9 July 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General has arrived back in New York from Tokyo.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General took part in a major meeting on Afghanistan’s future development and held talks with a number of Japanese and other leaders.


In his remarks to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General said that, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai and his Government, real progress had been made on the path to security and broad-based development.  But he said these gains remained fragile.  He said a failure to invest in governance, justice, human rights, employment and social development could negate the investments and sacrifices that have been made over the past 10 years.


On the sidelines of the Conference, the Secretary-General held bilateral meetings with the President of Afghanistan and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, Pakistan and Iran.  You will have seen that we issued readouts of these meetings.  The Secretary-General also met separately with the Japanese Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and gave a press conference at the Japan National Press Club.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Syria


Kofi Annan, the United Nations-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy for Syria, concluded a visit to Damascus earlier today, saying that he had held a very candid and constructive discussion with President Bashar al-Assad.  He said that they had discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so, and that they had agreed on an approach which the Joint Special Envoy will share with the armed opposition.  Mr. Annan also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue, which he said the President accepts.  We have the Joint Special Envoy’s remarks to the press in Damascus available in our office.


** Libya


In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General warmly congratulated the Libyan people on the occasion of the country’s first election in nearly half a century.  The United Nations looks forward to working with the new leaders of Libya and the youth, women and men who make up its civil society, as they address the challenges of drafting a constitution and building a secure and accountable State.  The Secretary-General trusts that they will do so in a spirit of inclusion, justice and reconciliation among all Libyans.


**South Sudan


South Sudan today marked its one year anniversary with a celebration at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, which was attended by President Salva Kiir and other senior officials from African Governments.


On behalf of the Secretary-General, the UN Special Representative for South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson, said that a lot has been achieved since independence, but more also needs to be done.  The Secretary-General expressed his confidence in the resilience of its people and the wisdom of its leadership, and his hope that South Sudan will overcome any obstacles and succeed in becoming a prosperous nation, based on human rights and the rule of law, and living in harmony with its neighbours near and far.


The Secretary-General noted that all South Sudanese are worried that relations with Sudan have deteriorated, and that the United Nations is doing its utmost, in partnership with the African Union, to help the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan settle all pending differences peacefully.  UNMISS, the UN Mission, has had its mandate extended and will continue, with United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, to support the Government’s efforts to protect its civilians and consolidate peace throughout the country.  He said the United Nations is strongly committed to the work of building a thriving and stable South Sudan.


The World Food Programme (WFP) is working with the people of South Sudan to face the challenge of building a new nation and to overcome food insecurity.  A joint food security assessment by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization found that some 4.7 million people — nearly half the population — will be moderately or severely food-insecure in South Sudan this year.  The World Food Programme plans to feed some 2.9 million people this year in South Sudan.  About one third of these people will receive food assistance through community projects that include converting unused land into farmland, and other activities that help communities improve their food security.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is concerned by the security situation in North Kivu, where the M23 group of mutineers have made advances in the past several days, and occupied Bunagana and several other towns in North Kivu.  The UN Mission has noted reports of M23 pulling out of some of these areas and the Mission is seeking confirmation in this regard.


The Mission has also received unconfirmed reports of human rights violations and other crimes committed in areas where the M23 are present, including an alleged attack on the prison at Rutshuru, apparently leading to the liberation of detainees.  The Mission underscored that the M23 leadership and other responsible parties are accountable for human rights violations and other crimes committed in areas where the M23 elements are present.


**Timor-Leste


In a statement issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General congratulated the people, Government and political parties of Timor-Leste for the peaceful and orderly manner in which parliamentary elections were held on Saturday.  The Secretary-General trusts that the same peaceful and democratic spirit which characterized the elections will prevail during the vote counting and subsequent announcement of the election results.  The full statement is available online.


That’s it for me.  Questions, please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Over the weekend, Sheikh Nimr of Saudi Arabia was shot and abducted and then two people were killed yesterday and four injured by the police.  Is there any statement or any position from the Secretary-General on this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have nothing on that, Nizar.


Question:  How about Nabeel Rajab who was abducted yesterday?  He’s the human rights activist in Bahrain.


Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to check.  I have nothing on that.


Question:  It was published in the French newspaper called Le Monde, Kofi Annan admitted that the peace plan for Syria — and they quote — so far, “failed to end the bloodshed”.  What more can be done to secure implementation for the plan, or what other options exist to address the crisis, especially that the UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic] are no longer monitoring this implementation?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said in my earlier statement, the Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, was in Damascus discussing this with President Assad this morning.  He got the President’s agreements on a certain plan of action, which he will propose to the armed opposition, and that is something that we have to wait and see the outcome of that.  With respect to the Mission, yes, even though it has been suspended, it is still doing work.  It is still doing liaison work.  It is still speaking with people on both sides locally, trying to bring them together and trying to reduce the amount of violence, and the Secretary-General is reporting to the Security Council, suggesting that UNSMIS should retain a military observer capability to conduct effective verification and fact-finding tasks.  So this situation is still being managed by UNSMIS and by Mr. Annan, and we will have to see what the outcomes of these discussions with the President of Syria, and with the opposition, what they will accomplish.


Question:  You were talking about this mutiny in the Congo, the M23.  I guess I wanted to know, the mutineers have said that they have outstanding claims against the Government for being reintegrated into the army dating back to March of 2009.  Given that MONUSCO’s there, does MONUSCO have any role in trying to… what does it think of these mutineers’ claims, and also what does it say about the military presence of MONUSCO that they basically almost took over Goma… could have taken over Goma… are pulling, it’s said, voluntarily?  What is MONUSCO learning from this and what are they going to do?


Deputy Spokesperson:  MONUSCO is aware of various contacts, including the Ministerial Meeting of the International Contact Group of the Great Lakes Region on 11 July, on the margins of the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, and we are encouraging such initiatives aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis.


Question:  Did MONUSCO… I know that they’re… there’s… there’s an Indian battalion, there’s other battalions in North Kivu, did they play any role in trying to stop this advance by M23 or would, did they…?  It seems like they took over a lot of towns and were on the outskirts of Goma pretty quickly, what’s… what’s the role of MONUSCO in terms of protecting civilians in these towns from the mutineers?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to get that information for you exactly as to what happened in this… in this State.  I don’t have this information, the details of that information, or you may want to speak with DPKO about that.  Sir?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that, regarding the protection of civilians in towns taken by M23, MONUSCO says it has provided strategic operational planning and logistical support to the Congolese Armed Forces to help counter the offensive by the M23.  The Mission’s armed helicopters have been used in terms of civilian protection with the intention of impeding the advance of the M23, in close coordination with the Congolese Armed Forces.  The Mission is redeploying its assets to ensure it is present in key forward bases, and is working closely with the Congolese Armed Forces regarding the protection of key population centres in North Kivu.]


Question:  Do you have any details on this new approach Kofi is using in Syria that al-Assad agreed to?  And recently, Russia decided to halt all new arms exports to Syria.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has been very clear on the fact that all countries that have some influence on either side of the problem in Syria should exercise restraint in terms of arming, and that the militarization of the situation is not conducive to a peaceful resolution and to ending the violence.  With respect to the… to what Mr. Annan has discussed with President Assad, no, it is not yet public knowledge.  Mr. Annan wants to discuss with the Syrian opposition first and I imagine, based on the outcome of that, we will get a reading in the next few days or weeks about that.  Matthew?


Question:  About Sudan, Sri Lanka and something about DPRK, if you don’t mind.  On Sudan, there’s been a lot of developments there.  In fact, on Saturday, there were more protests by students and the use of teargas — you know, some say nerve gas — and I’m wondering who in the UN system [inaudible] for the arrest of an opposition leader, Kamal Omer, Populist Congress Party… what’s the… what’s the UN… who’s monitoring it?  I know Mr. Menkerios is in town here, but is there any response by the Secretariat to what people see as an extension of the Arab Spring, or similar to things that Mr. Ban has commented on in other circumstances?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has been quite clear in all of his conversations about the Arab Spring and about movements around the world.  A Government should listen to their people…


Question:  …the use of tear gas and the arrest of opposition leader…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, the Secretary-General, as I told you last week, he fully supports the democratic right of people to protest peacefully and that is something that will continue to be.  Nizar?


Question:  Does that apply to the people of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It applies to everybody, Nizar.  That is a fundamental human right.  The people have the right to democratic protest.  We have been saying that here since, since I can recall.  Okay?


Question:  If you… I mean… I want to ask you this:  it was announced this morning that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is going… is now beginning an investigation of the UN agency WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] for providing technology to DPRK, so I want to ask if there’s a response to that, and also I noticed while he was in Afghanistan that the Secretary-General was asked about DPRK in one of his press conferences and he said he had spoken to the Panel of Experts, meaning the sanctions panel that recently released its report, and… and I wasn’t… I mean, is it possible to know what he discussed with them?  It seems like they’re kind of a factual panel rather than a… decreasing political tensions panel.  What… did… does he routinely meet with sanction panels and if so, what’s on the agenda when he does these meetings?


Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of the Secretary-General’s meetings, they are recorded in the readouts and that is basically what we have to say on that.  With respect to WIPO, yes, we are aware of the reports emanating from the US Congress.  WIPO has said that the technology it has provided is the same technology provided to all Governments in the world in terms of maintaining capacity-building programmes which have been approved by 185 Member States, and that standard technical assistance under this programme may include needs assessment, assistance and planning in the modernization of technical infrastructure in IP offices and training for officials, the provision of WIPO software for IP office automation, the provision of standardized office equipment, etcetera.  As a matter of caution, however, and in light of the concerns expressed recently, WIPO will, in the future, systematically refer relevant cases of technical assistance to countries under UN sanctions regimes to the UN Sanctions Committee.  Nizar?


Question:  I asked several weeks ago about the dissolving of the parliament in Kuwait and we haven’t heard any statements since then.  Do you have anything new about that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I do not have anything on that, Nizar.  When we have something, we’ll get back to you on that.  Last question?


Question:  One question I wanted to ask you, they’ve built up… this one seems more pointed that usual… over the weekend, widely reported in Sri Lanka were comments by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Minister and the brother of the President, who… an investigative journalist telephoned him about using a Sri Lankan plane to go and pick up a dog for his wife in Europe and his response was, “You will be killed.  The people will kill you.”  On the record, he said, “You can quote me.”  So I wanted to know, given the Secretary-General’s… you know, he’s met with Mahinda Rajapaksa, he’s said a lot about the country.  When you have the Defence Minister on the record saying the journalist will be killed for looking into a corruption scandal, what’s… is there any response?  UNESCO hasn’t said anything.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we obviously haven’t seen that report.  If and when we see it and we have something to say on it, we will say it.


Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record