3 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.


Good afternoon, everyone.


** Afghanistan


Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Afghanistan:


The Secretary-General is encouraged by the technical and security preparations and broad public engagement for Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential and provincial council elections.  These are extremely important elections for the country.  He urges all Afghan men and women to participate in the vote on 5 April and to take this opportunity to have their say on the future direction of their country.


The Secretary-General denounces violence by any group.  He specifically condemns statements by the Taliban threatening further attacks on civilian election workers, candidates, observers, voters and election sites.  He reiterates that deliberate attacks against civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law and that those responsible will be held accountable.


The Secretary-General welcomes Afghan ownership of the electoral process and calls upon Afghan institutions to discharge their responsibility to deliver credible, inclusive and transparent elections.  He urges the candidates and their supporters to show patience and respect for electoral institutions and processes, while the ballots are counted and complaints adjudicated, and to abide by the results of the polls.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


On his last day in Brussels, the Secretary-General attended a breakfast hosted by the Roll Back Malaria campaign.  After being given a bed net by the Roll Back Malaria Goodwill Ambassador, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the Secretary-General told the participants that the success of Roll Back Malaria proves that the fight against the deadly and preventable disease is a good investment that saves lives and speeds up economic progress.  He added that health is the greatest wealth.


The Secretary-General also continued to hold a number of bilateral meetings with African leaders also present in Brussels for the European Union-Africa Summit, including the President of the Central African Republic and the Foreign Minister of Uganda.  And we have issued readouts of those meetings.


He also provided a lecture on climate change at the historical Bibliothèque Solvay in Brussels to the Friends of Europe, in which he said that climate change is an overarching challenge with implications for the UN’s entire agenda and that Europe’s leadership on the issue will be crucial.


The Secretary-General visited the European Parliament offices in Brussels and met with the Parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, and they spoke to the press afterwards.


Just prior to leaving Brussels, the Secretary-General attended a reception hosted by King Philippe of the Belgians in honour of the participants of the EU-Africa summit.  He is now on his way to Prague.


**Security Council


The Security Council held a formal meeting on Darfur this morning.  Council members adopted a resolution which took note of the proposed adjustment of the benchmarks and indicators outlined by the Secretary-General for the UN-African Union Mission in that country, known as UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  The Council requested the Secretary-General to further refine these benchmarks and indicators to reflect the revised strategic priorities of the Mission, and submit them in his next 90-day report.


After that, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]-UN Joint Mission, briefed Council members in closed consultations today, by video uplink from Damascus.


** Syria


Also concerning Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, during the month of March, UN agencies and humanitarian partners organized eight emergency airlifts carrying medicines, health kits, hygiene kits and shoes from Damascus to Qamishli to help meet the needs of more than 335,000 vulnerable and displaced Syrians.


Emergency relief supplies also reached people in the besieged city of Douma for the first time since November 2012. 


Regular heavy shelling and bombing continue, and many families are reported to be suffering from malnutrition and have limited access to basic services, including health care and education.  On 29 March, a second humanitarian convoy entered Douma, carrying relief supplies, including food, family hygiene kits and plastic sheets for thousands of people.


In March, more than 2.9 million children across the country received immunization against polio, the highest number reached since the start of the vaccination campaign in 2013.


Humanitarian field missions to Aleppo, Homs and Tartous reported a rise in cases of child marriage, domestic violence, and other sex and gender-based violence.  Aid organizations continue to provide medical examination, psychosocial support and counselling for survivors.


**South Sudan


The Head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], said today that though significantly improved, relations between the United Nations and the country’s Government have not yet normalized.


Speaking to reporters in Juba, Hilde Johnson said that while hostile rhetoric against the Mission has subsided, its operations and those of relief groups still face serious challenges, including harassment and abuse by security forces and denial of access.


Ms. Johnson said that nearly 40 incidents have affected the Mission’s staff and operations.


This, she said, not only runs counter to the agreement signed between the UN Mission and South Sudan, but also endangers the lives of staff and hinders the Mission’s operations.  Such threats and attacks constitute violations of international law.


Ms. Johnson also said that we are also far from a sustainable solution for people seeking protection in UN compounds.


As many as 85,000 civilians — mostly women and children — found shelter within the Missions’ premises during the crisis.


Ms. Johnson said it was always clear that UN compounds were never designed to accommodate such huge numbers of people for such a length of time.


She added that with the rainy season starting, conditions are becoming worse, with the sites in Tomping and Malakal, in particular, at imminent risk of turning into death traps.


Ms. Johnson said that that is why the Mission has taken the decision to close the Tomping protection site in May, with the displaced sheltering there set to be relocated to other sites.


Also on South Sudan, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Toby Lanzer, said today that more than 1 million people have been forced from their homes, markets have collapsed and trade across borders has been suspended.


He said that 3.7 million people are already at severe risk of starvation.  Although the planting season begins this month, people cannot cultivate their crops because of insecurity.


Mr. Lanzer called on donors to step up their assistance to humanitarian organizations so that they can help the people of South Sudan so that when the rainy season makes roads impassable, relief supplies will already be in key locations.


** Central African Republic


In Central African Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says today that the upsurge in violence over the past two weeks near Bangui’s airport has led to a dramatic increase in people returning to displacement sites.


Some 10,000 additional internally displaced persons have moved to the Carmel site in the south of the capital, and another 10,000 to the airport site of Mpoko.


The UN estimates that at least 60 people were killed in Bangui in the past 10 days, while international and national humanitarian agencies continue to be targeted by armed militia groups.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is also concerned about 20,000 people from minority communities in areas across the country, including in Bangui’s PK12 neighbourhood, Boda, Bossangoa, Carnot and Berberati.


In the past three months, more than 82,000 people from the Central African Republic have found shelter in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo and Chad.


**Press Conference


And lastly, tomorrow is International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.  And, to brief you on that topic, we will have here, as guests of the Noon Briefing, Dmitry Titov, the Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, along with Kazuyoshi Umemoto, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Japan and Chair of the Mine Action Support Group, and Agnès Marcaillou, Director of  UNMAS [United Nations Mine Action Service].


And that is it for me.  Yes, Oleg?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you confirm that the operation on the chemical disarmament of Syria has come to a complete stop because of the situation in Latakia and this area?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, as I pointed out, Ms. Kaag is briefing the Security Council today by video uplink from Damascus.  To date, 53.6 per cent of Syria’s chemical weapons material has been removed from Syria or destroyed in-country.  There have been no movements since 20 March.  Syria authorities informed the Joint Mission that, in view of the deteriorating security situation in Latakia Province, it would be temporarily postponing scheduled movements of chemical materials.  The Joint Mission has impressed upon the Syrian authorities the need to resume movements as soon as possible, in order to meet the timelines for the complete removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  It has been announced that Chad is going to be progressively removing its 850 peacekeepers from the Central African Republic, and since I know that the Secretary-General has been saying, you know, that he wants to boost the size of the force and solidify it, one, what’s his response to it?  And two, what type of planning does the UN now have in place losing this major part?  It said, the written statement said it was in part because of insults and accusations that Chad was supporting the ex-Séléka.  So I guess since… can we read Ban Ki-moon’s statement recently on CAR [Central African Republic], where he said those who support armed opposition groups should be held accountable, as a reference to the Chadian shootout?


Deputy Spokesman:  What Ban Ki-moon said in his remark was referenced to all parties who could be aiding one side or another in the violence.  It was not… it didn’t specifically name any country or any group.  And of course, regarding Chad’s departure from the International Support Mission, MISCA [African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic], that force, as you know, is an African Union-led force and so any questions on that would need to go to the African Union.  We don’t command that force and wouldn’t have any comment on their departure.  Our preparations for a UN presence, as you know, first of all, depend on decisions by the Security Council, but while we await those decisions, we are doing contingency planning and we hope to have forces who will be ready on the ground if and when the Security Council decides upon that.


Question:  And on the incident that immediately preceded the Secretary-General’s statement which Chadians soldiers reportedly killed somewhere between 8 and 30 civilians:  Has the UN found out at all whether these Chadian soldiers were part of MISCA or were they part of some other force?  What’s the UN’s current understanding?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think we have said as much detail as we had on that particular incident; at this stage, it’s up to MISCA to follow up in terms of whether their troops were involved, so you would need to ask the African Union.  Yes, you had a question?


Question: This is about the new Iranian Ambassador in the United Nations.  Yesterday, I asked you and you said this is a bilateral relationship between Iran and the US.  But some of the Congress now is going to send a letter to US State Department for stopping this new Ambassador in the United Nations.  What… do you think still this is bilateral issue between countries?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I told you yesterday, at this point this is a bilateral matter so we won’t have any comment.  If that changes, we’d have to see, but at this point it is being resolved bilaterally.  Yes?


Question:  I just wanted to ask, because obviously a lot of the discussions has been in the US Congress that they would have a right to bar a country’s Permanent Representative from coming to New York, and I just wanted to… can you say generally whether the Host Country Agreement between the UN and the US requires the US to allow in diplomats to attend UN meetings or to represent their country at the UN?  Is that what it requires?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I would just refer you to the text of the Host Country Agreement.  At this point, like I said, this is something to be dealt with bilaterally and we’ll leave it to them.  If this needs to involve the Host Country Agreement, we’ll have to see at that stage.  Yes?


Question:  Has there been any progress in the investigation into the identity of the snipers in Ukraine in the Maidan?  I understood in the Security Council, the most recent Security Council meeting, that [inaudible], I believe, had made reference to it so I was wondering whether there’s any follow through.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, nothing further to say on this at this stage.  As you are probably aware, we have human rights monitors who are deploying throughout Ukraine and they can do the necessary fact-finding that needs to be done and then eventually report back on the entire panoply of human rights violations and allegations that have emerged in recent months; and we so we’ll let them go about their work and then report back.  Yes?  Asma?  Sorry, you guys sit in the same place and you tend to raise your hands simultaneously.


Question:  The Israeli authorities consider the request of Palestine for accession to international convention, it consider it like provocations.  And the Palestinian Ambassador said yesterday that they are exercising their legal rights.  I want to know where do you stand from this.  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think as I said yesterday, we don’t really have anything particularly new or interesting to say about this, but as I pointed out yesterday we did receive, first through Robert Serry and then later in the day through the Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra, 13 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties.  And since we’ve received letters at Headquarters, we will now be reviewing them to consider the next appropriate steps.  Beyond that I wouldn’t have any further comment while we review what the next appropriate steps would be.  Yes?


Question:  Just to follow up on that question is:  what do you perceive to be the next, I mean, what are the next steps?  I mean, in other words, are you determining accession or just the acceptance of the documents because of Palestine’s status?  What steps are there for the UN to do?


Deputy Spokesman:  Whenever any State deposits these types of letters, they need to be reviewed by our Office for Legal Affairs and then they go over them and determine certain things about whether they constitute accession to the relevant conventions.  And so we’ll let them go through that review process.


Question:  Will that be determined both on the basis of the application itself and the qualifying status, or also because of Palestine’s status as a non-Member State?


Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, we are guided by the relevant General Assembly resolution from 2012 on this matter.  And beyond that, I will just let the lawyers look at it and decide for themselves.


Question:  Alright, do you have any timetable on that?  The lawyers tend to take a while around here.


Deputy Spokesman:  I do not.  They have whatever time they need to do this.  Yes?


Question:  …ask about, I guess, Armenia and Kassab, as well as Haiti.  It was reported that the Foreign Minister of Armenia has written a letter to the Secretary-General about the situation in Kassab, saying that he believes that the attack was by al-Nusra and came from, with Turkish support.  And I wanted to know:  can you confirm that such a letter has been received, and if so, do you have any response to it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I first have to check if whether the letter has been received.  And we made some comment late yesterday on Kassab which we shared with some of the journalists who had been asking and I will share that with you afterwards.


Question:  I asked yesterday about Kassab, too.


Deputy Spokesman:  Did you?  I thought it was Nizar.  I sent it to him, but I will send it to you, as well.  [He later informed correspondents that the letter had been received and also shared the following information received from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on 2 April:  Kassab remains an active conflict zone.  There have been no missions conducted there.  A large portion of the population has fled to Latakia city and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has access to them there.  The UN has conducted two monitoring missions to Latakia city since the start of displacement.  Around 1,550 families from Kassab have been registered as internally displaced persons and are receiving assistance.]


Question:  I wanted to ask you about Haiti.  Mr. [Pedro] Medrano has been quoted on UN News Centre speaking about his visit to various countries:  Canada, UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.  And he says of them that the cholera epidemic is, quote, “not on their radar”.  So I wanted to know, one, is that… is there some way that we can hear from Mr. Medrano here at Headquarters?  Could we have a video briefing of some kind?  If it is his goal to try and raise the profile of this problem, and he says that those countries, it’s not on their radar, what can we do beyond UN News Centre to try to get some news about cholera and Haiti and the UN’s role in it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, well we’ve been trying to have Mr. Medrano speak to reporters over his travels and that’s what he has been doing.  When he’s around here, we will also try and see whether he’d be interested in doing a briefing.  And we’ll see whether that can be set up.  Yes, in the back?  Yes, please.  Yes, it really is you.  You are the only person in that vicinity raising your hand, so it’s you.


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  If you don’t know the answer to this, could you suggest me where I may find the answer?  Is it known if ever an ambassador has not been accepted to the United Nations?  An ambassador from a foreign country, of course, from one the countries that are members of the General Assembly has not accepted.


Deputy Spokesman:  That’s a fairly long historical question. 


Question:  I know; that’s why I’m asking if there’s a place I can find the information?  Where would you suggest?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think the UN Library has a lot of the resources that you need in terms of something that goes back through the entire history of the United Nations.  It would be difficult to find at this stage.  What I can tell you that there have been times when there have been differing problems about credentials, which have been resolved in different ways, but each case is basically unique.  Yes?


Question:  This is another follow-up on a question of noise in the US Congress.  That Iranian Ambassador, this is going to be a record follow-up, I think.  I know that this is at the very primary stages of noise in the Congress, but in the event that it leads to any implementable decision by the Congress, is it not going to be against the international diplomatic protocol?  And if so, what’s the stance of United Nations, the position of the United Nations with that regard?  Thank you. 


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t think we are going to get ahead of the game and try to speculate what might happen based on current circumstances.  Let’s see what develops and if we need to pronounce ourselves on that somewhere down the line, we’d look at what we need to say.  Yes?


Question:  I wanted to ask about the IRIN [Integrated Regional Information Network] news service.  There’s been a lot of talk, some people have been saying that the UN is either closing it down or defunding it, so there’s a petition to try to keep it afloat.  Others are saying it’s just being spun off.  Can you say, what’s the UN’s logic on this long-time humanitarian reporting service, either defunding it or ceasing it from operating?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, I don’t think that there is any hard and fast decision made.  As you are aware, there are many times when we’ve had to deal with different problems regarding our various budgets.  For example, those of you who want transcripts for the briefing have noticed that at different times it’s come a bit slower, partly because there are far fewer people than there used to be to do these sorts of press releases.  So we are looking at what kind of facilities we have and how we can keep our functions going.  That’s as much as I have to say on that for now.


Question:  But, I mean, isn’t it, with the IRIN service, isn’t one of the stated functions of it is sort of to raise the profile of the humanitarian disasters that the UN is trying to funds for?


Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly; and all of our various functions are designed to do something important that the Member States want.  At the same time, of course, the Member States have given us less funding.  And we have to see what we can do with that.  And it’s based on that we sometimes have to make different decisions.  But as far as I know there is no final decision made on that.  Yes, you and then Oleg? 


Question:  Thanks, I’m sure you’ve seen the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] story regarding Cuba today.  I’m just curious; does the UN have any response to an ostensibly humanitarian group engaging in political behaviour and whether a revelation like we saw from the AP today complicates the UN’s role in establishing trust with Governments around the world?  I guess, what steps does the UN take to make sure that actors within UN missions around the world don’t engage in national political objectives while serving in an international capacity?


Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, we’ve seen the media reports but I don’t have any first-hand information regarding this particular report so we don’t have any special comment on this.  Of course, you are aware of the UN Charter and the respect for all States’ sovereignty and we encourage all States’ sovereignty to be respected.  Oleg?


Question:  Thanks Farhan, one more on Syria.  The Armenian Foreign Minister, [Edward] Nalbandyan, I guess that’s his last name, is said to have written a letter to Ban Ki-moon concerning the situation north of Syria, in particular in Kassab area, where ethnic Armenians are pushed away by the armed groups and the fighting with the Syrian army.  Can you confirm that this letter was received and is there any immediate reaction to it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, exactly, I will check whatever letters we’ve had regarding this, whether there have been anything received, and I’ll let you know.


Question:  Just to follow up on your answer on Kassab, because it came up with Ambassador [Samantha] Power.  Can you send that around if there’s anything and if there are any updates since that testimony?


Deputy Spokesman:  I will send it around to one and all.  Thanks and have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record