Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

13 June 2011

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

13 June 2011
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.


**Secretary-General in Argentina


The Secretary-General is in Buenos Aires, where he is expected to meet President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner shortly.  He intends to discuss with her Argentina’s crucial and growing role in the global arena and its remarkable progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, among other topics.


The Secretary-General arrived in Argentina late last night, in the city of Cordoba, after travel difficulties caused by the volcanic “brown cloud” prevented him from landing in Buenos Aires itself.  As a result, he and his delegation travelled to the capital by bus through the night.


Later this evening, he will speak at Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and discuss lessons from the country’s democratic transition.  He is to note that, in Arab countries today, as in Argentina earlier, for democracy to fully triumph, change needs to be systemic.  It requires reform of the judiciary, the security forces and other institutions of state.


Over the weekend, the Secretary-General was in Colombia, where yesterday, in the city of Cartagena, he met with the President and spoke at an event to reaffirm political will for joint work between the UN system and the Colombian Government.  He also visited two UN projects in Cartagena.


** Lebanon


Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, has congratulated Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the formation of the new Government.  Mr. Williams said that a new Government will enable the country to address the manifold challenges facing the country, whether economic, political or security.  And he added that he expects the Government will reiterate its support for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and its commitment to Lebanon’s international obligations.  We have the statement in my office. 


**Sudan


And in a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General expressed alarm at the deterioration of the security situation and escalation of fighting in Southern Kordofan, which has left thousands homeless.


He called on all concerned to cease hostilities and provide their full cooperation to the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and humanitarian agencies in addressing the needs of affected civilians.


The Secretary-General also remains deeply concerned about the situation in Abyei and the fate of those affected by the conflict in the area.  He stressed the importance of the meetings between the parties in Addis Ababa and urged the parties to demonstrate the political will and flexibility necessary to reach agreements that will bring peace in the area.


** Gaza


The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says in a new report that broad unemployment in Gaza in the second half of 2010 reached an unprecedented 45.2 per cent, one of the highest rates in the world.  The report, released today, finds that real wages continued to decline under the weight of persistently high unemployment, falling 34.5 per cent since the first half of 2006.


The report finds that the private sector was particularly badly hit compared with the government sector.  In the second half of 2010, businesses lost more 8,000 jobs, a decline in employment of nearly 8 per cent relative to the first half of the year.  By contrast, the Hamas-dominated public sector grew by nearly 3 per cent during the same period.  And we have copies of the report in my office.


**Security Council


The Security Council adopted a resolution this morning, extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) by six months, until 15 December this year.  In the resolution, the Council also called upon the Cypriot leaders to intensify the momentum of negotiations.


Council members followed the adoption of the resolution with consultations on Cyprus, and they also discussed sanctions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


**Press Conference


One press conference today; at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference to launch a new World Bank publication, entitled “Connecting Landlocked Developing Countries to Markets”.   [It was later clarified that this was a closed event, not a press conference.]


So, now I am connecting to you.  Yes, Sylvie?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The statement issued by Mr. Michael Williams, is that statement the same statement that the Secretary-General will issue on the new Government in Lebanon?  Is it the same wording or the same message…?


Spokesperson:  Well at this point, Sylvie, what we have is the statement from Michael Williams.  If we have anything further building on that, elaborating on that, we’ll let you know.  But we have for now is the statement by Mr. Williams.


Question:  Another question on Syria, can you confirm that the Secretary-General didn’t speak with Bashar al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad, since two, three days?


Spokesperson:  Well, I did address this topic on Friday.  I think what is important, as the Secretary-General mentioned in Cartagena on Saturday, and as we mentioned on Friday, he is concerned, in fact deeply concerned, by the continuing violence in Syria, including in Jisr-al-Shughur, and of course the heavy toll on the civilian population.  The Syrian authorities really do have an obligation to protect their people and respect their rights.   And the use of military force against civilians is unacceptable.


And again, as the Secretary-General himself said in Cartagena, it is really incumbent on the Syrian authorities to follow through on what they have promised, which is to democratize the country and to take bold and immediate decisive actions that mean that they are listening to the people.  And also, the other point that the Secretary-General raised is that there is a humanitarian team, a UN humanitarian team that needs access to be able to assess the needs on the humanitarian side, what kind of assistance is required.  And that’s quite urgent.  And secondly, there is a need for there to be access for the Human Rights Council-mandated mission, which of course is a separate human rights assessment team.  Neither of those bodies has been given access so far, and that’s something that the Secretary-General would like to see happen as soon as possible.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  So just to clarify, do you see that the formation of this Government in Lebanon as a positive step in the right direction?  And I have another question on Syria, please.


Spokesperson:  Okay, sure.  Well, Michael Williams has put out a fairly clear statement congratulating Prime Minister Mikati on forming the new Government and that he believes that this new Government will enable the country to address the many challenges.  But he has also said that he would expect the Government to reiterate its support for [resolution] 1701 (2006) and also its commitment to other international obligations that Lebanon has. 


Question:  Is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon included in the obligations?


Spokesperson:  That is one of Lebanon’s international obligations; that is correct.  You had a question on Syria?  And then I am coming to Masood.  I will come to you next, Masood.


Question:  Were there any attempts since the last time you said that President al-Assad is not responding on the phone to the Secretary-General’s calls?  Were there any attempt… does the Secretary-General plan any new attempts on that?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has spoken publicly over the weekend about his concern for what is happening through statements; he has made it clear that he has spoken previously to President al-Assad on several occasions to urge him in person to take the kind of immediate and bold actions that need to be taken.  If I have any update at any point, then I’d let you know.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  On this report, Martin, that was issued yesterday…


Spokesperson:  Which one?


Question:  On Afghanistan, in which it was said that May was probably the worst, deadliest month for the civilians over there.  The question is: has anybody from the Secretary-General’s Office been in touch with the NATO forces or any other entities with which they can talk to bring this level of civilian casualties down, especially in NATO’s case?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General and other relevant officials are in regular contact with people in NATO, right up to and including the NATO Secretary General.  Not just on this topic, but on other topics too.  And we’ve said quite clearly, and the Secretary-General himself has repeatedly said, that in conducting military operations it really is absolutely imperative to take all possible measures to minimize the risk of civilian casualties.  But let’s not forget that the many of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by others, and not by NATO.  This is not to diminish the casualties that have been caused in military action undertaken by NATO-led forces, but there are many other casualties caused by others, by the Taliban.  Yes?


Question:  As you know, Martin, 4,000 civilian refugees are right now in Turkey.  And the UN will plan to do something for the refugees, Syrian refugees?  Also, [does the] UN have any contact or cooperation with Turkish Government about the Syrian refugees?


Spokesperson:  I will check with my colleagues.  I would be fairly certain that there has been some kind of contact already, but let me check on the details of that.  Clearly, I think it is obvious to everybody that the Turkish authorities have responded very quickly and very generously in dealing with this influx of refugees, people who are obviously extremely frightened and have moved across the border to seek safety.  And as you will have seen, the Turkish Red Crescent, for example, and the Turkish Government has been extremely swift and decisive in the action it has taken.  I will check whether the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or the High Commissioner for Refugees has anything further on that.  Yes, James, and then I’ll come back to Masood.  I thought I saw your hand up.  No?  In which I am coming this way, Matthew, and then I’m coming back to Masood.


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Sudan and Cambodia…


Spokesperson:  Right, well ask about Sudan and then we’ll go back to Masood.


Question:  Okay, I’ll ask about Sudan.  In Sudan, I wanted to know, can you confirm that UN staff are being pulled out of South Kordofan?  And do you have any response to the allegations by their top SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] official in South Kordofan, Al-Halou, and his spokesmen that Egyptian peacekeepers committed rape in South Sudan and that they turned over people to the Sudanese Armed Forces who were later killed?


Spokesperson:  Well, on that very last point, allegations that UNMIS has abandoned — there were reports that we’ve seen refer to one national staff member and allegations about the UN Mission in Sudan having abandoned a national staff member who was killed, are simply completely false and baseless.  The Mission will continue to provide all the protection needed to all the staff, regardless of their ethnic, religious or political affiliations.  And just to be clear, UNMIS is not evacuating its personnel from Kadugli.  However, the Mission started relocating civilian staff as of today to Khartoum, including nationals, because they can’t operate in the current circumstances.  And an UNMIS convoy under the escort of Egyptian peacekeepers was able to reach El-Obeid with its nonessential international staff.  And also, I can tell you that the Mission has extracted the majority of its national staff from town, and they are now safe in the Mission compound receiving the necessary assistance.


Question:  No, no, and thanks for that.  I was saying, in this Sudan Tribune, certainly over the weekend, maybe even as much as 24 hours ago, there are these quotes by Al-Halou, who is the one who ran against Ahmed Haroun…


Spokesperson:  I heard what you said, and what I have responded is the answer that I have.  Okay?


Question:  But they seem to be alleging different things?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I have said, we sought to have guidance from the UN Mission in Sudan, and they have given as very clear guidance on what is actually happening.


Question:  And one more thing on Sudan, there is… the SPLM has said that the territory of South Sudan has been bombed from the air by Khartoum using Antonov aircraft; Jao and Unity State.  Is that something that UNMIS has been able to verify or deny?


Spokesperson:  Well, it wouldn’t be for us to deny, I think.  But to try to verify is another matter. I don’t have anything on that at the moment, but we’re certainly aware of the reports.  If my colleagues have anything further, I am sure that we would be able to provide that.  Yes, Masood, and then I am coming to you. 


Question:  On this, on the report that you just read out about unemployment in the occupied Gaza and so forth, I just want to know that the Secretary-General last week, or before, that issued a statement against the flotilla, aid flotilla coming into Gaza.  I want to know, what is the method with which the international community can help feed people in Gaza that the United Nations sees as not to be interfering and that Israelis will agree to?  How is that possible?  No aid is coming in, and nothing is allowed by Israeli authorities…


Spokesperson:  I am not sure that it is right to say “no aid is coming in”.  I think that does a considerable disservice to our colleagues in UNRWA, who work extremely hard with the people in Gaza and for the people of Gaza.  Of course there are non-governmental organizations also working there, and who would like to be able to provide more aid.  No one disputes that more aid is required.  What is in question in how that is delivered.  And what we are saying is that there are established channels for such aid to be delivered.  And at this stage, it would seem to be preferable for it to be delivered in that way rather than to risk further tensions of the kind that we saw a year ago.


Question:  Is there any update on any talks with the Israeli authorities and the United Nations about this situation in Gaza, especially now that their supporters are saying openly that the situation is dire — I mean, which has been saying that forever.


Spokesperson:  Well, possibly you answered your own question there, Masood, but if I have anything further, I’ll let you know.  Yes, please?


Question:  On this North Korean ship that was turned around by the United States Navy on its way reportedly to Myanmar, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that, and was he aware of the situation as it was unfolding?


Spokesperson:  I haven’t spoke to him on this particular topic.  He is aware of the media reports based on the New York Times story.  But, obviously, any specific details would need to come from the Sanctions Committee under the Security Council.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, I want to, as on Cambodia, there is a lot of controversy around the UN-supported court there.  It says that a number of international staff have left because the third case was sort of suspended without investigation by the judges.  So, it says, this is what I wanted to ask you, it said that these staff members wrote to the Secretary-General before they quit.  I wanted to know if that’s true and I wanted to know what he thinks, given the controversy that surrounded his visit to Cambodia; does he have any comment at all on what is viewed as sort of disorder in the court or shutting down of the inquiry into the Khmer Rouge era there?


Spokesperson:  Probably a little later today, Matthew.  Okay, yes, Ali?


Question:  Today, the Bahrain authorities put doctors and nurses on trial, what’s your comment on that?


Spokesperson:  The same as the comments we’ve made consistently throughout, that primarily, if trials are to take place, there should be proper due process and people being detained should be held in the right circumstances.  And beyond that, you will have seen that the Secretary-General met recently with senior leadership figures from Bahrain when they were here in New York, and I think that the readout we gave on that particular meeting was rather comprehensive, and I wouldn’t want to go beyond that.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, this is… I mean there was a… I guess last week there was a Staff Union election and I haven’t heard any… I wanted to know, there have been some, at least the incumbents had said that there were people given two ballots, retirees were allowed to vote, there were a number of irregularities.  They were also said they were told they shouldn’t use their office to do campaigning.  I wanted to know, is that the case, and are there any results to be announced?  What can you… It seems strange that an election held right inside the UN would have these, supposedly, irregularities.  Are there any acknowledged irregularities or what?


Spokesperson:  That’s really for the Union itself to comment on, and not for us.  All right.  Yeah, sure, one last one for the road.


Question:  Yeah, this may be… you may, this may be a soft… you’ll just swat this one down.  When Human Rights Watch met with the Secretary-General, I remember I asked either you or Farhan [Haq] for a readout, and you said we don’t do readouts of those meetings.


Spokesperson:  That’s right.


Question:  Then I asked Human Rights Watch and they said that “to preserve our ability to have frank discussions with UN officials, we typically don’t communicate on the contents of our discussions”.  And I just wanted to know, just from you, is this something that the UN in any way says?  Does the UN say to its interlocutors that to continue to have these discussions, you can’t speak about the meetings, or is it just a unilateral Human Rights Watch position?


Spokesperson:  Well, you’d have to ask Human Rights Watch what their position is on when they meet with people.  But I think you’ve heard from other answers, given that we frequently provide readouts on meetings where it is appropriate, typically with Member States.  But there are occasions when we don’t provide readouts, and there may be good reasons for that.  Okay?


All right, have a very good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.