|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.
Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, has condemned in the strongest possible terms the coordinated attacks on the police headquarters in Kirkuk yesterday, which have claimed dozens of lives and injured many more.
Mr. Kobler said that the perpetrators showed a complete disregard for human life. He said that it is important that the people of Kirkuk remain united against the forces of extremism and hatred. Mr. Kobler urged the Iraqi leadership to take all necessary steps that are required to deal with this alarming situation, particularly in Kirkuk, which is a symbol of peaceful coexistence in Iraq.
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, visited Mali on Saturday, along with French President François Hollande and the Interim President of Mali, Dioncounda Traoré. The main aim of her visit was to launch the process of reconstruction and safeguarding of the cultural heritage of northern Mali, including the mausoleums of Timbuktu and the city’s collection of manuscripts.
Ms. Bokova visited Timbuktu’s World Heritage sites, and the Ahmed Baba research centre, where some 40,000 of the manuscripts were stored. She then travelled to Bamako with President Hollande to meet Mali’s leaders. The Director-General said that an expert mission would soon be sent to work with the Government of Mali to assess the damage to its cultural heritage and to prepare a plan of action for its restoration. She added that UNESCO would mobilize the necessary expertise and resources to ensure that this was done both efficiently and in a sustainable way.
The Security Council, in consultations this morning, agreed on its programme of work for February. The new Council President, Ambassador Kim Sook of the Republic of Korea, will talk to you about the Council’s programme of work over the coming month in a briefing just after this one, at 12:30 p.m. here in this room.
That’s what I have. Questions, please?
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: Welcome back.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Please.
Question: It’s about… the only comment that I have seen so far regarding the Israeli strike in Syria from the Secretary-General is the one issued last week. So, number one, is there any plan, as more facts come out about circumstances, to issue another statement by the Secretary-General? And if so, would he consider including, in context, the threat made by the head of Hezbollah last August that there should be tens of thousands of Israelis dead from precision rockets that Hezbollah already has? And also, the Secretary-General’s own report last April, in which he cited Hezbollah and Iran’s continuing violations of UN Security Council resolutions in relation to the transfer of arms through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the short answer to your quite long question is that we made remarks last week. I know that Eduardo [del Buey] was able to help you with that; and I don’t have any thing to add at this point. If that changes, I will obviously let you know. Plainly, the Secretary-General is well briefed on developments in the region, and we do keep a close eye on what’s been happening, both in recent days and including over the weekend in Munich. Yes?
Question: Sir, about Iraq, which is at the top of the briefing, you talked about that. It has been said that Al-Qaida is very much in Iraq and that it is also responsible for terrorist attacks inside Iraq. Has the Secretary-General’s representative made any determination as to what is happening, why is in Iraq suddenly there is, I mean, upsurge in terrorist activity?
Spokesperson: I think I would just refer you to the statement that Mr. Kobler has made, and of course, the Secretary-General is aware of what happened over the weekend. He also joins Mr. Kobler in condemning the attacks that took place. As you will have heard from the statement that Mr. Kobler made, he is concerned about the situation in Kirkuk, in particular, and those who carried out those attacks showed absolutely no regard for the sanctity of human life. I’d also just point out, remind you, that on 25 January, so not that long ago, the Secretary-General did issue a statement about a wave of terrorist attacks in Iraq in which many people were killed. And the Mission and the United Nations more generally remains committed to helping the people of Iraq in building a peaceful and democratic and prosperous country. And just finally, everybody has the right to demonstrate; everybody has the right to freedom of expression. But, he also, the Secretary-General will also, remind people that there needs to be maximum restraint, too. Yes, Edie?
Question: Martin, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the outcome of the talks between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan outside London today?
Spokesperson: Not yet. We are certainly aware of those talks that took place over the weekend and today. And obviously, in general terms, the cooperation, coordination between those two countries is extremely important for the stability of the region, and Afghanistan and Pakistan, in particular. But, if we have anything more concrete and specific, then I will let you know. Yes?
Question: On a Timbuktu question, you mentioned Timbuktu, as a national heritage site, is there anything the UN is planning to preserve these manuscripts that were removed in haste, to make sure they survive?
Spokesperson: I’d have to check with UNESCO on that; I’d encourage you also to do so, to see if they have any further details. I have just given you a snapshot of Ms. Bokova’s visit, along with the French President and the interim President of Mali. Clearly, there was a limit to what she was able to do on the ground for such a short space of time. But, what it did do was underscore, in a rather vivid and symbolic way, the importance that UNESCO and the United Nations family attaches to that cultural heritage, which is extremely important for the dignity of the people of Mali, with a long and proud history. So, certainly UNESCO will, as I said earlier, be taking all possible measures to help to rebuild those sites that have been destroyed or damaged. With regard to the protection of manuscripts, I would have to check with UNESCO further. Yes?
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Sudan and also Madagascar. On, on Sudan, South Sudan is saying that the Sudanese Air Force has attacked into its territory with two helicopter gunships and killed a South Sudanese soldier. So, obviously, since UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan), double-S is there, can they confirm that attack and does the UN have any comment on a cross-border incident like this?
Spokesperson: We are obviously aware of the reports. I don’t have anything for you on that. Madagascar?
Question: Yeah, Madagascar, I wanted to ask, I, probably I should have asked this before, but it seems like a good day to ask it, is the current president, Joelimana [sic], he, he blocked the wife of the former deposed president, [Marc] Ravalomanana, from coming back and, and that was something that she seemed to have a right to come back, many people there say that this is a, it may be an attempt by the current transitional president to remain on either as a prime minister or otherwise. So, I wanted to know, what is the, without pre-judging what will be said this afternoon, what is the, the UN’s position on the blocking of the, of the wife of the deposed president from returning to the country, and to the possible switch in, in 8 May elections from presidential to parliamentary?
Spokesperson: I think we’d have to wait to see what comes out of the meeting to be able to brief you on what happens in that meeting, which is later this afternoon. I don’t have anything specific on the return question; I’d have to check further.
Spokesperson: Tim, and then Masood?
Question: On Mali, the UN has a small office in Bamako now, including, there were two human rights observers; but there have been a series of allegations made in recent days about abuses by both sides and several countries say the UN should send more observers. Is there any plan to send more human rights observers or have they left?
Spokesperson: As I think Eduardo mentioned last week, there is indeed that presence, and that presence is in the process of being built up. So, I think that you would see further people going in with different roles. Human rights and, particularly looking into the allegations that there are abuses from both sides; that’s something that we take extremely seriously. The Secretary-General has spoken about the need for accountability and for there to be no impunity for such actions. So, clearly, that is being looked at very closely. The team in Bamako is being built up, and human rights is a key part of what they will need to be looking at. Yes, Masood?
Question: Sir, on this Israeli attack in Syria last week, which they said that the United Nations also knows about this, some of the, I mean very cultural heritage documents were also destroyed or targeted by Israel. Does the United Nations have any information about that; that that is also, in fact, being done by the Israeli attack?
Spokesperson: No; no, that’s the short answer. If I hear anything, I will let you know. But, no, at this point. Yes?
Question: Sure, Martin, I want one, just a, kind of a scheduling question, then one is more policy based. The, it’s said that the Israeli mission plans to sponsor a concert inside the UN, the GA [General Assembly] Hall, on 5 March by Rita Jahanforuz, an Israeli-Iranian-born singer. T here is some controversy around it, so I wanted to know, can you confirm that’s the plan and what is the UN’s role in terms of, I remember the President of the GA’s conference, uh, concert, there was a technical assistance role. What is the UN’s role, through either DPI [Department of Public Information], UNESCO or some other body?
Spokesperson: Let me check.
Question: Okay. And the other one is, if, on Friday, at the bookstore here, “The Whistleblower”, Capital T, Capital B, Kathryn Bolkovac was here. She gave a talk, as well as signed, having her book signed, and she was pretty critical, but one thing that she said that would seem very specific, she said there are no protections, currently, for people serving as UN peacekeepers or police. If they blow the whistle, if they see something wrong taking place with a Blue Helmet and blow the whistle, the UN has not sought any whistleblower protections at the level of the [Troop Contributing Countries]. Thus, the country itself could, could openly, without hiding it, retaliate against a whistle-blowing peacekeeper. So, I wanted to know, is that an accurate statement of the protection of peacekeepers and does DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] have any thoughts about actually protecting those 100,000 people that serve under it, in having them have some whistle-blowing protections?
Spokesperson: I’ll check with DPKO on that.
Spokesperson: Yeah. Any other questions? Okay, thanks very much. Have a good afternoon. And the President of the Security Council will be here shortly.
* *** *