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

14 October 2011

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

14 October 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.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Security Council adopted a resolution this morning to renew the mandate of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for an additional year.  The Council then received its monthly briefing from Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.


Mr. Jaakko Laajava, who is Under‑Secretary of State at the Finnish Foreign Ministry, has been appointed as the facilitator for the 2012 Conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.  Finland has been designated as the host Government for that conference.  There are more details in a formal joint statement which is available in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Syria

The High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed her deep dismay at the worsening human rights situation in Syria, calling on the international community to take immediate measures to protect the country’s people.

Navi Pillay noted that there has been a devastatingly remorseless toll of human lives, with the number of people killed since March now having exceeded 3,000.  That figure includes at least 187 children.  The High Commissioner said the Government of Syria has manifestly failed to protect its population.  Furthermore, it has ignored the international community’s calls to cooperate with international investigations.

Ms. Pillay said as more members of the military refuse to attack civilians and change sides, the crisis is already showing worrying signs of descending into an armed struggle.  There is more on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

** Cambodia Courts

The Under‑Secretary‑General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, Patricia O'Brien, will be travelling to Phnom Penh next week for meetings with the Royal Government of Cambodia and others concerning the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). 

Ms. O’Brien’s visit follows the resignation on 9 October of international Co‑Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk.  In his letter of resignation, Judge Blunk stated that statements by senior officials of the Cambodian Government opposing the progress of Cases 003 and 004 before the ECCC could be used to call into question his ability to withstand pressure by Government officials and to perform his duties independently, and that this would call into doubt the integrity of the whole proceedings in Cases 003 and 004.

The United Nations has consistently called upon all persons to refrain from interfering with the work of the ECCC.  Immediately following the resignation of Judge Blunk, the Deputy Spokesperson stated that the ECCC must be permitted to proceed with its work without interference from any entity, including the Royal Government of Cambodia.  He also reiterated that the United Nations would continue to monitor the situation closely, including in consultation with the Royal Government of Cambodia.  The decision that the Legal Counsel would visit Phnom Penh was taken at that time.

In addition to concerns with respect to the issue of government interference in the work of the ECCC, there have also been concerns raised with respect to other aspects of the Court's work.  It is important that the United Nations talks to senior officials in the ECCC and others to gain the best possible understanding of these concerns.  These matters will also be addressed during the Legal Counsel’s visit.

** Pakistan

The World Food Programme (WFP) has so far provided life‑saving assistance to more than 1 million people in Pakistan’s flood‑affected Sindh province.  Together with its partners, the Programme is boosting its efforts in Sindh, working double shifts to ensure that the food is being delivered to 2.5 million people in the coming weeks.  While the Programme’s funding will allow it to continue its activities until the end of November, it is calling for additional resources to ensure that it can carry on its work beyond then.

**South‑East Asian Floods

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that more than 8 million people have been affected by flooding and typhoons in Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Philippines.  So far, Thailand and Cambodia have been hit the hardest, and the Office says that the situation could worsen over the coming days since more rains are predicted for the weekend.

** Somalia

The United Nations Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, has written a letter to the Somali diaspora to update them on developments over the past two months.  Copies of the letter are available in the Spokesperson’s office.

** Cyprus

The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities today held a lengthy discussion on the property issue, territory and power‑sharing.  Alexander Downer, the Secretary‑General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, told reporters afterwards that the leaders’ meeting was very fruitful.  Their next meeting will be on Wednesday, 19 October.

Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  On this deal between Israel and the Hamas faction on the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, I would just like to know, have they shared any… shared any of the elements of the so‑called deal with the United Nations at all, the Israeli Government?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, no, no.  Obviously, we are watching these developments very closely.  And we’ll have to wait to see what happens.

Question:  Basically, it is for one soldier the 1,000 Palestinian men and women, right?  That portrays… is the deal, that is your understanding?  How will they [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Listen, Masood, we are seeing the same public reports that you are also seeing.  And obviously we are watching this very closely.  We’d like to see exactly what happens in the coming days.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  [inaudible] regarding the new settlements in East Jerusalem, today there have been some announcements of the new settlements, do you have any line on that or [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  No, I think not specifically related to this latest development.  You are well aware of the views of the Secretary‑General, and indeed the United Nations, on this matter, and I don’t think that will have changed with the latest announcement.  It’s exactly the same position.  You know what that is.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  On the nuclear disarmament conference, the weapons of mass destruction conference, why is it taking so long to find the host and a facilitator for this?  And the Secretary‑General had a meeting on it yesterday; can you give us any details of this?  Did countries commit themselves to attending?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have further details on that beyond what I have told you.  As I said, the formal statement, to be brutally honest, is one very long sentence that was impossible for me to read out.  And that’s why I have given you just the gist of it, namely that the Under‑Secretary of State at the Finnish Foreign Ministry has been appointed the facilitator, and Finland designated as the host Government.  The rest of it is obviously listing which countries are the co‑sponsors along with the Secretary‑General under the NPT Review Conference.  And I would refer you to that for some of the technical details.  And then I would also refer you, if possible please, to the three countries I mentioned or I am going to mention — the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.  And they may well be able to give you some more details about the point that you have raised relating to the timing and the location.

Question:  Is there a readout from yesterday’s meeting at all?

Spokesperson:  No.

Correspondent:  No.

Spokesperson:  Okay, yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to… just a couple of questions.  One is about Libya.  There has been this announcement by the National Transitional Council that there… that… that… that their air space in Benghazi and that part of the country has been returned to them by NATO despite the… there is still a no‑fly zone in effect under the Security Council resolution that gives the Secretary‑General some kind of role in receiving notifications.  Has he gotten any notification that this no‑fly zone is no longer being enforced by NATO in that area and what… does he have any comment on… on… on this?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask you, it’s… it’s in… in Sudan, it’s… it’s… both Sudan and South Sudan say they have reached an agreement to… for… for UN protection to… to… along the border to monitor and demarcate the border.  I wanted to know whether DPKO… whether it’s true that DPKO has developed a plan for 300 peacekeepers from the… of the Abyei mission to be used with four helicopters and two jets, but it’s not yet funded.  Is that… what’s DPKO’s understanding of this important border issue?

Spokesperson:  You are absolutely right that it is an important topic.  And I will certainly check with my DPKO colleagues.  I don’t have anything at the moment, Matthew.

[The Spokesperson later noted that, in his latest report on the situation in Abyei (document S/2011/603), the Secretary‑General had proposed an amendment to the mandate of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to incorporate support for a border‑monitoring mechanism.  The report details the tasks of UNISFA’s new pillar, noting that it would comprise a dedicated capacity for the mechanism of 297 force protection personnel — within the existing troop strength — and would require additional air assets, including four utility helicopters and two specialized reconnaissance fixed-wing aircrafts.]

Question:  And did they have any comment on… on the Sudan sentinel project’s new report about the killing of a UN independent contractor in Kadugli?

Spokesperson:  I think I did check and I think where we are is where you were in your conversation with Rupert Colville, is or your exchange with Rupert Colville is quite recently, if I remember correctly.  And I don’t think that there is anything that I could add at this point.

Question:  But is the name… like for example, they gave the name of the UN contractor, is that in fact the person that was killed, because that’s not in the UN report?

Spokesperson:  As Rupert said at the time, the report that was undertaken was carried out in extremely difficult circumstances.  But that the allegations that there are warrant an independent and full inquiry.  And I would suggest that that remains the position of the Office of the High Commissioner.

Question:  By whom… who… who would conduct… who is going to conduct that… that inquiry?

Spokesperson:  Well, that you could check with Rupert.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  In this figure about the death toll in Syria, how many are the security servicemen killed?  When you talk about 3,100 total, how many of them were from the security services?

Spokesperson:  I would ask you to check with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I don’t have a break down beyond the figures that I have given you, which includes that figure of 187 children.  I’d simply make the point that the Secretary‑General has made, that violence and bloodshed from any quarter should stop.  But we need to be absolutely clear that the Government of Syria bears a heavy responsibility to ensure that that bloodshed stops.  And that’s what the Secretary‑General has been saying consistently, and I would certainly repeat that today.

Question:  Did you receive any reports about fighting between both sides, I mean, both sides using weapons?

Spokesperson:  We’re obviously aware.  And it is very clear that there is violence from both sides.  That is clear, and is obviously a cause for concern.  And that’s why the Secretary‑General has said the violence must stop.  But he has also made it clear that it really is incumbent on the Government of Syria to rein in its security forces and to stop the bloodshed right now.  Yes?

Question:  On this letter by the Iranian Government to the Secretary‑General, which you said yesterday [inaudible] he had received it, has there been a response at all what [inaudible] said, or you have just forwarded it to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  The latter, Masood.  We’ve forwarded it to the Security Council, and as I mentioned, to the General Assembly, and likewise a letter from the US authorities.

Question:  Basically the Secretary‑General had nothing to do with this, he is just acting as post office for…?

Spokesperson:  If you wish to put it that way, yes, in this particular case.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to… I am sorry, I… I’ve asked this a couple of times, but it’s been almost a week, so I wanted to know, may… I don’t know if you were there or not, but last Saturday there was an event in the South Korean Mission to the UN on 45th Street, and at least according to the New York Daily News, a… a… a reporter tried to ask Mr. Ban a question about… if… I guess about Korean pop stars that were in attendance and was… was… he… may… the reporter says, pushed back by security.  Doesn’t say if it’s UN security…

Spokesperson:  Actually, it doesn’t.  Actually…

Question:  What took place?

Spokesperson:  Matthew…

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Let’s get the facts straight.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  The story does not mention the word security at all.  The word it uses is handlers.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Right?

Question:  Who were the handlers?  That’s…

Spokesperson:  So, it’s nothing to do security, and it’s nothing to do, it’s nothing to do with our security colleagues, okay.  So, let’s get that absolutely straight.

Question:  Who pushed who?

Spokesperson:   So that’s the first point, to get the terminology straight, okay.  The second point is that there was no pushing, okay.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General, at the reception, spoke at some length, for about five minutes, in Korean, because this was a preponderantly Korean event about the importance of Korean popular culture, not just within Korea, but the way that it has had an important impact in other parts of Asia and beyond.  So, he spoke at some length about that, and mixed with the various stars that were there from the Korean pop scene.  And then he left the reception to head to another event, and did not take questions after that.  He’d spoken inside at the reception.

Question:  What about this… I mean, you’ve seen the report, I… I am [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Yes, and I have just answered the question, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  What’s the next question?

Question:  Yeah, because it doesn’t just say that he didn’t take the question, it says that the handlers pushed the reporter back.

Spokesperson:  And I just told you that that didn’t happen.

Question:  Okay.  So did you guys write to the Daily News and say it’s false? 

Spokesperson:  No, Matthew, I’m just telling you, okay?

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, this is a story that is a very small story, and I think that we just need to move on to the next question.

Question:  Okay, I mean, I don’t know if you will have a comment on this.  In the… the Third Committee this week, there was testimony by… by South Korea, Republic of Korea, talking about the use of comfort women by Japan in World War Two and gave rise to a number of rights of reply back and forth, it’s been covered pretty extensively and I just wanted to know, because it’s a… it’s a… it’s a hot‑button human rights issue whether the Secretary‑General has any view of, one, what happened in World War Two, and two, the… the… the… the… it’s… it’s being raised in the UN.  What should take place?  Is this… some say it’s… it’s… it’s too much time has gone by, others say it’s still yet to be resolved.  What’s his view?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a matter I think for the individual States concerned, okay.  I think it’s not really a matter for the Secretary-General to intervene in this particular matter.  He is an international civil servant in this particular aspect of this story.

Question:  But does he believe there has been accountability and appropriate dealing with this issue?  Forget that it arose in the Third Committee, just generally, it’s a high‑profile international issue.

Spokesperson:  I think this is something that has been around for many years, of course.  And it is a matter of considerable discussion amongst a number of countries in that region.  And it’s not something that I would particularly want to delve into here.

Question:  And in this… in this whistleblower thing, is… is this… is it a panel discussion, is there any [inaudible] to ask questions?

Spokesperson:  Correct.  There is a panel discussion.  I am not absolutely aware of the full logistics for it, the mechanics, I can find out and let you know.  But, ah yes, there is a question‑and‑answer session.  Yes, there is.  Yes.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, all right, okay.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  [inaudible] the Human Rights Watch published its recent report about human rights in Saudi Arabia, very critical about the treatment of minorities.  Recently, there have been clashes between the police and the protesters, peaceful protesters in Al‑Awamia, east of the province of Saudi Arabia.  Has the Secretary‑General or any [inaudible] related to UN been in touch with Saudi authorities about the situation there?  Have they established facts what’s going on or visited the prisoners in jails?

Spokesperson:  We’re obviously aware of the reports.  And if I have anything for you, Nizar, then I’d certainly let you know.  I don’t have anything at the moment, okay.

Okay, have a good weekend.  Thank you.

* **** *

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