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

18 November 2011

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

18 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 everybody, and welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General in Indonesia

The Secretary-General is in Bali today.  This morning, he met with representatives of the main UN agencies in Indonesia:  the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

He then addressed the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Business and Investment Summit, where he urged private sector leaders to support global efforts to improve women's and children's health.  The Secretary-General then held a series of meetings with the Indonesian Health Minister, the Foreign Minister of the Philippines and the Prime Minister of Cambodia.  The Secretary-General will attend the fourth summit between the United Nations and the Association of South-East Asian Nations tomorrow.  And then he will be returning to New York over the weekend.

** Liberia

In a press statement issued this morning, the members of the Security Council commended the people of Liberia on the completion of their presidential election of 8 November, which the Council said was free, fair and transparent.

Security Council members expressed their concern about the violent events of 7 November and welcomed the Liberian Government’s establishment of a special independent commission of inquiry to investigate the events.  They encouraged all Liberians to remain committed to the legitimate political process, to exercise maximum restraint and to work together to promote enduring peace and stability.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

The Deputy Secretary-General departs over this weekend on a visit to Ethiopia.  She will be in Addis Ababa to chair the twelfth session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism of United Nations agencies and organizations working in Africa.  There will be a strong focus on preparing for next year’s Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development. 

** Somalia

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, says that increased humanitarian assistance has had a significant impact in the famine-affected parts of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, bringing these areas out of famine.

However, he adds that any improvement can only be sustained if the current level of humanitarian assistance continues.  Famine persists in parts of the Middle Shabelle region and in the areas hosting internally displaced people in Mogadishu and along the Afgooye Corridor.  Malnutrition and mortality rates in many parts of southern Somalia continue to be the highest in the world.

Bowden says that if humanitarian activities are interrupted or reduced in southern Somalia, many areas will fall back into famine.  He says that humanitarian assistance covers about half of the needs of the population and must be increased.  In early December, the humanitarian community will launch an appeal for crucial funding for Somalia in 2012.

**Refugees — Horn of Africa

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that last month has seen the highest number of refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa arriving in Yemen by boat since it began compiling such data in January 2006.  More than 84,000 people have arrived by sea since January — and that’s more than the earlier annual record in 2009.  UNHCR adds that it expects the number for 2011 to grow further.  The refugee agency says it is concerned about an increasing trend of abductions, extortions, kidnappings and sexual assaults targeting refugees, and particularly Ethiopian migrants.

**Refugees — Sudan/South Sudan

And staying with the UN refugee agency for a moment, UNHCR says it is working to move refugees away from the border and to safer areas of South Sudan because of concerns about security. In Unity State, between 60 and 200 Sudanese refugees have been arriving daily at Yida camp. This is despite last week’s air strikes around Yida.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the deterioration of the security situation along South Sudan’s border this week is severely restricting relief operations.  It adds that an assessment of the security situation in Yida is expected to take place at the end of the week, before humanitarian actors can resume relief operations.

And the UN refugee agency has prepared a site for refugees further south in Unity State.  It is ready to assist in moving refugees who are willing to relocate as soon as roads affected by heavy rainfall become passable again.  But it adds that some refugees are reluctant to move and prefer to stay closer to their homes.

**Press Conferences

On Monday at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference to launch a joint MTV-UNICEF campaign on trafficking, exploitation and HIV.  Speakers will include Sofia Ioannou, the President of MTV Latin America, and Bernt Aasen, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

And then at noon, the guest will be Bertil Lindblad, Director of the New York Office of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Anita?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  An unrelated issue.  As we head into the US presidential campaign, we’re seeing the Republican candidates are… there has been a lot of bashing of the UN at some of these debates, and there is going to be a debate on Tuesday focusing specifically on foreign affairs, so I suppose we can expect more of this.  I am just wondering, has your Office said anything about this and are there concerns that if one of these candidates is elected, it could change the relationship between the UN and the United States?

Spokesperson:  We haven’t, I think for obvious reasons, commented on the run-up to the presidential election campaign here any more than we would in any other country.  I think, as a matter of principle and as is extremely well known, the United States is an important Member State in the United Nations and its role is highly appreciated, and we would assume that that important role would continue under any administration.  Okay, further questions?  Yeah?

Question:  On this situation in Egypt, the Secretary-General has been very eloquent about his support of the Arab Spring and the countries thereof.  Now reports are coming over again and again that Egypt’s military is now, I mean, trying to have a stranglehold on the body politic of Egypt, and the elections that were scheduled for September have now been set out till, I think, 2013.  So has the Secretary-General got to say anything, because this… there was a huge mass demonstration today at Tahrir Square once again, and again it threatens to be going out of control?

Spokesperson:  As I think I mentioned to you before, Masood, it is an important question, you’re quite right.  I think the main point here is that transition in Egypt, or indeed in any of the other countries where we have seen developments unfold so rapidly this year, is never going to be easy.  There are likely to be complications along the way.  But the important thing is that the Egyptian people have said very clearly what they want, which is change.  And that change is under way.  And the United Nations is there to assist to the extent that the Egyptian people request that help.  So, as I say, it is a transition.  Transitions are never, by definition, going to be smooth.  But the United Nations system is there to support where assistance is required and requested.

Question:  You’re right, but it seems that this transition is going to take forever the way… first it was going to happen this September, now instead of postponing it, they postpone it three years, and as… is there [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, forever compared with what?

Question:  …caveat to them that this is, or something like that, that the international community…?

Spokesperson:  Forever compared with what, Masood?  If you are looking at where Egypt has come from and where other countries have come from in a short space of time, you can see that enormous progress has been made.  When it comes to elections, when it comes to an electoral process, that can be quite complicated and involved and quite technical, particularly if there hasn’t been a track record of holding free, fair and transparent elections in the past.  So, speaking generally as a principle, the United Nations system is there to assist where requested and we will continue to do that.

Question:  Moving to a winter of discontent in the United States, I mean there have been…

Spokesperson:  Is it winter already?

Question:  [laughter] Approaching winter, okay, let’s put it this way.  What I am saying is, in New York yesterday when there were demonstrations — thousands and thousands of people demonstrating — I mean, at least 400 to 500 have been arrested all over the United States, and not only in New York in particular; people have been beaten.  Do you have anything to say about this at all, on the part of the United Nations, because you are quick to say something about Egypt and Sudan and places like that?  What about the United States? 

Spokesperson:  Well, I have answered similar questions on that from Matthew a number of times already.

Correspondent:  Matthew has been asking, yes, absolutely.

Spokesperson:  So I mean the answer is that peaceful protest is a universal right and people have that right to protest peacefully.  And rule of law is an equally important principle as well.  What I would also say is that the Secretary-General has said repeatedly — and not just focusing on the Arab Spring — that people are frustrated.  I mean he’s said that, as I mentioned in his message on the International Day of Tolerance, that all this flux that is taking place around the world and all this churning creates enormous anxiety.  And, for example, in his letter to the G-20 leaders, he said that the gathering force of public protest is a popular expression of an obvious fact that growing economic uncertainty, market volatility and mounting inequality have reached a point of crisis.  And he was appealing to leaders to show leadership in dealing with these multiple crises.  Public protests that are peaceful are a universally accepted right.  And rule of law is also an important principle.  Okay, other questions?  Yes?

Question:  I had some… I have like Sudan, Somalia and Sri Lanka.  But I want to ask one follow-up on that, just to make… to understand what… when you say, you know, peaceful protest is allowed but the rule of law is equally important.  Yesterday, what took place is people did a sit-in; they sat down peacefully at [inaudible] various corners around the New York Stock Exchange, trying to express their outrage at bailouts and various things and, you know, many people witnessed and there is film of it.  They were violently arrested, including the use of batons and blood streaming down the face.  So is a sit-in, which is disruptive but doesn’t use violence, is that the type of non-violent protest that is allowed, and is the use of batons and in the case of the eviction, a sound canon, things like this, who in the UN is sort of monitoring?  Your deputy seems to have said well if they are doing it they must need to do it.  He said that once.  He has also said, you know, well, I will leave it at that one.  He basically said the use of police projectiles in Oakland must have been justified because the authorities did it, which is not the approach used elsewhere.  So how do you bring these principles you have enunciated down to what is actually taking place, including the critical injury of a protester in Oakland?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you are conflating a number of things here, but just to answer the point, rule of law is extremely important and it will depend in any setting on what are the laws that apply.  And it is not for me or for others to interfere in what legislation is in place, what court orders may be in place in any given setting.  Just to reiterate that the peaceful protest is a right; rule of law is equally important.  And that’s where we are.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  One is on Somalia.  Kenya is obviously already openly inside the country, but there are now reports a Somali official has been quoted that Ethiopia has also crossed the border to open a new front against Al-Shabaab.  And I just wonder, you gave an update from Mr. Bowden, but does Mr. Mahiga think it is a good thing Ethiopia is entering?  Who is monitoring this?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure that our colleagues in the UN mission based in Nairobi would be keeping an eye on developments in Somalia, including on the humanitarian front, as I just read out and as you have referred to.  I will see if there is anything further that’s coming from our colleagues there today.  I am not aware of anything further.

Question:  There’re reports of Sudan bombing in Southern Kordofan, pretty detailed reports of the bombing of four villages yesterday.  And I know that there used to be an UNMIS peacekeeping mission that’s not any more, but is there any ability by the UN to either, you know, verify or accept these reports?  What’s the UN doing to either monitor or speak out if these reports are true of the bombing of villages in Southern Kordofan?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you — and I think you know this — you’ve answered your own question.  We don’t have a presence there and we don’t have a mandate there.  We would like to have a presence, but we do not.  And therefore it is very difficult to verify reports that there are.  We are aware of the reports, but verifying them is rather difficult if you don’t have a presence on the ground.

Question:  I know you don’t like comparing things, but, for example, in Syria, I know there is some UN presence, but it seems that the UN accepts NGOs and others’ reports of deaths in Syria at face value.  You don’t say you can’t confirm them, you say we condemn these things that have taken place in Homs and Hama.  Are these witnessed by the UN or do you accept others’ reports on this?

Spokesperson:  Again, I think what is important here is that we had a mission and therefore an ability to monitor and report.  We don’t, and therefore that makes it very difficult to do.  We are aware of reports the same as you are, and obviously try to confirm or to deny them where we can, or at least to find out whether they are true or not.  But that’s very difficult when you don’t have a presence.  Other questions, please?  Okay, have a…

Question:  Can I ask a question about [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you can, and that’s the last question!

Question:  General Fonseka has now been sentenced to three years in jail, specifically for saying publicly that the Defence Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ordered the killing of surrendering Tamil Tiger rebels, and since the Secretary-General has taken, you know, some interest, you know — I won’t go through the May 2009 — what does he think of this?  Obviously his being imprisoned for alleging a war crime that in a sense the Secretary-General’s own Panel of Experts report says should be investigated.  So what does the Secretary-General say about the imprisonment of a major opposition figure for alleging war crimes?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s your characterization of this individual.  We don’t have any comments.  If that changes, I’ll let you know, but we don’t have anything on it.

Question:  Do you dispute that he is a major opposition figure or why he was sentenced?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I am simply saying we don’t have any comment on this, and should that change, I will let you know.  All right, have a good weekend everybody.  Thank you.

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