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


I see we’re all here today.  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing, starting at noon.


**Free and Equal Campaign


Today in Cape Town, South Africa, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay joined Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other officials to launch the United Nations Free and Equal Campaign.  This unprecedented global public information initiative aims to raise awareness of homophobic violence and discrimination, and to promote greater respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere.


The Secretary-General has consistently called on world leaders to address violence against LGBT members in our human family.  The Secretary-General commends the campaign’s core messages:  human rights are universal and we can change attitudes for the better.  He is personally committed to championing this cause.


** Egypt


In a statement we issued last night on Egypt, the Secretary-General once again urged all sides to act with maximum restraint.  He calls on the interim authorities to ensure law and order along with guaranteeing the safety and security of all Egyptians.


The Secretary-General renewed his calls for a meaningful national dialogue and an inclusive reconciliation process.  The aim must be to chart a peaceful path towards a full return of civilian control, constitutional order, and democratic governance.  And the Secretary-General urged the interim authorities to end arbitrary arrests and other reported forms of harassment.  The full statement is available online.


Also, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is concerned that Egyptian military and security personnel have been arbitrarily arresting and detaining an increasing number of Syrians, including several minors and people registered with UNHCR, amid growing anti-Syrian sentiment. The agency has requested access to 85 detained Syrians and assurances that they are not returned to Syria, stressing that they should be afforded fair and due process of law in Egypt.


** Tunisia


The Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, have each issued statements condemning the assassination yesterday of Mohamed Brahmi, an opposition politician and member of Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly.


In his statement, the Secretary-General called for calm and stressed that acts of political violence weaken legitimate State institutions, which underpin the democratic process.  He said that the killing must not be allowed to derail the progress that Tunisia continues to make in its democratic transition, including on the Constitution, and in meeting the social and economic aspirations of the Tunisian people.


In her statement, Ms. Pillay called upon the authorities to immediately launch a prompt and transparent investigation to ensure that the people who carried out this crime are held accountable.  The Tunisian authorities must take very serious measures to investigate these assassinations, identify the culprits and bring them to justice.


** Syria


The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says that it is gravely concerned about the risks posed to Palestine refugee civilians in several camps in Syria’s Damascus Governorate, particularly in Yarmouk, where the armed conflict is reaching new peaks of intensity.  The Agency says that credible reports point to a sharp escalation in the armed confrontation in Yarmouk.


Some 130,000 Palestine refugees have fled Yarmouk since December 2012.  The Relief and Works Agency is now providing humanitarian assistance to around 25,000 civilians who choose to remain in or lack the means to leave Yarmouk.  The Agency strongly reiterates its appeal to all concerned parties to end the suffering, comply with their obligations under international law and resolve the conflict in Syria through dialogue and negotiations.


**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


Heavy rains over the past two weeks have caused massive flooding in many parts of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Some 46,000 people have lost their homes across the country.  In North and South Pyongan, there has been extensive damage to buildings, infrastructure and crops.  Over 11,000 buildings have been destroyed or damaged and more than 10,000 hectares of farmland has been affected.  UN agencies that have conducted assessment missions in North Pyongan have warned that homeless families do not have enough fuel and food stocks.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is monitoring the situation and continues to work with the humanitarian community in the country to coordinate the emergency response.  Local health authorities are providing primary health care for people exposed to contaminated water.  Humanitarian partners have distributed diarrhoea treatment kits for 1,200 patients.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has released more than 1,000 hygiene kits to displaced women and adolescent girls.


Questions, please?  Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Let’s do it.  Some of these are from yesterday, but I’m… I’m going to ask them anyway.  I wanted to know, yesterday, possibly even while this briefing was taking place, the Foreign Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in his prepared remarks that he read in the [Security] Council, said that rebellions in the Great Lakes region all bear a similar, you know, genetic signature.  And many people have seen this as a… as a problematic statement given the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and its ethnic basis.  And so what I wanted to know is, what does the Secretariat… do they have any comment on the use of what some people see as hate speech inside the Great Lakes meeting of the UN Security Council?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we’re not going to comment on that, Matthew.  If people find it offensive, it’s up to them to take it up with the Congolese authorities. 


Question:  Okay, I also wanted to ask you, the… the… apparently… well, the Russian Government has put out its own report on the downing of their helicopter in South Sudan in December and they’ve said it’s now conclusively… which I guess was widely known… but proven to them that it was from ground-to-air fire, and Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin has said on the record that the UN had shared with the Mission its own investigation and that the… the… the remaining issue has to do with accountability for the people that… both for the people that shot and killed the four pilots and for the UN individuals who sent the pilots into danger.  And what I wanted to know, what’s your comment on the public portion of this?  The fact that, as reported in Russia in the media, that this report came out?  And can you confirm that the UN has shared its findings on the killing of the pilots with the Russian Mission? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve seen the reports and we’re going to have to check with DPKO [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to see exactly what exchange of information has taken place.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations confirms that, in keeping with procedures applicable in such incidents, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) did share its report on this particular incident with the Russian authorities.]


Question:  Okay, alright.  I’m going… I have one… can I ask?  There’s…


Deputy Spokesperson:  One more question?  Sure, go ahead.


Correspondent:  I have more than one.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I know you do, but we’ll go for one.


Question:  Alright, well, let’s see.  This one I want to be sure I’d be able to ask.  You know, currently, there is a meeting in the North Lawn Building of… of the Syrian coalition with members of the Security Council.  And rather than… so they may be doing a stakeout now.  But I wanted to ask you this.  I’ve seen, although it wasn’t sent to me, a notice of a press conference in the UN building by the Syrian Coalition in room 310 of the United Nations, and I wanted to know… I want you to describe what this press conference is.  Is it a UN press conference?  Is it only open to… to individuals who have paid money in order to attend it?  And I saw one of the speakers described as the Special Representative of the Syrian Coalition to the United Nations, and I wanted to know, is there such a thing?  Is there official representation to the United Nations by the Syrian… and… and on what basis does the UN give a large room to the UN Correspondents Association for meetings of this type, which they only promote to members that pay them money?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check on that, Matthew.  I don’t have the information with me, but we’ll check on that and get back to you.


Correspondent:  Okay, I’d really like an answer as soon… probably before the meeting takes place would be ideal. 


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re going to try.


Question:  Okay, can I get one more, a bit substantive?


Deputy Spokesperson:  One more question and then we’ll break for the weekend.  I think everybody is very anxious on a nice Friday afternoon to go.


Question:  Okay, alright.  The… the… I wanted to ask you about… I’m sure you’ve seen the report put out by the four scientists who did the UN’s initial study of cholera in Haiti, and they’ve now issued a second report… they’re no longer in the employ of the UN.  And they say that new evidence shows that it was pretty conclusively that the UN brought cholera to Haiti.  So I wanted to know, first, since the UN has relied on their previous findings so much, what do they say to this new study and does it…?  I’m hoping that you can say some way that it either relates to or changes in some way or just how should we read it in connection with the UN dismissing the claims on behalf of 5,000 people killed by the cholera.


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the claims continue to be not receivable.  That said, as we have stated consistently since the beginning of the crisis, the Secretary-General and the UN remain fully committed to address the situation of cholera in Haiti.  Significant progress has been made, mortality rates are down, we have been distributing all kinds of water purification kits, and we’ve been doing infrastructural work, building latrines, we’ve been distributing vaccines and we are also working very closely with the Haitian authorities to educate the Haitian people on how to avoid the spread of cholera.  The Secretary-General continues to press Member States and philanthropic organizations to increase their contributions.  The contributions for this year have only reached 23 per cent of the asking.  We’re working very assiduously with Member States and philanthropic organizations to ensure that this money is received this year so that we can continue with this work.


Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good weekend.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record