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

9 October 2013

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

9 October 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome, everyone.

**Noon Guest

Today we are very grateful to have with us Yukio Takasu, the Under-Secretary-General for Management.  Mr. Takasu is here to brief on the financial situation of the Organization.  Mr. Takasu, welcome.

[Press conference by Mr. Takasu issued separately.]

I also have just a few quick notes, and then I’ll take a few questions.  I know it’s been going on for a bit, so I’ll just be quick about this.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

First of all, just to let you know, the Secretary-General left Budapest earlier today.  He is now on his way to Brunei Darussalam, where he will arrive on Thursday morning to attend a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Remarks

The Deputy Secretary-General will deliver the Sorensen Lecture at the Council on Foreign Relations this afternoon, and he intends to talk about the recent plenary session of the General Assembly and what was achieved there, including on Syria, as well as other challenges to international peace and security.  He is to discuss how the events of recent weeks show that good international solutions are in the national interest of the Member States.  That lecture will be webcast on the Council of Foreign Relations website.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, wrapped up his first working visit to Bukavu, in South Kivu.  During his two-day trip, he met members of the provincial government in Bukavu to discuss political, security and humanitarian developments in South Kivu.  Mr. Kobler also visited the Panzi hospital to underline the priority given by the UN Mission to the fight against sexual violence.

Meanwhile, the Mission says that intermittent fighting between the Congolese army and the Front de résistance patriotique de l’ituri, south of the Irumu territory in Ituri district of Province Orientale, is taking place.  The Mission is on high alert to ensure the protection of civilians.


I was asked yesterday about the situation in Abyei and we have the following to say:

Without progress made between Sudan and South Sudan on the establishment of the Abyei Area Referendum Commission, there has not been tangible progress towards the conduct of the referendum.  A large number of Ngok Dinka — estimated to be around a few thousands since last month — have returned to Abyei recently. 

The UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, UNISFA, and humanitarian agencies are trying to respond to the influx of the population in the area.  We continue to support the efforts led by the African Union High-level Implementation Panel to assist Sudan and South Sudan in resolving the final status of the Abyei Area, and echo the African Union’s call for the two countries not to undertake any unilateral actions that could lead to tensions.

**Noon Guest Tomorrow

And for the noon briefing guest tomorrow, I will be joined by Ms. Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

That’s it from me.  Questions, please?  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the United Nations have any reaction, or better put, what is the United Nations reaction to the lawsuit filed today in federal court in New York against the United Nations, seeking damages for cholera victims in Haiti?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, thanks.  What I can say on that is that the United Nations remains committed to do all that the Organization can do to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic.  The United Nations is working on the ground with the Government and people of Haiti both to provide immediate and practical assistance to those affected, and to put in place better infrastructure and services for all.  With regard to possible claims against the Organization, as has been stated with regard to other cases that are subject to litigation, it is not the United Nations practice to discuss in public claims filed against the Organization. 

Question:  Can I ask a follow-up?

Associate Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Does the United Nations plan to contest this lawsuit?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, it is not our practice to discuss in public the claims that are filed against the Organization.  That is as much as I have to say on that for now.

Question:  A follow-up on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  A follow-up, not on… on… on… on… on something said in the lawsuit, but no… no… not on how you… you… you know, the UN won’t comment on the underlying claim, the lawsuit does state that UN peacekeeping falsely claimed that the peacekeepers from Nepal had been screened.  And they say repeatedly, paragraph 141 and other paragraphs, that this was a false statement.  What I wanted to know is, obviously, if it is in litigation, maybe you won’t comment on whether that statement was false, but currently, does UN peacekeeping screen peacekeepers from areas known to be cholera hotspots before deploying them elsewhere?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that part of our lessons learned from this has been to screen peacekeepers for cholera.  Regarding your specific question, however, as the legal process is under way, we cannot make any further comment on this particular situation.

Question:  But could we get something from… fro… perspective, is… is peacekeeping currently doing such screening, because I… I… I haven’t… I haven’t heard that they are, but if… can we get a statement today, whether they are or… or… or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check with our peacekeeping colleagues, but I believe that this is one of the lessons, as you know, there was an internal panel that… a group of panel of experts that had a number of recommendations that we have been evaluating.  And I believe that this is one of the steps that we were considering. I will see whether that has been put in place or not.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  You cannot say that the UN has diplomatic immunity and cannot be sued outside?

Associate Spokesperson:  I won’t add to anything.  We have been commenting on this for many, many months prior to today, and I would just restate the fact that we have spoken on this and I don’t have anything further to add.  Since this is a matter that is now something under litigation, I wouldn’t have any further comment to make, but our comments from previous months still stand.  Yes, Pam?

Question:  On the previous case on cholera, because it was not a settlement agreement, can you tell us how much was paid to victims’ by the United Nations?  Or…

Associate Spokesperson:  On which previous case?

Question:  I mean on this case, on the… on the lawsuit… I mean, on the alle… on the earlier…

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, we are not… following our standard practice, we are not discussing the claims brought against the Organization.  So…

Question:  No, that’s what I am saying; not in the litigation, has the Uni… let me rephrase; has the United Nations paid any of the victims for the cholera?

Associate Spokesperson:  The answer to that is no.  I think you would be aware of what the Spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, has been saying in recent months about this.  I’d just refer you to our past statements about this.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Farhan, the latest skirmishes in the Golan; obviously, the armed groups are still wandering there, no restrictions on them, they are even helped and today we heard that two Israeli soldiers were injured as a result of a bombshell.  Can you describe the situation in the area?

Associate Spokesperson:  What I can say about that is the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) remains active on the ground, trying to make sure that the situation in the Golan can be kept as calm as possible.  As you are aware, there is fighting throughout the country, and it is a matter of concern throughout the country, but also in the Golan where, as you know, there have been concerns expressed by the Disengagement Observer Force, the Secretary-General and also by the Security Council about the tensions in the area.  And we continue to have concerns about the situation in the Golan.  But the peacekeeping force does remain active, trying to do as much as it can to maintain calm.  Yes?

Question:  Did you check whether the… it’s true these allegations that the rebels are wearing blue helmets in the region?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Disengagement Observer Force has tried to make sure that any parties in the Golan do not use any equipment or markings that would lead… create the impression that they belong to the UN peacekeeping force.  And so we have been in touch with the parties on the ground to make sure that no one does that.  Yes, Matthew?

[The Associate Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that, as the Secretary-General noted in his recent report, any hostile act against United Nations personnel on the ground is unacceptable, including threats to their physical safety, the theft of United Nations weapons and ammunition, vehicles and other assets, and the looting and destruction of United Nations facilities.]

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  This is… I wanted to ask this because yesterday there was an event on nuclear-free Middle East, sponsored by the Mission of Egypt.  It was held in Conference Room 7, which is kind of small, and it wasn’t put on UNTV.  The reason I am asking this it seems like there was… there is a lot of interest, the room was filled, and I was told by DPI [Department of Public Information] that it wasn’t on because the sponsors didn’t ask for it to be on.  So this left me with the question that I wanted to ask you.  The event where the Secretary-General was speaking before, Women’s International or the group where he said that the… that the… that the report on Syria chemical weapons was overwhelming and that Bashar al-Assad had committed many crimes against humanity, who asked to put that event on UNTV if the rule is that such events are only on upon request?  I want to know if that is the rule and who made the request for the event in which Mr… the Secretary-General said the things I have just quoted?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, I wouldn’t have any particular comment on that.  Whenever there is a request made either by the Secretariat or by a Member State, then there will be coverage.  If we don’t have that sort of request, we don’t do that.  I wouldn’t identify in that case…

Question:  But so the Secretary… did the Secretary-General ask to have that event televised, or was it Women’s, because it was… that event was listed as closed and it was televised, and yesterday’s Middle East… nuclear-free Middle East event was listed as open, but wasn’t televised.  So I think… what I would like to know, I guess, if you could find out, because I… I’ve tried to ask, what are the rule… what are the… what are the rule and… and… and who asked to have that one televised?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the rules are whether either the Secretariat or a Member State asks for the meetings to be open, and coverage is reflected accordingly.  That was one of the cases.  We wouldn’t identify who that is, in the cases when it is opened or not.

Question:  Can I ask one more?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  This is what I was… I… I… I know that the Secretary-General has announced this five-year mobility rule that senior officials will be in place for five years and then at least rotate.  So I’ve… I’ve… I’ve been taking a look and it seems like, and at ESCAP [Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific], there is… it’s now more than six years… Noeleen Heyzer has been in that post for more than that, and I wondered… I just… without any, you know, rancour, I just wanted to know, what’s the status of the five-year… I mean it is right on the website, it says appointed in… at some point in 2007, what’s the status of the five-year rule?  Or is there a process for getting except… exemptions?  What… what… what is… what… what… what can you say about the seeming non-implementation of the Secretary-General’s five-year mobility rule?

Associate Spokesperson:  As a general rule, the Secretary-General does try to ask the senior officials throughout the system to stay for no longer than five years.  There have been different cases where exemptions have been made for specific reasons, but he has tried to make clear and across the board that they need to move after five years.  And you will see that, by and large, that that’s been the practice throughout the system.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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