22 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, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General in Rio


This morning, the Secretary-General met with representatives of the People's Summit in Rio de Janeiro.  He said that civil society has helped to promote greater corporate social responsibility, and added that the road doesn't end in Rio, but in many ways starts there.


The Secretary-General later met with the Chief Executive Board, which brings together the heads of the United Nations system, and highlighted what the UN system is doing to support sustainable development and advance the decisions taken at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.


The Secretary-General will also continue his schedule of bilateral meetings with leaders attending the Rio+20 Conference and he will speak at the closing of the conference.  We’ll provide his remarks later today.  The Secretary-General is scheduled to be back in New York this weekend.


I’d like to add that, since the Secretary-General launched an online global conversation on the Future We Want last November, well over 50 million people have joined in on social media platforms.  On Twitter — in English alone — the #RioPlus20 hashtag has been seen more than 1 billion times.


** Syria


Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy for Syria, and Major General Robert Mood, the Force Commander for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), met in Geneva earlier today and spoke to the press there.


The Joint Special Envoy urged all parties to heed the call for a cessation of violence in all its forms.  And he said that it is time for countries of influence to raise the level of pressure on the parties on the ground.


Mr. Annan said that he has been in intensive consultations with a number of ministers and officials about the possibility of convening a meeting to determine what action is needed to ensure the implementation of Security Council resolutions.  Details about that meeting are still being worked out.


** Syria — Humanitarian


Also on Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that up to 1.5 million people need humanitarian assistance inside the country.


In the governorate of Idlib, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent says that 350,000 people are now in need of assistance—an increase of 150,000 people since March this year.  In Homs, 250,000 people need humanitarian help.


The World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Ministry of Health, has found that only 50 per cent of hospitals in seven governorates are fully functioning.


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that more than 86,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.


More than 460,000 people have received World Food Programme (WFP) assistance as of mid-June.  This aid will increase next month, with the Programme planning to reach 850,000 people.  And this aid is being distributed through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.  And there is more information on all of this in the Geneva briefing notes.


** Nigeria


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that more than 100 people have been killed in Nigeria since last Sunday after several churches were attacked by the Boko Haram group.  Thirty of those people were killed in the initial attacks at the churches in Kaduna in the north of the country and the subsequent retaliation by Christian youths.  The rest were reportedly killed in clashes between security forces and Muslims.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has condemned the repeated attacks by Boko Haram on places of worship and on religious freedom.  She said that these were blatant attempts to stir sectarian tensions and violence between two communities that have lived together peacefully for so long.  She added that systematic attacks against a civilian population, on grounds such as religion or ethnicity, would amount to crimes against humanity.


** Myanmar


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that it is very concerned about the reports of the tense and fragile situation in the areas affected by the recent violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.  Even though the situation appears calm, the Agency says that it is receiving reports of violence and new displacements.


Its staff has visited camps for the uprooted in Sittwe, and they are concerned about possible outbreaks of disease due to poor water supplies and sanitation during a time of heavy rains.  The Agency continues to distribute supplies and emphasizes that it provides aid impartially based on need, regardless of the background and origin of the victims of the recent disturbances.  And there is more information available on the Agency’s website.


**Secretary-General’s Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone as his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  Ms. Bangura will replace Ms. Margot Wallström of Sweden.  Ms. Bangura is currently serving as Minister of Health and Sanitation for the Government of Sierra Leone.  We have more information on this appointment in my office.


**Press Conferences Today


Today at 2:00 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press briefing organized by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute on the Conference on Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Risks Mitigation, which is taking place all day today in Conference Room 1 of the North Lawn Building.


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


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Today in that briefing that you are talking about, that Mr. Annan gave with Mr. Robert, General Robert Mood, he suggested in that that Iran has to be part of any solution to the Syrian crisis.  Does the Secretary-General agree, concur with this point of view?


Spokesperson:  We had this question yesterday, and the Secretary-General has answered that in the affirmative quite recently.  Yes, and then Erol?


Question:  Hours ago, Kofi Annan announced that Iran is part of the solution for the Syrian crisis.  What’s United Nations position on this?


Spokesperson:  I think I just answered that question.  Yes, Erol?


Question:  Martin, first of all, before I ask you another question: Ms. Margot Wallström is going when?  And why is she going, is there any…?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think it was announced some time ago that Ms. Wallström would be leaving for personal, for family reasons.  I do not have right here with me the handover dates, but I am sure that we can get them.


Question:  Can I go to another question?


Spokesperson:  Sure.


Question:  There is a report that Greece is doing the, a practice, covering the plates of cars from Macedonia with the signs of “MK”, which stands for Macedonia, with FYROM, which stands for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  Now, according to the Greek clear zone office in Skopje, they confirm the new practice, saying the country had a right to do this under the 1995 UN Interim Agreement.  Now, my sources, diplomatic sources, Macedonian diplomatic sources are saying this is contrary, in violation of this agreement.  Since this is a UN agreement, what you say?


Spokesperson:  Nothing at the moment because I’ll need to find out a little bit more about that.  But thank you for the question.  Okay, Matthew, and then Tim?


Question:  Sure, two Sudan questions:  One is, is, and I know that there, there was a difficulty in confirming fighting in Southern Kordofan, but there are now reports of aerial bombardment inside Sudan and Blue Nile State; that this is being reported at least by the media, by people fleeing the country to, to Kilo 18 refugee transit centre in South Sudan.  So I am wondering whether UNMISS, the Mission in South Sudan, is able, is, is interviewing these people, is able on this basis to have something to say about the alleged aerial bomb, bombardment of civilians in Blue Nile State in Sudan.


Spokesperson:  Let’s check on that.


Question:  Okay.  And also, there’s a reporter, an Egyptian reporter, Salma El-Wardany, who was arrested in Khartoum, covering this student and anti-austerity protests, and I’m, I know that there was a previous question.  I am just wondering it seems like there is an, there is more and more protests about austerity and there is also more and more closing of newspapers, et cetera, and, and, I am yet to see, maybe I am not looking at the right places, that UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], that given the UN’s involvement, Mr. [Haile] Menkerios and others, is the UN aware of this, what are, what are they saying?  Do they ever contact the Government about reporters being arrested or newspapers being closed?


Spokesperson:  Well, you are right that UNESCO typically handles matters related to journalists; that’s part of their mandate.  There may be other channels that are used that are… it could be through a political presence if there is one in a given country.  That isn’t the case here.  If I have any other information on this, then obviously I’ll let you know.  But I don’t have anything at the moment.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Does the UN have an update on events in Homs, on the situation with the people trapped there?  Also there is a report about, which was sent to the Secretary-General, on the Houla massacre; what, what will happen to this report?


Spokesperson:  On the first question, I think General Mood did address this in the press conference that was given in Geneva a little earlier.  So, I would refer you to what he has said.  And on the second, on al-Houla, I think I have mentioned that already.  There is a report that was received by the Secretary-General; it’s been given to the relevant parts of the Organization and will in due course be given to the [Security] Council.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about, I know that on Monday, eh, eh, eh, a reporter here from the BBC had asked you about the case in, in Ethiopia where a UN staff member was found guilty of terrorism for having met or allegedly met with the Ogaden Liberation Front.  You said that the UN was asking the Government for clarification.


Spokesperson:  Well, actually it was Farhan, it was Farhan.


Question:  Okay, okay, that’s right, I, I, I, I, I, your office, to put it that way.  Now the, now the individual, Abdulrahman Sheikh Hassan, has been sentenced to seven years in prison.  So I wonder:  Did the UN in the interven… get any clarification from the Government and is the UN lodging any protest at the imprisonment of its own staff member for speaking to a rebel group?


Spokesperson:  We’re obviously aware of these reports, and if I have anything further beyond what was said on Monday, then I’ll let you know.  Masood, and then Tim.


Question:  About this, this, General Mood’s press conference in which he was talking about suspension of the Mission and so forth; has it been determined as to when… I mean, he is saying that until the violence has abated, the UN will not succeed, eh, resume its Mission, the observer Mission.  Is the Mission now still on the hold, or is it in the process of being reviewed?


Spokesperson:  I think General Mood has expressed quite eloquently what the position is at the moment, and I don’t think I need to paraphrase or précis what he has said in Geneva just barely a couple of hours ago.


Question:  But, I mean, what is your understanding, I mean, let me not say your understanding, the United Nations’ understanding from General Mood, because it is suspended; is it time to begin it again?


Spokesperson:  As I have said, General Mood has spoken quite clearly about this; I don’t have anything further on that.  I think he spelled it out quite clearly what the position is, both on the suspension of activities, what the Mission can and cannot do under those circumstances, and also about the mandate of the Mission, the duration of the mandate of the Mission as currently configured. So, there is nothing further to add to that.  Tim?


Question:  Can you update us on the status of Mr. [Christopher] Ross’ mission in Western Sahara?  He is going to be holding talks in Geneva, I think in June or July, and he announced he was going to the region as well; we have no news of that.  And then yesterday the Spanish Foreign Minister had some criticism about Mr. Ross and his mission?


Spokesperson:  Well, just to reiterate the Secretary-General’s full support for and confidence in his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Mr. Ross.  And with reference to media reports that you refer to, let me just say that the Secretary-General underlines that his Envoy has given ample opportunity to the parties to discuss the core issues during the informal rounds of negotiations.  To date, the parties have not moved beyond their initial positions.


So, that’s what I have for you on that.  Okay, other questions?


Question:  I have a few questions on Haiti and then I have one on press freedom; hopefully you will welcome other questions.  On Haiti, there is a group called the Collective Organization for Reparations for Cholera Victims, and that sort of speaks for itself.  They, they’ve said that on Friday, 15 June, that MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] soldiers came to the State University, Faculty of Social Sciences, quote, “carrying heavy weapons to act aggressively and intimidate students and professors”. They also, they had some litany of May, May 24, from another university, what, I guess what they are claiming is that, where people gather to discuss who caused Haiti cholera and, and what the, what the next steps should be, then in fact MINUSTAH arrives in armed fashion.  And somehow, I can assume that MINUSTAH will, will deny that, but I am wondering, is that, are, are, are, is, is the UN here that, while it is studying the claims, is it aware of these claims and, and, and, and, and is it uh, is this true or is it false, that MINUSTAH goes into, you know, autonomous universities to pursue people who are discussing the cholera issue?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to ask the Mission.


Question:  And this will be, it’s a pretty generic question, so I won’t even preface it by saying uh, uh, how calm it is going to be, it will just be calm.  The, the, the guidelines here, it’s very generic, the Media Accreditation guidelines state that, that, that a person has to be with an organization formally registered as a media organization in a country.  And this is on the UN’s website, it is stated as, as the requirement.  And I just wanted, this is, maybe it will be rebutted you know, here or, or later today, in the United States, the media doesn’t have to be registered in any way with the, with the Government; that’s the whole purpose of the First Amendment.  So, I am wondering how it is that the UN has a requirement that’s contrary to, to the First Amendment of, of its own host country?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that, Matthew, okay?


Question:  The thing is that, the reason I am asking you, because I don’t want to waste your time, but I have put a series of questions, to…


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a question of wasting my time.


Question:  Okay, maybe they will answer them all in bulk as they accumulate, I don’t know.  That’s the question.


Spokesperson:  Thank you, thanks.  Have a good afternoon and a good weekend.


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For information media • not an official record