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

14 February 2013

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

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

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing, and for those of you who celebrate the language of love, happy Valentine’s Day.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General has just wrapped up a meeting with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C.  They both spoke to reporters before the meeting.  The Secretary-General said there was much to discuss, including Syria, where the tragedy continues to deepen without any prospect of a political solution.  He said that he and Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi were calling on the Security Council and the Syrian Government to respond positively to the offer by National Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib to open discussions.

On Mali, he said the UN was working closely with key partners towards a political solution that restores constitutional order, addresses genuine grievances, promotes reconciliation and ensures the country’s territorial integrity.

The Secretary-General said the nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was a direct challenge to the international community.  He said he encouraged the Security Council to act with unity and to take appropriate measures as soon as possible.  His press remarks will be available shortly.

Yesterday, the Secretary-General had productive meetings with members of the Senate and the House, including long-standing partners of the United Nations, as well as new faces.  You will have seen we issued readouts on those meetings.  The Secretary-General said United States leadership would remain critical in the period ahead.  The Secretary-General will be returning to New York later today.

**Violence against Women

And the United Nations is joining people around the world on Valentine's Day in calling for global action to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

The Deputy Secretary-General will participate in an event at 12:30 p.m. in the north end of the UN Secretariat Lobby.  The gathering coincides with the manifestations around the world by One Billion Rising, a civil society campaign focusing on ending gender-based violence and created by V-day founder Eve Ensler.

In a message issued today, the Secretary-General says that we must speak out against the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.  He urges all Governments to send a Valentine message:  a concrete commitment of action to end gender-based violence.  He asks Governments to bring that commitment to the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women that will take place at UN Headquarters in fewer than three weeks.

** Syria

A delegation from the Damascus office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, led by the Head of Office, Mokhtar Lamani, visited the town of Yabroud in Rif Damascus yesterday.  Mr. Lamani and his team met with the Commander of the Military Revolutionary Council in the Qalamoun area and representatives of the civil administration and local coordination committee of Yabroud, in addition to civil and religious community leaders.

The purpose of the visit was to establish communication with various stakeholders from the opposition forces and to have a better understanding about the dynamics of the conflict and the reaction to the different political initiatives.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution on Sudan sanctions, extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts.

The Council also met on the situation in Somalia and received a briefing from Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  He told the Council that despite several attacks by Al-Shabaab, there is now a tangible sense of security and optimism in Mogadishu.  Across Somalia, AMISOM — the African Union Mission in Somalia — is now deployed at full mandated strength and has been effective in degrading Al-Shabaab’s operational capability.

Mr. Zerihoun also noted that the partnership between the African Union and the United Nations in Somalia has been one of the success stories in the relationship between the two organizations.  He said that the United Nations remains committed to working with African Union colleagues to ensure that the best support is provided to the Somali Government and people.

** Mali

The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, and Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, met earlier today with the President of Mauritania, in Nouakchott.

Yesterday, they met with the country's Foreign Minister.  They discussed the situation in the Sahel and the many issues of relevance to the Governments of the region, including the fight against terrorism, the environment, the importance of development and the impact on the region of the situation in Mali.

Mr. Prodi and Mr. Djinnit are now in Ouagadougou and just met with the President of Burkina Faso.  As part of their ongoing consultations on these issues, they also exchanged views with representatives of civil society about their work and main concerns regarding the Sahel.  Yesterday, Mr. Prodi and Mr. Djinnit met in Dakar with the President of Senegal, who is currently the head of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

**Palestinians

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has launched an emergency appeal of more than $300 million for some of the most disadvantaged Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.  That appeal includes $78 million for food assistance for some 750,000 people living in Gaza, which has faced a blockade for six years.  The appeal also includes money for temporary job creation and a cash assistance programme.  We have more details in a press release.

** Lebanon

And the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, telephoned former Prime Minister Saad Hariri today on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  Mr. Plumbly also visited the tomb of the late Rafiq Hariri in Beirut to pay his respects.

Mr. Plumbly said that the anniversary underlined the importance of achieving justice in Lebanon.  The country had suffered tragically from repeated assassinations and attempted assassinations, including in the past year.  The United Nations continued to underscore the need to bring those responsible to justice, and put an end once and for all to impunity in Lebanon.

**Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights today stressed the importance of addressing human rights issues in disputed territories.  Navi Pillay said that human rights do not have any borders.  She added that it is vital to address underlying human rights issues in disputed territories, regardless of the political recognition or the legal status of a territory.  Her remarks follow today’s publication of the first report on the human rights situation in the Transnistria region.  More information is available on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

**Senior Manager’s Compact Signing Ceremony

As I announced yesterday, media are invited to attend the Secretary-General’s senior managers’ compact signing ceremony tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. in his conference room on the thirty-eighth floor.  The compacts set specific programme objectives and managerial targets for the year, and set the tone at the top for improving performance and accountability across the entire Organization.

**Press Conference

And tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the issue of climate change and security.

That’s it from me.  Some questions?  Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, another lady died in Bahrain as a result of being tear-gassed, and she was in her house when she was hit.  So many similar incidents happened in the past.  Is the United Nations investigating the kind of tear gas the Bahrainis are using against peaceful protesters, or even people in their homes?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve seen reports of all kinds of goings on in Bahrain, and the Secretary-General, as I have said before, has called for the Government of Bahrain, and indeed for all Governments, to respect the democratic right of people to peaceful protest.  That’s all I have for you on that.

Question:  No, but this tear gas is lethal, as it has proven.  Shouldn’t there be an investigation,?  Who are supplying this gas, what kind of gas it is, is it legal, is it not legal, to use such gas?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar, I have given you what I have on that.  That’s all I have, I’m sorry.  Masood?

Question:  On this, two stories, one is about desecration of a Muslim mosque in Jerusalem by Israeli activist, which… which… maybe you have seen the reports this morning from Jerusalem.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about these… this activity?  In the past, it has happened several times about this.  Has the Secretary-General got… seen this and has… does he have anything to say about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have seen the reports, you know; any desecration of religious artefacts or religious buildings is something that should be repudiated.

Question:  Another thing, this that, as far as Gaza is concerned, the blockade of the… there is a blockade going on, Israeli blockade, into Gaza because they are checking everything, and then there is the flooding of the tunnels by the Egyptians today; they ordered flooding the tunnels so that nothing, no food or anything, can go through.  Does… do you have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General’s position on the blockade of Gaza is well known and I have nothing to add to what has been said from here previously.

Question:  Romano Prodi, the Special Envoy for the Sahel, has just announced today in Nouakchott the establishment of a centre to help the countries of the Sahel region.  Do you have something on that?  Can you tell us more on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we’ll have to consult with the various people here and get you some information.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that Mr. Prodi had talked about setting up a new fund for the Sahel, and will provide more details when he presents his regional strategy to the Security Council next month.]

Question:  Thank you.  The Saudi newspaper, Asharq Alawsat, said that there is a proposed peace in Syria and it was overseen by the UN.  Is this true or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have no information on that.  You know that Mr. Brahimi continues to work assiduously to try and get all sides to a negotiating table to discuss the situation, but that report, as far as I am concerned, does not have any validity.  Matthew?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the United Nations is aware of the news item published in the Asharq Alawsat newspaper.  Neither the Secretary-General nor the Joint Special Representative have any knowledge of the so-called plan.  However, Mr. Brahimi and his team continue to work with all stakeholders towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict.  The Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi welcomed Mr. al-Khatib’s openness and readiness to discuss with representatives of the Syrian Government.  The Secretary-General has said on several occasions that this was an opportunity to launch a credible process.  The United Nations has repeatedly said that the appalling levels of suffering and destruction in Syria are intolerable.  The Secretary-General appeals to all parties 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:  Yeah, sure, I’d encourage you to go back to him, but I want to ask you this about Captain [Amadou] Sanogo in… in Mali.  It was… it’s reported that yesterday Captain Sanogo, who was the coup leader of the country, has now been formally invested as the head of the committee to reform the army.  Since the UN through DPA [Department of Political Affairs] and otherwise is now… is… is… is working with him to support the Government, but under a resolution that talks about due diligence, does the UN have any comment on the coup leader himself now formally, not… not de facto, but being officially the head of the committee to reform the army?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything right now, Matthew.  If we find out, we’ll let you know.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, today is the second-year anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain.  Does the Secretary-General intend to issue any statement in this regard?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General has not issued statements in the past on this.  I don’t think he has any plan to issue a statement.  Sorry, you have a question there?  No?  Anybody else?

Question:  Last year, I sent 36  etters to the Geneva office of the… Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  They confirm to having received it.  This is actually regarding the case of Lithuania that I mentioned previously with the Committee to Protect Journalists.  I received no reply from them, and a letter was sent to the Secretary-General by hand, and they have confirmation that it was received in the UN.  And I had asked Martin [Nesirky] several times about it; he said they never received anything, and yet there is a confirmation that it was received here.  Is there anything that can be done to assure that letters are acknowledged or at least…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out, I don’t have any information about the letter, but we’ll find out if the letter was, in fact, sent to the Secretary-General and if it was received.  Masood?

Question:  I just wanted to ask you about this… I just wanted to ask you about this Palestinian question again, about this blockade of Gaza.  The Secretary-General has given a statement again and again, and then… but between the tunnel and this being flooded and this Israeli blockade, the people of Gaza are still going to suffer again.  The Secretary-General has nothing to say to authority… Israeli authorities or the Egyptian authorities about this at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check and see if we have anything to say on the flooding of the tunnels, I have got nothing here right now.  If we have something we will let you know.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later referred the correspondent to United Nations Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).]

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  When would the Secretary-General give his monthly press conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to wait until he comes back and we’ll talk with Martin and the Secretary-General and see what he has to say.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure Eduardo, I’ve a few…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Throwing pens?  [Laughter]

Question:  I am throwing pens, I actually decided to go to the side rather than… let loose a shoe or slipper.  I wanted to ask you two quick questions.  One has to do with the budget.  The… the… the… we have obtained and published a memo by… by Navi Pillay.  It’s… it… the… the authenticity of the memo was acknowledged, and she… you know, she, to her staff, said that this $100 million cut that was in the… the Secretary-General Controller’s memo to all departments may not take place, that there is a lot of push back, and she said we would welcome it to be reversed.  Some UN officials I spoke to even last night said, you know… I… Navi Pillay doesn’t understand the budget process; there is no way that $100 million can be reversed.  I just wanted to know, what is… is the Secretary-General aware of… I mean, she is a high official in the UN, not does he disagree with her… what does he think of the… of the memo, and is it his position that the $100 million cut, 70 per cent of which will be staff costs, is irreversible and it must be implemented?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the $100 million proposal came from the General Assembly.  So, obviously, there would have to be a move by the General Assembly to rescind that request of the Secretary-General.

Question:  But, the fact of it being 70 per cent, you know, only 30 per cent could be called non-post, meaning 70 per cent of the cut has to come right… directly out of salaries and post costs, that wasn’t in the [General Assembly].  So, I am wondering, that’s what seems to be like people are pushing back against, is that reversible?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out about that, Matthew, I don’t have that information on me right now.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen…

Question:  And the other one is a really short one, I just want to…

Deputy Spokesperson:  One last question.

Question:  Okay, thanks so much.  It has to do with the same CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists] press conference that we just had here, and I just… maybe you’ll take a swing in answering this or we can get some kind of a list.  I… I’ve noticed in… in the UN accreditation rules, it says that you have to… to be accredited and to remain in the building, you have to basically abide by and… and agree with “principles of the Organization”.  And I wanted to… it also talks about the Charter, which obviously we can read the Charter, so we know what it says.  But, I don’t… I haven’t seen any document that is called Principles of the Organization and so it gets… it makes me want to ask you, does this mean you have to agree with everything the UN does, does it mean you have to agree with its position on… on…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it would be nice.

Correspondent:  It might be nice, I agree.

Deputy Spokesperson:  [Laughter]

Question:  But, as a matter of… as a matter of… kind of, you know…

Deputy Spokesperson:  It would make my job a lot easier. [Laughter]

Question:  Yeah, the room might be a little… a little less populated, but the… I guess my question is just, is there some way we can either get a list of what these principles of the Organization are, or a statement that this doesn’t mean what it seems to say, that if you don’t agree with the UN, you can’t cover it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll take it to DPI [Department of Public Information] and try and get an answer for you.

Correspondent:  Okay.  That would be great.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Happy Valentine’s Day.  Happy V-Day.  Please go and attend the dance-a-thon that’s taking place in the main building.  It’s a wonderful way to express solidarity with what I consider to be, what the Secretary-General considers to be, an important cause.  Thank you.

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