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

16 November 2012

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

16 November 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.


So good afternoon everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Briefing Guest


I am pleased to welcome as my guest Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.  Ms. Wahlström has some introductory remarks and will obviously take questions.  And then following that, I will have some further information for you and can answer questions.  But first of all, welcome, and the floor is yours.  Welcome.


[Press conference by Ms. Wahlström is issued separately.]


**Middle East


So I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the violence in Gaza and Israel.


The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about the continued violence in Gaza and Israel, and deeply worried by the rising cost in terms of civilian lives.  He urgently appeals to all concerned to do everything under their command to stop this dangerous escalation and restore calm.  Rocket attacks are unacceptable and must stop at once.  Israel must exercise maximum restraint.


The Secretary-General’s paramount concern is for the safety and well-being of all civilians. All sides must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in this regard.  A new cycle of bloodshed will make neither Israelis nor Palestinians more secure.  Nor will bloodshed open the door to negotiations that could achieve the two-State solution necessary to end such violence permanently. 


The Secretary-General has continued to speak with international and regional leaders and officials by telephone and in person as part of his efforts to call for restraint and push for an end to violence.  As part of those efforts, he plans to visit the region shortly.


**Middle East — Human Rights


And Ms. Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has expressed her concern about developments in Gaza and southern Israel.  She is appalled that once again civilians are losing their lives.  Ms. Pillay urges both sides to pull back from an increasingly dangerous confrontation.  The High Commissioner urges all sides involved to comply strictly with international human rights law and international humanitarian law.


**Democratic Republic of the Congo


Yesterday, clashes erupted between the M23 and the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] in the Kibumba area, 25 km north-east of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We have reports that the FARDC repulsed the attack and that the situation in Kibumba today is calm but very tense.  Unconfirmed reports indicate that the M23 sustained a high number of casualties in the clash.  Humanitarian partners indicate that between 1,500 and 2,500 people may have fled the area as a result of the fighting.


MONUSCO, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is on high alert and has deployed quick reaction teams in Goma and at the airport, as well as in Kibati, on the main road between Kibumba and Goma.  The Mission's attack helicopters are also on standby.  The Mission says that the clash between the M23 and the FARDC is the most serious incident since July.


**Yemen


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that growing numbers of internally displaced people are returning to their homes in southern Yemen.  Over the past four months, the agency, working with the Yemeni authorities, has helped more than 80,000 people go home, and further returns are proceeding.  This is the first significant decline in displacement since May of last year, when fighting between Government troops and militants erupted in the south of Yemen.


The decline in displacement follows the re-establishing of Government authority in the southern province of Abyan in July, which was followed by demining in the area and improvements in security.  Many of the returns have been from people returning to the south from Aden.


**South Sudan


And the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that there is a sharp rise in new refugee arrivals at South Sudan's largest refugee settlement, Yida, in Unity State.


Over the past week, 2,100 new refugees arrived in Yida — saying they were fleeing intensified fighting in their home region of South Kordofan in neighbouring Sudan.  The refugee agency says that more than 85 per cent of the new arrivals are women and children.


The refugees have been through medical and nutritional screening and have received an emergency food ration as well as other relief items.  The refugee agency is also setting up a water point between Yida and the border to ensure access to drinking water, as it is expected that more people will be heading there.


**Security Council


The Security Council will meet at 3 this afternoon to consider the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA).


That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar, then I am coming to you.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, Martin, given that this conflict in Gaza is… reminds of what happened in 2008 and 2009, how do you… does the Secretary-General view the non-implementation of the Goldstone recommendations?  Should they not be revisited at this stage, and if these recommendations were just ignored by the international community, what lessons can be drawn from that conflict so that it is not repeated at this stage?


Spokesperson:  I would simply reiterate that the Secretary-General has said that his paramount concern here is for the safety of all civilians — whether in Israel or Gaza — and that he is extremely concerned about this continued violence and he is appealing to all concerned to do everything within their power under their command to stop what is after all a dangerous escalation.  So that is what I have for you, okay.  Next question, yes?


Question:  Another, another…


Spokesperson:  I’ll come back to you, Nizar.  Yes?


Question:  I’m just wondering on the announcement that the Secretary-General is going to visit the region next week, can you say whether he will definitely go to Gaza or if it is Israel and Egypt, specific?


Spokesperson:  What I actually said was he plans to visit the region shortly.  Okay, yes, Nizar?  And then I’ll come to you.


Question:  Another, since this conflict could bring about a regional disaster because there are chemical… certain chemical… chemical industries near Tel Aviv, near Haifa and other cities, also there are nuclear sites like Dimona.  If any rockets hit one of these, a regional disaster could ensue.  Is… as… are there any initiatives taken in order to bring about a stop to that and prevent such catastrophe from happening?


Spokesperson:  Again, this is about restoring calm and trying to de-escalate to ensure that there is no further escalation beyond what we have seen right up to now, right up to today.  Rocket attacks are unacceptable, and they need to stop.  And Israel must exercise maximum restraint.  That is what I have to say.  Yes?


Question:  It’s about Ban Ki-moon’s plans to visit the region shortly, and Mahmoud Abbas just speaking a short time ago said that he was going to go to Ramallah, can you confirm that or can you confirm that he is going to Egypt and Israel as well?


Spokesperson:  What I can tell is that he plans to visit the region shortly, okay.  Yes?


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask just about, I guess, conditions in Gaza since UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] is there.  There is a lot of discussion of the… of the… that Israel would cut off the Internet or that the Inter… the… the electricity other than just bombs falling on… on… on… on… on… you know, wiring may have been cut off.  What… what’s the current status of UNRWA’s facilities here?  Do they have those two services, and if they don’t, why don’t they?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check on that particular point.  Of course, there is concern about the humanitarian side of this, absolutely.  That’s the Secretary-General’s paramount concern, is for the safety and well-being of all civilians both in Gaza and in Israel.  And specifically in Gaza of course, our colleagues from UNRWA are working extremely hard as they always do, along with other colleagues from the UN, from the humanitarian community working with civilians in Gaza.  I think we may have a few more details on the precise humanitarian difficulties that are being faced there; for example, medical supplies and trying to bring more supplies in.  And let me just check on that for you, okay?  Any other questions, please?  Okay, yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been informed by Gaza’s Ministry of Health that a state of emergency has been declared in all health facilities in the Gaza Strip.  While hospitals have so far managed to treat all incoming injuries, the shortage of essential drugs is of major concern, particular if hostilities escalate further.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs describes the humanitarian situation as precarious.  There is widespread panic among the population in Gaza, as well as the stockpiling of food and fuel and low levels of drug and medical supplies.  All schools are closed, as is the crossing for humanitarian goods.  In southern Israel, all schools within a 40 kilometre radius of the border with Gaza are closed and movement is limited.  All parties must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities, in accordance with the principles of distinction and proportionality.]


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about the… the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then also something about UN transparency.  But, on the DRC, I heard that your… your… you know, the report of this fighting with the M23, but I wanted to just ask you if MONUSCO or if you are aware or have something to say on, there is reportedly fighting in the town… town of Pinga, also in northern Kivu.  Doctors without Borders say it has had to pull its staff out again, and this in… and they say that a UN peacekeeper from South Africa was injured by an attack by the Mayi Mayi militia, and I just wonder, is that… do you have anything on that?  Is MONUSCO… are there… are there groups other than M23 attacking this time and… and… and what is… is there any connection between these attacks?


Spokesperson:  Well, there was an incident a couple of days ago and, I believe, in which one or maybe two South African peacekeepers were hurt.  Let me check on the details of that.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  I don’t have any specific details on the location that you mentioned beyond the ones that I have spoken about just now.


Question:  Okay.  And this is… I just… if you don’t… I wanted to ask you about the… the… the… I guess I’ll, I’ll just put it this way, there is… some staff members have… have… have… have complained and… and I have now seen a letter that was from the Chief of Staff, Susana Malcorra, to public… to staff in the publishing division, and I don’t… you know, it’s… there is a big back and forth about, you know, jobs and modernization, but what… what most concerned them was… was… was a statement at the bottom of the letter reminding them of their obligations under staff regulation 1.2(i), which seems to say that they… they had said things were getting so bad they were going to go to Member States about their problem, and Ms. Malcorra responded to them saying basically, and I have looked up the regulation, it says staff can’t go to Member States or any other person unless authorized by the Secretary-General.  So they see it as kind of a silencing order and I just wanted to know, is it, how prevalent is this?  Is it the UN’s position and I am thinking as it related to yesterday in the discussion of Sri Lanka where the idea is that the UN… there was clearly blockage at the top fro… from people being able to say what they saw.  How come and is it for the UN to cite this regulation in which apparently staff members, including Gordon Weiss, probably including John Holmes, because it says, it goes on afterwards “can’t speak” absent some authorization by the Secretary-General?  Is there some… what’s the response to people that would say this is not reflective of a transparent UN at all, it is an… a silencing order to staff?


Spokesperson:  I think that you are mixing different things here.  Let me check on the precise letter that you are referring to, but I think you are mixing things up a little bit.


Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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