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

16 December 2011

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

16 December 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

Speaking at a high‑level conference on the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) this morning, the Secretary‑General said that the Fund has far exceeded expectations since it was launched by the General Assembly five years ago.

He said that the Fund has disbursed more than $2 billion in assistance, making it one of the largest sources of humanitarian funding in the world.  It is flexible and responsive to the needs of the people, the Secretary‑General said.  He appealed for continued contributions of resources, which are literally life or death for hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people.  The Secretary‑General’s full remarks are available on our website.

** Yemen

Jamal Benomar, the Secretary‑General’s Special Adviser for Yemen, delivered a press statement in Sana’a today describing his seventh visit to the country this year.  He said that, during his visit, he met with hundreds of Yemenis from all walks of life and from all political affiliations.

Mr. Benomar said that he was pleased to see progress on the implementation of the November Agreement.  Preparations are underway for early presidential elections on 21 February.  Serious commitment from all sides will be required to make these inroads to stability a success, and the UN will continue its close engagement and monitor its progress.

Mr. Benomar said that, at the end of his visit, he remains hopeful, despite the many challenges that lie ahead.  He said that the Agreement provides for new inclusive institutions and processes and opens the way for reform that can meet expectations of those calling for change.  At this critical juncture in Yemen’s history, he added, the United Nations remains steadfast in our support to the Yemeni people.  And we have his full statement in our office.

**Security Council

The Security Council is hearing a briefing on the work of the Sudan Sanctions Committee, in its closed consultations this morning.  Council members will also hear an update from the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, on some recent developments.  He is expected to talk to the Council about a recent technical assessment mission to the Sahel, as well as about the situation in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf.

**South Sudan

The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, has welcomed the call made by the country’s Vice‑President to end violence in Jonglei and engage in a reconciliatory peace process.  She said communities in the area needed to join together to put an end to the cycle of violence.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is also calling on all the actors involved in this crisis to uphold their commitments to stop further escalation of violence and resolve their differences through constructive and peaceful dialogue.  The UN Mission has been assisting efforts to prevent and mitigate conflict in Jonglei State.  The Mission also continues to support and promote reconciliation between the various communities, and in particular the inclusive peace process led by the Sudan Council of Churches.

And yesterday in Washington, D.C., Hilde Johnson was attending the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan, and she also welcomed the Government’s commitment to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, saying it was an important measure to improve governance.

** Haiti

I was asked yesterday about allegations against peacekeepers in Fort Dimanche, Haiti.  The UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, informs us that it was made aware of these allegations through the press, following a press conference by the Réseau National de Défense des droits humains.  The Mission is doing everything it can to establish the facts as soon as possible.  It reiterates its zero‑tolerance policy regarding misconduct by its personnel and it will examine all allegations with the utmost seriousness.

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

I was also asked about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) yesterday, and the Agency has some more information to provide in answer to yesterday’s questions.  It says that the General Assembly has given UNRWA a humanitarian and human development mandate for Palestine refugees until there is a just and durable solution.  The Agency does not have a political role in the resolution of the Palestine refugee issue, and therefore cannot be held responsible for its protracted nature or the lack of a political solution.  I’d also note that only the General Assembly can change the mandate of the Relief and Works Agency.

**Cafeteria

And finally, I was asked yesterday about whether the cafeteria in this building would be closing for some time, and we have available in our office a note to correspondents, saying that the cafeteria will suspend operations from 26 December until 30 June 2012.

The management of staff resources assigned to the ARAMARK operations at the UN is the responsibility of the contractor.  However, the company has indicated that, in line with its arrangements with the union, the employees affected by the closure of the cafeteria will be the first to be rehired upon the reopening of the facility scheduled for July 2012.  The UN also understands that these employees will be called upon to service any catering events that will occur in the interim.

And like I said, the full note is available in our office.  And we also have the Week Ahead.

That’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  I am sure you must have given a statement also on this situation in occupied Palestine, sorry, occupied Jerusalem, and that… where a mosque was desecrated by the extremists, settlers, and before that, or I mean in that same area, some graves were desecrated and so forth.  Does the Secretary‑General or any Human Rights Council can be referred to, as to go and look into the situation that is happening continuously?  It is not… it has now become a pattern and it is now being condoned by the Israeli Government.  What is wrong?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as condoning, the information we have received is that the Israeli Government is trying to take action to prevent such desecration.  And we would appreciate that.  We are monitoring the events on the ground through the office of the UN Special Coordinator, and we will react as appropriate.  But for now it does seem that the Government is trying to prevent any further such incidents.

Question:  According to latest news, those settlers who had done that have now gotten away with it.  Even the Israeli Government concedes that they can’t do anything about it.  Why is that, in the sense that settlers get away with it?  Does the UN Secretary‑General or anybody else know?

Associate Spokesperson:  Again, this matter is being handled domestically, and we will continue to monitor it through the office of the Special Coordinator.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I think you have seen the recent reports about atrocities committed in Bahrain, including the running over by a police car yesterday of a protester while the Human Rights Council team is still there.  I mean, is there any feedback from them regarding the situation, how much the Government is cooperating with them and why are these atrocities still being committed?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll try to get an update from the team that has gone to Bahrain once they have completed their work and we’ll try to provide an update at that point.  I believe that work is ongoing at this stage. 

Question:  Do you condemn the killing of a protester yesterday?

Associate Spokesperson:  We continue to express the same concerns as we have been doing, as the Secretary‑General has been doing for many months about the situation in Bahrain.  You are well aware of what his views have been on that, and those remain.

Question:  Which are?  I mean, he was just concerned.

Associate Spokesperson:  You’ve seen that he has been concerned about this, and he has called on the parties to work together.  He has been supportive of the efforts also by Governments of the region to try to help resolve the situation in the country.  And beyond that, we will see what happens when this human rights team completes its work.

Question:  How do you view the Saudi role in Bahrain?  I mean, they are supporting the Government, which is obviously, according to the [Cherif] Bassiouni report, is suppressing the people?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we would urge all of the countries in the region to try to play a helpful process to bring this particular dispute to a peace and quick resolution.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about this, the Sri Lankan Government has now made public its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report.  And it says that civilians were not targeted, which runs entirely contrary to the Panel of Experts report here at the UN.  So, since I know that it… I mean it had been leaked in some way, but it was said that once it became public, the UN may have some response to it.  Is the UN aware of the report, the commission’s report and do they think it is a credible report, and what is the next step for Ban Ki‑moon’s stated interest in accountability for the force?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we are continuing with our efforts at accountability.  As you know, his advisory panel did come out earlier this year with their report on Sri Lanka.  And we hope and trust that Member States will now again look to the contents of that report and see what can be done to follow up on the work being done by the panel led by Marzuki Darusman.  Beyond that, in terms of the work done by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation [Commission], we will need to study the full content of what this report say and may respond in due course.

Question:  I want to ask just sort of related to that; at least one Member State on the Human Rights Council in Geneva has told me that this report, whatever, however it is called, doesn’t even have a UN stamp on it.  It sort of has been really… they found it kind of strange how it was filed by the Secretariat with the Human Rights Council.  Can you… It may seem like a small thing, but to them they read into it, as did other Member States, is that the case, is there no UN… is it a UN report, is the UN stamp on it or is it just a piece of paper?

Associate Spokesperson:  It is a UN report; you can find it on the UN website.  We presented it here at the United Nations, as you are well aware, and it’s a panel that is an advisory panel to the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Just one last question on this.  Does the Secretary‑General, and maybe you will either know what he thinks or you can ask him — does the Secretary‑General think the Human Rights Council should take up that report of many civilian deaths prior to the universal periodic review for Sri Lanka which is, you know, long away?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, it is up to the members of the Human Rights Council what they take up.  Certainly the Secretary‑General does want the Member States to look at this report and take it seriously and address the contents and the recommendations of that report.  But, how they go about that, as you know, these are bodies of Member States and we’ll await what kind of decisions they take.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes, since yesterday, the World Society for the Protection of Animals has been distributing this press release which I found very interesting.  They say that they are aiming to place humane treatment of farm animals on the agenda at the Rio+20 summit, something that… I mean, a topic that is… an appointment that is so important for everybody.  And they say that they will lobby the UN for the active inclusion of animal welfare in the Conference negotiations.  My question is:  have you already been contacted and will you take this request seriously?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware that we have already been contacted.  Of course, we expect there to be quite a large number of non‑governmental organizations at the Rio+20 Conference, and we welcome their participation.  And we will see how the various claims by all of the individual NGOs are handled when they come to the Conference.  But certainly, we are hoping for as wide a participation in the Conference as possible, and we welcome groups bringing their own particular concerns.  Yes, in the back first?

Question:  Did you hear anything about Iranian statement to the Secretary‑General about violating Iran’s airspace by an American drone?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we have received the letter from the Government of Iran earlier this week.  We confirmed receipt of that letter, and so we have that. 

Question:  Nothing new?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything particular to say about it at this stage, no.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  So, just a follow‑up on this.  So there has been no reaction by the Secretary‑General’s office?  Since Iran’s complaint, there has been no…?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.  We are in receipt of the letter.  I don’t have any particular response to share with you at this stage.

Question:  Okay, I want to ask a question about Yemen.  Yemen, you know this agreement that was brought about by… it was announced by the Secretary‑General’s Spokesman and everything else, so is it so far on schedule that the Yemeni President will leave?

Associate Spokesperson:  Our Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, visited the country.  We have just now put out a two‑page statement that he issued in Sana’a concerning the talks that he has had.  One of the key points there, just to repeat something I just said a few minutes earlier — I don’t know whether you were here to hear that or nor — was that Mr. Benomar did say that he was pleased to see progress on the implementation of the November Agreement, and did say that at the end of his visit that he remains hopeful, despite the many challenges that lie ahead.  But he does believe that serious commitment from all sides will be required to make the inroads to stability a success and the UN will continue its close engagement and monitor its progress.

Question:  I just want to know one more time, is there anything that the Secretary‑General can do, at least the Human Rights Council if not anybody from his side, to go and look into the situation that is happening in the occupied Jerusalem, especially in that area which is in East Jerusalem where the mosque has been desecrated and the graves were desecrated, to look into that, because it seems that, despite the fact that Israel has condemned and then it is said that settlers are prevailing, still not going anywhere?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, like I said, we do have an office at that space there, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  They are monitoring the situation.  If they feel that further action is warranted, we will take that into consideration.  But right now, they are the ones who are following up on the ground.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask something.  Human Rights Watch has said they have a person on the ground in Libya and they will be looking into the various claims of civilians killed by NATO airstrikes during the implementation of resolution 1973 (2011).  They said, I think they put the number at… at least 50 which may… I don’t know how that strikes you, but I know that the Secretary‑General, in his press conference this week, said resolution 1973, I believe, was strictly enforced within that limit, within that mandate.  I wanted to know, does this… what does he think of… does he believe that NATO should investigate these deaths and is that… is the number 50?  It seems the mandate was very much to protect civilians and not kill them; what did he mean when he said that it was fully implemented and within the mandate?

Associate Spokesperson:  Simply that.  The Secretary‑General, I stand behind what he said just two days ago; he does believe that NATO carried out its mandate, the mandate that was provided under resolution 1973 (2011).  He believes that they took action to protect civilian lives.  Beyond that, I wouldn’t have any further comment about the Human Rights Watch report.  That report is really directed towards NATO, and it is for them to report to their recommendations.

Question:  You can see how the two seem to be related.  I mean, I guess what I am saying is that is what he said, and I understood he said it, is it inconsistent with the idea that NATO may have inadvertently killed civilians? 

Associate Spokesperson:  He stands behind what he said.  He believes that NATO carried out the mandate as faithfully as it could.

Question:  One last question on that.  It seemed clear that one of the things they did was to bomb a TV station, and I am just wondering, is that… I mean, again I am just trying to understand what the statement means.  Was that… does this mean that Ban Ki‑moon believes that the bombing of a TV station is the protection of civilians?

Associate Spokesperson:  Again, I don’t have anything further to say beyond what the Secretary‑General said two days ago.  Comments about NATO actions, I think, it would be up for NATO to respond to those.  So, I think you need to ask NATO.

Question:  But just, I mean, obviously he is speaking… when he says it was implemented correctly, he means he is speaking about NATO.

Associate Spokesperson:  He said what he said and he stands by it.  Yes?

Question:  President [Vladimir] Putin of Russia has accused NATO of killing, or CIA of killing, [Muammar] al‑Qadhafi in an operation.  Are you going to investigate or follow on that in any way?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe you have already heard from the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno‑Ocampo, who is dealing with the investigations concerning Libya.  And one of the things he has indicated that the Criminal Court may look into was the circumstances concerning the death of Muammar al‑Qadhafi.  So, we’ll leave that in their hands.  The Criminal Court, as you are aware, is independent of the United Nations.

Question:  Do you believe that those who are ordering bombardment of protesters in Sana’a and Taiz in Yemen should be brought to justice as well?  The generals who are bombarding protesters, killing many protesters, butchering many people on the streets?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll just refer you to the lengthy statement that was issued by Mr. Benomar, which is available in our office.  You can pick that up right now; it should be out on our counter.  Yes?

Question:  Could I… I want to ask about Haiti and then South Korea.  In Haiti — and thanks for getting the answer on this Fort Dimanche thing — I just wanted, there as a big general, detailed story on BBC about the cholera in Haiti.  And one of the things it included was a quote from Nigel Fisher, that “I don’t think the UN has ever denied the possibility”, and then it goes into brackets, “that they could have been at fault”.  And some have said that the UN did deny exactly that.  And I wanted to know, again, one, the update on how they are responding to this claim for compensation for the cholera, but two is, again Mr. Fisher has been there a long time, but is that accurate?  Is the UN not denying that they may have been responsible?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the claim: yes, the claim has been received and is currently being studied.  And at this stage, I wouldn’t have any further comment on that.  Regarding the second thing about responsibility for cholera, as you know, we take that matter very seriously.  In January 2011 appointed a panel of independent scientific experts to study all available evidence in order to determine the cause of the cholera outbreak and epidemic.  The panel determined that it was not possible to be conclusive about how cholera was introduced into Haiti.  So, in other words what Mr. Fisher says does not necessarily contradict that.  It is just that there was no conclusive way of determining how the cholera was introduced, according to the panel.

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  And then the other thing, I had asked here once before about this, there has been… there is an ongoing struggle or stand‑off in Jeju Island in South Korea, where various people have been arrested, including an elected mayor, and they seem to feel that there is some UN hook, and the arrests were made at a joint Republic of Korea‑UN joint conference on disarmament.  There are three UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] sites, and so I just wanted to know, I heard the Secretary‑General had an extended answer about Korea during his press conference, including saying as a Korean citizen he is concerned.  Is there… can he be asked again if he has any view of whether this island that I know he has spoken about should be turned into a military base and the treatment of those protesting the militarization of the island?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage we have no comment about the situation in Jeju Island.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.  But for now we have nothing on that.  With that, have a good weekend, everyone.

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