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

16 July 2012

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

16 July 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’s Travel

First of all, a reminder, that the Secretary-General will leave New York later today for a visit that will take him to China and to South-Eastern Europe.

In Beijing, he will take part in a ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.  And while in China, the Secretary-General will also meet with the country’s leadership.  He’ll take part in an online conversation with young people and in an event to recognize the role of Chinese people in the “Future We Want” campaign for sustainable development.

Later in the week, he will travel to South-Eastern Europe, where he will promote the strong partnership between the United Nations and the countries of the region.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Addis Ababa

Jan Eliasson made his first trip as Deputy Secretary-General to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, and he addressed the plenary of that Summit yesterday, saying that Africa will always be a high priority and special concern in his work at the United Nations.

He said that it is gratifying to see how far the United Nations, the African Union and regional organizations have come by working together ever more vigorously over the years.  The Deputy Secretary-General discussed their joint efforts to resolve the crisis in Mali, the dispute between Sudan and South Sudan, and the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He also met with the leaders attending the African Union Summit on those topics, and we have readouts available in our office and online.

The Deputy Secretary-General also said that Africa’s future is in its own hands, especially those of women and young people, who comprise the majority on the continent.  Today, he is seeing some of the work to empower youth first hand by visiting a UNICEF-supported youth centre outside the Ethiopian capital.  And he will return to New York tomorrow.

** Syria — Humanitarian

The fourth Syria Humanitarian Forum took place today in Geneva today against the backdrop of an appalling deterioration in the humanitarian situation.  Around 350 representatives of Member States, regional organizations, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations participated.

The Forum complimented humanitarian agencies for having boosted operations in the face of an incredibly complex and dangerous environment.  Food aid is now reaching 850,000 people, and more than 100,000 displaced people have received mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets and other vital supplies in the last four weeks.

However, the Forum acknowledged that appeals are only 20 per cent funded.  Without additional funds, current operations are in jeopardy of being closed down.  Donors pledged to address under-funding as a matter of urgency.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched a new global campaign today highlighting the size and cost of transnational organized crime, which threatens peace, human security and prosperity.

Turnover from organized criminal networks is estimated to stand at some $870 billion annually.  This is worth more than six times the amount of official development assistance and is comparable to 1.5 per cent of global gross domestic product.

This new campaign illustrates that despite being a global threat, the effects of transnational organized crime are felt locally.  Crime groups can destabilize countries and entire regions, undermining development assistance in those areas and increasing domestic corruption, extortion, racketeering and violence.  There is more information available on the website of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

That’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, Edie? 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this agreement in principle between the leaders of Congo and Rwanda to back a neutral international armed force to combat Congo’s newest rebellion?

Spokesperson:  Well…

Question: …in the east?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Well, we’re still looking into some of the details of this outcome of the AU Summit on the Great Lakes region meeting that took place over the weekend, but I would say that MONUSCO, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stands ready to support regional efforts to resolve the crisis in eastern DRC within its mandate and capabilities.  So, in other words, we are still looking at some of the details, but MONUSCO is there ready to support regional efforts within the framework of its mandate.  Yes, other questions?  Nizar and then Joe.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, after the beginning of what’s happened in Syria in the Hama region, how are you revising your figures about the massacre, now that the Mission has been able to visit the place and establish how many militants were killed?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we haven’t given figures.  The whole point is that the Mission wanted to be able to go to the village to verify facts.  This it has been trying to do, as you will have seen twice over the weekend, a patrol was able to go to Treimseh to look at what had happened and to try to speak to people.  You will have seen the note of correspondence issued by the Spokesperson for the Mission that gives the information that they have at this point, and says the number of casualties is still unclear.  The UN Supervision Mission in Syria is trying to seek further verification.  So their work continues on this.

Question:  The statement issued by the Envoy, Kofi Annan, first was categorized by the Syrians as hasty or rushed very quickly.  Do you believe it has… was a hasty one?  Or does the Secretary-General believe so?

Spokesperson:  What you will have seen is that the observers went in as quickly as they could, as hastily as they could to ascertain the facts.  It is obvious to everyone, including the Syrian authorities, that something terrible happened.  It’s simply the nature of that that needs to be verified, and that’s what the Mission is doing in extremely difficult circumstances.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  [inaudible] Nizar…

Question:  [inaudible]

Question:  Is the Deputy Secretary-General discussing, to your knowledge, at the African Union meeting over the weekend, the situation in Mali?  Did that come up, and if not, does either the Secretary-General or Deputy Secretary-General intend to make a statement on the continuing tightening of control by the Islamists in the northern part of Mali?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned at the outset, indeed, the Deputy Secretary-General has been in Addis Ababa at the African Union Summit, and on the sidelines of that Summit, he’s had meetings with a number of African leaders and, indeed, Mali was one of the major topics and it was a major focus of attention.  There is considerable concern in the international community, and the Deputy Secretary-General shares those concerns, and that’s why, in his discussions, there was quite a lot talk about what needs to be done and how to coordinate those efforts with regional groupings and with the United Nations.  Take a look at the readouts that there were on those conversations.  Masood?

Question:  Martin, on Egypt, I’ve been asking this question last week also.  Now, the Egyptian army has weighed in and have said that Egypt is for Egyptians.  It is to determine… the Muslim Brotherhood, which is in power now, has taken over, it’s not responsible… What is the position by the Secretary-General on this army’s direct interference in the… the process… in the democratic process that is going on?

Spokesperson:  Look, Masood, you will have seen that the Secretary-General spoke not so long ago, both to Field Marshal Tantawi and to Mr. Mohamed Morsi, now the President.  I would refer you to those comments there, and in addition, I’d maybe refer you to what I said last week on a number of occasions, that dialogue is the way to resolve differences that there may be.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  [inaudible] about Syria.  There was an announcement in France on Friday that Jean-Marie Guehenno is accepting a position with the Francois Hollande Government to write some kind of white paper on defence and security.  So I wanted to know, does that mean that he does not continue as the Deputy to Kofi Annan, given that he has accepted a French Government role?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that, Matthew.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Myanmar, about the conflict between the Muslim minorities and the Buddhists.  And also, as far as I know, 10 UN workers have been arrested by Government officials.  So does [inaudible] any initiative to put the Muslim minority in safer places in Myanmar?  Or what are the casualties or the numbers, the update at last?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a precise update on the latest figures that may be…

Correspondent:  [inaudible] also… any press also, you know, in the area, that’s why we don’t have idea… any information on what’s going on in Myanmar right now.

Spokesperson:  Clearly, this is a matter of concern, the tensions that there are in the Rakhine State, that’s the first thing.  The second is that, yes, as we have said, a number of humanitarian workers are being held by the Myanmar authorities.  The regional, thank you very much, the Regional Coordinator, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, has been in touch with the authorities there to try to find out more information about the humanitarian workers who are being held.  We are awaiting a response from them.  I think you will understand that we are not in a position now to provide details on those individuals, except to say that the Regional Coordinator, the Humanitarian Coordinator, is seeking more information from the authorities in Myanmar.  Talal?

Question:  Hervé Ladsous mentioned to Reuters and AP that the war in Syria is a civil war… [inaudible] asked this to General [inaudible] and he said it’s not up to the Secretariat to determine that, but to the ICRC.  Now that the ICRC came out on Sunday and said that the war in Syria is a civil war, how will this affect the UN monitoring peacekeeping operation, knowing the principle that the UN do not send monitors or peacekeepers to war zones, now that it is officially a civil war?

Spokesperson:  I think the expression is non-international armed conflict, which in layman’s terms, you’re quite right, is described in that way.  As we’ve said all along, and as the International Committee of the Red Cross has said, that classification, which applies in some parts of the country, but not all of the country, has legal ramifications for international humanitarian law, and that’s why it’s an important classification and determination by the Red Cross.  Obviously, it’s important also for the Mission to, if it has not already done so, to assess what that means in practical terms.  Clearly, given that the Mission’s operational activities are suspended, with the kind of exception that I mentioned with regard to patrolling to Treimseh, the impact may be relatively limited in operational terms.  But obviously, one needs to look at it in more detail first.

Question:  [inaudible] the mandate for the Mission has [inaudible] this moment [inaudible] in the hope that it will go back to work.  It’s not [inaudible] for them to be suspended.  I mean, the hope that the Security Council members…  But how does that trigger to the policy that DPKO has not to deploy in a war zone?  There is a war zone in Syria and it’s acknowledged and it’s actually more… much more widespread than previously said, and that’s why the ICRC came up because it now covers much more area and meets the standards of a civil war or internal armed conflict.  Does that make any difference to DPKO policy or is there going to be a change in these policies?

Spokesperson:  I think the nature of the mandate is up to the Security Council to determine, and if there is anything further along the lines of the questioning that you have, then I’ll let you know, but at the moment that’s what I have.  Yes, please?

Question:  There are reports in the Israeli media that the Government of Israel is considering sanctions against OCHA for what they call “illegal construction activity” in Area C of the West Bank that they’re considering confiscating equipment, restricting employee movement and I’m wondering if there’s any response from the Secretariat on what seems to be an escalation of tension between OCHA and Israel.

Spokesperson: Well, we’re certainly aware of the reports and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that it’s received a letter from the Israeli authorities.  And the Office’s role with regard to the humanitarian situation and concerns in… of the Occupied Palestinian Territories as the UN coordinating body of humanitarian affairs, focuses mainly on advocacy, both on behalf of people in need of… or dependent on humanitarian assistance, and with both Palestinians and Israelis, and that would include, for example, families that were made homeless by evictions or demolitions and people whose lives and livelihoods are affected by the impact of the Gaza blockade restrictions.  And what this advocacy also includes is providing an independent assessment of the situation on the ground and making this available publicly through fact-based reports which are routinely used by national and international partners.  The Office shares drafts of those reports with partners, including the Israeli authorities, before they’re published.  And just to reiterate and underscore two points that are well known anyway, the Office does not implement programmes or directly provide relief items, and the Office strives to ensure its neutrality and impartiality in all aspects of its work.

Question:  So you’re saying that OCHA’s not involved in construction areas…?

Spokesperson:  OCHA does not implement programmes or directly provide relief items is what I’m saying.  Masood, and then I’m coming to [inaudible].  Yes?

Question:  I just want to know, Iran’s offer that it will hold talks… willing to hold talks on Syria inside Iran with opposition group and Syrian Government and other… how is… is the Secretary-General take this [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the reports that you refer to, but I don’t have any particular comment at the moment.  Yes?

Question:  Any reaction to the ouster of Jean Ping as head of the AU Commission? 

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the Deputy Secretary-General, as we mentioned earlier, has been in Addis Ababa at the African Union Summit.  He’s sent a congratulatory note to the incoming Commission Chairperson, and has also been in touch with a note to thank Jean Ping for his role in the years that have passed.  And I think that we’ll probably hear a little bit more later in the day from the Secretary-General on this.  Let’s wait and see.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  [inaudible] video which was distributed by the Saudi security showing a protester, an 18-year-old protester who was shot and left to bleed to death, and then they were boasting about letting him die in that video.  I wonder what’s the reaction about that and that criticism from Human Rights Watch to the United Nations Secretary-General about being under-spoken in regard to the Bahrain and other regional human rights violations such as these?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any specific comments on videos which may or may not be in circulation.  As for Bahrain, you know very well, Nizar that we have spoken very clearly and repeatedly about what’s been happening in Bahrain and what needs to happen in Bahrain.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  …Sheikh Nimr…

Spokesperson:  I’m… Nizar, I’m going to Matthew now.

Question:  [inaudible] follow-up…

Spokesperson:  You’ve had several follow-ups and I’ll come back to you in a second, Nizar.  Okay?  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask something about Addis and something about posts.  Did the Deputy Secretary-General, while in Addis, or does the Secretary-General… the Deputy, while in Addis, or does the Secretary-General himself have any comment on this 18-year sentence given to an Ethiopian blogger, Eskinder Nega?  Many Governments, even the EU, has spoken out about it.  Five other journalists were sentenced in absentia, very long sentences, essentially for… for… for speech and for what they wrote.  What’s the UN… especially asking it since he was there, did it come up with Ethiopian authorities at all?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check.  I don’t know the answer to that, Matthew. 

Question:  [inaudible] can I ask the post question?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?  The post question?

Question:  Posts.  It’s a kind of interrelated.  Tony Blair has announced, I guess possibly in connection with the AU Summit or not, within the last 24 hours, he’s announced that he’s going to become an adviser to the South Sudan Government.  Since he has a UN post, does the… or quasi-UN post as the Quartet’s representative… I know in past when he worked for JP Morgan Chase, it was said to be totally separate.  Since this is actually kind of a diplomatic post and there is an SRSG in South Sudan, has he checked this with the UN in any way?  Is there any UN component to his work or what does the UN think of this overlap?

Spokesperson:  I think you’d have to check with his office, first of all, and secondly, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a quasi-United Nations role.  Yes, Nizar, to come back to you? 

Question:  With regard to the disappearance of Sheikh Nimr, who was abducted by the security forces in Saudi Arabia, it has been for a week now, nobody knows whether he is dead or alive.  Nobody has met him.  Nobody is allowed.  Are there any endeavours by the United Nations to know his fate or to ensure his release?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on that, Nizar.  If I do, then I’ll let you know.  Okay.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Martin, on the MEK and their departure from Iraq, has the Secretary-General been doing anything to try to ensure that that deadline for their departure is met? 

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler, and his team, have been working extremely hard on this for many months, and as I think you will be aware, Mr. Kobler is in town this week.  He’ll be briefing the Security Council, and I would be moderately confident that he’d wish to speak to you during his visit here to brief the Council.  So I don’t want to prejudge what he might have to say there, except to underscore one important point.  In all of these efforts by the United Nations to try to help resolve what has been an obviously extremely long-running saga, a key aspect is that any settlement must be peaceful.  The use of force is simply not an option, and it’s part of the efforts of the United Nations to encourage the Government of Iraq and those who still remain in the camp to find a compromise that will enable this to be brought to a conclusion in a peaceful manner.  This is the last question by the way.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  It’s very difficult to see you up there with the spotlights, so Joe, I’m going to come to you for the last question after Masood.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you… follow-up on this… the Iran offer… talks… not being taken seriously by the Secretary-General, or is it being taken seriously?

Spokesperson:  Masood, if I have something to say, I will tell you.  Okay?  I don’t have anything at this point.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  You may have already been asked this, but if not, now it emerges that there was no massacre of 200 or more in this village in Syria, that it was a fire fight, but the Secretary-General, along with the Secretary of State of the US and others, initially said that it was a massacre, condemned it, and I’m wondering if there’s any lessons to be learned about this in believing, right away, one side or the other in conflict, both sides’ interest in inflating or exaggerating information, and when we listen to activists on the opposition side, should there be something we learn about not immediately taking what they say at face value?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s important to read the statements both by the Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, and the Secretary-General very closely and carefully.  It’s also important to take into account what the Spokesperson for the Mission has said — that mainly the Mission, as I said earlier, has sent patrols to the village, civilian military teams, to try to ascertain precisely what happened to the best of their abilities in very difficult circumstances.  And as I just mentioned, they are still in the process of trying to verify the facts that relate to the casualty figures that are out there.  So that is extremely painstaking work.  It’s not easy work, but it is also quite apparent that something terrible happened there and that heavy weaponry was used, that’s something that the Mission has already established and said publicly.  If there is anything further on this — and of course there will be as the Mission’s investigations continue — then we’ll let you know.

Question:  You don’t believe the Secretary-General spoke too soon about this incident?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General spoke very clearly about his concerns about what had transpired.  Thanks very much indeed.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you. 

* *** *

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