Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
14 June 2011
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the briefing.
**Secretary-General in Argentina
The Secretary-General is continuing his visit to Argentina today. This morning, he visited the Joint Training Centre for Peacekeeping Operations, where he saw an Argentine contingent set to deploy to the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) later this week. He also unveiled a sculpture in honour of Hédi Annabi, the former head of the Haiti Mission, who perished in last year’s earthquake. The Secretary-General thanked Argentina for its contributions to peacekeeping, saying: “When people are caught up in conflict, Argentina is there to help.”
The Secretary-General will also meet with civil society representatives and with “White Helmets”; these are professionals who have volunteered to participate in a humanitarian mission in Libya.
And he will hold talks with Argentina’s Foreign Minister before leaving for Uruguay. And upon arrival in Uruguay, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with the country’s President.
Also today, Ban Soon-taek, the Secretary-General’s wife, participated in the launch of World Blood Donor Day events in Buenos Aires.
And, by the way, it looks as though the Secretary-General and his team will not be able to fly from Buenos Aires to Montevideo because of the volcanic ash cloud. As you can imagine, there is a plan B; and in this case, “B” stands for boat, and we’ll let you know more about this a little later.
Speaking yesterday evening at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Argentina, the Secretary-General said that the situation in Syria is very worrisome. He said that the Government there has responded to protests with horrific attacks, but added that violence cannot destroy the impulse in every human heart for dignity, respect and justice.
He once again urged President Bashar al-Assad to allow humanitarian access to affected areas and to allow the Human Rights Council-mandated assessment mission.
And also yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, expressed her deep concern about the violence over the past few months in Syria, which has reportedly killed 1,200 people and caused over 10,000 others to flee the country. She called on the Government to respect and protect civilians, and to refrain from the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reports that the intensive bombing by the Sudanese Armed Forces in the past week is continuing in the surroundings of Kadugli and Kauda, in Southern Kordofan. Two jet fighters dropped 11 bombs in that area this morning, apparently targeting an airfield located 150 metres away from a UN Mission camp.
The Mission is extremely concerned about a bombing campaign which often appears to be indiscriminate, which is causing huge suffering to civilian populations and which endangers humanitarian assistance.
The Mission reiterates its call on the armed groups who are involved in this conflict to immediately allow access to the humanitarian agencies, stop indiscriminate military attacks against civilians, and respect and protect them in accordance with international law.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency appealed to the authorities in Kadugli, as well as the central Government in Khartoum, to allow air and road access for humanitarian agencies. The UN refugee agency reports that aid agencies have managed to deliver food and other relief material to some 6,000 internally displaced people — but that’s far below the number that could be reached if there was secure access. Also, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), most health workers had left the state of Southern Kordofan due to the fighting and clashes.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, is returning to New York today after a three-day visit to Iraq. Mr. Pascoe held discussions there with senior Iraqi officials and leaders in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Erbil, as well as with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN country team. In his discussions, including with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Mr. Pascoe emphasized the readiness and willingness of the United Nations to continue providing all necessary assistance to help build a stable and prosperous democracy for all Iraqis. He saluted the courage of the Iraqi people and commended UN staff in Iraq for their valuable work in difficult circumstances.
In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General expressed his belief that the formation of a new Cabinet in Lebanon is an important step toward establishing a functional, executive Government in Lebanon.
The Secretary-General hopes it will enable Lebanon to address the economic, political and security challenges facing the country. He underlines the importance for Lebanese leaders to maintain a spirit of national dialogue and cooperation.
The Secretary-General looks forward to the finalization of the new Government's platform as soon as possible. And he expects the Government of Lebanon to reiterate its commitment to the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006) and to all of Lebanon's international obligations.
**C ôte d’Ivoire
The UN refugee agency says that it has registered more than 322,000 internally displaced people in Côte d’Ivoire, and the registration continues. Most are concentrated in the west and the north, as well as in Abidjan.
The agency adds that it is finding new clusters of displaced people as it continues assessment visits around the country. The UN refugee agency has been delivering food and basic relief supplies to these new displaced people while continuing to support existing sites and host families. The agency is also building new camps to assist and accommodate those unable to go back home for the time being.
**Children and Armed Conflict
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is in N'djamena, Chad, today, where she is attending the signing of an action plan between the Chadian Government and the United Nations for the release of all children associated with the Chadian National Army and associated security forces. Chad is one of only six Governments listed by the Secretary-General for violations against children in conflict.
While in Chad, Ms. Coomaraswamy met with representatives of the Government, the Chad-Sudan mixed force, civil society and the diplomatic community. Later this week, she will visit eastern Chad to meet with the local population, refugees from Darfur, including children, and local leaders. Ms. Coomaraswamy will be my guest at the Noon Briefing on Monday, 20 June.
And at tomorrow’s noon briefing, my guest will be Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and she will brief you on her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
That’s what I have. Questions, please? Yes, Mr. Abbadi, and then Bill.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin. Martin, in its latest report, UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] says that, as a result of the blockade of Gaza, unemployment there is over 45 per cent and wages have declined by some 35 per cent, creating what it calls a life of destitution for hundreds of thousands of people in the area. This is a dramatic situation. What is the reaction of Secretary-General and the ILO [International Labour Organization] to this situation, particularly in the framework of the implementation of the Millennium [Development] Goals and the reduction of poverty by 2015?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s a rather wide-ranging and sweeping question. For ILO, I would refer you to them. The Secretary-General is obviously aware of this latest report. I think I addressed it at some length yesterday. What I would want to reiterate is two points, really. One is that it underscores the hardship faced by so many people in Gaza, people who would like to build a life for themselves. And the second is that one way to help to alleviate this is for there to be greater access into and out of Gaza. And this is something that the Israeli Government could and should look at.
Question: A follow-up on that?
Spokesperson: Yes, and then I will come to Bill on what I think is a different question.
Question: Would you consider the situation in Gaza as a humanitarian crisis now, given what you said at the moment? Also, how long will it take for the Gazans to rebuild their houses with the pace of the supplies entering Gaza?
Spokesperson: As I just said, access is a key part of the equation here, and that needs to be improved — there is no question about that. And that would help to ensure that the humanitarian conditions are improved in Gaza itself. Yes, Bill?
Question: But this does not answer my question. Is it a humanitarian crisis?
Spokesperson: Well, actually, Nizar, it does answer — it might not answer it to your satisfaction — but it is an answer. Bill?
Question: What is the UN’s understanding of what was agreed to in Addis Ababa yesterday relating to the potential withdrawal of Sudanese forces from Abyei and the deployment of Ethiopian troops under the UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] banner?
Spokesperson: We’re aware of that, obviously, and we are awaiting further details on precisely the shape of that meeting and the outcome of that meeting. So I don’t have anything specific for you at the moment. I would anticipate that we would have something a little later. Yes, Nathan?
Question: Martin, the South African President today sharply criticized NATO’s implementation of resolution 1973 (2011), saying the resolution is being used for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation. I wonder if the Secretariat has a response.
Spokesperson: Not specifically to that. You will have heard me say from here before, and you will have heard the Secretary-General say the same thing or along the same lines, that the resolution is very clear and specific about its aim, which is to protect civilians. And that is the focus that we should keep in this matter.
Question: He’s saying it goes beyond that though, so that’s the concern…
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?
Question: Well, the question relates to [Jacob] Zuma saying that it goes beyond the protection of civilians; that’s the concern he is raising.
Spokesperson: No, I understand that, and the Secretary-General is obviously aware of the concerns that there are and that there have been, not just recently but over the weeks, with the events as they have unfolded on the ground there in Libya. As you know, there are a number of priorities. The first is to have, as soon as possible, a verifiable ceasefire and also for there to be humanitarian access on a greater scale than we are seeing at the moment. And then, of course, there needs to be a political track. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General is working very hard on that third part, and aiming at the first part and the second part as well. Matthew?
Question: Sure, I want to ask about Argentina and then something again about Sudan. It’s said in the Argentinean press that when President [Cristina Fernandez de] Kirchner met with Ban Ki-moon, that she raised the issue of the Malvinas Islands and Falklands and it is widely reported there that this is — she pressed this on him — and I just wanted to know what… Is that true, is there a readout, and what’s his view of the conflict between Argentina and the UK [United Kingdom] about those islands?
Spokesperson: Well, I think that there is a well-known position of the United Nations on that particular topic, and I don’t think there is any change there. If we have a further readout, I would share that with you. Yeah, what is your next question, on Sudan?
Question: Oh, yeah. I wanted to, and I am sorry to do this, but I… it seemed kind of serious… there are the… what happened in Kadugli, the former Deputy Governor, Al-Hilu, through his spokesman has alleged and I just… what… has said… accused the Egyptian contingent in the area of raping six women. He said the incident took place after civilians fleeing the fighting took shelter at the headquarters of the peacekeeping force. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems like it’s a pretty serious allegation, and I just wanted to know…
Spokesperson: You mentioned that yesterday, and I really don’t have anything on that topic. If I did, I would certainly have mentioned it today. I do not have anything on that.
Question: I guess, because of the… I just wanted to know, what is the protocol in the UN system if this type of an allegation is made? Does Ms. [Margot] Wallström’s office get involved? What does it do? Does it just… it just seems like it’s something that needs to be addressed.
Spokesperson: Any allegation in general terms, any allegation of a serious nature like that would be looked into, of course. And as you know, our peacekeeping operations have a really strict, zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of any kind. And so any allegation that is going in that direction would need to be looked into very carefully, but I don’t have anything specific on the particular allegation that you have mentioned.
Question: Okay. Do you think it is something on which there will be, one way or another, the UN will say publicly either they looked into it and it’s not true or it’s true?
Spokesperson: Well, I have just said that I…
Correspondent: No, you didn’t.
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon? What did you just say, Matthew?
Question: I thought you said you didn’t have anything, so I just wanted to know, will you eventually have something on this topic?
Spokesperson: Look, if you wish to make underhand comments while I am trying to give an answer, maybe it’s better to do that outside the briefing room, and not in the briefing room on camera, okay? The point I was trying to make is that, whenever there are serious allegations made, they should be looked into. If I have any particular guidance on this particular allegation that’s been made, then I would tell you, okay? Next question, thank you very much. Masood?
Question: On this Mr. Pascoe, who has just come back from Iraq, on the situation in Iraq, can you specifically tell us what has United Nations, UNAMI done in Iraq to protect this, for the protection of the civilians, because basically, yes, United Nations has helped supervise the elections over there and everything, so… but, basically, what happens, is the civilians in Iraq continue to be targeted. What has the United Nations, UNAMI, done to mitigate the situation and how to rectify the situation that is ongoing at this point in time?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, security within the country, the responsibility for that rests primarily with the Iraqi authorities. And the mandate of the Mission does not extend to security, as you know, in that sense. If Mr. Pascoe has anything further as a result of his visit, then I am sure that we could brief you further on that. Obviously civilian casualties — and we’ve seen more today — are something that is extremely regrettable and a source of concern, and not just for the United Nations, but for the people of Iraq. This is something where the international community, and in the first instance the Iraqi authorities, have a responsibility to do more. But the United Nations mandate there on the ground is of a slightly different nature. If I have anything further, then I’d let you know.
Question: So I just want to follow up. Has UNAMA had some sort of report on this situation as yet or not? Or will it be having such a report in the future?
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon? I don’t understand, Masood.
Question: Any report, has UNAMA itself prepared…
Spokesperson: Are you talking about Afghanistan or Iraq?
Correspondent: Iraq, sorry, Iraq. We’re talking about Iraq. I mean, I know, in this case the Mission in Iraq is known as very similar sounding as UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan]. Basically, the UN Mission in Iraq, it is headed by the Secretary-General’s representative. Has he presented a report?
Spokesperson: To whom?
Question: On the civilians.
Spokesperson: Let me check, let me check. I don’t know the answer to that. I am happy to check. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Martin, on the situation in Bahrain, today we heard that the doctors and MPs are subjected to martial courts. We understand that two weeks ago, the Bahraini authorities declared lifting of martial law. How come that these trials continue? And is there a new position on the United Nations side on the situation there?
Spokesperson: Well, you’d have to ask the Bahraini authorities why the trials continue under that particular system. That’s not something that I would have an answer on. And yesterday, I did refer to the situation in Bahrain and my answer would be the same today. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Martin. Following up on my question on the report of UNRWA and the dramatic situation in territory there, are there any humanitarian efforts being made to bring urgent assistance to the people in the area?
Spokesperson: Well, as I have said before, UNRWA itself does amazing work day in day out, and not just in Gaza, to help Palestinian refugees, and that is one aspect. Another is that other non-governmental organizations are also working extremely hard. What they need is better access to be able to bring in supplies. And then also for businesses that get off the ground or are working in Gaza, are able to export goods that they may have produced. That’s what I have for you. Yeah, anything further? Yes, Matthew?
Question: Two questions on Darfur. One is, in Nepal, 34 police officers have been ordered to answer charges of embezzling from UN peacekeeping funds for these defective vehicles that were sent to the UNAMID. What’s the UN… What’s DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] say about this now formalized charge in Nepal?
Spokesperson: Well, we are obviously aware of that, and this is a good example of where a sovereign country, a troop-contributing country, follows through on allegations that have been made. And that’s the way that it should happen: that if a credible allegation is made, that the country from where the troops come should look into it and take action if necessary. And that’s what is happening in this case.
Question: And I also wanted to ask, on this issue of that in June, 1 June, the allegation that 13 Zarghawas were killed by the Sudanese Government. I understand that, I guess the answer is that UNAMID is looking into it, but given that this was 1 June…
Spokesperson: That was the answer we got, I think, yeah.
Question: Yeah, it’s 1 June it’s now 14. I guess, I wondered — and I’d like just… I am not going to mutter, I’ll say it as clearly as I can — how can it be that a $1 billion peacekeeping mission in two weeks can’t come up with some answer about a serious allegation like that?
Spokesperson: Because they’re still looking into it, I should think. Yeah, next question. Yes?
Question: I was wondering if the UN has provided any assistance to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey, or if there are any plans to.
Spokesperson: Well, I was asked about this I think it was yesterday, and as I mentioned, the Turkish authorities — both the Government and the Turkish Red Crescent — are doing extremely good work right there on the border, and have built or set up camps for those who are coming across the border from Syria. As I understand it from my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at this point it is being handled by the Turkish authorities in the way that I mentioned. And the United Nations has not at this point been asked to assist. But obviously, as in all such cases, the United Nations is ready to assist if it is requested to do by the Turkish authorities.
Question: But what about Lebanon?
Spokesperson: I think that the answer is probably the same there, but let me check. All right.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that Lebanon’s Government was providing assistance.]
Question: One more question? I wanted to… could you confirm that the Secretary-General’s son-in-law, Siddarth Chatterjee, has been named the Chief Diplomatic Officer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), and state whether that will in any way have to do with dealing with the UN or lobbying the UN in any way on that organization’s business?
Spokesperson: I that’s something that you could ask the International, the IFRC. Ask them.
Question: But I guess, in terms of UN protocol, if a family member of the Secretary-General was in a position of lobbying the Organization, would the UN take any, whatever, precautions? Would there be any mechanism to address what some would see as a problem?
Spokesperson: Who might see that as a problem?
Correspondent: I guess a family member lobbying for an outside organization — I think many people would see it as a problem. It is a structural problem.
Spokesperson: I think, well, first of all, as I say, you ought to check with the IFRC. That would be the first course of action. The second is that in all matters, there are clear ethical rules and procedures, and I am sure that in any such case that they would be strictly adhered to.
Question: Do they apply here? Are there any rules?
Spokesperson: I just said they would be strictly adhered to. Yeah, last question, Masood.
Question: Okay. Martin, do you have any comment on this arrest of this Israeli-American in Egypt on charges of espionage?
Spokesperson: Short answer — no. Right, thank you. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
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