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

1 May 2012

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

1 May 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.

**Noon Guests

Today my guests are Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, and Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston.

To introduce Sir John Sulston, he graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1963, took a PhD in 1966, and was then a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. 

In 1969, he moved to Sydney Brenner's group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.  A collaboration between his group and that of Bob Waterston (Washington University, Saint Louis) produced one of the earliest genome maps, and in 1990 they went on to sequence it, completing the task in 1998 — the first animal genome to be sequenced.

Concurrently he became involved in the Human Genome Project, as founder director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute from 1992 to 2000. 

He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. 

He is chair of the institute for Science Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester.

I am going to ask Dr. Osotimehin to say a few words first, and then we will pass the floor to Sir John.  Doctor.

[Press conference by Dr. Osotimehin and Sir John issued separately]

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. 

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General travelled from Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw to the city of Yangon this morning.

His first stop in Yangon was at the home of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Following their meeting, the Secretary-General spoke to the press.  The Secretary-General congratulated her on her election to Parliament and on the great success of her party. 

He stressed the importance of compromise and reconciliation.  He noted that working together, they have already come far.

The Government of Myanmar and its people have embarked on a path of reform, democratization and development to build a better future for all.  They deserve our full support.

The Secretary-General also met with civil society and ethnic groups, and also attended the launch of a Global Compact network for Myanmar on the theme “Promoting Responsible Business — Toward Job Creation and Sustainable Development.”

He is now on his way back to New York.

**Special Representative of Secretary-General Coomaraswamy

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is alarmed by yet another wave of extreme violence killing and injuring children across Syria.

Since a truce was agreed on 12 April between the Syrian Government and the opposition, and despite the deployment of United Nations ceasefire monitors, more than 34 children have allegedly been killed.

In addition, a series of suicide attacks which rocked Damascus and Idlib resulted in further child causalities.  The bombings have exacerbated the security situation in Syria and exposed children to an even greater risk.

She urged all parties in Syria to refrain from indiscriminate tactics resulting in the killing and wounding of children.  She reminded us that it is the responsibility and humanitarian imperative of all parties to protect and prevent unnecessary suffering of girls and boys.  

**Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, along with the Special Representative of the African Union Commission for Somalia and the Facilitator for Somalia of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have addressed a letter to the parties in the country.

In it, the African Union, the UN, and the IGAD express their great concern that the road map continues to be jeopardized by the actions of individuals and groups in and out of Somalia.

They also warn that non compliance with the road map or active obstruction of it will be referred to the IGAD Council of Ministers with recommendations for the immediate imposition of specific measures.  That letter is available online.

And also on Somalia, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that while famine conditions no longer existed, almost one third of Somalis were still unable to meet their essential food and non-food needs, including 325,000 acutely malnourished children.

UNICEF says that working in parts of Somalia and reaching children remained challenging.  The agency also says that its $289 million dollars appeal for 2012 is just 12 per cent funded and that if the money is not found urgently, programmes in sectors such as water, health, nutrition, education and protection will have to be cut.

**Cambodia

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that it was saddened by the news that two human rights defenders had been shot and killed in south-western Cambodia.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged the Royal Government of Cambodia to ensure that a full civilian judicial investigation proceeded speedily and with the utmost probity and independence.  OHCHR would continue to monitor the process.

**Comoros

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have sent emergency support to the Comoros Islands, where the Government has declared a State of Emergency following torrential rains and flash flooding.

According to OCHA, local electricity supplies and telephone lines have been cut and communications have been severely affected.  Also, delivery of humanitarian aid has been seriously hindered due to lack of access to the affected areas.

A seven-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team from OCHA has arrived in the Comoros.  They will support UN agencies, national authorities and other responders in finding out what is needed to help people in the disaster-stricken areas of the three islands.

**UNIFIL

Yesterday, I was asked about the role of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the seizure of a ship with illegal weapons reportedly heading to Syria.

First, let me stress the fact that UNIFIL operates only in the framework of United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).

Under its mandate, and as per the request of the Lebanese Government, the Mission assists the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Navy in preventing the unauthorized entry of arms or related material by sea into Lebanon.  In providing such assistance, UNIFIL’s role is limited to monitoring the maritime traffic and hailing all vessels within the Area of Maritime Operations.

Any suspicious vessel identified by UNIFIL is referred to the LAF Navy for further action.  UNIFIL does not have the authority to board or inspect any vessel, or to investigate any such cases, which remains the sole prerogative of the Lebanese authorities.

This is exactly how UNIFIL acted in this particular case.  The ship in question was hailed by UNIFIL, and all relevant information relating to it was provided to the Lebanese Navy.

**Sudan/South Sudan

Yesterday, I was also asked about the South Sudanese waiting for transport to South Sudan in Kosti.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that 12,000-15,000 South Sudanese were currently stranded at the Kosti way station, 200 kilometres south of Khartoum, many of whom had been waiting many months for transport to South Sudan.

The IOM was very concerned following an announcement by the Governor of Sudan’s White Nile State that these persons must leave by 5 May.

These people were dependent on assistance from the international community for food, health care and other essential services, and it was impossible to provide them with transport within this timeframe.

The IOM has urged the Government of Sudan to grant more time for the international community to work with Federal and State-level authorities to help the South Sudanese in Kosti, who have clearly manifested their wish to leave Sudan, to move to South Sudan in safety and dignity.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan and President of the Security Council for the month of May.  He will be here to brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

That’s it from me; I have time for one or two questions.  Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can I ask you about the speech the Secretary-General made to the Parliament in Myanmar yesterday?  If he were ever invited to a joint session of the United States Congress I doubt he would call on them to clean up Wall Street, to pay national health insurance, to close Guantanamo or to get the guns off the streets.  If he had a four-point agenda; he was very prescriptive.  It was almost ordering in meddlesome in a way; I was wondering if it was taken that way and what led the Secretary-General to take that kind of a bold approach in this country right now.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, each country has its own national context; its own history and its own perspective.  Right now, Myanmar is coming out of a long dictatorship; they are working towards a democratic process; they are working towards democratization and the Secretary-General felt that it was interesting for him to share some of his ideas with the legislators in the Myanmar Parliament.

Question:  Was it well-received by [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe it was; all reports I have seen, yes, it was very well-received, and the Secretary-General was the first, I believe, foreign dignitary to address the bicameral institution.

Question:  Does he ever check with any P-5 Members before he makes a speech like this; not showing them necessarily the text, but discuss what he wants to talk about?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General speaks basically on what he thinks he should speak on as Secretary-General.  Matthew, one question?

Question:  I have a follow-up on Myanmar, and then I am going to ask you about Sudan, since you have a Mission there.  On Myanmar, I wanted to know that, Ban Ki-moon gave a speech with the, promoting the Global Compact and I saw the speech.  It was e-mailed to us.  But, is there a way to get a list of the businesses he cited?  He said, I am here with these businesses, many people think that most of the businesses in the country are affiliated with the, you called it a dictatorship.  But, the former military Government.  So, I just wonder, well, first of all, just a factual thing, I am, I am sure, you may not have it, but is it possible to get a list of the businesses in attendance or certainly the ones that he was citing as, you know, the future of a non-military Myanmar?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to check on that, Matthew.

Question:  Okay.  And did he raise the issue of children and armed conflict while he was there, as it came up in this room about two weeks ago, and Ms. Coomaraswamy said she was going to make sure that he raised it.  I just wonder if he raised it to the Government, since Myanmar is the largest recruiter of child soldiers in the world.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, as I have said on a number of occasions, sometimes what we say, we say publicly; sometimes what we say, we say privately.  I am not going to get into what the Secretary-General may or may not have said to leaders.  The readouts are there, and what we publicize is what is in the readouts.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  On Sudan, I wanted to, there are two things:  one is, an Ambassador of South Sudan has said that Khartoum is conscripting young South Sudanese in the territory of the north and making them fight; for example in Heglig and on the border, and I wanted to know, is anyone in the UN system aware of that?  And do they have, can they confirm that, and what is going to be done about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check on that.  I don’t have the information with me.  I saw the media reports this morning; we will have to check and see and come back on it.  As you know, our Missions in Sudan are limited to Darfur and Abyei, so we don’t have missions in the rest of the country.  Consequently, we can’t monitor what is going on in the entire country.

Question:  Right, but I mean, for example, Ms. Coomaraswamy does do reports on countries where you don’t have a peacekeeping mission.  She says this is a problem, the recruitment of children, this would be the forced recruitment of child [inaudible]…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you might want to contact her Office and find out.

Question:  Right.  But, isn’t she the Special Envoy of Ban Ki-moon?

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, but you might want to contact her Office and see.

Question:  Okay. This is the one, I, and also, I mean this has just happened, so I wanted to really make sure I understand it correctly.  Hilde Johnson gave an interview to The Citizen in Juba, and she said that we have a mandate, we, UNMISS have a mandate to protect civilians but we can’t do it.  We don’t have the resources, because we don’t have anti-aircraft missiles.  She said it a couple of times.  At least the article reports it twice.  And so, it is unclear to some, is she asking, she seems to say that they’d like to have them.  And is that something that UNMISS, does UNMISS want to have anti-aircraft missiles?  Is that what the interview means?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t interpret it that way.  What she was asked was, you know, what can you do, you are there in South Sudan, what can you do to stop people from being killed by aerial bombardment?  And, she said, well we don’t have the tools to be able to repulse the aerial bombardment, and she mentioned specifically the fact that they had no ground-to-air missiles to deal with planes coming over the border to bomb the place.  I don’t think she was asking for anything; she was basically making a statement of fact.

Question:  Right, does, I mean, does South Sudan have such equipment?  Does she think that they should?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if South Sudan has that equipment or not.  But, I don’t think she was saying that they should have it.  All she was saying was that, in terms of her mandate to protect the civilian population of South Sudan, she does not have the tools in her arsenal to be able to fight against aerial bombardment.

Okay, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  It has been a long session, have a good afternoon.

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