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

21 February 2012

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

21 February 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.

Good afternoon everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

This morning the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on the impact of transnational organized crime on peace, security and stability in West Africa and the Sahel.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, affects peace, security and stability wherever it occurs.

He reported that the United Nations is already deeply engaged in helping the countries of West Africa and the Sahel to combat crime, drug trafficking, piracy and terrorism.  The Secretary-General noted that the international community has begun to build Transnational Crime Units trained by the UN Police.  The Secretary-General’s remarks are available online.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

As we announced last week, the Secretary-General will be leaving New York this evening for a trip that will take him to the United Kingdom, Zambia and Angola.  He will first attend the London Conference on Somalia and hold a number of bilateral meetings.

And the Secretary-General will then travel to Zambia, where he will meet with President Michael Sata and other senior officials.  He will also address the National Assembly and visit a UN-supported initiative that uses life skills and sports to reach and inspire vulnerable children.  And then, together with Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Secretary-General will visit the Olympic Youth Development Centre.

The last stop on his trip will be Angola, where he will meet with President José Eduardo dos Santos and other top officials.  And the Secretary-General will also attend the launch of a polio vaccination campaign and meet with young people at a project on water and sanitation.  And the Secretary-General will return to New York next Tuesday.

** Cyprus

The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met today in Nicosia and their discussions focused on the issue of property.  They will meet again next Tuesday, 28 February.

**Dadaab Refugee Camp

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the world’s largest refugee camp — Dadaab, which is in north-eastern Kenya.  The agency set up the first camps there between October 1991 and June 1992.

The original intention was for three camps at Dadaab to host up to 90,000 people.  However, today, they host more than 460,000 refugees, including some 10,000 third-generation refugees born in Dadaab to refugee parents who were also born there.

On the occasion of this anniversary, the agency is renewing its appeal to the international community to ensure continued support to the approximately 1 million Somali refugees in the region, as well as to Kenya and other countries hosting them.  And there is more information on the refugee agency’s website.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Martin and welcome back.  As you indicated, the Secretary-General addressed the subject of organized crime and its impact on peace and security in the region of the Sahel and West Africa.  But he also referred to the activities of the AQIM, the Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.  And, as you know, AQIM has committed several terrorist acts recently in the Maghreb States.  And the Secretary-General also said that the consequences of inaction would be, he said, catastrophic.  Does he have any concrete recommendations to make the Security Council on this situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think he has already spelled out some of those in his remarks to the Council.  And I am sure that the Council will be deliberating on those during their discussions that follow.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I have two questions.  One, about Bahrain, this… the clashes that took place over the weekend, in which about 150 people were injured and so forth, I mean, the Secretary-General, I am sure, is aware of that.  What is it that he has been able to say again to the Bahraini authorities?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I recall, last week, the Secretary-General did issue a statement, in which he said that he is concerned about reports of clashes in Bahrain between security forces and demonstrators over the past few days.  And he calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, and expects the Bahraini authorities to act in accordance with their international human rights obligations.  And he said that he strongly believes that a genuine all-inclusive and meaningful dialogue that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis is the way to promote peace and stability in the country.  And he also reiterated his call on the Bahraini authorities to do everything possible to implement… to expedite the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahraini independent commission of inquiry, and especially its provisions aimed at effective confidence-building measures.

Question:  Yes, sir, has he spoken to anybody since then in the Bahraini authorities [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the statement speaks for itself at this point.

Question:  On this agreement, this Palestinian hunger striker who was, I mean, incarcerated by the Israelis without filing any charges, but there is an agreement made and now he will be released on April 17th, or so.  There are similar other Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.  Has the Secretary-General spoken about them?

Spokesperson:  I think you will be aware that, on his most recent trip to the Middle East, including to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the topic of Palestinian prisoners and those in detention in Israeli prisons was indeed raised on a number of occasions, yeah.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Did he get any promises regarding the administrative detention… administrative… going back [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  He expressed his concern, Nizar, as you will have heard us say already.  And obviously this is something that as we’ve said before, Robert Serry, as the Special Coordinator, would be following up with the Israeli authorities.  And I think that’s what’s been happening.

Question:  In the statement on Bahrain, when he said… when the Secretary-General says “clashes”, does it mean protesters are using violence against [inaudible] security forces?

Spokesperson:  I think the point is that there have been protests, and there have been peaceful protests and there have been protests where there has been violence.  And what needs to happen is for there to be the possibility for people to protest peacefully without facing intimidation or violence against them.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you.  Now that the city of Homs in Syria has been under siege for almost three weeks, is… will the United Nations be willing to contact Syrian authorities in order to get some kind of humanitarian access.  And does the United Nations have any means to verify the Syrian authorities’ claims that there are armed groups there, including terrorists for Al-Qaida?

Spokesperson:  On the second point, the short answer is no, we are not really in a position to verify the various reports that there are.  We obviously are aware of the reports.  In the same way that we are unable to witness for ourselves the unfolding tragedy in Homs, which is not just a human rights crisis, but is also one that has quite profound humanitarian consequences.  And that’s why for the Secretary-General this is the top priority; to find a way to secure humanitarian access, because people are short of medical supplies, food and electricity is also in short supply, we understand.  That’s one of the topics that the Secretary-General has been working on extremely hard, including over the past three days.  And he will be meeting with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States during his visit to London.  Yes?

Question:  A question about Syria.  Russia has today [inaudible] the United Nations to send a special envoy to Syria to deal with security issues and to coordinate humanitarian action.  What is the answer or reaction of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there is already a mandate from the General Assembly from last week that includes the provision for a special envoy.  And the Secretary-General is indeed working hard in consultation with the League of Arab States to identify someone and to appoint someone as quickly as possible with precisely this in mind.  Obviously, that person will need to deal with, as a first priority, the humanitarian access.  And it also clearly involves the search for a political solution.  But the first priority will be to deal with the humanitarian crisis.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any view on the ITU treaty and the whole question of who controls the [inaudible] on the Internet?

Spokesperson:  This is a quite complex and convoluted discussion.  And I am not going to get into the full details here, but I think I will be able to help you out a little bit later.

[The Spokesperson later referred correspondents to the following reply received from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU):

The conference will look at ways to revise the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) which were adopted in 1988.

There is general agreement that the ITRs need to be updated to reflect the significant changes that have taken place in the information and communications technology sector in past 24 years.

In 1988, the three key pillars underpinning telecommunications were time, distance and location.  These have become almost entirely irrelevant in terms of global telecoms services today.

The 1988 treaty had the positive effect of liberalizing the existing international telecommunication infrastructure, permitting it to be used competitively and efficiently, and creating the conditions that helped get the Internet going.

Changes in the landscape also include the liberalization and privatization of much of the telecommunications sector since 1988, and also the increasing convergence of technologies and services, which blur the traditional distinctions between telecoms and computer technology — and between voice, video and data traffic.

ITU’s members do not want heavy-handed regulation and a return to the old days of accounting rates and Government-controlled telecommunications.  There are no proposals on the table that would impact access to or freedom of the Internet.

ITU has always been an advocate of an equitable and democratic global governance framework — and was multi-stakeholder from its inception 146 years ago when the International Telegraph Act marked the beginning of the modern information age and the establishment of the ITU.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) will express the common will of 193 Member States and like any global conference, it will do well when membership finds consensus.  As it did in 1988, WCIT will find “win-win” solutions which will act as a beneficial catalyst for the future development of the whole telecommunication sector.]

Question:  And then another question, and that is there was a transfer of the people who were in Camp Ashraf into, in Iraq, to Camp Liberty.  There are some complaints about mishandling of this whole thing, where does it stand right now?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, this is the primary responsibility of the Iraqi Government to implement this memorandum of understanding and to work to ensure that the residents of what was called Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, which was formerly a home to thousands of US Marines.  It is their duty to ensure that that takes place in a peaceful manner.  It is obviously something that our colleagues in the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) have been working extremely hard on to ensure that the Iraqi authorities and the camp residents do move ahead with the agreement that was reached.  So, this is a first step.  I would anticipate that we would have a little bit more to say on that a little bit later, but not right now.

Question:  Martin, one more question.  The UN Mission has presence at Camp Liberty.  Do they have enough?  Do they have the ability to oversee that this is handled in a professional manner and so on, and there is no abuse on either side?

Spokesperson:  I think that’s the intention of the Mission, to carry out monitoring along with the UN refugee agency.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Sudan and Sri Lanka.  On Sudan, I am… you know, there were these reports, 49 or 52, depending on how you count them, peacekeepers that were taken hostage by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur.  They say that… that… I mean, JEM has put out a statement saying that the peacekeepers went into, quote, “JEM-controlled territory without advance notice”, that they released them because they thought that was a mistake.  But they char… they say that Mr. Gambari is not qualified to remain as the envoy because he has taken sides with the Sudanese police — there is a variety of quotes, I am sure you have seen them.  So, I wanted two things.  Is it true?  I mean, does the UN acknowledge that there are physically or de facto areas that are controlled by the JEM rebels and is there some policy issue about not negotiating such entry, or how did this come about?  And what were the terms of engagement?  How could 49 peacekeepers be taken hostage?  Did they fire a shot?  How did it take place?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you will be aware, this has been peacefully resolved.  And the three remaining UNAMID staff have now been released by that group.  As you will be aware, the rest of the peacekeepers had already been allowed to go.  However, they remained, because they wanted to ensure that their three colleagues were also released and allowed to leave at the same time.  What happened was a classic example of how you work to resolve what could have been a violent incident in a peaceful way and was defused through patience and through a show of force.  Reinforcements were brought to the area, and they were, as I said, providing a show of force, and there were clear discussions with the JEM.  And as a result, as you will have seen, this standoff has now ended.  And as you will be aware, the peacekeepers from UNAMID criss-cross Darfur every day to bring security to the people of the region.

Question:  What of the critique of Mr. Gambari?  I mean, I understand, I am assuming that you will say that the Secretary-General stands behind him, but if a party to the conflict is saying that they have zero confidence in him, is it… is it… who in the UN is speaking to JEM that… that… that… to try to get them either to sign the Doha document or… or…?

Spokesperson:  As you know, discussions continue.  And this takes place in different ways, involving different people.  But yes, you are absolutely right that the Joint Special Representative does have the confidence of the Secretary-General to carry out his duties.

Question:  And did this, since the last time, because I remember it was said he was, I guess, I don’t want to mischaracterize it, about this meeting they had with President Bashir at the wedding reception of Deby and Musa Hilal’s daughter.  It was said that he was told sort of, either… I… I am trying to paraphrase it, to avoid this type of contacts in the future.  Since then, he has given interviews and said that it was perfectly fine, he would do it again, it’s required of him to do his job, and I just wonder, is that… how to… how to read this, these more recent statements by him.  Is it… it… is it… is Headquarters clear that that message has been conveyed or is there some double message?

Spokesperson:  The message has been conveyed.  Other questions?  Yes, Nizar.

Question:  Regarding the situation in eastern province of Saudi Arabia, it seems the authorities are considering and they have issued a statement warning that the terrorists in the area… does the Secretary-General believe there are terrorists in that region and how does he categorize…?  I mean the whole thing would, there are many detainees and people have been killed there.  How does he categorize the situation in that area?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything for you on that, Nizar.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this same question, a follow-up on Syria.  Are there any… I mean, in response to Russia’s proposal, are there any names the Secretary-General has…?  I am thinking of wanting the UN to…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is liaising very closely with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States to identify people who could carry out this role.  There is an obvious need to find someone with the right gravitas and right profile.  And also needless to say, who is available to start immediately.

Question:  One follow-up?

Question:  [inaudible], question about Afghanistan in which there are protests going on now on Koran burning.  The Secretary-General is aware of that?  Has he said anything about that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he is obviously aware of it, and I would refer you to the statement that was issued by the Mission in Afghanistan on behalf of Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.  I think that he met the Chairman of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan this afternoon.  I would refer you to that.  Yes, you had a follow-up question?

Question:  A follow-up on this Syria question.  Is there any, you touched on this, but is there any indication that this, the Syrian Government would accept a special envoy from the UN?  I mean, there were problems before when the Human Rights Council has tried to send in people.  Is there any indication that this is going to change?

Spokesperson:  Look, the whole point here is that there is a mandate from the General Assembly already for a special envoy, special representative, whatever that person will be designated, to deal with the Syrian authorities, to engage with the Syrian authorities and with other groups too.  And it is obviously incumbent on all parties to work with a UN special envoy; I think that goes without saying.

Question:  But do you have any indication that — when you say incumbent on all parties — that Syria sees, the Syrian Government sees itself as one of those parties?  Because, I mean, there were problems since the beginning of this crisis, there were problems with similar envoys that were not allowed in by the Syrian Government.

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t draw parallels with other attempted missions at this point.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In Yemen, there are presidential elections, and there is only one candidate — the Vice-President.  And reports indicate that there is a great deal of violence and that some 40 per cent of the polls are closed and non-functioning.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about the outcome of these elections and their credibility?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as I think you are aware, the Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is on the ground in Yemen.  And he will obviously be briefing the Secretary-General and other senior UN figures on the election that is taking place there.  Obviously, there has been a lot of violence in the run up to this vote, and that is something that the Secretary-General has obviously spoken about before.  It is not something that is desirable, of course.  It doesn’t help with an election process, that is obvious.  I think we need to await the assessment of Mr. Benomar before passing any further judgement.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, had visited two polling stations and had told reporters in Yemen that he commended the Chairman of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum as well as his staff for the swift and comprehensive efforts in preparing for the elections.  Mr. Benomar reiterated the United Nations commitment to the electoral process that included the deployment of a United Nations expert team to support the electoral commission during the transition period.  While there had been security incidents of concern, particularly in the South, in general, the elections were held in a peaceful environment.  The Special Adviser stressed that holding a successful election was a remarkable achievement for the Yemeni Government of National Unity and would facilitate the next phase of the transition.  Going forward, he noted it will be critical for the Government to ensure the participation of all constituencies, including the youth, the Houthis and voices from the South.]

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  Is Benomar in Yemen right now?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you, again about this senior advisory group on peacekeeping and Shavendra Silva who is in the Secretary-General’s report on Sri Lanka, his division accused of war crimes essentially.  The… Susan Rice, as… as you… last week said… Ambassador Rice of the United States said that it is very concerning…

Spokesperson:  I do know who Susan Rice is, yes.

Question:  Say again?

Spokesperson:  I do know who Susan Rice is.

Question:  Okay.  Just wanted to… very concerning that someone of his background would be selected to serve on this advisory group, and we have conveyed this to the Secretariat.  So I wanted to know, I have now heard that the… this meeting that took place Friday of the USGs, the move is to say that everyone should be at Perm Rep, rather than DPR level, meaning a switch from Silva to Kohona.  And I wanted to know from your end, what exactly is the Secretariat’s role in trying to address this matter?  I know that you have said it is entirely up to the Asia group, but then there was a meeting convened by the two USGs.  It seems that most of the push is coming from, you know, Permanent Representatives of Member States, but would the Secretariat prefer that all of the representatives on this advisory group be at the Perm Rep level, which would have the effect of not having this figure on the board, or do you have no position on it at all?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a very, very long question, Matthew, and the answer is very short.  This is a decision that was taken by the Asia group of Member States, and this is something that is for Member States to decide.

Question:  So what was, in what capacity did Ms. Malcorra and Mr. Ladsous attend the meeting on this very topic on Friday?

Spokesperson:  As you well know, the respective Under-Secretaries-General for Field Support and Peacekeeping Operations have regular meetings with senior officials, other senior officials in the UN to discuss topics that are of obvious concern.  And that’s one of them.  But it is a Member States’ decision.

Question:  And just to… this, since last week, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said publicly that she has written a letter to the Secretary-General saying that the same type of vetting that is applied to peacekeepers in the field should be applied in this case.  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Well, you have asked me this before and my answer is the same.

Question:  So you disagree?  So it’s… I just want to be very clear, [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  No, no, Matthew, don’t put words into my mouth, don’t put words into my mouth.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  You have asked me the same questions; you asked Eduardo the same question last week.  The answer is the same.

Question:  What’s the answer?

Spokesperson:  It’s a Member States’ decision.

Question:  So you disagree with Navi Pillay, because she didn’t write to the Member States, she wrote to Ban Ki-moon, right?

Spokesperson:  I think you are putting words into my mouth, and I think I will leave it at that.  Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.

** *** **

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