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

2 November 2012

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

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 noon briefing.

**Hurricane Sandy

You will have seen that we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General offered condolences to the millions of people who have been severely affected by Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the Caribbean region.

The Secretary-General has written to President Obama, and has spoken to the Presidents of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, to express his solidarity at this time of crisis and to pledge the assistance of the United Nations, if requested, in the recovery effort.

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that assessment data is coming in — providing a better picture of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Caribbean region.

In Haiti, some 60 people were killed, and overall, 1.8 million people have been affected.  The most vulnerable internally displaced persons in the camps, mainly in Port-au-Prince, were evacuated before the storm and many of these evacuees have now returned home, although 1,500 people remain in 15 hurricane shelters.

Preliminary estimates showed that food security had been acutely affected, with up to 2 million people at risk of malnutrition.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and partners are distributing food aid to those affected, mostly in the form of high-energy biscuits.  Drinking water, water purification supplies, hygiene kits and other non-food items are also being distributed by Government and UN partners.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that an emergency revision of the consolidated appeal is being considered to accommodate increased needs.

In Cuba, half a million people had been affected, according to estimates.  375 health centres and several hospitals were damaged, as were 2,100 schools.  Crops have been damaged and remote communities are cut off because of road and bridge damage.  UN agencies are working closely with national and local authorities, donors and emergency organizations to support national efforts.  An emergency cash grant of $100,000 has been approved and a request for the Central Emergency Response Fund is under preparation.

In the Dominican Republic, three people were reported killed and some 11,000 people displaced, either in official shelters or staying with relatives.  And in the Bahamas, two deaths were reported and a total of 130 shelters have been established.

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General visited the damaged parts of the building.  He inspected the work that has been done to date.  He congratulated and thanked staff for the hard work to get the building back to normal after Hurricane Sandy.

** Bahrain

In a statement, the Secretary-General yesterday expressed his concern about the restrictions on public demonstrations and other public gatherings declared by authorities in Bahrain on 30 October.  He reiterates his appeal to the Bahraini authorities to abide fully by international human rights standards, including respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association.  The Secretary-General believes these restrictions could aggravate the situation in the country and urges the Government of Bahrain to lift them without delay.  The Secretary-General also calls on protesters to ensure that any demonstrations are, in fact, peaceful.  Recent violence that reportedly killed two police officers is unacceptable.

The Secretary-General again calls on the Bahraini Government to complete the full implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.  He reaffirms his belief that there needs to be an all inclusive and meaningful national dialogue that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis, as this is the only way towards greater stability and prosperity for all Bahrainis.

** Mali

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that new data is showing a higher number of internally displaced people than previously reported in Mali.  At least 203,845 people are currently displaced.  Previously, the estimate was 118,795 people.  The refugee agency said that the revised figure reflects in part better access to areas in the north of Mali, as well as improved counting of internally displaced people in Bamako.

There have also been indications of actual new displacement, with people reported to be fleeing because of general insecurity and a deteriorating human rights situation in the north of the country, fear of imminent military activity, and because of loss of livelihoods and limited access to basic services.  New refugee arrivals are also being seen in neighbouring countries.

**Security Council

The Security Council adopted its programme of work for the month today.  India holds the rotating presidency of the Council for the month of November, and the country’s Permanent Representative will be here in this room at 12:30 p.m., in a few minutes, to brief you.

Also, the Council started last night a seven-day mission to Timor-Leste, led by Ambassador Baso Sangqu of South Africa.  The mission seeks to underscore the international community’s long-term commitment to sustainable peace and development in the country.

**Press Conferences

As I said before, today at 12:30 p.m., here in this room, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, President of the Security Council for November and Permanent Representative of India, will brief the press on the Council’s programme of work for this month.

At 1:30 p.m., again in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

And on Monday, at 1:15 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by Mutama Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

We have time for a few questions.  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you one new question, and then something that I asked by e-mail during Hurricane Sandy.  One is, in Western Sahara, Christopher Ross’s visit, there are reports of banning protests and even violence against protesters, or demonstrators trying to speak to the Envoy, or the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, did he observe that?  Do you have any statement on it?  Do you think his trip was as free and fair as it should have been?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I have on Ambassador Ross’s trip to North Africa is that the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General began his visit to North Africa and Europe in Rabat, where he met His Majesty King Mohammed VI and a wide range of interlocutors, including senior Government officials, political party leaders and civil society representatives.  On 31 October, he arrived in Western Sahara, where he has been holding similar meetings and visiting MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] in Laayoune and at two field team sites.  The Personal Envoy will be continuing his trip with visits to Algeria, Mauritania and the refugee camps near Tindouf, where he will meet with the Polisario leadership and Sahrawi personalities.  At the end of his trip, he will hold consultations in Madrid and Paris.  Upon his return to New York, he will report to the Secretary-General and brief the Security Council.

Question:  Is there any way… I guess I am looking at very detailed report that on 1 November, yesterday at 5 p.m., there was a crackdown, a beating of protesters right in front of him.  And I am wondering, it’s not in the readout, is there some way we can find out if it is true?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that.  We’ll try and find out.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Question:  Could you repeat the information on Mali?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry?

Question:  Could you repeat the information on Mali, please?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Which particular part?

Question:  The numbers?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, at least 203,845 people are currently displaced.  Previously, the estimate was 118,795 people.  Okay?

Question:  I want to ask two things.  One is on Myanmar.  During this last six-day period, there has been a lot of violence against the Rohingyas and the Secretary-General of ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] has called for talks between the Government there, the UN and ASEAN.  I didn’t hear any UN support of those talks, and now it looks like Myanmar has said no.  What is the UN’s… does it believe that the talks should occur and what do they say about what is happening to the Rohingyas?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we issued a statement on the violence there, and that statement still holds.  While the Secretary-General notes the clear recognition at the highest political levels in Myanmar of the need to contain this communal violence, he calls on the authorities to take urgent and effective action to bring under control all cases of lawlessness.  In terms of… with respect to ASEAN, I don’t have anything on it, if we find anything I will let you know.

Question:  And here, I just to want to make sure to ask you this question, because I have been trying to.  Yesterday was the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as I thought in advance, the report of the Secretary-General and also the long-promised report by Charles Petrie on the UN’s actions and inactions in Sri Lanka came up in the UPR process, and I wanted to know, who were the three other people that worked with Mr. Petrie on this report?  What is the status of the report, because Petrie seems to have moved on, and can you say yes or now whether the report will be made public?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as Martin said here a couple of days ago, the report is still under consideration and when we have something we will get back to you on it.

Question:  Right.  You didn’t see any connection between that and the UPR process, that’s what a lot of the…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  Yes?

Question:  I don’t know if you are going to answer this, but is there any estimate of UN employees that are… have not been able to come to work, UN staff?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have that information yet, probably early next week we may be able to have some figures on that, but we don’t have any indication on that right now.

Question:  And related to that, is… some people today have been saying that they have been, you know, told to just go back down and continue working in 3B offices, like receiving, diplomatic pouch unit, but they don’t think the areas are safe, they think that they were filled with water and sewage.  Some have been given Windex to try and clean up their desks.  And I wanted to know, this is a sort of overall question, is the UN, at any point, going to have professionals, certified… OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]-certified health and hazmat people check the work spaces in 3B before people begin working there again?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we stated yesterday in the briefing, we are taking a look at all aspects of the damage of the building and these things are all being taken into consideration.

Question:  What about the people that were already… have already, basically, been given a dust mask and Windex to go and work down there?  Is that… I guess what… what I am asking you about is that…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to check, I have to check into that.  I know we were down there yesterday and people were working there, and they have done an admirable job in removing a lot of the debris and getting the water out.

Question:  Are they really working or are they still cleaning up?  Because I was down there, too, it looked like the debris was mounting.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will have to check on that.  Well, you know the thing is…

Question:  …and [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Obviously, there are parts of the building that were damaged, parts of the building that were dirty, if you want, by what was coming in, all these things have to be taken care of, it’s into a one-day process.  Okay, we have time for one more question.

Question:  The Minister of Human Rights in Sri Lanka made a statement in Geneva yesterday.  How does the United Nations view his statement that was made yesterday at the… in Geneva?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to… I’ll have to… I haven’t seen the statement myself yet this morning.  I’ll have to check into it and get back to you on that.  Okay, we have the High Commissioner of India who is supposed to be here now coming in to do… Sorry?

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am sorry, the Permanent Representative, I am not feeling that well today.  Thank you so much.  Have a good weekend.

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