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

7 August 2013

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

7 August 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.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Miguel de Serpa Soares of Portugal as Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel.  He will replace Patricia O’Brien of Ireland.  Mr. Serpa Soares is Director General of the Department of Legal Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal.  And we have more information on that appointment in my office.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on Abyei and the situation between Sudan and South Sudan.  This afternoon, the Council has scheduled consultations on the work of the sanctions committee dealing with resolution 1718 (2006), which concerns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

**Myanmar

The United Nations in Myanmar has welcomed the release of 68 children and young people from the Myanmar armed forces.  Today’s development follows the release of 42 children and young people exactly one month ago.  Also, today’s release is the fourth under an action plan agreed between the UN team on the ground and the Myanmar Government.  The action plan aims to monitor and report grave child rights violations.  We have more details in my office.

**Philippines

More than 470,000 people have been affected by flash floods and rainfall in the past week in the Philippines.  Most of the affected are in Mindanao.  The authorities have placed Maguindanao Province in Mindanao under a state of calamity to help speed up relief efforts.  Regional authorities are providing relief to about 72,000 people out of nearly 250,000 affected in Maguindanao Province alone and have requested additional food supplies from the Government of the Philippines.  The UN country team and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are both working closely with the Government and humanitarian partners.

**Indigenous Peoples

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that States need to do more to honour and strengthen their treaties with indigenous peoples, no matter how long ago they were signed.  In a statement issued to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Friday, Ms. Pillay said that, even when signed or otherwise agreed more than a century ago, many treaties remain the cornerstone for the protection of the identity, land and customs of indigenous peoples.  And the statement is available online.

** Somalia

I was asked yesterday about Somalia.  Concerning the question on Puntland, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, UNSOM, says that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nicholas Kay, is aware of reports that Puntland’s leadership has unilaterally decided to sever ties with the Federal Government of Somalia over a number of concerns, including interpretation of constitutional provisions and implementation of federal arrangements.  Mr. Kay will use his good offices to continue dialogue with both the Federal Government and the political leadership of Puntland as they seek mutual understanding on these and other key matters.

Regarding the evacuation of an injured journalist, the Mission reports that the journalist was evacuated to Nairobi hospital for surgical treatment on Monday, 5 August, after the National Union of Journalists (NUSOJ) in Somalia obtained clearance from the Ministry of Information for his travel.  The Mission says it is following up with the National Union of Journalists on the condition of the journalist and also is seeking to understand better why a journalist working with a non-Government owned radio station (Radio Dalsan) would need a letter from the Ministry for emergency evacuation.

And finally, on the attack on another journalist in Kismayo:  as with all similar cases, attacks against journalists are, of course, unacceptable and journalists should be able to carry out their work free of intimidation.

So, questions, please?  Yes, Pamela?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, there are reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be meeting with the Secretary-General tomorrow to discuss Syria and Afghanistan and perhaps to further the Geneva peace talks on Syria.  Can you give any indica… can you confirm that there is a meeting and can you give any indication of what is on the agenda, what the Secretary-General hopes to get out of it?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that there is a working dinner that involves Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary-General; that’s tomorrow evening.  I am not fully aware of precisely what is going to be on the agenda, but I think that you can imagine some of the topics they may wish to discuss.

Question:  Can… will we get a readout?

Spokesperson:  I have requested one.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the Secretary-General has issued an appeal to Foreign Minister [Nabil] Fahmy of Egypt to start some kind of national reconciliation process, but we now know that the initiative of the international community has failed.  Does the Secretary-General envisage taking any new initiative together with other international partners to resolve this crisis?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously watching that extremely closely.  The Secretary-General has stressed a number of things; one, of course, is that there is a need for an inclusive political process that needs to be peaceful, and that is the only really viable way forward.  And ultimately, he has also reminded the Egyptian authorities and all Egyptians that it is their collective responsibility to determine the direction of Egypt’s future.  Obviously, there are efforts going on that involve a number of international players.  At this point I would simply say that the Secretary-General is watching it extremely closely.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, today there was… earlier today, there was an incursion by the Israelis hundreds of metres deep inside south Lebanon in an area close… very close to the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] points.  Do you have anything about this and whether this is… this was the first such incursion in that area?  Did UNIFIL report to you?  If this is repeated… of course there was an incident of explosion there, was it because of the equipment they were carrying or do you have any details about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is what I have received from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and they have been informed by the Lebanese Armed Forces this morning that last night, an Israeli Defense Forces patrol had crossed the Blue Line in the general area of Labouneh, and that there had subsequently been an explosion at the location causing injuries to some Israeli soldiers.  And on receiving this information, UNIFIL immediately launched an investigation into this alleged violation of resolution 1701 (2006).  So an investigation team from UNIFIL is at the location indicated by the Lebanese Armed Forces, and it is trying to ascertain if any traces of a possible explosion or other activity can be identified on the ground.  The area is a steep hilly terrain with thick vegetation.  The Force, meaning UNIFIL, has also asked the Israeli Defense Forces to provide details of any incident in the area as alleged and, if so, the precise location.  Further details will be provided to you as the investigation progresses.

Question:  A follow… another thing regarding Syria.  Mr. Lavrov today called for the Security Council and the United Nations to condemn the repeated terrorist attacks in Syria.  Does the Secretary-General condemn them?  Yesterday, in Jaramana, there was a car explosion, in the north of Syria, hundreds of Kurds were slaughtered, hundreds of civilians were kidnapped, three were incinerated alive; are there…?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, Nizar, the carnage continues in Syria with killing by both sides and with terrible consequences for, primarily, civilians.  And it is the thoughts of the Secretary-General and others with the civilians who are suffering in this.  You will also recall that Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for those who carry out such attacks — from whichever side — to be brought to justice, and the Secretary-General certainly would concur with that.  Yes, please, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thank… thanks a lot.  I have some follow-up questions on Somalia, but I wanna ask just a quick thing on Haiti first.  There is a report that I am sure that you have seen, it came out of the Law School and that it… it seems the Medical School at… at Yale yesterday… regarding the cholera in Haiti and they… it’s… it is kind of a… it’s a medical and legal analysis about the… the… that there should have been the claims process and saying that the UN needs to rehabilitate…

Spokesperson:  What’s the question?

Question:  My question is:  what’s your response to this study, and also, whether the new Head of the Office of Legal Affairs, whether there is any indication that, you know, like Nicolas Michel in the past, but unlike Ms. O’Brien, whether he will take questions on legal topics such as these?  Why the claim was dis… was dismissed and what the legal implications are?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the second part of your questions, we just in the past few minutes announced this appointment, so I don’t think you would expect me to pass further judgement on what he may or may not wish to do with regard to speaking to the media, but we will certainly convey your wishes to him.  With regard to the first part of your questions, I don’t have anything further to say beyond what we have said in the past.  We are obviously aware of this latest report. 

There are two points here.  The first is that the position of the Secretary-General is and has always been that while the claims are not receivable, this decision would not in any way diminish his personal commitment and that of the United Nations to do all that the Organization can do to help the people of Haiti to overcome the cholera epidemic.  And I think you will have seen that, yesterday, the Haitian Government and the United Nations launched a revised humanitarian action plan for this year asking for $100 million to help Haitian people in need of assistance.  The financial aid would help cover immediate needs for the rest of the year, notably for the most vulnerable 935,500 people who have not yet received assistance and who are at risk of cholera or from the hurricane season.  And this humanitarian action plan now revised is underlining the cholera response as a key priority, and it has earmarked $40 million for critical cholera needs.  Only $8.7 million has been mobilized so far, and this is of particular concern during the hurricane season, as funding is not enough to meet potential needs. 

And just to underscore that point again, on the ground, strenuous efforts are being made by the Haitian Government and by the United Nations and other humanitarian partners to help prepare for this hurricane season and the potential for further cholera cases.  However, the funding is woefully inadequate at this point, and that really needs to be addressed by international donors with a sense of urgency and solidarity.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  Martin, a little bit more on this report, which I have been reading through this morning.  It squarely does hold accountability with the… with the United Nations and even though, yes, you say that the Secretary-General has come out and made statements addressing some of the concerns related to this, to date, the UN has not accepted responsibility for the outbreak.  And the report itself actually in very scientific terms lays out the reasons to why they come to the conclusions that they come, including the strain of the actual cholera virus that ties into a Nepalese version that had been ravishing [sic] the country at the time.  And we all know that there were Nepalese peacekeepers who actually had the disease in Haiti serving and the river connected to the outbreak, and the location of the outbreak and whatnot. 

When is the UN going to address this particular report, which is very comprehensive, and can we have someone here to talk us through what concrete steps the UN is going to be taking to address the issue?  And the report also makes some very concrete recommendations on what the UN can do in the future to avoid such outbreaks or problems such as this, including recommendations on where to set up latrines and other sanitation-related issues that can arise in setting up a peacekeeping mission.  Is there someone perhaps from the peacekeeping mission who could speak to us and let us know what is being done?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I just said, we are obviously aware of the report, and obviously it is being read.  I am not in a position to comment beyond what I have just said.  I have heard your request for someone to speak about this, and I will certainly pass it along, but I don’t have anything further for you at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, Stephen [inaudible], TV American Feature Story News.  I just want to follow up on Pam’s question.  The Russian Foreign Ministry did say that they are planning on discussing — Lavrov and Ban — the… Syria.  I just want to make sure that is actually on the agenda for tomorrow evening’s meeting?  

Spokesperson:  Like I said, I am not fully aware of the agenda, but I think that one could anticipate discussions on the main topics of the day, and Syria is plainly one of them.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Matthew, and them I am coming to you, Nizar, yes?

Question:  Okay, I… I wanted to ask… in… back… about this… this question of whether the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Somalia shares information with the US intelligence of FBI.  Back on 24 June, I asked you that and I… I was told that… and I asked you try to get an answer from DPKO, Mr [Hervé] Ladsous or Ms.… Ms. [Agnes] Marcaillou of the UNMAS, but I was told that there would be no response whatsoever so I tried to [inaudible], I had been asking for weeks.  Now, today I see a response from Kieran Dwyer of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] from Ms. Mar… from UNMAS essentially, in… in part at least acknowledging that Mr. [David] Bax of UNMAS was training the Somalis on how to keep such evidence safe in order for the US… UN… FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], so I have two questions.  One is, is it appropriate… I wanted to… it… it seems many people say it puts the UN at risk to be part of the chain of evidence to a… to a P-5 member that is actually… you know, has an interest in Somalia.  And number two, I… I am sorry to ask it, but I wanted to know why I never got an answer to my question, because I asked it in this room on 24 June, the exact question and was told first… was given no answer and was told there would be no answer and then I see an answer in writing from Kieran Dwyer elsewhere, and so can you explain that?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the last part, I don’t have any comment on that, Matthew.  On the first part of your question, the United Nations Mine Action Service has a mandate to provide technical support to the Somali police force, in explosive ordnance disposal, first response and post-blast investigation to improvised explosive devices, including mentoring and training in law enforcement investigative techniques.  At the request of Somali authorities, UNMAS, in other words the UN Mine Action Service, supports cooperation between law enforcement agencies in facilitating knowledge sharing between the Somali police force and other law enforcement agencies.  The relationship is between the Somali Police force and these agencies, with UNMAS providing technical support.  UNMAS operates fully within its mandate in this regard.

Question:  There also… there also seems to be now an acknowledgement that… that Mr. [David] Bax… you know, there is disagreements about whether it legally constitutes sexual harassment, but there seems to be acknowledgements and report… and quotes from people within the Mogadishu compound, which is also what the whistleblower wrote, and so although it is sort of dismissed in some reports, I wonder, what does the UN think?  Is it appropriate even if somebody is an effective deminer to… to essentially demand sexual favours from other UN staff?  And I do wanna ask this, since you now have an answer to the question I asked on 24 June, when did you get the answer?  And… and so… I understand that it is a DPKO decision of how they dole out information, but can you state that you asked at the time, 24 June, and can you say when this answer was provided to you and why wasn’t it provided to me? 

Spokesperson:  Well, I was a couple of minutes late coming into the room; that’s when I got it, Matthew.  And, with regard to the person you mentioned in relation to a staff member for the UN in Somalia who was subject of an anonymously filed complaint regarding conduct, the contracting office, UNOPS, the UN Office for Project Services, is inquiring into the allegations.  And while these inquiries are going on, UNOPS will not have any further comment.  Okay, thank you very much.  Nizar, last question?

Question:  Yeah, my question is regarding the abducted dozens of civilians yesterday from Syria who were taken by Jabhat al-Nusra, which is categorized as a terrorist organization, into Turkish territory.  Alongside, there are two bishops which are missing, there are a lot of credible information speaking that they are held hostage in Turkey.  Is Turkey now becoming party and a safe haven for these terrorists to practice that?  And also, are there any contacts between the United Nations and Turkey in order to stop allowing terrorists going into Syria, kidnapping people and bringing them into Turkish territory?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific on that, Nizar, except to reiterate what the Secretary-General has himself said:  that these two senior clerics, bishops, should be immediately released.  They have been held for far too long already.

Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.

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