4 September 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.


** Syria


The Secretary-General will speak to the Member States of the General Assembly at 4 this afternoon, to discuss the situation in Syria.  The Assembly is meeting one month after its adoption of a resolution [66/253 B] on Syria and expects to hear from both the Secretary-General and the new Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi


The Secretary-General will discuss recent developments and call for support for the Joint Special Representative’s work.  At the same time, he will say that the humanitarian situation is grave and deteriorating, both in Syria and in neighbouring countries affected by the crisis.  However, we are constrained by underfunding.  The $180 million humanitarian response plan is only half-funded.


He will also say that Governments that have generously opened their borders and accepted their responsibility to shelter those who have sought refuge urgently need support.  Today’s open meeting will be televised and webcast.


** Syria — Refugees


And just to underscore the extent of the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian crisis, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has provided this update.  The number of refugees fleeing Syria rose sharply in August, with more than 100,000 people seeking asylum in surrounding countries – the highest monthly total of the Syria crisis to date.  Refugees continue to cross into Jordan at a rate of about 1,000 a day.


In Lebanon this week, the United Nations refugee agency is opening a mobile registration centre in Baalbeck in the eastern Bekaa in response to the increasing number of displaced Syrians who are settling in the area.  There are now more than 59,000 displaced Syrians who are registered or awaiting registration with UNHCR in Lebanon.  According to the authorities, there are currently 80,410 Syrian refugees in Turkey.  The Government of Turkey continues to assure UNHCR that the borders remain open to refugees.  And there is more information available online.


** Lebanon


Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati today about the situation in Lebanon and recent developments and spoke to reporters afterwards.


Mr. Plumbly expressed the hope that all those who have been kidnapped in neighbouring Syria will be released without any further delay.  He added that it is unacceptable that this situation should continue. 


The Special Coordinator and the Prime Minister also discussed the situation on the border, and Mr. Plumbly underlined again the UN’s concern that cross-border incursions and shelling continue.  The discussions also touched on the work of the United Nations in addressing immediate challenges, particularly the situation of Syrians displaced in Lebanon.  And we have a press release with more details on that.


**Food Prices


Three UN agencies have appealed for action on international food prices following fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 world food crisis.  In a joint statement released today, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme say that we need to act urgently to make sure that price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe hurting tens of millions of people over the coming months.


The three UN agencies say that, in response to high food prices, countries must avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions.  They also say that weather has been among the drivers of each of the three international food price spikes in the past five years. They add that the danger will remain until we find a way to make our food system shock proof and climate proof.  The full joint statement is online.


**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that Typhoon Bolaven struck the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea late last month.  State media said that nearly 50 people were killed and more than 21,000 people were made homeless by the storm.


The Office is monitoring the situation and UN agencies stand ready to assist.


More than 160 people have been killed in floods caused by heavy rains in July and August.  Food, health and water and sanitation assistance have been identified as being the most immediate needs.  The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has released $2 million to provide relief.


**Press Conferences


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., here in this room, there will be a press conference by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  That’s to launch the office’s “Global Chemicals Outlook” report.


Then at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Peter Wittig, the President of the Security Council for the month of September and the Permanent Representative of Germany.  And that will concern, obviously, the Council’s Programme of Work for the month.


Questions, please?  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, Martin.  Regarding these recent sentences in Bahrain upholding previous military sentences, do you find them conforming with the [Cherif] Bassiouni report and the requirement to release the jailed people and those who were, their confessions were taken under torture and duress…


Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the reports coming out of Bahrain.  I don’t have anything to add to what we have previously said on this, Nizar.  But should that change, I will let you know.  Yes?


Question:  I would like to thank you for visiting Iran, you and the Secretary-General.  I hope the pastry and food was satisfactory there.  I have two questions, if I may ask.  One is if the Secretary-General had time to visit non-member Governments in Iran, such as oppositions, and talk about human rights?  And the other one is about the sanctions on Iran, which is taking a toll on the blue-collar and the average Joe rather than the Government.  Is it really the aim of the sanctions to do that? Or is it… what’s going on with the sanctions?   


Spokesperson:  Well on the first, the Secretary-General spoke very clearly and publicly about human rights.  You will have heard him do so.  I would urge you, if you have not done so already, to take a look on YouTube.  There, you will find the coverage of the Secretary-General’s remarks made to a group of students and academics at the Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations.  You will also have seen the remarks to the Non-Aligned Movement.  You will have heard also what I had to say from Tehran about the Secretary-General’s meetings. He has spoken very clearly, and he has also said that he raised specific cases.  And I’m not going to go into the detail on that, of course.  But he did raise specific cases with the Iranian authorities.  Did he meet opposition figures while there? No, he did not.  But as I’ve just said, he relayed very forcefully his views on this and the view of the international community that the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran remains critical. 


On the question of sanctions, there are UN Security Council sanctions and there are other sanctions, for example, from the European Union.  And I think that you need to distinguish very clearly between those two different sets of sanctions.  There is obviously an effect on the ground. That’s what those kinds of sanctions are intended to have.  Obviously, there are always concerns that individuals rather than the system as a whole do feel this.  And with regards to the sanctions that are in place from the UN Security Council, for example, related to the nuclear programme, it simply underscores the need for the Iranian authorities to look again at the resolutions and to comply with them, and also to comply with the resolutions coming from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with regards to the nuclear programme.  It’s incumbent upon the Iranian authorities to prove to the satisfaction of the international community that their programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes.  This is a message that the Secretary-General repeated very clearly with all his interlocutors and the Iranian leadership, and in public remarks.  I will come to you, Nizar.  Yes, Masood and then Sylviane?


Question:  I mean, on this, just to follow up on this question.  The international community overall… It seems that the Non-Aligned [Movement] Summit basically gave a tacit approval to Iran’s nuclear programme; not producing nuclear weapons, but they said basically, “get hands off and let them continue with the nuclear programme”.  So you come off with this, saying that there is still doubt that Iran is producing a nuclear weapon, which it says it is not.  So where do you come off that…  


SpokespersonMasood, it is absolutely clear that there remain serious concerns in the international community about the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.  And it’s for the Iranian authorities to dispel those concerns, and it can do so by complying with the relevant resolutions that are in place from the Security Council and with the provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  No one is disputing the right of any sovereign country within the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty arrangement to pursue a nuclear programme for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  It’s simply the concerns about the programme, and it’s for the Iranian authorities to be able to demonstrate that they are in full compliance with the relevant resolutions. 


Question:  Martin, on Syria.  I just wanted to ask, you just gave an update that more and more people are, like almost thousands a day, are going to Jordan and elsewhere and so forth.  Has there been an assessment by the United Nations of the overall refugee situation?  Is there going to be another flash appeal to help the refugees, now that they are increasing?


Spokesperson:  Well, Masood.  That’s precisely what I have just done – is give you the overview, which came from the UN refugee agency today.  They are extremely concerned.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is extremely concerned.  About a number of things on the humanitarian front, yes, the flow of refugees continues into the neighbouring countries and indeed beyond.  There needs to be the funding to support those efforts of the Governments in the surrounding countries, for example, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon.  There needs to be support for the work they are doing very generously to help people who are crossing into their territory.  But in addition, within the country, you have hundreds of thousands of people; the Deputy Secretary-General and Secretary-General have mentioned the figure of 2.5 million people in need of assistance.  Yet, the funding for the appeal, this is a $180 million appeal, is only half there at the moment.  So, clearly this is something that the Secretary-General wishes to underscore when he speaks to Member States — all 193 Member States — this afternoon.  We need to do something about the underfunding and yes, it is being coordinated.  That’s why the refugee agency has been speaking.  That’s why the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been speaking, and you will have heard, during that meeting that was organized by the French presidency, the Security Council was focused on the humanitarian crisis.  Neil?  I beg your pardon.  Sylviane and then Neil?    


Question:  Thank you and welcome back.  On the development on the crisis in Syria and the development on the Lebanese-Syrian border.  It’s becoming like, now it’s starting to become very dangerous.  Is there a need for the deployment of international troops on the border between Lebanon and Syria?


Spokesperson: Well, you all have heard me mention that Mr. [Derek] Plumbly did see the Lebanese Prime Minister today, and there are some details of that conversations that I just mentioned just a little earlier, that Mr. Plumbly did raise the questions of cross-border incursions and the dangers that are inherent in that.  And, obviously, we are aware of different reports in the media suggesting, for example, that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) should be deployed along the Lebanese border with Syria.  We plainly… UNIFIL, its deployment and functions, are clearly defined by resolution 1701 (2006) and its operations therefore focused between the Litani River and the Blue Line.  That’s obviously in coordination with Lebanese Armed Forces. And the core of that mandate plainly relates to the cessation of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel.  And its… 1701 authorizes UNIFIL to assist the Government of Lebanon, and it’s for that specific purpose that I just mentioned.  It’s for the Lebanese Government to make any other requests, and we are not aware of any official requests made in this regard to the United Nations.   


Question:  But I think the idea of an international force is floating for a while in Lebanon.  This… 


Spokesperson:  That may be the case.  That may be the case.  But we are not aware of any official request and, as you are well aware, anything of that nature would also, not only need to come from an official request from the Lebanese authorities, but would need the support of the Security Council.  I think you are aware of that.  Yes, Neil?


Question:  Martin, what do you attribute that slow aid for the refugees… why has that appeal not been met?  And have any of the neighbouring States said that they will not take any more refugees?


Spokesperson:  I have not heard on the latter part of your question.  No, the borders remain open.  And the Governments of those countries and the people of those countries have been extremely hospitable, given the flows that there are… the continued flows.  I think you have to ask the Member States why the funding is not there, but it’s plainly needed.  The Secretary-General, as I mentioned, will be referring to this in speaking to the Member States.  Everybody is aware that around the world there is a time of austerity.  That is obvious.  But it is also a time of great need and for international solidarity for those who are in need as a result of the crisis in Syria.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, the wealthier nations of the region, especially GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, are very close to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Iraq etcetera.  Have they opened their borders for any refugees to flow?  And especially that they are contributing to the crisis itself by sending weapons and terrorists.


Spokesperson:  You would have to ask the individual countries what their policy is.  I’m telling you, with regards to the surrounding countries, the immediate neighbours who are the immediate recipients of those who are leaving the country for very obvious reasons.  And I don’t have any information beyond that. If I do have anything further, I will let you know.  But you could also ask the countries concerned.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sorry, sorry.  Has the United Nations approached these nations, I mean, to be more generous or to open their borders?  


Spokesperson:  I have just said, Nizar, that all countries who are in a position to do so should help to provide the funding that’s needed to assist in helping those in need, both indeed within the country, those who have been displaced, and those who are in refugee camps and with host families in the surrounding countries.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you… there over the weekend, there were some Rwandan special forces that were removed from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] is.  And there is now a dispute about the numbers.  This was a Rwandan special forces contingent that was supposed to fight the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] or observe the FDLR along with the Congolese.  The Congolese are now saying that there were only a hundred authorized, and that anything beyond that were people helping M23.  The Rwandan are saying, “no, the UN knew”; that’s why I’m asking you… Rwanda said the UN and MONUSCO knew the size of the Rwandan forces was 357 troops.  So I’m wondering… this is for some reason, MONUSCO has not been willing to say what it knows.  But so, I wanted to ask here, since this goes directly to the dispute between States and could put it to rest.  Can you find out what was MONUSCO’s knowledge of the size of the force?  


Spokesperson:  Sure.


[The Spokesperson later said that MONUSCO was informed by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) that there were around 350 Rwandan defence force elements.]


Question:  I also, I wanted to know, there is… seems to be now renewed shelling of Kismayo in Somalia by the Kenyan navy.  Since this is African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), I believe, it’s either materially supported by DFS [Department of Field Support] and there is Mr. [Augustine P.] Mahiga.  What does the United Nations say?  Some people are saying these are random; it’s not a targeted shelling, it’s just a simply shelling of a town in the name of peacekeeping.  Is there some UN response to this? 


Spokesperson:  I believe this has been raised already.  To my knowledge, there is not a naval component of AMISOM.  I will need to check, but to my knowledge there is not a naval component of AMISOM.  But as I say, I will check.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  I have a question about South Korea and also this law, this chemical castration law in South Korea, which is being expanded now.  Does the Secretary-General… I mean, has the United Nations, because they are concerns by human rights organizations that the expansion of this law will be inhumane?  It is already invoked in many countries, including Argentina, Israel, New Zealand, you know that.


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything on that.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  There was an interview with Al-Qaida, one of the Al-Qaida leaders in Yemen, from Abyan.  Recently, he said that there was an arrangement to send Al-Qaida from Yemen to Syria, sponsored regionally and internationally by some groups, some countries.  Does the United Nations have any position on this transfer of Al-Qaida terrorists into Syria?  


Spokesperson:  Look, I’m not going to comment on every interview that person A or B may or may not have given, except to state just a general position, which the Secretary-General has repeated, including during his visit to Tehran, that any further militarization of what is already a dangerous conflict in Syria needs to be avoided at all costs.  And that includes the flow of weapons to either side from anywhere. 


Okay.  Thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record