|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. Welcome to the briefing.
The Secretary-General is leaving New York about now to fly to Japan, where he will attend the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan on Sunday. The Secretary-General will have a range of bilateral meetings on the margins of that Conference and, of course, with Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Noda and Foreign Minister Gemba. We will provide details of those meetings where we can. The Secretary-General is due back in New York on Monday.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, says it is doing its utmost to protect civilians in and around the town of Bunagana in the east of the country.
Last night Bunagana, which is located near the border with Uganda, came under attack from a well-equipped and sizable force of mutineers from the M23 Group. The Congolese national army, FARDC, reportedly sustained significant casualties and the M23 has at this stage infiltrated the town. Large numbers of residents have reportedly fled Bunagana.
MONUSCO is very concerned about the general security of civilians in the area, and while there are significant numbers of displaced in the locality, there is no information at this stage about civilian casualties. MONUSCO is in close contact with the FARDC command regarding next steps to contain the threat posed by the M23 Group.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that armed rebel groups controlling large parts of northern Mali are recruiting child soldiers into their ranks. It says that at least 175 boys aged between 12 to 18 years have been recruited. The agency says insecurity in the region has forced nearly 300,000 children out of school, leaving them vulnerable to recruitment, violence and exploitation.
And the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says at least 24 suspected cases of cholera have been reported in the city of Gao in northern Mali. The World Health Organization (WHO) has dispatched cholera response kits to the region and is partnering with local aid agencies to sensitize the local communities on cholera prevention and treatment measures.
**Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council has been meeting in Geneva and has made a number of key decisions today. The Council is to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the rights of the Palestinian people. It has appointed a three-member fact-finding mission which will undertake the investigations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
The Council also passed a new resolution on Syria, condemning the violence there and demanding all sides abide by envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan. Forty-one of the 47 members of the Council voted in favour of the resolution, tabled by the United States and Turkey.
The Council also said it will appoint a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.
And The Human Rights Council has named John Knox as the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment. Mr. Knox, who is from the United States, was selected for his extensive expertise in the fields of human rights, international environmental law, climate change and the interrelation between these issues.
An announcement to make here on an appointment. The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Iqbal Singh Singha of India as the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). Major General Singha succeeds Major General Natalio C. Ecarma of the Philippines, who will complete his assignment on 13 August 2012. The Secretary-General is grateful to Major General Ecarma for his dedication and effective leadership of UNDOF over the past two-and-a-half years.
On Monday at 11 a.m., here in this auditorium, Ian Martin, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), will brief you by video link, following Libya's elections.
That’s it for me, questions please? Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you tell me on this situation in Syria, General Mood has been saying that the job is difficult and so forth for them to execute the mission. Is there any proposal on the table to somehow arm the UN Mission? Or is it just going to be still the same, a support mission without any enforcement mechanism for them?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the decision to change the nature of the force in Syria at present would depend on the Security Council. To the best of my knowledge, that is not under consideration right now, but that’s a question basically for the Security Council to address when the time comes to do so.
Question: As far as the Human Rights Council issued a statement about the Palestinian territories, settlements and so forth, and that it’s illegal, the United Nations has been saying again and again, asking Israel to somehow restrain itself, but it has not worked, nothing has worked as far as Israel is concerned. There is no mechanism that United Nations or the Secretary-General has to somehow impress upon Israel to stop this activity as a whole?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Security Council has spoken on a number of occasions on this. The Secretary-General has come out and said that the settlements are illegal and has spoken about this with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He was in Israel in late January, early February of this year and he raised that issue again with Israeli leaders. Robert Serry raises this on an ongoing basis with the Israelis, so they know very well what the position of the international community is. It’s up to them to take steps with the Palestinians to get together and discuss the basic issues that divide them and start a peace process going, but that is something that is up to them to do. The lady behind you?
Question: I’m just wondering about the Secretary-General’s report on Syria. Do you have any timing yet as to when that’s going to be released?
Deputy Spokesperson: It should be coming out soon.
Question: But when you say “soon”, do you mean this afternoon or this weekend?
Deputy Spokesperson: It will be going to the Security Council, I believe, today. We’ll have to see what happens with the Security Council, when they decide to release it. As you know, for it to be released officially it has to be translated into the six languages and that takes a bit of time. So, we’ll see how that goes. Matthew?
Question: In Sudan, there’s been another series of Friday protests and the use of tear gas and mass arrests in Omdurman just outside of Khartoum. And I’m wondering, in these types of sort of Arab Spring or request-for-democratization uprisings, the Secretary-General has in other instances said you should listen to your people and commented on the number of detained. Does the UN have any estimate itself of the number of people detained, and does it have any comment on the growing protests and repression taking place in Sudan?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has always called for the freedom of people to exercise their right to democratically protest and this is something that the Secretary-General has underscored in all situations. We don’t have any specific information on the situation of those who have been detained in Khartoum, but the Secretary-General stands by that principle.
Question: Speaking also of detentions, is it the case that the UN workers in Myanmar, initially I asked I think about a week ago, you said that they were detained and then released, but that their names would not be given. Now there’s an article saying they haven’t been released and for a full week they’ve been in detention in Rakhine State. Are they still detained? I understand there’s some sensitivity, but I just want to know, has there been any response by the Government as to why they’ve been detained and are they still in detention?
Deputy Spokesperson: Let me see if I have something for you on that. Yes, some 10 are still being detained by the Rakhine authorities for questioning, but we do not give out any personal or professional information about them.
Question: Sure, but, without getting into it, obviously their names, we heard from this podium even yesterday from Ms. Coomaraswamy some pretty positive… Does this change the UN’s view of how great things are going?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think Dr. Coomaraswamy yesterday made a very valid point in her presentation. That point was that Myanmar is in a state of change, in a state of flux, the authorities are moving forward on a broad range of issues. They have been congratulated by the international community, but unfortunately Governments do not march in lock step. There are different parts of Governments doing different things, facing different situations, and it’s not a question of there being a criticism or otherwise of the situation in Rakhine. But there is this situation and we’re working to get our way up. I think Dr. Coomaraswamy was right yesterday in her assessment that things are progressing in Myanmar, not at an equal pace. Yes?
Question: It’s about the UN Mission in Syria. General Mood yesterday said again that he had the reassurance from the Syrian Government, but my question is about the position. He said the reassurance that the Mission can restart his work. Did the reassurance come from one opposition or several oppositions? Do we know who General Mood is in contact with at this moment and if something is coming out of it?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, without getting into details, which I don’t have, General Mood is in contact with people on the ground. It is up to him to decide when the situation is going to be safe enough for the observers to go out and resume many of the functions that were suspended basically because of the violence. It’s the Secretary-General and the Joint Special Envoy and General Mood who have called on all sides to eliminate violence from their list of activities, to engage in a peaceful resolution of the situation. Obviously, it is very difficult for 300 unarmed observers to be going around the country if they are being attacked and being targeted. This is the reason why it was suspended and we will see when General Mood decides that the situation on the ground is safe enough for them to resume their functions. Matthew?
Question: I want to ask about the Congo and on Uganda, and then something on press freedom. You talked about this overrunning of positions and thanks a lot for the kind of detail of the mutineers. There’s a least one story saying that the FARDC, the Congolese army, some of their soldiers actually crept across into Uganda. Some people say they were chased into Uganda. The Congolese seem to say it was a tactical retreat. But 600 of them, and they were disarmed then by Ugandans. And since it’s a cross-border incident, I wonder, can the UN confirm that, and what do they think of this conflict of the mutineers actually spreading into Uganda at least in this way?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that. We’ve all seen the reports. What I’ve read this morning is basically what we have on the situation there and I’d like to leave it at that.
Question: Yesterday, the New York Civil Liberties Union put out a press release and also wrote a letter to the incoming Head of DPI and to the Acting Head, asking what the due process rights of journalists are at the UN, making specific reference to this Voice of America complaint that my accreditation should be reviewed. I wonder, do you have a response now? And when you make a response, will you make it public? And I’d like to add to that, what are the rights of journalists on sort of pre-textual complaints? I spent two-and-a-half hours this morning responding to something entirely based on something that I said. And I wonder, is there going to be a public response by the UN to the questions raised by the New York Civil Liberties Union?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that. I think you are dealing with the situation, and, quite frankly, I don’t think it should be dealt with here at this podium.
Correspondent: What I am saying is that the Civil Liberties Union is a highly respected, freedom-of-the-press organization and they’ve made a public letter, put it on the website to the UN asking for a public response. And I’m just simply encouraging you to respond in a public way.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ll have to see how that goes.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Deputy Spokesperson: Okay, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon and have a good weekend, a nice warm one.
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