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

11 March 2013

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

11 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, reports that this past Saturday, one of its helicopters, with four crew on board, went missing between Bukavu and Shabunda in South Kivu Province.  The helicopter’s wreckage has been located and a rescue team has arrived a few kilometres away from it.  However, due to bad weather and the difficult terrain, the team has not yet been able to reach the crash site.

** Syria Commission

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria today told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that the international community has been able only to bear witness to the country’s slide into an increasingly destructive civil war.

The Commission noted that conflict continues to be waged by both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups with insufficient respect for the protection of the civilian population.  The parties must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians, it added.  The Commission also said that the urgent need for a political solution cannot be overstated.  A failure to resolve this increasingly violent conflict will condemn Syria, the region and the millions of civilians caught in the crossfire to an unimaginably bleak future.  There is more information available on the website of the Human Rights Council.

** Syria

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in Turkey today, and he praised the Turkish Government for its assistance and policy towards tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, including the launch of a Government operation to register refugees in urban areas.  Some 40,000 refugees in urban areas have been registered to date under a new policy, with a further 30,000 waiting for appointments to register.

On Saturday, the Secretary-General welcomed the release of 21 United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers who had been seized three days earlier.  He emphasized once more to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers and called on all parties to respect the mission’s freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel.  He also called on them to respect and uphold the protection of civilians.  Following the release of the 21 peacekeepers, arrangements were made to secure their return to Camp Ziouani via a special entry procedure into Israel.

** Haiti

The acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, Ross Mountain, has expressed the grave concern of the humanitarian community in Haiti regarding recent incidents of forced evictions of internally displaced persons from camps in Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Mountain visited the Acra 2 camp in Port-au-Prince and then met with the Minister of Human Rights and the Fight against Extreme Poverty to discuss the issue.  Mr. Mountain stressed that these families have suffered intimidation, physical violence and the destruction of their shelters, including through arson.  While recognizing the right of owners to enjoy their property, Mountain recalled that the practice of forced eviction often results in violations of human rights, such as the right to life and security of the individual.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today that illicit drugs and crime are roadblocks to the rule of law and to democracy.  Yury Fedotov said that, as such, they clearly threaten the stability and security of entire regions, as well as economic and social development.  Mr. Fedotov was speaking at the opening of the fifty-sixth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.  More than 1,000 representatives from Member States and civil society are in Vienna attending the session, which runs until Friday.

**Press Conference

Tomorrow at noon, I will be joined here by Olav Kjørven, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of Policy at UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]; Claire Melamed, Head of the Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme at the Overseas Development Institute; and Corinne Woods, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign.  They will be here to brief on MY World, the United Nations global survey for a better world, and the UN’s initiative to engage global citizens in shaping the post-2015 agenda.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, sir.  It’s about Syria situation; you were talking about… earlier about the Human Rights Council and so forth.  It seems… and… and it appears that at this point in time, for some reason, that the Syrian question in the minds of international interlocutors is becoming… receding.  Why is this?  I mean, there is no… certain… no sense of urgency that is there in Syria.  Why aren’t efforts being made by the United Nations and so forth to somehow move this process forward?  This is stagnating at this point in time.

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a rather large question, I would say.  It is obvious that there have been difficulties in addressing this, for example, within the framework of the Security Council, but that has not stopped action on the ground, particularly in the humanitarian sphere, to help those people in need, whether in Government-held areas or those held by the opposition.  And, of course, on the political track, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, and his team, they have been working extremely hard to try to move things forward.  You will have seen that there has been some slight movement towards a dialogue, although, obviously, we are not there yet.  So, we need to encourage those efforts, we need to continue with the humanitarian efforts, but as you’ve heard over the weekend, Mr. Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, has made it very clear that, unless things change, the numbers of refugees will continue to grow quite dramatically.

Question:  On Mr. Brahimi’s efforts, what I am asking, is he going to come with us here, to somehow brief us as to what he is doing urgently so far… that nothing clear at… at this point in time, it seems that he is maybe working in the background, but nothing that we… recently, we have not heard anything about his movements.

Spokesperson:  Well, you heard relatively recently from Mr. Brahimi, in his meeting with the Secretary-General, and he has also given a couple of media interviews in the region.  So, I would certainly encourage you to take a look at those.  If and when I have any details on his travel plans in this direction, should there be any, then I will let you know for sure.  Yes?

Question:  Last week, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced that effective today, Monday, the Armistice between North Korea and UN forces was going to be suspended.  Has the UN received any official communication, as of between then and today, or today from North Korea to that effect?  And have operating procedures changed at all?  For instance, possibly, they were going to cut off a hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul, effective today; has that happened?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve certainly seen the media reports on both of those, meaning the hotline and also the Armistice Agreement.  But, let me just stress here that the Armistice Agreement is still valid and is still in force, and that the terms of the Armistice Agreement do not allow either side unilaterally to free themselves from it.  And the Secretary-General would certainly reiterate the validity and importance of this critical agreement.  This year will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the 1953 Armistice Agreement of the Korean War.  And the Secretary-General calls on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to continue to respect the terms of the Armistice Agreement, as it was approved by the General Assembly.  Okay?

Question:  So, there are no operational changes, as of today, here?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, no; but I think you would need to speak to those involved who are based in the Republic of Korea, in South Korea.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask you about Darfur, and also the budget committee.  But first, I just… there is a follow-up I want to ask you about the… these rapes in Minova and I just… I can get… I… could… tried to figure out why at this point DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], if they have, in fact, first privately briefed and then publicly announced that they have warned two units of the Congolese army to begin prosecutions or that aid… that support will be suspended, why they won’t identify the units; and I wanted… I mean, I… I… I… I’ve asked you before whether it is the 802 and 1001 regiments, but what I am trying to understand is, it’s not about due process for an individual.  It seems like… it seems like these are units that they have written to, that either we’ll prosecute and that will be public, or they will suspend aid and I am assuming that will be public.   And I would like you to confirm that if and when MONUSCO [United Nations Operation Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] suspends aid to these two… two units, if they do it, will that be public, and if, if so, what’s the rationale for not identifying the units at this time?  It seems to be some kind of… a form of impunity or a grace period or three strikes and you are out.  I just want to know what… what’s the thinking behind it?

Spokesperson:  The thinking behind it is that there is a process under way.  You have noted that there have been warnings that have been sent to the relevant authorities, and there is a deadline there, and after that point, if the Department of Peacekeeping Operations deems it to be necessary, they will then do as they have said and they would limit or stop or suspend support to those units.  However, at this point, this is something that is still in train, there is still a process under way, and that’s the simple logic behind it.

Question:  But… but, just… can I… and just… because I… I… just in thinking it through, it seems like if they prosecute, that would be public, it seems to me.  I mean, I’m… I am thinking from… even from the UN’s point of view, there needs to be… there probably needs to be closure to the story.  So, one way or another, either they will say, these are the two units and they did prosecute, and that’s great, or they will say, these are the two units they didn’t prosecute, and they are out.  But it seems… it… it seems like either way, the units are going to have to be made public, so why keep them back in a way that makes the… the policy look less than meaningful, to some?

Spokesperson:  I am glad you added that bit at the end.

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  I think that you have explained the logic yourself.  You might not agree with it, but you have explained the logic, and I don’t really have anything further to add on that.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, on Kenya, you put out a statement on Saturday in which the Secretary-General congratulated the Kenyan people for conducting a peaceful election, but conspicuously did not congratulate Mr. [Uhuru] Kenyatta, the President-elect.  I am wondering if that implies that the Secretary-General may deal with him as a national leader differently than with other national leaders, given that he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for violence against humanity.  Is there a protocol that the UN follows regarding, in that situation under ICC indictments, national leaders?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to the statement that was issued at the weekend, this was about the election process itself.  When we get to the inauguration:  that is the point at which congratulatory messages are typically sent, okay?  All right, yes?

Question:  On the question of DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], are you aware if there is… have… have been any request from the Russian Government concerning the transfer of the black box already?  And the second question:  Since the weather conditions were bad, what… who took the decision to make the flight?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the weather conditions now are bad.  I do not know what the weather conditions were at the time when the aircraft took off.  That is something that an investigation would need to establish.  As I said to you, our colleagues on the ground are nearby, but the terrain is really very, very mountainous and very densely forested, and it is very difficult to get there.  So they are trying to get there, and at that point they will obviously be, first of all, trying to establish the fate of the four crew, and then of course to carry out other technical aspects, such as recovering any flight data recorders that there may be.  Obviously, our colleagues in [the Departments of] Field Support and Peacekeeping Operations are in close touch with the Russian Mission on this.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask on… on… on Darfur, there are… there are these reports of… of… of renewed aerial bombing in Jebel Marra.  There are towns of Katour, Al-Mashro and Dobo al-Amra, and I am wondering whether this is something that UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is… is… is tracking and do they… what do they say about this aerial bombing in Darfur?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check; I don’t have anything on that, Matthew.  I’ve heard about reports, but I don’t have anything at this point.  I’ll certainly try to get something.

I just wanted to come back to your, the latter part of your question about the International Criminal Court.  There is an established policy on contact with persons who are subject to International Criminal Court arrest warrants and summons.  Both Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. [William] Ruto have cooperated with the International Criminal Court since they were charged, and we trust that they will continue to do so, regardless of the outcome of the elections.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I… I was going to ask about the budget, but I just want to ask you one fo… one, because it would… as to President [Omar al-] Bashir of Sudan, it was always said that the UN will limit its contacts to, you know, necessary contacts, whether it is aid or poli… you know, the… important political negotiations.  Would that same policy apply to President Kenyatta of Kenya?

Spokesperson:  The first sentence I just read out deals with that, Matthew.  What about the budget?

Question:  Okay, good.  I… I… I was in the Fifth Committee on… on Friday, there was some… there was some criticism of the… of the Secretariat, so I just wanted to get you an… your response to it.  I mean, there… I am sure there was some praise too, but it’s the criticism I am going to ask you about.

Spokesperson:  You surprise me, you surprise me!

Question:  Yeah. It had to do with the… with the… with the Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO) position that, the G-77 said that they are disappointed that it’s been empty, according to them, since last summer, and they wondered why such an important post is… is empty, and also, a… a memo has emerged by the…you know, without getting into any… summarizing the views of the… the… the… the Chairman of the Fifth Committee, Ambassador Berger of Germany, and he says… pretty candidly, he said that the… the… that in… in the Inspira system, most of the vacancies are already spoken for by the time that they go out for ads.  He said that there are 700 perpetually vacant posts at the UN; they should be abolished instead of staff members being terminated, and he expressed some du… doubts about the current IT projects not functioning, and I believe he’d be referring to Umoja.  So it’s two, the CITO one may be the simp… the simplest one.  What’s… what explains the… the post being empty, and where does it stand in filling it, and what is… is there a response to this… this kind of, you know, seemingly pretty factual critiques of how people are recruited through Inspira system and the number of permanently, “permanently vacant posts” at… its being at 700?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the very last point, I would need to go back and check on numbers, but the Secretary-General is on record as saying that one area that we need to look at is vacancies and vacancy rates.  That is something that is being looked at in the overall framework of dealing with budgetary constraints that we face.  With regard to the IT position, I think the office continues to run quite effectively, and this is a recruitment process that is not yet complete.  Okay.  Yes?  And then Stefano, yes?

Question:  Following the release of the 21 peacekeepers in the Golan, has there been any development on their activities?  Have they curtailed their activities, patrolling activities, since you gave some detail on Friday, but has this changed since their release?  Is that going to be reviewed?

Spokesperson:  This is under very active review, not just because of what happened last week, but what has been happening in recent weeks.  And, indeed, even over the weekend, there was an incident in which one post came under fire from two unidentified individuals.  So, this is a very dangerous place to operate, and it is, therefore, obvious that our colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations would be reviewing very carefully the way that we then carry out patrols and so on, on the ground.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I know you already answered a question on North Korea, but just on the same… on the same question, if they were going, it’s going to be an official reaction of the Secretary-General on this declaration on the… on the 1953 truce nullified by the Government of North Korea.  And I will add also that, if the situation kind of escalates in this, at the moment verbal confrontation, does the Secretary-General think that his nationality in this case is something that maybe can be helpful or not helpful in order to make him more active in this… in this… in this tension?  I mean, if he… can he have a role in the mediation, or does his nationality actually puts him outside of that?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know the Secretary-General has often said that he is ready to play a role if the parties believe that that would be useful, regardless of his nationality.  With regard to the Armistice Agreement, I did already say that the Secretary-General calls on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to continue to respect the terms of the Armistice Agreement as it was approved by the General Assembly.  And just to reiterate, that this Armistice Agreement is still valid and it is still in force.  The terms of the Armistice Agreement don’t allow either side unilaterally to free themselves from it.  And also, just let me say that the Secretary-General has repeatedly called on the leadership of Pyongyang to give up its pursuit of nuclear programmes and to instead focus on building a better future for the country’s people by addressing dire humanitarian and human rights situations.  Other questions, please?

Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon. Thank you.

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