13 August 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 briefing.


**Secretary-General in Pakistan


The Secretary-General arrived in Islamabad overnight, and he has been holding the first of his planned meetings with Pakistani leaders.  We are providing separate details on those meetings.


The Secretary-General also inaugurated the Centre for International Peace and Stability at the National University of Sciences and Technology.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General praised Pakistan's leading role in peacekeeping operations and outlined challenges facing the United Nations. 


The Secretary-General later took part in an event at the Islamabad College for Girls to promote education, especially for girls and women.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General has further meetings with Pakistani leaders, including the Prime Minister, the President and women parliamentarians.  He will also attend part of Pakistan's Independence Day celebrations.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General will travel to the Middle East later this week.  In Jordan, he is scheduled to meet with King Abdullah II, as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs.


The Secretary-General will then go to Ramallah, where he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.  While in Ramallah, he will also visit the gravesite of President Yasser Arafat.


The Secretary-General will then travel to Jerusalem, where he will hold meetings with several officials, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  He will also visit the memorial and grave of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl.


During his visit, the Secretary-General will also be meeting the lead Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, as well as the United States Special Envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk.


** Syria


I’ve been asked about the work of the chemical weapons team dealing with Syria, and I have the following update:


Over the weekend, the investigation team led by Dr. Åke Sellström completed all the necessary logistical arrangements for its visit to Syria.  In the meantime, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, has continued her consultations with the Government of Syria with a view to reaching agreement as soon as possible on the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission.  Once the Government of Syria confirms its acceptance of the modalities, the mission will depart without delay.


Also on Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that humanitarian workers successfully delivered aid to Idleb city, with convoys arriving on 3 and 12 August, for the first time in around 30 days.  The United Nations hub in Tartous coordinated with UN agencies to supply 16 trucks loaded with food, high-energy biscuits, medical supplies and educational and recreational kits for children.  These convoys provided food support for 17,750 people, high-energy biscuits for 50,000 people and three months' supply of primary health-care medicines for 45,000 people, among other key items.


** Myanmar


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today repeated its call for peaceful dialogue between uprooted people and the Government in Myanmar following clashes in Rakhine State last week that left one person dead and some 10 others injured.  The Agency says that dialogue is key to avoiding further violence.  It notes that some 140,000 people remain internally displaced in Rakhine following last year’s violence.  An additional 36,000 people in isolated areas and host communities in the State have also been adversely affected, with little or no access to work and basic services.  There is more information about this on the agency’s website.


** Bangladesh


The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today it is concerned about the arrest of a prominent human rights defender in Bangladesh and urged the Government to secure his immediate release.  Adilur Rahman Khan, the Director of a well-known human rights organization in Bangladesh, was arrested at his home on 10 August.  He is reportedly accused of publishing false information about violence by Government forces during the demonstrations in May.  The Office called on the Government to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Khan, whose arrest might be linked to his work as a human rights defender.


** Central African Republic


The UN refugee agency said today that it was extremely concerned at reported lawlessness in the Central African Republic, where the number of people displaced inside the country or forced to flee to neighbouring countries continues to grow.


Inside the Central African Republic itself, there are estimated to be more than 200,000 internally displaced people.  Since mid-July, an additional 4,125 refugees have arrived in the Moissala area of southern Chad.  There are now more than 62,700 refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries since the latest crisis erupted in December.  The refugee agency called on the Government to do more to ensure the safety of people and their property across the country, to avert further displacement and suffering.


Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that its assessment has shown that 70 per cent of people in the Central African Republic do not have access to health services.  Many health facilities are not functioning due to looting, the movement of health workers, non-payment of wages and the breach of the medicines supply chain.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the measles outbreak is one of the major health concerns in the country.  Health partners are preparing a nationwide vaccination campaign to respond to this continued outbreak.


**Secretary-General’s Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Haoliang Xu of China as Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  He will replace Ajay Chhibber of India, who will return to his Government.  Mr. Xu has been Deputy Regional Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States since 2010.  We have more on his appointment in our office.


Questions, please?  Edie?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  Could you give us any details on what is causing the delay in the departure of the weapons inspectors?  Martin [Nesirky] had said a week ago, last Tuesday, that he expected that… that the UN expected all the arrangements to be completed within days.  It is now a week later, so what… what specifically is the hold up?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, a week is seven days.  I am not going to get into the modalities that they are discussing.  Once these discussions have taken place satisfactorily, then the mission will leave.  Monsieur Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  You had just indicated that the Secretary-General will be travelling to Jordan, Palestine and Israel.  What specific message is he carrying to the leaders of the region?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that the message is going to be that the Middle East peace talks that are scheduled to resume again tomorrow are something that he supports, and that he hopes that the leaders of the region will find it within themselves to negotiate eventually a peace that will bring peace and stability to the region.  Ali?


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  On Syria, it was our understanding that there was an agreement between the UN and the Syrian Government on the modalities.  So, what kind of answers are you still seeking from the Syrian Government, since you had reached an agreement already?   This is on Syria; I have another question on the Secretary-General.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to get into the details of what they are discussing.  Obviously, the devil is in the details, and the details are being worked out.  What is your next question?


Question:  My next question is whether the Secretary-General is going to play… was he asked by the United States Government to play a role in the peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and is he going to deal in Jordan with the Syrian refugees or the Syrian crisis?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have his programme in Jordan.  What I can tell you, of course, is that the Secretary-General, as a member of the Quartet, is intimately involved in what happens in the Middle East, and he will be raising all kinds of issues with the leaders of Jordan, of Palestine and of Israel.  And that is the reason why he is going there.  Obviously, it is to buttress the Middle East peace talks.


Question:  Given, as we have all been saying, that an agreement seemed imminent and the weapons inspectors were poised to go into Syria, I am wondering if the Secretary-General is concerned about the Syrian Government’s response, since you indicated that the UN is waiting for Syria to sign off on an agreement.  Is there concern about the pace of the Syrian Government’s response here?  Is he concerned that the mission is going to look like a failure if it doesn’t get in there, especially given the limited scope of the mandate of the inspectors?  You know, they are… they are not going to be assigning blame, they are just going in to see if weapons are used, the evidence to…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said… as I have said in the response to the other two questions, I am not going to get into the details.  Matthew?


Question:  Is he worried about… about how… what this means for the UN?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not going to get into the details.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I just want to make sure that… I wanted to ask you about Darfur, I wanted to ask you about this helicopter that it now emerges has been… was… went down more than a week ago.  What I wonder is, is… a week is a long time, what… what led the UN to… to… is this its common procedure?  Are there other hostages in the world that the UN has taken that… that they don’t disclose?  And what… what’s been going on for the week?  Can the UN confirm that this was a private or contractor helicopter and not a Sudanese Government helicopter?


Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, the UN hasn’t taken hostages; UN-[contracted] personnel have been taken as hostages.  Slight difference.


Correspondent:  Yeah.  Okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.


Deputy Spokesperson:  The helicopter is a UN-contracted helicopter; it’s been down since I think 4-5 August and negotiations are under way.  I am not going to get into any further details.


Question:  But, I guess my question is sort of what the UN’s policy is.  I know that in… when you’ve had even skirmishes, for example in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN is very quick to say some… something was fired at or someone, so I just… I wonder in this instance what… what… it’s a long time, what’s taking this long?


Deputy Spokesperson:  When people are being held, Matthew, we await the process of negotiation, and that’s as far as I want to go on this.


[He shared the following information with the correspondent:  On 3 August, the helicopter of an African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) contractor, tasked with delivering supplies to various UNAMID locations in South Darfur, made an emergency landing due to severe weather conditions.  Upon landing, 50 kilometres southeast of Nyala town, the crew members were detained by members of the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi.  Communication is being maintained with all parties and negotiations are under way for the safe release of the crew, as well as the recovery of the helicopter.  The catering company has been in negotiations with Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi over the release of the helicopter and crew, with UNAMID also calling on Minni Minawi to release the occupants unharmed.]


Question:  Can you give an estimate of how many hostages… I… I am sorry if I mis-phrased it, the UN has… I mean, are there staff members of the UN being held in the world that we… that have not been disclosed by your Office?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not going to answer that.  Next question?  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  Tension seems to be mounting between Spain and Great Britain regarding issues related to the Rock of Gibraltar.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this and is he taking any initiative or contemplating taking initiative to defuse the tension in the area?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General hopes that both sides will act with prudence and will remain at an acceptable level.  He is not going get involved in this process.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about the… in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is a report that a parliamentarian, Mr. Ngazi [Nzangi], has been arrested by the Government for insulting Joseph Kabila on the radio.  Since the UN is, you know, providing military support to… to the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] Government, I wonder if the UN has any… has any comment on the arrest of someone for a speech.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out first of all to see what the situation is.  We’ll get back to you on that.


Question:  Okay.  There are also reports that the M23 [23 March Movement] started a radio station which, I… you know, obviously, there are… they… they… it is… they are what they are, but that it is being jammed and I wondered, it… it may… it may be kind of a gray area for the UN, but is it… is that considered jammed by the Government?  And again, because the UN supports the Government militarily, is this viewed… is… is… is there any kind of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]… do you either… says… as a… as a… as an… an attack on media or an attack on an armed group that you seek to disarm?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it would seem to be an attack on an armed group that we seek to disarm.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you in answering my question, but I would like to know, what are the specific reasons why the Secretary-General would not want to get involved in this question?


Deputy Spokesperson: Well, because he hasn’t been invited to.


Question:  What about Article 99, the Good Offices of the Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General’s Good Offices are there, if both parties agree to take advantage of them.


Correspondent:  Secretary-Generals do not always wait for the parties to move.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in this case, the Secretary-General, his Good Offices are there; if both parties want to take advantage of them, they will contact the Secretary-General and he will decide at that time.  Ali?


Question:  A few days ago, two Turks were kidnapped in Lebanon, and obviously, there were some kind of threats against the Turkish battalion in the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon].  Is the United Nations concerned about the situation in Lebanon and about the kidnappings?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations is always concerned when innocent people are taken hostage, Ali, and this situation obviously is as disturbing as are other situations where people are taken hostage.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about Bahrain and then also about the… the General Assembly here.  In Bahrain, there are… there are these reports there is going to be a 14 August protest that the Government is trying to cut off at the pass, but there are a lot of reports of journalists and… and bloggers and others being arrested in advance of this protest; and I wonder, is it something that the UN, either DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or anyone, is… is… is monitoring and what can you say about the rights of people to protest on 14 August in Bahrain?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we’ve said the umpteenth number of times from this podium, the Secretary-General believes that the right of democratic and peaceful protest is a right that people have, and it has to be… it should be respected at all times.  With respect to whatever may be happening on 14 August, I’ll have to find out for you.  I don’t have that information with me.


Question:  Okay. And if you… I… I wanted to ask you this, it… it… it… yesterday, it was kind of confirmed that it see… that… that… that in the upcoming General Assembly general debate week, that there will be in… in the… the… the… the new interim General Assembly Hall up… zero seats for the press or the public, which in the past could be in this mezzanine.  So, I just… what I wanted to know rather than to ask, is, who is… it’s been difficult to find out, like, how that decision was made.  It seems like it will be the first year… admittedly it’s a new space, but who… how was the decision made how these hundred and some seats in the back of the room are allocated and that none would go to the public or press?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out for you, Matthew, I am not privy to that information, number one.  Number two, it’s a much less… it’s a much smaller venue, and arrangements have had to be made, first of all, so that delegates and Member State delegates can be there.


Question:  The only thing, I just… the one follow-up… it’s just that given the things the Secretary-General said about civil society, etcetera, it seems strange to have… if everyone would… if every class that sort of has a stake in the UN was reduced, it would be one thing, but this is one… at least two classes of… of stakeholders, absolutely, so I just wanted to know who made the decision and how it was made.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, I’ll have to find out for you, I don’t have that information.  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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