31 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.


**Secretary-General Travels


The Secretary-General is in Munich, where, later this evening, he will have a trilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry.  We’ll try to provide a readout afterward.


Tomorrow, he will address the Munich Security Conference and talk to other high-level officials attending that event.  And he will also attend a meeting of the Middle East Quartet at the principals level.


Earlier today, he had travelled to Bonn, where he had met with the heads of 18 UN agencies present in the city and held a town hall meeting with UN staff.


He’ll return to New York over the weekend.


** Syria


Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, wrapped up eight days of meetings in Geneva between the Syrian parties and said today that he has suggested that the talks resume, on the basis of an agreed agenda, on 10 February.  He said that the opposition delegation had agreed to this date, while the Government delegation said that it needed to consult with Damascus first.


Mr. Brahimi said that progress during the past few days of talks has been very slow, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner.  He said that this is a modest beginning on which we can build.


He noted that the sides were committed to discussing the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012.  He also noted some areas where the parties’ positions were converging and expressed his hope that they can start to build more common ground when they next meet.  His press statement is available in our Office.


**Syria — Humanitarian


Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that she was deeply frustrated and disappointed that the Geneva II talks concluded today without agreement on humanitarian pauses to bring relief to hundreds of thousands of people blockaded in towns and cities in Syria.


She said that more than 3 million people in Syria are trapped in areas where heavy fighting continues or that are besieged by Government or opposition forces.  The situation is totally unacceptable.  She said that the international community has clearly called for immediate action to facilitate safe and unhindered delivery of assistance across the country, but so far, this has not translated into significant progress or action on the ground.


Ms. Amos said that we need urgent action now.  Sieges must be lifted.  Ceasefire agreements must be agreed and convoys must be allowed to proceed immediately and safely.  Border crossings and roads need to be opened to allow the regular flow of vital aid supplies.  Those who fail to protect civilians or facilitate assistance are violating international humanitarian law.


**South Sudan


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will be visiting the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on 2 February — which is Sunday.  During his trip, Mr. Ladsous is expected to meet with senior Government officials to discuss the implementation of the recently-signed ceasefire agreement between the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in opposition.


The Under-Secretary-General will also meet with UN staff and peacekeepers to thank them for their dedication and service as they continue to help protect thousands of South Sudanese people at risk.


The UN Mission in South Sudan reports that it is now protecting more than 85,000 civilians at eight bases across the country.  This includes approximately 43,000 people seeking shelter in two sites in the capital, Juba.


In Malakal, in Upper Nile State, the Mission is currently protecting some 28,000 civilians.  The Mission says it has treated nearly 1,000 patients at its hospital in Malakal since the last week of December.  The Mission also says that, since then, 29 babies have been delivered at the Malakal protection site.


The Mission has conducted 241 military and 62 police patrols in Juba, Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States in the last 24 hours.


**South Sudan — Humanitarian


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that an estimated 740,000 people have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.


It adds that despite insecurity and limited access, UN agencies and humanitarian partners have provided assistance to nearly 300,000 people since mid-December.  Some 200,000 people across the country have received food assistance, and around 25,000 children, pregnant women and new mothers have been screened for malnutrition and have received food in Jonglei.  Thousands of children have also been vaccinated for measles and polio in Jonglei and Juba.


Over 200,000 people have received water, sanitation and hygiene support.


The Office also reports that more than 123,000 people have fled the conflict in South Sudan to neighbouring countries since mid-December.  Humanitarian organizations estimate that more than 22,000 people, including some from nomadic groups, have arrived in Sudan.


The Sudanese Red Crescent Society is working with UN agencies and humanitarian partners to register new arrivals and provide aid, including food, water, shelter and health care, in parts of Sudan.  


UN agencies are preparing to establish more relocation sites in White Nile State, which borders South Sudan, to accommodate the growing influx of people.


** Somalia


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, today expressed his concern over the escalation of tensions in Baidoa surrounding a federal State-building conference.


He said it was important that all parties remain calm and committed to dialogue, and support reconciliation efforts. He also called on traditional leaders, politicians and all stakeholders to play a constructive and reconciliatory role. 


He said the UN Mission in Somalia, UNSOM, was working closely with local partners, the Federal Government, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and others in order to reinvigorate peaceful talks and reconciliation efforts.


** Great Lakes


The regional oversight mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region held its third meeting on the margins of the twenty-second Summit of the African Union, in Addis Ababa.


This meeting, convened nearly a year after the signing of the Framework, expanded the signatories of the Framework to include Kenya and Sudan.  An action plan and key priorities for 2014 were also approved at the meeting.


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, urged the signatories of the Framework to give a renewed impetus to the concrete implementation of all their commitments.


She said that much was still to be accomplished, including consolidating gains made in North Kivu following the end of the M23 rebellion, restoring State authority, implementing the outcome of the Kampala Dialogue, addressing the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons, and promoting sustainable dialogue among the signatories.


There is more available in a press release.


** Egypt


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern today about the increasingly severe clampdown and physical attacks on media in Egypt, which is hampering their ability to operate freely.


The Office said that, in recent months, there have been numerous reports of harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists, as well as violent attacks, including several that led to injuries to reporters trying to cover last weekend’s third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.


The Human Rights Office urges the Egyptian authorities to promptly release all journalists imprisoned for carrying out their legitimate news reporting activities in exercise of their fundamental human rights.  All reports of violence against journalists, including the attacks on 25 January, must be independently and transparently investigated.


** Ukraine


Also, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has welcomed the beginning of the dialogue between the President and the opposition of Ukraine.  The Office has called for the dialogue to be sustainable, inclusive and grounded on full respect of the international human rights treaties ratified by Ukraine, as well as the political commitments made through the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review in March last year.


The Office has also welcomed the abolition by the Ukrainian Parliament earlier in the week of the laws passed on 16 January, which had unnecessarily restricted the exercise of the rights to freedom of assembly, association and speech, as well as the operation of non-governmental organizations.  The Office has called upon the President of Ukraine to sign the new law abolishing the legislative package of 16 January.


The Office has reiterated its call to the Government and protesters to exercise restraint and create conditions for dialogue and reconciliation.


**Secretary-General Appointment


I have an appointment to announce.


The Secretary-General has appointed Michael Bloomberg of the United States as his Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change.


Mr. Bloomberg will assist the Secretary-General in his consultations with mayors and related key stakeholders to raise political will and mobilize action among cities as part of his long-term strategy to advance efforts on climate change.  This includes bringing concrete solutions to the 2014 Climate Summit that the Secretary-General will host in New York on 23 September 2014.


And we have more information on this appointment in our Office.


**Olympics


On the eve of the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games in Sochi, the Secretary-General is sending a message joining the International Olympic Committee in calling on all those engaged in armed hostilities around the world to lay down their weapons and observe the Olympic Truce.


In calling for this year’s Truce, the Secretary-General said that his thoughts are with the people of Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and all others suffering from senseless violence, including the families who lost loved ones in the recent bombings that took place in Volgograd, not far from Sochi.


He calls on all combatants everywhere to respect the Olympic Truce, and he said that overcoming conflict is a constant struggle — but we must persist in doing our utmost to win adherence to it.  We have the full message in our Office.


**Questions from Yesterday


And finally, I was asked yesterday about reports of alleged killings involving French troops in Bangui, and I can report that the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, known as BINUCA, is aware of these reports.


BINUCA’s Human Rights Officers are in contact with the parties allegedly involved in this specific incident.  At this stage and as mandated, the first objective is to establish the facts.  In line with established procedures, the UN Peacebuilding Office will report on its conclusions in due course.


You will recall that last month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights dispatched a team to Bangui to establish the facts concerning a number of violations of human rights in the Central African Republic.  On many occasions, High Commissioner Navi Pillay has also publicly expressed her concern and has condemned these violations.  That’s it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, at this stage of the negotiations, when the Syrian Government has not even accepted the next date for resumption of the talks, does Mr. Brahimi see any prospects of moving forward?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not that they have not accepted that.  Mr. Brahimi at a press conference today in Geneva said they had accepted the idea of coming back 10 February but needed to check back with the capital, with Damascus.  So they’re going back to do that.  But he remains confident that talks will resume again and hopefully that can be on 10 February.  We’ll keep you posted.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I have some other questions for you.  I just wanted to ask about the appointment of Michael Bloomberg.  Since obviously he put aside several of his business interests while he was the mayor, but now he’s reportedly reengaged with all of them, I wonder, is there any, what’s the UN’s thinking in terms of possible conflict of interest?  Has there been any discussion of either recusal or setting some businesses aside or restrictions on information made available to him in the course of this climate change post for the UN?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe appropriate terms of reference have been worked out with former Mayor Bloomberg, so that should be an acceptable arrangement devised between them.  I’d like to note, by the way, that while he’s taking this job, Mr. Bloomberg currently serves as the President of the Board of the C40 Climate Leadership Group, a network of large cities from around the world committed to implementing meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally that would help address climate change globally.


Question:  Can we see the terms of reference? Are they in any way public?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  What’s public — there’s a lengthy press release which is available in our Office.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  My question, now, what is the Secretary-General’s view about the nomination of General [Abdel-Fattah] al-Sissi for the presidential election?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Could you repeat the question?


Question: What is the Secretary-General’s view about the nomination of General Sissi for the presidential election?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In Egypt?  We have no comment on the process at this stage, no.  Yes, in the back?


Question:  Thank you, Mr. Haq.  There has been a call for the Secretary-General to address the human rights situation in Cuba because of the crackdown that coincided with his visit.  I wanted to know if there’s any reaction from the United Nations.  It’s an open letter with parliamentarians from around the world who have signed it and it’s still being signed.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, thanks.  As far as that goes, what I can say is that the Secretary-General consistently brought up human rights concerns with his high-level interlocutors in Cuba and, of course, you will have seen the remarks he also made while he was there.  Yes?


Question:  I have two questions.  My first question is that today, no, yesterday, Kerry warned Assad and said that the military option was not over because of the delay in removing chemical weapons.  Does this mean that a military solution may be an option in case of the failure of negotiations, as we see there is no solution until to now and people are being killed every day in Syria?  This is my first question.  My second question is that discussions in Geneva couldn’t enter Homs until now and they couldn’t deliver aid into Homs.  And Walid Moualem said today was that they didn’t want to do this because they didn’t want to transfer the conflict in another place because some fighters want to have, ensure safe exits.  It was like he was talking in an arrogant way, like, this international talks doesn’t…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  And the question?


Question:  So my question is that it began to be clear that the weapon and the voice of the weapon is controlling now.  So how will you treat some situation like this [inaudible]?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Brahimi made it very clear that he still hopes for progress on the issue of Homs.  He said he personally appealed for action to address the desperate humanitarian situation in Syria.  Homs was extensively discussed, though, unfortunately, there’s been no breakthrough yet.  And you have heard what I just read on behalf of Valerie Amos and her belief that not enough has been done to allow for humanitarian access to people in besieged areas.  And we continue to press for that.  So we’ll continue to do that.  Regarding your first question, you’re right, the Secretary-General has long believed that there can be no military solution to this crisis, which is why we’ve been pushing for diplomatic efforts that have been mediated in the past days by Lakhdar Brahimi.  And we are going to continue with that effort.  Regarding the issue of chemical weapons, you’ll have seen the report that the Secretary-General and the Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have shared and, in that, as we have said, the Secretary-General made clear the he doesn’t believe that the delays that have occurred are insurmountable.  Yes, Iftikhar?


Question:  Farhan, does the United Nations have any involvement in the upcoming elections in Afghanistan?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has been playing a role, trying to support the local Afghan electoral authorities.  So we’re continuing with those efforts.  Again, as with previous elections, this is an Afghan-led process.  It’s managed by the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission, but the UN Assistance Mission has been supporting that and will continue to do so.


Question:  What I meant was, will they be monitoring the elections?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe.  As a rule we don’t monitor elections that, where we help with the technical side, so we are not going to be the monitors of these elections, no.  Yes, in the back?


Question:  Farhan, Human Rights Watch yesterday published a report that the Syrian regime is destroying houses in Homs and all the neighbourhoods.  Is this a war crime?  What does the Secretary-General think about it?  Any comment?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We will need to evaluate the data to see.  Of course, there have been many crimes committed over the course of the past three years of war and the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have spoken out against these and we believe that there needs to be accountability for any crimes, such as war crimes or crimes against humanity that are committed.  But specific things — yes, they would need to be evaluated.


Question:  What do you have about the recent Turkish raids inside Syria using fighter jets targeting groups inside Syria, is there any position with regards to the United Nations?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any first-hand information, so I wouldn’t have any comment right now.


Question:  Yes, I want to ask something about South Sudan and also something about the Geneva talks.  South Sudan, first, I wanted to know whether there’s any UN view of Riek Machar saying he stands to be charged with treason and that will set back all the, what was agreed in Addis.  And I want to know, does the UN think that at this point charging or threatening to charge Mr. Machar with treason is productive?  And also whether the UN agrees with Norway, which is one of this troika group, saying that the Ugandan… they believe at this point that the Ugandan troops that assisted the SPLA in retaking cities should leave.  And finally, is there a UN role in monitoring of what was agreed in Addis?  I know that you said Mr. Ladsous will be there and will be discussing… I didn’t hear the phrasing… is there a UN role in monitoring what was agreed to?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, in terms of what I just read, yes.  He’ll meet with senior Government officials to discuss the implementation of the recently signed ceasefire agreement and that will be one of his tasks.  We’ll provide updates when we get them of his trip.  Regarding the monitoring mechanism, I believe earlier this week we stressed the importance of having a monitoring mechanism, and I said at that point that the UN Mission in South Sudan — UNMISS —would try to assist as needed for the work of the monitors.  But this is a separate monitoring mechanism that’s being set up.


Question:  So will he meet with the other side, say, Mr. Machar, or the other side that reached the agreement in Addis?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try to provide you with some details of his meetings once we get them.  As I said just now, I just had the announcement of his trip.  But we’ll try to do that.  Certainly, he’s trying to meet with all parties and we hope that the parties continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement and work with each other and we would urge them to refrain from any unhelpful actions.


Question:  In watching, just before Mr. Brahimi started his press conference today, the spokesperson of the UN in Geneva made this statement saying that when reporters return on 10 February or whenever for these talks, there’ll be an emphasis on rules, including a ban on propaganda.  That was exactly the word that she used.  It struck me.  I wanted to know, I’m looking at the media access guidelines here in New York and I don’t see that word and it seems, it’s kind of a vague word, so I’m wondering what are the rules?  What is the threat basically made that journalists would be excluded if they engaged in propaganda?  And I want to know how that’s defined given things that Mr. Brahimi said in press conferences.  What does that mean?  Because it sort of tends to cast a pall over things, I would say, because you can say one person’s propaganda, for example, questions were called loaded on some sides and then you have State media on the other side.  So what is propaganda to the UN?  What did she mean?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, since you’ve been a reporter here for several years, you know what the press rules here are.  And so you’re aware of what we have in terms of guaranteeing access to the media and freedom of expression by the media.  You can also ask our colleagues, Corinne and our other colleagues in Geneva, about the rules there.  But in general, of course, it’s always clear that when you’re at these sort of briefings, you’re here to ask questions, as you do.  Some of the questions, including questions within the past few minutes, have had, I would say, a political slant to them.  And yet, those are tolerated.  That’s different from simply broadcasting propaganda views from one side or another that have no journalistic content.  We’re perfectly fine with journalists saying things that may be loaded, as you must know first-hand by now. 


Question:  Sure, I guess I’m just saying that since you used the word, it seems important in order of not being vague.  I mean, I like your comment, but I’m just saying that any kind of a rule that’s put out it would seem like a term like that should be defined so that it’s equally applied.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, if you want to know how our colleagues in Geneva are handling it, I suggest you talk to them.  I’ve explained how we handle it here.  Yes?


Question:  I wanted to ask about what Walid Moualem said today, that the Syrian Coalition has nothing to do on the ground and the problem and crisis in Homs proved that he couldn’t control anybody, any of the fighters on the ground.  To what extent does the UN think this is true?  And there are talks about the [inaudible] coalition who will participate in the second session?  So, is this true?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As these talks go, one of the things we’re trying to avoid is commenting on any of the specific press remarks by either side simply because we would rather do what we can to keep the parties together at the table and not get sidetracked by any sort of rhetoric.  So I’d do that in this case as well.


Have a great weekend, everyone.


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For information media • not an official record