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

16 May 2012

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

16 May 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; welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General on Central America

The Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s thematic debate on security in Central America this morning, and he welcomed the recent progress in the region.  He noted that the armed conflicts that once burned through the region are no more, that political violence has been greatly reduced, and that democratic processes are being consolidated.

But profound challenges remain, he added.  Countries in the region, especially in the northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, face rising levels of violence fuelled by transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.  The region is now home to the highest homicide rates in the world.  The homicide rate in Honduras, for example, is 10 times the global average.  We have his remarks in our office and online.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding a formal meeting on Libya, to hear from the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  Mr. Moreno-Ocampo provided an update on the cases his Office has developed concerning Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi and Abdullah al-Senussi.  And he will brief you here at 1 p.m. today.

** Syria

The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) reported today that it has picked up the six UN military observers who had to stay overnight in Khan Cheikhoun after vehicles in their convoy were damaged following an explosion.  They are now back at their team site in Hama.  You’ll recall that three UN vehicles were damaged in yesterday’s incident.  No UN personnel were injured.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, expressed his alarm today at new inflows of refugees into Rwanda and Uganda from fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UN refugee agency (UNHCR) staff in Rwanda report that more than 8,000 refugees have crossed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 27 April.  These are in addition to the 55,000 Congolese refugees that Rwanda is already hosting.  In Uganda, Government officials say 30,000 refugees have arrived this month.  Prior to this new influx, Uganda was already host to some 175,000 refugees, including about 100,000 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Guterres says the displacement level in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is disastrous.  Conflict there, coupled with very limited access for humanitarian workers, means that many thousands of people are without protection and help.  The situation in the South and North Kivu areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has worsened in recent months amid fighting between Government forces and soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda.  According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has now reached more than two million as of the end of March.

** Colombia

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia has condemned the attack which took place yesterday morning in Bogota, in which at least two people died and 39 more were injured.  Todd Howland, the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights there, said the attack violated the human rights of those who suffered the consequences.  He added that he was deeply saddened by the death of the Colombians.  Mr. Howland called on the authorities to quickly identify the people responsible for the attack and for them to be brought to justice.

**World Health Organization

The World Health Statistics 2012 report, released today in Geneva by the World Health Organization (WHO), puts the spotlight on the growing problem of non‑communicable diseases, which currently cause almost two thirds of all deaths worldwide.  Containing data from 194 countries, the annual report notes that one in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure — a condition that causes around half of all deaths from stroke and heart disease.  One in ten adults has diabetes.

Another major issue is obesity.  According to the report, half a billion people today, or 12 per cent of the world’s population, are considered obese.  In all parts of the world, women are more likely to be obese than men, and thus at greater risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

The World Health Assembly, to be held in Geneva from next Monday, will review progress made since the 2011 United Nations high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York and agree on next steps.  Work is under way to develop a global monitoring framework and a set of voluntary targets for prevention and control of these diseases.  The report is available in English, French and Spanish.  And there’s more information on the website of the World Health Organization.

** Cambodia

Judge Motoo Noguchi from Japan, an international judge of the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), tendered a letter of resignation to the Secretary-General today.  His resignation will take effect in 60 days, on 15 July.  After leaving the Extraordinary Chambers, he is going to return to serving the Ministry of Justice of Japan.  And we have more information on that in a press release.

Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, this situation in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s intention to merge Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and the surrounding tension in the region as a result of that; does the Secretary-General believe that the Bahraini people should have a say in their future, whether to join Saudi Arabia or to remain an independent country?

Spokesperson:  I think that would be for the people of the countries concerned to decide, Nizar, and it is not for us to comment on that at this point.

Question:  But, I mean, it looks like the two monarchs — Saudi and Bahrain monarchs — are agreeing among themselves.  Of course, there is no parliament in Bahrain or the parliament has been… I don’t know…

Spokesperson:  No, I fully understand that, Nizar, but the fact remains that it is the sovereign decision of countries to decide on their own status and with whom they associate in political terms, and it is not for us to comment on that.  Yes, Iftikhar, and then I am coming to you, Ali.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, on Monday, the Security Council demanded of Congolese authorities to take steps so that no attacks take place on UN peacekeepers in that country.  Have the Congolese authorities given any response to the Secretary-General, and have they also informed you about the condition of the people who were injured in that attack?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will check further with the Mission.  I will certainly seek to check with the Mission and with the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) whether they have heard anything from the Congolese authorities.  Do bear in mind that, while of course we would also wish the same, the request came from the Security Council, so it is probably worth checking with the Council whether they have heard anything directly from the Congolese authorities.  Yes?

Question:  In fact, I have a few questions.  Would you please confirm reports that Israeli military intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi was here at the UN two weeks ago?  Would you deny if it is untrue?  If it is true, who are the senior people that Mr. Kochavi met at the UN?  And I have another question; in fact I asked you last week about a ruling by the UN Dispute Tribunal that the Secretary-General should take some measures against Mr. Shaaban, and you said you were going to come back to me.  I have also… let me… well, maybe you can answer me and I will ask the other questions.

Spokesperson:  By all means, by all means.  Just on the first one, I think we’d have to ask DPKO.  I don’t have anything on that, on the reports which obviously I have seen too, but I don’t have anything for you on that.  On the Tribunal, the Dispute Tribunal, I have asked.  Our understanding is that this information, ruling, was relayed to the Office of the Secretary-General, and it has… that information has been acted upon, but I don’t have any further details on that to elaborate further.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Dispute Tribunal referred the matter of Muhammed Shaaban’s conduct to the Secretary-General for possible accountability, pursuant to article 10.8 of its Statute.  Action was taken on this referral and the matter is now closed.  The outcome of the action taken is confidential, as it pertains to a staff member.]

Question:  But I understood that Mr. Shaaban is going to attend the Rio+20 [Conference], even after the end of his term in office.  Is it true?

Spokesperson:  I think we have mentioned in the past that, as you well know, there is a process under way of rotating senior staff for who have been in place for five years, and that of course does include operational flexibility, which in plain English means that if they have an important job still to complete, that they will do.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  It’s actually not… I guess I’ll… I don’t know, I’ll tie it into this.  Just this morning in the General Assembly, the Small… the so-called Small-5 withdrew a resolution that they’d had on… on changing the working methods of the Security Council.  But it… it… lodged in that debate was a letter by Patricia O’Brien dated 14 May directed the PGA [President of the General Assembly], but it widely circulated to Member States, in which she said that the two-thirds vote should be required for that proposal.  So I wanted to know, it’s obviously… it’s the big thing in the UN system, is it possible… I’ll… I’ll ask again, to hear from… from… from Patricia O’Brien, have her come and do a press conference?  In the past, it has been said that she is the personal adviser to Ban Ki-moon, but this was advised to… to 193 Member States.  So I wonder, will she speak, and does this five-year mobility or rotation rule apply to her?

Spokesperson:  So where would you like me to start with this multi-layered question?  I think the first thing is, we can certainly relay your request for a briefing - I think it unlikely.  The question about the resolution; well, as you yourself said, the co-sponsors did withdraw that draft, and therefore I don’t see any need to comment on any procedural considerations that were discussed over the course of the last couple of days.

Question:  But I want… I guess I want to… they withdrew it specifically because Ban Ki-moon’s top lawyer ruled in a way that the Swiss Ambassador called biased, that this resolution would require two-thirds of Member States to vote in favour of.  So it’s not… it’s not that there is no relation between the Secretariat and what happened today.  And so I am just wondering, does Ban Ki-moon agree with that advice?  And if he doesn’t… or just, you know, why… why… why is it unlikely that she will come and explain her reason for that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you are jumping to conclusions here.  The point is that you asked whether she could brief.  I say that’s unlikely on any topic, not specifically on this topic, for reasons that we have explained in the past. Just to repeat, there is no point in dwelling on theoreticals or hypotheticals.  The draft has been withdrawn this morning; therefore, there is no need to discuss any of these procedural considerations because they did not come into play.

Question:  And does the five-year rule apply to… to Ms. O’Brien?

Spokesperson:  I would imagine that it does.  Yes, Ozlem?

[The Spokesperson later noted that her term as Legal Counsel began in 2008.]

Question:  Thank you.  My question is on Cyprus again.  As you know, the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. [Dimitris] Christofias, announced that he is not running for presidential elections again.  Given the fact that he was the one who was continuing talks with the other side, the Turkish Cypriots, since 2008, what does Secretary-General foresee for the future of the Cyprus talks?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think we want to get into the political process in an individual case like this.  It is not appropriate for us to talk about an electoral process.  The most important thing is that there is a process of discussions, negotiations on the question of Cyprus, and that is something that has been going on for some time, and doubtless will continue.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, and then I will come back to you, Ali.

Question:  Thank you, Marvin, eh, Martin.  Just a comment on what Matthew said and then a question.  Under General Assembly rules, only substantive questions would be ruled on the basis of two thirds.  This is a procedural question; unless the Assembly decides otherwise, it is a procedural question and cannot be subjected to two-thirds majority.  Anyway, my question is this: unemployment, the issue of unemployment is a major issue and a problem for many, many Governments, if not all the Governments.  We haven’t heard much about unemployment from the ILO [International Labour Organization] or from the Secretary-General.  We know that the Secretary-General addresses major development goal number one — poverty — which is related, but shouldn’t the Secretary-General be in the forefront of raising the stakes, as far as the issue of unemployment is concerned?

Spokesperson:  I would beg to differ, Mr. Abbadi.  The Secretary-General has been quite vocal on unemployment and will continue to be so.  And I know that the ILO has also made that — particularly youth unemployment — one of its top priorities.  I think that this will play into the Rio+20 discussions in Brazil next month, and in the run-up to that and beyond that.  Quite clearly, it is a crucial part of the equation.  And as we have seen in parts of the world, including in the Middle East and North Africa, unemployment, particularly amongst young people, is a matter that needs to be taken extremely seriously and acted upon.  Everybody deserves to be able to have work, and work with dignity.  So just on that point, just to come back, thank you for your legal advice.  As I say, there isn’t really anything to be added.  Procedural considerations were discussed, but ultimately the draft is being withdrawn.  So we don’t need to get into that, I think.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Martin, again.  Whose responsibility [is it] to protect the UNSMIS personnel in Syria?  And I have a question whether the Secretary-General has special concerns now after these series of attacks against… obviously against UNSMIS in Syria.  Is the future of UNSMIS really at stake now?

Spokesperson:  On the first point, on who is responsible for their security, in practical terms it depends where they are.  If they are patrolling in Government-controlled areas, then they have an escort from the Syrian authorities, a security escort.  However, as you well know, it is their responsibility to — and their role to — patrol in other areas too, to roam freely and to report on what they see.  So if they intend to go into areas that are not under Government control, then that is without Syrian escort, Syrian official escort.  So that is to answer that part of your question.  Are we concerned about the safety of the personnel on the ground — and today, as of today, there are 236 military observers on the ground and 71 civilian staff, and I understand 25 more observers are en route to Syria today — are we concerned about their safety?  Yes, of course we are.  We do not know for a fact that they have been deliberately targeted, but plainly they have been in harm’s way.  That’s unfortunately the nature of the job they have, and they are doing an admirable job under extremely difficult circumstances in their quest to help the people of Syria, who themselves have been living in extremely trying and dangerous circumstances themselves for many months now. 

Question:  A follow-up on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Do you consider Khan Sheikhoun an area controlled by the State or by the rebels?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you will have seen, this is a mixed picture, and where our colleagues were yesterday was plainly not under the control of the Syrian authorities at that point.  I would simply say that our colleagues patrol widely several times a day in multiple locations.  It is extremely risky, the work they are doing to help the Syrian people to ensure that the pain and suffering that they have been enduring for 15 months now can come to an end and that we can move towards a political process.

Question:  From the videos posted on some of these sites like Pro Caritas and others, it seems that there were… the vehicles were surrounded by protesters at the time and someone was filming it.  Did that go into consideration in the investigation?

Spokesperson:  The most important point here is that there was an incident; our six military observers are now, as I mentioned earlier, in Hama.  They will be able to report to their headquarters now, to provide full details to their headquarters, and if there are further details that emerge, which have not been out there so far, then we will let you know.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, I want to ask you about Sudan.  There are… the… the Justice and Equality Movement is saying that after the… this taking and then un-taking of a town in South Darfur, that the… the Government has arrested 30 civilians, they say human rights activists, women, possibly children.  So I wanted to know, they have called on UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] to… to… to… to… to urge the Government to release the people and to provide protection to civilians in that part of South Darfur.  What’s… can you confirm these arrests and what’s… what’s UNAMID done about them?

Spokesperson:  Let me check on that Matthew, I can’t confirm those arrests at this point.  Let me check with UNAMID.  But I can confirm that we did e-mail you a response to your previous question on El Geneina.

Question:  Sure.  No, I’d… I’d actually… and I wanted to… what I didn’t… you didn’t e-mail me… is a readout of the meeting with the Moroccan Foreign Minister.  Remember last… last week and you’d said that they will be probably one forthcoming, maybe I missed it; did I miss it?

Spokesperson:  Well, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, Matthew, for the reasons that I explained yesterday, and sometimes for other reasons.

Question:  And this one, I guess, I have been, I want to ask you directly, it’s been reported in the Spanish press that, not only was the purpose of that meeting with the Moroccan Foreign Minister to ask that Mr. [Wolfgang] Weisbrod-Weber, whose name was already given to the Security Council, not be named SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara], but that Christopher Ross be removed from his post as Personal Envoy; can you… this is why I am asking you, if there is a…

Spokesperson:  No, I understand, I understand…

Question:  Was that… was that discussed?

Spokesperson:  I understand, Matthew, what you are saying.  And as I said to you before, if and when we have an announcement on appointments, then we’d let you know.  But I don’t have anything on that for you at the moment.  Last question, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Michel Rocard, the former French Prime Minister has been visiting Iran to discuss the nuclear issue…

Spokesperson:  Has been visiting, I am sorry…?

Correspondent:  Visiting Iran.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, right, okay.

Question: …and discussed the issue with the Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar [Salehi].  He did this on the basis… on a personal basis, but apparently the discussions were useful.  Does the Secretary-General support such initiatives, private, personal initiatives to advance the…?

Spokesperson:  Which issue are you talking about?  The nuclear question?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there are different channels that can be useful at different times.  As you know, there have been discussions between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Iranian authorities in Vienna in the last few days, and there are also the discussions going on between the P5+1 — the permanent five members of the Security Council and Germany — and the Iranian authorities.  Those discussions are set to get under way.  So there are, of course — will at any time be different strands going on; that’s the nature of diplomacy.

Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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