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

23 September 2011

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

23 September 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 everyone.  Welcome to the briefing, which we will keep brief today as, obviously, eyes are elsewhere right now.


Just to confirm, as many of you already know, that President [Mahmoud] Abbas just handed the Palestinian application to the Secretary-General.  That was just a few minutes ago.

**Secretary-General’s Speeches

And the Secretary-General has participated in quite a number of gatherings already today, including the annual meeting of Foreign Ministers of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  He told that Group that, in this volatile and changing world, we cannot disappoint the many millions who look to the United Nations with hope.  Amid all the uncertainties, we are sure of one imperative; that is to promote sustainable development.

He then spoke at the meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Conference, saying that we know that a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests is an indispensable stepping stone to a nuclear-weapon-free world.  He urged all remaining States to sign and ratify the Treaty without further delay.

And this morning, he told a breakfast meeting of many of the visiting Foreign Ministers that, in the six short years since its endorsement by the World Summit, the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” has gone from crawling to walking to running.

And he has meetings on the Alliance of Civilizations, Somalia and the Yasuni-ITT initiative in Ecuador this afternoon.  And we’ll put out those speeches as the day progresses.

** Syria

The United Nations human rights office is extremely alarmed at continued reports of the increasingly brutal crackdown against protestors by Syrian authorities.  It cites reports of prominent human rights defenders — both inside and outside Syria — being targeted.

The office is also concerned by reports of attacks against families and sympathizers of the protestors by security forces.  It again urges Syrian authorities to end their crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, to end acts of reprisals against activists and their families, and to allow for an independent and impartial investigation of the situation in Syria.

** Sudan

The World Food Programme (WFP) is appealing to the Sudanese Government to allow the organization access to Blue Nile State and Southern Kordofan in order to distribute food aid and control food distribution amid great concern about the situation there.  The World Food Programme has managed to deliver some food assistance, but thousands of people were yet to be reached, and food stocks need replenishment.

**Press Conferences

A couple of press conferences.  At 2 p.m., here in this Auditorium today, there will be a press conference by the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). 

And then at 2:30 p.m., a press conference by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Libya, Mahmoud Gebril.

And at 4 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Prime Minister of Nepal.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you tell us what this… what the letter is saying, the one from Mahmoud Abbas to Mr. Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  No, we can’t talk about the content of the letter.  This was an application that was just handed by President Abbas to the Secretary-General just a few minutes ago, but we can’t say what the content of that letter is.  But what I can tell you is that on receipt of the letter, the appropriate procedural reviews will be quickly undertaken in the Secretariat, after which it will be transmitted to the President of the Security Council and to the President of the General Assembly.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  So would you be releasing the contents of the letter later on now that you have received it?

Spokesperson:  That’s really something for the Palestinians to do, if that is what they wish, or for the Security Council once the application reaches there, but not for us.

Question:  But the letter was given to the Secretary-General; now it is his prerogative whether to release the contents now or not?

Spokesperson:  Masood, this is the answer; I have answered the question already, okay?  Further questions?  Yes?

Question:  Durban.  There seems to be a reaffirmation, by resolution or proclamation, that the Durban conference of the World Conference against Racism resolution was… will… it’ll continue forward.  But there is always been a grey area in the context of the transatlantic slave trade being a crime against humanity and the descendents of the slave trade being owed reparations.  And Mary Robinson, when she came back from Durban in 2001, was trying to see if she can move the UN further.  There still hasn’t been a discussion here on the legality.  Is the UN… does the UN have a legal responsibility to move that issue forward?  That, exactly, that the transatlantic is a crime against humanity and that the descendants from that slave trade are owed reparations?  And so that resolution hasn’t answered that question and it’s going to take time.  Martin, I don’t expect you to give me an answer now, but is there some point that we can begin to maybe have someone clarify what’s the UN’s role in that relationship, in terms of reparations?

Spokesperson:  Well, it really is a matter for Member States.  It’s the Member States that convened this meeting that took place yesterday.  And indeed, obviously, it was the Member States that convened that meeting in 2001.  So I think that that matter rests firmly with them.

Question:  But the [former] slave-holding countries are the ones that didn’t want the conference to begin with — US, the Dutch, the UK, the French.  That has been the issue and, I don’t know, when do they come to the table, because they did not want to have… they didn’t even want to have Durban III? 

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s clearly a matter for all 193 countries in the United Nations, and it’s an intergovernmental undertaking.  And I think that that’s where this will continue to be discussed, I am sure.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Can you give us some colour from the meeting with Abbas?  Can you tell me what they said to one another?  Was their discussion of timing, of when exactly the SG will deliver the request?  Has he done it?  Will he do it today?

Spokesperson:  Well, the actual handover took place on camera, and I think that you will, if you have not seen those pictures yet, you will see them shortly, I mean, TV pictures as well as still photographs.  So that is what took place.  Subsequently, there was a brief, very brief, meeting with President Abbas’ delegation, and I think the key point is the Secretary-General reaffirmed that he would be carrying out his role, as set out in the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council, and transmit the application to the Security Council President.  And he also made clear that the application, a copy of it, would also be transmitted to the President of the General Assembly.

Question:  Is it today or next week?

Spokesperson:  As what I had said earlier was that the appropriate procedural reviews will be quickly undertaken in the Secretariat.  And I would urge you to keep following UN_spokesperson on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted as things develop.  Yes, Matthew?

[The Spokesperson later announced that the Secretary-General had transmitted the Palestinian application to the President of the Security Council.]

Question:  Sure, I… I… I wanted to ask you this, the President of Yemen is back in… in… has returned to Yemen, and I wanted to know, given the UN’s role there, do they think that’s a positive thing?  Are they saying that he should…? What’s the response to the return of Mr. [Ali Abdullah] Saleh to Yemen?

Spokesperson:  Well, at the moment we’re obviously aware of this development and as soon as we have a clear picture of the ramifications of this, then we will have something further to say. I don’t have anything beyond that.  Obviously the Secretary-General has been closely following this and he is aware of this latest development, not least because his Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is there on the ground.  So as soon as we have some more on that, I would inform you, of course.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later issued the following:

The Secretary-General has taken note of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's return to Yemen earlier today.  He also notes that the President has stressed that peaceful negotiations are the only way for Yemen to move forward.

The Secretary-General remains greatly concerned about the volatility of the situation.  Special Adviser Jamal Benomar is continuing his efforts in Yemen.  The Secretary-General urges all sides to engage with the Special Adviser in a constructive manner aimed at achieving a peaceful resolution of the current crisis.]

Question:  Martin, have you heard anything about possible Quartet meeting, Quartet principals’ meeting this afternoon?

Spokesperson:  I think, let’s wait a little.  As you well know, the Quartet envoys have been meeting throughout this week, and as soon as we are in a position to see whether it is going to be elevated to a meeting with principals, we will let you know, okay?

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General would participate in a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, to be held in his conference room at 2:30 p.m.]

Yes, Matthew, I know you had a couple of other questions that you e-mailed to us, the first one on President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa.  You asked whether a meeting was… you couldn’t find it on the appointments for the Secretary-General today and could we confirm that a meeting was not taking place.  Well, the appointments speak for themselves; there is no meeting with President Rajapaksa today.  But tomorrow is another day.  And the other one, I think, your other question — this is quite good, really; I ask your questions and then I answer them myself — but that’s because I know you have some more as well.  But the other one, I think, has answered itself anyway, okay?  And that’s why we didn’t answer immediately, because it was going to become apparent very shortly, namely that the Secretary-General received the application from President Abbas in his office.  The Secretary-General is, as I also mentioned in the briefing material that I just read out, he’s got a whole series of bilateral meetings and other events.  He is not sitting in the General Assembly listening to the speeches.

Question:  I want just to ask you, this may seem… there is… in the last 24 hours, there is reports of… of the Sudanese army attacking an IDP [internally displaced persons] camp in North Darfur in Sora Umra, and I wanted to know, one, is it… is UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur]… does… did… did that happen, did it not happen?  I heard, actually, that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari may be in New York; is he here, and if so, what’s his response to the… to… to…?  He is… he’s quoted as saying everything has been getting better there.  Is that the case, and if he is in New York could he make some media availability?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re obviously aware of the media reports, as is UNAMID, and UNAMID is working to verify them, verify those reports.  We would obviously call on all parties to refrain from violence and work to ensure that there is calm in the area.  Yes, Mr. Gambari is in town and I’ll relay your request to him.

Question:  Did you have any readout on the… not readout, response by the Secretary-General or comment on the speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that… that led… led, you know, the US, many of the EU to walk out?  Did the Secretary-General have any response to it?  Is he aware of the speech?  What does he think of it?

Spokesperson:  He is certainly aware of the speech.  He is on record in the past as condemning similar remarks.  But I think that you can be certain that when the Secretary-General meets President Ahmadinejad this evening, he will make his views very clear.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Martin.  A fortnight ago, the Secretary-General talked about a security assessment report in the aftermath to the bomb incident in Nigeria.  And is there anything new you can share with us?  I observed yesterday that there was not much mention of that in the readout that was issued after his meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan.

Spokesperson:  I think we’re still waiting, Peter.  So let’s check again.  But to my knowledge we don’t have that report yet.

Question:  Do you have a timeline or a deadline?  It’s almost one month after that incident. 

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  But as you well know, our colleagues who, along with the Nigerian authorities, will be looking at this very thoroughly.  And when their report is ready, of course, we’ll let you know.  Any other questions?

Question:  Just one more.  I wanted to ask you, actually it’s kind of a follow-up to… to the question about the Quartet.  Or… or… or… or it’s a stand-alone question.  Robert Serry, the Special Coordinator on the Middle East, what… what’s… I mean, is his… does his work relate in any way to the Quartet?  Does he work… who, sort of… is he a direct, sort of Secretariat employee, and what’s been his role in… in… in regard to the Palestinian…?

Spokesperson:  He is the Quartet envoy.

Question:  Serry or [Tony] Blair are we talking about?

Spokesperson:  Robert Serry is the UN Quartet envoy.  He is the person who represents the United Nations in Quartet meetings at the envoy level.  Okay?

All right, okay.  All right, thanks very much.  Thank you.

* *** *

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