|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, everyone.
**Noon Briefing Guest
I will be joined shortly with our guest for the noon briefing today, Ion Botnaru, the Director of the General Assembly and ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Affairs Division of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management. He is here to brief you on the forthcoming Human Rights Council elections, which will take place this coming Monday, 12 November.
So, we will have Mr. Botnaru with you in just a few minutes. First, a few other items.
The Secretary-General briefed the Member States this morning on how the UN system handled the storm Sandy as it moved from the Caribbean into the United States, even affecting UN Headquarters itself. He noted that storms and emergencies pose great tests and challenge, and emergency situations can lay bare where we may have been operating on flawed assumptions and must do better.
In this case, the Secretary-General said, the United Nations continued to provide its vital global services despite major disruptions. At the same time, where there were mistakes, there must be lessons. He said that the United Nations is looking closely into what worked and what did not during the response, and is determined to fix whatever went wrong.
He said that in the United States, more than 100 people lost their lives and many families remain without power. In the Caribbean, five million people were affected and 72 people died. He has spoken to the leaders of the affected countries and regions and offered UN help, as needed.
The Secretary-General told the Member States that we all know the difficulties in attributing any single storm to climate change. But we also know this: extreme weather due to climate change is the new normal. This may be an uncomfortable truth, he said, but it is one we ignore at our peril. We have his remarks in our office.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Australia and Kyoto Protocol
And along those lines, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Australia’s announcement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Secretary-General welcomes the readiness of the Australian Government to join a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and congratulates Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her leadership.
Addressing climate change is fundamental for achieving sustainable development. Urgent action is needed.
The Secretary-General calls on all governments to take decisive steps against climate change at the upcoming Climate Change Conference, in Doha, Qatar.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged the Government of South Sudan today to reverse its expulsion order against a senior UN human rights officer working for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which she said was in breach of international agreements.
Ms. Pillay said that in the two weeks since the expulsion, the authorities have so far not provided the UN with any satisfactory evidence of serious misconduct by the staff member in question. She also said that the reasoning given by the authorities when they announced that the staff member in question had 48 hours to leave the country, accusing her of misinforming the international community about human rights abuses, was “utterly unsatisfactory and unacceptable”, and appeared to relate to the staff member’s core work as a human rights officer.
Ms. Pillay said that the importance of allowing human rights staff to implement the full human rights mandate granted by the Security Council, including human rights monitoring, investigation, reporting and capacity-building, cannot be overemphasized. Any attempt at undermining part of a mission’s core mandate is a direct threat to the integrity and the independence of the United Nations. And we have the full press release in our office.
**South Sudan — UNHCR
Also on South Sudan, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that its capacity to contain an outbreak of hepatitis E among the refugee population in South Sudan is increasingly stretched because of depleted funding. UNHCR and partners are fighting an outbreak of hepatitis E in Upper Nile and Unity States, two regions where the disease is endemic and where 175,000 Sudanese refugees are settled. The UN refugee agency says its operation in South Sudan is seriously underfunded and that it needs a minimum of $20 million until the end of the year to keep up basic lifesaving activities.
I have a trip announcement: the Secretary-General will travel to New Haven, Connecticut, on Tuesday, 13 November. He will speak at Yale University on the theme, “Shaping Solutions for a World in Transition”. And the Secretary-General will return to New York the same day.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel this weekend to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to deliver keynote remarks at the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda 2012. That Forum is being co-hosted by the Government of the United Arab Emirates on 12-14 November 2012.
The Deputy Secretary-General will then travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to co-chair the thirteenth session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism of UN Agencies and Organizations Working in Africa in support of the African Union. That meeting will take place in Addis Ababa on 14-15 November.
While in the UAE and Ethiopia, the Deputy Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with senior Government officials. He will also meet with the leadership of the African Union Commission while in Addis Ababa. The Deputy Secretary-General will arrive back in New York late next week.
Last, the Security Council will hold consultations at 3 p.m. this afternoon. Council members will receive a briefing on the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004) concerning Lebanon.
Do you have any questions for me before we turn to Mr. Botnaru? Yes. Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, sir. The New York Times, in a report today, said the rebels in Syria are losing all credibility by committing all kinds of human rights abuses and so on and so forth. Does that mean that the rebels have lost all credibility and they no longer are valid in the Syrian conflict, and what is the UN, United Nations position on that?
Associate Spokesperson: We are aware of these reports, as we are of reports of human rights atrocities committed by the Government side, as well. In both cases, we have spoken out against any violations of human rights committed by the parties who are fighting. For us, as you know, the crucial point is for an end to all fighting and for a negotiated solution to the crisis that Syria faces right now. But, beyond that, we do once again implore all sides to respect the basic human rights law and humanitarian law.
Question: This message is a very damning thing, what The New York Times said about what is happening in Syria, vis-à-vis the rebels and… I mean they are losing credibility. I mean, United Nations has not made any assessment as to what this… these rebel groups are doing over there, killing people?
Associate Spokesperson: It is not for us as the United Nations to evaluate the credibility of the rebels or different rebel factions. Ultimately, the final decision on the way forward must be put in the hands of the Syrian people. So the efforts by our… the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, involves trying to see whether we can get talks going between the Government and the Syrian opposition, more broadly, so that we can have a negotiated situation in which the Syrian people can determine their path for the way ahead, and it will be up to them to determine in the end who has credibility and who doesn’t. Yes, Sylviane?
Question: UN diplomatic sources said that, by the end of the month, Lakhdar Brahimi will be coming to New York. Can you confirm that?
Associate Spokesperson: I can confirm that we do expect Mr. Brahimi in New York towards the end of the month. We will have more specific dates closer to the event, but first, as you know, he is in Cairo right now. He does intend to travel elsewhere in the region in the coming week, and we hope to give you some details on that as that progresses. But yes, towards the end of the month we do expect him here in New York.
Question: Can you tell us if Mr. Brahimi met with Farouk al-Shara and Manaf al-Tlas?
Associate Spokesperson: You mean in Cairo?
Question: Yeah, in Cairo or in Qatar or wherever — somewhere in the region.
Associate Spokesperson: We will check whether he had any opportunity to meet with Farouk al-Shara. I am not aware of the full range of his meetings. He is in Cairo, where he has been meeting with officials, including from the various parties and the various interested countries. But, I will see whether that has happened.
Question: I have another question; when the report on [resolution] 1701 will be released? It was supposed to be released last week before Sandy hit.
Associate Spokesperson: I believe that the 1701 report may have gone to Security Council members in the last day or so. You might want to come over to our office afterwards, and we can possibly help you with that. Matthew?
Question: Sure, Farhan. I want to ask, the… in Southern Kordofan and Sudan, the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] North is saying that they… they shot down an Antonov airplane of the Sudanese Government, which they say was bombing civilians in the Nuba mountains, and I am wondering if the UN can, one, either confirm or deny, and two, has any comments on this pretty serious escalation in the fighting there?
Associate Spokesperson: Certainly we are worried about the fighting that has been occurring in that area, and we continue to plead both for an end to it and for improved humanitarian access. We don’t have the presence on the ground that would allow us to verify firsthand these reports. We are aware of the reports of this shooting.
Question: And I guess, and it is not related, but it also has to do with air power. There… there are descriptions of this planning for… for a possible retaking of northern Mali, which say that, this is a quote, military planners from the African Union and the United Nations in Europe are planning air strikes, i.e. designing a… a… a way in which to re-conquer it. I just wondered, I understand that the UN is involved in some of the… the… the… the… the planning of a possible mission, but is there really a unit in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] that plans air strikes or is this a misreport?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage, I wouldn’t comment on specific plans for Mali, because they are being discussed even now, as you are aware. We are participating in those discussions, but at this stage, we wouldn’t have any decisions taken on what the step forward is. Once we have a clearer picture of that, of course we will proceed accordingly. But right now, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is simply doing what it normally does, which is contingency planning for a broad range of situations. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. What is the Secretary-General’s position regarding the proposal by some countries to intervene militarily in northern Mali?
Associate Spokesperson: As you are aware, there is a recent Security Council resolution concerning this, and we are acting in compliance with that resolution, which would in the end request us to provide any further details about possible contingencies. Yes?
Question: Yeah, the Iranian ambassador has written to the Security Council, as well as the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, on the threats by the Israeli Prime Minister to attack Iran’s nuclear project. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that, because it has also talked about invoking Article 51 in defending itself and so forth?
Associate Spokesperson: As you are well aware, the Secretary-General has repeatedly asked the various parties to avoid any rhetoric that could inflame the situation. He, as you know, has long supported the idea that questions about Iran’s nuclear programme will be resolved through negotiations. And of course he wants more calls on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and to comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions.
Question: But you are not addressing, what about Israel’s threat to destroy Iran’s…?
Associate Spokesperson: Like I said, he does want all sides to avoid any rhetoric that could inflame what is already, what has been a tense situation. Yes?
Question: My question is about the human rights situation in Bahrain. The authorities recently revoked the nationalities of dozens of people there. The activists are still in jail, no response to all the appeals for their release. And there is of course augmentation in the level of violence, using live ammunition against protesters. How does the United Nations feel about that?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as you know, we are monitoring the situation in Bahrain. You will have seen our statement from a week ago concerning the situation there, and the sentiments there still apply. Yes?
Question: Maybe, yesterday the… the Palestinian Mission circulated to… to Member States in the General Assembly a draft resolution to give them observer State status, and I am just wondering, is there any… does… does… given the… the… the views expressed by many, does the Secretariat have any comment at all whether this would be a positive move towards… towards the peace process? Any… any views whatsoever?
Associate Spokesperson: You, of course, have seen what we have already said about this and the views that have been expressed by the Secretary-General and by Jeffrey Feltman. Beyond that, as you know, this is a matter for the Member States to determine and we leave the matter in their hands.
Question: Can I ask one more?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: I want to ask, this is… I mean, at the… at the session just now in the North Lawn, the Secretary-General spoke and then there was no either press coverage or UNTV coverage of the… what came afterwards, but I just wanted to ask a few things that I understand came up. One is, it was said that… that… that the UN had… that its e-mail list of Member States was somehow out of date and didn’t work and I just put… is that accurate? Does… does the UN not know how to reach its Member States or is that a mis…?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, we are checking to see whether there were any things that needed to be improved. It’s not a case that the list itself was old. What the Secretary-General said — let me just go back to what he’d actually said on this — once second. Okay, “the Secretariat made efforts to reach out to staff and delegations, including through the emergency information website and the telephone hotline and by e-mails to Permanent Missions, but we learned that too many e-mail addresses were out of date or otherwise incorrect”. And so we’ll have to see where the problem lay there and how we could correct that. There are a number of things on which we will be looking into them over the course of this month and then report back to the Member States. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes, Farhan, about two days ago, I had asked about the border fights on… around the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. At that point in time, Martin [Nesirky] said that they have not… you’ve still not heard from UNMOGIP, the United Nations Observer Group between India and Pakistan. Has there been any communication by the UN… UNMOGIP about what happened last… not now, last two days there, about two days ago… about three days ago?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, UNMOGIP is there at the… deployed, as you know, at the Line of Control, but we don’t have any particular information on these incidents to share with you from their reporting. And with that, Mr. Botnaru, please, come on up.
* *** *For information media • not an official record