Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

20 December 2011

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

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

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


and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


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

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

So good afternoon everyone, welcome to the noon briefing.

**Security Council

Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in a briefing to the Security Council this morning that the realization of a two-State solution for Israelis and Palestinians has not advanced, with violent incidents erupting at a worrying rate.  Efforts to get the parties to resume direct talks continue, including recent meetings by the Quartet envoys and Tony Blair with the parties.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that it is encouraging that, at their last meetings with the envoys, both the Israelis and the Palestinians showed willingness to consider reciprocal actions that may help to reduce tensions.

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco noted recent arson attacks and acts of desecration against mosques, among other actions from Israeli extremists.  He welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strong condemnation of these acts and intent to prevent further such incidents.  He also discussed concerns about the situation in Syria.  He said the signing in Cairo yesterday of a protocol to dispatch League of Arab States monitors to Syria was encouraging.

Earlier, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi until 15 February 2013.

**South Sudan

The UN refugee agency launched a massive airlift operation from Kenya to South Sudan today to bring aid to around 50,000 Sudanese refugees.  The first of 18 scheduled arrived this morning carrying 12 tons of supplies, including plastic sheets and rolls, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, buckets, jerry cans and kitchen sets.

The items will be distributed to refugees in Upper Nile State and Unity State, which have been hosting refugees fleeing the fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan States.  According to the refugee agency, at least 40,000 refugees have arrived in Upper Nile State since September, and 22,000 refugees from the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan have fled to Unity State since August.

** Libya

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Libya visited Tripoli in Libya from 31 November to 16 December 2011 as part of its continuing investigations into serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict in the country.

And during their visit, Commissioners met with the Chairman of the National Transitional Council and other senior officials in the Libyan Government.  They also met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and interviewed detainees at a detention centre.  The Commission will return to Libya in January 2012.

** Philippines

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced today that the Government of the Philippines has accepted the offer of assistance from the international humanitarian community to respond to Tropical Storm Washi.  The humanitarian action plan for Mindanao launched recently will be revised to include a response for this emergency.  According to Government figures, nearly 1,000 people have died and some 340,000 have been affected.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is delivering water and sanitation supplies and is calling for $4.2 million to help families affected by the storm for the next three to six months.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it has been requested by the Government to provide food and other support to the people hardest hit by the storm.  It is distributing three tons of high-energy biscuits for nearly 8,000 people and is also providing logistical support.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working to put a disease surveillance system into place for communicable and non-communicable diseases.

And just to add that the Secretary-General spoke by the telephone this morning with Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario, and they discussed the impact of that tropical storm.  As you’ll recall, yesterday, the Secretary-General made clear his concern about the impact of the storm and expressed his condolences to those affected.

Questions, please?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  In DRC, Kabila has been elected, but his perennial adversary Étienne Tshisekedi says he is the one that has been elected and that he will be inaugurated this Friday.  In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has ordered the arrest of his Vice-Prime Minister al-Hashemi, who is Sunni.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about possible sectarian strife between these two communities in both countries?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first, on the DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Roger Meese, was present at the inauguration ceremony today.  And what I would note is that the Secretary-General, and indeed the Special Representative, have called for any differences regarding the provisional results of the polls, and the results of the polls indeed, to be resolved peacefully through available legal and mediation mechanisms.  And the Secretary-General has also repeatedly called for calm and for people to exercise restraint.  So that’s the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  On Iraq, I will check.  As you know, we have a Mission there and I will check if we have anything further to say on that.  But obviously, we are monitoring those developments.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, yesterday, the Secretary-General issued a warning to the Egyptian authorities to stop this crackdown on the innocent civilians, protesters, rather.  And the Egyptians seem to have spurned his, I mean, warning.  Has he talked to anybody in the Military Government, incumbent junta, to ask them to restrain their actions and stop taking such violent action against [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure that the authorities in Cairo will have taken note not just of the Secretary-General’s comments from 18th, or two days ago, but also others in the international community.  The Secretary-General remains very concerned about this resurgence of violence, and as he said at the time, he is highly alarmed by the excessive use of force employed by the security forces.  So we continue to keep an eye on that.  If there are any further developments, then I will let you know.

Question:  So he has not talked to anybody in the Military Government as yet?

Spokesperson:  As I say, if I have anything further, I will let you know, but I am pretty sure that those who needed to see this statement will have been made aware of it in Cairo.  Yes, Edie, Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  The President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, has sent a letter to the Secretary-General asking that the UN try to do everything it can to ensure the security and well-being of the residents of Camp Ashraf to prevent a recurrence of violence.  Has the Secretary-General received this letter, and what is his response?  And then I have another question related to this after.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  I need to check whether this specific letter has been received.  I don’t know the answer to that sitting here now.  I need to check.  But as you know, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Martin Kobler, has really made it a top priority to help the Iraqi authorities and the Camp residents to find a workable and peaceful solution to what is, after all, a very long-running source of concern.  The UN’s role here is to facilitate, to help the Iraqi Government and the Camp residents.  And it is very important to note that ultimately it is the responsibility of the Iraqi authorities to work to find a peaceful way out of this, and for the residents of the Camp likewise to shoulder their responsibility in this.  The UN, the Mission, is headed by Martin Kobler; he is working with the refugee agency and others to find a way out of this.  It is obviously not easy.  He is working extremely hard with his colleagues on this, with the Iraqi authorities and with the Camp residents.

Question:  While you are checking on that, there also seems to be some difference on what is actually going on at the Camp right now.  The spokesman for the Camp has alleged that the Iraqi authorities are blocking delivery of food and firewood, and preventing the sick from leaving for the hospital, and of broadcasting insults over loudspeakers to the Camp residents while the Iraqi guards at the approaches to the Camp say there is no truth to any of these claims.  And I wonder if the UN authorities who have been entering and leaving the Camp have seen or heard anything on what actually is going on in regard to access and the delivery of food and these loudspeakers.

Spokesperson:  Well, thanks for that, Edie, I would indeed need to check with our colleagues in Baghdad.  But just to reiterate, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqi authorities, the Iraqi Government and the Camp residents.  The UN here is trying to facilitate, to help the two sides to find a peaceful way out of this.  And we will continue to work very hard on that.  I know my colleagues, led by Martin Kobler, are doing precisely that.  Yes?

Question:  I just wanted to know if you had a readout on the visit of the Deputy Secretary-General this morning to the DPRK Mission?

Spokesperson:  No, except to say that the Deputy Secretary-General did indeed go to the Mission of the DPRK this morning, and that was to sign the Book of Condolences that was opened today.  And she signed on behalf of the United Nations system.  The Mission has informed us that that Book of Condolences is open from today, until 29 December.

Question:  Did she meet anyone at the Mission, any of the ambassadors where she conveyed any message?

Spokesperson:  Well, she wrote, the Deputy Secretary-General wrote, in the Book of Condolences, that was the message, and it was very much along the lines of the statement the Secretary-General issued yesterday.

Question:  On the statement thing, I just want to say that people are saying that the Secretary-General’s statement, in that bereavement statement he issued, was very terse and is there any particular reason for that statement to be so terse?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think if you just look at many statements, they are not over long.  Why do they need to be long?  The Secretary-General has expressed very clear thoughts and I think that it is entirely appropriate the measure of the message and the statement.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I have some questions about Sudan, but I wanted to ask first if there is any response to what this month’s President of the Security Council, Vitaly Churkin, yesterday at the stakeout was pretty critical of the Secretary-General’s statement that NATO, or that resolution 1973 was fully complied with.  He said that that was taking sides on an issue on which there is division, strong division, within the Council.  And so I wanted to know, what’s the response to that?

Spokesperson:  No response, Matthew.  What have you got on Sudan?

Question:  Just as a subset to that, Churkin expressed some surprise at the, you know, the total breakdown of the camera.  Is there some response by either DPI or UNTV to how that took place and the delay occasioned?  There’s the UNTV camera, I am just asking you, an explanation wasn’t given why in the middle of his stakeout there was a five-minute delay.

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check, Matthew.

[The Spokesperson later added that a pinched cable took the camera down.  The problem was quickly fixed and the UNTV engineers kindly asked Ambassador Churkin to reread his statement, which he did.]

Question:  Okay.  So on Sudan, I am sure you have seen this report by Amnesty International, which says that the UNMIS, now disbanded, decided not to engage or seek to encounter the Sudanese Armed Forces as they came in, finding them better equipped.  And it is pretty critical and says that the UN, you know, stood by as people were chased out of Abyei.  I wanted to know, what is DPKO or the Secretariat’s response to the Amnesty study?

Spokesperson:  Well, that Mission, which as you know no longer exists, was not mandated to oppose forces of the State.  It was mandated to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I’ll come back to you.  Have I said that it is not a serious question?

Question:  But then I have a follow-up, just like other people had follow-ups on their questions.  My follow-up is, did UNMIS have a protection of civilians mandate, and to quote you from a UNDP study that was released on 22 May 2010, it said that “the Force Commander, who was Mr. [inaudible], advised that they saw the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) build up an attack coming, but were unable to stop it.  There had been, however, assurances by SAF that the UN would not be targeted.”  And what I want to know, from this quote from a UN report is, when did UNMIS know that they were coming and who gave them the assurances?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, the Mission was not mandated to oppose forces of the State.  If I have anything further, I will let you know, Matthew, okay?  Right, yes, Masood?

Question:  Today the Israelis finally released 550 Palestinian prisoners in agreement that they made for Gilad Shalit.  There are still like 8,000-9,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.  Now, is the Secretary-General going to ask them again that those prisoners, even as a gesture of goodwill, be released on the new year that is coming on, between [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, I will relay your initiative to the relevant authorities, okay?  All right, I don’t have anything further on that.  Yes, Anne?

Question:  Concerning Belarus, Natalya Radina of Charter 97 Belarus was given an international press award by the Committee to Protect Journalists recently for continuing her work in spite of censorship, being subjected to criminal prosecution, imprisonment and being forced to flee her native country of Belarus and seek asylum in Lithuania.  What does the Secretary-General think about the situation of human rights in Belarus and, of course, the press?

Spokesperson:  I think I will probably have something a little later on that today.  But, generally speaking, journalists deserve to be able to carry out their work wherever they are without fear of intimidation or difficulties in the important work that they do.  But I would anticipate possibly having something further on this area a little bit later today.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, another Sudan question.  One is, Radio Dabanga is reporting that in Kalma Camp in Darfur, that WFP, well they are saying that they stopped foods, all food distribution, 100 days ago.  It seems more like they instituted a change of ID cards that many of the residents of the camp are uncomfortable that they would lose their status.  And so, the result being that people are… they have made a public appeal for WFP to change its policies and say that they are having food problems, and I wonder what is the response from the UN system to this?

Spokesperson:  Well, have you checked with WFP?

Correspondent:  I am asking you.

Spokesperson:  Well, in which case, on your behalf, I will check with WFP.

Question:  There is the UNMISS Mission in South Sudan; can they confirm the death or killing of George Athor, General George Athor, the rebel leader?

Spokesperson:  The Mission has learned of the death of General George Athor, and the Mission is urging the people of South Sudan of all political and ethnic configurations to resolve their outstanding differences through peaceful dialogue and reconciliation.  And the Mission will do its utmost to support these processes in implementing its mandate under the Security Council resolution that covers the Mission, 1996 (2011).  That’s what I have.

Have a good afternoon, thank you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the noon briefing once again.

** Rio +20

The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, organized this past weekend a retreat in Glen Cove on Rio+20; it was entitled “Paving the way for Successful UNCSD Rio+20”.

The opening remarks were given by the President of the General Assembly, President Al-Nasser, and the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Sha Zukang, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Kim Sook Co-Chair of the Bureau of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and, of course, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea.  The President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General both set the tone for the discussions in this very important retreat.

The retreat provided the participants with an opportunity to think out of the box and reflect on the major developments in the area of sustainable development, in order to build upon those as well as address new and emerging challenges of our time.

There were two round table discussions during the retreat.  The first was on “Partnerships for Sustainable Development”, in which the participants discussed how to make global partnerships and stakeholder involvement even more active, inclusive and effective.  The second round table was on “Envisioning the Rio+20 Outcome”, in which the participants discussed a shared vision of the Conference outcome document and how to make it ambitious, actionable and implementable, including through innovative ideas to address gaps in the means of implementation.  A Chair’s summary will be issued shortly, and it will be circulated to all Member States by next week.

**Third Committee

Yesterday, as you may well all know, the consideration of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) reports at the General Assembly Plenary took place, with the adoption of 63 resolutions and 9 decisions — 49 texts enjoyed consensus, including all dealing with social development, women’s advancement, children’s rights, indigenous peoples, crime prevention and criminal justice and international drug control.  There were no divergences from the voting patterns in the Committee.

Also, the two country-specific resolutions on the human rights situations in Iran and Syria grabbed most of the attention during the adoption.  On Iran, the Assembly rejected the no-action motion by a vote of 35 in favour, 100 against and 42 abstentions.  The resolution was then adopted by a recorded vote of 89 in favour, 30 against and 64 abstentions.  On Syria, the resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria was adopted with 133 countries voting in favour, 11 against and 43 abstaining.

I have received a number of questions, actually yesterday, via my e-mail regarding the addendum to the report on human rights in Syria.  So I am going to say that since the addendum was issued following the conclusion of the work of the Third Committee, in order for it to be adopted as part of the resolution it had to be either requested by a Member State or introduced as an oral decision, and no one actually, none of the… of those two actions had taken place.  So that is why it was not considered; and I have received lots of e-mails concerning why the addendum was not considered yesterday.

On other issues, the President of the General Assembly, President al-Nasser also issued a statement on the deadly tropical storms in the Philippines.  The statement is going to be available — on our website later today, and it will be e-mailed to most of the journalists, all of the journalists, actually — on our website or on our mailing list.

** Somalia

And on another note, tomorrow there will be an informal meeting of the General Assembly plenary to hear a joint briefing by the President of the General Assembly, President Al-Nasser and the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on their recent trip to Somalia.  It will be at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 4 NLB.

**Press Conference

And my final note is that President Al-Nasser is going to be holding on Thursday, 22 December at 11:15 a.m., an end-of-the-year press briefing here in this room, the DH auditorium.

Any questions?  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It is said that on 22nd, as you said, the President is going to brief us on end of the year.  But the Fifth Committee is still…

Spokesperson:  Yes, we are quite aware of that. 

Question:  I know.  I heard from somebody in the Fifth Committee that the negotiations will keep on going on until 23rd, and maybe even last into the evening.  Will you be able…?

Spokesperson:  The President of the General Assembly is actually following up and monitoring the discussions and the negotiations at the Fifth Committee, and we do not have a clear picture as we speak as to when exactly they are gong to be concluding their work.  But probably also the President of the General Assembly will be addressing Member States some time on Friday, 23 December.  Hopefully by then the Fifth Committee will have wrapped up its work.

Question:  Oh, I see; he will again?  I see.

Spokesperson:  But that’s for the Member States.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, but he would like to see all on the 22nd; but he would like to see all on the 22nd at 11:15 a.m.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  I was interested in what you said about the retreat in Glen Cove by UN high officials.  You indicated at the beginning that they tried to think out of the box?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  And you went on to say that they discussed the sustainable development and made suggestions regarding two points.  One is to have partnership and the second is to put things into actionable form.  Is that what they think…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, the second one is envisioning the Rio+20 outcome. 

Question:  Right, to make it actionable? 

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is that what they think that is thinking out of the box? [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Well, I, there were, no, because it is a retreat and this is, it was an opportunity to brainstorm on many issues and many ideas and it came on the heels of the intersessional meeting as well.  So I suggest that we wait until the Chair’s summary is issued, and we will be circulating the paper that is going to be issued and giving it to you. Perhaps it will give you a better view of what went on during the discussions and what was the outcome of these discussions in the retreat.

Correspondent:  My point is that thinking out of the box means…

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  …new thinking; and there is nothing new about partnership and trying to make things actionable.  That’s the point.

Spokesperson:  I believe this is the headline that I have just given you about the titles of the round tables, of the two roundtables that have taken place. But I have not briefed you on the details of what went on in the round table.  Probably under those two broad titles there was a lot of brainstorming and a lot of new ideas were brought to the table.  And that is why I am saying that when we issue the Chair’s summary by next week maybe you will have a better idea about what went on, and then you can judge at this point whether it was thinking out of the box or you think it was not.  So it is relatively speaking, and I think you might have to wait until next week when we circulate the Chair’s summary.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about these human rights votes yesterday. It said that the Iran and Syria ones had garnered most of the interest.  Maybe you can give some description; do you think that the DPRK one got less interest?  I guess it all depends what region you are reporting from, so could you say a little bit what’s your view of that in the same way?

Spokesperson:  What I said, when I said that those grabbed most of the attention, it was based on the number of phone calls that I have been getting all day long from journalists like yourself, inquiring about those two particular resolutions on Syria and on Iran.  That is based on what I am getting as a Spokesperson’s Office from journalists on your side.

Question:  So I wanted to ask about another vote that had been scheduled and then didn’t occur.  The Myanmar one that was passed in the Third Committee was then not voted in the GA.  Can you say why it wasn’t voted on and when it will be voted on?

Spokesperson:  Okay, maybe I will have to check and get back to you today, if I may, regarding the Myanmar resolution in particular because I don’t have enough information about that.  So I better check it out and get back to you.

Question:  There was some mention that it might have to do with the budget thing, this is why I am asking.   I guess to narrow it done a little bit more, is it now not to be voted on until the budget is done, or can it be done before that?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ll get back to you.  Thank you, Matthew.  Yes, please?

Question:  This morning, the King of Saudi Arabia made a very important speech in which he said that the Gulf Cooperation Council members should go beyond mere cooperation which they have done until now and form a political union.  The President being from that area, does he have any views on this proposal?

Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of.  The PGA did not say anything about it, and maybe I will have to check, and when we have a comment, maybe we are going to be also issuing a sort of a statement or readout on that.  Any more questions?  Then I guess I will see you all on Thursday.  Thank you very much.  Have a good day.

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