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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 08 August 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.

Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General discussed Mali with the Security Council this morning, saying that the situation there has taken one alarming turn after another, reaching seemingly new depths with every passing week. He said that, in areas where there was once stability and coexistence, we have seen rising extremism, criminal activity and violations of human rights.

He detailed the mediation efforts by the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) in northern Mali. He added that, as the Malian transitional authorities prepare to initiate a national dialogue, the United Nations stands ready to offer its considerable expertise in designing such processes and facilitating such dialogue.

The Secretary-General said that he is extremely concerned about reports that armed groups in the north are committing serious human rights violations, including summary executions of civilians, rapes and torture. He encouraged the Security Council to give serious consideration to the imposition of targeted travel and financial sanctions against individuals or groups in Mali engaged in terrorist, religious extremist or criminal activities.

** Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its “2012 Midyear Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” today. That report says that, in the first six months of this year, 1,145 civilians were killed and nearly 2,000 injured because of armed conflict – a 15 per cent decrease in overall civilian casualties, compared with the same period in 2011.

Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan, said that the United Nations welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties, but he added that Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at alarmingly high levels. He called on all parties to the conflict to increase their efforts to protect civilians from harm and to respect the sanctity of human life.

Anti-Government elements were responsible for 80 per cent of civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for 10 per cent, according to the report. In another 10 per cent of the cases, responsibility could not be determined. There is a press release available in my office with more details on that.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo – Humanitarian

Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, visited a camp for displaced people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo today. She spoke to displaced families, saw the distribution of food and non-food household items and visited a health centre.

Yesterday, she met Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo in Kinshasa to discuss the increased insecurity in North Kivu, which in recent weeks has displaced some 270,000 people. They also discussed the Government’s priorities for the relief effort.

After that, Ms. Amos travelled to the conflict-affected province of North Kivu, where she discussed with the Vice-Governor the urgent need for food, health care and shelter in displaced communities. She also met humanitarian groups to hear about the current situation, the relief efforts, and the remaining challenges. I can tell you that Ms. Amos spoke also by telephone with the Secretary-General yesterday afternoon to share details about her visit. She told the Secretary-General that the situation in the region is dire and that she was there to highlight the concerns of the international community.

The United Nations Mission for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has condemned the recruitment of children by the armed group M23.

In a press release they issued yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC, Roger Meece, said that using children in armed conflict can only create generations raised in violence and tear apart the social fabric of the DRC. He called on M23 and other armed groups to end this practice immediately.

** Yemen

Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, has welcomed the decrees recently adopted by the President of Yemen concerning the restructuring of the Yemeni security forces and the security sector. Special Adviser Benomar supports these measures and calls on all concerned to work together to ensure the effective implementation of these decrees, which are essential to promoting peace and stability in Yemen.

We have a note to correspondents with more details.

**United Nations Peacekeeping

I was asked recently about an article on MONUSCO.

I can tell you that MONUSCO has not received complaints or reports on the three specific cases referred to in the Globe and Mail article of 3 August, but the Mission is investigating these unconfirmed allegations. The Mission urges anyone with information to come forward and report cases of abuse so that the United Nations can take prompt and appropriate action.

MONUSCO has taken strong actions to prevent and address cases of sexual exploitation and abuse. The Mission has launched anti-prostitution projects, trained close to 20,000 peacekeepers since 2007, and expanded its conduct and discipline team. Although even one case of abuse is unacceptable, there has been a marked reduction in the number of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations, from 49 in 2007 to single digits in the first half of this year. Whenever the Mission has substantiated allegations against uniformed personnel, those cases have been promptly addressed with the respective troop contributing country.

The UN is fully committed to the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy. There are 12 conduct and discipline teams in peacekeeping and special political missions and measures such as "curfews", "non-fraternization" policies and hotlines for anonymous complaints have been established in all peacekeeping operations.

Questions, please. Yes, Masood and then Joe.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Uh, has the Secretary-General taken, I mean, OIC just issued a statement deploring what is happening to the Muslims, Rohingya Muslims, in Myanmar, likening it to ethnic cleansing. Has the Secretary-General received any note from OIC about that? Has he talked to the Myanmar authorities about what is happening in that area, where the Muslims are living?

Spokesperson: Well, you all have seen the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have called for independent and credible investigations into the recent violence in the Rahkine State. And Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, the Special Adviser on Myanmar, in his recent statement said, while the response by the Government so far has been prompt and calibrated, and while the President has stressed the need to handle the matter with sensitivity, he has called on the authorities to make an independent and transparent investigation of these tragic events. And Mr. Nambiar also said that such action should establish accountability as well as the prevalence of the rule of law. And he has also said that it should also address the underlying causes of the violence, including with regard to the condition of the Muslim community in Rakhine as an integral part of the national reconciliation process. Specifically, the Secretary-General has not spoken to the Myanmar authorities in country recently, but that’s one reason why the Secretary-General has a special adviser and you will also, as I just mentioned, see that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has spoken out on this matter.

Question: With regards to the letter sent by Iranian Foreign Minister to the Secretary-General on the issue of Iranian hostages, uh, any response to that?

Spokesperson: Well, with regards to Iranian citizens being held in Syria and in Libya, a letter from the Government of Iran requesting assistance of the Secretary-General has been received. As a matter of principle, the Secretary-General condemns any taking of hostages, and calls for the humane treatment, prompt and unconditional release and safe return of any abductees, Iranians or others, being held against their will. That’s what I have. Joe?

Question: On the Afghan civilian casualty figures, you said 10 per cent of [inaudible] pro-Government forces. Is that include NATO’s?

Spokesperson: Say again.

Question: That includes NATO’s in pro-Government forces?

Spokesperson: I, I’d refer you to the report. I, I think it’s spelled out there.

Question: You won’t say it here that was NATO?

Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?

Question: You won’t say it here that was NATO?

Spokesperson: Oh, just take a look at the report, Joe.

Question: Do you know what percentage were NATO and what were Afghan?

Spokesperson: I would, I would urge you to take a look at the report. I mean, I think it’s quite detailed in what it has to say.

Question: On the Iranian hostages, if it turns out that they are indeed revolutionary guards, I saw something that they were supposedly retired Republican guards who were on vacation. That’s what the Iranians apparently admitted. If it turns out that they were indeed some kind of espionage mission, what you just said [inaudible] about their release?

Spokesperson: Well, that’s at this point hypothetical. All I can tell you is that there is a statement of principle, which I have given you, and there is a question of fact, that is the letter requesting assistance has been received. Those are the two elements of what I have to say. I don’t have anything further at this point.

Question: You said the Secretary-General says all hostages should be released.

Spokesperson: I urge you to listen very carefully to what I said: “As a matter of principle, the Secretary-General condemns any taking of hostages, and calls for the humane treatment, prompt and unconditional release, and safe return of any abductees, Iranians or others, being held against their will.”

Question: Any abductees would be also spies, right?

Spokesperson: As I said, there are two elements here. A letter has been received asking for assistance, and I’ve told you what the Secretary-General’s view is as a matter of principle. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Thank you, Martin. In Libya today, the Transi, National Transition Council is handing power to the General Congress, which was democratically elected, and which will designate the new Government. Uh, this is very important occasion in the history of the country. This is the first example of peaceful transfer in the modern history of the country. Would the Secretary-General make a statement on this occasion?

Spokesperson: I would anticipate that there would be at the very least something from our Mission there and let’s, let’s see what else happens after that, okay? Yeah. Yes, Matthew?

Question: [inaudible] on Cote d'Ivoire and also Yemen. Uh, this attack that took place in Abidjan, on an army base, killed seven soldiers. From what I learned yesterday, there are, I mean, there seems to also be a UN peacekeeping base inside that base, with Beninois peacekeepers? A question arisen of why didn’t they take action, according to at least the Ivorian side, they were there but they didn’t act, and a UN News Service press release says that the attackers took, you know, ammunition and weapons from the base. So is it possible to know what’s, what are the kind of terms of engagement of UN peacekeepers there? Why are they situated inside the Ivorian military base and why did they not act when the base was attacked?

Spokesperson: I will check with our colleagues in DPKO.

Question: On Yemen, this is more, maybe sort of a UN, I guess, it’s a plumbing question. I learned Yemen wasn’t allowed to vote at, in the General Assembly on Friday on the Syria resolution because it’s behind on its dues. But they’ve since come forward and said they actually gave a check to the UN and paid their dues in June. And then, mysteriously, the permanent, current perm rep withdrew the money from the account in a sort of dispute about Ali Saleh supporters and non-Ali Saleh supporters. I wanted to know where is the Secretariat, what’s, does it any flexibility to waive this inability to vote for a country whose funds are essentially taken by a, by a, a, a supporter of the former regime? Or do they, do they have no flexibility whatsoever and simply turn them over as a sort of non-paying Member State?

Spokesperson: There is a lot of details you’ve given there that we are simply not privy to, and I’d have to look into that, okay? Yeah. Any other questions?

Question: [inaudible]

Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?

Correspondent: No, I just wanted to be, the reason I’m asking about the Secretariat, there was a check, and I’ve seen a copy of the check, which was turned in to the Secretariat, stamp received, and then they still couldn’t vote. So, that’s [inaudible] I just want to.

Spokesperson: I don’t doubt there is, Matthew. Um, as I say, you’ve given a level of details that I don’t have, and I need to check. This is as simple as that, okay? Pardon?

Question: Maybe the check bounced?

Spokesperson: You have to check with your bank. Right. Yes.

Question: Thank you. Uh, Amnesty International are concerned about the increase of use of heavy weapons in Aleppo recently. That’s a, the new satellite images shows. Does the Secretary-General have any, share any concerns with Amnesty International, especially the status of UN monitors in the ground? They don’t need to be in the ground to see the heavy weapons. They should only access to satellite image in order to confirm such a report.

Spokesperson: Well, even before the monitors we had in Aleppo were relocated temporarily, they had already confirmed the use of heavy weapons, and indeed, attack helicopters and aircraft. So this is something that the United Nations is obviously aware of and has spoken about. And the Secretary-General made his concerns about the use of heavy weapons known on a number of occasions, and spoke most recently in the General Assembly about the toll that kind of weaponry is taking on the civilian population in Aleppo, but not just in Aleppo, across the country. And his concerns remain today as they did before. The death toll continues to rise, and the suffering continues, and his concerns continue too. Yes.

Question: Can you please confirm that the Secretary-General will announce a replacement for Annan by the end of this week or beginning of next week?

Spokesperson: No, I can’t. I’ve said to you that the Secretary-General in his statement made clear that the search is on and that the appointment will be made, and as soon as we have something to say, then I will let you know, okay? Anything else? Yes.

Question: On Iran and also, I guess, Bahrain. There is this, Iran has said that the Secretary-General has confirmed that he will attend the NAM meeting at the end of this month. This is in turn giving rise to some concerns, and I say, I guess, in Washington and Israel that he would send a wrong message. Is he, is he, are the Iranian Government statements that he is going to the NAM meeting incorrect or is he going?

Spokesperson: We are obviously aware of those reports. Um, I cannot confirm them, and I’m not going to comment on them. Okay?

Question: On Bahrain, I wanted to ask you this. Yesterday in the horizon briefing in the Council, Russia raised, asked some questions about why Bahrain wasn’t among the topics… they said they raised it to the Secretariat in advance of the meeting, apparently the briefer said it wasn’t raised to him specifically. So I guess I wanted to know is there any other way to square this circle? Does DPA, is there someone else, or someone else in the Secretariat, whether maybe, perhaps, DSG Eliasson, is anyone in the Secretariat aware of the request by Russia prior to yesterday’s briefing that the issue of Bahrain is discussed in the Council?

Spokesperson: Matthew, I think you know that those briefings, particularly the horizon scanning briefings are in consultations and we don’t give details on them. And that’s, that’s just the way it is. Okay?

All right. Thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.

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