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

17 August 2012

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

17 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 and welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the appointment of the Joint Special Representative for Syria.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is pleased, along with Secretary-General Nabil ElAraby of the League of Arab States, to announce the appointment today of Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi as their Joint Special Representative for Syria.

The violence and the suffering in Syria must come to an end.  The Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.

Diplomacy to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria remains a top priority for the United Nations.  More fighting and militarization will only exacerbate the suffering and make more difficult the path to a peaceful resolution of the crisis, which would lead to a political transition, in accordance with the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to reiterate his deepest gratitude to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan for his selfless efforts and contributions to the search for peace in Syria.

** Pakistan

We put out a statement yesterday afternoon, in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the appalling attack on a bus near Gilgit in north-west Pakistan earlier that day, which reportedly targeted and killed more than 20 Shia Muslims.

The Secretary-General expressed his outrage over such deliberate attacks on people due to their religious beliefs in Pakistan.  He extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the attacks that claimed dozens of lives and wounded hundreds across the country yesterday.  He condemned these attacks in the strongest possible terms, saying that they violate the spirit of peace associated with this holiest of times in the Muslim year.

We have a statement in our office with more details.

** Australia

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, today welcomed recent efforts in Australia to institute more comprehensive regional cooperation on migration.

But she voiced concern that some aspects of the proposed changes could place at risk the human rights of migrants and asylum-seekers.  The UN human rights office said that it has long-standing concerns about Australia's mandatory detention regime.

While applauding the goal to protect the lives of the migrants and asylum-seekers who seek entry to Australia, the office is concerned that a re-opening of offshore detention centres could result in violations of human rights, including potentially indefinite detention.

For its part, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said that its preference remains an arrangement which would allow asylum-seekers arriving by boat into Australian territory to be processed in Australia, which would be consistent with general practice.

More information is available on the websites of the UN human rights office and the UN refugee agency.

**World Humanitarian Day

Ahead of World Humanitarian Day on Sunday, the Deputy Secretary-General took part in a wreath-laying ceremony here at United Nations Headquarters to honour the memory of UN staff killed in Baghdad in 2003, and of all those who face danger and adversity in order to help others.

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that this year’s World Humanitarian Day presents an historic opportunity to bring together one billion people from around the world to advance a powerful and proactive idea:  People Helping People.

More than 200 million people have been reached so far by the UN’s global campaign via social media to celebrate the Day.  As you know, international star Beyoncé filmed the World Humanitarian Day video for the song “I Was Here” last Friday at the General Assembly Hall.  That video, which also shows humanitarian workers in action, will be shown around the world this weekend, including on the billboards of Times Square here in New York.

** Mali

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that it has received credible reports that armed groups in the north of Mali are increasingly recruiting and using children for military purposes.

In July, UNICEF reported that at least 175 boys aged between 12 and 18 were directly associated with armed groups in the north.

UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict, leaders and community members to ensure that children are protected from the harmful impact of armed conflict and do not participate in hostilities.

There are more details on UNICEF’s website.

** Sierra Leone

Since the beginning of the year, more than 100 deaths and 6,200 cholera infections have been reported in Sierra Leone, constituting the worst cholera epidemic in 15 years, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  The epidemic is concentrated in seven districts, including the capital, Freetown.

Nearly $2.5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been allocated to UN agencies to respond to the epidemic.  The United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization (WHO) will use the funding for emergency response.

That’s all for me. Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  I first want to take this opportunity to say that I personally think the Secretary-General has made the best choice in his selection of Mr. Brahimi as Joint Special Envoy.  He’s supremely qualified in the field of mediation.  My question is:  is Mr. Brahimi coming to New York any time soon?  And will his office be in Geneva or in New York?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we expect Mr. Brahimi to come to New York sometime soon, and we’re not going to get into any conversation about policy or logistics until he has had a chance to meet with the Secretary-General.  Masood?

Question:  In that context, I would like to at least ask you, did the Secretary-General assure Mr. Brahimi that he will get full cooperation, whatever that he didn’t want it or demand it, as part of his job to ease him in?  Was there any such exchange taking place between the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the Arab League have appointed Ambassador Brahimi, and they have appointed him on the understanding that he will get their full support, obviously.

Question:  I understand that.  What I’m saying is, he had asked for the support of the UN Security Council members.  Until he’s assured that – I mean, that was one of the speculations – that until he’s assured that, he will not take this job.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The President of the Security Council has written to the Secretary-General — I don’t want to pre-empt his announcement of the letter – but in which he states the Security Council’s full support for the Joint Special Representative.

Question:  So he has already written?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  We’re not privy to that letter.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it should be on the…the Security Council should be issuing it now or very shortly.  Nizar?

Question:  On his mandate, will he be applying or implementing the six-point plan of Kofi Annan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said in my response to the second question, we’re not going to discuss any operational or logistics arrangements here today.  We’re going to wait until he has a chance to meet personally with the Secretary-General, and afterwards there will be more information coming down.

Question:  Does he remain the representative of the Arab League and the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s what I said in the announcement, yes.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Does the Secretary-General or the Secretariat have any comment on the indefinite postponement of this meeting that had been scheduled by Russia of the Action Group on Syria, and also it was said that that the UN had said it would attend.  I’m told that it may have been Mr. [Jan] Eliasson.  What would have been the UN’s involvement in this meeting, and did it say that it would attend?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’d have to speak to the Russian Mission on the postponement.  They decided to postpone the meeting, and that’s as much as we know.

Correspondent:  I understand.  I mean, the Secretary-General has commented on the success or often the failure of other meetings concerning Syria…

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have no comment on this.

Question:  And can you state whether the UN would have participated?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe we would have participated, yes.

Question:  Who?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, I’m sorry.

Question:  Can we get it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try. Masood?

Question:  Yeah, on this report that is already on the UN website also, that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative has condemned, or rather, asked Israel not to displace these thousands of Palestinians from their own homes because Israel has deemed that a certain part of Hebron is part of the military training.  And they’re being displaced, 1,000.  So besides just asking them to show restraint, is anything concrete being done about these things?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What do you mean by anything “concrete”?  The Secretary-General is in contact through his Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process…

Question:  Basically, is the Secretary-General speaking with the Israeli Prime Minister or the Israeli authorities?  That is what concrete means.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has his Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, who is in daily contact with Israeli and Palestinian authorities, and he is continuously working on this and other files with them, bringing to their attention the concerns of the Secretary-General and of the international community.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, this is also important for the international community.  Do you have some position of the Secretary-General about the tense situation between Ecuador and the United Kingdom, and also could you please clarify if a member country of the United Nations can disrespect the sanctity of consulates, according to the Vienna Convention?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have no comment on that.

Question:  I noticed that Lakhdar Brahimi’s title would not be Joint Special Envoy but Joint Special Representative.  Could you clarify the difference between the two titles?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is not much of a difference; it’s just a semantic difference.  He preferred to be called Joint Special Representative, and that’s the way it came out.

Question:  Now that the Joint Special Envoy [sic] has been appointed, can you tell us how many candidates were on the shortlist?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we never discuss that.  Matthew?  I pre-empted your hand.

Question:  No, that’s fine, I appreciate it.  There was a decision by the UN dispute tribunal on the case of Robert Appleton, who had been twice proposed to the Secretary-General by [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius, the former head of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], to be the chief investigator.  And both times the Secretary-General rejected it, and now the court, or the dispute tribunal, has said this was unlawful on the Secretary-General’s part and that it undermines the independence of OIOS.  So I’m assuming, one, is the Secretariat going to appeal, and two, what’s the response to his action being found unlawful by the dispute tribunal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out.  I don’t have that information with me; it’s a pretty specific question.  Nizar?

Question:  Today is the Al-Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day.  In terms of the Day, do you have any statement regarding this day, especially as Jerusalem is shrinking, with further settlement activity going on in it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have a specific announcement on that, no.  But you know what the Secretary-General’s position is on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that position continues to stand, and it’s a position for which he argues every time he meets with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Sir?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General made any decision yet about attending the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] meeting in Tehran that you can share with us, and if not, is there a time table for him to make such a decision?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said repeatedly, we have no comment to make on that meeting.

Correspondent:  Each day passes and…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, each day passes and each day we have no comment.

Question:  And there’s no indication of when he may make such a decision and what would factor into that decision?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  No comment.  Last question, Matthew?

Question:  There’s a very lengthy review of problems in re-housing people in Haiti after the earthquake in the New York Times, and, surprisingly, it doesn’t mention the UN much, I know the UN is there and has a big presence, but the one quote it does have is from someone at UN-HABITAT in Haiti saying that, you know, basically saying that it’s the project syndrome — one neighbourhood gets incredible resources and the next is in total limbo.  And I just wonder, given the UN’s own role in Haiti reconstruction, how does it respond to what is seen as people being left often with nothing?  And who is it criticizing if not itself in terms of this disparity in reconstruction?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t quite understand your question.

Question:  Given the centrality of MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] in Haiti since the earthquake, given this extremely lengthy and detailed critique of many people still being left with nothing, still living under tents, what’s the UN’s response to the money it has spent not having re-housed those people, and how is the UN’s only quote in the story one that is criticizing… who is it criticizing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re used to getting criticism, much of it unfounded, if I may pontificate from this podium.  The situation in Haiti arises from an earthquake that created massive destruction and massive loss of life.  It destroyed what little infrastructure Haiti had.  It killed many Government officials and experts who would have contributed greatly to this kind of a reconstruction process.  The United Nations has been working very hard in Haiti, but, obviously, it is a very tough, difficult and huge task, and it is something that is going to take time to resolve.  OK?  Last question?

Question:  Yes, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the arrest of a large number of students in Chile who were protesting the Government’s failure to increase the number of free universities there?  Many of the universities were privatized under General [Augusto] Pinochet and the students now want to have a larger number of free universities.  Is there any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, there’s no comment on that.  OK, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, have a good weekend and a happy Eid.  I’m sorry, just to remind you:  as you know Monday is a UN holiday, so there will be no briefing.  Enjoy your long weekend and be safe, and we’ll see you all on Tuesday.

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