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

30 March 2012

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

30 March 2012
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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.

** Syria Cultural Heritage

The Director-General of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], Irina Bokova, today called for the protection of the cultural heritage of Syria.  Syria’s history extends back over thousands of years.  A succession of cultures has left an outstanding wealth of archaeological sites, historic cities, cultural landscapes, monuments and works of art that bear witness to the evolution of human ingenuity.

Earlier this year, UNESCO alerted the Syrian authorities, through their representative, about their responsibility to ensure the protection of cultural heritage.  In the framework of the of the 1970 World Heritage Convention, the Director-General has already contacted the World Customs Organization, INTERPOL and the specialized heritage police of France and Italy, to alert them to objects from Syria that could appear on the international antiquities market.  She has also called for the mobilization of all UNESCO’s partners to ensure the safeguarding of this heritage.

** Myanmar

Two United Nations convoys carrying emergency relief supplies to internally displaced people (IDPs) in two areas affected by the conflict in Myanmar’s Kachin state have now returned to base after distributing the items in camps.  The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar said that the joint effort was made possible through cooperation of the Government, the Kachin Independence Organization and humanitarian partners on the ground.

The United Nations has called for sustained access to IDPs in all areas to ensure that adequate assistance reaches all of those affected by the conflict.  The present momentum of aid delivery must be stepped up ahead of the rainy season.  There is more information available online.

**Lord’s Resistance Army

The UN Refugee Agency says ongoing attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have killed two people and displaced more than 1,200 in North-East Democratic Republic of the Congo this month.  Thirteen people, including a child, were also abducted.  It brings the known number of displaced people in that part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to more than 4,200 this year; however, UNHCR is warning that the figure could be higher.

Neighbouring South Sudan and Central African Republic have also been affected by violence from LRA.  UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) distributed aid to 200 families who were displaced in March in the village of Dungu on Thursday.  The UNHCR aid includes plastic sheeting, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, mosquito nets and jerry cans.  There are more details available online.

** Chile — Human Rights

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is urging Chile to pass new laws against hate crimes and discrimination after the killing of a young gay man.  The Office says that 24 year-old Daniel Zamudio died on March 27, 25 days after being viciously assaulted by a group of alleged neo-Nazis in a Santiago park.  The Office deplores the violent criminal acts and urges Chile to enact hate legislation that establishes hatred as a crime based on various grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in full compliance with relevant international human rights standards.

** Yemen — Measles

An outbreak of measles in Yemen has killed over 170 children and left over 4,000 infected since mid-last year, according to the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF.  It says a near breakdown of health services during Yemen’s political crisis and severe malnutrition amongst children under the age of five years were the leading factors behind this outbreak.

In collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Yemeni Ministry of Health and other humanitarian actors in Yemen, UNICEF will launch a major measles vaccination campaign in the country tomorrow aimed at reaching over 8 million children under the age of five years.  It says over 1.2 million children will also benefit from the polio vaccine and a vitamin A supplement.

That’s all from me.  Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask a question about Libya again on the question about the dispensation in Libya that… there is editorial in the New York Times today, if you, maybe you have gone through it, has said… it basically says, and I can quote you on it, which says that Libya, that NATO refuses to cooperate with the Human Rights Council of the United Nations on this figure of casualties and, and certain actions of two parts, two villages in Libya, it has asked the United Nations to conduct what you call, the inquiry.  So, basically, United Nations Human Rights Council, when it calls for, I mean, for an inquiry and NATO refuses to cooperate with it on this dispensation of what they did in Libya, is there any way that the Secretary-General can now ask NATO to cooperate with it, or it’s, order an independent inquiry?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the situation is that the Human Rights Council has to follow this up with NATO, and has to meet with NATO and make sure that NATO understands that the Human Rights Council needs to have an investigation.

Question:  NATO has refused to meet with the Human Rights Council, so, so, in that case, what do you… how do you move forward?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s up to the Human Rights Council to decide how it moves forward.

Question:  Basically, there were time, the doubt has been now [inaudible] certain, I mean, actions taken by and… villages and certain areas, that NATO was directly responsible for those actions.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it is up to the Human Rights Council to follow up on this.

Question:  And not for the Secretary-General, because he had supported this action.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General supported the Security Council call for this action to take place.  As I said the other day, this was a Member State decision in response to a situation where the Libyan people themselves demonstrated and rose up asking for democracy and human rights.  It is not a question that the Secretary-General intervened and that the United Nations intervened.  It was a Member State decision of the Security Council that led to NATO’s involvement.

Question:  [inaudible], I am just saying that these, I am not saying that he himself are, or took the action; only thing is that he supported the NATO actions.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the international community supported NATO actions; the Security Council supported NATO actions.

Question:  In that case then, the Human Rights Council is now questioning the…

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Human Rights Council, which is tasked with this, has to follow up with NATO to seek some kind of clarification from NATO, yes.  Matthew?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that the Secretary-General believes the report and recommendations of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya provide a strong basis for the Libyan authorities to address human rights issues in Libya.  The Secretary-General called consistently during the fighting for every effort to be made to minimize harm to civilians.  He notes the report’s overall finding that NATO did not deliberately target civilians in Libya.]

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about Somalia, Myanmar and Syria.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Is that all?

Question:  Yes, it is.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, good! [Laughter]

Question:  On Somalia, well, Mali, if possible.

Deputy Spokesperson:  [Laughter]

Question:  On Somalia, I wanted to ask you, there are reports, pretty, you know, published reports saying that the Transitional Federal Government has contracted with a private security firm based in Nairobi called Halliday Finch to patrol its coast.  Since there, I wanted to know, one, whether there is any UN involvement — whether Mr. [Augustine P.] Mahiga is aware of this, whether this constitutes the use of mercenaries and in there some description, the reason I am asking this is that Halliday Finch being involved in this transfer of 17 pirates who were in the Seychelles, now transferred to Somaliland, which UNODC said it played a role in, issued a press release about.  My real question here is whether the UN is in fact directly or indirectly involved with a mercenary firm in its work in Somalia.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we’ll have to get information on that; I don’t have anything with me on that.

Question:  I wanted to also ask, you were mentioning Kachin state in Myanmar.

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes.

Question:  And you know the aid, the aid that goes in.  I had asked you earlier about these, there are some, there are some parts of Kachin that are not being, that have been said by the Government that they cannot vote.  And I have looked into it a little bit, it turns out, you’d said, you know, of course if, it’s a matter of security they couldn’t vote, but it seems like people there are saying that, there is one called Mogaung, where they said that there has been no fighting at all, it’s just an… it’s just that an opposition candidate would probably win.  Same thing in a place called Hpakant.  So, I just wonder how… was your statement just sort of a general, you just assumed that the Government, if they said there was fighting and you couldn’t vote, that that’s how it was, or does the UN have any… I know that there was some observers going there, are they going to go up to Kachin, and what do you say to the allegation that, that people are not being allowed to vote simply because the opposition would win in these constituencies?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have a delegation, which is not an observer mission, but we have a delegation that was scheduled to arrive in Myanmar yesterday.  They will, in response to the Government’s invitation, it was decided that the delegation would represent the UN Headquarters from New York.  The delegation will follow the election and report back to the Secretary-General.

Question:  Will they also follow on this issue of places that are not being allowed to vote?  That’s my question.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am sure they will be looking at the whole election scenario and reporting back to the Secretary-General.

Question:  In some, is there going to be any kind of public statement about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s up to the Secretary-General.  I don’t know yet.  Madam?

Question:  The Secretary-General’s Cyprus Advisor, Mr. Downer, was going to submit a report to the Secretary-General, I think.  Do you think that it will also be submitted to the Security Council, and will we be able to see it, or is it just an internal report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, it is an internal report he is preparing for the Secretary-General.  Masood?

Question:  This report, a follow-up on this report about the cost overruns on this new, I mean, on the United Nations refurbishing and renovation plans that they are being… like there are being almost like up $1.2 billion, $1.7 billion plan, about $127.5 million worth of cost overruns and that the Member States, especially the EU, are refusing to fund it, does the Secretary-General have any plan to, contingency plan, to fund this because this has to continue?

Deputy Spokesperson: I believe Martin answered that question a couple of weeks ago; if you take a look at the transcript, I believe it was two weeks ago, you will find what Martin said about this.  He had some pretty fulsome statement, which I don’t have with me right now.  So, if you take a look at the transcript, I think you will find the information there.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that, as laid out in its ninth Annual Progress Report in October 2011, the Capital Master Plan is requesting commitment authority from the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to utilize interest earned on the Capital Master Plan fund ($107 million) and the Capital Master Plans’s Working Capital Fund ($45 million) to ensure the project can continue to meet its schedule.  To complete the project, an additional appropriation will need to be discussed in the fall session of the General Assembly.]

Question:  But, what I am saying is that in view of the fact that not only, and this so-called developing countries are not paying anything, that… but eight other countries other than the United States.  The United States pays the major share and the other countries, like Japan, China, and so on and so forth, they are paying.  The developing countries are not paying anything.  Does the Secretary-General take that contingency into {inaudible] and ask the developing countries to come up with something?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, again, I’ll have to find that out for you, I don’t have that information with me.  Okay?  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I could ask about Mali and then Syria.  On Mali, maybe you will have, there has been this sort of ultimatum or, or made by ECOWAS saying that if Sanogo doesn’t step down in 72 hours, they will seal the borders and seize the bank account at the bank in Abidjan.  I wanted to know, is Mr. [Said] Djinnit in any way involved in this, does he think that’s a good, you know, a good idea?  Does he think it could have humanitarian effects, and is the UN in a position to confirm that the town of Kidal has fallen to rebels, and if so, which of the two rebel groups?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Mr. Djinnit had a press conference in Geneva this morning.  He said that the main focus of the summit in Abidjan, which he attended, was on the coup in Mali.  He reported the summit had agreed sanctions would be imposed on Mali if democratic rule was not restored immediately.  A delegation of several ECOWAS Heads of State was due to visit Mali yesterday to press the coup leaders to restore democracy, but they were unable to land at Bamako airport.  He added that the coup was even more unacceptable given that the international community was mobilizing to deal with both that nutritional crisis that is affecting the country, as well as the rebellion in the north.  Mr. Djinnit said that he had not spoken to President [Amadou Toumani] Toure since the coup, but according to President [Alassane] Ouattara of the Côte d'Ivoire, who has spoken to him, the Malian President is doing well.  He also added it was unclear how much support the junta was receiving from different groups within the armed forces.  That was his press conference that was held in Geneva this morning.

With respect to your question on whether a town in northern Mali has fallen, I really don’t have any information on that.

Question:  Thanks, a lot, that was just really helpful, I just wanted to, because the idea is that sanctions are one thing, but they seem to be saying that there are going to seal the country’s borders, so, I just wonder, as the UN, which has spoken a lot about nutritional problems and drought, does this seem like a targeted sanction or a sanction that is just against the country as a whole including people that don’t have enough to eat?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as Mr. Djinnit said, the coup is even more unacceptable seeing as we are trying to help people.  So, we will have to see how the sanctions evolve, and we’ll have to see how that affects our humanitarian work in Mali and in the rest of the Sahel.

Question:  [inaudible] Syria question, and hopefully you will have an answer.  There are a range of reports today quoting senior Council diplomats that DPKO is sending 250… sending a technical team for… to prepare a team, 250 individuals to monitor in Syria, and I wanted to know, since this is really a DPKO thing and you have a Council diplomat saying DPKO is saying these things, one, can you confirm it, and two, is DPKO sharing this information with all Council members, or is the head of DPKO simply sharing it with his own, the Permanent Representative of his own country?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that Mr. Annan is coordinating the efforts in Syria, and I will leave it to his spokesperson to comment on that.  He is coordinating and I will leave it to his spokesperson to comment on that.

Question:  Does this mean that he communicates directly to DPKO, because these are reports about DPKO with specific numbers.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, these are reports, these are reports that are coming from leaks, a reported leak from the Council.  They are not reports coming from DPKO.  Now, DPKO obviously has contingency planning under way for a variety of contingencies.  It is going to be up to Mr. Annan to decide how these contingencies are put into play, given the response of the Syrian Government to the six-point peace plan, as well as how the Syrian Government responds on the ground.  You will understand that you cannot have any kind of peacekeeping or peace observation force in a place where you have violence going on.  So, obviously, we will have to wait and see how the situation on the ground plays itself out.

Question:  Sure, but just one, and what’s, I mean, what’s the Secretary-General’s role in this whole process?  Yesterday, I had asked you whether the Secretariat has any role in vetting people hired by Kofi Annan, uh… with a UN mandate.

Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  He has appointed, along with the League of Arab States, Mr. Kofi Annan, and Mr. Kofi Annan is managing, is directing, is responsible for the peace process in Syria, okay?  Masood?

Question:  Yes, a couple of questions, one about this, Mr. Annan, he is giving a briefing to the Security Council members on Monday, which is a closed meeting.  Will… can we expect him to give a briefing either from Geneva or whatever to the correspondents over here?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will check, we will check.  I have no information as to whether he will be doing a press stakeout afterwards, but we will check.

Question:  I just want to ask this, another question as a follow-up on this trip to Nepal which you… that it is being reported that the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nepal is now telling the Nepalese Government that the Secretary-General is not going to visit Nepal any more.

Deputy Spokesperson:  If that’s what he telling the Nepalese Government, then that’s what he is telling the Nepalese Government, yes.

Question:  He has cancelled his visit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  Okay?  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good weekend.

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