|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 briefing.
** Middle East
We are hoping that Martin can phone in from where he is in the Middle East to give us a short briefing on the Secretary-General’s day. But, what I can tell you on the Secretary-General’s day is that the Secretary-General was shocked at the news of the terror attack on a bus today in the centre of Tel Aviv. In a statement we issued this morning, he condemned this attack in the strongest possible terms. There are no circumstances that justify the targeting of civilians. The Secretary-General is saddened and expresses his sympathy to those injured in the blast.
The Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting on the Middle East this afternoon at 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) will provide emergency food assistance in the coming days in different areas of Gaza to 350 families — around 2,100 people — whose houses were destroyed during the recent attacks. These families will receive, for an initial 10-day period, a ration of canned food and bread, through local bakeries using World Food Programme wheat flour. On Tuesday, four trucks with WFP food stocks, sufficient to feed 5,600 for a month, attempted to enter via the Karem Shalom crossing, but had to turn back due to rocket fire. It is critical to ensure this access point is open for humanitarian food and other supplies in the coming days.
This morning, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, issued a statement in which she said she is alarmed by the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza. She condemned the killing of three Palestinian journalists in air strikes on 20 November. She voiced alarm over reports that media are being targeted in the air strikes and rocket fire between southern Israel and Gaza. She also expressed her alarm at strikes on schools in both Gaza and southern Israel. Schools should offer a safe environment for children, she said, noting that attacks against them is a denial of the right to education and should be firmly condemned.
The Security Council this morning received an update on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following the M23 [23 March Movement] occupation of the city of Goma. Roger Meece, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told Council members by videoconference that the security situation in the province of North Kivu has seriously deteriorated, compounded by a vast humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Meece said that the occupation of Goma poses a major risk of increased serious human rights violations, including killings and the forced recruitment of civilians, including minors. The UN Mission, MONUSCO, has received numerous reports of targeted summary executions and unconfirmed cases of sexual violence, among other abuses. He also discussed encounters with English speaking officers, surprising weaponry and equipment being used and other signs of external support for the M23.
The Security Council last night adopted a resolution calling on the M23 to withdraw from Goma and asking for all outside support to the rebels to cease. The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, expects to talk to reporters at the Council stakeout following the meeting.
The Security Council also adopted a resolution this morning on piracy off the coast of Somalia.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
And to continue on the Congo, we are extremely concerned by the latest developments in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the humanitarian consequences of M23 attacks. The M23 must comply with the demands of the Security Council, the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to immediately withdraw from Goma and lay down their arms.
The UN Mission, MONUSCO, is continuing all efforts within the limits of its mandate and capabilities to protect civilians, in extremely challenging circumstances. The Mission has some 1,500 troops in Goma, 6,700 in North Kivu and another 4,000 troops are in South Kivu. However, MONUSCO cannot act in substitute to the Congolese army and national security forces in directly confronting the M23. The use of force by UN peacekeepers is principally to protect civilians. Any use of force by UN peacekeepers must also take into account the imperative not to further endanger civilians.
We are very concerned about demonstrations against the United Nations in parts of the country, including in Goma and other parts of North Kivu, as well as in Bunia and Kisangani in Orientale Province. Any actions to undermine or target the efforts of the United Nations to protect civilians and deliver humanitarian relief will not be tolerated.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Ashok Nigam, together with Myanmar’s Minister of Border Affairs, Lieutenant General Thein Htay, today launched the Revised Rakhine Response Plan to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Rakhine State. The plan has been revised upwards, from $32.5 million to $68 million, to address overall needs until the middle of next year. The remaining $41 million is still urgently required to meet the funding gap. We have more details in a press release.
**Secretary-General on Death Penalty Moratorium
And this morning we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General in which we said that the Secretary-General welcomes Monday’s record vote in favour of the call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty by the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which adopted the resolution by 110 votes in favour (with 39 against and 36 abstentions).
The new resolution, inter alia, calls on all States to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. It reflects a trend against capital punishment which has grown stronger across regions, legal traditions and customs since the landmark resolution of the General Assembly in 2007.
The Secretary-General saluted this development at a high-level event on the death penalty in New York this July. He said that the taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process.
And that’s about it from me. Questions, please? Mr. Abbadi? You haven’t been here for a while, welcome back.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you very much. As you know, I am serving on a grand jury for three months now.
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: As you know, there is violence in Gaza and outside of Gaza, people have died and are still dying, five in Israel, 150 or more in Gaza, including children — about one third of 150 people dead in Gaza are children and thousands are being traumatized right now. Now, we have heard the voice of UNESCO and the voice of the World Food Programme. Where is the voice of UNICEF?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, you’d have to ask UNICEF about that. I know that the Secretary-General, who speaks for the whole United Nations family, has been very vocal and is in the region right now precisely trying to convince leaders of the region to cease the violence, to use their influence against those who are using violence and to stop the suffering of the people on both sides of the border. The Secretary-General has said that the attacks on Gaza and the rocket attacks on Israel are not acceptable, and that these should cease immediately. He is there speaking on behalf of the whole UN family and I would refer you to ask UNICEF if they have a specific point of view. Nizar?
Question: [inaudible] unacceptable is a very mild word. Here we are, talking about targeted killing of journalists, even they are telling them, evacuate, we will… or we are going to kill you or to destroy the building, and they have done it. They made that evident when they killed three journalists yesterday. The Secretary-General was quick to condemn the attack in Tel Aviv, but did not condemn any of these attacks, which even included hospitals in Gaza. Why is it, why this double standard here?
Deputy Spokesperson: There is no double standard. The Secretary-General is in the region precisely because of the violence affecting both sides of the Gaza-Israeli border. And he has made very clear his opposition, complete opposition, to any form of violence and the fact that this violence only leads to suffering and killing of innocent people. He has been very strict on that. As a matter of fact, the most significant sign of what he feels for the region is the fact that he is there now.
Question: But, but, with the feedback we receive from our readers and viewers, we find that he is viewed as a [inaudible] when he condemns the attack in Tel Aviv and doesn’t condemn the attack on a hospital in Gaza, when he doesn’t condemn the attack of journalists, when he doesn’t condemn the attack of… the killing of children and women…
Deputy Spokesperson: Nizar…
Question: …the Dalu, al-Dalu, in the Dalu case, he did not condemn that attack, at all.
Deputy Spokesperson: Of course, he condemned the attack on [inaudible] Dalu case; he said that it was a horrible situation. He said it right there in a statement that we issued. So, he has been issuing statements on both sides. I’m sorry, this young lady here?
Question: Yes, and you should have the Press Trust of India, it’s an Indian newswire. Regarding the death penalty statement, just a day after the resolution, India executed the Mumbai terrorist who had carried out the massacre. So, India has always maintained that it is the sovereign right of States to decide whether they want to abolish the death penalty. So, what does… what would UN… as the UN is asking the nations should abolish the penalty with…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that’s the Secretary-General’s position based on a General Assembly resolution where 130 countries voted in favour of it. Of course, nation States have the right to implement their laws, but the Secretary-General has a moral obligation to reflect the will of the Organization, and the will of the Organization is that the death penalty — by this vote anyway — that the majority of countries feel the death penalty should be abolished.
Question: Also, just one quick… in the statement, it is written that there will be a resolution next month at the Assembly for abolishing of the death penalty. When is that scheduled?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have the schedule on that. You’d have to check with the Office of the President of the General Assembly, their Spokesperson.
Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew?
Question: Sure, I want to ask you about the… the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is said that the town of Sake has now fallen and that M23 is… is… has said they are going to Bukavu. The Panzi Foundation there says that there is no UN presence in Bukavu, so I wanted to know, one, can you… can… can… can you confirm the taking of Sake and why would it… yesterday, you said the Force Commander decides, but it sounds from your statement that… that it’s gone up the chain. Is this a DPKO position, or a Secretary-General position, that the UN will not stand in front of M23, despite the things that are said about them being so terrible for civilians?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, I heard your question to the President of the Security Council last night, and I heard the President of the Security Council say that it was not in MONUSCO’s mandate to fight the fight against M23. That is a mandate of the Congolese armed forces and security forces.
Question: So, is it… is it the UN’s position that M23 doesn’t, in fact, pose a risk to civilians when it enters towns like Bukavu or Sake, because you said that you’d protect civilians, so I…
Deputy Spokesperson: It does pose, and if you… and if you remember what we said here, any use of force by UN peacekeepers must also take into account the imperative not to further endanger civilians. So, they have to take a value judgement, is fighting against M23 going to further endanger civilians or not, and that is a value judgement they made.
Question: I just want to ask you about a quote that appeared in the… in… in… in The Guardian, in a published story they quote a South African peacekeeper in Goma saying, quote, “we, MONUSCO, have not had any trouble with M23, to be honest.” Is that… how do you explain that quote? Is it… the quote made up, is that…?
Deputy Spokesperson: He was not speaking on behalf of the United Nations…
Deputy Spokesperson: United Nations policy, the Secretary-General’s position and the Security Council position is perfectly clear.
Question: So, just one final question. Yesterday, here in your… in… in your opening statement, you said that there is already evidence in Goma of rape and child soldier recruitment by the M23, and I wanted to know, what is the evidence of that? It was cited again by Mr. Araud last night, but what… is there a report… is that… how many instances, what number, is it 10, is it 200 or just as [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ll have to check on that, Matthew, I don’t have any information with me. Stefano?
Question: Yes, thank you. It is a follow-up on the question about the journalists that are killed in Gaza. You just read that there is a reaction from UNESCO, Bokova, right? But, in this case, the Israeli army, has been saying since yesterday that they actually targeted those journalists. So, it is not like a case where, you know, we are targeting a military target and then… and then the children were there, we’re sorry. Here, those journalists, Israel admits that they were targeted because they say… they say there is… they have… they are extremists, they belong to Hamas, or I don’t know. Now, because they… I… if Bokova is issuing a statement where she condemns the killing of journalists and the Israeli army is admitting that they are targeting them, I’d like to know the reaction to the Secretary-General about this situation.
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as we have always said, firmly believes that journalists must be able to accomplish their work without violence and without threats of violence. I said that yesterday. I said that the day before. We have said that continuously from this podium, the Secretary-General has said that, now the Director-General of UNESCO has said it. That continues to be the policy of the UN. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Eduardo. The violence in Gaza and around Gaza, is part…
Deputy Spokesperson: Sorry, the what?
Question: The violence in Gaza is part and parcel of the general Middle East conflict. Now, we know the Arab plan has failed. We also know that the work of the Quartet has failed. Does the Secretary-General look forward to a new initiative, for example, on the part of the United States?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is in the region right now, he is discussing, obviously, not only the actual violence, but also talking about the overall situation. We still believe the Quartet is effective. The fact is that the parties did not follow what the Quartet asked them to do last September. So, you will have to recall that it takes two to tango. The Quartet can make suggestions, the other… the sides who are in conflict have to accept those suggestions and implement them. But, the Secretary-General is, of course, very concerned with what is happening there and that is one of the reasons why he is in the region precisely to raise these issues with leaders, and that is why he is discussing and doing shuttle diplomacy between the various capitals of the region. Up there?
Question: A question about the role of Security Council [inaudible] over the crisis in Gaza. How the Security, the Secretary-General sees these in action and how he believes that these could affect his efforts to bring an end to the violence in Gaza?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as you know, we don’t comment on what the Security Council does. That is made up by Member States and it is up to them to decide on their plan of action and how they work.
Question: But, in the past — sorry, follow up on that one — when he… he expressed his, not dismay, his disgruntlement that the Security Council failed to address the Syrian issue, the Secretary-General… the Secretary-General always expressed his view on that.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I am sorry, I have answered the question. Matthew?
Question: Sure, I want to ask you, South Sudan is saying that Sudan has bombed its territory, they… it’s been brewing for a couple of days where Sudan said that it was going to bomb a rebel group that set up shop, they say… they claimed it is in Sudan, in Darfur, and South Sudan says it is in its territory. Since there is two peacekeeping missions there — UNMISS, double S, and UNAMID — did this bombing take place? What is the effect of the bombing and where did it take place?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, from what I understand, the bombing, if it took place, it took place outside of the zone where UNMISS is, so we have no comment on that. We have no information.
Question: [Inaudible] in South Sudan or…?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know. I don’t have… I have seen the report you have seen, but from what we have here… let me just check and see, one second, we may have something here — I believe that the information that I have is that it was outside of the zone where UNMISS is mandated to act, and therefore, we don’t have anything to say on it.
Question: Is… I mean, UNMISS covers all of South Sudan, does it… I mean, I am not trying to be… it seems like there… there… I don’t think that there are zones that they… they don’t go to in South Sudan.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’ll have to get that information for you, Matthew.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the bombings reportedly took place in the north of the disputed 1-1-56 boundary. That's why we can't comment. It is out of our area of operations and that's why we haven't been able to verify.]
Correspondent: Okay, all right, I’d appreciate that.
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have it with me, unfortunately. Okay, thank you… one more question? Over here?
Question: Yes. All right, thank you. This morning at the Security Council there was a meeting on piracy in Somalia. A South African representative stated that because of illegal fishing and dumping, it basically caused Somalia to turn to piracy. Is there anything known at the moment as to what steps will be taken to… in this?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I think we’ll have to check on that, I don’t have any information on that right now.
Question: [inaudible] follow up on this? Because South Africa and Togo both, they kind of chided the Secretary-General, there is a report by the Secretary-General that was quoted in the open meeting which says that the Secretary-General hasn’t been able to… to fi… to… to… to… to find what others have alleged about illegal toxic dumping and illegal fishing. And both countries said the Secretary-General should conduct the investigation, because others have found it. So, I wanted to… I mean, it did seem to call for some response from the Secretariat, not necessarily from the Secretary-General where he is, but this is an… it is in an open meeting, they basically said the Secretary-General’s report is not credible. So…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ll have to find the information for you, Matthew.
Deputy Spokesperson: One last thing, ladies and gentlemen. There will not be a briefing on Friday, given the Thanksgiving weekend. We wish you a very happy holiday and may it be a safe holiday. And we’ll see you all on Monday. Thank you.
* *** *