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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 23 June 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

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.

**Press Conferences Today

I would like to introduce my guests today: Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, and he is here to give you a briefing on the launch today of the 2011 World Drug Report. As you know, the Secretary-General participated in the launch this morning of that report.

I am also pleased to welcome Thomas Pietschmann, who is one of the authors of the report and indeed has been working on the reports since their inception. I’d like to pass the floor to both gentlemen in just a second, as I have two statements that I believe I need to read out first from the Secretary-General, with your indulgence. And then we will go to Mr. Fedotov and Mr. Pietschmann.

So please, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General regarding the speech of President Barack Obama on 22 June of this year:

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General welcomes President Obama’s announcement to start the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan as of July 2011.

The United Nations views this decision as the beginning of a transition to greater responsibilities of the Afghan Government and ultimately to full Afghan leadership and ownership. It is important that the United States, as well as the international community, remain committed to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan for both security and development.

Turning the page on decades of war will be long and extremely challenging. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan must be based on an Afghan-led and internationally supported political settlement between all Afghans who break from terrorism, abandon violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution. Only an all-inclusive political process can restore peace and open again the opportunities to normal life and prosperity for Afghan men, women and children.

As mandated by the Security Council, the United Nations will continue to provide all necessary assistance to the Afghan people and their Afghan Government.

** Bahrain

The second statement is on Bahrain:

The Secretary-General notes with deep concern the harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, handed down in Bahrain against 21 political activists, human rights defenders and opposition leaders. He urges the Bahraini authorities to allow all defendants to exercise their right to appeal and to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations, including the right to due process and a fair trial.

The Secretary-General hopes that the Bahraini authorities will do everything possible to create an environment conducive for the start of a concrete national dialogue announced by His Majesty King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, and believes that it should be genuine, inclusive and lead to tangible outcomes which address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.

So those are the two statements I have. Thank you very much. Mr. Fedotov, the floor is yours.

[Briefing by Mr. Fedotov issued separately]

I have just a couple of other items to provide to you:

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work today with a discussion of the Middle East, with Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe informing the Council that the Secretary-General is increasingly worried about the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

He said that, with both the Palestinians and Israel stressing their desire to negotiate, President Obama’s recent speech contained ideas that the international community can rally behind to offer a framework to resume talks and seek an agreement. The Secretary-General looks forward to the Quartet giving impetus to this objective through a meeting at Principals’ level soon.

Regarding reports that a new flotilla is planned in the next few days, Mr. Pascoe reiterated the strong view of the United Nations that assistance for the population of Gaza should be delivered through official crossings. And we have his remarks in my office.

Also, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet will brief the Council later about the 5 June incident in the Golan Heights.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

We have received several worrying reports about incidents of an unknown number of alleged rapes and looting committed in the Nyakiele area in South Kivu, some 40 kilometres north of Fizi town, between 9 and 12 June.

Investigations to confirm these reports are ongoing in consultation with local authorities. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and partners are dispatching an assessment team to Nyakiele, a remote village located 8 hours by foot from the nearest UN military base.

The humanitarian NGO [non-governmental organization] Médecins Sans Frontières has separately reported treating over 100 victims of rape and other forms of trauma since accessing this small village on 21 June.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, congratulated Abdiweli Mohamed Ali on his appointment as the new Prime Minister of Somalia. Mr. Mahiga commended President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on his timely action in appointing Mr. Abdiweli and he pledges the United Nations' full support in working with the new Prime Minister. We have a press release with more details.

I have time for a couple of questions. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Martin. Martin, have you heard that the Secretary-General is meeting this morning with, or this afternoon, the officials of the Committee on the Protection Journalists (CPJ). As you know, this committee has been criticizing the Secretary-General for not being forceful in his pronouncements on the jailing and imprisonment and the torture of journalists. What is the Secretary-General going to tell them?

Spokesperson: Yes, there is a meeting with representatives of the Committee, as you mentioned, CPJ, and also Reporters without Borders. And this is something that is part of a series of meetings that the Secretary-General holds quite regularly with non-governmental organizations dealing with different aspects of human rights. And obviously the protection of journalists, those working in the media, is important. Yes, we heard the criticisms at the time and we addressed them at the time.

The CPJ and Reporters without Borders can be in no doubt that the Secretary-General works publicly and vocally for the rights of journalists and advocates that. And he also works behind the scenes to help seek, for example, the release of journalists. And by its very nature, that is not something that one would talk about publicly. But there are results to be seen from that, and they know it. Right, thank you very much. Masood, and then I am coming to you, Matthew.

Question: Oh, yeah, this question about this flotilla; it seems that the Secretary-General and the United Nations has succumbed to what the Israeli point of view is, that should anything, any aid should go through them. My question is: does the Secretary-General… can that aid that is being sent to Gaza by international donors and international NGOs and also some well-meaning Americans and all other citizens of the world, can that be screened before coming in so that you…

Spokesperson: I have no doubt that that is precisely what is advocated; that, as you put it, well-meaning donors can provide aid through established channels. The notion that this is finding favour with one party or another is just simply not correct. And as I have said a number of times, not only have we said that a flotilla at this point would be ill-advised simply because of the tensions that are already in the region, and because there are established routes, but also we’ve made it very clear that the reason why people might want to mount such an operation, such a flotilla, is because they are frustrated about the plight the people of Gaza and at the fact that crossings are limited and people have difficulty in moving in and out, and so do goods. So it is, therefore, incumbent on the Israeli authorities to do something about that. That’s an even-handed and very frank approach to the problem.

Question: Obviously the Israelis are not responding to these requests by the United Nations and the international community.

Spokesperson: Well, that’s simply not true. As we announced earlier this week, they have told us that projects to help complete two areas of housing in Gaza have been given the go-ahead, and this is an important step. We welcome that; we now need to see it implemented as quickly as possible.

Question: Okay. On Afghanistan this day, I just want to assess that the Secretary-General, does the United Nations envision another new, evolving role, other than the supportive role that it has been playing, now that the United States is going to a draw down? Of course it supports negotiations with the so-called good Taliban, but is it helping to ensure that the negotiations will follow through?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the Afghan authorities have spoken quite clearly about their role in speaking to elements of the Taliban. The United Nations is not involved directly in those talks, but is able to provide, as you heard yesterday, is able to provide some logistical support, if you like, technical support on the margins, but is not involved in those talks, those conversations. And as for the role of the United Nations, as the statement I read out at the beginning of the briefing says, the United Nations will continue to provide all necessary assistance to the Afghan people and the Afghan Government. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Thank you, Martin. I have three questions and I will try to do them quickly. First is that Mr. Gaye, the chief military protocol guy of the United Nations, Babacar Gaye, met with NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. And NATO has put out a press release talking about operational readiness, how the two worked together. And I just wondered: did the UN in that meeting raise issues concerning NATO’s admission that civilians were killed by its bombing Libya, given the UN’s role or the Secretariat’s role under resolution 1973 (2011)?

Spokesperson: I’ll ask my colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], but the Secretary-General is on record repeatedly as saying that the point of the resolution is to avoid civilian casualties and he has also made it clear that he has had conversations with NATO leaders up to, and including, the NATO Secretary-General on precisely this topic. Next question?

Question: Okay, sure. I wanted to ask, I am trying to think of how to do this. Yesterday, it seems that the Secretary-General sat down with a number of wire service reporters, and there have been a series of stories that existed. I just wondered: is the UN side going to put out a transcript of that? It seemed akin to a stakeout or sort of a media availability, and there are some, I am just wondering what, can you explain that sit down, what the basis was and if a transcript will be released by the UN?

Spokesperson: The Secretary-General undertakes various different kinds of media encounters; whether it is a stakeout; whether it is a press conference; whether it’s an exclusive interview, one-to-one; whether it’s a small group of reporters — these are done in different formats. And I think it is obvious what the ground rules are for an encounter that has an element of exclusivity about it, and there are stakeouts and there are press conferences where the Secretary-General is generally available.

Question: Is the exclusivity now gone? Can the transcript be published?

Spokesperson: That’s something that I would look into, but I think that the point is that this was an occasion for wire services that cover a broad spectrum of the world. It was a chance to speak to many people in the world through wire services who cover, some of them, an international spectrum, some a more regional kind of coverage. And it was carefully calibrated to be able to do that. And I think that everybody can understand that the Secretary-General makes himself available in different formats, in different ways, and I think professional journalists understand how that works. Nizar? [The Spokesperson later said that the webcast and the transcript were now available on the United Nations web site.]

Question: Can you describe the progress with regard of rebuilding Gaza? Do you estimate that the schools in Gaza will be rebuilt within a year, for example?

Spokesperson: I couldn’t begin to put a time scale on it, except that it needs to happen as soon as possible. It may be that my colleagues from UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] would be able to give you a better estimate on that. Our concern, of course, is that the funding is not there, however swiftly we would like to complete the work that there is to be done.

Question: But there are a lot pledges which were made by many Governments.

Spokesperson: That’s precisely what I am saying, Nizar. Yes?

Question: Yes, sure. I wanted to ask a question on Sri Lanka, since it seems like it didn’t come up in that session. There has been a response now by the Sri Lankan Mission to the Killing Fields film. They attended the Church Centre, there is a written thing on their website and, among the things that it says is, it talks about the scene where Tamil civilians were seen pleading with the UN not to leave, which was Kilinochchi. And the statement by the Mission is: “At the time the UN had said that the demonstration was not genuine.” So I wanted to know, I know that apparently Sri Lanka hasn’t responded to the report, at least to the Secretary-General. Now that there is this written statement by the Mission regarding what the UN said, is it possible to know from the UN if they agree with this or they deny this statement by the Sri Lanka Mission that the demonstration, which was one of the things he is supposed to be looking into; the UN’s own action, pulling out of Kilinochchi, did the UN leave because they thought that the demonstration was somehow not genuine, or is this a false statement by the Sri Lankan Mission?

Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into that; I don’t know the answer to that at this point. Yes? [He later added that, unfortunately, the United Nations had to reluctantly withdraw from Kilinochchi on 16 September of that year, following the announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka that they could no longer ensure the safety of aid workers in the Vanni, and their request that United Nations and NGO staff should relocate to Government-controlled territory.]

Question: At the stakeout, the new Ambassador of Israel was asked about Durban 3, this upcoming review conference in September, and he said it is a hate fest against Israel; he calibrated it a bit more. But what I wanted to know is, he said he hasn’t yet, but apparently will be speaking about it with the Secretary-General — what is the Secretary-General’s view on this event that has begun some controversy? Canada and the United States have said that they are boycotting it. How does he feel it should be implemented and what will they do when it takes place in September?

Spokesperson: Well, this is an event that is taking place on the margins of the general debate in September, and I am sure that we would have something further to say on that in due course, but it’s obviously caused concern amongst some Member States, that is obvious. And it is incumbent on those involved to help to allay those concerns. What I can say is that the Secretary-General is mindful of that, and I am sure that we would have something further to say at a later date. Okay, thank you very much.

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