6 November 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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.  Sorry, my voice is a little scratchy, but bear with me for just a few seconds.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General left Bamako for Niamey, in Niger, this morning.  As you know, he is travelling with the heads of the African Union Commission, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Union Commissioner for Development.  Together, they met with the President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.  They then had a larger meeting with the President, the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet.


Later, the President of Niger also made a “Call for Action” for improvements in women’s reproductive health and girls’ education, to which the UN and World Bank responded.  The Secretary-General said that, throughout his visit to the Sahel, he was calling on leaders to listen to girls and women, hear their needs and concerns and give women a voice in decision-making.  And he asked men to speak out for gender equality.


The Secretary-General also met with the Speaker of the National Assembly and addressed a plenary session of the Assembly.  He said the UN was in the country to help Niger in its efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and underlined Niger’s role in facing the challenges of the Sahel.  He also offered his condolences to the families of the migrants who died in the Sahara last week, saying that we must bring their traffickers to justice and address the problems that pushed them to leave.


** Syria


Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, concluded a series of meetings in Geneva yesterday — first, involving the United Nations, the Russian Federation and the United States; then with all five permanent members of the Security Council; and then with Syria’s bordering countries:  Turkey; Iraq; Jordan; and Lebanon.  Finally, there was a meeting with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations.


Mr. Brahimi said that we are still striving to see if we can have the Geneva II conference before the end of the year.  He said that the Secretary-General is impatient to get this conference going.  And he added that, in January, the Secretary-General will have a second pledging conference for Syria, to be held in Kuwait, and he asked for donors to be generous.  The full transcript of Mr. Brahimi’s press remarks is online.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning.  Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, and Mary Robinson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, briefed the Council by videoconference on the recent developments in eastern [Democratic Republic of the] Congo.


** Yemen


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that fighting between al-Houthis and Salafists in northern Yemen has cut off humanitarian assistance to thousands of civilians in the town of Dammaj.  Access to the area is limited but reports indicate that three villages have run short of food, water and medicine.  On 4 November, the International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 23 wounded people from Dammaj, but said there were others left in the town.


Aid agencies are concerned for some 29,000 people living in the Dammaj area.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs adds that more than a million children under the age of 5 in Yemen are acutely malnourished, and nearly 300,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition.


** Bangladesh


The High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed serious alarm at the sentencing to death in Bangladesh of 152 paramilitary personnel after mass trials that she said fell far short of international human rights standards.


Those sentenced to death were convicted of crimes, including murder and sexual assault, during a mutiny in February 2009.  Navi Pillay said that these crimes were utterly reprehensible and heinous, but that justice will not be achieved by conducting mass trials of hundreds of individuals, torturing suspects in custody and sentencing them to death after trials that failed to meet the most fundamental standards of due process.  The full statement is available on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.


**World Meteorological Organization


Last, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high last year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  The Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin finds that, between 1990 and 2012, there was a 32 per cent increase in the warming effect on our climate.  The Bulletin also says that carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel-related emissions, accounted for 80 per cent of this increase.


The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, said that limiting the impact of climate change would require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.  A press release with more details can be found on the World Meteorological Organization’s website.


That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  I hope your voice will improve soon.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks.


Question:  As you indicated, the Secretary-General is impatient to have the conference, the Geneva conference II, meet as soon as possible, and from what Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi said, the prospect for holding such conference before the end of this year are not clear.  With a view apparently to encourage some steps toward that goal, the Russian Government has invited the opposition in Syria and Government also to meet informally in Moscow, I think.  And does the Secretary-General encourage this step?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly we encourage all steps by parties to try to do what they can to actually achieve an international conference for Syria.  And we will continue to take stock of events as they develop and see whether the climate for talks improves.  It is clearly a complex task to hold a Geneva II conference, but we are going to continue to push with all we can and we hope that other nations will also push the various parties as best as they can, so that we can get something happening before the end of this year.  Yes, Pam first and then you.  Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Security Council is just about to come out, the members, and talk about the DRC resolution, which is considered a step forward in terms of the M23 rebels, but Martin Kobler said yesterday that there is a lot more to be done with the other militias and the establishment of rule of law.  Is there any sense that the Secretary-General has about what the next steps are?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will first try to evaluate the situation and then proceed from there.  But it is very clear, Martin Kobler has made it very clear, that the various groups that have been attacking civilians in eastern [Democratic Republic of the] Congo either need to disarm or else they will all have to be dealt with one way or the other, both in terms of actions taken by the Congolese Armed Forces and actions taken by the UN Mission, MONUSCO.  We will see whether we can get any further comments from Martin Kobler, but there has been a press conference by the… performed by MONUSCO today, and so I would refer you to what our MONUSCO colleagues have also said about this.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, thanks, Farhan, and sorry for your voice, I will try to maybe ask questions you could… if… if you don’t have an answer now, you could answer later, but on this one I wanted to ask you about the Congo, where Laurent Mende, the Minister of Information and Communications, has said that it’s… the DRC Government may not sign the Kampala agreement and instead just issue an… some kind of a statement… a unilateral statement.  They are say… they are saying now that since they were defeated militarily, there is no reason to sign an agreement and I wondered, since they’re the… the… the… the… the announcement by M23 seemed tied to a signing of an agreement, does the UN… does the UN believe that… that… that the understanding is that an agreement will actually be signed by the two parties?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not going to speculate on what may happen in the coming days, but our expectation remains that the parties will be able to deal with each through an actual agreement.  I do believe that Mr. Kobler continues his own diplomatic work, as does Mary Robinson.  And I expect that he will also be travelling to Kampala in the coming days.


Question:  Did you announce… I am sorry if I missed it at the beginning, something about Irish peacekeepers in Syria being either shot at or having in its… having artillery shell land near them?


Deputy Spokesperson:  There was an incident involving the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan, involving people trying to shoot them near one of the positions.  I believe it is position number 60.  And we have protested this action.  There were no injuries; there was no harm done to us.  Yes, please?


Question:  Is there any new process about the Cyprus issue?  Are both sides going to meet again for the process?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the last thing we had to say on this was last Friday when we put out a note following the Secretary-General’s meeting with Alexander Downer.  I don’t have anything at this stage to add to that.  Yes?


Question:  In… in… in Mali, there… there is a report of… of some 35 arrests in… after the death of… the killing of the two journalists there; and I just wondered, is there some… it’s a little unclear from here, is… is it the Malian forces making the arrests, is it French forces?  Does the UN either have any role in the arrests or can you say, like, who is making the arrests and on what kind of legal basis?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know, this would be something taken in context with actions by the Malian authorities, but I can check whether MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] had any role.  As far as I am aware, there was no… there is no MINUSMA role in that.  Yes?


Question:  The Secretary-General is in the Sahelian region, especially in Mali.  Does he expect to visit any neighbouring States, Maghreb States, now or in the future?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  At this stage, the expectation is that the Secretary-General is visiting just four countries on this particular trip, which is to say:  Mali; Niger; this evening he expects to travel to Burkina Faso; and then after that, Chad.  Yes?


Question:  Sorry for your voice, Farhan.  To put very short question, whether the Secretary-General is disappointed with the result in Geneva and that the Geneva II will be now postponed for sure.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, I’d just refer you to what Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday.  He said that the Secretary-General was impatient and he wanted to get these talks going, because the situation in Syria is very bad; and he remains dedicated to the task of holding a conference for Syria as soon as possible.  And so we continue to try to make sure that we can have the conference held before the end of this year.  That’s exactly what the people of Syria need.  One more, yeah?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any updates on the Security Council seat, any kind of communication?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  Okay, great.  And this may be one that… that either you… if you don’t have something, it will be fine later.  The… the case of David Bax of… of UN Mine Action Service in Somalia came up in a press conference in here the other day about the mer… mer… mercenaries in Bancroft Global Development, which the UN works with, and I just wondered, it was always said that the UN had nothing to say until UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] completed its investigation.  Is the investigation complete and also, is there any response from… from the various UN parties that work with this Bancroft Global Development to things that are in the mercenaries working group report about them being connected to recruitment of mercenaries?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, on that, we do continue to wait for the conclusion of that investigation.  So we are in touch with the UN Office for Project Services and once they have completed it we will have something to say.  Until then, we wouldn’t.  Yeah, last one.


Question:  Yeah, Farhan, at the end of the day, do we now know where the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile will be actually destroyed?  What are finally the countries that have accepted that?  And how do you comment on some discrepancies, even more than some, that yesterday US Ambassador Samantha Power said that they are studying 700-pages document and there is no time, it is not time for celebrity, and actually that they do have some scepticism and that everything is going to be done like it should?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t have any response to Ambassador Power’s comments; that’s not for me to comment on.  Regarding your earlier question about the destruction of Syria’s stockpile, Syria presented a plan to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and we expect that by 15 November, the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will then respond and make its own conclusion about the plan that has been presented to it.


Question:  What will be the countries?


Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s an issue ultimately for the Executive Council of the OPCW to determine.  And like I said, around 15 November, which is next week, we expect them to come to some action on that.  Thanks very much.


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For information media • not an official record