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

14 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

So, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guest Today

I am pleased to welcome as my guests today Shareen Joshi, on my far right, and Richard Kollodge, who are the authors of the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) report on The State of the World Population 2012.

** Sri Lanka

Before I give the floor to them, I have a few words on Sri Lanka, and then I will be able to take questions on that and other topics, once Shareen and Richard have finished their part of the briefing.

But just very briefly on Sri Lanka.  This morning, Charles Petrie briefed the Secretary-General on the findings and recommendations of the Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka.  The report concludes that the United Nations system failed to meet its responsibilities — highlighting, in particular, the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programmes of the UN country team and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council.

The Secretary-General is determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help.  The Panel’s report recognizes initiatives that were taken in the wake of the events in Sri Lanka to prevent a similar breakdown.  However, the Secretary-General is fully committed to ensuring that much more is done.

As an immediate first step, the Secretary-General will organize a senior-level team to give careful consideration to the recommendations and advise him on a way forward.  Other action will follow in short order.  The Secretary-General is committed to strengthening the United Nations and its core mission of protecting people from harm.  Events today in Syria are the latest reminder of just how crucial that work is.

I can tell you that we are issuing a full statement for you from the Secretary-General right now.  And the link to the full report of the Internal Review Panel is available; the report is now online on the United Nations website. And we are tweeting a link to that — you will be able to find that on the website, you will then be able to download it and read it.

So, that’s what I have for you.  I will now turn the floor to Shareen and Richard.  And as I mentioned, I will take questions and have some other information for you after their part of the briefing.  But please, thank you very much for your indulgence; the floor is yours.

[Press conference on the UNFPA report on “The State of the World Population 2012” is issued separately.]

Just to remind you, with the statement on the Sri Lanka Internal Review Panel report and also the link to the report in addition to being online, those pieces of information are also being sent out by e-mail.  So the journalists who received our e-mails will receive a link to the report and the statement that has just been put out.

**Secretary-General on Fallen Staff

The United Nations held a memorial service today to pay tribute to fallen staff, including 29 staff members, from 16 different nations, who have died over the past year.  In remarks at the memorial event, the Secretary-General said that we continue to focus on enhancing staff security, and we continue to call on Governments to uphold their responsibility to provide security and prosecute those who target and attack UN staff.

He added that the memorial service was also a moment to take strength and resolve to carry forward the work for which the fallen UN staff members gave everything.  We have his remarks in my office.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on Sudan and South Sudan.  Council members will hear from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, and the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkerios.

Then, this afternoon, the Council will hold a formal meeting on Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by briefings by the chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

A UN investigation into the human rights situation in southern Masisi, in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has shown that at least 264 civilians, including 83 children, were arbitrarily executed by armed groups in more than 75 attacks on villages between April and September this year.  Investigators from the UN Joint Human Rights Office found that the victims were often those least able to flee the attacks.

Investigators found that the Raia Mutomboki armed group, with allied Mai Mai groups, was responsible for most of the killings, in which many victims were hacked to death with machetes while others were burnt alive in their homes.  The opposing Nyatura group was found to be responsible for other human rights violations, including killings, sometimes carried out in collaboration with the FDLR — the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.  We have a press release in my office with more details.

So, that’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar, and then Matthew.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The situation in Gaza seems to be dramatic, with the assassination of some Hamas leaders; is there any statement from the United Nations regarding the situation there?

Spokesperson:  I would simply reiterate what I said to you yesterday, Nizar: that the Secretary-General calls for an immediate de-escalation of tensions.  Both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and they must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks, Martin.  I am looking at the report and I wanted to say… I want to ask you some… something kind of basic about it.  There seems to be… I mean, some portions of it are redacted in the… in the narrative… in… in… in annex 3, names are taken out… the bottom of the paragraph is taken out.  Can you explain what the basis of the redactions are, and also whether… I have… did a word search… at least, maybe it is part of the redaction, but I find that Mr. Vijay Nambiar, who was the envoy of the Secretary-General and visited Sri Lanka during the conflict, there is quite a bit of controversy about the white flag killings, his name, at least as best as I can make out, is not in the report.  Is that… what would you say to those that say you are… that that’s a major issue that the UN needs to address?  And is Mr. Nambiar going to be part of this board set up to advise the Secretary-General on this?

Spokesperson:  On the last part, the composition of the senior-level team, that has not yet been decided.  Bear in mind that, as I mentioned to you and as you saw yourself, Charles Petrie briefed the Secretary-General this morning.  The report was made available to him and, as you know, you have just received it just now.  Therefore, the actions that will be taken will need to be worked out in the coming days.  I can tell you that there will be a senior-level briefing for journalists tomorrow.

Question:  What about the redactions?  Who decided to redact it? Was it made at that meeting or was it done in advance?  What’s the basis of taking out…?

Spokesperson:  There will be a senior-level briefing tomorrow.  Yes?

Question:  Since I haven’t been able to see the report, which just came out, yet, I am wondering, since a lot of the criticism… criticisms of the UN have been kicking around since 2009, if one of the criticisms in the report is the length of time it has taken for the UN to address this issue, and if one of the considerations now is quicker response from the UN.

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all I would suggest that you read it first, and then you will find quite a lot of the…

Question:  It just came now.

Spokesperson:  It did indeed, that’s right, and I am in the same position you are.  So, I would encourage you to read the report.  As you are well aware, the final months of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 generated profound concerns about alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  So in 2010 — so the next year — following an agreement with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, the Secretary-General then set up his panel of experts to advise him on measures to advance accountability.  And that panel of experts report raised a number of significant issues that gave rise to this panel, which was an internal review panel, and that is the report that has been published today.  And just very simply to say, as I mentioned earlier, the Secretary-General is committed to strengthening the United Nations and its core mission of protecting people from harm.  And, of course, it is the United Nations obligations to all humanity to overcome such setbacks, to learn from mistakes and to strengthen our responses and to act effectively for the future.  And that is why the Secretary-General set up the panel, and that what’s going to really guide him and the rest of the United Nations system as we take forward the outcomes from this report.

Question:  Mr. Petrie will brief tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  I said there will be a senior-level briefing, and once I am able to establish who precisely that is, I will let you know.  I think I will probably be able to do that quite soon.  I just did not have it before I came to this briefing.  Yes, Barbara, and then Benny, yes?

Question:  Given that the report, a big part of the report has been criticism of the UN’s role in disseminating information and being an advocate, you know, the criticisms of the… about the decisions not to publish the casualty figures and not to point the finger at the Government as the main perpetrator of the killings, in the annexes of at least the draft report, there are e-mail exchanges between senior UN officials with Navi Pillay, trying to get her to tone down and not actually use her statement of condemnation.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about that specifically, because that seems to me to be one of the main thrusts?

Spokesperson:  As I say, there will be a senior-level briefing tomorrow.  And as I have also said, the Secretary-General is determined that the United Nations should draw the appropriate lessons from the report’s findings, and also to ensure that the UN does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people.  I think what is also recognized in the report is that, since the events of 2009 in Sri Lanka, initiatives have been taken within the United Nations to prevent a similar breakdown and the Secretary-General has said he is committed to ensuring that we do even more.  Not least, as he has mentioned, given what is happening in Syria right now.

Question:  Can you just give an example of those initiatives taken?

Spokesperson:  I will ask my colleagues who are briefing tomorrow to do that.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Two quick questions not directly related to the report.  One is:  does the Secretary-General have any statement on the situation in Gaza after the killing today of a Hamas leader?

Spokesperson:  I just referred, just a second ago, Nizar to the statement which we issued…

Correspondent:  My name is not Nizar.

Spokesperson:  No, I said…

Correspondent:  Oh, you referred Nizar.

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, yes. That’s right.

Correspondent:  I am sorry.

Spokesperson:  That’s right, Benny.  I do know who you are; I think most people do.  What I said was that a statement had already been issued prior to today’s events, and that it still remains valid that the Secretary-General calls for an immediate de-escalation of tensions.  It still remains valid that both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation, and they must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times.  I don’t have a fresh statement.  Those elements from the statement from 12 November remain valid.

Question:  Second question, there are increasing reports from Syria that there is a major, there is a major attack inside UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] camps against Palestinians there.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  I will certainly check with our colleagues from UNRWA to see if they have any update for us.  It’s been a source of some concern, generally speaking, that, of course, there are many Palestinians who, for many years, have lived in Syria, as they have in other countries in the region.  And it is obvious that at a time of crisis and conflict those people who are already refugees could be placed at greater risk.  And so, there is obvious concern there, but I would need to get an update from my colleagues on UNRWA on the reports that you are referring to.  Okay, other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I just want to ask one more question on Sri Lanka and then something on about Abyei.  This is actually about… today in Sri Lanka, there is a… there is a lot of controversy about the impeachment of the Chief Justice and it said that this is a step, I know the Secretary-General, when he left, said he would look… you know, keep an eye on it for reconciliation.  One of the rapporteurs has spoken up, but does the Secretary-General see the Government… the Rajapaksa Government’s attempt to impeach the Chief Justice for challenging its power as part of the issues that he, you know, said he would keep an eye on since 2009, and does he have any comment about it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that particular development.  If that changes, I will let you know.

Question:  And one… just to… are… are former UN staff under any restriction in their terms of their communications with the public about things they saw while they worked for the UN?  I am asking, I guess in… in connection with this Sri Lanka report, but otherwise, is there just as people, if they worked for, like, say, for the Defence Department they are covered… is there some restriction on what people can say when they leave?

Spokesperson:  Well, given the number of people I saw and heard speaking yesterday about the Sri Lanka panel report I would suggest that that is not the case.  Next question?

Question:  Okay, all right, on Abyei, I wanted to ask you this.  I saw the statement by the Secretary-General about the unrest and you’d said yesterday that… that… that… that… that a staff member had succumbed to his injuries.  I just wanted to confirm if it is true that… that this was a mistaken, but, in fact, the shooter was a UN peacekeeper, some people are reporting that, and I… is that… that is the case… is there…?

Spokesperson:  We’re certainly aware of the reports, Matthew, and the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) is confirming the death of a national staff member on 13 November — which was yesterday — from gunshot injuries sustained during the violence that occurred while those mission troops were trying to control Ngok Dinka demonstrators who attempted to damage the Abyei town mosque.  But, given the present facts at hand, the Mission is unable to confirm any further information.  I can tell you that the Head of the Mission has directed that an inquiry be conducted to look into the circumstances of the staff member's death.  It is hoped that the inquiry will be able to ascertain both the manner and the exact cause of the staff member's death.  Okay?  Just looking in case there are other questions.  Okay?

Question:  I want to ask about this new opposition formation that was made in Doha for… about Syria.  It was said, I think… I guess it was Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman that said that Nasser Al-Kidwa was either participating or involved in this process.  Does the UN either have any general statement about the representativeness of the new entity and, specifically, are Kurdish interests represented within it?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the last point, I don’t have a particular comment to make.  But, what I can tell you is that the efforts deployed in the last few days in Doha, by Syrian opposition groups to work together and develop united positions and structure are, of course, welcome.  The United Nations, and the Joint Special Representative and his team in particular, looks forward to engaging the recently established “National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces” to know its views on how Syria's current problems can be addressed and also the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people be realised.  So that’s what I have.  But on the last part, I don’t have a particular comment. 

Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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