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

5 March 2013

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

5 March 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Security Council has begun consultations this morning concerning a draft resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Then, at 3:00 p.m., the Secretary-General will brief the Security Council in an open meeting, followed by consultations, on his new report about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Once Council consultations have finished, the Secretary-General will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout and take a few questions.  We expect this to happen at around 4:45 p.m.

** Syria

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that fuel and water shortages continue to affect many communities in Syria, and contaminated water has become a major public health risk in some areas.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported cases of water-borne and sanitation-related diseases, including over 80 suspected cases of Hepatitis A and more than 100 new cases of a skin disease, Leishmaniasis.

Despite the security constraints, aid organizations continue to increase deliveries of much-needed assistance.  UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] began a major increase of mobile health services to support 50 medical teams in 12 governorates.  The World Food Programme (WFP) aims to reach 2.5 million people in March with food.  In February, it reached about 1.1 million people throughout the country.  The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and its partners are working to support nearly 1 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.  The number of Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon has exceeded UNHCR’s estimates for the January-June 2013 period.

** Yemen

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the safe return of displaced people in Yemen is at risk due to landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

The Humanitarian Office estimates that 140,000 formerly displaced people have returned to Abyan Governorate in southern Yemen.  More than three out of four depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, so clearing agricultural land is critical.  But, while most urban areas, roads and public areas have been cleared, large areas of agricultural land are still affected by the explosive remnants of war.

Meanwhile, the Yemen Mine Action Programme, which is working with the Government to clear mines, is facing a budget shortfall of some $7.9 million, nearly 80 per cent of the required funding.

** Mali

The United Nations Children’s Fund said today that 60 victims of explosive remnants of war have been reported in Mali since April 2012, with children making up two thirds of the total.  Approximately 200,000 children from conflict-affected areas in central and northern Mali are at risk of injury or death due to leftover munitions, according to the UN agency.

The level of risk is likely to further increase when displaced families start returning home to areas that have seen the worst of the conflict.  In order to better protect civilians from the explosive threat, UNICEF and its partners are planning to step up mine risk education activities and radio sensitization campaigns this year, especially in northern regions, in order to raise awareness in conflict-affected areas.


Today, an all-female climbing team supported by the World Food Programme in Tanzania reached the summit of Mt.  Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain.  The UN agency said that the 10 women made the ascent to highlight the importance of girls’ education and of school meals.  The expedition, which includes seven Nepalese women and three African women, timed the climb to mark the week of International Women’s Day on 8 March.  There are more details in a press release available on the World Food Programme’s website.

**Narcotics Control

The International Narcotics Control Board, which is the independent organ for the implementation of the United Nations drug conventions, is warning of the dangers to public health of new psychoactive substances in its annual report launched today.  These substances, known as “legal highs” and “designer drugs”, are proliferating rapidly; in Europe alone, almost one new substance appears every week.  The Board is calling for concerted action by Governments to prevent the manufacture, trafficking and abuse of these substances.

**Event Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the UN Global Compact and UN-Women will co-host the fifth annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York.  The Secretary-General will deliver closing remarks.  The Women’s Empowerment Principles were launched in 2010 by the Secretary-General.  They outline seven steps for business on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.  Nearly 550 CEOs have publicly declared their commitment to implementing the Principles.

**Press Conference

And tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by the UN Department of Public Information entitled “Combating Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls”.  Speakers from Rwanda, India and Peru will participate.

Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir, two questions.  Number one, this… on Syria, the… it seems that the Secretary-General has taken note of the fact the promises made in Kuwait for… to deliver a certain amount of money for the refugees are still not being fulfilled.  The other thing is, as against that, the rebels over there are receiving arms and ammunitions like anything.  So has he taken note of this?  What does he plan to do about this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, the Secretary-General obviously has taken note of it.  He is very well informed of everything that is happening with respect to Syria.  On the one hand, he has said for the past two years that weapons and ammunition reaching any side is counterproductive and will not contribute to a peaceful resolution of the situation.  He has also said that he welcomed the $1.5 billion in promises made, in pledges made in Kuwait, and he fully expects countries to live up to those promises.

Correspondent:  But those promises have not been not fulfilled.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is in contact with… the Secretary-General’s people are in contact with the people who made the pledges, and we are trying to get the pledges turned into cash.  As you know, if they are not turned into cash, then the humanitarian assistance that should be given by that money cannot be given.

Question:  Okay, the… and I have another question on another issue.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of the situation in Bangladesh, where, I mean, lots of… at least according to reports, of hundreds of protesters being killed by the police?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I read a statement last week on it, and he continues to follow it very closely.

Correspondent:  And then about human rights violations…

Deputy Spokesperson:  He continues to follow it very closely.  I think I have a statement here.  It says:

The Secretary-General is monitoring the situation with concern and is saddened by the loss of life.  While recognizing that the war crime tribunal is a national process, the Secretary-General calls on all concerned to act with respect for the rule of law, to stop the violence and to express their views peacefully.

That’s what he says, and he continues to stand by it.  Richard?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General, or do you, have a comment on the US delegate [Joseph] Torsella saying there is too much drinking going on at the UN, affecting negotiations in the Fifth Committee and elsewhere?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, that’s an issue for Member States to raise.

Question:  But, do you think that… it does affect the work of the UN and the work of the Secretary-General.  Do you observe in your experience here and on the international scene, is there excessive drinking before or after meetings?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not had the pleasure of sitting in the Fifth Committee while they do their work, so I can’t comment on that, sorry.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, on… on the tension in… in south Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Israel, do you have any lines, because today it is, obviously, they are still carrying on the excavation work by the bulldozers inside Lebanese territory?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, well, yesterday the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] commenced construction of a patrol road south of the Blue Line in the area of the Wazzani River.  The IDF gave UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] prior notification about the works and shared relevant details, including the shape and route it will take.  UNIFIL has shared this information with the Lebanese Armed Forces.  UNIFIL has deployed a team to patrol the area in order to monitor the works, with a view of ensuring that the Blue Line is respected and there is no violation.

Question:  So, this has not been a disputed area, in your opinion?

Deputy Spokesperson:  According to the… to UNIFIL, no, it is not.  It is south of the Blue Line, as I just said.  Matthew, I’m sorry, I am not used to Matthew being there.

Question:  Yeah, I thought I’d get a different answer on the Haiti cholera if I changed my seat.  I’m going to try that, but first I want to… I wanted to ask you about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these reports that the… the… the… the FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] voluntarily gave… gave Rutshuru and Kiwanja back to the M23 [23 March Movement] rebels.  I wondered, given what the UN has said about the M23 and all the… the… the… the crimes that you have accused it of, what’s the UN’s position on… on territory being voluntarily given back?  What’s the UN’s protection of civilians role at this time in Rutshuru?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d invite you to listen to the Secretary-General’s comments to the Security Council this afternoon, I am sure his briefing and there may… you know, we’ll see what he has to say on it, but I don’t want to pre-empt anything he may say.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that on Monday,MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] reported that M23's elements took control again.  They had left two days earlier and FARDC had moved in.  No fighting was reported.  The Mission is closely monitoring the situation.]

Question:  Could I ask Haiti, cholera?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Hank first, and then we’ll get back to you.

Question:  Hi, Eduardo, thank you.  How are you?  Ambassador [Susan] Rice came out a short while ago and said that the US is tabling a draft resolution that’s very heavy on a wider variety of sanctions than the ones that have been levelled already.  What does the [Secretary-General] think of… about sanctions in the case of a State like North Korea, which has so much humanitarian needs on the people side, but then there is such a strong western will to go ahead and sanction their nuclear programme out of existence?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll say one thing, that sanctions are a question for the Security Council; you should ask the Security Council on that.  However, I wouldn’t say the western world.  The Security Council is made up of 15 countries that come from all over the world, from all ideological persuasions, all religious persuasions, all national, all regions.  So, I wouldn’t categorize it as western.  I would say the Security Council speaks for the global community it represents.  I am sorry?  Yes?

Question:  One of my first days here was when the Secretary-General was approved by the General Assembly.  And at that time, many of the Member States said that it was very important that he listened to every State here.  That that’s what would assure him, being the Secretary-General that could serve the UN, and the next day, there was a meeting of the Security Council, and without hearing from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], they put sanctions and they passed [Resolution] 1718 against North Korea.  And my question is:  Does the Secretary-General see a need to hear from every State?  The DPRK says it is the hostility of the US that has led to them feeling they have to do the nuclear explosion.  And if you look at the chronology, there is a basis for that, because it was not until the financial sanctions by the US under the… with the Banco Delta Asia that these… that this was… you know, that they did a nuclear explosion; they didn’t do it prior to that.  So, has the Secretary-General made any effort, or does he see the need to somehow look into the situation and try to hear from every Member State, so that there is not going to be a worse conflict developing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General listens to everyone; he has contacts with every country.  Every country has a Permanent Representative here, whose job it is to ensure that their point of view is heard by the Secretary-General and by the Secretariat.  There is a General Assembly, in which they carry out their work with each other, and then there is the Security Council that carries out the work of the Security Council and it is up to… that… and that, you know, all countries have relations with somebody on the Security Council.  So, I would say, yes, the Secretary-General does listen to everybody, and the Secretary-General is acutely aware of the challenges facing the Korean peninsula.  Masood?

Question:  On the follow-up to my colleague Richard’s question about the diplomats being drunk in meetings and so forth, can the Secretary-General suggest to the membership some rules of conduct, and some more like that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think it is up to the Secretary-General to tell the Member States how to behave.  It is up to the individual Governments of Member States to tell their representatives how to behave.  If, in fact, these things are taking place, it is up to the individual Governments of Member States to make sure that their staff members, their representatives, represent them in a proper way.  Nizar?

Question:  How do the new sanctions starting… sanctions on North Korea, best serve the Korean people or the Korean peninsula people, because, of course, now we have nuclear weapons there, and also you had economic austerity or economic hardship in North Korea?  Further sanctions, how would that affect the layman in North Korea’s life…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would suggest you ask that question to Members of the Security Council; they are the ones who impose sanctions on Member States.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  But the Secretary-General has a role in this.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Security Council issues the sanctions, they are discussing sanctions, they have imposed sanctions, they are considering other sanctions; speak with them, they are the ones who decide.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  With the blessing of the Secretary-General.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General consults with them, but they take their decisions.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you on… on… on… on the UN’s decision that the… the Haiti cholera claims were not receivable.  Two… two things I want to ask.  One, whether in this meeting he held yesterday with Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, whether the topic of the Haiti cholera dismissal came up.  And also, what his response is to the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti?  There has been a letter to The Boston Globe, saying that this interpretation that anything… that… that it’s a matter of policy whether the UN pumped sewage into the water makes Section 29 so wide as to be meaningless, and the UN is putting itself above its own laws and the principles it was created to promote.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we have stated our position; we are not going to continue discussing it.

Question:  How about the Ken Roth meeting?  Will… is there any… any readout whatsoever?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any readout of that meeting.

Question:  Yeah, the question has been raised many times:  Is it possible to appoint an envoy?  And the Secretary-General promised to do that at one point when he was approved to be Secretary-General.  Do you know what his thinking is, at least an envoy to the DPRK to… to understand their position and to be… help… help communication with them?  Is he…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have no information about that, I’m sorry.

Question:  Can you find out?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try and find out, yes.  Last question?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General been in touch with, or plans to get in touch with, Dennis Rodman, who just visited the DPRK?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.  Last question, Evelyn?

Correspondent:  I just want to say, until I walked down here, maybe you changed, there is no sound coming out of the briefing.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that makes your day complete, you are not listening to anything I say!  [Laughter]  Thank you.  Have a good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  We’ll see you at the stakeout at 4:30 — 4.40 p.m.

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