|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.
**Small Arms Review Conference
The Deputy Secretary-General delivered a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf at the Second Review Conference on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which began here this morning.
He said that more than half a million people are killed by small arms and light weapons each year. Civilians suffer most — particularly the poor. Mr. Eliasson said that, since the adoption of the Programme of Action in 2001, some progress has been made in tackling the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons, but many States still lack the capacity to exercise effective control over small arms and light weapons and to stem the flow of illicit weapons across their borders. We have the full message in my office.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has strongly condemned the murder of 17 Afghan civilians, including two women who were reportedly beheaded, in Kajaki District in the southern province of Helmand today. The Mission said that this criminal act is unjustifiable and totally disregards the sanctity of human life. The UN Mission has repeatedly stated that the killing of civilians is a clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws, and has called for the perpetrators of such reprehensible acts to be brought to justice.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed its deep concern at reports that fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in the north-eastern Al Abasia area of South Kordofan State is causing significant civilian displacement.
The United Nations is working with the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission and humanitarian workers on the ground to determine how many people have been affected and the locations to which these people have fled. Insecurity and impassable roads have made access to this area difficult; however, food assistance, health supplies and household items have been delivered to some affected people. Additional assistance is being mobilized.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has condemned an attack by armed insurgents against South Sudanese troops in Jonglei State. The incident is reported to have taken place last Thursday and to have claimed the lives of 24 soldiers, with many more missing and wounded. The Mission says it believes the attack was deliberately intended to undermine progress made in improving the security environment and in forging reconciliation among the communities in Jonglei State.
The UN Mission provided support to the South Sudanese armed forces to help evacuate the wounded. And it is also providing aerial transport to local government officials so they may visit communities in the area. UN human rights teams are also investigating the course of events. We have a press release with more details in my office.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the number of deaths in Haiti caused by Tropical Storm Isaac stands at 13, with 27 people injured. The situation in Haiti in the aftermath of the storm, which hit the country early on Friday morning, is gradually normalizing, but there is still the risk of floods and landslides. People in temporary evacuation shelters have started returning home, and distribution of food and household items has also started. In the longer term, concerns remain over food security associated with crop losses due to the recent drought and now Tropical Storm Isaac.
Maxwell Gaylard, the senior UN humanitarian official in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said in a report today that Gaza’s problems in water and electricity, education and health will only get worse over the coming years unless remedial action is taken now. He says that Gaza will have half a million more people by 2020, while its economy will grow only slowly. As a result, the people of Gaza will have an even harder time getting enough drinking water and electricity, or sending their children to school. We have a press release in my office with more details.
Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, has expressed his concern over the continuing delays in finalizing the list of the Members of Somalia’s Parliament. Mr. Mahiga said over the weekend that the delays might threaten the electoral calendar. He said that Somalia is just a few critical steps away from fully ending the transitional period. Mr. Mahiga added that the international community must support this effort to ensure that the complete number of the new Somali lawmakers begin their vital work immediately.
**Syria — Refugees
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued an urgent appeal today for more than $50 million to help the growing number of Syrian refugee children and their families arriving in Jordan. Some 17,000 people — half of them children — are sheltering at the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan, but these numbers are on the rise as hundreds of new refugees arrive each day from Syria. Over the weekend, more than 2,000 people crossed the border into Jordan in a single night. The Fund said that it expects that, by the end of the year, there will be 70,000 people at the Za’atari camp, where conditions are harsh.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says that more than 1.6 million people will need food aid in Zimbabwe during the peak hunger season, which begins in January. It follows a 33 per cent decrease in the national cereal harvest this year. The decrease is due to late and erratic rains and poor agricultural practices. The UN food agency, in collaboration with the Government, will intensify operations to meet the growing need. Food will be distributed and cash transfers will be provided to vulnerable people. And more details are available on this online.
Questions, please? Yes, Lou?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Martin, thanks. There have been reports in the Iranian press that the Secretary-General might be taken to nuclear facilities, such as the enrichment plant in Natanz and the conversion facility in Isfahan. I just wondered if this was potentially part of his plan while he is in Iran for the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] Summit.
Spokesperson: There are no such plans for visits of that kind by the Secretary-General while he is in Iran for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit. Of course, if the Iranian authorities are prepared to provide access to others, not least, of course, those from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that would be welcome. But I think that would be for the Agency itself to comment on, particularly with regard to the access they may already have at two those locations that you mentioned. Yes, Sylviane? Nice to see you.
Question: Regarding what’s happening in Aleppo and the Christians under fire, there are a lot of lootings and the Christians are really under a dire situation. Is there any concern or any reaction from the Secretary-General on this particular event, on the Christians?
Spokesperson: Well, I think those concerns are, of course, there for the Christian community and for all communities, because, after all, civilians, regardless of their background, are really suffering terribly, including, of course, in these reports that we’ve hearing just over the weekend from Daraya, where potentially hundreds of civilians have been killed just in recent days. And I can tell you that the Secretary-General is certainly shocked by those reports and he strongly condemns this appalling and brutal crime. And it underscores, as in the case of Aleppo, wherever there are atrocities, whoever is responsible needs to be held accountable. And it underscores again the lack of protection for civilians that there is in Syria and the urgent need that there is to prevent further loss of life. In the case of what we have seen, where hundreds of civilians have been killed in Daraya, this needs to be investigated immediately in an independent and impartial fashion. And obviously, that is something that we would be looking to take place as quickly as possible. And also, I do know that my colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are doing their best under the circumstances to try to gather information on this latest incident. Okay, other questions? Yes, Ali?
Question: After all that is happening in Syria, does the Secretary-General believe that President [Bashar al-]Assad of Syria could be… could take part in any possible dialogue, national dialogue, within the country?
Spokesperson: Well, I think what we said repeatedly is that there is a clear need for there to be a move, as quickly as possible, from bloodshed to political dialogue. Something I mentioned just a second ago: everybody understands that the only way out of this is through a political solution and that has to be led by the Syrian people, so that the aspirations of the Syrian people can be correctly met; but it’s going to be for the Syrian people themselves to decide what form that takes. The international community is there to help, but ultimately, any transition would have to be led by the Syrian people. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I have some other questions, but I wanted to ask you about a follow-up on Iran. There’s also a publication there saying that the Secretary-General will attend a meeting of the parliament with Ali Larijani on Wednesday. Is that… does he have any plan to attend any Iranian Government, either functions, or meet with bodies there while he is there?
Spokesperson: Well, we’ve said that the Secretary-General will be meeting Iranian officials. And as I’ve said, it’s his expectation that he will be meeting the Supreme Leader, the President and other senior officials. I believe that he will have an opportunity to interact with some members of the Iranian Parliament.
Question: Because I wanted to know, I wanted to get your response to this. Their articles there say this meeting comes, “after Iranian parliamentarians criticized the UN chief for his biased attitude towards human right issues in Muslim States”. Is that your understanding of the agenda or…?
Spokesperson: As I said, there would be a possibility for some kind of interaction, I believe. And I think that any discussion that’s had will cover a wide range of topics. It’s the nature of conversation that the interlocutor may bring up other topics. Other questions? Yes?
Question: Regarding the Secretary-General’s recent trip to the Balkans, the Croatian President had criticized a statement made by Serbian Vuk Jeremić, who ran against Lithuanian Ambassador [Dalius] Cekuolis for presidency of the General Assembly, when Jeremić recently said Kosovo will become a member of the UN over his dead body. Was there any specific reaction from the Secretary-General on this inappropriate statement?
Spokesperson: Well, I would suggest that you take a look at what the Secretary-General said while he was visiting Belgrade. I think he addressed this topic quite clearly, and I would refer you to that. Yeah?
Question: Sure, I want to ask, this report from Myanmar that two or maybe three, it’s unclear, UN staff members have been sentenced to jail for what the Government calls their roles in Rakhine State violence. Is that the case? How long they have been sentenced for, and what’s the UN doing about it?
Spokesperson: At the moment, we don’t have any formal information from the authorities, although we have asked for that. The country team in Yangon has received information that a court in Maungdaw has sentenced three people — one from the UN refugee agency, one from the World Food Programme (WFP) and a third person who works for a partner organization of the refugee agency; so, in other words, not a UN person — and in all three cases, apparently in connection with the violent incidents in Rakhine State in June. However, as I say, we don’t have any formal notification from the authorities there. We have consistently said that formal and precise charges would need to be provided to us before any action is taken by the Myanmar authorities. And I’d like to stress that again here. Just one final point is that the detained staff should be treated in accordance with all the applicable international conventions and immunities that they may be entitled to. If I have anything further on this, I will let you know.
Question: Okay, yeah. Also, I wanted to ask, I saw the readout, thanks, on Saturday of the Secretary-General’s call with the King of Morocco. I just wanted to, I mean, I understand the Western Sahara portion of it, but there is some question of… did the topic of… are you aware if the topic of Mali or an envoy to Sahel was discussed? I know it’s something that the Moroccan mission is raising a lot of issues about in the [Security] Council, but I wanted know whether… the Secretary-General spoke with the royal family in Saudi Arabia and Qatar about northern Mali. Did this issue come up with in this Moroccan call?
Spokesperson: Well, what I have is what was circulated. If I have any further information, then I will let you know, but at this point, I don’t. Okay. Other questions please? Yeah, yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. On Côte d’Ivoire, there was over the weekend, maybe it’s Friday, there was an incident between, again, the army and what’s described as supporters of the former President, Laurent Gbagbo. I just, I didn’t see any reports… any either UN peacekeeping mission involvement, but I wonder, one, is there a response, and two, does this change anything in the idea of… I know there were some ideas of downsizing or pulling a battalion out of Abidjan. What’s… it seems like… maybe this is wrong, but does the UN see it that violence is picking up, and what’s their response to it?
Spokesperson: Well, I think it’s self-evident that there has been a recent spate of violent incidents, including over the weekend, and I will check again with our colleagues in the mission there if they have any further information on that, but I don’t have anything right now. Yes, Joanna?
Question: Thank you, Martin. The French President, [François] Hollande, just made a speech, right now actually, and said he called on the Syrian opposition to create a provisional Government, and he said that France will recognize it. Do you think that, should this happen, the United Nations Secretary-General would recognize it like France would?
Spokesperson: Well, the recognition or otherwise of bodies of that kind, should they come to pass, is really a matter for Member States rather than for the Secretary-General. What we have said consistently is that there needs to be a greater unity of purpose among the opposition, but with regard to what the President has said, according to you, I don’t have any further comment at this point.
Okay. All right. Thanks. Have a good afternoon. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record