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.


**Year of Quinoa


The Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s launch of the International Year of Quinoa this morning.  He noted that quinoa is both highly nutritious and adaptable.  He also noted that it can be grown in many different ecological and climatic conditions, including where soil moisture is low.  This is especially important in a warming world, with desertification and land degradation.


The Secretary-General also pointed to pitfalls, saying that, as prices for quinoa rise along with export demand, the poor risk being excluded from their staple grain in local markets.  We have his remarks in my office.


The Secretary-General spoke in the presence of the Bolivian President, Evo Morales Ayma, and will attend a lunch with him shortly as part of the commemoration of the International Year of Quinoa.  President Morales will speak to you in this room at 3 p.m. this afternoon.


** Middle East


We distributed some details last night of the Secretary-General’s phone call on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In that call, they discussed the need for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  And they also discussed the situation in the region more generally, in particular of the impact of the Syrian conflict, including Israel's security concerns in this regard.


The Secretary-General stressed that it is urgent for Israelis and Palestinians to reengage in a serious peace effort with effective international support, and to create a conducive environment to that end.  The Secretary-General also raised the deteriorating health condition of the Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli custody, highlighting the need for an urgent solution of this critical issue.


We also had a statement yesterday expressing the Secretary-General’s concerns about the rapidly deteriorating condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.  And that statement is available online, as is the readout of the telephone call.


** Sahel


The World Food Programme (WFP) hosted a high-level event in Rome today to review what has been achieved a year after the international community launched a massive humanitarian response to the food and nutritional crisis affecting millions of people across the Sahel region.


Although food security in the region has improved since 2012 due to good rains and harvests, more than 10 million people in nine countries still do not have enough to eat, including a million children at risk of severe malnutrition.  Insecurity and displacement in northern Mali, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of people, continues to compound food insecurity in the region.


The World Food Programme Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, said that boosting food security and building resilience lies at the heart of the collective efforts to change the pattern of recurring drought.


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said that the focus of the United Nations strategy for the Sahel is on the people of the region to help them address the root causes of instability, with special emphasis on marginalized communities.


** Myanmar


The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said today that 24 children have officially been discharged from the Myanmar Armed Forces.  UNICEF says that the move is in line with the Government’s commitment to end the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 in the armed forces.  And there is more information on this available on UNICEF’s website.


**Press Conference


And as I just mentioned, at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, to mark the Global Launch of the International Year of Quinoa.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Pam?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, thank you, Martin.  The Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is in Washington and met with David Hale, the [ United States] Special Envoy.  Is there any plan for the Secretary-General or anyone else to meet with him?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check; I am not aware of any plans.  I’d have to check.  Yes, other questions?  Yes?


Correspondent:  Just a stereotype on Kosovo.


Spokesperson:  Say again?


Question:  Just a stereotype question on Kosovo and it is:  I think the Secretary-General delivered his report on Kosovo on time and the Security Council meeting on Kosovo has been postponed for sometime next month and Russia is presiding.  Is there any reaction?  Does the Secretary-General know what is going on?  Can we know?


Spokesperson:  I think you’d have to speak to Members of the Security Council about the timing of the meeting that there will be.  The most important thing is that there is to be that meeting, and of course, the most important thing is that there is a positive development.  You will have seen that there are, there is a fresh round of talks in Brussels; as you know, these [European Union]-facilitated talks.  This is a positive development to be encouraged.  Yes?  Yes, I’ll come back to you.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin.  I wanted to ask you two questions about the UN’s policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.  First is… is… I wanted to thank you for the… the answer you sent… your office sent yesterday evening about the 60 cases, saying that three had, in 2012, that three had been substantiated.  I guess I just wanted to ask again, given that it is called the “zero tolerance” policy, is it possible to know, in those three admittedly substantiated cases, what took place?  Were people sent back to their countries and were they prosecuted there?


Spokesperson:  Well, it is for the countries from which those people came to give details on what happens when those people return home.  I am trying to get some more details on this; more generally speaking, and in regard to that, those particular three cases.  Also, there is a bigger report from the Secretary-General’s office that comes out with more details and statistics, and I think that will be coming out fairly soon.  And I think that we could then look to that for some more details.


[The Spokesperson later added that, in 2012, it was determined that nine police and eight military personnel would be repatriated on disciplinary grounds and barred from participating in future field missions in connection with 13 substantiated allegations received in 2012 or earlier.  He noted that the number of investigations and actions completed per year vary and do not necessarily correspond to the allegations received in that same year.]


Question:  Okay.  And if you don’t mind, it’s related, just to get it out of the way, the Secretary-General’s most recent report on MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], among many other things, says… mentions these rapes in Minova.  Says that there were 126 of them; says that there were… 11 people have been arrested.  And then says, in paragraph 37, the support… the support to FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] is in strict compliance with the human rights due diligence policy of the United Nations.  So, given that [Under-Secretary-General Hervé] Ladsous said the UN knows who most of the perpetrators are, and it seems that there haven’t been any changes in support, I am wondering how to square these two paragraphs.  Are they still helping…


Spokesperson:  Well, I think Mr. Ladsous has squared those two paragraphs when he answered your question; and that is that there is an investigation under way, and you need to see the outcome of that investigation.  You cannot pre-judge the outcome of an investigation by stopping support to certain units.  You first need to know whether people are being held accountable and whether the alleged offences actually took place.  So, that’s what this is about.  It is simply about ensuring that there is due process.  Yes, yes, Hank?


Question:  Hi, Martin.  Thank you for sending along the readout of the [Secretary-General’s] conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.  The [Secretary-General] often describes his sentiments about proceedings around the world as either giving encouragement or concern.  Was he encouraged or concerned by Mr. Netanyahu’s responses to his concern about the prisoners yesterday?  And what actions would the [Secretary-General] hope to see as a result of this conversation out of Israel?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think we have already said in that readout what we would like to see, which is a swift resolution to this difficulty.  I am not going to characterize what the response of the Prime Minister of Israel was; that’s for the Israeli authorities to do.  Yes?


Question:  May I follow up?


Spokesperson:  In a second, you may.  Yes?  You had another question, I think?


Question:  Yes.  Martin, not a stereotyped one this time, though.  On quinoa, since this is the new issue… how do you say that, quinoa?


Spokesperson:  Apparently so.


Question:  Okay.  Since this is a new issue for us, and since I am talking to a former colleague for the purpose of headline, how would you summarize really that, what’s going on on this issue at the… at the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  Take a look at the SG’s remarks; the Secretary-General’s remarks, I think that will give you a good overview.  And I think also, simply put, the world has shrinking resources and you need to have good, nutritious food for a growing population.  So, you need to look for new sources and sources that have long existed, but are not as widely used, to try to be able to maximize that for the growing world population.  I would encourage you to take a look at what the Secretary-General has said.  He has pointed to the advantages and also to some of the pitfalls that there may be for the local populations if this is not handled in the right way.  But, it is obviously something that needs to be encouraged, simply because of the growing needs that there are.  We just talked about the food insecurity in the Sahel, for example.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  You mentioned the swift resolution; with as much specificity as you can muster, how would the [Secretary-General] characterize the swift resolution of this conflict?


Spokesperson:  I am not going to go any further than I have at this point, Hank, okay?  That is as much as I can muster at the moment.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask a question about Sri Lanka, there are… there in the last… it has come out… a series of photographs showing the son of the… the former Tamil Tiger leader, [Velupillai] Prabhakaran, captured by the Sri Lankan Army, fed a snack and then executed.  There, I mean, there’s three separate photographs and so many people have said, and it’s been reported all over the world, have said that this is conclusive evidence of a war crime of… of summary execution.  So, I wonder, given the Secretary-General’s, you know, two reports and third one still ongoing into it, has he taken note of this and what does he think of this, what many people say is kind of the conclusive evidence of a war crime committed at that time?


Spokesperson:  Well, just a slight correction, Matthew, the third report that you are talking about; this is an internal task force looking at how recommendations will be carried out within the UN.  It’s not to do with looking into the actual events that took place in Sri Lanka.  It is learning the lessons from them, which is what the second report was about.  The Secretary-General has consistently underlined the critical importance of addressing accountability in Sri Lanka through a genuine and comprehensive national process and achieving national reconciliation.  We are obviously aware of the video footage and the reports about that video footage, but I don’t have any specific comment on that, beyond what I have just said.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  There are reports of that inflation is soaring in Gaza Strip as a result of the closure of the tunnels from… on the side of Egypt.  How… how much is going through the official cross points in between Gaza and Israel, at this stage?  I mean, what percentage compared to what it was before 2006?


Spokesperson:  It’s a very good question, Nizar.  I’d have to look into that.  I don’t have those figures, but it is an important question, and I’ll try to get an answer for you, okay?  All right, yes, Pam, and then I am coming to Erol again.  Yes?


Question:  On the quinoa question, the Secretary-General pointed out some of the downsides; spoke… several reports have come in that agronomists believe that because quinoa is fetching such a high price, there are problems with the highlands and the dry highlands in the ecosystem as a result of the over-production of it.  Any sense of that from… uh…


Spokesperson:  No.  Look, I am… I am… I want to accentuate the positive.  But, and that is… let me start again:  I want to accentuate the positive.  And that is that the world needs more staple crops to help with the growing population and to take account of the difficulties that there are as a result of climate change, land degradation and so on.  So, it is hugely important that you work on staples that may not have been used in other parts of the world, but may be suitable for use in other parts of the world or can be exported from places where they have traditionally been grown.  But, you do also need to take into account the potential pitfalls, and that’s what the Secretary-General was pointing to.  But, I am not an expert in this, by any means.  There is an entire website that has been set up for this year, and I am sure that there is much more information there that would help you with that.  Yes?


Question:  Martin, since the next Secretary-General is going to be elected from the Eastern European countries, that is they never had a candidate, but apparently it is going in that direction.  And current President of the General Assembly Mr. Vuk Jeremić stated recently, clearly, his ambition to succeed Secretary… current Secretary-General, I wonder whether the Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, since he has relation with him has, I mean, anything to say or to react on that.


Spokesperson:  No.  [Laughter]  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask again about this… the upcoming arms trade treaty talks.  I know that you’d said, and the idea of Palestine being a vice-chair; you’d said that it’s, you know, it’s up to the Member States, but in checking around and I am, at least I am told that in informal… in an informal meeting leading up to the talks that a representative of the Secretariat expressed the view that there should be Member States only seated; that the seating and status that was granted in Ju… you know, in the summer, prior to the November vote, should remain the case and, I mean, some States disagree, but I just wanted to sort of come back to you and ask, is there a Secretariat, you know, position or legal, or advisory position to Member States on how the [Arms Trade Treaty] talks should be structured?


Spokesperson:  The Secretariat often provides technical advice on matters of protocol and so on, with regard to conferences and other meetings that are taking place.  I don’t have anything on this particular instance that you are referring to, except to reiterate that it is, of course, ultimately for those who are participating in that conference to determine the arrangements for the meeting.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Evelyn, yes?


[The Spokesperson later noted that, by resolution 67/234, the General Assembly decided that the rules of procedure for the 2012 Arms Trade Treaty Conference would be applicable to the upcoming meeting.  Rule 6 of the Rules of Procedure for the 2012 Arms Trade Treaty Conference provides in part as follows:  "The Conference shall elect from among the representatives of participating States the following officers:  a President, 14 Vice-Presidents and a Rapporteur-General, as well as the Chairs of the Main Committees."]


Question:  The food in the Sahel…


Spokesperson:  Pardon?


Question:  The Sahel.  In skimming the press release from them, I wasn’t sure, aside from donations to give people food, of how you would solve this, of how you would get long-term food security.  Is this a quinoa sample?  Because the two seem to be terribly separate from what’s going on.


Spokesperson:  No, of course this is a… this was an entirely separate undertaking, of course.  An entirely separate undertaking, and it is important that those who gathered in Rome today were trying to look at what has been achieved in the past year, and what they still need to do, which is quite a lot, not least because now you have the additional factor of displaced people in greater numbers in northern Mali and from northern Mali.  So, I think it was in that context that the meeting was taking place.  And the presence there of Romano Prodi was obviously quite significant.  He has the role as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to try to help to shepherd that process in a broader context, not simply the important area of food security, but beyond that:  the security, more generally put, for the whole region.  Yes?


Question:  Can I ask… and this is… this is more smaller… smaller-scale, or at least more nearby.  I just wanted to ask you, I’d been told by UN staff that work in the Albano Building on 46th Street that Friday, as well as yesterday, but more Friday, there was serious vibration of the building as the one next door was being demolished.  And they said that they were informed not to use the emergency stairs on the side of the building next to the demolition.  So, some expressed some concern about safety that, like, they should have two ways to get out of the building.  Are you aware of any, you know, demolition-related vibrations of the Albano Building and checking by DSS [Department of Safety and Security]; what’s up with that?


Spokesperson:  Let me check for you, Matthew.


[The Spokesperson later added that, on 13 February, the United Nations Facilities Management Service and the Albano building management and owner, REIT, instructed structural engineer URS to inspect the fire tower stair landing inside the building.  This followed reports of falling concrete from the underside edge on the 4th floor that appears to have occurred during demolition activities in an adjacent building.  All landings were examined by REIT and URS, and any defective conditions found, such as concrete patches which could become loose, were addressed by REIT maintenance staff.  No other safety concerns were noted.  At this point in time, the stairway is safe and open for use.


In light of the tenant concerns, REIT will inspect the stairway on a weekly basis going forward, and if any changed conditions are noted, REIT will contact URS for re-inspection and appropriate action.


Vibrations from the demolition and construction activity in the adjacent building are continually being monitored.  The vibration data for the day of the incident were sent to URS for review and were found to be within acceptable parameters.  It is noted that REIT will undertake a project to renovate the building façade, planning to start in spring and be completed this year.  This project will include renovation of the stairway.


The demolition contractor performing the work in the adjacent building has also agreed to provide documentation on the safety of their ongoing operation to REIT.


It is also noted that, the United Nations Albano Building staff representative placed a complaint with the New York City 311 Office.  A building inspector from the City will visit the site accordingly.]


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Yes, Pam?


Question:  On the Alliance for Civilization, the Vienna meeting coming up; do you have any preview of what the Secretary-General is looking to focus at it?


Spokesperson:  Tomorrow.


Correspondent:  All right.


Spokesperson:  Thanks; have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record