6 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, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a Security Council open debate on cooperation between United Nations and regional and subregional organizations.  He said that it was a welcome opportunity to explore the nature of the challenges faced when working together and consider how to improve cooperation.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General also said that the UN and regional and subregional organizations needed to learn from the lessons of their collaborations to build ever more innovative and flexible partnership arrangements that draw on their respective strengths.  He said that regional and subregional organizations have deep knowledge, unique insights and strong local networks.  He said that the United Nations adds to this equation its universal membership and legitimacy, long experience and operational capacity in the area of international peace and security.  The full remarks are available online.

And as you will have seen, the President of the Security Council issued a statement.  In that, the Council expressed its intention to consider further steps to promote closer cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations.

** Sudan

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Ali Al-Za’tari, and the Representative of the UN refugee agency in the country, Kai Nielsen, said today in a joint statement that humanitarian efforts for displaced people in Darfur have had to be reduced because the Government has not renewed the work permits for many of the refugee agency’s international staff.

Of the 37 refugee agency international staff based in Darfur, only 17 have valid permits to continue their work.  Permits in the other 20 cases have not been renewed, despite follow-up by the agency with the relevant Government authorities.  The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains critical, especially for displaced communities.  The Humanitarian Coordinator and the refugee agency say that the lack of work permits will directly affect projects related to health, education, basic services, livelihood support and the provision of emergency shelter.  They called on the Government to renew permits for all refugee agency staff so that they could resume their work in Darfur.

And also on Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, says that it is working with the national flood task force and the Sudanese Red Crescent Society to coordinate the humanitarian response after heavy rains and flash floods in the country.  Some assistance is already being provided to affected communities.  The Government of Sudan has reported that, in the last few days, 98,500 people have been affected by the heavy rains.  Khartoum and River Nile State have been the worst-affected.

** Bahrain

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has expressed concern about the recommendations made recently to toughen punishments under a 2006 law in Bahrain dealing with terrorism.  That law was amended by royal decree on 31 July, in accordance with the recommendations.  While recognizing the responsibility of States to maintain law and order, the Human Rights Office said that any measure should respect international human rights standards.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that local authorities in Pakistan continue rescue and relief efforts in areas affected by flash flooding following recent monsoon rains.  The authorities informed our humanitarian office that the monsoon rains have killed an estimated 80 people, injured 36 others and displaced more than 81,000 people so far.

The World Health Organization (WHO) will provide emergency health and diarrhoeal disease kits, water purification tablets and malaria medicine for 5,000 people.  Other humanitarian agencies have offered their support and stand ready to assist.

Meanwhile, UN agencies and partners are working with local authorities to reach people with life-saving aid in neighbouring Afghanistan.  The World Food Programme (WFP) will provide food distribution and two months of food rations.  UNICEF is working with the International Organization for Migration to provide water and sanitation support.

** Yemen

In Yemen, the UN refugee agency has so far recorded the arrival of more than 46,000 refugees and migrants during the first six months of this year.  The agency remains concerned about the increasingly high numbers of people making the dangerous trip by boat from the Horn of Africa.  The number of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants in Yemen has been rising for the past six years.  Previously, Somali refugees made up between one third and one quarter of the total arrivals.  But during the first six months of this year, more than 80 per cent came from Ethiopia.

**Journalist’s Killing Condemned

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has condemned the killing of Mario Sy, who is the third journalist killed in the Philippines in two days.  Irina Bokova described the killing as very alarming and urged the authorities to bring the culprits to justice.  Mario Sy, a freelance contributor to Sapol News Bulletin newspaper, was shot by an unidentified man who entered his house in the province of South Cotabato.  More details on this are available on UNESCO’s website.

And that’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, on Sudan, is this work permit issue something that’s fairly sudden or recently developed, or is this an accumulating process of denial of permits?

Spokesperson:  I think I need to refer you to my colleagues at the refugee agency for more details on that, but certainly it’s a troubling development, given the evident humanitarian needs on the ground there in Darfur.

Question:  And one other follow-up on that, does the Government of Sudan have any comment, explanation or reason of objections in any way about these permits?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you will need to speak to them about that.  I’m not aware of any, but you’d probably need to contact them.  Yes, Nizar?  I beg your pardon, I should have reminded you to use the microphone.  I beg your pardon.  Well done, Nizar.

Question:  With regard to the influx of refugees from the Horn of Africa into Yemen.  Since… of course, Yemen is burdened with a lot of problems and especially economic ones.  Are there any arrangements for these people to be repatriated somewhere else, especially in the neighbouring richer countries in the Gulf, or in Europe?

Spokesperson:  Well, the first, most important, priority is to be able to help the people where they have arrived and then I’m sure that my colleagues at the refugee agency will be able to provide more information on what the next phase will be, but the most important thing clearly is to try to help those people who have arrived and often in extremely difficult circumstances.  Nobody is suggesting that Yemen is the best place to arrive, but it’s evidence of the desperation that those people arriving feel that they make that journey.  So I would refer you to the refugee agency for more details on what happens after that.

Question:  Another question regarding Syria.  There are reports that Al-Nusra is waging an all-out onslaught on towns and villages… doing ethnic cleansing.  Hundreds of people have been missing, or there are reports they are being killed and dozens…  Do you have any reports on that?  Is there any position regarding this terrorist act by Al-Nusra in Syria?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific on these very latest reports or incidents that you are referring to.  I would refer you to what Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said about alleged violations of human rights, potential war crimes involving opposition forces, as well as Government forces, and that’s probably where I would steer you at the moment.  Yes, please, Margaret?

Question:  Martin, any update on the Syria chemical weapons investigation?  Has the team arrived?  Any new info?

Spokesperson:  No, the team has not arrived at this point.  As I’ve said, they are assembling and preparing, and if I have any further update, I will gladly give it to you.  I do not have one at the moment.  Matthew, and then I will come to you.

[The Spokesperson later added the following update:  The head of the mission, Professor Åke Sellström, and his team have reassembled in The Hague, where they are now completing their preparations prior to their departure to Syria.  At the same time, UN Headquarters is working to finalize the legal and logistical modalities for the investigations on the basis of the agreement reached last month with Syria.  It is anticipated that these preparations will be completed within the next days, following which the date of the mission in Syria will be announced.]

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask some follow-ups on Sudan and also about Somalia and the HIV post, in just whatever order you want.  On Sudan, I wanted to ask you, there is a report of some fighting in Heglig, which had been a site of the previous clash between Sudan and South Sudan, and I wonder whether any of the various UN missions near there are aware of or can get some description of that.  Also, there was… Saudi Arabia has confirmed that it blocked the flight of [Omer] al-Bashir on its way to the Iranian President’s inauguration, and I wanted to know, previously there had been some comments from the Secretary-General about the inviolability of presidential flights or the ability to fly.  Does it apply in this case?  And on the visas for Darfur, I wondered whether Hervé Ladsous, when he met with President Bashir, said that one of the topics was letting in international staff.  Did the issue of non-DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], or i.e., UNHCR staff, come up?  And what else was discussed at that meeting given… given a lot of interest in… in UN officials meeting on a strictly necessary basis with ICC [International Criminal Court] indicted individuals?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, starting with the last part and working backwards.  On the meeting that Under-Secretary-General Ladsous had with President Bashir, I will check with my colleagues on whether there is anything further we could say on that.  It’s obvious that there is not just a peacekeeping operation there, but a large humanitarian operation, and I think that the UN system as a whole would be wanting to see movements on visas and permits.  With regard to the aircraft you referred to, I will need to check, I don’t have anything for you on that.  And we’re obviously aware of the latest incidents along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, but I don’t have anything for you at the moment on that.  Yes?

Question:  I was wondering if you could comment on the closing of US embassies around the world in the last couple of days?

Spokesperson:  No.  Next question?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There are reports — I don’t know if you heard — in the last two days in the channel of Sicily between Libya, Malta and Sicily, there have been immigrants that try to arrive to Malta, but actually they were rescued by some boats and… but the Government of Malta, they… they didn’t allow them to arrive.  They actually asked to bring them back where there are rescued [inaudible], so these… those immigrants are taken to the little island of Lampedusa.  Are… it’s very small already, has hundreds… hundreds of immigrants.  Are you aware of this situation, and isn’t it international law that you have to accept people that are rescued on the sea?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are certainly conventions that apply on the high seas with regard to maritime safety and helping individuals in danger at sea, but I would refer you to the UN refugee agency for more details on that.  Okay?  Yes?

Question:  In Somalia, there’s been a pretty high-profile announcement by Puntland that they are… they are severing all relations with the central or federal Government.  They say that they violated the power sharing in the Constitution.  So since there’s UNSOM [United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia] there, I’m wondering, do they have any response, or are they going to try to put things back on track?   And there’s been two incidents with journalists, one being a journalist, Mascud Abdulahi Adan, was blocked in the Mogadishu airport from going to get surgery on a bullet in him, in Kenya, and given the debate and what the Secretary-General said, I’m wondering if the Mission or the Secretary-General was aware of that.  And also, a journalist was attempted to be assassinated in Kismayo, Abdikhadar Iman Dhaqane, and I’m just… it seems like a lot of things are taking place there, and I’m wondering what the Mission and Mr. Nicholas Kay have to say about them.

Spokesperson:  I’ll check.

Question:  Yesterday, you said on the… on… on Wandira Kazibwe and the HIV/AIDS Special Envoy post, that you understood that the probe… the probe was finished.  And… and again I don’t know if it’s finished or not, but a group there called Parliament Watch Uganda said she is still subject to being recalled by the parliamentary inquiry, so I wanted to know if you could, and I don’t know if you have it here or if there is some way just to know, what does it mean for the Secretariat to say that the probe is over?  Does the fact that she… she is on record there, apparently, that she can be recalled to be questioned about this… this financial irregularity, how do they square?

Spokesperson:  It means what I said, Matthew, and if I have anything further, I will let you know.  It means what it says.

Question:  She was questioned the day before the post was given.  I’m not saying…  I don’t know how…  I just want to understand how it could be reported on the 1 August newspaper in Kampala that she was questioned the day previous and that was the day she got the post.  Was there something that you… that the UN knows about that inquiry that’s not in the newspaper article, or Parliament Watch doesn’t know?

Spokesperson:  As I said to you yesterday, you asked about due diligence, and it was done and our understanding is that the probes were finished, and that’s all I have to say on that at the moment.

Question:  Just the last… who does that probe?  Did you check with the Ethics Office?  That’s my question.

Spokesperson:  Senior appointments by the Secretary-General are dealt with by his Executive Office.  Any other questions, please?

Okay, thanks.  Have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record