17 August 2011
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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Noon Guest

We will be having as our guest today Valarie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will talk to you about Somalia and the Horn of Africa.  She is in a meeting at present, so she might come here closer to about half past 12.  So, first, I’ll read the notes and we’ll take some questions and hopefully she’ll be here after all that is done.

** Somalia

Speaking of Somalia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that there are some 875,000 Somali refugees and asylum seekers in neighbouring countries, with Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti hosting more than 90 per cent of them.  About 1.5 million more Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in the south-central region of the country.

The influx of Somalis into Ethiopia remains at an average of 200 to 300 persons daily, while 1,500 people arrive on average each day in Kenya, where they continue to settle spontaneously on the outskirts of Dadaab’s three camps.  UNHCR has moved thousands of tents to Dadaab in recent weeks, but requires an additional 45,000 more tents to keep up with the steadily growing population.

The refugee agency warns that armed bandits attack and sometimes rape women who often travel alone.  Within the host community at the border village of Liboi, the health centre reports seeing cases of sexual violence amongst newly arrived Somali refugees.  There is more information available from UNHCR.

**Special Tribunal for Lebanon

The Pretrial Judge for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has ordered that his decision confirming the indictment related to the 14 February 2005 attack, as well as the indictment itself, be made public.  In his decision confirming the indictment, the Pretrial Judge found that the Prosecution has presented sufficient evidence on a prima facie basis to proceed to trial.

There are small parts of the decision and the indictment, as well as sections of its annexes, which remain confidential.  They relate to matters that could affect the ongoing Prosecution investigation, as well as the privacy and security of victims and witnesses.  And the indictment can be seen on the Special Tribunal’s website.

So, like I said, later, closer to 12:30 p.m. we should have Valerie Amos.  Are there any questions for me?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There is this report — maybe you just talked about it, I was a little late — that the United Nations has withdrawn all its personnel from Syria, is that right?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations has not withdrawn all its personnel from Syria.  What is more correct to say is that a small number of non-essential international personnel have been temporarily relocated out of Syria due to security concerns.  Also, some dependents of staff have been relocated.

Question:  How many in number?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the precise numbers, but it’s about a couple of dozen.  Jut for your reference, we have approximately 160 international staff in Syria.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  The Security Council members are looking into the possibility of adding more sanctions against Syria.  Does the Secretary-General support the efforts to impose further sanctions on the country?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That would be, of course, a matter for decision among the Security Council members themselves.  The Secretary-General has made known his concerns about the violence in Syria.  He is continuing with his own high‑level contacts on this issue.  But on the question of sanctions, obviously the members of the Council would need to come to agreement.  But what the Secretary-General would like is to see the Security Council continue to stay united and present a united front on the issue of Syria, as they did with their [presidential] statement from about a week ago.

Question:  But does he have an opinion on imposing further sanctions?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He would leave that matter in the hands of the Security Council membership itself for now.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yeah, [Benjamin] Netanyahu has openly rejected pressure from the United States, in the form of a telephone call from Hilary Clinton, for them to apologize in order for the [Geoffrey] Palmer report to be released and the Israelis would not apologize.  And a report I am reading here says that Turkey is putting pressure on the UN to delay or postpone the report, absent an Israeli apology.  Is Turkey putting pressure on the UN to do that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, at this stage, as you know, the report is not in the hands of the United Nations per se.  It’s still being worked on by the panel that’s headed by Geoffrey Palmer.  Ultimately, it is up to them as an independent panel to decide when they are done with the report and to hand it in to the Secretary-General.  As we have said before, we expect that to happen in late August, but we don’t have a concrete date for when the report would go to him.

Question:  Turkey is pressuring the wrong party then, if this report is correct?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What I am suggesting is that there is no fixed date at present for when the report will go to the Secretary-General.  We do expect it to happen some time in late August.

Question:  When it goes to the Secretary-General, will he automatically issue it or does he have discretion what to do with it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He has the discretion to determine how to respond, but first he will read the report and study it and then he will decide on the next steps after that.

Question:  I know you have an answer, but does he feel there an apology would help solve, improve relations between Israel and Turkey?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly the Secretary-General hopes that the Israeli and Turkish Governments will remain in contact with each other to help strengthen again their relationship.  But regarding a question of apology, that is an issue that is being discussed at present by the relevant Governments.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  On Haiti, Madagascar and then about these briefings.  In Haiti, there is a report in the Haitian press here that in Port-Salut there are complaints against the Uruguayan peacekeepers of MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti], including on sexual abuse grounds, and I am wondering, what’s this… this was published in Haiti last week on Thursday, what is MINUSTAH’s response on this topic that Ban Ki-moon has recently said is so important to him?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  MINUSTAH is in fact looking into this to see about these allegations and whether there is any credibility to them.  So they have started to examine the issue.  If we have any further facts about what MINUSTAH finds, we will share that at that point.

Question:  Sure, and I wanted to on… on Madagascar there is… there is a… I’m not… I’m just a little unclear on what the UN involvement in the process there; I know Mr. [Joachim] Chissano met with… who is the SADC [Southern African Development Community] mediator, met with Ban Ki-moon in mid-July.  Now the elections have been put off and there seems to be a lot of… there is, the AU [African Union] has said there is not a finalized road map; what is the UN’s involvement in this post-coup Madagascar and was he shown a road map in mid-July?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We would need to check with the mediation on that particular issue.  I believe that, yes, Mr. Chissano has been involved with the parties and has also been in touch with the Department for Political Affairs, and we’ll see what any update is on that.

Question:  And could I just… I just wanted to… I remember on Friday when you announced that the briefings were going to be… Tuesdays and Thursdays no briefings, you seemed to say that this took place many summers before.  So I went back and looked at the archive and it seems that, it seems that only in 2009 were any of these briefings suspended, and given that this year there is so much going on with Syria, Libya and other things, I wonder, do you maintain this was done in previous summers and what’s the problems with just having briefings short as it may be everyday?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is no problem with having briefings when we have information to impart.  There have been some days that we hadn’t had that information to impart.  Frankly, on this one, let’s not be too solipsistic about it, Matthew, you did have a bunch of questions for me yesterday and I provided you the answers.

Question:  And I just wonder, since…, I mean, you’d said… you seemed to imply that it took place in all previous summers, and I looked at the last 10 years and only one summer were they suspended.  Is this a less newsworthy summer than previous summers?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It was suspended in previous summers — 2009 and I think a few years before that.  It doesn’t happen every summer, but yes, there are certain slow weeks.  In this case, this is a week where the Secretary-General has been to a large extent working from his own home and quite a few officials are not present.  There simply wasn’t that much information.  And frankly, a Tuesday briefing would have been a fairly dull one.  If there seems to be a lot going on tomorrow, we could revisit the decision, otherwise, the next briefing would be on Friday.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General is pleased with the Special Tribunal indictments that are out now.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you have seen our reaction to the indictments initially when they were disclosed.  We have nothing further to say now that they have been made public on the website of the Special Tribunal.  But the Secretary-General, as you know, continues to support the work of the Special Tribunal and respects the work of the Tribunal as an independent judiciary body.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, just for the record, what is the UN’s position on Gaza blockade?  Do you deem it as legal or illegal?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, this is one of the issues which the Palmer Commission has been looking at.  We will first await their report to see what they have to say about that.

Question:  But independent from the Palmer Commission report, what is the UN’s position?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Our position on the blockade is that we have made our own concerns about it known, and we have tried to do what we can to improve access to Gaza.  This has been a consistent…

Question:  Do you see it as legal or illegal; what is your position?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The question of legality in international law is a larger question, and I do believe that this is something on which the panel may take up.  So, we will wait to see what they have to say.

Question:  Will the panel’s report define your stance on that issue or is that…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It will help to inform our stance on the issue.  But like I said, we would wait to see what their evaluation is.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  There have been two attacks inside Gaza since yesterday, killing a couple of Palestinians.  Did you have a reaction to that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we are aware of the actions, but we don’t have any reaction to yesterday’s incident.  Also, there is no reaction on that from Robert Serry.  Yes?

Question:  Could you elaborate a little bit on yesterday, what we heard about Secretary Ban speaking with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about the situation between Syria and Turkey?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, what I can say is that the Secretary-General did speak with the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mr. Davutoğlu.  The Foreign Minister did share with the Secretary-General the information that he had gathered from discussions concerning Syria and they also did discuss the work of the Palmer panel dealing with the flotilla incident of last year.  Yes, Dogon?

Question:  According to some Israeli newspapers, the Palmer report will be delivered to the SG this weekend, and the next day, he is going to make it public.  Is this information correct?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t actually have a set date for when the report will come out.  Like I said, we expect it to be in late August, but I wouldn’t pin it to this weekend.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Do you have any update on humanitarian access in Syria?  We’ve heard that there may be some progress on that.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, did speak about this matter with the President of Syria a little bit more than a week ago.  He is continuing his high-level contacts on this issue today, and we may have something further to tell you about this in the afternoon.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Southern Kordofan and also Abyei.  Now that the report is out, I wanted to know, are you aware of any request to Navi Pillay while she is in New York for the Syria briefing, to brief the Council or any Secretariat officials as well on Southern Kordofan and can you… same question of access, is there any addition access or information since the end of June when this report… the report that it covers, that the UN can say about Southern Kordofan and are the peacekeepers still in place there, have they been removed, what have they been doing since their mandate expired?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I believe there may be a small number of peacekeepers who are in the process of shutting down there.  As you know, their mandate has expired; they have no mandate to patrol.  So they have no actual powers.  And of course, therefore, the control for security then reverts, as it would in these circumstances, to the sovereignty of the Government of the area.  Regarding Navi Pillay, I believe that some members of the Security Council have expressed their interest in a briefing from her, but once we have any confirmation from our Security Council colleagues of any meetings on this later in the week, we will let you know at that point.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Speaking of Navi Pillay, she’s said on more than one occasion that the blockade of Gaza is illegal.  Does the Secretary-General agree with her?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General supports the work of the High Commissioner, but like I said, at present, this is a question that is being dealt with by a panel that the Secretary-General is waiting to hear from.  So, we do want to hear from them about their evaluation of what the blockade entails.  We have already, like I said, made our concerns about the blockade known, both individually and in our participation with the Quartet.

Question:  Is there any word from Navi Pillay on the issue?  Would his opinion be changed by the Palmer Commission?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General appreciates whatever information he can get from the various experts who have been dealing with this.

Question:  Has the Legal Department here ever dealt with this issue?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that they have; I believe that the Legal Department and the Department for Political Affairs have looked into this.  But like I said, for right now, we do want to see also what the Palmer Commission has to say.

Question:  On Abyei, I think a couple of days ago, maybe it was last week, the idea was that… is that there was going to be some consultations.  Can the UN confirm if any Sudanese armed forces personnel have pulled out of Abyei?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t have the confirmation.  They were supposed to have pulled out, and General [Tadesse Werede] Tesfay, the head, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), is discussing the matter.  But we do not have the signs of the pullout that was supposed to have taken place thus far.

Question:  Also, the Sudanese Government has announced through its State media, SUNA, that they intend to investigate Southern Kordofan, the issues in the report.  Is that… does the UN have any response, is that viewed as a credible response by the sovereign or what… what’s Ban Ki-moon’s position on the report that came out, that it should be… how should it be investigated?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re studying any responses.  But you have seen what the actual report said, and it did call for further investigation, and we are hoping for further investigation.  But whether this is sufficient, no, we haven't pronounced ourselves on that.  We need to see exactly what that entails.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, you may already have answered this, but I just wanted to know, will Navi Pillay’s briefing tomorrow be open or will it be part of closed consultations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s up to the members of the Security Council to determine.  We’ll send around a schedule once we get the schedule for tomorrow’s meeting.  And that would have the details on whether it is open or closed.

Correspondent:  Closed.  It’s closed.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Possibly.  Alright, at this stage, Valerie Amos is still not here, it may be another 15 minutes or so.  But we will call you back in once she is ready.  Thanks.

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For information media • not an official record