30 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.


So, good afternoon, and welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Guest


I am joined today by Kate Gilmore, who is the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  And, Ms. Gilmore is here to brief you on a new report, which is out today, and this report is entitled “Motherhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy”.  So, Ms. Gilmore, I’ll pass the floor to you for some introductory remarks, and then obviously open up for questions.  Please, welcome.


[The press conference by Ms. Gilmore is issued separately.]


So just to carry on with a few other items, and then obviously any questions you may have.


**Secretary-General’s Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Fatiha Serour of Algeria as his Deputy Special Representative for Somalia.  Ms. Serour succeeds Peter de Clercq of the Netherlands.  Ms. Serour is currently Director of Serour Associates for Inclusion and Equity, an association focusing on supporting inclusive approaches to economic development.  Up until last year, she was Regional Director for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East at the United Nations Office for Project Services.  And, we have more information on that appointment in my office.


**Security Council


The Deputy Secretary-General briefed the Security Council this morning on his visit during the past weekend to Mogadishu.  He said that he saw a remarkable change since he had previously visited the country in 1992, adding that he saw signs of hope and determination and the beginning of a new Somalia.


The Deputy Secretary-General recounted his extensive meetings with Somalia’s President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, Foreign Minister and other members of the Government.  He said that, during the meetings, his interlocutors highlighted the need to establish a culture of dialogue and a new approach on regional engagement.


He also described the findings of a recent African Union-United Nations mission on security, saying that, after 18 months of successful operations that uprooted Al-Shabaab from major cities, the campaign by the African Union Mission, AMISOM, and Somali forces has in recent months ground to a halt.  He urged the Security Council to find ways to adequately provide support for AMISOM, as recommended in the Secretary-General’s recent report.  The Deputy Secretary-General will be speaking to reporters after the Council meeting has concluded.


**Syria


In Damascus today, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, met with President Bashar al-Assad.  And yesterday, Mr. Brahimi met with the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Al-Moualem.  He is also continuing his meetings in Syria with representatives of different opposition groups, women’s groups and civil society.  Mr. Brahimi will speak to the press at the end of his visit to Syria on Friday.  And after that, he will travel to Beirut, where he will meet with Lebanon’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament. 


And just to update you on the movements of Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, Ms. Kaag tells me she will meet the OPCW’s Director-General and other senior officials in The Hague tomorrow.  And she will then travel to Moscow for meetings with Russian officials on Friday.  Ms. Kaag will be in New York to brief the Security Council next week, and her briefing to the OPCW’s Executive Council will now take place at a later date. 


**Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, reports that the town of Bunagana, in North Kivu, is now fully controlled by the Congolese army.  Also in North Kivu, the Mission reports that hundreds of internally displaced people in Kanyaruchinya are leaving the area to return to the Kibumba area, north of Goma.  They had fled during last week’s fighting.  That Mission is conducting regular patrols between the two areas in order to protect civilians.


The Mission also says that during the month of October, a high number of M23 combatants surrendered to the UN Mission.  Yesterday, 33 M23 combatants surrendered — bringing the total number of M23 surrenders to 80 for the month of October. 


**Maldives


The High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern today over what she calls the dangerous drift in the democratic process in the Maldives.  Navi Pillay attributed this largely to the repeated interventions by the country’s Supreme Court in the presidential election process, noting that it is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.  And her full statement is available on her Office’s website.


You may recall that earlier this month, the Secretary-General, in a statement, voiced his deep concern over the delay of the re-run of the first round presidential election annulled by the Supreme Court.  He said that the aspirations and the will of the Maldivian people were expressed in the 88 per cent participation of eligible voters in the election on 7 September.  The Secretary-General said that he believes that the legitimate will of the people should not be denied.


**Western Sahara


The Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, will brief the Security Council about his latest visit to the region this afternoon.  And we expect a press release to be issued after those consultations.


Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, sir.  On this Saudi Arabian seat crisis that is going on and its repudiation.  My question is:  is the legal department of the United Nations working with the Member States to come up with some solution, a way to move forward on this issue?  Because it has created a sort of a crisis and now it is about… in another… another month and half there will be now… now supposed to be in the seat.  So, can the legal department of the United Nations work with the Member States or the region groups to come up with a solution to this problem?


Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said, this is a matter for Member States.  Now, should Member States request assistance from our Office for Legal Affairs (OLA), then I am sure that our colleagues there would look at that request, but as we have said before, this is a matter for Member States in the first instance.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, do you have any information about the position of Saudi Arabia?  Many reports in the media are speaking that Saudi Arabia is refusing to take part in the Geneva II conference.  Has Mr. Brahimi got such a message really from Saudi Arabia, they are not interested in it?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I was just mentioning, Mr. Brahimi is coming to the end of a tour of the region, visiting a number of different countries and capitals.  And, as we have said before, there is the meeting that is coming up on 5 November in Geneva that will bring together US, Russian and UN officials to take stock of where we are with this process.  There is no update on dates, or indeed on participation at this point.  The whole reason for having that meeting on 5 November is to take stock of precisely this kind of matter.  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  Yes, Martin, how… is it possible Geneva II won’t take place?  It is not just Saudi Arabia; they’ve all made demands.  Syria has certain demands before it will show up, and on it goes all the way down the line.  And secondly, on Saudi Arabia, can the Security Council sit with 14 seats?  I would assume it can, no?  And one can just ignore it and, you know, go with 14 countries.


Spokesperson:  Well, on that, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Fifteen seats are occupied at this moment, and I think we are still some way away from the beginning of January.  With regard to Syria, we continue to work towards the holding of Geneva II, as I just said.  And, as I also just said, there will be a meeting next week in Geneva to see where those prospects stand and to continue preparations.  And, as I mentioned, we don’t have anything new to say about dates at this point.  Yes, Matthew?  And then I am coming to Pamela.  Yes?


Question:  Thanks, thanks a lot.  I… I wanted to ask, this is… it is… it’s… it is… it’s a Somali or UN support mission question, that I am not… I don’t know when… when Mr. [Jan] Eliasson was going to do the stakeout, but I wanted to ask it to you here to be sure to get some kind of an answer, and it’s that Uganda has announced they’ve arrested 40 of their soldiers that were part of AMISOM on… on suspicion of stealing from the Mission, selling guns, a variety of ser… pretty serious charges.  And, since the UN does provide support, and… including financing for the Mission, I wonder, what’s the UN’s response to… to… to… to these arrests and… and is the UN going to be part of some investigation?  What’s the… what’s the UN do… do next about this?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the first port of call for you should be AMISOM, or indeed the Ugandan authorities.  I don’t have any update from when you asked me the question yesterday, if I remember correctly, so this is a matter for AMISOM and for the Ugandan authorities.  And, if we have anything further, given the support role that there is, then I will let you know, but that is… that is not something I have anything on at the moment.


Question:  Okay, I just, just to clari… I just… just a factual… whether the… the… this… the… the things allegedly stolen were in fact UN-provided, then it’s… that’s why I am asking the UN.  I didn’t ask yesterday, I asked a couple of weeks ago, actually.


Spokesperson:  Well, I seem to remember some reference to it at some point; maybe it was in one of your e-mails, I don’t know.  But, I think I was coming to Pamela next, if I remember correctly, yes?


Question:  Yes, thank you.  Actually, I have a follow-up question and then… on AMISOM.  It’s just there have been some reports the Security Council will be increasing the… the role of troops from 4,000… by 4,000, and is that… is that something that the Security Council would normally do for an African Union mandate?


Spokesperson:  There is a Security Council mandate that’s…


Correspondent:  Mandate as well, right.


Spokesperson:  …that covers this, but this is really something for the Security Council.  And, as I did say, the Deputy Secretary-General has been briefing the Council.  And, I believe that he is going to speak to reporters afterwards.  He may have something to say on that.  What was your other…?


Correspondent:  On the increase in troops?


Spokesperson:  What… well, just in general, on… on the Mission.


Question:  All right.  And my actual question was just on the m… there have been several reports, and I know you don’t usually comment on other people’s reports, but Der Spiegel had a re… had… had some memos from Edward Snowden on the breaking into the encryption system of the video-conferencing system of the UN.  Can you confirm that…? 


Spokesperson:  Yes?


Correspondent:  Oh, I thought you were saying be quiet.


Spokesperson:  Carry on.  No, no, I was just asking my colleague just to wait just one second, thank you.  Yes?  Yes, please?


Question:  That there is… that… can you confirm that that has happened?  And along with that was… is the General Assembly resolution that’s being circulated by Germany and Brazil to… on a humanitarian basis, asked for Valerie Amos to submit a report on extraterritorial espionage, so to speak, or listening, bugging.  Any comment on either?


Spokesperson:  Well, there are two ways to deal with this.  One would be like this.  [Spokesperson holds up piece of paper that says “NO COMMENT”.]  But another would be to say that back in August when these reports first surfaced, we said we would be in touch with the relevant authorities.  And, I can tell you that we were indeed in touch with the US authorities.  And I understand that the US authorities have given assurances that United Nations communications are not and will not be monitored.  I…


Question:  So they have not?


Spokesperson:  I would also just add what we have said before, that the inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations, has been well-established in international law, and therefore, all Member States are expected to act accordingly.


Question:  I’m… I’m sorry to… to beat the horse dead, but I… when you say they said “are not” and “will not”, is your interpretation that they were not?


Spokesperson:  I understand that the US authorities have given assurances that UN communications are not and will not be monitored.  And, I can also tell you, as I just said, that we were indeed in touch with the US authorities when these reports first surfaced.  Jerome, I hope you’re not giving me a piece of paper saying that I should not have said that.  [Spokesperson is handed a piece of paper]  All right, okay, so the DSG (Deputy Secretary-General) will be going to the stakeout shortly.  So those who want to ask him a question, I am not going to be offended if you leave the room, but… Yes, Nizar?


Question: Today, the Bahraini authorities swamped or attacked the offices of Al-Wefaq, which is a peaceful organization in Bahrain.  Do you have any position on that?


Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  Let me check into that, I don’t have anything. 


Question:  I have just another question regarding the attack from Pakistan on Iran.  Yesterday, I asked about it or some of my colleagues asked here; do you have a position, I mean, about this terrorist attack which killed 14 Iranian security officers?


Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports; I don’t have anything on that at the moment, Nizar, but we are certainly aware of the reports, and we are also aware of the interest of certain members of the media.  You are right that there was a question in the room yesterday, but I don’t have anything.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  Then I’ll come back to you, Matthew.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the announcement today by Israel that it is releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners, and that it will be building more settlement in East Jerusalem?


Spokesperson:  I would anticipate that we will have something on both of those matters fairly shortly, but I don’t have it right now.


[The Spokesperson later issued the following statement:  The Secretary-General deplores the announcements today of further Israeli settlement plans in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  Settlement activity is contrary to international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace.  Any measures that prejudge final status issues will not be recognized by the international community.


The Secretary-General understands that Israel took a difficult step in continuing to release Palestinian pre-Oslo prisoners in the face of deep domestic opposition, and appreciates this gesture.  In keeping with the statement by the Quartet on 27 September, the Secretary-General expects the parties to take every possible step to promote conditions conducive to the success of the negotiating process and to refrain from actions that undermine trust.]


Question:  Thanks a lot, two… I have two fast questions.  One is, the President of Uruguay has said that he is going to pull his 1,000 troops from MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission] in Haiti, and he did it citing the political impasse there, and I wonder, one, what is… what’s the plan for MINUSTAH to replace those, and also is there an… what… what… what to make of this Head of State saying… saying that the Mission may not… it… it… it makes no sense to remain there given that, quote, political impasse?


Spokesperson:  Well, this is a mission that is there with a Security Council mandate; it has been for a long time.  It is obvious that there is a job to be done, and a clear mandate of what that involves.  With regard to the reports, yes, we have seen the reports, but the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has not received official confirmation from the Uruguayan authorities about the withdrawal of their troops from Haiti.  So, that’s what I have for you at the moment.  Okay, thanks; thanks very much, indeed.  Thanks.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record