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

20 March 2013

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

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.

**International Days

Je vous souhaite une bonne Journée internationale de la Francophonie.  It is also the International Day of Happiness, so I guess we should, at least for the time being, be all smiles.

**Western Sahara

Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, is in Rabat, Morocco, today.  He is meeting with Government officials and parliamentarians.  It is the first leg of his trip to North Africa, which will continue until 3 April.  The Envoy will also visit Western Sahara and will hold consultations with the neighbouring States, Algeria and Mauritania.  The purpose of Mr. Ross’ trip is to prepare for the next phase in the negotiating process and a possible resumption of direct talks to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution.


The Special Representative ad interim of the Secretary-General for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Haiti, saying that the stabilization process has faced many challenges in recent months, with a political impasse and an economic growth rate below forecast levels.

In his remarks to the Security Council, Mr. Fisher said he remains convinced that the country can make great strides in overcoming political divisions, engaging important and necessary reforms and meeting the urgent social and economic needs of the Haitian people.

Mr. Fisher said that the outcome of the political impasse is crucial for the consolidation of democracy in Haiti and that the United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) stands ready to assist the country to take increasing responsibility for national security and the security of its citizens.

Regarding the cholera epidemic, the Special Representative said that the United Nations family is committed to continued support for the national plan and to redouble efforts to mobilize the significant additional resources needed to fight cholera, to improve water and sanitation and to strengthen the national health-care network.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, expressed his deep concern today about the decision to postpone the Governorate Council elections in the provinces of Anbar and Ninewa.  He said that there is no democracy without elections.  The citizens of these provinces are looking forward to these elections with great hope.  They should not be disappointed.  The United Nations calls upon the Iraqi Government and electoral commission to ensure elections can take place as scheduled in a peaceful and secure environment.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that she deeply regrets that an ordinance was passed, establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Nepal with the power to recommend amnesties for serious human rights violations.  Navi Pillay said that such amnesties would not only violate core principles under international law, but would also weaken the foundation for a genuine and lasting peace.  She said that an amnesty for those who committed serious human rights violations will deny the right of thousands of Nepalese to truth and justice.  There is more information available on this on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

**Press Conference

Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, and other speakers to launch a call to action on sanitation, a day in advance of World Water Day.


I’d just like to clarify, in response to earlier questions, that the reported Syrian helicopter strikes on 18 March in the Lebanese region of Arsal, in violation of Lebanon's sovereignty, are a grave source of concern.  In his latest report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General warned against the serious and repeated cross-border incidents between Syria and Lebanon.  He called upon the Syrian Government to cease all violations of the border and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon in accordance with Security Council resolutions 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006).  And as you know, only last week, the Security Council unanimously underscored its grave concern about such incidents.

Yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  They shared deep concern about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The Secretary-General remains convinced that the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances would constitute an outrageous crime.  I can also tell you the Secretary-General discussed the prospects for peace in Syria by telephone today with the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, do we know in terms of a timeline when this neutral technical mission will be deployed to Syria to investigate the use of chemical weapons?

Spokesperson:  I think you are getting a little ahead of yourself there.

Correspondent:  I’m being optimistic.

Spokesperson:  Let me tell you, I have briefed the Secretary-General on Ambassador [Bashar] Ja’afari’s remarks at the Security Council stakeout.  I think we will have something further to say once we have received and studied any formal request.  But just to say, as I mentioned earlier, the Secretary-General did speak by telephone yesterday with the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and they shared deep concern about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.  And of course, I just did say here, a few moments ago, that the Secretary-General remains convinced that the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances would constitute an outrageous crime.  And I would also mention that, as we said, after that telephone conversation yesterday with the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Secretary-General and the Director-General will continue to maintain close contact as developments unfold.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Is the United Nations prepared to send a mission of fact to Syria to verify the facts regarding these allegations about the chemical weapons?

Spokesperson:  I think I have answered that already to the extent I am able to do so at the moment.

Question:  So is… no, please, would you… is the United Nations prepared to send a mission?

Spokesperson:  Well, no; Ali, what I just said was that I have only just briefed the Secretary-General on Ambassador Ja’afari’s remarks at the Security Council stakeout.  I think we will have something further to say once we have received a formal request, which we have so far not received.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later added that a written request has now been received from the Syrian authorities and is being studied.]

Question:  Martin, thank you.  I am not sure if I have seen any reaction by the Secretary-General to the election of a Prime Minister by the Syrian opposition, Mr. [Ghassan] Hitto, that took place yesterday in Istanbul.  What does the UN think about it?  I mean, they are going to be represented in the Arab League meeting, representing the Syrian people.  What does the UN think about election of a leader by the opposition that is going to control the majority of Syria that is not controlled by the Government?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously aware of the reports on that election.  I don’t have anything for you on that at the moment, but should that change, I will let you know.  Yes, Talal?

[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the United Nations has taken note of press reports on the election of an interim Prime Minister by the Syrian opposition coalition.  The United Nations continues to monitor the situation in Syria very closely.  Most importantly, as the Secretary-General stressed on 18 March, the United Nations continues to call on all Syrian, regional and international actors to inject urgency towards reaching a political solution while there is still time to prevent Syria's complete destruction and further loss of lives.  The Secretary-General also called on the international community, in particular the Security Council, to find unity and lend its full support to the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to help the Syrian people reach a political solution to the conflict.]

Question:  Does the Secretary-General still believe that chemical weapons inside Syria is the responsibility of the sovereign Government, the Syrian Government?  And also, what could be the obstacle to stop you, the United Nations, sending a fact-finding mission, taking into consideration that you are very concerned… the Secretary-General is very concerned about the use of weapons, and the sovereign Government is inviting you and welcoming you to come and do an investigation?

Spokesperson:  I think the key point here is that we need to see a formal request, and then we can look at it.  I think that’s where I would want to leave it at this point.  Yes?

Question:  And the first part:  whether the Secretary-General still believes that it is the responsibility of the Government to oversee that there is no chemical weapons being used or in the wrong hands?

Spokesperson:  Well, absolutely; any chemical weapons stocks which there may be in Syria are the responsibility of the Government of Syria.  It is for them to ensure the security of such stockpiles, should they exist.  Yes, Masood, and then I am coming to you.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, sir.  So how… how… I mean, on this, how is an independent verification of whether, in fact, weapons are used by the Government or the opposition?  How can it be made if you just depend on either the Government, which will obviously say “we didn’t do it”, or the opposition, they will say, “well, we didn’t do it, the Government did it”.  How do you make that…?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, again, as I said right at the beginning, I think we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here, okay, Masood.  Let’s see a formal request; we can look at it and then potentially have something further to say.

Question:  Yes, sir.  I’d like to ask you a question about this torture of people in the Bahraini jails that emerged today.  There is a report in the Wall Street Journal about five Bahraini prisoners [who] have complained that they were tortured in the jail and that torture is systematic and that it is not being looked into by the Government sources, except that they deny it ever happens, because they are very civilized.  So what does the Secretary-General have to say about this?

Spokesperson:  On this specific report, I’d need to check into it and come back to you.  You know that we have consistently spoken about the need for due process in Bahrain, as elsewhere in the region, and also about the need to adhere to the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.  If I have anything further on this specific point that you have raised, I will come back to you, Masood, okay?  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  I have a question regarding the tenth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq, and I am wondering if the Secretary-General… if there is any move further in the United Nations to prosecute or take some kind of an action against those who lied us into the war, because now they are getting us into another phase of the Iraq war, which is Syria.  And I’m… I’m referring now to Wesley Clark, the former commander for NATO and for the European Command, who had said right after 9-11, like the week after, that there were Bush Administration plans to attack Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.  And we’ve seemed to have worked our way through that checklist, pre… you know, for one reason or another, and now we are back to the WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] situation.  And is there any… is the United Nations going to do any kind of prosecuting of those in Britain and in the United States that were responsible for that… for that illegal invasion?

Spokesperson:  Well, the short answer to your long question is that the United Nations does not prosecute individuals.

Correspondent:  Well, you know what I am saying.

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t, actually.  But the answer is quite clear.

Question:  Well, I see.  When… but when… but… but when we’re dealing with another country like Zimbabwe or a third world country, there is all kinds of actions at the ICC [International Criminal Court] against the country that’s perceived as committing war crimes, but I don’t see that happening against the developed countries.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you know, the International Criminal Court is an independent judicial body; it is not part of the United Nations.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  There was in fact a repetition to the Syrian bombardment to the Lebanese territories today.  I wonder whether there was any correspondence between the Lebanese Government and the United Nations in this regard.

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any.  That doesn’t mean that there has not been, but I am not aware of any.  We will check to see if there has been. 

Question:  One more question, about President [Barack] Obama’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories:  what’s the Secretary-General’s hopes regarding this visit of President Obama to the region?

Spokesperson:  It is obviously a very important visit, and we are watching it very closely, but I don’t think I would want to characterize the Secretary-General’s views on any potential outcome of that visit.  We are watching it very closely.  Yes, Masood?  Last question.

Question:  Yes, okay, sir, just the question I… basically a follow-up on this situation in Kashmir.  Has the United Nations Mission in India and Pakistan, UNMOGIP, given its report as yet to the Secretary-General as to what happened in that incident, or you are still waiting?

Spokesperson:  We’ll check on the status of that for you, Masood.  I am not aware that it has been delivered yet, but I will check. 

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Thanks 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.