28 August 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 Travel


The Secretary-General is leaving New York and travelling to Tehran right now.  As we announced last week, the Secretary-General will be attending the sixteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.


The Secretary-General looks forward to the Summit as an opportunity to work with the participating Heads of State and Government, including the host country, towards solutions on issues that are central to the global agenda, including follow-up to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, disarmament, conflict prevention and support for countries in transition.


The Secretary-General also takes seriously his responsibility and that of the United Nations to pursue diplomatic engagement with all of its Member States in the interest of peacefully addressing vital matters of peace and security.


With respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Secretary-General will use the opportunity to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community on the issues for which cooperation and progress are urgent for both regional stability and the welfare of the Iranian people.  These include Iran’s nuclear programme, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria.  The Secretary-General will have a range of meetings with Iranian officials, and is expected to meet the Supreme Leader and the President.  He will return to New York on Saturday.


**Syria


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that the pace of arrivals from the Syrian border to the Za'atri camp in the north of Jordan has doubled in the past week, from 4,500 a week ago to 10,200 people arriving in the seven days between 21 and 27 August.  More than 22,000 people have been received at Za'atri since it opened on 30 July.


Refugees say that many thousands more people are waiting to cross, following violence around Daraa, and the refugee agency says that this could be the start of a much larger influx.  Some of those who have crossed in recent days report being bombed by aircraft.  There are also reports of shelling, mortars and other weapons-fire.


The refugee agency has received in the camp over the past week an increased number of unaccompanied children.  Some children report that their parents have died or are staying behind in Syria to look after relatives, while others said they were sent ahead of their parents, who will follow later.


UN refugee agency operations in Lebanon are returning to normal, with some improvements in the security situation over recent days.  In Turkey, meanwhile, the number of Syrians arriving at the border has increased dramatically.  Compared to previous weeks, which saw around 400 to 500 people arriving daily, up to 5,000 people have been arriving at the borders every day over the past two weeks.


**Somalia


The United Nations in Somalia condemned yesterday’s killing of an aid worker for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the south of the country.  Since last August, 20 humanitarian workers have been killed in Somalia.


The number of Somalis receiving aid has more than doubled since famine was declared in July 2011.  Today, more than 1.6 million Somalis are receiving food assistance and 1.7 million people have access to clean water.


Attacks on aid workers compromise the UN’s ability to maintain large-scale humanitarian operations and affect the lives of vulnerable Somalis.  The UN reminds all in Somalia of the neutral and impartial nature of humanitarian action and appeals to all parties to permit aid workers to continue to safely serve all those in need in the country, wherever they are.


Also on Somalia, the Security Council just concluded consultations on Somalia this morning.


**Libya


The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, expressed her grave concern today over the destruction and desecration of Sufi shrines and libraries in the Libyan cities of Zliten, Misrata and Tripoli.


Ms. Bokova called on the perpetrators to cease the destruction immediately.  She urged the Libyan authorities and people to exercise their responsibility to protect cultural heritage and sites of religious significance for future generations.  Ms. Bokova also welcomed the Libyan Government’s clear condemnation of the destruction of the sites and said that UNESCO stands ready to provide assistance to protect and rehabilitate them.


**Côte d’Ivoire


We were asked yesterday about recent violent incidents in Côte d’Ivoire.  We can confirm that, on Saturday, 25 August, unidentified armed men in a vehicle opened fire at an Ivorian armed forces checkpoint at Iribo village, 90 kilometres from Abidjan.  One Ivorian soldier, two attackers and one civilian were killed in the ensuing exchange of fire.  The UN peacekeeping mission, UNOCI, reinforced its presence in the area, and continues to monitor the situation.


This incident follows a series of attacks against national security forces and installations, which started on 5 August.  In response, UNOCI has reinforced its coordination and information-sharing mechanisms with national security forces, and is conducting enhanced patrols in sensitive areas.


The UN mission was requested in Security Council resolution 2062 (2012) to reduce its military strength by the equivalent of one battalion, as soon as is practical.  In light of the current deteriorating security situation in parts of the country, UNOCI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are carefully reassessing current threats and risks and operational requirements.  Based on this assessment, the UN mission will develop a plan for the responsible reduction of its uniformed personnel to ensure that it can respond to the evolving situation and effectively implement its mandate.


And that’s all I got.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, on the question of UNESCO condemning the desecration of holy shrines for Sufis in Tripoli, in Zliten and some areas in northern Libya; yesterday, there was a protest outside the United Nations, from Muslims who were protesting the desecration of shrines in Medina and Mecca.  Does the… is UNESCO following on that?  What is the position of the United Nations?  The people, protestors, were asking the United Nations to intervene to stop demolition of such historic sites.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in this case, as with what we just mentioned in Libya, it would be good to touch base with UNESCO.  So please go ahead on that.  And we’ll also try to see what they are saying on that.  Yes?


Question:  I just want to know, did the Libyan Government ask UNESCO for help to maintain these shrines and so forth, or will they themselves voluntarily try to help them?


Associate Spokesperson:  As part of what UNESCO has said in its own press release, which is available on its website, it hasn’t said that it has received any formal request from the Libyan Government.  However, it does stand ready to provide assistance to protect and rehabilitate sites if it receives a request.  Yes, please?


Question:  There is a letter sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his trip to Iran.  Almost 400 Iranian activists have signed it and sent it to him in regard of Mr. [Mir Hussein] Mousavi in so-called house arrest — a lot of Iranians, Iranian political prisoners in jail.  I was wondering if he has seen it and if he has taken any action, or what’s going on?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, the Secretary-General has received a number of communications regarding the trip to Iran.  I wouldn’t comment on whether he’s received this specific one, but he has received a number of communications, and it’s clear that, when he goes there, he will reiterate his concerns that the overall human rights situation in Iran remains critical.  And while his programme has not yet been finalized, he will be directing his message to all segments of the Iranian society and the political spectrum.  Regarding the message on human rights, Iran has an obligation under international law to protect freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression, and allow greater space for media activists, human rights defenders and political activities.


Question:  Could I just follow on this, if I may?  Is he planning to see the previous candidate of Iran that has been under house arrest?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, he expects to have a wide range of meetings.  We will offer more details on the meetings once he is on the ground.  I wouldn’t be able to comment on that one specifically at this stage.  Yes, please?


Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  The Secretary-General called yesterday for an impartial and independent investigation into the killings in Daraya in Syria.  What… what kind of… what format would the Secretary-General seek?  Is it an international investigation?  We know that the Syrian authorities have not allowed the previous inquiry to get into Syria, so how would the Secretary-General see this investigation happen?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I would just reiterate what my colleague Martin [Nesirky] said yesterday, that the Secretary-General does urge an impartial investigation into what happened in Daraya.  As for the details, those aren’t clear at this stage — what is achievable, whether it would be something handled on the ground by the authorities there or internationally.  But what is clear is the essential need for an investigation in the first place.  As for how to follow up on this, our colleagues from the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights are aware of the situation and we will see whether they can obtain further information in the coming days.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  In the background of this Israeli threat to destroy this Iranian nuclear, wherever it is, site, because it says it will produce a nuclear bomb, which Iran says it will not — how will the Secretary-General alleviate fears of the Iranian Government that Israel may attack its facilities?  And what kind of diplomatic measures can be taken to somehow bring the temperature down?


Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly, the Secretary-General, while he is in Tehran, intends to underscore, as he has done on many occasions, that it’s in Iran’s interest to take concrete steps to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.  What that means is that Iran should comply fully with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  But, at the same time, the Secretary-General does continue to uphold that the Iranian nuclear issue can be resolved only by diplomatic and peaceful means, and he will continue to stress that.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you again.  In the Middle East monthly briefing, the new [head of] DPA [Department of Political Affairs], Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman, obviously has changed the language, the UN language, regarding Palestine.  So he never mentioned the occupation.  There is also another point; that he said that the settlements are legitimate while the United Nations has a policy to say this is illegal.  So is he, Mr. Feltman, reflecting the US point of view or UN point of view? 


Associate Spokesperson:  All UN officials represent the view of the United Nations, not of the Member State from which they come.  As a condition of joining the United Nations, you make it clear that you are working as an international civil servant who works in compliance with the ideals of the United Nations and the goals of the UN Charter, and Mr. Feltman is doing that, as with all his predecessors.  As for the briefings, these are periodic briefings that are prepared by the full Department of Political Affairs, and they reflect the views of the UN system and of the Secretary-General.


Question:  Is there… is there any change?  I’m sorry, a follow-up, is there a change in the UN policy regarding how, or the legality of the settlements in Palestine?


Associate Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Is there a change of view regarding the occupied territories?


Associate Spokesperson:  No, there is not.  The UN continues to regard settlement activities as illegal and unhelpful to the peace process, and of course, we continue to be concerned about the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.


Question:  Why has Mr. Feltman changed the language?


Associate Spokesperson:  I would dispute that the language has changed.  There is consistent language from… across periodic reports.


Correspondent:  But the language has changed.


Another Correspondent:  It has changed.  It has changed.  It is public.  It has changed.  You cannot tell us that it has not changed.


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m aware that different people do different briefings, but the UN has consistent positions.  The position on settlement has not changed and it remains consistent.  Yes, Matthew?


[The Associate Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that Mr. Feltman had said in his briefing to the Security Council that “any settlement construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is contrary to international law and should be put to a halt”.]


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about Myanmar and then also Iraq.  Yesterday, it was said that these three… there are three people arrested or jailed in Rakhine State, two from the UN and one was called a partner of the UN.  Now it is reported that [the] President has pardoned the two UN individuals.  I wanted to know if the UN can confirm those pardons.  And also, does the UN have any… is it pursuing the case of this partner?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we are aware of this.  We welcome the release and we hope that the one person remaining in detention will be released.


Question:  I also wanted to ask you about this incident that took place in Camp Ashraf in Iraq.  There is footage of a melee yesterday, in which at least the camp residents say 20 people were hospitalized and there were pictures of an old man with a bashed-in head.  And I wonder, was UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq] present?  What’s UNAMI’s role during this transfer of Camp Ashrafis?  Will it be present at Camp Liberty?  What does it have to say about this incident?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, regarding Camp Ashraf, I believe that we are still trying to get some further details about yesterday’s incident.  There are some details in dispute on that.  As far as that goes, there had been a recent announcement, a little over a week ago, that the next group of 400 residents are willing to commence the move from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya immediately after the Eid holidays, which has just gone past.  So we continue to call upon the remaining residents of Camp Ashraf to also start preparations for additional convoys to Camp Hurriya, in order to peacefully complete the relocation process.  Beyond that, we will need to try to get some further details about what happened.  Yes?


[The Associate Spokesperson later added that UNAMI’s preliminary reports confirmed that yesterday, an incident between residents and Iraqi police led to some light injuries on both sides.  However, the situation returned to normal.  Preparations for the relocation of the next group of 400 residents to Camp Hurriya are continuing and we hope the move will soon be completed.]


Question:  About these incidents, the attacks against holy shrines, they pose a threat [to] peace and security in North Africa, as well as in Iraq, in Syria and other places.  Shouldn’t there be some kind of communications between the United Nations and the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation], in order to stop those who encourage such practices, to stop from coming out with statements encouraging others to do that?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we consistently have called for all such holy sites to be treated with respect and continue to do so.  As you know, we have embarked on a number of initiatives, including what’s called the Alliance of Civilizations, to try to foster respect for all religions and for religious sites, places of respect and places of worship, and so we are continuing with that.  And yes, we do continue to be in touch with organizations such as the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.


Question:  To follow up on that.  Some Governments, Islamic Governments, big ones, have TV stations which are dedicated only to encourage such practices.  I mean, calling such [sites] as “not Islamic”, encouraging people to demolish them.  I’m talking here about Saudi Arabia, in particular.  I mean, shouldn’t they be approached about that? 


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, from our standpoint, what we are trying to do is to continue to foster respect for all places of worship and all sites of religious significance, and we will continue with that, with that approach.  Yes?


Question:  Sure.  Thanks for the answer on Côte d’Ivoire.  I wanted to ask one, I guess, follow-up.  It was said, I guess it was in late July, there were these killings in a camp near Duékoué, Nahibly camp.  It was said by, I guess it was Eduardo [del Buey], there will be an investigation by UNOCI, and there has been… I e-mailed a couple of times, but it was about, maybe by mistake, about an earlier report about killings in Duékoué.  But I wanted to know, did UNOCI ever investigate, not just the killings in the camp, but its own role?  There were people quoted by name and they were pushed into the crowd by UN peacekeepers.  What’s the outcome of that investigation?


Associate Spokesperson:  As I think you were informed, there is an investigation proceeding into that.  If we have further information about the results of that, we will let you know once that comes out.


Question:  Do you have anything on Mombasa, these riots in Kenya?  There are many… I mean, there have been deadly riots on a religious basis in Mombasa and I wonder if there is anybody in the UN system that is aware of it, or has a comment?


Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment on that at this point.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record