|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Okay, everyone, today my guest is Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Ms. Amos, as you can see, is joining by video link from Beirut to discuss humanitarian aid in Syria. Right next to her you can see Robert Watkins, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon. Ms. Amos will make some opening remarks and then take some questions. Because her time is fairly brief, we would like any question to be focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria and the region. First, Ms. Amos, welcome.
[Press conference by Ms. Amos is issued separately.]
I have a few other items for announcement, and then we will take some further questions from this end from you.
The Secretary-General has spent the day taking part in the G-20 Summit in Saint Petersburg and meeting world leaders. He participated in G-20 sessions that focused on growth, jobs and investment, and attended a meeting organized by British Prime Minister David Cameron on the margins of the Summit, to highlight the need for more funding for aid for the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Among the leaders the Secretary-General met today were the German Chancellor, the French President, the Turkish Prime Minister and the Indonesian President. Details on those meetings are available online.
The Secretary-General was accompanied at most of his meetings by the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr. Brahimi also attended lunch with a number of G-20 foreign ministers hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The two men spoke to reporters after their meeting, and we have provided a transcript of Mr. Brahimi’s comments. The Secretary-General leaves Saint Petersburg early on Saturday and will be back in New York the same day.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is very concerned about recent security measures and restrictions on the Rafah crossing and tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The restrictions have resulted in delays for students and patients seeking urgent medical treatment, and shortages of construction materials, fuel and medical supplies. Thousands of Palestinians are stranded on both sides of the border.
Local sources indicate that, for the second successive week, fewer than 10 tunnels are operational, compared to around 50 during previous weeks and an estimated 300 before the imposition of the current measures. The crackdown has also caused chronic shortages of fuel. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs calls for the opening of all crossings to legitimate imports and exports and movement of civilians.
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkerios, welcomes the conclusion this week of the summit between President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan. He commends the constructive spirit the Presidents displayed at the summit, and the agreement in relation to the transportation of oil, while urging them to find a compromise on the final status of Abyei as soon as possible.
**Central African Republic
The UN refugee agency said today it is increasingly worried about the safety of civilians in the Central African Republic after its staff reported widespread lawlessness during a field trip to the north of the country.
Last week, staff from the UN refugee agency and from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs travelled to the town of Paoua, 500 kilometres north of the capital, Bangui. They found seven villages burned to the ground and deserted — and an eighth village partially burned — with villagers hiding in the bush.
The refugee agency said that local people spoke of physical assaults, extortion, looting, arbitrary arrest and torture by armed men. It calls again on the authorities in the Central African Republic, and on all armed groups, to protect civilians and make sure aid agencies can reach people in need.
**Culture of Peace
The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at this morning’s high-level forum on the culture of peace, saying that, all too often, we see blatant, often systemic, violations of the principle of the dignity of every person. In Syria, he said, a tragic civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced one third of the country’s population and inflamed sectarian tensions. To build a culture of peace, we must heed the lessons of these appalling numbers and conditions.
The Deputy Secretary-General said that this is a moment in history when we need a culture of peace — not just the absence of war, but a fully formed culture of peace — so that we can pull together as a single human family to meet our shared challenges. And we have his remarks in our office.
That’s it from me. Any questions? Yes, Sylviane?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I don’t know if it works… does it work? Do you hear me?
Associate Spokesperson: Kind of. Try again.
Question: Here, you hear me?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: Okay. Do you have any… can you confirm or if Mr… the Special Envoy, Brahimi, and also Secretary-General met with Foreign Minister [Walid al] Muallem in Saint Petersburg? If yes, is there any readout?
Associate Spokesperson: No. As far as I am aware, I am not aware of that meeting. I will check again, but as far as I know, that is not. We put readouts of the meetings that there have been on the Secretary-General’s site and I just mentioned Mr. Brahimi. And we also put out Mr. Brahimi’s press remarks. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Well, it was obvious that the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi are both against a military strike without the approval of the Security Council. Is it the position of the United Nations now that any strike would be illegitimate or illegal at this stage? Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: Well, we will have to see what happens. I certainly don’t want to speculate on the future. What the Secretary-General has made clear, as he has done many times before, is the importance of the UN Charter and the need to uphold the UN Charter, and he continues to do so. Matthew?
Question: Sure. First, I just… I… to follow up on what Valerie Amos said, this idea, the… I mean, did I hear her right that 11 UN staff have been killed?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: And what can… I mean, and is there any sense from the UN on… on… on… first a breakdown of, you know, what parts of the UN… were they all national staff?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware of the nationalities. I believe the majority of them were national staff, yes.
Question: And do you have any idea of… of… I mean, what were the circumstances of their death? Were they killed by… by armaments, were they… were they…?
Associate Spokesperson: These are deaths that occurred in the course of a war. As you know, many other nationals of Syria have also been killed. So this is part and parcel of what is happening on the ground and another reason, yet another reason, why the violence must be ended.
Question: But is there… so… I mean, can we get… I guess what I am asking is, we are… we have seen other announcements by the UN when… when staff are killed, is there some way to get some, you know, information both for… you know, in terms of who did it, who did what, where these things happened, it seems it might… might be important.
Associate Spokesperson: Well, there is a difficulty, a built-in difficulty, in getting some of the details in the course of a war such as this one. There has been any number of violent incidents throughout the country. We’ve drawn attention to some killings as they occur when we have more precise circumstances, but in this case, we just have an overall tally of casualties in the course of the last two-and-a-half years of fighting.
Question: One last thing, do you… do you have… to… to your knowledge, are there UN staff that are held… she mentioned kidnappings, that are held… kidnapped by armed rebel groups?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, there have been. We’ve drawn your attention to some of the cases of, for example, the detained peacekeepers of UNDOF — the Disengagement Observer Force — who have since been freed. I don’t think at this stage we can really comment much on any other detained staff, just to let you know that we are trying to get all of our staff released, wherever they may be held. That’s it? Have a good weekend. Sorry, Haider. Yes, Haider?
Question: Thank you. A follow-up to Ali’s questions about the Secretary-General’s understanding of a possible strike against Syria. I vividly remember 10 years ago, the same question was asked to Kofi Annan, and he said the attack on Iraq was illegal, so in that context…
Associate Spokesperson: First of all, I was a spokesman even then and that’s not quite what he said. But second of all, that is a completely different circumstance. We don’t try to equate dissimilar things. We have no real way of knowing what the future will hold. What we are hoping for, what the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi are working for, is an effort to get a peaceful solution. The odds may be difficult from time to time, but it is more urgent than ever that a peaceful solution be found. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. There… there are reports in Darfur that… that… of Government bombing, killing seven people, including four children, in East Jebel Marra, and I am wondering if UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is aware of this, if you have any… if you can confirm these deaths and what UNAMID is doing?
Associate Spokesperson: We will try to get an update. As far as I know, we haven’t heard anything from UNAMID on this today, but we will try to get some details.
[The Associate Spokesperson later added that UNAMID said that it is aware of the reports and is trying to verify them.]
Have a good weekend, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record