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

15 May 2013

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

15 May 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.

**Disaster Risk Reduction

At the launch of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction this morning, the Secretary-General said that trillions of dollars will be invested by the private sector in hazard-exposed regions in the years ahead, and such spending must address risk factors.

The Report, which was released today, has reviewed disaster losses in 56 countries.  It estimates that direct losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion and that average losses from earthquakes and wind damage from cyclones will be $189 billion per year.

The Secretary-General said that direct losses from floods, earthquakes and drought have been underestimated by at least 50 per cent.  He also called for strong partnership with the private sector, including investment banks and insurance companies, in reducing disaster risks.


The Secretary-General has just participated in a meeting of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Development, which seeks a new framework to succeed the one provided by the Millennium Development Goals.

**Secretary-General’s Trip

And, just to remind you, the Secretary-General will be leaving for Russia today.  On Friday, he will hold talks with President [Vladimir] Putin and Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov.

**Stakeout Today

This afternoon at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  As you will be aware, Mr. [David] Cameron is one of the three Co-chairs of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  Mr. Cameron will speak to the press at the second floor stakeout of the North Lawn Building.

** Mali

The Secretary-General sent a message to the High-level Conference on the Support and Development of Mali, which took place in Brussels today.

In the message, delivered by Rebeca Grynspan, the Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Secretary-General said that addressing the crisis in Mali goes beyond addressing security threats.  He added that it means tackling deep-rooted political, social and development challenges.  He called on Mali’s leaders to work together in the framework of an inclusive national dialogue.

The Secretary-General also said the forthcoming establishment of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission demonstrates the commitment of the international community to help Mali lay the foundations for durable peace and security.

He said Malian partners should use this opportunity to promote a sustainable and inclusive political process that will lead to improved governance, including elections — for which resources need to be mobilized — national cohesion and reconciliation, and long-term development.  The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, also attended the Conference.

** Central African Republic

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic, Margaret Vogt, has just briefed the Security Council on the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the country.

In the report, the Secretary-General says that the situation is horrifying and intolerable, and that the international community needs to send a strong message to Séléka leaders that there is no impunity for murder, looting and unconstitutional changes of Government.  The Secretary-General also calls upon the Security Council to consider sanctions and other steps against those who have committed gross human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and children.

** Myanmar

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, according to the Government of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, some 36,000 displaced people have relocated as Cyclone Mahasen approaches.

Humanitarian agencies report some reluctance by the uprooted to move due to a lack of understanding and fear that they will not be relocated back to the locations where they are currently living.  Aid organizations in Rakhine, including the UN refugee agency and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are monitoring as many of the relocations as possible.  They are providing the uprooted with information on the storm, on the need to move to safe places and on the Government’s preparedness plan.

The Government in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, today asked community leaders of both the Rakhine and Rohingya communities to help with the relocations by explaining to the communities the need to move to safe areas.  UN agencies and their partners have stressed with both communities and the Government the importance of ensuring safety and the protection of people at risk.

And for its part, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has sent additional staff to Sittwe in the past two days.  It is also looking to increase its preparedness in other parts of the country, such as Chin State, Mandalay region and Kachin, where strong winds and heavy rainfalls may further worsen the situation of vulnerable communities.


United Nations agencies and partners said today that a landmark has been reached in the fight against tetanus, because this disease has been eliminated in more than half of 59 priority countries.

The announcement came today during an annual meeting on the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Initiative in New York.  Despite the progress, more than 28 priority countries have still not reached the elimination goal.  Tetanus kills one newborn baby every nine minutes, and almost all of these babies are born in poor families living in the most disadvantaged areas and communities.  The UN Children’s Fund has more information on this.

** Somalia

I was asked yesterday about flights to Somaliland.  I can say that, following notification by authorities in Somaliland, all UN flights to and from Somaliland have been suspended with effect from yesterday.  The UN and its agencies take this development seriously and are in discussions with the relevant authorities to bring about a resolution as quickly as possible.

There has been no impact on UN programmes and it is our priority to ensure no interruption of support or activities.  The UN welcomes the efforts to resolve this quickly.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that around 413,000 people in Somaliland need humanitarian aid, including 39,000 children who suffer from malnutrition.  More than 85,000 people remain displaced due to recurrent drought and conflict.  Humanitarian organizations are providing food, nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation, among other support.

Questions, please?  Mr. Abbadi, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Martin.  You said UN discussions on how to strengthen the cooperation between the UN and AU [African Union].  Does the Secretary-General believe that one of the best ways of doing that would be to grant the continent a permanent seat in the [Security] Council?  I know it’s a matter for Member States to decide, but does he have an opinion on that?

Spokesperson:  Simply put, the Secretary-General, of course, believes that the role of the African Union is crucial in handling developments on the continent, and indeed, as part of a broader system of regional organizations.  But, as you correctly point out, it is for Member States to determine the composition of the Security Council.  I think you know that.  Yes, Joe?

Correspondent:  Martin, again, thank you for your expanded answer concerning resolution 1701 (2006)…

Spokesperson:  However?

Correspondent:  …however, yeah, I noted two things in, in your…

Spokesperson:  Joseph, can I make a suggestion?  Maybe we could deal with it offline and we’re certainly happy to help, to try to…

Question:  Well, let me cut to the chase, then, okay?

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Correspondent:  Let me cut to the chase, I want…

Spokesperson:  Cut to the chase; please do.

Correspondent:  Okay, because there is a reference to a letter sent to the General… to the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, by Lebanese Prime Minister Mr. [Fuad] Siniora; this is referenced in an AFP [Agence France-Presse] article dated 11 October 2007, which refers to a request by him to the Secretary-General for assistance in halting the flow of illegal arms into the country.  I mean, I won’t read you the quote from the letter in the interest of time, but I would like, if possible, to see whether that letter, if it could be located, could be disclosed, or at least if it could be confirmed or denied as to whether that letter asked for assistance from the UN in helping to stabilize the border and prevent arms contraband — and that’s a quote from the letter.  And the other thing is you referred…

Spokesperson:  So, is this called cutting to the chase?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  I am not quite sure.  Okay.

Correspondent:  Yes, this is my concise… okay, right, okay.  Right.

Question:  And, I will also ask you, this was not responded to, whether the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] still believes, and as has been in quotations recently, that Hizbullah is cooperating with UNIFIL, and then that part of it is UNIFIL’s mission is monitoring the area south of the Litani River, there’s certainly been uncontroverted reports of rearming of Hizbullah, so I would like to see if you can get a… a… a comment from UNIFIL commanders as the present state of “cooperation” or lack of “cooperation” with Hizbullah.

Spokesperson:  Thank you.  Listen, we are obviously happy to help with that, but you could also contact UNIFIL directly yourself.  They have a well-established press service, and I am sure that they would be pleased to help you.  But, I hear what you are saying, and I am sure that we could reach out to them, as well.

Question:  Could you check on whether on October 2007…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I already heard that bit, yes, thank you, Joseph.  Thank you.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I want to ask you about the GA [General Assembly] and also about Mali.  Just now, in the GA, or maybe it is… it could be an hour ago now, Syrian Permanent Representative [Bashar] Ja'afari waved a piece of paper and said that there is an e-mail that was sent to many places in the Secretariat from what he called the Ambassador of the Syrian opposition that was given the Syrian Embassy in Doha, which he says proves that they were involved in or led the kidnapping of the peacekeepers by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade.  So, I wanted to know, it may be this is… you know, it… this… he said it about an hour ago, but, number one, did… did the Secretariat, in… in the lead-up to the release of the peacekeepers, receive any e-mail from… self… external opposition… Syrian opposition in Doha?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to look at that, but in any case, I think it is unlikely that we would get into the details of, as I have already said, of a negotiating process to release people who are being held against their will.

Question:  No, I guess my only question would be when… even… when, eventually, it is up to them to release this e-mail or not, which they haven’t yet done, but it seems like it would be significant to know whether the Secretariat knew that the, sort of, formal, unarmed Syrian opposition was, in some way, involved in the kidnapping.  That’s… what’s… something I’d asked you could you deny that or is that… would that be a concern if it were true?

Spokesperson:  Well, we said on the record who claimed responsibility for holding the people, and we’ve said that already, okay?

Question:  Okay, I said unarmed…?

Spokesperson:  That the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, right?

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  Yes, right.  On Mali?

Question:  Yeah, on… on Mali.  Back on 24 April, I… I… I’ll sort of… I’ll sort of put it this way:  Inner City Press reported that Bert Koenders of… of… of the UNOCI [United Nations Operation] in Côte d'Ivoire was one of the final candidates to be the Mali envoy.  And now it appears that a letter has gone to the Security Council naming him as such.  I understand you probably won’t confirm it until the Council signs off or not, but I wanted to ask this before that, maybe even before that happens, the… the… the IDP [internally displaced persons] camp killings at Nahibly that took place in Côte d'Ivoire that have been said repeatedly by the UN that they were being investigated and that on this very rostrum or podium, Amnesty has called an outrage, said that it hasn’t been investigated that the UN has swept under the carpet its role or failure to protect IDPs who were killed in Nahibly.  Has that been resolved to the satisfaction of the Secretary-General, with regard to Mr… Mr. Koenders and… and the mission in Côte d'Ivoire?

Spokesperson:  I’ll look at the last bit, and on the first bit, you are quite right:  we won’t talk about appointments until it is an appropriate time.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Martin, two days ago, I was covering the meeting in Trusteeship Council Chamber, which had been on the Media Alert, and approximately 4-4:30 p.m., a security guard came up to me and told me I had to leave, that press was not permitted there.  CNN was one of the panellists.  Pamela Falk told me that she had earlier been covering the meeting, and there were quite a few press there.  And so the security guard told me that her captain had told her to remove me.  I went to MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] and a very responsible official there brought me back up to the Security Council chamber, told her that press was in fact admitted there.  She said, “Well, you have to stay here with her.”  And he said, “No, this is open to press.”  And so, I was able to continue listening.  However, I missed a very important speech, and I would like to know why I was singled out by either the captain of security or whether he was acting at the behest of someone who was using security as a… you know, a private army.  I… the irony is that incident occurred in a meeting protect… protesting abuses against women and trafficking in persons.  So, I would appreciate your looking into it and finding out why the captain of security was so ignorant of the fact that press was, in fact,  admitted and invited to that meeting, or if he was acting on somebody else’s behest, who that somebody else was.

Spokesperson:  Well, thank you very much for your question, and I will check with MALU on this.  It sounds like… the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit.  It sounds like you have already been in touch with them, and I will check with them. Thank you vey much.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the horrible cannibalism act, quote:  “one opposition member in Syria opening the body of a Syrian soldier and eating his heart”?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you will be aware that Navi Pillay has said that this video depicts a truly atrocious act.  And she also said that mutilating or desecrating corpses during a conflict is a war crime.  And she also said that it is not yet possible to fully authenticate the video.  But, even so, she has urged armed opposition groups in Syria to do everything in their power to halt such gross crimes.  And they must investigate this incident, along with other alleged very serious violations by opposition fighters, including acts of torture and a succession of apparent summary executions and extrajudicial killings.  And the Secretary-General is aware also of this alleged incident and shares Ms. Pillay’s and many other people’s revulsion at what took place.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Abyei and the internship, but one thing related to what Carla had asked, possibly related, was an e… I mean, I am asking you because it was… it involved the Secreta…. that it… the Secretary-General even yesterday at the… the ribbon-cutting at the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions], I just wanted to… I understand this is a kind of a… it was said it was open, and so a number of us went to cover it, and then we were told that it was not open for press coverage.  And, since ACABQ covers the budget and money of the UN, I wanted to know if it is possible to know, MALU has said, yeah, they were told to… to change it from open to closed, sort of at the last minute.  I don’t… if it… just, if it is possible to know who made the switch, whether it was the Secretary-General’s office or ACABQ, just to not misperceive who decided at the last minute that… that… that non-press coverage was important.

Spokesperson:  I would ask you to check with ACABQ.

Correspondent:  Okay, okay, all right, so I am asking… all right, I will… I’ll try to, they don’t have a spokesperson, but I will do my…

Spokesperson:  They have a number of members, I think you’ll find.

Question:  Yeah, okay.  And the other, I wanted to ask you this about Abyei, and I know that there… there is some pending questions.  This is a… again, this is, I am sorry to say, something new, because it seems that there is new developments.  It’s reported by the Sudan Tribune that… that…

Spokesperson:  Yeah, I’ve seen the reports.

Question:  Yeah, that, is that true?

Spokesperson:  120.

Question:  All the nationals have been relocated?

Spokesperson:  We have seen the report, we are aware of the reports.  I am checking into it to see we have anything. I don’t have anything just at the moment.

[The Spokesperson later said that on 8 May, the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) relocated 126 Sudanese national staff, including those working in United Nations agencies, to its logistics base at Kadugli.  UNISFA will review the security situation before any decision is made about bringing the staff back to the mission area.]

Correspondent:  Okay.  And this will be very fast, this really will cut to the chase, because the bidding on the internship at, but not of, the UN has been closed, the winner for $26,000 is M. Alan, and I wanted to know just, is… what’s the final view of the UN on this, the process is now finished, somebody has won, and presumably will show up to… to… to come into the UN for this prize.  Is there any… is there… am I missing something?  Is the… is the person going to come in, is it all okay with OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] or is there something…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think what you are missing, Matthew, is that I have repeated myself here numerous times to you in this briefing room, and I am not going to do it again.

Correspondent:  I am not saying it because of Maher Nasser’s statement, I wanted to… you said not to look for splits, but he said the UN doesn’t have to…

Spokesperson:  No, I am just saying that I have said quite enough on the topic, and I don’t propose to say anything else.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Thanks very much; have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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