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

22 February 2013

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

22 February 2013
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.

**Security Council

Roger Meece, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, briefed the Security Council this morning on recent developments there, and he noted the continuing deterioration in the eastern Congo, as well as worrying developments in north Katanga.

He said that there has been a general pause in M23 [23 March Movement] offensive operations, but at the same time the rebel group has tried to consolidate its own administrative structures in the portion of North Kivu that it occupies, with widespread reports of violence and threats against those who attempt to resist the M23’s authority.  Meanwhile, the UN mission in the country, MONUSCO, has continued to see a general increase in Congolese militia activity throughout North Kivu.  We have Mr. Meece’s briefing notes available in my office.

The Security Council also adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Office in Guinea-Bissau by three months.

** Mali

The World Food Programme (WFP) has opened a new land route today for transporting vital food assistance from Niamey, in Niger, to northern Mali, where the volatile security situation and economic disruption is affecting food supplies.

The first trucks delivered 200 tons of food to the town of Menaka, in the Gao region, and more convoys are on the way.  In the coming days, this assistance will be distributed to 24,000 people.  The UN agency says it expects the volume of its humanitarian assistance in northern Mali to increase in the coming weeks, with the gradual reopening of more land routes.

In the last two weeks, the United Nations Mine Action Service has started an assessment of the situation in northern Mali to identify the threat from mines and unexploded ordnance.  Once this assessment is completed and safe access can be assured, teams will be deployed to undertake humanitarian tasks including disposal of explosives.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that, with its technical and financial support, education authorities and partners in Mali have agreed to accelerate the return of children to school, especially in the north of the country.

The Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Ging, is in Bamako today and he will be speaking to reporters shortly.  Mr. Ging will be the guest at the noon briefing on Tuesday here at UN Headquarters.

** Syria

In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General condemned the series of bombings in populated areas that took place in the Syrian capital Damascus, which resulted in numerous deaths and injuries.   He sends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.

The Secretary-General reiterated in the statement his firm conviction that resorting to violence and military means will only lead to more suffering and destruction, and that a political solution is the only way out.  The Secretary-General renews his call on all parties to end the violence and respect international humanitarian law.

**A Day Without News

The Secretary-General issued a video message for the “A Day Without News” campaign today to draw attention to journalists who have been persecuted for doing their job.  He said that in the last 10 years, more than 600 journalists have been murdered, while many more suffer from intimidation, harassment and death threats.  In his statement, the Secretary-General reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring that every journalist can do her or his job safely.

** Myanmar

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed its concern today about the rising number of deaths in the Indian Ocean, involving people fleeing their countries for safety and better lives elsewhere.  The agency said that these people include many Rohingya from Myanmar.  Already in 2013, several thousand people are believed to have boarded smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal, among them Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine State or from refugee camps and makeshift sites in Bangladesh.  There is more information on this on the UN refugee agency’s website.


On International Women’s Day, 8 March, UN-Women will launch a musical celebration of women worldwide, featuring more than 20 artists from across the globe.  From today, behind-the-scenes videos chronicling the song’s year-long production will be available online to count down toward the launch.  And then on 8 March, the site will feature the full song video and make the track available for download.  The song aims to inspire people about the mission of UN-Women and engages them to join in the drive for women’s empowerment and gender equality.  And there is more available in a press release that is online.

** India

I was asked yesterday about the attacks in Hyderabad.  I can say that the Secretary-General strongly condemns the indiscriminate attacks against civilians which occurred there yesterday in the Indian city of Hyderabad.  He extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of India.

Questions, please?  Tim, and then Joe.  Yes?  This Joe, and then that Joe.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Martin, and I add my voice to anyone who is against harassment of journalists.  My question is about the meeting in Addis Ababa on Sunday; is there any more detail on who is going to sign the deal, even the countries who have been invited, even if you don’t know who is going to be there?  Also, is there any detail on the accord?  Is it still being negotiated?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned, this is an accord, framework accord, that is due to be signed on Sunday in Addis Ababa.  There are four co-guarantors: the United Nations, the African Union, the Great Lakes region and SADC [Southern African Development Community].  On behalf of the Great Lakes Region, Uganda will be present to sign, and Mozambique on behalf of SADC.  The countries involved are the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

As for any details, obviously the Secretary-General will be speaking in Addis Ababa and I would anticipate that you’d hear a bit more from him at that point.  Just to say at this point, that this is an agreement that builds on the efforts undertaken by regional organizations and the United Nations in recent years.  And what’s new is that it includes oversight mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to support and oversee the implementation of the commitments made.  And the commitments by the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be supported by the United Nations and the African Union, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and other partners of the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo].

As part of this, there will also be the appointment of a Special Envoy, and that Envoy will be supporting the implementation of the framework, including through establishing benchmarks and a review mechanism.  And in case you are going to ask me, we would anticipate that the appointment would be announced soon, but not just yet.  Okay, this Joe, then that Joe, and then Matthew, okay.  Yes?

Question:  We were told this morning that an attempt by the Security Council to reach a consensus on some sort of press statement or presidential statement regarding the bombings in Damascus yesterday are dead — that was actually the words of one of the Permanent Representatives.  I know that both Mr. Brahimi and the Secretary-General have in the past expressed the wish for the Security Council to take stronger measures regarding the entire situation in Syria, so I am wondering if the Secretary-General would be considering urging or have any… any reaction to the failure of the Security Council to even reach a consensus on the deplorable killings that occurred yesterday.

Spokesperson:  They were indeed deplorable, and the Secretary-General issued a statement on that, as you will have seen.  I am not going to comment on this particular matter, which is, of course, for the Security Council members themselves.  I would simply reiterate what the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, and that is the Security Council is at its strongest and most effective when it speaks with a unified voice.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  I don’t know if you have been asked this before, but as you know, the United States wants direct talks with Iran [inaudible] over their nuclear programme.  Does the Secretary-General support and give his backing to the [ United States] and Iran having direct talks?

Spokesperson:  Well, it would be for the two of them to determine bilaterally whether they wish to engage in such dialogue.  As you know, there is the “P5+1” track; in other words, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, involving Catherine Ashton from the European Union.  They are going to be holding talks next week, in fact, with Iran in Kazakhstan.  So, there is an existing track.  I don’t have any particular specific comment on that eventuality or possibility, except to say that it would be, as I mentioned, for the two concerned to deliberate on whether such a dialogue is necessary, or useful.  But, in general terms, of course, any form of dialogue is likely to be helpful.

Question:  So, I could take that, translate, since he has a strong interest in this issue, he thinks it’s a good idea if the [ United States] and Iran have direct talks?

Spokesperson:  Well, you are putting words into my mouth, but the…

Question:  [inaudible] can you confirm the words I am putting into your mouth?  [laughter]

Spokesperson:  I’d rather use the words that I used, which may be a little longer, but I’m sorry about that.

Correspondent:  [inaudible] what I suggested.

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Correspondent:  They are not as satisfactory as what I suggested you saying.

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s for you to determine.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask you about Haiti and also Sri Lanka.  One is, yesterday, you said that… that the claims… this Haitian… Haiti cholera claim was not receivable under Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities.  So, I went and looked it up, and it seems to say the UN shall make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement of disputes arising out of contracts or disputes involving officials of the UN who enjoy immunity if immunity is not waived by the [Secretary-General].  So, it wasn’t clear to me how this Section 29 actually applies to not receiving a complaint.  And… and separately, just a factual question, one of the lawyers of the complainants, Beatrice Lindstrom, told me that they have received no communications or inquiries or… or… or… of any kind since December 2011.  So, they… they have some doubt about what… what… what took so long to end up just saying we are dismissing your claim.  But, can you explain those two things?

Spokesperson:  Well, maybe just to deal with the second question first, if I may.  I did answer that yesterday.  Simply put, this was something that needed to be looked at very carefully, and it was.  The second question, from me, the first one from you, when a private claim is filed against the United Nations, the Organization determines as a threshold matter whether the claim in question falls properly within the scope of Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.  Claims found to be outside the scope of Section 29 of the Convention are not receivable.  And the consequence of a finding that a claim is not receivable is that the claim will not receive further consideration by the Organization.

Question:  Just one follow-up, I really appreciate it.  I just want to… I don’t want to… I’d rather sort of ask this now than… than in a future briefing.  It seems to say that Section 29 applies to disputes arising out of contract, so this wouldn’t involve this, or other disputes of a private law character, and I think, like, the idea that if the allegation is that the UN introduced cholera inadvertently and caused this harm, that seems to fall under… to be of a private law character.  So I just… I’m just… I guess I am just wondering, is there so… is it possible to get from [Office of Legal Affairs], because it’s… it’s a matter, obviously, worldwide concern the UN invoking immunity in this matter.  Why is this not a… a… a priva… a… a… of… a… a dispute of a private law character?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would refer you back to what I just said, firstly.  And secondly, simply to reiterate what I said yesterday that I am not in a position to provide you with any further details.  It’s not the UN’s practice to discuss in public the details of and the response to claims filed against the Organization.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Nizar, and then I will come to you Erol.

Question:  Martin, I wonder if you have any statement regarding the provocations by the Israelis today in the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, intimidating the prayers, attacking the Mosque itself, one going in.  Also, about the prisoners, Samer Issawi was given an eight-month sentence yesterday, he is in his 215th day of hunger strike, two other prisoners were taken to hospital of hunger strike, and still no action for their release or alleviating their suffering.

Spokesperson:  On the first question, Nizar, I’ll have to check.  I don’t have anything for you at the moment.  On the second, the Secretary-General was very clear in his statement on 19 February, as I think you will recall.  He said it was of particular concern that detainees are held in administrative detention without charges.  Those detained should be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees in accordance with international standards, or be promptly released.  And he also said that he was deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody who are on hunger strike.  And this is something that as we also mentioned, the Secretary-General did raise with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he spoke with him earlier this week.

Question:  [inaudible] yesterday, the Bahraini police shot dead a peaceful protestor and there is a video showing how he was shot.  The… the… the… the victim did not carry any stone in his hand or any weapon when he was killed.  Have you seen that video and what comment do you have regarding…?

Spokesperson:  We are aware of the media reports on this, Nizar.  I don’t have any specific comment on this particular case, I would reiterate what we have repeatedly said, and that is that people have the right to protest peacefully without fear of being hurt or killed in the process.  If I have anything further, then I would certainly get back to you, Nizar.  Yes, Erol? 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.

Spokesperson:  And then Joe.

Question:  Since you, on behalf of Secretary-General, commended the process of dialogue, continuation of dialogue, between Kosovo and Serbia, there is also another process that is conditioned to somehow be given the day for acceptance as negotiation with European Union.  That is the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia conditioned by the progress in the name dispute with Greece.  Since your boss met with the Foreign Secretary of Greece, and they discussed various issues, did he… did Mr. Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General had the chance to ask him on the position of Greece whether they are going to block actually, and what would be their position in the further negotiation [inaudible] European Union?

Spokesperson:  I think you saw, Erol, that we issued a readout on that conversation.  There was a reference to the name question.  I don’t have anything beyond that, okay.  Yes, Joe?  I’ll come back to you, Erol.

Question:  Just a small follow-up?

Spokesperson:  Go ahead.

Question:  Just, is… did the Secretary-General show any curiosity regarding that, since this is under the auspices of United Nations, not under the auspices of European Union?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General discussed a number of topics, including the name question, but I don’t have anything further for you.  Yes, Joe?  And then Matthew.

Question:  As you have said, the [Secretary-General] supports the “P5+1” talks coming up in Kazakhstan; does he think that this issue could be resolved through those talks or direct talks between the [ United States] and Iran, necessarily?

Spokesperson:  The track that exists is something that, obviously, needs to be encouraged.  The Secretary-General spoke recently with Ms. Ashton ahead of those talks.  He would certainly be in favour of an acceleration of that track.  That is not to exclude other possibilities, but this is a track that exists, and that involves the United States as one of the permanent five members.  So, the focus is on trying to see progress in that particular track, it is not to the exclusion of other options.  But, that is where the action is at the moment, and where the focus is, and where people hope that thee will be some progress.

Question:  [inaudible] there could be a resolution through that arrangement?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is not just curious, as Erol said, he is also an optimistic person by nature, but also realistic about the concerns that are amongst those in the international community about the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, and the need for Iran to prove to the satisfaction of the international community that it is for purely peaceful purposes.  So, there is a lot of work to do, but the fact that this meeting will be taking place in Almaty next week is certainly an important step.  Yes, Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask about… about Sri Lanka.  I want to ask about a… a meeting the Secretary-General had this morning at 10 a.m., it was a photo op which I attended.  It was listed as being with the Permanent Representatives of Sri Lanka, Japan, Bangladesh, Romania and Nigeria.  There was also… Say again?  There was also another individual that I want to… I want to ask you about…

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all…

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  …in a slightly different order, but never mind.

Question:  Okay.  Yeah, yeah, absolutely.  But, the… the… the… and I… okay then, the Permanent Representative of Japan began the meeting by saying Sri Lanka is an important country and we wish to hand over our report today.  And there was an individual at the meeting who identified himself as from Columbia University, but wasn’t on the Secretary-General’s schedule.  So, I wanted to… to ask you to describe what was the Secretary-General’s understanding about the purpose of the meeting was.  Is this report on Sri Lanka, does it involve the allegations of war crimes in any way?  You’d said that the current review by… by the Deputy Secretary-General was just of the UN’s follow-up on… on the two previous reports.  What… what… what… what was this report and what’s the Secretary-General going to do about it?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I think you need to ask the ambassadors themselves what this report was.  It was their report, they were handing the Secretary-General a copy of their report as a courtesy.  The Secretary-General received it in that fashion, and will study it, but he has only just received it.

Question:  But, what was… I mean, that’s why I… I’ve tried to phrase it this way.  What was his… since most of these meetings usually have some kind… there was no title or sort of agenda item the rest of the meeting.  What was his understanding of the meeting and how did an individual not listed on his schedule from Columbia University.  Can you just speak about what this was about?

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t over-interpret the presence or absence of individuals.  It can happen that people attend a meeting who were not initially scheduled to do so, and it can also happen that someone who was ready, intending to attend a meeting, does not turn up.  That can happen, I wouldn’t over-interpret it.

Question:  And just another… just also on Sri Lanka, there was… yesterday there, it was reported that the widow of… of… of Pragith [Ekneligoda], the… the… the cartoonist who has been missing for more than 1,000 days turned in another letter of petition to the UN in… in Sri Lanka asking for the assistance of the UN system in… in finding out where her husband is.  The… so was this letter received and what… what… what, in this 1,000 days… because I know the Secretary-General has been petitioned himself personally on this, what has he done on the case of Pragith [Ekneligoda], the Sri Lankan cartoonist?

Spokesperson:  Let me check on the letter.  Excuse me, let me check on whether the letter has been received here at Headquarters, first of all, and secondly, on the other part of your question, I will also check, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes? 

Correspondent:  Yeah…

Spokesperson:  This is the last question.

Question:  …this week, we had two days talks between Prime Minister of Kosovo and Serbia.  Is… media is reporting that they both agreed on the community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo.  Do you have any information in this regard, since you do have a Mission there and who is very much involved?

Spokesperson:  We certainly have a Mission there; that is absolutely right.  I am awaiting more information from them.  We have seen the media reports, but I don’t have anything further at this point.  Once we’ve heard from the Mission, then I would be in a position to tell you more.  Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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