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

13 June 2012

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

13 June 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.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, said that he was deeply shocked and utterly dismayed by the despicable attacks across Iraq today.  Those attacks have claimed the lives of scores of Iraqis, including many pilgrims, and have injured dozens more. 

Mr. Kobler urgently appealed to the Government to address the root causes of the violence and terrorism that are causing so much suffering and pain to the Iraqi people.  He extended his condolences to the families of those who were killed and his wishes for the speedy recovery of those who were injured.

** Myanmar

Following a discussion with senior leaders yesterday in Naypyitaw, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, visited Rakhine State today.  The purpose of his visit is to observe and assess how the United Nations can continue to provide support to Rakhine.

And we will keep you updated as we get more information on Mr. Nambiar’s visit.

** Haiti

Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has confirmed the Programme’s commitment to support Haiti in finding sustainable solutions to hunger and malnutrition.  During her first visit to Haiti, Ms. Cousin met with President Michel Martelly.  They resolved to work together to expand sustainable programmes, linking school feeding and education with reinforced local production.  However, a significant reduction in donor contributions threatens the Programme’s ability to respond. The World Food Programme in Haiti is at a critical point and requires US$54.6 million to keep programmes operating through this year.  A full press release may be found on the WFP website.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., in Conference Room 3 of the North Lawn Building here at United Nations headquarters, the Global Peace Index (GPI) for the year 2012 will be launched. 

And then at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference on that launch, here in this auditorium.  The Speakers will include Robert Powell, Senior Editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit; Daniel Hyslop, who is Research Manager of the Institute for Economics and Peace; and Michael Shank, who is the U.S. Vice-President of the Institute for Economics and Peace.

 That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Margaret?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Martin.  Yesterday, Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous’ comments were widely broadcast about Syria deteriorating into civil war.  Does the Secretary-General agree with that assessment?  What can you tell us?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s clear that it is not for us to determine or formally characterize the nature of the conflict in Syria.  I think what everyone is focusing on is that there has been a dangerous intensification of armed violence across Syria in the last several days, and that’s something that the Secretary-General himself referred to in his statement that came out on Monday evening here.  And indeed, he also referred to the scale of the violence in his remarks to the press on Thursday evening this past week.  Others, too, have been speaking about that escalation and intensification, including Mr. Ladsous and the Joint Special Envoy, Mr. [Kofi] Annan.  And you will have seen from the mission on the ground there reporting and comments on the nature of the fighting that is taking place.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Two questions: since we witnessed so many opposite statements on the Rio+20 preparation conference, et cetera, is the Secretary-General finally satisfied with all the work that has been done in preparation of the Rio+20; and what are his main concerns, if any, are left?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General did speak at some length not so long ago, sitting right in this chair.  His assessment remains, as he said then, cautiously optimistic.  He is conscious that there is work to be done, and still to be done, but that progress has been made.  What he has also said is that this is already a success in the sense that it has galvanized public opinion and has helped to create a climate of change, if you like, in the way that people view the need for sustainable development.  That’s already a positive outcome before the summit even starts.  But, yes, there is still work to be done, and yes, the Secretary-General is cautiously optimistic about the conference that is coming on sustainable development.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Martin, if the Secretary-General says that it is not for the UN to determine whether the Syrian conflict has escalated to civil war, whose determination is that?  And does the Secretary-General then agree with the criticism of Under-Secretary-General Ladsous from the Syrian Government, of the statement yesterday?

Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things, Edie:  the first is that the Secretary-General himself and others, notably [the Secretary-General himself], has been speaking about his concerns about the imminent threat of a civil war.  He himself has spoken about the dangers of an escalation of this crisis, not just for the country itself, not just for Syria, but for the region.  And others have done so as well.  I did very carefully say that it is not for us to determine or formally characterize the nature of the conflict in Syria.  And I did speak yesterday at some length about the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in making an assessment about the nature of the conflict in Syria.  The Secretary-General himself said at the press stakeout, in his remarks to the press last Thursday, that the killings we have witnessed in recent weeks are indicative of a pattern that may amount to crimes against humanity; that confrontations in certain areas of the country have taken on the character of an internal conflict.

Now, this is something that is the subject of assessment by the International Committee of the Red Cross, because of the Geneva Conventions and so on.  Everybody understands and everybody has been speaking about the intensification of the fighting that has been going on in Syria in recent days—   the escalation in the use of different tactics and the use of different weaponry.  And that’s where the focus is at the moment:  in trying to stop that, and stop the suffering that the Syrian people continue to endure.

Question:  So, as a follow-up, has the Secretary-General spoken to Mr. Ladsous about this, and does he think that it was a mistake for him to have said that?

Spokesperson:  As I say, the focus is on what is clearly a dangerous intensification of armed violence across Syria in the last several days.  And I think I will leave it there.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, Martin, just, I need to understand this better.  Is it sitting members of the Security Council that should formally declare that this is a civil war?  I mean, what is their voting, who says this is a civil war?  I understand it is not the same thing…

Spokesperson:  Well, I have just explained.  It is the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Question:  The Red… uh, thank you.  May I have a follow-up?

Spokesperson:  You may.

Question:  If it becomes officially formally declared a civil war, is there any set of rules to deal with it?  For example, the… the… the peacekeepers who are now there, would their mission have to change?  Would you have to do something officially?

Spokesperson:  Well, that would be something subsequently for the Security Council to determine in looking at the mandate, as it does at other mandates of missions under its purview.  Another important point here is that the terminology does become quite critical, and what the International Committee of the Red Cross tends to talk about is internal conflict or internal armed conflict.  And that is the assessment which is for them to make, given their responsibility [under] the Geneva Conventions.  Yeah?

Question:  May I follow up?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Erol.

Question:  Just this set of questions, so, I don’t know; I know that you don’t, nobody likes hypothetical questions, but let me put it this way.  When it is declared formally as a civil war, does it make it more difficult for the international community to intervene in any kind, shape or form?

Spokesperson:  Again, that’s something that would be for the Security Council to determine in due course, should there be such a formal assessment— first point.  The second point is that, as we have witnessed already, this mission for 300 unarmed observers is already challenging, to say the very least.  Yes, George?

Question:  With reference to Ms. [Valerie] Amos’ comments where she just recently put out an e-mail which I got which said, call, calling for an immediate end to the Israeli, so-called, blockade of Gaza.  Does she not recognize or realize the fact that there are missiles flying over the border, as is?  And does she not recognize the right of the State of Israel to defend itself and prevent further weapons and weaponry of all kinds from getting in there?  And with, with reference, if I can just follow up on some of my colleagues’ comments, with reference to the non-civil war in Syria:  my God, when are they going to realize this is already a civil war?  It has been a civil war for, except for the, maybe the first two or three months that it’s been going on.  And, and, has somebody got blinders on, or what is going on here?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I’ll take your second question as a rhetorical one, I think.  And the first one, I would refer you to Ms. Amos or her team, the spokesperson for Ms. Amos, except to say that I think everybody recognizes that there are attacks, rocket firing incidents out of Gaza.  And they are to be condemned, and they have been condemned, and we have been quite consistent in doing so.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, of course, on Ms. Amos’ thing, I mean, is this, is there a possibility that this blockade can ever be broken, because Israel is very adamant about this blockade, and even the United States cannot ask us, ask it to, I mean, end it.  So what is it that the United Nations can, the international community can do in, in the face of such intransigence on face of… by Israel?

Spokesperson:  Over the years that have passed, there has been some progress and there have been setbacks.  The United Nations has tried extremely hard to ensure that there can be better movement of people and goods.  There has been some improvement, but nowhere near enough.  And the United Nations continues to push for that to be improved, to ease the obvious plight of the people in Gaza.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure.  I wanted to, to ask you about an article in today’s Christian Science Monitor, and you may have seen it, it’s entitled ‘Will the UN’s legacy in Haiti be all about scandal?’  And just factually it, it quotes, it has a couple of things I want to ask you about, Ruth Wedgewood, a former UN Human Rights Commissioner, saying at the very least they should require medical records for all peacekeepers; and it also quotes the lawyer for a 14-year-old boy alleging sexual abuse by peacekeepers, saying it is totally unacceptable that he has been, he said he has been told this with the Legal Department in New York, he has heard nothing for the past two months and he calls it entirely unacceptable.  And I wonder is that, what’s the sta… I mean, as I… I… I… I guess I am asking you on the… on the… on the… on the cholera claim, is it still with the Legal Department, and what is the response to a lawyer in Haiti saying that it’s totally unacceptable that these cases just disappear into Headquarters and, and a Human Rights Commissioner of the UN saying that the UN is, should, at a minimum, test its peacekeepers before sending them to places like Haiti, what’s the UN’s response to this article?  It’s quite long and detailed.

Spokesperson:  No immediate response to this one particular article, Matthew.  You know what I am going to say about the claims.  I don’t have anything, fresh view on that.  And I don’t have any further comment on the article.  Perhaps I will do later, but I don’t now.

Question:  Okay.  And can I ask, I wanted to ask at the, the, yesterday, I got from your office and I was glad to get an answer saying that somehow the, that for UN TV, some wire had been cut or, I mean, I, I have been trying to, to, ask around about it, but one of the, one the things that you said was that in this, or your office said was that on-demand videos of the events this morning will be available on the webcast site and I have just checked it and I find that, not only the stakeout by Tawakkul Karman, the Yemeni Nobel Prize winner who spoke for about 8 minutes, including on Syria, but even of [Mark] Lyall Grant and Mr. [Jamal] Benomar, none of them are up.  So, what, what have, what happened to those, those statements made and also who cut the cable and what’s… what’s… what’s gonna, I guess, be the ramifications that all of this information is lost?

Spokesperson:  Maybe you are having trouble with your e-mail, Matthew, because I know that Stéphane Dujarric sent you an e-mail that covers all of those points, and I don’t have anything to add to that. 

[The Spokesperson received a copy of the e-mail sent to the reporter by the Director of the News and Media Division in the Department of Public Information. Here it is:

“As mentioned repeatedly, we very much regret and apologize for the brief disruption of the UN's broadcasting of the General Assembly meeting on Syria yesterday.  This was due to a miscommunication within the News & Media Division. Basically, the latest information about what parts of the meetings were open and which parts were closed were not shared widely enough. Every effort is being made to prevent similar occurrences in the future.  Michele duBach acted on my instructions.

“Regarding coverage yesterday, as mentioned after the briefing, the live UN webcast was not available this morning, because a cable was inadvertently cut by a construction crew as part of the renovation.  Every effort is being made to put online on the UN webcast site the video that was recorded during the day. My understanding is that the repairs are ongoing and will be completed soon.”]

Yes, other questions, please?  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Yeah, again, technical question; probably you will wonder how huge is the journalist’s ignorance, but still I am here 20 years and I don’t know that.  Who is financing, and with what sum, the General Assembly President’s Office?  What would be the sum?  And is there any rule how many people, since this is international staff and things are to be engaged and who is covering all those salaries and everything?

Spokesperson:  I think I would ask you to check with the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly who may have a better overview of the budgetary side of things.  I will check if there is other information available. They have a separate budget; I don’t have the details on that.

Question:  It’s a separate budget totally?

Spokesperson:  I believe it’s a separate budget and…

Question:  Carried by the Government of that certain country or by the UN?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think so, but I would need to check.

Correspondent:  It’s UN budget.

Spokesperson:  I believe it’s within the UN, the overall UN budget, but it is a separate budget allocation, is what I am trying to say.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much, thank you.

* *** *

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