7 March 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good Morning.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council meeting this morning on children and armed conflict, just one day after returning from Sierra Leone, and he discussed how the country has been transformed after years of successful UN engagement.  He said that, not long ago, Sierra Leone was engulfed in war and synonymous with the tragic plight of children in armed conflict.  But he noted the improvements he saw on his trip and the signs that, given a chance, former child soldiers can rebuild their lives and help to build peace in their countries.


The Secretary-General also emphasized the importance of education, saying that children should be armed with pens and textbooks, not guns and grenades.  We have his remarks in my office.


And the Council also heard from a Sierra Leonean, Alhaji Babas Sawaneh, the first former child soldier to address the Security Council, who returned to address Council members again today.


** Ukraine


We’ve been asked questions about Robert Serry’s travels, and I can confirm that Mr. Serry is continuing his consultations with Ukrainian and diplomatic interlocutors in Kyiv today.  He will leave Kyiv tomorrow, that’s Saturday.  He will then return to Jerusalem next week where he is based, as you know, as the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  At this stage, it is not yet known when he will return to Ukraine.  But he will continue to assist the Secretary-General, as required, in his good offices to promote urgently needed de-escalation and a peaceful political resolution of the country's current crisis.


Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the Security Council yesterday afternoon by video from Kyiv, and said that in all of his meetings in Ukraine, he had underlined the urgent need for de-escalation and for a political solution to the country’s current crisis.  He also informed the Security Council that Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović had arrived in Kyiv on Thursday.  During his eight-day visit, Mr. Šimonović plans to meet authorities and State officials in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv and Simferopol, as well as the Ombudsman, and civil society organisations at central and regional levels.  Mr Šimonović will also liaise with regional organizations active in Ukraine.


**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels


Following his mission to Ukraine, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Podgorica, Montenegro, on Sunday to inaugurate the UN Eco Building, alongside the President of Montenegro.  During his time in Podgorica, the Deputy Secretary-General will meet with the President, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration, as well as other senior Government officials of Montenegro.


Then on Monday, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Brdo, Slovenia, to attend a seminar convened by the Initiative on Mediation in the Mediterranean Region on "Promoting a Culture of Mediation and Prevention in the Mediterranean”.  The Deputy Secretary-General will address delegates during the opening session of the seminar.  And while in Slovenia, he will meet with the President, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as other senior Government officials of the Republic of Slovenia and senior officials of other delegations attending the seminar.


And then on Tuesday, 11 March, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Vienna to address the ceremonial opening of the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.  He will also address participants of a high-level briefing organized by the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs.  During his visit, he will meet with senior Government Officials of the Republic of Austria as well as senior officials of other delegations attending the Commission’s session.  And the Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 14 March.


** Central African Republic


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, spoke to the press in Geneva today and said that the situation in the Central African Republic is extremely grave and that urgent action is required by everyone to prevent further bloodshed.  She said that the violence has led to a total breakdown of the State. 


She said that there is a looming food crisis and, with the forthcoming rainy season, millions of people will be at risk of communicable diseases.  Financial support is urgently needed to provide seeds and tools so that people can plant, so that stocks can be pre-positioned and conditions improved in sites for internally displaced people.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has asked for $551 million, but that appeal is only 16 per cent funded.  Ms. Amos said that a lot of pledges had been received in Brussels in January, but those pledges need to be turned into cash.


**South Sudan


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that it is deeply concerned about the risk to people in South Sudan, including refugees in Upper Nile State, if conditions don’t allow food to be delivered to them soon.  The agency, the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners normally pre-position food and other relief items during the first quarter of the year in preparation for the rainy season.  The violent clashes in Malakal and other strategic river and road transport towns this year have made pre-positioning impossible.  And the refugee agency says that unless food is delivered immediately, the health and nutrition status of refugees will become severely compromised.


Meanwhile, a team from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), patrolling Juba yesterday, observed that civilians had generally resumed their daily activities, although some shops remained closed.  The Mission also reported Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) presence in the capital, with access to some areas and roads still restricted.  The Mission continues to protect an estimated 39,000 displaced persons at its two sites in Juba.


The Mission is also reporting a growing number of violations of the status-of-forces-agreement, including restrictions of movement, making it difficult for the Mission to implement its mandate, and dangerous for UN staff working in South Sudan.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, has expressed his strong appreciation following the verdict rendered earlier today by the International Criminal Court, which found former militia leader Germain Katanga guilty as an accessory to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He said that this was yet another warning to armed groups to immediately cease attacks against civilians and lay down their arms.  He also said that combating impunity is fundamental to stabilizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo and establishing a durable peace.  And we may have something further on this from the Secretary-General later today.


** Burundi


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed concern today at the increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Burundi.  She said that restrictions have increasingly been imposed on freedom of assembly and on the press over the past few months in Burundi.


She also described recent attacks by the ruling party’s youth wing, including the reported killing of an opposition youth leader on 19 February, as hugely worrying, especially in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.  At least 19 violent incidents involving members of the youth wing have been documented since the beginning of the year.  Ms. Pillay called on the Government to publicly condemn these violent acts to ensure that those responsible for acts of violence are held accountable.  This is essential if the rising political tensions in the country are to be defused.


**Press Conferences


And finally, on press conferences, there will be a press conference on Monday, 10 March, at 12:30 p.m., and that will be here and is by Mr. Lassina Zerbo, who is the Executive Director of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO).  And that’s what I have for you, and I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Ali?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  We all know that Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi relies heavily, and maybe only, on the cooperation between Russia and the US to resolve and to find a solution in Syria.  Does the Secretary-General have any concern that with this crisis in Crimea and Ukraine between… and the rising tension between the US and Russia will affect negatively any prospect for peace in Syria?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Well, I think it underscores the need for calm and for a de-escalation of the tensions that there are in Ukraine.  It is, of course, for everybody to understand that the Syrian crisis is entirely separate, and that the US officials and Russian officials have been working on that track independently, as they do on a number of other matters, too.  No one denies that this is a difficult time, not just for the relationship between the United States and Russia, but I think that as the co-initiators of this Geneva process, they are fully aware of their joint responsibilities to push forward the political process so that there can be peace again in Syria as soon as possible.  Yes, Masood?  And then Maggie, yes?


Question:  My question is:  President [Barack] Obama has been saying that holding a referendum in Crimea is against international law; does the Secretary-General also believe — or have you weighed in on it already — that it is in fact against international law, or it is conforming with international law?


Spokesperson:  The recent announcement by the authorities in Crimea that they intend to hold a referendum is a worrying and serious development.  In this regard, the Secretary-General would urge the authorities in Ukraine, including in Crimea, to treat this matter with calm.  Furthermore, the Secretary-General believes all concerned should think about the implications of any hasty actions or decisions taken in the heat of the moment.  He can’t emphasize enough the need for peace and stability in the region.


I said I’d go to Margret and then to Lou, okay?


Correspondent:  Martin, it’s your last briefing, so I just want to wish you the best of luck in your new post.


Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Question:  Do you have any updates from OCHA on convoys and such getting into Syria?  Have they been giving any updates since the resolution was passed?


Spokesperson:  I will have to check to see if there are any further details on that.  I don’t have an update right now.  I know that this is a key marker, if you like; it’s a key indicator whether the strength of that resolution can be translated into true action and true delivery on the ground for the people of Syria.  As you know, there have been some deliveries into Yarmouk, but also you will know that there has been further tension there.  So this is, by far, still an enormous humanitarian crisis that, of course, is being over-shadowed in the media understandably by what is happening in Ukraine.  But the suffering of the Syrian people is no less intense than it was before the events broke out in Ukraine.  So let’s not forget that, and let’s try to get an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on precisely what kind of deliveries have been possible.  [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs later confirmed that it would not provide updates on Syria’s compliance prior to the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council.]  Lou?


Correspondent:  Thanks, Martin.  I’d also like to wish you the best of luck after your last briefing and good luck in Vienna.  Great place.


Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Question:  Mr. Šimonović, I wanted to ask about his itinerary, you know, in a sort of general way.  Have you gotten assurances from the authorities in Crimea that he will able to travel freely, move about freely, when he gets there?  Will there be measures put in place to kind of prevent what happened to Mr. Serry happening to him?  As we saw, OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] observers were also prevented from entering Crimea yesterday.  And could you give us any rough idea of how much, how soon, he could be going there; in the next few days or next week?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned, it’s an eight-day visit.  Mr. Šimonović arrived yesterday with part of his team, and the rest of the team is arriving over the weekend so that they can then start to make their visits to the various places that we have mentioned,  of course, starting with Kyiv, but including Lviv in the west, and Kharkiv in the east, and Simferopol in the south, obviously, of Crimea.  Now, we are not going to get into the details of precisely when and where Mr. Šimonović will be, but as time goes by, we will be able to give more details.  I think they are putting together an itinerary. 


To answer your question about access, we would simply wish to believe that if this is to be a full fact-finding mission, and if everybody’s voices are to be heard, that he has full access wherever he wishes to go.  And that is something that obviously will be under discussion in the coming days as the mission is pulled together and the itinerary is finalized.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  I also, also on Mr. Šimonović, yesterday, both in the Security Council and outside of it, this issue of, of the audio of Catherine Ashton and the Estonian Foreign Minister were raised, and what I wanted to ask you about is it was, I know I have asked you this before and you said that you won’t comment on leaked audio; so now that it’s, it was, has been said by… by… by a… by a Permanent Representative of a permanent member, I wanted to ask you:  will Mr. Šimonović pursue the issue of, of who, you know, called the shots of the snipers in… in… in those days in Kyiv, and will he also try to make… make sure that the type of… of national investigation that was provided for in the 21 February Agreement will be carried out?  Is that among his goals there?


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s a fact-finding mission, and as I mentioned to you before, I don’t doubt that this question will be raised, not based on leaked tapes that may or may not be accurate and real, but based on the fact that many people died in Maidan that day, and over a number of days.  And therefore it seems obvious that Mr. Šimonović and his team would want to be looking at that.  But this is not an investigation; this is a fact-finding mission that will result in Mr. Šimonović coming back to report to the Secretary-General and to Member States and, of course, to Ms. Pillay, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the High Commissioner.


Question:  Just one, I mean, the… the Estonian Foreign Ministry has said that the tape is an… is… is an authentic recording, but what I wanted to know is, beyond his own fact-finding, will he interface with the current authorities in Kyiv in terms of them doing an investigation, or is it literally just a… he is gonna go to these various places and then come back with… with what he’s found?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve said he will be meeting with the authorities in all of the places he visits.  So I can’t imagine that this would not be one of the questions and one of the areas that would be covered.  I think that that is fairly clear.  This was a major incident that sparked a lot of other events in these recent days.  Other questions, please.  Yes, Oleg?


Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.  I would also join the others who wished you all the best in Vienna.


Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Question:  I want to ask if there is any update from the joint mission in Syria working with the chemical weapons, and also, does the Secretary-General think that everything is on schedule to the deadlines, also, new deadlines that were provided by the Syrian Government?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  I don’t think that there is any update since Sigrid Kaag just briefed the Security Council.  If and when there is an update that goes beyond that, we will let you know.  But I think Sigrid Kaag was quite clear and spoke to the media afterwards, as well, about where things stand, and I don’t have anything further to add to what she said at that point.  Okay, other questions.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  More of the same:  I wanted to ask you, please, given that Syria, the Secretary-General is always asking that no nation further militarize the conflict, and given that the region, like Sudan and Egypt, is also volatile, isn’t there any concern about the shipment of the missiles, advanced missiles, that would have gone over land through Sudan, and through Egypt, into Gaza?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that at this time.  If that changes, I will certainly let you know.  Yes, please?


Question:  Regarding the crisis in Ukraine, it was reported yesterday that the US has sent extra fighter jets to increase NATO’s presence in the Baltics and to patrol the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, which belong to both NATO and the EU.  Did the Secretary-General have any reaction to this move?


Spokesperson:  No, this is under either bilateral arrangements or through NATO channels, so we don’t have any comment on those kinds of activities.  That would be for NATO to comment on, or the Member States involved.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Speaking of, I guess, weapons shipments, I wanted to ask now that 24… 24 hours at least have gone by since the… the… the announcement you made on South Sudan, and I mean, I’ve… I’ve… now, you know, seen pictures of these big containers, truck containers and the weapons that were inside them.  And it seems that at least one, uh, South Sudan military official without a name was quoted by Sudan Tribune as saying that they believe that these weapons were meant for… for… for rebels in Unity State.  I don’t know if that’s, I guess what I am just saying is what’s… what’s been found out in the last 24 hours of how these cartons of weapons were either mislabelled and… and… how big is the Ghana, Ghanaian contingent in Bentiu that they were going to, and… and… and they seemed to be like machine guns, just, do you, what… what’s been found out since?  It seems to be serious.


Spokesperson:  Well, remember what the mandate is of the peacekeeping force:  protection of civilians.  Remember the environment that they are currently operating in.  There is a lot of shooting, a lot of civilians fleeing in fear and tens of thousands of them into UN compounds or protection sites.  So that is the kind of environment that they are operating in, and that’s why the force is being augmented, including with Ghanaians.  I don’t have the precise number to hand of how many Ghanaians are in the contingent that was heading to Bentiu, but we can get that for you fairly rapidly.  And simply to reiterate that it’s certainly my understanding that these weapons and the ammunition to go with them were belonging to, and belonged to, the Ghanaian contingent.


Question:  Sorry, and just to, tha… and, if you, it seems like the Ghanaians were coming from… from… from UNOCI (United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire) or ONUCI in… in… in… in Ivory Coast, so I’m just, were these the same?  Did they just bring their whole kit with them?  Because I’m… it… it… it seems like it’s… it’s not, all the things you described in South Sudan no longer seem to be necessarily the case in… in Côte d’Ivoire if they were being, you know, leaving there to go to South Sudan, so, I’m just…


Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not quite sure where that question is going, but the whole point here was that there needed to be a rapid augmentation of the UN Mission in South Sudan, and that was done by bringing contingents from other nearby peacekeeping operations to help out, and that’s the case here.  So any other questions, please?  Yes, Masood?  And then, I am coming to you.


Question:  On this, on the Middle East peace process, President Obama has been saying, telling Neta… Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu that if he doesn’t make concessions, the… the window of opportunity to make any peace deal is closing fast.  Does the Secretary-General also believe that’s the case?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has said in the past that there is only a narrow window to move forward, and that the real imperative is to achieve a two-State solution sooner rather than later.  The people have been waiting too long already for that.  And so, what the Secretary-General looks for is a spirit of compromise on both sides, from both parties.  Otherwise, this Middle East peace process, of course, cannot move forward.  But the emphasis is on compromise and continuing to talk, as they have done in recent months, with encouragement from, particularly from the Secretary of State for the United States, John Kerry.


Question:  So the window of opportunity, as it is, is now closing down or it… it will still remain open, as far as Secretary-General is concerned?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, the Secretary-General believes that it is a narrow window.  That doesn’t mean that it is narrowing, but that it is a narrow window.  And the Secretary-General has also said that there is no alternative for a peaceful future in the Middle East to a two-State solution.  Yes?


Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin, and I wish you all the best in your new position. 


Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Question:  Now two weeks since the humanitarian resolution on Syria was adopted by the Security Council, is there any progress regarding the implementation?


Spokesperson:  Well, I was asked this question already, and we’ll certainly look for an update.  I gave some details and tried to sketch out the difficulties that are still there, that remain, but we will try to get an update from our humanitarian colleagues.  Stefano?


Correspondent:  Yes.  Again, good luck for Vienna. 


Spokesperson:  Thank you.


Correspondent:  But are you, a… a clarification on what you said, you said it is very worrying, the… the referendum in Crimea, will be very worrying if… if it happens.  I would like to…


Spokesperson:  Well, no, what I said was that the recent announcement by the authorities in Crimea that they intend to hold a referendum is a worrying and serious development, okay?


Question:  Very good.  And if this, let’s say they, if Russia will in the future allow the UN observer or officer, if the situation changes, that the control of Crimea is not any more on… on… you know, because Russian soldiers are around, but will be, there will be international observer, is it, will it, at that point, will it be possible to have a referendum to, you know, for the Crimean people to decide if they want to be with Ukraine or not?


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a hypothetical question, and I don’t really want to get into the realms of hypothesis at this particular moment.  I think we have enough facts to be dealing with without speculating further.  Okay, I think it would be remiss not to give Matthew the last question!  [laughter].


Question:  Thanks a lot, and, no, thanks a lot.  Hopeful… let’s see if… if this will be the last answer that… [laughter].  That, yest… this morning, actually, this morning in… in the debate on… on… on children and armed conflict, Ambassador [Gérard] Araud of France mentioned that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is involved now in a dialogue with the UN, that he said hopes results in a plan of action since they were mentioned in a report as… as recruiting and using child soldiers, so I was looking at… at… there was, there is… is a, what she said, I didn’t see it there, I’m…  I was wondering whether there is some way to get… to get some statement from her office or from the UN about this dialogue with the FSA, and how far along they are towards getting a plan of action, and whether the UN believes that… that countries that have expressed and provided support to the FSA should do so prior to such a plan of action being reached?


Spokesperson:  Well, Ms. Zerrougui is an extremely purposeful individual, and she is very driven by her desire to end the use of children in armed conflict.  And so, whether it is, and she has also visited Syria, as you know, and briefed you here on that.  So, we will check with her office to see if we can give you some more details on that, okay?


But you had the last question, but I think I have the last word. [laughter].  And so, what I wanted to say was that, UNCA or FUNCA or Willy Wonka, [laughter]I’ve really enjoyed these exchanges in the briefing room.  My facial expression may not always show enjoyment, but I truly did find the briefing exciting and energizing, and at times intriguing.  So, I’d like to thank all of you, and also I’d like to thank people you can’t see who make the briefing possible.  And that is, of course, people in the control room right here, the people even further down underground at UNTV and through the webcasting team.  The thankless task of transcribing what I say, and you say; I would like to thank those who have been involved in that over the years.  And of course, I’d like to thank my own team for everything that they do to make sure I have the right bits of paper and to ensure that I don’t step onto any elephant traps.  I am going to miss all of this, and I am going to miss all of you, of course.  And so, I’d like to say thank you, and have a good weekend.  And please be gentle on Stéphane [Dujarric] on Monday.  Thank you.  [applause].


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For information media • not an official record