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

19 April 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council has been hearing an update on Syria this morning from the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi.  Mr. Brahimi will talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once the Council’s consultations on Syria have ended.

Last night, members of the Security Council expressed the view that the escalating violence in Syria is completely unacceptable and must end immediately.  Members of the Council condemned the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups.  And members of the Council also urged all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General has announced the members of the Advisory Board for the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, accompanied by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.  Today’s announcement in Washington, D.C., kicks off a new phase of activity for the global public-private partnership.  The Secretary-General’s full remarks are available online, as is the full list of the members of the Advisory Board.

Just a short while ago, the Secretary-General spoke at a high-level meeting on the roles of the United Nations, the World Bank and others in ending extreme poverty.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that tackling poverty and inequality are at the heart of creating the future we want and that the United Nations and the World Bank are closely working together to eradicate extreme poverty.

Later in the afternoon, the Secretary-General is expected to meet with the Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom and with the heads of multilateral development banks.  He will then return to New York.

** Mali

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is in Bamako today to participate in the fourth meeting of the follow-up and support group on Mali.  The group brings together the Government of Mali and the key international actors involved in helping the country to address the crisis.

In his remarks, Mr. Feltman stressed the importance of maintaining a focus going forward on the political challenges at the root of the crisis in Mali.  He said we should redouble our efforts to ensure that the political process, which is vital to Mali’s stability in both the short and long term, is not overshadowed by the equally essential military operations under way.

Regarding the elections, Mr. Feltman said that we are mindful of how much work is required to meet the July deadline.  For that reason, the United Nations will intensify its effort in support of the preparations for the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible polls in keeping with international standards.  He called on the international community to step in and provide timely financial and logistical support for the elections.  And we have his full remarks available in my office.

** Darfur

The joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reported that, early this morning, one peacekeeper was killed and two others wounded in an attack by unidentified assailants.  The attack took place on the mission’s team site near Muhajeria in East Darfur State.  The mission is investigating the incident and working with the Government of Sudan to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

**Sudan-South Sudan

John Ging, the Operations Director for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will travel tomorrow to Sudan and South Sudan.  In Sudan, he will discuss issues of humanitarian access with Government officials, humanitarian partners and those affected by fighting in Darfur.  In South Sudan, Mr. Ging will visit Jonglei, where there has been fighting since August, as well as the Yida refugee camp, which hosts some 70,000 refugees.  Mr. Ging plans to brief the media on his return to New York.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Côte d’Ivoire, Bert Koenders, has called for fair, transparent, free and peaceful elections in the country on Sunday.  In a message, Mr. Koenders said that the United Nations Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) is following closely the different stages of the electoral process in Abidjan and in other parts of the country.  The Special Representative said that there were reports of incidents during the electoral campaign and he called on political stakeholders to [exercise] their highest sense of responsibility to guarantee elections free of violence.

** Iraq

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has condemned the execution of 21 people in Iraq earlier this week.  She said she was appalled by reports that the Ministry of Justice has announced that a further 150 people may be executed in the coming days.  She stressed that the justice system in the country was “too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time”.

** Guatemala

And the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it is concerned at the suspension of the trial of former head of State Efraín Ríos Montt, and the former Head of Intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, for genocide and crimes against humanity in Guatemala.

The Office said that this is a blow to the numerous victims of the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s civil war, who have been waiting more than 30 years for justice to be done.  It reiterated the High Commissioner’s call to the authorities to uphold their responsibility to guarantee a fair and independent trial.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said today that the deaths of 1.5 million children could have been prevented in 2011 had they been immunized.  One in five children is not being reached with vital vaccines because of social or geographical exclusion, lack of resources, weak health systems or conflicts.  UNICEF is concerned that global efforts to vaccinate every child are plateauing as funding falls and political will stagnates.  It said that unwavering political support is needed to extend the benefits of vaccines to children living in the poorest families and the most remote communities.

**Press Conference

And finally, on Monday, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations on the occasion of “International Mother Earth Day”.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I want to ask you a couple of questions, but I wanted to ask you, it’s been… there’s been a lot of back and forth about the UN providing electoral assistance or conducting an assessment in Zimbabwe.  And for a time, the team was kept outside… there seem… there seems to have been… where does it stand and what is… what is sort of the UN’s position on… on… if it were to go, should it be able to speak to anyone that it wanted to?  Should it be only to… able to speak to people that the two parties ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front] and… and… and the opposition who are now co-governing party, where… where does it stand?  I’m… I’ve been thinking you may have had something on this.

Spokesperson:  Well, the assessment mission has been ready to go in to be able to carry out that kind of assessment that is standard procedure in the run-up to providing electoral support.  But, so far, that mission has not been able to reach the appropriate agreement with the Zimbabwean authorities.  They remain available and ready to go in, should there be an agreement on the way forward.

Question:  I guess, I just… if it’s possible to know the… initially it was said that the UN wanted to be able to enter, you know, with unfettered access, as we are hearing in other places.  And there seemed to be two… negotiations between the two main parties in Zimbabwe to maybe have them come in, but not speak to NGOs [non-governmental organizations].  Would that be acceptable to the UN, or did they want unfettered access?

Spokesperson:  I think there is a standard procedure in any country where an assessment mission goes in; and as I say, this is subject still to some discussion.  But, that’s where we are at the moment.  Yes?

Question:  Okay, I wanted to… first I wanted to thank you for… for the… an answer… this answer on… on Western Sahara resources that was provided.  So, it was lengthy, I am going over it, but I see today that the Secretary-General has announced his… his Advisory Board for “Sustainable Energy for All”, and so, without being… I just… I am wondering, in light of the answer you provided yesterday, one of the… the CEO of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy is on it.  It looks… at least it appears, as best I can make out, that they… they… they have a project which is also involved in Western Sahara.  So, I wanted to know, one, is that the case?  And two, does it comply with the policy that the sort of legal idea that… that a project should only go forward if it benefits the residents of an area and is… involves their participation or with one proviso… does…?

Spokesperson:  Well, the very end of the quite-detailed response that you refer to from the Office of Legal Affairs does give the answer to your second question.  On the first, I think you’d need to speak to the Moroccan authorities yourself.  The list of the members of this group is quite long and rather high-ranking, illustrious, I would say, including, just for example, the Secretary of Energy of the United States, the Minister of Mines and Energy of Brazil, the President and CEO of Statoil, for example.  So, this is a very heavy-weight group of individuals, all with obvious and evident expertise in this area, and all working with Mr. [Kandeh] Yumkella and Charles Holliday as the Co-Chairs of that group.  So, this is a fairly important group that’s been announced today.  And I think that they will have plenty of work ahead.

Correspondent:  I wasn’t implying that they weren’t heavy-weights, I just wanted to zero-in on this… the one question that…

Spokesperson:  I don’t think you were either.  I was just using the opportunity to explain the nature of the group.  Yes, please?

Question:  One of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fellows last year wrote to me; he is with the Maharaja, a large TV and News Network in Sri Lanka, saying that journalists there have been attacked and harassed.  Which Department of the UN should they file their complaints with?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am also aware of this case that you are referring to, and certainly there are a number of avenues:  the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would want to know more about this, as would UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization].  And certainly, within the Department of Political Affairs, there is an obvious interest, too.  So, I would certainly encourage this young man to be in touch with them, and I can also help to ensure that his correspondence goes in the right direction.  Okay, all right, yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  There is continued unrest in Venezuela after the elections, and I wanted to know if there is any statement, given the accusations, that a lot of the ballots or many ballots were destroyed.

Spokesperson:  No specific statement.  We are obviously monitoring that extremely closely.  And, obviously, we would hope that any protests that there are, are of a peaceful nature.  We have already seen a number of people have been killed in previous protests related to the election outcome.  So, the Secretary-General is monitoring it closely.  I don’t have anything more specific at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want… I guess, two questions.  One is just… you know it was noted that when… when the Secretary-General visited Chuck Hagel, this was the first visit by the Secretary-General to the Pentagon.  And, I guess I just wanted… it left me wondering, okay, to the US Pentagon was the first visit, but, one, has he visited sort of the top… when he visits countries, does he… does he go and visit, you know, the top defence official?  I am just… is there any concern that… that if it is an organization that’s about peace, that maybe, you know, maybe Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous or whatever, because this would make sense, but has he ever before, this Secretary-General, or previous ones, if that puts it in context, made it… made it his… his business to request and hold a meeting with the top defence official of the country?

Spokesperson:  I think you are absolutely right that the United Nations is about peace.  It is also about peacekeeping.  And the United States is a very important contributor to the budget for peacekeeping operations, as it is to the overall budget of the United Nations.  And, therefore, it makes sense to be able to speak at the highest level on these matters.  In other parts of the world, there are certainly conversations — I am not going to give you a laundry list right now — and I don’t doubt that there will be similar kinds of meetings in other locations in the future, because, after all, it is crucial to be able to ensure the support of troop-contributing countries and those that provide budgetary support.  That’s obviously an important conversation that needs to take place through the Under-Secretary-General and, where it is feasible and realistic, by the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  In Darfur, where things haven’t been going so well lately, do you think we will ever find out or you will ever announce the… who was responsible? Because by now, the peacekeepers should know, you know, for the attacks, every armed group going there.

Spokesperson:  Which particular attack?

Correspondent:  Well, the latest one.

Spokesperson:  The latest one?  I would anticipate that we will have something further to say on this a bit later, not, obviously, about the perpetrators, because that is something that is under investigation, needs to be investigated and those responsible certainly need to be brought to justice.  But, I would anticipate we will have something to say about this latest incident.  Yes?

Question:  Okay, since it is Friday and there are not many people here, I wanted to ask you kind of a… a… a… this has to do with both employees at the UN and sort of services provided to those here.  People have been raising that, you know, Aramark, which is the cafeteria/delegates lounge main contractor… the cafeterias in DC-1 and UNICEF were supposed to be closed until 15 March and they got extended to 1 April.  Now it seems to be done indefinitely.  The current cafeteria hours are cut to four hours, and it’s unclear when either the delegates… the new delegates, you know, dining room and lounge will reopen.  So, the people that work there also have a concern.  And I am wondering, what they say, to put it briefly, is that… is that Aramark makes its money from sort of contracting parties to outside people to use the UN building, but is sort of falling short on actually providing the services that is either the quid pro quo or may not be as lucrative, but what people here need.  So, I wanted to know, who oversees Aramark’s performance under its contract?  And are the cafeterias in DC-1 and UNICEF actually going to be reopened at some point?  And when is the delegates lounge and delegates dining room going to be opened, both for the people that work there and for people who use them?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would encourage you to speak directly to Aramark about some of these matters.  But, as a general proposition here, as you well know, there has been a very large renovation project under way.  That project is not yet completed.  And so, there are different parts of the operation that have been affected in different ways, including the catering that’s provided in this building and in other buildings.  So, it has been a state of flux, and not everything is fully back the way that it was or the way that it should be.  So, on the first part, please speak to Aramark yourself.  If I have anything further from within the United Nations, from this side of the story, then I will let you know.  Obviously, everybody appreciates the work of the employees in the cafeteria and elsewhere.  They provide good service to us, and I know that some of them have felt that it has been difficult days for them.  And obviously, we do appreciate the work that they do.

Okay, any other questions?  Thanks.  Have a good weekend.  Thank you.

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