|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest Today
Good afternoon, everybody. As you know, today is Human Rights Day, and this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which, among other things, created the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that promoting human rights is one of the core purposes of the United Nations and he stressed that the key to success is the political will of Member States.
As we mentioned earlier, this afternoon, there will be an award ceremony for the winners of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2013.
And now, as you can see, I am very pleased to be joined here today by tennis star Martina Navratilova and basketball star Jason Collins. Related to Human Rights Day, they are here in support of an event on sport and the fight against homophobia. I believe they will make some brief remarks and then take some questions.
[Press Conference by Ms. Navratilova and Mr. Collins issued separately.]
Thanks. I have just a few more notes about proceedings in the UN today and then I’ll take some more questions, if there are any.
The Secretary-General today wrapped up his visit to South Africa, where he attended the official memorial service for former President Nelson Mandela.
In his remarks at the event, the Secretary-General noted that South Africa has lost a father and that the world has lost a beloved friend and mentor.
He said that Nelson Mandela was more than one of the great leaders of our time. He was one of the greatest teachers, who taught by example.
The Secretary-General said that what stands out most is Mr. Mandela’s compassion. He showed the awesome power of forgiveness and of connecting people with each other and with the true meaning of peace.
The Secretary-General’s full remarks are available online and in our office.
He will leave South Africa shortly and return to New York tomorrow.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, briefed the Security Council this morning.
He said that two crises in Mogadishu had posed significant challenges in the last months: first, the voting out of the Prime Minister, which had slowed progress on vital State-building tasks, and second, the resignation of the Central Bank Governor, which had been a blow to international donor confidence.
Mr. Kay said that the Central Bank crisis should lead to tighter financial oversight and that the no-confidence vote had tested parliamentary institutions and found them to be strong.
Mr. Kay said that the priority now is to establish a new Government quickly, one which brings Somalis together and which has the skills and integrity to deliver what people need: peace, jobs and public services.
He also said that the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, UNSOM, would become an integrated mission on 1 January, which he called an important milestone.
Earlier this morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending Liberia sanctions.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, continued his visit to Bangladesh, aimed at encouraging a dialogue and consensus around the holding of elections.
In Dhaka today, he announced that senior representatives of the governing and opposition parties had met with one another, at the UN’s invitation, and initiated a dialogue.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco told reporters that he applauds the decision to sit down and seize this opportunity. He added that this shows political leadership, responsibility and courage.
He said the start of a dialogue represents an important moment and that both sides have agreed to continue their dialogue in a spirit of good will and compromise and to work constructively together to decrease tensions and build confidence.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco will continue his meetings tomorrow.
The UN refugee agency says that it has brought relief supplies to more than 3 million people in Syria since the start of this year. This includes internally displaced people and others simply vulnerable and needing help.
The refugee agency’s assistance has reached all of Syria's 14 governorates, and each week sees approximately 250 more trucks being dispatched. It has participated in more than 40 inter-agency cross-line missions into conflict zones. Over 35 per cent of the agency’s assistance has been to displaced persons in hard-to-reach or hot spot areas.
Also on Syria, we issued a statement yesterday expressing the Secretary-General’s concerns about the targeting of places of worship and religious representatives in Syria's conflict. These concerns are most recently underscored by the situation of the 12 nuns who went missing from Saint Tecla Orthodox Convent in Ma’aloula. The Secretary-General joins in the appeals for their safety and well-being, and that of all persons who may be detained against their will in Syria. The full statement is online.
** Central African Republic
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that tension remains high in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, as there are reports of looting and riots. [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] said that it is negotiating to maintain appropriate protection for humanitarian organizations and their staff.
The UN refugee agency says that more than 100,000 people are now displaced in Bangui. This brings to more than half a million the total number of people displaced within the country since the crisis began in December 2012.
The refugee agency and its partners have been distributing tents, blankets, sleeping mats and other relief items to ease the suffering of the mostly women and children in the displaced sites.
And the World Food Programme said that it is providing food assistance to people displaced across Bangui, as well as in Bossangoa to the northwest.
There are more details on this on UN agencies websites.
I have an appointment to announce.
The Secretary-General has appointed Shamshad Akhtar of Pakistan as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She will replace Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore.
Ms. Akhtar is currently the Secretary-General’s Senior Advisor on Economic Development and Finance and Assistant Secretary-General, in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
And we have more information on this appointment in our office.
**Noon Briefing Tomorrow
Tomorrow, the guests will be Geeta Rao Gupta, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), along with Susan Bissell, the Chief of the Child Protection Programme Division of UNICEF. And they will be here to discuss UNICEF’s new birth registration report on its sixty-seventh birthday.
And finally, we were asked earlier about procurement in relation to the UN Mission in Mali and here is what we can say about that:
To support missions operations, particularly at start up, Letters of Assist may be issued. Letters of Assist are generally for goods and services of a military nature, or where military capabilities are best suited to the operating environment, and are awarded to Governments following review by Committees, in accordance with Financial Regulations. Prices are benchmarked by the UN against the market. They are not public documents.
The companies mentioned in the query raised at the Noon Briefing — by you, Matthew — France Expertise International, Sodexho, Thales and GEOS — are not currently under Letters of Assist contract for logistics services in Mali.
There is only one Letter of Assist for logistics services in Mali, for critical airfield support by the French military in the north of the country.
That’s it for me. Any questions, please? Yes, Evelyn?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Out of curiosity, will Noeleen Heyzerhave any job at the UN? She’s been at the UN for such a long time.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t [have] anything to announce on that, just that she has departed this particular post and will be replaced by Shamshad Akhtar. If we have any appointments to announce on Noeleen Heyzer, of course we’ll make an announcement when…the appropriate time comes. Yes, Pam?
[The Spokesperson later added that Ms. Heyzer will continue to serve as Special Adviser of the Secretary General for Timor-Leste in further strengthening the ongoing partnership between the Government of Timor‑Leste and the United Nations to support the continuing efforts of Timor‑Leste towards peacebuilding, State-building and inclusive and sustainable development.]
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you have the… have you received anything on the procurement list for either UN or OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], since they haven’t provided them on the [ United States], I mean, on the international contractors who are bidding for the destruction of chemical weapons? Thank you.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I’ve been checking with our OPCW colleagues. We still don’t have anything specific to say in terms of names of contractors. I think they’ve given the broad details of that, but we don’t have anything specific to give just yet.
Question: And do you expect that there will be?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: If we can say something down the line, certainly we’ll let you know at that point. Before we take any questions, I’d like to inform all of you that Ambassador Gérard Araud, the President of the Security Council for this month, will be at the Security Council stakeout after the briefing. Erol?
Question: Yes, on Pamela’s question, actually: Do we now know whether UN is ready to announce now which country will be the country before the chemical weapons dangerous materials are going to be embarked on the third ship… I mean, on the [ United States] ship, to be destroyed finally? Today’s reports are suggesting that it could be Croatia. Can you deny or confirm that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, I cannot. We’re not ready to make that announcement. I believe the joint mission has been in touch with countries that could help out, but they don’t have anything to announce at that stage. Once they do, I’ll let you know. Matthew?
Question: Thanks a lot, Farhan. And thanks for that answer. I just wanted to ask about Mali. I wanted to ask one follow-up. One, is just… if it’s possible to know the value of the contract for the airfield services? And also, if you can just say given that, like, troop contribution is public and procurement is public, is there some rationale for Letters of Assist in which money is being paid by the UN to countries, not being public? What’s the reason for that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I’ve given you basically what we have to say about Letters of Assist. You’ve just asked about what the value is and, as I pointed out, they are not public documents, so I don’t have the value to give you.
Question: But, can you… can you, I just want to, why wouldn’t it be public if it’s UN money being paid? Is it public through the Fifth Committee? Is it public through ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions)? Why would it be confidential? I don’t understand.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Certainly, we followed the normal financial rules and regulations and the relevant bodies are informed. But, like I said, they’re not public documents. As it was, we did give the details, including, of course, the fact that your earlier information was, in point of fact, incorrect.
Question: How were they selected for that service? And why… given that they are investing themselves, was any request made for them to bear those costs?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Ahh, Matthew. The point was that Letters of Assist are generally for goods and services of a military nature or where military capabilities are best suited to the operating environment. And they are awarded to Governments following review by committees, in accordance with financial regulations. Yes?
Question: There are some reports that some people in the Central African Republic are looting Muslim markets and houses in front of the French troops. Do you have anything about it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t speak for the French troops, so I don’t know [what] they could be saying. I just… earlier, I just read out a note about the concerns by the UN refugee agency. And certainly, the UN [Integrated] Peacebuilding Office [in the Central African Republic], BINUCA, has also been reporting its concerns about the situation on the ground. We’ll continue to provide updates about our worries, but there have been a disturbing number of attacks from across religious communities, and that has been part of the reasoning why we believed that there is a greater force that’s needed. Luckily, there’s been some signs of stabilization in Bangui and we hope that that continues.
Question: Great. I wanted, also, in Central African Republic, there’s public reports of… I just wanted to ask you… if a [Central African Multinational Force] peacekeeper from the African force authorized by the Security Council has been killed? And what the level of casualties are? Do you have that information?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t speak for that Force. You’ll have to ask them.
Question: Can I ask another question?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.
Question: Okay, great. And actually, it will be more simpler. The tables that are in the lobby today for the Staff Union election, I know that there’s been some correspondence from various candidates to Catherine Pollard and even, I believe, at least one directed to the Secretary-General. What is the UN Secretariat’s role? There are… various sides are saying that the election shouldn’t take place, that it’s illegal. What is… it’s happening in the lobby; what is the UN’s position and role in this election?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t have any comment on this. Ultimately, it’s for the staff representatives themselves to decide on their representation. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record