|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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. Welcome to the briefing.
Today, I am joined by Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Ms. Coomaraswamy is here to brief you on her recent trip to Myanmar and the signing of an action plan to release children from the Myanmar armed forces. She will also discuss the signing of an action plan with the Somali national armed forces. Ms. Coomaraswamy, the floor is yours.
[Press conference by Ms. Coomaraswamy is issued separately.]
A few notes and then I’ll take a few questions.
**Secretary-General at Development Cooperation Forum
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the Development Cooperation Forum. The Secretary-General told the meeting that the international community has a shared calling: to lift people out of poverty and support long-term sustainable development. He said the task becomes more urgent each day as inequality between and within countries continues to rise. He added that Governments alone cannot get the job done and that the active involvement and support of all major groups of civil society is needed. There are more details on this in my office.
The Secretary-General on Tuesday called His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar, and on Wednesday, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King of Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to share his concern over the worsening security and humanitarian situation in northern Mali and the wider Sahel region. They discussed the deeply regrettable destruction by Islamist rebel groups of holy sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu and exchanged views on steps that could be taken to stop these unjustified attacks, including through the mobilization of religious leaders in the Islamic community. They also discussed with concern the ongoing violence in Syria and the need to find an urgent solution.
This morning, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for sanctions against groups in Mali that are linked to Al-Qaida. Resolution 2056 (2012) notes the increased terrorist threat, and calls on Member States to “undertake measures to prevent the proliferation of all arms” in the Sahel region. The resolution also expresses “serious concern about the insecurity and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in the region. And the Council condemned the desecration of sites of holy, historic and cultural significance.
Today at 2:15 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference on the impact of Rio+20 on the future of development cooperation. Participants will be Heikki Holmås, Minister for International Development of Norway; Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; and Joanna Kerr, CEO of Action Aid International.
That’s all for me. Questions please? Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In his talk to the King, the monarch of Saudi Arabia, did he impress on him that his clerics should stop issuing edicts calling for the desecration and destruction of such sites like those that were destroyed in Timbuktu?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as I said… from what I said, that is the readout we have on the conversation. We’ll leave it at that. Next?
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the report that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was poisoned?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, there are no comments to be made right now. We understand. We’ve heard the reports that there are legal processes involved to see if they can get to the bottom of the allegations. And we’ll have to see where the investigation leads. Matthew?
Question: I have questions about Syria, Haiti and Sri Lanka. On Syria, there’s been this find apparently from the United Arab Emirates about hand grenades used by the opposition. It seems to be a credible allegation because Switzerland has now stopped all exports of hand grenades to the UAE. The UAE claims that somehow they were stolen from them. And I wonder, since this goes directly to the issue of countries in the region being the source of weapons used in the conflict, does the Secretary-General or UNSMIS have any comment on this?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has been very clear throughout the crisis in Syria that any militarization of the situation in Syria is counter to the interests of the Syrian people in finding a peaceful solution to the differences that they have. He has always said, as has the Joint Special Envoy and has General Mood, that arming both sides is not conducive to a peaceful resolution of the process, and we continue to stand by that.
Question: But what about this specific incident? Has this policy been applied to this find of UAE and in fact Swiss-manufactured hand grenades in Syria?
Deputy Spokesperson: The policy is applied in the sense that the Secretary-General has called on all parties to avoid militarizing the situation in Syria any further than it has been, and for both sides in the Syrian conflict to stop the violence, end the killing and come to some kind of a political dialogue.
Question: So is he critical of the UAE for its hand grenades showing up in Syria or not?
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll have to find out. I’m hearing this from you for the first time this morning, so I don’t know what the reaction…
Question: It’s being widely reported that Switzerland has stopped all exports because of their [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll have to see, but as I said before, the Secretary-General’s position is very, very firm on this. Any militarization of the conflict in Syria is not desirable or conducive. Nizar?
Question: The Palestinians are requesting an international tribunal like that of Al-Hariri, the Lebanese one, in order to establish the truth about how Mr. Yasser Arafat was assassinated?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, this has come to light in the past couple of days. Let’s give the legal processes a chance in the Palestinian territories. And I think they’re asking the Israeli authorities, on reports I’ve seen, to allow the exhumation of the body. Let’s see what the findings are before we get into escalating the tempo of the investigation. Evelyn?
Question: Is there any follow-up on the Iranian Vice-President’s ridiculous comments at a drug conference? I know Mr. Fedotov spoke against it, but I don’t know if this is the end of it or if people are going to follow up.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General made a statement and Mr. Fedotov made a statement. Obviously, we do not agree or accept the condoning of such statements. And I think we’ll leave it at that. Matthew?
[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General has on many occasions called on Iranian officials to refrain from these kinds of anti-Semitic statements. He does so again in response to these latest reported comments. He believes it is the responsibility of leaders to promote harmony and understanding and he deeply regrets expressions of hatred and religious intolerance.]
Question: Sometime ago, I asked about this long article in the Christian Science Monitor called “Will the UN legacy in Haiti be all about scandal?” and it was said that you don’t comment on articles. But there’s now been a letter by Mariano Fernandez, the SRSG of MINUSTAH, and a lot of people are concerned that he said, on the issue of sexual abuse: “I will not evade the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse. They are outrageous and totally unacceptable and they are severely punished.” But what people don’t understand is it seems that the only punishment they can find is of a single one-year sentence to a Pakistani peacekeeper, nothing else for all the various cases raised. And the question is, is that what he is referring to? And does the UN consider one year for rape of a minor to be the severe punishment to which he’s referring?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I would invite you to ask the gentleman to explain what he was saying. Our position on sexual violence is that there is a zero-tolerance policy on sexual violence. Now, as you know, it is not up the United Nations itself to judge the cases of what happens. It’s up to the troop-contributing States. They apply justice and it’s up to them to make sure that justice is served. However, in the cases that I’ve seen recently, people have been identified, they have been removed from their posts and they have been subjected to national jurisprudence. In that sense, that is what has to be done.
Question: Yes, I understand that. It’s really this use of the idea of the “severely punished”. If he said, “we do what we can as the UN and send them back to the country”, then that’s the reality. But he seemed to be claiming that this was a sufficient punishment. And it seemed… and I’m just asking you, is that the UN’s position?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I haven’t seen the reported letter myself, so I’ll have to check in with DPKO to see what they have to say on it.
Question: Just checking, is there an ETA for the Secretary-General’s Syria report?
Deputy Spokesperson: As Martin said on Tuesday, soon. One more question?
Question: Just a Sri Lanka question. They’re starting to build up. On 4 July, a political prisoner, Nimalaruban, in Vavuniya, which is a place which the Secretary-General visited in May 2009, this political prisoner was beaten to death and is dead in Government custody. And it’s been raised by notable figures in Sri Lanka that this should be investigated, that the beating death of a political prisoner and the transfer… there’s still existence of political prisoners after this conflict is over is in a sense a problem. And I’m just wondering… and there have been a number of questions asked here about sort of follow-through by the Secretary-General on the things that he said about reconciliation. So what’s happening with this? Who in the UN system responds when a political prisoner is beaten to death in Government custody?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, normally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I suggest you speak with them, and in the meantime we’ll try to find out on our own if there is anything else.
Okay, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record