18 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General left this morning for the G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico.  He should be arriving there shortly.


This afternoon, he will participate in the first plenary session on “The Global Economy and Framework for Strong, Sustainable, and Balanced Growth”, and he is also expected to hold bilateral meetings with a number of leaders.  We’ll try to provide readouts later today.


Tomorrow, he will attend the second plenary session, “Strengthening the International Financial Architecture and the Financial System and Promoting Financial Inclusion”.


After his time in Mexico, the Secretary-General will leave for Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20 meeting from 20-22 June.


** Syria


In response to the recent intensification of armed violence across Syria, General Robert Mood, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) announced on Saturday that the Mission is suspending its activities and that UN observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice.


He said that the suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis.  Operations will resume when the Mission sees the situation fit for the observers to carry out their mandated activities.  A return to normal operations remains the Mission’s objective.


General Mood said in a statement yesterday that civilians continue to be trapped by the escalating violence in Syria.  In Homs, attempts to extract civilians from the line of fire over the past week have been unsuccessful. He said that the Parties must reconsider their position and allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones, without any preconditions, and ensure their safety.  The UN Supervision Mission in Syria stands ready to monitor their release, once the decision is taken by the Parties.


Today in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that all violations of the human rights of the Syrian people at the hands of all parties to the conflict must end. She added that the Government of Syria should immediately cease the use of heavy armaments and shelling of populated areas, as such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes.


**Security Council


The Security Council held consultations this morning on the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei, known as UNISFA.  Council members received a briefing by the Head of the Mission, Lieutenant-General Tadesse Werede Tesfay.


In a recent report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General said that the security situation in the Abyei Area remained calm but unpredictable, owing to tensions associated with the continued presence of unauthorized armed forces in the Area, in violation of the 20 June 2011 Agreement, the parties’ failure to establish the Abyei Area Administration, the large-scale migration of Misseriya nomads and the gradual return of displaced Ngok Dinka.  The security situation was also affected by the conflict on the border between Sudan and South Sudan.


**Refugees


A report released today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows 2011 to have been a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000.


In all, 4.3 million people were newly displaced, with a full 800,000 of these fleeing their countries and becoming refugees.


Viewed on a 10-year basis, the report shows several worrying trends: One is that forced displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual level exceeding 42 million people for each of the last five years.  Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location.


**Noon Guest Tomorrow


And tomorrow,  we will have a noon briefing guest; that will be Khaled Hosseini, the author and Goodwill Envoy for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


And that’s all I have.  Yes, please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Good morning, thank you.  Who was trying to withdraw civilians from the line of fire, in reference to General Mood’s statement of yesterday? Who exactly was trying, making an effort to withdraw civilians from the line of fire in Homs; who was making that effort?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, what he was pointing out was that the UN mission, the supervision mission, UNSMIS, was trying to see whether people such as women and children, the elderly, disabled, injured people could be removed from the line of fire.  In this case, his call was basically on all parties to do what is necessary to allow for people to move out of harm’s way.  And he is continuing to make that effort, although, as he pointed out yesterday, the efforts that they were doing have been unsuccessful.


Question:  Just to follow up, please, I am sorry.  Thank you.  What incident prompted the Saturday statement?  It’s been a dangerous mission all along, and in the statement it says that the violence has been intensifying for ten days.  There had to be something that prompted General Mood to say, okay that’s it; that’s the last straw, everybody is going back to quarters.  What happened?


Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not simply a question of any one incident.  We have been saying for quite some time now about the intensification of the violence: the Secretary-General called attention to it; the Joint Special Envoy, when he visited here the week before last, called attention to it and General Mood has been doing the same on the ground.  At some point, for operational purposes, the patrols were not able to go about their duties.  The observers have not been able to go to the areas that they wanted to go to, because of the high level of fighting; they were being placed at extreme risk, and General Mood therefore had to make this call which, as I just said, is going to be reviewed every day to see whether conditions will permit the observers to actually carry out the duties that they have been wanting to do.  Matthew?


Question:  Just, just to follow up on, on, on Friday night or Friday, the, the, the, the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] put a, sent a notice to the Security Council members, saying:  In view of the upsurge in armed conflict, we are restricting ourselves.  And what I, I am wondering is, I had written both to you, Martin Nesirky, to understand what the sequence of events was, was, it’s signed by it seems like Mr. [Edmond] Mulet, E.M.S., it says, it says on the documents, so you are saying it’s a mystery, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s General Mood’s statement, but what explains this filing on Friday, the gap between Mr. Mood announcing it on Saturday and then on Sunday, he seems to be saying that they have already, they have already reconsidered, because he is offering to witness the withdrawal of civilians, so it doesn’t seem to kind of make sense.  Can you square those together?


Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, the Saturday and Sunday statements don’t contradict each other.  They are separate calls:  Sunday, he is calling to see whether there is a way that the parties would allow for this to happen; in other words, for people to be led out of harm’s way.  So far that hasn’t happened.  The patrols that were suspended as of Saturday, in terms of that announcement, those patrols remain suspended as of now.  But at the same time, as he said on Saturday in his announcement, this is something that will be reviewed daily to see whether the observers can carry out their tasks.


Question:  Just one follow up, because there the, the, the notice that he sent to the Security Council, which Inner City Press obtained and published on Friday, says that it is six o’clock local time on Friday they suspended operations.  It gives the time and it refers specifically to an upsurge in armed conflict.  So I, I, I, back to this question of, like, what is, what time frame is he talking about, this increase in… because many people look at it and they don’t see a difference on Thursday, today’s previous.  Obviously it’s a bad situation, but what led — the question is very direct — what led to, to this notice to the Security Council that, as of 6 o’clock Syria time on Friday, they would return to their hotels, as some put it?


Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t comment about the notice to the Security Council.  The official announcement, like I said, was the one that General Mood made on Saturday, and that announcement and the decision, which is the important part – the decision to suspend patrols was in fact the result of intensified fighting.  We have been warning about the impact of intensified fighting for days – both from here and on the ground from Damascus.  And the basic point was that, after evaluating the circumstances of the previous days of intensified fighting, the decision was taken that since the patrols could not be conducted the way that we intended for them to happen; since the observers could not carry out their tasks without undue risk, it was wise at that point to suspend patrols.


Question:  One, can I ask you one last question on this…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, hold on; we can go back to you.


Question:  Okay.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I just, I guess apart from that, I wanted to ask:  have any observers, there was a report last week of observers being held off at a checkpoint, I think in Hama, and then as they turned around and returned, they were being shot at and it was never determined necessarily who shot at them.  Have any observers been hurt or wounded over the course of the mission, at all?  Has anyone been hit or hurt?


Associate Spokesperson:  No.  In fact in the case of the previous week’s incidents, even despite the intensified fighting… yes, there have been many incidents in which observes had been shot at; our vehicles have been shot at; a couple of times the fixed areas where they are based have also received impact from different types of crossfire.  But, over that period of time, no, no observers were injured.  We were very lucky, but there were a number of close calls.  Yes, please?


Question:  Can I ask a non-Syria-related question?  Does the UN have any comment about the Ethiopian court convicting a UN security officer of terrorism?  His name is Abdurahman Sheikh Hassan, and we’ve reached out to WFP [World Food Programme] as well, and they won’t comment, so I was just wondering if you could give us some comment.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, the one thing I can tell you about that is we will look into this matter, and we will work with the competent Ethiopian authorities to receive clarifications regarding the charges.  Beyond that, I don’t have anything to say on it.


Question:  And just one other question; do you know if he negotiated the release of World Food Programme personnel?


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, beyond what I just said, I wouldn’t have any further comment about this individual. Yes, please?


Question:  Were there discussions before the General Mood announcement, and even before had a consultation with the Security Council or, or General Secretary or Kofi Annan… I mean, how did it, when he took the decision, we know the decision is his, but did he, did he consulted with the, with the other people?     


Associate Spokesperson:  I think you can take it for granted that General Mood’s decision was preceded by widespread consultations among all the various interested parties, including the Secretary-General and the members of the Security Council.  Yes?


Question:  I just came and I don’t know if somebody asked this question or not; does the United Nations have a kind of idea about Moscow talks right now between Iran and the E3+3?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, well, we did comment on this last week.  We don’t have anything further to say beyond what Martin Nesirky said on the talks at the end of last week.  But I can share that with you if you need it.  Yes?


Question:  I just want, the, the, the, finish off this, this sequence; you are saying that the, the official announcement was, was Mr. Mood’s statement in, in, in Syria on Saturday, but…


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  I mean, again, I am sure you have seen this, it’s, it’s not, not a question of leaked or not, it was a, it was a document provided to all members of the Security Council on Friday saying this is a notice, information provided on behalf of DPKO, notice on UNSMIS, saying that it stopped as of six o’clock Friday, p.m., I mean, 18, 1800.  So this is official, is that not an official notification? That’s why I am just wondering.


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, the official announcement is the one that General Mood made on Saturday.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  If there was no specific incidents that prompted General Mood to pull his monitors from the field and send them back to quarters, uh, and, and, and as you answered, his question before that, his decision making was based on consultations with the SG and other interested parties as you said, does that represent any kind of a philosophical change in the mission at all?  Because if nothing directly happened on the ground to get them to go back to quarters, and if he did consult with higher-ups here at the UN, has there been some sort of a change in the mission at all?  Have they had a change of heart somehow?  I mean, it’s Security Council-mandated and you said earlier that they’re trying day by day to make a decision to get back out to the field; but if nothing happened…


Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not that nothing happened.  The observers tried to carry out their duties; they were blocked in some areas, as we reported; they were shot at in other areas, as we reported.  More importantly, there was an intensification of fighting that has done immense harm to the people of Syria, as we have also reported.  At some point, that affects the ability of the observers to carry out their duties in the way that they are mandated to do. And the evaluation was, after day upon day upon day of this, that it was time to suspend the patrols.  General Mood has made it very clear that they will continue to review it and see whether the patrols can once again go ahead as they were intended.  The observers want to be able to carry out their duties.  But at some point, it’s simply untenable that they are either blocked or shot at, and specifically that the conditions on the ground are such that it is not even simply a question of monitoring whether a cessation of hostilities is holding.  The fighting is happening, as you can see, in many, many areas.  Yes?


Question:  Yes.  Because this, the, the mission was very dangerous, we knew from the beginning. Because a part of the duty of monitoring the mission had, I think had a, a preventive if you want it, if the situation, the, the, how you can say it, the attackers and we are talking about, could be from the Government or from, or from the opposition, had always this the fear, if you want, well, maybe fear is not the right word.  But, at least the … uh, they could always, now that the monitor could spot them in doing some atrocity.  When the General announced that they were practically not doing their duty anymore, because of the danger situation, that automatically, I think, takes away any, any refrain, if you want, from, from whoever is committing atrocity against the civilian population.  So, in taking the decision, was this really, I mean, whatever consultation was done, in a situation like it was in Homs and everything, did they really realize that that was taking away the only, the last refrain, if you want, on committing these atrocities?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, let me emphasize once more:  the observers want to carry out their duties.  It’s very important that they are there as the eyes and the ears of the world on the ground.  And that they can verify what is happening on the ground.  But lacking the ability to do that in any real significant fashion, they had to suspend their activities for the time being.  As soon as we can have the patrols out on the streets doing their work that they are meant to do, we would like to be able to do that.  And that’s what General Mood has made clear.  But the circumstances have not allowed that in recent days.


Question:  Let me complete what I was trying to say:  The announcement, why the announcement was necessary.  What I am saying is, if the General thought that the situation was very, very dangerous, he could simply, in a very secretive way, suspend the monitoring, but without the announcement, because that will, will, yes, that will leave the party that commits atrocity thinking that the monitors could always show up.  The point is, as soon as you just announce officially, like they did, that they were withdrawing from monitoring, they left the field open.


Associate Spokesperson:  The announcement was made precisely because they were not able to go about their duties in the way that we have intended for them to do.  Once they are able to do that, we will try to bring them out on the field once more.  That can happen at any point once the circumstances on the ground allow it.  But the parties ultimately are the ones responsible for making sure that the conditions on the ground allow for this to happen.  And I do think that in the coming days other parties, including the Security Council, may discuss this matter further and see whether we can make some progress towards allowing for an actual effective presence on the ground again.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I’ll try to do this fast.  I want to ask about Sudan, Sri Lanka and then press freedom.  On Sudan, there have been these protests in Khartoum in which it is reported that tear gas, arrest of students, mostly about austerity measures announced by President [Omar Hassan al] Bashir, I wonder, does the UN have any comment; do they view this as part of the Arab Spring, so-called, or as a result of the cutting off of oil, uh, you know, of, of, of, of oil revenue from the South Sudan and, and does the UN, I mean, it seems like it has had a long-time presence in Sudan; what, what does it make of these protests and arrests?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any thoroughgoing comments on this, beyond saying that in all such cases, we have repeatedly called on leaders to listen to the legitimate demands of the people. And we would do so here.  And as you know, the right of people to peaceful assembly and to the expression of their views is something that should be upheld everywhere.


Question:  Thanks a lot, that’s, that’s helpful.  On, on Sri Lanka, I just wanted to ask you this, it, it, it, you know, it emerged last week and I have been thinking, thinking it through that that panel that was supposed to review the UN’s own performance that was announced in September with a four-month mandate under Thoraya Obaid, last week it turned out that she never took the post, Charles Petrie took the post and I just wanted to know:  I wasn’t able to get this, what is the new time frame, where does it stand and when, since it, when it was first began, it was said it was a four-month time period it seems fair to ask:  what is the new extended time period?


Associate Spokesperson:  We will give them the time that they need to go about their work.  There was a delay in the start of their duties precisely because we needed to make sure that it would be headed by someone who could do the duties throughout the time.  So now Charles Petrie is in charge of that; Mrs. Obaid was not able to do those duties.  And we will give them the time to do the work that needs to be done.


Question:  So when did he start… can, is it possible, possible, maybe you don’t know, have that date now, but is it possible to know what date he actually has begun?


Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check what the start date was, yeah.


Question:  And a question, and this is, this is sort of a follow-up question; there was, there as some controversy here, and I went back and looked at it, in 2009 there was a meeting and a memo by Angela Kane to the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about a meeting she held with among others, Patricia O’Brien, who is still the chief Legal Counsel, and Mike Meyer, the Communications Director. And in it, they, they proposed, as to three media organizations, including Inner City too, ‘we propose writing to professional journalistic bodies which regulate the journalist concerned’, uh, et cetera, et cetera, about inaccurate reporting and demanding re.., uh, retractions and, and, and rights of reply.  Um, I wanted to know now at this stage, can you find out and give a yes or no answer whether in fact the proposal by Ms. Kane to Ban Ki-moon was ever in fact implemented and whether any such writing to professional journalistic bodies ever took place?


Associate Spokesperson:  I know that you are in touch with my colleagues in the News and Media Division; I think you should just follow up further with them.  If there is any follow-up on that, it would be with them.


Question:  There’s no DPI [Department of Public Information] angle in this, with Kane, O’Brien, Meyer.  So, unless, I am not in touch with any of those three, and Ms. O’Brien never holds press conferences, so I am asking your office to get an answer to whether this actually took place or not.


Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage I think you have been involved in discussions with the News and Media Division, you know; they may have some follow-up information for you.  I don’t have any at this stage.


Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record