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, everybody.  Welcome to the Briefing.


** Syria


The death toll in Syria has now reached almost 93,000 people, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  The figures are for the period between March 2011 and the end of April 2013.


The High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, said that the number of killings continues at “shockingly high levels”.  She also said that, as the study indicates, this is most likely a minimum casualty figure.  The true number is potentially much higher.


The analysis shows a dramatic increase in the average monthly number of documented killings since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 each month since July of last year.


Ms. Pillay said that the high rate of killings, month after month, reflects the drastically deteriorating pattern of the conflict over the past year.


**UNDOF


In response to questions that have been coming in over the past couple of days with regard to Austria’s decision to withdraw its troops from UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force], the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has requested the Austrian authorities to ensure that the withdrawal of its personnel takes place in an organized manner, taking into account the Mission’s operational requirements and the possible negative impact on implementing the mandate.


Specifically, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations formally requested Austria to complete the withdrawal of its personnel no earlier than the end of July to ensure a smooth transition with incoming troop-contributing countries and a continued UN presence in critical UNDOF positions, such as Mount Harmon.


In view of the difficult conditions on the ground, Austria was also requested to leave all its equipment within the Mission.  This equipment is essential to support remaining and incoming peacekeepers in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate.  Also, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is urgently approaching possible troop-contributing countries to replace Austria.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that it trusts that Austria, given its long-standing and valuable contribution to the Mission, will keep the interest of the Mission at heart while withdrawing its personnel.


UNDOF plays an essential role in ensuring – in increasingly difficult conditions – that the ceasefire on the Golan is scrupulously observed. The United Nations is making every effort to ensure that the long-held ceasefire continues to hold.


I can also tell you that troop-contributing countries will be meeting with members of Security Council this afternoon, starting at 3 p.m.


** Lebanon


The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met today with the country’s Prime Minister-designate, Tamam Salam.


Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr. Plumbly said that the priorities of the United Nations in Lebanon are its security and stability.  He encouraged all parties to cooperate with the Prime Minister-designate to enable the formation of a capable and effective Government as soon as possible.


Mr. Plumbly also voiced his concern over recent events in the Bekaa area, where there is currently a high concentration of Syrian refugees.  He reiterated that the United Nations has stressed the importance of respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.


There is more information available online.


** Somalia


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, visited Somaliland today.  This marks Mr. Kay’s first visit to Somaliland since taking up the position of Special Representative.  Upon arriving in Hargeisa, he said that he was there to make it clear that the United Nations supports Somaliland’s aspirations for peace and prosperity.


Mr. Kay said that Somaliland has remained an island of relative peace and stability in an insecure region, adding that there are lessons that can be learned here about stabilizing the whole region.


There is more information available on the website of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).


**Climate Change


At 12:30 p.m. today, the Secretary-General will hold a video conference with a group of youth attending the Climate Change Conference in Bonn, in Germany.  He is expected to encourage them to participate in the 2014 Climate Change Leaders Summit, which will be held on the margins of the General Assembly in September next year in New York.


He is also expected to say that young people are the agents of transformational change within communities, schools and organizations, to combat climate change.


And that conversation will be webcast.


**Population


As you may have seen, there was a briefing on this a little while ago:  the current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by almost 1 billion people within the next 12 years, reaching 8.1 billion in 2025, according to a new United Nations report entitled “World Population Prospects:  The 2012 Revision”.  And that report says that most of the population growth will occur in developing regions, which are projected to increase from 5.9 billion this year to 8.2 billion in 2050.


There are all kinds of details in that report, which is available online.


Questions, please?  Yes, Matthew, and then Sherwin.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask you about this report that was put out on the website of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It seems, it says at the end of it:  The content of this analysis does not necessarily reflect the opinion of OHCHR.  But, it has widely been reported as a UN report.  I just, you can somehow explain that, and also I made some inquiries into this human rights analysis group.  They created, they accepted, they won’t be paid to do it, but they did it on a pro bono basis, funded by other donors.  But, it’s not clear who the others are.  So, I wanted to know, is there… does the UN, a kind of, procurement rules apply to the commissioning of a study of this import and, and why can’t the UN either do its own study or have some clear statements on how this group was selected and who funded the study?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think that Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for Navi Pillay, has given you a long, detailed answer on that.  I don’t intend to add to it.  I think he’s gone a great length to explain this.


Question:  I know.  I appreciate it.  I asked him about whether he knows the identity of the funder of the study, and he said “no” because… They are confident of the quality of it, but I guess I wanted, now I’m going to ask you as the Secretary-General’s point:  How can it be that the UN, on something of this import, does not pay for the work?  It seems like a pretty basic question.


Spokesperson:  And Rupert Colville gave you a pretty basic answer, I think, and, he said that that is a common practice, as I know that you’ve seen in the email that he sent.  I think I would leave there.  Sherwin?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has unilaterally declared 31 July the election date in Zimbabwe, against the wishes of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who had the opposition.  What [do] you make of that announcement?  And in addition [to] that, how would you characterize the UN relationship with Zimbabwe, specifically regarding the election and the question of the funding for it?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the date of the election is for Zimbabweans to decide.  We don’t have a role in that.  With regard to the role of the United Nations in the election, that’s being announced; we are not providing assistance to these elections and it’s as simple as that.  Okay?  You look quizzical.


Question:  Well, I mean, this is going to create a political impasse in Zimbabwe and actually is a concern to the United Nations, is it not?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you may be aware that in April of this year following discussions between the Government and the United Nations, the Government announced that it would no longer seek UN electoral assistance.  So, that’s the reason why the UN doesn’t plan any electoral assistance.  Because, simply, there was not agreement on the conduct of a standard UN needs assessment, which would take place before there is any assistance provided.  As for the broader question you raised, I think we need to wait and see a little bit.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  I wanted to ask about UN-Russian talks and the process… peace process over there.  Is the Secretary-General, or the Secretary-General’s representative, in touch with the two countries as to how it is proceeding and whether this process will move forward to bring some sort of, I mean, peace talks within various parties, including the Syrian Government?  Does that process continue?


Spokesperson:  Absolutely.  Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative on Syria, is obviously extremely closely involved in discussions with Russian and US counterparts with the aim of really pushing this as hard as possible.  You know that there are other venues for that discussion, too, coming up just in the next couple days.  In addition, the casualty figures, the death toll figures that have been announced today in Geneva, simply underscore the need for there to be really rapid progress on moving to negotiations, to moving to a political process under way from the battlefield, where this kind of carnage continues.  Simply to say that, of course, Mr. Brahimi is very closely involved in seeking to push that process forward as quickly as possible, but nobody is suggesting that that’s straightforward or easy.


Question:  On another question, Martin.  This is about this, I mean, outbreak of rapes of women, so forth, in India.  My question, which I asked you last week, also, I mean, there are editorials, even in Indian newspapers and so forth, that this is becoming like an epidemic, or something has to be done about it.  Has the Secretary-General since then talked with the Indian Government about this?


Spokesperson:  I think my answer would be the same as the one I gave you.  I think you were sitting in the exact same chair…


Correspondent:  Yes, sir.


Spokesperson:  …just a couple days ago.  So, I think you ought to refer to what you said and what I said on that particular occasion.  Okay?  Other questions please.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about this question of Sudan’s threat to what now appears to be a kind of slowly implemented threat to cut off the oil flow from South Sudan.  Does [the] UN have any involvement in, I think [inaudible] gone to [inaudible].  Is there [a] UN role in trying to get some discussion going between Sudan and South Sudan?


Spokesperson:  I think you are aware that the African Union is in the lead on this.  And it does not mean that the United Nations is not working on the sidelines, but this is something the African Union is clearly in the lead on.  We’ve said already that the Secretary-General has called on both parties to respect their 27 September agreement and to refrain from supporting armed groups, and the Secretary-General has also called on them to continue the implementation of that cooperation agreement on oil, avoid a new shutdown and address their security concerns by using the agreed security mechanisms, and in that case, it would be the Joint Security Committee.  Okay?  Any other questions, please?


Correspondent:  I guess, one more.


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  This is more, I guess this is a labour question.  The contract for the audio-visual services was recently awarded, and the company that got it is [inaudible].  They put out a press release, you know, saying how, saying a number of things.  They’ve also started recruiting even on Craigslist.  So, I wanted to know two things.  One, I’m told that there is some kind of UN rules against using UN names in a corporate press release.  I wonder if that is the, is the rule, and this violates the rule… some waiver.  Two, how this impacts the people currently working at the stakeout.  They’ve been told to reapply for their jobs.  Are they in the same position as anyone, you know, applying over Craigslist?  Or there is some provision for people that have worked here for decades to have a leg-up in continuing to work?


Spokesperson:  I think I will be able to provide you something on that a little bit later, Matthew.  But, I don’t have anything right now with me.  Okay?  Alright.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record