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

25 April 2013
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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.

So, good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guests

It’s World Malaria Day today, and I am joined by Ray Chambers, who is the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria and for the Financing of the Health-related Millennium Development Goals.  And he is also joined by Joy Phumaphi, who is the Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. So, welcome also to you. After their presentation, - they both have some words for you - there will also be a video message from Alexandre Manguele, who is the Minister of Health of Mozambique.  There is also, I am sure you are aware, a World Malaria Day message from the Secretary-General and that’s available in my office.  And after this segment of the briefing, I will have a few other items and will of course, take questions you may have.  But first of all, please, may I welcome you again, and pass the floor to you, Mr. Chambers, first.

[Press conference on World Malaria Day is issued separately.]

Thanks very much indeed, to both of you.  Thanks for coming, thank you.  So just a couple of more items, and I’ll be happy to take a few questions.

**Security Council

As you will have seen, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution this morning to establish the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  The Council decided that the Mission will comprise up to 11,200 military personnel, including reserve battalions capable of deploying rapidly within the country as and when required, and 1,440 police personnel.  Authority is to be transferred from the existing African force, AFISMA, to MINUSMA on 1 July.  Supporting the political process is a core task of the new mission, in close coordination with the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The Council also decided to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, until 30 April next year.  And it also adopted a resolution maintaining arms sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire for a period ending on 30 April next year.  In addition, Council members heard a report this morning on the work of the Peacebuilding Commission.  And this afternoon, the Security Council will discuss Somalia.

** Sudan

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan has welcomed the beginning of direct talks between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North.  Ali Al-Za’tari said he is encouraged by the commitment expressed by both parties to address urgent humanitarian needs.

More than 1 million people have been affected by the nearly two-year conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Mr. Al-Za’tari said that the United Nations and its humanitarian partners remain ready to provide assistance once they have access.

You will have seen that in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General also welcomed the start of these direct talks.  He urged the parties to agree on an immediate cessation of hostilities in order to allow for humanitarian access to the civilian population in the affected areas and to create an atmosphere conducive to a durable political solution of the conflict.

** Central African Republic

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said today that she is deeply concerned about reports of widespread violations committed by armed factions of the Séléka coalition against children in the Central African Republic.

Ms. Zerrougui said that the presence of children in the Séléka coalition has been reported in nearly every town under control of the coalition.  She called on all military commanders in charge of the different armed groups in the Séléka coalition to immediately release children within their ranks and to issue orders to refrain from further recruitment and use of children.  There are more details in a press release available in my office.

** Syria

The Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, has expressed her deep distress over reports of the continuing destruction which has severely damaged the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986.  Yesterday, the minaret of one of Syria’s most famous mosques was destroyed during clashes in Aleppo.  The mosque, which is located within the World Heritage site, has been devastated during the clashes and its minaret was reduced to debris.  We have a press release with more details on that.


A six-year plan to eradicate all types of polio simultaneously was presented today by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which is spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners.  The plan, the first of its kind, is expected to cost $5.5 billion, and nearly three quarters of this amount has already been pledged.

Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, said that this plan puts us within sight of the end game.  For his part, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said that ending polio will not only be an historic feat for humanity, but also a huge part of our efforts to reach every hard-to-reach child with a range of life saving vaccines.  And there is more on that available online.

Questions, please?  Tala, and then Jonathan?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, just to get a clarification, the new peacekeeping force is not going to be mandated to deal with terrorism?  The French… the 1,000 or so French troops that remain as of December will deal with terrorist activity in Mali?

Spokesperson:  It is correct that the mandate of MINUSMA does not include counter-terrorism.  That’s correct.

Question:  And so the troops, the French troops, will be tasked with dealing with it?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d have to check with the French, but that is my understanding.  But I would encourage to check with the French authorities.  But just to reinforce that the mandate of MINUSMA, this new Mission that was brought into being by the resolution adopted today does not include counter-terrorism responsibilities, that’s correct.  Jonathan?

Question:  Hi, Martin.  Yesterday, you mentioned that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejects Richard Falks’s comments about the Boston bombings, but the wording stopped at the word rejects.  Does Ban want to follow suit in calling for the resignation of this UN official to step down from his position since his musings in the past… his public musings in the past have caused great controversy?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I also said yesterday is that Professor Falk, like other Special Rapporteurs, is appointed by the Member States of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and not by the Secretary-General.  So it is within the domain of the Human Rights Council and the Member States of that Council to determine the appointment and other aspects of the work of Special Rapporteurs, not for the Secretary-General.

Question:  But Martin, this fellow espouses these controversial opinions on a daily basis, he uses the good services of the UN, his position, which garners tens of thousands of dollars to work out his reporting.  He publishes, he has honorariums, he travels around the world as a UN official and says these things.  Is the Secretary-General willing to just stop at saying I reject this latest remark and… and there is no recourse?

Spokesperson:  I think, Jonathan… I mean, I understand the questions you are asking and why you are asking them, but I think you also understand that there is a division of labour, a very clear division of labour.  And you should be asking these questions to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  That’s where some of the answers to those questions would lie.  And as I also said yesterday, the Secretary-General is certainly hopeful that Special Rapporteurs such as Mr. Falk understand that, while they have an independent status, their public comments can indeed undermine the credibility and the work of the United Nations.  And of course, the Secretary-General believes that it was not appropriate to publish such a provocative piece at this time.

Question:  But it hasn’t you saying the Secretary-General is helpless to do… even if he wanted the removal of a figure like Richard Falk, he can’t do anything about it?  He can’t make a recommendation to the Human Rights Council President, for instance?  I mean, yes indeed, as you recommend, I would be approaching Geneva with some of these questions; I’m just trying to get more information about procedural things.

Spokesperson:  I would encourage you to do that, Jonathan.

Question:  But, but, Martin, the emphasis of my question is, is the Secretary-General going to stop short of actually making any sort of recommendation with regards to this?

Spokesperson:  Again, I think you know what the division of labour is, and it’s for the Member States of the Human Rights Council — and I think that you will know which countries are Member States of the Human Rights Council — based in Geneva; they are the ones to whom you could address those specific questions.  It is not within the gift of the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General has made his views clear on the comments that Mr. Falk made in his latest commentary, and I would leave it at that.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  Regarding the MINUSMA and makeup, will the Mali army be part of MINUSMA or will it be operating separately?  Will the Chadians be part of MINUSMA or they are operating separately?  And will they be working in Gao in Kidal?  Thanks.

Spokesperson:  I think the exact composition of the Mission, the peacekeeping part of that Mission, is still in the works.  So I would defer to my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations to provide some details on which countries will provide contingents and also where they would operate.  I don’t have that information to hand at the moment.  Obviously, a lot of planning has already been done in the run-up to this resolution, and more work will need to be done, including the re-hatting of the bulk of the troops that are currently operating as AFISMA.  So as you will know, that does include nationals of the countries you mentioned, but as I say, this is a work in progress and I would defer to my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations to provide some more details on that.  Yes, Matthew?  And then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  I have some other questions, but I want to ask you one thing about this MINUSMA.  The… the… it kind of goes to the core of how the UN views it.  Who is going to disarm the MNLA, which is the group that is entrenched in Kidal and it says it wants Azawad a separate state?  The… the Foreign Minister of… of Mali at the stakeout told me that they must be disarmed or they can’t participate in negotiations.  Mr… Ambassador Araud said pretty much the same thing, then Mr. Ladsous said, I don’t answer your questions.  So I am asking you, does the UN view as its job to disarm the MNLA which it said it won’t disarm until there is an Azawad?

Spokesperson:  Well, let me check with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

[The Spokesperson later added that the mandate of MINUSMA is to assist the transitional authorities of Mali in developing and implementing programmes for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and the dismantling of militias and self-defence groups, consistent with the objectives of reconciliation and taking into account the specific needs of demobilized children.]

Question:  And a couple… I will do… ask one, and I am sorry, I just want to be sure to get this one in…

Spokesperson:  I am going to Nizar, and then I will come back to you, okay Matthew?

Correspondent:  Okay.  Okay, no problem.

Question:  Yeah, my question is regarding these two Christian Orthodox clerics which were kidnapped in… near Aleppo.  Do you have any new information about their release?  What’s the United Nations doing to secure their release?  Is there anything?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any update for you, Nizar.  I know that my colleague, Eduardo del Buey, did mention already on Tuesday that we are obviously concerned about kidnappings of this kind, and certainly we would expect both of these figures to be released as soon as possible, but I don’t have any further update for you other than that.

Question:  Given that so many kidnapped people have just not disappeared… I mean, haven’t been released for over a year now, including the nine Lebanese who were kidnapped if you remember, over a year, they are still in hostage.  Are these kidnappings a kind of terrorist actions?  Do you consider them…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the concern is less about the label that you put on it and more on the act itself, which is reprehensible.  We would call for the release of anybody who is being held hostage, being held against their will, wherever it is.  And obviously, in Syria, we have seen a lot of this in the past year or more.  And we would call for the release of anybody who is being held.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  South Sudan, Syria and the SG.  They all begin with S.  South Sudan is… I… you may have seen this article that… that… where the Governor of… of Lake State has been quoted… the acting Governor is a military-imposed Governor.  He said those who are writing negatively about the State Government will be crucified like Jesus Christ if we capture them.  And I am wondering, he said this about two days ago, it’s reported in Sudan Tribune, All Africa, has the UN system… has the… has the… the… the Mission there, Hilde Johnson, have they had anything to say about what seems to be a basically death and crucifixion threats against critical journalists in country in which they have peacekeeping mission?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check for you, Matthew.  What’s the next one?

Question:  Okay, on… on… I wanted to know if… on Syria, if you can confirm it’s a… it’s a relatively small contribution of troops, but New Zealand has said that its… it is said that its peacekeepers on UNDOF must withdraw from, they said, Syria and only be based in Israel.  Is that… is that something that… that the UN is aware of and what does it portend for UNDOF?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check on precisely what the picture is there.  UNDOF has troop contingents and it also has some staff officers and indeed some civilians who work in smaller numbers, of course, than the actual troop contingents within UNDOF.  So let me check on that for you.  I don’t have that at hand right now.

Question:  Okay.  This… this one might be right in your wheelhouse.  It may either be true or not, but it is reported that… that former President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet with Ban Ki-moon today.  This was… this was something said by his entourage to either AFP or Liberatión.  Anyway, I looked at his schedule; it’s not there.  Are we missing something or… or they misinformed that… that Sar… Mr. Sarkozy will be vis… meeting with Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  I will check for you, I am not aware of anything happening today.  I will check for you.

Question:  One more?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Question:  I wanted to ask…

Spokesperson:  You said three.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  That’s enough.  Thanks very much.

Correspondent:  Tomorrow.

Spokesperson:  Good afternoon.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.