8 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing, and happy International Women’s Day.


**International Women’s Day


This morning, the Secretary-General participated in the official commemoration of International Women’s Day here at UN Headquarters, and was calling for action to end violence against women.


In his remarks, he said that women and girls are subjected to shocking attacks and abuse and that the violence is mostly committed by husbands, fathers, colleagues and others whom women should be able to trust.  The Secretary-General said that no country is immune, but violence against women is not inevitable.  He said that all of us must wage this struggle:  women and men, girls and boys.


The Executive Director of UN-Women, Michelle Bachelet, announced today that 50 Governments and the European Commission have committed to take concrete action to end violence against girls and women.  Ms. Bachelet said that UN-Women applauds these commitments, but that we must do even more.  She said that it is what we owe to millions of women fighting for their rights around the world.


And as we mentioned yesterday, at 12:30 p.m., Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, the wife of the Secretary-General, will lead a UN Women for Peace march.  And this march will begin by gathering in front of the General Assembly building and will then proceed to the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza.


**Security Council


The Security Council received a briefing in consultations this morning on the detention of the 21 UN peacekeepers in Syria.  The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, provided an update on the peacekeepers, who are from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).


**Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) says that, following several human rights investigation missions to Minova and surrounding villages conducted from December last year to February this year, the Mission has gathered information showing the involvement of two battalions of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in mass rapes and other human rights violations committed in late November last year.


As a result, in line with the human rights due diligence policy, on 4 February, the Mission, MONUSCO, addressed a letter to the Congolese armed forces Chief of Staff to initiate the formal suspension of support to these units.  In line with its policy, the Mission has sent a second and final injunction to the Chief of Staff on 18 February 2013.


The UN Mission is in touch with Congolese authorities at the highest level to ensure that the alleged perpetrators, including Congolese armed forces commanders, be brought to justice and held accountable.  The Mission will maintain, together with other partners, its support to Congolese judicial authorities to pursue their investigations and will offer its support for any trial to be held.


**Zimbabwe


The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, wrapped up a two-day visit to Zimbabwe today, urging Zimbabweans to protect children, ahead of a constitutional referendum and elections expected this year.  Anthony Lake said that at times of great uncertainty, it is important that homes, communities and schools continue to be havens of safety for children.  He added that children must be sheltered — in all countries — from political turbulence.  There is more information available on UNICEF’s website.


**Press Conference


On Monday, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  He will brief on Palestine refugees, who are facing unprecedented threats as the violence in Syria intensifies and spreads.


Questions, please?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, sure, I wanted to… first of all, I wanted to ask you about your announcement about the rapes in Minova.  Um, it seems kind of important, if you could, to name what the two battalions are, now that this… this… and if I understand you correctly, that… that… that that support has been suspended to them.  But also, I wanted to ask you because I see…


Spokesperson:  Wait, wait, wait.  I didn’t say it has been suspended.  The process has begun.  There have been two letters, as I mentioned, one sent on 4 February, and the second sent on 18 February.  This is to initiate the formal suspension.


Question:  Okay.  Just to… just to… didn’t you say this… the 18th one was the final letter?  That’s why… that’s why I may have misunderstood it.


Spokesperson:  That’s the final injunction to the authorities. 


Question:  Okay, okay.  Then… then these are my questions.  My question, first of all, is… is… what are the two battalions, and… and what is the deadline?  I saw a number of stories yesterday; you have been saying here for months that when you have something to announce, you’d tell me.  I saw stories last night, and Reuters and AFP and other outlets quoting an unnamed UN official saying that an unspecified deadline had been given to two unidentified battalions.  So, first, I wanted you… if you could explain why was the information given out in the way that it was given, what you’d said in this room; and two, what are the battalions and what is the deadline?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, with regard to briefings on the record, off the record, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] arranges these regularly in different formats, both actively and in response to requests for briefings, and they will continue to do that.  With regard to the two units, I am not in a position to say precisely who they are at this point.  As you know, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Mission is preparing a report on the human rights violations committed in Minova and in the Goma area, too, in November of last year.  And that report, I can tell you, is intended for publication.


Question:  Thanks, and I appreciate that.  First, is it possible to know what the dis… since it is now said that this is a final letter imposing some time of a deadline, what’s the deadline?  And I also, just, with all due respect, I wanted… so when you say when you have information it will be given to the reporter asking a question, this is all subject to DPKO choosing to deal with reporters it finds more friendly?  Is that accurate?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think I want to get into to-ing and fro-ing on this particular point.  When I have information, I will provide it to you, as I am doing now.  Let me just add that the Mission is aware that 11 soldiers from the FARDC [Congolese armed forces] were arrested in late 2012 in connection with the case.  But of the 11, only two [were arrested] on rape charges, and despite the high number of testimonies, no further arrests have been made to date.  And I can tell you that there were 400 testimonies collected so far.  And of those, 200 had to do with sexual violence.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Ali, then Tim?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I want to ask about whether UNDOF personnel are conducting their regular patrols or they are just putting on hold everything, because of this incident regarding the detainees.


Spokesperson:  As I mentioned yesterday, clearly, the mission there in Golan needs to review its security arrangements, and it has been doing that.  It has also been looking at different scenarios, different arrangements, how to operate in these new rather difficult and challenging circumstances.  I don’t have any further details on that, except one aspect:  that night patrols are no longer being carried out.  This is something that was carried out in the past; they are no longer being carried out.  But other details — I cannot provide too much on that at the moment.


Question:  Just to follow up, is it true that the Syrian Government offered to free the detainees by force?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that, and that’s a question for the Syrian authorities, not for us.  Yes, Tim?


Question:   But you said in the briefing in December, when you reported that there were 26 cases; so the 200 cases, are these all rapes?


Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I said, not 200 cases, they’re testimonies.


Question:  Testimonies.  And you have 400 testimonies and 200…?


Spokesperson:  A testimony is not the same as a charge or an allegation; it’s, if you like, witness statements.


Question:  And you said 400 testimonies and 200…?


Spokesperson:  Related to sexual violence.


Question:  But they are not all rapes?  We are not increasing the number of rapes that you are dealing with?


Spokesperson:  I think this is something that we could deal with off-line, because I think you are confusing a number of things here.  These are like witness statements that could, for example, be dealing with a number of people talking about one particular case, for example.  That’s why you might have numbers of this magnitude.


Question:  And is there a deadline, then?  Is there a deadline?  Is there a day when they have to take action?


Spokesperson:  Tim, I don’t have anything for you on that.


Correspondent:  Okay. 


Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, Michelle?


Question:  Do you have a figure on how many Congolese soldiers MONUSCO thinks were involved in the rapes?


Spokesperson:  Michelle, I don’t have any further information on that at the moment, okay.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about the, the extraordinary courts in the Chambers of Cambodia, the war crimes court.  It seems like it’s… it’s been… there is a translators’ strike, it seems like the work has stopped.  I don’t know if the work has stopped, has it resumed?  And what steps is the UN taking to ensure that there will be… you know, the justice… wheels of justice, however slow, continue to turn in that court?


Spokesperson:  That is certainly the hope:  that those wheels do continue to turn, because this is absolutely crucial that there should be accountability for crimes committed, however long ago that was.  So that’s the first thing.  The second thing is that everybody knows that there have been considerable financial difficulties, stemming from funding shortfalls.  And certainly it is the UN’s hope that that funding will be forthcoming so that the court can continue to operate.  And where the funding needs to come from the Cambodian authorities themselves, and not from external donors, certainly, we would hope that that funding would also be made available; but if I have any further update on the amounts, for example, then certainly we’d let you know.  Any other questions? 


Question:  On South Sudan?


Spokesperson:  Pardon?


Question:  On South Sudan, can I ask a question?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  There are… there are reports of… of the… the… the… the South Sudanese army taking on Yah… David Yau Yau rebels and, you know, 28 people killed was the number earlier in the week.  And I just wondered again, maybe it is under this human rights due diligence policy, is there any… first of all, does the U… is U… is UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], you know, aware of the fighting and are c… are civilians being protected by the way it is being conducted?  And is there any support by the UN system to the South Sudanese army in this campaign?


Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports, and I am expecting an update from the Mission, which I hope will address the points that you have raised.


Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record