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

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

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

Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the briefing.  Apologies for the slight delay.

**Security Council

This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council on his recent trip to Sudan and South Sudan.  He stressed that the only course of action available is to recommit to a peaceful negotiated settlement of outstanding issues and to an immediate de-escalation of the current tensions.

He said that yesterday, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) confirmed that the Sudan Armed Forces dropped at least two bombs near the Yida refugee camp and in the vicinity of a Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) camp along the Unity State-Southern Kordofan border, with unknown casualties.  Mr. Ladsous said the situation in Sudan and South Sudan is at a difficult juncture, with very low trust between the countries, heightened rhetoric, and mutual accusations of support to insurgencies in the territory of the other.

He said tensions along the border may also flare up into serious violence during the migration period, particularly in the Abyei area, where neither side has fully withdrawn.  It is absolutely imperative that both Governments take the necessary steps, he said, to de-escalate the situation, ensure that civilian lives are protected and resume peaceful dialogue.

Mr. Ladsous also briefed the Council on Darfur.  And he is expected to speak at the Security Council stakeout a little later.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, noted at the briefing that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan is currently relocating UN staff from the area where the bombings took place.

And this afternoon at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will brief the Council on his recent visit to Libya, and this will be followed by a briefing to the Council by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe.

** Sudan — Human Rights

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an investigation into yesterday’s aerial bombing in South Sudan.  She said that the information available so far suggested that the bombing may amount to an international crime or serious human rights violation.

Ms. Pillay also expressed alarm about the fighting and indiscriminate attacks that are continuing to taking place just across the border in Sudan's Southern Kordofan State, and which have spilled over into neighbouring states.  The human rights chief urged the parties involved in the fighting to immediately cease all attacks on civilians.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, also condemned the bombing of Yida camp, which shelters more than 20,000 refugees.  The agency says it is readying new refugee sites away from the border, but that relocation has been hampered by heavy rains.

** Egypt

And the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern today about what it said appears to be a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.  The Office said that the military trial and jailing of blogger and activist Alaa Abdel-Fatah, after his criticism of security forces’ handling of protests last month, is one such example.

The Human Rights Office called on the interim authorities in Egypt to guarantee full respect for the freedom of expression, association and assembly, which are particularly crucial to ensure the free and fair conduct of the forthcoming elections.

It also repeated its call for a repeal of the state of emergency and the definite cessation of military trials of civilians.  It called for the release of Alaa Abdel-Fateh and all others who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights to free speech and association.

** Libya

The UN refugee agency said that 44 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued by an Italian military vessel last night.  The refugee agency is grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative.  The agency said that, prior to the rescue, the people had been on a boat which had been sending distress calls by satellite phone for two days.  The agency said that this was the first boat to arrive in Europe from Libya since mid-August.  And there are more details in today’s briefing from the UN refuge agency in Geneva.

** Syria

Together with the humanitarian community, the World Food Programme (WFP) is calling for total access to Syria for the distribution of aid.  The Programme is concerned about Syrians’ access to basic food items, as well as to water, electricity and medical services.  Together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, food has already been provided to some 22,000 people.  The Programme seeks to distribute 50,000 packs of food in November.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Johanna Brandt, a Dutch national, as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund.  Ms. Brandt will succeed Hilde Johnson, who was already appointed, as you know, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan.  We have more information on the appointment in my office.

Questions, please?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  With regard to the human rights violation and the continued trials of civilians by military courts in Egypt, with the last incident was Alaa Abdel-Fatah, what about the 12,000 who have already been tried since February of 2011 till today?  And some of them have been tried for drawing some graffiti on the wall, opposing the military authorities there?  Any reaction for that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything further to add beyond what I have just said at this point.  Any other questions?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On the same topic, there have been various groups in Egypt that are now expressing concern about Egyptian military’s hold over the body politic of Egypt and they fear that the further control of Egyptian institutions like this will endanger the return to democracy that they were seeing there right now.  Can the Secretary-General send some… or is the Secretary-General… can he consider sending in some sort of mission there to determine as to how bad the situation has become?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there is a country team in Egypt composed of representatives of different parts of the UN system.  And there are frequent visits by other parts of the UN family, for example from the Department of Political Affairs.  This is a transition and it is Egyptian-led, and it is for the Egyptian people to make that transition, if they require assistance, to ask for that assistance and then for the UN and others to provide it.  But the key point is, this is a transition; no one is suggesting that it is an easy process.  They will receive assistance where they ask for it, because it is obviously a very important time not just for Egypt, but for the region.

Question:  I mean, you are absolutely right, it’s Egyptian-led and everything else, but the fear is that this is being taken over… I mean, this is being taken over by… somehow the Egyptian army or military is now, I mean, has more control of this institution and they may eventually endanger the return to democracy which the Egyptian people want.

Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, as I say, this is a transition.  Transitions are playing themselves out in different fashions at different speeds across the region, and nobody is suggesting that those transitions — whether in Egypt or elsewhere — are straightforward and in a straight line.  There is obviously a lot of work to be done in many parts of the region.  Yes?

Question:  I mean, what was the reason Amre Moussa met with the Secretary-General on Wednesday?

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry?

Question:  What was the purpose of the meeting between Amre Moussa and the Secretary-General on Wednesday?  Can you tell us something about it?

Spokesperson:  I did yesterday already.  I am happy to repeat that they discussed developments in the Middle East and North Africa, including in Egypt.  And as I mentioned yesterday, and I think the day before, the Secretary-General met with Mr. Moussa in his capacity as the former Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  Yes?

Question:  This morning, the Secretary-General met with the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia.  What was the meeting about?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details on that.  The Secretary-General has frequent regular meetings with many Permanent Representatives of the 193 Member States, and we don’t necessarily provide the ins and outs of all of those conversations.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Was it related to tomorrow’s session at the League of Arab States to suspend Syria’s membership?

Spokesperson:  As I say, the Secretary-General has frequent meetings with members of the diplomatic community, the Permanent Representatives, sometimes an individual Permanent Representative, sometimes a group.  And that is entirely normal diplomatic practice.  And of course they cover the full range of topics that are relevant at the time.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I want to ask on Libya, there are two… there is… [Muammar al-]Qadhafi’s son Saadi has been granted refugee status or allowed to stay in Niger, and also the former [Prime] Minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, is applying to the UN, UNHCR, for refugee status in Tunisia, and I am wondering in terms of accountability and things that the Secretariat has said… one is impending so maybe you wouldn’t comment on it, but the Niger one has been done, the son of Qadhafi has been granted asylum to stay in Niger. What does the UN Secretariat think of this in terms of accountability in Libya?

Spokesperson:  We don’t comment on individual cases.  Next question?

Question:  Okay.  It was said yesterday that Mr. Ladsous would be doing a stakeout.  It didn’t take place that I am aware of.  So I wanted to ask you a question that I would want to ask him…

Spokesperson:  Well, my understanding is, and I did say, I think before you arrived, that he is indeed expected to go to the stakeout.

Question:  In case I miss him there by being here I wanted to put this question in to you.  What is the…

Spokesperson:  You are welcome to, but I think you know what I am going to answer, given Mr. Ladsous is going to the stakeout.

Question:  No, no, but I am assuming that with this transcript thing maybe you can put it in, it is a very… it is a serious question and has to do with…

Spokesperson:  I don’t doubt it, your questions always are.

Question:  Why is there a status-of-forces agreement between UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei], the UN DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and Sudan in Abyei, given that this issue led to… you know, was related to serious harm to peacekeepers in that… when the landmines exploded?  Why is there no status-of-forces agreement, what’s the hold up?  Is it on the Sudan side or, as they say, is it on the UN side?  Just a statement of whether…

Spokesperson:  Well, I thank you for the question, Matthew.  It may be that Mr. Ladsous can answer that question, if you put your skates on and get back there before he has done the stakeout; and otherwise we’ll see if we can add that information if we get it.  Okay, all right, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

[Mr. Ladsous later said that the details of a status-of-forces agreement were being finalized.]

Question:  Just one… I have another question, can I ask a Lebanon question?

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  I just wanted to ask you one thing, just to either confirm or deny that Michael Williams is being replaced by Nicholas Haysom of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  As we have said in many other cases dealing with appointments, when we have an announcement, we will make an announcement.  I don’t have an announcement at this point.

Question:  When does Mr. Williams’ term end?  Is he still in place?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I don’t have the details of when exactly Mr. Williams is or was wheels up out of Beirut.  I’ll let you know.

[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Williams had departed Lebanon in September.]

Have a good weekend, thank you.

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For information media. Not an official record.