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

5 September 2012

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

5 September 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.  And first of all, I would like to mention that joining us today are 12 younger journalists from the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalists Fellowship Programme.  So welcome to the noon briefing.

**Responsibility to Protect

The Secretary-General presented his fourth annual report on the “responsibility to protect” at an informal interactive dialogue of the General Assembly this morning.  He said that “never again” is an expression often heard, but he said that he is haunted by the fear that we do not live up to this call.  And he said that a timely and decisive response is the ultimate test of the responsibility to protect.

In the past eight months, the Secretary-General said, we have seen the immense human cost of failing to protect the population of Syria.  He commended the General Assembly for its active response to the Syrian crisis.  It has shown that, while moments of unity in the Security Council on Syria have been few and far between, the rest of the world body need not be silent.  The Secretary-General said that the Council’s paralysis does the Syrian people harm, damages its own credibility and weakens a concept that was adopted with such hope and expectations.  We have his remarks in my office.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

As we announced yesterday, and just to remind you, the Secretary-General will be departing this evening for Turin, in Italy, where he will chair a retreat for the senior officials of the UN system.

Then, early next week, he will travel to Switzerland, which is marking its tenth year as a UN Member State.  First, he will be in Geneva, where he will give a public lecture next Monday that has been organized by the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

After that, the Secretary-General will travel to Bern, where he will address the Federal Parliament and meet with the President of the Swiss Confederation and other senior officials.  He will be back in New York by the middle of next week.

**Sierra Leone

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that more than 15,000 cases of cholera have been reported across Sierra Leone since the beginning of 2012.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners say that the epidemic, which is affecting 14 out of 15 districts, has dramatically worsened during August and the number of deaths has more than doubled in recent weeks, to nearly 250.  The Government is reporting that this is the worst cholera outbreak in 15 years and has declared a national public health emergency.  UN agencies, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are supporting Government efforts to combat cholera.

**Costa Rica

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is following reports of the earthquake in Costa Rica and is in touch with the Resident Coordinator’s Office in the country.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs understands that there is no major damage in the capital, San José, although it understands that the National Emergency Commission was evacuated from its building and is waiting to be let in again.  For the time being, there’s been no request for assistance.

**Security Council

The Security Council held its first consultations for the month of September and adopted its programme of work for the month.  Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, the Council President for this month, will hold a briefing in this room at 12:30 to talk to you about the Council’s work during September.

**Press Conference

Today at 3:30 p.m., here in the Auditorium, there will be a press conference by members of civil society entitled “Peace is still possible within the DRC and Rwanda”.  This event is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations.

Questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I… I just… I… the first thing I want to ask you is something that I asked yesterday about the Kenyan shelling of Kismayo.  Now, the Kenyan army has basically said it was a ship that has been firing on it.  And given what I heard earlier today about this R2P [responsibility to protect] and how everything should be done as a… if force is used, it should be used as judiciously as possible.  What does the United Nations say?  I mean, it seems to be sort of hoping that AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] or Kenya will drive Al-Shabaab of Kismayo, but is it being done in a responsible way?  What does the United Nations have to say about it?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are expecting to have something further to say on this a little bit later.

Question:  Can I ask just, I guess this is another R2P, at least I view it that way, a related question.  The report by Mr. [Charles] Petrie on the UN’s activity in Sri Lanka in 2009, when the United Nations pulled out and many people were killed; what’s the status of the report and is the report going to be made public?

Spokesperson:  It’s in the works, Matthew.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the Secretary-General’s trip to Iran and the Summit.  Would you characterize the Secretary-General’s trip to Iran as successful, as far as he sees it, and that he was able to convey everything else that he wanted to, to the Iranian Government and other countries over there?

Spokesperson:  He was very clearly able to convey messages in public and in private to the senior Iranian leadership in unambiguous terms on the key topics that have been of concern to the international community — the nuclear programme, Syria, human rights and the question of Israel’s right to exist.  So the Secretary-General feels that he was able to convey those messages very clearly.

Also, as we’ve mentioned already, this, in addition to being an opportunity for the bilateral meetings with the Iranian leadership, was a major multilateral setting with in excess of 120 Member States of the United Nations; in other words, two-thirds-plus of the membership present, many at very senior levels.  So the Secretary-General was able to meet a wide range of leaders, and we’ve issued the readouts of those meetings, they covered everything from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to Mali, to Nepal and so on, so very wide-ranging.  So it was important in the bilateral context with Iran itself, and of course, in a multilateral setting, you’re able to meet many leaders in a short space of time.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Talking about the responsibility to protect, since the situation in Syria is getting worse and worse, especially in the areas where some rebels or some terrorists are controlling, the risk of genocide is there, especially against the minorities.  We have seen that in Homs and other areas.  Did the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide present a new report to the Secretary-General on the subject?  And what was the conclusion?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you all realize, there is a new Adviser in place, and I’m sure that he will, in due course, be briefing the Secretary-General on his views on the matter, if he has not already done so.  Looking at it in a broader context, it’s clear that all those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity should be and will be held accountable, from whichever side.

Question:  What about prevention?  We are talking about prevention.  So probably action should be taken before that happens…

Spokesperson:  You are absolutely right, and the Secretary-General has spoken very clearly about the international community’s failure in recent months to protect those who need protection in Syria and he has spoken very clearly about that.  I’m sure you saw that this morning.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Yes, about the visit of the Secretary-General in Iran.  During those meetings with the leadership, did the Secretary notice any difference in, you can call it sensitivity towards issues — the nuclear issue, human rights — in the leadership, I mean, the Supreme Leader or the President.  Did he notice that there was some… in him conveying his message, there was a different reaction or not?

Spokesperson:  Stefano, different to what?  The Secretary-General was meeting the Supreme Leader for the first time.  He has obviously met President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad on a number of occasions.  The point here is the Secretary-General went there with a clear purpose; to be able to convey the concerns of the international community and his own concerns on the topics that I have just mentioned a little while ago.  It’s not for me to characterize the response of the Iranian authorities, I think you understand that; but simply to say, as I said to you when I spoke by telephone from Tehran, that these were very serious meetings and both sides were listening.  Okay?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  There is a report today in Israeli newspapers that an Israeli cabinet meeting, a security cabinet meeting, was postponed, which was going to consider whether or not to attack Iran.  Now, basically, what I am saying is that the war drums continue to beat, I mean, drummed up from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.  What has the Secretary-General… has he talked to Israelis about this?

Spokesperson:  Masood, we’ve said repeatedly, because you bang the drum everyday, I’ve said repeatedly from here that…

Correspondent:  I have banged the drum of peace. [laughs]

Spokesperson:  Listen, listen, I hear you.  What I’m trying to tell you is that the Secretary-General has consistently said that all sides need to tone down the rhetoric and that the only way to deal with questions about the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme is through dialogue and peacefully.  I think we have said that enough times to be quite clear what the Secretary-General’s views are on this matter.  Okay, yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Sudan and something on Syria.  In Sudan, there is that tripartite agreement to deliver humanitarian aid to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; seems like it’s been delayed.  And now, Sudan has said it’s absolutely opposed to delivering aid through South Sudan or by air.  Since the United Nations is obviously involved in this and has been reporting on the needs there, what’s its response to that?  How do they think the aid should be… is that a sufficient response by Sudan and what should be done?

Spokesperson:  I will check with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Question:  This one is something actually I did check with OCHA about; I decided that I needed to ask you, and it has to do with the reporting of casualty figures in Syria.  Obviously, the numbers are high, so it’s not about that the numbers are high or not, but on Friday, UNICEF said there had been 1,600 people killed in the previous week, the highest week so far; and then when asked, UNICEF said, about the basis of the figures, they said, “ask OCHA”.  So I did ask OCHA, and they said it’s based on UNICEF’s monitoring of media reports.  So, I guess, I just wanted to sort of know, I sort of hit a brick wall here.  But even, you know, the numbers are high, definitely.  But is it… is… the UN’s numbers, are they based on media reports, or are they based on the Syrian Observatory?  What’s the UN standard, I guess, for putting in a UNICEF report that’s on ReliefWeb, which was announced in Geneva as a solid number?  Is it really just the UN reporting to the media what the media already reported?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you need to ask UNICEF precisely on their sourcing.  Let me simply say that it’s obvious that the United Nations does not have the kind of presence on the ground that would be needed if it would be possible at all to establish accurate figures.  I think that’s obvious to everybody.  It’s also obvious that there are many people who are monitoring what’s happening inside Syria and are providing figures which obviously need to be treated with appropriate caution.  I think you are absolutely right that the figures are high.  We heard the Secretary-General and Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi say this in the General Assembly just yesterday.  The tragedy is that those numbers continue to climb, and yet it’s almost got to the point where it does not create the waves in the media that it should do, because it has become almost grotesquely commonplace.  And that’s what the focus should be on.  That’s where we need to focus our efforts to try to stem the bloodshed and move things onto a political track.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  On the same subject, has the United Nations established how many civilian people in Afghanistan or in Iraq, have they really followed how many people were killed there?

Spokesperson:  I think you will be familiar, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, with the reporting that’s provided by the [United Nations] Mission on the civilian casualties.  These are regular reports that give the breakdowns on how people have been killed, if it’s been possible to establish the cause.  So, certainly, there is detailed reporting going on.  The difference between there and Syria is that there is an established presence able to do that kind of work.  Okay?

Question:  Do you have exact figures or rough figures about the total number of those killed in Afghanistan since 2001?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, I’m not a walking database.  I’m sure I can find those numbers for you, but I don’t have them here in my head.  All right, Nizar.  You may smile about the deaths of civilians.  I just don’t have the information.

Correspondent:  I don’t smile about that.

Spokesperson:  I just don’t have the information at hand; it’s as simple as that.  The last question?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about Mali.  One, it was reported that two more, further towns had fallen to the forces in the north, and there was also a more recent report that the country’s Acting President has made a request to ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] for a force.  I know… I wanted… I mean that France has said that.  But is the United Nations, in its role in Mali, aware of that request for ECOWAS and can you confirm the fall of these two towns?

Spokesperson:  On the latter part, on confirming, no, I can’t confirm that right now, but we are aware of those reports and the report about the request from Mali to ECOWAS.  What is clear is that any assistance to any such force would fall under the purview of the Security Council, which has been discussing this matter already.  And what’s also clear is that this is a hugely precarious moment for Mali, which was once a beacon of stability in the region.  And everything has unravelled on several levels in the recent months, whether it’s on the humanitarian side, the security side, the political side.  This is a crisis of some magnitude, not least because it affects, not just Mali, but the whole of that region.  And it’s of serious concern to the United Nations, and I’m sure you’ll hear from Ambassador [Peter] Wittig on that topic if asked.  It’s certainly something that has been discussed in the Council already, and I know that it is a topic of considerable concern within the UN system.  You will know that Valerie Amos has recently visited, and you will also possibly have seen that Mr. [António] Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, has written an op-ed piece on the same topic.  It’s in The International Herald Tribune today.  I think that underscores the level of concern that there is across the different facets of this crisis.

Okay.  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.