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

18 July 2013

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

18 July 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.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Mandela Day

This morning, the Secretary-General addressed a meeting of the General Assembly to mark Nelson Mandela’s ninety-fifth birthday.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said Nelson Mandela is a giant of our times.  He gave 67 years of his life to the struggle for human rights.

He said that this year’s commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day comes as the globally revered Madiba remains in hospital.  At this difficult time, he said, our thoughts are with Mr. Mandela, his family and all the people of South Africa.

The Secretary-General added that today and every day, we want to mobilize the human family to take action, inspire change, and build a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable world.  He said Nelson Mandela has done as much as anyone to shape the very conscience of the international community.  His comments are available in our Office and online.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.  Mr. Ladsous said that Côte d’Ivoire was on the right path and that its leadership had demonstrated remarkable resolve to tackle the many challenges the country is facing.

However, he noted that threats to Côte d’Ivoire’s peace and security persist and should not be underestimated, such as the political divisions and networks affiliated with the former regime, as well as piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, drug trafficking and organized crime.  Mr. Ladsous said that the presence of the UN mission in the country, UNOCI, remained essential, particularly with respect to protecting civilians, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and security sector reform.

**South Sudan

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said today that expanded access for aid agencies in Jonglei State’s Pibor County has allowed for the assessment of the needs of up to 25,000 civilians who have fled recent fighting.

Mr. Lanzer said that non-governmental organizations and UN agencies have a joint team on the ground and are providing medical assistance, water purification tablets, and plastic sheeting.  He is particularly concerned that some children show signs of measles, which can be fatal in such conditions.  Civilians stranded in the bush need not only peace and security, but also freedom of movement, so that they can gain access to services.

The Coordinator said that basic services can be provided by aid organizations, assuming that all parties ensure unhindered and continuous access, as well as a safe and welcoming environment for non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.  And Mr. Lanzer’s full statement is available online.

** Somalia

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia concluded his first official visit to Somaliland yesterday.  During his two-day mission, Philippe Lazzarini met with Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, ministers, representatives of civil society and others.  Mr. Lazzarini reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to help boost the region’s agriculture, livestock, water and environment sectors, and in his meetings, he discussed the question of land allocation for internally displaced people.  He also visited a settlement for internally displaced people in Hargeisa.  Mr. Lazzarini expressed support for the agreement that included the lifting of a ban on UN humanitarian flights to and from Somaliland.

That’s what we have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?  And then Mr. Abbadi.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  Sir, do you have any comments on these reports that… I mean I… I’ve have asked this question earlier, influx of this foreign fighters now into Syria as to… I mean, that they are now fighting… giving… provided aid and being abetted by certain Powers, which shall remain unnamed now, because they are being named in the news stories.  Do you have any…?

Spokesperson:  I think this has been addressed here before.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  I am not sure if it was you who asked me about this before, or some of your colleagues, but simply to say that the nature of the fighting in Syria is very complicated and also, of course, very intense.  And the main focus should be the people of Syria, the civilians of Syria, who are continuing to endure considerable hardship and suffering and have done for the last two years.

Question:  Yes, sir.  And as regards to this International Nelson Mandela Day, there is a press release on the website saying that United Nations personnel are doing their bit of 67 minutes going into some parts… do you know that today they will, or how many of them have gone to various locations in… in Manhattan or… or Sandy Hook, I mean, beaches and so forth, to build houses and so forth?  On 67 minutes that they are gonna be giving to the… to this particular Day?

Spokesperson:  I think probably in excess of 67 minutes and in excess of 67 people, as well.  I think my colleagues could provide some more details on that for me, but certainly dozens of UN staff have been involved in this endeavour.  Obviously, it is a small but symbolic gesture, and meaningful, too, because those colleagues who have gone to Rockaway and other places have been really working with the local community to help to rebuild people’s property and lives.  So, this is something that UN personnel, staff, have done of their own volition.  And I think we could provide some more details if you would like.  Mr. Abbadi?

[The Spokesperson later said that, on the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day, United Nations staff around the world are commemorating the spirit of Mr. Mandela by devoting at least 67 minutes of their time today to community service.  In New York, more than 70 staff from the United Nations Secretariat, agencies, funds and programmes, as well as the Permanent Mission of South Africa, are helping to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in Long Beach and Far Rockaway.  The effort is coordinated by two grass-roots organizations — We Build New York and Respond & Rebuild.  In addition, United Nations offices around the world are organizing various volunteer actions.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you indicated, the Secretary-General made a statement before the General Assembly on the occasion of the International Day of Mandela.  Did he also send a personal message to the former President?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has sent every year a message of… a public message, as you will have seen.  And he has also expressed earlier his concerns for the health of Mr. Mandela, and he continues to be in touch through diplomatic channels to be able to convey that same message.  But, of course, he will not have been in direct contact with Mr. Mandela.  Other questions, please?   Yes, Ivan?

Question:  Thank you.  Can you confirm information from Mexico and Panama that a group of UN experts will go to Panama in August to investigate the incident with North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm that, because it would not be for me to do so.  That would be for the Sanctions Committee and potentially for the Chair of the Sanctions Committee, who is the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg, to do so.  You will have seen what the Secretary-General has had to say on this matter.  We gave you some guidance on that yesterday that he is aware of the discovery by the Panamanian authorities of a weapons shipment.  The Secretary-General commends the action taken by Panama in full conformity with its obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions, and he notes that it is the duty of all Member States to implement Security Council decisions.  And also, the Secretary-General awaits the outcome of the investigation into the matter and he is sure that the 1718 (2006) Security Council Sanctions Committee will promptly address it.  And as I have mentioned, it would be for the Committee and the Council in due course to comment more on such details.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot, Martin.  I wanted to ask you, there are… there are… a… a video has emerged of… of… of UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] peacekeepers standing near Manyabol in Jonglei State as an extremely long line of fighters described as Lou-Nuer and Dinka fighters return from… from a battlefield and, you know, they… they… they say with a… they don’t do anything to stop them, and a question has emerged it seems like it’s said that… that the Gov… the SLA… the arm… the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army]… that the Gov… that… that the… the… the UNMISS sometimes supports… is providing gasoline for… they… the UN is providing gasoline to South Sudan army helicopters and the allegation is to help either transport or arm the Government-aligned Lou-Nuer fighters.  So, I wanted… it’s a variety of things, one, what are the terms of reference of the UNMISS peacekeepers if they see a long line of fighters going as is depicted in the YouTube video?  And two, does UNMISS provide gasoline to Sudanese army helicopters?  And if so, does the human rights due diligence policy apply?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as we’ve said already, and as I said yesterday, the Mission’s ability to deploy into areas of suspected fighting is severely limited due to constraints ranging from a lack of air assets to the need for secured landing sites.  So, that’s what I can tell you about that at the moment.  And the small UNMISS presence in Manyabolhad two purposes, and that was to treat and help evacuate wounded Lou-Nuer who had arrived there seeking medical aid and to ensure that the helicopter landing strip was secured for additional inbound humanitarian flights.  That’s really all I have on that at the moment.

Question:  [inaudible], if you can, because I… I am hopefully there will be some answer, either from the Mission or from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] here, but the… a, I mean the allegation has become that… that Muerle, who are obviously the… the group that’s… that… that… it is perceived that the… the… the Government is on the side of the Lou-Nuer and that Muerle are… are… are… are… are now… when they are injured, don’t go to town, go to hospitals.  If they go to the hospitals with bullet wounds, they are viewed as combatants, and I wanted to know what the UN, and UNMISS in particular, is doing to… to… to address either a concern that they have taken sides or that they are siding with the Government, which has taken sides and this… just a specific yes-or-no answer, not mean… not necessarily right here, but whether the human rights due diligence policy would cover the provision of gasoline to army units, i.e. to not provide gasoline to army units if they were engaged in abuse.

Spokesperson:  Well, just to come back to this again.  In Manyabol, there were no civilians there when the Lou-Neur column passed by.  So, there were no civilians there.  And, as I think you are aware, the mandate of the Mission involves protection of civilians, so there were no civilians there at that point.  And as we also already said, UNMISS, the Mission, has reinforced its presence in Gumuruk and Pibor and they have been instructed to use force to protect civilians should they be under imminent threat.  So, on the other question, the other part about fuel, I will let you know if I get anything from my colleagues on that particular aspect.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, urged the Security Council to do more to protect journalists.  What does he want the Security Council to do specifically beyond condemnation?  And does he see any relationship between protection of journalism and international… journalists and international security?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I would refer you to his full remarks.  A common theme, not just from the Deputy Secretary-General, but from others during that Security Council session yesterday, was that journalists help to shine a light when there is darkness, and to be able to provide dispassionate information about what may be unfolding in certain parts of the world.  And they are often a proxy for the general public who do not have access to such places, with the aim of trying to show what is happening, so that the rest of the world community knows about it.  In that sense, it does play a role in international security.

With regard to what concrete steps Member States should take, of course, there are many.  One of them, certainly, is to ensure that there is no impunity for those perpetrators of crimes against journalists.  In other words, detaining them or even killing journalists, as we have seen in many cases, hundreds of cases, as have been documented.  From our side, from the UN side, and something that has been welcomed by many Member States, there is this Plan of Action to help journalists in conflict and non-conflict areas.  And certainly, the provisions within that would be something that could be looked [at] and further approved by other Member States beyond those that have already spoken out in favour of it.  Yes, Pamela?  And then I am coming to you, yes.

Question:  Martin, the Ambassador of Kenya yesterday, on the disabilities panel, seemed to indicate that there were gaps in what the UN has done in terms of construction for… to enable disabled people to use the facilities.  Is there any way we can find out if there is… is someone looking into it or if this is just construction or something?

Spokesperson:  Well, Pamela, yesterday, I was asked about this and I provided a lot of detail.  I emailed around — or my colleagues did, I should say — quite a lot of detail about what our colleagues from the Capital Master Plan project have been doing.  And they have made very clear that at the core of the work to renovate this building and the General Assembly part of this building is accessibility for those people with disabilities.  And so, I would urge you to take a look at that.  And I was also asked whether the Secretary-General plans to issue any kind of administrative bulletin on accessibility for people with disabilities at the United Nations, and indeed, such a bulletin is being developed.

Question:  All right, thank you.  One separate question is on Mandela Day today.  It was presented as an informal meeting of the General Assembly, but it has been hard to get copies of the… we have the Secretary-General’s speech, but the speech by Bill Clinton, or Jesse Jackson; any way to look into that?  We’ve asked everyone.

Spokesperson:  I am sure that we can look at that.  Of course, it would be for the individual speakers and their respective entourages to provide the texts.  I think you will know that, certainly, in the case of President Clinton, even if he had a text, he certainly was ad-libbing quite a lot, and very eloquently.  And so, that may be a question of listening to what the man said and writing it down.

Correspondent:  Well, I [inaudible], but, thank you.

Spokesperson:  I have done it many times myself.  I am sure you do it, too.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  I picked up on the theme of the protection of journalists, what can the UN as an IGO [international governmental organization] do, you know, as the gentleman mentioned earlier, to… you mentioned that Governments have been acting with impunity, how can the UN as an IGO press those Governments without infringing upon State sovereignty?

Spokesperson:  Well, impunity from crimes of that nature, that this is of a fundamental character.  But, I think we are really going over ground that was covered extensively yesterday in the Security Council, both — and unusually — by journalists who actually addressed the Security Council and by Member States, and as I just mentioned earlier, the Deputy Secretary-General, on behalf of the Secretary-General.  So, there is a wealth of information, including the various remarks made by Member States, which address a lot of the topic that you have raised here.  And I don’t think I would elaborate further, but I’d certainly encourage you to look at the speeches that were made by the Member States, by the Deputy Secretary-General and, indeed, by the journalists who were there.

Question:  I was there, but I was just wondering what the UN as an IGO can do to… to press those countries.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I have just said a little while ago, there are a number of areas, including taking concrete action through this Action Plan, that has been developed with journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, and through UNESCO, the part of the United Nations that deals with media matters.  I would encourage you also to take a look at what they have been doing.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure Martin.  I… I wanted… I have a question about MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] in Mali, but I… I wanted to ask, it’s… it’s a smaller, but I had a question of… about access.  You know, earlier today, various correspondents here tried to access the second floor, including the delegates lounge, and were told that they were unable to… that there was some kind of a post order not to do it.  So, I just, in… in having pursued the issue, it was resolved and sort of… it seemed to be a one-case basis, but I wanted to ask you, I would not… I… I don’t know if you would off hand know the rules, but if we can get something, I guess, you know, in… in writing in some fashion on the rights of correspondents to access the delegates lounge, now that it has been reopened.

Spokesperson:  I will certainly look into the matter, but I think as a general proposition, our colleagues from Security will have good reasons for declaring a certain area out of bounds at a certain point.  And I don’t know precisely what those reasons were sitting here right now, but I can assure you that parts of the building are not declared off limits just for the sake of it.  What are your other questions, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, it’s… it’s been reported that Nigeria is removing some or all of its troops from MINUSMA in Mali, because, to quote, to deal with pro… problems at home.  And I wanted to know, since it is a… now a UN Mission, and… and… and the elections are coming up, is… is the UN system aware of that, and what will they do to make up for… I think there is 1,000 Nigerian troops in MINUSMA?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with the Mission, but again, speaking generally, we’ve made it very clear that the Mission is in the process of building up.  Troops from contributing countries are being deployed or re-hatted if they were part of the previous Mission, AFISMA.  So, this is a process that is under way and is not yet completed.  If I have anything further on that particular part that you have raised about Nigerian troops, then I will let you know.

Correspondent:  And can I ask one… tha… thanks for the answer on the Secretary-General bulletin in consideration on… on accessibility for the disabled.  I wanted to ask you about a recently issued Secretary-General’s…

Spokesperson:  People with disabilities, I think.

Question:  Oh, I am sorry, I’m sorry, I was jumping it yet… I thought… is that for peo… for people with disabilities, right, accessibility for people with disabilities.  I wanted to ask you about a bulletin that actually was issued… on staff management committee recently, I think it was issued on the twelfth, and there had been… I am asking you about it simply because the head of the Union has said… has called it fiction, not fact, and has said that there was no… it seems to be a follow-up to this breakdown in negotiations in Mexico City, and… and apparently, there is a lot of opposition to it and they said that there is not a… the… the previously given answer that the General Assembly required this phasing out of consultations with staff, they don’t think was required by the General Assembly.  So, I am just wondering, have you seen… has the Secretariat seen the Staff Union’s position on that Secreta… on that SG bulletin and… and what do they make of it, what’s the response to it?

Spokesperson:  I think you can take it for granted that we have seen the response, but I don’t have anything further on that at the moment.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  All right.

Question:  When you do…?

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  When you do, can you… can you make it available in some…?

Spokesperson:  I am sure we will, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  I am sure we will.

Correspondent:  Great.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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