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

18 April 2013

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

18 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Security Council heard briefings this morning from four senior UN officials on the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that the parties in Syria have become increasingly entrenched, while the needs on the ground are growing rapidly.  There are now 6.8 million people in need, 4.25 million people internally displaced and 1.3 million who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  She noted the UN’s work on behalf of the Syrians, including the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA’s) aid to some 400,000 Palestinians, many of whom face future displacement.  She added that about half of the $1.5 billion required for Syria’s humanitarian needs until June has been received, with the recent allocation of the $300 million pledged by the Kuwaiti Government in January.  Ms. Amos appealed to the Security Council to act, saying that the Syrian people and humanitarian workers are losing hope.  I understand that Ms. Amos is expected to speak to reporters shortly.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that the refugee situation is unsustainable, with millions more refugees expected in the coming months if nothing changes.  He added that there is a risk of the crisis spilling over to other countries and said there is a need to support, in particular, Jordan and Lebanon, each of which hosts about a third of the refugee population.

Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said women and children are being raped and abducted, with both Government and opposition forces allegedly involved.

And Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, also pleaded for a halt to the fighting to protect Syria’s children.

Tomorrow, Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi will brief the Security Council on Syria and we expect that he will speak to reporters after speaking to the Council.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General arrived in Washington, D.C., earlier today.  He will be participating in a series of high-level meetings on global education this afternoon at the World Bank headquarters, including a special event to call for action on girls’ education.  We expect to distribute his remarks later today.  The meetings, which will continue tomorrow, coincide with the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

As you heard the Secretary-General say yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General is also in Washington, D.C., and he will be focusing on sanitation and the rule of law at those meetings.

The Secretary-General is also expected to meet with the Haitian Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, and United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel later today.

Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General will attend a high-level event to discuss the roles of the United Nations, the World Bank and others in ending extreme poverty.

** Afghanistan

The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, will visit the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for four days, starting this weekend.  He will meet with senior representatives of the Government and civil society, and he will also meet with international partners in Afghanistan and the heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes in the country.

** Iraq

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) welcomed the offer by the German Government for the resettlement of approximately 100 Camp Hurriya residents in Germany.  Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, expressed his gratitude to both Germany and Albania for their recent offers to relocate Camp Hurriya residents.

Ten percent of the camp’s 3,000 residents now have firm offers to relocate safely to third countries.  Mr. Kobler called on Camp Hurriya residents to cooperate with the UN Refugee Agency to bring about a speedy and safe resettlement outside Iraq.

** Guinea

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, has called on the parties in Guinea to show restraint and for any demonstrations there to be peaceful.

Mr. Djinnit visited the capital, Conakry, earlier this week, following his appointment by the Secretary-General as the UN facilitator for political dialogue to ensure peaceful elections.  Mr. Djinnit intends to return to Guinea early next week to continue his consultations.

** Sudan

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Ali Al-Za’tari, said that he supports the African Union’s recent invitation calling on the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) to engage in direct talks as soon as possible.  He appealed to both sides to prioritize the humanitarian situation in their talks.

Mr. Al-Za’tari said that after nearly two years of fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, there is a duty by all concerned to meet the immediate and critical humanitarian needs of civilians affected by the clashes.  More than one million people have either been uprooted or severely affected, and more than 200,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

Also on Sudan, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Joint Special Representative of the joint African Union-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID), met yesterday with Sudan’s Interior Minister.  Mr. Chambas noted the humanitarian situation in the towns of Labado and Muhajeria in East Darfur. He urged the Government to ensure that aid convoys are able to gain access to these areas.

Questions, please?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, Martin.  I want to start with something about Western Sahara.  It’s now in the news, as it is coming up to the Security Council.  There was a… the question is whether… whether companies that are members of the UN Global Compact can invest in… in resource extraction in Western Sahara that is not bought with the consent of… of… of the people there, whether this violates international law and… it… it… my question.  I am asking you because in 2002 OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] issued a letter saying that this would violate international law.  And more recently the Global Compact has been asked about Atlas Copco, a Swedish company that gave heavy drilling equipment for Bou Craa in Western Sahara, and they have said that now OLA says that they can’t opine on whether such a… such an activity would violate… would be violative.  And I wanted to know, is there… has there been some change since Mr. [Hans] Corell’s letter in 2002?  Is… is OLA now not standing behind it?  What… what is the Secretariat’s position on resource extraction in Western Sahara, given its legal status?

Spokesperson:  I will check, Matthew.  Yeah, other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about… about… I have seen the Secretary-General’s report, obviously, as… as everyone has of the… the… on… on Ivory Coast, Côte d'Ivoire, saying that UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] could be… could perform a useful role there.  And I have also been told that… that in fact UAVs are part of the budget submission that the Secretariat has made to ACABQ, the Advisory Committee on Budgetary [Questions].  So I wanted to know, since it was said that you had to… they got a letter for the… for the MONUSCO [United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] drone, a separate letter from the Council saying this could be done on a case-by-case basis, see how it works.  Is it… is it the Secretariat’s understanding that they could need a… a second letter, or they’re just now going forward with drones in… in various missions, as some think that the budget submission means it’s just going forward, or is this subject to actual specific approval by the Council?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think any deployments or any change in the mandate is subject to Council approval.  But I’d have to check specifically on some of these operational details that you have mentioned.  But, as a general principle of course, any change in the mandate requires the Council’s approval.

Question:  Just as some people were saying, you could… I mean, it’s really… it is like you are saying it’s operational, it’s a matter of the… of the kinds of equipment…

Spokesperson:  That’s why I’ve said I’ll check, Matthew.

Question:  Okay, if you could.  And, if you don’t mind, there’s Mr… Mr. Romano Prodi is obviously the Envoy on the Sahel.  But he also… it was reported at least that he was part of a primary… an online primary, so maybe that’s a distinction, but a primary in Italy in terms of the run-up to the election for the next President of the Five Star Movement, he was listed as a candidate.  So I wanted to know whether there is… is there any potential for a kind of a conflict of interest?  Can you be a UN official and run for office, or did he not consent to be part of that… that primary?  Is the UN aware of him being part of that primary?  What do they think of it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll see what we have on that, Matthew; I am not familiar with that, okay?  Yes?  This is hilarious.  I keep looking over here, and there are no questions.  I suddenly look, and there is a sea of hands.  Forest of hands.  You can’t really have a sea of hands, but a forest of hands.  But, right, going to you first, yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thank you, Martin.  In Mali, a peacekeeping operation is soon to get off the racks, and in the latest Secretary-General’s report, it urges… it says counter-terror or parallel forces needs to be present, because of the continued threat of these extremist fighters.  And it also notes that the fighters have probably blended in throughout the country with the local populations.  So how concerned is the Secretary-General that these peacekeeping operations could become the targets or the frequent targets of these remaining extremist fighters there?  And what are the prospects of getting sort of bogged down by… by attacks by these fighters?

Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things.  The Secretary-General has presented options to the Security Council, and the Security Council is obviously looking at those.  There is, needless to say, considerable concern about the potential risks, not just to a peacekeeping operation, but also to humanitarian workers, both UN and others in Mali, because of the unrest that there has been and because of the insurgency that is still going on.  So there are concerns.  With regard to the peacekeeping operation that may or may not come to pass, that of course is in the hands of the Council at the moment.  Yes, Stefano?  And then I am coming to you, yes.

Question:  This is about the visit of the Secretary-General last week in Italy when he met the new Pope, Pope Francis, Francesco.  He also, here in New York, he repeated how… how he really appreciated his visit and he talked a lot about the… that he had a conversation with the Pope about the Millennium [Development] Goals and I was just wondering, today the Secretary-General is in Washington, talking to people with… at the World Bank, and is there… there was anything in that conversation that he had in Rome with the Pope that maybe, I don’t know, a common strategy, something that with together these two leaders in the world could do for making all the effort for reaching this Millennium Goal on poverty, because now this Pope we know that really, even in his name, this issue is a… is a very important issue.  And from the reaction of the Secretary-General, at least the first reaction, it looks like it could be a common effort on this.  So what… was any… anything in the conversation they had in Rome about his meeting today in Washington with the World Bank?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, they did not specifically address the spring meetings, and the meeting that the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General are attending today and tomorrow in Washington.  There was, as the Secretary-General himself said, having met the Pope last week, quite a lot of conversation about the Millennium Development Goals and the fight against poverty, ending extreme poverty.  And the Secretary-General made it clear that in that fight, the Vatican, the Holy See, share the same aims and goals as the United Nations in trying to reduce extreme poverty.  So I would simply refer you to what the Secretary-General said in Rome, having met the Pope at the Vatican.  Yes?

Question:  Today’s New York Times had an article about starving children in Greece, and the way in which the austerity measures have driven the Greek people to a situation of poverty that approximates that in Africa.  Has the Secretary-General come out with any criticism of these austerity measures, which now, according to yesterday’s business section in the New York Times, the two Harvard economists who were promulgating the need for the austerity measures are now being discredited by economists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and their figures evidently are totally incorrect and now large parts of western Europe are facing starvation because of two arrogant Harvard professors.  Is there anything that can be done?

Spokesperson:  That sounds like an extraordinary extrapolation to me.  I would simply say that the Secretary-General has made it clear that there is a profound economic crisis that has been around already for a number of years and continues to affect countries both in the South and in Europe, as well.  Austerity measures are never going to be easy to handle, and the Secretary-General has made the point that those most vulnerable need to be protected to the extent that that’s possible.  So, without focusing on an individual country, simply to make the point that the Secretary-General recognizes that all countries are going through extremely difficult times, and that makes it hard for them to contribute as they sometimes once did to United Nations efforts, and of course internally in dealing with the difficulties they may have at home.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  And I know… I know it is difficult for the UN to… to… to know what is happening in… in Southern Kordofan, but there are… there are increasing reports of what’s… what are called, at least by Amnesty International, indiscriminate bombing, making delivery of humanitarian aid impossible.  And I know that there was an announcement about Blue Nile being opened up.  Is there some way… either do you… either do you have a statement on it?  Is there some way to find out what the… what the balance is, particularly between these two areas that are usually lumped together?  Is aid getting into Blue Nile, but not Southern Kordofan?  Is it getting into neither?  Both?  Where do things stand?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is correct that it is difficult for us to have an on-the-ground assessment of what is happening there.  We are obviously aware of the most recent reports of aerial bombardment in that area, but it is difficult for us to confirm that.  But, I did just mention that the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan has been speaking about the duty of all concerned to meet the humanitarian needs of civilians affected by the clashes.  And I also mentioned that he has spelt out the number of people who have been affected by this.  So, I think that that’s what we have at the moment, Matthew.

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

[The Spokesperson later added the following answer from the Office of Legal Affairs to the question on Western Sahara:

In 2002 the United Nations Legal Counsel, at the request of the Security Council, issued a legal opinion on the status of Western Sahara, a Non-Self-Governing territory under Article 73 of the Charter, which addressed the issue of foreign economic activities in the territory (“the opinion”) (see S/2002/161). 

While the opinion focused on the legal framework concerning the exploitation of mineral resources in Western Sahara, it set out the applicable principles concerning any economic activities in Non-Self Governing Territories.  The opinion highlighted that in recognizing the inalienable rights of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories to the natural resources in their territories, the General Assembly has consistently condemned the exploitation and plundering of natural resources and any economic activities which are detrimental to the interests of the peoples of those Territories and deprive them of their legitimate rights over their natural resources. 

However, the opinion also noted that the General Assembly has drawn a distinction between activities that are detrimental to the peoples of these Territories and those directed to benefit them.  In particular, it referred to General Assembly resolution 50/33 of 6 December 1995, paragraph 2, in which the General Assembly affirmed “the value of foreign economic investment undertaken in collaboration with the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and in accordance with their wishes in order to make a valid contribution to the socio-economic development of the Territories”, which position has been affirmed in later resolutions. 

The opinion concluded that “recent State practice, though limited, is illustrative of an opinio juris on the part of both administering Powers and third States:  where resource exploitation activities are conducted in Non-Self-Governing Territories for the benefit of the people of those Territories, on their behalf or in consultation with their representatives, they are considered compatible with the Charter obligations of the administering Power and in conformity with the General Assembly resolutions and the principle of ‘permanent sovereignty over natural resources’ enshrined therein”.

Based on the foregoing analysis, it is our view that principles of international law described above establish a two-limb test with respect to the carrying out of foreign economic activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories:  first, such activities must be for benefit of the people of those Territories; and second they must be carried out on their behalf, or in consultation with their representatives. 

Whether these two conditions are met in this case is of course a question of fact on which the Office of Legal Affairs is not in a position to advise.]

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