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

1 August 2012

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

1 August 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 everybody.  Welcome to the Briefing.


** Syria


The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) said that it is deeply concerned about the heavy fighting in Aleppo.  There has been a significant increase over the past three days in the level of violence in the southeast neighbourhoods of Aleppo.


The observers from the UN Mission are reporting exchanges of fire, shelling and explosions in addition to use of helicopters, tanks, heavy machine guns and artillery shelling.  Yesterday, they also saw firing from a fighter aircraft.


The observers now have confirmed information that the opposition is in possession of heavy weapons, including tanks, in Aleppo.  There are reports of casualties and mass displacement from the area.  Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer neighbourhoods.  The UN Mission also reports that there is a shortage of food, fuel and gas.  The UN has reminded both parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians.


** Syria – World Food Programme


The World Food Programme (WFP) will distribute food to 28,000 people in Aleppo over the next few days, following reports of shortages of food, gas and electricity during weeks of violence in Syria’s largest city.


In July, the World Food Programme provided food assistance to more than half a million Syrians. The organization had aimed to reach more, but was prevented from doing so by fighting in many parts of the country.


The Programme has also launched an operation to provide food assistance to vulnerable Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq through food vouchers.  The six-month operation, which started in July, aims to assist 67,000 people this month and is to reach 120,000 by December.  The World Food Programme’s operation in Syria is $62 million short of its needs, which are calculated at $103 million.  There is more information available online.


**Sustainable Development


And just to remind you, the Secretary-General, in an informal meeting with the General Assembly yesterday, announced the 26 members of the High-level Panel to advise on the global development agenda beyond 2015, which as you know is the target date for the Millennium Development Goals.


The Secretary-General had previously appointed three co-chairs:  President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia; President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom.


The Panel will hold its first meeting at the end of September on the margins of the General Debate, and its findings will inform the report that the Secretary-General will prepare and submit to the General Assembly next year.  The Panel’s work will be closely coordinated with that of the intergovernmental working group to design Sustainable Development Goals, as agreed at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.  And the list of panellists is available in our office and it is also available online.


** Somalia


Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, has welcomed today’s adoption of the Provisional Constitution of the Somalia Republic by the Constituent Assembly in Mogadishu, calling it a “momentous occasion”.


He said that the adoption of the Provisional Constitution is an historic achievement, as it completes one of the most important milestones towards ending the transitional period and ushering in a new political future.  Mr. Mahiga also praised the Somali delegates who are “not deterred” by the suicide bomb attack which occurred earlier in the morning in an attempt to disrupt the process.  The attempt was promptly foiled by the security forces.  We have a press release with more details on that.


**Personnel Appointments


I have two personnel announcements to make.  Today, the Secretary-General has confirmed the appointment of Jamal Benomar as his Special Adviser on Yemen, at the level of Assistant Secretary-General, to lead strengthened good offices for Yemen during the country’s transition.


He is also appointing Ernesto Enrique Baca of Argentina as Assistant Secretary-General for the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Project in the Department of Management.  Details about these appointments and biographical data are available in my office.


**Security Council


Following the noon briefing tomorrow, Ambassador Gerard Araud, the Permanent Representative of France and the President of the Security Council for the month of August, will be here at 12:30 to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.


Questions please, Matthew.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure.  I have some questions on Congo.  But I wanted to ask, in this confirmation by UNSMIS of heavy weapons held by the opposition, there have been some reports of surface air missiles coming to the rebels by a Turkey… I wondered… a US network reported that, I’m wondering, television network.  Is that something that UNSMIS either can’t confirm, is trying to confirm or has any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  I am aware of the reports, but not in a position to confirm that particular report.  We are talking about heavy weapons on the ground that were already on the ground so to speak, in other words, previously belonged to the Syrian armed forces.  Okay.  You wanted to ask something on Congo?


Question:  I did actually.  Two things.  One, and I appreciate it.  I got from your Office yesterday a response that… unable, MONUSCO was unable to verify the effect, the impact of the fighting because of M23.  I just, I guess, I just wanted to point out, I mean, to make sure that this means there is no access.  Essentially, MONUSCO has no access to, to, to part of eastern Congo and therefore the question becomes… because I’m asking because there is, there is a request by Great Lake States to have international force that would somehow try to either attack M23 or go behind their lines.  Is the UN acknowledging that they have no access to the areas of the eastern Congo to protect civilians?  


Spokesperson:  Access in some areas, in some areas, is certainly very difficult, and that’s what the information contained that was given to you yesterday.  If it’s not possible to get onto the ground, then, it’s not possible to verify the information that you are seeking.  It’s obviously very difficult terrain.  It’s a… the vegetation is very dense and it’s also very mountainous.  This is not an easy area to operate in the best of circumstances.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi? Then, I will come to you.   


Question:  Thank you, Martin, as you know the Secretary-General on Syria has been repeatedly asking for the end of violence, and so has the Joint Special Envoy.  Violence has not stopped; it has increased.  There is violence everywhere now, including major cities.  There is an indication that the General Assembly will be meeting tomorrow to adopt a Saudi resolution asking for President Assad to step down and for condemning the violence.  Does the Secretary-General think that that action will improve the image of the United Nations, since, as you know, resolutions of the General Assembly are not mandatory?  


Spokesperson:  I think what’s important here is that a meeting of the General Assembly on this topic would be an expression of the frustration felt in the international community at large about what’s happening in Syria and the inability of the international community so far to be able to help to bring an end to violence that everybody wishes to see.  So, I think, if viewed through that prism.  The other aspect is of course it is up to the Member States of the General Assembly to decide what the resolution says and then to vote on it.  And I think I will leave it there, except just to add, in general, what the Secretary-General wants to see is unity, a united voice from the international community to help to place as much pressure as possible on the parties, not just the Syrian government forces, who of course bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for what is happening, but also on the opposition forces, to ensure that they do heed the calls, they do stop the fighting, and they do turn to a political process.  But it’s obvious that so far there have been frustrations and so far we have not seen throughout the unified approach that perhaps we would have liked to have seen.  Yes, Nizar. 


Question:  Yeah, Martin, regarding the summary executions carried out by the so-called Syrian Free Army in Aleppo.  They are operating people, doing the summary… they are even putting the videos on the Internet showing how they are killing people just pulling them from their homes and shooting them on the spot.  Is there any initiative to send people to verify these things and to make, put an end to such practices.        


Spokesperson:  Such practices whether carried out by the opposition forces or security forces of the Syrian Government, are of course to be condemned.  And people who do carry out such actions will be held accountable for that.  That is clear.  The other aspect of this, Nizar, is that the Mission has suspended its activities.  It is carrying out limited patrols, targeted patrols.  Aleppo is not, as I think you will appreciate, the easiest of the places to operate at the moment.  It doesn’t mean they are not trying to find out what’s going on.  If I have something specific regarding the pointed question you’ve asked, then I will let you know.  But more generally speaking, of course, such actions carried out by either party would be unacceptable and people should be held accountable for that.  Next question, please.  I will come back to you Nizar.  Yes?


Question:  Many Syrians are fleeing everyday across the borders to Jordan, specifically to the official refugee camp that’s just built.  Saturday alone, 2,000 Syrians escaped to Jordan, plus 37,000 already registered.  The United Nations on Monday stated that there are 200,000 people who have fled fighting in Aleppo alone.  Meanwhile, the UN also expects that the camp will hold only 10,000 people, maybe up to 200,000 in the future.  Another problem with the refugees is their safety crossing the borders. 


Spokesperson:  So what’s the question.


Question:  I’m coming to the question.


Spokesperson:  I know, it’s rather long-winded.  Can you get to the question?


Question:  Okay.  Two questions. How does UN deal with such dramatically increasing refugees’ number?  And the second one, what can be done to help protect civilians, especially children, specially a six-year-old boy just shot, shot by the Syrian forces on Friday?  So, what can be done to help protect civilians who are crossing the borders everyday, hundreds of them?


Spokesperson:  The mere fact that people are fleeing in such large numbers underscores the desperate plight they are in and the fear that they have, given the intensity of the fighting.  In the countries around, the United Nations is working with the local authorities to do their best to help those who are coming, and they are increasing their efforts to provide assistance on the ground.  One, one important point here is that countries, for example, Turkey and Jordan, have been extremely generous in their national capacities throughout this, and liaising with the United Nations, the Office of High Commissioner for Refugees, first and foremost, to find ways that we can help, whether that means bringing in supplies, whether it means providing tents or other kinds of shelter.  So there is coordination going on and, of course, the need is growing as you just said.  There is a large number of people on the move, internally displaced and crossing borders.  Various different parts of the UN family that deal with humanitarian matters are coordinating this extremely closely to try to do the best they can to help with what obviously the very desperate situation.  Yes, Nizar.   


Question: [inaudible] aid to be delivered to Aleppo.  Is that coming through Turkey, through the rebels-controlled areas and parts? 


Spokesperson:  Typically, the United Nations is working on the ground with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and that’s been one of the main conduits.  So, working with them to provide aid in a dispassionate and impartial manner.   


Question:  Through Damascus, not through Turkey? 


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon.


Question:  Through Damascus, not through Turkey? 


Spokesperson:  I’m not going to get into the different routes that are used.  But supplies are reaching those people, and obviously we are trying to ensure, as I just told a little earlier, that more supplies do reach those people.  Matthew? 


Question:  Sure.  I ask you about the situation in Sudan.  One is, I guess tomorrow is the deadline set in previous resolutions for Sudan and South Sudan to reach some agreement.  Seems like it’s not going to happen.  President Bashir said he doesn’t want to meet with President Kiir, and the offer was rejected.  What’s the UN Secretary, Mr. Menkarios thought of the next step?  And also yesterday, it arose in front of the Council that Sudan was saying that UNSMISS, double S, in South Sudan, should be looking to see whether rebels that leave Darfur enter the territory should confirm or deny that in the same way that the new UNAMID resolution asks UNAMID to look for LRA in Darfur, which even the UN seems to say [is] not there.  So, what’s… does UNMISS in South Sudan view it as part of its mandate?  Does it actually look to see whether armed rebel groups enter its territory?     


Spokesperson:  I will check with the Mission on the second question, Matthew.  On the first one, we would simply encourage both parties, both Presidents and their delegations, to meet at the earliest possible opportunity.  They have made some progress, obviously not enough.  And we would encourage them to make more.  Further questions?  Yes?  Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Thank you Martin.  Still on Syria.  There is an indication that army elements and tanks from Turkey are moving toward borders with Syria.  Does the Secretary-General think that this situation in Syria is now beginning to threaten international peace and security in the region?


Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the report of movements within Turkey.  I simply emphasize that they are within Turkey. 


So, let me read you a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Somalia and on the adoption of a Provisional Constitution in Somalia.


The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption today of the Provisional Constitution of Somalia by the National Constituent Assembly in Mogadishu.  He congratulates the delegates and the Somali leadership for this historic achievement and their commitment to ending the transition and to establishing new, representative political institutions in the country.


The adoption of the Provisional Constitution is not the end of the process; it is an important step towards the creation of a better future for all Somalis.  The Secretary-General encourages all stakeholders to undertake the last steps to end the transition peacefully, united, and with the best interest of the Somali people in mind.  He reminds those who might try to undermine the ongoing process that acts of intimidation will not be tolerated.


In this regard, the Secretary-General strongly condemns the suicide attacks carried out today near the National Constituent Assembly venue, which resulted in the deaths of several people.  Terrorism must not be allowed to roll back the important gains that have been made so far.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Somalia.


So that statement will be available in my Office and online quite shortly, I would think if not already the case.  Yes, last question.


Question:  This is the second Congo question I wanted to ask.  There is some controversy arisen around the group of experts on DRC sanctions.  People inside Rwanda, and I believe the Government itself, have raised that the UN selected, they call, it’s going to be the question very quickly, that the coordinator of the group of experts has published articles saying FDLR is not a threat to Rwanda, that Rwanda is concerned about FDLR just a diversion.  They think these are positions that are contrary to what the UN has said elsewhere.  And they are wondering, and I’m wondering myself, how are, what’s DPA’s role in the selection of the people to be on these groups of experts.  A similar controversy is about Somalia where Mr. Bryden seems to be leaving, but is there some, what is the UN’s role in sort of…, not to say that these views should be held, but in terms of, assessing a country’s compliance with sanctions, if they written these things.  What’s the UN role and how are these people selected? 


Spokesperson:  I will check on that, Matthew.  I think it’s, perhaps a little more prosaic than you are sketching out.  But let me check.  Alright.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon. 


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