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

9 April 2012

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

9 April 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Mali

On Mali, you will have seen that we issued a statement over the weekend in which the Secretary-General commended the continued efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to help restore constitutional order in Mali, including the accord signed by the military junta and the ECOWAS mediation team on 6 April.  He also called on the junta to expeditiously implement the terms of the Framework Agreement and to refrain from any actions that might undermine the effective implementation of the provisions of this agreement.  And the full statement is available online.

** Malawi

And we also issued a statement on Malawi in which the Secretary-General welcomed the peaceful transition there and said he looked forward to working with the Government under acting President Joyce Banda.  He also offered his condolences after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, regarding this situation in the Sahel area in Africa, in the Mali region, there is a threat that some countries will take military action again the Tuaregs in the Mali region.  Does the United Nations view that as a wise step, I mean, to take action against these people before having any engagement with them?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you will have just heard me say, we did issue a statement at the weekend about developments in Mali.  Let us remember there are two tracks, if you like — there is the need to restore constitutional order and there is also the need to restore territorial integrity.  As you will have seen, some progress has been made through the work of the ECOWAS mediator and his team on restoring constitutional order.  Work remains to be done on the question of territorial integrity and what has happened in the north of Mali.  I don’t think we should prejudge, at this point, what may or may not happen, given that the mediator and his team continues to work and also that the regional organization itself will be meeting to discuss what further steps might be necessary.  I don’t think we should prejudge at this point.

Question:  There is another question regarding Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on strike for 60 days in Bahrain.  Do you have any statement on that, please?

Spokesperson: Well, actually, yes.  The Secretary-General has consistently urged authorities throughout the region, including Bahrain, to respect the rights of their people to peaceful protest.  He is aware that one of the detainees in Bahrain who was reportedly convicted to life imprisonment for his role in last year’s protests is now on hunger strike.  The Secretary-General expects due process to be respected in any appeal of the conviction.  He also understands that there is a proposal for the detainee, who is also a Danish citizen, to be transferred to Denmark for medical treatment.  The Secretary-General hopes this would be duly considered on humanitarian grounds.  In any such case where there is a hunger strike, the health and well-being of the person should be the foremost concern.

Question:  The way he was tried in the past it was, I mean, do you believe it is a fair trial?  Was he offered a fair trial when he was convicted, sentenced for a whole… life sentence?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, I think I have given you quite a lot to be working on there, not least, that the Secretary-General expects due process to be respected in any appeal of the conviction.  So yes, Mr. Abbadi and then Ali.  And I am going to work my way around.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the Secretary-General strongly condemns this escalation of violence in Syria, and he says that Syria should implement its promises fully and unconditionally.  Does that mean that what Syria is asking for, namely that the UN or the Special Envoy, Joint Envoy, give a guarantee, a written guarantee that the opposition would stop violence?  Does that… is that excluded?

Spokesperson:  I think what was agreed is clear to everybody, and it needs to be implemented, as you have just said, fully and unconditionally.  And, indeed, the Secretary-General in his statement on Friday — he strongly condemned the escalation of violence; he said he was gravely concerned about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and he also said that the Syrian authorities remain fully accountable for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and he demanded that the Government of Syria immediately and unconditionally cease all military actions against the Syrian people.  And he reiterates that it is the responsibility of the Syrian authorities to now deliver on what they have promised, and to implement, fully and unconditionally, all the commitments under the six-point plan of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.  And you will also have seen that the Joint Special Envoy himself, issued a statement yesterday in which he reminded the Syrian Government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and he stressed that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable.  If we have anything further during the course of the day, then, of course we will let you know.  Iftikhar, I am sorry.

[The following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Syria was later issued:

The Secretary-General is alarmed by the reports of continued violence and human rights violations in Syria, which resulted in an increased flow of refugees into neighbouring countries.  The Secretary-General spoke this morning with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, who conveyed his authorities’ utmost concern over the recent developments, including cross-border fire, which resulted in deaths and injuries on Turkish territory.  The Secretary-General strongly deplores today's fatal cross-border shootings from Syria into Turkey, as well as into Lebanon.

The Secretary-General reiterates his appreciation to neighbouring countries for their hospitality for displaced Syrian nationals, and for keeping their borders open.  After being informed by Turkey last Thursday of the arrival of thousands of new Syrian refugees, the United Nations immediately mobilized emergency assistance to help the newly arrived.  We stand ready to provide further humanitarian assistance.

The Secretary-General reiterates his demand that the Government of Syria immediately cease all military actions against civilians and fulfil all of its commitments made through Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.  The timeline for the complete cessation of violence endorsed by the Security Council must be respected by all without condition.]

Question:  You just answered it, you see.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, that’s good.  Okay, Ali, and then I am coming to you, yeah.

Question:  Thank you.  There was today two incidents firing from Syria towards the territories of Lebanon and Turkey, and in both cases, if I am right, about casualties.  Is there any comment from the United Nations on those two incidents?  Also, what kind of help that Turkey has asked the United Nations regarding the Syrian refugees in Turkey?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, on the second point first, I know that after the phone call between the Turkish Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General, which was late in the evening of Thursday our time, and so early hours of the morning Friday in Turkey already at that point, there was a request for assistance, and immediately after that, the Secretary-General was in touch with the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres.  As a result of that, UNHCR, the refugee agency, has been liaising with the Turkish authorities to provide an initial shipment of supplies.  I do not have at this point the details of those supplies, but I do understand that UNHCR, the refugee agency, has been liaising very closely with the Turkish authorities.  It is obviously extremely clear that there is a need for additional assistance beyond what the Turkish authorities, themselves, have been doing in an extremely generous fashion for weeks and, indeed, months now.  So, if and when we have some more details on precisely what has been provided, then we would let you know.  And, on the first point that you raised, yes, of course, we are aware of these reports.  And, I think I alluded to this point when I said that if I have anything further during the course of the day, I’d let you know.  That could include a response to these most recent reported incidents.  But, let me just say that what the Secretary-General said on Friday still stands, which is that he condemns the latest escalation of violence — he doesn’t just condemn it, he strongly condemns it.

[The Spokesperson later said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was putting together an emergency airlift of 1,600 family tents and almost 14,000 blankets, which was scheduled to arrive tomorrow, Tuesday, 10 April, in Adana, Turkey.  He added that this was the second airlift in less than a month, which brought to a total of 5,100 family tents, 10,000 bed mats and almost 34,000 blankets donated by UNHCR to Kizilay ( Turkish Red Crescent) to assist the Government of Turkey in responding to the crisis.  The Spokesperson added that UNHCR was also providing staff technical assistance on the ground and would be present in four provinces in Turkey (Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Urfa).]

Question:  In the case of firing towards the Lebanese territories, there were… there was a journalist killed and another one injured.  Do you have any specific on this?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment, Ali.  Of course, we are still awaiting details.  Any incidents in which professional journalists lose their lives are, or are hurt in some way while carrying out their professional duties, is something that is to be really condemned.  But, we need to make sure that we have the full details as a general statement of principle, that is what I am saying on this at the moment.  Yes, I am coming to you and then to Nizar, and then Masood, yes.

Question:  Mr. Kofi Annan has planned to go to Teheran tomorrow; what are you expecting?  Do you have any comment?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, this is part of the Joint Special Envoy’s efforts to speak to regional players.  As you know, he has already spoken to other important players, both by visiting Moscow and Beijing, and by speaking on the telephone with other leaders too and meeting them in Geneva.  I don’t have any further details on precisely what Mr. Annan will be doing, what his schedule of engagements might be in Teheran, but, obviously, this is an important regional player, and it is right and proper that the Joint Special Envoy would wish to reach out and speak to the leadership there.  Yes, Nizar and then Masood.

Question:  Have you received any information about how the opposition in Syria, the armed opposition, will deal with the ceasefire when it comes into…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that the Joint Special Envoy and the Secretary-General have made clear their expectation that the opposition should follow suit — in other words, within 48 hours of tomorrow’s deadline for the Syrian authorities, the Government authorities, that they too should have ceased violence.  That’s been made very clear by the Joint Special Envoy and the Secretary-General, and they both also said that it would be extremely useful for regional players, countries with influence on either side to be speaking to the Syrian authorities and to the opposition forces with this particular aim in mind.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I just, one thing, I have a follow-up on what Nizar just said.  Is there a mechanism of monitoring these rebel groups who are now being armed that they also cease fire?  Is there any way that they are monitored and so forth that… that in short, that these rebel groups are also adhering and not attacking the Government troops and they will respond, Government troops will respond and attack?

Spokesperson:  At this point, it is obvious that far from there being a tapering off in the violence, there has been an escalation in the violence.  And as you also know, the Syrian authorities are clearly responsible for a lot of this, but there is also violence from both sides that needs to stop.  As for monitoring, that is something that cannot be done in a systematic fashion until there is a ceasefire.  And that is precisely what everyone is aiming to achieve.  And as you have heard the Joint Special Envoy say, and the Secretary-General, there is planning for such monitoring to take place.  But, it obviously presupposes that there is a ceasefire; it obviously also presupposes that the Security Council provides a mandate for that activity.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask — over the weekend, there was this takeover the Yemen, or at least a suspension of flights to the Sana'a airport, reportedly because supporters of Ali Saleh took it over.  It may have been resolved now, but I wanted to know, did the UN have any role in that?  What do you think that the… given the UN’s and the Special Envoy’s role in Yemen, what do you think of this temporary closure of the airport by Saleh supporters?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously aware of the reports, and we have been checking on precisely what the Special Adviser, Special Envoy Jamal Benomar, has been up to in the last couple of days, and once we have a few more details, we will let you know.

Question:  I also wanted to ask you about the Congo.  In eastern Congo, there is reported fighting as some former rebel units of the army have defected.  Some said it was Nkunda who is indicted now by the ICC, some say not, and I am just wondering, is MONUSCO involved in trying to track them down, and even if not, does MONUSCO know whether Bosco Nkunda, an ICC indicted recruiter of child soldiers, is among the deserters or still with the army.

Spokesperson:  We have asked the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to keep us up to date, and when they do, so we will let you know.  I am going right to the back here first, and then I am coming back to you, Masood.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is aware of continued reports of desertions from the Congolese Army of former elements of the National Congress for the Defence of the People, an armed group, in both North and South Kivu.  The Secretary-General's Special Representative, Roger Meece, is in Goma with the Mission's Deputy Force Commander to ascertain the situation in North Kivu.  MONUSCO is closely monitoring the situation and is in contact with the relevant authorities.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, said in previous days that the UN would be the proper venue to debate a possible decriminalization of drugs.  Do you agree the UN is the proper venue for discussing such an issue?  And in that sense, Mr. Ban Ki-moon will be… will Mr. Ban Ki-moon be willing to promote such a debate here?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, first of all, I’d need to check with my colleagues at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but generally speaking, I think our position on this topic is fairly clear.  But, let me check on precisely this particular statement from Colombia with UNODC, the Office on Drugs and Crime.  Yes, Masood?

[The Spokesperson later noted that, while not directly related to the Colombian proposal, the General Assembly would convene a thematic debate on drugs and crime as a threat to development on 26 June.]

Question:  Yeah.  [inaudible] I mean, you were asked over the weekend before, I think you, you were all closed on Friday, there was report in the New York Times about a very harrowing tale of how the children now who are being employed by the rich people in India and how they are being abused.  And within that report, there as a… there was also… they also said that UNICEF is also monitoring this, the abuse of children in the Indian society.  Will there be at any point in time some sort of, I mean, a briefing by UNICEF on what is happening in India, about the abuse of children who are being employed?

Spokesperson:  Let me check with our colleagues at UNICEF on what they have on that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  Back to Syria, in view of the Syrian request regarding the written guarantees about the opposition elements and repeated by the ambassador of Syria at a press conference last week here, and in view of the fact that the deadline for putting an end to all the military activities is tomorrow, it looks like it is unlikely that will happen tomorrow.  Because of that, what is the Secretary-General doing at this stage today?  Is he consulting with members of the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I can tell you that the Secretary-General remains extremely engaged and active on this subject, including right through the weekends — I know that absolutely, definitely because I was also involved in that — I would simply say that that deadline has not shifted, and nor has the responsibility for the Syrian authorities to cease all military actions against the Syrian people in line with the promises that they have made.  They need to implement the promises and the commitments that they have entered into fully and unconditionally.  And that is something that hasn’t changed and will not change.  The deadline is as set out already.  Ali?

Question:  Thank you.  So, the advance, the technical team is there now in Damascus, and we got assurances from the Secretary-General that this is a technical team, but on the website of the United Nations when Kofi Annan met with Major General Robert Mood, it is mentioned that he is… Robert Mood is going to lead the advance team to Syria.  Is there a misunderstanding…?

Spokesperson:  Lead, sorry, I didn’t hear, lead…?

Question:  He will lead the advance team, advance observer team.  It is mentioned in the UN website with the photograph between Kofi Annan and General Mood.  What is… what’s wrong in this?  I mean, there is something…

Spokesperson:  It is not an advance team, it is a technical team.  It is not an advance team.  An advance team…

Question:  But, it is on the website…

Spokesperson:  Well, let me check on that, because it is not an advance team.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Does the contacts of the Secretary-General include countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who openly called for the arming of the opposition?  And yesterday, there was a shipment, which was intercepted by the Syrian military forces crossing from Lebanon into Syria, and these shipments of… some of them are originating from Israel, others from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  Is he doing anything contacting these countries to stop them from sending such shipments?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has wide-ranging contacts, and I would simply remind you that he has said repeatedly, including in his remarks to the General Assembly, that militarization, further militarization of what is happening is really not desirable.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  But does he…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I guess it’s just a follow-up on that then, I want… and then I have a couple of other questions, but I wanted to ask, what does he think of this as opposed to militarization the idea of paying the salaries of the Free Syrian Army, which is something that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now saying at the Friends of Syria meeting that they would begin to provide funds for either the opposition or armed rebels, is that… does that fall into his idea of militarization or is that okay?

Spokesperson:  I would simply say that militarization is not desirable.  What is your next question?

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask there is a big controversy in Khartoum of… or throughout Sudan of South Sudanese who have remained there since the independence and now either don’t have travel documents, may lose their Sudanese citizenship, and, in any event, can’t fly to South Sudan because now international laws apply.  So, I wanted to know, what is the UN’s… is the UN working on this issues?  What’s the… what’s the outcome the UN would like to see, and what is the UN actually doing given its role in this cross-border situation?

Spokesperson:  Let me check on that, Matthew.  I think you had one other question, and then I think that will be it, okay?

Question:  One is it has to do with… I want you to just clarify, there was a quote by the Secretary-General where he said that in our world some dictators fear tweets more than armies, and it is… I mean, it is a very interesting quote, but it is one that is… some people have… have… have had some questions like, what exactly does it mean, which dictators is he referring to, is it really the tweets that they are afraid of or the people tweeting?  Do you want to clarify it at all, because some have kind of mocked it.  I am just asking you what… what does it mean?

Spokesperson:  I wonder who that might be who is mocking it, Matthew?  But…

Question:  Foreign Policy website, take a look at it.

Spokesperson:  Well, let me just say it is very easy to parse speeches, remarks, articles, blogs — it’s very easy to do that.  I think it is quite straightforward to note that tweeting has become a phenomenon in the political sphere; in the course of the Arab Spring that has been particularly apparent, but not just there and not just then.  I think he is simply referring to that phenomenon, and the fact that, in some parts of the world, in some countries, you have seen tweets, you have seen other forms of social media playing a role in galvanizing public opinion and in providing dynamic movement for change.  I think that’s — that’s a lot more than 140 characters — but I think that’s roughly where we are going.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General would take part in a Google+ hangout with young people from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America on Tuesday, 10 April, from United Nations Headquarters in New York.]

Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

* **** *

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