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

19 August 2011

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

19 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.

**Statement on Pakistan

The following statement is attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on today’s suicide bombing in Pakistan:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms today’s suicide attack at a mosque during Friday prayers in the Khyber tribal region in north-west Pakistan, where more than 40 people were reportedly killed and over 100 injured.  The Secretary-General is appalled at this deliberate attack at a place of worship during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the reported use of a teenager to perpetrate the attack.  The United Nations continues to stand by Pakistan in its efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism.  The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the Government of Pakistan.

**World Humanitarian Day

The Secretary-General spoke at today’s observance of World Humanitarian Day, saying that the day was a celebration of men and women around the world who have decided to dedicate their lives to helping others.  He said that their decision shows us a glimpse of a better world — where people help people, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they believe.

The Secretary-General added that, on this day, we pay tribute to the aid workers who have given their lives to help others, in places ranging from Afghanistan and Haiti to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He emphasized the need to do more to help people in need throughout the Horn of Africa.  He warned that we are still not reaching all the people who need our help, and the crisis has still not peaked.  Despite generous pledges, the Secretary-General said that we still need over a billion dollars for our life-saving aid operations.

Before observing World Humanitarian Day, the Secretary-General laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq, eight years ago.

**Horn of Africa

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has been focusing this week on delivering aid to settlements for internally displaced people in Mogadishu and in the Gedo and Middle Juba regions of Somalia.

It says that, despite the withdrawal of Al-Shabaab from many parts of Mogadishu, the security situation means that the agency still faces restrictions on its movements.

In Ethiopia, UNHCR has scaled up its efforts to address the high mortality rates among new arrivals from Somalia.  It is expanding existing nutritional programmes to older children and is rushing to open a centre for severely malnourished children in Kobe camp, which has been experiencing the highest mortality rates.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched this week a supplementary feeding programme for all children under the age of 5 in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

The World Food Programme will also start distributing food tomorrow in six drought-hit Kenyan districts to boost nutrition in all children below 3 years of age, as well as in pregnant women and nursing mothers.

**Security Council

The Security Council received an update in consultations this morning on Libya from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Abdel-Elah al-Khatib.  He spoke to the Council members by videoconference to discuss his recent talks with Libyan officials in Tunisia.

The Security Council then heard from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who presented her Office’s report on alleged human rights violations in South Kordofan, Sudan.  She also briefed the Council members on Libya.

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

The local Syrian staff of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) have established a temporary office in Latakia, outside the refugee camp where fighting had taken place earlier this week.

The Relief and Works Agency says that it has located about 6,000 of the 7,500 refugees who had been displaced by the fighting.  The Agency has been able to assist the refugees with cash grants for food, medicine and accommodation.  The staff report that many people, particularly the children and women, are traumatized and in poor condition.

Also, on Syria, I want to make the following clarification:  some media accounts suggest that a human rights team would have access to go to Syria over the coming days.  That is not the case.  The team that will be going from the UN to Syria will be a humanitarian assessment team, not a team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we will have available on our counter the week ahead at the United Nations.  There aren’t actually a lot of major events for next week.  But Tuesday will be the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

On Thursday, the Security Council will receive a briefing and hold consultations on the Middle East.

And on Friday, the Security Council will hold an open debate on UN peacekeeping operations.

That’s it from me.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, the Secretary-General issued a statement on the attacks on, apparently from the Gaza side into Israel, which… I mean, some have said that Israel attack inside Gaza.  Since then, Israel has killed a lot more Palestinians.  Has the Secretary-General got to say anything about that, what is happening?  Is the response, the Israeli response, inordinate or is it absolutely in conformity with what the United Nations feels it is?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re certainly concerned about all the violence in the area, and as you know, in a statement yesterday, the Secretary-General warned against any escalation.  And he also called on all to show restraint.  Beyond that, the partners of the Quartet, which as you know includes the United Nations, as well as the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation, are examining the possibility of issuing their own statement about the recent violence, and we will see what they have to say.

Question:  Another thing that I wanted to find out was that this report, the flotilla report that has been delayed on Israeli request till, I think it was delayed to 20 August — now, will it be released next week or it will be delayed further?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I can’t give you a concrete date just yet for when that will be handled.  We have expected it to be in late August.  So, and as you know, next week is the last full week of August, so it’s possible that it could happen then.  But we will let you know more details once we have something more precise about when it would be handed over.  Yes?

Question:  Can I follow up on that question?  Can you… just now in front of the Security Council, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Observer, said that the Council is scheduling a meeting for 3 p.m. to discuss just this issue of… or I guess, and… and that the Secretariat will brief.  Can you confirm that?  And who would brief and on what topics?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm that just yet.  We need to get the confirmation from the Council President, which has not happened so far.  Once we get any confirmation about afternoon events we will squawk it.

[The afternoon consultations on the Middle East were later confirmed.]

Question:  And can I ask you about this, I wanted to… I asked you before, the readout of the Secretary-General’s last call with President [Bashar al-]Assad, where it had that line where President Assad said that all police and military operations had ceased.  Yesterday the UK Deputy Permanent Representative said that in the consultations Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe, on behalf of Ban Ki-moon, he changed the quote a little bit and said that Assad had implied that it had stopped.  One, I wanted to know, it becomes kind of important, what exactly did Assad say?  And two, does the Secretariat now… do they take… think the statement is false, given televised accounts of continued killings in Syria?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re certainly aware of the reports of killings, and we want to be able to look into it.  What we have said consistently is that any such claims that operations have stopped would need to be verified.  And as you know, in the readout itself, the Secretary-General continued to call for all military and police operations to cease, which is where he stands on that.  The Secretary-General was informed over the course of the call that the military operations and police operations had ceased.  But of course, what we want is the ability to be able to verify this; otherwise, we can’t be sure that there is truth to that claim.

Question:  But there seemed to be… I just… I just want to… is there some way to know that… that… that… what Mr. Pascoe presented to the Council about the call was the same thing that was put in the readout, because it was pretty strongly implied yesterday that it was not… that there was a different presentation of that call.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, Mr. Pascoe’s office in fact participated in crafting the readout.  The readout comes, like I said, was prepared by us and it reflects the Secretary-General’s views about the call.  Yes?

Question:  There’s something on Pakistan that I want to ask you.  There is a fresh report today that there are about a million Pakistanis in the south which are displaced now, by heavy rains now, which have displaced them and last, I think, about three days ago, Ms. Valerie Amos said that there have been no requests from Pakistan for any help.  Since then, is there an update since then?  Has there been a request?  And why is Pakistan so reluctant to ask help from the United Nations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I am aware, we have not received a request.  And until that happens, we wouldn’t be able to act upon it.  As you know, we act upon request.  By the way, regarding Pakistan, I have just been handed the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning today’s suicide bombing in Pakistan.

[See statement at the top of the transcript.]

Yes, Tim?

Question:  Two questions.  First, can you confirm that the humanitarian mission to Syria will leave tomorrow… will start tomorrow?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course there is always, until something takes place, there is always a certain doubt about whether it is going to happen or not.  As you know, we have been trying for many months to get this team in.  We are anticipating that they could get there as early as tomorrow, but as far as that happens, once we get confirmation, we will try to inform the press.

Question:  And you have said that Mr. al-Khatib briefed the Council today on his talks with Libyan officials in Tunis this week, but there was a statement earlier in which he denied he’d met…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, he did not have any meeting with both the Libyan, the authorities from Tripoli and members of the National Transitional Council.  That’s what he told us and that remains the case.  We did say that he was meeting with Libyan personalities whilst he was in Tunisia, and that is the case.  And he is trying to brief about that and his other meetings.

Question:  You can’t tell us who he met?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We will try and see whether we can finally get some details about the individuals he met with.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about this South Kordofan report, I don’t… the… beyond a… a smaller change that I had asked you about; on close… closer review of the draft and the final, two full paragraphs about national security agents dressed in Red Crescent clothing driving IDPs [internally displaced persons] out of the protected perimeter were removed from the final draft.  And what I want to know, maybe you know why they were removed or I am certain that Ms. Pillay does, and I wonder, will there be an opportunity while she is in New York to explain the… the, not minor changes, but the omission of a whole major allegation that the Sudanese forces used, and this is Humanitarian Day, it seems like a pretty serious allegation, did they find that to be false, in which case maybe the UN will state that or was it removed for some other reason?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as you know, Ms. Pillay is briefing the Council on the report right now, and you can always check whether she will come to speak to reporters at the stakeout afterwards.  Beyond that, the point that we’ve made about this, and I will make it again, is that the report had been shortened, and carefully reviewed by legal and other experts.  Most importantly, the report was brought in line with the standards of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for public reporting, including the use of appropriate human rights language.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights went to great lengths to try to cross-check the substance of the report. And when allegations were based on one witness account, this was made clear.  Due to the extremely challenging security context and the lack of access, cross-checking some of the elements in the report had proved challenging, which is why we are calling for a full-fledged inquiry to elucidate the circumstances of the events and establish the facts.

Question:  I just have one follow-up, and thank… I appreciate that, but the… the… what’s, I guess troubling on, on this Red Crescent thing coming out is that the… it’s paragraph 53 of the draft and it says “human rights”, meaning the team, the… the OH, the Human Rights team, “verified this allegation through multiple interviews of IDPs within the UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] protective perimeter”.  So I have, I’ve heard that thing of that it was only one source or… but this seemed to be, if in fact this was false, it might call into question other paragraphs.  And so that’s why I think it’s, it seems like it is important to say why did this come out if it was based on multiple, you know…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t… I wouldn’t be able to comment on every editorial change.  Remember, the previous draft was an internal draft; it was going through the process of review and editing.  So I am not going to comment on each and every editing change.  Like I said, you can ask that directly to Ms. Pillay if you get the chance.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

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