18 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


** Pakistan


The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, have condemned the multiple attacks that have killed six health workers in the past 24 hours in Pakistan. 


They said in a statement that those killed were among thousands who work selflessly across Pakistan to eradicate polio.  They said that such attacks deprive Pakistan’s most vulnerable populations – especially children – of basic life-saving health interventions.  The World Health Organization and UNICEF said that they remain committed to supporting the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in their efforts to rid the country of polio and other diseases.


I can also tell you the Secretary-General joins the World Health Organization and UNICEF in condemning these senseless and inexcusable attacks on health workers.  The Secretary-General will shortly meet the Pakistani Permanent Representative, who is next month’s Security Council President, and during that meeting, the Secretary-General intends to express his condolences and condemnation of those attacks.


**Palestinians in Syria


The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says that more than 150,000  Palestine refugees residing in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus, have experienced particularly intense armed engagements in recent days, involving the use of heavy weapons and aircraft.  Credible reports point to civilian deaths, injuries and destruction of property in Yarmouk.  There are also waves of significant displacement as Yarmouk residents scramble to seek safety.  You will recall that the Secretary-General also expressed his grave concern about the fighting in Yarmouk and firmly condemns this escalation of armed violence, in particular the shelling of population centres and attacks against civilians.


Palestine refugees are also fleeing beyond Damascus.  Although the scale and direction of this movement cannot be precisely determined, some have made their way to Lebanon.  The Relief and Works Agency appeals to all parties to refrain from actions that endanger civilian lives and property.  The Agency appreciates that the Government of Lebanon is allowing Palestine refugees from Syria to seek safety in Lebanon, and reiterates that refugees fleeing conflict must be accorded the safety and protection to which they are entitled under international law.


** Syria — Humanitarian


Also on Syria, Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited Damascus last Saturday, and as you saw, she briefed the Security Council yesterday on her concerns on the deteriorating security situation in Syria and its impact on neighbouring countries, particularly Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.  The number of people who have fled the country has now reached 500,000.


Ms. Amos said that she asked the Syrian Government to allow the United Nations to import fuel because the shortage is impeding humanitarian operations.  She also asked the Government to consider whether a number of additional international non-governmental organizations can work in the country so that humanitarian activities can be increased significantly.


Ms. Amos emphasized that, while the security situation remains volatile, UN humanitarian organizations have every intention of continuing to work in Syria to help those people in need.  We are looking at a range of options so that we continue to operate outside and inside Syria, security permitting.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is investigating alleged human rights violations in Minova and surrounding villages, which occurred between 20 and 30 November.  So far, two UN Joint Human Rights Office teams have visited the area this month and have interviewed more than 200 people.  According to preliminary findings, the UN Mission has documented at least 126 cases of rape.  The teams were also able to confirm the killing of two civilians, including one minor.


The Congolese Armed Forces have started investigating those human rights violations.  The UN Mission is supporting the military justice procedure in conducting thorough investigations into these allegations to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and held accountable.  To date, nine soldiers from the Armed Forces have been arrested, two in connection with the rapes and seven in connection with lootings.


Officials from the UN Mission met today with the Vice Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Defence, to share preliminary findings.  And the Mission is working with the Government to establish what Congolese Armed Forces units the soldiers belong to in order to review any support provided to these units in accordance with the United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.


** Haiti


UN agencies and humanitarian partners appealed today for $144 million to help more than a million people in Haiti next year.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the funding will be used to respond to crises, including food insecurity, cholera and displacement.


About 2 million Haitians are facing food insecurity, and more than 350,000 people are still living in camps and depend on humanitarian aid.  Aid organizations are concerned that the resurgence of cholera in remote areas could affect more than 100,000 people next year.


The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said that drought, and storms such as Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, have left millions of people with less food and fewer jobs.  He said that if we do not help people recover, much of what has been achieved so far may be lost.


**Security Council


The Security Council has been holding consultations this morning on Sudan and South Sudan and on the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, to consider the Secretary-General’s recent reports on each of those topics.


In his report on Sudan and South Sudan, the Secretary-General congratulated the Presidents of the two countries and their negotiating teams on their leadership in reaching agreement on a range of important issues in September.  If properly implemented, they will play a decisive role in guiding the cooperation and development of the two countries and peoples.


And in his report on Iraq and Kuwait, the Secretary-General mentioned his recent visit to both countries and the willingness of both parties to move forward and address outstanding issues.


This afternoon at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hold a meeting on the Central African Republic.  After that, Council members will resume consultations to discuss the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And tomorrow afternoon, the Council will meet on Afghanistan and hear from Special Representative Jan Kubiš, who intends to speak to reporters after that meeting.


**Press Conferences


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., as we already announced, the Secretary-General will be here to give his year-end press conference.  And needless to say, that means we won’t have the noon briefing tomorrow.


And then at 12:30 p.m., the Russian Mission to the United Nations is sponsoring a press conference about a report entitled the regions of Russia and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and that will also take place here.

So questions, please?  Yes, Masood, and then Mr. Abbadi.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, sir.  About this latest report that Syria has now accused these refugees who have gone to other countries of aiding the rebel groups; do you have any comment on that, that rebel groups are being aided and helped by the refugees?


Spokesperson:  Look, the Secretary-General made his views clear in the statement that we put out about the escalation of violence in Syria and particularly what has happened in the last couple of days in Yarmouk.  He remains extremely concerned about that; that’s one of the reasons why he spoke by telephone with the Syrian Foreign Minister yesterday morning.  The Secretary-General made it perfectly clear in his conversation with the Syrian Foreign Minster that of course refugees have spent many years in Syria, and have, the Syrian authorities have over many years hosted those refugees and it is incumbent upon the Syrian authorities to continue to ensure their safety and security.  Okay, yes, Mr. Abbadi, and then I will come to you, Nizar.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you indicated, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, spoke to Syrian authorities about the worsening situation in the country.  At what level did she hold those discussions, was it with the Foreign Minister or Minister of Health?


Spokesperson:  She met a wide range of officials, including the Foreign Minister and other officials from the Government, precisely because she wanted to be able to have a very clear conversation about her concerns about humanitarian access and also about the need, as I just explained, and as she explained yesterday, for there to be fuel allowed into the country so that humanitarian deliveries can continue.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, regarding the attack on Yarmouk and taking over of Yarmouk by the Syrian rebels, this was made public on media… I mean, introduced with some of their leaders saying that this is a step in order to take Damascus.  Does the Secretary-General expect that the State of… of Syria accepts such an attack and without retaliation, for example?


Spokesperson:  There has been too much violence for too many months; I think you would not expect the Secretary-General to endorse any further violence, Nizar.  Yes, Matthew?


Correspondent:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  You heard my answer, Nizar; you hear my answer, Nizar, thank you very much.  Yeah?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask two questions about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  One is, just this morning in front of the Security Council, French Ambassador Araud said that these consultations this afternoon concern M23, but also what he called the initiative of Mrs. Malcorra.  And I wanted to know, first just factually, is Susana Malcorra going to brief the Council this afternoon, and two, has she engaged in any initiative on the Democratic Republic of the Congo since her visit to Goma and meeting with M23?


Spokesperson:  Well, consultations, as you know, are behind closed doors.  So I don’t have any further details for you Matthew.


Question:  But often you say who is briefing, so I am wondering, is she going to be briefing and also if the UN is engaged in an initiative… I mean, I know… I heard what you said, is that… that’s all you are going to say?


Spokesperson:  You guessed it.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  What’s the next question?


Question:  I wanted to ask you about this announcement you made about Minova, thanks for… for the level of detail, but I wanted to ask a couple of things.  One is, and I… I… you know, you said that… that… that… that the… the… Congolese authorities haven’t… have… have… have arrested two soldiers for rape and you’ve also said that there is a minimum of 126 rapes.  So I guess it’s… maybe it should be obvious, but does the UN think that all of these crimes were committed by two individuals or are they looking for further arrests?  And related questions are…


Spokesperson:  Well, just to get to that…


Correspondent:  Please.


Spokesperson:  Just to get to that, I guess you didn’t hear the two words that preceded nine soldiers, and those two words were “to date”.


Correspondent:  Right, okay.


Spokesperson:  Okay?


Question:  Because my question is this… is that in… to date, Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been unwilling to state which units of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo it works with just as a factual matter using public funds and also in the past year whether it has in fact suspended support to any such units under this vaunted human rights due diligence policy.  So I think that that… that… that’s what has led to this sort of like pulling teeth process, is that, are they going to state that whether they have ever suspended… you know, suspended support in the past?


Spokesperson:  Listen, listen, you have asked the question to DPKO, and I am sure that they will answer when they have the information, and if that information is properly available at the time.  Just to roll back to this particular incident or set of incidents that took place in late November.  This is an investigation that continues in the hands of the Congolese authorities, and that’s where it belongs, that’s a military justice procedure.  And that investigation continues, and therefore it is not possible to say at this point precisely which units.  But as I also did say, the Mission is working with the Government to establish what Congolese armed forces units the soldiers belong to in order to review any support provided to these units in accordance with the United Nations human rights due diligence policy.


Question:  And will be… and this is my… I guess my… my question throughout, this has been sort of a policy question, will… will MONUSCO or the Department of Peacekeeping Operations make public which units were involved and also make public which units they work with, because since… it’s been so difficult to get these answers that there is… there is a…


Spokesperson:  On the first part, Matthew,


Correspondent:  Please.


Spokesperson:  On the first part, I’ve just spelled it out for the second time.


Correspondent:  Sure.


Spokesperson:  Simply that an investigation is under way, that the Mission needs to know, working with the Congolese armed forces, which units these soldiers belonged to, and bearing in mind that that investigation is still going on, it is not possible to say at this point.  But once that information is to hand, then, of course, you do review the support that’s provided to units.


Question:  [inaudible] that’s… that’s what really I have been trying to drive at, is this an internal Department of Peacekeeping Operations process, or is there…


Spokesperson:  Well, I would be… I would be fairly confident that once those details are known and are in place, it will be possible to say.  But that’s an investigation that is still going on, Matthew.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, regarding the Palestinian refugees, is it not incumbent on the Israeli authorities to allow these back to their homeland, since they have been enough as refugees?  Why should Lebanon, why should Jordan, why should Turkey receive them?


Spokesperson:  You know very well that that is a topic that would take well beyond the noon briefing, Nizar.


Question:  [inaudible] about Secretary-General’s support that they should be allowed back into their homeland?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General supports the two-State solution, as you well know, where both the Palestinian people and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security.  That policy is extremely well known.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that the countries that border Syria and that have taken in most of the refugees at this point, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon have been extremely generous in their hospitality and working with the UN on the ground, and simply off their own backs, they have been extremely generous.  That’s one of the reasons both the Deputy Secretary-General and the Secretary-General have visited those three countries just in recent days to express their support and solidarity, both with the receiving Governments, and of course, the people who have fled out of Syria, including Syrians, and of course some Palestinians.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General plead with the Gulf Cooperation Countries, the richer countries in the region; to receive some of those refugees which are really their life is at stake here?


Spokesperson:  I think pure geography helps to determine where people are going when they are travelling, often under their own steam with very, very limited possibilities.  And so it is obvious that the international community at large should provide greater support.  I think you will hear more about that tomorrow from the humanitarian part of the United Nations, and I suspect also from the Secretary-General when he gives his press conference.


Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.


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For information media • not an official record