8 January 2013
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.


** Bahrain


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bahrain.


The Secretary-General deeply regrets the decision of Bahrain’s Court of Cassation on 7 January to uphold the harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, against 20 Bahraini political activists.


He reiterates his firm belief that the only way to promote peace, stability, justice and prosperity in Bahrain is through a national dialogue which addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis, and in which all communities can participate freely, without fear or intimidation.  The Secretary-General calls on all Bahrainis to contribute to creating a peaceful and conducive atmosphere for such a dialogue to begin as soon as possible.


The Secretary-General also calls on the Government of Bahrain to follow through on its recently reiterated commitment to judicial reform.


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed its regret about the convictions being upheld.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council was briefed in closed consultations by the United Nations Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkerios, on the situation in both countries.  John Ging, the Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also briefed the Council.


This afternoon, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will brief the Council in closed consultations on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


** Syria


UN agencies and humanitarian partners continue to reach hundreds of thousands of people in Syria despite insecurity, attacks, roads closures, fuel shortages and lack of access to conflict-affected areas.


Since the beginning of January, the World Food Programme (WFP) has reached 800,000 people and it says that it hopes to reach 1.5 million people with food distributions in Syria this month.


It is estimated that 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance in Syria.  The World Food Programme says that it is unable to further increase assistance because of a lack of implementing partners on the ground and challenges reaching some of the country’s areas.  Insecurity and fuel shortage are also complicating factors.  The World Food Programme says it has recently received approval from the Syrian Government to import fuel for its operations in Syria.


Other agencies such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) have reached more than 150,000 people with essential supplies such as hygiene and first-aid kits and warm clothes for the winter.


And concerning Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that aid organizations have increased winter assistance in places where the temperature continues to drop.  In Jordan, for example, thousands of families have received heating stoves, blankets and other winter items.


The World Food Programme (WFP) is also responding to the needs of refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with food distributions and food vouchers.  The bad weather in some neighbouring countries has caused some roads to be blocked, but agencies are responding to the best of their abilities and prepositioned stocks are being distributed.


** Iraq


The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is closely following the course of the demonstrations that are taking place in several Iraqi governorates.  The Mission has reaffirmed its commitment to support the political and human rights of all Iraqi citizens, as well their social, cultural and economic rights, in the framework of the rule of law.


Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, called on the protesters to refrain from violence and to maintain the peaceful character of their demonstrations.  He called on the security forces to show the utmost restraint in maintaining law and order.  Mr. Kobler also urges all sides to engage without delay in a peaceful and constructive dialogue, in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution and Iraqi law.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, has welcomed the sanctions imposed by the Security Council on the FDLR [Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda] and M23 [Mouvement du 23 mars] for committing heinous acts of violence including grave and repeated acts of conflict-related sexual violence against civilian populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She said that the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee for the DRC had led the way in focusing on crimes of sexual violence.


The Special Representative condemned reported acts of violence being committed in areas controlled by armed groups, including M23 and FDLR.  She said that these recent sanctions by the Security Council serve as a reminder and a signal of intent that they will be held accountable for all acts of sexual violence committed in these areas.  The full press release is available online in English and in French.


** Central African Republic


The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that its warehouse in the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic had been looted and that 209 tons of food had been lost.  The UN Food Agency also said that three trucks were vandalized.  The World Food Programme said that it is poised to restart operations in the Central African Republic as soon as practically possible.  The World Food Programme said that, with more than 1,000 tons of food in its warehouse in the capital Bangui, it is still able to feed 300,000 people for one week when needed.


That’s what I have; questions, please.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  Then Erol.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you indicated, there are a lot of demonstrations taking place in Iraq, continuing all these past few days, and the opposition is asking for the release of political prisoners in the country.  You mentioned the reaction of the UN Mission in Iraq; what about the reaction of the Secretary-General himself regarding the situation?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has a Special Representative for Iraq, and we have heard from him and you’ve just heard me refer to his comments on this.  The Secretary-General obviously subscribes to the views put forward by Martin Kobler on this matter.  Yes, Erol?


Question:  Some of us have witnessed the Secretary-General’s first day in his old new office a couple of weeks ago.  In terms of renovation, is the Secretary-General satisfied in terms of moneywise and efficiency, beside what he has said, and even of aesthetics of the new old place?


Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General sees the bigger picture here.  Of course, the offices, not just the 38th floor where he is located, but throughout the building, have been renovated fully.  And the main aim of that is to bring the United Nations completely into the twenty-first century; to have a building which is environmentally friendly, and also enables those working there to be able to work more efficiently.  As for the aesthetics, of course that is often a question of taste.  Certainly, the Secretary-General is pleased with the layout of the 38th floor, but as I say, he is looking at the bigger picture and how this can help all of us work better to serve the people around the world who look to the United Nations for assistance.


Question:  Moneywise and the speed of the renovation?


Spokesperson:  Well, moneywise, the Secretary-General has said very clearly that he is extremely grateful to Member States, who after all, and the taxpayers in those Member States, who have paid for this renovation.  This is a major project of many years planning and now being implemented.  It’s not yet completed, of course, because there is the work still to be done on the General Assembly itself, as well as on the Secretariat building which is obviously drawing to a close at this point.  Other questions, please?  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible].  In Presevo Valley, southern Serbia, tensions are high between locals and the Serbian Government regarding the memorial that the Serbian Government is trying to destroy, tear down.  Having in mind that that can produce a wider conflict, what is the Secretary-General doing in this regard?  Is he doing anything to try to prevent or, now that we have ongoing dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, that could affect that and further higher implications?


Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, the United Nations is following developments in Serbia’s Presevo Valley.  And the UN has consistently underscored the need for internal and regional reconciliation in the western Balkans.  And this is a point that has been emphasized during recent meetings between the Secretary-General and senior officials of the region, including President Nikolić of Serbia and representatives of the Kosovo authorities.  Okay.


Question:  Can I follow up on that?


Spokesperson:  Yes, please.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General think… or any possibility of sending an envoy or someone to try to calm things down?


Spokesperson:  Look, I didn’t really have anything further to add beyond what I have said.  Simply to say that we are obviously monitoring these developments and the United Nations has been consistent in underscoring the need for reconciliation, both internal and regional in the Western Balkans.  Yes?


Question:  A follow-up?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think you are going to get much more, but you can try.


Question:  Different angle a little bit, since there is a sort of opportunity that the Secretary-General and he has often mentioned the very good relationship with the current President of the General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremić of Serbia, is he considering to use his good offices or services, whatever, to do what you have said in that direction?


Spokesperson:  If you mean the good offices of the President of the General Assembly, you need to ask the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  If you mean the Secretary-General, I have given you an answer on what we are looking at, and that is the need for internal and regional reconciliation.  And this is something that the Secretary-General has raised, including during his visit to the region and also here when there have been visits to New York by representatives from the region.


Question:  Did he talk to the President of the General Assembly that he… is he planning to talk regarding this?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think that is likely at the moment.  But you could also check in with the President of the General Assembly on his views on the matter, but I don’t speak for him.  Yes?


Question:  Yes, Martin.  On this border incident between India and Pakistan, the situation seems to be getting… I mean… mean, a little bit more complicated than earlier [inaudible].  UNMOGIP, you said yesterday, would have something to say; they have not said anything as yet…


Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said, Masood.


Question:  Huh?


Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.  I said they were aware of the reported incidents, as they are aware of the incident that’s been reported today.


Correspondent:  Yeah.


Spokesperson:  And if we have anything further on the matter, then I will let you know, but I don’t at the moment.


Question:  The question is… the question is basically, so they have not had anything, any comments or anything to say about the clashes at all?


Spokesperson:  As I said, they are aware of the reported incidents and…


Question:  Being aware doesn’t mean in the sense that Secretary-General… does Secretary-General have anything to say about these clashes?  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  As I say, as I say, Masood…


Correspondent:  Yeah.  Yes, sir?


Spokesperson:  As I say, the Military Observer Group is obviously aware of the reports on the incidents, and if we have anything further on the matter, then clearly I would let you know, but I don’t at the moment, okay?  Yes, Erol?


Question:  Martin, much has been said recently regarding the ICTY, work of the ICTY [inaudible], and I know that the Secretary-General as a rule doesn’t comment on any verdicts of… so my question is how the… what is the Secretary-General’s opinion and how much he is satisfied indeed with the exit strategy… with the speed of the exit strategy of the ICTY?


Spokesperson:  I think you’ve answered your own question.  The ICTY has a role to play, and the Secretary-General is not going to comment on its workings.  If that changes, I will let you know, but I don’t have anything on that, okay?


Any other questions?  Okay, thanks.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record