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

10 June 2013

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

10 June 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.

So, good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

I have two appointments.

The Secretary-General has appointed His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as the new Chairman of his Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

The Secretary-General is confident that the new Chairman and the Board members will continue to vigorously address the water and sanitation challenge and mobilize action, resources and political will to improve the life of billions of people around the world.

In welcoming the new Chairman, the Secretary-General expresses his deep gratitude and appreciation for the skilled and untiring efforts of former Chairman His Majesty Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

And we have more information on this appointment in my office, and also online.

The Secretary-General has appointed Martin Kobler of Germany as his Special Representative for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

The new Special Representative succeeds Roger Meece of the United States who will complete his assignment in July.  Mr. Kobler is serving at the moment as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq.

We have more information on this appointment in my office.

** Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has expressed its deep concern regarding the violence in Benghazi on Saturday, in which many people died and many others were injured.

The Mission calls on all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and reiterates the necessity of resolving disagreements peacefully through dialogue and in a democratic spirit.  It appeals to all Libyans to reject violence in all its forms and all acts of retaliation.  The Mission calls on all Libyans to support national efforts to ensure security and stability throughout Libya.

** Yemen

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than 90 per cent of the internally displaced people from Abyan, in Yemen, have returned to their homes.

The Humanitarian Office notes that declining violence, the availability of essential goods and the resumption of some basic services have encouraged people to return, but they still need help with shelter, agricultural livelihoods and other basic services.

Poorer families in Yemen are facing pressure in meeting their daily food needs during the lean season.  Most food in Yemen is imported, and so Yemenis are extremely reliant on the international market for food supply.  The World Food Programme says that the food aid pipeline will be disrupted unless new funding comes through by the end of June.


The Secretary-General will speak this afternoon at a General Assembly meeting on progress in the global struggle against HIV/AIDS.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to say that since the General Assembly’s 2011 Political Declaration on this topic, the world has moved closer to the goal of no new HIV infections, no discrimination and no AIDS-related deaths.

**Climate Change

The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, has welcomed the decision by China and the United States to cooperate on phasing down a group of synthetic chemicals to help fight climate change.

Mr. Steiner said the announcement, made by President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping at their retreat in California last weekend, could signal a transformational chapter in international cooperation on climate change.  He also added that it could pave the way to a universal agreement to combat climate change.

**Cool UN

And maybe in keeping with climate change, as in previous years, UN Headquarters has again started the “Cool UN” initiative to demonstrate the Organization’s commitment to using energy wisely.  That means that thermostats at Headquarters here in New York are set to 77 degrees Fahrenheit/25 degrees Celsius in offices and to 75 degrees Fahrenheit/24 degrees Celsius in conference rooms.  And landlords of our leased spaces across the City have also been asked to join us in this effort.

Staff have been encouraged to dress in lighter clothing appropriate for a business setting.

**Noon Briefing Guest/Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will be joined by Robert Piper, the United Nations Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.  And Mr. Piper will be here to brief you on the food and nutritional crisis in the Sahel region and the humanitarian response to that.

And following the briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and for the Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunal, along with Stephen Rapp, who is the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice.

So that’s what I have.  Questions, please, and a reminder that the way we need to do this is that I call on you first, and then you press the microphone once I have called on you. So I am calling first on Masood.  So please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  So I would like to know about this, there is a report in today’s Washington Post which is basically suggesting that the UN mission in Golan Heights is in jeopardy and it could, and there are lot of conflicting points of view as to what could be done about it.  Has the Secretary-General given any thought about it and as to whether this, this particular mission should continue or not continue?

Spokesperson:  We’ve said very clearly that the mission should continue.  It is absolutely crucial that it does.  And we have also made clear that the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General and other officials are actively and urgently seeking replacement forces for the Austrian contingent which is scheduled to withdraw as we announced last week and as the Austrians announced last week.  This is an extremely fragile, tense part of the world; we all know that.  The Disengagement Observation Force has been there for four decades and plays a very important role.  And it needs to continue to play that role, and that is why we are looking for contributing countries to provide troops to help to make sure that we have the right number of forces available there on the Golan.

Question:  A follow-up on that.  The Russian proposal that they are willing to send 300 people in, has, is it contingent about, upon, like it is being suggested contingent upon the, whether Israel and Syria both agree to it or it can, they can do it independently?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mentioned already last week that obviously there is both the mandate from the Security Council and there is a protocol which was between Israel and Syria, and based on that, no permanent Security Council members can serve in that particular mission.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In light of the latest revelations about the extent of the tapping into of both phones and Internet use in the United, by the United States, is the United Nations concerned that its internal communications are being compromised?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve obviously seen the reporting on this particular topic over the past few days.  I don’t have anything for you at the moment on that. Should that change, I will let you know.  Yes.

Correspondent:  I want, I want to…

Spokesperson:  Yes, please, Matthew?  Use the microphone, please.

Question:  Sure.  All right.  It’s just a, it’s a, it’s a smaller sub-set of that.  There is, there seems to be some controversy whether Mr. Snowden, now in, in Hong Kong, should appropriately be viewed as a whistleblower although he relea… released this information which he says is to protect the privacy and human rights of people, and I know that there is some, the… the Secretary-General is doing a review of whistleblowers, at least one whistleblower, the one on North Korea and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] has, is a person that was characterized as not a whistleblower because supposedly what he came forward with wasn’t, didn’t end up being illegal.  So I am just wondering, one, if, I am trying, I guess, if there is some, would the Secretary-General view such an individual as a whistleblower?  And two, do you have any update on this outside review by a Canadian judge of the whistleblower protections in the UN system itself?

Spokesperson:  On the second part of the question, which I think is the relevant one, we have already said that that is under way.  When we have more information on that, we will let you know.  On the first part, I really don’t think that’s for me to comment on, and I think you know that.  Other questions, please.  Yes, please, Ivan?

Question:  Thank you.  Have the UN experts started research if the Russian troops and how the Russian troops can take part in UNDOF?  If not, when are they going to start it?  And do you have timing of the withdrawal of Austrian troops from there?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the second part of your question, Ivan, what we said is that it should be an orderly withdrawal.  And what we have said is that my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations are in close touch with the Austrian authorities about the timetable for that.  The precise timing is, of course, for both the Austrians and Peacekeeping Operations to decide upon so that it can be done in the right way, not least because of what we were talking about a little bit earlier, which is the crucial nature of the mission there on the Golan.  On the first part of your question, I think I have already answered what our position is on that and I don’t see any change at the moment.  Yes, Nizar.  Please, use the microphone, yeah.

Question:  Yeah.  On the same subject, there was a Canadian observer in the Golan who was kidnapped some time ago.  Has he been released?  What has happened to him?

Spokesperson:  I think you know that our policy is not to comment on such matters in general terms, except to say that we continue to seek the release of this individual.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to… to ask you, it was announced on… on Saturday that President Bashir of Sudan intended to close down or slow the flow of oil from South Sudan since the UN and through Haile Menkerios and others have worked on the issue, has any work, what… what’s the status of that, what’s the UN doing or going to do, and also now South Sudan seems to say that there a… incursion into its territory by Sudanese troops.  So, what’s the UN, I guess, response on all that?

Spokesperson:  We have obviously been aware of these reports over the weekend and into today as well.  I would hope to have a little bit more to say on this, but for the time being let me just simply reiterate that the Secretary-General calls on both parties to respect their good neighbourliness agreement of 27 September of last year.  If I have more, I will let you know.  Other questions, please.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, yesterday the rebels in Aleppo, the rebels in Aleppo yesterday killed a 15-year-old child simply under the pretext of blasphemy.  I believe you have seen these reports widely and they were, which were reported widely in the press.  Do you have any statement regarding such actions?  Why are some groups still practising courts in their areas, the areas they control?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we said last week after the publication of the commission of inquiry report that the details of all kinds of atrocities and crimes that have been carried out are really staggering and quite sickening.  And that catalogue continues to be added to unfortunately.  I don’t have anything on this particular specific case, but simply to say that any crimes that are committed that fit into the category of war crimes, crimes against humanity, they will be investigated and people who are responsible will be held accountable.  I think that is quire clear.  And the Secretary-General has made his views clear in general terms on the violence that has beset that country for months and months now. Other questions, please.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure. I want to ask about uh, on the Great Lakes and also child soldiers.  On the Great Lakes, it was, it’s been reported, in Rwanda at least, that… that Mary Robinson has taken, uh, that… that a UN, I guess, paid adviser to Mary Robinson is one Federico Borello, and there are though, there, he was in, he’s been involved in various, as an academic and, and, I guess as a UN expert ‑ I’m trying, I don’t think I touched it ‑ but, in… in… in some reports on Rwanda that are of… of… of concern to… to… to… to some people in Rwanda, he was part of the mapping report, but he was also wrote something, he… he wrote something called re-making Rwanda, which from many people’s point of view he has expressed a clear view on the issues between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  So I wanted, is it… is it possible to know whether… whether Mr. Borello has been hired as an adviser to Mary Robinson, how the… these hirings were made and what the response would be to the concerns that some in Rwanda are raising?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with my colleagues in Political Affairs on that.  And what was the question about Chad?

Question:  On, yeah, it… it… it… yeah, they are, exactly.  It’s child soldiers in Chad.  This issue of… of… of MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali], uh… uh… uh… they’re the… the… the… you know, Cha… Chad is on the child soldier, children and armed conflict recruiting list, and yet it seems to be being very close, you know, considered to be re-hatted as part of MINUSMA, so, I guess, I have heard this concept of grace period, but to some people that work in the field, there seems to be some concerns of what would it mean, what’s the UN’s thinking on having a country that’s… that’s currently on the list as recruiting child soldiers be a UN [troop-contributing country] in… in Mali?  Where does it stand and what’s the thought?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, first of all, you asked me this question last week, or at least in similar form, and therefore, I am aware of the topic already.  What I would like to say, of course, is that there is already a mission in the country, in Mali, and that is AFISMA [African-led International Support Mission in Mali].  And all AFISMA personnel will be subject to UN assessment, pre-deployment training and vetting procedures, including the UN’s own human rights vetting policy, and that is to ensure that they meet force requirements and have the necessary skills to implement the Mission's mandate.  So that’s what I have for you at the moment.  And if I get anything more, I will let you know, okay.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Martin, two housekeeping things:  It seems strange to me that virtually every single day since we’ve been back in this building, uh, one of the escalators has been broken, and not working.  Were they renovated?  I mean, I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of a lot of people.

[The Spokesperson later said that, as part of the Capital Master Plan, the escalators have all been renovated. A problem which had caused a number of service disruptions in the past days has been fixed. Now the escalators are running reliably again.]

And secondly, perhaps we are doing this wrong, but I think I have figured out the only way that you can sit down and put these tables up is to put the arm down, put the table up and then try and slide into the seat.  Uh, and a lot of these, and I think I am not the only person on this.  Perhaps the person who designed this could give us a lesson on if there is an easier way.

Spokesperson:  Okay; well, judging from the noise in the room, people are trying it as well.  I think we can look into that.  I am not sure it is necessarily something that needs to be aired directly on air in the briefing, but we’ll certainly look at it, Edie.

[The Spokesperson later said that the Deputy Spokesperson would be very pleased to demonstrate an easy way to slide into and out of the chairs, and bring the writing tablets up to their proper level.]

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  But I would also caution people that the acoustics are very good in this room, and even if your microphone is not working and you’re whispering to your colleague, it is being picked up.  So please bear that in mind.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, I, why, I mean, I think a couple of months ago Secretary-General had asked Indian Government to look into these const… constant rapes of tourists and women in India by various Indian nationals.  Now, as recently last week and I think an American woman was raped again.  Has the Secretary-General received any response from the Indian Government as to what it plans to do to stop this?  I mean, it is looking like epidemic.

Spokesperson:  Not specifically, Masood, but I think it is also clear that sexual violence against women is something that is found in many countries, unfortunately, and not just in India.  And the Secretary-General has been most outspoken about this and the need to tackle it, including, for example, most recently on a trip to Africa and in Mozambique, where he did speak out once again about this topic.  So if we get anything specific related to that very specific question you have raised, I will let you know.  But for the time being, simply to say that the Secretary-General’s views on fighting violence against women are well known, well-documented and often repeated publicly.

Other questions, please.  Okay, thank you 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.