25 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.


**Secretary-General in Davos


The Secretary-General today is wrapping up his visit to Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.  He started his day with a discussion on the theme “A New Vision for Agriculture:  Accelerating Impact”.


The Secretary-General met with Najib Mikati, Prime Minister of Lebanon.  They discussed the regional situation, particularly the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon.  The Secretary-General recognized Lebanon’s generous assistance to refugees from Syria and reiterated the UN’s commitment to mobilize support for such efforts.


He attended a World Economic Forum session on financing green growth and a discussion on post-2015.  Right about now, the Secretary-General is taking part in a plenary session on global education, moderated by his Special Envoy, Gordon Brown.  Tomorrow, he will travel to Addis Ababa for the next leg of his trip.


** Egypt Statement


Late yesterday, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Egypt:


As Egyptians mark the second anniversary of their revolution, the Secretary-General extends to them his warmest wishes and reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support the Egyptian people and Government in their efforts to build a more inclusive and democratic future.


Even as Egyptians engage vigorously in debate, the Secretary-General encourages them to remain committed to the universal principles of peaceful dialogue and non-violence, inclusiveness, respect for human rights and the independence of institutions, and democratic processes which are accommodating of the diversity of viewpoints.  He underscores the importance of the active participation of women in decision-making.


The Secretary-General believes these are the foundations that can provide the stable, hopeful and dignified future for which the Egyptian people struggled so courageously in their revolution.  That statement can be found online.


**Security Council


Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, briefed the Security Council this morning on recent challenges in the region, specifically in Mali and the Sahel.  He said that, as hostilities are carried out in Mali, he calls on all the parties and forces to ensure full compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights norms.


Mr. Djinnit welcomed the commitment that Security Council members have consistently expressed in their support for the military and political tracks to proceed hand in hand.  He said we must ensure that the political process is not neglected and that efforts to consolidate and strengthen the transition process in Mali continue.  He added that the situation in Mali is an example of the fragility and vulnerability that prevails in the whole Sahel region.  And we have his remarks in our office.


**Refugees


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that Jordan has experienced a record number of refugees crossing, with over 30,000 arriving in Za’atri camp since the beginning of the year.  Just yesterday, over 4,400 Syrian refugees arrived in Za’atri camp.  And a further 2,000 arrived during the night.


UNHCR is working with the Government of Jordan and partners to prepare a second major camp close to Za’atri, which will be known as Halabat camp.  The agency hopes to open that camp by the end of the month.  In the meantime, the agency is increasing the number of staff at Za'atri to respond to the new arrivals and the growing needs of the refugees in the camp.  Tens of thousands of tents are also being delivered by truck to the warehouses in Za’atri.  And there is more information on the agency’s website.


**Holocaust Victims Commemoration


There is a ceremony to mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust which is going on right now, and the Secretary-General delivered a video message to the ceremony, under way in the General Assembly Hall, saying that today we celebrate those who had the courage to care.


He said that some people were able to escape the slaughter of the Holocaust because a few brave souls risked their lives and their families to rescue Jews and other victims of persecution from almost certain death.  This year’s observance is meant to give those unsung heroes the regard they deserve.


The Secretary-General said that we should be inspired by those who had the courage to care — the ordinary people who took extraordinary steps to defend human dignity.  Their example is as relevant today as ever.  In a world where extremist acts of violence and hatred capture the headlines on an almost daily basis, we must remain ever vigilant.  Let us all have the courage to care, he said, so we can build a safer, better world today.


**Noon Briefing Guest on Monday


And on Monday, we will have a noon briefing guest; the guest will be John Ging, Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  And he will be here to brief on his recent visit to Syria.


That’s it from me.  We do have “The Week Ahead” available in our office.  Yes, Erol?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Secretary-General delivered pretty strong speech at Davos in Switzerland regarding the two hotspot areas, Mali and Syria.  Just before him, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. [Ahmet] Davutoğlu, said — and I am quoting the title of the news reports — that United Nations have left Syrian people, criticizing very heavily the United Nations.  We haven’t heard this kind of criticism since the Bosnian crisis; I may say this, so what say you on that?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I wouldn’t characterize the Turkish Foreign Minister’s words.  What I do know is that Foreign Minister Davutoğlu did, in fact, meet with the Secretary-General, and they spoke very constructively about a number of issues, including the situation in Syria.  We had a readout of that meeting available yesterday, and I would refer you to the text of the readout.  But certainly, we are working together, and the Secretary-General in fact visited Turkey just last month, where he visited the refugee camp, Islahiye camp, near the Syrian border, and he met at that point as well with Mr. Davutoğlu, and they had a very productive meeting about how we can work together on this problem.


Question:  Just two quick follow-ups, if I can?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  Does that mean that they solved all their difference on that issues and that Mr. Davutoğlu — again, not asking you to comment on Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s words — is making headlines only, not saying substantial criticism of…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, like I said, the Secretary-General met him in Istanbul a month ago, in Davos just yesterday, and I’d refer you to the readouts of those two meetings.  But certainly, the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Turkey have been working very productively and very cooperatively in the effort to deal with the situation in Syria.  Yes?


Question:  Just one more…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, someone else first.  Yes, yes, please?


Question:  Yes, Farhan, thank you.  As American drone strikes have risen to the rate on the average of nearly one per day since the new year began, the UN has announced that it would investigate drone strikes from Israel and the US.  I’d love to have the SG’s reaction either on the alarming frequency of these, or on the announcement of the probe itself?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have much to say about the announcement of the probe.  You’ve seen the announcements and you are aware that the Rapporteur, Mr. [Ben] Emmerson, will present his report to the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly this October/November.  For his part, the Secretary-General has expressed concern about the use of armed drones for targeted attacks, as it raises questions about compliance with the fundamental principle of distinction between combatants and non-combatants.  Drone attacks also reportedly have caused substantial numbers of civilian casualties, raising questions about the ability to ensure full compliance with the principle of proportionality.  The Secretary-General has urged relevant Member States to be transparent about the circumstances in which drones are used, and the means by which they ensure that attacks involving drones comply with international law.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I… I want to ask about the UN Staff Union, but first just a follow-up on… on drones or… or in this… it’s… it was… a letter has been released in which the Security Council apparently gives its blessing to the use of unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles by… by DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], but what wasn’t clear to me from this is, it was said earlier by DPKO that they would seek all of the approvals needed, and I had asked Martin [Nesirky], what are the approvals needed?  For example, it… does DPKO believe that it needs the… the… the consent of this… the Committee on Peacekeeping, C34 [Committee of 34], of the General Assembly?  What… what does it actually stand in terms of them using drones?  Have they begun procurement?  Would they accept it from a Member State, and who would get the information feed from these drones?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, on that:  first of all, the basic point to make is one that we’ve made before, which is that UN peacekeeping assets and resources are used in line with Security Council mandates, force requirements and guidelines.   Beyond that, in this particular case, a procurement procedure has been launched.  And we have had a formal written consent from the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to deploy these assets, and neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region have also been notified.  And that is part of our response to the Security Council approving the trial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on a case-by-case basis by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.


Question:  What’s… when does the procurement… I guess you are taking bid… when does that end?  And again — I have asked this about six times — who gets the information from… DPKO collects information, filmed, do all 15 members of the Security Council get it, or 193 Member States get it?  Where does the information go?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, first we’ll have to acquire the information and then see from there about how that is used, because it will go, of course, to the members of the Security Council, because they are the ones who have been… who have requested this, have approved this.  Now, in terms of the procurement process, it has been launched.  We will provide further details about procurement once that happens, but it has just begun.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, before he was off to Switzerland, Davos, Secretary-General indeed have delivered another interesting speech in the General Assembly, talking about — and again quoting from the headlines — ending the tyranny of status quo.  And he mentioned there that it is time to stop moving from crisis to crisis, from symptom to symptom and address underlying causes and interrelations instead.  Now, my question is, since he also mentioned to us that among the priorities for himself in the next five years is indeed a preventive diplomacy besides sustainable development.  In… in the field of preventive diplomacy, where is the last time that this Secretary-General indeed read the warning sign and was able to implement that, to prevent in sort of his preventive action?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, there have been any number of examples of preventive action around the world.


Question:  Could you give us some?


Associate Spokesperson:  The thing is, because they don’t rise to the level of armed conflict, they may not… they may go unnoticed.  But, for example, you have seen over the multi-year process by which we try to resolve the situation on the Bakassi peninsula between Nigeria and Cameroon.  And that has been resolved fairly peacefully and amicably.  There have been other crises that have started where there had been fighting inside the country, such as in Kenya following the previous elections there, where, as you know, we engaged in diplomatic efforts and the crisis came to a diplomatic solution, luckily without much further violence.  But, you know, there is a large number of such things, but it is hard to characterize things that do not necessarily attract press attention.  But we can talk further about any number of individual examples, if you’d like, later.


Question:  Okay, just one more:  was he able to identify any real warning signs recently on the Balkan transition developing, developing et cetera?


Associate Spokesperson:  You mean recently?


Correspondent:  Yes.


Associate Spokesperson:  We, of course, continue our political work in the Balkans; we continue to have offices dealing with a number of issues there.  And of course, if there are any warning signs, those offices would keep the Secretary-General and the Secretariat duly apprised.


Correspondent:  I am talking about Secretary-General himself.  I was talking about Secretary-General himself, that he was sort of alert…


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, visited the Balkans region just last year and met with a considerable number of leaders there, trying to deal with all the various situations.


Question:  So…


Associate Spokesperson:  There is nothing specific or nothing further to say about any of the situations in the countries there right now.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, and I tried to ask in writing in advance, yesterday, the UN Staff Union held a… an emergency general meeting, had a quorum of over 300, and adopted a resolution.  They… was essentially saying they have no confidence in the Secretary-General, critical of his spending on travel costs, of the waste in DPKO, DFS [Department of Field Support] and… and so it seemed like it is a big thing.  What, what is the Secretariat’s response to this resolution?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have not seen the resolution and as such cannot comment on it.  However, let me just reiterate the commitment of the Secretary-General to working with staff and Member States to address concerns, strengthen the Organization and carry out our work at a time of global financial pressure.  And beyond that, of course, we will wait and see what the text of the resolution is once it is published.


Question:  One… one thing I just wanted to ask, I asked Eduardo [del Buey] that, I am not at all thinking it will be a different answer, but… but, in the meeting yesterday, before the vote was taken, there was a lot of discussion of this use of the word “selfish” in this room by the Secretary-General and there were people, the President of the Union said:  “I am proud to be a member of a selfish union if that means defending our rights.”  People read from the Wikipedia page of the Secretary-General about “slippery eel” — there is a lot of stuff going on, but the “selfish” comment kept coming back.  So I just… my question to you is not to say he should take it back or he shouldn’t, but is that the word that he meant to… to… to use, and does he think that they are misinterpreting it, because it seems to have made relations much worse?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General believes in what he said, and what he was talking about was the need for fairness so that the staff all over the world, who work under extremely hard conditions for the United Nations, get the same chances as people living in the first world.  And with that, I wish…


Correspondent:  I have got another question.


Associate Spokesperson:  Okay.


Question:  Well, actually I have two; I’ll do them really fast if you don’t mind, one… all right, one is just a factual thing about…


Associate Spokesperson:  Pick one.


Question:  …about… about… about, South Sudan, there is reports of… of renewed fighting and… and civilian deaths in Lake State, and I am wonder… I don’t know if it’s in your… in… in your notes, do you have anything on this or can get something?


Associate Spokesperson:  No, we’d have to check.


Question:  And the other one is about the… the other is the actual question that I think… that I think you’ll answer, you will get to… last night, the Department… the Department of Political… of, not Political, Public Information, put out a directive saying that… that there are no, you know, flyers allowed within the UN, and regardless of what they say, including substantive comment, and I… what I am wondering is… is… is… what is the UN’s position on the right of… of… does that apply to… to… to… to… since these are comments, are… are flyers that are critical of DPI’s performance, can they take them down, and by what right does the United Nations Correspondents Association have a glassed-in bulletin board on which they have denounced other journalists?  Please explain.


Associate Spokesperson:  I think this is an issue on which you need to talk it over with the Department of Public Information.


Correspondent:  I have written to Peter Launsky, and I don’t have an answer yet.


Associate Spokesperson:  I am sure they will be in touch with you.  Thanks very much.


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For information media • not an official record