|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.
**Secretary-General on Reconciliation
The Secretary-General addressed this morning’s General Assembly thematic debate on the role of international criminal justice in reconciliation. He said that it can be difficult to know just when a society has sufficiently looked at the roots of conflict and addressed peoples’ grievances. International criminal justice can make a decisive contribution in that effort.
The Secretary-General noted the work of the UN International Criminal Tribunals and mixed courts, as well as the International Criminal Court, and said that, through their jurisprudence, these new instruments of justice have ushered in an age of accountability. Impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious international crimes is no longer acceptable, nor is it tolerated.
He added that supporting the tribunals and courts means respecting — and not calling into question — their independence, impartiality and integrity. We have the full remarks in our office.
Also this morning, the Secretary-General met with representatives of the “Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves” and the “Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide”.
Nearly 1.3 million Syrians are now either registered as refugees or being assisted in Syria’s neighbouring countries and North Africa. More than half of the current refugees have left Syria over the last three months, with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) having registered about 7,000 people on average per day for the past four weeks. To enhance assistance delivery and preparedness, humanitarian agencies are revising the response and contingency plans.
The Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, covering the period from January to June 2013, requires $519 million in funding. But, as of 7 April, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the plan was only 40 per cent funded. All sectors are underfunded, especially community services, health, education and shelter and non-food items. The water, sanitation and hygiene sector has received only 7.5 per cent of its required funding, just as the hot summer season is approaching and the threat of water-borne diseases is on the rise. So far, donors have committed more than $400 million of the money pledged in Kuwait, leaving about $1.1 billion uncommitted.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Gaza, James Rawley, expressed serious concern regarding the impact of recent Israeli restrictions on the civilian population in Gaza. In response to a deteriorating security situation in and around Gaza, in recent weeks Israel has announced a series of heightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip, including closures of the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Mr. Rawley said that the measures are resulting in the depletion of stocks of essential items, including basic foodstuffs and cooking gas, and they undermine the livelihoods and rights of many vulnerable Gazan families. If these restrictions continue, the effect upon the Gaza population will be serious. The United Nations will continue to support Egyptian efforts to restore the calm and fully implement the ceasefire understanding as the only viable way to address the unsustainable situation in Gaza.
Today from 1 to 2:30 p.m., an event will be held at UN Headquarters commemorating 60 years since Dag Hammarskjöld took office as Secretary-General on 10 April 1953. The event will feature opening remarks by the Secretary-General and a presentation by Dr. Roger Lipsey, author of a new major biography on Dag Hammarskjöld entitled Hammarskjöld: A Life.
This will be followed by an interactive panel moderated by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, with Sir Brian Urquhart; Annika Söder, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation; and Andrew Gilmour, Director of the Political, Peacekeeping, Humanitarian, and Human Rights Unit of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. The meeting is open to all media and you are cordially invited to attend.
In his remarks at this event, the Secretary-General is expected to say that today’s commemoration is a reminder of the dangers facing those who serve the UN and that since Dag Hammarskjöld’s death, thousands of other staff and peacekeepers have lost their lives while serving under the blue flag, including a dozen staff killed this week during an atrocious ambush in South Sudan.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the situation in South Sudan’s Jonglei State remains tense. Civilians continue to be affected by intercommunal clashes and fighting between the South Sudan army and armed groups.
Although the full scope of displacement in the State is unclear due to insecurity and limited access to many areas, aid organizations have reported that almost all of the estimated 9,000 inhabitants of the town of Pibor have left their homes. Tens of thousands of people are thought to have been displaced by recent clashes. Aid organizations are trying to reach people with assistance. UN agencies and their humanitarian partners are planning an assessment of the affected communities’ needs.
The annual Envision documentary film screening and discussion forum will open this evening at the Directors Guild of America New York Theatre. Now in its fifth year, Envision is a partnership between the UN Department of Public Information and the Independent Filmmaker Project, which brings together United Nations experts, NGO (non-governmental organization) advocates and filmmakers to discuss fresh ways to use storytelling and film to raise awareness of global issues.
This year’s theme is “Stories of the Global Health Challenge”, focusing on the health-related Millennium Development Goals. This evening, there will be an opening night screening of the 2013 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award-winning documentary Blood Brother. The event will continue tomorrow with a full-day programme at the 92nd St. Y Tribeca location. If you are interested in attending, please register at the Envision website, at www.envisionfilm.org.
And today at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference here by His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, and H.E. Mr. Christian Wenaweser, the Permanent Representative of the Principality of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, along with Munira Subasic, the President of the association “Mothers of Srebrenica”, and Murat Tahirovic and Nikola Findrik of the Association of Witnesses and Survivors of Genocide.
And then at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by Amnesty International on its annual report on the death penalty, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Eduardo, the $1.1 billion for OCHA… that OCHA reported it still needs, what is… is there going to be another appeal that is going to be launched, to get, and a follow-up to the Qatar meeting? I mean, how is this… how are we going to meet this?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the $1.1 billion is the outstanding amount of the pledges made at the Kuwait meeting, which took place earlier this year.
Correspondent: At Kuwait, I’m sorry, I said Qatar.
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is calling and speaking with various leaders who made the commitments to try and get them to actually commit the funds to the process.
Question: Right, but is there… are there any particular countries that are willing to immediately meet the shortfall?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have that information with me. That is something that is being worked on. OCHA’s website should have some information on that. Nizar?
Question: How do these countries which have pledged those donations justify their reluctance to pay?
Deputy Spokesperson: I really don’t know; you’d have to ask them.
Question: I have another question regarding… I mean, al-Nusra has been adopted by Al-Qaida openly. They have allocated half of the budget of Al-Qaida to their activity in Syria. What does the Secretary-General think about that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General, as I said for the past year and half or two years, he is very concerned with the levels of violence in Syria. He is very concerned with the spillover effects, and he is very concerned with the radicalization of the conflict. And the only solution there is a negotiated settlement between both sides.
Question: Yeah, negotiations… but this is a follow-up on that. Negotiations with al-Nusra, which is affiliated with Al-Qaida, does he support that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I will have to check and see on the language we have specifically. What he has called for is for all sides to lay down their arms and engage in peaceful dialogue to overcome the current situation in Syria. Sir?
Question: Thank you. Greg Beck from Tokyo Broadcasting System. According to Japanese media, the South Korean Foreign Minister said that they are counting on the Secretary-General to take steps to ease the tension on the Korean peninsula, and I was wondering if you could tell me what, if any, plans the Secretary-General has to that effect?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has been making public statements for the past couple of weeks, which I think you have read. He has been very strong in calling for the ratcheting down of unhelpful rhetoric and for the ratcheting up of cooperation. He has called on the North Koreans to engage in dialogue rather than rhetoric. He has been discussing this with leaders around the world and these are the efforts he is making to try and get the States who have good relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to get them to ratchet down the rhetoric. Hank?
Question: Any further steps?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that remains to be seen. If he does, we will let you know.
Question: Good afternoon. Thank you, Eduardo. Just some numbers to follow up from the humanitarian appeal from Syria. According to financial tracking service, which is the service that OCHA gave me, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar have pledged more than $700 million collectively, and collectively given less than 10 per cent of that, at $50 million. Japan, meanwhile has made no pledges, and given $67 million — no promises, just money. The Secretary-General is a quarter mile away, talking about criminal justice, and these three countries that have given less than 10 per cent of their pledges are the same ones pumping weapons and money into the situation in Syria, to the opposition armies. So not only aren’t they helping out the refugees, they are creating more of them. And he is in the other building talking about criminal justice. I just wonder, why isn’t he naming names, why isn’t he leading the way on this, where is he on the hypocrisy?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is leading the way on this. He called the donors conference in Kuwait, the countries made their pledges, and if you are interested in finding out why they haven’t made the commitments, I suggest you contact the Governments involved. They are the ones who have to live up to their pledges. The Secretary-General has lived up to his commitment of trying to get countries to make the commitments, financial commitments, necessary to address the humanitarian situation facing both Syria and the countries neighbouring Syria. Matthew?
Question: Sure, Eduardo, I wanted to ask you, the… the… there is a military contractor called DynCorp, which is based in Virginia, and it has just been announced that it is going to be training and recruiting people for UN police in Haiti. Since this was the company that was found, that was in the film The Whistleblower, involved in… in human trafficking and child sex abuse in Bosnia with the UN peacekeeping mission in 1999, I am wondering, what… what’s… one, what safeguards the UN has in place in working with military contractors like DynCorp? And two, what is… what’s… what… you know, did the UN vet DynCorp? How… what… what is… what is… what is its relationship to MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti], since it put out a press release saying it will be recruiting people for UN police in Haiti?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we will find out for you, Matthew, I don’t have that information with me. In the back? I’m sorry, behind you, Nizar.
Question: About North Korea, does the Secretary-General have any new schedule to travel on a trip to North Korea?
Deputy Spokesperson: Any what?
Question: Going to North Korea.
Deputy Spokesperson: No, he has no plans to do so at the moment. Stefano?
Question: Yes, the Secretary-General, like in Rome, also met the Deputy Minister… Foreign Minister of Italy, [Staffan] de Mistura, and there has been rumours of… reported also by Matthew in his press, that de Mistura is going to be… is the first choice for special envoy in Mali for the Secretary-General. He says… did they talk about that? Is this true, or is it just a rumour? Can you tell me?
Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t comment on rumours. If and when there are announcements to be made, we make them, but we don’t comment on rumours. Nizar?
Question: Eduardo, there is this issue of the chemical investigation commission. Now it has been buried obviously, and the blame is put squarely by the Secretary-General on the Syrians who did not allow the commission to go into Syria. But according to [Bashar] Ja'afari, he said yesterday that the agreement, which was signed or written with Angela Kane, was done on Thursday, and on Friday, they rescinded that agreement, and they came out, back with a new agreement. Another thing, the [Walid Al-]Moualem letter was delivered on Saturday. What do you know about that letter?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, you say Foreign Minister Moualem’s letter was delivered on Saturday; I have been checking, and today I have not had any confirmation from the Secretary-General’s Office that that letter has been received. So if and when it is received, we will make the appropriate comments. But right now, as of 12:16 p.m. today, I have not been informed by the Secretary-General’s Office that the letter has been received. Matthew?
[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that a letter has been received from the Syrian Government and is being studied.]
Question: Sure, Eduardo, I want to ask about South Sudan and also about the ICC [International Criminal Court] and the debate today. In… on South Sudan, I wanted to… to… one, obviously it was just kind of an open-ended question if you have any more details on how the incident took place that… that killed the peacekeepers, but I notice that the Secretary-General’s statement yesterday offered his condolence to the Governments… the Governments of India and of South Sudan. And today it has been announced by Kenya that four of their nationals were killed in this attack. So I wanted to… I mean, it’s not… maybe he didn’t know at the time, is there some distinction… the Security Council, meanwhile, only condoled with the Government of India, not of South Sudan. Can you explain why the Secretary-General… was he unaware that four Kenyans were killed? Does it… is there some legal distinction between their death and the other deaths? What’s the distinction?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, there is no legal distinction. All of the deaths are absolutely tragic and completely unacceptable, Matthew. The situation is that our policy is not to identify nationalities or names of people until next of kin have been… until they have been identified and next of kin have been notified. As far as I know, the next of kin are in the process of being notified right now. If and when we have a statement to make, we will make a further statement then.
Question: But you… I mean, he did offer his condolence to India yesterday, does that that mean that all five families have been…?
Deputy Spokesperson: Because all the Indian families had been informed, yes.
Question: Okay, all right. And then… and then I wanted to ask, in this debate… in the debate there… obviously there have been many statements made, but I wanted… it seemed like, you know, the Secretary-General offered a… a… a… a defence of the ad hoc tribunals and the ICC and the international justice… one of the critiques is, one, that… that… that… I… that you hear a lot, which is that the ICC in particular has only gone after leaders from Africa. So I wanted to understa… I understand that Ban Ki-moon is not the one that chooses who they go after, but he does some times speak about accountability. So I wanted to under… I guess I wanted to know, does he… does he see any merit to that? He says that no one should criticize these courts, or that’s how I took him to say, I don’t want to put words in his mouth; does he see any merit to the idea that the court may be undermined by only focusing on Heads of State from one continent, and why, for example, in the case like Sri Lanka, where his own report seems to show that 40,000 civilians were killed by the Government, does he believe they should be sent to the ICC?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, the Secretary-General does not comment on the substance of what happens at the ICC, that’s for the ICC to go through its procedures, and decide who it is going to go after.
Question: But he calls for accountability, and…
Deputy Spokesperson: He calls for accountability and it is up to the relevant institutions to act on it. But he is not going to comment on how they act; they are independent of the UN.
Question: Does he believe there has been accountability in Sri Lanka?
Deputy Spokesperson: I cannot say.
Question: I guess, can you ask him? He has spoken about it a lot.
Deputy Spokesperson: We can ask him, sure.
Correspondent: Okay, that would be great.
Deputy Spokesperson: Last question, Nizar?
Question: Yeah, Eduardo, the… the Lebanese special tribunal… the Special Tribunal of Lebanon, then, their records have been leaked, including the 300 or more of the witnesses who were leaked — their names, addresses, their origins — everything, even their pictures were leaked. Are… what we are… what we understand in the beginning is that this should have been the highest standard… this tribunal should be of the highest standard. Given what has happened there, does it really merit that term: to be of the highest standard?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we are going to check on that, Nizar. I have no information on that right now. We will check on it and get back to you on it. Okay, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record