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

10 December 2012

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

10 December 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.

**Security Council on Sahel

The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a meeting of the Security Council on the Sahel, saying that the warning lights for this region continue to flash.  In his remarks, he said that political turmoil, terrorist activity, drug trafficking and arms smuggling are spilling over borders and threatening peace and security.  He said that we cannot expect to address the issues in Mali effectively unless we confront the challenges affecting the broader region.

The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, also spoke to the Security Council.  He said that it was crucial to restore the unity of Mali in a peaceful Sahel, starting immediately, a process that will allow transparent and free democratic elections as soon as possible.  Mr. Prodi also said that he shared the Secretary-General’s view that any military effort in Mali must be undertaken after careful analysis and thorough preparation and that these efforts should be part of an agreed political process that tackles the roots of the conflict.  The Special Envoy is expected to speak to reporters at the stakeout position after the meeting.

**Law of the Sea

And the Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly this morning to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which he said remains an important tool for sustainable development, as affirmed this year by the Rio+20 Conference.

He added that the oceans continue to face many challenges — pollution, ocean acidification, over-exploitation of resources, piracy and maritime boundary disputes.  Addressing these issues should compel us to strive for the full implementation of the Convention.

The Secretary-General said that he is encouraged that support for the Convention has grown steadily through the years, with 164 parties to the treaty.  He affirmed that we should work to bring all nations under the jurisdiction, protection and guidance of this essential treaty.  And we have his remarks in my office and also online.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Lebanon

The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, visited the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today and met with Force Commander Major-General Paolo Serra and the Mission’s senior leadership.  During his visit, the Deputy Secretary-General emphasized the need for continued coordinated operations with the Lebanese Armed Forces.  Mr. Eliasson praised the UN peacekeepers’ contribution to peace and security in the area, saying that South Lebanon has witnessed a period of unprecedented calm.  We have a press release with more details on that.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports that the situation on the ground in North Kivu remains fragile.  Yesterday, talks started in Kampala between the Congolese Government and the M23 rebel group, facilitated by Uganda in its capacity as Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. 

The UN is providing limited technical secretarial support to the talks in response to a request from the Ugandan authorities.  The United Nations is not, however, participating directly in the talks.  We are, of course, aware of the latest reports in Kampala.  And if we get more information, we will let you know.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has been able to confirm that nine people were killed in Wau over the weekend in clashes between the security forces and protestors.  A number of other people were wounded.  The circumstances around these events are still being established.  The Mission is particularly concerned by the loss of civilian life.  The Mission has called on all parties to exercise restraint and has also been reaching out to both parties to help prevent further escalation and to re-establish calm.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, welcomed today the beginning of the first voter registration update in three years, as part of preparations for the Governorate Council elections next April.  He said that the opening of nearly 900 Voter Registration Centres is an important step towards transparent and credible elections in 2013.

Mr. Kobler also urged the Iraqi Parliament to pass amendments to the electoral law without delay, to guarantee that the elections take place on schedule.  He also expressed regret that voter registration is not taking place in Kirkuk and called for speedy agreement on a law incorporating elections there.

** Philippines

The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are appealing for $65 million to help those affected by Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines.  The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the country visited areas affected by the typhoon and said that she saw first-hand the total devastation of villages.

Under the new action plan for recovery, the humanitarian community will provide food, water, emergency shelter and other urgent assistance to help nearly half a million people in the worst-hit areas over the next six months.  Over the longer term, the Plan focuses on the need to rehabilitate the agricultural sector, because crops were devastated by the typhoon in Mindanao, one of the poorest areas of the country.

** Bangladesh

The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, concluded a four day visit to Bangladesh yesterday.  This was a mission, which he undertook on behalf of the Secretary-General.  He met with top Government and political party leaders, as well as with national electoral officials, to exchange views on the political situation in the country and UN electoral assistance to Bangladesh.

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco stressed to all interlocutors that the next parliamentary elections should be peaceful, inclusive and credible, and he encouraged them to work together and to engage in constructive dialogue towards these ends.

**Human Rights Day

Events are being held around the world to commemorate Human Rights Day today.  This year’s theme is “My Voice Counts”, and in his message for the Day, the Secretary-General stressed that everyone has the right to be heard and to shape the decisions that affect their community.  The Secretary-General will also be speaking at an event this afternoon to commemorate the Day at the Ford Foundation.

**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

And tomorrow, I will be joined by Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  They will be here to brief you on an event taking place here at United Nations Headquarters tomorrow, with the theme “leadership in the fight against homophobia”.

**Timor-Leste Photo Exhibit

And just a reminder that journalists are invited to visit a photo exhibit that opens at 3:30 this afternoon, in the Visitors Lobby here at United Nations headquarters.  This exhibit features the strides made by Timor-Leste in building a nation a decade after the restoration of independence.  And of course the exhibit will then be open to visitors, as well.

That’s what I have.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  The situation in Egypt, where the Egyptian President today gave a new decree on the authority to the army to arrest and incarcerate anybody challenging the authority of the Government today.  So, does the Secretary-General have anything to say about this?  Although, on one hand, he has somehow withdrawn the decree, partially, but he has given more power to the army to consolidate his power.

Spokesperson:  Simply to reiterate that the Secretary-General continues to monitor this very closely and continues to hold the view that any differences that there are should be dealt with through dialogue and that protests, if they take place, should be peaceful.  And that’s what I have for you.  Okay, all right.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, I… correct me if I am wrong, but I seem to remember earlier you said the Secretary-General had spoken, condemning the existence or the possible use of nerve gas, chemical weapons in Syria.  But he… now has come out, at least that’s what it said in the reports that I read, saying that there is no confirmation of any possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Which of the two… is there a contradiction, has he changed his…?

Spokesperson:  No, there is no contradiction, Carla.  What we are talking about here are two separate things.  One is the existence of such stockpiles, which people are concerned about, and then there have been reports about the possible planned use.  But those reports do not have any confirmation.  That’s the point that the Secretary-General is trying to make.  He is concerned about any stockpiles that there may be in Syria, and he is concerned that the Syrian authorities should make sure that any stockpiles that there are should be properly secured.  And, of course, he has repeatedly said, both publicly on his trip last week and in other statements, that, of course, any use of such terrible weapons would be an outrageous crime with dire consequences.  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  Hi, Martin.  Thank you.  A recent Stanford study has, far from the only one, determines that the amount of deaths in Pakistan only from US drone strikes is between 1,500 and 2,500 people.  It adds that 2 per cent of those people are the high-ranking terror suspects that the US claims to be targeting.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this last weekend’s drone strike in which several people were killed?  If not, why?

Spokesperson:  No, he doesn’t on that particular instance.  I think the Secretary-General is on record with regard to drones.  If you look at his most recent report on protection of civilians, you will find that there is ample reference to the use of such unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, and I would refer you to that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I have several questions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  One, I wanted to ask, first, in this… there was a SADC [Southern African Development Community] meeting held in Tanzania about establishing this… this international neutral force.  So, I wanted to know, maybe you will have a… there… maybe there is a UN comment on it, but more specifically I wanted to know two things.  Whether… whether there was any UN presence at this… given how it will interplay possibly with MONUSCO, any presence at… at the SADC meeting?  And also, you know, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, made this comment that has gone all over the place, calling MONUSCO military tourism.  So, I just wanted to know, is there any way it is a… it’s… it is a… it’s a… it’s a memorable phrase; is there a UN kind of response to that?

Spokesperson:  No, there isn’t.  When it comes to the setting up of an international neutral force, I think we need to see how that really comes together.  That’s why, as you will have seen, there was the meeting in Kampala; we need to see how that comes together.  Of course, when it comes to the mandates of peacekeeping missions, you know very well where such decisions rest — with the Security Council.  And, as I mentioned a little earlier, the talks between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the M23 rebel group, they’re taking place, facilitated by the Ugandan authorities.  The United Nations doesn’t have a direct role in those talks.  Let me check on whether there was a presence of some kind at the other meeting you are referring to, okay?

Question:  Sure.  The… the… you know, I am just on the same… on the same, at least topic or region, there was… there was conflicting reports about the… the… the central bank in Goma.  There was a… while M23 was in charge in… in the town, there was an unnamed UN official who told The Guardian that M23 was looting the bank.  And then, more recently, there was a Radio Okapi story, quoting the manager of the bank, saying nothing was looted, everything is fine inside.  So, there is some… I just… I am just wondering, since there are these two different and I’d read, I know Radio Okapi is not specifically speaking for the UN, but does the UN know whether M23 actually took money from the U… from the Goma central bank or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, I think obviously the first port of call is the central bank itself, but let me check if we have anything further on that.  Did I see your hand again?

[The Spokesperson later added, after checking with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, that the United Nations Mission reports that the Central Bank in Goma was not attacked.]

Question:  Yes, I was just… thank you, Martin.  I saw that the Secretary-General had condemned a launch of a drone by Hezbollah.  And he also condemned heavy Israeli use of drones over Lebanon, which another UN official has called a daily violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.  But, I am looking for the condemnation of the heaviest user of drones, which is the US, and again 1,500 to 2,500 people killed in Pakistan alone.  And this is one country, of many, that American drones have been used over, and very few of those people have not been civilians.  Can he take a stronger stand?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I think that the remarks that are in the report on the protection of civilians are very clear, and I would refer you to those.  Okay.  Yes, Carla?  Is your hand up again?  No?  Oh, you were just pointing to your colleague behind, that’s very, very nice of you.  Okay, yes, Carla?

Question:  He is unusual these days.  There were, again, reports that Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi had said that there was some hope of diplomatic resolution of the crisis in Syria, the meeting with Sergei Lavrov and with Hillary Clinton.  And then there were also reports at the same time that the US is planning directly to send weapons to the opposition.  How will Mr. Brahimi be able to reconcile these two apparently contradictory trends?

Spokesperson:  You seem to be on a contradictory trend yourself today.  I think what you will find is that Mr. Brahimi also did have a meeting over the weekend in Geneva with, respectively, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation and the Deputy Secretary of State of the United States State Department.  And that was obviously a follow-up to the meeting that was held in Dublin between the Foreign Minister and the Secretary of State.  And that meeting in Geneva was described as constructive and held in a spirit of cooperation, and that it explored avenues to move forward a peaceful process and mobilize greater international action in favour of a political solution to the Syrian crisis.  And all three parties reaffirmed their common assessment that the situation in Syria was bad and getting worse.  And they stressed that a political process to end the crisis in Syria was necessary and still possible.  So, I have read that out simply to stress the words “political” and “peaceful”.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, great. If you don’t mind, I have questions on Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire and the budget.  But they will… maybe they will go quickly.  There is a protest or… it… it… it was this morning, and may still be ongoing at the… at MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] in Port-au Prince on the topic of the introduction of cholera.  People were saying… I mean there were signs saying, you know, US out of Hai… UN, excuse me, out of Haiti, and I just wonder… I mean, I think I know where… the… the… the… the… what’s the response, I guess, to these protesters and, also, is there… is… is OLA, the Office of Legal Affairs, any closer than it’s been and when previously asked to rule on the… the legal claim that was filed and related to that, is it possible, before the end of the year or maybe in January, to get the head of OLA to just… even to, just on this one issue, to have some kind of a press interaction, given the interest in… in Haiti about this?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the specific request for the Legal Counsel to give a briefing, I think that’s very unlikely.  You know the reasons for that.  The second point is that there obviously were claims that were lodged, and those claims are being studied, and I don’t have anything further for you on that at the moment.  And with regard to — to come back to the beginning — with regard to the protests that may or may not be taking place in Haiti:  everyone has a right to protest, as long as it is peaceful.  And I would simply underscore the work that has been done by the international community at large in tackling the outbreak of cholera with the focus on helping those in need and particularly dealing with sanitation and water, some of the key aspects in tackling this. 

Question:  Sure, I know this… this may be off track, there was a decision recently, over the weekend or on Friday, in the French courts on… on three soldiers there that were peacekeepers in Côte d'Ivoire who were found guilty of… of killing, essentially murder, of an Ivorian, FerminMahe, and there is now some controversy because they were given suspended sentences, no jail time, although they… they pretty much were found guilty of killing a… a… a… a gang… a… a… an Ivorian at the time.  And I wonder, given, you know, the UN is still there, it’s works with this Force Licorne, is there any UN kind of thought or comment on… on accountability or impunity in… in this case of the death of an Ivorian?

Spokesperson:  I think you answered it there, in the sense that, to my knowledge, they weren’t part of the UN peacekeeping operation.  So, I don’t think that we would have a comment on that.  Next question?  I think you had one more on the budget?

Question:  Okay.  Yeah, it’s… it’s… it’s… it’s… as… as… as it comes to a… as things come to a head in the Fifth Committee, it seems like the big… the big issue this year is this issue called re-costing, which is that essentially… some… some countries think that it is an automatic raising of… of… of… of payment levels and some countries are saying that that’s not automatic at all, and I wanted to know, there is… there is sort of a disagreement about what was agreed to a year ago and since the… the Secretariat is the one actually paying the money out, did they have a view of this… of… of whether this re-costing should be automatic this year or… and… and what are the, I guess, dangers posed by going to Christmas, as it sometimes does?  And also, is there a response to the Staff Union resolution that was passed recently about cost cutting, I guess, to them and outsourcing of jobs, is there a formal response to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you will be aware that the Chef de Cabinet, Ms. [Susana] Malcorra, held a global town hall; so, not just with the representatives here at Headquarters, but with others linked up by a video conference call.  I think that covered a lot of ground.  When it comes to the budget, of course this is something that is in the works.  Ultimately, it is in the hands of the Member States.  I don’t wish to prejudge where that discussion is going.  And if I have anything further on that, then I’ll come back to you.

Okay, thanks. Have a good afternoon.

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