7 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.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, this morning on the third leg of his joint trip with the heads of the African Union Commission, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Commissioner for Development.


He met with President Blaise Compaoré and discussed Burkina Faso’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and particularly, the country’s achievements in fighting against poverty and accelerating growth.  They also discussed the country’s role for peace and security in the region, as well as regional efforts to address security, humanitarian and development challenges.


Earlier, the delegation met with the Prime Minister and the members of his Cabinet.  The Secretary-General underlined three of the UN’s current priorities:  accelerating efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015; defining sustainable development goals for after 2015; and having a legally binding agreement on climate change.


The Secretary-General is now on the last leg of his Sahel trip in N’Djamena, Chad, where he will meet the President.  He will be back in New York tomorrow.


** Syria


The Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations has now verified 22 of the 23 sites declared by Syria.  The additional site inspected is in the region of Aleppo and was one of the two sites that could not be visited earlier due to safety and security reasons.  The verification was conducted with the support of sealed cameras used by Syrian personnel as per the inspection team’s guidance.  The exact geographical location and the time of capture of the footage and images were fully authenticated.  The site was confirmed as dismantled and long abandoned, with the building showing extensive battle damage.


Also, the OPCW and the United Nations have launched a dedicated website for the Joint Mission in Syria, which is http://opcw.unmissions.org.  The website provides background on the establishment of the Joint Mission, its mandate and its activities relating to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.  Currently it is available in English only.  A version in Arabic is expected to follow at a later date.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, has confirmed that the Congolese army now has complete control over all areas previously controlled by the M23 rebel movement.  MONUSCO supported the actions of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians and neutralize armed groups.  Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country, says that it is important to find a political settlement through concluding the Kampala process.


It is now of utmost importance for the Government to establish its authority on the whole region and start its development.  The UN Mission warned the other armed groups that they should not take advantage of the current void left by the disbanding of the M23, or face action by MONUSCO troops mandated with protecting civilians.


** Colombia


The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Colombia, Fabrizio Hochschild, speaking on behalf of the UN system in Colombia, welcomed the discussions held in Havana for the substantial progress made in reaching agreement on the terms for political participation, the second point of the peace accords between the Government of Colombia and the FARC, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.


The UN system in Colombia notes the importance of continuing the dialogue to achieve an end to the armed conflict, which has caused so much daily suffering and other grave humanitarian consequences for so many Colombians.  The UN system reiterates its full readiness to continue supporting the peace process.  And we may have a statement by the Secretary-General on this later.


** Maldives


Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco wrapped up a two-day mission to the Maldives today.  His mission was closely coordinated with and supported the efforts of Sir Don McKinnon, Special Envoy of the Commonwealth Secretary-General.


Mr. Fernandez-Taranco underscored the international community’s serious concern about the situation in the Maldives, and he strongly encouraged political leaders and institutions to fulfil their responsibilities to the people and to the democratic process in the country.


While in the Maldives, he met with senior Government officials and presidential candidates to discuss the way forward.  He also reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for the country’s political leaders to participate constructively in the elections.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that this is a decisive moment for democracy in the Maldives, and that it is time to allow the people of the Maldives to express their voice and their legitimate will through the ballot box.  His full statement is available in our office.


**Olympic Truce


The Secretary-General welcomed the adoption yesterday by the General Assembly of the Olympic Truce resolution ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games.  The Secretary-General urges all countries to transform the resolution into action by pressing for an end to all hostilities during the Olympic Games, and by promoting the spirit of the Truce throughout the year.


** New York Mayor


The Secretary-General sent a letter to Bill de Blasio yesterday to congratulate him on his election as Mayor of New York City and wish him great success in upholding his responsibilities.  The Secretary-General also gave Mr. de Blasio a standing invitation to visit United Nations Headquarters at his earliest convenience.


**Holocaust Film Screening


And last, the Department of Public Information would like to invite journalists to a screening of the film Rescue in the Philippines:  Refuge from the Holocaust, which will take place this evening from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the ECOSOC Chamber.


That’s it from me.  Yes, Erol?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Please tell me, what does the Secretary-General think on the draft resolution that is proposed to the… that is going to be proposed today in the Third Committee on preventing the spy — or maybe my language is not correct enough — on spying at the United Nations?  Whether he thinks it is acceptable, unacceptable or something… or something else?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have no specific comment on the draft resolution.  Of course, that draft resolution is a question for Member States to consider and to evaluate, and we leave that matter in their hands.  As a point of general principle, we have made clear repeatedly that the inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations and other international organizations, has been well established in international law.  Therefore, Member States are expected to act accordingly to protect the inviolability of diplomatic missions. And that continues to be our point.  But beyond that, of course, this is, like I said, a matter for Member States.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Organisation on the Chemical Weapons you said has got to 22 sites and destroyed the installations there, but not to the twenty-third site because of insecurity.  How does it propose to go after that twenty-third site?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the first point to make, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the Joint Mission do not actually undertake the destruction of the equipment.  The destruction is undertaken by the Syrian authorities under the supervision of the OPCW-UN Mission.  In other words, we are there to verify that that activity is carried out.  The two sites that were not visited, the Joint Mission was confident, and said so a week ago, that those sites did not contain any further equipment, whether for the production or for mixing and filling of chemical weapons.  And as I just said, with this twenty-second site that they have now been able to verify, that was done through camera footage.  So we will see what means they use in terms of verifying the twenty-third site, which remains in a zone of conflict.  Yes?


Question:  Can you say where the twenty-third site is, or in general what it is near?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t have those details for you.  I can check.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you, the… does the UN have… have any idea where the M23 has said that 1,700 fighters went into Uganda and that Sultani Makenga has turned himself in to Ugandan authorities?  One, does the UN or Mr. Kobler or the Mission have any idea of that, and also, is the UN role in this proposal by the U… by the US for a hybrid domestic international court to try perpetrators of war crimes in the DRC?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well on the second, I think you’d need to check with the US and other authorities proposing what the proposal specifically contains.  We haven’t been apprised of that at this stage.  Regarding Sultani Makenga, we do not have any first-hand information about these details.  We will need to gather further information as it comes in.


Question:  Can I just, one follow-up on this because it came up yesterday in the Council and it has, I guess, to do with MONUSCO.  It’s obviously… everyone is saying that the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] will be now in the sights of… of MONUSCO and the… and the Force Intervention Brigade; I just wanted to know whether… is it… is it the next group to go after or is it one of any number of groups, with Mai Mai and… and… and… and… and… and… and or is it decidedly a, sort of, after M23 the group to be either disarmed or neutralized?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly, we have always thought that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the FDLR, is a… has been a serious threat to civilians, and we have made our concerns known about this many times over the years.  But regarding the next steps, that of course remains to be determined, but I would just want to point out again what I just said:  that the UN Mission has warned the other armed groups that they should not take advantage of the current void left by the disbanding of the M23, or face action by MONUSCO troops mandated with protecting civilians.  Yes?


Question:  Has the UN received any new communication from the Saudi Arabians about their status on the Security Council in the coming year?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The daily question.


Correspondent:  Yes.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The daily answer remains no.  Masood?


Correspondent:  Yes, sir.  Maybe this is another daily question.  Farhan, I hope you get rid of this cough and cold that you have.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks.


Question:  The question that I… maybe it has been asked, since Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s press conference that… where he indicated that this Syrian peace process or the Geneva peace process is almost doomed, so… has the Secretary-General got any more new ideas to… how to push another Syrian peace process forward, because this will continue like that and more and more people will continue to be killed?  I am not saying whether the opposition groups are killing more or the… the Government groups, but has the Secretary-General got new ideas, is he gathering a team to come up with new ideas about this?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, our focus is and remains on holding an international conference for Syria in Geneva; in other words, the Geneva II conference.  We haven’t given up hope that a Geneva II conference can be held.  And in fact, the Secretary-General and Lakhdar Brahimi continue to press for having this conference held before the end of this year.  They believe that that is part of the urgent effort to put a halt to the killings and get the political process going.  In terms of new approaches, there [are] a number of stock-taking exercises that we have been taking in different ways.  And indeed, Lakhdar Brahimi’s meetings in Geneva with various countries on Tuesday was part of an exercise to take stock of where we stand and see where to go from there.  And we will continue to evaluate what more needs to be done, but right now we continue to have our focus, and we still believe that the Geneva II conference is extremely important and that it can take place.


Question:  A follow-up on this.  Obviously, Mr. Brahimi gave that press conference after having taken into account what all the other Member States have said.  So, after that… I mean, it seems that Mr. Brahimi seems to be resigned to the fact that — I mean, that’s what it looked like, at least from his press conference and what he has been saying — that he doesn’t hold much hope for the next, what do you call, process to continue in near future?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t characterize, I wouldn’t think that that is a fair characterization of what he said.  In the same… in that very same press conference that he held in Geneva, he still made it clear that he is trying to have a press confere… sorry, the Geneva II conference by the end of this year, and he believes that it can be done.  So, yes, it is a complex task; yes, there have been any number of difficulties; and yes, this has gone on for far too long and killed far too many people, but we think that there is a way out through a political process that would involve this type of conference, and which would in turn lead to a political transition that would help to end the current dysfunctional track that we are on and get on to something that is more positive.  So we continue to work for that.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I wanted to ask about Syria and also about Nepal.  Just… I wanted to… yesterday I had asked you about the Irish contingent of UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] that got shelled and they se… they have provided more detail; Ireland has said that it was a firefight between the Government and opposition forces in Durbol and that they… so I wanted to… when you said that the… that the UN had protested the… the action, I wanted to know, was this only to the Syrian Government or did… is there some counter-party on the opposition side to whom it was protested?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In this case, the firing was by the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and protest was made to the Syrian Arab Armed Forces.


Question:  Can I ask you about Nepal?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.


Question:  All right.  There… there seem… there is this dispute where the… the Resident Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, has try… has… he see… he put out a statement saying, I guess, that the CPNM [Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist] should not boy… engage in a general strike before the election and otherwise try to disrupt it.  And they have come back and said that it is their right to boycott the election and also to go on the strike and that it is undemocratic for the UN to intervene and… and make the statement that was made by Mr. McGoldrick.  What is the UN’s position on the right of a political party to boycott an election and to call for a general strike before one?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything to add to what Mr. McGoldrick’s statement was at this point.  If there is anything further, I will let you know.  Yes?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later shared the text of the press release in question, which says, in part:  “The international community supports the men and women of Nepal in their right to express their views in peace, either as candidates or voters.”]


Question:  Farhan, regard… according to the statement that was issued last Friday in the afternoon regarding Cyprus, those who understand the issue that is sort of frozen conflict for many, many years now were saying and explaining that it was actually a call for parties to resume negotiation in a couple of days, meaning four days from that day that the statement was issued.  And it was also mentioned in the press that there is sort of Ban Ki-moon’s plan on Cyprus in preparation.  What do you say on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I wouldn’t have any comment on that.  What we have said, our position on Cyprus was what we expressed in the note to correspondents on Friday.  I don’t have anything to add to that for now.


Question:  So are you saying that there is no Ban Ki-moon’s plan on Cyprus?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am saying I have nothing to add to the statement that was made on Friday for now.  If there is anything further down the line, we will announce it at that time.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Now that the Secretary-General has visited the Sahelian States and the region, where a great deal of insecurity prevails, what lessons is he coming back with, and will he be addressing the Security Council on the matter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will let you know about his programme here in New York upon his return to New York.  I wouldn’t have any details to share on that.  As for the lessons, I’d just refer you to the various press encounters and statements that we have posted.  We… he’s talked about the advances that the region has made and the sort of support that the region needs.  So there is quite a lot there, but yes, if there is any briefing, we will let you know about that at the time, upon his return.  Yes?


Question:  This is a… an… the… this is a… UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is being considered again in the UN… in the US Senate and I know that the… sometimes you will say, you know, you don’t have any comment on internal processes, but I wonder, in this case, is there any… there seems to be… if there is a better chance this year than in previous years, does the Secretary-General have anything, however diplomatic, to say about the… the application of this Convention to the United States?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In fact, you are quite right; I wouldn’t have anything to say about the application of this Convention to the United States while this discussion goes on through the legislative process.  We’d stay out of that.  You know what our stand is concerning the rights of people with disabilities, and you know what the relevant conventions are and we certainly encourage all nations to abide by those.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  I have a question in regard to Iran.  For the past two weeks, Iran has executed over 50 people in regard of drugs or oppositions, one way or the other.  Isn’t it time for the UN to kind of raise the flag on what is going on?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think we made some comment even a week ago about our concerns regarding the application of the death penalty in Iran.  Certainly, in all countries, we have concerns about the application of the death penalty and would urge all countries to abide by the relevant General Assembly resolution, as well as the call for a moratorium on the application of capital punishment, and we continue to do so in this case as well.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, as you know, in a couple of days or a little bit more than that, it is going to be a Warsaw meeting on climate change, and some experts are saying that it is going to be… actually, that it is a step back in regard and comparing with the sort of ambitious agenda that was set here at the United Nations, and bearing in mind that the Secretary-General himself announced that he is going to put, to assemble major summit on the climate changes next year.  What’s the view of Secretary-General that whether is a setback, less ambitious agenda should be pushed for, or something else?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to spoil the surprise for you, but I believe the Secretary-General will have some involvement with the forthcoming climate change conference in Warsaw, and we will be able to talk to you more at length about what his views are, about what needs to be achieved there, but that would be some time in coming.


Have a good afternoon, everyone.


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For information media • not an official record