21 February 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.


** Haiti


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


In November 2011, a claim for compensation was brought against the United Nations on behalf of victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti.  Today, the United Nations advised the claimants’ representatives that the claims are not receivable, pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.  The Secretary-General telephoned Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision, and to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to the elimination of cholera in Haiti.


Since the outbreak began in 2010, the United Nations and its partners have worked closely with the people and Government of Haiti to provide treatment, improve water and sanitation facilities, and strengthen prevention and early warning.  In December 2012, the Secretary-General launched an Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti, which aims to strengthen Haiti’s own National Cholera Elimination Plan through significant investments and the use of an oral cholera vaccine.


The Secretary-General again expresses his profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic, and calls on all partners in Haiti and the international community to work together to ensure better health and a better future for the people of Haiti.


**Security Council


The Security Council has been holding consultations on Sudan and South Sudan, and received an update on the situation between the two countries from Haile Menkerios, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy.


The Council will also discuss the work of the 1718 Sanctions Committee, which deals with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


**Decolonization


This morning, the Secretary-General opened the 2013 session of the Special Committee on Decolonization.  He said that the international community is more convinced than ever that colonialism has no place in the modern world, and he said that the eradication of colonialism — in keeping with the principles of the UN Charter and relevant UN resolutions — is our common endeavour.  The Secretary-General said that concrete action and tangible results are essential, adding that it is time for a new kind of fully inclusive dialogue about decolonization.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General will leave New York tomorrow for Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Austria and Switzerland.


On Sunday, in Addis Ababa, the Secretary-General will attend the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region.  He will visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday and have meetings with Government and other leaders.


On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will arrive in Vienna and meet with the Federal President of the Republic of Austria.  He will attend the official opening of the fifth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations on Wednesday.  On Thursday, he will hold discussions with the Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria.


The Secretary-General will attend a high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday.  Then, he will deliver the annual Sergio Vieira de Mello Lecture.  He will return to New York over the weekend.


** Sahel


The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, is in Moscow today.  He met with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, as well as with the Russian Special Envoy for Africa, Mikhail Margelov.  They discussed the need to look at the subregion in its entirety and to address, in a comprehensive manner, the root causes of the challenges in the Sahel.  The visit to Russia is part of Mr. Prodi's efforts to mobilize international attention and resources for the needs of the Sahel region.


**South Sudan


Hilde Johnson, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, travelled to Jonglei this week on a two-day visit to areas hardest hit by the recent instability and cattle raiding.  She called on authorities and communities in Jonglei to end the cycle of violence.


While in Walgak, in Akobo County, Ms. Johnson met with community leaders and visited a clinic with survivors from a cattle-raiding attack on 8 February.  A UN team was deployed to the attack scene in Walgak and marched for two days to reach the destination — 55 kilometres from Walgak.  The preliminary findings of the investigation team are based on first-hand observation of grave sites and bodies.  Clearly, this was a very serious attack.  The human rights investigations report will be made public when completed.


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


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, on… the first is just a follow-up — the UN Correspondents Association wrote a letter to the Department of Public Information in January asking for press access and marking… noting the reduction of press access in… after the move, specifically… a few questions, but specifically, in terms of access to Security Council booths in the newly renovated Secretariat.  Can you follow up?  We haven’t gotten any answer, and as you know, watching any of the events of the Security Council, Security Council meetings, via only UNTV would be a severe restriction of the press.  If you could follow up, I would appreciate it.


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, Pam, let me just say that I know that you are in consultations with the Department of Public Information, and that is the right conduit for your conversations, I believe.  What’s your question?


Question:  Sorry, can I… then a question on Alliance of Civilizations, can you tell us what the main goal of the Secretary-General will be there?  The meeting that you said today.


Spokesperson:  The Alliance of Civilizations is a well-known initiative that seeks to promote tolerance and understanding between different cultures, religions and civilizations around the world.  And this is a major coming together of leaders and civil society to talk about precisely those topics.  So the Secretary-General believes very strongly in this movement.  You only have to look at what has unfolded in various parts of the world in recent months to understand the importance of tolerance between different groups.


Question:  I… wouldn’t, like, an outcome document or anything come out of it?


Spokesperson:  I think it’s… the Secretary-General’s presence is not dependent on an outcome.  If such an outcome was to be available, then we’ll let you know.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Thank you.  Just on the signing in Addis Ababa on Sunday, can you tell me who is going to be signing?  What is the UN role?  Is the Secretary-General going to be the guarantor of the accord or just a witness, and are there any other witnesses?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is a co-guarantor, along with the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union.  [He later added that the heads of the Southern African Development Community and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region were also co-guarantors.]  And all 11 Presidents have been invited…


Question:  You mean they do not [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, I will give you a list subsequently; I don’t have a list with me right now.  All 11 Presidents have been invited, all 11 Presidents have committed to either be there or to provide the power to sign to someone else.  Yes, Joe?  I am not absolutely sure that this microphone that is being handed around is necessary.  There are microphones…


Question:  Well, yeah, I will speak loudly.  There was a report this morning of a bombing in Damascus and reportedly there were 50 people killed, I think 200 injured, and it took place between the Presidential Palace and the Intelligence.  Will the Secretary-General be putting out a statement relating to that event, of course condemning it as he has condemned other acts of violence by the Government?  They’re not sure who did this.


Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, I think that is one point that we… we are still looking at the reports that are coming in.  This was clearly an appalling attack, or possibly two attacks, that have resulted in many deaths and many people wounded.  It further underscores the need to end the violence and move on to a political track.  It also underscores how deeply ingrained now this conflict has become and how difficult it is to deal with.  If I have anything further for you, then I will let you know.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin.  I want to ask you a question about the Haiti announcement you made, and then I also want to ask you a question about how these briefings are conducted, but, I mean, I can do that later in the briefing.  On… on… on Haiti, I wanted to ask you, when you say it is not receivable, what… what… what… under what kind of… what is the legal argument?  Was a… was a standing claims commission, as required by the status-of-forces agreement, established?  And what’s the… it makes it sound like it is a legal determination, but is there going to be some kind of a memo?  What’s the basis, and what… what took so long, and “not receivable” in what way?  It was received.  Is it basically a claim of immunity by the UN?  Can you say more about what this “not receivable” means?


Spokesperson:  Well, I am not in a position to provide you with any details.  It’s not the United Nations practice to discuss in public the details of and the response to claims filed against the Organization.  Let me also say I can confirm that we have informed counsel for the claimants that the claims are not receivable.  Consideration of the claims would necessarily involve a review of political and policy matters.  Accordingly, the claims are not receivable, pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 February 1946.  Just to answer your question about the time taken:  we gave serious consideration to the matter, and took the time necessary to properly review the various claims raised in all their aspects.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  And then Nizar.  Yes?  I said Mr. Abbadi first, and then Nizar.  It is really helpful if you are in one of the seats where there is a microphone, Nizar.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I wonder if the Secretary-General has any reaction to the two strong explosions that took place in Hyderabad, south… in the south of India, that killed more than 11 people this morning?


Spokesperson:  Again, we are aware of this incident, and I would hope to have a little bit more detail later, but I don’t have that at the moment.  We are certainly aware of the incident you are referring to.  Yes, Nizar, yes?


Question:  Yeah, these… these attacks in Damascus, would you categorize them as terrorist attacks?


Spokesperson:  I think that we are still looking at the reports coming in.  Whatever you wish to label these attacks, they were grotesque and caused huge suffering, death and destruction.  And it simply further underscores the need for there to be an end to the bloodshed and a move to a political track.  That’s what Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi is working for, and that is what the international community is working for.  Other questions, please?  I am coming to Matthew, and then back to Mr. Abbadi.  Yes?


Correpsondent:  Okay, Martin, I… I have some… I… I… I… I have some other stuff as a question, but I wanted to make sure to be able to ask this one.  I just… it’s a very simple one, it has to do with how these briefings are conducted, and I just want to say briefly, for the last couple of days, each time you’ve… you’ve… you’ve… you’ve called on Pam and said… and… and I don’t know if this is in the context of [United Nations Correspondents Association], and the reason that I ask it is that yesterday there was a briefing here by the President of Bolivia, and there was something of a… of a minute-long — I would call it a fiasco — in which it was said it is a tradition that [United Nations Correspondents Association] get the first question; you continued to call on somebody else, it went around and around, so I just… I wasn’t… I… I… I wanted to be sure, is there… is there… is it a tradition in the noon briefing to… to give [United Nations Correspondents Association] the first question?   Because, if so, I object because they have said that the same seat will be given to any [United Nations Correspondents Association] member who are, in fact, paying dues and… and it creates a situation in which, basically, people are required to pay money to get the first question, and I would encourage the UN not to create, allow or permit such a tradition.


Spokesperson:  Thank you for your statement.  What’s your question?  Any other questions?


Question:  Oh, yeah, thank you, it has to do with Brahimi.  There have been these various reports that Mr. Brahimi has agreed to extend his contract for six months, and it was said that it was going to expire on Friday.  Is that… is… is… is that the case?


Spokesperson:  I can confirm that the contract of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been extended through to the end of this year — so not six months.  Through to the end of this year.  The contracts for his Deputy, Nasser al-Kidwa, and the head of his Damascus office, Mokhtar Lamani, have been extended for a similar length of time.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In his important telephone conversation with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, the Secretary-General insisted on the urgent resumption of the peace process, and also called for the establishment of an environment conducive to that end.  What does the Secretary-General have in mind when it comes to the elements of confidence-building?


Spokesperson:  Well, there are many elements to that, Mr. Abbadi.  I don’t propose to go through all of them.  I think that the Secretary-General’s statement, recent statement, and the readout of his conversation with Mr. Netanyahu, speak for themselves in that regard.  Yes, Pam?


Correspondent:  Thank you.  Since there’s statements welcome at the briefing as well as questions, I just want to respond, if I may, to the comment, just to say this, and…


Spokesperson:  Pam, could I just… could I, Pam… Pam, Pam, let me, Pam, stop.  Let me just say something first.  This is a briefing.  I do not wish negotiations or differences to be conducted here in public in…


Correspondent:  Is there going to be a right to reply, I believe?


Spokesperson:  Do you have a right to reply and also a right to interrupt me?  I am simply trying to say I would rather that your differences, whatever they may be, and important as they may be to everybody, that you deal with them outside of the briefing room, okay?


Correspondent:  All right.  May I just reply on this one, because a statement has been made?  The UN Correspondents Association has, for almost six decades, been given the first question at noon briefings because it represents the vast majority of press organizations and individuals at the United Nations.  And it is for that reason that the history has resulted in a policy that has been continued by the noon briefings, predecessors of yours, predecessors of mine, and at the UN in general.  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Question:  Martin, mine was actually a question; it was, did you call on Pam the last two days as the [United Nations Correspondents Association] representative or as a journalist?  Question.


Spokesperson:  I think I have had enough of this for today, so could I have any other questions, please, thank you very much.


Question:  On Greece, did… did… did the Greek Foreign Minister present to Ban Ki-moon a… a… a… a… some kind of a communication about the exploration of gas, oil, ha… ha… hydrocarbons by Turkey in allegedly Greek territory?


Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check, Matthew, I wasn’t there.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.  [He later shared the readout of that meeting:  The Secretary-General met today with H.E. Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos, Foreign Minister of Greece.  They exchanged views on the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, and also focused on prospects for renewed negotiations to find a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus and to resolve the Greece-former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia “name” dispute.  The Secretary-General underlined the importance of accelerating progress in both processes, and reiterated his personal commitment to that end.]


* *** *


For information media • not an official record