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

12 July 2011

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

12 July 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.

Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

The Secretary-General just spoke to reporters outside the Security Council, and among other things said that he had travelled to Washington yesterday to participate in a meeting of the Quartet Principals.

He said it was a detailed and very useful discussion, in which the Quartet discussed the urgent need to bring the parties into resumed negotiations in the aftermath of President [Barack] Obama’s speech of 19 May, which all members of the Quartet supported.

The Secretary-General said that he is extremely worried by the situation in the Horn of Africa, where more than 11 million people need urgent assistance to stay alive, as they face their worst drought in decades.

This morning, the Secretary-General called an emergency meeting with the heads of UN agencies.  They agreed to do everything they can to prevent this crisis from deepening.  And the Secretary-General urged Member States to fully support the $1.6 billion appeal to pay for essential life-saving programmes in the region; so far, we have only received half that amount.

**Security Council

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution in its open meeting today on children and armed conflict, which emphasizes that schools and hospitals should be zones of peace respected by all parties to conflict.

The Secretary-General, in remarks to the Council, welcomed this advance, saying that places of learning and places of healing should never be places of war.

And the Council also heard from Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

**South Kordofan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the situation in South Kordofan remains unpredictable and that heavy bombardments continue in and around Kadugli and in Delami, a town 100 kilometres north-east from Kadugli.

The Office adds that the preliminary results of an assessment undertaken in Kadugli town indicate that the most urgent humanitarian needs continue to be food, water, medical services and shelter for the displaced.  Humanitarian actors also reported that key access roads and bridges need immediate repair and that mines need to be cleared.

That’s what I have for you, and I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you just read, the Secretary-General had very few words regarding the results of the meeting of the Quartet in Washington.  I understand that it was inconclusive, that there were no conclusive results to the point where they did not even issue a communiqué.  Is the Secretary-General disappointed with the results of this meeting?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has just spoken on the topic, as you heard, and he said it was a detailed and very useful discussion.  And he also noted that the Quartet envoys are continuing their discussions today.  So I think that’s an important point to note.  He has also emphasized that there is an urgent need to bring the parties in to resume the negotiations and that’s something that all members of the Quartet have agreed on, based on President Obama’s speech, which was on 19 May, as you know, the big speech he made on that day.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I guess first about the Security Council.  There has been, among at least two Council members so far, critique of the way in which the mandate is carried out, the children and armed conflict mandate and the Secretary-General’s report.  Colombia has said it doesn’t favour the UN speaking with its rebel groups, presumably meaning FARC [The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], and that it thinks that this approach should be given more input.  And India has said that there has been mandate creep on the part of Ms. Coomaraswamy.  I’m wondering, given the Secretary-General spoke and obviously filed the reports, what’s his response?  Is he aware of them; what’s his response to these two critiques?

Spokesperson:  I think the most important thing to emphasize here is that the Security Council has been consistently focused on this topic, underscoring the importance that the international community attaches to dealing with the question of children and armed conflict.  Ms. Coomaraswamy, as the Special Representative on that topic, has the full support of the Secretary-General in carrying out the work that she does.  And she has worked extremely hard to raise the profile of this particular aspect of armed conflict that affects so many children around the world.  And I think it is indicative of the importance attached to it that you saw today a new resolution being passed that adds a new element to the reporting that will be required from Member States.

Question:  And just… thanks for that.  Just one follow-up.  Some are saying that countries, like Pakistan for example, that are involved in… there is armed conflict in their borders and the former envoy of the Secretary-General acknowledged to the press that the children are recruited for this, they are not on this annex II.  There seems to be a politicization of which countries get listed, and, therefore, trigger this reporting and which are not listed; is there… does he have any response to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that’s something that I would like you to take up with Ms. Coomaraswamy’s Office.  But I would simply emphasize that any resolutions that there are, any reporting mechanisms that there are apply equally to all.  Other questions?  Mr. Abbadi, did you have a question?

Question:  Yes.  The Secretary-General talking to the Security Council about the protection of children said it’s not only a security issue, but also a moral issue.  Does the UN recognize the importance of the role of the spiritual community in the protection of children?  And I am not talking about the religious community, which sometimes has abused children.

Spokesperson:  Many different parts of the community, whether it is religious affiliations or non-governmental organizations, have a role to play in helping to support the efforts of the community, the international community at large, in ensuring that children do not become victims twice over in armed conflict; in other words, either because they are forced to take part in the conflict or because they are targeted in the conflict.  Yes?

Question:  Are you expecting a statement on Syria soon?

Spokesperson:  The answer is yes.  Bill?

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s view of the attacks that took place on the US and French embassies in Damascus?

Spokesperson:  He considers them to be totally unacceptable.  And as I just mentioned, we would expect a statement a little later.  As I have just said, I can tell you the Secretary-General considers those attacks, those incidents involving the French and US missions in Damascus, to be totally unacceptable.  And furthermore, he believes that the Syrian authorities need to live up to their commitments under international conventions that say that countries, host countries, should protect diplomatic premises.  Anything further?  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Malaysia and something about the UN and Libya.  Is there anyone in the UN, I guess the Secretariat, that has anything to say about the mass arrests and death of at least one protester in Malaysia over the weekend?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been quite vocal on this and has said that they are very concerned by the recent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators by the Government in Malaysia, and particularly disappointed to see the apparent use of excessive force by the police against so many peaceful demonstrators in an established democracy like Malaysia.  This is the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office.  And furthermore, the Office says that, while the police have said that all the 1,600 or so detained demonstrators have been released, the Office of the High Commissioner remains concerned about retaliation against these individuals, as well as against those who were arrested in the lead-up to the demonstration, some of whom are apparently still in detention.  And these individuals should not be punished simply for exercising their fundamental human rights.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  On Libya, I wanted to… one, thanks for confirming that this guy Mr. [Dirk] Vandewelle has been hired as his political adviser on Libya.  But…

Spokesperson:  As a consultant.

Question:  As a consultant.  At the stakeout yesterday, Mr. [Abdul Ilah] al-Khatib clarified and said he is now, he is a volunteer and remains a senator in Jordan.  And I just, I don’t want to belabour it, except to say that some say there is still kind of a… the issue of serving both the UN and a Government at the same time, they’re not sure there is a precedent for that and think that OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] may have criticized it.  And also I wanted to know whether in fact he’s flown, requests or demands a UN plane to fly from Jordan to various meetings not in Libya and also has UN staff in Jordan.  What’s kind of the cost and what’s the… is the thinking, if he doesn’t personally receive a salary, there is no possible conflict of interest with being a sitting politician in a country in the region?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think Mr. Al-Khatib can speak for himself on that particular topic, and evidently did so yesterday.  That’s the first thing.  Second is that, of course, a special envoy working on a topic as high profile and complicated as this one could be expected to have people supporting him from the Department of Political Affairs, and that is certainly the case.

Question:  Is that… I mean, but his staff… there is someone that he… that worked for him in the past?  Was it a UN staff member forwarded to Amman?  Is there some… because it is… I guess I am just saying these are criticisms that actually come from people from within DPA [Department of Political Affairs], they have never seen an envoy be at the same time a politician of a country in the region.  So, I am just wondering, is this a new trend?  Is this…?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s not extrapolate from one particular case.  This is an important role that Mr. Al-Khatib has and is carrying out.  He is widely respected in the region; he knows the players in the region and evidently has access to them, too.  And that’s clearly, in the present circumstances, rather important.  He obviously also needs to travel, not just to Libya but to other countries in the region.  And another one would be, for example, the Contact Group meeting that’s going to take place in Istanbul.  That’s quite normal and understandable for someone who is working on a topic in a role where he is precisely supposed to be coordinating and liaising between different groups and seeking to mediate a solution to this crisis.

Question:  Do the planes… just one last thing, do the planes come from UNMIS {United Nations Mission in the Sudan] or from, or…?

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check what planes are used, if any.  I would need to check on that.  I don’t know the answer.

Question:  Can I follow up on Libya?

Spokesperson:  Yes, by all means, Erol.

Question:  Martin, since the Secretary-General several times mentioned and you did, through you actually, how important is the political process in Libya, does he consider that these efforts of his Special Envoy are enough and is it fair to say that actually, one would say that his approach, the UN approach is already a little different than those of African Union approach in the political settlement?

Spokesperson:  There are many people, in the international community, of goodwill who are seeking to find a way to end this crisis and to reach a political settlement and crucially to stop the fighting, in line with the Security Council resolutions that there are.  It is also important to note that different countries, different groups of countries have different kinds of access in Libya.  And it is important to explore all of those as you try to find a solution.  The crucial role and the key role of the Special Envoy is to ensure that those efforts remain coordinated and coherent.  And that’s precisely what Mr. Al-Khatib has been doing, and continues to do so, and is precisely the point that he was making yesterday.  The Secretary-General also has made clear repeatedly and most recently in Geneva just last week about the need for a unity of purpose amongst the international community and that the Special Envoy has a very important role to play in this regard.

Question:  So you are denying differences or you are saying, as you were saying actually, that you are recognizing the efforts to unify those?

Spokesperson:  There are obviously shades of difference in approach because different players have different kinds of access and different ideas.  The key is to ensure that the aim is to fulfil the resolutions that exist and that these efforts are coordinated.  And that’s what the Special Envoy’s role is, amongst other things.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this morning’s assassination of the President’s… of the brother of President Hamid Karzai?

Spokesperson:  He is aware of the incident, of course.  And I think that the Mission in Kabul will probably have some kind of statement on that.  Clearly, assassinations of this kind underscore the fragile nature of the security situation in Afghanistan.  Yes?

Question:  There is an outbreak of cholera sweeping across the Congo, according to the World Health Organization, and there are nearly 2,500 deaths.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this situation, because the World Health Organization says that they are having problems to give the aid, they don’t have enough funds?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I would need to check with my colleagues from the World Health Organization on the details of this, and then I would be able to come back to you.  Yes, Masood?  I am blinded by the spotlight.

Question:  I said I have been raising my hand, you have not been responding…

Spokesperson:  You are raising it into the glare of the spotlight, unseen by me.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you one question that I had asked this question yesterday, on the Canadian threat to cut off $800 million of contributions to the United Nations.  Do you have any update on that?  Have they sent that notice to you or are they not serious about it, because this is a statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Spokesperson:  No, no, Masood, nothing on that.  If that is communicated to the United Nations, then obviously we would take a look at that.  But I have seen nothing official on that.  And just really to reiterate that the DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] assumption of the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament is really a matter of routine, because, according to the rules of procedure, the presidency of the Conference simply rotates among all the 65 countries that are members, and it’s based on the alphabetical list of membership.  And each president then presides for a four-week period.  So there is no election, there is no appointing — it’s simply by rotation amongst the 65 countries that are taking part in this negotiating forum.

Question:  So far, they have just not sent anything to the United Nations about it; they must have just made a statement on that, as it has been reported?

Spokesperson:  If something has been sent to the United Nations, then I will hear about it in due course.  But I have not heard anything yet.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  I have something about Sudan.  On Sudan, the Northern Sudan Secretary for the Political Sector, Gudbi al Mahadi, has said that NGOs face being ejected from both Southern Kordofan and Darfur on charges of providing logistical support to insurgents.  So I am wondering, is that something that the UN system, whether in its wind-down capacity or UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] in its still-robust capacity, are they aware of that?  Do they… do they oppose that?  And also now that the resolution has been passed by the Council, what exactly is the, sort of, the orders in which the peacekeepers in, still in Kadugli and other places in Southern Kordofan, are under?  Are they allowed to go out of their base if they witness…?

Spokesperson:  Well, the short answer to that is they are not allowed to patrol.  They do not have the mandate to do so.  What the resolution says, as I think you all recall, is that it requests the Secretary-General to consult with the parties, the African Union High-level Implementation Panel and other partners and present to the Security Council options for UN support to new security arrangements in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states in line with the 28 June Framework Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North.  So what I am trying to say is that the Council has asked the Secretary-General to provide options what could be done further.  The short answer, as I said at the beginning, is no; the peacekeepers who were part of the UN Mission in Sudan cannot patrol because they do not have a mandate to do so.  Does that mean that we are concerned?  Yes, it does, because clearly humanitarian workers need to be able to go about their work to help the people in Southern Kordofan.  And they are not able to do so with the level of confidence that they could before.

Question:  And thanks for that, that’s really helpful.  What’s the… who in the UN system is actually… is there any involvement by the UN in talks if they exist between Khartoum and SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] North about North Kordofan?  Is Mr. Menke… is there some kind of… I’ve heard there is not a process in Addis anymore, but are there processes inside Sudan proper and is Mr. [Haile] Menkerios or [Thabo] Mbeki or somebody…?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Menkerios is now going to be Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to deal with the parties on the remaining details of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  That is an element of work that clearly remains to be done.  And obviously Mr. Menkerios has the expertise to do that.  I think that’s… I’d leave it at that at this point.  Okay.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, last question?

Question:  Yeah.  Martin, I read somewhere this morning regarding the admission of South Sudan to the United Nations that the Secretary-General had addressed the letter he received from the President of South Sudan to the President of the Security Council, and also to the President of the General Assembly.  Regarding the latter one, to the President of the General Assembly, is this within the practice, the Secretary-General sends a letter to the President of the Assembly before the Council acts on and before the working group of the Council on Admission Matters?

Spokesperson:  I am sure that the correct protocol will be adhered to for the admission of a new Member State.  I do know that this is something that is being expedited and I think that’s an important signal by the international community.  The Secretary-General made that point while speaking in Juba to a huge crowd.

Okay.  Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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