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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 13 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.

So good afternoon and welcome to the briefing.


Late yesterday, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Syria:

In it, we said, the Secretary-General appreciates and commends the continued efforts of the League of Arab States to stop the violence in Syria and to seek a peaceful resolution of the crisis that meets the democratic and legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

The statement also said that the United Nations remains in close contact with the League of Arab States, and the Secretary-General spoke today with the League’s Secretary General, Nabil Elaraby, to discuss the latest developments in Syria and the resolution adopted by the League’s Council of Ministers in Cairo. And in this regard, the Secretary-General stressed that action on the specific requests of the League will be a matter for the Security Council to consider, and he will remain in close contact with Member States as they take up these requests.

The Secretary-General also voiced his grave concern about the escalating violence, mounting loss of life and deteriorating humanitarian situation, particularly in the city of Homs, which continues to be under siege and heavy shelling of civilian areas since last Saturday. All violence must stop and the Secretary-General again called on the Syrian Government to comply with international law and immediately end the shelling and use of force against civilians. And the full statement is available online.

As you know, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, addressed the General Assembly this morning, and in her address, she said that she is certain that the number of dead and injured continues to rise every day. Tens of thousands, including children, have been arrested, with more than 18,000 reportedly still arbitrarily held in detention. Thousands more are reported missing. Twenty-five thousand people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring and other countries and more than 70,000 are estimated to have been internally displaced. She said that she is particularly appalled by the onslaught on Homs. More than 300 people have reportedly been killed in the city since the start of this assault 10 days ago. The majority of them were victims of the shelling.

And Ms. Pillay noted that the fact finding mission, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and she, herself, have all concluded that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed in Syria. All Member States must ensure that these crimes do not go unpunished. And, as you know, Ms. Pillay is expected to speak with the media outside the General Assembly at about 12:45 today, and her full remarks are available online and in my office.

**Security Council

The Security Council is starting its mission to Haiti today. The delegation will be arriving in Port-au-Prince a little later this afternoon and will meet with the Haitian Prime Minister today. Tomorrow, Security Council members will travel to Miragoane and Leogane, and will meet with the President of Haiti. The Security Council will be in Haiti until Thursday to assess the implementation of relevant resolutions concerning the UN Mission there, MINUSTAH, and to discuss the situation in the country with Government officials.


The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is in Myanmar for a five-day visit at the invitation of the Government. Today in Naypyitaw, the Special Adviser participated in the opening of a Conference on Development Policy Options for Myanmar, jointly organized by the United Nations and the Government. During his visit, the Special Adviser will hold meetings with the Government of Myanmar, political parties, civil society organizations and other key interlocutors, in the implementation of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate.


The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, concluded his mission to the Maldives today and issued a statement upon his departure, in which he said that, while considerable controversy persists about the events of recent days, all actors he had spoken with agreed on the importance of preserving the democratic gains that have been made. All said they were committed to the constitution, which is widely held up as a model of reform. There is also a broad consensus on the need to protect human rights and strengthen the rule of law throughout the Maldives, including the performance of the judiciary.

There is an urgent need for all sides concerned to come to an agreement on forming a Government, he said, based on the principle of inclusiveness and national unity, and reach a consensus on the way forward. There needs to be a credible and independent investigation by a national mechanism into the developments of the past weeks, and the events that led up to them. As he emphasized throughout, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said only the people of the Maldives can find the way forward. And the full text of his remarks is available in my office.

**Palestinian Rights

Today at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will address the 2012 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. He is expected to say that he recently returned from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and encouraged the parties to re-engage in earnest towards the resumption of permanent status negotiations.

He will note that concrete steps on the ground are required to restore confidence and trust. The parties have a particular responsibility to cease provocations and create a conducive environment for direct talks.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., here in the Auditorium, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, who is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Maldives.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Martin. Regarding the request by the Arab League to the United Nations for assistance on Syria, as you indicated, the Secretary-General said it is up to the Security Council to do that. What about the request regarding the appointment of the common Special Representative? Normally, the Special Representative appointment would fall within the purview of the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson: Well, clearly there has not been any decision on an envoy at this point. And it is obvious that, given that this is a proposal for a joint envoy of some kind, that would need to be looked at by Member States before any decision is taken. So, I don’t really, can’t tell you exactly how and when that will take place. But the most important point here is that the Secretary-General is extremely appreciative of the continued efforts of the League of Arab States to push for a political solution here. And, obviously, really crucially to seek to end the violence that we have seen over the many months in Syria. So the United Nations, and including the Secretary-General, will remain in close contact with the League of Arab States and, of course, with the Member States here in New York. And so, let us see how that shapes up.

Question: A follow-up on that?

Spokesperson: Yes, Matthew?

Question: It was said by the Arab League that they are… they have actually suggested or nominated Mr. Al-Khatib to be a joint envoy or an envoy. So I had asked you on Thursday, when is the last time the Secretary-General spoke with this former Libya envoy, Mr. Al-Khatib? Do you have that?

Spokesperson: The Secretary-General spoke last week with Mr. Al-Khatib. But let us just be absolutely clear, as I just mentioned, there is no mandate at this point for an envoy of any kind. And so I think it is a little premature to talk about personalities who might fulfil a role the terms of reference for which have yet to be decided and for which there is as yet no mandate.

Question: Can I ask another Syria question, just tied to the GA debate? At the beginning, there was this big procedural fight about whether it was properly before the Council, and seems like Syria was saying they were asking for a UN Secretariat, not PGA legal interpretation of the… of it. And I just wondered, was there… is there any view… is Ms. O’Brien around, does she have a… is there a legal view by the Secretariat on the legal question that was raised by Syria?

Spokesperson: It is obviously a complex matter; I don’t have anything particular for you at this point. But clearly, both the General Assembly… the Secretariat and the President’s Office will have been looking at this and obviously the UN Secretariat would look at it if asked. But I don’t have anything specific for you at this point.

Question: Is there not to be a request? It seems like it was resolved just by him saying, “Well, we’ll either have a vote on it or just go forward.” [inaudible], saying…

Spokesperson: Well, typically, obviously, it is for the General Assembly membership and for the leadership in the Office of the President to look at the mechanics of how that works. If a request is formally made for some kind of advice, then obviously that request would be looked at and dealt with. Yes, Masood?

Question: On this Syrian ambassador, in his speech has said that, alleged rather, that Al-Qaida and Ayman al-Zawahiri did call for a terrorist attack inside Syria, basically against the Government forces. Do you have any comment on that and that whether these Al-Qaida operatives which are now said to be operating inside Syria?

Spokesperson: Well, Masood, there are obviously all kinds of reports in the media about all kinds of different groups that may or may not be operating or intending to operate there. These are next to impossible to verify one way or the other. It remains a fact that people continue to be killed by whomever, and that is what has to stop. Matthew?

Question: Yeah, sure. There was this… over the weekend, a person described as a UN employee or consultant was killed in the… in viol… shot and killed in Egypt. Can you say, one, I am sure you are aware of it, but what was their role with the UN and do you have any further information on that?

Spokesperson: Well, as I understand it, this was, the person concerned was a consultant working for UN Women, and was killed on Sunday morning driving to work at around 7 .a.m., hit by a bullet. Police are investigating and there is no evidence at this point to suggest it was a deliberate attack, but was rather evidence would suggest at this point, a random act of criminality. So when we have more details, I am sure that we will provide that. But that’s what we have for now. Yes, Mr. Abbadi? And I am sorry to see your arm in a sling.

Question: Thank you very much. The Arab League resolution also requested humanitarian assistance to the injured and also food for the people in need in Syria. Have the specialized agencies begun to assess the request?

Spokesperson: Well, I can tell you that the agencies, and not least the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are extremely actively engaged in how to handle what is unfolding as a humanitarian situation of considerable proportions. It is also a fact that access is extremely difficult, if not impossible, and that supplies are short. Medical access is also extremely difficult. I know that Ms. Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, is actively working with other parts of the UN system and liaising with Member States how best to work on this. It is obviously something that needs close attention. It requires — and this has already started to happen — prepositioning of supplies and looking at the logistics of how you could when possible, move to help. The crucial factor is, of course, having the access to do so.

Question: Would that include the World Food Programme?

Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?

Question: Does it include, these activities, do they include the World Food Programme?

Spokesperson: It includes the full range of UN agencies, funds and programmes that you would expect to be involved in such a humanitarian relief effort. Yes?

Question: There is this case of a blogger from Saudi Arabia, Hamza Kashgari, who was… has been accused of, I guess, blasphemy and was recently, you know, sent back from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia. And I wanted to know, since it really is, it seems to be based on a speech, and some say he is facing the death penalty, whether there is any UN system comment on this case.

Spokesperson: I can check.

Question: And I wanted just one follow-up from last week, I wanted to, you’ll remember this one, on Friday, I think, I’d asked you on this matter of Shavendra Silva in Ban Ki-moon’s panel of experts report being, you know, being, becoming a senior adviser on peacekeeping. Mr. Ladsous had said the matter is being further considered, you’d said you’d… I guess you said that you’d check if there is anything further on that. Do you know yet what he meant by that and when, by whom such further consideration is being done?

Spokesperson: Well, you are right to recall that I said I would check. And that is what we’ve done. And if and when I have something further, I will let you know.

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

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