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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.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General Statement — Cyprus

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

The Secretary-General will host a joint meeting with the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities on 23-24 January at the Greentree Estate in Long Island, New York.  This is fifth time that the Secretary-General is meeting with Mr. [Demetris] Christofias and Mr. [Derviş] Eroğlu in the framework of the Cyprus negotiations.

The United Nations is providing all possible support to these Cypriot-led negotiations.  The Secretary-General looks forward to a productive meeting and concrete progress.  He has conveyed his expectations to the leaders for a resolution of this issue.  He believes that with political will and firm commitment the two leaders can and should reach a much-needed settlement on Cyprus.

**Secretary-General Statement — Cambodia

I also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the International Co-Investigating Judge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

On 19 January 2012, the Royal Government of Cambodia formally notified the Secretary-General of the decision of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy of Cambodia not to appoint the current reserve international Co-Investigating Judge, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, to the position of international Co-Investigating Judge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

This is a matter of serious concern.  The decision is a breach of article 5, paragraph 6, of the Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia Concerning the Prosecution under Cambodian Law of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea, done at Phnom Penh on 6 June 2003, which states unequivocally that “in case there is a vacancy or a need to fill the post of the international co-investigating judge, the person appointed to fill this post must be the reserve international co-investigating judge”.

The Royal Government of Cambodia raised ethical concerns in relation to Judge Kasper-Ansermet in November 2011.  The United Nations thoroughly reviewed the concerns, determined that they were unfounded, and requested that the Supreme Council of the Magistracy proceed with his appointment.  The United Nations continues to support Judge Kasper-Ansermet and Cambodia should take immediate steps to appoint him as International Co-Investigating Judge.

The Special Expert on the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials, Mr. David Scheffer, is travelling to Phnom Penh today for discussions with the Government and senior officials of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General will travel to Switzerland and Ethiopia next week.

The Secretary-General will first attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He will engage with a number of private sector leaders and will speak at the World Economic Forum sessions on Ending Energy Poverty and on the Rio+20 sustainable development summit.  He will also meet with a number of Heads of State and Government.

The Secretary-General will later travel to Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, to attend the African Union Summit.  He will meet with many Heads of State and Government attending the summit.  The Secretary-General will also officially receive the report of his High-level Panel on Global Sustainability from the two Panel Co-Chairs:  President Jacob Zuma, of South Africa, and President Tarja Halonen, of Finland.  And that is at the launch event in Addis Ababa on 30 January.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias of Brazil as Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD).

Mr. Dias will succeed Ahmed Djoghlaf.

We have more on this in my office.

**South Sudan

The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Ms. Lise Grande, said today that more than 120,000 people affected by the recent violence in Jonglei State may need emergency assistance.  A major humanitarian operation was launched two weeks ago to help 60,000 people but Ms. Grande says that as a result of the recent attacks, that number has now doubled.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the most recent spike in inter-communal violence has compounded an already difficult humanitarian situation in South Sudan.  It adds that before the crisis in Jonglei, partners were over-stretched, and that they are now supporting 30 simultaneous emergency operations.

Ms. Grande said that operations in South Sudan are some of the most difficult and expensive in the region due to the combination of poor infrastructure and limited accessibility.  She also said she was very concerned that humanitarian facilities, including health centres, were being targeted during attacks.

We have a press release in my office.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo/UNHCR

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that renewed violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has displaced more than 100,000 civilians since late November.

The agency says that, in South Kivu, attacks in Shabunda have displaced some 70,000 people since November.

And in North Kivu, an estimated 35,000 people have been displaced as a result of attacks and clashes between rival militia groups in Walikale and Masisi territories.  Despite limited access, staff from the UN refugee agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) met some of the displaced during an assessment mission to affected areas last week.  They found several empty and burned villages as well as looted health-care centres.

The UN refugee agency is working with its partners to address the needs of the displaced by providing shelter, clean water, food and health care. 

**Guest at Noon

Just a couple of press conferences:

On Monday, Hilde Johnson, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, will be my guest at the noon briefing.  She will be joining us by videoconference.

And then on Tuesday, Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will be here as the guest.

**Secretary-General Press Conference

And just a reminder that we have the Week Ahead available in my office.

Among next week’s events, the Secretary-General is expected to hold a press conference here in this room on Wednesday at noon.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, sure.  I need to ask you some questions about Sudan, if you don’t mind.  One is the, a member of the South Sudan parliament has said that the number of, in the attack on the Dinka in Duk County, has now risen to 80.  So, I wanted to know, is, can the UN confirm that?  Do they now have a number in Pibor?  And I wanted to ask you about the Secretary-General’s, the speech where he said that “we saw it coming for weeks and at the critical moment I was reduced to begging”.  Since it seems that the Russians at least said that they said that they wouldn’t fly the helicopters from mid-November on, which, when is he referring? Did he start this requesting or begging in November or was this done around Christmas as other UN officials have said?

Spokesperson:  The United Nations has been working extremely hard right from very early on to try to ensure that we had what we needed in place in time.  And as you know, that was not possible. I think it is not just the Secretary-General who has been working the phones and speaking to people to try to help ensure that we had helicopters in place.  As you know, that continues to be a problem.  No one is suggesting that this went as smoothly as we had intended it to go.

Question:  Just, okay, thanks, because there are now witnesses or as more accounts come out of the Pibor attack right around the cusp of the year, people say that there were 400 UN peacekeepers that did manage to get there on commercial helicopters, but they didn’t, quote, “fire a shot”, that they didn’t take action.  And what I don’t know is what, is this, was this their understanding of their mandate or was it an inability to get in lethal assets by helicopter?  Because Ms. Hilde Johnson yesterday in a press, or whatever, they put online yesterday, she said we can’t stop these attacks, we are, you know, we are unable to.  And I just don’t understand, is it a matter of, does the UN think it is not supposed to fire guns if they see attacks on civilians?  Or is it, do you see, I mean, that’s what I want to understand.  Were there 400 in Pibor and did they fire any shots or not and did they have guns?

Spokesperson:  I think there are two points here.  Lise Grande did brief you on precisely what took place, and indeed she had just returned from Pibor when she spoke to you.  And as I also just mentioned, Ms. Johnson will be doing a press conference on Monday by videolink, and I think you might wish to ask her that question yourself.  Okay, Ozlem?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the Greentree meetings, I had only heard that Secretary-General was going to meet with the leaders in a dinner occasion on Sunday.  Is it still ready, because the meetings are scheduled to take place between 22nd and 24th January?  And my last question…

Spokesperson:  23rd and 24th.

Question:  Not 22nd then?  Nothing on 22nd?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I just read out was the 23rd and 24th.

Question:  Okay, I am sorry.  Because I heard that there was going to be a dinner occasion on Sunday night or evening, sorry.  

Spokesperson:  I can double-check for you; but this is the information that I have.

Question:  Okay.  And secondly, you said that the Secretary-General is going to hold a news conference on Wednesday at noon time.  Is it going to be particularly on Cyprus or is it…?

Spokesperson:  No, no, it’s not, no. The Secretary-General will be giving a press conference — it’s, if you like, the start of the New Year, start of the second term press conference.  That’s the first thing.  The second is that we would anticipate that the Secretary-General would be able to make some kind of closing statement after the Greentree talks.  But that is separate from the press conference.

Question:  The same day?

Spokesperson:  I believe so.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  In the morning.  But of course it remains to be seen.  But that’s something that is being looked at.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Hi, Martin.  First of all, are you cold?

Spokesperson:  Why?

Question:  Because it is cold!

Spokesperson:  [Laughter]

Question:  Anyhow…

Spokesperson:  I thought maybe I was shaking or something!  [Laughter]

Question:  Martin, a few questions:  First of all, is the Secretary-General satisfied with the newest round of the talks between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece and Mr. Nimetz on 16th and 17th of this month?  And can we have actually Mr. Nimetz to talk on the record or have him for the press conference or so?  It is virtually impossible to get anything more than a debriefing.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think there are two points here.  One is that we did provide a readout or a statement — whatever you would like to call it — on those discussions.  And as you also saw, Mr. Nimetz is intending to visit the region to pursue those discussions further.  So, at this point, we don’t have anything further to add.  I think Ambassador Nimetz encapsulated what needed to be said quite well, and I am not going to go further than that.  As for whether he would do a briefing, I will check.

Question:  And second, if I may, since we obviously expect that on the 25th, as the Secretary-General promised, he is going to announce some new posts and new appointments.  Can you at least say that or give a little bit more light if anybody from the countries of western Balkans is proposed, so I am putting as proposed, not confirm or so, any names or so?

Spokesperson:  Erol, the Secretary-General did not say precisely when he would make announcements.  Announcements will be made when they are ready to be made.  We just made one today.  We made one earlier in the week about the World Food Programme.  So, announcements will be made when they are ready; not necessarily on one particular day.  And certainly I am not going to speculate about names or even geographic locations.

Question:  And the really light one, third one…

Spokesperson:  Wait, wait, well, I will come back to you.

Question:  Okay, okay, okay.

Spokesperson:  Otherwise this is becoming a two-man show.  [Laughter].  Right, let’s go to you.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  On this Cambodian thing, what options are available to the United Nations in case the Cambodian Government persists in its opposition?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I have just said, Mr. Scheffer, who was just recently appointed as the Special Expert on the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials, he is heading there today, to Phnom Penh to speak to government officials about this.  But, let me just repeat, the United Nations continues to support Judge Kasper-Ansermet and Cambodia should take immediate steps to appoint him as International Co-Investigating Judge.  And that’s where we are.  And Mr. Scheffer is going to be leaving shortly.

Question:  In case they persist, what can happen, what can [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to get into hypotheticals; what I am saying is that we are doing our level best to make this happen as it should.

Question:  Secondly, on Afghanistan, you have seen reports that Afghan soldiers, military soldiers are now turning their guns on the coalition forces.  And there have been a number of killings, and even France today is saying that we will pull out of the coalition.  Is it, does this situation concern the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Any deaths in Afghanistan or elsewhere are of course regrettable.  I don’t have anything further on that particular matter.  I can always check with our mission there, but I don’t have anything further at the moment.  Okay, other questions please?  Yes, and then I am coming to you after that.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Do you have any update on Nigeria where the communal strife seems to have taken more and more urgency.  I mean they’re killing each other at this point in time even today.

Spokesperson:  Well, not beyond what I said yesterday and I neglected to mention, of course, that the Secretary-General had recently met the Foreign Minister. I have also just announced that the Secretary-General will be going to the African Union summit.  That will offer, I am sure, an opportunity to address that topic amongst others.  Yes?

Question:  I hope I haven't missed the statement on this, but a few weeks ago now there was an announcement that the Kazakh Prosecutor-General had invited the UN to assist in an investigation into the riots in the west of the country; and I was wondering if there had been any confirmation or any response to that yet.

Spokesperson:  I do not believe that there has been a formal request to the United Nations for assistance; but, as you know, we have a regional centre in Turkmenistan, and I do understand that our colleagues in that regional centre have been in touch with the Kazakh authorities simply to be updated at this point.  But there has been no formal request, as I understand it.  If I hear anything further, I will let you know.  I am aware of your request, but I don’t have anything fresh on that at the moment.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, in Libya it’s now being reported that the proposal, and I know that I think Ian Martin or UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission in Libya] are involved in this, but there has been a decision that 10 per cent of seats for women in the National Assembly is no longer the proposal.  And I just wanted to know, one, can the UN confirm that?  There are western diplomats saying that.  And two, what does, I mean, does the UN think it is important that there be that type of percentage for women established in the National Assembly in Libya?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all I don’t think there has been a decision yet.  As the mission understands it, the law will be published on Sunday; as the mission understands it.  We’ve checked with the mission.  And, as you know, the mission’s mandate amongst other things is to assist and support Libyan national efforts in its electoral process.  And it is in that context that the mission has provided comments and recommendations to the National Transitional Council’s Electoral Committee on the draft that was published right at the beginning of the year, on 1 January.  So, we would certainly hope that the final version of the law will take into consideration the comments from the public and reflect the aspirations of women and men in Libya.  But, on the question of the quota, of course as I just said, the text has not been published, yet.  The mission understands that it will be published on Sunday.  We have been saying all along — and the mission has been saying all along — that the transition to democracy must involve the greatest participation.  And the situation in Libya makes it unlikely for women to be elected in a manner that guarantees meaningful representation in congress, without some kind of special measures.  And the proposed women’s quota was a step in ensuring greater participation of women in the congress and if that provision was to be dropped, then it would be a source of some concern for us.

Question:  Thanks a lot, and just one other Libya question there:  there is this fighting in Mali that is described as being some people say Qadhafi mercenaries, some people just say these are Tuareg rebels.  But, it seems to be pretty serious.  Mali said it killed 47 fighters, and I wanted to know, one, is there any, is the UN, I don’t know if it would be Said Djinnit’s office or is there some… What does the UN think about this fighting and is there any UN attempt to either, you know, moderate it or mitigate it?  What does the UN have to say about it?

Spokesperson:  Well, in the same vein, it is obviously also a source of concern.  We have seen the reports. I am trying to find out a little bit more about that.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Actually before I’ll ask you that light question that I was supposed to ask, I’d just like to follow up on what you said.

Spokesperson:  You have got a heavy question for me instead?

Question:  I don’t know.  So, you said you were not going to speculate on the names; I really didn’t ask for the names to…

Spokesperson:  I also said I wouldn’t speculate on geographical locations as well.

Question:  But my question is why?

Spokesperson:  Because it is a recruitment process, it’s an appointment process.  And we don’t insert ourselves into the process.  When there is an announcement, there will be an announcement, and that’s way it works.

Question:  You cannot say that yes, there is from that certain region I mean, what is that hiding?  It seems that it is some kind of hiding.

Spokesperson:  I mean the simple answer is, it is not hiding; it’s a process.

Question:  Process not to say?

Spokesperson:  It is an appointment process, and we don’t get in the way of an appointment process.  When there is an announcement to be made — it is standard practice — then you will hear.  But we don’t start to give hints and speculate in between time.  That’s not what we do.

Question:  But…

Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew, next question?

Question:  But don’t you, excuse me, don’t you, wouldn’t you agree that it is not transparent enough then, somebody would say that it is not… [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I would say, Erol, that it is pretty standard practice.  It is normal, it is just normal.  And I think to pursue it in a different way is to misunderstand the way that an appointment process works — for the individuals concerned, the countries concerned and for the integrity of the process.  What’s your light question?

Question:  My light question is actually, the Secretary-General told me several times that he really likes the movies.  So, my question is whether he saw the new movie of Angelina Jolie, In the Land of Blood and Honey, which treats the war in Bosnia and violence against woman.  And even [United States] President [Barack] Obama talked a few weeks, a few days ago, I think, in White House with Angelina Jolie, so I wonder whether the Secretary-General saw it.

Spokesperson:  I’ll check, I’ll check; see what films the Secretary-General has been watching.  He doesn’t get that much time to watch films, but let me check.

Question:  I hope it was light! [Laughter]

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a light subject.  I mean, the movie is not a light subject, that’s for sure!

Question:  Yeah, that’s true.

Spokesperson:  Right, okay, yes Matthew?

Question:  Maybe he can watch films on planes.  I have two quick questions on trips.  They may not be light, but I will just ask them fast.  One is, Riyad Mansour had said at the stakeout, not as a leak but as a statement on his, you know, in his capacity as the Permanent Observer of Palestine, that he believes that the Secretary-General was going to travel to Palestine in connection with his trip to the African Union.  He said it at first had been on this Beirut and United Arab Emirates trip, and then it was put back for some reason.  But is that going to take place; is it going to take place later; what’s the…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General addressed that when he spoke to all of you in the MALU Square, just upstairs from here, and he said that there has been some speculation.  He said he would be travelling to the Middle East.  But we are not going to be giving dates for visits to that part of the world for obvious reasons.

Question:  Yeah, but when you said that, I just, I am only saying it because since Riyad Mansour said it was in connection with the African Union one, does it mean it’s not taking place?

Spokesperson:  Yes, but with respect, Riyad Mansour does not speak for the Secretary-General; I speak for the Secretary-General.

Question:  Okay, that’s fine, that’s fine, I just wanted to compare the two.  And the other is, and I appreciate it, I saw it yesterday you did say that the flight from Beirut to the United Arab Emirates was, was you know, the United Arab Emirates for the purposes of speed, provided a plane, and I want to say I appreciate the answer.  So, I just, I want to ask is, as I just, is it the case that, I understand that it has happened under previous Secretary-Generals.  Maybe you think it is perfectly normal?  Is it the Secretariat’s position that any Member State that offered transportation, that such an offer would be accepted or is there some kind of a screening process?  And related, meaning like for example, if Syria right now said, just, or Zimbabwe, is there some, is there some process by which, is any offer for travel by any Member State accepted because it helps the UN budget or is there some [inaudible]? ?

Spokesperson:  It’s actually primarily not to do with the budget.  It is simply to do with time constraints; because in some cases, to be able to get from A to B commercially would take too long to be able to get to the next event, the next meetings in a timely fashion.  It is as simple as that.  And I think it goes, without saying, that it is thought about extremely carefully.

Question:  Yeah, and just, the reason I ask this is that I am, I have been told that in some cases Member States, in some cases in the past, have later presented a bill for just what you are saying that it is not for the budget; it is for convenience and is billed.  So I wondered, I am just saying just objectively, without casting any aspersions that assistance like free air travel could seem to create a conflict of interest.  Not a financial one, not a personal one, but political one.  For example, if a country provided travel, you know to the Secretary-General on a long trip, some might say that this, it might make the Secretary-General less likely to criticize that country.  Or just from the outside.  So, I wanted to know, has the United Arab Emirates billed for this?  In some cases does the UN reimburse the country for travel, or is it always, is it ad hoc, if you understand what I am asking?

Spokesperson:  I think the point here is that this is not something new.  It has been done in the past on occasions when it has been necessary, because of time constraints or other considerations, to be able to get from one point to another, and that has not been possible commercially.  As you well know, and as I mentioned

yesterday and as you saw in our e-mail to you, pretty much all of the travel is on commercial flights or on UN peacekeeping aircraft.  And there are certainly no movies on them.  That’s for sure.

Question:  Sure.  I just want, I mean, going forward, is it, if it is true that it is almost all, it seems like if you were to disclose when this type of assistance is received you probably wouldn’t have to disclose much, but I guess I am making a request.  Because of the possible conflict of interest of receiving assistance from particular Member States, are you going to disclose or does it have to be asked, in regard to each trip?

Spokesperson:  Well, we heard what you said before on this; you’ve asked in the same way that trips, that flights of that kind should be made known.  And obviously I will do what I can to help you with that, as I did this time and as I did when we went to Libya.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, yeah.  Any other questions?  Okay, have a good weekend.  Thanks very much.

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For information media. Not an official record.