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

18 October 2011

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

18 October 2011
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, and welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

Today in Geneva the Secretary-General spoke to the Executive Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and outlined his priorities for his second term in office.

He welcomed the UNECE’s practice of involving hundreds of national experts and practitioners from Governments, academia and the business community in its deliberations.  The Secretary-General said many people are disillusioned with the established order; there is distrust in institutions and a general sense that the playing field is tilted in favour of entrenched interests and elites.

He went on to say he is particularly concerned over the uncertain prospect for job creation, especially for young people.  Governments and business must work together to create a better environment and incentives for increasing employment opportunities.  The Secretary-General’s full remarks are available online and he is on his way back to New York today.

** Middle East

And before leaving Switzerland, the Secretary-General was asked by a reporter about the release of Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit and a number of Palestinian prisoners today.  He said he was very encouraged by the prisoner exchange following many years of negotiations.

The Secretary-General noted that the United Nations had been calling for the release of Gilad Shalit and of all Palestinian prisoners.  He expressed his sincere hope that today’s release would have a far-reaching and positive impact on the stalled Middle East peace process.

The Secretary-General reiterated his hope that, based on the Quartet statement that was issued on 23 September, the two parties will return to negotiations so that they will be able to realize the vision of two States, Israeli and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  And we expect a formal statement from the Secretary-General on this topic a little bit later today.

** Yemen

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned in the strongest terms the reported killing of a number of largely peaceful protestors in Sana’a and Taiz as a result of the indiscriminate use of force by Yemeni security forces since last Saturday.  Hundreds of people were also reportedly injured.

The Human Rights Office expressed its concern that security forces in Yemen continue to use excessive force in a climate of complete impunity for crimes, resulting in heavy loss of life and injury, despite repeated pledges by the Government to the contrary.  The Office reiterated its call for an international, independent, transparent investigation, for accountability and for justice.  It also called on the Government’s armed opponents to remove weapons from public spaces used by peaceful protestors, and to stop launching armed attacks from densely populated areas.

** Cambodia

The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) announced today that the opening statements in the trial of four defendants charged with crimes against humanity and genocide will begin on 21 November.  The hearing of evidence in the case, known as Case 002, will begin on 28 November.  There is more information on the website of the Extraordinary Chambers.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that there has been a 17 per cent increase in asylum applications in industrialized countries in the first half of this year.  With application rates usually peaking in the second half of the year, the agency forecasts that there may be 420,000 asylum applications lodged by the end of 2011 — the highest total in eight years.  In a new report, the agency says that this year has seen major forced displacement crises in West, North and East Africa, but that the impact of these events on application rates in industrialized countries has been limited.  There is more information on the agency’s website.

**United Nations Environment Programme

A summit on market stability and financial sustainability held by the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Finance Initiative will kick off tomorrow in Washington, D.C.  Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former Irish President Mary Robinson will be among the more than 100 speakers taking part in the two-day event.  There is more information available online.

**Press Conferences

Today, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference with human rights experts on the question of torture.  Speakers will include Claudio Grossman, Chair of the Committee against Torture, and Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

And then tomorrow, right after the noon briefing, Nihal Saad, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly and Ion Botnaru, Director of the General Assembly and ECOSOC Affairs Division, will be here to speak to you.

Questions, please?  Yeah?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to know if, as reported, this letter from the new Nobel Prize winner, Ms. Karman of Yemen, has been received by the Secretary-General.  Also, I mean, if he has seen… whether or not it’s been received, if you’ve seen the content, if you have a comment on her call that there be, you know, no impunity and accountability for Mr. Salleh, which seems to run counter to the GCC initiative that many are speaking of.  What’s the Secretary-General’s view of impunity in Yemen and this letter?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you will have just heard me say — or perhaps not, the High Commissioner has spoken on this topic and certainly it’s vital that there should be no impunity.  The second point is we have not yet received the letter.  We’re aware of the media reports, but we have not yet received the letter.  Once we receive it, then we will be in a position to comment on it.

Question:  No, I mean, I definitely heard what you said, what Commission… Ms. Pillay had said.  I am asking, Ban Ki-moon, is his view the same on this?

Spokesperson:  That’s what I just said, Matthew.  Yeah, next question, yeah?  I have, first, first of all, Ali and then Benny, yeah?

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary-General consider Palestine as a State?  Beside the negotiations and the six core issues, does he consider Palestine as a State?

Spokesperson:  As you know, this is a matter for the Member States of the United Nations to determine.  And that’s precisely what is happening at the moment in the framework of the application that’s been made to the United Nations through him, to the Security Council.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Do you mean that this is not the right of the Palestinian people to… to consider whether they have a State or not?  It is the Member States?

Spokesperson:  No, it’s something that I just referred to.  It’s well known that there is a vision long held for a two-State solution where both Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security, so two-State solution.  But that’s something that needs to come about through negotiations.  And the question of membership, and implicit in what you are saying, the statehood question, that’s in the hands of the Member States.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Yes, I’ll come to you in a second, Nizar.  Benny?

Question:  The quote from the Secretary-General — and I am reading from Reuters, which is on this interview you [inaudible] — the United States has been calling for an end to an unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of all Palestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time.  Can you set… cite any incident in which the Palestinians who were held by Israel their human rights have been abused?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, I would anticipate that we will have a formal statement from the Secretary-General a little bit later today.

Question:  And just to follow up, does the Secretary-General see any equivalent between the way the Palestinians were held in Israel and the way Gilad Shalit was held in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  As the Secretary-General said, we have long called — he has long called for the release of Gilad Shalit.  The fact that he was being held in those circumstances was… was unacceptable.  And he has also repeatedly called for the release of Palestinian prisoners.  Yes?

Question:  Going back to the issue of the statehood of Palestine, the 1947 resolution passed by the General Assembly talked about the… the recognition, and in ‘48, the recognition the Israeli State is conditioned by the establishment of the Palestinian State.  In the partition you had two-State solution in 1947.  1948 the recognition was conditioned by the establishment of Palestinian State.  So why should the Secretary-General be waiting for negotiations to recognize or not recognize the Palestinian State?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you well know, Nizar, there has been any number of resolutions relating to this topic over the years.  The fact remains that membership of the United Nations is something that is determined by Member States of the United Nations, and not by the Secretary-General.

Question:  [inaudible] resolutions about this.

Spokesperson:  As I say, the question of membership rests with Member States, not with the Secretary-General.

Question:  Could you please clarify a nuance here?  We’re not talking about the membership to the United Nations, we’re talking about the statehood of the… the… Palestine.

Spokesperson:  And again, as I… I understand, and again, everybody knows that the… the position is quite clear that there is a vision for a two-State solution.  And that is what people are seeking to… to reach, and that is why the Quartet statement is important in this regard.  And it is also why it is important that as the Secretary-General said that he hopes that what happened today will have an impact on the stalled peace process to help us push in the right direction.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I have two questions about, I guess, the UN Charter and article 51 and things that are happening.  One is, Kenya, yesterday, you’d said you had no comment, but Kenya has now stated that it has sent troops into Somalia, across the border, they may go as far as Kismayo.  And I just wonder, what is the Sec… what is Mr. Mahiga or the Secretary-General… is… is this in compliance with the… with the Charter?  Is there any UN mandate to cross the border and do they have any comment on one country sending its troops into another?

Spokesperson:  I said yesterday that I don’t have anything on that.  That remains the case today.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask about the… the… the Obama Administration has announced, you know, to its credit, that it’s sending troops to help track down Joseph Kony and the LRA.  But I wanted to know whether there is any coordination in this with MONUSCO or whether this also complies with international law.

Spokesperson:  Well, I am glad to hear you approve of what the Obama Administration is doing, Matthew.  I don’t have any comment on that at the moment.  If I do, we’re certainly aware of the reports, and…

Question:  Was MONUSCO informed?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I am aware of the reports and we’re aware of the reports.  If I have any further details, then I’ll, I’ll let you know.

Question:  Another question on MONUSCO.  Yesterday…

Spokesperson:  Well, hang on a minute, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Let’s just see if there are other people who have questions, okay?  Right, okay, if that’s not the case, please?

Question:  Sure.  There was a briefing yesterday by… by Roger Meece, after which the President of the Council said that Mr. Meece did not bring up these deaths and increased rebel activity in eastern Congo.  She said that she did as Nigerian [inaudible].  And I am wondering, is… what is MONUSCO doing about the… the renewed violence in the Kivus?

Spokesperson:  Let’s check.  But, as you know, this was a briefing in consultations.  So, I am not privy to what was said in the chamber.

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  And I have one more.  I have one more I want to ask you.

Spokesperson:  Is that right?  Okay.

Question:  Yeah, yeah.  A memo… a memo has emerged written by Angela Kane to all heads of departments talking about, although the General Assembly hasn’t yet authorized these post eliminations, saying that preparation should be made for the post eliminations, saying that even people with what’s called a permanent contract can be terminated and in urging the heads of department to write to them as 30 September to say they can lose their job at the end of the month, permanent or not.  So what I wanted to know is, is that… one, what does a permanent contract mean if it can be terminated in this way?  And two, how many people were given notices by 30 September that they will be terminated?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you would understand that we would not comment on a memo that may or may not exist.  And I have…

Correspondent:  I can give you the memo.

Spokesperson:  Well, if you have a memo, then it’s a leaked memo and we don’t comment on leaked memos, okay?  And if I do have something, then I would…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Matthew, if you’d like an answer, I can give it you.  But if you’d like just…

Question: [inaudible] editorialize about the LRA comment, I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t say, you know, isn’t it good to fight the LRA.  That was the only purpose of saying that.

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I am not quite sure why you’re back-tracking two or three questions, I am just trying to answer the question…

Question:  [inaudible] briefings…

Spokesperson:  I’m just trying to answer your most recent question and, as I said, we don’t… we don’t comment on leaked memos, if it is a leaked memo.  And if we do have something, then, of course, I’d let you know.  I do know that in response the question that you asked about the [Spokesperson is handed a note] — thank you, Farhan — about the publishing, the printing, you had a very long and detailed reply from Mr. Baumann, okay.  So, if I have anything on this particular aspect, then I would let… let you know.  And what I…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  What I do have Math… what I do have, which may be of interest to other people, Matthew, and that would be… that would conclude the briefing.

**Statement on Israeli-Palestinian Prisoner Exchange

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the release of Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

The Secretary-General welcomed the recent prisoner exchange agreement and views today's releases as a significant humanitarian breakthrough.  He has long called for the end of the unacceptable captivity of Gilad Shalit and has also called for the release of Palestinian prisoners.  For several years, the United Nations has actively supported channels of dialogue to resolve this issue.  

The Secretary-General thanks Egypt for its contribution to this outcome and Germany for its efforts.  In the aftermath, the Secretary-General hopes that more far-reaching steps will be taken to end the closure of Gaza and enable reconstruction.  He continues to call in the same context for an end to the smuggling of weapons and a sustained calm between Israel and Gaza.

Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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