13 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


Haiyan


The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, visited the city of Tacloban in the Philippines today and she saw the total devastation left in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.


Ms. Amos noted that tens of thousands of people are in the open and in destroyed buildings, and that medical facilities, food, clean water and basic sanitation are still widely unavailable.


She said that the priority for humanitarian agencies for the coming days will be transporting food, tents, body bags and other items, as well as putting in place a service to trace families.


Ms. Amos said that she had again been struck by the resilience of the Filipino people.  She is going to address the press in Manila tomorrow.


And Ms. Amos has emphasized that she commends the Philippines Government on their relief efforts so far, under extremely challenging circumstances, and hopes the international community will give generously to the humanitarian response.


The World Food Programme (WFP) distributed rice and other items to nearly 50,000 people in the Tacloban area today.  The Programme is working closely with the Government to bring in food and other items by air, road and sea, but WFP is noting that logistics are a challenge.


And the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners said today that while it is getting people and supplies into the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon, again it noted that reaching those in need does remain a challenge.


WHO is supporting the Government of the Philippines in coordinating the deployment of international medical teams.  To date, nine teams from countries such as Australia, Germany and Japan have confirmed that they are en route or have arrived in the country.  Two of the teams are positioned in Tacloban and all are self-sufficient, having their own hospital tents, supplies to perform surgeries, medicine and fuel.


Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, has helped redeploy 200 Congolese police to areas liberated from the M23 rebel group.


Speaking to the press yesterday in Goma, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country, Martin Kobler, said that this was part of the Mission’s efforts to assist the Government in restoring State authority.


He also said that the Mission was committed to help fly in a further 300 police officials from the Legion Nationale to North Kivu.  In addition, some 900 police officials from other areas will be deployed to Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Rumangabo and other liberated areas.


The Mission will also create UN police posts in Kiwanja, Masisi, in the next days, to support the activities of the national police.


Mr. Kobler also reiterated that the Mission’s mandate was to neutralize all armed groups, not only the M23.


He insisted that these armed groups should join the political process and emphasized the importance of continuing this process — as stressed by the group of special envoys on the Great Lakes region in the last days.


Middle East


The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that he has been following with growing concern the series of settlement announcements made by Israel over the past weeks, which cannot be reconciled with the goal of a negotiated two-State solution.  He once more reiterated the UN position that settlements are against international law and an obstacle to peace.


Mr. Serry met today separately with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.  He understands from his discussion with chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and other Israeli officials that yesterday’s decision to plan a large number of settlement units has been stopped.  


The Special Coordinator is also deeply concerned by recent violent incidents, which he condemns.  At this sensitive moment, it is imperative to avoid negative actions and support talks to preserve the remaining chances of achieving a two-State solution in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians alike. 


Lebanon


The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, visited Zahleh and Joub Jennin in the western Bekaa Valley today to examine the conditions of the Syrian refugees and the local communities who are hosting them.


The Special Coordinator met with representatives from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other international humanitarian organizations in Zahleh who briefed him on the efforts to ensure that the necessary support is available through the coming winter season.  Those efforts began at the start of this month.


Mr. Plumbly said that he hoped for a political solution to the crisis in Syria that would enable the refugees to return to their homes.


Afghanistan


The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has welcomed the completion of the latest phase of voter registration, which means an additional 3 million Afghans are now registered to take part in the presidential and provincial council elections next April.


The Mission said that Afghan-led and Afghan-managed elections are at the very heart of the country’s political transition, and it also reiterated the importance of public participation to ensure transparent, credible and inclusive elections.


And also on Afghanistan, a new survey launched jointly by the country’s Government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found record poppy cultivation this year, with a 36 per cent increase compared to last year.


And the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Yuri Fedotov, said the findings [are] sobering and underscored the need for an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem.  More information on both the voter registration and the opium study are available online.


Questions, please?  Yes, Edie?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General received a letter yesterday from the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia, saying that they would not take their seat.  What, has the Secretary-General passed this letter on to the President of the General Assembly, and does he plan to respond to this letter?


Spokesperson:  My understanding is that a letter went also to the President of the General Assembly.  That’s my understanding.  But indeed, yes; the Secretary-General did receive a letter yesterday from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and concerning their Security Council seat.  And this is of course a matter that is for the Member States to consider at this point.  Yes?


Question:  I… I just wanted to ask a follow-up on that.  The… this… the note to correspondents you sent out yesterday, I just want to be, it seemed to say that it was not a matter that’s up to Saudi Arabia, the Security Council and Member States, and I would just, since it seems like it is the… the GA is the one that will decide who goes in the Council, does the Council play any role in… in choosing who this ref… I just wanna, I just wanna understand…  I just wanna understand the process; it’s not a… is there something that I am missing, that it’s just the GA?


Spokesperson:  No, you are not, Matthew.  No, you are not, it is a matter for Member States to consider; meaning any subsequent election for a vacant seat or a vacated seat — that’s obviously a matter for the General Assembly. T his was simply to point out that obviously this was a Security Council seat; therefore, it is of interest to the Security Council, one would imagine, and it is also of interest to the country that wrote the letter.  And it is in that context that this sentence was provided.  But it is obvious that it is a matter to be considered primarily by the General Assembly and all 193 Member States.  And just simply to say that, as the Secretary-General said at the time, and it is actually rather in line with the letter written by the Saudi Ambassador, the Secretary-General looks forward to working very closely in addressing many important challenges with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly to bring an end to the war in Syria, to help the Palestinian people to achieve a viable State, and also to help the current transition in Yemen.  And I think if you look back at what the Secretary-General said on 18 October about those various areas of cooperation, I don’t think that will have changed.  This remains an important relationship, and that is something that the Saudi Ambassador also mentioned in his letter.  And the Secretary-General would concur with that.  Yes, Pamela?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The… uh, understanding that the Secretary-General doesn’t usually comment on ICC [International Criminal Court] issues, the resolution that is in blue now on the ICC deferral of the [Uhuru] Kenyatta, the trials, it seems to be provoking quite a bit of division between the African States and other States, some other States on the Security Council.  Has the Secretary-General made any statement about how he feels about this? Obviously, it is a Security Council issue, but it is a bigger issue in terms of the way that the African Union is seeing it.  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  I think I would simply say that he is watching this very closely.  You are right; it is a matter for the Security Council, if it is a resolution that is being considered.  But needless to say, in the context of international justice and the Secretary-General’s interest in that, he is certainly watching this very closely.  Yes, Iftikhar, and then Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Martin, has the Saudi Arabia… has Saudi Arabia given any reason for denying this seat?  And are you planning to issue this letter, the text of this letter?


Spokesperson:  Well, as far as I can judge from the journalists I have been speaking to, there is not much need for us to do that; you all seem to have it.  So, that’s the first thing… Well, the first thing is that we have confirmed that a letter was received.  If it is made public officially as an official document, I would let you know.  To my understanding, the letter itself did not make that request.  So, then, the other part of your question, I think I would simply refer you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry website. They had a statement and I think that they can speak for themselves.


Question:  Secondly, Martin, has there been any response to the fresh appeal made yesterday for the relief of Filipino victims?


Spokesperson:  Undoubtedly there has.  There obviously needs to be a real concerted effort here…


Question:  No, but a response in contributions?


Spokesperson:  I know, I understand what you mean, and undoubtedly there has.  I think you would need to check with the website of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); there is a separate website that has been set up.  I think we’d even tweeted a link to that yesterday.  This is a website that is specifically dealing with this particular crisis, and you would find quite a lot of information there related to this.


With regard to the funding, as you just heard me say, paraphrasing Ms. Amos, it is obvious that this is a devastating catastrophe and many people have yet to receive assistance, which they badly need.  The logistical constraints are quite considerable, but there is a tremendous effort going on both by the Philippines authorities themselves and by the international community to try to get assistance where it is needed.  As mentioned, the World Food Programme was able to deliver and distribute food in Tacloban itself today.  Obviously, a lot more needs to be done. I would hope that we can have fairly regular updates on this.  I said that Ms. Amos will be speaking to the media in Manila tomorrow, and I would hope that we can also have some kind of follow-up briefing here in the next days from OCHA, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Yes, please, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Still on the… what would be the vacant seat on the Security Council as a result of the decision of Saudi Arabia to withdraw; before the General Assembly or general membership would consider it, isn’t it first a matter for the regional, appropriate regional group to consider?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Well, that would be for them to comment on, I think, actually, Mr. Abbadi.  Yes, please?  Yeah, you’re on.  There you are!


Question:  Just on the Philippines… just to clarify, just about the idea of having logistical concerns and logistical challenges; what specifically are the means that Ms. Amos is doing to help rectify the situation, because I understand there is a lot of money coming in; a lot wonderful organizations doing their part; but what, are there any sort of opposition, um, like what happened in Banda Aceh in Indonesia or anything like that from the, from anybody in the Government or any splintering groups, uh, getting in the way of… of the needs…?


Spokesperson:  No, I really don’t believe that is the case.  I think this is simple geography — lots of small islands, first thing.  Secondly, once you are on those islands, and particularly speaking about the city of Tacloban, the roads are blocked.  They need to be cleared.  That work is going on, but the scale, you will have seen from the pictures yourself, is quite extraordinary, and therefore makes it very difficult.  And so, the kind of logistical support that’s needed, it’s primarily airlift, which means helicopters; it means fixed-wing aircraft to bring it supplies and then helicopters to be able to take them further to locations where trucks and other vehicles cannot yet get.  But this is something… it’s not as if nothing is happening; it is simply that not enough is happening at the speed that is required, given the number of people who require assistance.  And that is, of course, another part of the challenge:  the sheer numbers of people who have been affected by a huge wall of water, seemingly record wind speeds, quite terrible and devastating, and therefore there is a lot that still needs to be done.  But I can assure you that the humanitarian community, coordinated by Ms. Amos and working with the Philippines authorities, are doing the very best that they can to work as fast as they can to help the people who need that assistance.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, thanks, Martin.  I wanted, Bangladesh has said, well, uh, formally I believe that… that… that they will close their borders to Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar, what they view as persecution in Myanmar, and I wonder, I know that in the past the Secretariat has… has commented on… on… on Bangladesh treatment of Rohingya.  Do you have any… is there anything that the… the UN system, DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or anyone, is trying to do with regard to this closing of the border?


Spokesperson:  Let me check with my colleagues who deal with that matter; the Refugee Agency, with Political Affairs and others, certainly.  Yes, Oleg, and then I am coming to you, Mr. Abbadi, yes?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I am sure you were asked to confirm this a month ago, but now since it is official, is the situation with Saudi Arabia, is this a precedent?  Has any State before, can you confirm that nobody did reject its seat at the Security Council before?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think that we’ve been through this before; there are a number of different instances where countries for a certain period have not taken up their seats.  So, I would not wish to pronounce on what is or is not a precedent here.  I would simply say that we have received the letter and it is now for the Member States to determine what happens next.  And as Mr. Abbadi pointed out, there are considerations within regional groups, but it is a matter fundamentally for Member States.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the important conclusions of the Central Committee of the CPC [Communist Party of China] in Beijing, especially in regard to further economic liberalization and the fight against poverty?


Spokesperson:  Not at this point, Mr. Abbadi.  Obviously we watch that quite closely, but we don’t have any particular comment at the moment.  Yes?  Could you use the microphone, please?


Question:  Thank you.  Uh…


Spokesperson:  Press the little button.  Or maybe my colleagues will help.


Question:  Oh, it’s so simple!  Thank you!  Sorry.


Spokesperson:  We try our best!


Question:  My question is going to be shorter than this little action here!  Regarding the poppy fields in Afghanistan, I seem to remember at one point the United Nations was — I don’t remember which agency or branch — but was hoping to, was going to try and make an effort to replace a somewhat productive, more useful healthier crop to replace poppy fields.  Did anything ever come of that, as far as you know?  Has it been, is it a routine thing by now or…?


Spokesperson:  Well, as Mr. Fedotov said, what is needed is a very comprehensive approach to this, including for long-term developments.  And part of what is also required is the security within the country.  So, there needs to be a wide-ranging and very comprehensive approach to this.  I would certainly encourage you to read the report, which covers this in some detail.  Of course, the findings themselves are quite sobering, in the sense that you have seen a sharp increase of 36 per cent in the past year.  So, clearly, there is a lot of work to be done there.  But the report has a wealth of detail, and I know my colleagues from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime who are based in Vienna would be able to help you with more details, if you would like that.  Yes?


Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I would like to ask about Sri Lanka and Mali.  I know on Sri Lanka I’ve ask… I have… I wanted to just ask you because this, this Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, is beginning to, thing, things is kind of heating up.  There has been an incident in which the media, uh… uh… Channel 4 and others were not allowed to go to the north of the country where the final stages of the conflict took place, and also families of the disappeared were blocked by the army from going to Colombo to… to… to speak to the visiting Heads of Government.  So, I am just, given that this… this… this meeting has begun and is something of a… of… William Hague, for example, has… you know, spoken out against the blocking of the press going to the north; I am just wondering is there anyone that, given the UN’s role in… in… in Sri Lanka at least since 2009, who in the… in the Secretariat is kind of watching this, do you have anything to say about the rights of the press to cover this meeting and what should take place, uh… uh… while there is this focus on the country and its recent past?


Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, journalists should be free to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, of course.  They should be free to do that.  They should also be free to carry out the work that they wish to carry out unhindered.  That’s a standard practice and a standard line that you will have heard from me many times before, Matthew.  With regard to whether we are monitoring the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting:  yes, of course, that’s the case.  I don’t have any particular comment beyond that at this stage.


Okay, have a good afternoon.  Thanks very much.


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For information media • not an official record