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

12 December 2013

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

12 December 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, everybody.  Welcome to this briefing. 

**Guest at Noon

I’m joined today by Ray Chambers -- it’s good to see you again -- the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria and for the Financing of the Health-related Millennium Development Goals, and also, to my far right, Dr. Robert Newman, who is the Director of the Global Malaria Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO).  And they are here to discuss the latest World Health Organization report on malaria. 

As you know, that report was just released yesterday, and it said that the global efforts to control and eliminate malaria have made major progress and saved an estimated 3.3 million lives since 2000.  And I know that Dr. Newman will have some introductory remarks first, and then will be followed by Mr. Chambers, and I’m sure they will provide much more detail and then be ready to take questions; and after the questions to them have finished, I will continue with the rest of the briefing.  So, welcome once again, and Dr. Newman, the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Mr. Chambers and Dr. Newman issued separately.]

**Security Council

This morning, the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on his visit to Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad last month with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and the Presidents of the World Bank and the African Development Bank, as well as the European Development Commissioner.

He said he came back from the visit with a clear sense that much more needed to be done to fight poverty, empower women, provide employment opportunities for young people and ensure that all the people of the Sahel have what they need to build a better future.

The Secretary-General added that, during the visit, the World Bank and the European Union pledged more than $8.2 billion for the region.  He also said that during a regional meeting in Mali, African ministers as well as regional and international organizations and financial institutions came together to improve coordination and address the Sahel’s fragility.  He said that the ministers would now meet twice each year to calibrate responses to the Sahel’s challenges.

The Secretary-General said that the Sahel’s vast size and long, porous borders mean that such challenges can be addressed successfully only if the countries of the region work together.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, urged the international community not to forget the Sahel, and appealed to them to be very generous to the people of the Sahel.

** India

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed her dismay at the recriminalization of consensual same-sex relationships in India.

Navi Pillay said that yesterday’s Supreme Court decision represents a significant step backwards for India and a blow for human rights.  She also said that this violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination, enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified.

Ms. Pillay voiced hope that the Supreme Court might exercise its review procedure, in effect agreeing to rehear the case before a larger panel of judges.  Such a review would provide an opportunity for judges to reconsider whether the Supreme Court’s initial decision took sufficient account of all relevant arguments.

In the broader context, she encouraged the Indian Parliament to take definitive action to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct.  She stressed the need to ensure effective protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals from violence and discrimination.  Ms. Pillay’s full statement is available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

You will have heard what I had to say on behalf of the Secretary-General on this subject yesterday.


Tomorrow, the United Nations Flag will be lowered to half-mast at UN Headquarters as a mark of respect for the funeral ceremony for President Nelson Mandela of the Republic of South Africa.  The funeral will, of course, be held on Sunday, 15 December.

**Noon Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow my guest will be Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

** Syria

And finally, I wanted to let you know that Dr. Sellström will be handing his team’s final report on alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria to the Secretary-General this afternoon, 12 December, at around 4:40 pm, in his conference room.  We will let you know the coverage details shortly. 

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Bangladesh has executed the Muslim leader today and there was a readout yesterday that Secretary-General spoke to Bangladesh Prime Minister and President and there was nothing about this subject.  Whether Secretary-General said anything about it, or it was not on the readout?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has made his views clear on the death penalty and the fact that the United Nations is opposed to the use of the death penalty, and he’s made those views clear on a number of occasions, including with regard to this particular case.

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Could you use the microphone?  No, I’m sorry for not reminding you earlier on.

Question:  I’m sorry.  Yeah, I’m saying that the Syrian rebels who have now been found out that they have no intentions of stopping the conflict, and US and Britain have stopped lethal aid to them; what I’m asking you is now, have the United Nations determined as to the names of people or the organizations which… the final list of the organizations that are going to be represented at the Geneva II Conference, the parties at the Geneva II Conference?  Has that list been prepared?  Is that list, will be made public soon?

Spokesperson:  As you know, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi will be meeting with US and Russian officials in Geneva on 20 December, and at that meeting there will be a discussion of precisely this topic.  So at this point, no list has been finalized.  Of course, there is a lot of discussion about which countries, which organizations, and so on will be invited.  It is for the Secretary-General, then, ultimately to invite those countries and delegations.  Of course, with regard to the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government, it is for them to decide the composition of their respective delegations and that is something that I’m sure they are working on.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General remains extremely involved in this process, in seeking to move things forward.  He spoke this morning both to the Secretary of State, John Kerry, and to the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, precisely on this topic, with the aim of preparing for the meeting on 20 December.

Question:  Yes; so can you tell us when will this final list be prepared, because as our speculation is concerned, the whole list has been printed by this publication, that publication?  

Spokesperson:  That may be the case, Masood.  All kinds of speculation can be out there.  There was speculation that the Sellström Report would be handed over on 13 December; it’s being handed over today.  So there can be various reports that can be true and may not be true.  Of course, there is a lot of discussion going on.  Ultimately, it is the Secretary-General who will be issuing the invitations, and that will happen in short order after the meeting on 20 December.

Question:  Yes, and another question, does the Secretary-General concur with the view of his UN Human Rights Commissioner, Ms. Navi Pillay, on what has happened in India’s Supreme Court’s to reverse the thing on gay rights?

Spokesperson:  As I just said, the Secretary-General spoke out on this topic already and I reiterated those words yesterday, and I would certainly say that the Secretary-General has spoken clearly enough on the need for the full equality for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Microphone switched on, please.

Question:  I was asking on the execution of this Bangladeshi Muslim leader…?

Spokesperson:  I was just asked about that.

Question:  My question is separate.  Secretary-General had talks, as you said, and the Secretary-General made his view very much clear — the United Nations’ point of view is very clear — that they are against any death penalty.  The thing is, did he receive any assurances?  Because there are going to be more executions coming up.

Spokesperson:  That’s for you to ask the Bangladeshi authorities, okay?  Any other questions?  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  First, on the Sellström Report — correct me if I’m wrong — my understanding was that on 13 December this report will go to the Security Council.  Is that right?

Spokesperson:  You’d need to check with the Security Council.  I’m not sure that that is still the case — at least to be discussed on that day.  I think that’s the important distinction.  It may be that it is transmitted to the Council on that day, but I think you would need to check with the Council itself on when they intend to be briefed by the Secretary-General.  But that is for them to say.

Question:  Thank you.  And the second question, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, today, as you maybe heard, he was speaking… addressing the Russian Parliament and he commented on the Six-Party Talks on the Iranian nuclear issue, and he urged for a broad agreement, which would include the right of the Iranian people to obtain nuclear energy and the right for the countries of the region to ensure their security, Israel between them.  Can you comment on this?  Is the Secretary-General following on this issue?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has consistently said that Iran needs to prove to the satisfaction of the international community that their nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes and that, within the relevant international arrangements, the peaceful use of nuclear energy is, of course, permissible.  And he has also said that he’s welcomed the interim agreement that was reached with the P5+1 and with the presence and leadership, of course, of Baroness [Catherine] Ashton and he’s been encouraged by that progress and wants to see more.  There has been an additional meeting, further meetings are going on. 

You will also know that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already started to visit Iran with a view to going to certain sites.  So there is movement and that is positive.  In that regard, I don’t think that there is a huge difference between what President Putin has said and what the Secretary-General has said in this matter.  The need for a comprehensive arrangement and agreement is clear and the work is moving along, including with the Russian Federation and the other members of that P5+1 group to get there.  Yes, Joseph and then Matthew?

Question:  I want to follow up a little bit on that question, whether Secretary-General would have any comment on proposals, at least, that are circulating in the US Congress to pass, on a contingency basis, additional sanctions that wouldn’t go into effect unless after six months there’s no further progress in reaching a, you know, a definitive agreement.  And Iran’s response, which apparently is that even if those sanctions were put in advance, they would consider that to be grounds to terminate the negotiations.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on domestic matters that are taking place in Washington, simply to say that there is a delicate negotiating process going on that involves the United States and other members, permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany and the European Union, and, of course, Iran.  Those negotiations continue.  There is a lot of work still to be done and I think that diplomacy needs to be given a chance to work here.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  A couple questions about Mali.  One is… there’s this website Maliactu has received, they say, calls and emails from the Malian military, Defence Ministry, telling them to take an article off their website which involves an investigation of reprisal killings by the army outside Timbuktu.  And I wanted to know, since the UN works with the Malian army and also has a mission in the country, what is the UN…are they looking into this?  What can they say about the Government that they work with asking for articles to be taken down?

Spokesperson:  I’m not familiar with that particular twist.  I’m familiar with articles and reports relating to incidents outside Timbuktu.  I will look to see what the Mission has to say on that.  I’ve got time for one more question.  Yes.  I have time for one more question today.

Question:  I have had one, he’s had three, so I wanted to ask you about letters of assist, if I could?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I think if we want to keep a tally of how many questions you ask and other people ask, I think you come out quite well.  Today, it happens to be that you’re not getting the last question.  Tomorrow, you can ask some more questions, okay?

Question:  I just wanted to find out, does the Secretary-General agree or concur with the… that the Iranian Government did have negotiations in good faith?  That they were… that the negotiations that were held in Geneva, on which a deal was realized, that they were in good faith?

Spokesperson:  Surely the fundamental principle of any diplomatic negotiation is that you go into such negotiations in good faith and seeking a compromise agreement that will work for everybody.  But the ground assumption always is that it’s done in good faith, of course. 

Thank you, have a great afternoon.

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