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

21 December 2011

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

21 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 Security Council adopted a number of resolutions extending the mandates of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the integrated peacebuilding offices in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) and the Central African Republic (BINUCA).

The Council also extended the terms of a number of judges at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR).  Separately, the Council was briefed by the Chairman of the Security Council Committee on non-proliferation.  This afternoon, at 1:15, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, will be here to brief you.


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling for the peaceful and civilian nature of the camps at the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya to be preserved, after a string of recent security incidents.  The UN High Commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, said that the agency was deeply concerned for the well-being and safety of Somali refugees, most of whom are women, children and the elderly.

On Monday, an explosion killed one person and seriously injured two police officers at the Hagadera camp.  And then on Tuesday, another improvised explosive device went off near the market at Ifo camp.  According to the agency, there have also been threats against humanitarian agencies working in Dadaab.

Since October, growing insecurity has crippled the ability of aid agencies to fully operate.  And the UN refugee agency and its partners are exploring options to allow full operations to resume.

** Bahrain

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called today on authorities in Bahrain to take immediate steps to address what she calls the deepening mistrust between the Government and civil society.  She said this includes promptly releasing those detained for taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

Ms. Pillay urged the Government to address prevailing impunity, including for security forces responsible for excessive use of force against peaceful protestors.  At the invitation of the Government of Bahrain, a senior-level delegation from the UN Human Rights Office recently visited the country.  The team met with senior Government officials, civil society and others.  The High Commissioner said that her Office stands ready to help national efforts towards establishing an open and democratic society.  And there is more information on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

** Philippines

The United Nations and its partners are rapidly mobilizing their resources to help the Government of the Philippines as they provide relief to the nearly half-a-million people affected by Tropical Storm Washi.

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has praised local communities and authorities for quickly launching search-and-rescue operations and setting up evacuation centres.  She also welcomed the Government’s decision to accept international assistance.  An assessment mission has identified water, hygiene and sanitation, emergency shelter and food as the priority needs.  And Ms. Amos has just announced that $3 million will be released from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) for this disaster.

**Press Conferences

As I just mentioned, just to remind you that today at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Jamal Benomar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Yemen.

And then tomorrow morning at 11:15 a.m., Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the President of the General Assembly will be here to give his year-end press conference.

Questions, please?  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, I just want to… first, just two kind of factual things I wanted to ask you.  One is, and maybe you said it at the top, the idea of calls that the Secretary-General has made following the death of Kim Jong Il, the South Korean, I guess, spokesman of the Government, has said that he did speak with President Lee on 20 December.  Did he and what can you say about that call?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he did speak with President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea, and I think you can understand that they talked about recent events there on the peninsula.  But, I don’t have any further details.

Question:  And I want to ask on Camp Ashraf, it has been… I know that Mr. Kobler was putting a lot of effort into it, it has been announced that there has been a six-month extension, it’s been… some, little disparities about whether the six months is from November or 31 December, but are you… can you confirm that extension was granted and what… how long does it last and…?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are certainly aware of those reports, and I would anticipate that we will have something further to say on this quite shortly.  So, we are aware of the reports, certainly, and we have been in touch with the Mission.  I would anticipate that we would have something to say shortly on that.  And as you pointed out, Mr. Kobler, and indeed the Secretary-General, as well, have been working extremely hard to ensure that the two sides do move in the right direction, because it is incumbent upon them, with the help of the United Nations as a facilitator to reach a peaceful and durable solution.  And that’s obviously what everybody is aiming for.  And the Special Representative in Baghdad, Martin Kobler, is obviously in very close contact with the Government of Iraq and also with Camp Ashraf residents.  But, I think we will have more quite soon on that.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, as for the situation in Bahrain, does the Secretary-General believe that the role the Saudi forces are playing there conducive to enhancing human rights in the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I seem to recall that Farhan from my Office answered a similar question on this topic just the other day, and I don’t have anything further to add to that.

Question:  One other thing on Syria.  Today, five engineers were abducted from Homs power station.  Does the Secretary-General believe that they should be released…?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General remains extremely concerned about the escalating crisis and the mounting death toll in Syria.  And as we have said repeatedly, the violence and killings must stop.  You heard what the Secretary-General had to say on this topic at his press conference this time last week.  And, as was said in the Security Council yesterday, we are encouraged by the signature in Cairo of a protocol to dispatch monitors from the League of Arab States to Syria.  Now it is critical for the Government of Syria to extend its full cooperation to that mission.

Question:  On this specific issue, I mean, abducting five engineers working for the power station, does it require a special court to release them?

Spokesperson:  As I have just said, the Secretary-General remains extremely concerned about the escalating crisis and the mounting death toll in Syria.  So, that’s what I have at the moment.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this situation in Egypt, where now women are going to demonstrate again against this military violence and action by the army, do you have anything to say about that?  And I will also want to ask something about Syria also, but that’s different.

Spokesperson:  Well, on Egypt, I think obviously the most important thing is for the transitional authorities to allow peaceful protests to go ahead and to uphold human rights.  The Secretary-General has been quite clear in his response to the recent violence that we saw.  And, obviously, if there are to be further protests, we would certainly hope that they can go ahead in a peaceful way and that those people who wish to demonstrate can do so with their human rights intact.  And on Syria, what did you have, Masood, what did you want to ask?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about this report about these Iranians being captured over there and that, reports that they have been asking that they were picked up by… there are conflicting reports by the… by some of the demonstrators or who, do you have anything on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that, Masood.

Question:  On Camp Ashraf, further Martin…

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Camp Ashraf, are we talking about, I mean, Iraq, does the Secretary-General have… what do you call… representative over there have anything to say about the recent developments in Iraq, which are now becoming more and more pronounced?

Spokesperson:  Well, there was a statement yesterday that was put out that covers the recent transition that we have seen obviously with the U.S. forces withdrawing, and I think that that’s probably what we have to say on that topic at the moment.  But, on Camp Ashraf, as I just was mentioning to Matthew, I would anticipate that we will have something a little bit later.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, yeah, there are a couple of controversial court decisions, I know, and usually you wouldn’t comment on court decisions, but one involves in Ethiopia these two Swedish journalists have been convicted of terrorism.  They were covering the Ogaden front, and the Foreign Minister of Sweden has said they were there on a journalistic mission, but now they face long prison sentences as terrorists.  I wondered whether, in this dispute about whether it should be a crime to cover a conflict, such as exists in Ethiopia, whether the Secretary-General has anything, has any views on this.

Spokesperson:  Let me check whether there is anything on that.  It is not necessarily something that the Secretary-General himself would comment on.  But, it may be that there is a comment from somewhere else within the UN system.  Let me find out, Matthew.

Question:  This one seems more… I know that the… MONUSCO had said that there should be some, you know, inquiry into the way the elections were held.  At least my understanding is that they said that there were things that should be looked at.  Now, the Supreme Court has, without any changes, upheld the results and Joseph Kabila has been re-inaugurated, and I wonder if MONUSCO thinks that things were sufficiently looked at before those two events took place.

Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said on a number of occasions, it is important that election disputes should be settled through peaceful means, and through established institutions.  And in addition, the Mission has also strongly urged the independent national electoral commission to undertake a really rigorous review of those issues that were identified by observer missions.  And that review should be with the full participation of witnesses and observers, including foreign observer groups.  So, I think that’s where we are with that.  As you well know, I have already said — and the Mission has said — that it noted with deep concern the findings of these various observer missions relating to the irregularities in the management of the results process.  So, if I have anything further, then I would let you know.  And in the meantime — just to reiterate that it is really important for those parties, or all parties and political actors, to desist from incitement to violence and confrontation and to essentially exercise restraint in what is obviously a complex situation at the moment.

Question:  Just one, I mean… it’s kind of an obvious follow-up, but I just mean, even if the electoral commission looks into it, he has already been inaugurated and the Supreme Court already signed off on it.  So, I mean, I understand the UN can’t really stop either of the two things, but did these seem inconsistent with the call to look into these things, or is it just to look into them after those two events have…?  Do you see what I mean?

Spokesperson:  Yeah, I understand what you are saying Matthew, and the Mission is obviously following what is going on in the country.  And if I have anything further, I will let you know.  The bottom line here, at the moment, is that it is still incumbent on the authorities to ensure — and by the authorities here I mean the electoral commission — to look into and review the findings of the observer missions from different quarters.  And that is important not just for the here and now, but for the future.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just to reconfirm, what days, if any, will the UN be officially closed for the upcoming holidays, Christmas and New Year’s?

Spokesperson:  It is the 26th, so Monday that’s an official United Nations holiday, 26 December; and the following Monday, which is, if I am not mistaken, 2 January.  So, both of those days.  And between the 26th and the 2nd, there will not be briefings here at noon, but as usual, I will be available if people have questions for me, of course.  And so will my team.

Okay.  So, thank you very much, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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