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

8 April 2013

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

8 April 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.

**Secretary-General in The Hague

The Secretary-General was in The Hague today, where he met with Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister exchanged views on Syria, Mali, Democratic People's Republic of Korea and successful efforts to combat piracy.  We have a readout of that meeting.

He also met with the Dutch Foreign Minister and spoke to the press afterwards.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea cannot continue to confront and challenge the authority of the Security Council and directly challenge the whole international community.  He sincerely hoped that they will comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions.

This morning, the Secretary-General opened the Third Review Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.  He spoke to the press afterward and discussed, among other things, his meeting on Sunday with Ǻke Sellström, the head of the technical mission he has named for Syria.  The Secretary-General announced today that an advance team is now on the ground in Cyprus, the final staging point to undertake the mission in Syria.  He added that the UN investigation mission is now in position to deploy in Syria and that, in less than 24 hours, all technical and logistical arrangements will be in place.  The United Nations is still in the process of discussing the matter with the Syrian Government.

The Secretary-General will be travelling to Rome, to meet with Pope Francis tomorrow.

**Margaret Thatcher

Speaking to reporters in The Hague, the Secretary-General called the late Margaret Thatcher a pioneering leader for her contribution to peace and security, particularly at the height of the cold war.  He added that she was also a great model as the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and he expressed his deepest condolences to the Government of the United Kingdom and to her family members.  We also expect a more formal statement on her passing later today.

** Gaza

Based on the assurances it has received from different local parties, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) will reopen its installations across the Gaza Strip effective tomorrow, Tuesday, 9 April.

The Relief and Works Agency was forced to close its distribution and relief offices last week due to ongoing demonstrations that affected its operations, which hindered the Agency’s ability to provide much-needed services and relief supplies to Palestine refugees in Gaza.

While the Agency understands the frustration of the population, heightened by the tightened blockade on the Gaza Strip, and it respects the right to peaceful demonstrations, the Relief and Works Agency must ensure the safety and security of its staff.  It reaffirms that while it is re-opening these facilities now, if its staff or facilities are threatened or its operations are hindered by demonstrations in the future, it will again be forced to close those installations.

** Iraq

At least 229 civilians were killed and a further 853 were wounded in acts of terrorism and armed violence in Iraq during March 2013, according to the UN Mission in Iraq, UNAMI.  In addition, 227 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed and 300 were wounded as a result of such attacks.

The UN Mission remains concerned at the rise in violence in Iraq and the increasing toll on Iraqi civilians and its detrimental impact on civilian infrastructure. Iraqis continue to suffer from attacks perpetrated by a number of terrorist groups, among them Al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq.  We have more details in a press release from the Mission.

**South Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan said today that the tension between Sudan and South Sudan seems to be easing.  Hilde Johnson congratulated both countries on their agreement on the expected cross-border opening of the transfer of oil later this week.  She voiced hope that this will open up a new chapter for the two countries.

The Special Representative noted that South Sudan faces considerable security challenges.  In Jonglei State, the two biggest threats to stability and security of civilians are intercommunal violence and insurgency by armed groups.  She called for restraint and said that it is critical that all levels of Government take measures to stop the ongoing attacks.

Ms. Johnson said that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has and will continue to maintain a significant military and civilian presence across Jonglei, acting with impartiality to assist the Government in protecting all communities.  In accordance with its mandate, the Mission will also continue to follow up on any reports of incidents where civilians are affected or their rights violated.  There is further information available on the Mission’s website.

**Forum on Forests

The tenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests is taking place today in Istanbul, Turkey, until 19 April, to consider a range of measures to improve sustainable forest management.  As the only international body that addresses all forest and tree policy issues, the Forum is meeting to catalyse actions by all countries to reduce deforestation.  The Secretary-General said that forests are “vital for our well-being”, and yet they are often at the frontlines of competing demands, in his message for the recently marked International Day of Forests.

Questions, please?  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  You indicated that the Secretary-General said that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] could not continue challenging the Security Council.  Isn’t that the responsibility of the Security Council to say so, and even to do something about the situation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General, as he said last week, his role is to try and achieve peace and reduce tensions in the world.  And one of the ways of reducing tensions in the world is for countries like the DPRK not to violate international law as set forth by the Security Council, but to respect the calls by the Security Council to ratchet down the rhetoric and to increase dialogue.  Tim?

Question:  Yeah, Eduardo.  Can you tell us how many people are in the advance team, in the chemical weapons investigation team?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have numbers.

Question:  Okay.  And does… has Syria said… offered the unfettered access yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said here, the United Nations is still in the process of discussing the matter with the Syrian Government.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General reached out directly to North Korea to speak with any officials there?  I mean, after all, they do speak the same language, literally.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, to the best of my knowledge, he has not been speaking with North Korean leaders recently.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Eduardo. I want to… I want to ask you some other questions, but there was a press conference earlier today across the street by the UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] whistleblower, Mr. [James] Wasserstrom, and he is… he is calling on the US to implement a law which would cut 15 per cent of the funding by the US to the UN for failure to protect whistleblowers.  And one of the questions that arose that I would specifically want to… want to… want to get your response to is whether in the whole course of his case, which has been pretty widely reported, the Secretary-General or his team has ever sought to meet with GAP [Government Accountability Project] or with Mr. Wasserstrom in terms of trying to reform what he is calling… and… and… and it seems to be a broken whistleblower protection system?  And he… and I was told by GAP that the Secretary-General has never responded even to letters from them.  So how can that be?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, the only thing I can say is the matter is under consideration for appeal to the UN Appeals Tribunal, and of course, we cannot comment on it until the litigation is over.

Question:  And I want… just to understand, you… you… your idea is… he’s… he was complaining this morning that, despite what he called retaliation, what was found to be retaliation, he was awarded $65,000, which doesn’t even cover his costs; he says other whistleblowers won’t come forward.  Is the Secretary-General trying to reduce that further or… or… or does he also feel that this… this award means that whistleblowers essentially will just stay quiet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, as I said, that the issue is under litigation, I cannot comment on it.  Next question?  Tim?

Question:  Is the Secretary-General ready to go to North Korea or to send an envoy there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think you saw his statement last week reflecting that point of view.  It was in the… it is the transcript; it is in his speeches of last week.

Question:  Eduardo, I heard your response to Matthew’s questions.  I also have a similar question along that line, you know, Ban Ki-moon’s name specifically, as mentioned at the briefing, along with other UN officials.  Who is aware of his case and over the years… I actually already can predict what your response is going to be, but can we please get some sort of response from the office to his case?  It’s…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now, as I said, it is under litigation; we are not going to comment.  Once litigation is open and the final decision is received, there may be commentary then, but not now.  Okay, Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure, I was to ask about Sri Lanka and also Hurricane Sandy.  I just want to tell you in advance, two questions, if it’s possible.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Two questions is possible.

Question:  Okay, great, excellent.  So, on… on Sri Lanka, there was… last week, there was an attack on… on… on a pretty well-known newspaper there, Uthayan, which is a Tamil newspaper, who is right in the zone in which there was the so-called bloodbath on the beach, named by John Holmes at the time, and I am wondering, given the Secretary-General’s involvement in the area, does he have any comment on what seems to be a direct attack on an opposition newspaper in the former war zone that he visited?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a comment on that particular attack, but as you know, the Secretary-General’s position is quite clear:  all journalists must be allowed to carry out their work free of violence and free of intimidation.

Question:  Okay, all right.  So I… so I just, if you don’t mind, the Sandy question is… is… is… it’s Sandy and slash labour.  I wanted to know, I covered… on Friday, there was a meeting by USG [Under-Secretary-General] Mr… Mr.  [Jean-Jacques] Graisse, the outgoing USG of DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management], and staff of the Publishing Unit and their complaint… and I… I just… I don’t think it is under litigation because it can’t be litigated, their complaint is that, because of Hurricane Sandy, they have essentially lost their jobs and are being told to… that they have to reapply for the same jobs they have done for the last 20… in one case, 32 years.  And they asked whether the senior officials… if this is mobility, are senior officials reapplying for their jobs?  So, I wanted to know, what… is it… is it the case that in the UN’s… that in the UN, the… the… the impact of Hurricane Sandy falls disproportionately on those working underground, who now may lose their jobs?  Is it the case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, I’ll have to find out about that; I don’t have the information.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, 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.