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

22 November 2011

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

22 November 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.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

This morning, the Secretary-General participated in the launch of a new campaign called “ Rio+20:  The Future We Want”.  He stressed the importance of sustainable development in addressing the numerous challenges the world faces.

He also addressed the Peacebuilding Fund’s high-level stakeholders meeting.  And there, he emphasized the role of the United Nations in supporting local efforts to prevent any relapse into violence and nurture democracy and peace.  You can find out more details on both events online.

**Security Council

Ameerah Haq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, told the Security Council this morning that the overall trend in that country is positive, with Timor-Leste continuing to make progress towards sustainable peace and development.  She noted the start of preparations for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which she said will be a major milestone.  She detailed the reasons for optimism for Timor-Leste, first and foremost among them the determination of the Timorese people.  We have her remarks in my office.

And earlier, the Security Council adopted a resolution renewing its authorization for States helping to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia.

**Deputy Secretary-General on Violence against Women

The Deputy Secretary-General is in Addis Ababa today, where she emphasized the need to change attitudes to curb violence against women.  She was speaking at the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development, which seeks to advance women’s social and economic development, and provide support for women and girls facing physical and psychological violence.

The Deputy Secretary-General stressed that there is never any excuse for any form of abuse against women.  She also underscored the need to speak out against harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and early marriage.  Attitudes are changing but we need to do better, she said.  Her full remarks are available online.

**Press Conferences

This afternoon at 4 p.m., Roza Otunbayeva, the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, will give a press conference here to brief you on recent developments in her country.

And then tomorrow afternoon at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference with Ambassador Dessima M. Williams of Grenada and Professor Al Binger, who is Adviser to the Small Island Developing States Group on Climate Change.  They will discuss the Group’s position ahead of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place in Durban, in South Africa, from 28 November to 9 December.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yeah?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  The officials in Bahrain have said publicly that they used excessive force in putting down protests earlier this year, and activists there are saying, you know, the next step should be some accountability for those responsible for the crackdown.  What does the UN Secretariat make of that, both the announcement and what should happen next?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General has said consistently that the Bahraini authorities need to release all political prisoners and they need to ensure the application of due process and respect for international human rights norms.  So that’s one point.  The second is that, as you know, there is the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which is obviously separate from the inquiry that has given its findings today.  And that Independent Commission of Inquiry is scheduled to release its own findings, I believe, tomorrow or by tomorrow. So obviously, we would want to see what that has to say as well.  Overall, the Secretary-General remains convinced that a genuine, all-inclusive and meaningful reform process will contribute to reconciliation and reform, as sought by all the Bahraini people.  Okay, anything else?

Question:  Sure.  Actually there are two questions actually, at least I think that they are related to them, but you could think otherwise.  I meant to ask you this yesterday, but we were in a bit of a rush over the weekend; there was footage that went pretty much all over the world, including outside the United States, of the pepper-spraying of Occupy Wall Street-affiliated protesters at the University of California at Davis — just people sitting peaceably and pepper spray poured in their eyes — and it seemed to give rise to at least another question to you, whether the UN system is aware of that footage and what they think of it?

Spokesperson:  Certainly aware of the footage, as is everybody else who watches the TV or looks online.  But, we are also aware of the reports since then; for example, that there is an inquiry into this, taking place into the incident and into the campus police.  There have also been other developments, including the Chancellor speaking to the students and faculty, yesterday, I believe.  So obviously we are aware and the fact that there is an inquiry, an investigation into what happened seems to be an appropriate step.  Okay, anything else?  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, this is, I guess, a follow-up on some questions you have received about transparency.  I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago on UNDP [United Nations Development Programme].  The focus was on its Human Development Report of 2011, but I also dealt with some transparency issues, including the issue of financial disclosure of some of the top officers’ salaries, et cetera, relying on a watchdog source, UNDP Watch.  I referenced at least what they had reported to be Helen Clark’s salary and certain living grants, if you will.  The reason I mention this is because I got a call that evening from the Communications Director of UNDP, saying that those figures were inaccurate.  And I offered to put a correction in if he would provide me with the correct figures, which he said he was going to do and always try to do, and that never happened.  So, I guess I am asking you on this question, I mean, if we get a denial of at least one source, which is why I call the whistleblower type of source and compensation, at least voluntarily, Helen Clark and other officials could disclose if they wanted to, there is a process for it, shouldn’t there be some sort of a follow-up?  I mean, if there is going to be a denial and a request for correction, to provide the data that I could use to correct it?

Spokesperson:  I can’t speak for my colleagues at UNDP.  I am sure if they have promised something, then they will deliver.  But, just as a general point, the salary scales and so on for UN staff are publicly available on the Internet, right there in all kinds of detail.  So, I am not quite sure why you need a whistleblower for that.  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up to that?

Spokesperson:  Let me just come to…

Correspondent:  Let him follow up.

Spokesperson:  Fine, fine.  Okay, sure.

Question:  Just directly on this UNDP question, again, it goes back to this public financial disclosure webpage that Mr. [Robert] Orr had filed and I wrote another article on that, but I still remain curious why Helen Clark’s name doesn’t appear on the list of high UN officials.  And then I thought maybe the answer is that UNDP doesn’t file with the Secretariat, but has its own system.  But then, I see Rebecca Grynspan, who is a UNDP official, with her filing on the Secretary-General’s public financial-disclosure page.  I am asking, since the Secretary-General maintains this page and has made various representations about it, why isn’t this second or third highest official in the UN at least listed, even if she chooses not to disclose?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check; I don’t know the answer to that, Matthew.  But, as you pointed out, there are many officials who are listed there.

Question:  There seemed to be 23 that weren’t, and now Mr. Orr is listed, so now we are down to 22.  But, it does seem, I mean, it seems, at least in this case, she is a pretty high officials and my colleague was just asking about her.

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s fine, that’s fine.  I’ll see what I can find out. Yes, Benny?

Question:  What is the official position of the Secretary-General and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] on the Camp Ashraf situation?  I understand that there may be some doings here about this and by December, I understand that the camp is to be evacuated.  What will happen to the residents?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, or perhaps you are aware, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martin Kobler, has spoken about this topic; he did so at the beginning of this month — on 3 November.  I am not going to read out everything he said, but the point is that the United Nations is ready to assist in this matter.  It is, of course, a matter of national sovereignty — this Camp is in Iraq — so it is a matter of national sovereignty for the Iraqi authorities.  But, on the other hand, it is also clear that there needs to be a durable and peaceful solution to this problem.  And that’s why the United Nations is ready to assist.  And when I say the United Nations, that means in the form of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, together with UNHCR, as you just mentioned; with the refugee agency.

Question:  The question is, since the camp is going to be evacuated at the same time that the [United States] troops are going to leave, and since there are a lot of concerns that that might lead to, well, they call it massacres, is there anything the UN can do beyond just assist?  I mean, are there any plans to resettle, to…?

Spokesperson:  There are a number of problems that still need to be solved.  And the Secretary-General himself has been involved in contacts with the Iraqi leaders and other international leaders on this topic.  It is obvious that there needs to be a peaceful solution, it is obvious that we are some way from that; that there are still some problems that need to be solved.  As I have mentioned, the key factors are that it is a matter of national sovereignty for the Iraqis, but equally, this is something that must be resolved in a peaceful way.  And that’s why the UN is saying it is ready to assist, and indeed is.  And the Special Representative has had already, together with colleagues from the refugee agency, UNHCR, meetings with Iraqi officials and others to try to see what headway can be made.  I think it is obvious that — you’ve mentioned some of the different factors — some people want to go abroad, to other countries in small groups, in large groups, in different combinations.  These are all the kinds of questions that need to be resolved, and we are not there yet.

Question:  There are no plans to send them back to Iran?

Spokesperson:  The point here is that it needs to be a peaceful solution to this problem.  And that’s why the refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Special Representative are offering their services to help to try to bring that about.  Okay, all right.  Yes?

Question:  Okay, yeah, I wanted to ask about Burundi and Afghanistan, just to take us… one is on Burundi; there is a report by a coalition of human rights non-governmental organizations there, the Government Action Observatory, saying that the Government has killed up to 300 surrendering FNL [National Liberation Forces] or demobilizing rebels in the last five months.  It seems like a very high number, but I am wondering, given the UN’s engagement in Burundi, what does the UN think of that report and what’s being done to either, you know, prevent these retaliatory killings or what’s going on with this?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check, Matthew.  I don’t have anything on that.

Question:  And this may be more directly in your wheelhouse, I guess there was a call Monday between the Secretary-General and Hamid Karzai, because the office of the Afghan President put out a press release saying essentially that Ban Ki-moon notified President Karzai of his selection to replace Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura.  I understand usually you don’t comment on the process, but in this case, the interlocutor has said he was given a name and he thanked Ban Ki-moon for having the name.  So, can you at least confirm that there is a name, and that this was in fact conveyed to Hamid Karzai?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm there was a phone call, but I can’t tell you anything about the nature of the phone call.  If I have any more details, for example, on any announcement on staffing, then I’ll let you know.  But, I can confirm the Secretary-General did speak to President Karzai.

Okay, all right, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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