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18 August 2011
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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Statement on Attacks in Southern Israel

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the attacks today in southern Israel.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s coordinated terror attacks in southern Israel.  He expresses his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.  The Secretary-General hopes that the perpetrators are swiftly identified and brought to justice.  He is concerned at the risk of escalation and calls for all to act with restraint.

** Syria

The Secretary-General spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday afternoon, and he expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the Al-Ramel district of Lattakia.  The Secretary-General emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately.  President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped.

The Secretary-General reiterated his calls for an independent investigation into all reported killings and acts of violence, and for free access by the media.  He called on the Government of Syria to extend full cooperation to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Secretary-General also urged President Assad to engage in a credible and peaceful process of reform towards comprehensive change.  The President enumerated the reforms he will undertake in the next few months, including the revision of the Constitution and the holding of parliamentary elections.  The Secretary-General emphasized the need for reforms to be implemented swiftly without further military intervention.

The Secretary-General expressed appreciation that the Syrian Government had agreed to receive a United Nations humanitarian assessment mission.  He stressed that it would be critical for the mission to be provided with independent and unhindered access to all areas affected by violence in order to assess the humanitarian needs of the population, and to provide assistance if needed.  The President stated that the team would have access to different sites in Syria.

**Security Council — Syria

The Security Council will hold closed consultations on the Middle East at 3 this afternoon.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will brief Council members on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria.  We expect Ms. Pillay to come to the stakeout afterwards.

Ms. Pillay will present the report of the fact-finding mission that was established by the Human Rights Council to look into the human rights situation in Syria.  That mission did not have access to Syria but did conduct three field investigations outside Syria, examined more than 50 videos and conducted interviews with victims and witnesses, including some military defectors.

The mission received more than 1,900 names and details of persons killed in Syria since the middle of March; all are said to be civilians.  The mission found a pattern of violations of human rights, which the report says may amount to crimes against humanity.

The mission recommends that Syria immediately put an end to gross human rights violations and take immediate steps to end impunity.  And it recommends the Human Rights Council to urge the Security Council, among other things, to consider referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  The full report is on the High Commissioner’s website.

**Security Council — Other Issues

And this morning, the Security Council received a briefing by Abou Moussa, the Head of the new UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), who described the challenges that his Office faces.  The Security Council President has just read a statement on this at the stakeout.

The Security Council President also put out a press statement in which the members of the Council condemned in the strongest terms the series of terrorist attacks that occurred on Monday in Iraq, which caused scores of deaths and injuries, as well as damage.

** Malawi

We issued a statement yesterday afternoon, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the signing of the Joint Communiqué by representatives of the Government of Malawi and the civil society organizations.  The Secretary-General is encouraged by this positive development, which reflects the commitment of both sides to engage constructively in the search for a peaceful solution to the country’s current difficulties.

** Haiti

And further to what I said yesterday on an investigation in Port-Salut, Haiti, the UN Mission there (MINUSTAH) tells us that the preliminary report of this investigation was finalized.  After discussions with local authorities and members of the population in Port-Salut, the investigators found out that these allegations of misconduct could not be substantiated.  The UN Mission in Haiti says that no supporting evidence was provided by anyone, and local authorities confirmed that these allegations were unfounded.

**Press Conference on World Humanitarian Day

Tomorrow at approximately 11 a.m. there will be a press conference on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day.  Speakers will include Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme; and Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund.

That’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, I just… some other things, but I wanted to understand this readout of the Secretary-General’s call with President Assad.  You know, it says that he expressed appreciation for allowing in OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and it just has this one line saying: “President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped.”  Just now, on a White House call, senior [Barack] Obama Administration officials said… talked about lies, empty promises.  How should we read the statement?  Is it… when Ban Ki-moon says Assad said it had stopped, does he believe that?  Is it… why is the sentence in there without some kind of reaction?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, it’s very clear that the Secretary-General believes, first of all, again… even the statement says that the Secretary-General emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately.  Beyond that, we continue to call, as we have been doing for many months now, for access for the human rights team that was deputized by the Human Rights Council to be able to go into Syria and see for themselves the nature of the human rights situation on the ground.  As you can see from what the human rights team was already able to determine, there are some very, very serious charges that they believe could be made against the authorities in Syria.  But we want to be able to verify indeed that violence has stopped.  And, of course, for that to happen we would like to have access to Syria.

Question:  The inclusion of the line “had stopped”, I just… I guess all I want to know is… was this statement kind of negotiated, because in a joint statement, usually you don’t put in what the other party said.  In this case, you did.  Does Ban Ki-moon believe it has stopped or that the statement is false, that’s what I am wondering.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He believes that any claims that violence has stopped needs to be verified.  And for that to be verified one of the things we want is access.  Like I said, he himself has reiterated his call for an independent investigation into all reported killings and acts of violence, and for free access by the media; in addition, like I said, to the need for access by the team from the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  As for the nature of the readout, because of the nature of the discussions between the two, it felt appropriate to mention what the other side said, because some of what we were saying was a response to some of the information we’d received.

Question:  But you didn’t have Syria sign off on this…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, this is our readout.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, you know that the attacks that took place today on which the Secretary-General has issued a condemnation, the Israeli Air Force was attacking the targets inside Gaza for that, and today they killed four people also.  Has he noted that also, that that has taken place?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, again, just to read into the record one more time what I said just a few minutes ago, the Secretary-General is concerned at the risk of escalation and he calls for all to act with restraint.

Question:  Yeah, that statement I read, which he issued earlier in the morning.  What I am saying is that you remember the day before yesterday and before that when we asked you that question, you had no response to that.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, and the Secretary-General is also aware of the reported violence in Gaza.  But beyond that, I will let the statement speak for itself.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following up on Matthew’s question, the Secretary-General has asked President Assad to stop all the police and military action.  Eyewitnesses this morning are confirming that has not stopped.  The President of the United States, Barack Obama, has called on Assad to step down.  Is there a dichotomy between the position of the Secretary-General and that of a major Power like the United States asking for Assad actually to quit power while the Secretary-General is trying to negotiate with him?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has been very straightforward and very strong in his comments in recent weeks and months.  You are aware that, for example, that he did tell a group of reporters that he believed that, with some of the actions that had taken place on the ground in Syria, that the President there had lost his humanity, which is, needless to say, a strong thing to say.  In terms of who should lead Syria; that is a decision, as with other countries, that the Secretary-General believes should be in the hands of the people of the country.  If there can be a process, a fair and free process towards determining leadership that is unimpeded by threats of violence, of course he would support that.  But we don’t have any reaction to the specific comments made by different world leaders about the fate of President Assad.  You have seen the full details of what the Secretary-General said yesterday, including the language about their discussion on political reforms.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I want to… I have something on Haiti, but on UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], there is a renewed call by Ali Karti, the Foreign Minister of Sudan, that… that UNAMID, unless it complies with pre… what he calls the previous agreements with Sudan, not the new resolution, that they should leave.  Now I don’t… if… I guess I wanted to know, has this been communicated to the UN? And I understand the Security Council passed a resolution, but since DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] actually manages the operation, is there any split?  Has there been any commitment by DPKO to live by pre-resolution rules, or where is this headed?  It seems kind of important.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, of course the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur — the UN-African Union mission in Darfur, I should say — acts in concordance with the mandate given to it by the Security Council.  You are right that there is a new Security Council resolution, and what we will do is try to fulfil the mandate provided in that resolution.  There is no sort of a split; the resolutions govern how the peacekeepers on the ground are to act.

Question:  And… and just, I wanted… I mean, thanks for getting all this the next day — the Haiti response.  I just wanted to ask, because since the allegation there, at least in the Haitian press, is that Uruguayan peacekeepers had sex with underage girls and took photos on their cell phone.  When you say it has been disproved, was the idea… did the UN check the cell phones, or are you saying this means that this… that sex with underage girls didn’t take place or just simply that the NGO and local authorities couldn’t show you the peacekeepers’ cell phones?  I mean, what was done to investigate that specific claim?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You can follow up with MINUSTAH if you want more precise details about the nature of the investigation.  But the basic point is that no supporting evidence was provided by anyone.  So, again, there was no supporting evidence on this and the local authorities informed us that the allegations were unfounded.

Question:  Was a request for evidence made to the peacekeepers themselves rather than the people whose photographs…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  They carried out an investigation.  I don’t have the particulars of the investigation.  That, you would need to ask the peacekeeping Mission itself.  Have a good afternoon.

Question:  I just want to get your response to this.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  There is a… I have seen there is a Foreign Policy magazine… there is… there is a lengthy letter from… from Vijay Nambiar about the UN’s act… you know, actions in Côte d’Ivoire, disputing a Thabo Mbeki critique.  And I just… I mean, it’s a… it’s very long, so it’s the question I really had is, it seems to be saying that the election… because the election… because [Laurent] Gbagbo tried to steal the election and was asking for a recount that would have led to a power-sharing, that this… it was good that the UN acted and that this was sort of in the name of democracy.  And since he is also the good… the good offices representative on Myanmar, I know you always say don’t… but I am saying:  what is the UN’s position?  Is it that… is a country… is Myanmar’s election… was it more legitimate than Côte d’Ivoire’s?  Why isn’t the same principle of “it’s right to intervene for democracy” applied elsewhere than in Africa?  What is your response?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, you actually do know my response and you actually encapsulated it in your question.  Each country, each dynamic, each diplomatic effort has its own process, its own individual dynamic, and it doesn’t make that much sense to try to compare dissimilar cases.  We are proceeding with efforts in Myanmar to encourage and support democratization there, and we are working with our various partners, including the Group of Friends of Myanmar, to make sure that democracy can be bolstered.  The idea that the same sort of solution needs to be adopted as in Côte d’Ivoire, where, as you know, there was an agreement among the political forces in the country that brought in the UN peacekeeping force in the first place, is not the case.

Question:  And just, why was the letter by Vijay Nambiar and not the Secretary-General?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Nambiar wrote the letter and he is the author of that letter.  Yes?

Question:  And yesterday, it was announced that this briefing would be cancelled, and then we received a Rev.2, or Rev.1 notice that it will take place.  Why the change and was it due to the nature of the news today?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You will have noticed that a couple of big things happened between yesterday and today.  We always reserve the right to try and hold briefings even on days of short staffing if the situation warrants it, and this was one of those days, alas.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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For information media • not an official record