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

31 January 2013

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

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

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.

** Syria

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, gave an interview to the UN News Centre in which he responded to reports that a Syrian opposition leader, Mouaz Alkhatib, had said that he was willing to talk to representatives of the Syrian Government.  Mr. Brahimi said that the offer was worthy of note, and he added:  “Let’s see how the Government is going to respond.  And let’s see how the colleagues of Mouaz Alkhatib are going to react.”

Mr. Brahimi acknowledged that, so far, the efforts to start negotiations have not been very successful.  But, he added that military campaigns have not been successful in resolving the conflict, either.  He said that:  “Nobody has said it’s going to be easy.  But, perhaps, negotiating is better than killing each other.”

** Israel

The International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory today published its report, which calls for a halt to all Israeli settlement activity.

The Mission says that, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel must cease all settlement activities without preconditions.

The report says that settlements are established and developed for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews, and that they are maintained and advanced through a system of total segregation between the settlers and the rest of the population living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The report states that Israel is committing serious breaches of its obligations under the right to self-determination and under humanitarian law.

The full report is available on the website of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It will be formally presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 March.

** Sudan

The African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur reports that access to many parts of the Jebel Marra area remains blocked due to sporadic clashes between Government forces and armed movements.

UNAMID continues to urge all parties to allow full access to affected populations everywhere in Darfur, by the Mission, UN agencies and humanitarian partners.

While remaining strongly committed to help protect civilians in Darfur as mandated by the Security Council, the Mission underscores that the Government of Sudan is primarily responsible for the protection of civilians and the maintenance of peace and security in the country.

UNAMID also reiterates its call to all parties to cease fighting and remains engaged in facilitating reconciliation efforts.

[Correspondent raises hand to ask a question]

I haven’t finished yet.  My God, you are all very, rambunctious… spirited! [Laughter].

** Egypt

The Executive Director of UN-Women [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women], Michelle Bachelet, expressed deep concern today over the escalating violence against women in Egypt.

The UN agency said it is deeply disturbed by the gravity of recent attacks against women, including the reports of sexual assault, many of which occurred in the same Tahrir Square in which women rallied to contribute to a better future for their country.

UN-Women calls upon the Government and people of Egypt to take a firm stand against all forms of violence against women and girls, and to promote human rights for all, including the rights of women to live free of violence and discrimination, and to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

The full press release is available in our office.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

I was asked yesterday about reports of rapes in the eastern Congo.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) informs us that, together with its partners, it continues to support efforts by the Congolese judicial authorities to investigate the allegations of grave human rights violations committed in Minova and surrounding areas in November 2012.

The next phase of the investigation is the deployment of a mission by Congolese military judicial authorities.  This mission is planned to take place in the course of the first two weeks of February, and is supported by MONUSCO and other national and international partners.

The UN Mission’s investigators have been deployed to the area in recent weeks.  The Mission is also collaborating with other UN and NGO partners to ensure the protection of witnesses and victims of human rights violations in the Minova area.

The UN Mission continues to meet with Congolese authorities at the highest level, and continues to receive assurances from top military authorities that the necessary actions are being taken to ensure that the alleged perpetrators of the grave human rights violations committed in Minova will be brought to justice and held accountable.

**Security Council

And this morning, the Security Council held a closed meeting to wrap up its work for this month.

And, at 12:30 p.m., Masood Khan, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan and President of the Security Council for the month of January, will brief you in this room about the Council’s work during the past month.

Tomorrow, the Republic of Korea will assume the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of February.

Questions, please, now?  [laughter]  Sylvian?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  I am not sure, I came very late, I am not sure maybe you did already read a statement.  I wonder if the, uh, Ban Ki, the Secretary-General has anything to say about the Israeli air strike on the Syrian-Lebanese border?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything right now, but we may have something a bit later on.  Pam?

Question:  Ah, yes, Pamela Falk from CBS News, and on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you for being here.  It is a similar question to the last one, which is, is there anything from the Secretary-General on the threats of retaliation for the Israeli strikes or reported alleged Israeli strikes on, uh, in Syria?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, I have nothing, but we may have something a bit later on.  But, reported retaliation by whom on whom?

Correspondent:  Of Syria and Iran on Israel for the reported Israeli strikes in Damascus.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will have to see if we have a statement a bit later on from the Secretary-General.

Question:  And have there been any calls for a Security Council meeting?  Anything?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to discuss that with the Security Council; the President will be here at 12.30 p.m.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed correspondents that the Secretary-General notes with grave concern reports of Israeli air strikes in Syria.  At this time, the United Nations does not have details of the reported incident.  Nor is the United Nations in a position to independently verify what has occurred.  The Secretary-General calls on all concerned to prevent tensions or their escalation in the region, and to strictly abide by international law, in particular in respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region].

Question:  Can we expect, Eduardo, a statement from the Secretary-General on the Human Rights Council report of Israeli settlements, in particular the transfer of Palestinian children to Israeli detention centres?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has made it quite clear over the course of history that the settlements are illegal and against international law, and you now have the Human Rights Council saying the same thing; I’ve just read their report.  Tim?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General takes note of the report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements.  He notes that the Fact-Finding Mission is an independent body and that its report is to be considered by Member States in March, at the upcoming Human Rights Council session in Geneva.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly made his views on Israeli settlements clear. All settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law.  It also runs contrary to Israel’s obligations under the road map.]

Question:  [inaudible], can you confirm that [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] has received a complaint from the Syrian Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are in the process of verifying that.  And when we have something, we will let you know.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Eduardo.  I, I want to ask a follow-up about your answer on Minova, but first, I didn’t know we did this, but I want to thank you on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access for your presence while Martin’s been away and for everything else that you do.  But, I want to ask you on Minova.  It’s, it’s, at the stakeout, uh, the Head of [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], Mr. Ladsous, had said that the UN’s own probe would be finished by the end of January, which is today.  So what I wanted to know, what’s lacking in the statement, is how these events that took place in November are being addressed under the UN’s human rights due diligence policy, which prohibits the UN from working with the units that were there committing the rapes.  Which units were [inaudible] and which has the UN… here is the, just as a yes-or-no question, has MONUSCO suspended its work with any [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] unit since late November 2012?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, as we have stated continuously, the investigation continues.  As I stated here, the investigation continues and we are not going to pre-judge what the investigation is going to find.

Question:  But, what changed from when Mr. Ladsous said in December that the probe, the investigation, would be finished by the end of January?  Why is it now being delayed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I just read what we said, and that’s what, that’s where we stand.  Hank?

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  I just wanted to ask about the process.  It’s been more than four days since this Israeli air strike, it is a catalyst in a situation that doesn’t need any more heat at all.  Are there considerations that you are going through?  In comparable situations, the condemnation would have been in the can for hours already.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Could you repeat that?  I didn’t quite get the question.

Question:  I am just wondering what’s taking so long for the Secretary-General to speak out on what everyone is talking about this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, not everyone is talking about it.  What we have to see is what happened before the Secretary-General makes a statement.  And that statement is in the works right now, but we are investigating exactly what happened.  We have media reports, and that’s fine, but we are considering what has happened, and once we have that information, we will come up with a statement.  Tim?

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  The UN mission in Bamako has some human rights experts there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Apparently there are some human rights experts in Bamako, too.

Question:  I mean, are they investigating the accusations that are being made against the Government forces?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the, they will be investigating once they can get into the areas, obviously.  But, as I said before, the Secretary-General stands firm that any violations of human rights must be fully investigated and full accountability must be, must be, must take place.

Correspondent:  Yes, please, I, I sort of missed what time you said that Pakistan, the Mission….

Deputy Spokesperson:  12:30 p.m.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew?

Question:  I have two questions on Libya, but I wanted to ask, on Mali, there has been this, a public split between the Interim President, uh, who said that, that, that the Islamists, even the ones that remain in Kidal, are “not eligible for dialogue” and French Defence Minister has said that reconciliation is necessary, they should be spoken with.  Given that the UN is expert in mediation and is already well engaged in this conflict, do they have any view on whether non-terrorist, “Islamists” in Kidal should be part of the process or not?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has been quite clear that there is a military road and a there is a political road; and the political road entails negotiations and talks and dialogue between those people who are willing to set down their arms and dialogue, and I think that’s where we stand.  Hank?

Question:  Thank you.  I just wondered if you can shed any more light at all on this possible dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian Government that Mr. Brahimi was talking about?  It seems like some kind of a silver lining; any glimmer of hope is a nice thing.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we said, the head, well, let me go back here.  Syrian opposition leader Mouaz Alkhatib said he was willing to talk to representatives of the Syrian Government.  That marks a change in posture.  Obviously, one of the challenges facing the Syrian opposition is the need to speak with a unified voice, so, as Mr. Brahimi said, now let’s see how the colleagues of Mouaz Alkhatib are going to react; let’s see how the Government is going to respond.  Obviously, someone has taken a first step and put a proposal on the table, and it is now up to see how the other players are going to respond.  Masood?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General welcomes the recent statement by Mr. Mouaz Alkhatib and his openness to discussions with representatives of the Syrian Government.  Along with Joint Special Representative Brahimi, he has repeatedly said that the levels of suffering and destruction in Syria are already intolerable.  They continue to appeal to all to end the violence and resolve the conflict through negotiations and a credible process that would lead to a real change, a clear break from the past, and fulfil the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people].

Question:  Yes, sir, on this situation in, on the India and Pakistan border, which we, uh, which the Indians continue to undermine, saying that they don’t even now accept UNMOGIP’s [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] authority, or it should be done away with; what is the Secretary-General’s position on these things that the Indians are saying consistently?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General…

Question:  How many United Nations mission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s position is that the investigations to these latest incidents are ongoing, and a final report will be submitted to the Secretariat as soon as the investigations are concluded.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, I do have something here which says Syrian authorities protested to the UNDOF Force Commander that Israeli planes had flown over the area of separation.

UNDOF did not observe any planes flying over the area of separation and, therefore, was not able to confirm the incident.  UNDOF also reported bad weather conditions.

UNDOF remains committed to the implementation of its mandate to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, and to supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as prescribed by the disengagement agreement.

Question:  Another question on this same situation in, on this Israeli strike inside Syria.  I mean, why is it taking the Secretary-General such a long time to issue a statement?  Why?  What is he waiting for?  If it was any other country, he would have condemned this attack by now and it [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, no, no, no.  We are the United Nations; we have to make sure that we have all the facts before we make a statement.  As it said here, Syrian authorities have protested to the UNDOF Force Commander, but the UNDOF did not observe any planes flying.  Again, we are checking with the mission in the area to find out what information they have; then we will have a response.  Hopefully, we will have something soon.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Libya and also the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo].  On, on, on Libya, [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Tareq Mitri, at the stakeout the other day, uh, would, said that, what had, what was going to be the UN Headquarters in Tripoli, now it looks like it won’t be because grenades were thrown at it and seems to be in unsecured place.  So he was asked how much UN money was spent renovating, procuring and getting it ready.  He said definitely money was spent, but he personally didn’t know how much.  So, I don’t know, assume that you have the number, but I’d like to make a request to know, yeah, yeah…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not at my finger tips, but we’ll find out.

Question:  Yeah, but can we get?  It seems like a number could be known.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try and find out for you.

Question:  And then, on, on the Congo, I wanted to ask you is, there are two inter-related things; one is, I heard the MONUSCO, uh, press release yesterday, saying the e-mail they say is false.  Others tell me it’s true, but, so, now you’ve been asked about two other e-mails and I want to ask you about, because I very much want to verify what’s in these, what they are saying are not real e-mails.  One e-mail describes MONUSCO patrolling near the Rwandan border and taking photographs that the Rwandan Defence Forces thought were across the border and objected to it.  Is that… does that take place?  Is it true, and can I know, so I know if the e-mail is true or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, you know for a fact we don’t comment on documents that may or may not have been leaked.  We read a statement yesterday; we stand by that statement.  But, we are not going to comment on every document you obtain through sources.

Correspondent:  My question is this:  MONUSCO said, MONSUCO said that they denounce the media for publishing the e-mail because they should have checked with the UN…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  …if the e-mail is true.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  So I am asking you now; now you say you won’t confirm if it is true or not.  It seems like it’s a circle.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are not going to comment on, on…

Question:  Then how can you denounce the media for not [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are not going to comment on documents that may or may not have been leaked, Matthew.  I’m sorry, that’s…

Question:  Then how does, why is MONUSCO denouncing the media for not checking a document if you won’t comment on it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Because the document that was referred to was a falsification; it was a false document.  It was not a real document.

Correspondent:  So I will publish these and they can denounce them.  I am asking if they are true, I mean, it’s simple.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Matthew…

Correspondent:  Okay, fine.

Deputy Spokesperson:  …as always, freedom of the press; you are free to do what you like to do.

Question:  And the last question, if you don’t mind, is about drones.  Since your last, the last interchange on this topic, I have seen the procurement document that shows that it did begin, the new, the new procurement has been launched but, in fact, it goes… it runs well into March.  So, I guess my question is:  is that a true procurement document and is it the case, is it the fact that [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] said it is urgent to have drones, but in fact, won’t even feasibly be able to implement them until late March or April?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to check on that, Matthew, I don’t have the exact dates.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  And the Permanent Representative of Pakistan should be here momentarily for you.

* *** *

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