27 January 2014
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.


** Cuba


The Secretary-General arrived in Cuba this morning and he’s been holding bilateral meetings with Cuban officials.  About now, he is meeting First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel and this evening he is scheduled to meet the President, Raul Castro.  He also has meetings with the President of the country's parliament, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment and Marino Murillo, who oversees Cuba's economic and social policy transformation.


The Secretary-General also toured Old Havana to look at the development and economic transformation of the area. He also visited the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education where he attended an event related to his campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women.  We will be issuing details of the bilateral meetings and also remarks made at public events.


Tomorrow, the Secretary-General is scheduled to attend the opening of the second CELAC summit.  CELAC is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Later in the day he will address the summit and hold a number of bilateral meetings with visiting foreign leaders.  On arrival in Havana earlier today, the Secretary-General said that he looked forward to hearing views from CELAC leaders on key topics from peace and security to sustainable development and human rights. He said would be discussing such topics with Cuban leaders.


He will also visit a medical school on Tuesday and meet the chief of civil defence.  He will leave Cuba on Tuesday evening and fly to Germany.


** Ukraine


The Secretary-General spoke today with the President of Ukraine, H.E. Mr. Viktor Yanukovych.


He informed the President that he has continued to follow the situation in Ukraine closely and shared his grave concern about recent developments in the country.


The Secretary-General recalled his statement of 20 January, calling for meaningful, sustained and inclusive dialogue by all parties in order to find a solution to the crisis and prevent further bloodshed. He encouraged the President to lead the way to a constructive dialogue process to help resolve the crisis in his country peacefully and through compromise.


The Secretary-General assured the President that the United Nations stood by Ukraine and its people.


** Syria


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke to reporters following today’s meeting between the parties and he said that efforts to have the negotiations produce confidence-building measures are continuing.  He said he was encouraged that the negotiations have at last begun, although he added that it is only one little step forward and that any gains made so far are reversible.


** Syria — Chemical weapons


The joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations says that a further shipment of chemical weapons materials from Syria has taken place today.  The chemical weapons were verified by joint mission personnel before being loaded in Lattakia port onto Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels for onward transportation.


The vessels were accompanied by a naval escort provided by the People’s Republic of China, Denmark, Norway and the Russian Federation.


The joint mission looks forward to the Syrian Arab Republic continuing its efforts to complete the removal of its chemical weapons materials in a safe, secure and timely manner. We have a press release in our office.


**South Sudan


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, arrived in South Sudan earlier today.  She visited displaced families at the UN base in the capital, Juba, and met with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, as well as members of the humanitarian community.


At the base, Ms. Amos met a women’s group who expressed fears about returning home because of the ongoing insecurity.


Violence in South Sudan, which started over six weeks ago, has left more than half a million people displaced, including over 112,000 people who have fled to neighbouring countries.


Tomorrow, Ms. Amos is expected to travel to Upper Nile State, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.  And on Wednesday, she is expected to hold a press conference in Juba.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports it has conducted 213 military and 45 police patrols over the last 24 hours, including in Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile States.  The Mission says that the situation remains fragile in the country.


Overall, the Mission continues to protect nearly 76,000 civilians in eight bases across the country.  This includes approximately 36,000 people in two bases in the capital, Juba, and 27,000 people in Malakal in Upper Nile State.


**Security Council


The Security Council was briefed this morning on the situation in Côte d'Ivoire.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, said that Côte d'Ivoire was firmly on the path to lasting peace and stability.  She noted that the Government had initiated a series of institutional reforms aimed at enhancing political inclusiveness, and had made conciliatory gestures towards the political opposition, notably by provisionally releasing from prison several high-ranking individuals associated with former President Laurent Gbagbo.  She also said that steps had been taking to address the root causes of the Ivorian crisis, including by passing legislation on land tenure issues and nationality.


However, she also said that the country was still grappling with security-related challenges, including recurrent incidents of intercommunity and ethnic violence, as well as armed robbery and organized crime.


The Special Representative said that as Côte d'Ivoire moves towards presidential election in 2015, it was important to work now to put in place the conditions for an environment conducive to peaceful elections.  She said that considerable progress would be needed in key areas such as electoral reforms, disarmament and security sector reform.


And earlier this morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution on kidnapping for ransom by terrorists.


** Central African Republic


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that the security and human rights situation has further deteriorated in the Central African Republic over the past few days.  She called on the international community to strengthen peacekeeping efforts.


Ms. Pillay welcomed Catherine Samba-Panza’s appointment as Head of State of the Transition, as well as her repeated calls for an end to violence.  But, she said that Muslim civilians were now extremely vulnerable. Many are being pushed out of the country, alongside ex-Séléka members, and are now fleeing, mostly towards the Chadian border.


Serious incidents of violence have also been reported beyond Bangui as ex-Séléka and Muslim civilians flee the country.


Ms. Pillay said that we simply cannot let the social fabric of this country be torn apart and stressed the need to urgently restore security, not only in Bangui, but also in other parts of the country.


There is a press release available online.


** Egypt


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also said today that she was gravely concerned about the escalating violence in Egypt in recent days that has led to scores of people being killed and injured.  She called for a prompt investigation into the incidents that led to the regrettable loss of lives, and appealed on all sides to exercise restraint.


She noted that at least 62 people were killed in Cairo on Saturday, and she called on all sides to renounce the use of violence.


The High Commissioner stressed that security forces in Egypt must at all times operate in line with international human rights laws and standards on the use of force, and she also condemned the violent attacks against police and security forces.


** Tunisia


In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General commends the commitment to dialogue and consensus that has marked the democratic transition in Tunisia, which reached another historic milestone with the adoption yesterday of a new Constitution.  He believes Tunisia's example can be a model to other peoples seeking reforms.


The Secretary-General encourages political actors in Tunisia to ensure the next steps of the transition are conducted in a peaceful, inclusive and transparent manner.


Also on Tunisia, the Secretary-General spoke with the country’s President, Moncef Marzouki, on Saturday.


The full statement and readout are available online.


**Deputy Secretary-General


The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Addis Ababa tomorrow to represent the Secretary-General at the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments.


In Addis Ababa, the Deputy Secretary-General will address the Opening Ceremony of the twenty-second Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union.  During his visit, he will meet with Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, as well as senior Government Officials of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Heads of Delegations of other Member States attending the Summit.  In addition, he will take part in the Central African Republic Pledging Conference. 


The Deputy Secretary-General will also meet with the UN Country Team, address a town hall meeting and conduct a field visit to a UNICEF community household sanitation improvements project.


The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 2 February.


**Holocaust Memorial Ceremony


And last — this morning, the General Assembly has been holding its yearly memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust.  In a video message, the Secretary-General said that this year’s commemoration focuses on journeys through the Holocaust, and he recalled his own recent journey to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.


He said that the United Nations was founded to prevent such horror as the Holocaust from happening again.  Yet, tragedies from Cambodia to Rwanda to Srebrenica show that the poison of genocide still flows.


The Secretary-General said that, standing near the crematorium at Auschwitz, he felt deeply saddened by all that had happened within.  But he was also inspired by all those who liberated the death camps for all humanity, and he called for everyone to join forces on a shared journey to a world of equality and dignity for all. His remarks are available online.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question has to do with Cuba, given that dissidents and opposition members have been systematically rounded up for this meeting of CELAC.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this and if he is, has he approached the Government regarding this harassment of civilians?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we’re aware of the latest reports and if we have any details to share in the read outs of his meetings, we’ll let you know at that point.  But we do expect to put out read outs of his various meetings with senior Cuban officials as the day progresses.  Yes, Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the Homs negotiation to release women and children, is the UN on board to limit it to that, in other words that that’s the idea that just women and children are allowed to leave?  Thank you.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d refer you to the remarks Mr. Brahimi made.  Beyond that, what I can say is that the humanitarian organizations working in Syria continue to do their best to deliver aid to people in areas affected or cut off by the fighting and they are ready to proceed with convoys of life-saving aid, including to Aleppo and Homs.  It’s now up to the parties to make that possible.  We would usually expect to have more information once trucks of aid have reached their destination safely.


Question:  Just a follow-up on that, you don’t have any information on anything besides Homs?  Damascus?  Palestinians?  Humanitarian aid scheduled to come through?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well when we get further updates — as you know, there’s been, for example, small amounts of aid going to Yarmouk, in the suburbs, which is the area in Damascus where the Palestine refugees are located.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has tried to get aid to them.  It’s made some small aid shipments but we’re waiting to see whether there can be a more substantial one.  If we get reports of larger aid deliveries, we’ll let you know at that point.  Yes?


Question:  About the Syrian chemical weapons, can you confirm that they have been shipped to the harbour called Gioia Tauro in Calabria, in southern Italy?  And where is the decontamination process taking place, in what part of the Mediterranean on US ship?  Can you confirm that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  For your first question, no, I cannot confirm that.  We’ve mention the port in Italy where the ships will eventually go.  But at this stage, they’re still in a process of going into the high seas and then returning to retrieve further shipments.  And we’ll let you know when that stage of the process has ended.  But that phase has not yet ended.  And as for the further procedures, we’ll give you updates once you get to the phase of decontamination.  Matthew and then Joe after.


Question:  Thanks a lot, Farhan.  The Elders — Kofi Annan and three others — are in Iran.  I wanted to know whether this is in any way coordinated with Mr. Brahimi or the UN and the process taking place in Geneva because they’ve talked about speaking with Iranian authorities about regional solutions.  I also wanted to know, some had said in Geneva the media was told neither to photograph nor to film the entrance of the Syrian Government or National Coalition into the meetings.  I’m wondering is that true?  And if so, what’s the reason?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  For media rules in Geneva, please contact our colleagues in Geneva.  They are responsible for the rules.  They’ve been sending out, as you know, regular updates to journalists about what access they have.  There’s been a series of emailed updates.  Beyond that, you can just talk to the office in Geneva for that. Regarding the Elders, we don’t speak for the Elders.  Yes.  Sorry, Joe and then you.


Question:  You mentioned that the situation in South Sudan is now being described as fragile.  I’d like to know if you can elaborate on that, specifically whether the ceasefire has been generally holding, have there been outbreaks of violence noticed within the last 48 hours?  And secondly regarding the talks in Geneva, is there a kind of a time-table for how long, depending on the rate of progress, this first session is going to go? Is it going to be open-ended?  At one point, I think Mr. Brahimi had indicated in response to one of the questions that they may envision taking a break and possibly coming back.  Can you comment on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Taking your second question first, we don’t have anything to announce yet on what the schedule for the next several days will be.  Mr. Brahimi has made it clear that he expects the talks to continue for the next few days, so we expect that.  As you know, for four consecutive days running, Mr. Brahimi has spoken to the press and has provided further details as he gets them.  We expect he’ll continue to keep the press informed about the progress of the talks.  We don’t have anything to announce in terms of a break just yet. Regarding your first question, the UN Mission in South Sudan has received reports of sporadic violence in some parts of Unity and Upper Nile States.  The Mission is not in charge of monitoring the cessation of hostilities agreement.  Robust mechanisms have to be put in place to monitor both sides within the mediation framework.  It’s critical that both parties implement the cessation of hostilities agreement in full and immediately.  Yes?


Question:  Sorry, that mic’s broken.  I wanted to ask a question regarding the Secretary-General’s visit to Cuba.  Will he be speaking at all regarding the reported sanctions violations on the part of Cuba and the Chong Chon Gang case?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll put out his remarks as they come up.  I’m not aware that that issue has been raised.  But as I told your colleague, once we have the read outs and speeches, we’ll make them available to you and then you can see for yourself what he says.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With regards to Navi Pillay’s report on the violence that took place in Egypt over the past few days, in the light of conflicting reports both on the number of casualties as well as who were responsible for killing them, will the Secretary-General be considering to send an investigative mission to try to uncover those circumstances and further the recent terrorist attacks that took place in Cairo and major cities?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  For the Secretary-General’s position, we issued a statement on Egypt just at the end of last week and I’d refer you to that statement for his views.  But in terms of the look into the human rights situation, I’d simply refer you to the full statement that Navi Pillay has issued earlier today, which is available in our office and online.  Pam?


Question:  Follow up on Cuba, you said the Raul Castro meeting is tonight and CELAC is tomorrow?  Since CELAC is coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the break of Latin America of economic and political relations with Cuba do you expect the Secretary-General to be speaking about that in any way or addressing the UN embargo?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll send you the Secretary-General’s remarks once they’re delivered.  At this stage, I don’t have anything to say about his remarks, which broadly concern UN-Latin American relations.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, could you please tell me, is it known the nationality of the ship that has taken aboard the second batch of chemical?  You mentioned escort ships?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It was put onto cargo vessels from Denmark and Norway. 


Question:  Do you have an estimate of when it will be loaded onto the American ship? 


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any announcement to give at this stage.  There’s still a phase by which the chemical weapons get loaded onto the cargo vessels and that phase is continuing.


Question:  Thank you, Mr. Farhan.  My question is about terrorism.  As you know, today the Security Council had a meeting about international peace and security about terrorism acts.  Two or three weeks ago an Iranian diplomat in Yemen was killed by a terrorist act.  Iran sent a letter to the Secretary-General and the Security Council President.  Do you have any details about this letter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I do.  What I can say is that the Secretary-General condemned the assassination in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, on 18 January, of Mr. Abolghasem Asadi, a cultural attaché who served with the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The Secretary-General is concerned that terrorist attacks and hostage-taking have continued in Yemen.  He recalls that according to the 1979 International Convention, hostage-taking is an offense of grave concern to the international community.  The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the bereaved family of Mr. Asadi and to the Government of Iran.  He calls for the perpetrators of this crime to be brought to justice as well as for the immediate release of all hostages in Yemen.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Côte d’Ivoire, I wanted to ask two things. One is there are reports, cause it seems like the [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] is probably not going to give stake out – she is not here — so I thought I’d ask you.  There was a reported ransacking of a group called Alternative Côte d’Ivoire, which is the biggest gay rights group in the country and it was done today.  So I am wondering, does she or the UN have any comment on that? Also if you can… Ghana has said it would move some troops or send some troops to South Sudan.  I’m told this would actually come from UNOCI (United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire).  I am wondering if you can confirm that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On the question of Ghanaian troops, I can’t confirm that just yet.  We’ll have to see what we can say about further troops to UNMISS.  As you know, we’ve been trying to redeploy some troops, but I don’t have any announcement to make on that just yet.  Regarding the question of the ransacking of the gay rights group, we’ll check with UNOCI whether they have anything to say about this reported incident.  Yes?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, preparations were under way to transfer 350 Ghanaian troops from UNOCI to UNMISS under inter-mission cooperation in the coming weeks.]


Question:  Farhan, did the Secretary-General have anything particular to say about the Security Council resolution on ransom?  I know you announced the Security Council just passed it.  Did he say anything about it?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the resolution has just passed.  Of course, we encourage all countries to take united action against terrorism and to abide by all resolutions of the Security Council, and we would do so again in this case.


Have a good afternoon everyone.


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