22 July 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.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Guest


Today I am joined by Leila Zerrougui, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  And Ms. Zerrougui has just been in Syria and in a number of neighbouring countries.  She is here to brief you on that visit and will be able to take questions.  After that, I will then be able to provide a couple of updates on some other areas of the world and take some questions.  First of all, welcome back, Ms. Zerrougui.  The floor is yours.


[The press conference by Ms. Zerrougui is issued separately.]


**CARICOM


I have a couple of more items, and then I would be happy to take some questions.  The Secretary-General spoke to the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, at its biannual meeting at UN Headquarters this morning.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General commended CARICOM’s leadership on a wide range of matters, including sustainable development, reconstruction efforts in Haiti, the fight against transnational organized crime and the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty in the region.  He especially commended CARICOM’s work in raising awareness about climate change and the unique challenges of small island developing States.  We have the full remarks available in my office and online.


**Security Council


The Security Council received a briefing this morning on the situation in Burundi from the head of the UN Office in the country, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.  He said that there have been significant advances in Burundi’s political dialogue in recent months.  He emphasized that the return of key political figures to Burundi marks significant progress and is an encouraging sign that all political forces are willing to cooperate, so that peaceful, fair and free elections can be held in 2015.  At the same time, he noted that occasional clashes have continued between Government forces and armed groups.  He added that the human rights picture so far this year is mixed.  We have his remarks available in my office.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [MONUSCO] reports that heavy fighting has resumed between the Congolese army and the M23 [23 March Movement] armed group in the Mutaho-Kibati area, near Goma, in North Kivu Province.  The Mission, MONUSCO, adds that after exchanging intermittent fire over the weekend, both sides are now using small arms, mortars and rockets.  The Mission reiterates its call for restraint and its peacekeepers in the area remain on high alert.


** Syria


The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has been working to provide education and psychosocial support to the many Palestine refugee children displaced by the conflict in Syria, with the financial support from the European Union.  In Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, the Relief and Works Agency has established child-friendly spaces for forcibly displaced refugees, and it plans to distribute back-to-school kits before the academic year 2013/14 begins.  The Agency also plans to appoint and train 53 psychosocial counsellors to respond to students’ needs.


That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Matthew and then Tim.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted to ask you something about this… last week, you issued a statement on the Secretary-General’s behalf expressing concern about the, I guess, desecration of corpses and treatment of prisoners by the Congolese army units.  A person has been arrested and he’s from the 391st battalion, which is the same battalion that was one of the two battalions implicated in the rapes at Minova.  So, I wanted to get from you a statement of how… at least of how I understand it, from what Patricia O’Brien said, the human rights due diligence process says if abuses occur, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] is supposed to intercede to try to get accountability, and it all comes down to an assessment of whether it’s likely that abuses will continue.  Given that abuses have continued from the very same battalion, is DPKO going to, you know, now suspend support to the 391st battalion, and if not, why not?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as we said in the statement, MONUSCO has launched the process of reviewing its support to FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] units suspected of being involved in these incidents so that is a process, that is an investigation that is still going on.


Question:  I guess I just want to… cause since that that seems to be what is happening in the case of Minova, it took several months and then a threat was made and two people were arrested and 12 were suspended.  Is that process going to be repeated here?  Does the UN view the arrest of the 391st battalion commander as kind of presumptive evidence that this same unit has been involved in two different kinds of serious abuse?


Spokesperson:  First of all, the most important thing here is that it is a process and that it’s under investigation, therefore, it would not be appropriate to prejudge the outcome of that investigation within MONUSCO, within the Mission.  And of course, it’s incumbent on the authorities to bring the perpetrators of these acts to justice, and that’s what we would continue to call on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to do.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Syrian opposition said today they’ve taken the town of Khan al-Assal near Aleppo, which is where these alleged 19 March attack with chemical weapons took place.  Does that change the mission of Ms. Kane and Mr… Dr. Sellström?  They still good to go to Damascus and what can that ask in that case if there’s no chance of them getting access to that town?


Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t mix the two together, Tim.  We’ve said that Ms. Kane and Dr. Sellström will be visiting Damascus this week.  There was never any question of them going outside Damascus to other locations.  So, I don’t think that has an impact on that at this point.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  But, isn’t that part of the modalities where… where the team would eventually get access?


Spokesperson:  Well, the discussions are about the details of how to make the mission work to the fullest extent within the mandate that they have.  And I don’t think at this point it makes material difference.  Of course, the aim of the mission is for on-site inspections, so that there can be evidence collected on site, not just physical evidence, but witness accounts and so on.  But, that doesn’t mean simply because an area has fallen to the rebels or the rebels have taken it, that it would not subsequently be possible to visit.  I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves at this point.  The key point of the moment is that we have said that Ms. Kane and Dr. Sellström will be visiting Damascus this week.  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Yes, Rwandan Ambassador [Eugéne-Richard] Gasana told me on Friday that there is an on-site investigation at the two villages that were alleged to have been bombed by the Congolese army and possibly with some participation, or at least knowledge, of MONUSCO.  He said the investigation was being conducted by the military attachés and defence officials from a number of countries.  I’m wondering… and he expects a report to come out very shortly.  I’m wondering whether MONUSCO is in any way participating in this investigation, as requests have been tendered by the Secretary-General for more evidence of the Rwandan allegations.


Spokesperson:  I think that’s the key point.  I don’t have any information on representatives of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo being involved in those investigations taking place on Rwandan territory.  My colleagues may have more information, but to my knowledge, that is not the case.  It is the case that the Secretary-General has asked, given the seriousness of the allegations made by the Rwandan authorities, for more information and evidence to be provided, and so certainly, we would be looking for that.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew behind Matthew?


[The Spokesperson later said that, on this issue, the Mission has said that it encourages the Government of Rwanda to work through the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, E-JVM.  The E-JVM is a technical body, comprising military experts from both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, as well as other ICGLR [International Conference on the Great Lakes Region] countries and supported by the African Union and the United Nations, to address Democratic Republic of the Congo-Rwanda border security issues, among other tasks.]


Question:  I was wondering if you could give an update on what’s going on in Panama, with regards to the panel of experts visiting the North Korean ship.


Spokesperson:  Not really, no, because this would be a matter for the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee that deals with this topic.  We’ve simply said what the Secretary-General has had to say on this matter, which is that he is certain that the Sanctions Committee will be looking in to this with a sense of urgency and we will then be looking to see what the outcome of any investigation would be.  But, it’s for the Security Council Sanctions Committee to pronounce themselves on that.  And the Chair of the Sanctions Committee, as you may be aware, is the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg.  Yes, Pamela?  And then Nizar and then Matthew.


Question:  Do you have any information about the Secretary-General planning any meeting with Ahmed al Jaber, President of the Syrian opposition, later this week?


Spokesperson:  No, I’ll check.  I haven’t heard about anything like that.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  To my wonder, what’s the point of view of the Secretary-General with regard to the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, especially after Mr. Kerry’s visit there and his endeavours?  Also, do you have any line regarding the building of new settlements in Jerusalem today and the West Bank, the decision to build more?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think our position on settlements is very well known and I don’t need to repeat that right now.  What I will tell you is that we did issue a statement on Friday in which the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Secretary of State Kerry in Amman, Jordan, that day.  And he certainly commends Secretary Kerry’s efforts and the decision by the parties to return to the negotiating table, and he’s encouraged by this positive development and calls on both sides to show leadership, courage and responsibility to sustain this effort towards achieving the two-State vision.  And also, the Secretary-General has made clear that the United Nations will support any endeavour towards meaningful negotiations and to the achievement of a comprehensive peace in the region.


Question:  But, with regard to the timing of declaring today new settlements, do you find that this is conducive to moving forward the settlement?


Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, firstly, our position on settlements is very well known, and secondly, the Secretary-General is calling on both sides to show leadership, courage and responsibility to sustain this effort.  Yes, Matthew?  And then Carla.


Question:  Okay, I want to ask you about Mali, the Pension Fund and South Sudan.  On just Mali, it’s now six days before the election and some are saying that only 60 per cent of those entitled to voter cards have them so far, and people are putting this 36 per cent, which is the turnout in 2007, as kind of a benchmark.  What’s the UN’s knowledge of the number of people entitled to vote that have so far been able to do it?  And does the UN have a benchmark of what would be the kind of turnout that would make the people accept it?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to check with the Mission on it.  I don’t have that information to hand.  Next part?


Question:  Yeah, sure, the Pension Fund.  I wanted to ask you if, whether… one, what the Secretary-General’s role is in approving recommendations of the top or the number two position in the Pension Fund, and whether it is the case, as I’ve been told… seems to be the case, that the candidate of the deputy position for the Pension Fund is somebody that was named in an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report as someone being engaged in financial impropriety and discipline was recommended at the time, and whether this would be any factor in the Secretary-General’s review of giving out this financial position.


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that, Matthew.


Question:  Okay.  And South Sudan, I really appreciated about… the answer about human rights due diligence policy as regards airplane fuel.  I just couldn’t figure out from the response whether… it was all kind of conditional.  Has such a request been received?  It seems like it would reply if a request was received.  Can it be known whether a request has been received?


Spokesperson:  I think it can be known.  I think that on at least one occasion, but I have to get the dates for you.  Yes, Carla?  And then Evelyn, I think you had a question?


[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) received such a request from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in late 2012.  On the basis of the human rights due diligence policy, a task force reviewed the request for aviation fuel, which was premised on the SPLA need to reach isolated groups of civilians at a time of escalating military operations by armed elements loyal to David Yau Yau.  The request was granted and the fuel was delivered in November and December of last year to help the SPLA carry out its protection-of-civilians mandate and deter violence.]


Question:  Were there any updates on Syria from Mr. Brahimi, who was here last Thursday?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have a specific update from his deliberations here last week.  They were internal meetings he was holding as part of his efforts to try to push this process forward towards the follow-up conference that, obviously, as you all know, the United States and the Russian Federation have announced that they would wish to have, and Mr. Brahimi and the Secretary-General have been working along with the Russian and US authorities to try to make that happen.  It hasn’t happened yet, as you all know.  It is not exactly easy to make it happen, but they continue to push in that direction and it was in that context that Mr. Brahimi was here last week.  If I get anything more concrete than that, I’d obviously let you know.  Evelyn, last question?


Question:  Alright, thank you, Martin.  Does anyone know whether… whether the Syrian Government could provide security if it decided to allow the UN team on chemical weapons to go where they wanted to?  Could they provide security or are we talking about a country that is slowly deteriorating into warlord fiefdoms with the Government having the largest one?


Spokesperson:  Well, there are a couple of points here.  The first is that, obviously, for the Syrian authorities to pronounce their views on providing security to any mission outside Damascus.  And just to reiterate, the visit that is taking place this week… that will be taking place this week, is very much to talk about details.  This is not a mission in the sense that it’s seeking information and evidence and so on.  It is not; it is discussion about details.  That’s the aim of that particular trip.  Security is always going to be an overriding factor, whichever part of the Syrian territory you’re trying to navigate, because obviously, as you’ve pointed out and we heard earlier in the briefing from Ms. Zerrougui, this is a dangerously polarized country with fighting going on in many different areas between different groups, as well as the Syrian authorities, the Syrian Armed Forces, against the rebel groups.  So, this is obviously not an easy terrain to work in, but let’s keep the focus on the aim of this particular trip, which is to talk about the details in the jargon, modalities for any activities and for any mission to be carried out successfully on the ground.


Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.


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