25 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Security Council


Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, provided an update to the Security Council this morning on the humanitarian situation in Syria, saying that fighting continues to intensify across the country and its impact on civilians continues to grow each day.


She said that humanitarian workers are still unable to provide assistance to an estimated 2.5 million people trapped in hard to reach and besieged areas, despite attempts to use the provisions in the Security Council’s 2 October presidential statement to do much more.  Ms. Amos said that the United Nations is engaging with the Government of Syria on expanding humanitarian relief operations and lifting bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles, but regrettably, as yet, has not had any major breakthrough.


Ms. Amos said that, without real and sustained pressure from the Security Council on the Government and opposition groups on the ground, it will be impossible to make progress.  She added that additional funds are needed. She noted that the appeal for humanitarian work in Syria and neighbouring countries is only 54 per cent funded.  We have her remarks in my office.  And, of course, you will have just heard Ms. Amos speaking at the Council stakeout.


**Syria


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in Qatar today, where he met the Emir to discuss the Syrian crisis and preparations for an international conference on Syria, to be held in Geneva.


Yesterday, the Joint Special Representative was in Turkey, where he met with General Salim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army and 10 of his military commanders, and they also discussed the international conference on Syria.  The Joint Special Representative reiterated his view that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis and that all efforts should be exerted to stop the conflict and end the suffering of the Syrian people.


Before travelling to Doha, Mr. Brahimi met today in Ankara with Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss preparations for the Geneva conference.  And tomorrow, the Joint Special Representative will travel to Tehran.


**Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, reports that early this morning, clashes occurred between the M23 and the Congolese army around Kibumba, 15 km north of Goma.  Heavy weapons, including mortars and machine guns, were used.


The Mission says that the fighting is continuing in that area.  The Mission adds that, as a result of the fighting, approximately 5,000 civilians from Kibumba crossed the border into Rwanda this morning.  The Mission has carried out aerial reconnaissance of the area.  And the Mission has also asked that the Extended Joint Verification Mechanism investigates reports of a shell landing in Kageyo, in Rwanda.  MONUSCO, the Mission, is on high alert and is closely monitoring the situation.


**Mali


I was asked yesterday about the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) says that the Mission is not taking part in offensive operations.  As part of its mandate for stabilization and protection of civilians, the UN Mission is conducting operations south of the Niger River.  Specifically, MINUSMA units are conducting patrols, maintaining contacts with the local population and showing a presence to deter any threats to civilians.


The UN Mission coordinates its operations closely with the other actors to ensure that efforts are complementary.  And as you know, Malian and French forces are also conducting operations in the Gao region.  And this makes the UN Mission’s presence south of the river particularly important to prevent a spillover of armed groups’ activities into civilian areas which could threaten populations.


**Myanmar


The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Ashok Nigam, expressed deep concern today over the situation of civilians affected by clashes in southern Kachin State between Government troops and the Kachin Independence Army.


The UN estimates that some 1,200 internally displaced people live in a village near where the fighting broke out on 22 October.  While some people have been able to escape the fighting, many are unable to move to safer locations.  Mr. Nigam strongly urged all parties to respect the right to freedom of movement and to allow safe passage.  The UN and its partners delivered assistance to 1,300 uprooted people in this area last July, but a mission planned for last month was cancelled due to renewed fighting.  And Mr. Nigam called for immediate access for humanitarian partners, as people are in urgent need of assistance.


**Philippines


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced today that the United Nations and its humanitarian partners in the Philippines are launching a new action plan and are seeking nearly $50 million to help victims of the Bohol earthquake, which struck the country on 15 October.  The new plan will support Government priorities, including emergency shelter for nearly 350,000 people, water and sanitation, and debris removal.  And there is more information available on this in the briefing notes from Geneva.


**Security


In a report on safety and security, the Secretary-General has appealed to Member States and host Governments to support all safety and security measures to improve the operational environment for United Nations personnel and humanitarian workers.  In the report, the Secretary-General also expresses concern for the disconcerting rise in abductions.  Thirty-one United Nations personnel were abducted last year, compared with 21 the year before.


**Press Conferences


At 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Olivier de Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.


And then at 3 p.m., Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, will brief the media in this room.


And next week there will be quite a few press conferences taking place here.  I would refer to the information that we make available in our “Week Ahead”, which will be available in the office.


**United Nations Messenger of Peace


And finally on Monday, the Secretary-General will designate the world renowned pianist Lang Lang from China as a United Nations Messenger of Peace to support his Global Education First Initiative.  The designation ceremony will take place at a press conference to be held in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium at 12 pm.  And Lang Lang will perform Chopin’s Waltz No. 1 for the occasion.  Lang Lang has served for close to 10 years as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.  As you can plainly see, we can’t get a grand piano in here, and so that’s why the press conference will take place in the auditorium and that’s also why we won’t hold the noon briefing that day.  But we will back as usual on Tuesday.


Questions, please?  Yes?  Could you use the microphone, please?  Thank you very much.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you.  This is regarding the LoC (line of control) tensions on the India-Pakistan border for the past few days.  There is… has been ceasefire violation.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment, because he said last month that he wants the two countries to sit together and discuss this and he was concerned about these ceasefire violations and all firing at the LoC?


Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously aware of these reports over the past few days, and obviously not just the past few days, I think, as we have said before, this needs to be dealt with by the two parties in a peaceful manner.  The discussions that did take place on the margins of the General Assembly meetings last month were important, and it is precisely that kind of dialogue which the Secretary-General would wish to encourage.  Yes, Joseph?


Question:  Okay, thank you, Martin.  There has been recent displeasure expressed in Europe and also continuing in Latin America at allegations of NSA (National Security Agency) surveillance, and there have been some calls for the United Nations to get more actively involved in trying to globalize this issue to contain such electronic surveillance.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment to make on this issue?


Spokesperson:  The short answer is no.  The longer answer is that these are clearly bilateral matters, individual Member States bilaterally, as you will have seen, and we have also seen discussion about some reference… referral, I should say, to the United Nations, but I think what is meant there is through the membership, the Member States in the General Assembly.  So that would then, should something come in that direction… would be a matter for Member States.  Yes, Pamela?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is there any more information on the mandate of Mr. Brahimi in Tehran to discuss the Geneva II?  I mean to… what… what is his mandate in…?


Spokesperson:  Well, this is out of his regional tour; as you know, he has been already to a number of countries, and I just mentioned two of them today…


Question:  I guess what I am asking you is, will… is there any determination on if Iran is invited to Geneva II?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Well, this is something that is still under discussion, as you know, and we have said on a number of occasions that what the Secretary-General’s views, what Mr. Brahimi’s views are on that, but that is clearly something that is still under discussion at this point.  Yes, Iftikhar?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Any update on the Security Council seat denied by Saudi Arabia?  Any communication has been received?


Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, Iftikhar, no.


Question:  Not yet?


Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, no.  Please?


Question:  Thank you.  The OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) is on the ground in Syria based on the allegations that Syria used WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) against its citizens and that… those charges seem to have been disproven.  Will the UN… can pursue the investigation of who actually launched the weapons attack…?  Or Khan al-Asal?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think… I think, first of all… first of all… I beg your pardon?


Question:  Or Khan al-Asal?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, your question is based on an alarmingly false premise.  The reason that the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are there with a joint team in Syria is based on a decision by the Member States of the OPCW through their Executive Council and by the Security Council members through a resolution, which is of course a legally binding document.  And Syria, the Syrian Arab Republic, furthermore has become a party to the Convention on Chemical Weapons, and it is within the framework of that Convention that it is now seeking to destroy and eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal, and that’s the reason for the presence there.  The investigation which took place into the incidents on 21 August, and the investigation which continues into all pending allegations, is not specifically linked to the decision that was taken by the Executive Council and by the Security Council respectively.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, thanks a lot, Martin.  I wanted to ask you about… you… you gave this readout from MONUSCO about the fighting between FARDC (Congolese Armed Forces) and the M23.  I have three questions.  One is:  M23 says that FARDC was the… initiated the contact at 4 in the morning, attacked them, seemingly as a… as a… as… either based on those Kampala talks failing or to gain leverage in Kampala.  I wanted to know whether MONUSCO can say who began this fighting.  There is also the… the Rwanda defence force says that a DRC citizen, Catherine Gihombo, was… was… was shot by FARDC and is now being treated in hospital, and I wanted to know if MONUSCO was aware of any civilian casualties caused by the DRC army, and also whether they say it is said that the Tanzanian artillery of the Force Intervention Brigade has now been… been… been… become part of it in some way, that… the last… the third I am less sure of, I am just, I am asking you whether they can confirm or deny that.


Spokesperson:  Well, on the last, as we have said, the Mission is monitoring what is going on; it is not actively involved at the moment.  With regard to the other two questions, I will check on the civilian casualties, whether there is any further update for the Mission on that.  And with regard to the very first question about who started it, at this point, I do not have clear information on that.  I think the Mission is still looking into it, and obviously what is most important is stopping it at this point. 


Question:  Sure, I just want… and I just want… because you may be able to speak to this… the idea that if it ha… if… if… if MONUSCO and the Force Intervention Brigade have protection-of-civilians mandates and it’s often described only in terms of M23, FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] and the various armed groups, what about harm caused by the DRC itself, not only the Minova rapes in the past, but if it is true in this instance that their attack actually injured a 58-year-old woman as… the way the report comes out, so she is a civilian.  What is… what is MONUSCO doing?  Can you imagine MONUSCO combating the FA… the DRC army or is it… is it a protection-of-civilians mandate sculpted to only target harm caused by some groups and not others?


Spokesperson:  No, well, I think it’s looking at it in a slightly roundabout way.  The point here is that measures should be taken by the Mission under its mandate to protect civilians.  That does not mean that civilians at some point are not going to get harmed.  I need to look into that specific point that you have raised, but in conflict, however much protection you have, at some point, civilians will get hurt, unfortunately.  And that is the sad reality, and that’s why it is important to stop the fighting.  Any other questions, please?  Yes, Saloua?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Do you have a set date for Dr. [Åke] Sellström’s report?  It’s…


Spokesperson:  Pardon?


Question:  Do you have a set date for Dr. Sellström’s report?


Spokesperson:  Well, we said… we said towards the end of this month.  So…


Question:  Right, that’s why I said do you have a set date, like… on the…?


Spokesperson:  No.  Not yet.


Question:  Please, did you find out whether the Kuwait letter reached the SG’s office?


Spokesperson:  Not yet, it has not.  Not yet.  Okay.  Yes?  And then, Jonathan.  Yes?


Question:  Yes, just following up on my prior question.  So the UN is continuing to investigate the actual perpetrators of the 21 August chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, is that what you are saying?  I just wanted to, for clarity’s sake…


Spokesperson:  No, no, it’s not.  There was already a report into that incident on 21 August.  There are other pending allegations which Dr. Sellström’s team has been continuing to investigate.  And then an overall report, which is the one that Salouais referring to, is in the process of being compiled and will then be issued, and that’s where we are.  Jonathan?


Question:  Martin, that overall report is still not going to point culp… at culpability of the August 24… 21st attack, correct?


Spokesperson:  That’s right, it is not; nor in any other incident.  That is not the mandate, as you know.


Question:  Is there any movement or request from any Governments, Member States to actually have an investigation into culpability of these attacks?


Spokesperson:  Well, if there is, it hasn’t reached us, and it would be for Member States to provide such a mandate; that is not the mandate that this mission had.  The investigation mission of Dr. Sellström and his team was to investigate all of these credible pending allegations and then to determine whether chemical weapons had been used, but not by whom.  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  Just to follow up on Jonathan’s question.  Is it not in the UN interest to eventually produce that or have somebody else investigate who was responsible?  I mean, you are getting ridiculous things, like Saudi Arabia did it, Israel did it, and everybody but Syria, and maybe they are right, but someone… should someone clarify it?  And secondly, the perennial question is, did Saudi Arabia give any formal notification that it was declining its Council seat?


Spokesperson:  Well, I was just asked that a little while ago.  And I have no update.  I have no update on any formal notification or indeed informal notification since Friday of last week, when that news story broke.


Question:  What is going on?


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s… with respect, that’s not really a question for me, is it?  And with regard to your first question, Evelyn, the mandate for that mission was the Secretary-General’s mechanism, which is a predetermined, pre-existing mandate that came from the General Assembly and was then further endorsed by the Security Council.  If there is to be some different kind of investigation mandate, that needs to come from Member States.  Okay, Pamela?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the Ben Emmerson report that will be… that they will have the press opportunity this afternoon, has the Secretary…


Spokesperson:  Three o’clock.


Question:  Yes.  Has the Secretary-General comm… I know he has commented and you have said in the past week about drones, but the use of drones or extrajudicial killings; has he commented on this report, as well?


Spokesperson:  No, he has not; he has not.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, thanks.  I want to ask two questions about Syria.  One has to do with the… the Trust Fund.   I… I know… I heard what you said earlier in the week and then I… I was just trying to get to the bottom of this; the… the Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department, Marie Harf, said at a briefing two days ago that the US has given nearly $6 million between the UN and OPCW.  So I am just wanting to know, was this to the Trust Fund?  What… is the Trust Fund really at zero or has it just not started reporting…?  I just… I wanted to know when… when it is going to start reporting, if there is anything inside it?


Spokesperson:  Well, I did check, Matthew.  My colleagues who deal with the Trust Fund have received a pledge for $2 million from the United States.  It may be that money is also destined for the OPCW trust fund, but I would encourage you to speak to my colleague from the OPCW, Michael Luhan, about that.  And in addition, you will know that, as we already said, and indeed the State Department announced, the US has provided 10 armoured vehicles.  I don’t know what the list price might be for them, but they are not exactly cheap.  You had another question, and then I am going to Stefano, and that will be the last question, Stefano.


Question:  For once, I will answer you.  I think it is $1.55 million, that’s the number they put on them, but just on the car… on the vehicles.  I wanted to ask you, it’s kind of a policy question that… that… that… that, at the stakeout just now, Valerie Amos said that OCHA has spoken to the Syrian National Coalition in New York, then declined to say whether OCHA had any contacts with ISIS or Al-Nusra in Syria, saying that would be inappropriate.  So I… one, I wasn’t able to speak to her after she left the stakeout, but I wanted to as… I… I wanted to ask you:  what’s the UN’s policy on sort… is it a policy of not speaking to groups… to not listing the groups in Syria that the UN speaks with?  Is there some way in which the… the allegations about Al-Nusra and ISIS make them verboten for the UN to speak to or to speak about speaking with them?  What’s the status?  Can we get a list of the groups that OCHA has spoken to?  If you start listing some, why not list them all?  And how would you respond to the idea that the SNC [Syrian National Coalition] no longer represents many of the groups that control territory in Syria and they might be the wrong counterparty to speak to about humanitarian access?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think Valerie Amos made clear that she was not going to be drawn on that topic, and therefore I don’t think that I will be, either.  Stefano?


Question:  Yes, thank you, Martin.  About the scandal of United States spying on European Governments, I know that the… when the news came out, something was asked here, there was no comment, but is there… is there… do you have any news, that the Secretary-General was also under the target of those spying?  Because we know that the German Mission was, and… you know anything about that?


Spokesperson:  No, is the short answer.  No.  And I was asked earlier on, we don’t have any comment on the bilateral matters — Joseph was asking about that — I don’t have any comment on the bilateral conversations that have been going on in the past few days, and indeed before that with regard to certain allegations on eavesdropping and so on.  I really don’t, and I am also not aware of anything of that nature here.


Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good weekend.


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