|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.
**Noon Briefing Guests
As you may be aware, today is marked by millions of people around the world as the International Day against Homophobia. This year, the United Nations Human Rights Office — which has the lead within the UN system in relation to human rights protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — has put out a short, compelling video, called The Riddle, which you can view on YouTube.
In addition, the Secretary-General has issued a message, which was delivered last night by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights conference in The Hague. We have copies of that message in my office. The High Commissioner will be delivering her own keynote speech on the issue at the closing session of the conference, at 2 p.m., New York time, today.
Here to brief us on the issue of homophobia are the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, and the Deputy Head of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Maarit Kohonen Sheriff. The floor is yours.
[Press conference on the International Day against Homophobia is issued separately.]
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
**Secretary-General in Russian Federation
The Secretary-General recently finished a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. You will have seen that we issued a readout on that meeting, the main focus of which was Syria. The Secretary-General expressed his support for the agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States to convene an international conference as soon as possible, to help the Syrian parties operationalize the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué on establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers. They discussed the importance of both regional support for the conference and the role of the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi.
They also discussed the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, climate change, sustainable development and peacekeeping operations. Their conversation continued over a working lunch, where they discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula, Iran, the Responsibility to Protect, the Central African Republic, the Sahel and Mali, terrorism, and also Russia's presidency of the Group of 20.
Earlier, the Secretary-General met Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and held a press conference with him. The Secretary-General told reporters that he sincerely hopes an international conference on Syria can be convened as soon as possible. Asked about allegations about the use of chemical weapons, he said it was regrettable that the UN investigation team has not been able to enter Syria to investigate onsite. He again urged the Syrian authorities to be flexible and to allow the team to have onsite investigations. The full text of his press remarks is available online.
The UN refugee agency says that the number of Syrian refugees who have now left their country has surpassed 1.5 million. The agency warns that the widening gap between the needs and resources available is a growing challenge. UNHCR has registered close to 1 million refugees since 1 January of this year — that is about a quarter of a million people each month.
Refugees have been describing increased fighting, and the changing of control of towns and villages, in particular in conflict areas, results in more and more civilians deciding to leave. Over the past four months, the refugee agency reports that it has seen a rapid deterioration when compared to the previous 20 months of this conflict. UNHCR continues to respond to the emergency needs of those in desperate need inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.
In a press statement issued last night, the members of the Security Council strongly condemned the incident on 15 May in which a group of anti-Government armed elements detained three United Nations Military Observers from the UN Truce Supervision Organization’s (UNTSO) Observer Group Golan for several hours, and looted a United Nations observation post within the Area of Separation there.
In that incident, a group of unknown armed men broke into UN Observation Post 52 in the area of separation. Three unarmed UN military observers were taken and held for approximately five hours and were released unharmed. They returned safely to UN Observation Post 52, where they were met by the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Head of Mission. The members of the Security Council noted with grave concern that this was the third such incident in the past two months.
Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, urged all Iraqi leaders to do everything possible to protect Iraqi civilians, as another wave of bombings hit the country during the past few days and claimed more innocent lives.
He said that it is the responsibility of all leaders to stop the bloodshed in Iraq and to protect their citizens. He said that small children have been burned alive in cars and worshippers cut down outside their own mosques. This is beyond unacceptable, Mr. Kobler said.
He said that it is the politicians’ responsibility to act immediately and to engage in dialogue to resolve the political impasse and put an end to this. The country will slide backwards if they do not take action.
On Monday, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator will begin a four-day visit to Sudan, which will take her to the capital, Khartoum, and to Darfur.
While in the country, Valerie Amos will meet with Government officials and representatives of aid organizations to discuss how to improve humanitarian access to people affected by conflict and displacement, particularly in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.
In Darfur, Ms. Amos will see first hand the ongoing relief operation, 10 years after the start of the current emergency. The humanitarian community continues to work with the Government to address deteriorating living conditions in camps and to find lasting solutions for those who have been uprooted for many years.
**Tropical Storm Mahasen
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, after making landfall in Bangladesh and moving away from Myanmar, Tropical Storm Mahasen has weakened and dissipated.
Myanmar’s Rakhine State was spared any impact from the storm and initial assessments indicate no damage. The Government reports that nearly 120,000 people were moved or relocated, and many are now returning to their camps or host communities voluntarily. UN agencies and their partners are continuing to monitor the movements of people to provide a sense of protection for all of those who are still displaced as the rainy season continues.
In Bangladesh, the Government says that up to six people were killed. While assessments are continuing, in spite of the damage anticipated, damage to houses has been limited.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
On Sunday, 19 May, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Geneva to represent the Secretary-General at the fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. During his visit, he will participate and give opening and closing remarks at a high-level dialogue meeting on disaster risk reduction. He will also attend an event on small island developing States and disaster risk reduction, and meet with a group of mayors.
On 22 May, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to The Hague, where he will have bilateral meetings with senior Government officials. He will also meet with officials of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
Then, on 26 May, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Brussels and represent the Secretary-General at the third high-level meeting of the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy. During his visit, he will hold bilateral meetings with European Union and Commission officials. He will also host a meeting with UN heads of agencies based in Brussels, and participate in a discussion with members of the European Parliament. He will return to New York on 29 May.
The UN Human Rights Office today welcomed the fact that dozens of international companies have made a legal commitment to improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories in the wake of last month’s building collapse, which the Office says killed more than 1,100 people.
Nearly 40 companies have signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which the Human Rights Office calls an important and, in many ways, unprecedented, agreement, which can be enforced in the countries where the multinationals are based. However, the Office expressed concern that some major retailers, especially in the United States, have chosen not to sign this agreement, but to instead carry out their own inspections. The Office added that the best way to honour the victims of the recent collapse is to ensure such a tragedy never happens again — in any industry, anywhere.
Today, the Secretary-General is announcing four senior personnel appointments.
The first is that of Albert Gerard (Bert) Koenders of the Netherlands, who will serve as Special Representative for Mali and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA. Mr. Koenders has been the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) since October 2011.
To fill Mr. Koenders’s post in Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General is appointing Aïchatou Mindaoudou Souleymane of Niger. Ms. Mindaoudou has been serving as Deputy Joint Special Representative in the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
Haile Menkerios of South Africa will be the new Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the African Union. Mr. Menkerios will also continue his current assignment as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.
And finally, the Secretary-General today announces the appointment of Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz of Brazil as Force Commander of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). Biographical notes on all these appointments are available in my office.
And on Monday, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the occasion of the opening of the twelfth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
We have time for a few questions. Please?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just to follow up on that, I asked a few days before about a report that was given, that was sent, to the Secretary-General by the smaller Bosnian entity, besides the report from High Representative Valentin Inzko, was indeed received, and through what channel to the Secretary-General’s cabinet?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to check on that; I don’t have any information on it yet.
Correspondent: You answered… I mean, Martin answered the same two days…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I am telling you exactly what I have, which I don’t have anything. When we have something, we’ll let you know, Erol. Nizar?
Correspondent: If I only can note that the story sometimes cannot wait for that.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, you’ll have to wait as long as it takes for me to get the information. Nizar?
Question: Yeah, Eduardo, there… concern… talking about the refugee crisis of the Syrian, 1.5 million, there is compelling evidence, and more and more reports coming, and even videos showing, that the countries which are fuelling the conflict there continue to do so outside international legitimacy by sending weapons, by spending billions of dollars in order to militarize this conflict. Yesterday, there was a big truck crossing Turkey, carrying French ambulances and French medical supplies, exploded at the… at the crossing point in Bab al-Hawa, causing a lot of casualties, deaths. It was, of course, disguised as humanitarian aid, but in fact, there was a lot of munitions inside and weapons. And they exploded there, everybody was watching it, people suffered. What does the Secretary-General think that he should tell these countries to stop fuelling the conflict in Syria?
Deputy Spokesperson: Nizar, we’ve been over this over and over again. As I have told you, the Secretary-General, from day one, has said that militarization of this conflict is completely non-productive and unacceptable. He continues to stand by that position, which is why he is very anxious to have the second conference, the second Geneva conference, take place so that a process of dialogue can hopefully begin and the violence come to an end. That has been his position for the past almost three years, and that continues to be his position. Matthew?
Question: I have some questions about Syria, but I want to be sure that to get… get one in about Darfur before turning to that. There is a… there are… the JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] rebels there say that Chadian troops have crossed the border into Sudan and also that the Chadian air force had bombed their positions inside Darfur. Is that something that UNAMID is… had… is… either can confirm or is trying to confirm?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to check with the mission.
Question: Okay. The other… and on… on Syria, I… I… on this… this most recent seizure or… or… of… of… of peacekeepers: one, I wanted to know, when… when did your office… your… you know, this… the U… the… the Office of the Spokesman… Sec… Spokesperson of the Secretary-General become aware of this?
Deputy Spokesperson: I am not going to discuss that with you, Matthew. We had a statement that came out last night as a note to correspondents, and we will leave it at that.
Question: They seemed to have come out this morning, that’s why I am asking. There seemed to be a big gap between DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] announcing it to a small group of journalists and your Office, which is the official, UN Spokesperson’s Office, speaking about it. So, I wanted to know what explains that gap.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the fact is it came out of a conversation that DPKO had with a few journalists and afterwards we issued it as a note to correspondents. Carla?
Question: I actually forgot what I was going to… oh yeah, there have been so many rumours about Mr. Brahimi, is he staying or leaving, or whatever? Do you have any…?
Deputy Spokesperson: The situation remains as it has been for some time. He made his statement very clear when he was here the last time, and that hasn’t changed. Nizar?
Question: Mr. Ladsous, when you say he gives information to certain journalists, how does he select these journalists and advise them?
Deputy Spokesperson: You have to ask DPKO. Masood, I’m sorry?
Question: Eduardo, I want to ask this question about continued Israeli attacks inside Syria, which… this… they are… and they are warning countries not to intervene while they are intervening with aid being delivered to the militants. Has it been determined what political groups Israel is targeting or not, not supplying these weapons, whatever it is? And is it okay for them to continue to intervene like this?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ve seen the report, we’ve seen the reports, and… and… and obviously, this type of action is not acceptable under international law, and that is our position; that’s where it remains.
Question: And just a follow-up on Mr. Brahimi. Is it fair to say that after the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Russians, we have now the situation that Mr. Brahimi will prolong, or it is still fluid, as you said?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, it’s not fluid, Mr. Brahimi has been Joint…
Correspondent: You suggested, excuse me.
Deputy Spokesperson: …Special Representative. He is Joint Special Representative, and as far as I know, he will continue to be Joint Special Representative. His situation hasn’t changed. He made a statement here a few weeks ago, and that stands. One more question.
Question: Okay, well, I guess I’ll link these two together because I… I… first of all, I wanted you to confirm that Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous met with Syrian Permanent Representative [Bashar] Ja’afari, and as I would like to know, I’ve heard… I… I have Mr… Mr. Ja’afari’s readout on it; what’s the DPKO’s readout on it? And number two, I just… if I can say this, it seems to me that the kidnapping or killing of peacekeepers shouldn’t come out in a conversation by a UN official, that your Office has some duty to release news that is newsworthy to the correspondents, and on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access absolutely protested it. It’s sort o… how could you say in conversation? Would this be done on… if a peacekeeper died, would it be… would be said in a conversation by… by U… USG [Under-Secretary-General] or does your Office have some duty in… in this regard?
Deputy Spokesperson: As I said in the statement, Matthew, they were held for a few hours and released. By the time we got word that they had been taken, they were released. Number two, we do not issue readouts as a normal situation on meetings between Under-Secretaries-General and other people.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good weekend.
* *** *For information media • not an official record