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

8 February 2013

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

8 February 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, and welcome to the briefing.

**Storm

First of all, just to say that UN staff here at Headquarters have been advised that they can leave for home from about now because of the storm in the area.  And just to say that the Secretary-General is closely monitoring developments.  Staff and others, including Missions, have been informed about the potential for an early release of staff when that's necessary because of the conditions.

**Food Security

The Secretary-General chaired a meeting of the UN system High-level Task Force on Global Food Security this morning.

The heads of 23 UN and Bretton Woods institutions committed to urgent action for coordinated, comprehensive efforts to achieve the Zero Hunger Challenge, with attainment of the Millennium Development Goal on poverty and hunger as the first step and an emphasis in the post-2015 development agenda.

They prioritized food security and nutrition as an essential element of human security, particularly in crisis situations such as Mali and Syria.  Over the next two years, the UN system will ramp up its efforts to ensure that:  all food systems are sustainable; everyone has access to food; smallholders’ incomes and productivity are doubled; zero children younger than 2 are stunted; and that no food is lost or wasted.

** Tunisia

In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the assassination of Chokri Belaid, Secretary-General of the Democratic Patriots Movement and one of the leaders of the Popular Front in Tunisia.

There has been important progress in Tunisia’s transition.  Yet, much remains to be done in terms of the constitutional process and with regard to meeting the social and economic demands of the Tunisian people.

The Secretary-General encourages the authorities to move the reform process forward.  Tunisia’s democratic transition should not be derailed by acts of political violence.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, said that the perpetrators of the latest bombings in Baghdad and in Babel Province that killed and injured dozens of people are “ruthless criminals whose sole goal is to push the country back to sectarian violence”.

Mr. Kobler appealed to the Iraqi leaders to unite and work together in order to stop the language of violence from spreading.  We have a press release with more details on that.

** Somalia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the number of people in Somalia who are unable to meet their basic food needs without assistance fell by half over the past six months.  One million people are now in that category — that's about 14 per cent of the population.

The humanitarian situation remains fragile, and an estimated 1.7 million people are at risk of falling back into crisis without continued support to meet their basic needs and build up their livelihoods.

The improvements are due to factors including humanitarian support, improved food stocks in households and at markets from last month's harvest, and higher prices for livestock.

However, about 215,000 children under 5 are acutely malnourished, two thirds of them in southern Somalia.  The ratio of 1 in 7 children malnourished is among the highest in the world.

** Philippines

The UN refugee agency welcomes the bill passed by the Philippines Congress to protect the rights of more than a million internally displaced people.  When the bill becomes law with the President’s endorsement, the Philippines will become the first country in the Asia Pacific region to have comprehensive legislation that guarantees the rights of the internally displaced in accordance with international standards.

**Children’s Tour

The Secretary-General will attend the launch of the new Children's Tour in the Visitors’ Lobby here at UN Headquarters next Monday, 11 February, that’s at 10:15 a.m.

The Department of Public Information has developed educational materials and activity booklets, UN Kids characters, and interactive games and quizzes for the Children's Tour.  To mark the launch of this initiative, groups of children between the ages of 5 and 12 will receive free guided tours and other activities, as well, from noon to 4:45 p.m. that day.  The launch is open to the media.

**Briefings

Following this briefing, at 1 p.m., the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, will be here to brief you on his recent trip to Africa, during which he attended the African Union Summit and international meetings on Mali.  He also visited Somalia, Kenya and Burundi.

And then on Monday at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the launch of the International Year of Water Cooperation.

**Response to Earlier Question

I was asked yesterday about reports of fighting in Darfur.  The UN-African Union mission there, UNAMID, is unable to confirm Sudanese aerial bombing in Jebel Marra resulting in civilian casualties.  However, since late January, the mission has observed a noticeable build-up of Government troops in Nertiti and surrounding areas, following the fall of the town of Golo to the Sudanese Liberation Army-Abdel Wahid in December of last year.  In recent days, the mission has received reports from various sources of renewed fighting between Government and [Sudan Liberation Army]-Abdel Wahid forces near the town of Golo.  The mission is also reporting the arrival in Nertiti of civilians displaced by these clashes.  The mission continues to call on the Government and [Sudan Liberation Army]-Abdel Wahid to refrain from hostilities and engage in dialogue.  In the meantime, the mission has helped transport aid and secured its delivery to displaced people arriving in Nertiti.

Questions, please?  Yes, Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Earlier this week, the Secretary-General had sent a statement to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit and among various issues that he referenced was progress that he saw in trying to peacefully resolve issues between Sudan and South Sudan [inaudible] encouraged that type of move.  Yet, earlier this week, the Secretary-General of the OIC said that the secession of South Sudan from Sudan was a major cause of the unrest in Mali and destabilization in other parts of Africa.  And he made other statements critical of the independence of South Sudan.  Does Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have any comment on the seeming difference between the OIC’s position on South Sudan and his own?

Spokesperson:  No, Joe.

Question:  Is it something that should be looked at?  Because it seems, you know, the relationship between the OIC and the UN has been one that’s been emphasized on various occasions, including by the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  That may well be the case, Joe, but Sudan and South Sudan are both Member States of the United Nations, and so I don’t think you would expect the Secretary-General to have anything further to say on that matter that you’ve just raised.  If that changes, I’ll let you know, okay?

Question:  … not to belabour, but in terms of communicating through whatever channel with the OIC, to see if they could be on the same page, because the OIC’s influence on anything that would detract from South Sudan’s independence and legitimacy, not only in the UN but in the Muslim world, uh…

Spokesperson:  Joe, I hear what you’re saying, and I’ve already said that South Sudan is a Member State of the United Nations, and if there’s anything further that we’d want to say on the matter, then I’d let you know.  We, meaning the United Nations as an institution, obviously cooperate very closely with regional organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, thanks for the Darfur answer.  I have some other questions, but there’s one thing I wanted to ask you about first, and I’ll try to, to… some people have had questions:  yesterday around 6:00 p.m., there was an e-mail sent out by your office containing highlights for answers about apparently what was a discussion earlier in the day with a select group of correspondents.  And I wanted to know, and I believe a major wire service — actually a member of the Free UN Coalition for Access — has asked you as well, what was the basis of selecting those 13 journalists, and what was the arrangement?  Were they under some embargo until you put it out, or was this giving to 13 media outlets a jump-start on the answers?  And I also, just factually, want to know whether he said anything in this session with the UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] Executive Committee concerning either Sudan, [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] or Haiti, and if so, if we can get a transcript of it?

Spokesperson:  I’m going to choose my words very carefully, Matthew.

Correspondent:  I did, as well.

Spokesperson:  I know you did.  That’s why I’m trying to reciprocate.  The first thing is that the Secretary-General does not have to justify or explain his social calendar.  Full stop.  Secondly, the information that was provided — the highlights, as you put it, that were provided — were not somehow embargoed or held back.  My colleagues in my office worked extremely hard to transcribe that information.  As soon as it was transcribed, it was put out.  And there was no question of waiting until someone had filed a story.  So you should understand that.  The third point is that this information that was provided was an attempt to provide all correspondents, all correspondents, who receive our e-mails, to cover those aspects which were evidently newsworthy.  And was there some discussion of [ Democratic Republic of the Congo]?  Yes, there was.  Was there discussion of Haiti?  No, there was not.  Was there discussion of Sudan?  In passing.  And, finally, no, we will not provide a full transcript.  Part of the conversation was on the record, part of the conversation was off the record.  And I would also want to say that, just to reiterate what I said at the beginning, we don’t have to justify or explain the Secretary-General’s social calendar.  Okay?

Correspondent:  Then I’m going to ask one follow-up and, thank you, I really…

Spokesperson:  One thing, one thing I forgot.  There appears to be a technical glitch:  two people did not receive the e-mail, to our knowledge, that contained that information.  One of the people was the person who came and spoke to you, it would seem.

Question:  No, exactly, okay.  Here’s what I wanted to ask you, and we’ve had this discussion once before, maybe more than once.  But, in one discussion, you’d said your office doesn’t play favourites, that you simply announce [United Nations Correspondents Association] events as a courtesy.  But, this is an event, as you may know, there’s some controversy here — whether there’s only one organization representing journalists or more.  Social calendar’s one thing; [Department of Public Information], at the highest levels, has said it’s looking at this issue of whether there’s a need to be responsive to more than one organization.  So, it is a choice, and I’m just wondering, so my question to you is…?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, Matthew, what is your question?

Correspondent:  …basically, you’re creating a situation in which wire services are encouraged to join [United Nations Correspondents Association] in order to get this head-start, or this information off the record, and if they don’t, they don’t get the information, even in summary fashion, and it’s not fair.  That’s my…

Spokesperson:  Here’s an interesting thing, Matthew:  one of the key global wire services was not at the lunch.  And, if you look at the coverage of the comments that were made, a lot of the stories were by that wire service.  And I don’t recall getting a complaint by that wire service.  But, rather than belabour the point here, I do just want to underscore that these two things are not mutually exclusive.  The Secretary-General’s social calendar does not need to be explained.  Any efforts there may be to be even more embracing beyond taking many questions from you, here, every day, for example, there may be efforts under way to do that.  The two things are not mutually exclusive.  Other questions?  No?  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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