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

22 October 2012

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

22 October 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 everyone.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guest

I am pleased to be joined by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Hervé Ladsous.  Welcome back.  Mr. Ladsous is here to brief you on the challenges and trends that there are in UN peacekeeping, as well as on the situation in Mali and on peacekeeping-related aspects of the latest Security Council resolution on that particular topic.  So first of all we’ll turn to Mr. Ladsous for some introductory remarks followed by questions, for which we have about half an hour in total.  So, please, welcome back, and the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Mr. Ladsous is issued separately.]

So I have a couple of other points, and then I’d be happy to take any further questions that there might be.

** Syria

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, met in Damascus yesterday with President Bashar al-Assad.  The meeting was frank and substantive.  Mr. Brahimi said that President Assad had given a positive reaction to his call for the Government to declare a military pause during the Eid al-Adha holiday.  Mr. Brahimi hopes this appeal for a holiday pause will be heeded by all concerned for the good of the Syrian people.

During his visit to Syria, the Joint Special Representative has also met and spoken with members of the opposition who have welcomed the call for a military pause over the Eid holiday and said they would engage with it positively.  Mr. Brahimi has also held meetings while in Syria with the Foreign Minister, the Director in Syria of the International Committee of the Red Cross, members of the diplomatic corps, members of the UN Country Team, and mothers of persons missing in the conflict.  And his visit to Damascus will end tomorrow.

** Lebanon

Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met today with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, accompanied by the Ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  The meeting was held to underline solidarity with Lebanon at this difficult time.

The delegation conveyed its support for the President’s leadership and the efforts he is undertaking in consultation with all Lebanese parties.  It is for the Lebanese parties to agree the way forward.  And it is also vital that this should be done through a peaceful political process.

Mr. Plumbly also visited the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Ashrafieh today, and he thanked the director and staff for their response to the terrorist attack which took place last Friday.  And we have a press release with more details. 

And I am sure that you also saw that the Secretary-General spoke at the weekend by telephone with both the President and the Primer Minister to express his solidarity.

** Libya

A statement we issued yesterday expressed the Secretary-General’s alarm at the fighting in and around the Libyan city of Bani Walid, and in particular the reports indicating growing civilian casualties due to indiscriminate shelling.  The Secretary-General reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law.  He calls on all the Libyan authorities and those in Bani Walid to begin immediately a process to resolve the Bani Walid stand-off peacefully. 

The Secretary-General believes that the situation in Bani Walid can be resolved in a peaceful manner that preserves the rights of all Libyan citizens and permits the State to exercise its responsibilities there.  The Secretary-General notes that his Special Representative in Libya, Tarek Mitri, is actively engaged in helping to defuse and resolve the Bani Walid stand-off.  And the full statement is online.

And you will have seen that Mr. Mitri, in his own statement over the weekend, praised the huge efforts exerted by Libyan President Mohammad al-Magariaf and other parties to prevent an outbreak of armed hostilities, and to put an end, through political means, to various forms of violence.  And we have a press release with more details on that.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Mali

Over the weekend, the Deputy Secretary-General concluded his visit to Mali.  And while in the country, he met with the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Foreign Minister, as well as representatives of civil society.  And he will be arriving in Geneva this evening.

The Deputy Secretary-General noted that, at last week’s meeting in Bamako, as you heard from Under Secretary-General Ladsous, there was consensus on the way forward in Mali among the main actors:  the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union.  The UN, African Union and ECOWAS all agreed to strengthen their presence in Bamako.  Governments attending the meeting supported the efforts of Mali and the country’s ownership of the political process and military planning.  They strongly endorsed the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi.

And the Deputy Secretary-General, in his remarks to the press in Bamako, said that it is also clear that we need to redouble our efforts to remedy the humanitarian situation, which has had repercussions for Mali’s neighbouring countries.  And his press remarks are available online.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I believe the Secretary-General has in the past said that the UN and UN personnel should not make any comments about the US election, get involved in the US election.  Yet, it was reported in the last number of days that a UN Special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights did just that, and he was quoted as saying that the reintroduction of torture under a Romney administration would significantly increase the threat levels to Americans at home and abroad, and he compared that scenario unfavourably with the re-election of President Obama.  I am just wondering whether the Secretary-General would have any comment on that type of statement, which injects someone under the auspices of the UN into the US election.

Spokesperson:  No, I would not.  Simply to repeat what I think you know very well, Joe, that Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council, they are not appointed by the Secretary-General, they don’t report to the Secretary-General.  They have an independent mandate under the Human Rights Council.

Question:  Well, no, I realize that, but just in general, maybe not referring very specifically to this statement, might it be helpful to just reinforce the principle that, at least in his view, the United Nations as an organization and anyone speaking with the title of a UN official should not interject into United States elections.

Spokesperson:  Again, again these Special Rapporteurs have an independent status under the Human Rights Council; they are not appointed by the Secretary-General.  I think everybody understands the bigger picture here.  And those who do speak as Special Rapporteurs are also well aware of the bigger picture, Joe, I think.  Yeah, other questions?  Yes, Nizar, then Matthew, yeah?

Question:  Martin, regarding the [inaudible] has gone on.  Mr. Netanyahu has been reported to have said that we attacked before the rocket firing and we attacked after the rocket firing, and we will continue to attack Gaza until they stop [inaudible].  What is this… what is the message from the United Nations to such escalation?

Spokesperson:  You only have to look at what is unfolding in the broader region to understand that tensions are very high and it is incumbent on all concerned in the region to exercise maximum restraint.  The Secretary-General has spoken in the past about the rocket fire out of Gaza and the need for maximum restraint in the response to that.  And I don’t think that that view has changed.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I have some questions on peacekeeping.  One is, I think I’d asked you last week about this, the… the… the… the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] as… said that it was pursuing rebels into the Vurunga National Park and bombarding them by air.  And I wanted to know whether MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] in… in its human rights due diligence process, is assisting with that raid logistically or not.

Spokesperson:  Let me check Matthew.  I do believe that my colleagues will have something on that, but I don’t have anything right now.

Question:  Sure.  And I wanted to also just a follow-up on this Haiti question that arose.  The doctor who has come out with his new statement is… Mr. Ladsous said something about the Group of Experts, that this might go to the Group of Experts, but she is on the Group of Experts, she was one of the scientists that initially said it couldn’t be determined.  Now she says that it can.  So I am just… I guess I wonder, is that… is that really the answer that her own… her own now… now rejection of her own report is going to go back to the same group on which she… she is still on the group, I guess, and does the group still exist?

Spokesperson:  Well, you heard what Mr. Ladsous said about us being aware of the comments that have been made in the BBC report, and also that we cannot comment further on the substance of those comments that were made in that story.  So I don’t really have anything further to add, Matthew.

Question:  And could I ask on… on this Darfur question?  The… it seems like… it is reported at least, that the weapons that were used in this most recent attack, it killed one peacekeeper, but they said… it said that the weapons used had never been in Darfur before, including anti-tank weapons and… and other things.  So I wonder, is… is… one, is that… is that the case and what is… what does the UN really think?  I know that there is some talk about drawing down or that things were getting better there, but if in fact peacekeepers are being attacked and killed with weapons that have never been seen in the region before, is that a subject of concern and what is Department of Peacekeeping Operations planning to do about it?

Spokesperson:  Any attack on peacekeepers using weapons that have been seen before or not seen before is of course something that is extremely troubling and to be condemned.  I have also seen those comments, reported comments.  I don’t have any more details on the precise nature of the weapons that are being referred to that have not been seen there before.  There are enough weapons already, and obviously while there may be a downward trend in violence, that is certainly not what is being experienced by peacekeepers and by civilians overall.  So there is obviously work still to be done.  It is not incompatible with reconfiguring the nature and the size — the composition — of a mission.  The two are not necessarily contradictory.  You just need to look as experts — and I am not expert in this — we need to look as experts to how best to configure a mission.

Question:  Can I just ask one more, and… and I’ll try to… on this same series?  I guess I just want to know… I am not sure how you will answer this, but, I am trying to… to… to…

Spokesperson:  Well, if you are not, then probably I’m not either.

Question:  No, I am trying to understand Mr. Ladsous’s statement that if you don’t insult him, he will answer questions.  Does it have to do with written coverage?  Does the Secretary-General think…? I… I know early in his tenure he said that his Under-Secretaries-General would… you know, he would encourage them to answer questions.  So I guess, I’m really… rather, I’m not trying to… I guess I am wondering, I have been unable to get him to answer it, but what type of… is he saying that unless the coverage is po… the written coverage is positive, he won’t answer questions, or what is the reference to?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, although there are far fewer people in the room right now than there were when Mr. Ladsous was here, he answered a lot of questions.  Not all of them were particularly easy questions.  I am not here to go into further details about that particular response, simply to say that Mr. Ladsous and other senior officials regularly make themselves available to answer questions, and although I might not be a senior official, I also do the same.  So yes?

Question:  Yeah.  There is… my question is about these recent attacks and whether, in Libya and in Jordan, where they are saying that Al-Qaida has somehow come in… in… same in Libya and in Jordan.  Have the United Nations teams over there made an assessment that these foreign fighters were entering into this scene now, are they in fact from Al-Qaida?  They… like there are reports that yes there was Al-Qaida in… I mean, in Libya when they attacked the American embassy.  So has there… an assessment been made at all by the United Nations that these foreign fighters were coming in, are they in fact coming in and then they’ve said that they are coming from Iraq?  Is this an assessment that the United Nations can make?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you, Masood, is that the Secretary-General remains concerned about the potential repercussions of the crisis in Syria spilling over into neighbouring countries and into the region.  We have obviously seen elements of this in recent developments.  For example, we have seen the spillover that has occurred on the Turkish–Syrian border, we have seen the apparent clash that there was on the border with Jordan.  The Secretary-General is keeping an extremely close eye on this and he is obviously concerned about the possibility of a spillover and the ramifications that has for the region.  I think that that’s the main focus of his concern along with the suffering of the Syrian people day in, day out.  Every day that goes by, as Mr. Ladsous mentioned, and as the Secretary-General has also made clear, dozens, hundreds of people may be killed.  So each day that goes by without a political settlement or ceasefire, means more misery, grief, death and destruction for the people of Syria.

Okay, thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.  Thanks very much.

* *** *

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