7 October 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

So good afternoon everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Guest

I have on the phone Ms. Margot Wallström, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

**Secretary-General on Nobel Peace Prize

But before we turn to Ms. Wallström, let me please read a statement on the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize; a statement by the Secretary-General:

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize honours three inspirational women of uncommon courage, strength and commitment — Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and social activists Tawakkul Karman of Yemen and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.

With this decision, the Norwegian Nobel Committee sends a clear message:  women count for peace.  It is a testament to the power of the human spirit and underscores a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter:  the vital role of women in the advancement of peace and security, development and human rights.

Across the world, we recognize that women are the cornerstone of family and community.  Overwhelmingly, they are the educators, the health-care providers and the weavers of our social fabric.

Throughout North Africa, the Middle East and beyond, we hear the voices of women calling for justice and democracy.  As this prize attests, they are increasingly taking long overdue leadership as economic actors, political activists, local, national and even global decision-makers.

Today, as we salute these three remarkable leaders, we at the United Nations reaffirm our determination to advance the cause of women across the full spectrum of our work.  That is why we created a dynamic new United Nations agency, UN Women, to drive this change.  The eradication of sexual violence in conflict and the full inclusion of women in building peace and democracy is not an option.  It is a necessity for creating a better future for all of the world’s people.

That’s the Secretary-General’s statement.  Ms. Wallström has also issued a statement, and that’s available in our office.  And Ms. Wallström is, I understand, available on the line right now.  So, Ms. Wallström.

[Press conference by Ms. Wallström issued separately]

So I have a few other items and then I am happy to take questions.

** Sudan

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has opened a new camp this week in western Ethiopia to accommodate refugees fleeing the continuing hostilities across the border in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.

So far, 533 refugees have been moved to the new camp, which has capacity for 3,000 people, with a possibility for further expansion.  The UN refugee agency plans to move some 400 refugees daily from the border to this area, where it can provide protection and assistance.

According to the UN refugee agency, more than 27,500 people have fled Blue Nile State for Ethiopia in the last month. And with refugees still arriving, the UN refugee agency is working to speed up their relocation to safer areas.  The agency says that at the beginning of the influx, the new arrivals were mainly women, children and the elderly but more recently, staff at the border points have seen larger numbers of men arriving, and more injuries.

** Cyprus

The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met for six hours today in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Lisa Buttenheim, told reporters afterwards that they had a broad discussion, and that they will meet again on Tuesday, 11 October.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

The Deputy Secretary-General departs this evening for the Republic of Korea to address the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization.  That meeting will look at the role which tourism can contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  The Deputy Secretary-General will also speak at the World Knowledge Forum and hold bilateral meetings with Korean Government officials. 

She will then travel to Bangkok and Geneva for Regional Coordination Mechanism meetings, and hold bilateral meetings with Government officials.  Her last stop is Luxembourg, where she will open a high-level symposium on development.  The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 23 October.

**Press Conference

And a reminder that after this briefing there will be a press conference on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, known as NEPAD.  And this was something that we announced yesterday.  It includes Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, who is the Chief Executive Officer of NEPAD, and also Dr. Amos Namanga Ngongi, President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa; and Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, who is Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

So questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, sure Martin.  I have some other ones, but I wanted to ask just kind of a… it may seem administrative, but somehow it’s important.  There was a meeting this morning of the Security Council’s Committee on the Admission of New Members.  It did take place, but it was… it wasn’t listed in the Journal.  Being over there, the sign didn’t say what the meeting was about, it just said “closed meeting”.  So, it might seem small, but in other Security… I wanted to know, just sort of factually, who decides on… on… on matters like putting a meeting like that in the Journal, whether the sign says admission of new members or doesn’t say it, because similar expert meetings are… are in the Journal and… and have a sign.  So I wanted to know, who is responsible for this… blackout?

Spokesperson:  Well, ultimately, the Security Council decides on the format of its meeting.  I don’t know the full details of this, as it is something that is clearly in the hands of the Council, and you may wish to check with them.

Question:  And also just in… in… in this… this may also… maybe this is an UNCA question, but it’s a… it’s a… some of us not with cameras, just as print journalists, we’re trying to cover the meeting in the hall outside the meeting room as we’ve done… I’ve done it before on committee meetings of all kinds.  We were told by… that we couldn’t be there.  So I wanted to know, has there been, has there been a change of policy or is this meeting somehow being treated differently than other similar meetings held in that area?

Spokesperson:  Again, this is something for the Council, I think.  The Security Council determines its working methods, and I don’t have any… I have not been informed of any particular changes or any particular rules or procedures that apply to this that have not applied to other meetings.  If I learn something to the contrary, then I will let you know, okay?  Other questions?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Since the [inaudible] 10,000 or more Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli jails.  Today there was a report in newspapers… I mean, through news agencies that… I mean, I don’t know if… that the Palestinians are asking other Palestinians to kidnap some Israelis so that they can secure release of the prisoners in Israeli jails.  Now, is that something that the Secretary-General thinks that can be avoided?  And one of the… this is what the report said, that the… that can be avoided, and has he… why has he been so unsuccessful in telling the Israelis to release some prisoners at least… some Palestinian prisoners who have been languishing in jail for years?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know — and I think the very last few words of your question are the key here — this has been going on for many years, as has the entire search for peace in the Middle East.  This is not something that has occurred in the last couple of years.  So clearly the Secretary-General has called in meetings — and will continue to do so — for the rights of Palestinians, and also for attacks and other instances that have taken place, against Israelis as well as Palestinians, to cease.  As the Quartet statement said, any provocative actions at this time need to be avoided.  And that I think is the key also to the, in answering the first part of your question.

Question:  So these measures that were announced in this particular press relea… press statement are desperate measures?  They can be avoided if the Israelis start releasing some prisoners… that, towards that process, Secretary-General I know has made appeals, but it seems they are falling on deaf ears.  Is there any other way besides the Quartet to keep on saying that there should be no violence and everything else to frustrate the Israelis to release them?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think ultimately, of course, this is a matter for the Israeli authorities, ultimately.  And as is — along with the Palestinian authorities — the negotiations that are required to lead to a two–State solution, which is the vision that many people share, including the Secretary-General.  Pressure on each side, if that’s the word you want to use, or persuasion, through diplomatic channels or public statements, of course, is necessary in getting the two sides, the two parties, back to the negotiating table as quickly as possible.  But provocative actions are not helpful in this respect.  Yeah, okay, other questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I wanted to ask, there… there are reports that… that in the two UN missions in Sudan, both UNAMID in Darfur and this UNISFA for Abyei, that the Government has… has not only blocked some visas, but has said outright to… to the UN that… that nationals of certain countries should not apply for visas to be the international component of those missions.  And I wanted to know if that’s true, and what the UN’s position would be on a host country or… or the head of… the new head of DPKO?  What’s his position on a host country dictating the nationality of international staff to go to a mission?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.  As you know, Mr. Ladsous, the new Under-Secretary-General will be briefing you next week, and that is something that I am sure that you could ask him at that point.  I don’t have anything now.  If I get something in that intervening period, then of course we can let you have it.

Question:  Okay, but is it… would it be fair to say that… that the UN wouldn’t accept that… I mean that that’s contrary to international law, to have a country that’s a Member of the UN and that’s a host of a mission saying we don’t want nationals from country X?  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I’d need to check with DPKO.  Yeah?

Question:  Okay, okay.  And I want to ask about two letters.  One is a letter from…

Spokesperson:  Well, let me just see if there are others first. I can see at least one other hand here.  I will come back to you, Matthew, okay?

Correspondent:  Sure, sure.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  I am [inaudible] from Chinese News Daily.  I heard that yesterday UNESCO made its first decision about recognizing Palestine as a State in the organization.  I just want to know, what’s the reaction from the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, as you know, this was a first step by the Board of UNESCO, and there is going to be a General Conference that follows that would then decide.  In other words, all the member States of UNESCO would decide at that point.  But as we’ve said before in other contexts — and it applies here too — this is really a matter for Member States and the member States of UNESCO.  This is not something where the Secretary-General has a particular role to play.  In fact, he has no role to play at all in this.  It’s for the Member States.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I wanted to ask about two letters.  One is, there is a letter, it… it… by a former Nobel Peace Prize winner himself, Mr. Esquivel, and a number of other Latin American leaders wrote, they say, to Ban Ki-moon about Haiti, saying they’re urging that for… for because… due to… to bad events that have taken place, that the MINUSTAH Mission should leave Haiti.  And I wanted to at least know if… has he received the letter?  Will he be responding to it?  What does he think of it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check whether the letter has been received or not.  I have seen the same reports that you have about that letter.  As I say, let me check whether it has been received.  But just in general, of course the presence or otherwise of a mission in a country depends on two things.  It depends on a Security Council mandate, and on host-country consent.  And those are the two parts of the jigsaw puzzle here.  If I have anything further, I’ll let you know.

Question:  And also, there is this letter from Cyprus to… to… to… to the Secretary-General complaining about the speech by Turkey in the… in the general debate, and about what they say is this pattern of threats from the… from them, ostracizing their sovereignty in their waters… a variety of things.  What… I mean, I would assume the letter has been received, but what’s the… what happens next?  What does… what does the Secretary-General think of the… the complaints made by Cyprus in that letter?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will check whether it has indeed been received.  In general terms, as you heard me say, there are negotiations, discussions going on between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.  I realize that your question is based on something slightly different here, but in this context, I would simply say that those discussions are extremely important and quite sensitive at this point.  And I really don’t have anything further.  If I do, then I’ll let you know.  Okay?  Yes?  Yeah, please.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the Syrian national council that was formed, they had a conference in Istanbul last Sunday?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re aware of the reports of that, and obviously following that closely.  It’s important to note that the Secretary-General has called consistently, repeatedly, for there to be a dialogue, inclusive dialogue.  And so one could look at that in that context.  But I don’t have anything specific at the moment on the formation of that national council that was reported out of Turkey in the past few days.  Should that change, I’ll let you know.  Okay, all right, I think…

Question:  Can I ask one more?

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course.

Question:  Okay, yeah, and this is again, I just [inaudible] that as part of the… this, I guess, UN budget-cutting, that there are… it’s a 3… you know, 3 per cent cut, some have estimated that to be about 150 posts, but I’ve heard that… that, just yesterday, people working in UN publishing were told that 41 of those cuts will come from their department — 37 posts and 4 trades and crafts — and they… they… you know, it seems like that’s 30 per cent of the… the overall whole UN system cuts is coming from one place.  I wanted you to… it… it… to confirm if that’s true, and wonder… they wonder, and I also in turn wonder, whether — obviously things are more online now — but whether this idea of totally phasing out publication and laying those people off is something that’s been checked with Member States in terms of them using things like the Journal, and… and pre… you know, the various things that are printed by the UN, including reports.  Is it true that 30 per cent of the cuts are in one division and why is that the case?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on the details of what is a budget submission and a budget submission that goes to the Member States and is approved by Member States.  If I have anything else further, then obviously we can let you know, but I think that’s an important factor here.

Question:  [inaudible] seen that these… these… these… I don’t know whether they are called lay-offs or post eliminations, these will require… these will, before they’re implemented, require the approval of the Fifth Committee?

Spokesperson:  I need to check.  But if it’s a budget submission, then a budget submission needs the approval of Member States.

Question:  When I… one fact, just to be clear, I think when I said there was told, I don’t think it was said in either in the Fifth or ACABQ, I think it was said by the UN Secretariat to publishing people.

Spokesperson:  As I say, I need to check.

Correspondent:  Okay, all right.  All right, thanks.

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

* *** *

For information media • not an official record