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

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

9 January 2012

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.

** Cyprus

The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met in Nicosia today. They discussed the forthcoming talks with the Secretary-General at the Greentree Estate in Long Island, which are to take place from the 22nd to 24th of this month.

** Fiji

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today she welcomed the lifting of the emergency law in Fiji, calling the move a step in the right direction towards the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights in the country.

But, Ms. Pillay also said she hoped that amendments made to the Public Order Act would be in line with international human rights norms and would not in any way replicate the restrictions in the Public Emergency Regulations.

She also expressed concern that critics of the Government have faced criminal charges, arbitrary detention or other forms of intimidation. Her full statement is available on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

**South Sudan

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson, visited Pibor and Fartait in Jonglei state. She called for the cycle of violence to stop. The safety and security of all must now come first, she said. This means a committed, coordinated and cooperative drive by all concerned to achieve peace and stability.

Ms. Johnson said that the situation in Jonglei was a major test for the newly independent South Sudan and she called on the Government to take immediate steps to establish its peace team and move forward with urgency, working with church leaders, the communities and civil society.

The Special Representative also said she was very concerned about the humanitarian situation. She urged the international community to respond generously to the efforts made by the UN humanitarian community.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question: Sure. About, just, first about this Pibor and Jonglei State. Was, I mean, I saw Ms. Johnson quoted as saying that there was no evidence for the numbers given by the Pibor county commissioner of mass killings. What is the UN’s estimate of how many people were killed and can you confirm these now reported, you know, further retaliation by Marli, oh, Lou Nuer, of some say 22, some say 60, what is the UN’s count of that?

Spokesperson: Well, we are aware of those reports on the further violence that you have just referred to, and if we have anything further on that particular aspect I will let you know. As you pointed out, Ms. Johnson had said that their own preliminary assessment — meaning the Mission’s preliminary assessment on Friday — and the baseline information from the affected area is in line with the Pibor commissioner’s remarks that previously circulated casualties figures were unverified and required thorough assessment. So, what Ms. Johnson said was that the information, the base information and the findings of her visit was such that there was no evidence that would support the figures that were being reported by some media on Friday. So, obviously there is going to be an investigation by the Government and the Special Representative has welcomed that investigation, because it is important to get clarity on what happened and also to establish accountability.

Question: Just one follow up on that, is the UN, I think I tried to ask this on Friday, is the UN endeavouring to, and will it come out with its own number? Because some say that the Government may not have been fast enough to respond, or whatever, the Government may have something of a conflict in reporting the number, as many Governments do. When this kind of incident takes place, is the UN, with the peacekeeping mission there, going to come out with its own number?

Spokesperson: Well, as I just said, the Special Representative has commended the decision by the Government to investigate the events in Jonglei and that is to ensure that there is clarity and also to establish accountability. Yeah?

Question: Martin, do you have anything to say about the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, the peace, the civil rights activist in Bahrain, and beating up of, and going to the hospital after that?

Spokesperson: We are aware of the reports; if I have anything further, then I will let you know. Yes, Ali?

Question: Thank you, Martin. Have the Arab League sought any kind of assistance regarding the observer mission in Syria and were there any changes in the United Nations position regarding the situation in Syria after the observer mission has done its, you know, ten days now, it is, or even more?

Spokesperson: Well, as you heard the Secretary-General say on Friday, the United Nations is prepared to provide assistance in the form of training for the observers from the League of Arab States; that would be training outside of the country of course. That’s something that we have said we are prepared to do, and we await to hear from the League of Arab States whether they will take us up on that offer, and then we will be ready to move should they contact us about that. We are in regular contact, as the Secretary-General said. The meeting took place yesterday; let’s see what happens in the coming days. On the more general point, as the Secretary-General himself said, he remains very concerned about what has been happening in Syria, even with the presence of the observer mission. The observer mission really must be given the chance to carry out it work, its mandated task. There is still time in which it will do that, and then report back with the larger number of people as the League of Arab States decided on Sunday. Yes, Nizar?

Question: Martin, on Friday the Secretary-General expressed his condolences to the Government of Syria in his press, in the statement which was circulated. But when he read his statement on the press floor he did not mention the Government of Syria. Does he extend his condolences to them or does he not?

Spokesperson: Well, two things: One, the statement that was put out is there for everyone to read. The Secretary-General was simply adding his own personal voice while standing there in front of you taking the opportunity of being right there in front of you to speak in the first person, rather than in a disembodied fashion through me. It was as simple as that, and I really would not read anything into that, Nizar.

Question: So, we consider that his statement, his original one stands; the one which…

Spokesperson: Of course, of course, of course.

Question: On this, as you know there are talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis but the settlement activity continues and there are about 8,000 Palestinian prisoners. Does the Secretary-General, at any point in time, intend to appeal to the Israeli Government to release, to stop this activity and release the prisoners?

Spokesperson: I think we have had this conversation on a number of occasions, Masood. There are often occasions when the Secretary-General speaks with the Israeli authorities, as he does with other leaders in the region. And where it is appropriate in the right circumstances he raises topics, such as the settlements and also the question of confidence-building measures of the kind that you mentioned. I saw a hand right at the back of the room; did I, or maybe I am mistaken? Did you have a question?

Question: Yes, sorry. On Iran’s top official announcement on uranium enrichment, do you have some reaction on that?

Spokesperson: We have seen the media reports on that; I would simply refer you to what the Secretary-General said on Friday; which was very clear about the need for the Iranian authorities to prove to the satisfaction of the international community that their nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes. Yes, Ozlem?

Question: We heard out from Cyprus that the Secretary-General has sent a letter to the both leaders of Cyprus on Friday or on Saturday, if I am not mistaken. Are you going to give some key elements from the letter, or are you going to discuss the letter? And secondly, on these meetings in Greentree, can we go there and cover the meetings? Do you have any arrangements for that, please? Because there are some people saying that this time we won’t be able to be there.

Spokesperson: I will check on the second point; but in previous rounds and on previous occasions there has been access, so that you can speak to the two delegations and indeed the United Nations officials. Let me check on that for you. On the first part, I don’t think we are going to make the content of the letters public; but as you heard the Secretary-General say himself on Friday that there is not a lot of time because 1 July is when Cyprus will be taking over the presidency in the European Union; and there is a lot to be done. So, I think that if you look back at what the Secretary-General said on Friday, that gives you a good flavour, if you like, of what the letters would have said. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Yeah, sure, I want to ask on Haiti. There are reports that the Uruguayan peacekeepers that were repatriated and were said to be going on trial there for the abuse of a Haitian teenager have been released, because Uruguay says that they can’t find a complaining witness. I wonder if that, one, if you can confirm that. And, two, if you can respond to the idea that leaving prosecution entirely up to the TCCs [troop contributing countries] back in the home country may make it impossible to prosecute the alleged abusers.

Spokesperson: Well, Matthew I think you know as well as I do what the state of play is with troop-contributing countries and their responsibility to prosecute and investigate where there have been allegations of misconduct amongst peacekeepers. That sits very firmly with the national authorities. And when there are allegations of abuse, misconduct, then it is for the national authorities to undertake an investigation. So, I think you understand that, and you know that. The second point is that DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has been informed by the Uruguayan authorities that, in accordance with their national legislation, the judicial process before the military jurisdiction, this is for the lesser regulatory infractions allegedly committed by the soldiers, has been completed. So, that’s on the military side. But, the judicial process before the civilian jurisdiction — and that covers the more serious criminal charges and allegations — that continues and the expectation is that the Haitian witnesses, including the victim, can be interviewed by Uruguayan judicial officials. The recent release of the soldiers pending completion of the civilian trial certainly doesn’t mean that it is impossible for those soldiers to be re-imprisoned should they be found guilty and sentenced accordingly. So, this is a procedural matter. I am sure you could check with the Uruguayan authorities if you wanted some more details on how that plays out in their national legislation.

Question: No, no, and thanks, I just, I guess what I am saying is, I mean I understand that’s criminally the way that it works; that it is entirely up to the troop-contributing countries. I wonder if, even in a case where the Secretary-General, you know, congratulated the Uruguayans for taking the steps that they did, if in fact there is a problem of evidence in going forward with the charges, would the Secretary-General think of trying to reform or modify this system that even a well-meaning TCC finds it impossible to, or with this case, it is less likely to be able to prosecute wrongdoers?

Spokesperson: As you also know, Matthew, it would be a matter for the Member States. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations moved very swiftly after those allegations were made and indeed, as you know, Assistant Secretary-General Banbury, the Military Advisor and the Police Advisor all visited at the same time the mission in Haiti to underscore the UN’s view that there should be a zero tolerance policy. And also, as you well know, the Uruguayan authorities themselves moved very swiftly on two tracks: the military justice track; and the civilian justice track. And as I just mentioned to you, the civilian jurisdiction, judicial process there is still under way. Okay, any other questions? Linda, and then I am coming to Nizar. Yes?

Question: Martin, can you review with us the Secretary-General’s upcoming travel plans this month?

Spokesperson: I think you will have heard the Secretary-General say that he plans to visit Lebanon and the UAE — the United Arab Emirates — and that he will be travelling further quite soon. But once we have details, then I will let you know. But, I am not in a position to give you more details on that at the moment.

Question: Do you expect he will be travelling to Washington this month?

Spokesperson: I am not aware of any visit to Washington this month. Yes, Nizar?

Question: Yeah, the situation in Nigeria is getting, deteriorating badly; is there any motion or any gesture towards trying to ameliorate that or make any mediations between the parties?

Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with the Foreign Minister of Nigeria this afternoon. The Foreign Minister is in town and I have asked our colleagues to provide us with a readout on that meeting. Other questions? Yes, Matthew?

Question: Yeah, also just on these trips. Now that, you know it is confirmed that the Secretary-General is going to go to Lebanon, what I wanted to ask you, there is a report in the Daily Star of Beirut quoting the head of Hezbollah's Shura Council saying that Ban Ki-moon is not welcome. I don’t know if, I mean, I don’t know if that is a threat or if it is just a statement, but I wonder, have you seen that and what do you think of it? And also, can you confirm, Observer [Riyad] Mansour on Friday after the noon briefing here, said that Ban Ki-moon had more or less committed to visit, I believe, Ramallah on his way to the African Union summit in January. So, since he said that publicly, I’d ask you to respond, is that true?

Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the Secretary-General himself said that he would be visiting Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. With regard to the media reports on what may or may not have been said; the Secretary-General is of the view, as are many people around the world, that the Lebanese are amongst the most hospitable people you will find anywhere, and he sees no reason for that to be any different on this particular trip. With regard to future travels, as the Secretary-General himself said on Friday, there have been some reports, including leaks, information and reports of other kinds. But, when there is an announcement to be made by me or by the Secretary-General, then we will make it.

Question: And just one follow up on this, and it goes back to something from December where I am wondering, is it possible to say if in this, even just this first leg that has now been confirmed, UAE and Lebanon, whether any of the travel would in fact be covered or paid for — the planes paid for by any country or other party?

Spokesperson: If that is the case, I will let you know. Okay, thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record

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