12 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good morning or good afternoon.  And welcome to the briefing, and welcome to all of those also watching on the UN Webcast.


** Syria


In a statement we issued this morning, with the conflict in Syria now entering its fourth year, the Secretary-General appealed to all to reflect upon the long and growing list of horrors taking place in Syria every day.  Syria is now the biggest humanitarian and peace and security crisis facing the world, with violence reaching unthinkable levels.  Syria’s neighbours are bearing the increasingly unbearable humanitarian, security, political and socioeconomic effects of this conflict.


The Secretary-General deeply regrets the inability of the international community, the region and the Syrians themselves to put a stop to this appalling conflict.  He appeals to the region and the international community, and in particular to the Russian Federation and the United States as the initiating States parties to the Geneva Conference on Syria, to take clear steps to re-energize the Geneva process.  The Secretary-General strongly urges the Syrian Government and the opposition to exercise responsibility, leadership, vision and flexibility to rise to the challenges.  And the full statement is available online and in the office.


** Syria ’s Cultural Heritage


Also on Syria, I have a statement by the Secretary-General, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Director-General Irina Bokova and the UN and League of Arab States Joint Special Representative to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, in which the three of them make a joint appeal to stop the destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage.  They say that, as the people of Syria continue to endure [Correspondent’s phone rings]…   Let’s try that again:  In the joint statement, they say that, as the people of Syria continue to endure incalculable human suffering and loss, their country’s rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds.


They call on all parties to halt immediately all destruction of Syrian heritage and to save Syria’s rich social mosaic and cultural heritage by protecting its World Heritage Sites.  They condemn the use of cultural sites for military purposes and call on all parties to the conflict to uphold international obligations.  And they appeal to all countries and professional bodies involved in customs, trade and the art market, as well as individuals and tourists, to be on alert for stolen Syrian artefacts.  And a statement is also available in my office.


** Ukraine


Turning over to Ukraine, as you are well aware, Assistant-Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović had hoped to travel to Crimea this week.  In addition to the logistical challenges which I mentioned yesterday, including limited flights in and out of the Simferopol airport, Mr. Šimonović has been informed by authorities that he cannot be received in Crimea.  The reasons given were the complex situation on the ground, as well as the impossibility of providing security for his delegation.  Mr. Šimonović had very much hoped he could travel to Crimea himself.  But as in all areas where access is denied, Mr. Šimonović will report on human rights challenges in Crimea based on sources including the diplomatic community and international and national organizations.


He was in Lviv today, where he met with local authorities, the Ombudsperson and representatives of civil society.


**Security Council


Turning back here to New York and the Security Council, the Council is holding consultations this morning on the situation in Sudan and South Sudan and the work of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA).  Haile Menkerios, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, is briefing the Council on the first topic, while the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will brief on the second.


And then at 4:00 p.m., the Security Council will hold consultations on Darfur.


** Darfur


And on Darfur, we now have an update on the situation in Saraf Omra, in North Darfur, which I have been mentioning here for the last few days.  The African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the situation there is relatively calm.  However, many residents remain displaced and are in need of assistance.  The Mission has received reports of an unverified number of displaced people having relocated to nearby villages in Central Darfur, about 15 kilometres south-west of Saraf Omra.


**South Sudan


Moving on South to South Sudan, as we told you on Monday, heavy rains in Juba have damaged tents at the Tomping compound.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that it has exacerbated already difficult living conditions.  Aid agencies responded with measures to improve drainage and shelters in the site, and will assist people to move to plots in the UN House base later this week.  The UN Mission also says that it is finding ways to improve conditions by trying to extend current sites and is building new ones.  Our humanitarian colleagues further say that displaced communities and the aid agencies supporting them expect to face similar challenges in several sites once the rainy season starts in earnest in April.


Meanwhile, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, is reporting a growing number of violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), including restrictions of movement.  This makes it difficult for the Mission to implement its mandate and dangerous for UN staff working in South Sudan.  The Mission calls on all parties to respect the work of the UN and the inviolability of UN assets and premises.  The Mission also says it is monitoring the trial of the remaining four detainees who stand accused of plotting to overthrow the Government in December and who appeared before a Special Court in Juba yesterday.


**Afghanistan’s Elections


In Afghanistan, our United Nations Assistance Mission there (UNAMA) emphasized that taking part in elections is a basic human right for all people.  In a press release today, Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that such participation is especially important for Afghanistan as it prepares for historic elections, which will be important in helping shape the country’s future direction.  Afghanistan, as you know, is slated to hold presidential and provincial council elections on 5 April.


** Western Sahara


Moving on to Western Sahara, our colleagues at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced today that the family visit flights from Tindouf refugee camps to the Western Sahara Territory will resume.  The flights allow separated families to see each other again.  The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said it was vital that these visits continue, as they increase trust and understanding in one of the world’s longest-standing refugee situations.  Families originating from Western Sahara have been separated for nearly four decades.


The first series of flights are scheduled for 17 April.  UNHCR is in the process of submitting a list of applicants and the flights schedule for the rest of the year.  UNHCR says that nearly 20,000 people have taken part in family visits since the programme began in 2004.


** Turkey


Some of you had asked offline for a readout of the meeting between the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Turkey.  And I can tell you the following:  that the Secretary-General met the Turkish Foreign Minister [Ahmet Davutoğlu] yesterday evening.  The Secretary-General raised with the Foreign Minister his strong concerns over the Ukraine situation, the need to fully respect the country’s territorial integrity and the importance of respecting the human rights of all communities throughout the country.  He expressed his alarm that some parties might be planning to take hasty actions that could have very serious implications for the region and the entire international community. 


On Syria, the Secretary-General deeply regretted the absence of progress on the diplomatic track.  He discussed with the Foreign Minister measures that could be taken to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation in parts of the country.


And finally regarding Cyprus, the Secretary-General underlined the importance of Turkey’s role in resolving that long-standing conflict, and hoped the Cypriot leaders would show readiness to make the compromises required in order to keep up the positive momentum.


**New York City Mayor


And lastly, the Secretary-General will pay a courtesy call to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this afternoon, at 2:00 p.m.  They are expected to say a few words to the press during their photo op together.


And as you’ll recall, the Secretary-General sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio after his election to wish him great success in upholding his responsibilities.  The Secretary-General gave him a standing invitation to visit UN Headquarters at his earliest convenience.


[The Spokesman later announced that the visit had been postponed at the Mayor’s request because of the building collapse in Manhattan earlier.]


And I am told there are no press conferences scheduled for later today.


I am happy to take your questions.  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Since the issue of Syrian heritage has been raised by the Secretary-General and UNESCO and others, there is a castle which is one of the most ancient castles in the region:  Crac des Chevaliers or the El-Hosn, which is really used as a hostage by all, all kinds of insurgents and foreign fighters.  What can the United Nations do in order to convince them to release, to relinquish that castle and avoid a bloodshed there and the destruction of the castle, because obviously it is blockaded from all sides now?


Spokesman:  I think that is exactly what this message is about.  It’s about the general situation of the cultural heritage of Syria; but it obviously applies to current situations on the ground, as the Crac des Chevalierscastle that you mentioned.  Syria has a wonderful and rich history that is being destroyed before our very eyes with the impact, negative impact and devastating impact that will have on future Syrian generations.  So the Secretary-General, Mr. Brahimi and Director-General Bokova, I think, call on all parties involved to live up to their responsibilities and protect that heritage.  Yes, sir?


Question:  Thank you very much.  With regard to the Ukraine, there is a proposed date, 25 May, for the referendum for the Ukraine, the Cri… people living in Crimea to split from the Ukraine and join Russia.  What is the Secretary-General’s clear position on that, and would the international community, in his view, recognize the results of this referendum for a territory that is under occupation for the time being?


Spokesman:  Well, I think I mentioned yesterday and I stated fairly specifically that, you know, the Secretary-General is very concerned about hasty actions that would be taken throughout Ukraine and in Crimea as well, including in Crimea, that would only serve to deepen the crisis.  I think the call for a referendum by the Crimean Parliament adds unhelpful complexity to an already tense and volatile situation.  Yes, Erol?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just two quick questions, why Mr. Brahimi cancelled his press conference?  What he is doing here, actually?  And also why the, Ms. Bokova didn’t come to address the issues that we were promised that she is going to, they are going to address together.  And also, acting here as a travel agency for Mr. Šimonović, what are his plans?  Is he planning still to, not to go to Crimea or probably to change?


Spokesman:  Mr. Šimonović was very keen and eager to visit Crimea.  He is visiting as many parts of Ukraine as he can.  It is clear that not only the logistics, but now the security situation doesn’t allow him to go to Crimea.  As I mentioned, he will be harvesting information from all sorts of sources to try to get to inform himself.  So, at this point, he is not going to Crimea, despite his best efforts and despite our best efforts. 


As for the cancellation by UNESCO of the event, Mr. Brahimi was going to be a guest of Ms. Bokova.  There was a scheduling issue, so UNESCO had to call it off.  We are in discussions with Mr. Brahimi’s staff to see if we can create some sort, make him available to you at some point during his stay, because I know you all are… I am eager to hear from him in this room and I think you all are.  So we are working on that for you.  As for what he is doing in New York, consultations, meetings, discussions, as you would expect him to have.  Yes, ma’am?


Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday a panel of eight experts deemed that the shipment made from Havana or from a port in Cuba to North Korea was in violation of the sanctions regime by the Security Council on North Korea.  Please, can we expect a statement from the Secretary-General in this regard?  Thank you.


Spokesman:  These reports were issued by independent experts working for the Security Council’s sanctions committee.  We have no particular comment on that at this time, but it is part of the Security Council’s work and on the sanctions committee’s work based on the relevant resolutions.  Oleg, do you have a question?  You’ve got to be ready!  [Laughs.]


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On tomorrow’s visit of [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk into New York, is anybody from the Secretariat, either the Secretary-General or one of his deputies, scheduled to meet with him?  Thank you.


Spokesman:  I hope to have some sort of confirmation for interaction between the Ukrainian delegation and the UN later, a little bit later this afternoon.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  I wonder if you have any statements regarding Mr. Ali Zeidan’s ousting from office yesterday by a National Congress which is expired, an expired National Congress in Libya?  Its term has ended.  Besides, I mean, he was threatened and accused of all kinds of accusations.  I understand that he has already fled the country for safety, maybe.


Spokesman:  I would have hoped to have… I expected you to ask the question; I would have hoped to have something for you, but I don’t at this time.  But I hope to have something for you before the end of the day.  [He later added that the UN’s envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri, has been in contact with Libyan authorities following yesterday’s decision by the General National Congress.  The United Nations Support Mission in Libya expects the transition process to continue and looks forward to early elections as per the decision of the General National Congress.]


Great!  Thank you all.  Have a great day.


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For information media • not an official record