6 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.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Appointments


The Secretary-General has appointed James Rawley of the United States as Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, at the level of Assistant Secretary-General.  Mr. Rawley will also serve as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The new Deputy Special Coordinator succeeds Maxwell Gaylard of Australia, who completed his assignment on 31 August.


The Secretary-General has also appointed Moustapha Soumaré of Mali as his Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), where he will also serve as the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator, and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  He will succeed Mr. Fidèle Sarassoro of Côte d’Ivoire, who will complete his assignment on 30 September 2012.  And we have more information on both of those appointments in my office.


**Security Council


The Security Council began consultations this morning on the situation between Sudan and South Sudan.


**Statement on Bahrain


You will have seen that we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bahrain yesterday.


The statement said that the Secretary-General is concerned by the harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, upheld by a Bahrain appeals court against twenty Bahraini political activists.  He urges the Bahraini authorities to allow all defendants to exercise their right to appeal and to ensure that due process is observed.


The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to the Bahraini authorities to ensure the application of international human rights norms, including the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to again call on the Bahraini Government to complete the full implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.


He reaffirms his belief that there needs to be an all-inclusive and meaningful national dialogue that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis, as this is the only way to promote peace, stability and justice in the country.


** Bahrain — Human Rights


The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also spoken out about the sentences.  Navi Pillay said that it was extremely disappointing that the convictions and sentences had been upheld in appeals proceedings that often took place behind closed doors.


Ms. Pillay said that none of the courts so far had adequately addressed the defendants’ allegations that they were tortured in detention and forced to make confessions under duress.  She reiterated her call on the Bahraini authorities to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.


** Syria


Thousands of Syrian children are being screened to prevent malnutrition as part of a regional response to meet the growing health and nutrition needs of children both inside Syria and in surrounding countries affected by the crisis.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Jordanian Ministry of Health are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partner agencies to launch a large-scale polio and measles vaccination campaign targeting more than 100,000 children in Za’atari Camp in Jordan, nearby transit centres, and communities hosting refugees in the northern part of the country.


In Lebanon and Iraq, immunizations are also being provided and the nutritional status of children aged 5 years and under is being monitored closely.  UNICEF is appealing to the international community for increased funding of its programmes for emergency water, sanitation, education, health and nutrition, which are reaching tens of thousands of Syrian children and their families in Syria and neighbouring countries.


** Guatemala


The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG, accompanied by a delegation of high-level officials of the Government of Guatemala, presented its road map at UN Headquarters today to representatives of different countries who have an interest in supporting Guatemala and its justice system.


Addressing the meeting, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, said that the United Nations Secretariat values immensely the work of the International Commission and believes the Commission's efforts deserve the strong support of the international community.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco added that the UN Secretariat appreciates the contributions that many countries have made to assist the Commission and hopes that the Commission will continue to enjoy their firm support.


The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala was created in 2006 as an independent, international body designed to support Guatemalan institutions in the investigation of crimes committed by members of illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations and to help to disband such organizations.


**Food Prices


The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that current food prices do not justify talk of a world food crisis, although the international community should remain vigilant.


José Graziano da Silva made the comments as the United Nations agency released its Food Price Index for August, which stayed unchanged from July.  Mr. Graziano da Silva said that the August Index is reassuring but the international community can and should move to calm markets further.  The Food Price Index showed international prices of cereals and oils and fats changed little in August, but sugar prices fell sharply, compensating for rising meat and dairy prices.


**General Assembly Press Kit


And just to let you know, hard copies of the press kit for the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly are now available at the Media Documents Centre in English and in French.  The kits are also available on the Assembly’s website in all six official languages.


Questions, please?  Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, the Government of Sudan in Darfur has declared, if not martial law, military rule and a curfew from, I think it is 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., and I am wondering it seems, that seems to be a big move.  Does UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], the UN peacekeeping mission there… I saw they put something out today about a strike of their workers, but is there any UN response to martial law being declared in Darfur?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check, Matthew.  I don’t have anything on that.


Question:  And could I… on the strike thing, I… I was… maybe you do… I guess I want to ask you, because they have referred all questions to Headquarters and said it is up to Headquarters.  And the question is, the national staff in Sudan, or at least of UNAMID in Darfur, say that they are getting… they basically have lost half their purchasing power that there is… that the UN is using an old currency exchange rate that is no longer at use in Sudan, that it is almost 50 per cent decreased.  So I wondered, how does the UN sort of deal with the devaluating currency this way?  How long would people have to wait or what’s the response to their claim?


Spokesperson:  Well, actually, Matthew, I don’t think it is correct that they are referring inquiries to Headquarters because they have been speaking about the matter quite openly from there.  But I am happy to tell you what they are saying, which is that the national staff of UNAMID, the UN-African Union mission in Darfur, held a strike yesterday, and it was about the result of a salary survey that was conducted in March of this year.  And following the survey results, an increase was granted, but the national staff said that they consider the increase insufficient, and they demand to be either paid in US dollars or to have their salaries recalculated according to the exchange rate of June of this year.  And the acting Joint Special Representative, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, told the staff that she understood their concerns and was committed to work hard with the UN Headquarters to look into these issues.  And all decisions on salaries and conditions of service in the United Nations are regulated by the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM).  So, that’s what I have for you.  Maybe the point is that…


Correspondent:  That’s what I am saying.


Spokesperson:  …that the question of conditions of service is looked after and regulated by the Office of Human Resources Management, but they have been speaking about the topic on the ground.


Question:  No, sure, I… and that was exactly what I was trying to say is that they did put out a release, but they are each… in each instance, they said they were working with New York and that OHRM and New York decide.  So I guess, I didn’t… I thought maybe you’d have something or maybe OHRM has some… just what is their general practice when a currency devaluates that fast, in terms of dealing with it?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think there would be a general practice, because you would have to look at everything as an individual case.  And there will often be complications or challenges, depending on the location, depending on currency restrictions that may or may not be in place, they may or may not have in place — all kinds of factors that you’d have to take into account.  So that’s why it is regulated centrally and that the people who need to look at it will be looking at it and are looking at it.  And, as the Acting Joint Special Representative said, she is conveying those concerns of the staff to Headquarters.  Yes, Hank?


Question:  Good morning, Martin, thank you… or, good afternoon, Martin, thank you.


Spokesperson:  It is still morning somewhere. [laughs]


Question:  That’s right.  In light of what the General Assembly is doing, observing the International Day against Nuclear Testing, it couldn’t help but that Iran would show up in their discussions over there, and they have.  My question is:  is the Secretary-General disturbed by Israel’s conduct as a nuclear nation?  They are very widely reported to be in possession of dozens of nuclear weapons, they are not signatory to any applicable treaties, so they don’t welcome any inspectors, but they do have a colourful recent history of attacking other nations without any sort of warning.  If the Secretary-General is worried about Iran, how does he feel about Israel?


Spokesperson:  I think you will have seen and heard what we’ve said recently about the need to calm rhetoric and to deal with any concerns there are about Iran’s nuclear programme peacefully through dialogue and negotiations, so that this can be kept on that kind of track; and that’s what I would have to say on that.


Question:  What about the Israeli nuclear programme, not the Iranian one?  I am asking…


Spokesperson:  No, I heard what you said, but I have answered you as I have answered you.  Yes, Stefano?  And then Tim.


Question:  Last night in Turkey, a boat full of refugees from Syria, apparently also some from Iraq, sank and lost all of its… 58 people died, many of whom were children.  Now this looks like a déjà vu of what happened last year, when the situation in Libya during the civil war there, there were these waves of refugees on these boats that were left practically without help.  And is the UN… how the UN is preparing to this possibility, of a wave of people taking boats and trying to leave and then finding themselves in a situation where the help is not there?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I would caution you, because this really tragic incident has only just happened a few hours ago.  The full details have yet to emerge, not on the deaths — that’s really deeply disturbing to hear about, to learn about — but the circumstances, in other words, why the people were on the move.  That remains to be established.  Clearly, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and his organization have been working extremely hard with the countries surrounding Syria, in this particular instance, but from other countries too, to try to address the flow that is already taking place into those countries.  And there have been reports of people moving further.  And clearly, UNHCR, the refugee agency, will be looking at that.  I don’t have any further details on what their planning might be for that, but plainly it is something that they must be and are thinking about.  But just to caution you on this particular incident, which is extremely troubling and disturbing — the nature of the incident and the loss of life — we don’t know the full circumstances of why the people were on the move.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  There’s a dispute between Hungary and Azerbaijan where a NATO soldier has been accused of shooting another NATO soldier and has been given a hero’s welcome back in Azerbaijan.  Has the Secretary-General been involved in this at all, does he have a comment?


Spokesperson:  Possibly a little later, but not right now.  And I think I might have it right now, if you…  I’ll come back to you in just one second.  Yes?


Question:  Maybe another person on the move is Mr. [Abdullah] al-Senussi, does he… his return from Mauritania to Libya of the ICC [International Criminal Court]-indicted intelligence chief of [Muammar al-] Qadhafi, does the UN system, or particularly Ban Ki-moon, have any view of whether he should be sent by Libya to The Hague or should he be tried in Libya; what should happen to him?


Spokesperson:  Well, accountability for major human rights crimes must be ensured and there should be no impunity for such crimes.  Due process and international standards of fair trial should be ensured.  And meeting such standards in the trials of past senior regime figures is an important component of ensuring the success of transitional justice and building the rule of law in Libya.  So, we would encourage the Libyan authorities to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.  And it will be for the International Criminal Court, which as you know is separate from the United Nations, to consider Libya’s likely submission that it is able and willing to try Mr. al-Senussi for crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  Simply to reiterate that the UN encourages Libya to cooperate fully with the ICC in accordance with the Security Council resolution that refers to that. 


Okay, and so just to come back to your question.  The Secretary-General is concerned about the developments surrounding the case of Mr. [Ramil] Safarov since his transfer on 31 August 2012 to Azerbaijan and subsequent pardon by Azerbaijani authorities.  The UN underscores the responsibility of Member States to adhere to international standards and principles of rule of law in criminal cases in order to ensure accountability and fight impunity.  As highlighted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Co-Chairs in their recent statement, we hope that this issue will not damage the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and trust between the sides.  There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  So that’s what I have for you.  Okay, yes?


Question:  Basically, sorry to ask about this again, but I wanted a bit… to continue to look into it.  The Kenyan naval shelling of Somalia, it does appear that… I mean, the AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] spokesman has since said that they don’t have a naval capability…


Spokesperson:  …which is what I told you.


Question:  Exactly.  But I guess my question is, it seems pretty clear, the Kenyan army has said “that is our ship”.  So basically you have shelling by one country of another in support of a UN-supported peacekeeping mission, but with everyone… you know, it seems to be kind of like winking, like this is not ours, it’s not related to us.  I wonder, just, does the UN have any… if it is not authorized by AMISOM, is it in contrary to law?  Is there some, since civilians have been… have been reportedly killed by some of the shelling, is there any UN response to it at all?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, Matthew, we have been checking, and as soon as I have something, I will let you know, okay?


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  But I assure you that we have been checking and asking.  Okay, I see a question right at the very back.  Yes, last question?


Question:  What is the status of your request from some of the press to meet with Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi?


Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi — first of all, you could check with his spokesperson, Ahmad Fawzi; but as you will have seen, Mr. Brahimi has spoken in the General Assembly just the other day, and he has given a number of interviews.  I would urge you to speak to Mr. Fawzi about wider availability, okay?


All right, thanks.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record