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

28 March 2012

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

28 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in Kuwait from Seoul early this morning, and has been meeting Kuwaiti leaders, including the Emir.

At a press conference, the Secretary-General said Kuwait was an important contributor to the work of the United Nations and also setting an example at a time of momentous change in the Arab world.

He said he also welcomed the progress in normalizing relations between Kuwait and Iraq.

On Syria, the Secretary-General said he remained deeply concerned about the continuing conflict, the bloodshed and the displacement of thousands of people.

He noted that the Syrian Government had written to the Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, accepting his six-point plan.

The Secretary-General said he shared Mr. Annan's view that this was an important initial step that could bring to an end the violence and bloodshed, provide aid to those suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the long-held legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

He urged President Assad to put those commitments into immediate effect.  He said there was no time to waste.

About now the Secretary-General is holding talks with the Kuwaiti Prime Minister.  We will aim to provide a readout on the Secretary-General's meetings today, later on.

**Security Council

This morning the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Guinea-Bissau, Joseph Mutaboba, briefed the Security Council by videoconference on the challenging political and security environment in Guinea-Bissau.

He said restoring full constitutional order is now a crucial priority.

Elections were peaceful but marred by the killing of the former intelligence chief.

Observers were unanimous in their assessment that elections were free and fair.  A run-off will be held 22 April since no candidate obtained a majority of votes.

The United Nations continues to provide technical support for enhanced community policing, with special concern paid to gender-related violence and the prevention of child trafficking.

There has been progress in the implementation of the West Africa Coast initiative to combat drug trafficking.

He concluded by saying national and international partners are to be commended for organizing early presidential elections in such a short timeframe.

**Sudan-South Sudan

We have been asked about the situation between Sudan and South Sudan, and the reports of military clashes on the border.

While the exact situation on the ground still needs to be confirmed, at the moment the situation appears to be de-escalating and both parties have stated a willingness to meet in the coming days in Addis Ababa to prevent a new eruption of violence.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkerios, supported by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, have had intensive engagement with the parties, together with the African Union High-level Implementation Panel and other international partners.

The Government of South Sudan committed to withdraw its forces to its previous positions.  The Government of Sudan agreed to attend a meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism on 30 March in Addis Ababa, and stop the bombing if the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army withdrew.

The Secretary-General has expressed his deep concern about these military clashes, and urged the parties to utilize to the fullest extent existing political and security mechanisms to peacefully address their differences.  He also urges both Heads of State to meet as planned in a summit on 3 April.

**Amos to Panama and Brazil

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will visit Panama and Brazil from 29 March–3 April.

The mission is Ms. Amos’ first official visit to these countries in her role as UN humanitarian chief and will focus on strengthening coordination and disaster preparedness.

In Panama, she will attend the Fifth Regional Meeting on Enhancing International Humanitarian Partnerships.  The meeting will focus on disaster management and humanitarian response, and discuss ways to improve support in the region during emergencies.

On 30 March, she is scheduled to hold a joint press conference with Panama’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Roberto Henriquez, and Director of Civil Protection, Arturo Alvarado.

In Brazil, she is expected to meet Government officials, including Minister for External Relations Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, to discuss ways of strengthening partnership on humanitarian issues.

She will also meet UN representatives to discuss mutual efforts to improve the humanitarian coordination system.  On 3 April, she is expected to hold a press conference in Rio as she concludes her mission.

**Press Conferences

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan.

And then at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Human Rights Committee on the conclusions of its 104th session, which opened on 12 March 2012.

That’s all from me.  Questions?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A couple of questions.  About this, yesterday the Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi was addressing a meeting over here and she, of which she alleged, I mean, she says that every day a number of Palestinians are uprooted from their homes by the settlers in, even in West Bank, and that every day that goes unreported.  And so many people are killed or picked up by the Israeli army.  That’s one thing.  And that goes unreported.  And there still remains the question of like 8,000 to 9,000 Palestinian prisoners; what has the Secretary-General done until now — recently, recently — to talk to the Israelis about this ongoing…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you recall, yesterday Mr. Robert Serry, the Special Coordinator for Peace in the Middle East, addressed the Security Council and mentioned these things in his report.  As you know, the Secretary-General considers, and the UN considers, the settlements in the West Bank in the occupied territories to be illegal.  That continues to be the policy of the United Nations.  And with respect, what was the other part of the questions?

Correspondent:  I mean, I am saying 9,000 prisoners still remain in Israeli jails.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Mr. Robert Serry again has taken this up with the authorities and is in constant dialogue with them to try and make sure that they are treated according to international law.  As you know, the Secretary-General was in the region in early February.  He raised these issues at the highest political levels, with both the Palestinians and the Israelis and also with the Jordanians when he visited Amman.  And the Secretary-General is very aware and very concerned about the situation there.  I don’t believe he has had conversations in the past week or so on this situation.  But again, Mr. Robert Serry represents the Secretary-General there and he is engaged on a daily basis on these issues.

Question:  On this thing, just a follow-up on this:  Israel has said that they could not allow any delegation or any mission from the Human Rights Council to visit either West Bank or Gaza because of the resolution they have passed which they think is against Israel, basically.  So what can the United Nations do if the Israelis don’t want to allow any delegation coming in?  What [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we see the media reports on that, but we have discussed this with the human rights people in Geneva, and to date the Human Rights Council has not received any formal notification from the Israelis that this will take place.  So until we have a formal notification, we cannot comment on it.

Question:  But they’ve said, Israelis have said it, but they are… formal notification [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what people say in the media, what people say in the media is very different sometimes from what happens here.  To the best of our knowledge — and we’ve been in contact with Geneva in the past few days — the Human Rights Council has not yet received any notification from the Israelis that this is the situation.  If and when they do receive such a notification, it will be up to the Human Rights Council, which is made up of Member States, to decide on what steps is it going to take.  But we are not going to speculate on that now because to date there has been no — to the best of my knowledge — written instructions from the Israeli Government on this.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, there, there has been this reporting, reported fighting in Libya, Sabha, where two militias are, the death count is reported up to 50, some people have different numbers.  And I wonder, since there is a UN Mission there, what does UNSMIL have to say about this fighting?  Has it tried to play any role in downplay, in, in bringing it to a close?  What’s the death count and, sort, what, how does UNSMIL’s team and mandate relate to things like this taking place in the country?  What does UNSMIL do?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, UNSMIL is not a peacekeeping mission as such; there are no peacekeepers there.  It is up to the Libyan Government to negotiate with the militias and to disarm them.  UNSMIL is there to assist the Libyan authorities in developing its policies and strengthening its institutions.  But it is up to the Libyan authorities to bring the militias to the table, integrate them into the mainstream of the security forces and disarm them.

Question:  But doesn’t UNSMIL have some kind of a human rights component?  I mean, I have heard Mr. Martin talk about the plight of detainees and arrestees; these are people being killed, so I am just wondering, sort of, why does UNSMIL…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there is a human rights component, but again, the Libyan authorities are the authorities who are tasked with maintaining peace and security in the country.

Question:  Sure, I understand that UNSMIL is not actual, to be able to, like, jump in with a gun and stop the fighting, but I just wonder, do they now send some team to find out how many people died or [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to check; we’ll have to check on that and find out for you.

Question:  [inaudible] Coomaraswamy said anything about reports that the Syrian opposition is using child soldiers?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Ms. Coomaraswamy was here on Monday, I believe, and she addressed the situation, saying that she had seen reports that Syrian armed [groups] were using children.  I would refer you to the transcript of what she said, okay?  Masood?

Question:  [inaudible] what you just said about Libya; yesterday James Baker, the former United States Secretary of State and, and, and Defence was, and he was saying that in Libya the, in his opinion there is a civil war ensuing, and that it is not controllable.  What is the opinion of the United Nations team over there?  Is it still war going on over there, or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations… You can take a look at a glass and say it is half empty or you can say it is half full.  We are looking at the situation is that there is a central Government in Libya.  We are working with it to try and create the institutions necessary to govern the country.  And that is basically what the United Nations position is — we are working with the civilian authorities to create the institutions they need to govern the country and to bring the country to democracy and to a fundamental respect for basic human and political rights for all.

Question:  So, basically what you are suggesting was that the intervention which United States played a role, although from the background, by NATO strikes, it basically has, the, the objective had not been achieved?  One of the [inaudible]; Qadhafi is gone…

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have to remember one thing:  it’s, you know, we don’t talk about the intervention.  This was a popular uprising by the Libyan people against a regime that was autocratic, dictatorial and did not have any fundamental respect for human or political rights.  The people of Libya rose up against this regime, and they began looking for, and calling on the Government to give them the basic political and humanitarian and democratic rights they wanted.  The Security Council took the decision to protect the civilians from the heavy bombardment from the Libyan armed forces who were loyal to Mr. Qadhafi.  So it is not a question; it is not people who intervened, it is the people of Libya themselves who rose up looking for this type of freedom and basic respect for human rights and dignity and opportunity.  And it is up to the Libyan people to figure out now how they are going to go.  The United Nations is there to help them with the institution-building, but it has to be a Libyan led process.

Correspondent:  Yes, but civil war, I mean, what the problem is now is a civil war going on.  I am not saying that the United Nations [inaudible] good intentions [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t see it as a civil war.  What we see is that there are militias there who have in fact integrated to the Government and who are disarming and who are participating in the Government process, and there are other militias who have resisted.  And what we are looking for the Libyan authorities to do is to create the political dynamics to incorporate these militias, to bring them around to the table.  And we are also calling on the militias to look at the future of Libya and take a statesman-like approach as to how they should be behaving.  The Libyan people now have a chance to look for and create the type of society they demanded when they began the uprising, and it is up to all sectors of society to work to achieve this.  Matthew?

Question:  I have a couple of budget committee questions.  I just want to ask, one, in light of what you’ve just said, I wanted to sort of ask you one question, which is that, I mean, some would say, like, for example, in a country like Sudan that people have risen up, that there are not only armed rebel groups but student groups and others that have said that there should be a democratization and a change in the country, but it doesn’t seem that the UN is saying, you know, they should, they should, they should continue going until they change the Government.  In fact, if anything, the UN’s message to the rebels seems to be “disarm”, and to the people seems to be “don’t go for regime change”.  So I am just wondering, how does the UN decide in which circumstances to declare dissatisfaction by the populace to be legitimate and to be encouraged or in another case, of Sudan currently to be discouraged and told to sort of get with the programme.  What’s the, what’s the distinction?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the distinction is that what the Secretary-General has called for is for all Governments to listen to their people and to permit and respect their right to peaceful demonstrations.  The people of Libya were demonstrating peacefully.  The Government decided to attack them with armed force.  In the Sudan, there is a peace process currently under way that the United Nations is working on.  The objective is to have this peace process work, and it is not helpful for people to be carrying out violent acts when there is a mechanism there for achieving a dialogue between the parties.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to, these are, and you may have these or maybe you can, you can get them; the budget committee was supposed to end its work Friday, then it was supposed to end — the Fifth Committee — then it was supposed to end today.  It has been extended and, and one reason is a proposal by the Secretary-General, so I want to get your, your response on it.  The proposal was called “Change Management”, it’s now driven by Mr. Kim Won-soo.  It’s run into, I guess I will say this, just opposition by the G-77.  What they say, and I would like your response, is that the Secretary-General is proposing to do many things without, that he claims are under his purview, without General Assembly approval.  And they say it is inappropriate, it should be stopped, and they are asking him to come up, and to specifically describe what steps he intends to take and to seek GA approval.  They are concerned that the Secretary-General is — it’s kind of a separation of powers thing — that he is not respecting the power of the Fifth Committee or the General Assembly, and I wanted to know, this is a, I am sure that there is a response by the Secretariat.  What is the response?  In the generic term of sort of is, does the GA provide oversight on these matters or is the Secretariat free to just kind of do what it will?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I’ll have to find out for you on that.  I don’t have anything on that matter right now.

Question:  And the other one, on the same, same, this is the other sticking point:  whether the Secretariat believes that it is, that OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] has the capability to do an audit of the CMP [Capital Master Plan] cost overruns.  There is a request for, by all sides, for an audit of this increase from 80 million to 400 million of the overrun.  The United States seems to want an outside party to do it; others want it to be done by OIOS, and I guess the question is, doesn’t the UN’s own OIOS have the capability to do such an audit or does it not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I would believe that the OIOS was set up precisely for that reason, but I’ll have to check again with the Secretary-General’s office to find out.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Capital Master Plan was audited on a regular basis annually by the Office for Internal Oversight Services, and twice a year by the Board of Auditors.]

Question:  And on Cyprus, do you have any, just that maybe you will have an “if asked”, there seems to be Mr. Eroglu, Dervis Eroglu, has said that tomorrow’s meeting may be the last.  He and, meanwhile, Downer is saying that he is very hopeful, so I just, have you seen the Eroglu comment and, and how do we square with one of the parties saying the process is about to hit an end and the UN Envoy saying everything is going peachy?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to get that information for you. I don’t have it with me.  But Mr. Downer has said that he is optimistic that the talks will continue.  The other day when he was misquoted, he was basically quoting what one of the sides said, and not what he himself believes and what the United Nations position is.  Okay?  Yes?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the process is Cypriot-owned and Cypriot-led, so it is up to the leaders to decide when and if to meet.]

Question:  I have heard that Mr. Annan will be briefing the Security Council on Monday; is that correct and will it…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, he will be briefing the Security Council Monday, by video conference in closed session.

Question:  So will it be open to the press and public?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, it won’t be open to the press or to the public. 

Okay, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.

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