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

5 December 2012

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

5 December 2012
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


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.

** Mali

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, briefed the Security Council this morning on Mali, where the security situation in the north has continued to deteriorate.  Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General shares the sense of urgency of regional organizations about the horrendous crisis facing Mali. At the same time, the Secretary-General believes the international response must be multidimensional and well-conceived.

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs said that as a first step, international support should be focused on supporting the Malian authorities in conducting an inclusive national dialogue.  This dialogue would aim to reach a national consensus on a transitional road map addressing the full return to constitutional order and the grievances of groups in the north.  He also said that efforts to bring about a negotiated political settlement with armed groups who have disavowed ties to terrorist groups should continue in earnest.

Finally, a well-conceived and executed military intervention in the north should be conducted as a last resort and planning should be undertaken for stabilization activities in recovered areas.  Mr. Feltman also said that Malians themselves need to be at the centre of any efforts to restore their democracy and fully recover their territory.  The Security Council has been holding closed consultations on the same topic.

And this afternoon, the Council will hold a meeting on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

I have an update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the situation in the two Kivu provinces remains fragile.  In North Kivu, the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group has continued.  The Congolese army is deploying back to Sake, west of Goma.  In South Kivu, the UN Mission, MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], is supporting Congolese military operations to counter armed group activity in Bunyakiri, Hombo and Kilembwe areas.  Also, Congolese authorities announced the reopening today of the airport in Goma.  MONUSCO and humanitarian partners are working on flying in urgently needed humanitarian supplies.  And just to say that Radio Okapi resumed broadcasts in Kinshasa yesterday and has indeed been on air in the Kivus throughout.

The humanitarian and protection situation remains however, extremely worrying in North Kivu.  The Mugunga III camp, which hosts some 30,000 internally displaced people, was violently looted by armed men during the night between 1 and 2 December.  One non-governmental organization has treated 12 victims of rape, all of which occurred on the same night.  Population movements have started to stabilize and some 130,000 people are sheltering in 12 sites in and around Goma. 

Another 47,000 newly displaced people have arrived in Minova and Bweremana in the last two weeks.  Some 70 rapes have been recorded by health centres in the Minova area, according to an inter-agency assessment mission to the area.  All 70 survivors received treatment within 72 hours.  Food distributions continue and large-scale distributions of household items are planned in Goma and its surroundings, to the extent that security allows.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General has arrived in Kuwait.  He has just met the Emir of the State of Kuwait.  They discussed a wide range of regional matters ranging from prospects for peace in the Middle East to the crisis in Syria.  The Secretary-General reiterated his commitment to ensuring that Iraq fulfils all its outstanding obligations pertaining to Kuwait.

Earlier while he was in Doha, the Secretary-General addressed the delegations attending the climate change talks there, telling them that climate change is not an environment issue for environment ministers, but one for all areas of government and policy making.  There are more details available in my Office and online.

** Syria — Children

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has condemned yesterday’s shelling of a school near Damascus that killed a number of students and a teacher.  Since the violence in Syria began, schools have been looted, vandalized and burned.  UNICEF said that this is unacceptable.  Schools are, and must remain, zones of peace.  UNICEF has renewed its call for all parties to the conflict in Syria to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure that all children are protected at all times.

** Myanmar

Today, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, visited several different communities who have lost almost everything due to intercommunal violence in Rakhine State, in Myanmar.  Ms. Amos said that she saw thousands of people in overcrowded, substandard shelter with poor sanitation and that she was very concerned.  The unrest, which started in June and then flared up again in October, has resulted in some 115,000 people living in camps or with host families across Rakhine State.

Ms. Amos highlighted the security threats to humanitarian workers as a major challenge in providing assistance.  She said that political leaders in Myanmar should support the important humanitarian work being done by the United Nations and its partners.

** Maldives

The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, led an integrated United Nations needs assessment mission to the Maldives this week.  The mission was in response to a formal request from the Government to assess potential UN support to presidential elections in 2013.  While in Malé, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco met with senior officials of the Government and political parties, members of the Elections Commission and representatives of the diplomatic corps and civil society.

In his discussions, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco emphasized the urgency for the Maldives to resume political dialogue at all levels and implement without delay its institutional reforms, particularly in the areas of police, judiciary, the People’s Majlis, the Human Rights Commission and the media, as recommended in the report of the Commission of National Inquiry.  He also stressed that the next elections should be not only free, fair, and credible, but also peaceful and inclusive.

**Volunteer Day

And finally, today is International Volunteer Day for Social and Economic Development.  To mark the occasion, the Department of Public Information is launching an iPhone application that illustrates the breadth of activities of the UN system around the world.  The launch will take place at 2:30 this afternoon in the North Lawn Building, here at United Nations Headquarters, in Conference Room 4.  More details are available online, including where to download the application.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, this morning, at the stakeout, the [inaudible] and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] [inaudible] open Security Council session, indicated that the estimates for the cost of a military force in Mali, international military force would provide to the Secretary-General [inaudible].  I was wondering if you could comment or provide to us what that [inaudible] in terms of costs [inaudible] because there is an issue of whether payment should be assessed or, as the AU [African Union] has recommended, or be voluntary.

Spokesperson:  Well, plainly, that last particular aspect is something that the Security Council will need to take into account as it looks at the report and decides how it is going to respond and act.  So I don’t wish to prejudge that.  I’ll take a look to see if there are figures which are available, and if so, then I’d be happy to make them available.  But just to make it clear that what Mr. Feltman was saying with regard to funding for the proposed force is that the United Nations itself has limited ability to deliver a support package in the near term to a combat force, and that such operations could be supported through contributions by Member States.  So that’s what Mr. Feltman said in the open session.  If I have anything further with regard to your request on figures, then I’ll let you know.  Okay, all right.  Yes, Stefano, and then Masood.  Tim, yeah?

Question:  What does the Secretary-General think about the protest going on in Egypt, especially the concern about the new Constitution apparently has… has a… there is an issue with the freedom of expression, there are newspapers, about 10-11 newspapers that today in Egypt, they didn’t come out in protest.  What does Secretary-General think about these problematic issues in Egypt… in Egypt today?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has already commented previously on those recent developments.  The most important point here is that Egypt is in a political transition, and that during the course of that transition, any differences that emerge should be handled through dialogue, and that any protests that there are should be peaceful.  That’s where we are.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, in the context of the settlement activity announced by the Israelis, which has been condemned by the international community, including the United States and the Secretary-General, who has made a very strong statement at some point, suggesting it… it might be a fatal blow if the settlement activity in fact goes forward.  My question is, this Quartet that was established by the… by the [inaudible], is there any need for that Quartet and the money being spent to maintain it?  Is there a need for that Quartet if it is not going to succeed in putting… pushing the talks forward?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely.  The Quartet remains an important part of the equation, and it is for the parties within that Quartet to decide how to further move and what activities they undertake.  They have been active in the past, and vocal in the past, and I am sure they will continue to be so.  The Secretary-General is a member of that Quartet, and I know that he continues through Mr. Serry to be actively involved in their deliberations.

Question:  But sir, so far, Quartet has done almost nothing.  It is just totally impotent and has not been able to move any, both the parties forward.  I mean, is there any need… what my question is, is there a need [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I answered the question.  I answered the question, and what you just said is a statement, not a question.  I have already answered the first bit.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  The Secretary-General is quoted this morning by some media as saying there will be huge consequences for Syria if they use chemical weapons.  Can you confirm he made this comment, can you expand on it, what did he mean by that?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that he did make those comments, indeed, and this is a reiteration of something that he believes very strongly and has spoken about before, that he has grave concerns about statements that have been made by representatives of the Syrian Government in the past regarding the possible existence of chemical weapons and their possible use.  And in the past, already in the middle of the year, he personally conveyed those concerns directly to President Assad in writing.  And I can tell you that he has done so again.  He sent a letter that was transmitted yesterday to the Syrian authorities on precisely this matter, a letter to President Assad.  The fundamental responsibility of the Syrian government is to ensure the safety and security of any such stockpiles.  And of course, the use of any such weapons would be an outrageous crime with dire consequences.  Okay, yes, Nizar?  Yes, Masood, yes?

Question:  I just have one question on this question about Syria.  The Secretary-General also said in Doha that he does not believe that Mr. Assad should be given asylum elsewhere…

Spokesperson:  Masood, you need to read very carefully what the Secretary-General said.  He said that there is a fundamental principle of ensuring that there is no impunity.  That’s what we are talking about.

Question:  But he did not suggest that Assad should not be given asylum elsewhere?

Spokesperson:  A question was put, and he gave the answer, take a look at what he said.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  [inaudible] today, I mean, the Israelis have been demolishing new houses in East Jerusalem and charging every owner of the house $20,000 for demolishing his home.  What does the Secretary-General say about that?  What is the Quartet doing about this, such things?

Spokesperson:  Our views on these matters are well known, I don’t have anything specific to add to this particular development.  But our views on settlement activity and anything related to that are pretty well known and have been expressed quite clearly and repeatedly, most recently in this statement at the weekend.  I don’t have anything further specifically on that point at the moment.  Yes, and then I am coming to you.

Question:  Sure, I… I wanted to ask you about the… This announcement you made about Minova in the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], I… I wanted to ask you, and… and I wanted to ask whether this joint assessment mission reached the kind of important information of which army units were in town when they took place, given that the UN says it doesn’t work with units that commit abuse.

Spokesperson:  I know the…

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  I know the question…

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  …which you have asked a number of times, and I do understand your interest in it; it is a legitimate and important question.  This assessment mission which I mentioned a little earlier, was an inter-agency mission — I don’t have any further details on it at the moment, and as soon as I do, then obviously I would be keen to make sure that we can make that available.  But I don’t have anything further on it.

Question:  Okay, maybe I will put this in, there… there are actually photographs taken at the time of… of these rapes in Minova that show vehicles of the FARDC [Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo] with regiment numbers on the side of the car, so I want to ask you too, maybe you can ask DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] whether regiment 802 and 1001, to their knowledge, were present and whether they have ever worked with either of those two regiments [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure they have heard, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yeah.  Okay, please?

Question:  I’ve got a follow-up on the… the questions on Israel raised by colleagues, I just, for the wider question… how acceptable and or appropriate really is the fact that Israel still plans to go ahead with expanding settlement building considering all the criticism we have been hearing?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would simply reiterate that the Secretary-General has already expressed his grave concern and disappointment about the announcement that was made about the 3,000 new settlement units in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, and also that these would potentially include planning for the so-called E1 envelop.  The Secretary-General has made clear that, as we have repeatedly said, settlements are illegal under international law.  And he has repeated his call on all concerned to resume negotiations and intensify efforts towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.  And also, in the interest of peace, he has said that any plans specifically for that E1 envelop must be rescinded.  Okay, yes, Rhonda?  Oh, not Rhonda, I beg your pardon.  Yes?  Please, yes, go ahead, yes?

Question:  Are there any developments with Mr. Brahimi’s plan to reactivate the Geneva arrangements regarding Syria?  We haven’t heard any word about it.  And also, has the Secretary-General anything to say about the fact that, I believe it was 95 US senators had given approval for President Obama to go forward with some kind of military action in Syria?

Spokesperson:  On the last part, no.  On the first part, you will have to remind me, say again?

Question:  Well, Mr. Brahimi last…

Spokesperson:  Yes, Brahimi, that’s right, yes.  I beg your pardon.

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  On Mr. Brahimi, you will recall that Mr. Brahimi and the Secretary-General briefed the General Assembly just last week, and I would refer you to what he said there.  I think he gave quite a detailed exposition of where he stands at the moment and obviously, it is a work in progress.

Question:  Yeah, but has anything developed since then?

Spokesperson:  As I say, take a look at what he said, it was just last week.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask at least this question about Sri Lanka, but it is also about peacekeeping.  It is reported that Shavendra Silva who had been put on this… the senior advisory group and then was… his… his position was, I guess, he was allowed to participate, but not speak by the Chair.  He… it is now said that he is, quote “inspecting the movement of troops in Lebanon”, and I believe there is a Sri Lankan component of UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], but I wanted to know, I guess, given the controversy about his… his… his participation on the… on the SAG [senior advisory group], is it true?  Can he… or confirm that this individual who is listed in Ban Ki-moon’s report about Sri Lanka in… involving the death of civilians is in fact, quote, “inspecting the UN peacekeeping forces in UNIFIL”, and also, what’s the status of that SAG report?  I mean, it… it continues to be discussed in the… in the… in the bud… in the… in the… in the budget committee, they say it is already been transmitted to the Secretary-General and is… is a… a pub… public document or not a public document.  What… what’s happening with it?  And the Petri report would be the final of third… is what… whether there is in fact been a step to set up this senior advisory group on the findings of the Charles Petrie report on the UN’s activities in Sri Lanka.

Spokesperson:  On the very final point, yes there has.  As the Chef de Cabinet made clear, we take that report from Charles Petrie and his team extremely seriously, including the recommendations.  The Chef de Cabinet made clear that steps will be taken to set up a group to look at those recommendations.  That is being headed by the Deputy Secretary-General, and moves are under way to pull together the team that will look at those recommendations.  On the very first point you made, and on the second point, again, I am sure my colleagues from DPKO are listening attentively, and will help me out.  Okay, yes, Masood and then, I am coming to you.

Question:  Yes, sir, on this increase in violence in Iraq where the terrorist acts have resulted in hundreds of deaths recent, in recent weeks, has the Secretary-General’s repress… or, over there made any determination whether Al-Qaida has now finally crept in and is now orchestrating these attacks inside Iraq?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with our mission there, I don’t have anything on that, Masood.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible] have already reported that Syrian authorities are already amassing [inaudible] called Sarin gas, and what will be the consequences if they use it according to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I just answered a question on that, and I think what I said just a little earlier, covers that, okay.  Last question, please?

Question:  Sure, yesterday I had asked you about the… the… the… the missing of the deadline on the Abyei talks between Sudan and South Sudan…

Spokesperson:  You did.

Question:  …and you said it was a day early, so I am back, nothing seemed to have improved.  Do you know…?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, you’re never gone so?  So?

Correspondent:  Go ahead.

Spokesperson:  Obviously, the expectation was that the parties should and would meet the deadline.  And now both parties have to continue their efforts to find a mutually agreeable solution on the resolution of the final status of Abyei.  That’s what I have.  Thank you.  Have a good afternoon.

Question:  One last one [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I am done.  Next time.

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