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

15 March 2013

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

15 March 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 12:05 briefing.

** Syria

The UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis said today that the suffering of Syrian civilians keeps growing, two years after the start of the crisis there.  He added that protection obligations under international humanitarian law continue to be ignored by the parties to the conflict, and the challenges confronting the humanitarian community continue to mount.

The Humanitarian Coordinator, Radhouane Nouicer, said that shelter, water, food, basic supplies and health care are all precarious, and there is almost no place in Syria deemed to be safe.  As this crisis enters its third year, the UN and its partners are undertaking one of the largest humanitarian aid efforts, in monetary terms, in the history of the United Nations.  However, without increased funding, some activities will not get off the ground or will simply stop.  There is a press release available with more details.

**Security Council

In a press statement issued yesterday afternoon, the members of the Security Council underscored their grave concern over repeated incidents of cross-border fire which caused death and injury among the Lebanese population, as well as incursions, abductions and arms-trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border, and other border violations.  They underlined the importance of full respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and the authority of the Lebanese State, in accordance with Security Council resolutions.

Security Council members also expressed their deep concern at the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon’s stability.  They appealed to all Lebanese people to preserve national unity in the face of attempts to undermine the country’s stability.  The full statement is available online.

** Western Sahara

Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, will travel to North Africa from 20 March to 3 April.  The current conflict in Mali and the heightened risks of instability and insecurity in the Sahel and beyond make a solution to the Western Sahara conflict more urgent than ever.

Within the framework of his mandate and successive resolutions of the Security Council, the purpose of Mr. Ross’s trip is to prepare for the next phase in the negotiating process and a possible resumption of direct talks to achieve “a mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”.

To this end, Mr. Ross will hold discussions with the parties to the Western Sahara negotiations, Morocco and the Frente Polisario, and visit Western Sahara.  He will also hold consultations with the neighbouring States, Algeria and Mauritania.

**Thailand-Rohingya

Both the UN refugee agency and the UN human rights office today expressed concern over reports of shootings last month in Thailand of Rohingya, who are fleeing unrest in Myanmar.

The refugee agency has asked the Thai Government to verify these reports of shots having been fired as a Rohingya boat was pulled out of Thai waters.  The agency is gravely concerned that people fleeing unrest could have been turned away and exposed to further distress in their search for safety.

The human rights office noted that the Thai Prime Minister has said that the Government is investigating the incident.  The office is urging the Government to ensure that the investigation of the allegations is full, prompt and impartial, and that anyone who has committed a crime is brought to justice.  There is more on this on the websites of the two UN agencies.

** Central African Republic

The UN refugee agency is increasingly worried by the situation in south-eastern Central African Republic, where attacks this week are posing additional risks to the civilian population, including Congolese refugees.

On Monday, Séléka rebels attacked and took over the town of Bangassou.  The rebels have been advancing eastwards towards the town of Zemio, where 3,300 refugees have come from Orientale Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As well as presenting a security risk, the Séléka advance is further compromising the refugee agency’s access to refugees and internally displaced populations.  UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and other humanitarian agencies have been forced to temporarily relocate some staff to Bangui, the capital, resulting in a reduction of some services to refugees.  The UN refugee agency reiterates its call to the Government and Séléka rebels to ensure the protection of civilians and to facilitate access to people in need.

** Hungary

The UN human rights office today voiced concern over the swift adoption of the most recent amendment to the Constitution by the Hungarian Parliament earlier this week.  It said that the amendment raises serious concerns in several areas, including possible threats to the independence of the judiciary, the authority and the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and, by extension, to the rule of law in general.

** Kenya

The office also congratulated the Government and people of Kenya for the broadly successful conduct of their recent national elections, and expressed hope that Kenya will continue on the path of reform and social justice.  A team deployed by the High Commissioner reported that the elections were peaceful and characterized by an absence of any systematic violations of human rights.  But, the team noted some challenges, including long queues, which resulted in some vulnerable people — including pregnant women — not voting because they could not endure a long wait.  There is more information on the website of the UN human rights office.

**Slave Trade

Twenty-five March marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  To highlight the significance of the Day, the United Nations will be hosting a week of activities beginning on Monday, 18 March, with the arrival of an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln and the thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Documents will be on display in the UN Visitors’ Lobby and admission is free.

On 22 March, the Secretary-General will attend a concert, “Celebrating Global Emancipation”, and on 25 March, the International Day itself, the Secretary-General will speak at the official General Assembly commemorative event.  More information is available in the back of this auditorium and online.

**Women

As the fifty-seventh Commission on the Status of Women nears conclusion after two weeks of intensive dialogue and debate on this year’s priority theme of preventing and ending violence against women, the Secretary-General strongly encourages Member States of the Commission to maintain momentum now and express the hope for a successful conclusion with a strong and meaningful agreement to end violence and discrimination against women and girls.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that around 2.8 million people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are in need of regular food assistance amidst worrying levels of chronic malnutrition and food insecurity.  According to OCHA’s humanitarian country team in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, some 16 million people are chronically deprived of food, and nearly 28 per cent of children suffer from stunting.

**Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Flavia Pansieri of Italy as Assistant Secretary-General to serve as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Ms. Pansieri will replace Kyung-wha Kang, to whom the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights are grateful for her dedicated service to the United Nations human rights programme during the past six years.  We have more details on Ms. Pansieri, who recently served as the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, and a bio note in our office.

**Press Conference

And on Monday, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here entitled “The Final UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty”.  Participants will include Roberto Dondisch, Head Negotiator of Mexico for the [Arms Trade Treaty], and Djimon Hounsou, actor and activist.  This event is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations.

Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Eduardo, I mean… barrister Emmerson, who is investigating casualties from drone attacks, from US drone attacks in Pakistan, has made a statement that these attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.  Has the Secretary-General received barrister Emmerson’s report, and does he have any comments on his statement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General’s position on the use of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], is very well known.  He says that like any other weapon, the use of armed UAVs is subject to long-standing rules of international law, including international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict.  He also believes that there is a need for greater confidence in the international community that the use of these weapons is within the bounds of international law.

Correspondent:  But, I also asked whether he had received something from barrister Emmerson.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check.  I don’t know whether he has received it; I’ll check.  Matthew?

Question:  Okay, all right, we’ll see if we can go a little further than yesterday.  I wanted to know, the… the President of France, François Hollande, has been quoted that he’s received assurances from the Syrian rebels that weapons given to them would be fairly used, and he says he’s now prepared to seek the rem… the… the elimination of the EU embargo and on the rebels, and I wanted to know, given the things the Secretary-General has said about Syria in the past, does he have any response to a major country making these statements about providing arms openly to Syria?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General continues to stand by his position that the militarization of the conflict is counter-productive and will not lead to a solution.  The only solution that we see is that… he sees, is a political solution based on negotiations and an end to the violence.

Question:  Has he communicated this… this view to… to François Hollande, for example?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I imagine President Hollande knows the Secretary-General’s view since they have a Permanent Mission here.

Question:  All right, cool.  All right, let’s keep rolling.  The… the… there was a briefing of the Fifth Committee this morning on… on the UN’s response to Superstorm or Hurricane Sandy, but I wanted to ask something more specific.  Staff have raised in some detail — the memo that we obtained and published — concerns about being left working with wet and rotting paper products, being made to work in areas where they had only dust masks, whereas outside workers were given full hazmat protection, and I am just wondering, they’ve seen… they have seen some response and they are not… they’re… at least people I spoke to, weren’t convinced, what… what was learned, nothing was said in the Fifth Committee that I could see, in terms of staff… staff conditions after the storm and in any future possible storm.  What… what… does… does the UN deny that… that people had only dust masks and what would be different in the future?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to check, Matthew, I don’t have the information with me.  Any more questions?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that, as per normal practice, contractors from the professional cleaning company initially wore full protection gear.  Within a few days, however, it was clear that this was not required and they no longer wore this gear.  It is emphasized that the level of protection recommended for our staff, i.e. N95 masks and gloves, was adequate for the risk.]

Question:  Keep on rolling.  Uh, the… the… the… Somalia, there is a resolution passed by the Security Council earlier in the week in which it was… it was praised by some Member States as providing a one… sort of one-stop shopping that Somalia could get all of its development and other aid through the UN political mission there.  But, a number of key humanitarian… human… humanitarian aid groups, InterAction and others, have said that this is a dangerous politicization of humanitarian aid; that to… to link UN humanitarian aid with the political side will actually put humanitarian workers at risk and also violate this kind of long-standing Chinese wall, if you can call it, between aid and… and politics, and I wanted to know if OCHA or if the Secretariat… what they make of this critique of something right in their own…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check with OCHA to see what their thinking is.  I would say that, you know, we have humanitarian coordinators in a variety of countries, and that the United Nations works as a whole to try and get aid to the people who need it most.  One more question.

Question:  Okay.  This is… this will be a follow-up.  I… I appreciate it, I got an e-mail from your office about the human rights due diligence policy stating that on… on South Sudan it does apply to… to, I guess, the national army.  So I wanted to…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay, so this is… maybe you’ll… can… maybe DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] will answer this question.  If it does apply, given that there were… were significant reports in 2012 of… of abuses by the SPLA-South Sudanese army in Jonglei State, killing of civilians, etcetera, the question is, just as now DPKO threatens to suspend support to two unidentified units of the Congolese army at some unspecified date, in 2012, was any support suspended to any SPLA unit in South Sudan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to check on that for you, Matthew, I don’t have the answer.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, have a very nice weekend.  Thank you so much.

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