8 November 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.

I will have a few more items in just a second, and will be happy to take some questions.

** Syria

So, as you will have seen, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that the death toll in Syria now exceeds 3,500.  The Office said that High Commissioner Navi Pillay is deeply concerned about the situation and by the Syrian Government's failure to take heed of international and regional calls for an end to the bloodshed.  More than 60 people are reported to have been killed by military and security forces in recent days, including at least 19 on Sunday, the Office said.

** Liberia

The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has confirmed two deaths after an outbreak of violence yesterday at the party headquarters of the Congress for Democratic Change.

UN police were sent on location and a helicopter from the UN Mission was dispatched to patrol the area.  At this time, the investigations are still ongoing to ascertain the circumstances of the incident.

The UN Mission deplores the loss of life and calls on all parties, supporters and all Liberians to exercise maximum restraint and not resort to violent acts.  The Mission is in contact with the relevant authorities in order to prevent any escalation of the situation.

**Security Council

This afternoon at 3 p.m. the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Roger Meece, will present the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to the Security Council.

Afterwards, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, will brief the Security Council in closed consultations.  Then, immediately afterwards, she will be available to speak to members of the media, and that is expected at around 4.30 p.m. at the Security Council stakeout area.

**Global Pulse

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will give the keynote address at a high-level briefing for Member States on the Global Pulse initiative.  He is expected to say that the initiative seeks to take the pulse of vulnerable communities and help us to understand where people and communities are in trouble.  The Secretary-General will say that, with the strong support of Member States, we will pioneer a twenty-first century approach that will help us keep up with fast-moving crises and keep international development on track.

You will also have seen that this morning the Secretary-General took part in a stakeout with the rock band Linkin Park.  This was to announce their support for the Secretary-General’s “Sustainable Energy for All Initiative”, which he launched a couple of weeks ago.

So that’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Christine, and then Maggie, yeah?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, no doubt you are aware of the complaint that’s been filed on behalf of the cholera victims in Haiti, and I am wondering, first of all, does the UN feel that it owes these victims anything for introducing cholera into Haiti?  And second, will the UN now actually set up the Standing Claims Commission that’s required under the SOFA [status-of-forces] agreement in order to hear this complaint?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can confirm that the Secretary-General has received a letter from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.  And the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, has also received a letter, I understand, last Friday.  But I can’t comment more on the petition as, of course, we have to consider it in detail.  But what I can tell you is that the United Nations peacekeeping mission, as well as humanitarian and development agencies, is working with Haitian authorities to do everything possible to bring the spread of cholera under control, to treat and support those affected by cholera, and ultimately to eradicate cholera from Haiti.  What I also want to say is that the Secretary-General has taken this matter very seriously from the outset, and in January 2011, as you know, he appointed a panel of independent scientific experts to study all available evidence to determine the cause of the cholera outbreak and epidemic.  And that panel, which reported in May, determined that it was not possible to be conclusive about how cholera was introduced into Haiti.  Okay, other questions, please?

Question:  A follow-up on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On that same thing, their written complaint says that the status-of-forces agreement between MINUSTAH and Haiti requires some kind of a standing committee to adjudicate claims like this.  And they say that a UN source told them — and they include in their complaint — that the standing committee doesn’t exist.  And they are saying that on that basis they may go to court.  But what I wanted to know is:  does the UN agree that the SOFA requires setting up such a committee and do they agree that in fact it hasn’t been set up?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is the same question that Christine just asked and I can’t really comment further on the details of the letter that we have received because it is still being studied.

Question:  But, I mean… I guess what the question is, separate and apart from the letter, just factually, whether this committee exists and if it has processed any claims?

Spokesperson:  As I said, we are still considering the letter.  If I have anything further, I will let you know.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Margaret?

Question:  Martin, procedurally, how will this work?  Does it go to OLA [Office for Legal Affairs], or how will it work its way through the UN system, something like this case?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, as we have already said, the Secretary-General has received the letter, the Mission, MINUSTAH in Haiti, has also received the letter.  And it will be looked at by the relevant parts of the UN system, and that obviously includes DPKO — the Peacekeeping Department.  And then let’s see how that then progresses.  But, as I said, these letters were received on Friday.  And so they are still being looked at.  I don’t have anything further at this point.

Question:  And then, so does the UN… just to be clear, the UN’s official position on the cholera outbreak in Haiti is that… is that the outcome of that May report which you interpreted to be it’s not possible to be conclusive how cholera came to Haiti?

Spokesperson:  Well, Margaret, it is not interpreting, it is what the panel of experts said.

Question:  Well, it is interpreting it, Martin, because the other group that has filed a complaint seems to have a different interpretation of it, so perhaps each group is interpreting it differently?

Spokesperson:  Well, the report, anyway, the panel presented its findings and conclusions to the Secretary-General at the beginning of May — 3 May — and then right after that, that panel’s report was immediately shared with the Government of Haiti and it is in the public domain.  And it speaks for itself, as you know.  But it did conclude, the independent panel of experts concluded, that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described in the report, and was not the fault of deliberate action of a group or individual person.  And that the key focus for the United Nations has been since the outbreak and it remains the focus, and that is to combat the outbreak and to help those who have suffered.  And that’s what the UN will continue to do.

Question:  So just to be clear… sorry, so you are just… so it would be correct to report that the UN’s position on it is the panel of experts’ conclusion…?

Spokesperson:  As I have said — no.  What I said is that the Secretary-General commissioned this independent panel of experts.  They presented their findings and conclusions to the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General has shared that report with the Government of Haiti and beyond that has made it publicly available.  And the report speaks for itself.

Question:  But does the report speak for the UN, is my question.  I mean, what does the UN…?

Spokesperson:  As I have just said, as I have just said, we have pointed out that the independent panel of experts concluded that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described in the report, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of a group or individual person.

Question:  So, that’s the UN’s position?

Spokesperson:  That’s what I have just said.  Okay.

Question:  But they also say there are also four other independent reports that point out that the strain came from South-East Asia.  Is it the UN’s suggestion that someone else introduced this strain into… I mean, how else would it get there if not through the UN?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, as you may have also heard, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support Anthony Banbury has made the similar points that there is no conclusive evidence.  Our focus has to be on seeking to stop the spread and helping to treat those who have been hit with cholera.

Question:  And to be clear, so you’re not denying, you do not deny that this claims committee has never been set up and…?

Spokesperson:  I said that we have received these letters, and that we need to look into it in detail.  I don’t have any information on that.  If I do have any follow-up on that particular point, of course, I’ll let you know.  But I don’t have anything sitting here right now.  I do not have that information.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been widely quoted as saying that he is fed up with the Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, then calls him a liar and saying… and similar sentiments expressed by President [Barack] Obama.  Does the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believe that Mr. Netanyahu is an honest interlocutor, in his opinion?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think you seriously expect me to answer that question, Masood?  Next question.  Nizar?

Question:  Mr. Ban Ki-moon said that Mr. [Bashar al-]Assad did not deliver on promises.  Did Mr. Netanyahu deliver on his promises to Mr. Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  I am not quite sure that — and we have had this conversation a number of times in different contexts — it’s not useful to compare two entirely different situations.  So, I don’t think that I need to answer that question.  Yes?

Correspondent:  [inaudible] This is not my… this was not my question.

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes.  You can come back to me with a real question in a second.  Let’s go to someone else, right away.

Question:  Yeah, you announced now that the Syrian regime killed almost 3,500 people and my question is:  any actions against the Syrian regime through the United Nations, or no?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be very clear; what I said was that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that the death toll in Syria now exceeds 3,500.  We haven’t broken down exactly how many people have been killed by the security forces.  The point here is that there have been repeated requests from the international community — appeals from the international community — most recently a plan put together with the Syrian authorities, and agreed with the Syrian authorities on stopping the bloodshed.  That has not happened.  And it needs to happen.  And the Secretary-General has said that repeatedly.  I think that’s the key point here.  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up on Syria.  On 11 November, the Syrian community in the New York metropolitan area is calling for a large demonstration outside the UN.  Will the Secretary-General be willing to meet with the leaders of the Syrian community?  They are asking for a no-fly zone over Syria.  And what are the obstacles that prevent the Security Council from issuing such a resolution?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’ll have to ask the Security Council that, on the last part.  As for the demonstration you have mentioned everybody has the right to demonstrate, as you know, across the street from the United Nations.  I’d have to look into whether the Secretary-General will be around at that time, and how appropriate it would be to meet at that point, or whether it would be easier to meet in a different format with other officials.  But I’d need to look at that.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that the rebels in Syria should lay down their weapons and engage with the State?

Spokesperson:  The point, Nizar, is that the bloodshed needs to stop.  And that means whoever is firing weapons needs to stop firing weapons.  And as we have repeatedly said, there need to be reforms.  President Assad has made promises about reforms but he hasn’t implemented those promises yet.  And he hasn’t actually embarked on a course of reform which has to meet the expectations of the people.  That needs to happen.  But the crucial thing is that the bloodshed needs to stop, and from whichever quarter, it needs to stop.  Yes?

Question: A follow-up on that, can I ask…?

Spokesperson:  Yeah, in just one second.  Yeah?

Question:  [inaudible], from the Israeli press, IBA News.  I wanted to ask you, there was some talk circulating around the building that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] report is supposed to be released tonight, won’t be released publicly — only to the Member States and to the Board of Governors of the IAEA.  Do you have any comment on that?  If we are not going to have…?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s the International Atomic Energy Agency and they sit in Vienna, as you know.  I don’t speak on their behalf.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Talking about that the firing should stop, when you say that you are not say… pinpointing who is firing at who.  And if you are calling at the State to stop firing at the rebels…

Spokesperson:  No, I, Nizar

Question:  This was not the case in many other places…

Spokesperson:  I don’t think you were listening quite carefully.  I said…

Correspondent:  I listened very carefully.

Spokesperson:  I said from whichever quarter, from wherever, the shooting has to stop, the killing has to stop.

Question:  But usually the security people are there to maintain security, and if they are shot at, do you expect them not to fire back?

Spokesperson:  Well, we could go round and round in circles on this I think, Nizar, as we often do.  And I think that the point here is that we have repeatedly said — and not just the Secretary-General, but most recently the League of Arab States — that the bloodshed needs to stop, the killing needs to stop.  And President Assad and his Government need to make good on the promises they have repeatedly stated publicly.  They need to introduce the reforms that would meet the expectations of the people.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about a meeting and then about public financial disclosure.  Amr Moussa, it is reported, is coming to New York.  He is obviously a candidate for the presidency in Egypt.  Says that he is meeting with Ban Ki-moon.  I wanted to know, is that true, and also whether there is any thought about… would he… would Ban Ki-moon meet with other candidates in Egypt?  Is there… in what capacity would he be meeting with Amr Moussa?

Spokesperson:  I have to check.

[The Spokesperson later said that Amr Moussa would meet the Secretary-General in his capacity as the former Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.]

Question:  Okay.  On public financial disclosure, what I wanted to ask you, I think earlier this year the Secretary-General said that 99 per cent of his officials had filed public financial disclosures in the system that he himself has filed in.  And a more recent review shows that that’s not the case…

Spokesperson:  A report by Fox News.

Question:  I know, I knew you were going to say that, absolutely sure.  But it is actually the UN’s own website, and you can look at and among the officials…

Spokesperson:  I do, Matthew.

Correspondent:  I am sure you do.

Spokesperson:  I do.

Question:  Okay, I mean, I am talking about the UN’s website.  Why hasn’t… why is Mr. [Robert] Orr’s name not listed?  Just as one example.  Why is Helen Clark’s name not listed and why… and what does Ban Ki-moon say about the 20 officials who said they will disclose by not disclosing?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think there are a couple of points, and I believe that we will return to this in a little bit more detail a little later; not right now.  But the key point is that you have to ask the question:  financial disclosure to whom?  The system of financial disclosure is intended to ensure that senior officials disclose their financial assets and so on to their employer — to the United Nations — to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.  That is a normal procedure in any organization, indeed in any private company, too.  And there is a distinction between that disclosure to the employer and to the general public.  I expect that I will have more to say on this a little later, but I don’t have anything further at this point.

Question:  But I guess I just wanted to… because I was… I mean, particularly the…

Spokesperson:  I don’t think you listened to what I said at the end there, I don’t have anything further at this point.

Question:  I know, but this story came out as you said you’ve seen some time ago.  But Mr. Orr, he was at the stakeout today, obviously I didn’t ask him about this, but it’s a pretty simple question, when you look at the list of… he didn’t even file and say, “I am choosing not to disclose”.  He is just not listed.  So is there something, is this website not what it purports to be, i.e. a list of senior UN officials…?

Spokesperson:  As I said, Matthew, I would anticipate having something further to say on this, but not right at the moment.

Question:  Later today, you think?

Spokesperson:  I said a little later, I don’t know exactly when.  Okay.  Yes, one last question, yeah?

Question:  On Syria, coordination between United Nations and Arab League?

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  Is there any coordination between the United Nations and Arab League around Syria?

Spokesperson:  Is there any?

Correspondent:  Coordination.

Spokesperson:  Coordination?

Question:  Coordination, okay?

Spokesperson:  It’s all right, I just didn’t hear.

Correspondent:  I am sorry.

Spokesperson:  That’s okay, there is no problem.  Obviously the Secretary-General speaks and coordinates closely with a range of actors in the region.  That’s obvious.  The plan that you are referring to is the plan of the League of Arab States.  What we have said is that it is important that there should be a regional approach to this.  And in that regard, therefore, it is important that the League of Arab States has engaged itself in the way that it has.  Now what is even more important, what is crucial, is that the plan that was agreed should be implemented.  And so far we haven't seen that.

Okay, have a good afternoon, everybody.  Thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record