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

21 January 2013

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

21 January 2013
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.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General spoke at an open debate of the Security Council this morning on UN peacekeeping, and he urged Member States to provide the personnel and assets that the United Nations needs to operate in ever more challenging environments.


He said that the United Nations will conduct periodic reviews of its missions, to ensure the right mix of skills and capabilities to respond to evolving mandates and changing conditions on the ground.


The Secretary-General noted that the Security Council, in a resolution today, is emphasizing that national Governments have the primary responsibility for identifying peacebuilding priorities.  He said that host States are ultimately responsible for ensuring the protection of civilians, and effective national institutions are essential to this effort. 


The Secretary-General said that the United Nations national counterparts must take this obligation seriously, as peacekeeping operations can never act as the surrogate in protecting the civilians within their borders.


His remarks are available in my office and online.


** Syria


A team from seven United Nations humanitarian agencies, led by the Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, has visited Homs in Syria, and this morning the team crossed conflict lines into the city of Talbiseh, which has been battered by more than 20 months of violence.  The visit was coordinated with both the Government and the opposition.


The delegation, which is in Syria to assess humanitarian needs and identify ways to increase access to people in need in all areas of the country, said it was shocked by what it saw in Talbiseh and Homs.  The delegation met with people in dire need of food, health care and access to clean water.  They also met children, who have been particularly affected by the fighting and urgently need psychosocial support and access to school.


John Ging said he was “encouraged that the delegation was able to cross the conflict lines, which demonstrates that, where there is political will, there is a way to ensure that international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles are upheld, even during such intense conflict”.  However, he emphasized that “the humanitarian needs are enormous” and that we must find ways to immediately increase the scale of operations.


**Arab Development


The Secretary-General conveyed a message to the Third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Riyadh today, in which he applauded many of the reforms that are under way in the region.  He said that across the region, the challenge now is to deepen and broaden reform efforts.  In particular, a new and more hopeful era for the Arab world demands that young people and women have opportunities to realize their aspirations.  When Arab women enjoy their rights and realize their full potential, they will unleash enormous progress in their communities and countries.


At the same time, he said, the region faces significant challenges.  Growing unemployment and economic marginalization have fuelled discontent.  He said that, in order to address longstanding inequalities, we need mechanisms that will increase political participation and strengthen social safety nets to protect and empower the poor.  And his message is available online.


** Afghanistan


The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released a report saying that torture persists and remains a serious concern in numerous detention centres across Afghanistan.


The Mission found that more than half of 635 conflict-related detainees whom it interviewed experienced ill treatment and torture, particularly in 34 locations of the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security.  This took place despite significant efforts by the Government of Afghanistan and international partners to address ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees.  Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that the report’s findings are a cause for serious concern.


He said that, although the Government’s attention and efforts to address abusive practices are visible and encouraging and have produced some positive results, the system is not robust enough to eliminate ill-treatment of detainees. Clearly more needs to be done to end and prevent torture.  We have more details in my office, and that’s also available online.


** Darfur


The African Union–United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has delivered more nearly 45 tons of urgent humanitarian aid, by land and air, to thousands of civilians who were displaced in North Darfur during the past several days.


The aid was provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the UN refugee agency.  It consists of non-food items such as plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets and water purification equipment.  In addition to logistical support, the mission has been providing security escorts to humanitarian workers to enable them to carry out their duties.  The mission has also been supporting in mediation efforts to reduce the tensions in Jabel Amir.


**Darfur — Peace Talks


And also on Darfur, peace negotiations between the Government of Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement Sudan were launched yesterday in Doha, under the auspices of Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and the Acting Joint Special Representative of the African Union–United Nations mission in Darfur, who is also Joint Chief Mediator.  The head of the mission commended both parties for having kept their promise to return to negotiations on the basis of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur.  And she said that the African Union, the United Nations and other national and international actors stand ready to assist the parties.


**Secretary-General’s Press Conference


Tomorrow at 11:45 a.m., the Secretary-General will be here to give his first press conference of the year.  And of course that means we won’t be having a noon briefing.




And finally, the Department of Public Information would like to invite journalists to two exhibition openings tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. in the Visitors Lobby at UN Headquarters, to mark the 2013 International Day of Holocaust Remembrance, with the theme “Rescue during the Holocaust:  The Courage to Care”.


Questions, please.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  [inaudible] schedule here?


Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi is here today having meetings with the Secretary-General and other senior advisers, and together they will be speaking by telephone conference call with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States this afternoon.  So that’s today.  And then, as I understand it, Mr. Brahimi will be briefing the Security Council on 29 January.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Syria Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem accused Brahimi of conspiring against Syria.  Is there any conspiracy that the United Nations knows about here or somewhere else against Syria?


Spokesperson:  It’s a rather strange question, Ali, don’t you think?


Correspondent:  There is a Foreign Minister of Syria accusing Mr. Brahimi, who is representing the United Nations, of conspiring against Syria.


Spokesperson:  I would simply say that Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and League of Arab States, enjoys the full support of the Secretary-General and of the Security Council.  Next question?  Yes?


Question:  [Russian Federation] Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin today urged to speed up the investigation on develop… helicopter in South Sudan; do you have anything to add to the, what has already been said?


Spokesperson:  To my knowledge it is under way; and if I have anything further, I will let you know.  I don’t have anything further at this point, but I’ll certainly check with Peacekeeping Operations to see if they have any update.  Yes?  Yes?


Question:  Today in Preševo, southern Serbia, over 10,000 ethnic Albanians did protest against the removal of the memorial that is being built in honour of the fallen freedom fighters of the liberation army for Preševo and that region.  Tensions are very high.  Is the Secretary-General, UN doing anything?  What’s your involvement there?  Are you planning… because if it blows the whole region can really blow.


Spokesperson:  The United Nations is following developments in Serbia’s Preševo Valley, and is appealing for calm.  The United Nations has consistently underscored the need for internal and regional reconciliation in the western Balkans and this is something that has been emphasized during recent meetings that the Secretary-General has had, including with, for example, Serbian President [Tomislav] Nikolić and representatives of the Kosovo authorities.  And that also goes for other senior UN officials who have had similar meetings.  And of course, peaceful protests should be allowed to go on — with the emphasis on peaceful.  Any other questions, please?


Question:  Sorry, a follow-up.  Is the Secretary-General planning to reach out to Serbia’s leadership regarding this to keep things calm?


Spokesperson:  I think I just did.  Yes?


Question:  Sure.  First I want to ask about Darfur.  There are two different reports again; I guess things are getting, things seem to be getting worse.  There is a camp, Kendebe camp, in West Darfur which says it’s, it’s been under threat of the Abbala militia for three days, everything closed and there is also a town in central Darfur, Umm Dukhun, which was supposedly attacked by these Abbala militia.  So I am wondering again, you know, what, what’s UNAMID, I know that there was a report last week on, on displacement from Ben Hussein in Abbala, but what’s, it seems like it is spreading.  What’s UNAMID doing?  And I wanted to just, I really appreciate the answer that you sent me about this, this protection of civilians strategy, but I just wanted to for once and for all put it, I was told by people that work in UNAMID that there is, there was a document that UNAMID shared with the Government and since then basically it’s been put on hold or vetoed by the Government, the way it was explained to me, so I’ve seen how these things have been phrased about it’s being partially implemented, there are internal deliberations, but is there some way to just find out — is it, if it’s true that the mission — I don’t know if it’s true or not — that the mission checked with the Government and that essentially put the kibosh on at least portions of the strategy?


Spokesperson:  I think what we’ve had to say so far is what we have to say, and it’s quite clear.  With regard to the first part of your question about West Darfur and Central Darfur, let me check with the mission through my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations.  You will have heard me, I think, giving you some details about what’s been going on elsewhere.  So, let me just check on this.


Question:  Okay.  And, and I wanted to ask also ask about Myanmar, there is the… I guess, the new, a UN News Service piece yesterday, in which the Secretary-General, you know, welcomed the ceasefire in Kachin State by Myanmar.  And then it seems like there were reports in Irrawaddy and elsewhere that in fact fighting continues.  Is that, I’m sorry, I see you’re looking puzzled, maybe I am asking it wrong, but…


Spokesperson:  Yeah.


Question:  What’s… what’s the…?


Spokesperson:  The simple… Well, finish your question.


Question:  No, sure, I guess… I mean, I understand, I understand a ceasefire could be announced and not fully implemented, but is it, is it the UN’s understanding that…. What is, what… what… what does the UN say of reports that continued, that… that… fighting and death continues?  Is it as some say that the Government wants there to be a ceasefire and hasn’t reached its troops somehow, or is there… is the UN troubled by the public announcement and the continuing fighting?


Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things: I don’t think you need to look for a statement by the Secretary-General on the News Centre, a fine place though that maybe.  The statement was issued last night and you should have received it.  If you didn’t, let me know, and we will check to make sure that you do receive the statements in the future. 


I would draw your attention to the first sentence of that statement, which says:  The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government of Myanmar on Friday of a ceasefire in Kachin and has been following the various reports from the ground on its implementation.  And then it does say:  He calls upon both sides to make serious effort to create conditions for sustained peace in Kachin through enhanced confidence-building measures and political dialogue.  So, also there is the question of access to civilian populations, and we continue to call for that.


Mr. Nambiar was, as you saw just last week, in the region, and indeed not just in Myanmar, but in Kachin.  And he did put out a statement on his return that was quite detailed, I think.  Other questions, please?  Yes?


Question:  On Friday we asked regarding the financing of the Viva Vox concert the 14th.  Some other sources, diplomatic sources, are mentioning that UN — I am not saying Secretariat, but, but any other, some other sources of the UN sources — did support or co-sponsor that event with around $25,000.  Have you been able to get any information or…?


Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you on Friday, the United Nations Secretariat provided logistical and technical support.  This is primarily to do with the technical set-up in the General Assembly Hall, which after all, was the venue for the concert.  And that technical support was for the most part conducted by people during the normal run of their work.  There are, of course, some costs associated with that kind of technical support, and it is in the region of $26,000.  But just to be absolutely clear that no financial support was provided for the choir or for other participants.  So this was purely technical, logistical support in the set-up of the concert in the General Assembly venue.


Question:  So, who did pick up that bill of $26,000, UN Secretariat?


Spokesperson:  I have just said that it is part of the UN’s support, the technical and logistical support that was provided.  Other questions?


Correspondent:  Yes, one other.


Spokesperson:  Last one.


Question:  Okay, sure.  This is a… it’s… maybe this is in… in the run up for… to… for tomorrow’s presentation after the General Assembly on the financial side of the UN budget and… and the budget session.  I’ve been told by… by some people in various departments that a directive has gone out to departments to… to institute a cut of a $100 million, and it’s a, you know, some are saying that it is going to be hard to do it without cutting into substantive work.  But I wanted to know, is that, you know, is… is that accurate?  Is there a directive from the Comptroller’s office to institute $100 million of cuts?


Spokesperson:  I think may be we need to get the chronology of this correct.  The Secretary-General submitted the budget outline for the biennium 2014-2015.  The General Assembly asked for an additional $100 million in savings beyond the savings that the Secretary-General, in that outline, had already identified.  So, needless to say, instructions have gone out across the UN Secretariat, or the different departments and so on, for those savings to be identified.  This is for the budget for 2014–2015.


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.