19 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.


Okay.  So good afternoon everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Briefing Guest


As you can see, I am joined today by Mr. Yukio Takasu, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, and Maria Eugenia Casar, the Comptroller and Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Programme Planning, Budgets and Accounts.  And they are here to brief you on the financial situation of the Organization.


** Syria


Before I turn to my guests, I have a statement for you that I’d like to read.  And then I, at the end of their briefing, I will have a few other items to read and will be able to take other questions.


So, first of all I have a statement — it’s a joint statement by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States. And it’s about a call about for an Eid al-Adha ceasefire in Syria.


The Secretaries-General of the United Nations and of the League of Arab States appeal to all warring parties in Syria to heed the call of the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, for a ceasefire and a cessation of all violence in all its forms during the period of Eid al-Adha, to allow the Syrian people to observe this important religious holiday in peace and security.  They call on all regional and international actors to support this appeal.


This step needs to be sustained.  It could create the space to allow a peaceful political process that realizes the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy, equality and justice.


The longer the violence lasts, the more difficult it will be to find a political solution and rebuild Syria.  The Secretaries-General appeal to all, in particular the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic as the stronger party, to show wisdom and vision and stop the killing and destruction so that all the issues, however complex, can be addressed through peaceful means.


The Secretaries-General call on all Syrian, regional and international, parties to take the necessary measures to ensure the success of Mr. Brahimi's efforts.


So, that’s a joint statement by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States.  It’s being issued in Cairo at the same time and it’s available in Arabic and English and will be online shortly.  Thank you very much.  And I now turn to my guests.  Thank you very much indeed for coming, Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General.


[Press conference by Mr. Takasu and Ms. Casar is issued separately.]


So I have a few more items, and I am then going to be able to take a couple of questions.


**Secretary-General in Iowa


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on the theme of “Global Citizenship in a Changing World”.


He told the students and the audience that there were three tests of global citizenship:  sustainable development; empowering the world’s women and young people; and meeting people's aspirations for democracy, peace and security.


On Syria, the Secretary-General said that the international community had a moral responsibility, a political duty and a humanitarian obligation to stop the bloodbath and find peace for the people of Syria.  He called on the Security Council, the countries in the region and all parties to live up to their expectations, support the work of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, and promote a ceasefire.  And the Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York.


**Deputy Secretary-General in Mali


In Bamako today, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the meeting of the Support and Follow-up Group on Mali, and he said that, for many reasons, the situation in that country is unacceptable.  He said that some 4.6 million people are at risk of food insecurity, while 560,000 children below the age of five are threatened with grave malnutrition.  Meanwhile, in the zones that they occupy, terrorist groups are imposing a brutal version of Sharia law.


The Deputy Secretary-General said that we must help the Malian authorities design and implement a credible political process that addresses the underlying causes of the crisis.


At the same time, he said, we must help the Malian authorities plan and execute the military operations, which may ultimately be required, to return the areas occupied by terrorist groups and criminal networks.  In doing so, he said, we must ensure that military action does not exacerbate existing tensions or worsen an already fragile humanitarian situation.  And we have his remarks available in my office.


**Southern Africa


The deputy humanitarian chief, Catherine Bragg, wrapped up her five-day visit to southern Africa today, and she called on countries and partners in the region to strengthen their efforts to work together to promote disaster preparedness and tackle food insecurity.  She said that Southern Africa is facing a silent food insecurity emergency.


Food insecurity continues to be a chronic problem in southern Africa, particularly in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.  Across the region, more than 5.5 million people in eight countries face food shortages due to the impact of recurrent natural disasters such as droughts and floods, and rising food prices.


**Press Conference


On Monday, my guest at the noon briefing will be the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous.  He will be here to brief on current challenges and trends in UN peacekeeping, as well as on the situation in Mali and on peacekeeping-related aspects of the latest Security Council resolution on that topic.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Sylvian?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  [inaudible] issued statement by the Secretary-General on the attack, Beirut attack this morning, which happened after the visit to Beirut and Damascus of Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi?


Spokesperson:  Well…


Question:  And how much is too much for the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is obviously aware of this bomb attack in Beirut today; he has been briefed on that.  And he strongly condemns this explosion.  And, I believe that there will be a statement, a formal statement coming shortly.  But, for now, what I can tell you is he is briefed on what has happened and he strongly condemns this bomb attack.  Okay, other questions?  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible] the Cuban government has decided to lift restrictions on Cuban citizens to travel abroad and the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed that this is a positive measure.  How does the Secretary-General view this, please?


Spokesperson:  I think that the Secretary-General agrees with the High Commissioner for Human Rights when she said that the lifting of any kind of restrictions is welcome.  And he also agrees that with Ms. Pillay in encouraging Cuba to open up the country to international human rights cooperation, for example, by allowing in special rapporteurs.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  [inaudible] there can be any kind of military solution in Mali without Algeria, you know, joining ECOWAS?  But I don’t know that type of discussion or maybe I should just wait for Monsieur Ladsous on Monday, but…


Spokesperson:  Well, that is one possibility.  The other is simply to be aware that this is a matter for regional cooperation involving the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS.  This is something that is in the works, and I believe that the Deputy Secretary-General will also be in a position to update us on his return and I would then, in turn, be able to help you with that.  But, for the moment, the most important thing is that you have key players meeting today in Mali, and really pulling together those different regional organizations with the UN to look at how you can make this work.  And crucially, this, as I just mentioned quoting the Deputy Secretary-General, this is about, yes, looking at the planning for potential military operations, but also the political track is going to be absolutely crucial and against a really quite grim backdrop already of humanitarian situation in which many people are facing food insecurity and worse. Okay.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  On this situation in Syria, I have another questions, but [inaudible] there are also, there are accusations flying around that there are so many other groups which are being funded by outside powers, are also responsible for the exasperating the situation and so forth.  Is the Secretary-General, and around [inaudible], that they are… they are asking for some sort of a truce?  Is Mr. Brahimi or the Secretary-General, at some point in time, going to make extraordinary effort to bring the parties to get through to somehow bring about some sort of momentum for peace over there?


Spokesperson:  I think you will find that Mr. Brahimi is providing an exceptional example of exerting a great deal of effort.  He has been travelling extensively in the region, speaking to all the key players in the region.  As you mentioned, he has now arrived in Damascus and he will be having meetings over the weekend there.  And you have just heard the statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, in which they are calling on regional players, the international community at large and the parties in Syria to work as hard as they can for this ceasefire coming up for Eid al-Adha, but obviously going beyond that, as it says that step needs to be sustained, and that it could create the space to allow peaceful political process that realizes the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy, equality and justice.  So, there is a lot of effort being exerted.  The Secretary-General spoke yesterday to Mr. Brahimi, and obviously remains in close touch with the League of Arab States, as does Mr. Brahimi.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin.  The… the Deputy Secretary-General in Bamako is quoted as saying that the UN is now going to be opening up a permanent office there, and I just, you know… it… it seems like it was an announcement that he made, so it wasn’t sort of off the cuff.  Is it… can you say anything more about that?  Is it part of Mr. Prodi’s mandate or is it part of DPA [Department of Political Affairs], DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]?  What’s the purpose of the office and what more could be said about it?


Spokesperson:  This is part of the overall planning that needs to go into the efforts that there are, to work on what has unfolded in the northern part of Mali.  But let’s be clear, there is already a sizeable UN presence, a UN country team in Mali that has been doing excellent work; obviously this is primarily development, humanitarian work.  What is being added — and this is still in the planning stage — but, what is being added is a component, a team of people, Departments of Political Affairs, Peacekeeping Operations, to help liaise with the local authorities and others in working on, as I say, on northern Mali, as well as more generally everything else that is going on the margins of that, as I just said, humanitarian and political matters.


Question:  May I… I also want to ask you a question about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The army there, the FRDC, has said that it is bombing the VirungaVirunga National Park, that it is in some fighting, and I am just wondering, given the… the… the MONUSCO’s [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] role sometimes in helping these… such action, are they… is this… is this a military operation in which MONUSCO is participating?


Spokesperson:  I will check.  I don’t have anything on that, Matthew, but I will check.


Question:  And I wanted to… I got… I… thank you, I got an of… an answer from your Office about this Charles Petrie and his work on the Sri Lanka report of the UN’s own activities there, and I… I… I mean I appreciate it; I’ve read it; I’ve published it, but I do have one question about it, which is the following:  it seems to say that if somebody is, when… is employed… when… is paid when actually employed, meaning not a full time U… you know, UN person, that, it’s that the only sort of check is to make sure that when they are actually employed by the UN they are not working for anyone else.  But, I just wonder, given… and I am not necessarily limited to Mr. Petrie, the whole con… the… sort of the concept of… of… of conflict of interest is the… the relation between the work that a person does for the UN while paid by the UN and other work that they do, is there some process for reviewing it?  Who reviews that, and was it reviewed in this case? 


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond the information that we have given you.  But I think it is… I think you can take it as read, that obviously we look at potential conflicts of interest — always — when anybody is employed.  And as you know, those who are employed full time, many do provide financial disclosure documents about their own financial position and so on, and that’s part of that process.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  [inaudible] Ms. Bragg’s report about Southern Africa, has there not been a food crisis in several of the countries, but particularly Zimbabwe, among the majority of the population for quite some time, not just the latest natural disasters, and possibly for political reasons?


Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things here.  Certainly, my colleagues in OCHA would be — the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — would be able to provide you with more information on Ms. Bragg’s visit to the region.  But as she said, this is — and I think this is the point that you are making — that this is something that didn’t just appear overnight, as she herself described it; it is a silent emergency.  And one of the reasons for her going there is to turn the silence into noise, and to be able to make it clear to the international community that this is something that needs to be addressed, and quite urgently and seriously.  Okay, other questions, please?


Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good weekend, thank you.


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For information media • not an official record