24 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Security Council


Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on the Middle East this morning, and he said that it is a moment of increased risk and instability across the region, with a need for quick and concerted action to address the humanitarian situation, both inside and outside Syria.


Mr. Feltman said that the United Nations is still in discussions with the Government of Syria on the scope and modalities of the technical mission to investigate alleged uses of chemical weapons in Syria.  The Secretary-General’s position is that, at this time, the mission should investigate the allegations pertaining to incidents in Aleppo and Homs.  While awaiting access to the Syrian territory, the experts of the mission are studying the information on the alleged incidents of the use of chemical weapons provided to them by Member States.


He also noted that, in an encouraging development, Israel and Palestine reached an important agreement yesterday at the executive board of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, which allows for an expert mission to the Old City of Jerusalem in mid-May. Mr. Feltman added that the moment of opportunity for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process must not be lost.


**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


And just to add on UNESCO, they said today that the expert mission will examine the state of conservation of Jerusalem’s Old City and its Walls, which is a World Heritage site.  The last monitoring mission to there took place in 2004, and the next one will take place following requests by the World Heritage Committee in 2010, 2011 and last year.  There is more information on this available on UNESCO’s website.


**Sustainable Development


The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a meeting on innovative solutions for sustainable development at the Economic and Social Council.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that sustainable development demands innovation from within the United Nations and beyond its walls.


He also noted that he has proposed the creation of a UN partnership facility to support partnership work across all entities for sustainable development.


The Secretary-General also spoke at a New Energy Finance event this morning, and said that private investment is essential to meet the growing demand for energy, climate resilience and low-emissions strategies in the developing world.  He also encouraged public and private sectors to work together to overcome barriers to climate investments.  And his remarks are available in my Office and online.


** Great Lakes


Mary Robinson, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, will make her first visit to the region in this new capacity from 29 April to 5 May.  She will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and South Africa, before concluding her mission at the African Union in Addis Ababa.


The Special Envoy will initiate discussions with leaders from key countries that recently signed the “Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region” on how to translate the agreement into tangible actions and cooperation to end the recurrent cycles of crisis and suffering in the eastern DRC.  She will meet with regional and subregional organizations and envoys working on topics related to the Great Lakes.  She will also meet representatives of non-governmental organizations, including women’s groups, as well as UN and international partners.


** Iraq


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, expressed his disappointment about the Government’s decision to set 4 July this year as the date for Governorate Council elections in Anbar and Ninewa.  However, he welcomed the Iraqi Government’s willingness to review its decision, should the security situation in both provinces improve.


**South Sudan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that humanitarian preparations for the rainy season are on track in South Sudan.  The pre-positioning of seeds and tools for 90,000 people in Jonglei State has been completed.  Aid agencies are trying to reach farmers with supplies as early as possible so that they can plant their crops before the rainy season peaks around August.


However, the Office reports that the movement of aid organizations between Bor and Pibor remains suspended following the attack on the 9th of April on a peacekeeping convoy to Jonglei, hampering the delivery of relief and the carrying out of assessments.  John Ging, the Office’s Operations Director, arrived in South Sudan today for a three-day visit.


** Somalia


The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the GAVI Alliance, announced today that Somali authorities have launched a new five-in-one vaccine against several potentially fatal childhood diseases, which could save thousands of young lives.  More than 1.3 million doses of this vaccine have been provided for the country for this year and will be used to immunize children under the age of one.  There is more information available in my Office on this.


**Niemeyer


As we mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General will attend a tribute in the General Assembly Hall to Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and the UN Board of Design this afternoon.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to say that the 11 architects of the Board of Design were ahead of their times and that he hopes we will follow their example and stay at the vanguard when it comes to solving global problems.


**Press Conferences


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations.  And that’s on the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development.


And then at noon, I will be joined by Ray Chambers, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria and for the Financing of the Health-Related Millennium Development Goals.


** Myanmar


We were asked this week about the reaction of Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, to video footage taken in Meiktila.


He says that it is deeply distressing to see footage of members of the security forces standing by passively when the angry and violent crowds were engaging in acts of inexcusable behaviour.  However, he does not feel that this behaviour necessarily suggests official collusion.  Other reports and direct accounts from victims in Meiktila suggest that the police went out of their way to help Muslim men and women to safety in the face of threatening crowds.


**Richard Falk


We were asked yesterday about Professor Richard Falk’s latest commentary.


I can tell you the Secretary-General has seen the commentary and he has been briefed on it.  The Secretary-General rejects Mr. Falk’s comments.  The Secretary-General immediately condemned the Boston Marathon bombing and he strongly believes that nothing can justify such an attack.


Professor Falk is appointed by the Member States of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, not by the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General is hopeful that Special Rapporteurs such as Mr. Falk understand that — while they have independent status — their public comments can undermine the credibility and the work of the United Nations.


Questions, please?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Martin, will Ms. Robinson be overseeing the development of the intervention brigade in the eastern Congo, because I don’t know what the…?


Spokesperson:  No, the short answer is no.  No, she will not.  Her visit, which is the first in her new capacity, will involve discussions as I mentioned just now with a wide range of actors and players in that particular area, including in key capitals in the region.  I know that there will be someone from the Department of Public… of Political Affairs — I am sorry — accompanying Ms. Robinson.  And I am sure that he will be able to provide some more details.  I can hook you up with him afterwards by all means, to provide more details.  Yes, Benny?  And then I am coming to you.


Question:  Following up on the Richard Falk flap, this is about another separate remark that was made by a man that was named by the Secretary-General.  On Friday, the Special Representative for Syria told the Security Council that the situation in Syria is… he compared it to the plight of… to the exodus of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967.  Does the Secretary-General agree with a comparison between two such, on the face of it, non-analogous situations?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, the Joint Special Representative was speaking in consultations behind closed doors, and then he came to the stakeout and spoke to you at that point.  So I don’t have anything to add to what he said publicly at the stakeout, Benny.


Question:  But I mean, since then, his remarks were you know, pretty much available to everybody, so…


Spokesperson:  That may or may not be the case, Benny, but the remarks were made in consultations which are behind closed doors.  Yes?


Correspondent:  Yeah, thanks, Martin…


Question:  So you are not going to… to… will not make a comment on that remark just because it was made in closed doors?


Spokesperson:  You can parse what I have said any way you like, Benny, I don’t have anything for you at the moment, okay.  Yes, please?


Question:  Yeah, from one Rapporteur to the next.  I’ve just read the statement from Geneva about Rapporteur Menendez being denied entry into Bahrain and I am just curious, now that this impasse on the visit seems to have gone on for 13, 14 months, you know, how the Secretary-General feels about this.


Spokesperson:  Well, we generally encourage Member States to cooperate with Special Rapporteurs when they are seeking to carry out missions that have been mandated by the Human Rights Council.  Stefano?


Question:  Yes, about chemical weapons and use of chemical weapons in Syria.  We understand that the UN mission that was to go and check who was responsible for the use of that weapon is now… is not entering the country yet… he doesn’t have the permission…


Spokesperson:  Let me just… let me just correct you on one thing.  The mission’s objective is not to discover who used chemical weapons, but discover whether chemical weapons were used.


Question:  Okay, well, because apparently French Government, British Government, also the Israeli Government now have been… they say that they have proof of the use of this.  I don’t… they didn’t show the proof, but they say that they have proof of that.  And I would like to know, because the Secretary-General said that the UN is waiting for the possibility to go there and verify if that happened or not, but at the same time that the UN is studying the situation, means in… in studying this situation, has the… the UN has some… some things… some… if there is no proof, some elements, new they want to share with us about the… the chemical weapons was… was used or not?


Spokesperson:  Look, what the Secretary-General said just recently at the press conference this time last week, was that, while awaiting consent from the Syrian Government, the mission will proceed with its fact-finding activities, and to this end, specific information has been requested from the Governments concerned.  And so, obviously, when such information is received and some had already been received, it will be looking at that information.  It doesn’t have to be inside Syria to look at the information that is being provided.  And as the Secretary-General has already said publicly, the Governments of Syria, the United Kingdom and France have presented allegations with supporting information, and requested a speedy investigation.  So some supporting information has already been provided that they can go on.  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Yeah, just wanted to [inaudible] Richard Falk situation, and…


Spokesperson:  You surprise me, you surprise me.


Question:  [laughter] I love surprises.  The Secretary-General’s comments now are much appreciated, but my question is, why did it take several days after a letter from an NGO directed to the Secretary-General…?


Spokesperson:  Actually, not several days.


Question:  Well…


Spokesperson:  This was the… the article was only published at the beginning of the week, right?  So it has not taken…


Question:  Well, it’s been at least 48 hours, and maybe more, because two days in a row, there were comments from, I think, the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General that more or less said that Richard Falk is an independent expert not appointed by the Secretary-General; he could pretty much say what he wants, and no further comment on that.  There was a letter from the SG’s Office…


Spokesperson:  No, that’s… actually, Joe, that isn’t the case.  Eduardo said yesterday that if he had more to say, we would say it, but at that point he did not.  I think he also said yesterday that the Secretary-General was at a retreat of the Security Council outside of New York.  On his return to New York, he was briefed on the commentary that Professor Falk had written, and it was at that point we were provided with the commentary that you now have from the Secretary-General on his views on what Professor Falk had written.  It is as simple as that, okay.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, Martin, I wanted to ask, there is a report out by Amnesty International about eviction of IDPs in Haiti, and they put the number at almost 1,000 so far this year, and they said that it is a reversal of what have… what had been a decline in such evictions.  So I am wondering, what is MINUSTAH… I guess, you know, do… what’s their position on it, what are they doing about it, do they acknowledge that it’s got… things have gotten worse and what do they intend to do?


Spokesperson:  I think there are concerns that have been expressed by a number of humanitarian leaders within the UN community.  Let me check precisely what MINUSTAH has had to say on this.  Other questions, please?  Yes?


Question:  Sort of Mr. Prodi… I know I had asked you this before, but I wanted… now that he seem… he seems to have… he ran and then he acknowledged that he couldn’t go on forward.  It seems that he… he wasn’t just drafted into running, he… he was affirmatively running for the presidency of Italy.  So I wanted to know, what are the UN’s… about a fulltime USG-level employee actively campaigning for a political post in his own country?  Was… did he get a waiver or what’s… what’s the rules?


Spokesperson:  Well, the President of Italy, last time I looked, is still President Napolitano, and I don’t have anything further to add.


Question:  But I am sure you saw the article, he was actually quoted coming out of a campaign headquarters saying I can’t go on after a vote was taken.  It was in… in… so I… he was running.  I mean, I understand that now it’s done, but what… what is the rule for future…?


Spokesperson:  Well…


Question:  Can… can any USG run for office?


Spokesperson:  Well, what I would point out, Matthew, is that at the beginning of this week, Mr. Prodi, along with other senior UN officials who are dealing with the Sahel and with Mali, were in Bamako taking part in a high-level meeting to look at how to deal with the crisis in Mali.


Question:  Sure, but, I mean, I just… last thing I want to ask is…


Spokesperson:  Any other questions, please?


Question:  It’s not just a matter of timing…


Spokesperson:  Any other questions?


Question:  …it’s about conflict of interests.  You see, if you are running for office in a country and you are reportedly still serving the UN, it could be a problem.  That’s why I want to know what the rule is.


Spokesperson:  As I said, it’s a moot point; the President of Italy is President Napolitano.


Question:  I wanted to ask you…


Spokesperson:  Other questions, please?


Question:  Yeah.  If the Spokesperson… it’s reported that the Spokesperson for UNAMID in Darfur, Aicha Elbasri, has not only resigned, but she is quoted by Radio Dabanga as saying she wasn’t getting the information she needed to answer the media’s questions.  Has she resigned and did she say that?  Is that the case?


Spokesperson:  Well, we checked with the Mission, and the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, has confirmed that Ms. Elbasri resigned from her position as Spokesperson there.  That was effective from 22 April.  As with any staff member departing the United Nations, we can’t comment on the specific details surrounding her departure.


Question:  Thanks.  And could I ask a DRC question?  There is a… there is a reporter called Blaise Bahisha that’s… radio reporter that’s been arrested in Goma and accused of either spying or somehow being affiliated with the M23.  So I wanted to know, since there is obviously a big UN presence in Goma, are they aware of this arrest?  Did they… did they… are they… do they question it?  Is it… is the arrest of a journalist, and also there was a long press conference held by the Mission there, and… and it went on, it’s like 3,000-some words, but there was no mention of Minova and the rapes there, so I wanted to know, is the UN… it was said that they would, sort of, you know, follow up, what’s been done with the 12 officials that were either suspended or arrested in different accounts and… and what… what is the UN’s follow-up on… on the Minova mass rape situation?


Spokesperson:  I’d need to check, Matthew, on that.  I don’t have anything fresh on that particular aspect that you mentioned.  And the first question there about the radio reporter in Goma, let me find out what’s going on there.


** Guinea


One final point, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for Secretary-General on Guinea:


The Secretary-General welcomes the progress made towards the resumption of the political dialogue in Guinea.  He is particularly encouraged by the signing, on 23 April, of a joint declaration between the Government, the opposition and the presidential camp.  The joint declaration calls on all political parties to refrain from any violent demonstrations and confirms their determination to resolve outstanding issues through peaceful and negotiated solutions.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the statement made by President Alpha Condé, on 24 April, in which he expressed his readiness to implement all necessary measures with a view to guarantee the transparency and the credibility of the electoral process, with the involvement of international partners.


The Secretary-General encourages, once again, the Government and the opposition leaders to constructively discuss and overcome the current challenges in the electoral process to preserve the peace and stability in the country.  He welcomes the important role played by the team of facilitators of the inclusive dialogue, in particular by his Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit.


The Secretary-General reiterates the determination of the United Nations to continue to support the efforts of the Guinean stakeholders, in coordination with other international partners of Guinea. He remains hopeful that this political dialogue will lay the foundations for sustainable peace and stability in Guinea and guarantee the holding of legislative elections as soon as feasible.


That’s what I have for you.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


Question:  [inaudible]  When would the Secretary-General’s comments to you quoted from… concerning Mr. Falk be available online, or do we have to wait till the highlights or the transcript, or could there be something put online sooner than that so we just quote it accurately?


Spokesperson:  How’s your shorthand, Joe?  We’ll make sure that it is up as soon as possible, okay.


Correspondent:  Okay.  Do my best.  Thank you.


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