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

8 December 2011

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

8 December 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, and welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Abyei.  In his remarks, Mr. Ladsous noted that the security situation in Abyei remains fragile.  Both sides have not yet withdrawn their forces from the area, contravening the agreement of 20 June.  The security of the border between Sudan and South Sudan remains of concern, and the United Nations continues to believe that the establishment of the joint border monitoring mechanism, already agreed by both parties, is indeed needed to build confidence.

The Council then held consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).

This afternoon, the Council will hold consultations on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.


Shortly after this briefing, Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights in New York, will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General at an anti-bullying event.

He is expected to speak out against homophobic bullying of young people and associated violence and discrimination. The roots of this problem are in prevailing harmful attitudes in society at large, the message will say.  We will circulate those remarks shortly.

** Somalia

In Somalia, the increase in humanitarian operations since famine was declared in some parts of the country in July has had visible results, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Acute malnutrition rates have declined, contributing to a decrease in mortality rates in southern Somalia.

However, four million people are still food insecure across the country.  Also, humanitarian workers continue to face limited access due to the military offensive. More recently, floods in southern Somalia have affected aid delivery.

**Humans Right Day

The UN human rights office has put out a second press release this morning with updated figures illustrating the vibrant discussion on human rights currently being carried on in social media as part of a Human Rights Day campaign.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will be my guest at the noon briefing tomorrow.  I am sure she will be talking more about that campaign as she will have just come from a live social media global conversation on human rights.  It will be live webcast starting at 9.30 a.m. tomorrow morning, New York time, on www.un.org/webcast.

**Press Conferences

And also tomorrow, at 11:00 a.m., there will be a press conference by Robert Bissio, Coordinator of Social Watch, on the topic of “Civil Society and Global Financial Regulation — The Role of the United Nations”.  This event is sponsored by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Questions, please.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Two days before the conclusion of the Durban Summit on Climate Change, and according to press reports, there seems to be no progress in any areas covered.  Is the Secretary-General concerned at this stage?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you will have seen the Secretary-General has spoken not just at the opening session, but at a number of other events during the course of his stay in Durban.  As you know, he is now in Kenya.  And he has said that there has been progress in certain areas, but there needs to be more.  Let’s bear in mind that the Conference, the discussions, have not yet finished.  They continue until tomorrow, in fact.  And so, let’s wait and see what comes out at the very end.  The Secretary-General has said that — I think, and this is the key point — that people around the world are really looking to those leaders gathered in Durban to show political leadership.  There is no time to wait further for negotiations to deliver something.  People want to see something now.  He is aware of the difficulties there are in many of these complex technical areas, but progress can be made; incremental progress can be and should be made in various areas, including on the green climate fund.  So, let’s wait and see how this turns out.  But the Secretary-General has obviously been not only following it closely, but closely involved and will be monitoring it in the days to come too.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  What’s the United Nations position regarding the crackdown that is going on in Russia after the elections?  We heard from the observers that these elections were marred by fraud, and what’s the United Nations position in this regard?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is watching the events taking place in Russia, and that’s what I have for you at the moment.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Martin, probably I missed that, but again since this is really fresh regarding the [International Court of Justice] decision of Macedonia and — The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia — and Greece dispute over the name and over the, actually the decision was that Greece was indeed blocking the way of Macedonia, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to the [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], etcetera.  So what would be the position of the Secretary-General?  If I missed that, again, sorry.

Spokesperson:  Well, there was a statement by Ambassador Nimitz that came out on the day that the decision of the International Court of Justice was announced.  And as you know, Ambassador Nimitz is the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the talks between Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  And what Ambassador Nimitz said was that the decision by the International Court of Justice deserves careful study by the two Governments.  And he said that he had been in communication with both Governments in recent days, and has urged them to view this event as an opportunity to think constructively about their mutual relationship, and to consider a renewed initiative to reach a definitive solution to the name issue.  And he said at this juncture a forward-looking attitude that emphasizes solutions rather than difference would help to make a lasting solution possible.  And he has said that he has informed the parties that he is ready to work with them at the earliest opportunity, and recommends that they intensify their efforts to find a permanent solution.  Okay, yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, today a group of Saudi peace activists have issued a statement criticizing the crackdown in the eastern province, and talking about torching of offices and houses in the province, that many activists have been in jail for over a year without trial and tortured.  What is the position of the United Nations regarding that?

Spokesperson:  I will have to check.  I haven’t seen that press release.  I’ll have to check and get back to you on that.

Question:  But what is the situation of human rights in general?  Of course, there are many reports from Amnesty International, from Human Rights Watch, about Saudi Arabia; has there been any kind of…?

Spokesperson:  As I have said to you before, Nizar, if I have something I will certainly share that with you.  I don’t have anything at the moment.  Yes, Ali?

Correspondent:  Yes, President Assad yesterday questioned the credibility of the United Nations, and we were hoping to see some reaction from the United Nations Secretary-General, and we haven't seen anything yet.  Maybe…

Spokesperson:  Well, there are a number of points and I did speak at some length yesterday on this topic.  I don’t recall that you were here; that doesn’t mean you didn’t see or hear what I said, but I did speak at some length about this topic yesterday.  The Secretary-General has spoken out very clearly and consistently on what needs to happen in Syria.  And that means the bloodshed has to stop, the violence has to stop and the authorities need to listen to the people who have been asking for reforms.  And the authorities need to let people protest peacefully.  This is clearly what the Syrian authorities need to be getting on with.  And that is pretty much what I have for you on that topic.  There was also…

Question:  [inaudible], that he questioned the credibility of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Look, what I also said was that the Head of State of any country, and that includes Syria, is responsible for protecting the citizens of that country.  That is the responsibility of a Head of State.  And so that is very clear.  And in addition, the Commission of Inquiry — the independent Commission of Inquiry that was set up by the Human Rights Council and included very credible experts in their respective fields — issued a report that was a chilling read, as you well know, and the Commission of Inquiry said that they had sought to work with the Government to have greater access to Syria to be able to speak to people on the ground there.  That didn’t happen.  This was not possible.  But the Commission of Inquiry said that they remain open to speaking with the Syrian authorities.  That report, as you know, was issued.  It is in the public domain.  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up on that?  Just a follow-up on that.

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

Question:  The US called, based on that interview that Assad did, you know, State Department Spokesman Turner called Assad a tool, and there have been questions raised about whether Assad is in control of his country.  Is that an assessment that you share, or do you hold him fully accountable for what is going on in Syria?

Spokesperson:  President Assad is the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, and as Head of State, he has ultimate responsibility for the protection of the population.  Yes, Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sorry, I asked for a follow-up on that.

Spokesperson:  Yes, you did, yes, and then I am coming to Matthew.

Question:  There was a report yesterday on France-24 showing a correspondent who went into Syria with an armed group from Turkey, and they were engaged in fighting inside, and he described, she described what happened inside Syria; that there are armed groups coming from Turkey into Syria.  What is the position about such activities, taking weapons and fighting inside Syria?  Should also the security people confront such armed groups?

Spokesperson:  Look, there are many reports out there.  What the Secretary-General has said, what we have repeatedly said, is that the violence has to stop, regardless of which quarter it is coming from.  The violence has to stop.  And that’s really where we are.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Does it mean [inaudible]?

Question:  Does it mean that Turkey should prevent such people from infiltrating [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  There are many different reports out there, Nizar, and I am not going to respond to each and every media report that there might be.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, several questions.  First, I wanted to ask you, there is a report — and this is a report that maybe you will respond to — in Kenya, the Kenyan media is reporting that in his meeting with Kibaki, Ban Ki-moon expressed support for Kenya’s offensive into Somalia, said that the UN will support it and made various laudatory statements about it.  Is that, is it accurate?  What did he say about, what is his view of Kenya’s entry, including the reported bombing of an [internally displaced persons] camp in Somalia?

Spokesperson:  I am expecting a readout on that meeting, and we should have it fairly soon... I don’t have it right now, but I am expecting it quite soon.

[The Spokesperson later added the following readout of the Secretary-General’s meetings in Kenya:

The Secretary-General met today with Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya, and Moses Wetangula, Foreign Minister of Kenya.  They discussed the situations in Somalia, in Sudan and South Sudan.

On Somalia, the Secretary-General took note of the progress made since the adoption of the Somali Roadmap and reaffirmed the United Nations support in implementing it.  Noting the regional implications of the situation in Somalia, he stressed the importance of the Transitional Federal Government's implementation of the Roadmap, as well as the international community's support in this regard.

He welcomed the endorsement by the Parliament yesterday of Kenya's decision to join the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  He also stressed the need for the Mission to reach its full mandated capacity.  The Secretary-General noted that security developments in Somalia should be in support of the Somali Transitional Federal Government and that interventions should be aligned with the political objectives of the country.

The Secretary-General also commended Kenya for its continued support to Somali refugees and welcomed the additional security measures taken in the camps hosting them.

On Sudan, the Secretary-General, the President and Foreign Minister discussed the need to resolve the outstanding post-Comprehensive Peace Agreement issues, and particularly the question of Abyei.  He also underlined the importance of harmonizing the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, including with the assistance of countries in the region.]

Question:  And I also wanted to ask you, there are, the International Crisis Group has put out, they call it an urgent thing about the Congo elections, and I wanted to, specific things, kind of gone around in circles on this, but they say despite reports by the UN Joint Human Rights Office of human rights violations during the campaign the, UN Mission, MONUSCO, has been reluctant to criticize openly the Government.  MONUSCO has also apparently shied away from providing the good offices envisioned by the Security Council mandate.  So I wanted to, I understand that you may have a comment later or when the results are released and then finalized, but… it’s not just Mr. Tshisekedi, but a fairly respected NGO saying that MONUSCO’s silence has not served the people of the Congo.  What’s the response?

Spokesperson:  Well, your assessment on the likelihood of a statement later in the day is correct.  We would anticipate having something to say further in the day once results have been issued officially and announced officially.  Obviously, as you well know, I have told you several times in the course of this week that while the election process continues, in other words results are being compiled and then about to be issued, we are not going to comment on that process except to say that we really do — and the Secretary-General, appeals as the Security Council has also done, and indeed as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] has also done, call for calm and for restraint.  This is obviously an important moment for the country; restraint is crucial here.  And once we have something further, which I anticipate a little bit later in the day, then we will let you have that.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, sir. I just wanted to get a clarification about maybe less than two weeks ago, the Chief of Cabinet of the Secretary-General did issue a statement here about, you know, what is going to happen in the next term of the Secretary-General regarding major appointments.  And in that statement he did list about eight positions, [Under-Secretary-General] positions.  Now, are we to understand that those eight [Under-Secretary-General] positions are going to be declared vacant; the people who are currently holding those positions are not going to be with the new, with the Secretary-General for the next term?  I am just looking for some kind of understanding that we are supposed to draw out from that statement, if you can be helpful, sir.

Spokesperson:  Well, the statement was fairly explicit in what it said about what positions are, that we are talking about here under the Under-Secretary-General positions that you have referred to. What the Chef de Cabinet also said was that the Secretary-General will speak later, and will make announcements on new appointments and on other measures that are likely to be taken concerning other positions.  But, at the moment, the simple point is that the Secretary-General is seeking a mixture of continuity and change, and when it comes to change, it is talking about those senior positions at that level where the incumbents have been there for five years.  And this is something that is obviously not set in stone.  That we’ve had this conversation where it is operationally sensible to have a person in a particular position because of a major event, for example, then obviously that is something that will be looked at.  But, the Secretary-General will have more to say on this in due course, I am sure.

Question:  So we are not supposed to go away with the impression or the understanding that those eight positions that he listed in that statement, we shouldn’t assume that he is looking specifically for new people for those eight positions; we shouldn’t make that assumption?

Spokesperson:  Why would you say that?

Question:  Well, I am asking.  [inaudible], you know, is that what you are saying that we shouldn’t assume that those positions that were listed is, they are positions for which he is seeking new people? Generally, [inaudible],

Spokesperson:  I think precisely the reverse.  Yes, Erol, and then Nizar and then Mr. Abbadi.  And Sylviane, you’ve raised you hand?

Correspondent:  No, I was about to ask you about Syria.

Spokesperson:  All right, okay.  You were taking scrupulous notes, there.  Okay, very good, yeah.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Some months ago, if you recall, we talked about the… we were following the story on the mercenaries in Libya.  And does the United Nations now know if not been more of the specific regarding the names of those, but, for example, about the countries.  Do you have any list of the countries from which the mercenaries were coming, and was Serbia or any other country from former Yugoslavia on that list?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware that that kind of tally has been taken really, Erol.

Question: Do you, did you follow up on that and did you, was your concern as… on that?

Spokesperson:  There are many things that are looked at, and were being looked at in the course of what unfolded in Libya.  I am not sure that that was something that was specifically being tallied by the United Nations.  What we did say was that people, third-country nationals should be treated in a proper way by the authorities.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, then Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the Secretary-General has on a number of occasions called for the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and so has the Quartet.  Are there any new developments at this stage?

Spokesperson:  Well, that continues.  As you well know, the Quartet is not simply a meeting of principals; it is a mechanism involving envoys who meet and discuss in different formats the whole time — and in the background, not necessarily in the glare of publicity.  I am not aware of anything specific in recent days, but if there is something, then certainly I would let you know.  Nizar, and then Tim?

Question:  Martin, of course you are aware about the bombardment by Israel today against Gaza.  And also the closing of a bridge in East Jerusalem.  Is there anything, any position, of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific on those particular developments, Nizar.  I would simply refer you to what we have said consistently in line with the Quartet statement that any provocative actions at this time should be avoided.  Tim?

Question:  One…

Spokesperson:  Tim, Tim.

Question:  Mr. Ladsous mentioned Abyei this morning, but he didn’t talk about what appears to be a new confrontation in Jau on the border, and I wonder if the UN is involved in this?

Spokesperson:  Well, we did mention that the UN Mission in South Sudan had undertaken a mission to check on reports of bombardment.  They haven't been able to confirm who was responsible for that bombardment, but as I mentioned yesterday…

Question:  In the Jau region?

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  In the Jau region?

Spokesperson:  In Bor County.

Question:  I don’t think it is the same one.

Spokesperson:  Well, this, what I am telling you about is in Bor County.  And this was the result of a mission undertaken by the UN Mission in South Sudan, and I was already able to say yesterday what they discovered, but they haven't been able to ascertain who was responsible for what took place.  And I will come to Sylviane after Mr. Abbadi.  Did you have another question?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  No, not just yet.  Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does, — it’s on Syria — does the Secretary-General believe that President Bashar Assad has lost his credibility?  Does he consider that he is not relevant any more as president because he failed to protect — we have heard about responsibility to protect — his citizens?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that it is for President Assad to do a number of things:  to stop the bloodshed and to listen to what the people have been telling him; which is that they want reforms.  And in addition, now that there is a League of Arab States resolution that he should comply with that resolution.  In addition, the Secretary-General has obviously tracking developments very closely — what has been unfolding in Syria in recent months — and he is obviously extremely concerned that promises have been repeatedly made, and promises have been repeatedly broken.  And he has already said on more than one occasion that enough is enough.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, I’m just… I wanted to… thanks a lot… on this Jau question, because I have been asking you this week about it.  I mean, just for what it is worth, Bor is, it is in a different state, it’s a different fight, but…

Spokesperson:  Yes, I understand that.  I was telling you the information that I had.

Question:  Yeah, sure, definitely.  What I wanted to know, and I guess maybe, with Jau, it now appears that maybe UNMISS, or the South Sudan Mission didn’t go there because it may be in Sudan.  That’s what, I was trying to figure out what this, what the balance is between the sort of physical difficulty of supposedly of reaching this place and a political decision not to go to a place where people were, as the [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] report you read out, killed.  So, I am wondering, either if you can answer that or if we can get a stakeout by Mr. Ladsous when he finishes with the Council, because it is a very hot issue; it was discussed in the open session, in the consultations and it seems like [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] should answer why they haven’t gone there.

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask my colleagues in DPKO.

Question:  Do you think he is doing a stakeout?  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask my colleagues, Matthew.  I don’t know the answer to that at this point.  I will need to check.

Question:  Okay.

Question:  Martin, does the Secretary-General believe that the Bahraini authorities have broken promises in regard to the crackdown yesterday on protesters and the death of one of the protesters after being injured a few days earlier?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, I think we had a very similar conversation yesterday.

Question:  I’m talking about yesterday’s violence.

Spokesperson:  Nizar, we had a similar conversation yesterday, and the answer is that the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that it is for the Bahraini authorities to live up to the promises that they made, and most recently to live up to the promises about implementing recommendations that were in the Bahraini independent Commission of Inquiry.  Yes, Anne?

Correspondent:  But, but they have not lived up to the promises.

Spokesperson:  I have answered your question, Nizar, maybe not to your satisfaction; I have answered the question.  I am taking another question now.

Question:  The Secretary-General sent a message on the 7 December to the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)] Ministerial Council in Vilnius, directed to the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Audronius Ažubalis, who is also the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, and the new OSCE Secretary General, Lamberto Zannier of Italy, a former UN Special Representative for Kosovo.  Although the message delivered by B. Lynn Pascoe described the relationship between the UN and the OSCE as indispensable, is the Secretary-General still optimistic about the Geneva talks and existing conflict in Georgia, and of course concerned about the situation in Belarus, which continues to deteriorate?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the relationship and the partnership between the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe goes back a long way, and is multifaceted.  And when it comes to the international discussions that you referred to, the United Nations is represented there as is the OSCE and also the European Union, and those discussions will continue, and it is an important venue for the various parties to be able to get together and talk about the topics that are on their agenda.  And with Belarus, I don’t have anything further to add to what we have previously said about developments there.  Tim?  No?  This is the last question.

Question:  I want to ask a couple of questions.

Spokesperson:   No, this is the last question.

Question:  Iranian Government has announced that it will take the violation of its airspace by American drones to the Security Council to the United States [sic]; did you hear anything about or what’s United States [sic] position?

Spokesperson:  I have seen the reports the same as you have, but we don’t have anything on that, no.  Okay, have a good afternoon.

Question:  [inaudible], Third Committee about Umoja. 

Spokesperson:  As I said, as I said, Matthew, that was the last question.

Question:  [inaudible]… to ask it; this happened today, so, [inaudible],

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, as I say, I did say this was the last question.  Thank you.

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