10 October 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good morning, everyone.


**Noon Guest


Today we are very happy to have with us Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.  Ms. Wahlström, welcome.  You’re free to begin, and then we can open up the floor for questions.


[Press conference by Ms. Wahlström issued separately.]


Thanks.  I have a few more notes, and then I can take some questions from you.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


First of all, the Secretary-General arrived in Brunei Darussalam earlier today.  He has been attending a summit of the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the United Nations and meeting regional leaders.


At the summit, the Secretary-General highlighted four areas where the ASEAN-UN partnership can produce tangible results:  regional connectivity; sustainable development; human rights; and peace and security.  He said the United Nations needed ASEAN’s engagement and dynamism to set new standards for equitable growth and sustainable development in the region and beyond.


The Secretary-General also held meetings with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, the Prime Minister of Thailand and the Prime Minister of Cambodia.  And, he held a press conference.  The readouts and transcripts for those events are all posted.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be meeting other leaders, including the Sultan of Brunei, before heading back to New York, where he is due arrive on Saturday.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council adopted unanimously a resolution on the Central African Republic.  In the resolution, the Security Council demands the swift implementation of transitional arrangements leading to the holding of free, fair and transparent presidential and legislative elections 18 months after the beginning of the transition period, which took effect on 18 August.  The Council also encourages countries in the region and throughout Africa to participate in the establishment of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).


This morning, the Security Council also adopted unanimously a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) until 15 October 2014 and a resolution extending the authorization of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan until 31 December 2014.


The Security Council also held consultations on the Sudan and South Sudan.  This afternoon, it will hold closed consultations to discuss the Secretary-General’s letter to the Council concerning the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria.


**Libya


Speaking in Brunei today, the Secretary-General said that he was shocked to hear that the Prime Minister of Libya, Ali Zeidan, was abducted this morning, and he condemned the abduction in the strongest possible terms.  He noted the subsequent reports that the Prime Minister had been released.


The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) also denounced the Prime Minister’s abduction and called on all parties to continue the transitional political process and affirm the legitimacy of democratically elected institutions.  The Mission also called upon the international community to redouble its efforts in assisting Libya build a sovereign State, based on the rule of law and the promotion of human rights.


**Iraq


The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed concern that, between 8 and 9 October, 42 people were executed, among them one woman, as confirmed by Iraq’s Ministry of Justice today.  The UN Mission reiterates its call on the Government of Iraq to adopt a moratorium on the implementation of all death sentences, pursuant to the relevant UN General Assembly resolutions [62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2009) and 65/205 (2010)].  It added that the Government should consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with a view to the eventual abolition of the death penalty.


In his recent report to the Security Council on Iraq, the Secretary-General said that he was concerned that Iraq continues to implement the death penalty despite prevailing flaws in its criminal justice system.  He called on the Government of Iraq to halt all executions, conduct an independent review of all death row cases and disclose information on the number and identity of death row prisoners, the charges and judicial proceedings brought against them, and the outcome of these reviews.


**Golan


I was asked yesterday about the fighting in Golan.  What I can say on this is that heavy fighting between the Syrian Arab Armed Forces (SAAF) and armed members of the opposition has continued in the area of separation, restricting significantly the movements of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  In the context of these clashes, yesterday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that Syrian artillery fire hit an Israel Defense Forces position and that the Israel Defense Forces were going to retaliate.  The UN Disengagement Observer Force, the UN Mission, urged the Israel Defense Forces not to take such action.  The UN Disengagement Observer Force also asked Syrian authorities to urge the Syrian Arab Armed Forces to stop firing towards the ceasefire line.  Subsequently, the Israel Defense Forces fired missiles at a Syrian Arab Armed Forces position.


Both sides reported that two of their soldiers were wounded during this incident.  UNDOF observed the impact of the Israel Defense Forces missiles on the Syrian Arab Armed Forces position.  It was unable to observe the artillery fire.  Upon inspection of the location, the UN Disengagement Observer Force observed the impact of artillery fire, but could not confirm if it had resulted from the incident.  UN peacekeepers in positions in close proximity to the firing took shelter.  There was no injury to UN personnel.

Later in the day, Syrian authorities informed UNDOF that Israeli helicopters had attacked the Syrian Arab Armed Forces in the vicinity of Ufaniyah.  The Israel Defense Forces denied the report, and UNDOF was unable to observe this incident.  The UN Force Commander continues to liaise with Syrian authorities and the Israel Defense Forces to exercise maximum restraint and prevent escalation of tension.


The firing across the ceasefire line is a violation of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces.  The ongoing activities by any actor in the area of separation continue to have the potential to escalate tensions between the parties.  There should be no military forces in the area of separation other than that of UN Disengagement Observer Force.


**Myanmar


The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, took part as an observer in the peace talks that wrapped up today between the Government of Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organization.  In a statement, Mr. Nambiar said that this latest round of talks achieved significant progress on issues such as assistance and resettlement of internally displaced people.  Most importantly, he said, the parties committed themselves to further de-escalation of violence and to moving the peace process forward.


Mr. Nambiar reaffirmed his belief that a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kachin is of great importance, not only for the people of Kachin, but for the country as a whole.  The United Nations will continue to assist and support the people of Myanmar as the country continues on its path towards peace and democracy.  The full statement is available online and in our office.


**Kosovo


The Special Representative and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Farid Zarif, visited northern Kosovo yesterday, where he met with a wide range of political actors.  During his visit, Mr. Zarif said that efforts must be sustained to ensure conditions for a free and fair process of local elections in northern Kosovo.  He also said that no act of intimidation or coercion would be condoned or tolerated, and that any anti-democratic acts would be condemned.  A press release with more details is available in our office and online.


**Press Conference


And finally, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Nicole Ameline, the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Ms. Ameline will brief on the work of the Committee and on her interactive dialogue with the Member States at the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which takes place tomorrow morning.


That’s it from me.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary-General think that the situation on the Golan Heights is serious enough as to brief the Security Council on the matter?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, at this stage, there is no immediate Security Council briefing scheduled.  But we will be prepared to do so as needed.  But certainly, like I said, this firing across the ceasefire line is a violation of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, and it is a very serious matter for us.  At this stage, we are working on the ground through the UN Disengagement Observer Force to work with the parties to make sure that the disengagement is observed once more and that there is maximum restraint by all sides.  Yes, Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do you have any update from the Special Representative, [Lakhdar] Brahimi, about the mid-November peace… the Geneva II peace talks?  And do you… just on a specific scheduling question, will the Secretary-General be participating in any events with Malala [Yousafzai]?  Thank you.


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any events concerning Malala Yousafzai to confirm just yet.  Regarding Mr. Brahimi, he does continue his work with a view to having an international conference on Syria held in Geneva by the middle of November.  And so, he is meeting with a variety of parties.  And we will be able to provide you with more details of his meetings as they progress.


Question:  If I can just follow up; he is… he told a French television station that he thinks about resigning.  Have you heard anything on that?


Associate Spokesperson:  I believe Mr. Brahimi has told you several times that he very, very frequently thinks about resigning, and yet, you’ll notice he continues with his work; and if he thinks there is an opening for diplomacy, he will try to seize it.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to… I guess, you know… yes, I am sure you… you… yesterday, the Transparency International released a report… this report on corruption in peacekeeping and I… and… and… and relatedly, Mr. [James] Wasserstrom and the Government Accountability Project said that they se… at least he, as a whistleblower, said that there has been no improvements that he can see in transparency or accountability at the UN.  So, I wanted to know, what’s the response to the report?  I asked Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous this morning; he had no response, but I understand he has been given the report.  What’s the UN’s response to that report?  And also I wanted to ask you again about screening, whether you have any answer on whether people… peacekeepers are screened for cholera before they are deployed, which I asked yesterday and you said you thought that they were.  Can you confirm that, because it is not my understanding?


Associate Spokesperson:  I was checking.  No on the latter question; no, they are not being screened.  I am trying to get the details about this.  But, this was one of the steps that was being considered upon consultations with the World Health Organization and some others.  That was not something that has been taken up, but I will try to get some further details about where we stand on that. 


On your first question, yes, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support (DPKO and DFS) are reviewing the report, which was launched yesterday.  We take all such observations and findings very seriously and are ready to consider how we can reinforce the integrity of our systems.  Those two departments will engage with other departments and other UN partners to consider the report’s findings and recommendations and determine appropriate follow-up.  Regarding the related question on the Government accountability report, there is quite a wealth of information about how we have tried to improve the overall systems of accountability at the UN.  One of the things I can refer you to is a factsheet on whistleblower protection at the UN that has been put up by the Ethics Office, which has a wealth of details of the improvements that have been made in recent years about this.


Question:  What about the outside review?


Associate Spokesperson:  Sorry, some other questions.  Yes?


Question:  About the situation in Libya, it seems that the extremists are taking over.  Al-Qaida, as a matter of fact, has literally taken over.  It was the, apparently, reportedly, the fighters of Al-Qaida who kidnapped the Prime Minister and then freed him later on, and it was United Nations which was in forefront of this freedom movement for Libya and all that.  Now after calling this all-parties meeting, does the Secretary-General seem to get a sense over there and bring it to the Security Council to see what is happening, because it seems that extremists are taking over Libya for now, I mean, at this point in time?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we take very seriously the sort of actions that have been happening and the types of instability.  As you know, the head of the UN Mission in Libya, Mr. [Tarek] Mitri, has briefed the Security Council about the situation fairly recently.  And as I just said, the Mission does call upon the international community to redouble its efforts in assisting Libya to build a sovereign State based on the rule of law and the promotion of human rights.  But yes, our concerns remain, and we are working with the Security Council and with concerned nations about this.  Yes?  Yes, please?


Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  A follow-up on Libya.  Now the Secretary-General’s statement to condemn the attack, or the kidnapping of the Libyan Prime Minister, and his assertion to respect the outcome of an electoral process that resulted in the current Government; what about the other measures for democracy in terms of accountability, in terms of inclusion, in terms of transparency — which is or have been overlooked by the Secretary-General in his remarks, measuring it on similar statements with other Arab Spring countries.  Is there any intention to do a sort of an audit for the situation in Libya by the UN, taking into consideration that today, yesterday we have witnessed the kidnapping of a prime minister; a year before we have witnessed assassination of the US ambassador in Benghazi; and yet we haven’t heard anything rather than the reiteration of respecting the outcome of an election while it is just… it is one element of the whole process?


Associate Spokesperson:  There is more to democracy in Libya than simply the election.  There has been a national dialogue, a constitution writing process; the United Nations has been providing support to the Libyan people in a variety of ways.  And, like I said, part of what we are doing is calling on the parties to continue the entire transitional political process.  So that goes beyond simply affirming the elections.  But, yes, part of the process has to be to affirm the legitimacy of democratic elections, and we are doing that as well.  Joe?


Question:  Yes.  Earlier this week, I was on a conference call with an NGO [non-governmental organization] leader who is very much involved with the post-2015 development agenda, especially the core concern of eradicating poverty.  And he outlined a timetable leading up to next September, when there is hope that the member nations will agree on the goals of that agenda.  But, at the same time, there is going to be a summit, a Head of State meeting on trying to reach agreement on the climate change treaty, looking towards 2015.  He raised concerns that the two may be in some conflict.  I know the Secretary-General has talked about the inter-relationship between climate change, sustainable development and the post-2015 agenda, but this NGO, which is very much involved in the development agenda, thinks that the political will to implement or to devise and then move forward with these development goals will be sapped by controversy surrounding the climate change agenda.  So I’d like to know what the Secretary-General may be thinking on this in trying to prevent the climate change agenda from diverting from the post-2015 development agenda.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the need to deal with environmental matters and climate change is part of the overall goal of sustainable development.  So, it can’t easily be separated from that.  Different meetings of the United Nations often highlight different aspects, but the nations, the Member States of the United Nations, have been trying to develop what a post-2015 development agenda will look like.  And we do expect that it will include climate change, among many other things, such as the reduction of poverty, for example.  So, we trust that all these conferences will actually complement each other and be able to build up a common cause and a common sense of effort towards a series of goals across the range of what constitutes sustainable development.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, thanks.  I’ll… this is what I was trying to ask you about, about whistleblower protections.  It was said back in May that the Secretary-General had app… had engaged Louis… Louise Otis of Canada to do some review of the UN’s whistleblower protections, which were under fire at that time by Government Accountability Project and others, and I wanted to know, what is the status of that review?  Where is… does it stand five months later?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details on that particular review.  What I do have is that the Ethics Office has provided a wealth of information about how whistleblower protections have been strengthened.  Since 2010, the Executive Office says it has established a number of legal and procedural benchmarks that advance protection against retaliation.  These include, number one, successfully using an alternative investigating mechanism when the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) could not conduct an investigation due to conflicts of interest; number two, protecting the confidentiality of individuals who seek protection and who request ethics advice; number three, developing and implementing protection against retaliation standard operating procedures; number four, implementing a rigorous practice of reviewing the OIOS investigation report, including the evidentiary materials and witness statements; number five, demonstrating that it will exercise its independent judgment when making the ultimate decision whether workplace retaliation occurred; number six, embarking upon an ambitious outreach and educational campaign for staff, to explain the services offered by the Ethics Office and encouraging staff to speak up and make reports of concerns that they encounter in the workplace.  And finally, in the last three years, the Director of the UN Ethics Office has personally met with nearly 3,000 staff members worldwide, to provide information about Ethics Office services, offer confidential advice, and promote the importance of speaking up.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  Related to the execution in Iraq, I would like to ask you, on the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, does the Secretary-General have any comment or plan to make any statement on not only the death penalty in Iraq, but also the death penalties in the rest of the world?


Associate Spokesperson:  You are certainly aware of the Secretary-General’s concerns about the death penalty and application of the death penalty, and of course you are aware of the recent General Assembly resolution concerning the call for a moratorium on the death penalty, and we continue to stand by those.  Beyond that, the Secretary-General’s views on the death penalty in Iraq were contained in his recent report to the Security Council on that topic.  Yes, please?


Question:  Yes, sir.  I am back on Libya and Al-Qaida.  Al-Qaida’s influence is also seen in Syria.  The Syrian Government has complained that Al-Qaida is being armed by other Governments’ groups inside the Al-Qaida and that danger is becoming ominous.  Has the Secretary-General and the United Nations noted that that this can become a greater threat, Al-Qaida can become a greater threat, which is demonstrated in what happened in Libya today?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think the nature of Al-Qaida as a threat has been on the international agenda for many, many years now.  As you are aware, the Security Council has a consolidated list concerning individuals and entities related to Al-Qaida who are then placed under Security Council sanctions. And we have tried to deal with the threat posed by Al-Qaida in a wide range of countries around the world, and we hope and expect that solidarity, international solidarity towards dealing with Al-Qaida will continue.  Yes?


Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I want to ask about Sri Lanka and Sudan.  On… on Sri Lanka, I… yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and he said as… as to this report, which he said is finished, he said that… that… that he has advised that it not be released until a part of it is implemented and, or at least as I understood, he said Mem… until Member States are comfortable with it.  And he did say that the Secretary-General spoke of it, he was speaking about it, but I wanted to… I wanted to understand more fully, what does it mean for… I mean how lo… what is the benchmark?  Could it be years until it is implemented?  And just kind… does Member States feel uncomfortable… does this involve Sri Lanka giving the green light to its release?  Why wouldn’t this simply be released in the spirit of courage of speaking that he referred to?  Thanks.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, in the spirit of courage of speaking, he actually, at that discussion, gave out quite a lot of the details of the report, as you will have noticed.  So, he has been speaking out on this, and we will have, I think, more to say in, I believe, the days and weeks to come.  I don’t think that this is a long wait, but there is a dialogue that is going on, and we will have something more to say about our follow-up to the work of the internal review panel.  But, as you know, we put out the report of the internal review panel; Michael Keating has proceeded to follow up with this, and we will be able to say things about the follow-up work as they proceed.  But, the Deputy Secretary-General yesterday in his discussion did discuss what the main priorities were about this particular effort and what things we seek to strengthen, including prevention, the protection of civilians and the need for faster action. And those are three priorities that we will try to uphold.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  Coming back to Golan Heights, again, do you think this tension in Golan Heights might have any negative effect in UN-OPCW joint team working in Syria?


Associate Spokesperson:  We trust and expect that the parties will abide by the disengagement agreement, and therefore it should have no effect on any other sorts of operations.  For now, the work of the UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons joint team has been proceeding; they have been able to visit several sites.  They visited three sites so far, and they have experienced very good cooperation in the work that they are doing.  And we hope and expect that that continues.  Thanks very much.


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