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

13 November 2012

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

13 November 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.


The Secretary-General will depart soon for New Haven, Connecticut, where he will speak at Yale University on the theme “Shaping Solutions for a World in Transition”.

In his lecture, he will reiterate his grave concern about Syria.  He will say that the risks to the wider region are clear, as spillover effects are already seen in neighbouring countries.

The Secretary-General will also speak about the challenges the world faces:  climate change, sustainable development and hunger.  On climate change, he will say that the science is clear and that we should waste no more time on that debate.

The lecture starts around 4 this afternoon, and it will be streamed live on Yale’s YouTube channel, which is at http://www.youtube.com/yale.

And the Secretary-General will return to New York this evening.

** Syria

In Syria, the UN refugee agency is making progress in its major effort to provide aid to up to half a million people by the end of this year, despite recent disruptions to operations due to security concerns.

To date, the agency has provided family aid packages to nearly 300,000 people.  Unfortunately, recent deliveries have been very difficult.  Last week, humanitarian operations were disrupted on at least two days in Damascus, and similar difficulties were experienced by staff working in Aleppo.

The lack of security over the past few weeks has also resulted in loss of aid supplies, including some 13,000 blankets that burned in a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse in Aleppo that was apparently hit by a shell.  The agency has more details on its website.

** Lebanon

Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, visited Tripoli today and met with political leaders there.  In remarks to reporters, Mr. Plumbly welcomed the recent calm in the city and the role played by the security forces.  He stressed the responsibility of all concerned to avoid a recurrence of the earlier violence and to hold accountable those responsible.

Mr. Plumbly also paid tribute to the work of the UN refugee agency in Tripoli and north Lebanon, and to the hospitality extended to Syrian refugees by communities there.  He said that, with the approach of winter, more needs to be done, particularly in providing shelter.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, has welcomed the endorsement by the Somali Federal Parliament of the Council of Ministers, which was announced by Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon on 4 November.

He noted that the appointment of just 10 Ministers conclusively demonstrates the will of the Somali leadership to move away from the mindset of the past and bring about positive change.

Mr. Mahiga also said that he was particularly pleased with the appointments of two women to substantive high profiles, one as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the other as Minister for Development and Social Services.  The full statement is online.

**Security Council

The Security Council began an open meeting this morning to discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Council members heard from Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who provided an update on the situation since the completion of the transition and reconfiguration of the international presence there.

** Myanmar

The UN refugee agency is seriously concerned about recent boat tragedies in the Bay of Bengal involving people fleeing Myanmar.  The agency is calling on countries in the region to strengthen burden-sharing in the face of this growing humanitarian emergency.

In the last two weeks, there have been reports of two boats sinking in the Bay of Bengal, with an estimated 240 people on board, among them Rohingyas from Myanmar's Rakhine State.  Available information is that more than 40 people have been rescued from the two boats, while there were other reports of bodies seen floating in the water.

The refugee agency is urging the Government of Myanmar to take urgent action to address some of the factors leading people to take to the seas, especially those connected with the problem of citizenship and statelessness in relation to the Rohingyas.  In the meantime, it is also calling on Governments in the region to keep their borders open to people seeking asylum and international protection.

** Sahel

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, will speak to reporters at the stakeout position of the North Lawn Building this evening at 6 here at United Nations Headquarters.  As we mentioned yesterday already, the Secretary-General met Mr. Prodi, who is making his first visit to New York since his appointment.

**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow my guest will be Richard Kollodge, the editor of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report entitled, “The State of World Population 2012”.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Iftikhar, then Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I see that this conflict in Syria is widening, and where is Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi?  Is he taking some urgent steps to contain the conflict now, even with Israel coming into the conflict?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi has been meeting regional leaders in Cairo, including those European leaders who — or Ministers who — are visiting Cairo for a meeting.  You will also be aware that we did issue a statement just the other day on developments in the Golan.  Our concern remains about those developments.  I would also encourage you to listen to what the Secretary-General has to say this afternoon at Yale, courtesy of the webcast that you will be able to follow.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, many of the Syrian refugees have fled to the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] area…

Spokesperson:  Have fled, sorry…?

Question:  To the UNIFIL area in south Lebanon.  Do you have any specific numbers — how many of them and how they are being settled and whether the United Nations is extending any help to them?

Spokesperson:  I need to check on that, Nizar.  I will certainly do so.  Okay, yes, Matthew, and then I will come to you.

Question:  Sure.  I’ve got Sudan and Sri Lanka.  In Sudan, the JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] as well as the SLA [Sudan Liberation Army]-Minni Minnawi have said that they have had a major battle with the Government at Shangil Tobaya, which is an IDP [internally displaced persons] camp.  There has been, there is definitely, a UN presence there and the rebels claim they have captured a tank and, and, and, they have make a number of claims, including about casualties.  What’s, does UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur] have any knowledge of this fighting, and what’s their, what are they doing, I guess, to stem that, as well?

Spokesperson:  Well, our understanding is that the UNAMID team site in Shangil Tobaya, which is in North Darfur, observed on 9 November a large convoy of Government of Sudan military forces that comprised jeeps, trucks, and 10 armoured personnel carriers.

And the following day, the mission, the Joint African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), was informed by Government representatives that its convoy had reportedly been ambushed by members of the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi near Abu Zerega village.  And several fatalities were reported, and the attackers were reported to have fled with several weapons and vehicles and took several Government military personnel hostage.  We have not — based on the information I have from the mission so far — we haven’t been able to independently confirm the extent of the casualties incurred by both sides.  Okay?

Question:  Okay, thanks a lot.  And I wanted to ask you on, on Sri Lanka, you probably saw, see this coming; it’s now reported that the Charles Petrie report is either it is in its penultimate form or finished and to be handed over to the Secretary-General.  So I just wanted to just — I, I know that there, there’s, obviously you are under some constraints, what you can say — but is Mr. Petrie in town and if so, when does he, will he meet personally with the Secretary-General to turn in this report?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all we don't comment on leaked documents; that’s the first thing.

And the second thing is, as I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General will be receiving the report of his Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka this week.  When he does receive it and has read it, it will be made public.  And I can tell you that, indeed, tomorrow morning the Secretary-General will be meeting Charles Petrie, who headed the panel.  And I would anticipate that the report will be made public soon after that.

Question:  And is there, I just, and I, I guess I, I want to make this request in advance, is there some way, in pre… reports, I’m, I’ve been thinking of the Benazir Bhutto report, and I remember in this, I think it was in this room that the Chair, Mr. [Marzuki] Darusman, gave a press conference, is there some ability to have Q and A either of, you know, the, the, this, Mr. Petrie or the Secretary-General on this important report of the UN’s own performance?

Spokesperson:  That’s being looked into.  We are obviously aware of the interest and that’s one reason why it is being made public.  Yes, and then Nizar, yes?

Question:  In the elections of the Human Rights Council, I’ve once again seen some countries who don’t reach the standards of the human rights normally due to the, to this election, because there is not a lot of competition.  What is the position of the Secretary-General on this record issue at the election of the Human Rights Council?

Spokesperson:  It is very straightforward:  this is a matter for Member States.  Member States vote on the members of the Human Rights Council and it is for Member States to decide.  The same applies in other instances where Member States, for example on the membership and whether someone or some entity is considered a State or not, that’s for Member States to decide within the General Assembly.  Yes, I’m coming to Nizar, and then to you. 

Question:  Yeah, Martin, the tension, the rising tension in Gaza, is the United Nations doing any effort or exerting any effort to de-escalate, as it seems there are threats and counter-threats of a wider conflict in the region?

Spokesperson:  Well, we issued a statement yesterday, as you may have seen, Nizar, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Gaza and southern Israel, expressing the great concern of the Secretary-General about this new wave of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, which has resulted in several Palestinian deaths, including civilians, and wounded people on both sides.  And he deplores the loss of life and calls for an immediate de-escalation of tensions.

And you asked what’s the UN doing.  The Secretary-General has reiterated his call for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israel and strongly condemns these actions.  He also calls on Israel to exercise maximum restraint.  Both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times.

Question:  When he said he condemns the rocket attack, does it mean that they have initiated this, I mean, by starting rocket attack and then, or who first started?  Do you have any idea?

Spokesperson:  The important thing is that both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation.  And the Secretary-General is calling on both sides to do what is necessary in that regard.

Correspondent:  Yeah, but he is condemning one side and the other side is not condemned.

Spokesperson:  He has called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I wanted to ask, the, the M-23 group has said that, that, they say that, that, there, you know, there had been this formal or informal ceasefire in effect with the Government; they claim that it is now, the Government has broken it, they say, by attacking them in Kitagoma, I wanted to know, is that, does, does, does, does MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] know about this attack?  Do they, is that, is, is that the sequence or is it not the sequence, and if, if there was an attack did they have any… did they play any role in it?

Spokesperson:  I will come back to you on that.  I don’t have anything specific at the moment, but I will come back to you.

Question:  And then I, I just want to a… there is a letter from Sudan to the, to the Security Council.  It went in yesterday around the UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei] mission and they, you know, they are, obviously they are negotiating that, so I am not asking about that, but I wanted to ask you a factual question, which is that, I mean, a question for the Secretariat on facts.  They claim, they, Sudan, once removed a reference to, without prejudice to their nationality in the granting of visas, and they say it is inappropriate in that the Government of Sudan, it is inappropriate in that it implies that the Government of Sudan discriminates when issuing visas for UN personnel, and that is not the case.  So it seemed like I, I want to ask you, is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], UNISFA or, or more generally in Sudan, are they aware of, of, of, of um, any, you know, distinction by nationality in the, in the granting of visas by the Government of Sudan?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with you, with DPKO on that for you, that specific point.  But let me just say one thing, Matthew:  that one national staff member succumbed to his injuries today, which means he died, and another sustained an injury as a result of clashes in Abyei between UNISFA and Ngok Dinka demonstrators.  UNISFA has established checkpoints and is monitoring movements into Abyei.  The leadership of the mission is also meeting with Dinka and Misseriya representatives in an effort to defuse tensions there.  Okay?

Question:  Great.  Can I ask one more, and, you may either know it or, or, or, or, go ahead?

Spokesperson:  Please, continue and then I will come to you for the last question, Iftikhar, if I may.

Question:  There was, this is again a situation where it is a letter from a country to the Council, but I want to ask you as, as to DPKO or, or D, or the UN.  Syria has written to the Council and said that, in this, I, and I am not sure if it is the same incidents that were referred to in, in, in the statement for the Secretary-General yesterday, but they say that at least their initial entry into the, the area of separation in the Golan Heights was orally approved by UNDOF?  They say that they, said…

Spokesperson:  Well, simply put, not true.  Okay?  DPKO did receive a letter from the Syrian Permanent Representative and responded to it.  The mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force is strictly prescribed by the Disengagement Agreement.  The mission does not have the mandate or the authority to approve military operations in the Area of Separation, as this is a breach of the Disengagement Agreement.  The Force Commander has at all times acted in accordance with the mandate.  And no, the mission did not give oral agreement.

This is the last question, Iftikhar.

Question:  Yes.  You spoke about the rescue of Myanmar people fleeing the country from the problem in Rakhine State.  My question is whether the Myanmar Government has made any progress on the steps suggested by the UN experts to address the underlying causes of the conflict between Muslims and Buddhists?

Spokesperson:  This is certainly something that is extremely troubling; the developments in Rakhine State are clearly of considerable concern to the people there, to the extent that they then flee onto the open seas where they are at grave risk, and it would appear that some at least have perished.  The reports, we do not have full details yet on precisely what has happened in these particular instances that I refer to.  Yes, there is a lot of work to be done, and Mr. Nambiar, Vijay Nambiar, the Special Adviser on this particular topic, on Myanmar, I know he is working extremely closely with the authorities, particularly so that they do, the authorities do address the underlying concerns that there are.  If I have any more details on that, I’d let you know, but certainly Mr. Nambiar is working very actively with the authorities on this, with the aim of the authorities themselves taking action that is required.

Question:  An independent expert also visited Myanmar, an independent UN expert, and…

Spokesperson:  That’s right, but I am speaking about Mr. Nambiar.  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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