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

29 May 2012

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

29 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.

So, good afternoon everybody, and welcome to this briefing.

**Noon Guests Today

And, as you are aware, today is the International Day of Peacekeepers, and that’s why I am joined by Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Tony Banbury, the Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support.  I will be turning to them shortly; they have some introductory remarks and will be able to take questions for about 20 minutes or so.


Just to let you know that earlier today, also marking the International Day of Peacekeepers, the Secretary-General honoured the 112 people who died while serving under the United Nations flag in 2011.

And speaking at a wreath-laying ceremony this morning, he said that the difference between an ordinary person and a hero is that the hero voluntarily braves danger to save others.  The Secretary-General also paid tribute to the 120,000 UN peacekeepers serving around the world.  He presided over the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal ceremony just a short while ago.

I will have a few other items at the end of the briefing by Mr. Ladsous and Mr. Banbury, and will be able to take some questions at that point.

So, thank you very much for joining me on the International Day of Peacekeepers; and the floor is yours.  Thank you.

[Press conference by Mr Ladsous and Mr. Banbury issued separately.]

Okay, thank you very much.  And if you have follow-up questions on the way out, could I urge you please to ask when you get outside of the auditorium just to make it easier for the continuation of the briefing.  Thank you very much.

So, as I mentioned, I have a couple of other items to read out for you and I am happy to take a couple of questions as well.

**Security Council

In his remarks to the Security Council this morning the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said Israel has taken steps to address the concerns of Palestinian prisoners.

He noted that the agreement reflects the positive impact of the quiet direct engagement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and that the Secretary-General had been engaged from the beginning, indicating concern for the health of the prisoners.

He also briefed the Council on the latest developments regarding Palestinian reconciliation.  In addition the Special Coordinator reiterated the Secretary-General’s hope that Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s expanded coalition provides an opportunity for Israel to embark on a meaningful renewal of the peace process.

He reported that the situation in the area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has remained generally quiet, but that air violations by Israel continue almost daily.  He told the Council that continued killing in Syria is of extreme concern to the Secretary-General and that the peaceful resolution of the crisis is a priority focus for the United Nations as a whole.

And this afternoon the Council will meet in closed consultations on the situation in Yemen.

** Syria

As I mentioned earlier, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said on Sunday that “indiscriminate and possibly deliberate” killing of villagers in the El-Houleh area of Homs in Syria may amount to crimes against humanity or other forms of international crime.  Ms. Pillay has called for an immediate and unfettered investigation of the incident by an independent and impartial international body.  She noted that the Syrian Government has a legal and moral responsibility to fully assist such an investigation, and to take concrete steps to prevent any similar acts.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Yesterday, Yuri Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), began a visit to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.  Mr. Fedotov met President Hamid Karzai today and he will also meet Government ministers and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš.  Mr. Fedotov is also launching the country programme of UNODC for Afghanistan for 2012-2014, visiting a poppy eradication site and a border crossing, and he is also meeting women and children from a post-release transitional house for female ex-prisoners.

In Tajikistan, Mr. Fedotov will meet President Rahmon and he will attend the opening session of the First Tripartite Ministerial meeting with Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  Mr. Fedotov will also co-chair a regional meeting of the Task Force on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking in Tajikistan.

** Guinea-Bissau

And the United Nations Integrated Office for Guinea-Bissau has issued a press release condemning in the strongest terms the use of force by members of Guinea-Bissau security and defence forces on Friday, 25 May, against a group of demonstrators concentrated in front of its premises while it was hosting a meeting of the international partners accredited to Guinea-Bissau.

The mission is reminding those responsible that the right to freedom of assembly, expression and association is guaranteed in the national legislation, as well as in the international conventions ratified or adopted by Guinea-Bissau, and that they should be strictly respected and protected by the competent authorities.  There is more on that press release in my office.

**Press Conference

Then at 1:15 p.m. today, here in this auditorium, Anders Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union will brief you on the interactions between United Nations national parliaments and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Questions, please?  Yes, Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  When should we expect the announcement of the new USG for Political Affairs?

Spokesperson:  Uh, not yet.  [laughter]  Okay.  [laughter]  When we have an announcement, we’ll make it.  Yes, please, and then I am coming to you, George, yes.  Yeah?

Question:  Martin, there have been reports that the UN’s World Tourism Organization has cited Robert Mugabe as a leader of international tourism.  Can you comment on that and why he has been given such a designation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the World Tourism Organization has made it clear that this is not correct.  What happens is that there is an open letter which is available to all Member States within the World Tourism Organization, and as I think you are probably aware, Zimbabwe and Zambia are co-hosting the World Tourism Organization’s next large meeting.  And it is in the context of those arrangements that the leaders of both countries have been invited to sign this open letter — something which has been signed by many leaders already and is open to other leaders to sign to.  Yes, George?

Question:  Thank you for [inaudible] I was just coming in as you said something about Israeli violations of airspace, is that in Lebanon; or where, to where were you referring?

Spokesperson:  Right, yes, yes, it is, yes.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin.

Correspondent:  Do I have a turn or…?

Question:  Yes, you will, Nizar, yes.

Correspondent:  Go ahead, and it’s fine with me.  Go ahead, Nizar.

Spokesperson:  Okay, Nizar, and then Matthew.

Question:  Eh, in all these briefings about Syria I haven’t heard anything, any mention about tens of thousands of Christians who were evicted from Homs by opposition groups.  Also, about the hostage-taking against Lebanese in Syrian territory.  Eleven hostages have been taken for, now, almost eight days.  Not a mention about them in the reports; Mr. Ladsous did not mention that.  I did not have the opportunity to ask him; I was denied that opportunity.  And also, Mr. Secretary, the Secretary-General did not even call for the release or even mention them in any statement.  Why is that ignoring these facts on the ground in Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s your expression, Nizar, not mine or ours.  The Secretary-General is obviously concerned about hostage-taking and indeed about the incident that you have referred to, which is still unresolved.  He is very concerned about that.  And secondly, it is obvious that it is for the opposition to adhere to its undertakings, as well as the Syrian Government.  You will have heard not just from Mr. Ladsous, but also from the Secretary-General, and Mr. Annan has also just given a press conference in Damascus.  It’s for the Syrian authorities and for the opposition to adhere to the plan that they have agreed to impalement; they have not implemented it yet.  And it applies in all its aspects to the opposition, too.

Question:  Yeah, Mr. Ladsous mentioned that mostly shabiha and the troops, of the government troops were responsible for what happened in Houleh.  Those who were evicted, tens of thousands of Christians from Homs areas, were they unarmed?  Another thing, eh, yesterday, from yesterday’s reports.  Media reports there were anti-tank shells used by the opposition against the, the, eh, the government forces.  Did the observers watch that?  Did they report about it, that the, the opposition is using…?

Spokesperson:  As I say…

Question:  …such weapons?

Spokesperson:  As I say, it is incumbent on both sides to adhere to the six-point peace plan and not least the first point, which is a cessation of violence in all its forms by all those responsible.  Matthew, and then I am coming to Joel again, yes.  Yes?

Question:  I am going to ask you the, the questions I asked Mr. Ladsous and about his refusal to answer them, but I wanted to be sure to at least ask you and get this.  Uhm, the Pagan Amum the spokes…, top negotiator for South Sudan has said in, in Ethiopia where the talks are re-beginning, that Sudan has once again bombed South Sudan.  He named Unity State, Western State and Northern Bahr el Ghazal.  So I am wondering, I know that they, last week we had some, some back-and-forth about UNMISS verifying these bombings.  This seems like a particularly important incident at this time.  What steps has UNMISS taken to, to, to, to verify or validate these bombings and, and is there anything more that can be said about what South Sudan was saying last week about the bombing?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I mentioned last week that the Mission was in the process of verifying the reports from last week.  And I think it would be fair to say that they are in the process of trying to verify these latest reports.  Obviously, it doesn’t take more than a quick look at the map of South Sudan to understand that the logistics are quite complicated.  But, within the capabilities of the Mission, they try as quickly as possible to be able to verify the reports there are.  And of course there are reports and there are denials; you need to be able to go and verify.

Question:  [inaudible] I’ll leave it boiled down to one of the two questions; this question of, of, of, I noticed that Mr. Banbury, he did sort of you know, pre-emptively talk about Lewis Maxwell and about sexual abuse, but there seems, this, this idea of the introduction of cholera into Haiti by the UN, which sources well beyond this room or online media attribute to the UN, what really is, you’ve kept saying a number of times that it is being studied, it’s being studied.  But, what is the response from the chief of DPKO to the, to many people who say that the credibility of MINUSTAH is, is injured every day that it doesn’t respect, re…, provide some accountability for its own actions?  And does the Secretary-General stand behind his USG refusing to answer that question, simply because he doesn’t like coverage of his activities?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not even going to go near the last question because that’s obviously not acceptable.  The first part of your question; whether you like it or not, Matthew, the answer remains the same, because it is quite clear that if there are claims of that kind, which are extremely serious, they need to be looked at extremely carefully, and that is what is happening.  This is not something that is likely to take place quickly; it is being reviewed, as we have repeatedly said.  And I can’t suddenly have a different answer.  That’s the case, that’s what is happening within legal affairs.  Joe?

Correspondent:  Just to be clear, what is unacceptable?  His not answering or the way he is being covered?  I just want to know.

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I really don’t think this is, this needs to be about you in this case.  I want to move on to the next question, thank you.  Joe?

Question:  I wanted to follow up on Nizar’s question:  there had been accounts at the beginning of this conflict that opposition groups had arms from the beginning.  There are apparently YouTube videos of beheadings of Alawites by Sunnis opposition forces.  And what I am saying is that this may, this conflict may be more complicated than the narrative we hear from Western Governments.  And I want to know if the UN, the observers in particular, are looking into these kinds of killings on both sides?  Is that your mandate, to be more balanced about the reporting?  I have heard, just to understand what’s going on, how to promote one [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I think, Joe, I would say straight away the Mission has a mandate from the Security Council.  All of our missions are even-handed and impartial.  And to suggest otherwise, I don’t think is really appropriate.  What I can say is that the, as you heard Mr. Ladsous already mention, the Mission does not have the full capacity to carry out forensic investigations; that it cannot do.  Can it register and report back on what it has seen and heard in an impartial manner?  Yes, it can, and yes, it does.  And there are multiple patrols every day from those eight locations and soon to be 11 locations, every day.  But they cannot be everywhere at once.  Have there been atrocities, human rights abuses on both sides?  Absolutely; and the last commission of inquiry update made that perfectly clear.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Just to follow up on this.  Why is it then that the Secretary-General’s report, which is to be considered tomorrow in the Security Council, does not mention the hostage taking by the opposition?  And this incident of the 11 is not the first one; because many previous incidents happened close to the Lebanese border, where many Lebanese who were living in Syria were abducted and there were exchange of prisoners, in that case.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has expressed his concern about the danger, and indeed, in part the reality of the spill-over effect from what is happening in Syria itself.  And that applies not just to violence, but to the kind of incident that you are referring to.  The Security Council is due to consider the report that the Secretary-General has submitted in the form of a letter, and I am not going to comment on that until it has been considered by the Council.  What you will have seen in the public domain is the letter which the Secretary-General sent over the weekend that catalogues what we know so far about the incident that happened over the weekend.  Yes, Stefano, and then this will be the last question?

Question:  Yes, Martin.  I have to ask again about the meeting of the Italian Foreign Minister Terzi with the Secretary-General last week; it is just exactly a week ago.  The Foreign Minister told us that he, uh, he expressed his co…, he that he, that, that the situation with India was unacceptable; and the jailing of the two Italian marines was unacceptable.  He said, he told us that he expressed this to the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.  I was looking that day and also thereafter, I was looking for a readout of the conversation they had, and I didn’t find it.  Nobody could give me anything.  And then I found the one of the President of the General Assembly, where actually India was not even mentioned.  The Foreign Minister said that he told Nasser about India, but it was not mentioned.  So, how, what, I mean, how do, you know, I need to know what was the reaction of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the concern that the Italian Foreign Minister expressed about the situation, the crisis with India.  Can you have it now?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to the President of the General Assembly, I have my work cut out being the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General without being the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, as well, so you have to ask Nihal Saad about that.

Question:  Of course.

Spokesperson:  On the first question, we issue a lot of readouts, but they are not always issued, and there may be various reasons for that — some of them purely logistical.  Sometimes they are issued and sometimes they are not.  If I have anything further on this, then I would certainly let you know, Stefano.  But, let me just be clear.  Any mediating role, to come back to your previous question, and I don’t think that changes — any mediating role plainly requires the consent or the request of both or all parties concerned.  And I think that that’s where I would leave it at the moment.  Yes?

Question:  I understand there has been violence on all sides — to follow up on [inaudible correspondent’s name], again.  I understand that, except that you don’t have two equal sides; you [inaudible] sides.  And you have a slaughter here, a massacre, and there can’t be blame on all sides; someone has to decide who is responsible.  You had a Srebrenica and a Rwanda and the UN role and getting blamed for this and so, I just think this even-handedness, that all sides have to stop the violence and so forth, of course they do believe. But…,

Spokesperson: What’s the question?

Question:  Why, why can’t, is the UN being even-handed…?

Spokesperson:  Say, again, why is the UN…?

Question:  is it intelli…, is it intelligent to be even-handed in face of the massacre [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  No, listen, impartial and even-handed in the approach to the mandate, and it has been clear from the beginning that the preponderance of the responsibility to cease violence rests first and foremost with the Syrian Government.  And that has been repeated again today.  But that doesn’t mean that the opposition should not stop; of course, they should.  But the preponderance of responsibility is with the Syrian authorities.  And it is obvious, as I said, that the commission of inquiry has made clear on more than one occasion that there have been human rights abuses committed by both sides.  But, most of them have been committed by the Syrian authorities.

Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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