Haiti, in which the UN by many accounts played some role?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to look into that, Matthew; I don’t have an answer for you on that. Just a couple of things: Separately, you’d mentioned yesterday about the threat that you had received, Matthew.  I think everybody would agree that threats and intimidation are uncomfortable and unpleasant for everybody.  And that certainly would apply to the e-mail that you received.  We did check with the Department of Safety and Security; and specifically the Security and Safety Services within that Department here at headquarters. And they have said if you wish to share that e-mail with them; you are welcome to do so, and they can then speak to you about it.  And they also said that you may wish to, if you feel that it is a direct threat, that you should contact the New York Police Department as well.


Question:  Martin [inaudible]


Correspondent:  It was sent to Marie Okabe and to, and to a Nicolean Kade of the UN as well.


Question:  If the, if the peacekeepers in Syria find out, and I know it’s fluid, who shot at them here or in other place, would that be made public?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check with my colleagues.  I don’t know the answer to that. I do not know the answer to that.  Let me just tell you, to follow up on what I was saying at the start of, or earlier in the briefing, about Mr. Nambiar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar.  Mr. Nambiar is indeed in Myanmar to participate in the meeting of the Myanmar peace donor support group with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw. And in this context and in a follow up to the Secretary-General’s own recent visit to Myanmar, Mr. Nambiar discussed a range of issues with the President and other senior leaders in the country.  And this included the state of emergency that has been declared in Rakhine State, and the need for government to continue to handle the situation transparently and with respect for human rights and the rule of law, consistent with President Thein Sein’s recent statement in order that the cycle of violence is broken and the broader reform process is not adversely affected.


So, that’s a little update for you on that.


Okay, thank you, have a good afternoon.


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