2 April 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, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General attended a special high-level meeting on the Central African Republic in Brussels today, and he told the participants the world had a collective responsibility to respond to the grave security, humanitarian and human rights situation in the country.  He warned that genocide was avoided in large measure because of the mass exodus of minorities to areas where they felt they were safe with their own people.


He stressed that reinforcements were needed for the current African Union and French forces on the ground and that the transitional Government needs help in restoring Government authority.  And he added that an inclusive political process is needed.  The Secretary-General said that the people of the Central African Republic must see that accountability applies to all — that the rule of law matters no matter who they are or what they believe, from leaders to individual combatants.


He also spoke at the opening of the fourth EU-Africa Summit, noting the need to advance on peace and security and to accelerate progress on development, while crafting a new sustainable, inclusive agenda for the years ahead. 


After a working breakfast this morning with European Union Commission President José Manuel Barroso, the Secretary-General spoke briefly to the press and said that he and President Barroso had discussed the situation in Central Africa, the Sahel and other issues, including climate change. 


After that, the Secretary-General met with Mr. Andris Piebalgs, the European Union Commissioner for Development, and Mr. Janez Potocnik, the European Union Commissioner for Environment.  They discussed climate change and the post-2015 development agenda. 


Before attending the EU-Africa Summit, the Secretary-General had a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.  And we have readouts in our office and online.


**Arms Trade Treaty


Earlier this morning, we issued the following message attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the first anniversary of the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty.


The Secretary-General notes that one year ago today, the General Assembly adopted the landmark Arms Trade Treaty, which for the first time sets global standards for the transfer of weapons and efforts to prevent their diversion.


The Secretary-General is heartened that 118 States have signed the Treaty.  He welcomes the joint deposit today of instruments of ratification by 18 Member States, which brings the number of deposited ratifications to 31.  This will generate further momentum towards the 50 ratifications needed for the Treaty’s entry into force.  The Secretary-General calls on all States that have not yet done so to sign and/or ratify the Arms Trade Treaty without delay.


As we mark today’s milestone, the Secretary-General is deeply concerned that civilians continue to be killed or maimed in targeted or indiscriminate attacks with weapons that should not have reached the hands of the perpetrators. 


The Secretary-General calls on States, civil society, and international and regional organizations to continue working together to ensure that the Arms Trade Treaty can play its full role in helping to reduce needless human suffering and build a safer world for all.


** Syria


An unprecedented survey by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, of its microfinance programmes in Syria has found the impact of the conflict to be “overwhelming and traumatic”, with the vast majority of its clients displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.  The survey was conducted in what the report calls “an economic catastrophe” from which it says the Syrian economy will take 30 years to recover to 2010 levels.  However, displacement, physical destruction and looting has taken place on such a massive scale that only 13 per cent of businesses supported by the Relief and Works Agency were able to survive.


** Afghanistan


Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, has urged the country’s women to maintain and build on the momentum behind a recent petition — signed by more than 250,000 women and girls — calling for peace and a ceasefire.


In early March, the women’s committee of the High Peace Council, an Afghan body leading the country’s peace efforts, submitted the petition to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for onward transmission to the Secretary-General, who received it on 21 March.


The Secretary-General welcomed the peace campaign, noting that it was in the spirit of the Security Council’s resolution 1325 (2000) and was another indication of the strong demands of the Afghan people for peace in their country.


Mr. Kubiš urged the leaders of Afghanistan and the leaders of the anti-Government elements to listen to the message in this petition from Afghan women and girls.  The United Nations stands ready to support them in these efforts in any way it can.


** Myanmar


Humanitarian operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been interrupted following attacks on United Nations and non-governmental organizations’ premises in Sittwe last week, which led to the relocation of nearly 200 staff.  A United Nations delegation returned from Sittwe today after visiting camps for the displaced and meeting with authorities.


The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Renata Dessallien, said that what happened in Sittwe was not just an attack on international organizations, but also an attack on the entire relief response in Rakhine.  She said that the United Nations had constructive discussions with authorities, who assured the world body that their international obligations to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff will be met.


** Chile


In Chile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been informed by the Government that five people have died so far following the 8.2 magnitude earthquake, which struck off the coast of northern Chile yesterday.  There have been no reports of major damage so far, and the tsunami warning issued for Chile, Peru and Ecuador has been lifted.


The Government, which declared a state of emergency in northern Chile, evacuated some 900,000 people along the coastline to safe zones yesterday.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is monitoring the situation with the authorities, but no request for international assistance has been made so far.


**UNDP


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today appointed American actress Connie Britton as its new Goodwill Ambassador, with a special focus on poverty eradication and women’s empowerment.  In her new role as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, she will use her popularity to raise awareness about UNDP’s worldwide efforts to empower people and fight exclusion.  There are more details in a UNDP press release.


**Autism


And today is World Autism Awareness Day.  The Department of Public Information would like to invite journalists to attend a special panel discussion called “Opening the Doors to Inclusive Education.”  The discussion will include the Secretary-General’s video message to mark the occasion, along with a keynote address by Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author.  The event will take place this afternoon at 3 pm in the ECOSOC Chamber and all are welcome. 


And you can watch live on the UN webcast at: http://webtv.un.org/


**Security Council


And this morning, the Security Council held its first consultations for the month, under Nigeria’s presidency.  Council members agreed on a programme of work for the month.  At 12:30, just after this briefing, Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, this month’s Council President, will brief you on the Security Council’s work during April.


And that’s it for me.  Any questions?  Yes?


Questions:  Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you, I’m sure obviously you’ve seen that the Observer State of Palestine has announced that it signed 13 treaties, and there are different reports about whether this involves joining UN agencies or depositing instruments with the UN.  First, can you say what, if any documents, the UN system has received, and two, does the Secretary-General, does he welcome these accessions to things like the Convention on Torture and other, against torture or on Children in Armed Conflict, or does he have any comment at all on this move by the State of Palestine?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, yes.  We can confirm that Robert Serry, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and the PA [Palestinian Authority] has received 13 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties.  Once we receive the letters at Headquarters, we will be reviewing them to consider the appropriate next steps.


You’ve asked about which treaties and conventions these were, and I will list them as following, and I guess we will try and print them out for you afterwards.  But here is the full list.  The 13 that we received are: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 


And we have been informed that accession letters for the following conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives to the PA, respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch. 


Question:  I understand that you have to review the documents before you can decide whether they can, you know, all these things can be joined by the Observer State of Palestine, but I wanted to know, it’s a pretty big move.  Does the Secretariat or Secretary-General, in particular, does he have, what is, not his legal view, but his view of the move?  Does he have any comment at all on it? 


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that and regarding the impact on the situation in the region, The Palestinian leadership, including President [Mahmoud] Abbas upon signing the accession letters on Monday night, has repeatedly emphasized that it wants to continue the negotiations with Israel that started in July 2013 under US auspices.  We hope that a way can be found to see negotiations through until the scheduled end of the nine-month time frame set to expire on 29 April.  The goal remains to arrive at a substantive basis for negotiations towards a comprehensive peace agreement on all final status issues.  Yes?


Question:  Regarding the Palestinian negotiations, can I ask you, is the Middle East Quartet, that is very much still in existence, is it going to play any role to work towards certificating the process?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we are in contact with the sides to emphasize the need to manage current developments responsibly and act with restraint.  UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry, in fact, met with the Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad Malki, this morning.  And he also met with Israeli negotiator and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.  A constructive approach from all sides is extremely important to preserve the prospects to arrive at a peace agreement and salvage the two-State solution.  The Quartet Envoys have also spoken today by telephone.


Question: Did the talks fail on the release of prisoners?  Is that where it is?  Do you have any idea about that?


Deputy Spokesman: Regarding the release of prisoners, it is important that the parties apply their best efforts, in the period ahead, to creating a climate of trust and an environment as conducive as possible to the continuation of negotiations.  Yes?  You first and then her.


Question:  Thank you.  This is about the Under Secretary-General’s visit to the UN Observer Mission Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP); do you have any details or readouts of what happened?  What was discussed?  Or where can I get…


Deputy Spokesman: I believe we mentioned his visit on Monday, and what I read on last Monday served as the readout.  We don’t have any further details beyond that.  Yes, Carla?


Question:  [inaudible] comment upon the fact that former Ukrainian Prime Minister [Yulia] Tymoshenko has said that she will use all her connections to make the entire world raise up so that there wouldn’t be even a scorched field left in Russia.  Do you have any response?  That seems to be a rather counterproductive comment.


Deputy Spokesman:  We haven’t been commenting on the rhetoric by any of the particular figures or sides in this dispute.  As you know, the Secretary-General and the United Nations officials as a whole have been trying to de-escalate tensions, to lower the rhetoric and move towards a direct dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv, and we are continuing with those efforts.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, today, Secretary-General met with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, and they discussed about the Nile water problem and visited the Secretary-General confirmed that he should solve this problem through dialogue.  Do you have any information about the role which the United Nations play to help Egypt to solve this problem with Ethiopia after this Summit?


Deputy Spokesman:  The dialogue with Egypt to solve the problem with whom?  Sorry. 


Correspondent:  Ethiopia.


Deputy Spokesman:  It is simply the same as we said in the readout.  You’ll have seen the readout that we issued after the Secretary-General met with Nabil Fahmy, and I would just refer you to that.


Question:  Mr. [John] Kerry called off his visit to the region after Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, signed these accession letters.  What can the United Nations do in order, since United States is the major broker of peace in the region?  What can the United Nations do in order to bring about some kind of resumption of negotiations or any breakthrough in these negotiations?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I just mentioned to you, Mr. Serry did meet with people on the Israeli and Palestinian side today.  And, by the way, Mr. Serry does expect to meet with the Secretary-General and talk to him first-hand about the situation tomorrow.  But beyond that, as I just said, we do hope that a way can be found to see negotiations through until the scheduled end of the nine-month time frame, which is set to expire on 29 April.  Yes?


Question: I wanted to ask you about, I mean, I know that there are obviously many things happening in Syria but this issue of Kassab, the largely Armenian section, seems to be given rise to a lot of controversy.  The Washington Post seems to report that more, at least 95 per cent of residents fled.  So what is the state of the UN’s, sort of knowledge of what’s taking place there?  Do they have any access at all?  Do they have any comment on what’s taking place?  Who did what?  It’s…


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we are certainly not in a position to comment on who did what.  Of course, this is one of the cases that where we have been monitoring developments and the fighting has been heavy. I believe that your colleague had asked yesterday about the situation, and we’d mentioned again our concerns and the need ultimately for a halt to all the fighting.


Question:  Has there been any humanitarian access either by OCHAor its partners to the area?


Deputy Spokesman:  I haven’t received any information of humanitarian access to Kassab.  If that changes, I will let you know.  [He later told the reporter that Kassab remains an active conflict zone.  There have been no missions conducted there.  A large portion of the population has fled to Lattakia city, and OCHA has access to them there.  The UN has conducted two monitoring missions to Lattakia city since the start of displacement.  Around 1,550 families from Kassab have been registered as IDPs and are receiving assistance.]  Pam?


Question:  Farhan, are any of the Special Envoys, Nicholas Haysom, or anyone else, going to, or Special Coordinators, going to Afghanistan for the weekend election?  Any representative of the Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Haysom is there.  He is the Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan.  He spoke to the press yesterday in Kabul.  Today, Ján Kubiš has spoken to the press, and the transcripts of those press briefings that they’ve given are available online on the website of the Mission. 


Question:  Right.  And are they coordinating in any way the domestic observers that are mandated by UNAMA?


Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that they’ve spoke about the election observers.  I don’t know believe that, because we give technical support to the elections, I don’t believe that we are in the process of observing the election; there are others who do that.  But I just refer you to the transcripts from yesterday and today from Mr. Haysom and Mr. Kubiš.


Question:  Okay, there is nothing else from the Secretary-General.  And can I… I’m sorry can I just get a clarification from you?  You will distribute these 13 documents that Abbas signed?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, once this is done, I will go over there and put it on a piece of paper and make some copies. 


Question:  Can you just get an answer on whether these are UN documents, in the sense that Secretary of State Kerry said that these were not UN documents and therefore, they don’t violate the Abbas commitment to not sign any UN documents for accession?  To show…


Deputy Spokesman:  You know these are treaties that are deposited.  Thirteen of them are treaties that are deposited to the United Nations.  One of them is deposited to Switzerland and one of them is deposited to the Netherlands.  And we can show you on the list, too, which those are.  Yes Nizar?


Question:  There is a report speaking about 8,000 fighters who were either perished or died in the fighting in Kassab or are been hospitalized in Turkey, 5,000 at least and, mainly from al-Nusra, Jabhat al-Nusra.  How can Turkey hospitalize Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, especially that these fighters are considered as terrorists?  Another thing, the attacks on Lattakia, which happened five times against the chemical convoys in the past two months at least.  They are coming from the same region, from the same mountains.  How will this fighting in Kassab affect the transfer of the chemical weapons from Syria outside?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Joint Mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been monitoring the developments there.  Obviously, there needs to be sufficient security to allow the chemical weapons material to reach the Port of Lattakia for its onwards shipment.  Having said that, of course, we continue to encourage the Government of Syria to do all it can to maintain the schedule of its transport of chemical weapons and materials to Lattakia so that they can be transferred onward. 


Question:  Even if they are still under attack from these positions?  Also, how about the al-Nusra part of my question?  How do you consider, I mean the Turkish attitude allowing al-Nusra to go through from the region?  Even Ahmed al-Jarba was with al-Nusra leaders there.  He was filmed there.  This is blatant support to terrorism, isn’t it?


Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t have any first-hand information concerning those media reports, so I wouldn’t have any comment.  Yes?


Question: Do you have more information on the Secretary-General’s or UN official’s negotiations with Egyptian officials regarding the mass death sentences?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I trust you’ve seen the readout of the meeting that the Secretary-General had in Brussels today with the Foreign Minister of Egypt.  And he makes it very clear that he has brought up this issue with the Foreign Minister, so I would refer you to the text of the readout.  And beyond that, I can say that he was concerned about the treatment of all journalists in Egypt.  So it’s something that he takes quite seriously.


Question: Is there any follow-up in terms of a response?  I mean, he didn’t indicate what the response was.


Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately the response needs to come from the Government of Egypt, but you’ll have seen what we said from our perspective.  Yes, Yusuf?


Question:  On this question of Muslims in CAR, Central African Republic [inaudible] has the United Nations done anything?  Is there an update on that?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is a very upsetting thing.  We’ve talked about the situation for Muslims, including in the capital, Bangui.  And I will just draw your attention: the Secretary-General has spoken about the Central African Republic several times at different events today in Brussels, and I will just refer you to the fact that one of the things he said was that genocide was avoided in large measures because of the mass exodus of minorities to areas where they felt they were safe with their own people.  So although he’s making clear that genocide was averted, clearly there was considerable displacement and what we have called, what the Secretary-General just said this morning was a mass exodus of people.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask two kind of interrelated sort of questions.  One is that, Anna Tibaijuka, former Under Secretary-General has given an interview in which she describes being ousted as being in charge of the UN in Nairobi as unjust and a humiliation.  And says that the General Assembly reversed this decision of the Secretary-General because they’ve also viewed it, according to her, as unjust and humiliation.  She says that the UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] chief ousted her.  So I wanted to know — since this was a pretty high-profile incident at the time and gave rise to criticism from the African Group — what’s the response to this interview in which she also mentions the Secretary-General’s mobility policy?  And this is going to be the second question.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, no, I don’t have any actual comment on that.  As you know, you’ll have seen what we said about Ms. Tibaijuka during her tenure and those remarks and our positions still stand, and so there is nothing new to say.


Question:  On mobility, I wanted to ask. I know that the Fifth Committee had its marked session that finished; one thing that came out of it was this partnership’s proposal, which some were calling the barbed wire proposal, or maybe it’s an idea that was rejected for a second time.  Is there a plan by the Secretariat to resubmit, or is there going to be some rethinking of it?  Or what’s going be the outcome of the Fifth Committee session?


Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the mobility initiative as a whole, I believe the General Assembly is going to take this issue up with in the coming weeks, and the Secretary-General may have some comment once that happens.  So let’s wait until that happens, and then we’ll see what he has to say about that.


Question:  Maybe I missed, I hope I didn’t say the word, I know I mentioned the word “mobility”.  I’m talking about a partnership proposal, this idea to create a separate office.  I think it was, at least, it was described to me that the Fifth Committee did not view it favourably.  Is that not the case?  


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think we’d have to see what the views of the memberships as a whole are.  I believe in this case, particularly on the mobility proposal, that you just mentioned at the start, the membership as a whole is going to consider this later this month, and we’ll have something to say at that point. Yes?


Question:  Farhan, on Bahrain, I asked a few days ago about these harsh sentences passed against demonstrators, against some journalists and photographers.  Do you have anything on that yet?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, nothing beyond, of course, saying as always that we continue to be concerned about the treatment of journalists around the world, and we hope that all Governments will respect the rights of the media and the need for freedom of expression.


Correspondent:  In the case of Bahrain, there are reports, very strong reports [inaudible] which has never been implemented.  I mean, there is no progress for four years now on any of the elements which were included there.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you’ve seen, we’ve had a fairly regular stream of statements and comments about Bahrain, and so I would refer you to those on that.  But on the case of the latest reports, yes, of course, we continue to expect all Governments to abide by their obligations to ensure freedom of expression of media.  Yes?


Question:  In the list you read to us, I didn’t hear the International Criminal Court.  It’s not included, right?


Deputy Spokesman:  The Rome Statute is not one of those that I read.  We will make the list available.


Question:  But we’re talking about letters of application.  These are not the documents themselves, right?  Mr. Abbas signed letters in which he applies to be…


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, these are letters for accession and, like I said, once we receive the letters at Headquarters, we would review and consider the next appropriate steps.  Each point has its own process. 


Question:  So it’s not [inaudible] actually.


Deputy Spokesman:  We have to go through the process as with all such documents.  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible]


Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment on that now.


Have a good afternoon, everyone.


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For information media • not an official record