|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.
The new Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Abyei. Mr. Ladsous noted that the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) has not observed significant progress on the withdrawal of Armed Forces from the area.
He went on to note that the lack of progress towards implementing the 20 June Agreement is of particular concern. As we approach the seasonal nomadic migration of the Misseriya people, and given the violence of May this year, he was concerned that this year the Misseriya will be traversing an international border. He encouraged the Council to authorize the mission’s support for the establishment of a border-monitoring mechanism, as recommended by the Secretary-General in his latest report on the situation in Abyei.
He also urged the Council to engage the parties on the withdrawal of their forces from Abyei to enable internally displaced people to return and to ensure a peaceful migration, in order to prevent a serious deterioration of the situation in the coming months. He thanked the Government of Ethiopia for its commitment to the mission and to its troops for their efforts to deploy and to start implementing the mandate in very challenging circumstances.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today that global food prices fell 2 per cent in September compared to August. This was largely due to lower international prices of grains, sugar and oils.
The Organization also announced today that world cereal production will be 3 per cent higher this marketing season than in 2010/11. However, despite the expected production gains, it warns that because of the slowdown in the global economic recovery and increased risks of recession, the impact of the higher forecast on world food security is uncertain. There is more information on the website of the FAO.
In its first Global Study on Homicide, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that young men — particularly in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and South and Central Africa — are most at risk from homicide. It also found that women are at highest risk from murder due to domestic violence. The study says that there is evidence that rising homicide rates in Central America and the Caribbean are near crisis point. There is more information on this on the website of the UNODC.
I have a couple of updates on Somalia and Pakistan.
In Somalia, 4 million people remain in crisis nationwide, three quarters of whom are in the south. Despite concerted efforts, significant humanitarian needs remain throughout the country.
Tensions have reportedly increased between humanitarian agencies and the local Al-Shabaab administration in Baidoa, in the Bay region. Some aid agencies have reportedly been suspended, and Al-Shabaab says that there is no need for them in that region as there are no internally displaced people in need. And Tuesday's bomb attack in Mogadishu, in which more than 100 people were killed, is a stark reminder of the prevailing insecurity in the country, and that is hampering delivery of humanitarian aid.
I can also tell you that at the end of September, the World Health Organization (WHO) set up a new field hospital to help Somali refugees arriving in Dollo, Ethiopia. And an emergency measles and polio vaccination programme is under way in south and central Somalia, targeting 2.3 million children. Food agencies have now reached about 2 million people in crisis since famine was declared.
And in Pakistan, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $17.6 million for urgent help to thousands of the most vulnerable families affected by the Pakistan floods. The money will be used to provide packages of assistance, including health care, safe water, sanitation, food, shelter materials, blankets, and other life-saving support. The Pakistan Floods 2011 Rapid Response Plan, which has asked for $357 million, is currently only 15 per cent funded — and the allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund is in fact the largest single donation so far.
At 12:30 p.m. today, right after this briefing, there will be a press conference by Michael Williams, the outgoing Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and that is to mark the end of his mission there.
And then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which is also known as NEPAD. Speakers will include Under-Secretary-General Cheik Sidi Diarra, who is the UN Special Adviser for Africa, and Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the Chief Executive Officer of NEPAD.
So, questions, please? Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The United States has threatened to cut off all aid to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) if Palestine is allowed to become a member of UNESCO. Have they conveyed this info [inaudible] through the United Nations directly?
Spokesperson: I am not aware of that. That would be a communication with UNESCO, and as you know, what happens there with regard to the application you are referring to, is a matter for Member States.
Question: No, what I am saying is that there was yesterday, at the State Department, there was an ongoing debate on this thing, that is it right for the United States to threaten to cut off aid?
Spokesperson: I heard what you said, Masood, and I have answered your question. It might not be exactly as you wanted the answer, but it’s my answer. Okay, right? Any other questions? Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, I want to first ask you about, in Abyei… just now in front of the… in front of the Security Council, the acting Permanent Representative of South Sudan, David Buom Choat, said that they’d like to see UNISFA deployed faster than it has been, and he asked why, you know, roads were being used if there is rain, why helicopters aren’t being used. These are definite questions we would have liked to put to Mr. Ladsous if he’d spoken to the press there, but since he said he would not, I am asking you, what… what… why is UNISFA’s deployment in the state that it’s in, and… and what’s the response to South Sudan saying it should be both faster and done by air?
Spokesperson: Well, as I just mentioned, the deployment is taking place in very challenging circumstances, that is what Mr. Ladsous told the Council in an open session, which you presumably also heard. And while Mr. Ladsous did not speak at the stakeout today, he will be giving a press conference next week, and I am sure he will be able to address that question at that point.
Question: Would… I mean, I just… I… because… I heard him say challenging, but I guess what I am saying is that this… this… the acting Permanent Representative of South Sudan said that the UN has flights from Kadugli to Abyei routinely; these are the same flights — he didn’t say this, but I’ll say this — it’s the same flights that Ahmed Haroun was flown on. So, is that… is the difficulty… is there some difficulty with… with helicopters, or is it a sort of generic difficulty? What’s the response?
Spokesperson: As I say, you heard what the Under-Secretary-General told the Council. And as I have also said, the new head of Peacekeeping Operations will give a press conference next week and I am sure that he would be able to address those points that you have raised. Other questions? Yes, Ali?
Question: Now that the Security Council failed to act regarding the situation in Syria, what do you think should be done now? And do you have any comment on the breach that the two… two Syrian tanks that breached the border with Lebanon last… yesterday? Thank you.
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that last point, Ali. If I do get something, I’ll let you know. But I don’t have anything on that. On Syria and what’s the next step, I mean, I think, simply as the Secretary-General said, he has been repeatedly calling for the international community to speak and act in a coherent manner. And as I said yesterday, he regretted that the Council was unable to agree. And so he hopes that they will be able to overcome these divisions and find a collective way to address the situation. So, I think that’s where we are. Okay, other questions? Yes, Masood?
Question: I just want to know this position… the Secretary-General’s position on this non-agreement of the Security Council on the Syrian resolution. Is it the Secretary-General’s place to question a decision by another member of the Security Council as to why this decision was made?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General regrets the Council was unable to agree because he believes, and has repeatedly said so, that it’s important for the international community to speak with one voice on this. That’s because the violence in Syria is simply unacceptable and it has to stop. And he has also said, as you will have heard me say yesterday, that the international community has a moral obligation to prevent further bloodshed and to help the people of Syria out of what is a dangerous crisis.
Question: In the past there have been similar such resolutions which have been vetoed by other countries. The Secretary-General has never issued such a statement before, decrying such a position.
Spokesperson: What the Secretary-General has said is that he regrets that the Council was unable to agree, and he believes that the violence in Syria is unacceptable, and that the international community, and that includes the Council, should speak and act in a coherent manner on this. Yeah, other questions?
Question: Can I ask you… I want… before I ask any factual questions, but I just want to ask a follow-up on… you just finished saying as to Palestine trying to join UNESCO, that it’s up to Member States, that there is… he has no comment because it is entirely up to Member States. So, I… I mean, I… it’s… it’s… it’s a different kind of a question, but in this case, the Council, they voted, that’s how the Member States voted. Why is it not… why isn’t the answer: it’s up to Member States in this… or… or if it’s not up to Member States in the case of Syria? What’s his position on Palestine and UNESCO?
Spokesperson: That’s not so much a factual question as comparing apples and oranges. What’s the next question?
Question: Okay, though I said I had… I was… I was… I was just wanting to… for you to explain. But I… factual question is as follows. There is a strike, apparently, at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in… in Gaza, based on the suspension of… of Suhil al-Hindi and I wanted to know, what’s the response? One, if people have gone back to work, why was the person suspended, and… and what’s UN… what’s UNRWA’s policy on… in terms of the outside political activities of its teachers?
Spokesperson: I have something for you on that, but I don’t have it right here, okay? I’ll let you have it later, all right?
Question: Okay. And I also, there was a big press conference yesterday at City Hall at which Mayor Bloomberg announced what was widely described as a new building for the UN, and I know you… you had this distinction of UN Development Corporation (UNDC) and… and I understand that. There is an article in The Observer, major newspaper here in New York, saying that the UN will be paying 65…
Spokesperson: A major newspaper here in New York?
Question: Not the Britain’s Observer, there is… there is a New York Observer, if you have seen it. It says… in any event, this newspaper says that the UN will be paying $65 million for this to… to… in part to pay for the esplanade, that there… there is a deal between… that it’s all very complicated, it’s all kind of wink and nod, but that this money will be paid…
Spokesperson: No, no, Matthew.
Spokesperson: I made it extremely clear, and in fact we’ve been in touch with various media outlets to try to reinforce the point that the UNDC is a public benefit corporation. It is not part of the United Nations. And the UN, the United Nations, is not putting money in this. Any money for that project, should it go ahead, would be raised by the UNDC. And at this point, and as I mentioned already on Monday, at this point, that the United Nations has not even entered into discussions based on the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed yesterday. We are very appreciative of the efforts that are being undertaken by the host city and State in this regard, but the discussions have not yet started.
Question: But is there some understanding between the UN and UNDC? Like why would they engage… why would they… why would they… why would they agree to build a building without any understanding that they would be paying rent in that building?
Spokesperson: What I said, and I can reiterate, is that there will be discussions now — they have not started — there will be discussions on lease arrangements. Okay? And if, and when, the United Nations and the UNDC arrive at a draft lease — if and when — then it would be reviewed by the United Nations and, crucially, by the General Assembly, and the General Assembly would have the opportunity to approve it or not. So at this point this is a Memorandum of Understanding. We, as I say, are very appreciative of the efforts that would enable us to consolidate our offices that are spread out. And the UN looks forward to an invitation to enter into these lease discussions.
Question: I just have one more on this — I am sorry — because of this word consolidation, I think you’d said that the leases on DC1 and 2 run until 2023, and obviously this building, if built, will be done, it seems, like before then. Is it… is there any scenario in which the city would in fact be occup… the UN would be occupying the three buildings, DC1, DC2 and DC5, or is the entire… is the plan… is the idea of consolidating to move from DC1 and DC2 before the end of the lease into DC5?
Spokesperson: This is about consolidating and, as I have said, and remember that there are many people located, not just in DC1 and DC2, but in other buildings scattered around this part of Manhattan and a little bit beyond. So about half of the approximately 10,000 staff are outside of the Headquarters compound, based here in New York. So at this stage, this is a very early part of a process. It’s obviously something that we have taken note of, that Mayor Bloomberg announced this Memorandum of Understanding. We now await an invitation — and look forward to that — to enter into lease discussions. And during the course of that, more details, of course, would need to be mapped out. We’re not there yet. Okay, yes?
Question: Morning, Martin, thank you. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has already cut off tens of millions of dollars in aid to Palestine in the two weeks since the Palestinian membership application has been filed. It’s not UN money, and I wouldn’t expect the SG to comment on it. However, other countries that do, that are subject to US aid such as Nigeria, which is the head of the Security Council for this month, they’ve taken hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid each year. What’s the SG’s position — and might go back a ways — on the implied threat of the removal of aid and the implied threat of manipulation of votes in places like the Security Council, and certainly the General Assembly, where this… where the removal of aid would certainly violate the spirit under which these bodies were ever created?
Spokesperson: Well, I appreciate your question. I don’t really have anything on that. I don’t think that’s appropriate at this point for us to comment on. Okay, anything further? Yes?
Question: [inaudible] South Sudan just earlier said that all of their forces had pulled out, but last week we saw that both forces, both South Sudan’s and Sudan Republic’s forces, are still in disputed… the disputed region. I want to [inaudible] to the South Sudan statement. In Syria… Second question, in Syria, I just read a report that the UN updated the death toll to 2,900? I just need a confirmation on that. Thank you.
Spokesperson: On the second, that figure was provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, my colleague, Rupert Colville in Geneva. I’ve seen the quotes attributed to him, and that’s what he has been saying. I would refer you to him for more details on that. It’s obviously disturbing that these figures inexorably rise. And on the first part of your question, on Abyei, I would simply refer you to what the Under-Secretary-General said in the Council that they had not seen significant progress on the withdrawal of Armed Forces from the area. And it may be that next week when Mr. Ladsous briefs you he will have an update at that point. Okay, I am going to… I beg your pardon?
Question: I just want to ask one question on the Congo, to see, maybe you will have a statement on this. There… there are reports of 10 people being killed in the Kivus and it’s being blamed on the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Front de libération nationale (FLN). So I just wondered, I mean, since the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is there, it’s been… at least there hasn’t been a lot of news of this type in… of late. Is that something… and they confirm the number? Does it reflect a resurgence of either of those two rebel groups, and what’s MONUSCO going to do about it?
Spokesperson: Thanks for the question, Matthew, I’ll ask our peacekeeping colleagues. Thanks very much. Okay, and I am going to hand over to Mr. Williams.
[The Spokesperson later said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had issued a press release condemning the attack against humanitarian workers in South Kivu on 4 October. OCHA called on the Congolese authorities to open an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice. OCHA noted that since the beginning of the year, nearly 140 security incidents against humanitarian workers had been recorded in South and North Kivu.]
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