5 April 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.


I understand we have Martin Nesirky on the line from Madrid.  Martin, can you hear us?


Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Yes, indeed.  Buenas tardes!  It’s certainly good to be able to speak to you from Madrid.


I just wanted to be able to update you on a couple of things; and the first is that the Secretary-General spoke just a little while ago, using Skype, to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani teenager, who you will all remember survived an assassination attempt some months ago.  And the Secretary-General had been wanting to speak with Malala for quite some time; but he decided, obviously, having checked with Malala’s family, that today would be a really great day to do that.  And the reason is that today marks the 1,000th day milestone in the run-up to the Millennium Development Goals deadline, which is at the end of 2015.


Obviously, Malala has been a real symbol for education, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals, and also for women’s empowerment, for gender equality.  And the Secretary-General had a really great conversation with her.  We are going to be putting some clips from that onto YouTube as soon as we can upload the video to New York and it can be put together.


The Secretary-General said that Malala was a symbol of hope and a daughter of the United Nations.  He said that if we educate a woman, we educate a family, and country and a community.  And Malala said she was in good health and that she is able to do absolutely anything; and that she wants to be a leader and to be able to serve the whole world.  And the Secretary-General really was impressed with this conversation, and he felt that it was really an appropriate conversation to have today to help to highlight the 1,000 days that remain and the work that remains to be done in that time across the MDGs — the Millennium Development Goals.  And specifically here on education, something which Malala has been a strong champion for; and, of course, she has become a symbol, a world symbol, for the rights of girls and young women to have a decent education, just the same as boys and young men.


So, that’s really the main thing I wanted to brief you on.  Also, just to say that the Secretary-General is in Madrid for a meeting of the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations system.  As you know, that brings together different heads of the agencies, funds and programmes within the UN system.  And the Secretary-General has been chairing that meeting today; and the meeting continues tomorrow.  There will be discussions again about the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development plans for after 2015.  And they have obviously been talking about a wide range of other topics, and I am sure that we will be able to provide more details once those discussions wrap up.


And simply, finally, to add that the Secretary-General did yesterday, as you will have seen, meet the Spanish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and also the Crown Prince.  We provided readouts on those, and I am sure you also saw the transcript of the press conference which the Secretary-General held with the Prime Minister.


So, I am happy to take a couple of questions if you have them.


**Questions and Answers


Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In what way did Malala say she could help the world; in what specific way?


Spokesperson:  Well, she’d obviously want to work for rights of girls and the rights of all human beings.  And she said that she wants to work together with everyone to achieve peace and happiness, as she said.  And the way to see peace is through education.  And she said it was an honour for her to be associated with the UN, and she wants to tell the world how important education is.  So, this is an extremely eloquent young woman and this was a fascinating conversation.  We will be providing, as I say, some video clips from that, with her family’s permission, of course, in the hours to come.


Question:  Martin, I wanted to ask about, about just the, the remaining itinerary of the Secretary-General’s trip.  Can you confirm that, that he is going to Rome and meet with the Pope on 9 April?  And I want sort of ask, I want to ask whether he might meet, also meet with Staffan de Mistura, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Italy, who I, we’ve reported is in, under consideration as Envoy to Mali?


Spokesperson:  Who is “we”?


Question:  Inner City Press; we’ve reported that.  So, I’d like to, but, the, the Pope thing is described as an unscheduled visit, but it’s, it’s, if he is going, is it scheduled?  The Vatican says that he is going.


Spokesperson:  Well, when we have trips to announce, we will announce them, Matthew.  And as I say, that’s the way that we usually do these things.


[In response to questions about the Secretary-General’s travels, the Spokesperson had the following to say:


We can confirm that on Tuesday, 9 April, the Secretary-General will visit Vatican City, after a previously scheduled visit to The Hague.


The Secretary-General will meet with Pope Francis, with whom he will discuss the continuing cooperation between the United Nations and the Holy See.


He will also meet Italian officials in Rome, including the President, the Prime Minister, the President of the Senate and the President of the Chamber of Deputies.]


Question:  Martin, this is Ivan.  Concerning reports that North Korea has announced that it recommends foreign diplomatic personnel to leave, to be prepared for evacuation in case of the further worsening of the situation in the Korean peninsula, is the United Nations personnel going to be evacuated in, in this case, too?


Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, we are well aware of this latest development, and the Secretary-General is certainly well briefed on it.  A representative of the UN country team joined other diplomatic colleagues in responding to a request from the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to attend a meeting in Pyongyang today, Friday afternoon, Pyongyang time.  The Secretary-General is studying the message, and the United Nations will respond as appropriate.  What I can tell you is that the UN staff in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] remain engaged in their humanitarian and developmental work throughout the country.  What I can also tell you is that the Secretary-General remains deeply concerned about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.  You will obviously have seen his remarks in recent days; he’s made his views very clear on the steps the DPRK needs to take immediately to address the concerns of the region and the international community.  The Secretary-General is working in close partnership with key Member States of the United Nations, and he remains committed to working for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Edie?


Question:  Martin, as a follow-up to that, can you tell us how many UN personnel are in the DPRK, and can we understand from what you just said that, at least for the moment, they will be staying?


Spokesperson:  Well, what I said is that UN staff in the DPRK remain engaged in their humanitarian and development work throughout the country.  I can’t give you precise staff numbers at the moment.  I would remind you that there are international staff and there are also national staff who are doing tremendous work; work that is vitally needed, as you know.  As the Secretary-General said yesterday, there is a hugely difficult humanitarian situation in the DPRK, and the UN does a lot of work, World Food Programme, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and others through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, they are providing very important life-saving assistance to the people of the DPRK, and particularly the children.  What the Secretary-General has said is that with the very serious security concerns that there are, it is really very difficult for the United Nations to be able to do that work, and he is appealing again to the international community for humanitarian assistance.  There hasn’t been such a big response in recent months to this appeal, and certainly we would appeal again for assistance for the people who really need it in the DPRK.  And just to repeat what I did say:  that UN staff in the DPRK remain engaged in their humanitarian and developmental work throughout the country; not just in Pyongyang.  [The Spokesperson later added that there are 36 international and 21 locally recruited personnel of seven United Nations agencies, funds and programmes who are present, as of today, in the DPRK, in addition to family members.]


Deputy SpokespersonNizar?


Question:  Yeah, a follow-up on that, Martin.  Is the Secretary-General considering, for example, a gesture like visiting Pyongyang in order to de-escalate the situation there?  Is he considering it in any way?


Spokesperson:  What the Secretary-General has said on a number of occasions is that he is prepared to help facilitate dialogue; to help to bring people together.  Dialogue is what is needed to try to turn the volume down.  The volume has been turned up tremendously high in recent days, and the volume needs to be turned back down again.  And the Secretary-General is certainly keen to help if he can and where he can.  He certainly hopes that all the parties concerned with the Korean peninsula will work together, first of all to calm down the situation, and then to engage in dialogue.  And he is prepared, as he has said on a number of occasions, to help with that.


Deputy Spokesperson:  One last question.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  Martin, you said that the Secretary-General would soon meet with the heads of the agencies to discuss among other things the major goals.  According to United Nations World Tourism Organization, Chinese tourists spend now more than $1 billion in worldwide travel.  This makes China the first number-one tourism source market.  Does the Secretary-General consider this to be a contribution to the fulfilment of the major goals?


Spokesperson:  Well, interestingly enough, this meeting of the Chief Executives Board is being hosted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, which is based here in Madrid.  It’s the only UN organization that is based in Madrid.  And so, the Secretary-General has certainly had plenty of opportunities to discuss the role of tourism in development, and also the need for there to be a broader discussion about sustainable development and the different roles that the different agencies and funds and programmes represented here in Madrid can play in that work.  With regard to China and tourism, obviously, that is a growing factor, and I am sure that there will be discussions around that topic in the two days that the principals in the different parts of the UN system are here.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Martin.


Spokesperson:  I can take one more question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  One more question?  Yes?


Question:  To follow up the DPRK topic; usually we have been saying actually what this country should do to ease tensions on the peninsula, but as we can understand, mostly what is happening now is the reaction of DPRK on the manoeuvres in the south and involvement of heavy US bombers like B-2 and B-52, nuclear submarines and fighters and ships.  But, can you say what in this situation the South Korean and American side should do to ease the tension?


Spokesperson:  There is a general need for things to calm down; for the volume to be turned down, that I have already said.  And this is what the Secretary-General has been saying.  But, of course, what he has been saying is that it is really incumbent on the DPRK authorities to reduce the tension.  It is, after all, the DPRK authorities that have made a number of statements in the recent days, and indeed weeks, that the Secretary-General and others have said are alarming.  And so, therefore, it is important that the temperature be reduced; the volume be turned down.  There needs to be calm, and there needs to be dialogue.  And the Secretary-General certainly hopes that that will be the case.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Martin, thank you so much. It’s been a privilege hearing your reports.  Have safe travels, and a good weekend.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  Thank you, and all the best to all of you.  And see you soon.  Bye for now.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Bye-bye.  Okay, we’ll continue with some other issues and then I will take a few questions.


**UNRWA


Demonstrators stormed the compound of the Gaza Field Office of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) yesterday, in response to a programme cut necessitated by budget shortfalls.  The incident is a dramatic and disturbing escalation in a series of demonstrations that have taken place over the past week.


The Agency’s Gaza Director, Robert Turner, stressed that the Agency respects people's right to peaceful demonstration, but added that what happened was completely unacceptable and could have resulted in serious injuries to staff and demonstrators.


Demonstrations during the past week had already forced the Relief and Works Agency to close many of its facilities.  With the situation further compounded by yesterday’s actions, all relief and distribution centres will consequently remain closed until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that the Agency’s operations can continue unhindered.


**South Sudan


The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) released a report today on the findings of a human rights investigation into the deadly incident that occurred near Walgak in Jonglei State on 8 February.


The report states that at least 85 people were killed, including 69 who were identified by name.  The majority of those slain were women and children.  At the same time, it was difficult to get access to some parts of the area, and as many as 34 additional people are reported missing.


The report acknowledges the efforts that have been made by the Government of South Sudan to respond to the incident and thereby reduce the number of casualties.  More should be done, however, to protect communities at risk of attack.  It is crucial that an investigation takes place with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and seeking redress through compensation.  There is a press release with more details.


**Lord’s Resistance Army


Yesterday, I was asked about the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  In a press release issued later yesterday, the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) said that the 2,000 Ugandan soldiers who have been made available to the Regional Task Force of the African Union in charge of the fight against the LRA will continue to play their role in this initiative, including those operating in the Central African Republic.  It is one of the main outcomes of the meeting that took place in Kampala on 3 April between the African Union, the UN and Ugandan authorities.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, Abou Moussa, said we must not give any chance to Joseph Kony and his fighters to believe that there is a reprieve and that they can continue to commit atrocities with impunity.  There are more details in the press release available in our office.


** Central African Republic


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that it continues to see outflows of refugees from the Central African Republic, with fresh arrivals reported into Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the past two weeks.  In all, and since the conflict began last December, there are now 37,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in the region.  The UN Refugee Agency said that it is working with the authorities in all three receiving countries to provide protection and assistance.  There are more details in a press release available online.


** Mali


And the UN Refugee Agency said today that more than 5,500 Malian refugees, from the regions of Kidal and Menaka, crossed into Niger last week.  These refugees, who are mainly women and children, said they fled because of the ongoing war in northern Mali, and for fear of possible reprisals by the Malian army.  They also said that more people are on their way to Niger.  The UN Refugee Agency said that joint and separate missions with local authorities and the World Food Programme have been organized to register new arrivals and distribute food and non-food items.  There are more details in a press release available online.


** Guantanamo


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, today urged all branches of the United States Government to work together to close the Guantanamo detention centre.  She said that the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law.


She noted the current hunger strike by Guantanamo detainees, and said that it is scarcely surprising that people’s frustrations boil over and they resort to such desperate measures.


As a first step, Ms. Pillay said, those who have been cleared for release must be released.   The High Commissioner also called on the United States Government to extend an invitation which would allow full and unfettered access to the United Nations Human Rights Council experts, including the opportunity to meet privately with detainees.


**Death Penalty


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was deeply concerned that a number of countries in the Middle East and Asia have recently started reapplying the death penalty after several years of moratorium, despite the overwhelming global trend towards abolishing the death penalty.  The Human Rights Office appeals to all Governments concerned to take necessary measures and establish an official moratorium on all executions, with the aim of abolishing the death penalty in accordance with recent General Assembly resolutions.


**World Health Day


World Health Day will be celebrated Sunday, 7 April, to commemorate the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO), with the theme “high blood pressure”.  On this occasion, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations encourages all adults to have their blood pressure regularly checked at health-care facilities.


Emphasizing the importance of addressing high blood pressure, the Secretary-General added that he welcomes the global momentum to address non-communicable diseases.  More information can be found on the agency’s website.


** Haiti


And yesterday, I was asked about whether the Special Rapporteur for Haiti, Michel Forst, was forced out.  I can refer you all to the op-ed Mr. Forst wrote last week, where he explains why he resigned and denies having been forced out.


That’s it from me, I’ll have a few questions, please.  Ali?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Eduardo, we need to know why the, the fact-finding mission regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria has not been dispatched yet to Damascus.  We understood that Ambassador [Bashar al] Ja'afari met with Ms. Angela Kane a few days ago, and that the Syrian Government has some reservations regarding the models, or I don’t know.  So, would you please elaborate on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as for the Syrian Government’s position, you’ll have to ask the Syrian Mission for them to comment on it.  What I can tell is that the United Nations continues to discuss the content of the exchange of letters with the Government of Syria and is hopeful that a mutual understanding on the text will be reached soon.  Nizar?


Question:  Yes.  Regarding the death sentence, you mentioned the death sentence in the Middle East, and that many countries are resorting to that; but there is now a victim and in Saudi Arabia, also someone, someone who is a defender in Saudi Arabia, who is, the Governments are, the Government there is considering sending him or inflicting paralysis on him as punishment for his crime.  How does the United Nations view such a punishment?  This is a new invention.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I will have to get something for you on that, I don’t have anything.


Correspondent:  Inflicting paralysis on person for stabbing someone else.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, I don’t have anything for you on that, Nizar.  When we have something we will get back to you.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  Regarding the demonstrations inside the UNRWA compound in Gaza, as you said, the Gaza Director said that the situation could very easily have resulted in serious injuries to UNRWA staff.  Was the, were there any injuries to the staff at all, or any destruction of the material in the compound?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information with me, but if you look at the UNRWA website, I am sure they posted a much more comprehensive report of what went on, and you can probably get the information there.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Eduardo, I want to ask you about Sudan, Haiti and the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo].  On Sudan, there is a report out by the Small Arms Survey saying that South Sudan has provided logistical support, logistical fuel, vehicle support to the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] North in, in Southern Kordofan, and I am wondering, especially since there is a UN Mission in South Sudan, is there any response to this finding of something that Khartoum has been alleging for some time?


Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that, Matthew; we’ll try and find out.


Question:  Do you have anything on the opening for the provision of aid of Blue Nile State?  There has been, I know that the UN has been calling for a long time for access under the tripartite agreement and today it is announced that actually access has been granted.  Do you have anything?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I read something on it yesterday, Matthew, you can probably find it on the, in the transcript.


Question:  Okay, okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Last question, Nizar?  We have time for one more question.


Question:  May I ask about…


Question:  Excuse me. What’s the, what’s the time problem?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The time problem is that we’ve had a lot of time here, Matthew.


Question:  Yeah, some Jordanian parliamentarians have expressed their concern that, should an attack happen against Damascus from the rebels, this could bring an exodus from Jordan up to 3 million, 4 million people in a short time, short period.  Is the United Nations prepared for such an exodus?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think we’ve made it very clear here that there are tremendous challenges that the United Nations [is] facing right now with the number of refugees that are leaving Syria to go into neighbouring States.  And, thanks to the hospitality of those neighbouring States, these people have been fairly well received and housed, clothed and fed up until now.  There is a requirement for additional funding for that.  And with respect to the outflow of people, again I would remind you, the Secretary-General has been saying for two years, the violence has to end.  People in Syria have to be allowed to get on with their lives and resolve their differences peacefully and in a democratic fashion.


Question:  Well, how can you pre-empt such an exodus; I mean, is there, are there any contacts or any measures that the United Nations can do?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the only way that this type of exodus can be pre-empted is by the violence coming to an end, and the Government and the opposition sitting down peacefully and negotiating a democratic out to the situation that they are facing right now.  The violence is not going to help; militarization is not going to help, and all you are going to have is more Syrians killing more Syrians.  That’s been the Secretary-General’s position until now, and it remains the same.


Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good weekend.


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