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

17 January 2013

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

17 January 2013
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.

**Secretary-General in California

The Secretary-General is on his way to San Francisco and should be arriving there shortly.  This afternoon, he will speak to students at Stanford University, discussing, among other topics, the sustainable development challenge that the world faces.  He will point out that in the next 20 years, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more drinking water.  He will also talk about the continuing crisis in Syria and our humanitarian efforts there.

** Syria

The Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, is scheduled to visit Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs and Dera'a from 18–22 January.  And he will be accompanied by the emergency directors of a range of UN agencies, funds and programmes.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the situation in Syria is getting worse.  There are an estimated 4 million people in urgent need of assistance, including at least 2 million who are internally displaced.  More than 650,000 people have fled the country.

The Office says that humanitarian workers are feeding 1.5 million people and providing basic relief supplies for some 400,000 people — but that this is just not enough.  As you know, the humanitarian community has requested $1.5 billion to help displaced people and their host communities across Syria, and for refugees in neighbouring countries, for the next six months.

** Syria — UNRWA

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, has called on all sides in the conflict in Syria to refrain from taking up positions in or conducting the conflict in civilian areas.

In a statement, the Agency calls on all parties to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees, other civilians and their property, and to comply with their obligations under international law.  It added that the integrity, inviolability and neutrality of United Nations premises, vehicles and other assets must be respected and safeguarded by all.

The Relief and Works Agency is particularly concerned about the unrelenting and escalating conflict and its devastating impact on Palestine refugees in all areas of Syria, and the Agency has a press release with more details on this.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

The Secretary-General has appointed Ahmad Alhindawi of Jordan as his Envoy on Youth.  The Secretary-General, in his Five-Year Action Agenda, identified “Working with and for Women and Young People” as one of his top priorities.

The Secretary-General has also appointed Carl Alexandre of the United States as his Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Mr. Alexandre replaces Kevin Kennedy, who served in that position from April 2010 until December last year.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on the work of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, UNFICYP.

And then, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, Council members will hear an open briefing from Bert Koenders, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, about the work of the UN peacekeeping mission there.  And that meeting will be followed by further discussions on Côte d’Ivoire in closed consultations.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur says it is committed to engaging with all stakeholders to address the current humanitarian needs of thousands of civilians who were displaced in the North Darfur villages of Saraf Omra, Kabkabya and El Sereif.

At the beginning of the week, the Mission deployed a team consisting of civilian, military and police personnel to the three affected areas to assess the security and humanitarian situation.  The Mission is now supporting mediation and reconciliation initiatives between the two tribes, and is transporting medical supplies and other critical items to those in need.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) confirms that on 6 January, its peacekeepers rescued two European tourists, a German and an Austrian, who had been detained by members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, an armed group operating in the country's eastern region.  The two individuals were travelling from North Kivu Province to nearby Orientale Province.  The operation was launched from MONUSCO's base in Kiwanja under the Mission's mandate to protect civilians.

** Mali

We were asked at yesterday’s briefing about reported human rights violations in Mali.  The United Nations is aware of reports that various human rights violations have allegedly been committed in Mali, including extrajudicial killings, and we condemn any such violations.  Any parties to the fighting must respect human rights.  We are preparing to deploy the UN's multi-disciplinary presence to Bamako, which will include a human rights component that will aim to monitor and report on alleged human rights violations.

And that’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Two quick questions.  The first is the OCHA report you were speaking about, $1.5 billion requested for six months, did you mention…?  I didn’t hear how much has been received so far of that $1.5 billion.

Spokesperson:  This is the announcement that was made in the run up to the pledging conference at the end of this month in Kuwait City.  This figure of $1.5 billion is so… is a figure that was announced with that in mind.  At the moment, it is, a part of, is 3 per cent funded, just 3 per cent funded.

Question:  And, we asked a question when we were hearing reports about Syria and chemical weapons.  There was a State Department report; Eduardo wasn’t able to respond to us yesterday, is there…?

Spokesperson:  That’s not true, he did respond to you yesterday.

Correspondent:  Well, he said that there was… there… there was nothing that the UN could say about it at the moment.

Spokesperson:  That remains the position.  That’s precisely what Eduardo said yesterday, that the Secretary-General is aware of the press reports.  We don’t comment on every single news report, especially where such stories involve apparently leaked information.  And then, the Secretary-General reiterates that any use of chemical weapons would constitute an outrageous crime which the international community would not tolerate.  And the Secretary-General has emphasized the primary responsibility of the Syrian Government to ensure the safety, security and non-use of any such weapons or materials.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the situation in the oil installation in Amenas in southern Algeria is dramatic.  Some 12… some citizens of 12 countries are involved and many of them have been killed between yesterday and today.  The conflict in Mali is taking on international dimensions now, involving several States, not only for distant States, but neighbouring States.  I have two questions:  one, what is the reaction of the Secretary-General to this dramatic development in south-eastern Algeria?  And second, would he consider the possibility of appointing a Special Representative for the Maghreb States region?

Spokesperson:  On the second question, Mr. Abbadi, Romano Prodi is the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel region.  With regard to Algeria, I’d simply say we are aware of the reports coming out of the region.  I don’t think anyone has a clear picture yet of what has unfolded.  And what I can say now, is that we utterly condemn any kidnapping or hostage-taking, and that our thoughts are for the safety of those being held and for their families.  Okay, yes?

Question:  Thank you.  There were some reports today that there are some discussions between the United Nations and maybe the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to grant the latter some kind of representation at the UN.  Is that true?

Spokesperson:  I think you know that it is not up to the United Nations as an institution, but for Member States to decide on recognition or otherwise of any entity.  So I don’t think that sounds right to me somehow.  Yes, Mercedes?

Question:  I understand that the Secretary-General doesn’t want to comment on every report in Syria, intensive use of chemical weapons, but this report is very specific, it gives dates like 23 December.  Is the UN at least investigating that chemical attacks have already happened?

Spokesperson:  Look, I think we’ve said what we have to say on the matter.  You could also check with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to see what they have to say about the matter.  But, I think that we have been quite clear on any potential use and where the responsibility lies for the safety and security of any such materials or weapons that may be in existence.

Correspondent:  Because if the attacks have already happened and the international community is not acting, all this threats about the consequences will lose any…

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the…

Correspondent:  any [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  The first word that you uttered is the key point here — “if”.  It’s hypothetical at this point.  Yes, Erol?

Correspondent:  That’s why I was asking if there is an investigation on…

Spokesperson:  Well, that would not be for the United Nations to conduct, and I think we have made our position clear on that.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  With regard to what [inaudible], this regarding the attending of the Secretary-General of this New Year concert organized by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremić, and that one of the songs that was performed was, as many people understood, the favourite song of the nationalist who committed some of the biggest atrocities in Bosnia, [inaudible].  It’s [inaudible], and Secretary-General was seen applauding there.  And now, I have two questions:  whether the Secretary-General is aware of very harsh reaction of some of the people, women from Srebrenica today that he met, that [inaudible], what has happened in Srebrenica, in particular regarding these [inaudible]?  And number two, whether does he feel that he was not very informed and would like probably to apologize or to expect anything else?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware that some people were offended by the encore song at the concert held in the General Assembly on Monday.  And we sincerely regret that people were offended by this song, which was not listed in the official programme.  The Secretary-General obviously was not aware what the song was about or the use that has been made of it in the past.  Okay.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  There is a letter from the Syrian Mission regarding the looting of the Syrian industry in Aleppo which was distributed today.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the industry of Aleppo are transported to Turkey?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, I know you asked the same question to Eduardo yesterday, and I don’t have anything to add to his response.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure, Martin, thanks.  I want to ask about both South Sudan and Sudan.  There is this fighting in Lake State.  There is… at least 10 people have been killed and at least in the reports on it… I don’t… I wanted to know if… if the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is in any way involved in trying to tamp down the fighting and in checking it out.  And on the Sudan side, I know I had asked you, maybe 10 days ago now, what happened with UNAMID’s protection of civilians strategy?  People that work in UNAMID are upset and have complained that the strategy was ready in September;  apparently the Government has been allowed to veto it, so I am wondering, have you got any answer from DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations)?  What happened with that very elaborate strategy?

Spokesperson:  Thank you for these questions, Matthew.  I will check with UNMISS on the first and with DPKO on the second.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to… this… it goes… this also sadly go… not… any way, it goes back to this question of mobility, the… that… in the budget session in… at… right before Christmas, the Secretary-General’s mobility proposal was deferred until the next session.  So, I asked you, and you said, you know, he’ll speak to the staff and then to the… to the membership, so I’ve become aware that in the town hall meeting with the staff, he was asked to withdraw the proposal and when… and the head of the Staff Union was, you know, used some pretty heavy language about the way she was lobbied by the Secretariat on mobility, so I am just wondering, is it now… do you have… is there any statement now by the Secretariat after these… these… you know, he… well, he’s heard from staff, is there any response to the criticism of the proposal that was made by staff in various duty stations?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General spoke to staff at that town hall meeting, which was for staff around the world with a number of duty stations connected and able to ask questions by videoconference and others able to watch by webcast or other methods.  So, staff were able to hear what the Secretary-General had to say, just as they were able to hear the questions and responses from other representatives of staff.  The Secretary-General will be speaking to the Member States on the 22nd, and the same day he will be speaking to reporters.

That’s what I have, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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