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

10 November 2011

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

10 November 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.

**Secretary-General at General Assembly

The Secretary-General spoke at an informal plenary of the General Assembly this morning and discussed his participation last week in the Group of 20 (G‑20) Summit in Cannes.

He said that the repercussions of the Greek crisis and the threat of contagion to other Eurozone economies had dominated the event.  He said that he nonetheless gave a consistent message to leaders:  Do not overlook the most vulnerable people.  Live up to past pledges.  And recognize that investment in the poor is smart investment, for all.

The Secretary-General noted that the G‑20 leaders welcomed his Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  He also called on the G‑20 countries to ensure that disagreements on the design of the new Green Climate Fund are resolved before the climate conference in Durban, so it can be launched.

The Secretary-General will shortly also discuss with the Assembly his recent visit to Libya, along with the General Assembly President.  And during that trip, the Secretary-General assured everyone of the commitment of the United Nations to assist as requested in holding elections.  He also affirmed the UN’s commitment to assisting in efforts to promote transitional justice and national reconciliation, and to ensure public security, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

On Saturday, 12 November, the Secretary-General will depart for a three-country visit to South-East Asia, which will take him to Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia.

A key purpose of his visit is to showcase the progress and leadership of these countries in advancing women’s and children’s health in the context of the “Every Woman, Every Child” effort he initiated in 2010.  He will conclude his trip in Bali with the fourth summit between the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  The Secretary-General will return to New York on Sunday, 20 November.

**Kosovo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Farid Zarif, has strongly condemned the shooting incidents that occurred yesterday in the northern part of Mitrovica.  One person died and two other people were wounded in the violence.  Mr. Zarif said that the violence was completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated, adding that it could threaten Kosovo’s peace and security.  He called on the competent authorities, as well as the European Union mission (EULEX), to launch a full investigation into all of the circumstances relating to the incident and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

** Yemen

The UN Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, arrived in Yemen today and is continuing his efforts aimed at encouraging an inclusive transition process that meets the needs and aspirations of all Yemenis.  Mr. Benomar is expected to remain in the country for a week.  He will report back to the Secretary-General, who has been requested to inform the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 2014 (2011).

**Security Council

This morning the General Assembly and the Security Council are meeting to elect five judges of the International Court of Justice.  So far, Giorgio Gaja of Italy, Hisashi Owada of Japan, Peter Tomka of Slovakia, and Ms. Xue Hanqin of China have been elected.  The vote is taking place now for the remaining judge.  This afternoon, the Security Council will meet in closed consultations to discuss Sudan and South Sudan.

** Somalia

In Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that humanitarian organizations are deeply concerned over the potential impact of the recent escalation in the conflict in southern Somalia.  The Office reports that people have started fleeing their homes in Afgooye, Kismayo, Baidoa and Marka, as well as other towns in southern Somalia, following declarations that they will soon face aerial strikes.  It adds that the number of Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia in October is nearly double that recorded in September.

** South-East Asia Floods

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that flooding in many parts of South-East Asia remains dire.  It says that nearly 1,000 people have died since the crisis began four months ago.  Nearly 9 million people have been affected by torrential rains and overflowing rivers.

**South Sudan

I was asked yesterday about the arrest of a journalist working for the Sudan Tribune.  The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) informs us that its Human Rights officers are currently following up on that arrest.  The Mission also notes that the transitional constitution of South Sudan clearly states that it protects freedom of the press.

Questions, please.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you indicated, the Secretary-General pledged UN assistance to Libya in the election area, as well as in the justice system and human rights.  What about the reconstruction of the country?  Has he said anything regarding the rebuilding of the infrastructures, as they related to roads and buildings and old facilities?

Spokesperson:  This is clearly an enormous undertaking for the international community as a whole.  The mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is carefully set out and covers the areas that we have spoken about — rule of law, security and, for example, helping with elections to the extent that the Libyan people ask us to do so.  And also, as you know, it has dealt with, and will continue to deal with, the question of weapons, which are of course available in abundance, unfortunately.  The question of reconstruction of the infrastructure goes well beyond that mandate and is something for the international community to look at as a whole, and obviously for the people of Libya to look at as a whole.  And as you will recall, the National Transitional Council (NTC) members who met with the Secretary-General appealed to him to spell out to Security Council members the need to unfreeze frozen assets, and the Secretary-General undertook to do precisely that; to raise this with Council members and the rest of the membership of the United Nations.  And that’s obviously a key part of this.  But it is much broader than the Mission we have in place at the moment.  Okay, other questions, please?  Masood, and then I’m coming to you, Carla, yeah?

Question:  I want to ask a question about the IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Pakistan.  I mean, we haven’t had anything from the OCHA.  The thing is that, according to one report, they reckon almost 3 million IDPs are roaming now in Pakistan, now they have literally given up.  No international… the only help that was coming earlier was from the United Nations and several other NGOs [non-governmental organizations], but now everything has disappeared and they are now helpless.  Has OCHA done any assessment lately on Pakistan, especially in Sindh province?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get an update for you.  But I would be sure that the UN family as a whole, whether it is the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or other parts of the UN system, would still be there helping.  I think that the key problem that has been identified repeatedly is that the appeal is under-funded.  That there needs to be a greater injection of cash into that fund to be able to help the people on the ground who are clearly still suffering, as you’ve pointed out. I’ll try to get an update for you.

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any update on the situation in Yemen?  I know the Secretary-General’s Special Representative arrived there earlier this morning, I mean, Yemen time.  Will you be having any update…?

Spokesperson:  Not beyond what I have just mentioned, which is that Mr. Benomar has indeed arrived there and will be there for a week.  He will report back to the Secretary-General who, as you know, will then report further to the Council.  Yes, Nizar?   I beg your pardon, Carla, then Nizar, yeah?

Question:  Kosovo, is there any indication what the cause of this latest outbreak of violence is?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, the Special Representative has said that it is incumbent on the competent authorities to launch a full investigation into the circumstances relating to the incident.  So that’s something that still has to take place to establish precisely what happened.  But the fact remains that one person died, two people were wounded, and that’s obviously unacceptable and raises tensions in an already tense area.  Okay, yes, Nizar?

Question:  Can you tell us what was the meeting between Mr. Amr Moussa and the Secretary-General yesterday about?

Spokesperson:  Sure.  As we said, the Secretary-General was meeting yesterday and did meet yesterday with Mr. Amr Moussa, who as you know is former Secretary-General of League of Arab States.  They discussed current developments in the Middle East and North Africa region, including in Egypt.  That’s what I have, okay?

Question:  Was Syria on the agenda of the discussion?

Spokesperson:  They discussed current developments in the Middle East and North Africa region, including in Egypt.  I think that you would be able to read into that coverage of the region what you will, okay?.

Question:  I have another question regarding the situation in Libya.  How do you describe the return of the people?  Has there been any repatriation of the refugees from Tunisia, from Egypt, from other countries?

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check with my colleagues from UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and other parts of the UN system to get an update on that.  Clearly, there have been concerns expressed about this, so let me look into it, okay?  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I have questions on Sudan and whistleblowers.  But, I wanted to know whether you had an answer from two days ago about the Haiti filing, whether there is a standing committee of claims and also on the public financial disclosure, you’d said there would be some response to the lack of filing?  So, I am wondering if there is a response on either of those two yet.

Spokesperson:  Well, the response has gone in the form of a letter to the Executive Editor, Mr. [George] Russell, at Fox News who wrote the original story.  That’s a letter from the Director of the Ethics Office.  If you are interested, I am happy to make that available to you.

Question:  I’d like to ask about… okay, go ahead… on Haiti.

Spokesperson:  Yes, on Haiti, I think we need to be quite clear that in all peacekeeping missions there will be a status-of-forces agreement with the host authorities.  And in each case, there is a provision for such a standing committee.  It is something of a misnomer, if you like, because it doesn’t mean that it exists all the time and you set it up.  It can be set up if necessary.  So that doesn’t mean that it has to be set up from the beginning of a mission.  It is a mechanism that is available.  There are other mechanisms available also.  And as we mentioned, the letter has been received by the Secretary-General and is being looked at by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and also by the OLA — Office for Legal Affairs — and we don’t really have any further comment at this stage because they are studying that letter.

Question:  No, and I appreciate that.  The only question… I just hear you saying it can be set up, but was it set up?  Like their filing… forget their filing for a moment, just factually, does a standing committee on claims exist at MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti]?

Spokesperson:  No standing claims commission exists in any peacekeeping operation.  It’s a mechanism that is available, but there are other mechanisms too.  That’s why I say, don’t be misled by the word “standing”; it does not imply that something should be set up from the start.  It’s a mechanism that is available, amongst others.  But as I say, the letter is being studied by DPKO and OLA.

Question:  And on this… this is a…?

Spokesperson:  Let me just see; there are other questions, then I am very happy to come back to you, Matthew.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Is the SG or anyone within the UN leadership reaching out to Iran about this latest report on the nuclear programme?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is of course that, as we all know that the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has circulated an updated report on the Islamic Republic of Iran for consideration at the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors, and a copy has also been submitted to the Security Council.  The Secretary-General has received a copy of this report.  The Secretary-General notes with serious concern information that indicates Iran has carried out activities that point to a possible military dimension to its nuclear programme.  He emphasizes again that the onus is on Iran to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.  He reiterates his call for Iran’s compliance with all the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The Secretary-General reiterates his belief that a negotiated rather than a military solution is the only way to resolve this issue.

Question:  He’s not made contact with anyone in Teheran?

Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that’s the case at this point.  But, I would simply reiterate the points that have been made here that the onus is on Iran to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme and he has reiterated the call for Iran’s compliance with the resolutions.  But equally he said that he reiterates his belief that a negotiated rather than a military solution is the only way to resolve this issue.  Okay, all right.  So I am coming back to you Matthew, yes?

Question:  Sure, Sudan and then whistleblowers?

Spokesperson:  Yeah.

Question:  On Sudan, there is this report of the Sudanese Air Force bombing inside South Sudan, that is across the border on an IDP camp, I mean, a refugee camp, actually, and it says 12 people are killed; and I am wondering, can the UN confirm that?  It’s in Unity State, is the peacekeeping Mission present, what does it say about these reports?

Spokesperson:  We are certainly aware of the reports, and we’ve asked the Mission to give us an update.  I don’t have an update at this point, but I will anticipate receiving something.

Question:  And the other question, it’s about this letter, I am sure you’re probably aware what the question is.  There is a letter from the head, the President of the UN Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) to the General Assembly opposing many… a report by the Secretary-General which says that, going forward, whistleblowers should not be able to appeal adverse decision by the Ethics Office to the UN Dispute Tribunal, saying that decisions of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] should not be appealable and the court… the judges all together have said this is wrong and that the report gives a misleading presentation of the jurisprudence of the UNDT.  So I am wondering, especially on the whistleblower question, where it seems to remove any possibility for a whistleblower to kind of pursue their claims, what’s the Secretary-General’s response to it and what… particularly on the whistleblower question, I guess I’d say, if it is important that people be able to come forward with wrongdoing?

Spokesperson:  I have a rather extensive answer, which I am not going to read out to you here.  But I am very happy to give it to you after this, and also we’ll attach it to the transcript so that other people can read it.  But I certainly have something that I can provide for you.  Okay, yes, and then, Mr. Abbadi, last question.

[The Spokesperson later said that this issue relates to whether the actions of certain independent entities established within the United Nations should be subject to judicial review.

The General Assembly has established a number of independent entities — the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Ethics Office and the Ombudsman — to ensure accountability and to resolve disputes within the Organization.  However, in order for these entities to perform their functions effectively, the General Assembly has stressed that these entities are to act independently and, in particular, independently of the Secretary-General.  Since the General Assembly limited the Dispute Tribunal’s jurisdiction to “administrative decisions”, that is, decisions taken by the Secretary-General, it is reasonable to ask whether the Secretary-General should be held legally and financial liable for decisions over which he has no control.

Moreover, we note that in the same letter where the Dispute Tribunal expresses concern about challenging the decisions of independent entities, the Dispute Tribunal also states (in paragraph 24 of its letter) that “it is a universal principle inherent to the independence and integrity of the judiciary that judges should enjoy personal immunity in the exercise of their judicial functions”.  We absolutely agree with granting this immunity to judges, because an important public policy objective is to be served by such immunity.  Judges would not be able to properly exercise their important judicial functions if they are subjected to the constant threat of litigation over the manner in which they manage their courtrooms or conduct their confidential deliberations. 

These same considerations apply to the functions of the Ethics Office, OIOS and the Ombudsman, all of which conduct critical investigatory and dispute resolution functions for the Organization.  The exercise of judicial review over the actions of independent entities would have very real trade-offs for the manner in which these entities are able to conduct their functions.  If the Dispute Tribunal were to suspend the investigations of OIOS, this would deprive the United Nations of a valuable independent mechanism of accountability.  Staff members may stop going to the Ethics Office or to the Ombudsman to report information on a confidential basis, if they know that in the future, they will have to testify before the Dispute Tribunal about the information they reported.  It is for the General Assembly to consider whether the exercise of judicial review by the Tribunals outweighs the chilling effects that such review would have on the functioning of these independent entities.]

Question:  One question, if I may.  I’m a little intrigued by this, your response to somebody’s question about a journalist in Sudan being killed.  The reason why I am asking you this…

Spokesperson:  Arrested, it was a journalist arrested in South Sudan.

Question:  Arrested.  The reason why I am asking you this question is because every time I have asked the question, you have always referred it to UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], that this is not the mandate of the… it is a mandate of UNESCO to comment on killing, arrests and assassinations.

Spokesperson:  Well, no, well that’s not strictly true…

Question: Is there a particular reason?  And I am just saying, because we can… if there is one reason, I can then ask questions about what is happening, as well.

Spokesperson:  The point here, Masood, is that there is a UN Mission in South Sudan that has a mandate that covers the area that we are talking about, which includes human rights, and clearly there are human rights officers within the Mission, and they are looking into it.  That’s why I was able to provide some information on that, because there is a mission in place.  That doesn’t mean that, more broadly speaking, the rights of journalists are not covered by UNESCO; they are.  But there is a specific mission; that’s why I was able to provide you with some information on that.  Mr. Abbadi, last question?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Did the Quartet have any plans for meeting after its envoys met separately with the parties?

Spokesperson:  I understand that there is a follow-up meeting planned at envoy level.  And I’d be happy to find out to give you some more details on that afterwards.

Okay, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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