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

21 December 2012

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

21 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Since the world has not ended, I welcome you to the noon briefing.

**South Sudan

Earlier today, at approximately 10 a.m. South Sudan time, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that one of its MI-8 helicopters with four crew members on board was shot down.

In subsequent communications between the Mission and the South Sudanese armed forces (SPLA), the SPLA told the Mission that it had shot at a helicopter in the Likuangole area in Jonglei State.  The UN helicopter was on a reconnaissance flight to the area.  Initial reports indicate that the UN helicopter crashed and burned.

The Mission immediately launched a search and recovery mission.  It has confirmed the death of all four crew members.  The Mission investigation is ongoing.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is in constant contact with the UN Mission in South Sudan and will provide updates as they become available.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has received reports of the displacement of civilians following alleged air strikes by Sudanese Armed Forces and attacks by armed groups in the Shangil Tobaya and Tawila areas of North Darfur.

The Mission has received reports that civilians are fleeing as a result of alleged air strikes in recent days, and it is arranging for further verification of these incidents.  While the scope of displacement is yet to be determined and allegations of air strikes are yet to be verified, the Mission is nevertheless concerned about the safety of civilians and the humanitarian situation in camps for internally displaced people.

The Mission calls on all parties involved to keep civilians out of harm's way and to grant the Mission unrestricted access and freedom of movement across Darfur.  The Mission also warns that continued fighting could lead to a catastrophic humanitarian situation for the displaced civilians in North Darfur.

** Syria

Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, has warned of the increasing risk of sectarian violence in Syria.

He said that he is deeply concerned that entire communities risk paying the price for crimes committed by the Syrian Government.  As the situation in Syria deteriorates further, there is a growing risk that civilian communities including Alawite and other minorities perceived to be associated with the Government and its assorted forces could be subject to large-scale reprisal attacks.

Mr. Dieng urged all parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law, which prohibits the targeting of individuals or groups based on religious or ethnic identity, as well as attacks against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.

** Syria — Humanitarian

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it will start providing ready-to-eat meals to 125,000 vulnerable Palestinians and displaced Syrians caught up in fighting around Yarmouk camp in Syria.

In recent days, Palestinian refugees and thousands of displaced Syrians who had taken refuge in the camp fled due to violence.  Many of them are now in relatives’ homes, mosques, public shelters and schools.

The UN food agency said that it will provide around 12 kilograms of food for each family per week.  This emergency operation will require an additional $1.5 million to immediately procure more than 580 metric tons of food — enough to feed the 125,000 people for three months.  Yarmouk camp, which is 8 kilometres from the centre of Damascus, has been home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria since 1957.

** Mali

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Mali yesterday, urging the transitional authorities of the country to finalize a transitional road map and fully restore constitutional order and national unity, including through the holding of presidential and legislative elections.

In the resolution, the Security Council also decided to authorize the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year.  This Mission will contribute to the rebuilding of the capacity of the Malian Defence and Security Forces and will support the Malian authorities in recovering the areas in the north of its territory under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups.

The Special Representative for the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, has concluded a visit to Mali today, where he met with President Dioncounda Traore and other governmental officials.  Mr. Djinnit said that the United Nations was ready to assist Mali in implementing the Security Council’s resolution.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) confirms that two attacks against Ivorian security services’ positions by unidentified assailants took place last night in Abidjan.  An attack against a gendarmerie’s post in the Yopougon neighbourhood of Abidjan resulted in one death.  Another attack against an army position in Agbaou, east of Abidjan resulted in two wounded.

After the Mission was informed of the attacks, peacekeepers patrols were sent to the locations in order to provide assistance to Ivorian authorities.  UNOCI’s medical teams are also assisting those wounded.  The United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire strongly condemns these attacks.

**Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is concerned by what appears to be the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human rights defender in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.  Navi Pillay’s Office is highly concerned for his safety and believes that his abduction may be related to his human rights work.  Ms. Pillay’s Office welcomes the Government’s recent statement that a serious investigation is under way, and urges the authorities to do everything possible to ensure that Mr. Somphone is found safe and unharmed.

**Ribbon Cutting

The Secretary-General cut the ribbon to inaugurate the newly renovated UN Headquarters this morning, saying that “today we celebrate the rebirth of an architectural masterpiece for the twenty-first century.”  He called the day a major milestone towards the completion of the Capital Master Plan.

The Secretary-General said that the renovation has given new life to the Secretariat tower.  The offices are now open and bright.  The building is safer, greener and more efficient.  He added that we have reduced energy and water consumption by more than 50 per cent.  The United Nations is leading by example in sustainable development.  His remarks are available online.

**Next Week

And as you know, the holiday season is upon us.  The Secretary-General will be in town next week, although for now, he is not expected to come to the building.  For our part, we won’t hold noon briefings for the rest of year, but will update our websites with information from the UN system.  The noon briefing will resume on 2 January.

For now, there are no other briefings scheduled for next week.  And, I’m sure you’re aware that UN Headquarters will be closed for the Christmas holiday next Tuesday and for New Year’s Day the Tuesday after that.  As always, we will continue to provide you with information by the Internet and Twitter and spokespeople will be available in the building during all the working days next week.

That’s it from me.  Questions?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all you guys.  I just want to ask you in this case in Pakistan, where the United Nations has stopped all operations following the killing of the workers, I mean the female workers who were killed by these Talibans because there were doing the inject… I mean inoculating people with anti-polio vaccine.  I’d like to know, is there a time line by… by the United Nations from when you can resume work, because the work is urgent and is needed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I agree with you, the work is urgent and needed, but we always have to balance the safety of the staff who are carrying it out and tragically a number of them were killed in the past 10 days.  I think the World Health Organization (WHO) will be looking at the situation closely, monitoring and are working with Pakistani authorities to ensure that once the situation has clarified that this type of activity can resume.

Correspondent:  I understand that, I mean, obviously there have been such incidents in Pakistan earlier also.  I know you won’t say, do you… the law enforcement agencies to come up with a plan, what’s this… where do you… where does the United Nations stand?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to get into whatever security arrangements are being made by the World Health Organization, that’s up for them to determine with the Pakistani authorities.  And, once they have a game plan, they will probably announce it.  I don’t know what kind of detail they will get into, but once they have an agreement and once they feel that the conditions are right for resuming the programme, I am sure they will announce it.  I would suggest you contact them to see if they have any more information they can give you in the short term.

Question:  Okay, yeah.  Yeah, in case of Syria, where you were just… where in… in new United Nations report has said the sectarian violence is now becoming dominant and it is now becoming more… I mean, to paraphrase, like a norm now, and which is a conflict between various sects in… in the country.  How does… how is the United Nations or any international body able to… to… to… what do you call, determine as to who is it that is violating more human rights now and killing people now more than those that are outside the regime, as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s… you know it’s always difficult for us to come to that kind of knowledge, because we don’t have observers in Syria.  What the Secretary-General again has been calling for over the… for over a year now, is for the violence to end and for both, all sides to get together and engage in a peaceful dialogue.  The Secretary-General has warned of the dangers not only of spillover to neighbouring countries, we’ve already seen some indications of that, but also in terms of how this affects the social fabric of Syria.  Mr. Pinheiro, I believe, has come out with an observation, and I believe that Mr. Dieng will be meeting with media at… later on this afternoon, and he probably will be in a better position to discuss this with you.  Hank?

Question:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, Eduardo.  I have a question about a statement that came out yesterday afternoon from Adama Dieng, [Secretary-General’s] Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide.  And forgive me for para… for reading back, it says… he begins by saying he is deeply concerned that entire communities risk paying the price for crimes committed by the Syrian Government.  And, later in that paragraph, he goes on to say that he fears that loyalist communities could be subject to large-scale reprisal attacks.  Now, to my reading, there is a massive black hole in that statement; what he seems to be saying is that he is scared that loyalist communities are going to be subject to brutalization by opposition groups, but at no point does he ever mention those opposition groups.  Maybe you could shed some light on this, because to me it doesn’t even seem to take a stab at impartiality?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what he is saying, you know, without wanting to speak on his behalf, I mean, he has made his statement, and his statement stands; what he is saying basically is that it looks like the conflict is moving from a movement of people opposed to the Government and a movement of people pro-the Government, to a situation where people will go to their communities and be using the preservation of the community as a reason to engage in acts of violence against other communities.  And, I think the… again, he is reflecting on what the Secretary-General has been saying, that as long as the violence continues, it is going to… it’s going to create a possible reduction in the social cohesion of the country and that these things are quite… are dangerous and are quite… quite possible.

Question:  Thank you, but just to follow up, he seems to be placing the onus of responsibility on the Syrian Government, or, as Lakhdar Brahimi, Valerie Amos, these are people that have said on numerous occasions that the opposition groups are fragmented, difficult to communicate with, an… and it seems to me that… that he is placing the… the great deal of the responsibility on the Syrian Government when it is not necessarily theirs to bear.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has welcomed the fact that, in some cases, the opposition seems to be coming together.  It makes it a lot easier for negotiations to take place if you have a concentration of bodies rather than completely disparate bodies, and I think I will leave it at that.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thanks, Eduardo.  I wanted, even though, I am… I understand your announcement about the… the lack of briefings, but there is still the budget to be done, so I am wondering whether there is… I am going to ask you a couple of budget questions and maybe you can get it, either have an answer to or get an answer to.  I am assuming that before Christmas, a budget will be passed and there will be some… maybe a statement by the Secretariat.  The first question I have on it is this:  given how important sustainable development is to the Secretary-General and his statements, it’s been proposed by Japan and the European Union to cut funding for the implementation of Rio+20 to zero.  This was a proposal made by the two, by Japan and the EU, yesterday and it seems to me… what is… does the Secretariat think about no implementation of Rio+20?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, I am not going to get into a budget discussion until we find out what the General Assembly decides.

Question:  But when… is there… can you say that there will be a Secretariat statement on the budget when it comes up?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If the Secretariat believes that the… that a statement is warranted, one may be issued, but I can’t promise you anything on that.

Question:  I also… there is… there is some… something that seems to be… will be going on in this holiday season that… that I want to ask you about.  It’s this… the Secretary-General in answering a question about the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] by… in his press conference mentioned a political framework and a call to seven Presidents, and I’ve heard yesterday that, in fact, that’s what Ms. Malcorra briefed the Council about in the closed consultations, that there is indication that between… before… possibly before the end of the year, there will be a political framework signed in Kinshasa by those seven Presidents and maybe others.  And I wanted to know, it seems like a major initiative by the Secretary-General, is that what the proposal is?  Has Ms. Malcorra gone a second time to the region and… and… and what… what can you say about what the Secretary-General alluded to, but didn’t describe in his press conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, what the Secretary-General said stands, I will not go beyond that.  And, if anything is to be announced next week or the week after, it will be announced in the normal situation.

Question:  But it seems like…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, there will be somebody from the press office on duty every working day, and we have a duty officer on the days that we are no… that are not normal working days, and if there is anything to announce, we will announce it.

Question:  But, I guess just in… what… procedurally, like, if… if the Deputy Secretary-General goes on a trip to Addis or wherever, you guys announce it.  What’s different with the chef de cabinet, if, in fact, she is negotiating?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t announce every trip by every official in the Secretariat, Matthew.  As a matter of course, we do the two top people when they are travelling, and that is what we do as a matter of course.  Hank?

Question:  Thank you.  Yes, forgive me if it is water under the bridge, of… if… I think he’s already said something about it, but can I just ask you, [inaudible] today with the not having passed for the [Secretary-General’s] reaction on yesterday’s Security Council on Mali?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have no statement yet on that; if we have something we will share it with the media.

Question:  This settlement, Israeli settlement issue, have a… every… on Wednesday, everybody came out and condemned the settlement and said they should not be done.  Even the United States, which is totally in support of Israel, came out assailing the decision by Israeli authorities.  It seems that Israel is adamant and not going to, somehow, relent to doing so.  My question is, is the Secretary-General going to have any more talks with the Israeli Government to persuade them, because that means that the whole, this whole peace process is in jeopardy?  And this Quartet, which has not been… which… on which so much money is being spent, is not meeting, not making any difference.  So, has the Secretary-General thought about engaging the Israelis or the Quartet members to somehow move forward…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Masood, the Secretariat, the Secretary-General, through Mr. Serry, engages the Israelis everyday.  The Israelis know what the Secretary-General’s position is.  Mr. Serry and his team work very hard to make sure that our positions are well known, and they also work very hard with different players in the field to see what kind of consensus they can build.  The Quartet is also active.  I can’t get into anything now, but we’ll have to see what they decide to do.  But, we are fully aware of the criticism that came out this week; the Secretary-General has strongly criticized the renewed building of settlements in the occupied territories, and that’s where we are.

Question:  But, the thing is, what… as far as the Quartet is concerned, it has not met, it has not made any… any sort of an effort to bring parties together.  Is there any use for this Quartet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, the Quartet brings together the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations in an attempt to formulate a consensus, a global consensus on peace in the Middle East, and also works, discussing with both sides, how to bring people to the table.  Now, the Quartet has its ability to work, but its ability to succeed depends on both sides wanting to come together and both sides actually coming together.  There is an old saying, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.  The Quartet is making a very strong effort to get both sides to negotiate and to discuss their differences and come to a solution to the problem that’s been plaguing the region for well over six decades.  But, both sides have to be willing to come together and speak.

Hank, there is one thing I’d like to tell you again about the… the… Mali.  We don’t have a statement right now, but if you read the Secretary-General’s report, it contains his observations on his recommendations as to what should have been done in Mali, what should be done in Mali.  So, I recommend you read that, and if we have something, we’ll get it to you.  One more question.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you.  Actually, I have two quick questions on different topics.  I wanted to ask Secretary-General, I didn’t have a chance.  Lately, it has been said a lot on the war crime tribunal of former Yugoslavia.  One Member State strongly criticized, saying it is inefficient, it is slow and it is expensive.  What is the Secretary-General opinion on that?  And on Mali, as a follow-up, actually, sorry if I missed that, whether how the Secretary-General is indeed going to facilitate that it seems that Europeans are not willing to provide combat group operations and how is going to be its Chapter VII operations, so, how is going to be enforced?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on your first question, I don’t think the Secretary-General would comment on independent tribunals and their work.  On the question of Mali, again, the resolution was passed yesterday, and the Secretariat is studying to see the best way to implement the resolution.  But, I am not going to get into any details here as to what they may or may not be doing, or the composition of whatever mission may, in fact, be constituted.  That’s something that will be developed over the next couple of weeks, and that’s where we are going.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much.  Have a very safe and happy holiday season, and we’ll see you back here, unless there are any unforeseen circumstances, on 2 January.

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