DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
15 November 2012
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the press conference by the Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra and the Head of the Secretary-General's Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka, Charles Petrie.
Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to the briefing.
**Noon Briefing Guests Today
Good afternoon and welcome to the briefing. I’m pleased to welcome Chef de Cabinet Susana Malcorra and the Head of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka, Charles Petrie. Thank you, both of you, for coming. Ms. Malcorra will make some introductory remarks and then we’ll open it up for questions. Mr. Petrie is, of course, available to answer questions specifically related to the mechanics of the report, if you like. I have a couple of other items that I’d want to mention at the end of this part of the briefing. And then I’d be able to take questions on other topics if that’s necessary. First of all, thank you once again, and Ms. Malcorra, the floor is yours.
Ms. Malcorra: Thank you Martin and good afternoon colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. It’s, as usual, good to be here and have the opportunity to have an exchange with you all. This is not the best context in which to come before you. As you know, the Secretary-General has received the report of the Internal Review Panel on Sri Lanka. As you have seen already, the report highlights areas of improvement for the system to work and to deliver better. These are the moments when you have to do a strong introspection and look into the ways and means of the United Nations at large and try to find ways to improve. So that’s where we are.
The Secretary-General has, as I said, received the report from the Panel yesterday morning. We are reviewing it with extra care and we are absolutely guided by his decision to look into the recommendations and make sure that we thoroughly review them and implement them to strengthen the system at large. Clearly, the report points to systemic issues that need to be reviewed. He also looks at the system in all its aspects. The Secretariat, the funds and programmes, the interrelationship between the different entities of the United Nations system and some, of course, of the Member States’ are aspects critical to any response, particularly in the case of crisis.
So, as a first measure, we are discussing putting together a group of senior advisers that will review the recommendations and will work on its implementation and way forward. This group is not yet finalized. The report was received yesterday. The Deputy Secretary-General is travelling this week. So, we will be finalizing the composition of the Working Group in the next few days. And, of course, once we have that, we will report back to you.
I think this report is clear proof of the commitment of the Secretary-General to the principles of accountability and transparency. Not only did he commission this report after the External Panel Review made this one of their recommendations, but he commissioned this internal review. But, he also decided that it was going to be made public, and that’s the case. It’s a way to show that not only is this a matter of talking about accountability and transparency, but also of making it happen.
It’s painful, of course, because when you see yourself facing the reality of the shortcomings that the system has gone through in this very difficult moment, it’s not easy for all of us. But, it’s also true that we owe it to ourselves, but most importantly, we owe it to the ones we serve, that we review, we look in the mirror and we find ways to improve and work better in the future. The very important aspect that the report highlights also is we have already implemented some changes in the past couple of years after this very sad event, that already those implementations go in the right direction to strengthen our system of collaboration and a more systemic approach to these problems. So, I don’t want to take any more time and we are ready for your questions. Thank you, very much.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Okay, questions please? I wanted to see if there’s someone from [United Nations Correspondents Association] who wishes to ask a question on behalf of the Correspondents Association. That’s the usual tradition. So, Tim, please?
Question: On behalf of [United Nations Correspondents Association], Madame, thank you for coming here. My question would be — the report is very critical of the Security Council as it is as well of the United Nations Secretariat system. What can the Secretary-General do about them to change their attitude when there are some people who say that they didn’t do anything because they wanted the Tamil Tigers to be beaten?
Ms. Malcorra: As you know, the Panel, in its terms of reference, was an internal review. But, of course, they did a review that included all the documentation and all the events that were taking place in that period of time. In that regard, the report gives indications to some Member States’ aspects, both Security Council-related, Human Rights Council-related and also, to a large extent, the membership at large of the General Assembly. The report clearly indicates that when the system lacks clear guidance, things become even more difficult to be implemented, and I think that is something that we are exposed to even as we speak today in other circumstances. So, of course, the only thing that the Secretary-General can tackle, which is very important, is that we focus on our own weaknesses, which are highlighted, and we work on them. We just hope that Member States will read the report as they have done with the Panel of Experts’ report and out of that they can also do their own exercise. But, that is not for us to decide. Thank you.
Spokesperson: Evelyn and then Matthew.
Question: What confuses me is that 40,000 dead. It was pretty obvious to many people in the system, journalists, that the United Nations needed to speak much more strongly than it did, whereas in Syria, the Secretary-General had a very loud voice and a very clear position and excellent criticism as the debts mounted up. His Office and peacekeeping and whoever it is seem to be lacking that because the Security Council didn’t take a position for whatever reason in Sri Lanka and yet the number of dead was horrendous.
Ms. Malcorra: You are pointing to essentially the heart of the issue and that’s why this review has taken place, and clearly what the review shows is that we were short of delivering in the way that we should have. You also indicate the example of Syria and I will argue some other examples also, the Sahel could be one, where we are coming together much better, much stronger. So, the positive side to that will be that we have already learned and we are stepping up in a swifter manner. So that will be the glass half full. Still, we remain with the sadness of not having been able to deliver as we should have in the occasion of Sri Lanka and that’s why we are reviewing what we are doing, and that’s why we are going to go farther and look into the recommendations and put the senior leadership together to see how we can implement.
In fact, some of the things are already a work in progress and that’s why you see some differences. You know the Organization, one could argue, is on a continuous learning process. It’s also true that the challenges that were presented before us sometimes are always evolving and changing. So, we have to learn, not only from past history, but we also need to adapt to the new challenges, and sometimes that is difficult. One clear thing the report indicates is that we were not able to handle a situation that was essentially centred on human rights questions and we were essentially handling from a humanitarian perspective on how to answer the humanitarian needs. So, that dilemma, that tension there, it was something that we were not absolutely equipped to answer and that’s why we had the shortcomings that were shown here. It looks to us that through the mechanisms that have already been put together we are coming together to handle the multiplicity of tensions that are today, that we did them. But, we still want to confirm and to make sure that we institutionalize the arrangements so we don’t have a situation like this in the future.
Spokesperson: Matthew, yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you. I’ve seen a list of things that were taken out of the report between the penultimate version and the final version. A lot of them have to do with concealing the number of casualties. It seems like this was a decision that was made at Headquarters. I was sitting in room 226, I remember with an [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] document saying that there were 2,683 people killed in a certain timeframe in 2009 and the then Spokesperson so oh that’s not a real document. And the redacted portions of the report revealed that there was some tension in Headquarters, whether it revealed numbers. So, I wanted to know, what have you learned from that, in terms of actually revealing numbers. And also, one of the redactions actually has the Secretary-General himself saying let’s give the Rajapaksa Government more time to bring accountability. And I wanted to know if either of you think that there has been accountability.
There is also, since this time General Shavendra Silva, one of the participants in the military campaign, was named as a senior advisor on peacekeeping operations. In fact, he was standing right where you are in an [United Nations Correspondents Association] screening of a film denying war crimes. So, what I’m wondering is when you say what have you learned, what have you learned given that there were sort of excuses made for accepting one of the alleged perpetrators.
And the last question I want to ask is why Mr. Nambiar, there is a mention twice of the white flag killings in the report. It says that Mr. Nambiar received assurances from the Government that people that surrendered wouldn’t be killed. But, there is an enormous amount of controversy, whether he personally should have spoken out after these people were killed. And some people don’t believe that he got the assurances or that, but what I’m wondering is, was that appropriate? And in terms of accountability, he’s a senior UN official, why isn’t he here?
Ms. Malcorra: First of all, let me divide your questions. If I understood correctly, you referred to the penultimate version versus the last version?
Ms. Malcorra: I cannot talk about that. I didn’t see the penultimate version. I only saw the last version. So, I will ask Charles to refer to that and to some other specific requests on the report. And then I will take up the rest.
Mr. Petrie: I think, Matthew, you are talking more about the redaction because between the penultimate version and the final version actually there was no substantive difference in terms of facts and even argument. What we were trying to do is to find language that would make the report more balanced and more acceptable in terms of the message that we were trying to give. Your point on Mr. Nambiar and the white flags incident, we actually went through it and went into it in great detail and talked to a number of people involved. And the report sort of presents our assessment of the event and the fact that the [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam] undertook these discussions, or this request, at the very, very last minute.
And it was almost physically impossible for Mr. Nambiar to get there. In terms of the efforts with the Government and with the discussions, our sense is that there was an honest attempt to try and get the Government to accept the surrender of the [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam]. But, it just didn’t work. It failed. But I do think, in a way, I would say your questions for me seem more linked, less to the penultimate version, and more linked to the redaction issue.
Ms. Malcorra: Which I will take up myself because that’s not… that was not on you, it was on us.
Question: And the Silva issue?
Mr. Petrie: And…?
Question: And the Shavendra Silva issue?
Ms. Malcorra: I will get to that, yeah, I hear you.
Ms. Malcorra: On the redacted version, there was a decision taken after a discussion with the Secretary-General regarding how is it that we are going to make this report public. The report has references to documents related particularly to the policy committee meetings and the deliberations, but also to some of the code cables that are of a strictly confidential nature. The Secretary-General felt, and I fully share his view, that there was nothing that will change the transparency to show the report if we took out those aspects that have a clear relation to documents of internal use that were fully available to the Panel, which only indicate how open and available every single person and every single document was, but didn’t necessarily add any value, but also put the Organization at risk by sharing publicly in such a short term internal documents.
You all know for sure that Governments have normally a time-bound limitation on accessibility to certain documentation and that time is normally quite long. Most Governments have 30 years or so. We don’t have that in the United Nations. But, we decided that it was only reasonable to mark out those references to exchange of documents like code tables that had very, very specific information of a confidential nature that was used by the Panel to make its assessment, but it was not necessarily something that we want to make to be public.
The other thing that we did, also, is look to some cases where there were references to a staff that even though the staff member may not be there, the name, it could put that person in jeopardy vis-à-vis his or her personal safety. So that you may find a couple of markers on that. We feel that this is a responsible way to be transparent. We feel about this very strongly and we would like to have a shared view with you all, because as much as we want to push the envelope of transparency as the Secretary-General does, we also need to be responsible vis-à-vis the ability of the Organization to handle and manage its own internal affairs. So, I will pose this to you. That was the criteria; it was an internal decision taken by the Organization, and we stand by that.
On the question of the General and him being part of the [specialized agency], that is my understanding; first of all the decision on the [specialized agency] was not something that the Secretary-General took. The process was very clear. He requested the different regional groups to propose names, and the Secretary-General only transferred that as a convenor of the [specialized agency]. Then, as you well know, there was a very, very strong discussion within the [specialized agency] which left the situation in a way that the General did not participate in the deliberation of the [specialized agency]. So, again, we have worked in a very transparent and open way, and it was left to the members of that group to take a decision on how they will operate themselves.
On why is it that Mr. Nambiar is not here — well, here’s not here as no one else who has been involved in the review is here. I don’t know why you point out Mr. Nambiar, but no one from that review is sitting here. The ones who are sitting here are the Chair of the Panel and the Chef de Cabinet on behalf of the Secretary-General and this is, we believe, the way to put before you the conclusions.
The one last thing I want to make, just to make it clear, is that the panel review is a review that takes stock of what the experts did in their own report and takes it from there, so this is not, the Panel did not [do] an assessment of the findings of the expert panel. They just used their findings to make their own assessment of the internal management and internal handling of the system.
Question: I wanted to bring this… Maybe at the end.
Spokesperson: I’ll come back to you.
Spokesperson: I think you’ve had…
Correspondent: Okay. No, no, I [inaudible].
Question: I wanted to follow up with Matthew. It seems to me that the United Nations had trouble to learn from its mistakes and it’s always too late when you come to talk to us. You talk about transparency. What about the cholera in Haiti, [which] wants the United Nations to acknowledge it? Even now, nobody did really come and say “yes, we were wrong”. So, you did not learn from your mistakes, I mean, the United Nations did not learn, and how so?
Ms. Malcorra: It is clear that if we are here to review situations where we have not fully delivered it’s because we have had problems, and that is in itself, I think, a long way for the United Nations to comment for you and be very, very open about the findings of a panel. So that in itself is learning. I’m sure we are always short of all the expectations that are put on the United Nations and that’s something we need to work on.
Referring to the cholera, I think there is a lack of understanding of what has been done regarding the cholera. The Secretary-General called for a panel. The panel has its findings and we have been working on the recommendations of the panel and that is something that is work in progress. We have seen a strong work being done by the country team, by [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti], in trying to enhance the infrastructure of Haiti that will lead to a better management of the cholera problem. That’s exactly what we are doing now, and, you know, and that’s where we stand. We will continue to be near. As I said when I was here on a different problem, the Secretary-General has tasked us to work on it and there will be something coming regarding our intervention in Haiti in the coming weeks.
Question: This report points out that there are several United Nations staffers and human rights observers who recommended that the Secretary-General set up an independent international investigation into allegations of war crimes. Instead of doing that, he set up the panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues, which came with its own recommendations, one of which is to set up this panel. So, he set up this panel to look into the United Nations actions, which has in turn come with its own recommendations, and now you’re telling us that the Secretary-General is setting up another team to review the recommendations of this panel.
Ms. Malcorra: More than to review; to implement.
Question: To anyone outside the United Nations bubble, this seems to be a never-ending cycle of diplomats and bureaucrats reviewing the findings and recommendations of other groups of people. How would you explain that to survivors of the atrocities you’re reviewing?
Ms. Malcorra: Well, that’s a way to put it. Another way to put it is that the Secretary-General asked for an external expert panel to review the overall situation. That panel came with a series of recommendations. That panel report has gone to the Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Council has taken action on some of the areas that the panel has recommended. There was a specific area that the panel did not belabour because it went beyond their task. That was the internal management, the system management of the crisis and how the response was put together, which is exactly what Mr. Petrie and his team have done. You can only do that with an external review, because if you don’t do it with an external review, what you would be asking me today that we did a self-serving review by senior managers. That has come before us. Hence, now the Secretary-General is asking us to implement these recommendations.
Some of the recommendations, I can tell you, are already under implementation. So we need to take stock, say this is what we are doing, take a timeline, present it and task ourselves to put them in motion. Does it take more time than you will like? I can accept that. But, the notion that this is a self-serving process that is never-ending, I just don’t accept. We started from the bigger picture, with the external panel’s report, then we went and zoomed in into our shortcomings. Now, we have a picture of that and we will see what needs to be done better and what needs to be changed. So, could it have been in a shorter time? Maybe you can argue that. But, it is not a self-serving process. It’s a process that puts us in a tough position of coming before you and discussing these matters, which are very, very difficult for us, no question.
Question: I’m wondering the politics of all of this, because that’s basically what it boils down to, is that [Association of South-East Asian Nations] has never been in a forefront on human rights questions and it wasn’t front-page newspapers and television. I just wonder how that influenced what different bodies do at the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s own statements, because he does have the ability to attract attention. Because it is political in the end, is it not?
Ms. Malcorra: Everything is political. What we are doing here today is political. This is a political organization, no question about it. And, you know, we don’t take decisions and we don’t [take] action in a vacuum. There is no doubt about it. But, what I think we need to measure ourselves against, and that’s exactly what the Secretary-General is asking us to do, is against the principles of the Charter, which are also political in nature. They started as a political statement, but now are principles that all Member States adhere to. So, that’s what we have to do. It is a struggle because often we face contradictions on the ground and that’s exactly what happened in the case of Sri Lanka, contradictions that are hard to grapple with in operational terms, particularly if there is not a strong backing by Member States on the matter and if there is not a solid perspective, a monolithic perspective from Member States on the matter. And that’s our reality, but that’s what the United Nations has to handle.
Question: We have another case, too, a couple brought up here. We have Syria, where a hundred people are dying a day, 32,000 people dead. As my colleague mentioned, the Secretary-General came out early in this thing and had been trying to deal with that conflict. And yet again, you have this geopolitical problem that causes the stalemate, but it can’t move forward. What can be done in this case? It’s 32,000 people dead.
Ms. Malcorra: I think that in the case of Syria, the Secretary-General came very forcefully with a proposal to the Security Council that led to the approval of the Security Council of [United Nations Supervision Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic}. That was what he saw as something that could be done even in the dire situation Syria was facing. The observers were there. They had a limited ability to do, but they did provide information that, in our view, was very valuable. And that’s why the Secretary-General felt that [United Nations Supervision Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic] was something that should continue. The Security Council felt otherwise and we were not in the position to retain a presence there that could help us, even with limitations, to get a reading of what was happening on the ground. In the meantime, we still have our presence through the country team and the humanitarian community, trying to deliver to the best possible way to the humanitarian needs of the people of Syria, the [internally displaced persons] and the refugees that have moved outside Syria. But, are we doing everything we wish to do? No, we are not. We are limited by the realities and the contradictions that we all see.
Question: Is there perhaps a need for a more daily mechanism of pressure of some sort to deal with these horrible conflicts, like what we’ve watched unfold with Sri Lanka? We saw it, as journalists, we knew what was going on. We saw it. And we watched the Organization unable to cope with the problem. We’re seeing it again with Syria. I mean, are we just going to watch history repeat itself?
Ms. Malcorra: As you know, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi after Mr. [Kofi] Annan left as his Special Representative and he is working tirelessly every single day trying to bring the parties together, both the parties within Syria and the parties at large, the region and the international community to try and push forward an action that will be binding to all parties and that will allow for this to get out of a stalemate. At the end of the day, what he’s trying to do is bring something to the Security Council that the Security Council can adopt and can then help the international community move forward in a different manner.
Question: In the interim, is there something that can be done? One hundred people died yesterday in Syria, a hundred probably today, a lot already, scores. I mean, yes, he is doing these things. It’s wonderful to have an envoy working hard at this, but, you know, you’ve been looking at this as an expert, what would you like to see happen in these cases?
Ms. Malcorra: Well, the Secretary-General has called for a ceasefire more than once. He met with the leaders when they were here for the General Assembly and he asked for a unilateral ceasefire as a way to show the goodwill to change the dynamics of the situation. This was said. You learned about this. That launched a conversation that then led to what you have seen: the attempt to have the ceasefire around Eid that worked only for a few hours and it failed. The Secretary-General is reaching out to all parties involved beyond his special envoy trying to find a way to change the dynamics. He says every single time he interacts, and I’m sure he had said this to you, that he doesn’t measure the Syrian question in terms of days, he measures it in terms of deaths. So every single day it’s 100, 150, 200. That is unacceptable. He is raising this in every possible way. But how much he can effectively do on the ground, which is what you are referring to, is limited. You know that.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the redactions because I take staff safety as one of the things you cited seriously. As you probably know, the way it was put up, it was possible to see behind the redactions and, therefore, if I can, in paragraph 173, what was taken out was a direct quote from the Secretary-General, not about staff members, him saying the Secretary-General said that “the Government should be given the political space to develop a domestic mechanism.” That’s why I’m asking you, do you think that that mechanism has come to anything? Another redaction has Mr. Holmes saying that we shouldn’t call it a war crime, and it’s taken out. That doesn’t seem to be about safety. It really does seem to be just what you said about kind of self-serving. So, I’ve seen the executive summary as well, and it seems it’s nothing about staff safety. It’s just a harder hitting version. Why did you take it out?
Ms. Malcorra: Because I used two arguments and you took only one, Matthew. This is a typical situation, Matthew, that where I like to be very straight with you. I said to you that there were two issues. One was documents of internal purview that were strictly confidential. I said that was the first issue and the second one was staff safety. Didn’t I say that?
Question: If a major failure is the head of [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] saying let’s not call it a war crime, why would you redact that? Who does that protect?
Ms. Malcorra: Because, because as a general proposition what we are saying there is a principle that discussions that are reflected in the policy committee papers should be of a strictly confidentiality. You will argue that that is something that should not be the case. Then how do you have senior managers coming together to have a very straight conversation and be reflected if this is not of a confidential nature? The important point I would like to make, and I would appreciate you making, is that this documentation was fully available to the panel and the panel was able to make its assessment based on the documentation. So why do you always twist things in a manner that doesn’t recognize the huge, huge attempt to make sure that all the available information was ready to be reviewed by the panel, and you just twist that in a manner that only makes the point that we are trying to protect ourselves. It’s just really something that disturbs me profoundly.
Mr. Petrie: There is nothing in the executive summary that is not in the report, and the reason it was taken out was the question of do you need to have a four-page or five-page executive summary when you have a 28- or 30-page report. So, in terms of trying to hide or take out information from the penultimate report, it didn’t happen. I mean, you will find everything in the executive summary in the report. So, that’s definitely not an issue. Again, I think, as I was saying before, it’s a very hard report and it’s an incredibly unpleasant report to read. It was a very difficult report to write as a UN official, former UN official. Very difficult report to read, which meant that we did spend a lot of time on language to try and get as careful a balance as possible to ensure that the essence of the message was understood and not sort of lost through language.
I think what’s remarkable about what we’re seeing right now is the fact that I’m saying very little, and I am the chair of the panel, and the fact that it’s actually Mrs. Malcorra, the UN, that is actually championing the report. And I think for us that’s a clear demonstration of having accomplished the task; it’s sort of an additional dimension of having accomplished the task that we were asked to accomplish about six months ago or eight months ago.
Question: Russia and China are still blocking the Security Council action on Syria. It could end with military involvement of countries outside of Syria without the authorization of the Security Council. Wouldn’t that be one of the biggest failures of the UN in the last decades?
Ms. Malcorra: First, I wouldn’t like to speculate. The situation is complex enough that to speculate about options will make it very, very difficult. The Secretary-General has said endless times that Syria cannot find a solution through military means. He has said this endless times. He has tried and worked himself directly through his envoy and representative to find a way to stop the killings, and he has been clear on this matter. It’s also true that the Human Rights Council is involved to a level that [it] was not involved in Sri Lanka, so that’s another element of accountability that is there in the Syrian crisis that was not there in the Sri Lankan one, just to compare notes on history. What is going to happen if the Security Council cannot come to an agreement on the way forward is not for me to speculate, clearly is not for me to speculate. What I can tell you is that there are endless efforts to try and bring options to the members of the Council that will allow for a solution that can find consensus.
Spokesperson: Last question.
Question: More than Syria, I think the situation in Sri Lanka suggests the déjà vu of what happened before in Bosnia and even Rwanda. What I mean is we have a situation where we had the UN inside the country and even when the people try to find a shield or protection because the UN is there it doesn’t. So, in Syria, the situation is completely different at the moment, unfortunately, unfortunately. So, my question is, a report like this, after we know, you know, this is [inaudible] I would say quick thinking is, eh, about 10 years after what was happening in Bosnia and Rwanda before; this is a déjà vu and the impression is that a report like this what really can do to assure civilians out there that, that the UN when it’s on the field can actually protect people and not allow the… just what happened in Sri Lanka. So, what this report really will change in the feelings that the people had, because in reading it, I didn’t read yet whole, but in reading it…
Spokesperson: Please, Stefano, I think we get the point, I think we get the point.
Question: But, it is… the point is this: is the report like this maybe is useful internally, but how can [it] assure the people out there that the UN can do its job?
Ms. Malcorra: Well, again, the UN is a big UN, so there are many aspects to the UN and you are referring to the Rwandan experience and to the experience in Bosnia. I can tell you that there are different experiences. In the case of Rwanda, we had a peacekeeping operation and there was a decision or non-decision in a certain moment on a peacekeeping operation. So, there are different settings that we need to review in order to make sure that the systems that we have in place to address the questions are well equipped to answer. This is something that the peoples of the world could care less about, because the peoples of the world don’t understand our systems, our procedures and our processes. And I understand that, we all understand that. I think one needs to recognize that, throughout time, more elements have been brought to bear to put at the centre the protection of civilians, you know. And that is something that one needs to recognize.
How much and how fast that is digested by the system, is absorbed, so that we are all fully equipped, is clearly not fully there. And that is what the Sri Lankan report proves; that there was a notion of the responsibility to protect the civilians that was limited and was hampered by this tension between the human rights aspect and the aspect of the humanitarian delivery in a setting that was a country team setting. I have to tell you the policy committee — going back to policy committee discussions — has adopted a few months ago a very important decision in that, refers to what we call extraordinary circumstances that refers to how do you beef up a country team’s setting that is prepared to work on a very different developmental environment when you have a crisis, and we have already taken decisions on how to beef up and how to introduce elements that were not traditionally in the country team. So, we are working on that. The notion that human rights and protection of civilians is mainstreamed in our work is clearly there and there has been an incredible advancement. But, the Sri Lanka example shows that we still need to mainstream even better in all the settings that the UN has so that the peoples of the world don’t care about how we are organized, but essentially how well we deliver.
Question: Martin just [inaudible]. I had also a very quick question for Mr. Petrie…
Spokesperson: No, this is really, Stefano, I think we have had quite a good go-around, so, okay, I think we’ve had a good go-around on this, and I think we will draw it to a close right there. Thank you very much.
Ms. Malcorra: Thank you all.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Okay, thanks. So, I have a couple of other items for you. And if you still have questions, I am happy to take them.
**Secretary-General on Middle East
The Secretary-General had separate telephone calls yesterday with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he discussed the violence in southern Israel and Gaza and the need to prevent any further deterioration. That violence included an alarming escalation of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the targeted killing by Israel of a Hamas military operative in Gaza.
In his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Secretary-General reiterated his strong condemnation of rocket fire out of Gaza and noted his expectation that Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed that could cause additional civilian casualties and have dangerous spillover effects in the region. He called for the parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to respect international humanitarian law.
In his call with President Morsi, the Secretary-General expressed strong support for the leadership being exercised by Egypt to restore calm in the region. I can tell you that the Secretary-General is monitoring developments very closely and with considerable concern. This morning, he spoke with Baroness Ashton of the European Union, and this afternoon the Secretary-General will meet a group of regional Ambassadors here at United Nations Headquarters.
Also on Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says that one of its teachers was killed today by an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza. Marwan Abu El Qumsan, an Arabic teacher at the Agency’s Preparatory Boys School in Jabalia, was killed, while his brother was severely injured. The Relief and Works Agency has expressed its condolences to Marwan's family on their tragic loss and reiterated its concern about the escalation of violence, which puts civilians on both sides of the conflict at risk.
**Guided Tours Anniversary
Today, the United Nations is celebrating 60 years of guided tours at United Nations Headquarters. Over this period, more than 40 million visitors have been introduced to the work of the Organization by a multinational, multilingual team of guides. To mark this special occasion, the Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban will inaugurate a special exhibition in the General Assembly public lobby at 5 this afternoon.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
And tomorrow my guest at the briefing will be Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Questions, please? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: About Syria, France have recognized national… the Syrian national coalition as the legitimate Government, legitimate representative of the Syrian people. What is the position of the Secretary-General about particular recognition point?
Spokesperson: I think we had this conversation just the other day. Recognition of…
Question: Is a Member State.
Spokesperson: …States is for Member States to decide.
Question: Sure, one is just, on these… these [inaudible] calls about Gaza, maybe I… I… in… really, I mean, this, maybe I did miss it, but did he call… did he call Mahmoud Abbas or try to call Mahmoud Abbas, the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: I have given you the conversations that have taken place so far.
Question: Right, but I mean, its just, to some it seems pretty… he is… he is the head of the Palestinian Authority, it seems like an obvious call to make, so is there some… do you have any reasoning?
Spokesperson: Any other suggestions, Matthew?
Question: No, no, I am just asking. Was there a rea… did you try to call on… he didn’t… I mean, I guess I am saying, did you try and you couldn’t reach him or did not try?
Spokesperson: I think this goes back to the point that Ms. Malcorra was making in a sense. Of course, and as I just said earlier on, the Secretary-General is monitoring this extremely closely. And, of course, he is going to be reaching out to various individuals at different times. We are not going to say precisely with who and when. When these calls take place, then we will be able to let you know. And of course, you have to recognize that some individuals may be quite busy and cannot immediately take phone calls. It may be as prosaic as that. Any other questions? Yes?
Question: Along the lines of what you just said, but obviously we are not going to know who he talked to this morning, the Secretary-General, or last night, but are we expecting any further statements from your Office about conversations since this morning’s escalation of violence in Gaza?
Spokesperson: As I mentioned, this morning, the Secretary-General spoke with Baroness Ashton. So that was this morning.
Question: Right, but I mean, regional… regional players.
Spokesperson: And as I mentioned that the Secretary-General will be meeting regional ambassadors this afternoon, in other words, Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers here at United Nations Headquarters. If there are other calls or other meetings that are relevant to this, then, of course, we would let you know. But, I don’t have anything further at this point.
Question: The Palestinian Mission has sent out a notification that their Ambassador will be meeting with the Arab Group and with the President of the Security Council; is that what you were referring to, that the Secretary-General will be at that meeting?
Spokesperson: No, this is separate. Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon. Thank you very much, thank you.
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For information media • not an official record
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