9 October 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 Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Romano Prodi of Italy as his Special Envoy for the Sahel.


The Special Envoy will undertake good offices on behalf of the Secretary-General, particularly in support of national, regional and international mediation efforts in the sub-region, and especially regarding cross-border and transnational issues.  He will help generate, sustain and coordinate international engagement in support of national efforts of Sahelian countries to address this multifaceted crisis, including with an initial focus on Mali.


The Secretary-General looks forward to Mr. Prodi’s leadership in shaping and mobilizing an effective United Nations and international response to the complex crisis plaguing the countries and people of this region.  And we have more details and a full announcement that will be circulated shortly.


**Secretary-General in France


As you know, the Secretary-General is in France, and there he met the French President François Hollande.  And they indeed discussed Mali and the Sahel, and the Secretary-General pointed to the need to establish a global strategy to deal with the Sahel’s cross-border problems: arms, refugees and terrorism.


And the Secretary-General is wrapping up his visit to France, and that was after meeting President Hollande this morning.  He also met with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister last night.


After his meeting with President Hollande, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters and he said that he remains concerned by the situation in Syria, and that the escalation of the conflict along the Turkey-Syria border and the repercussions of the crisis for Lebanon and other neighbouring countries are extremely dangerous.


Asked about the fighting in Syria, the Secretary-General said that it is unacceptable, adding that he had conveyed a strong message to the Syrian Government that it should immediately declare a unilateral ceasefire.  He said that the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, would continue to discuss the matter.


[The Spokesperson later added, in response to questions asked outside the briefing, that:  we are extremely concerned by reports of the use of medical facilities and vehicles to carry out violence related to the conflict.  Medical facilities, equipment and personnel must not be targeted or used for military purposes.  All parties involved in the conflict must respect international humanitarian law and ensure that civilians are not targeted.  All humanitarians work on the basis of strict impartiality and neutrality.  Their only aim is to save lives and protect the vulnerable.  These principles must be respected.]


The Secretary-General also spoke to the Executive Board of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  And he is scheduled to return to New York this evening.


**Security Council


This morning the Security Council extended the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and stressed the importance of increasing, in a comprehensive framework, the professionalism and accountability of the Afghan security sector.


The Council was also briefed by the President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Justice Shireen Avis Fisher, as well as the Chief Prosecutor of the Court, Brenda Hollis.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


In a message to a meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Kampala yesterday, the Secretary-General said he remains deeply concerned at the security and humanitarian conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which continue to deteriorate and pose a threat to stability in the wider Great Lakes region. 


He once again condemned the violence and serious human rights violations committed by the M23 and other armed groups against civilians.  He said these need to be thoroughly investigated, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.  All support to the M23 and other armed groups in eastern DRC must cease immediately and permanently.   He offered his good offices, when and if appropriate, to help find a peaceful solution to the situation in eastern DRC.


**Food


Nearly 870 million people — that’s one out of every eight people — suffered from chronic undernourishment from 2010 to 2012, according to a new United Nations report.  The vast majority of the hungry live in developing countries, according to the report, which was jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).


It also says that the global number of the hungry declined by 132 million between the period from 1990-1992 to 2010-2012.  This year’s report presents better estimates of chronic undernourishment, based on an improved methodology and data for the last two decades.  Both the report — as well as information on the revised methodology — can be found online.


**Press Conferences


Today at 2 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by Ms. Michelle Bachelet, the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director for UN-Women, as well as the President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, the Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations — and obviously the President of the Security Council for this month.


And then at the noon briefing tomorrow, the guest will be Mr. Ivan Šimonovic, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head the New York Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


So, that’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Masood, then Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, sir.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on these reports that arms from Saudi Arabia have been diverted by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to Syrian rebels, amidst some… almost confirmed reports… does he have any comments on that?


Spokesperson:  I like your formulation — “almost confirmed reports” — what does that mean, Masood?  But anyway, listen, generally…


Correspondent:  That’s what it says; it is a BBC report.


Spokesperson:  Right.  One report.  But, listen, generally speaking, as the Secretary-General has repeatedly said and so have I from here, that the further militarization of the events in Syria are simply unhelpful.  And indeed the Secretary-General has called again for all those who have been providing arms to either side, or to anyone inside Syria, to stop doing so.  He did that again today in Paris; he said so again today.


Question:  In this specific case, he has not taken into account as yet?


Spokesperson:  There are all kinds of reports, substantiated or otherwise, but the broad point remains the same: that militarization is not only unhelpful; it is detrimental to the efforts to find a peaceful solution to this.  And of course, is simply prolonging the agony and bloodshed for the Syrian people.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, I have two questions on the threat by Turkey to change the rules of engagement with regard to Syria, and another regarding the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank.  The… [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan obviously talked today about changing the rules of engagement and probably an escalation in the situation in Syria.  Is there any position from the United Nations regarding such escalation?  Also, regarding the West Bank and Gaza, the situation in Gaza, the Israelis are threatening with a ground attack into Gaza…


Spokesperson:  Are threatening what, sorry?


Question:  With land advance or attack on Gaza; they said all this could be inevitable, that we should go into Gaza with a land onslaught.  Another thing, what happened in… on Friday in Al-Aqsa Mosque; the occupation forces attacked the worshippers there with the settlers and they used tear gas against those settlers… those worshippers while in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.


Spokesperson:  Yes, you asked about that yesterday, Nizar.  If I have anything on the last part of your three questions, then I will let you know.  Coming back up the list:  on Gaza, West Bank, I don’t have anything fresh to say beyond what I said yesterday.  On the first question:  simply to repeat the need for maximum restraint by all parties at this time.  Hank?


Question:  Hi, Martin.  Thank you.  On Afghanistan, Jan Kubis the other day tried to ease fears that Afghanistan might slide into chaos after US forces leave in 2014 by saying that, with challenges, perhaps, it will still develop.  I don’t want to assume…does the Secretary-General share those sentiments?  And also, when you consider that the Security Council cancelled a late October possible visit to Afghanistan, what… that, and… and Afghanistan’s dependence on foreign aid, what are the SG’s concerns for a post-2014 Afghanistan?


Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Kubis was speaking today in Kabul, as I understand it, at a press conference, the transcript of which is available.  He spoke at some length about the UN’s role at the moment, the UN’s role post-2014, and he spoke about the security conditions.  The Secretary-General obviously supports the work of his Special Representative, and also of the mission.  Of course, there are three main priorities for the United Nations in the future, as well as the work that is going on right now.  The first is linking security with development, and that is really crucial; ensuring that you are able to deliver on the areas, not just development, but including governance and the rule of law. The second is the electoral process.  And Mr. Kubis did speak about that at some length today, and I would urge you to take a look at what he said.  It will be to help ensure a credible electoral process and obviously helping to support what must be an Afghan-led and inclusive reconciliation process.  That’s the second thing.  The third one is obviously to continue the work that has been going on and is going on to promote human rights and humanitarian assistance.  So, those are the three areas.  Mr. Kubis spoke at some length on these topics, and I would refer you to the full transcript for more details on that, okay?  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about, there have been these kind of a board of protests in Kuwait by the… by people that are known as stateless, the Bedouins, and the Government arrested many of the organizers and said that a zero… they have a zero-tolerance policy towards these protests, which haven’t alleged to be violent at all.  They are saying that… they claim that people are in the country illegally, the people claim that they are stateless people, and I just wonder as the UN, what… what’s the UN’s position on the… on the right… the rights of these people both to protest and… and to… to have citizenship documents or have their status somehow adjudicated?


Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check with you, I mean, with my colleagues and come back to you on that.  There are a couple of overarching principles that I don’t think I would need to repeat here that you would be aware of. But, let me check with my colleagues in political affairs to see if we have anything on that.


Question:  Sure.  And can I ask you on… on… on this… on… on… on Mr. Prodi?  I mean, I understand, I was reading what was e-mailed out; maybe there will be more later, but do you just know, generally, like how big is, you know, more or less, is it going to be, how long does it go for?  Is he a USG [Under-Secretary-General], is it going to be a post that he will take… that the Secretariat will take to the Fifth Committee and set up as an ongoing office, or is it sort of a… is it a temporary kind of emergency post?


Spokesperson:  This is a full-time appointment at the level of USG.  And if you wish to know also, he will be based in Italy.  And he will have staff to support him in the work that he will be doing.  Okay?


Question:  And do… do you mind, is it like under DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or how… how does it work?


Spokesperson:  The Special Envoy reports through the Department of Political Affairs.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Yes, sir.  Pakistani opposition leaders have been calling upon the United Nations to somehow help them to stop the drone attacks inside Pakistan’s, what do you call, North-West Frontier Province [sic].  Can the Secretary-General do anything about it or is there any position that he has taken which can help this at all?


Spokesperson:  On the first part of your question, I think the answer is I don’t think so.  On the second part of your question, the Secretary-General has been on record, and I think you will be aware of that, a number of times on drones, and I happy to share that with you afterwards.  Okay?


Question:  Has there been a formal request from Pakistani political leaders to the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  You should check with your countrymen and women.


Question:  Yes, yes, but what I am saying is they said that they have.  But we want to confirm whether in fact they have volunteered or not.


Spokesperson:  Well, if I hear anything I will let you know.  I am not aware of anything. If I hear anything I would certainly let you know, okay?


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  This is regarding Bahraini prisoners, the political prisoners, especially the doctors who have been sentenced there for five years or more.  Is there any initiative by the United Nations in order to release these people and really call that they be released?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve spoken repeatedly what needs to happen in Bahrain and also about the need for due process on many occasions, and I don’t think I need to repeat that right now.  But, if you require more information and we have anything subsequently, then I will let you know.  But our position on this is pretty well known, I think, at this point, Nizar.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, can I… two… two quick questions on… on… on Palestine.  One is something that has come up in this room before about this… the… the… what was described as the inaccurate tweet of a… of a… of a… by… by a UN staff member saying that… that it was caused by bombing and it was in fact otherwise caused.  It’s… Valerie Amos has apparently confirmed that the… the quote, probe of it is finished.  Is that true?  Is that the case?  Can you confirm that?  When was it finished and what is sort of the timeline to… to take action?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, the investigation phase of this inquiry has been completed.  But there are recommendations that flow from that investigation.  And I don’t think that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will be saying anything else until the staff member concerned has been contacted about not just the results of the investigation, but the recommendations that flow from that.  If we get to the point where some of those details are made available, then obviously we will be able to let you know. 


Question:  The other one was, over the weekend here in New York, there was this thing called the… the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and… and many things were said, but the… the… there was… there was definitely some criticism of not only the Security Council, but of the UN Secretariat and UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] in terms of what they have been able to do for Palestinians over the… in recent years.  And I just wondered, does the UN… is the UN… was there… were they aware of these proceedings?  Did they have anyone there, or have any response to it?  What do they think of the tribunal?  Do they think it is a useful thing or not?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any particular details on that particular meeting.  Maybe my colleagues who track this, both at UNRWA and within Political Affairs, will have some more details that they can let me have.  But UNRWA does incredible work.  A lot of it is under the radar, helping hundreds of thousands of people over decades, often in very difficult circumstances.  For example, in Syria today. And they do so with really difficult funding.  They are seriously short of funds.  So, I think we should have nothing but praise and support for the work that they do, and they need actually more support, and not just praise. 


Just one thing I wanted to come back to you on, Matthew, that you asked about yesterday on South Kordofan.  Just to say that the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) has now resumed flights.  I’d mentioned that.  So also, you will have seen that the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan condemned the indiscriminate mortar fire in Kadugli.  And this is Mr. Ali Al-Za’tari, and he said this attack on civilian and UN premises is reprehensible and constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law.  And also just, you asked about aid, and why it is that the UN is in Kadugli, but is not providing aid in other parts of South Kordofan.  That is simply because the access has not yet been granted.  As I think you are aware, we are able to provide relief to people affected by the conflict in Government-controlled areas.  But, not so far in those areas controlled by the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] North.  But, those that have been helped, more than 120,000 people, have received food aid since April of this year, and agricultural supplies have been given to 64,000 families.  On the health side, more than 1.6 million people have been reached with essential services and treatment.  Also, 200 health centres have been provided with medical services that reach 1.3 million people.  So, what I am trying to say is that we need to have access to those areas that are not Government-controlled.  But help is being provided to those that we can reach.


Question:  Thanks a lot, that’s really helpful.  I just wanted to… the one questions I was left with was… I wasn’t in the least, and maybe I missed that, that… that UNISFA, the mission in Abyei, was using the… the airstrip or has some kind of a facility outside of… of Kadugli, and I just wondered, maybe it’s a kind of a strange question, but does the… does the sort of protection of civilians and kind of observational mandate of UNISFA, which obviously applies in Abyei, does it apply to UNISFA personnel for whatever time that they happen to either land, take off or spend in Kadugli and Southern Kordofan, or are they sort of… do you see what I… I guess my… it was the idea… is that… is that this is the first time there may be an attack on Kadugli itself, but often regarding fighting in… in Southern Kordofan, it seems like the response is we have… we… you know, “we don’t know”.  And I just wanted to know, is… if… is a DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] peacekeeper, you know, always a peacekeeper even on their way to the job, if you… do you understand what I am driving at here?


Spokesperson:  Well, the point here is that there is no UN mission presence, UNISFA presence, inside Kadugli itself.  There is a logistics base five kilometres away, to which UN staff from this UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] compound were taken because of what had happened inside Kadugli itself.  The mission, of course, is monitoring what is happening, to the extent that they can, given their remit and their location.  Any other questions?  Yes, Masood?  Let’s make this the last question.


Question:  Okay.  Two questions:  one question, one is that Israel’s, what do you call, surveillance of the Lebanese border, remaining in the Lebanese airspace for hours together and then going into Gaza.  Is it following the so-called shooting down of drone?  Has it shared anything that… is that… are those… is that drone… did that drone come from Lebanon border or from Gaza?


Spokesperson:  Crikey! I don’t know quite how I am supposed to know the answer to that.  I probably don’t know the answer to many things, but I certainly don’t know the answer to that one.  You are asking the wrong person.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General taken note of the fact that Israel is invading the airspace of Lebanon and Gaza?


Spokesperson:  Violations of Lebanese airspace is something that the Secretary-General has repeatedly commented on in relevant reports to the Security Council.  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record