31 May 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the noon briefing on a very hot Friday.


**Secretary-General in Japan


A short while ago, the Secretary-General touched down in Japan, where he will attend the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, known as TICAD V, in the city of Yokohama.


Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will deliver one of the keynote speeches at the Conference’s opening, which will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of TICAD and the fiftieth anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).  In his remarks, the Secretary-General will spotlight the progress Africa has made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the need to address the links between peace, security and development to find lasting solutions to problems.


On Sunday, the Secretary-General will take part in TICAD V sessions on themes that include the post-2015 development agenda and peace and stability.  He will also take part in a high-level event — hosted by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Japan — on the theme “Building Climate and Disaster Resilience for African Development”.  The Secretary-General will return to New York on Monday, 3 June.


**Secretary-General in Denver


The Secretary-General will travel to Denver, Colorado, next week.  On Friday, he will be the University of Denver's graduate commencement speaker, and will receive an honorary degree during the ceremony.  The Secretary-General will also visit in Boulder, Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research — a leading research and development centre on atmospheric and related sciences, including climate change, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  He will speak to the Denver Forum, a public forum of prominent leaders in politics, business and academia.


** Syria


The UN refugee agency says that the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries passed 1.6 million this week.  On Wednesday, an inter-agency team, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the refugee agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, visited the town of Hasiya in central-western Syria in order to assess the situation and needs of Syrian families that had been forcibly displaced from Al-Qusair.


Since the intensification of the fighting in Al-Qusair three weeks ago, at least 700 families or 3,500 people have arrived in Hasiya.  Meanwhile, some 3,000 refugees from Al-Qusair were registered by the Refugee Agency in Lebanon, although the actual number of refugees fleeing is likely to be higher.


The inter-agency team visited various sites that are now home to an estimated 150 families.  Due to the poor sanitation and hygiene conditions in which people were living, many people, especially children, were suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory problems, high fevers, ear infections and skin diseases.  We have more details in the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] briefing notes.


We can confirm that, on 5 June in Geneva, the United States, Russian and United Nations officials will hold a three-way meeting to further the preparations for the international conference on Syria envisioned under the United States-Russian initiative.  The senior United Nations officials for this meeting are Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, and Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.


** Lebanon


Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, today reaffirmed the United Nations’ continued support for the electoral process in Lebanon.  Mr. Plumbly regretted that no agreement had been reached on elections, while noting the importance of ensuring the continuity of institutions.  He added that the United Nations would continue to encourage all parties in Lebanon to work for the expeditious conduct of parliamentary elections in line with the country’s longstanding democratic tradition.


** Myanmar


In a statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the agreement reached yesterday between the Government of Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organization, after their first meeting inside Myanmar since the conflict broke out in June 2011.  His Special Adviser, Vijay Nambiar, was present as Observer at the talks on behalf of the United Nations, together with representatives from the Chinese Embassy and Myanmar's ethnic nationality groups.


The Secretary-General notes the seven-point agreement as a significant achievement that could lay the basis for a genuine process of national reconciliation in the country.  He commends the leaders of both delegations for their courage and perseverance.  He also hopes this agreement will allow the two parties to address the concerns and needs of the people of Kachin State.


The Secretary-General underlines the continued support of the United Nations and his Special Adviser to the parties as they continue work towards de-escalating the conflict and toward a comprehensive political dialogue that could bring lasting peace to Myanmar.


**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has received credible information that nine young North Korean defectors have been returned to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea via China.  The human rights office is extremely concerned for the protection of this group, which includes up to five minors, who are at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return.


The High Commissioner’s office is dismayed that the Governments of Laos and China appeared to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of that group, all of whom are reported to be orphans.  It urges the Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine young North Koreans, as well as the conditions under which they were returned, and request the DPRK Government to provide immediate access to the group by independent actors to verify their status and treatment.


**Security Council


Today is the last day of Togo’s presidency of the Security Council.  The United Kingdom will assume the rotating presidency of the Council for the month of June, and we expect a briefing by the new Council President on the programme of work for the month next Tuesday.


**Secretary-General’s Appointments


We have two senior personnel appointments to announce today.


The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Sandra Honoré of Trinidad and Tobago as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Ms. Honoré, who is expected to take up her functions on 15 July 2013, succeeds Mr. Mariano Fernández Amunátegui of Chile.


The Secretary-General has also appointed Thomas Gass of Switzerland as Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  He will replace Thomas Stelzer.  We have more information on both appointments in our office.


**Press Conference


And on Monday, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference on the UN Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty.  Speakers will include Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Ambassador Peter Woolcott, the President of the UN Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty; and Christine Beerli, the Permanent Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.


Questions, please?  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, the Security Council has listed Al-Nusra on the list of terrorist organizations.  Does it mean this will include also the Free Syrian Army?  Many of these generals always said that they work hand in hand with Al-Nusra and they support Al-Nusra.  Will that automatically apply to them?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You will have to speak to the Security Council on that; it is a Security Council matter.


Question:  Another thing, do you have a statement regarding the catching some of the Al-Nusra members carrying sarin into Turkey, and from Turkey, their own two kilograms of liquid sarin poison gas caught by the Turkish authorities?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have nothing on that, Nizar.  Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, sure, I… I… I guess I’ll ask Syria questions first.  I wanted to ask you this:  yesterday, I had asked you about the meeting between Ambassador Ja’afari and Susana Malcorra and you said you don’t give readouts, but I would like to know this, it seems that one of the issues raised was this issue of no bank accounts, of not being able to have a bank account, and I know that the Controller — this is why I am asking you — the Controller, Ms. Casar, had said months ago that she was near a breakthrough with the [United States] in terms of solving the UN’s role in making sure that all missions can have bank accounts.  Apparently, that hasn’t happened.  Can we get some readout on what the UN’s work has been in this regard and why the promised solution of October has not been implemented by May?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try and get something for you, Matthew.


Question:  I also wanted… could I ask about South Su… in South Sudan… I am asking also because there is the Mission there, but the… the… the authorities, South Sudanese security agency, have raided the office of The Citizen, telling them not to report about the… the… the reported withdrawal of power from Vice-President Machar by Salva Kiir, who is in Japan at the same conference that the Secretary-General has gone to.  And, I am wondering, since Hilde Johnson, UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], is there, what do they have to say about the rad… raiding of a newspaper in the… in this country?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what we have to say is what we always say about the situation of this, Matthew.  The Secretary-General stands firmly for the freedom of journalists to do their work without fear of intimidation or persecution.


Question:  Right.  There… there was recently a… a… a study by a Dutch NGO [non-governmental organization] saying that Hilde Johnson, in particular, is, you know, a very, an… an accomplished author and many things, but is too close to the Government.  And so I am wondering, she denied that totally, but it seems like… is there any… is there…?


Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t comment on things like that, I am sorry.


Correspondent:  It’s a pretty big N… I mean, it’s an NGO study.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t comment on things like that.  Okay, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen…


Question:  One more question?


Deputy Spokesperson:  One more question, Nizar.


Question:  What can we expect from this 5 June conf… meeting in Geneva?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the expectation is that the United States, the Russians and the UN will get together and formulate a way to get the various parties to the table, and that’s basically what they’re meeting for.  As you know, we are looking to get the Geneva conference up and running, and it is the United States and Russia who proposed it, the UN who will be convening it, and we are trying to get the parties to the table.


Correspondent:  I have one more question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Question:  Apart from… it’s only 12:10 p.m.; can I ask one more question?


Deputy Spokesperson:  One more question.


Question:  Okay, and it’s… I… and the reason I am asking is because there is kind of a time deadline.  You… you know, you’d said that the [ United Kingdom] is taking over the Security Council and they are obviously… they are moving this weekend.  By Monday, they will be back in the second floor.  So, I wanted to ask you, since your office is a party, these draft media access guidelines which will eliminate media workspace in front of the Council, when do they go into effect?  You told me to ask Stéphane; I have, I don’t have any answer from him; when do these draft guidelines…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You will have to ask Stéphane, I don’t have any information about it; I don’t know.


Question:  You are a party to them, don’t you have to know?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we are a party to many things, but this is something that’s being implemented by DPI [Department of Public Information].  Speak with DPI.


Question:  Can it be implemented without… before it has been agreed to by the listed parties on it, including [United Nations Correspondents Association]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we’ve already agreed to it.


Question:  You’ve agreed to it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We have agreed to it.


Question:  All the listed parties agreed to it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew…


Correspondent:  They put up a comment…


Deputy Spokesperson:  …speak with DPI…


Correspondent:  I have tried.


Deputy Spokesperson:  …and get an answer from them.  Have a nice weekend, ladies and gentlemen.


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For information media • not an official record