18 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 everybody.  Welcome to the Briefing.


**Secretary-General in California


The Secretary-General is in California today, where he will speak on disarmament and non-proliferation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  In his remarks, he is expected to call for more progress on nuclear disarmament.  The Secretary-General is also expected to encourage the nuclear-armed States to come up with a bold set of measures to promote transparency about their nuclear arsenals.


In his speech, he is expected to say that another year of stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament would be simply unacceptable.  The Secretary-General will also say that we must intensify efforts to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force.


**Security Council


The Security Council began consultations on Syria this morning.  Council members are hearing a briefing about the human rights situation in the country from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.  She will speak to reporters at the stakeout following those consultations.


** Mali — Djinnit


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, was in Bamako yesterday and met with the President of Mali, Dioncounda Traoré.  They shared views about the fast-evolving situation on the ground.  Mr. Djinnit also stressed the importance of the political process.  Today, Mr. Djinnit is in Abidjan, attending the Mediation and Security Council of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  He will participate to the ECOWAS Heads of States Summit on Saturday.


**Mali — UN Team


Also on Mali, in continuation of UN efforts to assist with the restoration of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of Mali, the multidisciplinary presence called for in Security Council resolution 2085 (2012) is deploying with the arrival in Bamako of an advance team on Saturday and the start of its consultations with the Malian authorities on Monday, 21 January.


The initial team will be headed by Mr. João Honwana, Director of the Africa II Division of the Department of Political Affairs, and the initial team will include representatives of the Departments of Field Support, Peacekeeping Operations, Public Information, Safety and Security, and also the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The role of the advance team is to engage with the Malian authorities to ensure full UN support in the implementation of resolution 2085 on both its political and security tracks.


** Mali — Human Rights


A new report by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that the crisis in Mali has led to various human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, rape and torture — both in the north and in the area under Government control.


The report, which was requested by the Human Rights Council, presents the findings of a human rights mission deployed to Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger from 11 to 20 November 2012.  In northern Mali, serious human rights violations have been taking place since January of last year, including summary executions and extrajudicial killings, according to this report.  Human rights experts also found that civilians in the north suffered from degrading treatment by extremist groups, based on an extreme interpretation of Sharia.


The human rights team also highlighted human rights violations in territories under the control of the Malian Government, including the extrajudicial killings of several soldiers of the Malian army and at least 21 cases of forced disappearances.  The Office calls on all parties to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law standards and for the initiation of a reconciliation process.  The Office also urges the Malian army and its supporters to take extreme care not to carry out further reprisals as and when they retake territory in the north.  The report was published earlier today and, for now at least, it is available only in French.


**Mali — Refugees


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that military operations continue in northern Mali; it is reinforcing its teams across the region to assist the internally displaced persons and refugees.  The agency says that displacement across borders has been rising steadily — with 2,744 Malian refugees having arrived in neighbouring countries in the past week.  This brings the number of Malian refugees in neighbouring countries to 147,000 since the crisis started a year ago.  In addition, close to 230,000 people are now displaced inside Mali.


In Burkina Faso, the agency has sent staff from Ouagadougou to monitor the border and to boost assistance in the refugee camps in Burkina Faso’s Sahel administrative region.  There is more information on the UN refugee agency’s website.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


UN agencies and humanitarian partners have appealed for $30.5 million to help more than half a million people affected by conflict in North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The North Kivu Response Plan, which was launched today in Goma, will fund life-saving humanitarian response for the first six months of this year.


The response plan will cover urgent efforts to reach people displaced in camps with food, water and shelter, as well as help families return home and rebuild their lives.  Health partners plan to renovate clinics and health centres, and replenish the medical supplies.  The plan also addresses the need to protect civilians in the region, many of them affected by clashes between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army in recent months.  While Goma remains tense, new displacements are occurring every day elsewhere in North Kivu with thousands seeking safety in neighbouring South Kivu.


** Haiti


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Mariano Fernandez, has called on the Haitian Government to take all necessary measures to hold legislative, municipal and local elections as soon as possible.  He said he was encouraged by the commitment, made earlier this week by the President of the country and of the National Assembly, to hold these elections this year.  The elections have been delayed for more than a year.


Mr. Fernandez also noted that the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the international community were ready to assist in organizing free, transparent and inclusive elections.  There is a press release from the Mission on this.


**Secretary-General’s Press Conference


On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will be here to give his first press conference of the year after he has spoken to Member States.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes, Masood.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  [inaudible] IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] talks failing in Tehran.  I mean… will the talks continue at all?  Is there any other way forward that the Secretary-General can take on?  They’ve been failing again and again.  And Iran has a position.  IAEA has a position.  So where do we stand now?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, the Agency has said that there will be another round of discussions, but I think I would refer you to them at the International Atomic Energy Agency, just to follow up and check on precisely when that might be.  Of course, the Secretary-General would encourage all the parties in that set of negotiations and talks to really continue to focus hard so that Iran can be in full compliance with Security Council resolutions that cover that matter.


Question:  Other thing I wanted to know is about East Jerusalem, Israelis removing protesting Palestinians from East Jerusalem.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about their protesting the settlement thing?


Spokesperson:  We issued the statement just the other day with regard to the E1.  I don’t have anything further at this point.  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible] the mode of Palestinians would demonstrate?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond that statement we issued the other day.  I’m very happy to let you have a copy of that afterwards.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The situation in menacing south-eastern Algeria is still evolving and dramatic and is causing consternation among States, especially those whose nationals have been kidnapped or killed.  And this is a large-scale terrorist operation with regional and global dimensions.  Is there anybody in Algeria from the UN who would brief us on the situation?


Spokesperson:  We are obviously following this extremely closely.  I don’t have very much to say beyond what I said yesterday, which is of course that… this is extremely fluid.  It seems to be extremely tense and also not yet fully clear what all the circumstances are.  The Secretary-General has expressed his anger about the taking of hostages and certainly we would condemn any kidnapping, taking of the hostages.  Our thoughts are with those being held, and if the reports are correct that people have been killed, obviously we would condemn that very much.  As I say, we are still waiting to hear more details about that. And I think that’s the case for many people.  Other questions, please.  Yes?


Question:  My name is [inaudible], a correspondent from [inaudible] Agency from Washington D.C., from Serbia.  My question is about your yesterday statement regarding the March on the River Drina song.  I’ve seen the statement.  I haven’t been here.  And it seems that it’s all over the news.  I just want to say that song has an enormous significance for Serbian people.  It’s personification of the sacrifice in World War I when one third of the male population died in the war fighting on the same side with the Allies.  And my question is… I just want to be very precise like in the court of law.  Is it true that the Secretary-General apologized for the song or not?


Spokesperson:  This is a press briefing, not the court of law.  The purpose of the concert…


Correspondent:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  The purpose of the concert was a message of peace and reconciliation.  Everyone is aware of the extreme sensitivities around this topic and different perspectives there are about this song.  I would simply say what I said yesterday was an expression of regret that some people were offended.  Okay?  Other questions, please.  Yes?


Question:  It is brought to my attention regarding this from diplomatic sources that PGA [General Assembly President] Vuk Jeremić had asked the Secretariat to co-sponsor the event.  Are you aware of this?  Did he ask?  What was the Secretariat response to cosponsor this event of Viva Vox that took place on Monday at the GA Hall?


Spokesperson:  The Secretariat provided support with some of the arrangements, for example, with regard to the General Assembly Hall.  So if you like, logistical, technical support for that event.  Other questions please.  Yes?


Question:  Is there any financial support provided in terms of the group travelling to the United States or otherwise?


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Another follow-up.  Did the Secretary-General, after all these episodes with “March on the Drina” and unfortunate understanding of the level of hate and sensitivity as you mentioned, talk to the President of the General Assembly?  Or Did the President of the General Assembly talk to or call the Secretary-General to express his regret regarding this?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any telephone conversations between the two gentlemen at this point.  Yes?


Question:  On the intervention in Algeria to free [inaudible]… death tolls were… still unclear but at least very, according to most of the reports?


Spokesperson:  I didn’t quite understand your question.  Could you repeat?


Question:  Are there any comments on the way the Algerian authorities dealt with the liberation of hostages, which led to at least 30 deaths?


Spokesperson:  As I just said, this is… this is a situation which is still unfolding.  It’s still far from clear — precisely what has happened and whether people are still being held or not, how many people were killed, if people were killed — these are some of the topics, some of the areas we don’t really yet have full clarity on.  What the Secretary-General has said in Stanford [University] yesterday was that he was angered by the hostage taking and that obviously we condemn very strongly the taking of hostages and our thoughts are with those who are being held.  I don’t have anything else at this point.  Okay.  Other questions please.  Matthew.  And then I’m coming to you.


Question:  Okay.  Sure.  I want to ask you about Somalia and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  On Somalia, there been this incident in Lego in which AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] peacekeepers, which are supported by UN DFS [Department of Field Support], allegedly killed seven civilians, five of them children.  I’m wondering what… does UN have any comment on that?  Are they going to play any role in investigating?  What does make them think of continued logistical and financial support to AMISOM?


Spokesperson:  I will check on that for you, Matthew.  I don’t have anything.


[The Spokesperson later noted that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, had issue a press release in which she expressed her concern about the killing of several children during military operations by the African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region on Tuesday.  She welcomed the proactive stance taken by AMISOM to acknowledge the tragedy and to open a thorough and timely investigation.  She also urged the African Union to further strengthen its efforts to minimize child casualties in their operations and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.]


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  You are on a roll, it would seem.  Why didn’t you ask about DRC?


Question:  There is… Médecins Sans Frontières has come out with a report again about sexual violence and rape in the Congo.  They say that between 3 December and 5 January, there were numerous rapes around Muguna 3 Camp.  It’s noted that around that camp [inaudible] took place, 27 of them in just a single day.  There is no M23.  In fact, that hill is controlled by the Congolese Army soldiers.  So, I wanted to ask what… related to this Minova question.  What’s the UN response to its partners, at lease in part, controlling the hill in which 27 rapes took place in a day?  What’s the United Nations going to do about this MSF report?  And I wanted to ask, back on Minova… I appreciated what was sent to me two days ago.  But it didn’t address this idea — human rights due diligence policy.  It basically said the Congolese are investigating and 11 people have been arrested.  I wanted to know how many of these 11 were for rape, for 126 rapes.  And also, in both of these cases, DPKO’s [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] stated policy of not working with [inaudible]… committed rape.  How do they apply?  In this case of Minova long after the event took place?


Spokesperson:  On the last part, I don’t have anything to add.  Simply to say that an investigation is under way and therefore we need to wait to find out what the result of that is.  With regard to the report from MSF, we are obviously aware of it and we’ve asked the mission to brief us on that particular matter.  But I don’t have anything at the moment.  Should that change, and I would anticipate that it will, then obviously I will let you know.


[The Spokesperson later said the mission, MONUSCO, had advised that it is aware of the reports.  As mandated, the mission will investigate these incidents.  He added that further to questions on UNAMID’s protection-of-civilians strategy, UNAMID has advised that it has begun to implement elements of the strategy and expects to fully adopt it once internal consultations have concluded.]


Question:  Fourth round of talks between Kosovo Prime Minister and Serbian Prime Minister took place yesterday in Brussels, facilitated by the European Union and under the umbrella of the UN as well.  Are you been briefed?  What… it was…  What didn’t go on or any decision was brought or made?  Has the Secretary-General been briefed at all?


Spokesperson:  I will check on what the mission, UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], has to say on that.  Obviously, we do follow that closely and they, in particular, follow that closely.  So I would need to check with them.  And obviously I’m sure that you could also check with the European Union for their views, given that they have a closer immediate role in hosting those talks.  They are obviously important talks.  Other questions, please.  Yes?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General’s representative in Iraq have anything to say about escalating terrorist violence in Iraq?  Again, it seems like, hundreds of people have been killed.  [inaudible] Do you have an update?


Spokesperson:  He has consistently spoken out about this spike in violence.  I think we can provide you with the most recent statement he has put out.  I would be happy to help you with that afterwards, yes, of course.  Any other questions please.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  Two financial questions. Hopefully,  they are just factual and no… One was… I saw yesterday there was a presentation by Bob Orr at the Korea Society entitled UN and Korean leadership.  I don’t know what the rules are.  This is just a question.  They were charging $10 admission.  I just wanted to know, are there any… Is there any rule or guidance on the charging of admission to hear UN officials speak on UN topics?


Spokesperson:  I have to check on that.  I don’t know the answer to that, Matthew.


[The Spokesperson later said that the Ethics Office advises that UN officials may speak at external events where participants pay a reasonable attendance fee, such as you might find at a conference or convention that covers such costs as auditorium rental and refreshments.]


Question:  The other one is… This is… I’ve tried this as much as I can with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to get the answer to this.  The study they released is saying that 60,000 people were killed in Syria.  It was actually done by an outside contractor called Benetech.  [inaudible] Your counterpart answered a number of questions.  But there is one that he said he won’t answer.  So I wanted to ask you, sort of at the pinnacle of the UN system.  He said that they…


Spokesperson:  I don’t think you could say that I’m at the pinnacle of the UN system.


Question:  Well, you’re representing…


Spokesperson:  As much as I would like to be.


Question:  I know.  I’m trying to get somewhere…  But the… Basically, he said Benetech was selected from among three companies, not through some other processes which they thought three companies were qualified.  They chose one.  There is some controversy, including raised by Syria, that Benetech is in fact funded by the United States State Department and National Endowment for Democracy.  So the question is… I have asked Mr. [Rupert] Colville who the other two companies are, to have a sort of description of procurement.  He said without companies’ consent, he can’t release their names.  I’m not asking you… I am asking you to disagree with them.  But I am wondering as the UN system, if you are spending public money, is it a general practice… is it a fair question.  Who the bidders were and how — given there is a controversy how the winning bidder was selected.  What the criteria was, let’s say?


Spokesperson:  I think Rupert answered your questions at some length.  I don’t have anything to add at this point to the answer he gave, and if that changes, I will let you know.  But I don’t at this point.


Okay.  All right.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record