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

25 November 2011

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

25 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.

**Violence against Women

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, is in West Africa, where she visited Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire.

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, she called on people to stand in solidarity with the survivors of sexual violence in conflict throughout the world.  She said that these survivors, mainly women and girls, have lived through unspeakable horrors at the hands of armed groups who deliberately and systematically use rape as a tactic of terror.

Ms. Wallström added that women can only reach their full potential when they feel safe.  Underlying attitudes about the rights of women will only change when people everywhere work together to change them.

As you know, the Secretary-General marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women with a commemoration on Wednesday.  And you can find issued today his message on this occasion, in which he says that the right of women and girls to live free of violence is inalienable and fundamental.

** Bahrain

We put out a statement yesterday afternoon about the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a copy of which was given to the Secretary-General on Wednesday by the Permanent Representative of Bahrain to the United Nations.  We will closely study that report and its follow-through.

The Secretary-General calls on the Government to ensure the report’s recommendations are implemented as a meaningful step in addressing serious allegations of human rights violations.  He hopes the report’s issuance and implementation will help to create the conditions in Bahrain for all-inclusive dialogue, reconciliation and reforms that will meet the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, has strongly condemned the series of attacks that took place yesterday in Basra, which have claimed the lives of dozens of victims and wounded many more.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and the authorities of Basra, as well as the Government of Iraq.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those who were wounded.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Lebanon

The Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, was in Tyre yesterday to commemorate Lebanon’s Independence Day, and she delivered remarks celebrating the United Nations partnership with Lebanon.  She said that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been helping to create a window of opportunity for establishing a permanent ceasefire and finding a long-term solution to the conflict.  And she said that the United Nations is there for the people of Lebanon and will never leave them to the mercy of brutal forces seeking to undermine peace.  Her remarks are posted online.

** Sudan

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports population movements of more than 75,000 people from Sudan into neighbouring South Sudan and Ethiopia since August.  The refugee agency is concerned that many of those who have moved due to fighting in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile States are now located in extremely remote locations in South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity States, where humanitarian assistance can only be provided by helicopter.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to encourage people to relocate from the Yida refugee site in Unity State to safer sites further south away from the border area, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  In western Ethiopia, the majority of the 36,000 refugees who arrived since August remain close to the border and approximately half of them have been transferred to camps.  The refugee agency believes that the number of persons moving from Sudan to the two countries could reach 100,000 in the coming weeks if the trend continues.

** Pakistan

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that a quarter of the more than 5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance following floods in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces are women, and half are children, according to a recently completed joint UN-Government needs assessment.

Around 660,000 people in Sindh and 84,000 in Balochistan remain displaced.  With 797,000 homes either destroyed or damaged, many of the estimated 1.2 million returnees had gone back to homes that either needed to be repaired or entirely rebuilt.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs continues to call for full funding of its humanitarian appeal as soon as possible.  To date, only $129 million of the $357 million requested, or 36 per cent, has been received.

**Press Conferences Monday

At 9:30 on Monday morning, you are invited to a press conference which will be piped into this room from Geneva, for the release of the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  The authors — Paulo Pinheiro, the Chairperson, Yakin Ertürk and Karen Koning AbuZayd — will present the report.

And then at noon, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will be the guest, to talk about her recent mission to the Central African Republic.

Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, first, how does the Secretary-General view these developments in Syria?  Some reports are talking about training in Turkey, night-vision equipment coming from Jordan and other reports of infiltrators going and carrying out military operations inside Syria across the borders.  How does he view the situation?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General continues to be extremely concerned about the violence inside Syria and the number of people who have been killed, and I would expect to have something further to say a little bit later.

Question:  How about the situation in Saudi Arabia?  There are reports that four people in the last few days… four people have been killed, many injured, clerics being taken to jail and people, just for taking pictures of what is happening, were arrested.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.  If that changes, I’ll let you know, Nizar.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Syria.  The Arab League said it was going to ask for UN support to proceed with its plan.  Has a request been made and do you have any details of what they are asking for?

Spokesperson:  Again, as I just mentioned to Nizar, I would expect to have something further to say particularly on that point a little bit later, but I don’t have it right now.  Thanks for asking.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I’ve got a few questions.  One is on Yemen.  Remember how on Wednesday the Secretary-General said that Ali [Abdullah] Saleh would be coming to New York for medical treatment and that the immunity provisions hadn’t been discussed in detail?  So now he is… it looks like Mr. Saleh is staying in Saudi Arabia.  His Foreign Minister has said he will stay there and may or may not come to New York.  And also the deal has been described as an immunity deal and there have been protests against it, including five people shot and killed, and I am just wondering what is the UN’s sort of follow-up.  Is it an immunity deal and is there some change since the call that the Secretary-General had with Mr. Saleh?

Spokesperson:  Well, just on the travel arrangements, as I think you will recall, as you were actually there at the time, the Secretary-General was reporting what the President had said to him.  Ultimately, it is up to the President or former President to travel as he sees fit.  The Secretary-General was simply relaying what had been said to him during that telephone conversation.  As for the question of impunity, the UN has a clear position against impunity that we have articulated previously here.  And that position hasn’t changed.  And also as you know, Mr. Benomar, Jamal Benomar, will be briefing the Council and he will be speaking about a number of topics in that regard.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  Can you update us to where the Secretary-General stands on the deteriorating situation in Egypt and the position of Navi Pillay of the Human Rights Council?

Spokesperson:  The position of Navi Pillay on what?  On Egypt?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Well, likewise, I am excepting to have something further to say on Egypt shortly.  I don’t have that right now.  And obviously with regard to what the High Commissioner has said, she has a very clear view on this, and the Secretary-General has also expressed his views and they are very much in tandem on that.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  On Syria, too?

Spokesperson:  Right.  My apologies; as I say, I do anticipate having something fairly soon on both Syria and Egypt.

Question:  And Saudi Arabia?

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  And Saudi Arabia?

Spokesperson:  If I have something, then I’ll certainly let you know.

Question:  These incidents have been going on for several days and I asked about this two days ago.

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s right, Nizar, and as we say each time, if we have something, we will let you know, all right.

Question:  How do you view the reaction… after the report came out regarding Bahrain atrocities, the police have increased its crackdown on the protesters there?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Secretary-General’s statement that we put out yesterday is quite clear and I don’t need to elaborate further on that.  It is quite clear.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I have some questions, one is about Somalia.  You’d said on Wednesday that Mr. [Augustine] Mahiga was, you know, waiting for this IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] meeting.  It has taken place and it is pretty much at least confirmed Ethiopian involvement, although it didn’t confirm that they had crossed the border, although many people report it.  I just wonder, given the past impact of Ethiopia entering Somalia, the reaction of the populace to it.  Doesn’t the UN, with an envoy, have some view of whether this is a good thing or should it come to the Council?  Is it a positive step for Somalia to have the military involvement of its close and contentious neighbour?

Spokesperson:  Well, it is not for me to say what should or should not be discussed by the Council; that’s for the Council to decide.  As for the meeting that took place, the IGAD meeting that you are referring to, obviously we are aware of that and we are looking at that.  I don’t have our readout of that yet.

Question:  Sure, sure, I just want to clarify.  I am not asking you to say what they should discuss, I am saying, as sort of, in upholding the UN Charter, should the entry militarily of one country into another… previous Secretary-Generals have spoken on that point, so I think it’s fair… I am just wondering if there is any statement by this Secretary-General on this incursion.

Spokesperson:  Yes I do, I do, and I think as we have mentioned, with regard to Kenya, there was a clear understanding between the countries concerned.  And again, I await a readout of the meeting that’s been taking place today.

Question:  Sure.  And on climate, have you seen… I am sure you’ve seen this report in the Financial Times that the US and Saudi Arabia have said that they will not sign on to the Green Climate Fund.  Since this is so central to what the Secretary-General has been saying, what does he think?  Does he have any comment on that?  Does he think they should sign on?  Is this a propitious development?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has spoken on a number of occasions, including quite recently, on what can happen and should happen at the climate change talks that will be taking place in Durban.  And obviously the Green Climate Fund is a part of that.  But also, there are discussions going on not just on that topic, but on other topics with different countries staking out different positions.  So I think we need to wait and see how it plays out.  But the importance of that and some of the other matters that we have referred to, like technology transfer, for example, and the future of the Kyoto Protocol as some kind of follow-on mechanism, the Secretary-General has been clear about the importance of those, and will be keen to push those in the right direction to the extent that it is possible.

Question:  Do you have any, maybe one you might have prepared and the other I am assuming that you wouldn’t, but on Sri Lanka, it’s been now widely reported that the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report is out.  The Government has said that maybe a small number of civilians were killed, which is quite at odds with what the Panel of Experts has said, and they have started announcing some steps, and I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General thinks those steps are sufficient.  What does he think should happen next?  Should that report be released?  Is he watching for its release?  Does he have any response to it?

Spokesperson:  I think the bottom line here is simply that national accountability is always the most important, and it remains to be seen how this will unfold.  But national accountability is absolutely crucial.

I do now have something on Syria.  As I mentioned, the Secretary-General remains extremely concerned at the escalating crisis and mounting death toll in Syria.  He welcomes the efforts of the League of Arab States to end the bloodshed and promote a political solution.  These efforts need to be encouraged and supported.  The Secretary-General welcomes in particular the Arab League's proposal to send an observer mission to protect civilians in Syria, and strongly urges the Syrian authorities to give their consent and full cooperation, as demanded by the League.

As invited by the Arab League and the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Secretary-General is ready to provide the support needed in accordance with his functions and within the framework of the UN’s cooperation with the League of Arab States.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is in contact with the secretariat of the League of Arab States in this regard.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  But we don’t hear any remark here regarding the use of weapons by the insurgents against the military.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General remains extremely concerned at the escalating crisis and mounting death toll in Syria.  And he also welcomes the efforts of the League of Arab States to end the bloodshed and promote a political solution.  So I think this covers quite a lot of ground.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Does that mean the Arab League has specifically asked for help, the help they want for this observer mission, then?

Spokesperson:  Well, the fact that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is in contact with the secretariat of the League of Arab States means that that is one particular angle.  The other details, as it says, would be within the framework of the UN’s cooperation with the League of Arab States, which is something that is enshrined, that’s under Chapter VIII of the Charter, cooperation with regional organizations, and also, excuse me, if I recall correctly, there is also a General Assembly resolution that specifically addresses cooperation between the League of Arab States and the Secretariat of the United Nations.  Okay, thanks.

Question:  I have one more question.

Spokesperson:  Patrick, and then the last question.  Yes, Patrick?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any view on what I think is a French proposal for a humanitarian corridor into Syria?

Spokesperson:  We are aware of it, and that’s as much as I have at the moment, Patrick.  We’re certainly aware of that proposal from the French authorities.  I think, as you can see, we are in touch with the League of Arab States on what is coming out of their meeting just yesterday.  And I think that is the focus at the moment.  Yes, Matthew, last question?

Question:  Okay.  And maybe you will have something now or maybe you can get something.  There is this project called Massive Good that was announced in this room with some fanfare to raise money for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis.  At least it’s reported, and it’s on kind of a travel website that it is reported, that the plug has been pulled by the Millennium Foundation, that it raised only $300,000 during its lifetime despite an investment of some $11 million into it.  And the article itself says it was launched with much fanfare involving Ban Ki-moon.  Is it true?  One, has the plug been pulled? And two, what statement does the Secretary-General have on the problems that seems to beset this well-meaning initiative?

Spokesperson:  I have to find out.  I don’t know, Matthew.  We’ll check.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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