|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, everybody. Welcome to the briefing.
**Mali — Humanitarian
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that clashes over the weekend in northern and central Mali have resulted in new population displacement — both within Mali and into neighbouring countries.
In Niger, teams from UNHCR are reporting that 450 refugees arrived on Friday and Saturday in the west of the country. In Burkina Faso, 309 people have arrived in camps in the north and north-east. And in Mauritania, 471 Malian refugees have reportedly arrived at the Fassala reception centre near the Malian border. The UN refugee agency said that these refugees will be transported further away from the border to the Mbera camp, which is already hosting some 54,000 Malian refugees who were displaced last year.
The UN refugee agency said that it has updated its contingency planning in case of new major potential influxes to neighbouring countries and new displacements in Mali, and that it is ready to respond with assistance as needed.
**Mali — UNESCO
The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) urged military forces today to protect cultural sites in Mali during air raids and ground interventions.
Irina Bokova sent a letter to Malian and French authorities, urging them to respect the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols.
Ms. Bokova said that the protection of cultural heritage is an essential part of all sustainable efforts to build peace and respect for human rights. Mali has four sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The Secretary-General will travel to San Francisco on Thursday. He will speak at Stanford University on the theme “The United Nations and a World in Transition”. After the lecture, the Secretary-General will meet with university and local dignitaries, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary William Perry.
On Friday, he will speak at the Monterey Institute of International Studies on the theme “Advancing the Disarmament and Non-proliferation Agenda: Seeking Peace in an Over-armed World”. The Secretary-General will return to New York over the weekend.
The Security Council is holding a debate this morning on counter-terrorism. The Secretary-General spoke at that debate and highlighted three priorities in the fight against terrorism: the critical links between development and security; the importance of dialogue and understanding; and dealing with the increasing use of information technology to spread hate.
As Governments work to eliminate terrorism, the Secretary-General urged humanitarian, security and political actors to ensure that efforts to prevent acts of terrorism do not ever impede the timely and principled delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians. His remarks are available in my office.
**World Food Programme
The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, has concluded a visit to Turkey this week by meeting Syrian refugees in Kilis camp on the Turkish-Syrian border. Before this visit, Ms. Cousin had two days of high-level meetings with Turkish officials in Ankara and Istanbul.
The World Food Programme began providing food assistance, in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent, in October last year. It plans to expand the project to assist 100,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey by June. And there is more information on this on the World Food Programme website.
Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned in the strongest terms possible the killing of a Member of Parliament for Anbar, Ifan Al-Issawi, in a terrorist attack in the middle of a demonstration in Fallujah. That attack also caused the death and injury of a number of other people. Mr. Kobler said that it is vital to be able to demonstrate peacefully, as well as to protect protestors from infiltration by terrorists.
That’s what I have. Questions, please? Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin. As you reported, the UN refugee agency is concerned about the inflow of refugees into neighbouring countries following the military intervention in Mali. Is the Secretary-General also concerned about the possible expansion of terrorism into… in the neighbouring States to Mali?
Spokesperson: Well, this is one of the reasons why the Secretary-General is saying that he has welcomed that the bilateral partners have responded, at the request and with the consent of the Government of Mali, to its call for assistance to counter the troubling push southward by armed and terrorist groups. And he also said that these latest events underscore the urgency of implementing all aspects of resolution 2085 (2012). Clearly, that is aimed at the full restoration of Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity, and that evidently would have a role in helping to ensure that there is no further development beyond those borders of this phenomenon. Okay, other questions? Yes, Iftikhar?
Question: Martin, it’s not a question, but you read out parts of the Secretary-General’s speech in the Security Council on terrorism, but it has not been released, nor is it available on the website.
Spokesperson: Say again?
Correspondent: The Secretary-General’s speech to the Security Council on terrorism is not available on the website, the UN website, nor has it been released to the press.
Spokesperson: Let me check; I am sure my colleagues are listening right now, and we will check what the position is, because if…
Correspondent: Up to five minutes ago there wasn’t the speech.
Spokesperson: Okay, well, as I say, let’s check on that. All right. Thanks very much for pointing it out. Any other questions? Yes, Matthew?
[The Spokesperson later informed the reporter that the speech had been posted already on the Spokesperson’s website, at http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=6550.]
Question: Sure, Martin, I wanted to ask on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], but just a follow-up on Mali, there is a… there are reports of the, you know, civilians killed by bombing, presumably by the French; there is also… MSF [Médicins Sans Frontieres] is saying that in a town called Duenza, that even people that are hit can’t make it to hospital, and I am just wondering, both because of the role assigned to him and… and under resolution 2085, and just more generally, does the Sec… what does the Secretariat… what is… what… what… is it or can it do to track the effects on civilians of this bombing campaign, and… and what is the status of implementing the Secretary-General’s own, you know, duties under that resolution in terms of human rights and screening, I guess to some degree, of Malian forces?
Spokesperson: Well, I think that we’ve stressed that the Secretary-General hopes that these actions which are being taken now, I mean the response by France and other partners at the request of the Malian authorities, will help to arrest the latest offensive while efforts continue to fully implement Security Council resolution 2085 (2012), which is aimed, as I mentioned just now, at the full restoration of Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity. What we’ve also said is that the efforts by ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] on the mediation front, they really need to be carried out. And there also needs to be the development of a consensual road map and that needs to be, that road map is to ensure that there is the support for AFISMA — the African-led International Support Mission in Mali — and the Malian defence forces, AFISMA being something that needs to come into effect under Council resolution 2085 (2012). I think the French Permanent Representative explained the deliberations in the Council consultations yesterday. And I think the statement which we put out yesterday provides some detail on the Secretary-General’s thinking on this.
With regard to civilians, of course in any military operation that is taking place anywhere it is incumbent upon those carrying out those military operations to take all possible measures to minimize the effects on civilians, whether harm to them, physical harm to them, or displacement, as I was talking about a little bit earlier, too. So we are obviously watching this extremely closely, and we will receive updated briefings, as Member States will also receive, as this operation proceeds. And just to underscore also, the humanitarian side of this cannot be overlooked. It is extremely important, as we said in the past months; already many people have had to flee either inside Mali or across borders. And the food insecurity is a major concern and has been for months, and that doesn’t appear to be getting better, and therefore there does need to be quite a focus on that.
Question: But just… and just one… just one part of that, I just wanted to know, I mean, The Guardian is appa… has reported, on whatever basis, 11 civilians killed, three of them children. I just wonder, is there some… is the UN at any point… is it tracking that, and if so, how is it getting information, and is it going to release its sort of, you know, best… best estimate of the number of civilian casualties?
Spokesperson: Well, we are obviously monitoring the reports that there are, and I would need to check whether there is a formal mechanism for that. But as I have just said, it is incumbent on all those undertaking military operations to minimize to the utmost degree the effect on civilians. Yes?
Question: Martin, thank you. Yesterday, the… more than… more than 50 countries, I think close to 60 countries, actually, sent a letter to the Security Council requesting that the Council refer Syria to the ICC [International Criminal Court]. Within this context, what is the Secretary-General’s view of Mr. [Bashar al-]Assad? Does he see Mr. Assad as the legitimate representative of Syrian people? How does the UN look at it, since a lot of countries actually now recognize the opposition as the representative of Syrian people?
Spokesperson: I think you’ve answered the question yourself in a sense by referring to countries “recognizing”. It is for Member States, for countries, to recognize other entities, and not for the Secretary-General. With regard to any referral to the ICC by the Security Council, that’s plainly a matter for them. And so I wouldn’t really have anything further to add on that. Okay. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Martin, following these military operations in Mali, has the UN taken any preventive security measures to protect its staff in the neighbouring countries to Mali?
Spokesperson: I don’t think you would really expect me to speak about security arrangements for staff, Mr. Abbadi. Right, other questions, please? Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask some things about the… the DRC. There have been… there have been two different reports of… of the FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] fighting first the Mai-Mai Morgan, with… supposedly with the support of MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo), and… and there is… it is said that six people were killed, it wasn’t said by which side. And also then, more recently, fighting in Raia Mutomboki in… in another part of the eastern Congo. In… in… I guess, in… one, I wanted to know is this, can you confirm… do you have some kind of readout of this, what seems to be fighting by non-M23 groups? And also, is it possible to know which units of the FARDC the UN was supporting in this fight against Mai-Mai Morgan, because I know we’ve had… there has been a row about the Minova raids and which units were there, and which units MONUSCO works with. Is there any update on the Mo… on the Minova investigation, and how does MONUSCO know that the units that it is supporting since then, against Mai-Mai Morgan, were not the ones in Minova committing rapes in November?
Spokesperson: I’ll check with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Matthew, okay? Yes, Evelyn? I also have a statement which I will read out after I have answered your question.
Question: Do you want to read the statement?
Spokesperson: No, please, what’s your question?
Question: Your UNESCO statement, I saw about protecting monuments and… and other sites in Mali. I saw television pictures of one them being hacked to pieces, I believe it was Timbuktu. I couldn’t find any details, but I’ll keep looking, and I am wondering here, reading from UNESCO, if they have any examples?
Spokesperson: I am not sure that it got into that level of detail, but Ms. Bokova has in the past expressed her concerns and outrage at the destruction that has already taken place, as we are all aware, and we have obviously seen pictures of that destruction. So this is simply to underscore the need to try to ensure that those monuments that remain and other listed sites are protected during military operations. We can check with UNESCO to see if they have any further details.
**Statement on the Central African Republic
I do have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic:
The Secretary-General welcomes the agreements signed in Libreville on 11 January 2013: the declaration of principle, the ceasefire agreement and the political agreement on the resolution of the crisis in the Central African Republic. He urges the Government of the Central African Republic, politico-military groups, the Séléka coalition and opposition parties to fully implement these agreements.
The Secretary-General commends the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and regional leaders for their prompt mobilization in response to the crisis in the Central African Republic. He calls on the country’s partners to enhance their support to ongoing efforts to bring stability and lasting peace to the country.
The Secretary-General reiterates the readiness of the United Nations, through his Special Representative and the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, to support peacebuilding efforts and the full implementation of the Libreville peace accords.
So that’s a statement which I am sure will be distributed electronically shortly. Okay, yes, time for one more question?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask about South Sudan and Sri Lanka, maybe it will be an answer. One, I just wanted to ask about the… this black box, I know of the helicopter that was shot down in December. Yesterday, the Russian Deputy [Permanent Representative], Mr. [Alexander] Pankin, has said that they were supposed to get the box yesterday; they didn’t get it, it was postponed indefinitely, and that somehow it’s… it’s… it’s… the UN can’t turn it over without the consent of the… of the South… of South Sudan. Is… is that an accurate desc… depiction of things? And I know it was… I was… they were… they were… there were… they said at closed consultations, but it seems that Russia is pretty upset about… it plans to raise it at the AU [African Union]. Does the UN think that this could hurt relations with equipment- or troop-contributing countries, that they can’t get information about their own nationals killed in this way? Does the UN agree that South Sudan should block the release of the black box to Russia?
Spokesperson: Well, as you’re having two for the price of one, ask me the Sri Lanka question as well, and then I will answer that.
Question: Okay. Okay, great. The other… and it’s just… I know I asked you before, so I am sorry to ask you again, but now… first I had asked you when the… when the legislature voted to impeach the Chief Justice, you said there was no comment. Now President Mahinda Rajapaksa has accepted that, the Chief Justice is out, there is a lot of unrest, the opposition leader is not going to attend the naming of a new… a new… a new Chief Justice who would be Mohan Peiris, who I know the Secretary-General has met with. Given his involvement in 2009 and the statement made at the time, does this have any… any thoughts of what many people view as the… the… the elimination of… of… of the last possible judicial opposition to the Rajapaksa Government?
Spokesperson: Well, thank you for your questions, Matthew. On the last one first, or the last set of questions first: no, we don’t have any comment at this time. We are obviously aware of the media reports, and if that changes and we have something to say, I’ll certainly let you know. With regard to the investigation into the helicopter that was brought down in South Sudan, this is an investigation that is under way, and it is standing policy of the mission, and indeed of any mission, not to comment on an investigation that is under way.
Question: But is it a South Sudan investigation or a UN investigation?
Spokesperson: I said there is an investigation under way, and it is standing policy of peacekeeping operations not to comment on investigations that are under way.
That’s what I have. Thanks very much. Good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record