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

24 January 2012

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

24 January 2012
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.

So good afternoon everyone and welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guest Today

I am pleased to have here today as my guest Catherine Bragg, who as you know is Assistant Secretary-General in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  And Ms. Bragg is here to brief you on her recent mission to Côte d’Ivoire.  A few introductory remarks, I believe, and then time for questions.  And I will then have a few other items after that and will be happy to take questions, of course.  Please, Ms. Bragg, welcome back, and the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Assistant Secretary-General Bragg is issued separately.]

So just a few more items and happy to take some questions.

**Security Council

This morning, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco reported that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators started meeting 3 January in Amman, under the auspices of King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Judeh.

He noted the Secretary-General commended Palestinian and Israeli leaders on these important first steps, and remains hopeful that these negotiations will continue and lead to serious negotiations based on comprehensive proposals on territory and security.  However, actions on the ground continue to contribute to tensions.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said the United Nations continues to call for the lifting of the closure of the Gaza border, and believes this can be done with due consideration for Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

Turning to Syria, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco noted time is pressing for violence and human rights violations to stop and for a credible, inclusive, and Syrian-led political process to start in Syria.  He hoped the international community will act in a concerted and coherent manner in support of efforts for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.


The Secretary-General is on his way at the moment to the Greentree Estate, in Long Island, where he will spend the afternoon meeting with the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities for a second day.

Last night, as you will have seen, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, described the first day of talks as intensive.  He added that the discussions focused on the core issues.  Downer noted that the Secretary-General had made his expectations clear and that it was for the leaders to make decisive moves.

And a reminder that tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General will make remarks to the press here at Headquarters following his two-day meeting with those leaders.


The Secretary-General appealed today to the members of the Conference on Disarmament to support the immediate start of negotiations on agreed issues.  In a message to the first meeting of the Conference for its 2012 session, the Secretary-General said that the Conference on Disarmament was no longer living up to expectations.  He urged them to seize this moment, when the world is focused intently on advancing disarmament goals.  And the Secretary-General’s full message is available online.

**South Sudan

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has condemned an air raid in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State yesterday which hit a refugee transit site, located less than 10 kilometres from the border with Sudan.  It says that one refugee was injured and 14 others are missing.  According to the agency, about 5,000 refugees were at this site at the time of the incident.

The agency says it is alarmed by this attack on refugees already fleeing violence in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.  It also notes that there have been previous attacks on refugees in border areas — at the end of last year in New Gufa, an entry point for refugees also in Upper Nile State, and at the Yida refugee settlement, in Unity state.

**Ladsous in Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, has arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a four-day visit.  He will meet in Kinshasa with Government officials, and representatives of the UN Mission in the country, MONUSCO.  Mr. Ladsous will then travel to the eastern town of Goma for further meetings and to see first hand the work of Mission.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that she was shocked at reports that 34 individuals, including two women, were executed in Iraq on 19 January following their conviction for various crimes.  Ms. Pillay said that given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, this was a shocking figure.  She called on the Government of Iraq to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

Tomorrow at 12 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by the Secretary-General.  Needless to say, the regular noon briefing will therefore resume on Thursday.

Questions, please?  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, two questions.  First of all, regarding these talks on Cyprus, the Special Representative of Mr. Secretary-General said yesterday that the Secretary-General had made his expectations clear.  Are those expectations of the Secretary-General that he had are met by the negotiators?  Is he satisfied?  And also, can you remind us for sort of institutional memory or so whether the Secretary-General involved himself more than several hours in negotiations in some other issues in two consecutive days?  Just for remind us [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Well, it is certainly an indication of the United Nations commitment to help in facilitating this Cypriot-led process.  It is indeed unusual for any Secretary-General to devote so much time to one particular topic in a concentrated period.  That’s an indication of how important the Secretary-General believes it is to be able to move this process forward.  And I would simply encourage you to listen to what the Secretary-General has to say tomorrow morning by way of an assessment of how those meetings over these two days have been going.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, then Tim?

Question:  Yes, for question of memory, the Secretary-General spends as you know a lot more time dealing with environmental issues during the conference on the subject.  My question is about Syria.  As you know, the Arab League adopted some kind of stabilization plan proposing elections in the country, and handing of power by President Assad to the Vice-President.  The Arab League in that context is seeking support from United Nations.  Has the Secretary-General received such a request, and when is he planning to meet with Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone yesterday with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and they discussed that most recent meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the League of Arab States.  And they also discussed the decisions that were taken there.  Needless to say, they also spoke about the situation in Syria, and the Secretary-General reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to provide technical support in the form of training for observers.  And that’s what I have for you on that.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  So, no request has been received from the Arab League for a meeting?

Spokesperson:  If you are referring to the media reports about a letter, it doesn’t mean that a letter is not on its way.  But as I sit here now, I do not have confirmation that that letter has been received.  As I say, it doest mean that it is not on its way.  But as I have just mentioned, the United Nations Secretary-General did speak with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States yesterday by telephone.  Yes, Masood?

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that a letter from the League of Arab States had been received.]

Question:  I just wanted to ask you, is there any update that Mr. Benomar has given you on Yemen now that the Yemeni… reportedly the Yemeni President has left for the United States?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I recall, Mr. Benomar did speak at some length yesterday, rather, I beg your pardon, on the 21st, on Saturday, before he left Sana’a on his way back to New York.  And he will be briefing the Council, as I understand it, tomorrow here in New York.  His remarks were rather lengthy, so I won’t read all of them out.  But, just to underscore two points.  He did stress the need to ensure that everything is done so that the elections can take place on time.  He also noted, with regard to the question of amnesty and transitional justice, that a law had been passed by the cabinet last week, and that parliament had made significant improvements to that legislation.  As I say, he was pleased to see that there had been modifications to that initial submission.  But, he believes it doesn’t go far enough, and the UN’s position on amnesty is firmly anchored in international law, that applies to all countries.  And so we obviously can’t endorse or condone amnesties that could also cover certain categories of international crimes.

Question:  Did he, in this respect, say anything about the transition to power that was stipulated when…?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, he will be, he was there to obviously get the most up to date snapshot possible of this transition.  The Security Council, needless to say, is extremely interested in that transition, and that’s why Mr. Benomar went there to be able to monitor progress on the implementation of the agreement that was signed in November, and that’s why he is coming to report to the Council tomorrow.  I am sure at that point there will be more that will be evident to you.  Matthew?

Question:  Yes, sure.  I wanted to ask again about this issue of the helicopters in South Sudan, now that it has been announced today in Russia that the entire Russian helicopter fleet is leaving.  So, I guess the negotiations around the letter of intent failed.  Can you, I guess confirm, because the last I heard, even including from Ms. Malcorra, there were still discussions on trying to get it signed.  Was an offer made to the Russians to proceed as they prefer, without the machine gun mounts on the helicopters?  And also, Hilde Johnson yesterday said, you know, a couple of times that she would return with this date of when she was subsequently informed by the Russians that they would fly.  And I have yet to hear it.  I am just wondering, what was the date, in the sense of the UN’s foreknowledge that it had no helicopters before the violence broke out in Pibor?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure my colleagues either in the Mission or in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will be able to help on that latter point, but the decision to withdraw the Russian helicopters and the peacekeepers that go with them is obviously a decision by the Russian Government.  And the Department of Peacekeeping has thanked the Russian Government for the critical assistance that it has provided, and at the moment the Mission is using existing helicopters.  That includes 24 civilian helicopters.  And the UN is also in discussion with the Member States to determine how they can support the ongoing needs of the Mission.  And as we already said, military helicopters are critical.  So, the UN has been redeploying helicopters from its missions in the region to help with the immediate needs.  They really are critical for the Mission to be able to fulfil its mandate, in particular when it comes to protecting civilians.

Question:  She also, because I mean I went back over what she… she said yesterday that somehow neighbouring missions had assisted during the conflict in Pibor, which is not, at least I haven't, I mean, in what way?  It seems like now they have arranged to have two Bangladeshi helicopters from MONUSCO assisting.  Did any other helicopters help during that time, or what was Ms. Johnson referring to when she said that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I guess you could have asked her that…

Question:  I asked as much as I could, and she kept saying…

Spokesperson:  Yeah, you did, you did indeed.  You had ample opportunity to do so, and let me just reiterate that I’ll ask the Mission, I am sure my colleagues in DPKO are listening right now, and to see if we can give you any more details on that.

Question:  Will it be possible maybe because it is really a DFS [Department of Field Support] issue, I mean I don’t know really what the breakdown is between UNMISS and DFS on this.  Maybe to get either Under-Secretary-General Malcorra, somebody from DFS just to describe in detail, you know, when they knew what they knew; who is helping, and you know, the various questions that remain unanswered.

Spokesperson:  Sure.  Yes, Anne, and then Erol?

QuestionThe New York Times ran an article on 21 January entitled “Self-immolation is on the rise in the Arab world”, which mentioned that more than a year ago a young Tunisian set himself on fire and touched off revolutions throughout the Arab world.  Do you expect the Secretary-General to make any statement on this issue, now that five young Moroccans set themselves on fire a few days ago as acts of desperation, and other similar acts have taken place in Jordan, Bahrain and Tunisia recently?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything for you right now.  The Secretary-General did speak not so long ago in Beirut about the incident that involved Mr. Bouazizi.  But, I don’t have anything further for you at the moment; simply to underscore that the depth of frustration and despair and the desire for dignity in many parts of the world is extremely deep rooted.  Yes, Erol, and then Masood, sorry?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I have to ask you this.  Just few hours ago, Mr. Vuk Jeremić, Foreign Minister of Serbia, in Brussels confirmed that indeed his Government, the Government of Serbia, proposed him as the President of the sixty-seventh General Assembly session.  I know that it is not exactly your portfolio, but do you have any comment on that, since we don’t have Nihal here, and can you confirm that, have you heard about that?  And also, to follow up to that, is, I have to proceed with this, is anybody from Serbia proposed, anybody from Serbia to the new cabinet of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well Erol, we have already gone over that topic, so I am not going to revisit that, except to say perhaps that you are not on the short list.  The other point related to the Foreign Minister of Serbia, as you rightly point out, this is a matter for Member States.  I would defer to Nihal Saad, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, she may have some more information on the technicalities involved, not necessarily the personalities, but the technicalities.

Question:  And may I say that I am not on the short list because nobody proposed me.

Spokesperson:  [laughter] Masood, then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Martin, yesterday I had asked you about these Palestinian legislators and being incarcerated and deportation of the Palestinians from East Jerusalem.  You said at that time that you had no comment.  Do you have any further update and comment on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further update on that, no.

Question:  Even in the, in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent where they were…

Spokesperson:  Masood, no, I don’t.  Except to underscore what Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco said in the Council this morning about the tensions still being there and visible and evident in the region.  Mr. Abbadi and then Matthew?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In his message to the Conference on Disarmament, the Secretary-General said the Conference is in danger of sinking because it has not resolved any issues since 1996.  Regarding the nuclear issues in the Middle East, does he think that it might help if anybody, everybody subscribed to the idea of a nuclear-free zone in the region?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, that that particular initiative is continuing, and there will be meetings related to that.  I think you are aware of that.  With regard to the Conference on Disarmament itself, it is obvious that it needs to regain the central role that it could and should be playing in these developments.  And, as I just said to you, in addition to the quote that you mentioned, the Secretary-General has said — not for the first time — that the Conference is not living up to expectations.  And as you know, he has also said that there may be other mechanisms that would be brought into play, if that Conference on Disarmament cannot deliver in line with the expectations that there are.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you this.  I noticed that Special Representative of the Secretary-General Mahiga has moved to Mogadishu, that there was this announcement that that happened.  There is also… there was a… there has been I guess a gaining of ground by AMISOM in the outskirts of Mogadishu, but this has included Mogadishu University, whose leadership has put out a press release saying that it was inappropriate that this independent non-State and, also you know, they say non-Al-Shabaab institution of higher learning has now been occupied by the AMISOM and Transitional Federal Government soldiers and their leadership.  According to them, all employees, security staff and educators were thrown off the campus.  So, I am wondering, since AMISOM is funded by and given logistical assistance by the UN, does the UN have any position on whether UN-funded peacekeepers should, in fact, take over a university, or is there some plan to remove them from the university at some point or what is the response to this statement by the Mogadishu University?

Spokesperson:  I would refer you to AMISOM.  If we have anything further, I will let you know.  Other questions, please? 

Question:  I had asked you yesterday about this photograph, or more than, I mean it was an event but there are photographs of Mr. Gambari with Omer al-Bashir in Khartoum and I spoke this morning with the Sudan Mission representative who confirmed that this reception took place at the Rotana Hotel in Khartoum.  So I wanted to ask you, what is the UN’s position about contacts with an ICC [International Criminal Court] indicted individual like Omer al-Bashir, and does a wedding reception comply with UN policy?

Spokesperson:  Well, you mentioned it yesterday and I said I would check.  I am still checking, okay?

Question:  I think you said you hadn’t seen the photo.  Have you seen the photo now?

Spokesperson:  No, I haven't.  But I also said that I would look into it.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  And I don’t have anything at the moment, okay.  All right, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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