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

17 December 2012

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

17 December 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 everyone, and welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Today, I am joined by Mr. Ray Chambers, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria, along with Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, the Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, who is participating, as you can see, by video link from Geneva.  And they are going to brief on the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report.  And, of course, they will be able to take questions after that.  And once their part of the briefing is over, I have a few more items and will be happy to take questions too. But first of all, welcome, again Mr. Chambers, and the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Mr. Chambers, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria along with Dr. Nafo-Traore issued separately]

So as I mentioned, just a few more items and I am happy to take a couple of questions.

** Syria

A statement we issued last night expressed the Secretary-General’s alarm at the continued dramatic escalation of violence in Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire.  The reports of aerial bombing yesterday, amid intense violence resulting in many casualties among the Palestinian refugee population in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, are a matter of grave concern.

The Secretary-General firmly condemns this escalation of armed violence, in particular the shelling of population centres and attacks against civilians.  He calls on all sides to cease all forms of violence.  The Secretary-General reminds all parties in Syria that they must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians.  Targeting civilians or carrying out military operations in populated areas, in an indiscriminate or disproportionate fashion that harms civilians is a war crime.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the international community to make every effort to stop the tragic spiral of violence in Syria and urgently to promote an inclusive political process leading to a peaceful political transition.  And the full statement from the Secretary-General is in my office and is also online.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan this morning.

This afternoon, the Council will hold meetings on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

After that, the Security Council will hear from Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in consultations on Syria.  Ms. Amos will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout following those consultations; that should take place around 5 or 5:30 this afternoon.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the attacks that have claimed dozens of lives across Iraq since yesterday.  Many of those attacks targeted civilians.  Mr. Kobler said that the attacks in the disputed internal areas further aggravate the tensions there.  He called on all parties to engage in inclusive dialogue and to urgently work on defusing the situation to prevent an escalation.  The United Nations stands ready to help if requested to do so.  And we have a press release with more details.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The situation on the ground in North Kivu and South Kivu remains tense and fragile, with reports of movements of M23 [23 March Movement] rebels around Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Over the weekend, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, stepped up ground patrols and air reconnaissance flights in response to these reports.  While many of the reports could not be confirmed, the UN mission was able to confirm the presence of M23 rebels in several locations in North Kivu, including near Rwindi, Kibati and in the Masisi area near Moja.  Such movements are in breach of Security Council resolution 2076 (2012).  The UN mission is continuing frequent patrols in and around Goma.

** Lebanon

At around 7 o’clock this morning, an explosion took place in the vicinity of the village of Tayr Harfa in southern Lebanon.  Troops from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, have launched an investigation to identify the precise nature and circumstances of that explosion.

** Sahel

Romano Prodi, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, and Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, will hold consultations from today until Wednesday in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger, as part of the work to develop an integrated UN regional strategy for the Sahel region.

The purpose of their joint visit is to discuss challenges affecting the Sahel region and ways to address them.  During their consultations, Mr. Prodi and Mr. Djinnit will hold meetings with the countries’ Heads of State, representatives of UN agencies, funds and programmes and civil society groups and non-governmental organizations.  This is the third visit by Mr. Prodi in the region since his appointment as Special Envoy for the Sahel.

**Press Conference

Finally, tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here.  That will be on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2013 report; that’s a report from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

So questions, please.  Yes, Erol, Mr. Abbadi and then Masood, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, a couple of questions since we were this at the opening of actually returning of the Secretary-General to his new old place.  So, number one, how soon, do you know how soon the Security Council will be going back to its old space?  When you are going to hold your press briefing at the 226?  That’s all from me.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Right, on the first one, I understand that the Conference Building, which includes the Security Council Chamber, is due to be ready in about two months’ time.  So I think we’d be able to provide a more precise date in due course, but it is not that far away.  So in a couple of months from now.  And on the second, the return to the briefing room is also coming up quite soon.  I would hope that it will be before the end of January, but don’t hold me to that, okay?

Question:  And what is going to happen with the, with the new, with the old white building, how we call it… I never… but the Secretary-General did have indeed his old office now.  It’s going to serve for what kind of purpose?

Spokesperson:  It’s a very specific purpose; it will become in effect for one year, the General Assembly building.  So that once you get to the general debate in September of next year, that general debate will be held in the North Lawn building, which will be slightly reconfigured so that you have a chamber there.  And meetings will already start from the middle of next year related to the General Assembly in the North Lawn Building.  And then, the intention is to be back in 2014 into the original chamber.  So that’s roughly where we are with that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, then Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Following the elections in Japan a few days ago, there are now new renewed threat and counter-threats over the sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands; is the Secretary-General concerned about these new threats?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi, I don’t really have anything to add to what I have previously said, and you’ve previously said here that the Secretary-General simply would hope that such matters are dealt with through a dialogue, okay?  Mr. uh, uh, Mr. Masood [laughter], and then coming to Ali and then I am coming this way, yes?

Question:  On the situation in Iraq, I’d like to know, I know Mr. Kobler, what Mr. Kobler has said; has there been any determination, because these attacks in, if the terrorist attacks in Iraq are continuing and are increasing day by day?  Has a determination been made that whether Al-Qaida is now in Iraq and carrying out these attacks?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’d simply point you to what Mr. Kobler has said — that wherever these attacks are coming from, that he has condemned then and that precisely because these attacks are taking place in disputed areas, that can further aggravate the tensions that are already there.  So that’s really what I have for you on that, Masood.

Question:  [Inaudible], maybe, maybe you talked about it earlier about Secretary-General’s… anything Secretary-General had to say about this massacre in Connecticut, or has he had a statement or anything like that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Masood, the Secretary-General wrote a letter to the Governor of Connecticut, and we provided some details from that letter on Friday.  In other words, on the day that this terrible incident took place.

Question:  When is he going to give his year-end press conference; do you have any…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General announced that last week; it will be this coming Wednesday; in other words, the day after tomorrow, at 11 a.m., right here.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I have a couple of questions on Syria.  In fact, the news came today from Damascus that the Secretary-General has a phone call with the Syrian Foreign Minister.  I wonder whether you have anything to tell us about this phone call from this side?  Second, do you have any figures about how many Palestinian refugees has… have been displaced from Syria to Lebanon because of the events in Syria?  And last question is about whether it was true that UNDOF troops were provided with gas masks and why?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the first point, yes, the Secretary-General did speak with the Syrian Foreign Minister this morning, New York time.  This was in line, in fact, with the statement that we issued.  The Secretary-General is particularly concerned about the escalation in violence in recent days, and very specifically the incident yesterday in which a Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, right near Damascus came under attack.  The Secretary-General made his views very clear on this, as he did in the statement that was issued.  And so, this was an important phone call that the Secretary-General really wanted to have with the Syrian Foreign Minister to make sure that his views on this escalation in violence, that his views are really being heard at a high level in Damascus.  With regard to the figures on Palestinians being displaced themselves from Syria to other locations, I will ask my colleagues from UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] to assist with that, and obviously also UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  On the UNDOF, no, I don’t have any details on the logistical equipment that UNDOF may or may not have.  Yes, Miki?

Question:  I can’t speak.  Same on Japan, but slightly different.  After yesterday’s election, has [Secretary-General] have any expectation for the new leader to come in, in regarding like, you know, the future cooperation with the UN?

Spokesperson:  Well, as everyone knows, Japan is an important and committed contributor to the work of the United Nations, and the Secretary-General is certain that that will continue to be the case.

Question:  Sure, Martin, a couple of questions about the Democratic Republic of Congo.  One is, there, there was a pretty good high-profile police major of the Congolese National Police, Bertin Shimumano, who was apparently shot and killed over the weekend in Goma, and I wanted to know if MONUSCO has any idea, you know, who, who, who may be behind that.  There are also reports of not only an FARDC [Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo] build-up in Goma, but some allied militias, some of whom have shown up in UN human rights reports, Mai Mai units, uh, and I wanted to know, what is MONUSCO’s role in, in what is perceived to be an, a, a build-up for maybe another battle of Goma and are they going to support FARDC?  Have they decided which units they would support and these militias and also if, is there any update on the Minova incident and which FARDC units are, were present at the time of those 70-plus rapes?

Spokesperson:  Thanks, Matthew, if I have anything further beyond what I have said today in what I was able to read out, then I will let you know.  I don’t have anything further on the particular questions that you have raised.

Question:  But, I guess just to put one, since, since MONUSCO is reporting on this build-up of, of M23, I guess I wonder is it still within their mandate to look at build-up of, of, of other militias equally accused of, of human rights violations, or is this, have they shrunken their mandate down to that?

Spokesperson:  I am sure MONUSCO, I am sure the mission is operating within its mandate and doing everything that it can do.  But, I do not have any specific details on precisely what you are driving at at the moment.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, I wonder if we can get any update on the repercussions of Fukushima’s incident which took place about a year ago or more?  How does [inaudible], what kind of contamination remained in the seas and neighbouring countries?  Because for a long time we have been kept in the dark on this.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that is a question for two other people and not for me. One would be for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and of course, the other would be the Japanese authorities themselves.  Okay.

Correspondent:  But, this is a matter of international concern since a lot of people, [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  That’s right; and I think the International Atomic Energy Agency has the word “international” in it, so.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, this, this is, it is related to the, to the event this morning where, where the Secretary-General you know, moved back to the 38th floor. I had wanted to ask, what, have there been any sort of either, i.e. not only lessons learned but changes made to, to the Capital Master Plan after superstorm or hurricane Sandy hit and the water came in and also the, this Chief Information Technology Officer position, I was told that it was, it had nearly been about to be filled and now after the storm it’s somehow been, you know, re-opened and, and can you say anything about that in terms of filling this position, and does the re-opening of it have anything to do with the, with the Member States’ complaints about not being e-mailed during the storm?

Spokesperson:  On the first, Matthew, I’ll check with the Capital Master Plan colleagues to see if there have been any adjustments to take into account what happened during the storm.  And on the second, a standard response, Matthew, that if and when we have an announcement to make, we will make an announcement.  But we are not going to talk about the process of reaching that announcement.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, just a point of information, what are the future plans of the Joint Special Representative to Syria, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, and when is he expected at headquarters?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with his team on what his movements are.  Yes, last question.

Question:  Yes, sir, about Gaza, and, there is a report that the, a whole bunch of tunnels are now again being resurrected in Gaza as Israel still has a stranglehold on border crossing.  Has the Secretary-General had any conversation with the Israeli authorities to, to loosen the control to allow at least humanitarian good to go through those crossings?

Spokesperson:  I think, as you are aware, that is one of the key parts of dealing with the ceasefire arrangements.  One was precisely to provide greater access for people and goods into and out of Gaza.  And the second was to curtail the illegal importation of weapons into Gaza.  So, obviously it is really important that there is strong movement on both of those aspects of the ceasefire agreement. And I know that that’s what the parties are working on.  And Mr. Serry, the Special Coordinator, remains in close contact with the relevant people in the region to help and encourage that process.

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.