19 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.


So good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Briefing Guest


Today my guest is Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.  And he is joining by videolink from Dakar, in Senegal, where he is on his first overseas mission and where he has just attended the Global Meeting on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  I’m going to turn the floor over to Ahmad shortly, but just to introduce him a little further, if I may.  Ahmad is the first ever United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and he assumed office last month, in February.  He previously worked as the team leader for a World Bank-funded programme to the League of Arab States on institutional development to strengthen Arab policy in participation, amongst many other posts and responsibilities that he has had dealing with youth and other matters.  He holds a master’s degree in advanced European and international relations.  He is a strong youth advocate, needless to say, at the national, regional and international levels, and he has also written extensively on youth and civil society.


So what I will do now is pass the floor to Ahmad in Dakar, and once his part of the briefing is over, I do have some other information for you.  And then I’ll be happy to take questions as well.  But first of all, thank you very much for joining us again.  Please, the floor is yours, Ahmad.


[Press conference by Ahmad Alhendawi is issued separately.]


So a couple more items, and then I’ll be happy to answer questions.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council’s open debate on Afghanistan this morning, and he discussed the role the United Nations will play during the political transition there.  He said that the United Nations should continue providing good offices, including support for elections.  He added that the United Nations should also maintain its work for reconciliation and regional cooperation, stand firm for human rights and advance development.


The Secretary-General said that Afghanistan’s political climate is dominated by the 2014 elections.  Broad participation and a credible process are essential to reaching the goal of a widely-accepted leadership transition.  The Secretary-General expressed his concern about the 20 per cent increase in civilian casualties among women and girls in 2012.  He noted two statements from the Taliban, perhaps indicating a willingness to engage, and he encouraged a meaningful dialogue to reduce the intolerable, continuing death toll and to protect civilians.  We have his remarks in my office.


The Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Afghanistan by one year.


**Iraq


Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned in the strongest terms the spate of coordinated car bomb attacks and shootings that have once again killed and injured dozens of innocent people in several areas of the capital, Baghdad.  Mr. Kobler said that nothing can justify such heinous crimes.  We have his statement in my office.  The Secretary-General is meeting Martin Kobler about now, and I anticipate we will have something further to say after that meeting.


**Syria


In a statement issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General called on all parties in Syria and in the international community to seriously reflect on these past two years.  We all need to inject urgency towards reaching a political solution while there is still time to prevent Syria's complete destruction.


The end goal is clear to all — there must be an end to violence, a clean break with the past and a transition to a new Syria in which the rights of all communities are protected and the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians for freedom, dignity and justice are met.  The sooner a military solution is abandoned the better.  There is no need for more people to die, flee or grieve in Syria.


The Secretary-General calls on the region and the international community, in particular the Security Council, to find unity and lend its full support to the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to help the Syrian people reach a political solution to the conflict.  And the full statement is available online.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) has welcomed the surrender of the Congolese rebel Jean Bosco Ntaganda, and the decision by the United States to transfer him to The Hague, where he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Ituri between 2001 and 2003.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Roger Meece, said that the surrender of Mr. Ntaganda and his early transfer to the International Criminal Court would help advance the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He said that it would also send a strong signal to human rights offenders anywhere that they are not beyond justice.


**West Africa


The Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for West Africa, Said Djinnit, and for Central Africa, Abou Moussa, are in Cotonou, Benin, today to participate in a ministerial conference on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.


In his statement on behalf of the United Nations, Mr. Djinnit said that the rise of narco-terrorism in the Sahel, drug trafficking, organized crime and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea constitute major threats to peace, stability and economic development of the region.  The Conference is expected to adopt key documents which will be endorsed by Heads of State and Government of 25 countries during a summit in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in May.


**Guatemala


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has welcomed the trial of Guatemala’s former Head of State, Efrain Rios Montt, and former head of intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, due to begin today, for genocide and crimes against humanity.


Ms. Pillay said that this trial will signal the arrival of long-awaited justice for thousands of victims of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed during the murderous 36-year conflict in Guatemala.  She said that this is the first time, anywhere in the world, that a former Head of State is being put on trial for genocide by a national tribunal.


The High Commissioner called on the authorities to uphold their responsibility to guarantee a fair and independent trial.  She also urged them to take all necessary measures to ensure that judges, prosecutors, lawyers and others involved are protected from intimidation and reprisals.


So that’s it.  Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, sir.  On this Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the Arab neighbourhood, which was a written [inaudible], which has been documented since yesterday in all the newspapers, is again creating bigger problem and President Obama is also visiting.  Has the Secretary-General got to say anything about this new activity, which is now somehow taking away the lands of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem?


Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General’s position on settlements is quite clear and I don’t really have anything further to add at this time, Masood.


Question:  [inaudible] doing nothing about this latest activity which is…?


Spokesperson:  As I say, the Secretary-General’s views on settlements and their legality, or rather illegality, are well known, thanks very much.  Yes, please?


Question:  Yes, we are seeing widespread reports of possible chemical-weapon use in Syria.  Can the UN comment on whether that has taken place?  Do they know who may have done this, and can you give the Secretary-General’s views on the significance of chemical weapons use in Syria, as a general matter?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we’re obviously aware of the reports, the Secretary-General is aware of the reports, but we are not in a position to confirm them.  What I can say is that the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that any use of chemical weapons by any side in Syria would be a grave violation of international humanitarian law and would also be an outrageous escalation of an already bloody conflict.  But just to reiterate, we are aware of the reports, but we cannot confirm them, okay?  Yes?


Question:  Oh, actually [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Answered; okay, that’s fine; okay, all right.  Please?  Yes, and then Matthew?


Question:  Jonathan Sanders from I-cast News.  This morning, the Heritage Foundation came up with a report about the United Nations.  The Heritage Foundation is not without influence in Washington, particularly important at a time of budget restraints and sequestrations.  Let me quote two sentences:  “The United Nations has had a rough 2013.  On international peace and security, human rights and issues of management and accountability, the Organization has reminded the world just how ineffective, inept and embarrassing it is.”  And then goes through a whole litany of particulars and stories.  Will the Secretary-General have a comment or a rebuttal or provide people point-by-point to go through this report?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I think I’d need to take a look at the report, and we would need to take a look at the report and then we will come back to you.  But just as a general response, obviously, any reports that are issued that deal in a dispassionate and factual way with the working of the United Nations deserve serious study, and then serious comment, but we need to take a look at it first.  Thank you very much.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about South Sudan and then something here inside the building.  In… in South Sudan, somehow it is the Red Cross doing the reporting and not… and not the Mission… the UN Mission there.  But they have said that it… at least 60 people have been wounded in fighting, or an offensive, by South Sudan’s army on the David Yau Yau rebel group, and I know that Hilde Johnson was in town and said that they’re going to be moving with the army to protect civilians.  So, one, I am wanting to know, are they there?  Two, if they are there, why is it the Red Cross coming out with the casualty figures and not the UN?  And what’s the UN doing to protect the civilians that are being injured by this fighting?


Spokesperson:  I am expecting to hear something from the Mission about latest developments in the region there, and so once I have that information, I’d be very happy to share it with you, Matthew, and with others.


Question:  Sure.  Okay.  And I… I wanted to ask you this:  yesterday, right after the noon briefing here, my office upstairs was entered without any notification to me, and I’m… papers were searched, photographs were taken, and so I am left with the question that I am compelled to ask here: w hat are the rights of journalists?  Also, the President of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) took photographs while this took place.  What are the rights of journalists here to be secure in their papers… what was the role of UNCA in taking photographs and… and what… what safeguards are in place so that an inspection, even if characterized as something else, of an journalist’s office doesn’t in fact become a… essentially a raid where I could easily have been contacted, would have granted access… why… why did this take place and why… what safeguards are… are in place?


Spokesperson:  Yesterday, a staff member with the Department of Public Information’s Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit visited your office to follow up with you on a question about the timing of the move-back date for the UN press corps to the Secretariat Building.  On reaching the office, which was open, the staff member met with the Viet Nam News Agency correspondent who shares the office space with you.  The staff member observed that there was a large volume of trash in the office, prompting her to contact Fire and Security personnel owing to serious concerns over potential safety, health and fire hazards.  As I understand it, you subsequently disposed of the garbage that had accumulated in your part of the office.  And just to answer your other part of the question, as a rule, DPI staff do not enter the offices occupied by correspondents unless there are circumstances necessitating such visits.  And just to make it clear that DPI does not have the keys to those offices.


Question:  Can I ask one… thanks a lot, I really appreciate that, I wanted to ask one follow-up.  One, I… I am surprised that… that… that the UN Journal and… and other UN documents, many of which I threw out yesterday, were considered garbage.  But my question is this:  I have also received an e-mail this morning which asked me to remove from YouTube a video shot in my own office after the raid.  When I arrived and found people going through my papers, I turned on the camera very openly, and I am wanting to know, does the UN… by what right does the UN tell a journalist to remove from YouTube a video shot in their own office of what they perceive to be a search of their papers?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the details of that, and I need to come back to you on that, Matthew.


Correspondent:  Thank you.  Can I follow on that with a question?


Spokesperson:  By all means.


Question:  Is there any particular sensitivity at this time that we see rising, especially among the conservative elements in Washington, who after all are participants in paying 25 per cent of the UN budget, that in moving back into the other building that there is overt discrimination against journalists who do not work with State-sponsored media, who are independent, who are using new technology, and a favouritism to individuals who align with an elitist club that has no formal recognition in the UN, who have been given… who are being given a place to have a club function inside the reconfigured United Nations?


Spokesperson:  I will take that as a statement rather than a question.


Question:  Is there a consideration of the political factor, because there are Republicans who in the wake of the Heritage report are going to be focusing attention on cutting the budget of the UN?


Spokesperson:  Look, I think you are conflating a number of points here.  The move back into this building, the newly renovated building, has been long planned, carefully coordinated and has taken into account all kinds of considerations and requests.  It offers now new facilities, new communications and I think that you will find that the vast majority of journalists are perfectly satisfied with the arrangements that they will have when they move back into the new building, and which you quite rightly point out, the renovation was funded by Member States.  Of course, the United States is paying a large part of the budget, but all Member States have contributed to the Capital Master Plan, which is the renovation of the building.  The point of the exercise was to make the building a more efficient place to work, so that we can work.  “We” meaning United Nations international civil servants and the journalists and others who are here to be able to work in a more efficient way both for the international community and for the… in the case of the journalists, for the media outfits that they represent.


Just to come back, Matthew, to your question, about South Sudan.  The Mission reported that last night in Pibor, Jonglei State, an SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) camp came under fire from unknown armed groups using RPG launchers.  The SPLA returned fire and some 200 civilians sought protection at nearby UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) premises while another 300 gathered at other Mission bases.  The Mission reported that all civilians left by daylight.  So that’s what I have for you, just to update you on that particular point.  Yes, please, last question?


Question:  Thanks.  I wanted to see if you could provide any further detail on the news of Michelle Bachelet’s resignation from UN-Women.  Kind of three points to this question, three main questions.  First, do you know when she will be leaving her post as Executive Director?  Then, what will the hiring process look like exactly?  And when does the Secretary-General hope to announce a successor?


Spokesperson:  On the last two, there is a standard hiring process, and I am sure that will be adhered to.  And at the end of that, a successor, I am sure, will then be announced.  This is obviously a hugely important post.  The Secretary-General has paid extremely warm tribute to Ms. Bachelet for the work that she had done in this very crucial initial phase of UN-Women.  The trick now is going to be to find a successor who can carry on that work, and that will be the process that will be starting, I am sure, very soon.  As to the first question about exactly when Ms. Bachelet will be leaving, I will check with UN-Women and I will let you know.


Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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