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Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, 06 February 2012

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, and Nihal Saad, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everyone, welcome to the briefing.

** Philippines Earthquake

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that a magnitude 6.9 earthquake was reported in the Philippines today, according to the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The Philippine Armed Forces are reporting that nearly 50 people have been killed and dozens are missing. The Government has not requested international assistance so far, but as always, the United Nations stands ready to provide assistance if needed and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs continues to monitor developments.


Young people around the world are deeply concerned about a lack of job opportunities, according to a new United Nations report issued today. Global unemployment for young people soared in the aftermath of the economic crisis, reaching nearly 76 million in 2009. As you’ll recall, the Secretary-General recently highlighted the need for the UN system to pull together like never before to support a new social contract of economic growth with jobs. The full report is available online.

**Security Council

This morning the Security Council met in closed consultations to discuss the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other matters.

** Indonesia

And as you will have seen, the Secretary-General met with the Indonesian Foreign Minister this morning and we are expecting a readout on that.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow, my guest will be Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. She will be here to brief you on her recent mission to South Sudan.

And then at 12:45, there will be a press conference by Dr. Precious Gbeneol, the Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals, along with Corinne Woods, who is Director of the UN Millennium Campaign.

And then immediately following this briefing, Nihal Saad, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you.

Questions, please? Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Martin. Just talking about that casualties in Syria, does the United Nations have any source of its reports on how many really casualties [inaudible] before this weekend on Friday? Many sources, including Al Jazeera and other western media, also reported more than 200 casualties, so can you tell us what you know about that? What are your numbers also?

Spokesperson: I don’t think we have a clear picture of the number of casualties. What is clear is that something extremely tragic is happening in Homs at this moment, and I would expect to have something further to say on this a little later. But I don’t have it right now. Yes, please?

[The following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was later issued:

“The Secretary-General is appalled by the escalating violence in Syria, particularly at the mounting death toll and continued onslaught on the city of Homs involving the use of heavy artillery and the shelling of civilian areas. Such violence is totally unacceptable before humanity.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns these attacks. The lack of agreement in the Security Council gives no license to the Syrian authorities to step up attacks on the Syrian population. No Government can commit such acts against its people without its legitimacy being eroded.

The Secretary-General deeply regrets that the Syrian authorities continue to ignore the pressing calls of the international community to stop using force against civilians. All violence must end immediately. The Secretary-General reminds the Government of Syria that it is accountable under international human rights law for all acts of violence perpetrated by its security forces against the civilian population.

The Secretary-General calls upon all concerned in Syria and in the international community to redouble efforts aimed at stopping the violence and seeking an inclusive Syrian-led political process, in accordance with international law, that respects the will and legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people to a democratic and pluralistic political system.”]

Question: Sure. The day before yesterday, Saturday, there was a demonstration against war against Iran, and they were supposed to send a letter to the United Nations. Do you have anything about it?

Spokesperson: I am not aware of a letter.

Question: [inaudible], demonstration in more than 45 or 48 cities in United States and Canada against sanctions, terrorism, whatever, against Iran, do you… you don’t have it [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: I’ll check. It doesn’t mean a letter was not received, but I am not aware of it. I’ll check for you.

Correspondent: Thank you.

Spokesperson: Please?

Question: Martin, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based organization, has written a report which has been also carried by The New York Times in London and other papers, which says that the drone attacks inside Pakistan were carried out on [inaudible], on people rescuing those who were affected by the strikes, the drone strikes. The Israeli strikes have been deemed against international law. What does the Secretary-General have to say about this situation and the report, about the report?

Spokesperson: No specific comment on that report. I think the Secretary-General has spoken before on the question of drones and their use. It is a complex matter that does bring in to account questions of international humanitarian law, that is correct, but I don’t have anything further beyond what the Secretary-General has said on the matter at this point. Yes?

Question: I mean, will he have any comment on that later in the day? Would you have anything about that?

Spokesperson: I doubt we will have something later today, but it is a topic, as you know, that is complex. But it is also something that is widely discussed at the moment. I don’t have anything for you at this point. Yes?

Question: Thanks, Martin. There is this report that’s been getting a lot of press recently alleging that the NBA star Dikembe Mutombo was involved in the illegal sale of gold from the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo]. I am wondering if — you may not have anything on it immediately — but whether the Secretary-General has any follow-up or comment on that report.

Spokesperson: Not at this point, no. No, but thanks, I have taken note of your question. Yes?

Question: Just a couple of questions. First of all, a follow-up on the question of casualties in Syria. As you know, a lot of journalists continue to refer to the last update we had from the United Nations about approximately 5,400 casualties; that was a while ago. Human rights groups are talking about more than 7,000 now and I am wondering if we can expect, maybe what you are talking about this afternoon, if we can expect some update in the UN’s figures. And secondly, as you probably also know, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the weekend spoke about a neutered Security Council, and I am wondering if that sense of neutered or powerless Security Council is a concern to the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson: On the first point, I think Ms. Pillay said after speaking to the Council in her most recent appearance that it was very difficult to compile figures at this point. It is obvious that people have continued to be killed and to die in Syria since those figures that you mentioned of 5,000 plus. But Ms. Pillay has made it clear that, at this point, it is not possible to give an updated figure. As I have just said, what is clear is that more people have continued to be killed and are being killed still. And that is wholly unacceptable. And the Secretary-General is extremely concerned about that.

To come to your second point, the Secretary-General’s statement on Saturday was, I think, quite explicit on this point. He said that he deeply regretted that the Security Council had been unable to agree on a resolution supported by the League of Arab States to bring an early end to the violence and the killing in Syria. And he went on to say it undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people. So, I think he has been clear. He also said that the Security Council had lost an opportunity to take unified action that could help end this crisis and forge a peaceful future. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Yeah sure, I want to ask about Darfur. There has been a lot of unrest in South Darfur, including people killed and non-violent protest attack by the Government. So I am wondering what, since the UN has a peacekeeping mission or UN-AU peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, what they have to say about it. There is also criticism now of Mr. Gambari by the JEM rebel group and even from within the UN system for spending, having a lavish house, donating, JEM says, 25 vehicles to the Government. And to me the most pointed is that they say, or it is said, that when he travels to Doha for the, you know, the Darfur talks, that his hotel and transportation is entirely paid for by the Qatari Government. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’d like to know. And if that is the case, how you think that is appropriate?

Spokesperson: I’ll check for you, Matthew.

Question: Is there nothing from UNAMID on this, this is something that took place in late January and it is a, you know beating of…

Spokesperson: As I say, I’ll check.

Correspondent: Okay, all right.

Spokesperson: I’ll check. Yeah.

Question: And I wanted to also ask you about Bahrain.

Spokesperson: Just a second, just a second.

Correspondent: Okay.

Spokesperson: You can come back and ask me by all means, I just wanted to go to Anne first and then I’ll come to you. Yeah?

Question: Yes, today’s New York Times reported that three more ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest human rights abuses, bringing the total of self-immolations to 19 over the past year. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say on this subject?

Spokesperson: We are aware of those reports, but I don’t have anything at the moment. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Yeah, it was reported and then confirmed by another UN official that Terje Roed-Larsen visited Bahrain at the same time as the President of the General Assembly and there is a story in the Bahraini press saying that he, you know, that their Minister of Interior met with ASG Terje Roed-Larsen. So I wanted to know, was that visit in his official capacity as a UNASG, and what was the goal of the visit?

Spokesperson: Mr. Roed-Larsen, as you know, travels widely in the region, and let me check on his itinerary. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Yes, Masood?

Question: On this situation as far as Iran is concerned, I asked you a question on Friday about whether the Secretary-General is taking note of the fact that even the Secretary of Defense of the United States is saying that Israel may attack Iran some time very soon…

Spokesperson: Well, just to be absolutely clear, there were newspaper reports suggesting that that is what he has said.

Question: He gave an interview to the Washington Post. That’s what the report was about, that he gave an interview in which he said that, he took it, that’s his understanding, that Israel may attack Iran in April. The question I ask you is: has the Secretary-General, given the gravity of the situation, referred the matter to the Security Council?

Spokesperson: You asked me that before…

Correspondent: Yeah.

Spokesperson: …and my answer is that it is the same as it was before, that he has spoken quite clearly on the need for a peaceful resolution to this. And that’s it.

Question: So nothing has happened since then? Since then, the Secretary-General has not taken note of it at all? I mean since then… I mean since his return, let’s put it this, since his return over here, has he taken note of it, I mean…?

Spokesperson: Well, I think you can rest assured that he doesn’t have to return to New York to be updated on what is happening in Iran or elsewhere in the world. And I think that he is fully aware of all of the intricacies of this. The bottom line is that it is for Iran to step up and prove to the international community that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. And it is for the negotiating process to really take hold so that this can be dealt with in a peaceful manner. Yes, Erol?

Question: Martin, in light of the… that the possible deal of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and in western part of Palestine territories could improve the chances for the peace process in the Middle East and Palestinian process… peace process with Israel, does the Secretary-General have anything to say on that?

Spokesperson: Well, we are aware of the reports coming out of Doha on this reconciliation process, and we are still looking at that. And I don’t have anything for you just at the moment. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, I wanted to ask, there is quite a bit of controversy about Egypt now putting, I had asked you before about when they raided the various NGOs in Egypt, now the 43 NGO workers, international NGOs workers, are being put on trial and told not to leave the country. So I know that the UN system sometimes speaks about the rights of, certainly, aid workers. I don’t know if these are described as democracy workers, but does the UN have any comment on this pretty high-profile putting on trial of international NGOs in the country?

Spokesperson: We are certainly aware of the reports. I don’t have anything at the moment, but we are aware of the reports, Matthew.

Question: And I wanted to, this is more of a, and I don’t know if it is a [inaudible], I remember last week when on this issue of Shavendra Silva being made an adviser, senior adviser on peacekeeping. You’d said, you know, this is up to Member States, ask the Member States, don’t ask me. And I just, I can’t help but wonder and I wonder if you could just simply explain the difference in the case of Syria. I did see the statement and I know it is a very high-profile issue, but it doesn’t seem that the Secretary-General has a position that he doesn’t speak out when he thinks that something done by Member States makes the UN, well either weakens the Security Council or is bad in the world. So I wonder, is it a choice in the case of having an accused war criminal advising him on peacekeeping? How can it be that in this case it is entirely up to Member States and there is no ability to say anything, and in the other case there is an ability to say something? Can you explain that?

Spokesperson: Yes, I can.

Correspondent: Okay.

Spokesperson: Because there is a General Assembly resolution which instructs explicitly the Secretary-General to do something and for the Member States to do something. That is very different from what was happening in the Security Council on Saturday.

Question: But it said they’re supposed to nominate. It sort of implies that he has some… a nomination usually means that a person gets to choose…

Spokesperson: I think you know how it works. We’ve been through this a number of times and it is quite clear that it was for the Secretary-General to select five eminent individuals and for the rest of that advisory group to be drawn from the different components, including from the Asia group. And that was for them to do. That’s what they did and that’s the outcome.

Question: But does he think it makes the UN, in the same way that he commented on the Security Council action, somehow undermining some organ of the UN? Does he think it makes the UN look good to have an individual named in his report advise him on peacekeeping? This is, I just [inaudible] simple…

Spokesperson: Again, as I say, the General Assembly resolution was quite explicit about what needed to happen in selecting the individuals for that advisory group, and it was for the different regional groups to decide, and that’s what they did. And again, I would simply refer you to the Asia group for their comments on that.

Okay, I can see that Nihal has been patiently waiting, and I give the floor to her at this point. Thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

How are you everyone?

** Syria

The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, has issued a statement on Syria. We have circulated that statement on Saturday to all the journalists and it is on our website now. But, let me just remind you of what he said in that statement, in case you have not seen it yet.

After the Security Council meeting on Saturday, the President of the General Assembly said that he was very concerned about the inability of the Security Council on Saturday to adopt the resolution that had been supported by the Arab League and favoured by 13 members of the Council, to end the bloodshed and violence in Syria.

He stressed that the longer the Security Council remains divided in adopting a consensus position on developments in Syria the more difficult the situation becomes, with more Syrians being killed daily.

President Al-Nasser remains deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Syria and reiterates the urgent calls of the United Nations, the Arab League and the international community for the authorities in Syria to end the killings immediately and also put a halt to all human rights violations.

The President of the General Assembly strongly encourages the Arab League to continue in its efforts and initiatives aimed at a peaceful resolution of the situation in Syria. And he strongly urges the Syrian authorities to cooperate fully with the Arab League and the international community. President Al-Nasser further urges President Bashar al-Assad to listen to the voices and aspirations of his people.

The President of the General Assembly calls on members of the Security Council to continue to work together closely for a common position for lasting peace in Syria and stability and democracy.

Related to that issue, President Al-Nasser discussed the matter in Paris last week with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, on the margins of a French-Government organized conference entitled “Towards new global governance for the environment”.

**Week Ahead

Looking ahead on the agenda, President Al-Nasser, tomorrow, Tuesday, 7 February, from 9 a.m. in the GA Hall, will be hosting a key event to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week. As you may all well know, the General Assembly adopted a resolution in October 2010 that proposed World Interfaith Harmony Week as an annual event to be marked in the first week of February every year.

Then on Friday, 10 February, President Al-Nasser is holding a meeting to brainstorm on the internal working methods of the Fifth Committee. It’s basically a brainstorming session and this will be from 3 to 5 p.m.

Also on Friday, 10 February, President Al-Nasser will be chairing an informal meeting to hear a briefing on the logistical and substantive preparations for the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD XIII) that will take place in Doha on 21-26 April 2012. The briefing will be presented by Mr. Kobsak Chutikul, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of UNCTAD and Mr. Richard Kozul Wright, Head of the UNCTAD Unit on the Economic Cooperation and Integration among Developing Countries.

And that is basically what I have. Any questions? Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you Nihal. There are reports that there is a candidacy from the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Vuk Jeremić, to become… to succeed President Al-Nasser in his position of the President of the General Assembly in September. I wonder, did you receive any communication on that? Did Mr. Jeremić, who is about to come to New York probably to see President Al-Nasser, or something on that?

Spokesperson: No, not that I am aware of. And we have not received any; we were not approached.

Question: Okay. Just as a follow-up to that…

Spokesperson: Yeah.

Question: I know it is rather not protocol probably to say something on that, but would President Al-Nasser gladly see him as a successor, or how would he comment on that?

Spokesperson: Well, actually this is very hypothetical question, because there are two candidates so far. We have not been approached, and we’ll see what happens when we are approached. So, I have nothing to add to that. Yes?

Question: Just, I heard that, obviously I saw on Saturday the statement by the President on Syria. There are some discussion now, the German Ambassador Wittig, on his way into the Security Council, said that they are considering some movement in the General Assembly to take up Syria, to sort of, not get around the veto, but to show the broad expression of Member State support, as they put it. Is there… is that… is the President aware of that? When might that happen? Does he support that? Has he had any meetings on that?

Spokesperson: Well, I have not seen that report, so I cannot comment on it. But, we have not yet been approached.

Question: And just… and I just wondered, when I saw the statement, it was a very strong statement. How is it, I mean, how should we report that? Is that his individual position, the statement that he put out, I mean, it’s… that’s… he…

Spokesperson: The statement that I just…?

Question: Yeah, he is the President of the General Assembly, he is speaking as…

Spokesperson: Matthew. Yeah, Matthew…

Question: …himself or as PGA?

Spokesperson: Matthew, what did the statement read?

Correspondent: Sure.

Spokesperson: It states “Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly in the United Nations, New York”.

Correspondent: Sure.

Spokesperson: This is in his capacity as President of the General Assembly.

Question: But is he speaking for the General Assembly?

Spokesperson: He is speaking for the General Assembly.

Question: On, did they take a vote?

Spokesperson: What do you mean by take a vote? This is a press statement.

Question: No, right, I understand, but I mean, I guess what I am saying is that, obviously, there is now a discussion of taking a vote in the General Assembly on who wants to condemn Syria or some variation on that and I just wonder in the state…

Spokesperson: Did you read the statement?

Question: Yeah, I did…

Spokesperson: Did it say the word condemn?

Question: No, no, okay, I mean it [inaudible].

Spokesperson: So, why are you putting words into the mouth of the President of the General Assembly? This is what the statement said, and this is how it should be interpreted, as is.

Question: Do you think that all Member States agree with that? All, including the two that cast vetoes on Saturday?

Spokesperson: This is not something for me to comment on. I mean, this is something that has happened, and we have seen the proceedings. We have all watched the proceedings of the Security Council. The President of the General Assembly has put this statement. Are you asking me if the President of the General Assembly should not put a press statement before putting it to a vote?

Question: No, no, not at all, no, no. I am literally asking, because I remember that his predecessor, Mr. Deiss…

Spokesperson: Yes?

Question: …often saying it is not for me to say, that’s for Member States, sort of positioning himself as a sort of a… as moderating the thing. He never would say, when you would ask him, he would say what is the GA thinking of x, he’d say I can’t speak for the GA. But apparently, I am just… so I am just… I am literally… I am not saying he shouldn’t have or should have, I am just saying…

Spokesperson: The President…

Question: …how should it be reported in [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: Okay, I am repeating my answer again…

Correspondent: Okay.

Spokesperson: The President of the General Assembly is speaking on behalf of the Member States, because he is the President of the body that includes all Member States, 193 Member States. Any more questions? Thank you. Yes, please?

Question: [inaudible], attend the conference on mediation?

Spokesperson: I don’t have the exact date, but it is somewhere around 22 and 23 February. I will be able to confirm that, as soon as we have a final confirmed date on the travel day. Thank you very much.

* ***

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