7 December 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General visited camps for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey today.  He saw the Za'atari camp in Jordan first, visiting a food distribution centre run by the World Food Programme and a playground for children run by UNICEF.  He later travelled to Turkey's Islahiye camp, where he saw a tent city and spoke with some residents there.


In remarks to the press following his visits to the camps, the Secretary-General said he was shocked, humbled and deeply moved by the stories that families shared with him.  He recalled one child who simply told him he wanted to go back to school.  The Secretary-General has once more appealed to all sides in Syria to stop the killing.  And, he pleaded for more funds for humanitarian assistance, at a time when the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan is only 50 per cent funded.  The Secretary-General said the people he met today are mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters.  “They are our family,” he said; “let us stand by them.” 


He met in Ankara later with the Turkish President and Prime Minister.  He is meeting the Foreign Minister tonight.  He will return to New York tomorrow.


** Syria


The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi visited UNRWA operations and staff in Syria yesterday.


In the Yarmouk Palestine refugee camp close to Damascus, the Commissioner-General spoke with displaced people sheltered in one of UNRWA’s 15 schools.  There are currently 2,631 internally displaced people in UNRWA schools as of 6 December, down by 275 from 22 November.  Mr. Grandi inspected damage to the school caused by shelling last week and paid condolences to two of the five families of UNRWA staff members recently killed in Syria.


The Commissioner-General also met with the Foreign Minister, the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador with whom he raised issues of continued humanitarian access, protection of civilians and the importance of ensuring Palestine refugees’ neutrality.  Lastly, he met with UN political and humanitarian officials and discussed ways to ensure the continuation of UN operations in the present security circumstances.


** Egypt


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed alarm today at the rising tension and recent deaths and injuries during protests related to Egypt’s draft constitution.  Pillay welcomed President Morsi’s call for dialogue on Thursday, but regretted there was no significant progress on the core issues relating to the constitution.  She raised serious concerns about the process leading up to the referendum, and said her Office had been carefully analysing the contents of the draft constitution, as well as monitoring the constitution-drafting process.


She added that the lack of inclusive participation of various actors in Egypt in the constitution-drafting process was a matter of major concern, and one of the main reasons for the situation that has been developing in Egypt over the past couple of weeks.  The High Commissioner noted that the draft constitution contained some important positive elements, including for example the limitation of the presidency to two four-year terms, but that there were also some very worrying omissions and ambiguities.  The full press release is available online.


**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels


The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Beirut, Lebanon, on 8 December to chair the annual Regional Coordination Mechanism of the ESCWA [Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia] meeting, to be held on 10 December in Beirut.  While in Lebanon, the Deputy Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with the President, the Prime Minister and other senior Government officials. 


He will visit the troops and staff working for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south of the country, as well as meet with UN country team representatives based in Beirut.  Mr. Eliasson will also review some of the activities undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon.  The Deputy Secretary-General will arrive back in New York on 12 December.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The situation in the Kivus remains fragile.  Reports indicate that some M23 elements remain in the Kibati and Munigi areas.  Goma remains calm and reports indicate that some 2,400 Congolese police have been deployed back in the city.  The return of United Nations personnel who were temporarily relocated out of Goma and Bunia is expected to be completed today. 


Today in Dar es Salaam, President Zuma will Chair a summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries that will focus on the situation in the eastern DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo].


With regard to reports of human rights violations in the Minova area, preliminary investigations by MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] indicate that several human rights violations, including rape and looting, were committed by FARDC [Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo] elements.  The soldiers had gathered there after retreating from Goma.  MONUSCO cannot confirm the reported figure of 72 rapes, but is on the ground conducting further investigations.  The Mission has expressed its serious concern with the Congolese authorities and has offered its support to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.  In terms of response, the United Nations and partners have been working with the provincial health authorities in South Kivu in order to make medical assistance available to survivors of sexual violence in health centres in the Minova


MONUSCO has also received allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including killings and wounding of civilians, rape, looting, as well as forced recruitment of children, by elements of the M23 in Goma and neighbouring territories of Rutshuru and Masisi, North Kivu province, since June 2012.  Investigations into these allegations are ongoing.  Despite difficulties in verifying reports due to security constraints, limited access to certain areas, and witness protection concerns, MONUSCO is able to confirm several serious human rights violations, including the killing and wounding of civilians, as well as looting, committed by the M23 in Goma and surrounding areas.


** Myanmar


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, wrapped up today her visit to Myanmar.  In a press conference in Yangon, Ms. Amos said that last year has seen remarkable changes within Myanmar, but humanitarian needs continue and in some areas have intensified.  She said that as the country moves ahead with the reform process, the Government needs to step up its efforts to address these critical humanitarian issues.  Ms. Amos expressed deep concern at the dire situation of internally displaced people in camps in Rakhine State.


The UN Refugee Agency says that six months after intercommunal violence broke out in Rakhine State, some 115,000 displaced people are still living in challenging circumstances.  UNHCR [Office of the United Nations Commission for Refugees] has distributed relief supplies to nearly two thirds of the affected communities but the needs are still massive.  The agency says that some areas of Rakhine State are still hard to reach due to their remote location and continuing tensions.  Nonetheless, UNHCR staff has distributed basic relief items and is advocating with the government and partners to improve site planning and provide basic services there.


**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


The South-East Asia mission of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, ends on Sunday.  During the 12-day mission, he discussed illicit drugs, transnational organized crime, anti-corruption and environmental crimes, including the illegal trade in timber and protected wildlife with heads of state, ministers, and experts.  He is presently on the Indonesian leg of his mission.  Previously, he visited Thailand, Myanmar, Viet Nam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council heard briefings by Chairmen of its subsidiary bodies.


The Council is now holding closed consultations on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and receiving an update from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous.  Mr. Ladsous is expected to speak to reporters at the stakeout position once the consultations have wrapped up.


** Guinea-Bissau


In answer to questions we have been getting on Guinea-Bissau, I have the following to say:


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Guinea-Bissau and head of UNIOGBIS [United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau], Joseph Mutaboba, who is in New York for consultations and to brief the Security Council next week, is completing his assignment at the end of the year.  He will spend the next few weeks, as is customary, debriefing and finalizing his end of assignment report at Headquarters.  The Secretary-General greatly appreciates SRSG Mutaboba’s service over nearly four years, in a challenging environment, to support peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau.  He is in the process of designating a successor.


**Timor-Leste Photo Exhibit


Journalists are invited to visit a photo exhibit that opens on Monday at 3:30 p.m. in the Visitors Lobby.  This exhibit features the strides made by Timor-Leste in building a nation a decade after the restoration of independence.  We have more information on this in our office.


That’s it from me.  Questions, please?  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Today, the Syrian rebels declared that the Damascus International Airport is a legitimate target, and they warned any civilians from going there.  Do you subscribe to this?  I mean, does the United Nations subscribe to this opinion that it is a legitimate target?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, we’ve seen the reports and again, all I can say is that the Secretary-General is calling on both sides to end the violence.  In terms of deciding what is a legitimate target, the violence in Syria is completely unacceptable, the killings are completely unacceptable by both sides, on both sides.  And that is the position of the Secretary-General. 


Question:  But, here this is a civilian airport… isn’t it… a civilian airport.


Deputy SpokespersonMasood?  Well, civilian… the Secretary-General has said that the violence must end.  That’s basically the Secretary-General’s position — the violence in Syria must end.  Masood?


Question:  Yes, sir.  Two questions.  One is about - you said that the appeal for funding the… I mean, for Syria is only 50 per cent.  In terms of dollars and cents, how much money is still lacking?  Can you give us a number?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information with me; we’ll have to find out.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that all the humanitarian appeals are publicly available and updated in real time on the financial tracking system website, and the Syria one is:  http://fts.unocha.org/Syria.  The current status is 51.3 per cent funded of $348 million, i.e. $178 million.]


Question:  Okay.  The other thing I wanted to know, since the international outcry over building of settlements by Israelis, and the Secretary-General has very vociferously asked Israel to stop it, has Israel communicated anything to the Secretary-General that it will rethink that or it will continue with this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Serry continues to press on this issue, and we’ll see what the response of the Israeli authorities are.  I have nothing else to comment on that.  Nizar?


Question:  The United States considers Al-Nusra as a terrorist group, and they are active in Syria and they are supported by Turkey, it seems they are allowed through Turkey smoothly.  Does the Secretary-General have an opinion about their categorization?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Look, the Secretary-General, as I said, Nizar, is concerned about the violence, and the violence has to end.  And, the militarization of the conflict is not helpful to anybody.  That is the Secretary-General’s position.  We are not going to get into parsing who is doing what; the violence on both sides must end.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  Thanks for that… that… the update on Minova, and I appreciate that.  I guess I just wanted… it’s… it’s… it’s… it’s kind of an obvious question.  If… if… if they found that… that this happened while these FARDC units were there and if they, meaning MONUSCO, works with FARDC, is there… and I tried to ask Martin this yesterday, is… there is two set… there is two kind of lists, one would be the list of FARDC units that were in Minova at the time of these acknowledged rapes, the other is just a… is probably needs your list to produce which is just which FARDC units does MONUSCO work with, and I am just wondering, why it’s so jeeping… so difficult to get this information.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think Martin was quite clear yesterday when he said that when investigations are going on, we don’t comment on who might or might not be involved.  I think that’s that.


Question:  That’s why I broke it down into two things and said that one is just a unit since that MONUSCO is… is directed by the Security Council to work with some FARDC units in the defence of Goma and other things and… and has a conditionality policy.  My question is not even about Minova; it is just which FARDC units does MONUSCO work with?  And… and I asked yesterday, is there a policy against saying who they are, because it is the only way to know if the…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to find out, okay.


Question:  Okay.  I hope you can try.  And I wanted to… I… maybe I’ve missed this one, there was a pretty high-profile life sentence given to a… to a poet in Qatar recently, and this was during, I… I believe the Secretary-General was obviously in the region.  Muhammad al-Dheeb al-Ajami was sentenced to life in prison for basically a poem that he wrote criticising the royal family of Qatar, and I wondered, especially given that the Secretary-General was there, is he aware of that case, what did he think of a life sentence for a poet or…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of the case and is following it.  We’ll have to see; you might want to talk to UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] to see if they have anything on that.  Okay. I see a hand.


Question:  Is there anything further in Mr. Brahimi’s travels after the big meeting yesterday?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we haven’t anything yet on that.  When we do, we’ll let you know.


Question:  Yesterday at the Security Council, there was a meeting of the Sudan Sanctions Committee, and although it was a closed-door meeting, both the Chairman and some other of the representatives were… you know, said that… that the UN’s Sudan Sanctions ex… financial experts, [inaudible], who is an American citizen, but he was appointed by the Secretary-General to be on that panel of experts, was blocked by Sudan… that he had a visa, he went… he went… he wasn’t allowed into the country, he was interrogated, and so various countries, the US, Colombia and others, has said it’s wrong, and I just wondered, since the Secretary-General appointed him, Sudan says he was on some black list that they will never accept him, what are the… what are the kind of… what’s this position of the Secretariat and also what is the legality of it?  Does he have a kind of an automatic right to enter the country as a UN panel of experts, and does the Secretary-General stand behind him, and what will he do to further that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all we don’t comment on closed meetings and what may have happened in closed meetings and may have been said in closed meetings.  But, we will take your question under consideration and see if we can find out further on that.


Question:  Yeah, this guy, because, his na… his na… his… okay, that will be great.


Deputy SpokespersonNizar?


Question:  [inaudible] situation in Tripoli in north Lebanon, it seems clashes are continuing unabated for three days running now.  More than 12 people have been killed and 100 injured.  Do you have any statement or any point about this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think Martin has said so earlier this week, if I recall; he even mentioned it yesterday again.  The Secretary-General has always been very concerned, not only about the violence in Syria, but the potential for spillover into neighbouring States.  And, that is why the violence must end.  It is exacerbating tensions in the region, and that is a very dangerous situation for the global community.  Evelyn?  No?  Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, one last question.


Correspondent:  Go ahead.


Question:  About the Syrian refugees in the UNIFIL area, I asked in the past and I received a note that there are no Syrian refugees in the UNIFIL area in south Lebanon.  But, definite reports or evidence shows that there are refugees there, but they are not cared after, no… nobody is caring for them.  Are there any plans to extend aid to those refugees living [inaudible]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’d have to speak to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office; they are the people who take care of refugees; they could tell you if, in fact, there are refugees there and what is being done for them.  One last question, Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you about, I… I heard your announcement on Mr. Mutaboba and I know that you have been getting questions about it.  It seems that he, before he left Guinea-Bissau, let it be known that he was basically being in essence, PNG’d [Persona non Grata] in the sense that the coup leaders or the… the post coup Government there has said that… that… that he hasn’t accepted him as the leader and that they are… when he left, he said that “probably I am not coming back”.  So I just wanted to… I mean, to… to… what would you say to those who have said that this is a situation of the UN kind of… kind of withdrawing or… or… or bringing… bringing home early somebody who… who wasn’t liked by the Government where he was?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, four years is considered a fairly good run as SRSG, especially in a difficult environment.  And, I think Mr. Mutaboba is ending his stay in Guinea-Bissau very honourably and very well having done an excellent job.


Question:  And… and give… do you think that given the issues, if he is here, actually you know, debriefing and all this, maybe it is possible to get some either a stakeout or some kind of a media availability to… to… for him to reflect on his four years and where he thinks it’s going, and I also, I also just wanted to… since you announced that Mr. Ladsous will do a stakeout, is it your understanding that he will be willing to take… even-handedly take questions, including on this Minova human rights due diligence policy?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Ladsous manages his own stakeout; I don’t manage it for him.  With respect to Mr. Mutaboba, I believe we can ask and see if we can do a stakeout.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a nice weekend.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record