17 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 afternoon, and I do apologize for the delay, but we wanted to make sure we had the statement on Ukraine ready for you before the briefing. 


** Ukraine


So, I will start off with a statement on Ukraine:


The Secretary-General continues to closely follow the situation in Ukraine.  Since the beginning of this crisis, the Secretary-General has urged all parties to avoid hasty steps in this already complex and tense situation.


The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed and concerned that the Crimea referendum will only exacerbate this situation.  He encourages all parties to work for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, including respecting Ukraine's unity and sovereignty.  He condemns the violence which occurred over the weekend in eastern Ukraine and which resulted in injuries and loss of life on all sides.  The Secretary-General once again urges all parties to refrain from violence and to commit themselves to de-escalation and inclusive national dialogue in the pursuit of a political and diplomatic solution.  A deterioration of the situation will have serious repercussions for the people of Ukraine, the region and beyond.  


He urges all parties in Ukraine and those with influence to avoid any steps that could further increase tensions.


Above all, the Secretary-General urges all concerned to intensify their efforts and engage constructively toward a peaceful solution to this crisis, with the aspirations of all the people of Ukraine foremost in mind.  The Secretary-General remains ready to work with all parties to resolve this situation.  


And that statement will be available shortly in my office.


Also on Ukraine, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović continued his mission there today.  Mr. Šimonović met with the Deputy Foreign Ministers and the Deputy Minister of Justice, as well as with civil society representatives.  And we expect Mr Šimonović to make his way back to New York tomorrow.


**Security Council


Back here at the Security Council, Jan Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council in its formal meeting on that country this morning.  He noted that in less than three weeks’ time, Afghanistan intends to hold presidential and provincial council elections which will see the country's first democratic transfer of power.  He said that the elections are a defining moment that will earn President Hamid Karzai a place in history.


Mr. Kubiš urged all eligible Afghan citizens — men and women — to exercise their vote on 5 April.  He said that they should not let spoilers and terrorists deprive them of their choice and their future.  He also urged candidates to come to understandings in ensuring acceptance of results, adding that any resort to civil disruption or conflict is not in the national interest.  And we have his remarks available in my office, and Mr. Kubiš does intend to speak to reporters at the stakeout once the meeting has ended.


And the Security Council also extended the Mission’s mandate until 17 March 2015.


** Syria


Moving on to Syria, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in Tehran yesterday.  Today, he had meetings with the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Ali Shamkhani, and the Foreign Minister, Jawad Zarif.


Over the weekend, the Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, Valerie Amos, issued a statement on Syria, saying that three years after the conflict began, more than 9 million people need aid and protection inside Syria, and another 2.5 million have fled the country.  An estimated 3.5 million people are living in hard-to-reach areas and have received very little aid.  Some 220,000 people have been besieged for months, 175,000 in areas controlled by the Government and 45,000 in areas controlled by opposition groups.


She said that the international community needs to show courage and determination to do all that is necessary to reach a political solution.  Without that, the Syrian people will see more years of destruction and continued brutality. 


** Lebanon


And on Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for that country, Derek Plumbly, expressed concern today at incidents of violence in Tripoli, northern Lebanon and in areas of eastern Lebanon during the past few days, which have led to a tragic loss of life.  He also condemned yesterday’s suicide car bombing in the area of Nabi Othman in east Lebanon that killed and wounded a number of people.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims of all these incidents.  We have the full statement available in my office, and it should, as well, be online.


** Palestine


Today, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley helped to launch the Strategic Humanitarian Response Plan for the State of Palestine, for the period 2014 to 2016.  The Humanitarian Response Plan targets 1.9 million Palestinians who are to be assisted by 65 UN agencies and international and local non-governmental organizations.  Together, they are appealing for $390 million to implement 151 projects.  And we have a press release in my office with more details on that.


**South Sudan


Moving south to South Sudan, in Juba, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says it is in the process of relocating displaced civilians from the Tomping Compound to the UN House as the rainy season draws closer.  The Mission will be providing protection by escorting buses, transporting internally displaced people between both locations.


The Mission says that the congestion of sites, compounded by the coming rains, remains a major challenge.  The Mission is seeking to expand sites in Malakal, Bentiu, Bor and Juba.  And it is also creating new areas for civilians to seek safety in Juba and Bor.


In Bor, in Jonglei State, the Mission notes that civilians have been seen rebuilding their homes, and that trading activities in the town has increased and basic foods are available.  And more information is available from UNMISS.


** Central African Republic


On to the Central African Republic, starting tomorrow, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will visit the Central African Republic.  She will be in the country until Thursday to discuss the dire human rights situation there with the interim Government and key international institutions and peacekeeping forces.


During her visit, Ms. Pillay plans to meet, among others, with the Head of State of the Transition, Catherine Samba-Panza.  She will also meet representatives of the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States and the European Union, as well as the Head of the African Union peacekeeping forces, MISCA, and the Force Commanders of both MISCA and the French military forces, Sangaris.


While in Bangui, the High Commissioner will also meet UN agencies working on the ground, visit sites of destruction and displacement, and meet some internally displaced people.


**CTBTO


Regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, you might have seen that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, based in Vienna, otherwise known as CTBTO, confirmed over the weekend that neither an explosion nor a plane crash on land or on water had been detected so far.


Airplane accidents may be detected, depending on individual circumstances, by three of the four technologies used by the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System.  This verification system has been put in place to detect nuclear explosions but is also able to detect the explosion of a larger aircraft, as well as its impact on the ground or on water.


As you will remember, the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Lassina Zerbo, had mentioned this possibility last week, I think, or the week before, saying that he will put the sensors of the Organization at work.  He also encouraged all scientists from Member States to carefully study the available data.


**Press Conferences


And lastly, at 1 p.m. right here, there will be a press conference by the President of the Republic of Madagascar, following his meeting with the Secretary-General, which should be taking place as we speak.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Crimea, there are about, 15 per cent of Crimea is made of ethnic Crimean Tatars and they’ve been… they didn’t participate in the referendum, and they just came up and said that they were afraid that an annexation by Russia will have Russia repeat the ethnic cleansing that the Soviet Union committed in 1945; and they actually appealed to the UN for protection or for some kind of peacekeepers, at least.  We know how the process works here, but is the Secretary-General aware of the situation?  And what does he have to say on the Tatars and their security?


Spokesman:  I think we have not seen any direction communications from the Tatar community in Crimea, but I would say that since the beginning, the Secretary-General himself, the Deputy Secretary-General and now Ivan Šimonović have been vocal in stressing the need for the protection of rights of all minorities in Ukraine.  And as you heard from the statement today, the Secretary-General urged all parties to engage in inclusive national dialogue in the pursuit of a political and diplomatic solution.  Yes, James?


Question:  Again on the Crimea referendum, just a little bit of clarification: the Secretary-General’s statement says he’s deeply disappointed; does he believe that vote was free and fair?  Does he believe that vote was legitimate?


Spokesman:  I think it’s not for… I would stick to the wording of the statement.  I think the Secretary-General has said in the past that he wanted all parties to avoid any hasty steps in this crisis.  I think he’s obviously disappointed and concerned that the referendum in itself will only exacerbate this situation, so that’s the light in which we’re seeing it.  We obviously had no one on the ground in Crimea.  I think we have to look… we’re looking at the much bigger picture of the need for all parties in Ukraine to involve themselves in an inclusive national dialogue to try and find a political solution.


Question:  A follow-up, if I can: does the Secretary-General then just want to sit on the fence?  Surely he needs to take a stand on this, one way or the other?


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General’s position has been very clear.  He’s not sitting on a fence.  What he’s sitting on are the principles of the UN Charter, which is the role of any Secretary-General.  And he, as I said, remains ready to work with all parties to resolve the situation in a diplomatic and peaceful manner.  Yes, sir?


Question:  On Ukraine, this morning the US announced sanctions on a number of individuals in Russia, including diplomats, and the EU [European Union] has a list that they haven’t made public yet.  But I wondered, does the Secretary-General, first, does he think that sanctions should be done ideally through the UN rather than unilaterally?  And does he believe that these sanctions may exacerbate the situation?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s focus right now is on encouraging the parties to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution and not to further add tensions to the situation. 


Question:  Just one, if you don’t mind: Russia has made a proposal that Ukraine should consider this federal constitution with all… with a lot, with all speed.  Does the UN Secretary-General view that as a reasonable diplomatic step? And what…


Spokesman:  I’m not going to get into judging every step, every step that is taken.  I think the Secretary-General’s goals and his ideals are clear from the statement.  Yes, Richard?


Question:  Is the Secretary-General going to speak Thursday at this planned General Assembly meeting on Ukraine, which I don’t know the timings of?  I put out a message to the GA, but I haven’t heard back yet.


Spokesman:  If you don’t know the timing, I don’t know the answer. 


Question:  What do you know?  Are you sitting on the fence regarding that answer? [laughter]


Spokesman:  I’m standing.  I’m standing.  Yes, sir?


Question:  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General on today’s statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that it considers, it thinks that Mr. Šimonović’s estimation of the situation is not fair because he didn’t mention the cases of violence against journalists, other cases of torture and so on?


Spokesman:  I think Mr. Šimonović’s work has been extensively reported on here.  He has expressed concern about the treatment of all minorities in Ukraine.  That is something that is of great concern to all of us here and to our human rights officials.  Mr. Šimonović will be coming back to New York shortly.  We hope to hear from him and have a full debrief, but the Secretary-General has been following his mission very closely and very much supporting Mr. Šimonović’s mission.  Yes, ma’am?


Question:  As a follow-up about Ukraine, there’s lawmakers from Crimea moved to separate from Ukraine.  Has Secretary-General talked to President [Vladimir] Putin about this, and how can you comment about it?


Spokesman:  I didn’t hear the first part of your question.  I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.


Question:  I said that there is lawmakers in Crimea moved swiftly to split from Ukraine.  So, does the Secretary-General talk…


Spokesman:  I think… you know, my answer is really in the statement.  I think the Secretary-General is asking all concerned to intensify their efforts to find a constructive and peaceful solution to the crisis, with the aspirations of all people in the Ukraine foremost in mind.  Yes, sir? And I’ll come back to you.


Question:  Thank you.  I would like to ask a question about Syria.  When the Secretary-General will brief the Security Council in person on the 2139 resolution?  And how he assess…


Spokesman:  I’m sorry, the humanitarian situation?  You know, it should be on the calendar of the Security Council.  The Secretary-General and the staff, I know, are busy preparing that report on the humanitarian situation. 


Question:  How he assess the situation on the ground now?  Is this consistent with the resolution?


Spokesman:  We will wait for the Secretary-General to report back on the resolution to make an assessment within the guidelines of the resolution.  I think we have… in the meantime, we’ve had quite a number of statements from different humanitarian officials reporting on what is going on, on the ground, on the issues of access.  But the report in itself and from the Secretary-General, I think we have to wait and that will be coming soon.  Matthew?


Question:  I’d like to ask about South Sudan, CAR [ Central African Republic] and Sri Lanka.  On South Sudan, I wanted to know if you can confirm that students in Bahr el Ghazal attempted to take over a UN base after having set an ultimatum for the UN to leave, and what the status is of the UN’s investigation into the weapons they say came from the Ghanaian peacekeepers?


Spokesman:  No, on your first part.  On your second part, it is ongoing.


Question:  When is there… Is there any end date?  Because it seems like there’s a lot of tension in the country for the UN to say what it finds.


Spokesman:  Of course; I mean, they’re looking at labelling procedures and how these things are going.  As with any investigation, I think everybody wants to finish it as quickly as possible because, as you say, it’s critical.  But we also want to do a thorough job, so I will not give them a deadline.


Question:  And I wanted to ask on the Central African Republic, there was a film that was put up on the IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network) website, a film entitled Bangui’s Ghettos about the remaining Muslims being chased out of the city.  And now some people are confused because it’s been taken down and it says, “this article is temporary suspended”.  And so, some people are saying that the UN is, in a sense, censoring its own affiliated coverage of the chasing of Muslims out of CAR.  Are you aware of it or can you get some kind of explanation why this was taken down?


Spokesman:  I’m not aware of it, but I will ask my friends and colleagues at IRIN.


Question:  Sri Lanka?


Spokesman:  Why not, while you’ve got the mic?  I missed you, Matthew.


Question:  In the midst of this big debate in Geneva about a pending resolution, reported widely on wire services, the Sri Lankan Government has arrested two human rights defenders, Ruki Fernando and Praveen Mahesan, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.  And these are basically human rights…they work for human rights NGOs in the northern part of the country.  And so I wanted to know, I had asked you before about the Channel 4 video, but is there anyone… one, does the UN have any comment on this?  And if it doesn’t, who in the Secretariat is sort of following Sri Lanka?  What’s its current status in DPA [Department of Political Affairs], given these events?


Spokesman:  On the arrests, yes, we’ve seen the reports, we are aware of them.  And as you will recall, the Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka, in their 2009 joint statement, emphasized the importance of protection and promotion of human rights in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka's international obligation.  That’s my answer to your question.  On Sri Lanka, obviously a number of people in the Secretariat, like all countries, everybody has portfolios and the situation is being constantly looked at and evaluated.  Yes, Kim?  And then I’ll get back to you, George.


Question:  During the weekend, DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] launched, reportedly launched, 25 short-range missiles and in these weeks, it launched, you know, several times the missiles.  So I wonder if the Secretary-General has any updated comment on this?


Spokesman:  I don’t have anything for you at this time, but I will probably have some for you a little later.  Yes, George?


Question:  Stéphane, regarding the CTBTO impact-detection capabilities, do those exist on water as well as on land?  And have they made any assertion as to that fact?


Spokesman:  I will do something, which I shouldn’t do, which I’m going to somewhat guess, based on my partial knowledge.  The CTBTO has a network, as part of their Test‑Ban‑Treaty, of sensors throughout the world.  I believe those are all on land.  And what the Nuclear Test‑Ban‑Treaty Organization said over the weekend is that none of their sensors, which are very sensitive, had detected either an explosion or a plane crash on land or on water.  So they use their sensors to detect nuclear explosions.  Obviously, those sensors can pick up all sorts of other explosions and earthquakes and things like that, so…


Question: And any impact on water, the way they detect…


Spokesman:  Well, I mean, that’s what they said.  We’ll get you their statement, but the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO talked about the sensors, I think last week, and said they were going to use them to look… to see if they had tracked any sort of explosions.


Question:  And I assume they are not capable of picking up a landing at some obscure airfield somewhere?


Spokesman:  No, no.  They don’t detect planes landing.  They detect explosions.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Spokesman:  Thank you.  Have a good week and a happy St. Patrick’s Day.


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