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

11 December 2013

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

11 December 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.

Welcome to the briefing.

**Guest at Noon

Today I am joined by Geeta Rao Gupta, who is the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and she is joined by Claudia Cappa, who is the author of the report entitled, “Every Child’s Birth Right:  Inequities and trends in birth registration”.  They are here to introduce that report, and they’re doing so on UNICEF’s sixty-seventh birthday.

And, I thought I’d just play this for one second [music] because it also happens to be my birthday today, and so I thought I’d just play a little bit of relaxing music to start the briefing on a serious subject, I know.  But, UNICEF is something close to my heart.  I might not be 67, but thank you very much for joining us at the briefing.

I know we have other colleagues from UNICEF available, too, should there be even more specific questions.  So, I know that the Deputy Executive Director has some introductory remarks and then we can take some questions.  So, please, do go ahead.  Welcome.

[Press Conference by Ms. Gupta and Ms. Cappa issued separately.]

So, I have a few more items and then I’d be happy to take some questions.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning.  They have received updates from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous; from the head of the UN Mission in the country, Martin Kobler; and the Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson.  We have been informed that Mr. Kobler and Mrs. Robinson will go to the Security Council stakeout after the consultations, as will the President of the Council, Ambassador Gérard Araud.

And then, this afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting on Sudan and South Sudan.

**Secretary-General

Just to say that the Secretary-General is on his way back to New York from Johannesburg.  And we expect him to arrive, actually, around now.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo released a report today on human rights violations committed during the electoral period in 2011 — that’s to say, from 1 October that year to 31 January 2012.  The Joint Human Rights Office registered 35 violations committed during this period.

The report stresses the importance of prosecuting those responsible for these violations before the next election cycle, in order to prevent such crimes from being repeated.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that unfortunately, the efforts made by the Congolese authorities to address the human rights violations committed during the 2011 electoral period have not yet produced results.

** Bangladesh

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco has wrapped up his visit to Bangladesh, where he noted that the political crisis is exacting a heavy human, social and economic toll on the country.  He told reporters that the crisis has resulted in increasing tension and seriously threatens the hard-earned economic and social progress that Bangladesh has achieved.

While in Bangladesh, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco met with a range of interlocutors, including the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, the Foreign Minister, leaders of major political parties and civil society representatives.  He said that he had conveyed to all he met the Secretary-General’s extreme concern about the rising levels of violence, and adding that he strongly urged everybody to exercise restraint, uphold human rights and to respect the rule of law.

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that the UN supports free, fair, inclusive and non-violent elections.  He said that it is clear that the Bangladeshi people want and deserve this, and that the credibility of the election will ultimately rest with the people of the country.

The Assistant Secretary-General said that he strongly believes that a solution to the deadlock is still possible if there is political will, leadership and an attitude of compromise.  His full statement is available online.

I can also tell you that the Secretary-General has also been reaching out to both the President and Prime Minister of Bangladesh by telephone.

** Palestine

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, James Rawley, expressed concern over the Israeli authorities’ demolition of 30 Palestinian-owned structures in the Jordan Valley yesterday.  The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 41 people, including 24 children.

Mr. Rawley said that the demolitions leave families without shelter and compromise their livelihoods just as weather conditions are deteriorating.  He said that the demolitions must be brought to an immediate halt.

**Malaria

In a new report released today, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that global efforts to control and eliminate malaria have made major progress and saved an estimated 3.3 million lives since 2000.

According to the “World Malaria Report 2013”, the large majority of the lives saved were in the 10 countries with the highest malaria burden, and among children aged less than five years, which is the group most affected by the disease.  Over the same period, malaria mortality rates in children in Africa were reduced by an estimated 54 per cent.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, said that this remarkable progress is no cause for complacency, as absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could.  There are more details on this online.

**Noon Briefing Tomorrow

And indeed tomorrow my guest will be Ray Chambers, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria and for the Financing of the Health-related Millennium Development Goals.  He will be here to discuss that latest World Health Organization report on malaria.

** Syria

We were asked yesterday whether Croatia would be involved in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

First, we need to make clear that what must be eliminated are the chemicals stored or prepared by Syria for the production of chemical weapons.  These chemicals are not weapons in the traditional meaning of this word; they cannot be fired and they are not weaponized — in other words, they have not been put into munitions.  But, they still need to be destroyed.

The plan for the destruction of all Syrian chemicals outside Syria will be released on 17 December.  For now, it would not be appropriate to discuss the possible contents of that document.  Practicalities are currently being discussed and the final details are being worked out.  What is certain is that the plan will be carried out by the Joint Mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with the assistance of a number of actors, including Member States of the OPCW.

**Audio Programming

Finally, our colleagues in the Department of Public Information have asked us to announce that, starting today, UN audio programming, including radio and official meetings, will be available through a “call to listen” system.  This will allow people to listen in to Security Council meetings, providing they are open, of course, General Assembly meetings and this briefing, if people so desire, by dialling a [United States]-based number.  You will also be able to listen in to UN Radio programmes, which are produced every day in the six official languages, as well as in Portuguese and Kiswahili.

While the service is initially being launched in the [United States], it will be followed early next year by services in South Africa, Brazil and Switzerland, and then in selected countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Caribbean.  This service is being offered through a pro bono partnership with AudioNow.  All the numbers can be found by going to www.unmultimedia.org and then clicking on the “audio by phone” icon at the bottom of the page.  And of course, you can always ask us or [the Department of Public Information] for more details.

But in the meantime, I’m ready for questions after a little bit more of this [music].  Okay, yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  India’s Supreme Court has in a ruling criminalized same sex… in effect, sort of criminalizing homosexuality.  This comes just a day after the Secretary-General said that the UN opposes any discrimination against gays and lesbians.  So, does the UN have any comment on the ruling by the Supreme Court?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you answered your question in a sense.  In his message to Human Rights Day gatherings yesterday, the Secretary-General re-affirmed that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  He once again spoke out against discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people and stressed the need to recommit ourselves to building a world of freedom and equality for all.  So, that would be my answer on that.

I’m glad to see you made it through the snow from Connecticut.

Question:  Yes.  Yesterday it was snowing.  Martin, did Mr. Taranco also raise the issue of the impending execution of Bangladeshi politician?  Because I didn’t hear it in the issues you mentioned…

Spokesperson:  No, no you did not.  That is obviously a separate track, if you like — a separate matter.  But, I can assure you that we have made, in different contexts, our views very clear on the use of the death penalty, and also, indeed, on the need for full due process in such cases.  So, if I have anything further on that, I would let you know.  

[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, yesterday called for a stay of execution for Abdul Quader Mollah, a Bangladeshi politician convicted of war crimes in a trial that did not meet stringent international standards for imposition of the death penalty.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) wrote to the Prime Minister in a last-minute appeal to halt the execution.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The first priority of the major development goals is the eradication of extreme poverty.  Since his appointment as Pope, Pope Francis has been a champion in the fight against poverty.  Now he has been chosen as the Man of the Year by Time magazine.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  Not specifically.  There are many publications that do rank individuals.  Of course, Time magazine is a prestigious publication.  The Secretary-General has met with the Pope relatively recently and was similarly inspired by the pontiff’s humility and down-to-earth approach, something that I also recognized at that same audience.  So, I think everybody who is touched by Pope Francis recognizes that and has seen the great work that he is doing and the reforms that he is undertaking within the Church.  But, of course, the most important thing is that for millions of people around the world, it’s for them to decide who they believe is their hero, who is the person they most look up to.  This can be looked at in many different ways.  Okay, other questions?  Please?

Question:  I’ve heard word that the [Åke] Sellström report is going to be submitted tomorrow.  Will it be public like the mid-term report?  And if it is public, around what time is it expected to be released?

Spokesperson:  Well, when we have an announcement on precisely when the report will be available, we’ll let you know.  But, certainly the intention is for it to be available.  Absolutely.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask on Somalia, but just to follow up on that, I guess it was the Swedish, the Foreign Ministry, I think it was the Swedish Foreign Ministry, they said 13 December was the day.  They seemed to say that pretty solidly.  And I wanted to… it was unclear if that came from Mr. Sellström himself.  Did the UN never come out with a day?  Is that day not the day?

Spokesperson:  With all due respect to the Swedish Foreign Ministry, or Defence Ministry, as I think it actually was, this is a UN report and the UN will say when it will be released.  Okay?  Thank you.

Question:  I have a question about the news from Uruguay, the country becoming the first in the world to legalize marijuana.  And my question is… the statement from the UN system on this was from the INCB (International Narcotics Control Board) earlier this, year when this was still in the preliminary stages.  Any new reaction from the [Secretary-General] as this goes into law?

Spokesperson:  I do understand that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has the relevant word in its title, has had something to say on this and I’d be happy to share that with you after this.  Okay?

Question:  As you indicated, the Secretary-General has just arrived into New York.  When would he be available for giving his end-of-the-year press conference?

Spokesperson:  On Monday.  Any other questions?  Edie, did you have a question or are you just gesturing?

Correspondent:  No, let Matthew goes first and then I’ll go last.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you.

Correspondent:  Alright. I wanted to ask you about Somalia.

Spokesperson:  It’s that time of year.  It’s that time of year.  I want to play the music again.

Question:  On Somalia… yesterday, Mr. [Nicolas] Kay had mentioned this 410 guards in his statement to the Council… I just wanted to know… and he said something like, the Council will soon hear from the Secretary-General more on this.  Is it… I just wanted to understand it.  One, is it the Secretary’s position that these guards have already been somehow approved as part of the resolution, or is it going to require the same letters back and forth, as was done on the Libyan one?  And also, is… are Government approvals already obtained for both the Libyan guard contingent and for the Somalia one?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is that nothing is absolutely finalized at this point and that there are discussions going on.  That’s… I do not know precisely where those discussions are, nor where they will end.  But, I don’t believe there is a final decision at this point.

Question:  But, as to the Security Council, does the Somalia’s guards require these back and forth letters…?

Spokesperson:  I think… as I understand it, the Council is supportive of whatever the Secretariat believes is necessary for the security of our personnel in Libya.  But, precisely how that will shape up is still a subject of discussion.  I think that’s how I would characterize it at this point.

Question:  Martin, since I have been given unofficial song duties, I would ask everybody here to turn on their microphone and join me in wishing you a very, very happy birthday.  [Correspondents sing Happy Birthday]

Spokesperson:  Well, how about that.  Thank you very much.  What am I supposed to do for an encore?  This is the thing.  Thank you so much, that’s very kind of you.  I shall enjoy the day even more after that.  Thank you so much.  Alright, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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