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

24 May 2012

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

24 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, and welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry dealing with Syria has issued a report to the Human Rights Council on gross human rights violations that have taken place there since this March.  The Commission said that gross violations continue unabated in an increasingly militarized context, despite the parties to the conflict having reached agreement on the Joint Special Envoy’s “six-point plan”.

It adds that most of the serious human rights violations were committed by the Syrian army and security services.  Despite the human rights imperative to employ lethal force only as a last resort to protect life, the Commission says State security forces continued to use lethal force against anti-Government demonstrations in many parts of the country.

The Commission has also received multiple reports of extrajudicial executions of members of the army and security forces, as well as suspected informers or collaborators captured by anti-Government armed groups.  The Commission conducted 214 interviews since its last report, adding that it was able to obtain first-hand confirmation of 207 deaths.  The full report is online.

** Lebanon

Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati today.  He said afterward that they had discussed the efforts that are under way to strengthen calm and stability in Lebanon following the recent tensions.  He said that the United Nations supports all steps aimed at safeguarding Lebanon’s stability and security, and the well-being of its citizens, which is a message he also gave to President Michel Sleiman yesterday.

In this context, Mr. Plumbly said, we warmly welcome the President’s determination to revive dialogue in Lebanon at a time when such dialogue and communication is obviously a necessity.  He also expressed concern about the abduction of 11 Lebanese pilgrims in Syria earlier this week and hoped for their safe return to their families as soon as possible.  We have a press release with more details in my office.

** Haiti

John Ging, the Director for Operations in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, took stock of the humanitarian situation in Haiti, particularly the cholera epidemic and preparedness for the hurricane season, during a visit there this week.

Mr. Ging heard that cuts in aid budgets had reduced the ability to detect and respond to cholera this year.  He called for a greater commitment by donors.  The World Health Organization has said that there could be up to 200,000 cholera cases in Haiti this year.  Mr. Ging also visited a camp for internally displaced people where the International Organization for Migration is supporting voluntary return.  Nearly 1.1 million of the 1.4 million Haitians who were displaced by the 2010 earthquake have now returned home.

** Zimbabwe

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is in Zimbabwe, on the first visit to the country by the top United Nations human rights official.  She is meeting with senior officials and members of civil society.  Speaking to reporters yesterday after talks with President Robert Mugabe, Ms. Pillay said that she had asked him to ensure that future elections will be free, fair and without violence.

**Press Conferences/Media Opportunities

Tomorrow, around 11:30 a.m., at the North Lawn stakeout here at UN Headquarters, the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] New York Office Director, Mr. Philippe Kridelka, will brief you on a panel discussion taking place in the morning on public-private partnerships in education.

I’m happy to take questions.  Yes, Benny?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There is legislation in Washington in the Senate about funding UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], demanding basically, saying that they should change the way they account for refugees, as opposed to descendants of refugees, which would obviously lower the number of refugees handled by UNRWA to some several… 60,000, I think, as opposed to right now, 5 million or whatever.  Does UNRWA have any comment on that, any plans to change the accounting of what is a refugee, what is not?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check with UNRWA, Benny; I don’t have anything on that.  Broadly speaking, typically, we wouldn’t comment on national legislation that is in the works.  But, let me check with UNRWA in case they have something to say.

Question:  Remember that nation… you’re talking about national legislation that funds most of UNRWA.

Spokesperson:  I understand what you are saying, but the principle remains the same.  But, as I say, I will check with UNRWA.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Is there a report due today by the Secretary-General on Syria?

Spokesperson:  As I think we mentioned yesterday, the Security Council will be holding consultations next Wednesday, 30 May, and by that time, the Security Council will be equipped with the report.  By the time the Council deliberates, they will have the report.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask… I’d asked you yesterday about this reported bombing of South Sudan by Sudan.  They have now said that it continued into Tuesday, and so, I wanted to know whether UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] has been able to verify it in these far-flung locations.  But, the Government of South Sudan is also saying that an Antonov, which they identified as being part of the Sudanese Air Force, overflew Juba, the capital, which is quite far from the border, this week.  And I am thinking UNMISS is… definitely has a presence in Juba.  What is the response to South Sudan’s allegation that Sudan is flying a war aircraft over its capital?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the answer is the same as yesterday, but it could be that my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations have an update and I just have not yet received it.  But, I’ll certainly ask them again.

Question:  And I wanted to… it’s a Rio+20 question, but otherwise and there may… I’d wanted to ask you this yesterday, there was in… Monday, in the General Assembly, there was a meeting that resulted in a vote for some 53 to 33, and it involved the accrediting by the Secretariat, as it was described, to Rio+20 of NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and specifically two NGOs which the people that are trying to block them said were never accepted into ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], of the NGO Committee.  One is called the Jewish National Fund, and in the GA [General Assembly], it was said that they do business in occupied territories, it’s been said that that’s why they weren’t made part of ECOSOC, and so, a lot of questions arose, and my question is, what is the Secretariat’s role in accrediting NGOs to go to Rio+20?  The G-77 said since this vote was called, one shouldn’t expect consensus on Rio, which is a pretty bold big statement.  Is the Secretary-General even aware of this dispute that seems to put this very important conference into some question?

Spokesperson:  The role of NGOs and civil society is certainly very important, both in the run-up to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and at the Conference itself.  Their input is vital, as it always is.  I don’t have any specific comment on the voting that you have referred to; that would be a matter for Member States.  On the question you have asked that underlays that, if you like, the question of registration of NGOs, I would need to check.  I don’t have the answer to that.

Question:  It’s just because it was said, and I don’t if they are right or not, but it was said that a list wasn’t circulated, this is why there was a very ill-attended meeting and a hastily called vote, but so, really, it is a question I’d like… I mean, it would be great to know what the Secretary-General thinks of this group, given the controversy around it.  I think he has planted a tree with them, but it would also just be important to know in the Secretariat itself how this list is created and whether Member States were informed in advance of this list.

Spokesperson:  As I said, the vote itself is a matter for Member States.  The registration procedure I would need to ask about, I don’t know the answer to that.  Lou, do you have a question?

Correspondent:  No.

Spokesperson:  Your presence normally would indicate you had a question.  But, never mind… okay, come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask a budget question.  Earlier this week, in the Fifth Committee, I guess it is not just in the Committee, the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] has recommended pretty strongly that Mr. [Haile] Menkerios, the Special Envoy on Sudan and South Sudan, move to, you know, either physically move himself or move his operations to the region.  They said that this would both bring him closer to the parties at this important time and would save the UN money.  So, I wanted to know, this ACABQ recommendation has been out there for some time, what is the response of the Secretariat or DPA [Department for Political Affairs], who’s ever in charge of making that decision, to that recommendation to both save money and get more involved in the process?

Spokesperson:  Well, again, I do not know the answer to that, Matthew, simple as that.  And I will check on where we are with that.  Typically, if there are meetings of this kind where advice has been given, there needs to be follow-up.  And I’ll have to check where that follow-up is.

All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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