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

1 March 2012

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

1 March 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.

**Syria Developments

As you will have seen, the Secretary-General and Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and League of Arab States for Syria, met yesterday evening and then they briefed reporters.  They both emphasized the urgent need to end the violence in Syria and gain access for humanitarian assistance.

The Secretary-General urged the Syrian authorities to extend their full cooperation to the Special Envoy.  The full transcript and indeed the webcast of that press briefing are available online.

This morning, the Secretary-General and Mr. Annan met with the five permanent members of the Security Council to brief them on the Special Envoy’s priorities.  In a few minutes from now, the Secretary-General and Mr. Annan are scheduled to speak by telephone with Nabil Elaraby, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States.

And then tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will report to the General Assembly as required under last month’s General Assembly resolution on Syria.  It’s a formal plenary meeting, so it will be televised and webcast for you to follow.

**Syria Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council passed a resolution today strongly condemning the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities, such as the use of force against civilians and enforced disappearances.

The Council also deplored the actions of the Syrian regime over the past 11 months and expressed its strong concern at the humanitarian situation, including the lack of access to basic food, medicine and fuel.  It called on the Syrian Government to immediately put an end to all human rights violations and attacks against civilians, as well as to allow free and unimpeded access by UN and humanitarian agencies.  The full resolution is available on the Human Rights Council’s website.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, has said he hopes that action will be taken following the accidental desecration of the Holy Koran by members of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, in Afghanistan.  He said an investigation should be followed by disciplinary proceedings.  Speaking in the Afghan capital, Kabul, he said the United Nations was very hurt by the incident.  He added that he shared the feelings of the people of Afghanistan after what he called a very grave mistake.  He applauded the Afghan authorities and religious leaders for their appeal to the people of Afghanistan not to resort to violence.

**Liberia — Taylor

The judgment in the trial of the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, will take place on 26 April.  Mr. Taylor was charged in an 11-count indictment alleging responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during the country’s decade-long civil war.  He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.  The judgment will be delivered at 11 a.m. on 26 April in a courtroom belonging to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, where the trial has been taking place.

**Security Council

The United Kingdom assumes the presidency of the Security Council today for the month of March.  Their Permanent Representative will be in this Auditorium tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. to brief you on the programme of work.

**Press Conferences

And also tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a Joint Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)-UN-Women press conference to discuss the findings of an annual survey on women in parliament and executive political power, highlighting successes and setbacks.  Speakers will include Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN-Women.

That’s it.  Questions, please?  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, sure.  I want to ask you a couple of things about Sudan.  One is that the Government of South Sudan is accusing North Sudan or Khartoum of bombing oil wells in Unity State.  And since there is a peacekeeping mission there, I wonder if this is something that the UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) can confirm or den… or not confirm.

Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports and the Mission is aware of the reports, but at this point I don’t think they are in a position to confirm them.

Question:  And also, I mean, Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous ultimately didn’t speak to the media after his briefing of the Council yesterday on Jao, but I wonder, is there some way to know what the UN thinks about this?  I mean it seems like a lot of things are happening along the border.  I have heard that Mr. Mbeki, when he briefed the Council, laid most, much of the blame on South Sudan, and I wonder if that is something that Mr. Ladsous said in that meeting.  Does the UN, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] agree with that assessment or what’s their position on what the roots of these recent bombings and attacks are?

[The Spokesperson later said that this was a closed session of the Security Council, and so Under-Secretary-General Ladsous would not be sharing his briefing with media.]

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on that, Matthew, and if that changes and my colleagues in DPKO — in Peacekeeping Operations — have something, I will let you know.  All right, okay.  Yes, Ali, and then Masood?

Question:  Yeah, thank you.  Today, the Syrian authorities announced that they didn’t deny entry for Ms. Amos to go to Syria, it was only that the timing was not good for them, and they said they are ready now to resume discussions about a possible visit.  This is one thing, the other thing is that…

Spokesperson:  What’s the question?

Question:  So no… yeah, the question… the other thing — I’ll tell you what’s the question — is that the International Red Cross also announced today that they are going to… the Syrian authorities are going to allow them to go into this Baba Amr district in Homs.  Would you consider these two steps as positive from the Syrian authorities?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the second part of your question, the reports that I have seen so far, quote the ICRC — International Committee of the Red Cross — as saying that there are positive indications that the Syrian authorities will allow some kind of humanitarian pause.  So clearly it is what the international community has been calling for quite some time — for there to be humanitarian access.  Will that be enough?  Probably not.  But if it takes place, of course it is something that would be a positive development for the people who are suffering in Homs.  So, that’s the first thing.  The second thing is that — let me remind you what I said twice yesterday — that the Syrian authorities had not refused permission for Ms. Amos to visit Syria, but that a date had not been agreed.  And Ms. Amos made it clear that she was in the region to be immediately available to go as quickly as possible, and that she was flexible on this.  This is something that had been going on for at least a week in this particular attempt, leaving aside the previous attempts that there had been for Ms. Amos to visit Damascus.  So, obviously the discussions will need to continue because Ms. Amos remains as keen as ever to visit, to be able to have those high-level discussions to ensure that there can be humanitarian access on the scale that is required to deal with the problem that is obviously at this point extremely desperate.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yesterday, Mr. Annan in his stakeout had said that he does… he emphasized again and again that he doesn’t want any third-party influence basically in this whole thing, that there should be only one focus of this attention.  What was he alluding to, number one, if you have any idea?  And number two, does interference in Syria by third parties, like Saudi Arabia, does that also help, I mean or does it also hinder his work?

Spokesperson:  This is not about interference; it is simply about having one agreed track and process for mediation.  And this is something that derives from the General Assembly resolution from last month, and derives from the wishes of both the United Nations through the General Assembly resolution and the League of Arab States through their own initiative, to have a single point of contact.  And that is the Special Envoy, the Joint Special Envoy.  And it is simply to ensure that you have one channel without, as Mr. Annan put it, others taking their own initiatives where parties may be tempted to play one off against the other.  I think it is as simple as that.

Question:  Could I conclude from this, what you have said, that he doesn’t want any conflict between what the United Nations General Assembly is saying and the Security Council is saying, that they should not be in conflict on that?

Spokesperson:  I think it is a simple point that Mr. Annan is making that there should be one channel.  He reiterated that point in the meeting with the permanent five members of the Security Council this morning.  Stefano, did you have a question?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Stefano, then I will come back to you Masood.

Question:  Yes.  At the same press conference, the Secretary-General answered to a question about the letter, actually about first letters that arrived from the Syrian Government with a request for information about the appointment of the former Secretary-General Annan, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he already… to us, he said that he already sent a letter about why he was appointed, and I guess what would be his mission there.  And I would like to know if you can give us some information about this, what Ban Ki-moon wrote to Damascus.  And also, when do you expect that Kofi Annan will be allowed to go to Syria?  I mean, I understand as soon as possible, but what is as soon as possible?  Three days, one week, ten days?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first part of your question, the Secretary-General was quite clear, he said that even before the appointment was announced last week, right before the announcement was made, the Chef de Cabinet here, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, spoke to the Permanent Representative of Syria to inform him of Mr. Annan’s appointment.  And then yesterday, a formal letter — and we are not going into the details of the letter, but it was a rather concise formal letter — was sent to President [Bashar Al-]Assad.  And on the second part of your question, yes, as soon as possible, or as Mr. Annan put it, fairly soon.  We don’t have a date at this point.  That is to be worked out.  The Special Envoy, the Joint Special Envoy, will be going to Cairo next week.  And of course, an itinerary will be worked out.  But we don’t have any dates at this point.  As Mr. Annan himself said, this whole mission is a challenging one, a difficult one.  And even fixing an itinerary is likely to be a rather sensitive and difficult undertaking in itself.  So no date at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, a follow-up on that.  I just… one, I had wanted to ask you, yesterday, I had asked you, and, in fact, six days ago, I asked what, you know, what the financing is going to be of this mission, if Mr. Annan is going to be kind of a UN staff member, what his status with the UN, and you said it might be considered yesterday.  Has there been any decision on that?

Spokesperson:  I said that the mechanics of this are being worked out.  So, that’s the first thing.  The second is that overall, this mission, that the overall undertaking is likely to be funded from the United Nations.  The details, the kind that you are referring to, are still being worked out. 

Question:  And just, I was looking back at the transcript of yesterday’s press encounter, I think, I mean the question was about the Syrian request for a letter explaining the, quote, “precise objectives of the mission”.  And then he answered and said “my official letter is on its way to President Assad”.  So that’s — when you say it is concise, this is not the letter that would be purporting to respond to what the mission is, right, just…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, it is.  No, no, it is.

Question:  It is?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  So, how concise… I mean, so is the mission…?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, concise — people write concisely and can convey quite a lot of information.  That isn’t always the case.  What is your other question?

Question:  No, I just, just to zero in on this, because yesterday at the noon brie… yesterday, you were asked about this and you said that not, you know this, this letter would be discussed and then at the… and then at the stakeout, he said the letter has already been sent.  So when was it sent?  Between your statement and…?

Spokesperson:  It was sent yesterday afternoon.

Question:  Okay.  Okay, I wanted to ask you about 380 Madison, and I am sorry to…

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  I wanted to ask you a question about 380 Madison.

Spokesperson:  Let me if there are other questions first, okay?

Correspondent:  Okay.  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Ali, and then Masood?

Question:  On Syria again, is the ultimate mission for Mr. Annan to facilitate the transition of power in Syria, as is written in General Assembly resolution, or not?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Annan was very clear.  He said that there are three main objectives:  the primary one, the overriding objective and priority, is to stop the killing and the violence.  The second is to ensure that humanitarian agencies have the access they need to do their work.  And the third is the need for dialogue between all actors for a political solution to this crisis.  The details of that are exactly what a dialogue around a table would be about.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  A few questions.  One about this, the opinion of the United Nations that the Syrian authorities are on board with the mission of Mr. Annan as to what he has to accomplish, so that when he is able to come with the solution that they will be abiding by that.

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Annan said time will tell.  And the Secretary-General said that he would again appeal to the Syrian authorities to extend the fullest possible cooperation to the Joint Special Envoy.

Question:  Would he be releasing the contents of the letter that was sent to Syria?

Spokesperson:  No.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Stefano?

Correspondent:  Other thing that I wanted to ask you was about this…

Spokesperson:  I am going to Stefano, and then I will come back to you.

Correspondent:  No, I don’t want…

Spokesperson:  Oh, you were just waving?

Correspondent:  No, no, I mean, I will have my question after him.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  All right.

Correspondent:  If you have one short question, go ahead.

Correspondent:  No, no, I didn’t.  I ask only once, and then you…

Spokesperson:  We are all being too polite to each other.  Masood, what’s up?

Question:  Okay, sir.  I wanted to ask you a question about Afghanistan.  And that the UN Special, the UN envoy over there said that action will be taken.  What kind of action does he stipulate he can take?  If it is found that there were some soldiers involved in burning of Koran, which has precipitated the crisis and it still goes on until that matter is settled, how can United Nations take action against any soldiers of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and ISAF?

Spokesperson:  Masood, it’s not for the United Nations to take action.  What Mr. Kubiš was saying was that there should be an investigation, which of course will be carried out by ISAF, and that if that investigation finds that there are people who need to be held accountable, then there should be some kind of disciplinary proceedings.  But that’s not within the UN framework.  He is simply expressing the view that in essence, an apology is not enough; you need to follow through from an apology to an investigation, and if warranted or merited on the outcome of that investigation, there should be disciplinary proceedings; but not within the framework of the United Nations.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Yes, I just read on your website this — about Libya and Syria top talks on chemical weapons between Ban and a key official.  About Syria, it says… this says that the Secretary-General think… or there is suspicion that Syria is having these chemical weapons, but the concern is because, I mean, many countries have chemical weapons…

Spokesperson:  I would differ with you there.

Question:  …let’s face it, in the area, is the concern that they could be used now in this crisis?  What is the concern in this moment?

Spokesperson:  I would urge you to read the readout from the meeting between the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  They met yesterday, and the Director-General briefed the Secretary-General on OPCW’s efforts to ensure the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles in Libya, as you were referring to.  And on Syria, the Secretary-General and the Director-General noted with concern the reports on the possible existence of chemical weapons in the country.  So these reports are about the possible existence of chemical weapons in the country and I think that those concerns are entirely understandable.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I wanted to ask again about this… it’s a question about 380 Madison, but it really is about UN policy, and I want… kind of… I think that we may have, two incidents may have been blurred together.  One has to do with somebody trying to…

Spokesperson:  By whom?

Question:  In answers from the podium, from your side, you and Eduardo.  I am asking about a case, it’s a… it’s a complaint that was filed in September by a then UN contractor to OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management] about sexual abuse, and there is a letter back from Catherine Pollard dated 12 January saying that it is still being looked into.  But in connection with that case, not a day last week, but at some previous date, the New York City Police Department went to 380 Madison to effectuate an arrest of an OHRM manager, and were told they couldn’t enter the building to make the arrest.  It wasn’t serving a warrant, I mean, there may have just been a misunderstanding, but I want to reiterate, the individual that made the complaint has now not had a contract renewed, is leaving the country, but reiterates that this had nothing to do with… that there has been a blurring of the two and she wants to know, and I would like to know, as a matter of UN policy, whether the New York City Police can enter 380 Madison to arrest a UN staff member on a criminal complaint of sexual abuse, and if not, why not?

Spokesperson:  You had an answer on that, Matthew.

Question:  It was the wrong one.  It’s the wrong incident.

Spokesperson:  Well, you seem to know what the answer is already, so I am not sure I need to [inaudible], Matthew.

Question:  No, please, I just want to know what… because I feel like it has continued to be answering about a separate incident, this incident… this individual… OHRM… UN staff member subject to an arrest warrant for sexual abuse, why were the police not allowed in?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, the answer you got was quite clear.  First of all, that the case that is pending, and therefore we don’t comment on it.  And separately, there was another incident, and there was nothing to do with the United Nations, because you seem to conflate 380 Madison with United Nations Headquarters.  It is a building with other tenants in it.

Question:  [inaudible] I will be very brief.  The complainant here says that the incident about the… about the… the summons which took place the day that I was there covering the senior advisory group has nothing to do with her case, that her case is specifically UN-related, and she also says that you keep saying sub judice or whatever.  Her complaint was in September.  It is supposed to be investigated by the UN in three months and hasn’t been.  So…

Spokesperson:  If it is pending, if it is pending, it is sub judice…

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  …which means you can’t comment on it. 

Question:  But just the last…

Spokesperson:  That’s standard practice.

Question:  …allowing the New York City Police in to do an arrest of a UN official has nothing to do with her case.  She wants to know why…

Spokesperson:  This was…

Question:  This took place on…

Spokesperson:  This was unrelated to the United Nations.

Question:  I urge you…

Spokesperson:  …there was a separate…

Question:  I urge you to ask OHRM.

Spokesperson:  As I say, you had an answer.  I have heard what you…

Question:  …it’s about a separate incident.

Spokesperson:  That’s right, that’s right.

Question:  I know.  But you are saying, in this case, in the case that is under sub judice… there was no attempt to arrest a UN OHRM manager, I just, yes or no?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, you don’t lay down, basically, demands in that way.

Question:  You keep saying that you have answered the question, but you haven't.  I am asking that question.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, Matthew, this is not the Matthew Lee show.

Correspondent:  It’s not a show.

Spokesperson:  I’ll take a look at it.

Question:  You didn’t allow an arrest for a sexual abuse [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I’ll take a look at it for you.

Correspondent:  Good, thank you.

Spokesperson:  All right.  Have a good afternoon everyone.  Thank you.

* *** *

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