1 March 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General in Geneva


The Secretary-General is in Geneva, where he has just been delivering the annual Sergio Vieira de Mello lecture.  In it, he said that as Sergio Vieira de Mello and the colleagues who died with him in Baghdad proved in their too-short lifetimes, the United Nations is dedicated to fulfilling its humanitarian imperative. 


In his lecture, the Secretary-General says that the efforts to pursue a military solution in Syria are leading to the dissolution of Syria.  He says that those with the political power to change things must answer to every mother and every girl in Syria.  Inaction in the councils of peace looks like indifference in the cauldron of war.


Earlier, he spoke at the Human Rights Council on human rights mainstreaming, and he paid tribute to Stéphane Hessel, one of the main architects of the system to protect human rights, who died earlier this week.  That speech is available in our office.


** Mali


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that despite improvements to the security situation in some areas in Mali, fear of returning home remains widespread.  The agency said that there are still large numbers of internally displaced people, while in surrounding countries the numbers of refugees are still high and in some cases increasing.


The reasons of delay of returning include continued fighting, suicide attacks, reprisal attacks against some communities, the presence of mines and unexploded ordinance in the regions of Mopti, Gao and Timbuktu.  For those outside Mali, an additional complication is ethnic make-up, as a majority of the refugees are Tuareg or Arab.  Fear of reprisal attacks is widespread, as is fear of criminality.


The refugee agency said that reconciliation efforts are urgently needed, together with efforts to combat impunity, to prevent Mali's displacement crisis from becoming more protracted.  It said that it is planning support for reconciliation in areas of displacement and returns, as well as in refugee camps.


** Iraq


Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, met with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. António Guterres, in Geneva today and discussed the situation of Syrian refugees in Iraq, as well as the process of resettling the residents of Camp Liberty to third countries.


Mr. Kobler said that, after the despicable attacks on Camp Liberty on 9 February, it is particularly important that we redouble our efforts to resettle the residents and find durable solutions for them outside Iraq as quickly as possible.  The UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMA) will continue to support the UN refugee agency in bringing about a quick resettlement of the residents to third countries.


** Myanmar


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that badly needed aid has been delivered to hundreds of people affected by conflict in Myanmar’s Kachin State.  A UN-interagency team travelled last week to Hpakant, west of the capital of Kachin, after the Government of Myanmar granted access.  This marked the first time UN staff were able to reach uprooted people there since January of 2012.


The agency says that 75,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan States since fighting broke out in June of 2011.  An upsurge in fighting in December of last year and January of this year is believed to have forced thousands more to flee their homes.  There is more information on the website of the UN refugee agency.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) reports that the situation in Kitchanga, North Kivu, remains volatile.  Yesterday, sporadic shooting continued between the Congolese Armed Forces and APCLS (Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et souverain).  More than 3,000 people have taken refuge in and around the MONUSCO military base in Kitchanga.


The Mission adds that, on 27 February, the Saint-Benoît Hospital was reportedly hit by a mortar shot, resulting in up to 57 casualties, including patients and staff.  The UN Mission is in the process of confirming the number and status of the victims.  The Mission is actively working to defuse the situation, including through contacts with the Government and overflights of military helicopters.  UN personnel are also assisting in the evacuation of the wounded to medical facilities and will assist in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.


**Secretary-General Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Ray Chambers of the United States as his Special Envoy for Malaria and for the Financing of the Health-Related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Mr. Chambers, who has been serving as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria since 2008, has now been given additional functions relating to the MDGs.


In his new capacity, he will collaborate with the UN agencies, funds and programmes to promote and secure increased investment by the public and private sectors to achieve the health-related MDGs by the end of December 2015.  We have more information on this appointment in our office.


** Bangladesh


And yesterday I was asked about the situation in Bangladesh.  I can say the following:  The Secretary-General is monitoring the situation with concern and is saddened by the loss of life.  While recognizing that the war crime tribunal is a national process, the Secretary-General calls on all concerned to act with respect for the rule of law, to stop the violence and to express their views peacefully.


**Press Conferences


And on Monday, at 12:30 p.m., Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of March, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.


And then at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Michelle Bachelet, the UN-Women Executive Director, on the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which runs from 4 to 15 March.


That’s it from me.  Questions, please?  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Eduardo, today there were reports about the… the opposition rebels in Syria attacked the [inaudible] Mosque, and the… a lot of manuscripts, thousands or tens of thousands of manuscripts, were burnt or looted, many of them ended up in Turkey.  Again, the looting of the factories in Aleppo now is coupled with the looting of the… these valuable, invaluable in fact, manuscripts.  What… is the United Nations doing anything regarding that, and will there be any responsibility on Turkey to protect this heritage?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I would suggest that first of all you contact UNESCO, which is the primary agency dealing with historical artefacts.  The Secretary-General has made it quite clear that abuses on both sides must be accounted for, and the people responsible for them will be and must be held accountable.  So that goes for the people on both sides committing abuses.  As for anything else, I don’t have anything else on that.


Question:  What is the responsibility of Turkey, disrespect one, these things are sold or transferred through Turkey?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there are international conventions, I believe on artefacts and manuscripts, and I think it is up to the… to people worldwide to keep an eye out and make sure they don’t have bootlegged copies of these important artefacts.  But again, I would suggest you speak with UNESCO, they have the watching brief on this.  Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, sure, I wanted… and then… thanks for that… for… for… I guess, maybe it’s a first response on Bangladesh, there is also been various press freedom groups that have said that in fact the media has specifically been targeted and is pro… in the protest in Bangladesh.  That it is not that after… it’s not just a question of the… the national, you know, ruling of… on… on… on war crimes, that the Government has been involved and specifically targeting opponents and the press and I’ve just… I was listening in… your statement, is that… beyond the statement you’ve put out, what’s the UN’s engagement?  Is this something that they are now watching?  Do they think that they have some role they could play?  What’s… what’s…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you have to check with the Human Rights office and UNESCO on the journalists.  The Secretary-General has always been quite clear that journalists must be free to carry out their work without intimidation and without danger.  That said, the Secretary-General recognizes the right of people to protest, and it’s the responsibility of both the authorities and the people protesting to ensure this is done in a very peaceful manner.  One more?


Question:  I want to ask you about a… a… a… a… a decision that… that was rendered by the UN dispute tribunal recently against the Secretary-General.  It had to do with the Publishing Division and they… they had attempted to essentially eliminate 59 posts and they did a… they brought an action, and… and… I’m… I’m reading to you from a paragraph 15, it says, it appears that DGACM did not have the authority to undertake the restructuring exercise on a scale that would involve the deletion of 59 posts and there has been a suspension of action.  So I am wondering, what is… what has the Secretariat learned from this?  They were trying to cut these posts.  Now, a judge… the judge said… the judicial system of the UN has said that there is no authority at all for it.  Is it… do they intend to try go forward with it, or do they… are they going to recalibrate it?  What… what’s the response to this decision?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to find out for you on that, Matthew, I don’t have the answer with me.  Nizar, last question?


Question:  Yes, sir, you know, one report, which was released yesterday, I notice that the Secretary-General has totally ignored [inaudible], motions in Lebanon, the sheikh who was detained while was making trouble in Sidon.  He… in the past, he raised a lot of stakes of upsetting the stability of Lebanon, and again today he is calling for general strike, armed struggle against the State and against other groups.  As a militia, why is he not mentioned at all in this report?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to find out and we’ll get back to you on that.  Thank you so much, have a good weekend, ladies and gentlemen.


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For information media • not an official record