19 July 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.


** Syria


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that violence continues unabated in many parts of Syria, limiting access for humanitarian aid, especially in the eastern governorates, as well as in rural Damascus and Dera'a.  It adds that areas known to have considerable humanitarian needs remain inaccessible.


The Office also says that overall insecurity and a proliferation of checkpoints are slowing down movement of humanitarian goods.  And bureaucratic processes continue to delay aid delivery and impede the efficiency of the emergency response.  Nonetheless, humanitarian organizations continue to increase their assistance.


The World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to increase its distributions to reach 3 million people, up from 2.5 million.  In the past two weeks, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has reached more than 58,000 people with food assistance and 59,000 people with cash assistance.  And the World Health Organization (WHO) supported the Ministry of Health in Damascus with essential and communicable disease medicines to treat more than 90,000 people.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) reports that the situation remains calm, but tense, around the city of Goma, in North Kivu Province.  It says that fighting between the Congolese armed forces and the M23 [23 March Movement] armed group has stopped.  The Mission’s peacekeepers in the area remain on high alert.


You will also have seen that we issued a statement yesterday afternoon in which we said that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the latest round of hostilities initiated by the M23 movement north of Goma.  And the Secretary-General urges all parties to exercise utmost restraint and prevent an escalation of the conflict and a deeper humanitarian crisis.


And on that note, also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, has called upon all armed groups to ensure that humanitarian agencies are able to safely assist all people in need, wherever they are in the country.  Ms. Cousin was in the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] this week.  She underlined that UN humanitarian agencies and their partners from non-governmental organizations have only one objective, which is to provide life-saving assistance to people in need.


** Guinea


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that calm seems to have been restored after three days of violent intercommunal clashes in Guinea.  The Office has commended the efforts made by the Government and security and defence forces to restore calm, and has also reminded them of the necessity to uphold human rights principles during law enforcement operations.


And you will have seen that, in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General urged national and community leaders to ensure the security of persons and property, to uphold the rule of law and to pursue the path of dialogue with a view to addressing any concerns among the communities.  He also stressed the importance of maintaining conducive conditions for peaceful and democratic legislative elections on 24 September, as scheduled.


** Egypt


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has met with the Egyptian Ambassador in Geneva and requested a list of names of people against whom arrest warrants were issued in connections with the events on and after 3 July.  Ms. Pillay also asked for information regarding the legal basis on which the former President and his team are being detained.  Her office says it has not yet received a reply.  Ms. Pillay has also informed Egyptian authorities that she would like to deploy a team to follow developments on the ground.  A team is on standby and is ready to be deployed immediately as soon as approval is received.


** Somalia


The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, visited the port city of Kismayo yesterday with representatives from UN agencies.  The aim of his visit was to take stock of the humanitarian situation following last month’s outbreaks of violence, which killed over 70 people and injured 300 others.


Many people are without adequate access to food, clean water and health care.  Nearly half of the children have no access to education.  Mr. Lazzarini also visited Kismayo General Hospital where there is a serious shortage of medical supplies.  He welcomed the resumption of polio vaccinations in Kismayo targeting 38,000 children, following a temporary suspension due to the fighting.  According to the World Health Organization, there have been more than 70 cases of wild polio virus in the southern and central regions of Somalia since May.


** Somalia — Media Law


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed its concern today over a draft media law in Somalia and urged authorities to review it in order to ensure its conformity with international human rights standards.  The Office said that the draft legislation contains vague language and extremely broad categories that could easily be used to curtail freedom of expression.  It also requires journalists to reveal their sources if published information stirs up public sentiments and provides for the suspension of journalists accused of violating the media legislation.


**Nigerian Troops


I was asked yesterday about the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from some peacekeeping missions.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations confirms that Nigeria has officially notified it of its intention to withdraw some of its troops from the UN-African Union mission in Darfur, UNAMID.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is in contact with a number of troop-contributing countries to replace these troops.  The Department is obviously very appreciative of Nigeria's continued support to UN peacekeeping.


And on the media reports about the possible withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, we are aware of these reports, but the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has not received any official notification from Nigeria.


**South Sudan


And in response to a question yesterday on South Sudan, I can tell you that a request for aviation fuel to aircrafts of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army would be viewed as a request for “support” and would be subject to a risk assessment on the basis of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.  In the event that such a request was approved, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) would take steps to monitor how the fuel was used to ensure that it not be diverted for other purposes.


**Noon Guest Monday


And finally, on Monday, I will be joined by Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  As you know, Ms. Zerrougui has been in Syria and neighbouring countries, and she will be here on Monday to brief you about that visit that she has made to the region.


Thank you very much.  Questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Okay, thank you for those answers.  I wanted to ask you about… about the… the… the killing of the peacekeepers in… in Darfur, the seven Tanzanian troops.  There is… there is now a pretty detailed report from Radio Dubanga saying that… that Abu Tiro, which is the Government central police, have been seen driving UN vehicles near Shengo Tobaya, that an associate of Ali Kusheb was… was, you know, seen with the vehicle.  So, it seems like, at least according to their report, it is pretty open that… so, I wanted to go back to… to the facts of this thing, I think they said that one vehicle had been stolen, others were recovered… injured… Is there more than one vehicle stolen and has… is UNAMID aware of these reports of UN vehicles being driven by Su… Su… by… by Government-affiliated militias in Darfur?


Spokesperson:  I am sure that the Mission is aware of media reports coming from the region.  I don’t have anything new to add to the details that I have already given, namely, as you mentioned, that one vehicle was taken during that attack on the peacekeepers, and three vehicles were subsequently recovered from the scene soon after the incident.  As I also told you, there is an investigation under way.  If I have any further details from the Mission, then, of course, I will let you know.


Question:  And just… and one other thing on Sudan is… is the… it’s… South Sudan has now said that they are gonna start turning off the… the oil flow in light of a threa… of a statement by Sudan to end it by 7 August.  I wanted to know if Mr. Menkerios or… or any of the… the… the… the sort of mediation efforts are under way or whether that’s… tha… that’s sort of just being accepted that that deal has fallen apart?


Spokesperson:  I think you are aware that the African Union is in the lead on this.  And of course, Mr. Menkerios is based in Addis Ababa, he is the Secretary-General’s representative there at the African Union.  I am sure he is liaising closely with his counterparts there.  It is incumbent on both Sudan and South Sudan to implement the agreements that they have they reached and to try to normalize the relations as soon as they possibly can.  There are various strands to this.  In some areas, there has been progress, in other areas, there has not, or indeed, there have even been some steps that would seem to be going in the opposite direction.  If I get anything further, I will let you know.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is the Secretary-General going to meet envoys from the countries that signed the Peace and Security Accord for Congo… for the Great Lakes?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check on that.  I know that Mrs. Robinson is in town — meaning in New York — and that there are meetings related to that.  I will see whether the Secretary-General is involved in any of those meetings in the coming days.  Yes?


Correspondent:  One… I think the Somali sanctions report was released this week… published this week, and in it, they… they criticize a lot of people.  But, they say that UN agencies in Somalia weren’t being very forthcoming about their activities, and it was kind of a hindrance to their investigations into various cases of corruption and things like that.


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything specific.  Indeed that there is a document that is… that has now been published.  We don’t really have specific comments on a report put together by an independent group of experts, but if I get anything further on that particular angle that you have mentioned, I will let you know, okay.  Other questions, please?  Yes?


Question:  Can I ask…?


Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  Great. I wanted to… a couple… two, I guess, [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] questions, as well.  One is, the M23 has announced that they have captured a “Tanzanian soldier” and they have listed the… their number on… on the… the A… AK-47 weapons.  I wanted to know if the UN can… is this true, number one, and I would assume that would be a member of the intervention brigade if it did take place?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that, Matthew. I would need to check.


Question:  Okay.  And the other one is… is… and I… I know that you have been asked about this, but I want… there is… the Ministry of Defence of Rwanda has put… has put on its website photographs of what it says is a… of shells that fell onto their territory, and one, the reason I am asking you, is they… they say that… that… that… that these were fired from… from FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] units that are quote, co-located with MONUSCO and they commando… Bde commanded by Colonel Mamadou Nadala and so it’s very… it’s a very specific allegation, including photographs, and so I wanted to know, they’re… they’re upset at least that… that… that MONUSCO, you know, has denied the whole thing, according to them.  Is that… are these photographs not true and are there facilities in which FARDC and MONUSCO are co-located?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think what we have said, and what the Mission has said, is that they have not fired any weaponry on the dates when it is alleged that weapons were fired and that some shells landed in… on Rwandan territory.  As I say, that’s what the Mission has very clearly said already.  And as we said, and the Secretary-General said in his statement yesterday, the Mission has not been involved in the hostilities to date.  And also, what we have also made clear, you will be aware, that the UN Mission of Rwanda wrote a letter to the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General has sent a letter to the Foreign Minister of Rwanda in reply, in which he notes with deep concern the allegations that meetings have taken place between senior commanders of the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade and the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR).  And following initial inquiries with MONUSCO, he has no reason to believe that senior commanders of the Force Intervention Brigade would meet with the FDLR to discuss matters related to their “tactical and strategic collaboration”.


Nevertheless, the Secretary-General believes it is important to ensure that these allegations are properly addressed so as not undermine the comprehensive approach being pursued by the international community to support peace in the region.  And he has, therefore, requested the Rwandan Government to share, as soon as possible, any concrete evidence it may have to substantiate these claims.  And the Secretary-General has reiterated that MONUSCO will continue to work with all relevant stakeholders to implement its mandate in an impartial manner.  That’s what I have for you.  Any other questions, please?  Yes?


Question:  Sure.  Can I ask two last questions, I… I… which I don’t know if, if you have [inaudible], but maybe you will.  One is, Australia under Kevin Rudd has just announced a new policy in which those seeking, you know, asylum or refugee status will be turned away and sent to Papua New Guinea, and regardless… even if they are found to be entitled to such status, they will not, it is said, be resettled in Australia.   So there is… it is causing a lot of controversy in human rights and… and migrant rights circles and I wonder if the UN has any… any comment on it.


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve obviously seen the announcement.  And indeed, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, did speak by telephone with the Secretary-General yesterday evening, New York time.  And in that telephone call, the Prime Minister briefed the Secretary-General on the announcement that you are referring to.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees is comprehensively reviewing the set of measures and I am sure it will provide comments soon, but we don’t have any comment on that right now.


Question:  And the other one is… it’s a… it’s an individual case, but one that’s generated quite a lot of interest, where Dubai and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] has sentenced to 16 months in jail a woman from Norway that went to the police with a rape complaint and then was… has been charged with having sex out of wedlock and jailed.  And I wanted to know, given the… the… the… whatever, if there is any comment from the UN Secretariat on that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think so, no.  I am not dismissing this story, I simply don’t have any comment on that, and I would need to check further in case there was any comment.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  I think whether individual cases; it is not always appropriate for the United Nations Secretariat to comment, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t look into it, okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon and a good weekend.


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