14 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, and welcome to all you who are watching this on our webcast.


**Secretary-General in Mexico


The Secretary-General is on his way to Mexico City as we speak, where he will attend the first High-level Meeting of Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation there which is taking place in Mexico.


While in Mexico, he will also meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto and several of his Ministers.  He will also hold bilateral meetings with leaders who are also present at the event.  As we get more readouts, we will share them with you, as well as putting out his speeches.


**Secretary-General on Ukraine


I’ve been asked this morning quite a few questions about Ukraine.  I’d like to stress that since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, the Secretary-General has been calling for restraint and for a direct and constructive dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow.  As part of his efforts, the Secretary-General spoke early this morning to Ukraine's Acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, to convey that message directly.


In the phone call, he also expressed his great concern over the ongoing disturbances and notably the reports of civilians being armed and activities by armed groups on both sides.  He noted that the Ukrainian authorities had been exercising restraint and that he hoped this restraint would continue, in an effort to de-escalate the situation and find a peaceful solution.   The Secretary-General also expressed his deep concern of reports about civilians being armed on both sides.


And we also expect the Secretary-General to speak to a senior Russian official in the coming hours.


**Security Council


As you know, the Security Council met last night to discuss the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, and Council members received an update from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez Taranco.  He said that, following close to two weeks of relative calm, starting on 6 April, armed individuals and separatist groups began to seize Government buildings and confiscate lethal weapons in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine, including in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv.


He said that the Secretary-General has continued to speak out for the exercise of maximum restraint by all concerned as well as strict adherence to international law.  He also continues to urge all others with influence on the situation to immediately and publicly call for restraint and a return to calm.  The Secretary-General further appeals for direct and constructive dialogue between  parties, and between Kiev and Moscow, to de-escalate the situation and address all differences.


** Middle East


Yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke by phone yesterday, in separate calls, with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and President [Mahmoud] Abbas.  The purpose of the calls was to discuss the ongoing efforts to extend the negotiations towards a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.  The Secretary-General strongly encouraged both sides to remain constructively engaged in the talks.  He expressed his hope that both leaders will seize the current opening created by [ United States] efforts to find a way forward to achieve the two-State solution.


** Guinea-Bissau


I also have a statement on Guinea-Bissau.


The Secretary-General commends the people of Guinea-Bissau for their orderly and peaceful participation in yesterday’s presidential and legislative elections. By participating in high numbers, they have clearly expressed their desire for the full return to constitutional order in their country.  The Secretary-General commends the election management bodies for their determined efforts to ensure the timely holding of the elections.  He thanks Guinea-Bissau’s international partners for providing vital technical and financial support that contributes to the successful holding of the elections.


The Secretary-General reiterates his call to all candidates to respect the official results when announced by the Supreme Court and to follow existing legal procedures to resolve any electoral disputes.  The United Nations will continue to support the people and Government of Guinea-Bissau as they work towards greater political stability, rule of law, State-building and socioeconomic development.  And that statement is available upstairs.


**Climate Change


Also, yesterday we issued a statement on the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, otherwise known as the IPCC.


In the statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth Assessment Report on the mitigation of climate change that was released today in Berlin.


The Secretary-General urges all countries to act swiftly and boldly on climate change, to bring ambitious announcements and actions to the Climate Summit on 23 September, and to make every effort needed to reach a global, ambitious and legal climate agreement in 2015.  And that full statement is upstairs — not upstairs, I am still not used to the floor difference — is next door.


**Global Economy


The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the high-level meeting of the Economic and Social Council this morning, and he said that, more than five years after the world financial and economic crisis erupted, the world economic recovery is slowly under way.  Yet, he added that the crisis is not a phenomenon of the past.  Severe effects of the crisis linger and serious risks still remain.  Growth is insufficient and the employment situation is dire in many countries.


The Deputy Secretary-General called for strengthened efforts to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.  At the same time, he said, the United Nations has started to set the direction beyond 2015 by shaping a new development agenda with poverty eradication and sustainable development at its core.  His remarks are available online.


** Syria


From Syria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the rampant use of torture in detention facilities across Syria by Government forces, as well as some armed opposition groups, as her office issued a paper today containing detailed testimony from victims and witnesses.


The paper describes a broad pattern of torture and ill-treatment against individuals in Government facilities.  It also documents reports of torture by some armed groups.


Ms. Pillay urged the Government and armed opposition in Syria to immediately halt the use of torture and ill-treatment, and to release all those who have been arbitrarily detained in conditions that clearly breach international human rights standards.  Those detained must be treated humanely, she said.


She also reiterated her request to the Government to allow regular and unannounced access to all detention facilities to impartial international observers to enable them to effectively monitor the situation.


** Syria — Chemical Weapons


Also on Syria, I was asked a number of times this morning before the briefing about Syria’s pledge to remove all chemical weapons by 13 April, except those in “inaccessible areas”.


Our colleagues at the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)-UN joint mission have responded that they are concerned that Syria has missed the 13 April timeline.  It expects an intensification of efforts and immediate action to initiate the high pace and scale of operations for the removal of all chemical weapons materials as safely as possible by 27 April.  Missing the 27 April timeline could have serious impact on the completion of the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme by 30 June.


It is up to the Member States to discuss the progress of the operation, based on factual input from the joint mission.  The mission says that the current pace is of serious concern.


**South Sudan


From South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, otherwise known as UNMISS, reports that fighting broke out in Unity State this morning between Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition forces in Torabith in Mayom County, which is about 50 kilometres west of Bentiu.  Fighting also took place in the vicinity of an oil refinery about 5 kilometres from the Unity oilfields.


The Mission says that earlier today, peacekeepers extracted 10 employees of the Safinat Caspian Oil Refining Company from a location near those oilfields, about 25 kilometres north-west of Bentiu.  Five of the 10 employees were wounded and two of them are said to be in critical condition.  All are now at the UNMISS compound in Bentiu receiving medical attention.


**Department of Political Affairs


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, will leave New York today for a visit to West Africa.  His four-day trip will include stops in Senegal, Mauritania, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea.


Mr. Feltman will meet with senior Government officials to discuss peace and security issues in West Africa, including the situation in the Sahel region and Guinea-Bissau.


Mr. Feltman's meetings with the Chairman of the African Union, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, will serve to discuss UN-African Union collaboration.


In Dakar, Mr. Feltman will also meet with the leadership of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and other UN officials.


** Afghanistan


From Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the announcement yesterday of the first batch of partial results in the country’s presidential elections as a further step towards completing the electoral process.  At the same time, it noted that these results represent only a small proportion of the millions of ballots cast in the poll.  We have more on that statement on the UNAMA website.


**Bananas


And lastly, a note from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on a disease hitting the production of bananas, which happens to be the fourth most important food crop in the least developed countries:  The Food and Agriculture Organization today warned that production and export of this crop is threatened by the spread of one of the world’s most destructive banana diseases, known as Fusarium wilt.


The best way to fight the disease is to prevent its spread, and so, today, FAO is warning of the need for a concerted effort by industry stakeholders, research institutions, Governments and international organizations to prevent its spread.


And the disease as so far been spotted from Asia to Africa and the Middle East and has the potential to affect countries in Latin America.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Lastly, tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here organized by the Permanent Mission of France on the situation in Syria.  Speakers will include Ambassador Gérard Araud, the Permanent Representative of France; along with Professor David M. Crane, former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, a forensic pathologist based in the United Kingdom.


I think I’ve spoken quite enough.  Yes, sir?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Iranian Foreign Minister has said that it is going to or it has already sent a letter of complaint to the Secretary-General, regarding this issue of a visa.  Have you received that or any comment on that?  And, in a broader context, is there any point for the United Nations to take any position in that regard?


Spokesman:  We’ve seen the report over the last few days and this morning from the Foreign Ministry in Tehran.  The short answer:  we have not received as of five minutes ago, and I asked as many people as I could, we’ve not received any official letters from the Islamic Republic of Iran.  However, I know there have been some preliminary phone contacts taken by the Permanent Mission here with Secretariat officials.  You know, this is a very serious issue that is being raised.  We are taking it… obviously, things are being taken step by step.  As soon as we have more, we will share it.  At this point, I don’t have anything to add.  What we are really waiting for is the official letter from the Islamic Republic, which for all intents and purposes we know is coming; we haven’t seen it.  Once we have it, we’ll take a look of what it’s asking of the Secretariat, of the United Nations and we’ll be able respond and share more information with you.  Yes, sir, and then we’ll go to you Matthew.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this phone call to Ban Ki-moon… to Oleksandr Turchynov, the Ukrainian side issued a readout of this phone call; and in it, Ban Ki-moon is quoted as saying that the Ukrainian authorities “took the necessary steps to resolve this situation in Ukraine and in particular in the Western part of the country”.  My question is:  is the decision to start military operation in the eastern part of the country, is this part of the necessary steps that is viewed by Ban Ki-moon?


Spokesman:  First of all, I think the diplomatic protocol would be for us to speak on behalf of the Secretary-General, so I think what we say here in New York on the behalf of the Secretary-General reflects what he said.  The Secretary-General has raised his concern numerous times, included in the phone conversation, at the increased risk of a military confrontation, at the violence that we’ve seen.  He’s concerned at the violence that we’ve seen over the last few days in the area.  His message is one of restraint.  His message is one of dialogue, of direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow.  That’s what he would like to see and that’s what he believes is the best way forward to find a peaceful solution to the current crisis.


Correspondent:  [inaudible].


Spokesman:  I think as I’ve said, in his conversation, the Secretary-General expressed concern that any military confrontation should not be used as pretence to escalate the crisis.  What we are looking for is de-escalation and move away from potential flashpoints that could lead to more violence.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  Two inter-related questions on readouts, one on one that you gave and one that you didn’t.  On this one with Ukraine Acting President, they’ve also said that on their side that the President of Ukraine or Acting President asked for UN peacekeepers, and since that’s being wildly reported, I wanted to know can you confirm that was discussed and is there any way peacekeepers can be sent without a Council vote?  And on Morocco, I wanted to ask you this because the… thank you for confirming that a call took place with the King of Morocco, but I’m wondering, now that a couple of days have gone by, can you say, like, it seems that they put out their own readout, and I understand they say what they say, and you say what he said.  They seem to be saying that any risky option could lead to a danger to UN involvement in the issue.  And since some have read this as basically a threat to disallow the MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] Mission if there’s a human rights monitoring mechanism, can you just say… can you give a similar readout as you did on Ukraine about Morocco, and if not, why not?


Spokesman:  Okay, what was your first part of the question?  Okay, peacekeepers; sorry, short memory problem here.  You know, I’m not in a position to confirm that that was raised, but what I can tell you — and I think all of you or many of you have been in the UN longer than I have — any sort of peacekeeping… peace enforcement mission in any country would involve a vote of the Security Council and I’ll leave it at that.  On Morocco, no, I have nothing to add.  Obviously, it’s everyone’s prerogative to issue a readout or not to issue a readout, to confirm or not to confirm.  I confirmed that the conversation took place between Secretary-General and the King Mohammed VI.  Obviously, the mandate of the Mission in Western Sahara is in the hands of the Security Council, they will be getting the report; the report will be out, officially, I think, in six languages, very shortly and it will be discussed at length where it should be, which is in the Security Council.  Yes ma’am?


Question:  I just want an update on the UN presence on the Ukraine issue. Will there be any updates from the UN OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) mission there on what’s going on in south-eastern Ukraine?  Any senior officials visiting this week to take stock?  And who from the UN is expected to be present at the talks on the seventeenth?


Spokesman:  Let me unpack that a little bit.  There is no UN OSCE mission, per se; it’s two separate things.  The UN Human Rights Mission in Ukraine has about 10 international staff deployed, with field officers established in Lviv, Odessa, Donetsk, Kharkiv, in addition to the presence in Kyiv.  They have already hired five national staff and are working rapidly to bring the rest on board.  We hope they would reach their total number of staff of 34, and that’s where that mission is.  At this point, the talks that are scheduled later this week, the four-party talks, do not have a UN component.  Yes, ma’m?


Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  Is there supposed to be a report this week on Ukraine human rights commission?  Is that coming?


Spokesman: There is indeed.


Question:  Yes, can you tell us the day?  And secondly, I don’t know how you can de-escalate if your ministries are being occupied; you will eventually either clean them out or the Government will collapse, no?


Spokesman:  I have said what I had to say on Ukraine.  That being said, I roll out a few words.  It is an extremely volatile and worrisome situation and the Secretary-General has asked for restraint.  I think that he’s worried about reports of civilians being armed on both sides of the issue, which can create even more danger.  On the issue of the human rights report, my expectation, and I underscore “expectation”, is that it would be released tomorrow morning in Geneva, be posted and released in Geneva.  Yes, sir?


Question:  Considering the video of allegation of use of chemical weapon last Friday, there is any report or letter for any side in UN hands?


Spokesman:  Are you talking about Syria?  Yes, ok we are asking our colleagues at the joint mission to see what they have and we haven’t heard back yet.  [Sees hand up] I’m too slow.  Go ahead.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There are new reports that Russian television was suspended in Lithuania and Latvia.  And also another report says that a correspondent of Ariana News Agency of Russia was refused to get accreditation in Lithuania without any explanation of the reason.  I’m just wondering, it is a beginning of the kind of chain reaction, because maybe it would be the expectation of other countries to ban Russian journalists from their working as retaliation.  Does the United Nations have any way to protect journalists from censorship and things like that?


Spokesman:  I’m not going to comment on these particular reports; I’ve not seen these particular reports.  That being said, I think the Secretary-General has often expressed his support for freedom of the press and access to information.  Yes, sir?


Question:  In the spirit of de-escalation and restraint on Ukraine, sorry, can we take that this means that the [Secretary-General] supports for the calls for the United States to influence the Government in Ukraine to restrain military action?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General supports, and he has said so repeatedly, that for all those who have influence on the parties, that they use that influence in a positive way to push for a peaceful settlement.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Back to the report on the human rights monitors:  will this report be actually at some point presented to the Security Council by [Ivan] Šimonović himself or no?


Spokesman:  Not at this point.  At this point, the only release is a release which I expect tomorrow morning in Geneva, with a press briefing presentation by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, which I assume, if it’s held in the Palais, would be webcast.  You may have to wake up a little early, but you would be able to watch it live.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, thanks.  I wanted to ask about the Pension Fund and also about DFS (Department of Field Support).  On the Pension Fund, I just wondered that, if you can confirm that this letter from the various staff unions in Nairobi, Vienna and elsewhere was received.  And, since it alleges that this proposed change of delegation of authority to the Pension Fund would run contrary to everything that mobility was about, what’s your response to that?


Spokesman:  On the Pension Fund, my bad, I know I have something on my desk about it, but I failed to grab it on my way in.  So, I will get you something.  [He later informed the correspondent that the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund is not a Secretariat entity, but composed of many member organizations.  The matter of formalizing delegation of certain authorities in human resources matters to the CEO of the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund follows discussions at the Board and General Assembly.  The General Assembly requested a review of the policies governing the recruitment, promotion and retention of the staff of the Fund and measures to find suitable candidates for certain Fund positions that were difficult to fill.  The review found that the currently applicable memorandum of understanding between the Office of Human Resources Management and the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund no longer fully meets the needs of the Fund as an inter-agency entity with a unique mandate.]


Question:  And on the Department of Field Service, I just wanted, I don’t know if you would comment on this, but I heard that the Under-Secretary-General Ameerah Haq will… has informed the Secretary-General that she will leave in October and that a recruitment process involving Ms. [Catherine] Pollard and Jane Holl Lute has begun.  Can you… are you aware of that… can you confirm that?


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  Yes, during yesterday’s UN Security Council on Ukraine, Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitė said that the external anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western propaganda machine was in full swing.  Does the Secretary-General or the UN in general have anything to say about the propaganda or the disinformation or the deliberate spread of false information concerning Ukraine?


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General has said this repeatedly.  He said it weeks ago, he said it in Kiev, he said it in Moscow:  that restraint not only refers to physical action, but also to inciteful words.  That’s it.  I’m gone, see you.  Thank you.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record