|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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the briefing.
As you will have seen, we issued a statement last night in which the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. This morning, the Security Council observed a minute of silence in honour of President Chávez.
It then unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) until 28 February 2014.
The Council then met on Iran and non-proliferation, as well as on Guinea-Bissau.
The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has reported that, earlier today, approximately 30 armed fighters stopped and detained a group of about 20 peacekeepers within the Area of Limitation, east of the B-Line.
The UN observers were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near Observation Post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated this past weekend following heavy combat in close proximity, at Al Jamlah. The Mission is dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution.
The number of Syrians who have been registered or assisted as refugees has reached the 1 million mark, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) announced today.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that, with a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster. He said the refugee agency is doing everything it can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched.
The number of Syrian refugees fleeing their country has increased dramatically since the beginning of the year. More than 400,000 people have become refugees since 1 January 2013. Around half of the refugees are children, the majority under the age of 11. We have more details in the UNHCR’s website.
**Water and Disaster
The Secretary-General said that water-related disasters are a regular feature of life on our warming planet at the Special Thematic Session of the General Assembly on Water and Disaster this morning. Noting that the Session is part of the UN’s broader push for sustainable development, the Secretary-General said that water is a human right and that we must work together to manage this basic resource. He added that his five-year agenda includes supporting national disaster risk reduction plans, and emphasized the importance of early warning systems, disaster education and resilient structures.
UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, outlined today a set of practical measures that could be taken to improve the treatment of Palestinian children who are in contact with the Israeli military detention system.
In a briefing paper, UNICEF recommended measures so that the Palestinian children in Israeli military custody are treated in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards. The paper says there appears to be a pattern of ill-treatment during the arrest, transfer and interrogation of child detainees. UNICEF will continue its engagement with Israeli military authorities to improve the safeguards that promote the rights and well-being of Palestinian children in military custody.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) reports that yesterday, 5 March, the Congolese armed forces regained control of the town of Kitchanga, in North Kivu province. Kitchanga has been occupied by the APCLS (Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et souverain) armed group in recent days. Fighting has stopped but the situation remains tense, the mission adds. MONUSCO's peacekeepers have undertaken patrols in town to restore calm and protect civilians. Around 5,000 individuals, including locals and displaced persons, have now assembled around the Mission's base in Kitchanga.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan today welcomed signs of progress following reconciliation meetings between two tribes in North Darfur. Following these talks, which were brokered by Sudanese authorities, roads into the town of El Sireaf have reopened for the first time since last month, allowing food and other urgently needed supplies to reach the area. Ali Al-Za’tari said that further fighting must be prevented and reconciliation promoted between the two tribes. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been uprooted or affected by fighting between the tribes in early January.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed concern today about the escalation of demands by protestors to attempt to coerce the General National Congress to act on matters on its agenda. The UN Mission emphasizes that while peaceful protest is a fundamental right, it is of utmost importance that the democratically elected bodies and legitimate institutions of the State are enabled to carry out their duties in the service of the people in a conducive environment and that the integrity of their decisions is preserved. The UN Mission strongly encourages Libya’s political and community leaders, as well as civil society activists and all Libyans, to ensure that the ongoing transition be based on the respect for the law, democratic principles and peaceful political dialogue.
As we mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General will attend this afternoon the fifth annual Women’s Empowerment Principles event, which is co-hosted by the UN Global Compact and UN-Women here in New York. In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to ask business leaders to help the United Nations engage more companies and stakeholders to join these Principles, which he launched three years ago. He will also ask them to highlight the importance of gender equality as a driver of growth and progress and help the United Nations in the urgent task of improving child and maternal health.
Questions, please? Richard?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you… I don’t think you mentioned it, maybe I missed it, can you give us the latest update on what is happening in… on… with UNDOF and people who have detained them?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the latest thing I have is what I read before. It says: “The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has reported that, earlier today, approximately 30 armed fighters stopped and detained a group of about 20 peacekeepers within the Area of Limitation, east of the B-Line. The UN observers were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near Observation Post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated this past weekend following heavy combat in close proximity, at Al Jamlah. The Mission is dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution.
Question: I realize you are not over there, but how is UNDOF been affected through these years of the Syrian internal crisis? How many incidents have there been with… engaging the different parties to that conflict?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have a count of how many incidents they have been engaged in, but I do know that, as the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, the spillover effects of the Syrian crisis pose a danger to the region as a whole, and to the countries and the neighbouring States in the areas around it, and UNDOF is no exception; they are in a zone where the spillover could be of consequences.
Question: Who is going? Which team and who was leading this effort to discuss this over there?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sorry?
Question: Who from the UN is leading this effort to discuss…?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the UNDOF team, it says here, the Mission is dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution. That’s all the information I have.
Question: Sorry, I walked in after he asked the first question, but are there any more details on the number of vehicles? There is a video on YouTube showing some, you know, rebel fighters, kind of giving a statement before it; do you know whether that’s authentic and do you know who the armed fighters are? Are they, you know, Syrian rebels forces, any indi… any more detail?
Deputy Spokesperson: What I know is what I’ve just read out: approximately 30 armed fighters stopped and detained a group of about 20 peacekeepers within the Area of Limitation. That’s the only information I have right now. We’ll see what progresses as the day goes on.
Question: And are they all… were they… do you know their nationalities?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, we don’t.
Question: Can… can we find out more information in more detail?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we are going to try and find out, but as you know, when we have security situations we try to balance the amount of information we give out with the danger that poses to the people who are being held.
Question: I understand that, Eduardo, but it’s a very thin report, and we would really appreciate it if you could provide us with some more detail…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, when we have some more… when we have something else, we will let you know. Masood?
Question: Yes, sir, on this report that was issued this morning in Geneva about 1 million Syrians now are being outside the country, one of the things that they reported is that out of the pledges made in December, only 20 per cent had been fulfilled. And that’s… and that’s not counting what happened in… in January and in Kuwait… I mean, they made so many pledges, nothing… is the Secretary-General thinking of making some sort of appeal again to the countries?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is in contact with leaders. People in the Secretary-General’s Office are in contact with leaders and with Governments who have made pledges. And again, the Secretary-General expects people to come through with their pledges as early as possible. The Syrians inside and outside the country need a lot of humanitarian assistance. It is the middle of winter, over a million are outside, we don’t… you know, over that number are displaced inside the country, and we need that money urgently. So the appeal goes from here, it goes from everywhere that countries who have made pledges should see them through.
Question: Just as a follow-up, since the appeal was made a while ago, and you are saying that the Secretary-General was expecting those pledges to be made as soon as possible, are… is there a push from the Secretary-General? Are there going to be meetings, discussions to get those pledges committed as soon as possible within a timeline, like within the next month, within the next few weeks?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I don’t have any timeline to speak of, we’ll see how this thing progresses, but the Secretary-General has appealed to the countries, they have made their pledges and the Secretary-General fully expects them to be honoured. Matthew?
Question: Sure, yeah, I have questions on South Sudan and Zimbabwe, but I wanted to ask you, since… if you can’t say on the Syria incident, the video shows somebody saying he is with the Martyrs of Yarmouk, saying that they are behind the attack; and so my question isn’t for you to verify that, but has the UN had any dealings with the group called Martyrs of Yarmouk in the past, any knowledge of them?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no information on that.
Question: Okay. And also, there was a letter… the Syrian Mission says that they delivered a letter dated today to the Secretary-General on the Security Council, alleging that Turkey has assisted bringing in a weapon… a… a… a ship full of weapons from Libya, making it… a number of detailed allegations about Turkish involvement of the Interior Ministry in supporting ter… quote, “terrorists inside Syria”. I want to make sure, one, if the letter is received, and two, kind of what the next step is. They also complained that the Secretariat took three months to publish one of their letters. So what do you do when you receive such a letter from the Syrian Mission? Do you put it into English and get it out, or why did it take three months?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’ll have to check and see, first of all, if we have received the letter, and afterwards it goes through a regular process, it goes to the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General and his staff decide where the letter goes.
Question: But is there a way to get an answer on this three-month delay? It’s a question…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, if there is any answer that was given, it is given to the Syrian Government, not to the media, Matthew.
Question: Well, they obviously don’t have it, because they complained about it…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, like I said, we’ll check and see if we actually received the letter, and then I’ll let you know.
Correspondent: Okay. Great.
Deputy Spokesperson: Questions? One more question.
Question: Yeah, I want to ask about, I guess if I only have one, I am going to ask about Zimbabwe. There is a ruling by the UN Dispute Tribunal in Nairobi, pretty damning, it has to do with cholera, not about Haiti, but in Zimbabwe, and it says that a… a… a UN whistleblower named Mr. [George] Tadonki was fired because he raised the issue of the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe that ended up killing 4,000 people, and it is his claim that he was fired because the higher-ups in the UN were so close to the Government they didn’t want to act on the cholera. What’s the… what’s the UN’s response to the ruling? And also, what does it learn in terms of this is a… and not to make too fine a point of it, but it’s a… it’s another incident of the UN and cholera, although it is quite different from Haiti?
Deputy Spokesperson: But, the only thing I can say about that, Matthew, is that judgments of the UN Dispute Tribunal are not final until they have been confirmed by the UN Appeals Tribunal. The Organization intends to file an appeal of this judgment. Consistent with the established policy regarding ongoing cases, which includes cases under appeal, the Organization is not in a position to provide any further comments at this time. Last question, Richard?
Question: When I observed the Secretary-General yesterday, he looked a little different. How is his health? Was it… did anything happen with him?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I find him as engaging as always.
Question: No, I don’t mean his verbal skills, but I just thought he just looked a little different, no?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have… I brief him… Either Martin [Nesirky] or I brief him every day, and today he looked very good! Thank you so much; have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record