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

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

7 January 2013

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

So, good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Syria.

What the Syrian people desperately need at this time are real solutions to the crisis that is tearing their nation apart. In this regard, the Secretary-General was disappointed that the speech by President Bashar al-Assad on 6 January does not contribute to a solution that could end the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. The speech rejected the most important element of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, namely a political transition and the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that would include representatives of all Syrians.

The United Nations remains committed to do its utmost, in cooperation with other partners, to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people inside and outside Syria. The United Nations will also continue to help the people of Syria fulfil their legitimate aspirations for peace, dignity, freedom, justice and democracy in a united and sovereign Syria.

The Secretary-General reaffirms his long-held view that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. The Secretary-General and Joint Special Representative Brahimi have worked and continue to work towards a political solution to the conflict through a political transition that includes the establishment of a transitional Government and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations.

Now more than ever, it is critically urgent that the international community comes together to assist the Syrian people to build, as early as possible in 2013, a new and democratic Syria — one where the rights of all groups and minorities are properly protected.

**Lakhdar Brahimi

And just to add, an update on the activities of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Mr. Brahimi met yesterday in Cairo with the President of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz Khattib, as well as with the Vice-Presidents, Riad Seif and George Sabra. And then today, the Joint Special Representative will be meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar. And then tomorrow evening, Mr. Brahimi will meet the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aliakbar Salehi.

[The Spokesperson later said Mr. Brahimi will meet with Foreign Minister Salehi on Wednesday, not Tuesday.]

And that's what I have. Questions, please. Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Yeah, my first question is about this, about the Secretary-General [inaudible] about Mr. Assad's speech. But there is another development that is taking place at the border of Syria where Israel has decided to build a wall, uh, Syria, uh, do you, you know about that, right? And does he have anything to say about this wall that is being built and that similar wall is there in the occupied territory which is also creating problems?

Spokesperson: No, I don't have anything specific on that at the moment, Masood. I mean, we've said repeatedly that the Secretary-General is concerned, and he himself has said it about the potential for spill over from what is happening inside Syria, but I don't have anything further on this particular…

Question: [inaudible]

Spokesperson: As I say, I don't have anything specific for you on that, Masood.

Question: And then on this report about [inaudible] in The New York Times about the Palestinian, uh, interview of Palestinian, I think, prime minister Mr. Salam Fayyad that he says that the Government is about to fall apart because there is no money coming from, the, from, from the taxes that Israelis collect on its behalf and firm commitment of the foreign Governments to give its money, so, do you have anything to say [inaudible] is on this imminent fall, I mean that he is suggesting, imminent fall of Palestinian Government [inaudible]

Spokesperson: Certainly the Secretary-General is concerned about the funding shortfalls that there evidently are for the Palestinian authority, and certainly he has urged in the past those countries that have supported the Palestinian authority to continue to do so. That's what I have. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Thank you, Martin. The thirtieth anniversary of the war on the Falklands/Malvinas Island is approaching. It will be March this year, and tension is rising again in the area. Argentina, as you know, is trying to incorporate the islands, and Britain is trying to preserve them. And David Cameron, the Prime Minister, threatens to use force if necessary to preserve those islands. Is the Secretary-General concerned about this rise in tension, and what is he doing to defuse it?

Spokesperson: We discussed this matter last week, and I don't really have anything further to add to that, Mr. Abbadi. Yes, Nizar?

Question: Martin, the [inaudible] Eastern Mediterranean, particularly in Syria and in Lebanon, is there any emergency relief plan, since there are so many refugees living in plains and areas which are totally flooded? There are reports about many people killed; many towns have been, I mean, all totally evicted, everybody had to flee from the floods and the [inaudible] seems unabated, it is going on. Are there any emergency relief plans?

Spokesperson: Nizar, let me check with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to see what we have on that. I don't have anything right now. Yes, Hank, and then, Tim?

Question: Good afternoon, Martin. Thank you. President Assad's, you know, unless I am mistaken, his speech called for an end to regional and western funding and arming of the militant groups operating in Syria; and that's exactly what Lakhdar Brahimi has called for, and I believe the Geneva communiqué, as well. And yet the SG says he is disappointed in this particular speech. It seems to me though, from the President's perspective, it may be one-sided. Of course, he wants the other side to lay down their arms first. It does fall in line with the international efforts. Can there be no credence given to what the President is calling for? He is, after all, still the President of Syria.

Spokesperson: Well, I think if you read, or listen to what the Secretary-General is saying, what is really needed is real solutions and that the Secretary-General was disappointed, because it does not contribute to that. The response you have seen in many quarters underscores that. And primarily the Geneva communiqué and the efforts of Mr. Brahimi, and indeed Mr. Annan before him were geared towards a political transition. And the United Nations remains committed to doing that. But there was not the sign that one would have hoped for in the speech that was given on 6 January. Yes?

Question: On, — I'm sorry, what was that sign? What's that sign specifically?

Spokesperson: Precisely the need for a political transition; the establishment of a transitional governing body and all the other matters that the Secretary-General and the Joint Special Representative have been working towards; the establishment of a transitional government and the holding of free and fair elections, and also, what is really important and really to stress this, that it is really urgent that the international community comes together to assist the Syrian people in building, as early as possible this year, a new and democratic Syria and one where the rights of all groups and minorities are properly protected. Tim?

Question: Does Mr. Brahimi have any intention to return to Damascus soon? And, is the Secretary-General in contact, has he written any letters to the Syrian Government this week?

Spokesperson: Not to my knowledge on both of those. But, as I mentioned last week, I think Mr. Brahimi is working hard on a possible meeting with Mr. Bogdanov of the Russian Federation, Mr. Burns of the United States, and he also intends to come to New York, as well. Both of those meetings have not yet been finalized, but he is certainly working hard with his team to make those happen. Yes?

Question: Sure, Martin, I wanted to ask you a number of things, but the first is this: a UN peacekeeper that was serving in the UN Mission in South Sudan, Kumar Lama of Nepal, has been arrested under the Convention against Torture in London. And it seems like DPKO, well now, it's really up to Nepal to make sure they don't send alleged torturers or criminals, war criminals, to peacekeeping missions. But, I would like it sort of explained. I thought that the UN had some way of vetting itself, vetting people, because obviously most Governments that send people don't admit that their own people have engaged in torture or war crimes. So, what's the, what's the solution, so UN peacekeeping missions do not have people that have, in fact, been arrested in other countries for war crimes?

Spokesperson: Well, just to confirm that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has indeed said that Colonel Kumar Lama, who was arrested by British Police on 4 January, was serving as an expert on mission in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. And experts on mission are individual military or police experts put forward for UN peacekeeping duties by their Government, and the onus is on the contributing Member State to ensure these experts have no relevant convictions or judicial or other disciplinary procedures pending, or pending allegations of serious human rights violations.

And just to say also that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is following up on this with the Government of Nepal.

Question: But, is that somehow, is that different than say a force commander? Does there, is there any class of people deployed to peacekeeping missions that the UN itself takes responsibility to vet? Is, there, I, I am just trying to understand the answer.

Spokesperson: Well, as I say, the onus is on the contributing Member State to ensure that these experts have no convictions that are relevant to the mission. And I have already said what I have to say on that really. I don't really have much more. One particular aspect that is worth bearing in mind is that the Secretariat has, in the past year, finalized a detailed policy for vetting UN personnel. But, this policy has recently been approved by the Secretary-General, and it is being rolled out in the coming months. So, that would be implemented in the coming months.

Question: And did policy have any, have any applicability to the, the thing that I have been asking you about for, since November, this Minova rape situation? Is it about individuals or battalions that, that, that, that engaged in their own country in, in, in behaviour like that or, how, how does it relate?

Spokesperson: This is, there are two words:

Question: Okay.

Spokesperson: Three words, in fact: United Nations Personnel.

Question: Oh.

Spokesperson: "For vetting United Nations personnel", okay?

Question: Okay.

Spokesperson: All right, other questions, please. Yes, and then Nizar, yes, please? Yes?

Question: Does, for the Secretary-General, does transitional, the political, the political transition include the leaving from power by Bashar Assad?

Spokesperson: Well, I think we have made it clear that this process must be Syrian-led, and Syrian-owned. And it is for the people of Syria to decide the future leadership of the country. But, what we have said is that there needs to be a new and democratic Syria as early as possible and one where the rights of all groups and minorities are properly protected. Nizar, and then, Masood, yes?

Question: Yeah, Martin, regarding these, the convictions in Bahrain or sentences in Bahrain, do you have any statement or does the United Nations have, are they happy with that or not happy?

Spokesperson: We're obviously aware of the appeal court's ruling, but I don't have anything for you at the moment. If that changes, I will let you know, Nizar. Yes, Masood, then Mr. Abbadi, yes?

Question: The, I mean, I mean, follow-up to the questions of my colleague on Syria and so forth, I mean, and Secretary-General has stressed the situation should be created conducive for a transition government and so forth, [inaudible], but I mean, has, I mean, one thing that has been overlooked again and again is the amount of arms that are coming into the opposition groups. That doesn't contribute towards creating a peaceful situation in Syria. Has that been noted and how can that be stopped from coming in, stemmed from coming in Syria?

Spokesperson: I think we have said repeatedly that the further militarization of this conflict is undesirable and certainly unhelpful. And that means the militarization of, providing of weapons and other materiel to all sides. Yes?

Question: Sure, Martin…

Spokesperson: I'm sorry, Mr. Abbadi, yes, yes, then Matthew, yes? Monsieur Abbadi?

Question: Thank you. Two quick questions: You indicated that Mr. Brahimi intends to come back to New York. Do you know when that will be? And…

Spokesperson: Well, let me just answer that straight away; I did say that the details are being worked out, but they are not finalized yet.

Question: And the second question is the Ambassador of Libya is visiting, is seeing the Secretary-General today. Do you know what the subject matter is?

Spokesperson: It's a farewell call. Yes, Matthew, and then I am coming to you, yes?

Question: Okay, I wanted to, South Sudan and Haiti, but I am more than, I'll do South Sudan first and then, the, the, there are these, uh, two journalists were arrested in South Sudan by the authorities, Louis Pasquale and Ashab Khamis and they were arrested, it's reported, for not reporting on a speech by, by President Kiir in Wau. So, I am wondering, since it seemed to many people including press freedom organizations it seems pretty strange, does the, the, the, does the Mission there or the Secretariat here have any comment on the propriety of journalists being arrested for not covering what the Government wants them to cover?

Spokesperson: The Mission does have a strong human rights component, and I will ask if they have any further information on this for us. But, as a general principle, of course, journalists should be allowed to carry out their work free of intimidation. And that means to be able to report freely. And what was your other question on Haiti, then I am coming over here.

Question: Sure, yeah, yeah, there's a, there's, there's a, I mean, there is some controversy about whether Canada has, in fact, said that it will suspend aid to Haiti. There was, it was said that their, their Minister for, uh, Santi, Fal, Faltino [sic] had said that it would happen, the Government responded to it, some in Canada said it's not the case. I'm figuring since, since, MINUSTAH is a big presence there and the UN is a big, is a major player in the aid, is, is it the UN's understanding that Canada has suspended aid to, to, to, to, to Haiti, and if so, do they have any comment on it?

Spokesperson: I don't have the answer to that, Matthew, but I think that the answer surely resides in Ottawa, not here. Okay.

Question: Sure, [inaudible]

Spokesperson: Okay, yes, please?

Question: I have just one general question and you know, now the New Year has come, so the UN it has its own agenda, so we are talking here about as a multilaterals, diplomats platforms, such international organizations such as G-20, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the New Year. So, what's your opinion about this and future development? And also, the Chinese role in such organizations, can you briefly give comments on that?

Spokesperson: Well, the role of regional organizations is extremely crucial, including to the work of the United Nations, because very often the topics that are being dealt with regionally can be dealt with more effectively. When you are looking at a body such as the G-20, the United Nations consistently plays a strong role in, and participates in, those meetings, plays a strong role by helping to provide a voice for those countries that are not at the table. If you look at the role of China, of course, China is a very important player in many regional organizations, as well as international bodies. And certainly, the Secretary-General would be encouraging China to continue to play the constructive role that it has played. I would urge you to pay attention to the Secretary-General's briefing to the Member States which will be taking place later this month, and I am sure he will also be addressing this in part when he then speaks to the journalists right after that. Yes, Miki?

Question: Mr. Brahimi meaning to come to New York before the donors' conference, can we say that?

Spokesperson: I can't, because it is still being worked on. I don't know the answer to that, but once we do know, then we will obviously be announcing it. Okay, yes?

Question: On this, eh, report about the killing of a Pakistani soldier, border [inaudible], just now on the weekend, has there been a report by United Nations mission in, near Pakistan about this incident?

Spokesperson: Well…

Question: It is pretty pronounced for some reason.

Spokesperson: Certainly the United Nations Military Group in India and Pakistan, UNMOGIP is aware of the media reports on this. And UNMOGIP is liaising with the Pakistani army and local authorities in the concerned area to obtain further information; the concerned area being Rawalakot.

Question: Yes.

Spokesperson: Yes?

Question: Thank you, Martin. I was interested in a response to the question of our colleague here behind as to the role of regional organizations, and you mentioned in that context the G-20 group. Is the G-20 a regional organization or a global organization?

Spokesperson: I think this sounds like another one of our international relations seminars; we can take this up later. Yes?

Question: Sure, I want to ask about Darfur, there, it's kind of two related questions, one is very specific and it's said that on Saturday, uh, it's reported that gunmen opened fire on, on IDPs in Darfur near Jerada in South Darfur. I wanted to know if, if UNAMID is aware of that, what they are doing? And it's been raised to me that there are, there was something called the protection of civilians strategy that UNAMID had come up with uh, internally and supposedly run by the Government. I wasn't sure if that was required or not, but it supposedly hasn't now been released and some people are saying that the Government has blocked it. Is there in fact a UNAMID protection of civilians strategy? I mean, I am not, maybe you'd know this or could find out and, if so, what's happened to it? Hasn't, in fact, as some believe, the Government, you know, blocked its, its release and is it appropriate for the UN to, do they have to check with the Government to protect civilians under Chapter 7?

Spokesperson: On the last part on this particular strategy that you mention, I'll check with my colleagues. On the first part, if you are referring to fighting in Jebel Amer, then we have received reports of fighting between Beni Hussein and Aula Daja nomadic tribes. And that took place between 5 and 6 January in Jabel Amer area of North Darfur.

A number of casualties were reported as a result of fighting over gold mining revenues. And some of those injured are receiving medical treatment at a UNAMID hospital in Kabkabiya, as well as in Saraf Umra. And efforts are being made to try to reduce the tensions there.

Okay, thanks very much. Have a good afternoon, thank you.

* *** *
For information media • not an official record

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