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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 17 October 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

Today, the Secretary-General met with the Swiss President, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and members of her Cabinet, and he also held a press conference with the President.

And yesterday in Bern, the Secretary-General also met with President Calmy-Rey and members of the Swiss Government, and flew over a glacier to observe the effects of climate change.

And then in an address to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Bern last night, the Secretary-General noted that Governments everywhere are confronting huge budget deficits. But the biggest challenge is not a deficit in budget; it is a deficit of trust. People are losing faith in Governments and institutions to do the right things. In an era of fiscal austerity, we must be sure our solutions make a measurable difference in the daily lives of people. And we must do that with the most efficient and effective use of our scarce resources. That means connecting the dots between climate change, food crises, water scarcity, global health issues, women’s empowerment and energy shortages. The full text of his address is on our website.

The Secretary-General also met with a number of parliamentarians and with five young Arab leaders to review developments in the Arab world and to underscore the role youth is playing in the Arab Spring. The Secretary-General returns to New York tomorrow.

**Security Council

The Security Council will meet this afternoon for consultations on MONUSCO, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Separately, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia is expected to brief the Council via videolink on the situation there. And that briefing is also in closed session.


In a message marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Secretary-General says that while great progress has been made to free people from poverty, those gains are in doubt today.

He says that we can overcome challenges — including the economic crisis, climate change and the rising costs of food and energy — by putting people at the centre of our work. As we work to avoid a global financial meltdown, the Secretary-General says, we must also work to avoid a global development meltdown.

In conjunction with the International Day, the annual “Stand Up and Take Action against Poverty” campaign wraps up today. As part of that campaign, schoolchildren, people from the private sector and others took part in public events in nearly two dozen locations around the globe to highlight the plight of the more than 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty around the world.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary-General and the President of the Economic and Social Council will be in Luxembourg, where they will participate in the high-level symposium of the United Nations Development Cooperation Forum and they will also take part in a press conference afterwards. The focus of this event is “Working together to increase the development impact of aid”.

**Press Conference

And then after this briefing, Udo Janz, the Director of the Executive Office of the United Nations Refugee Agency in New York, will hold a press conference here with John Prendergast, who is the Co-Founder of the Enough Project. And I know that they are already here in the room, and they will be able to come and brief you after me.

So, questions, please? Yes, Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question: I have two questions. I wonder whether the Secretary-General has any response to the Arab new initiative regarding Syria. They are going to convene a dialogue in Cairo in this regard. And the other question is, I understand that the Secretary-General has received letters from the United States Mission and from the Saudi Mission regarding the alleged assassination plot against the Iranian… sorry, against the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. I wonder whether the Secretary-General has… whether you have anything in addition to that. What is going to happen?

Spokesperson: Well, as the Secretary-General himself said in Switzerland earlier today, he has indeed received letters from the Iranian authorities, the United States authorities and as you just mentioned, from the Saudi Government. All three of those communications have been sent to the Security Council. Beyond that, as the Secretary-General said, we’ll have to see what discussions there will be at the Council. Beyond that, we don’t really have anything further to say.

Question: Regarding the Arab initiative, regarding the situation in Syria?

Spokesperson: Well, again, I would note that the Secretary-General was quite… he spoke out quite clearly again, I guess is what I am trying to say — he spoke out quite clearly again about Syria during the course of his press conference, essentially reiterating the points that we have heard many times that action is needed to stop the bloodshed. And crucially in this context, as you know, last week he said something along the same lines that there was need for this inquiry commission that’s mandated by the Human Rights Council to have access to Syria. And this is something that is in line with the meeting that’s just been held of the League of Arab States. And obviously, this is looking at it from a slightly different perspective, but the aim is the same, and that is to end the bloodshed immediately, and crucially, for the sides to be brought together. As you know, the League of Arab States has set, if you like, a timeline for that. The Secretary-General, as I have said, has repeatedly called for a dialogue, inclusive dialogue to take place and that it should take place before it is too late. Okay, other questions? Yes, and then I am coming to you, yeah?

Question: Yeah, sure. I wanted to ask… I mean, there… there are these reports of Kenya either having gone into Somalia to confront Al-Shabaab or… or not. And since the UN has this Mr. Mahiga and… and provides assistance to the peacekeeping force there, what is the UN’s understanding of whether Kenya has in fact entered Somalia?

Spokesperson: We are aware of the reports, don’t really have anything to say at this point. Okay, next questions? Yeah.

Question: Good morning, Martin. Thank you. I think it was June that the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions issued a report on the CIA. He call… basically calling the CIA drone programme over Pakistan illegal. There was another attack later last week, killed about a dozen people and the United States… CIA information coming out there on that whole programme has been nil, you know. Similarly, drone attacks in a different place, Michael Williams last week called the repeated air space violation of Israeli drones over Lebanon a repeated violation of their sovereignty. What has the SG said specifically about this ongoing US programme of drone attacks over Pakistan? Is there a record of his speaking out against them at all, or has he made any statement at all?

Spokesperson: Well, it sounds like you are mixing up a lot of different things there. But the answer remains the same, no, we don’t have anything to say on that at this time. If we do, then I will let you know.

Question: I mentioned Mr. Williams as it just being a similar thing elsewhere, and the fact that the UN had spoken out as a Special Rapporteur and as a… you know as Special Rep on Lebanon. So, that’s two UN officials who have spoken out, calling it illegal. But the SG has nothing to say?

Spokesperson: As you know, Special Rapporteurs report through the Human Rights Council, not appointed by the Secretary-General. That doesn’t mean that in some cases the Secretary-General doesn’t have something to say separately about a topic that is covered by one of the Special Rapporteurs. I don’t have anything for you on that. But if that changes, or if I do have something, then I’d certainly let you know.

Correspondent: Thanks, Martin.

Spokesperson: Yes, Nizar?

Question: Martin, last week I asked about the situation Al-Awamia in Saudi Arabia, the arrests and the suppression of peaceful demonstrators. Also the role of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, the security forces, the Saudi security forces not only doing what they are doing in Saudi Arabia itself, they also crossed into Bahrain for many months now. What’s the position of the Secretary-General in this regard?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, last week I told you that — and we’re not doing terribly well today — we don’t have very much to say on that topic. That remains the case. When it comes to Bahrain, this we’re looking at Bahrain itself, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for due process in any legal cases, criminal cases that are under way or envisaged. And he has also called for the Bahraini authorities to live up to the promises they have made to engage in dialogue, and that’s what I have for you.

Question: How about the foreign interference in Bahrain, I mean, [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: As I say…

Question: …has he ever called for, to stop that or any [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: Well, Nizar, as I say, that’s what I have at the moment. Okay, yes?

Question: Hi. I hear the declaration of Mr. Secretary-General about the Occupy Wall Street movement, is there any declaration about that, about the violence and the clashes happened in Roma last Saturday?

Spokesperson: What the Secretary-General said was that what you are seeing all around the world, starting from Wall Street, is that the people are hoping to see that the issues that are out there that need to be dealt with are dealt with with a sense of a sense of flexibility and compromise. And he said that people are showing their frustrations by trying to send a very clear and unambiguous message to the world. He is speaking about what started in Wall Street and what you are seeing in other parts of the world, I think it goes without saying that the Secretary-General does not believe that violent protests are in any way appropriate in trying to draw attention to your concerns about what is happening in the financial markets or because of the economic crisis.

Question: A follow-up on that?

Spokesperson: Yes.

Question: What about allowing a… a non-violent protest to continue? In New York, there is right now… you know, some 80 blocks south of the UN, there is a big controversy whether the Occupy Wall Street protestors should be allowed to remain in this privately owned Zuccotti Park, which is supposed to be open 24 hours a day? Does the UN… does the… what does the UN… does it have any thoughts on how the authorities, there were some of… some 700 arrests two weeks ago — how should this be dealt with here in the host city?

Spokesperson: Well, obviously, law and order and other matters are really the domain of sovereign States, sovereign Governments. The point that the Secretary-General made was a general one about the frustrations that people feel. And as you will also know, he was speaking in the context of the G-20 meeting which will be taking place in Cannes at the beginning of next month. And it was in that context he was trying to convey the strength of feeling that there is out there on the need for G-20 leaders to go beyond business as usual. I think it is in that context that we are looking at it.

Question: Can I ask you, there is… there is… there is a letter by the SPLM in… in Southern Kordofan to the UN essentially, you know, expressing a concern that UN helicopters may have again been used to transport Ahmed Haroun, ICC indictee, to the town of Tolodi. It’s a pretty specific allegation, it was made late last week, I wanted to know what the UN’s response… does it still have helicopters active in that area and what’s its response to SPLM saying that it is transporting an alleged war criminal?

Spokesperson: Well Matthew, I know that you have asked that question to our colleagues in DPKO, and I am sure they will give you an answer in due course. Next question, please, yeah? Okay, any other questions?

Question: Yeah, I have another question.

Spokesperson: All right, last one, Matthew, and then we’re handing over.

Question: On Friday, I… I maybe I misunderstood you, that… that… that the Secretary-General would remain for the Q-and-A session at the Whistleblower screening. But since he didn’t, I wanted to ask you the following, what was his… first, what’s his response on the panel before he left, the director of the film and Ms. Rees were… were pretty strong in their criticism, not really believing the zero-tolerance is being implemented and asking… I wondered what his response to that was and I also just factually wanted to know whatever happened to the Béninois peacekeepers from Côte d'Ivoire only known about because of a WikiLeak memo that they were… were repatriated for buying sex from underage girls for food, what… were they in fact disciplined in Benin or not?

Spokesperson: Well, I guess first of all, you could ask the authorities in Benin what happened to those soldiers that were repatriated. The more general point, a question-and-answer session was envisaged and took place. That was what I was seeking to convey. And that’s the first point. The second is that precisely because the Secretary-General takes this matter so seriously, that he arranged for the screening of that film to take place. You were there, you saw that the turn-out was quite impressive for a Friday evening. And indeed as you will also have seen, there were many senior United Nations officials who all had something to say, or have some role in helping to deal with this particular policy which is indeed that there are, that under no circumstances anywhere in peacekeeping operations is sexual abuse something that we can tolerate. That there is a zero-tolerance policy, and as the Secretary-General said, progress is being made, but we still have work to do to ensure that there is no impunity.

Question: Did he have any response to what he heard while he was on the panel? And maybe I am assuming, because there was… it was a pretty striking speech that the director and Ms. Rees gave, it gave rise to applause in the audience, and among other things it said that there is still retaliation, and they don’t believe that there is protection of whistleblowers, they don’t believe that the zero-tolerance, for just the reason that you said like can the UN state how people were disciplined. That seems to be part and parcel of the problem?

Spokesperson: Well, again, as you know, and as was stated very clearly, Member States, the troop-contributing countries have the key role to play in ensuring that anybody who is accused of sexual abuse in a mission or while serving for the United Nations needs to be dealt with through the military or civilian justice system in their home country. That is, as you know, that is how it works. That’s the first thing. The second is that everybody who spoke got applause. So, I don’t think that’s really the measure. I think the point is that the Secretary-General felt strongly enough about it, having seen the film and having already spoken at length in many places about this topic, but having seen the film and felt the strength of the director’s passion about this topic, he wanted to ensure that there was an open discussion.

It’s obvious that not everything that was said on the podium was going to necessarily be exactly music to the ears of the Secretary-General. But that is not the purpose of the panel. The purpose of the panel was to ensure that there a very open discussion about that. And that discussion does not end, or did not end when that panel discussion finished at 8 p.m. on Friday night. It will continue and there will be follow-up.

All right. Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon. Thank you.

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