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

15 August 2012

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

15 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General arrived in Timor-Leste this morning, where he met with the country’s President and then spoke to reporters.  The Secretary-General told the press that Timor-Leste had made much progress in just 10 years of independence, but there were still many challenges.  He said he had discussed with the President what would be the most appropriate form of UN assistance once the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste is withdrawn at the end of this year.

On Syria, the Secretary-General said he was actively searching for a successor to the outgoing Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan.  He said he would make an announcement as soon as possible.

The Secretary-General later met the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.  He also addressed Parliament, saying there was no limit to Timor-Leste's future if its people and leaders continue to show a strong commitment to democratic values, meaningful participation, peace and stability.

** Syria

The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria today released its latest report on the human rights situation in Syria, in which it concludes that Government forces and Shabbiha fighters have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  Those include unlawful killing, indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations and acts of sexual violence.

The report underlines that such violations were committed pursuant to State policy, pointing to the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the Government.  The report also updates the Commission of Inquiry findings on its special inquiry into the events in Al-Houla on 25 May 2012, concluding that Government forces and Shabbiha fighters were responsible for the killings of over 100 civilians, nearly half of whom were children.

The Commission further reports that war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial killings and torture, were perpetrated by anti-Government armed groups.  However, these violations and abuses were not of the same gravity, frequency and scale as those committed by Government forces and the Shabbiha.

The full report is available online.

** Syria - Humanitarian

Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, met the Syrian Foreign Minister and members of the diplomatic community in Damascus today.

Ms. Amos also visited the An Nabk area, 80 kilometres north of Damascus, where tens of thousands of displaced people, many from Homs, are living, as well as other areas housing displaced people.  She visited schools hosting hundreds of displaced people in Damascus yesterday, and said that the people she met had told her that they need clean water, sanitation, medical help and food. They are frightened. Many have no home to return to and they desperately need more help and support.

In her meetings with officials in Syria, Ms. Amos has called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians caught up in the crisis.

**Security Council

The President of the Security Council read a press statement today, in which the members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attack by unidentified armed men on a community police centre of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), in which one peacekeeper was killed and another injured.

Council members reiterated their full support for UNAMID and called on all parties in Darfur to cooperate with the mission.

**South Sudan

I was asked yesterday about the concerns of local staff of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).

We are aware of the economic conditions in South Sudan and their impact on the national staff.  The UN Mission, along with the UN country team, have been continuously engaged with the Executive Board of the Mission and the UN Country Team Staff Association, which represents the national staff working for the UN in South Sudan, to address the economic difficulties faced by the national staff.

The United Nations is looking into all possible options to address the effects of the current economic crisis on staff welfare.  The United Nations is committed to supporting our national staff during this difficult period that South Sudan is experiencing, and will continue to work closely with the Staff Association to find a viable solution.

Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I want to ask about the explosion that occurred at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus today.  I’m wondering if you have any information on if the UN monitors that were being lodged there were targeted, and how the safety of the monitors is being secured after this event, because it now appears that this hotel is not safe?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware of the explosion.  No UN monitors were injured or affected by the blast.  However, it just goes to show that no part of the country seems to be safe right now, especially Damascus and Aleppo.

Question:  So if no part of the country is safe, how are UN monitors going to be kept safe?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN monitors are, as you will have learned a few weeks ago, the monitoring missions were suspended, with the exception of some very specific missions to help arrange local ceasefires and issues like that, and we’re waiting for the situation to ameliorate, so they can resume their visits to the affected areas.  However, the situation on the ground is violent and this has affected the ability of the Mission to do its observation role.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Yes, Eduardo.  In Mali, the refugees continue to stream into Mauritania from the south and there are thousands now in the area. The situation is getting very critical, because the country’s undergoing severe drought and is unable to gear up to the needs of these refugees. What is the international community doing to relieve this situation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  In Mali, of course, we are looking at the situation there.  The international community is very concerned by what is going on in the region.  The international community is there, as much as it can be there.  I will suggest, perhaps, that you might contact the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find out what exactly their programmes are with respect to refugees who are crossing the border.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah, two questions.  One question about this…you said at the top of the briefing that the Secretary-General was responding to a question about the appointment of an envoy replacing Kofi Annan.  Basically, I didn’t get it.  Has he given any timeline for it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me read to you what I read out:  “On Syria, the Secretary-General said he was actively searching for a successor to the outgoing joint special envoy, Kofi Annan.  He said he would make an announcement as soon as possible.”

Question:  OK, I just wanted to know that – given the situation in Afghanistan, there are reports again and again of massive killings by the militants – has the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy over there sent any report about what is happening, and his assessment of the situation over there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we are in constant, of course, communication with the UN Mission in Afghanistan and the situation continues to be troubling.  We are concerned at the ongoing violence, and we are trying to work with the Government, and we’re trying to see with the opposition what kind of a negotiated settlement can be achieved. But the violence continues, and that is of great concern to us, yes.

Question:  On Friday, almost all the newspapers reported Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi is the likely successor to Kofi Annan, and everybody expected some announcement Monday or Tuesday.  And, today, there seems to be serious questions about whether or not Mr. Brahimi will accept the post.  Do you know what the contentious issues are which will determine whether he will…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I have just said what the Secretary-General said in Timor-Leste.  He is actively searching for a successor to the outgoing Joint Special Envoy, and he will make an announcement as soon as possible.  All rumours that are being carried in the media are rumours; they are certainly not emanating from us.  The Secretary-General continues to deliberate whom he is going to approach to appoint, and once we have an announcement to make, we will make it.

Question:  Yeah, after months of hostage-taking in Syria by the rebels, now some families in Lebanon have resorted to taking hostages – Syrian hostages – in Lebanon.  What is the United Nations doing for the exchange or the release of both hostages on both sides of the border?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, as we said last week, the United Nations has received a letter from the Iranians asking for the Secretary-General’s help in releasing the Iranian hostages, and that is under consideration.  But the Secretary-General has said that the holding of hostages is something that is completely unacceptable.  Matthew?

Question:  I have some other questions, but on Syria, I wanted to ask you two things.  One is, just now at the stakeout, Ambassador [Gérard] Araud said that it will be discussed tomorrow in the Council – it’s a Secretariat question, I’ll get to it – it will be whether consensus can be reached on setting up a liaison office of the Joint Special Envoy in Syria.  Now I just wondered:  from the Secretariat’s point of view, do you need Security Council approval for that?  Or isn’t it a mandate between the GA [General Assembly] and the Arab League, and something that the Secretariat can do without any Security Council approval?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any knowledge of the legalities of it, but we are waiting to see what the Security Council decides tomorrow.

Question:  And also, this thing about the jet – and I’m sorry if I’ve missed any UN announcement about it – but there’s a lot of news about the shooting down or crashing, in the alternative, of a jet in Syria. And I just wonder, given that there are still observers there, do they have any information on whether it was actually shot down or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the observers are – as we have said – the observer mission has been suspended and other than a couple of very specific things that they are doing in locations that are easily accessible, they are not in the countryside observing what is going on.  We don’t have any comment on that.

Correspondent:  Because I thought they still had a hundred left there, and Babacar Gaye had said he went to Homs and other places…

Deputy Spokesperson:  They’ve gone to Homs and that, but they’re not investigating; they are observing the violence but they have not investigated, to the best of my knowledge, this particular reported downing.

Question:  Regarding my earlier question, have you today any reports of the killing of four hostages today in Syria?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, if I’m not mistaken, the announcement made by the rebels was that they were killed in an air attack by the Government. I’m not sure, but that’s what I’ve read in the media.

Question:  Is that confirmed or just rumoured?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s something that we’ve read in the media.  We cannot, as I’ve said, we cannot confirm these things, because the Mission has been suspended, and while there are occasional trips outside, the situation does not allow them to do the kind of monitoring and observation that they were sent there to do. Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the Quartet planning any meeting on the subject?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard about the Quartet planning a meeting on the subject, no. We’ll have to wait and see what they announce, if they decide to do one.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah, I just wondered, on the backdrop of Israel asking the Secretary-General not to go to Iran to attend the Non-aligned Summit — and there’s an editorial in the Washington Post today, also saying the same thing, I just wanted to know, has the Secretary-General decided whether he will go to this Non-aligned Summit in Tehran or not, as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Masood, the media is full of a lot of reports and a lot of issues.  We are not commenting on any proposed trips for the time being.  For the time being, the Secretary-General is in Timor-Leste, he returns to New York on Friday, and that’s all we have to say.  We’re not commenting on media reports.

Question:  But is he visiting or not visiting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re not commenting on media reports.

Question:  So the decision has not been made yet whether to go or not to…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re not commenting on media reports.  I can continue repeating that if you like; I’ve been doing it for the past few days.

Question:  I just want to nail you down on one thing:  yes or no?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You can’t nail me down; I’m like a bowl of Jello.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  When does the Secretary-General plan to give his monthly press conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to see when he gets back.  We’ll check with the Secretary-General and with Martin [Nesirky], and when we have an announcement to make, we will make it.

Question:  Yes, I just wanted to take a shot at this Jello situation.  Is it – it seems like your office did comment on it.  There’s one report, which is the Haaretz story, quoting Benjamin Netanyahu having done a readout of his side of the call that was had, saying that the UN Office of the Spokesman was critical of that.  And so I’ve asked you before, and I still just want to understand, what’s the difference with this call?  Was it said by the Secretary-General that there should be no readout of the call?  Because your side does do readouts, so just to understand…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we do readouts sometimes and we don’t do readouts sometimes, and we’re not going to comment on calls that may or may not have taken place last week.

Question:  Is this something that’s decided between the Secretary-General and the leader at issue, whether it’s going to be read out…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General decides when he wants a readout issued of a meeting or a phone call or an encounter of some type, and then the readout is issued.

Question:  So is the other side free to do its own readout without incurring any anger or dissatisfaction from the Secretary-General’s Office?  That’s what happened here.  It’s reported that Bibi Netanyahu put it on the Internet, what he told Ban Ki-moon, and that the UN didn’t like that.  And I just wanted to know is that…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would say that each side is free to do what it wants to, but there are courtesy issues involved.  And, normally, I would suggest that, I know when the Secretary-General does a meeting, normally when he issues a readout, normally both sides know that there’s going to be a readout issued.  OK?

Question:  Could I ask you one other, a question about his trip?  The Secretary-General apparently, before leaving South Korea, he said that he was going to be very involved – it was a South Korean media report – that he was going to be very involved in seeking the release of a South Korean couple thought to be abducted by North Korea some time ago.  And the quote – this is what I wanted to ask you about – he said, “Mr. Ban said that he actively took part in getting the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions to denounce the detentions in May.”  And, having been here in May, I wasn’t really aware of that.  Was there some – what was his involvement?  Maybe you’ll know or you can find – what was his involvement in that Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check on that, Matthew, I don’t have that information with me, OK?  Last question.

Question:  Does the UN have any plans to resume activities in Aleppo?  The monitoring mission that pulled out a few days ago?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, when the situation on the ground is conducive to the Mission being able to do its job in relative security, then the Mission will reassume its duties.  But for the time being, the situation on the ground does not allow them to do the regular monitoring that they were planning to do when the Mission was constituted and sent to Syria.  OK?

Thank you very much; have a good afternoon.

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