|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, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. Sorry for the slight delay.
**General Assembly President
The General Assembly voted this morning to elect Vuk Jeremic, who is the Foreign Minister of Serbia, to be the President of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly. Mr. Jeremic received 99 of the 185 valid ballots cast.
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) has sent teams of observers to the villages of el-Qubeir and el-Rastan today to conduct a fact finding mission. We are not in a position to give further details until the teams have returned with their findings.
The Secretary-General and the Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, briefed the Security Council on Syria yesterday afternoon. And they spoke to the press afterward, along with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
The Secretary-General said that the danger of a full-scale civil war is imminent and real, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Syria and the region. He added that the Annan plan remains at the centre of our efforts, but that, in view of the deteriorating situation, he would welcome further international discussions on the way forward. The Secretary-General plans to discuss the matter when he attends the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
He added, in response to questions, that his sense after the briefings yesterday to the General Assembly and the Security Council was that all Member States, without exception, are united in saying that all violence must stop and in supporting the six-point peace plan. The Secretary-General will be presenting options shortly to the Security Council on the way ahead.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
A monthly food ration for around 20,000 newly displaced people and host families in Beni, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
The World Food Programme said that concerns remain about the effect of violence on the civilian population in the region. It added that continued violence will lead to more people requiring help. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in recent months, many seeking refuge near the city of Goma or elsewhere in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thousands more have made the trek across the Rwandan and Ugandan borders in search of security.
Taking earlier population movements into account, the World Food Programme is providing assistance to more than 530,000 Congolese refugees and internally displaced people in the Great Lakes region. There are more details available online.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will host a retreat with heads of regional organizations in Greentree, Long Island. This retreat is the second of its kind and will bring together 15 regional, sub-regional and other organizations that are active in the area of peace and security. It will provide an opportunity for an informal and frank exchange of views and experiences between the United Nations and its regional partners.
At 4:30 this afternoon, the Secretary-General will attend the United Nations Bike Ride to promote sustainable low carbon urban transport, in light of the forthcoming Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. I was asked yesterday whether the Secretary-General would ride a bicycle at that event, and I can tell you that he will not. I think that is understandable, given that it is harder to ride a bike with one hand at the moment. He will be present at the start of the event and ring a large bicycle bell to send the riders off.
**Department of Public Information
And I have a message from our colleagues in the News and Media Division of the Department of Public Information. They very much regret and apologize for the brief disruption of the UN's broadcasting of the General Assembly meeting on Syria yesterday. This was due to a miscommunication within the division. And every effort is being made to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Questions, please? Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The thing is, in that regard in the one item that you mentioned last, in the last General Assembly also, the Syrian Ambassador complained that his speech was deliberately cut out on the… I mean, he alleged on the instruction of a, b and c, and this time it has happened again. So now it seems like it’s a plan. So what…?
Spokesperson: Masood, I have just explained that it was a miscommunication. It’s not a plan. And I would reject that categorically and rather strongly.
Question: Okay. On another question about these occupied territories; there is a report that Israel is again building on the settlements, about 800 units, and is there a reaction from the Secretary-General on this or have you already issued one?
Spokesperson: Well, Robert Serry, who as you know has an important role in this regard, did issue a statement just the other day. He said…
Question: Not the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: As you know, he reports to the Secretary-General, and I think that you can take it as read that the Secretary-General associates himself with the comments by Mr. Serry. Very clearly, any settlements are against international law, and we have made that repeatedly clear.
Spokesperson: Yes, Matthew?
Question: A couple of questions on Sudan. One is… is, it said that on 31 May the… the Government, the Sudanese Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission HAC, ordered the closure of the offices of seven international NGOs, including Save the Children, and Red Sea State and GOAL Ireland, Plan Sudan, Triangle. So it’s seven groups, and I am just wondering, it seems since there was… there was a huge outcry when this took place in Darfur, this is in other parts of the country, but what… what is… what is OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] or the UN’s response to the closure of these international NGOs?
Spokesperson: Well, as I understand it, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is aware of this and is discussing with the concerned parties how to ensure that the humanitarian needs in eastern Sudan are covered. But I don’t have anything further on that. Next question?
Question: Okay, all right. You can see why I would say, like, why is this being treated differently than when they were closed in Darfur and there was at the very highest level there was talk of… of it being a war crime, et cetera, is it… what’s changed?
Spokesperson: As I say, as I say, the office is aware…
Question: Okay, I mean as… I just want to ask… supplement the question, that’s all, I understand you are not going to… I just mean if… if they come back with an answer, maybe there is some explanation for it.
Spokesperson: I think you can take it that if there is further information, then we’ll provide it.
Question: Okay. The other one is… I mean, and this is in what some see as a bad sign with the security talks between Sudan and South Sudan have ended without… you know, without result or success in Addis Ababa, with Sudan saying that South Sudan is wrong to be claiming Heglig and it is not clear what the next steps are. What, basically I wanted to know, does the UN have any comment on this, this setback for what was seen as maybe a pullback from the brink, and what is the role of Mr. [Haile] Menkerios and… and… and the UN system in these talks?
Spokesperson: As you will be aware, Mr. Menkerios is playing a role, with others. As you know I think from previous conversations, there is the panel within the African Union; they are playing an important role in this. We don’t yet have a full readout on the meeting that has just ended. The Secretary-General has consistently said that this is an important forum; that there must be progress in the various outstanding areas under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. As I say, we don’t yet have a full readout. So I don’t really want to pass judgement at this point, except to say that clearly, dialogue is absolutely crucial. As you yourself pointed out, that these have been extremely tense times with bloodshed and it is important that they do continue with this dialogue. I need a more detailed readout before I can say any more. Other questions? Yes, Masood? Sorry, Anne, yes, you have a question?
Question: I have a question regarding today’s secret ballot for election for President of the General Assembly. It’s been a common practice that none of the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely United States, Russia, France, China and UK, vote for President of the General Assembly. Was that practice observed today or was that…?
Spokesperson: Nice question. I think you’d have to ask them. Or possibly Nihal Saad, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. I don’t have the answer to that, but almost by definition, if it is a secret ballot, then I wouldn’t know the answer. Yes, Masood?
Question: I was going to ask you about these killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, because of the drone strikes, which the United Nations, what do you call, Human Rights Commissioner has said is maybe, what do you call, illegal and there should be some sort of investigation, and the terrorist attacks which are going on, hundreds of people have been killed. Has the SG has the United Nations Special Representative issued any statement regards to those?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has not. But we talked about this yesterday, Masood, and I don’t really have anything further to add on that topic.
Question: The terrorist attacks also, you know, they are, like today, there were terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and…
Spokesperson: Yes, we’ve seen those reports. Again, we don’t have the full details. But when innocent civilians lose their lives, that is, of course, hugely regrettable. And if it is the result of a terrorist attack, then it is to be condemned. But, I do not have enough details at this point.
Question: No, what I am saying is between those two things happening over there, there is a lot of resentment and so forth, is… has the Secretary-General and the Representative over there issued anything… any other detailed statement on this, both the drone attacks and the terrorist attacks, which are both undermining the situation there.
Spokesperson: Well, the short answer is no. And I have told you what we have on that at the moment, Masood, yeah.
[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, has issued a press release concerning the recent attacks.]
Question: Oh yeah, one is on Syria and then Sri Lanka. On… on Syria, it is a… I… I am hoping maybe you’ve seen this, there is a… Channel 4 of the UK has a correspondent in… in… following around the UNSMIS mission, his name is Alex Thompson. And he has been writing a series of detailed reports about all the events, in fact, they were descri… discussed yesterday here at the UN. And his… his… he names… he names an Irish UN sort of tour leader, Mark Reynolds, and he… it’s his position and he says clearly in it that he… he believes that… that as journalists they… they… they signed in with the Free Syrian Army and they were led to a place where, yes, they were shot at by the army, but it was sort of a set-up because… I mean, I can read you the quote from it, but it’s a… it is a very detailed account which is much more… it is sort of more nuanced, it sort of says like that the opposition there may have an interest in certainly journalists and even maybe UNSMIS personnel being shot at. And so, I wanted… what is the UN’s response, given that it actually lists this guy, Mark Reynolds, in the article, is it… is the article false, does the U… does the UN disagree with UK Channel 4 or is this an accurate depiction of… of… or at least an experiential description of what took place in… in… in… in the… the… the killings and events that were described, discussed here yesterday?
Spokesperson: I am not going to comment on individual reports. But the Secretary-General has been extremely explicit about the dangers that our unarmed observers face in carrying out the mandate given to them by the Security Council. Yes, they have been shot at; yes, different kinds of weapons have been used. The Secretary-General’s assessment, based on the information he has been receiving, is that there has, it would appear, been deliberate targeting. And do we know in each case from which side or from whom? No, we do not. And the Secretary-General has made it quite clear that it is for all parties, particularly the Syrian authorities, but it is for all parties to enable the monitors to carry out the job that they have been given to do by the Security Council. They are unarmed; they are putting themselves in harm’s way with the aim of trying to monitor a ceasefire which has yet to transpire. Everybody knows that; it was said very clearly yesterday. I think that’s quite clear.
Question: And then there just the… thanks, and thanks for taking these. They’re… these are two Sri Lanka questions, one is brand new and one is a follow-up. So I’ll start with the brand new one that maybe you may or may not have an answer to. There are a number of… of… of a cry has gone out from there… from… from Sri Lanka to international community including the UN about the… the detention without charge of a number of activists and they are named by name — there is 17 of them — they have been transferred to what is called Booska military prison from Vavuniya’s Jaffna, Colombo, and I just wonder what… what’s been the follow-up of the UN system on… on the issues of both… I guess you could say reconciliation, but also just making sure that people are not sort of disappeared in this way? And the follow-up question has to do with a journalist, Prageeth [Ekneligoda], that I know… I know that a letter was, you know, delivered in Colombo. It made its way here. But, there has been a development in the case in which the Sri Lankan attorney, former Attorney-General Mohan Peiris, has in court in… in Sri Lanka said that what he told the UN Commi… Committee on Torture, which is that the Government knew that, that Mr. Prageeth was alive and living overseas and not to be worried about. He has now said under oath that they had no basis for saying that. They have no idea where he is; and so it has led many people to believe that he may… to be much more worried about his plight than before, and it has also… it reflects a misrepresentation to the UN system, so I wanted to know, as a follow-up to… to… to have the petition that the Secretary-General received about Prageeth, does this change anything and is there any update? What steps have been taken by the Secretariat on this missing journalist?
Spokesperson: Well, thanks very much for both of the questions. I do not have anything on either of them. And we will endeavour to find something out about it. All right, thank you. Have a good afternoon, thank you.
* *** *