25 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.


**South Sudan


The Secretary-General has asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to travel to South Sudan this weekend to follow up on the recent brutal attacks against civilians in Bentiu, Unity State, and in Bor, Jonglei State, as well as to follow up on the use of radio to disseminate hate speech.


The two high-level officials are expected to meet with senior officials in South Sudan and also in the region to discuss concrete ways to help stop the violence, protect civilians against further violations of human rights and humanitarian law, as well as ensure accountability for violations and crimes committed.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council’s open debate this morning on sexual violence in conflict, which he described as a grave human rights abuse that is as destructive as any bomb or bullet.


He noted progress in dealing with sexual violence in conflict zones, adding that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is developing new legal structures to end impunity for perpetrators.  The Secretary-General said that prevention is a collective responsibility, and that the most vulnerable people can only be protected through coordination and partnership.


The Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, also spoke to the Council about the need for justice and accountability for rape victims, and she raised the issue of children born from rape.  We have their statements available in my Office.


Also, this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak to the Partnership Group on Myanmar.


**Counter-Terrorism


The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at this morning’s meeting on counter-terrorism, and he said that we must be resolute and unified in confronting the scourge of terrorism.  He said it is important that responses to terrorism comply with norms on human rights, refugee law and international humanitarian law.


The Deputy Secretary-General said that comprehensive strategies and clear operational measures must be developed that combat both the symptoms and the causes of terrorism.  States must work together and share good practices in their own enlightened self-interest.  And his remarks are available online.


** Central African Republic


On the Central African Republic (CAR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that confrontations between armed groups and direct attacks on villages have continued over the past week in the central part of the country.  Up to 4,500 people in the Ouaka prefecture and 800 people in the Kemo prefecture have fled their homes and taken shelter at religious sites to avoid being caught in crossfire. 


And in Boda, our humanitarian colleagues say that the dire humanitarian situation has improved for some 24,000 vulnerable people.  They have received food and medical assistance as well as nutrition, non-food items and water, sanitation and hygiene support.


The World Food Programme (WFP) says its distributions are continuing in Boda to assist people who had been isolated due to violence, with no means of livelihood or access to markets.


WFP also says it continues to try to expand its operations across the country, prepositioning food and assisting vulnerable populations.  WFP has now transferred more than 1,800 metric tons of food to the provinces — of which more than 80 per cent was from Bangui.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that the number of children being treated for acute malnutrition in Bangui’s largest inpatient centre during the first quarter of 2014 has tripled compared to last year’s figures.


Finally, just to flag that John Ging, OCHA’s Director of Operations, will be visiting the CAR starting tomorrow, until 29 April. 


**World Malaria Day


Today is also World Malaria Day.  In a message, the Secretary-General said that this day was an opportunity to celebrate the fact that the world is on track to meet the global Millennium Development Goal target of reversing the incidence of malaria.


However, he stressed that malaria still kills more than half a million people every year, most of them children under 5, living in sub-Saharan Africa.


The Secretary-General repeated his call for continued investment and sustained political commitment to improve malaria prevention and control.  And the note is available online and in our Office.


** Chernobyl


And also, in a statement we issued this morning on the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — the anniversary is, in fact, tomorrow — the Secretary-General says that this is an opportunity to pay tribute to the emergency workers who responded.


He said we must also remember the more than 330,000 people evacuated from contaminated regions and stand in solidarity with the millions who still live in affected areas.  And that full statement is available online and in my Office, both in English and Russian.


**Holocaust


You are all invited to attend an interactive presentation titled “Learning about the Holocaust through the Arts”, on Monday, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Conference Room 1.  Academy-Award winning actress Olympia Dukakis will perform a special reading and will be available for interviews.  There are a number of other panellists as well, and we have more information online.


I’ll stop. Masood, you eagerly raised your hand. 


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask you: Robert Serry, the Secretary-General’s Envoy to the Middle East, met with President [Mahmoud] Abbas [yesterday] and said that basically they agreed in principle to all the things that were agreed upon with the Israelis, including recognition of Israel.  Do you any other thing on this…?


Spokesman:  Sure, what I can tell you is that during the meeting, the Special Coordinator discussed recent developments, including the intra-Palestinian agreement on unity, and was assured that this agreement will be implemented under the leadership of the President and on the basis of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] commitments.  The Special Coordinator confirmed the United Nations continued support for unity on this basis as the only way to reunite the West Bank and Gaza under one legitimate Palestinian Authority, welcoming this process which includes long-overdue Palestinian elections.  Mr. Serry also underlined the importance for the parties at this critical juncture to refrain from measures that run counter to creating an environment for continued meaningful negotiations.


Question:  So do you have any reaction to Israel now totally suspending, I mean, saying there are going to be no more talks, in view of the unity between the two factions of Palestine?


Spokesman:  I think you could read the last sentence that I read, which the Special Coordinator also underlined the importance for the parties, at this critical juncture and to continue to engage in… to create an environment that’s conducive to negotiations.


Question:  The Secretary-General on his own doesn’t have any opinion?


Spokesman:  I’ve said what I’ve had to say.  Mr. Abbadi and then will go down this way.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary-General should be congratulated for dispatching Pillay and the gentleman responsible for genocide to South Sudan.  Would he be persuaded to do the same for the Central African Republic, where massacre still continues? 


Spokesman:  I think the situation in Central African Republic is very much on the forefront of the Secretary-General’s mind.  He is deeply involved in following the situation and closely following the planning for the peacekeeping mission.  He himself, as you recall, went there and just last week issued yet another message in Songo to the communities to refrain from targeted killings and to restore a peaceful atmosphere.  And so I think the fact is that there are a lot of issues that we need to focus on.  The fact that Mr. Dieng and Ms. Pillay are going to South Sudan in no way lessens the focus that we have on the CAR, and if I’m not mistaken, Ms. Pillay was very recently in the CAR as well.  And Mr. Dieng was with the Secretary-General when we went to CAR.  Joe and then Pam and then we’ll move this way. 


Question:  Yes, the ICC [International Criminal Court] announced this morning that it was going to undertake a preliminary investigation based on the referral by the current Government in Kyiv of alleged crimes against humanity by the Government under the former President [Viktor] Yanukovych.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that decision?  Does he welcome it as sort of complementing the human rights monitoring and investigation that the UN is undertaking?


Spokesman:  We saw this.  The Secretary-General is in no way involved in the lodging of the declaration, which is done under article 12 of the Rome Statute.  The decision on what, if any, action to take on the Ukraine’s acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ICC lies with the prosecutor and the judges in the court. 

Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There was a report in the last 20 minutes that armed separatists in Slavyansk have taken seven OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] observers.  Can you comment on that?  Were there any UN observers?  Can… I know its…. 


Spokesman:  I don’t…that would be very troubling, indeed.  I don’t want to comment on something that I haven’t seen at this time.  You know what, I can tell you, obviously more in broader terms about the situation in Ukraine, that the Secretary-General continues to be alarmed by the continued violence and loss of life in eastern Ukraine.  I think the climate that we are seeing is contributing to more fear and anxiety that can lead to a dangerous cycle of escalating tensions and serious miscalculations.


Question:  Just a quick follow-up.  Would this be the first time that either OSCE or UN observers in Ukraine have been attacked?  I mean, have there [been] any other incidents?


Spokesman:  All I can tell you is that there have been no incidents involving UN monitors or the ones that I know of.  I really don’t want to go further in commenting [on] something that I don’t know much about.  But we’ll follow up.  Nizar and then Matthew?


Question:  Stéphane, yesterday the Special Tribunal of Lebanon issued two indictments regarding two editors-in-chief in Lebanon.  One, for new TV and other for Allahu Akbar newspaper for publishing some material, which were already published on a website.  Since when…I mean…the Tribunal is entrusted in pursuing publications regarding publishing material in Lebanon; the freedom of press is so sacred and so should be at the United Nations and elsewhere.  How does the United Nations view that?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment at this time.  I haven’t seen the indictment, but we can look into it and see if we have a comment.  Matthew?


[The Spokesman later referred the journalist to the press release issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the indictments, which explained the legal reasoning in that decision.] 


Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about Burundi.  There was a consultation yesterday of the Security Council; Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman went, some other people from DPA [Department of Political Affairs].  I was told afterwards that…there…there…that basically there’s a call to investigate that same cable, 3 April cable about distribution of weapons to the youth wing of the Government party in power.  So I wanted to know what is…what is the UN…seems like it’s been brewing.  One, can you say whether the persona non grata DSS [Department of Safety and Security] chief…actually who left the country or if the protest has worked?  And what is the…is the UN…UN’s task from this in terms of investigating the contents of the cable?


Spokesman:  The DSS person, the person that was declared persona non grata, when that happened, was out of the country.  He has not returned to Burundi.  Can you rephrase the first part of your question?


Question:  Yes, I guess…because it was said afterwards by a participant in the consultations that there’s been a request by the Council that the contents of it be investigated.  If DSS chief is not there, what is the role of either the country team, DSS or DPA to actually, more than expressing concern, actually look into the facts alleged in that cable? 


Spokesman:  You know, obviously, this allegation of arms distribution… that allegation has taken more and more of a centre stage in political discourse in Burundi.  We’ve noted the Government’s public statements rejecting the allegations and we welcome them.  But we still call on the Government to investigate, to embark on a credible and transparent investigation into these allegations.  We’ve offered assistance to assist in this credible and transparent investigation and we stand ready, but we have not been asked, but it is the primary responsibility of the Government to lead such an investigation.  Sangwon?


Question:  Three status update requests.  Does the Secretary-General have any plans to speak with President [Vladimir] Putin at some point today or anytime soon?  Has he already?  Or any other Ukrainian leaders?  Second of all, what’s next for Envoy Serry?  Is he going to go to Gaza and meet Hamas officials, etcetera?  And lastly, what’s going on with Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi?  Is he still in Geneva? Where is he… what’s he up to?  What are his next plans? 


Spokesman:  That’s a lot of status updates.  Mr. Brahimi has not resigned, if that was your question.  The ebb and flow of the resignation rumours is cresting again, and I’ll say it again: he has not resigned.  He remains the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the Arab League.  And there’s really no more of a status update.  We do expect him in New York, I believe next week.  On political contacts on the Ukrainian crisis, I believe there are a number of phone calls being made as we speak or scheduled for this afternoon.  Once I can confirm that the calls have gone through, I will do so.  I can’t remember more than two questions at a time.


Question:  Robert Serry?


Spokesman:  Robert Serry, I’ll find out what the next step is.  Yes ma’am.  No, hold on two seconds.  Yes, please go ahead.


Question:  The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Mahmoud Abbas should choose between… sorry… choice between reconciliation with Hamas and the… the peace with Israel.  This is the Israeli position, I’m asking again about, in specific, about UN position from this point.  Do you believe that this reconciliation would be against this negotiation as a basis for peace?  Did Mr. Robert Serry send such a message like this to Mahmoud Abbas?


Spokesman:  I think the message and discussion between Mr. Serry and Mr. Abbas, I just read out here in the beginning: We continue to believe that negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis should continue.


Question:  Two questions.  You may have already addressed this today, but has the Secretary-General said anything about the five separatists who were killed by the Kyiv military?  Second question: Sunday’s New York Times described an Obama policy to isolate Russia totally.  Would the Secretary-General have something to say about this?  Does he think it’s productive or unproductive?


Spokesman:  You know, I’m not going to comment on particular incidents which I haven’t read about.  What I can say again is how deeply troubled the Secretary-General is by the escalation of rhetoric, by hardening of positions.  I think we all have to realize that the stakes here are extremely high, with potential negative implications for international peace and security that extend far beyond the eastern Ukrainian cities.


The Secretary-General cautions all Ukrainians and their partners that the situation could spin out of control quickly, with grave and unpredictable consequences.  He once again urges, in the strongest terms, that all parties honour the commitments that they signed onto in the Geneva Statement.


He expects all sides to understand that time is of the essence and that they therefore must cease any unhelpful actions and, instead, reengage diplomatically to ensure full implementation now.  It would be a grave mistake, in the Secretary-General's view, for any party to turn to military means in an attempt to resolve political issues that can and must be addressed by peaceful means.  Evelyn?


Question:  Back to Mr. Brahimi, he just about said that he was going to resign if Syria went ahead with the elections, since the main point of the Geneva talks are to have a transitional Government, not to elect a President in the middle of a war for seven years.  Do… is this your understanding?  Is this the SG’s understanding? 


Spokesman:  I think we spoke from this podium about the Secretary-General’s and Mr. Brahimi’s views on the elections.  We stated them quite clearly.  I think with Mr. Brahimi, we can really talk about this forever, but there’s only two situations.  Either he is the Joint Special Representative or he’s not.  He is.

Mr. Abbadi?  I’m sorry, we’ll do a first round for those who haven’t had questions yet.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just a follow-up on Ukraine, so there will be a press conference of Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine this afternoon here, right?


Spokesman:  You know, you raise a good point.  I’m usually given a list of press conferences; I didn’t have it. Hopefully my colleagues in my Office who are watching this briefing, and I hope they are, will come in and give me a piece of paper to tell me if the press conference is still on. 


Question:  Yes, I was just wondering if you have any information if the Deputy Prime Minister will attend to some meeting in here, at the UN?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any information on his meetings.  He’s not seeing the Secretary-General, that I know.  I usually read it, and when I read it, it’s confirmed, but whatever… we’ll know before the end.  Mr. Abbadi and then Pam?


Question:  Thank you Stéphane.  When will the Secretary-General give his monthly press conference?


Spokesman:  You know, I don’t think the… we’re not going to be tied by the calendar.  I think it’s more important to have a press conference and press encounters when there are actually things to announce or messages to give out, so we will look for an earliest possible opportunity for you to have a chance to speak to him.  I can only speak for the present.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two status updates.  One is Iran, is there anything new on…


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  Okay.  And number two: is there any comment or any interest by the Secretary-General or the UN to renew Quartet meetings, given the suspension of the Middle East talks?


Spokesman:  You know the Quartet at the Envoy levels are often in contact.  I have no information on a full high-level Quartet meeting.  Matthew?


Question:  Status update and then a question. 


Spokesman:  Is this a hashtag, #statusupdates?  Thanks, Sangwon!


Question:  As a status update, can you confirm that Mr. Feltman is going to go to Cyprus, and does this… will this, as Mr. [Dervis] Eroğlu has said upon his landing there, and would this indicate that Feltman is the new [Alexander] Downer?


Spokesman:  Feltman continues to be Feltman.  Lisa Buttenheim is the acting Downer, as I mentioned — the acting Special Adviser, I don’t mean to be flippant.  Whether or not he goes to Cyprus, I can only ask.


Question:  Okay, and I wanted to ask… this is what… this is a… this is a follow-up, but I need to ask it.  Thanks for sending this statement that… about the Ghanaian peacekeepers in Bentiu, saying that as of now, 44 members of the Ghanaian battalion are in Bentiu.  What I had wanted to ask was, at the time of the… the 15, 16 April mass killing, how many… were… were the same number there?  And also, how does it square with the announcement months ago that 350 peacekeepers were coming from Cote D’Ivoire and that these boxes of weapons of theirs were stuck on the road…?


Spokesman:  I think this is… the number we gave you are the numbers that are deployed in Bentiu.  Obviously, the deployment of peacekeeping battalions is always logistically heavy, especially in a country that is… where the security situation is bad, to say the least.  So in terms of moving themselves, their troops, this is the update that I have.  What I can also tell you is that we have about 360 peacekeepers from Rwanda that are expected to arrive in Malakal in early May. 


Question:  Just one… can I ask just one follow-up… because I just wanted to know… I rather not ask about this one again.  I wanted to know, because those boxes, I’ve seen the pictures of the boxes of weapons that gave rise to this controversy between the Government and UNMISS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan], were those boxes only for 44 peacekeepers?  Is there some relation between the delayed deployment?  Because… those boxes… those very boxes…


Spokesman:  They were for more than 44 peacekeepers, but I’ll get you more information.  Madam?


Question:  Right, on the Syria chemical weapons, should there be intelligence, and there are some rumours that there might be, of undeclared stocks, as well as the to-ing and fro-ing on the chlorine attack.  Can the SG ask the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] to look into it because certainly the Security Council will find it impossible to pass any resolution on Syria… without a veto?


Spokesman:  You know, on what may or may not have been declared, we obviously expect all parties involved here to fully declare their stock.  The update that we have is 92.5 per cent that Syria has removed and destroyed of its chemical weapons.  On the issue of chlorine, I think, as we have mentioned, the Secretary-General is aware and very concerned about these recent media reports on the use of chlorine.  The international community has firmly rejected the use of toxic chemicals under any circumstances to inflict harm, as demonstrated by the overwhelming international support for the global ban on such weapons.  Allegations of such use should be made subject to the procedures in terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is under the purview of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  And Syria is now a party to this, so there are mechanisms that need to be followed.


Question:  It’s not clear if the OPCW is going to do anything or not.  They have to do it?  Can the SG ask them to do it?


Spokesman:  I think you know, there are all sorts of discussions going on now, but it is the responsibility of the OPCW and the States that are parties to this Convention.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  This statement yesterday by the Secretary-General: does he consider chlorine… about chlorine, does he consider it as poison gas or poisonous material?  Given that this is a common material, which is sold in every shop everywhere…


Spokesman:  I think… listen, I am not a equipped to say what exactly is covered under the chemicals weapon ban, but I think what common sense would dictate is that the use of chlorine gas by militaries, by paramilitaries, in a conflict should not happen.  The fact that it’s sold… that you could probably find at any convenience store doesn’t make it tolerable, doesn’t make it acceptable.  Yes ma’am?


Question:  Thanks very much.  Just a follow-up on the conversation between the UN and Russia, can you give us a bit more information on who initiated that exchange?


Spokesman:  No, what I said is that I would be able to confirm this afternoon that exchanges that are happening between senior UN officials and various parties, both Ukrainian and Russians.  Once it happens then I can… but the Secretary-General has sought out to speak to many of the parties involved.  Yes ma’am?


Question:  Do you have something about… on the Syrian election, especially is today?  Bashar al-Assad started to form a committee to organize his elections?


Spokesman:  No, I think I would refer you back to what we’ve already said on the elections and that still stands.  I will add that there is a press conference in this room at 2 p.m. and it will be by Danylo Lubkivsky,the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine.  You heard it here.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, one a follow-up and then a… I’m going to call a softball.  The follow-up… I just want to know since we are getting to kind of crunch time on this issue of what are the rules of when a party like Mr. Eroğlu did for the Turkish Cypriot community, Polisario speaking, and you said it was a good question and you would look into the rule.  What is the rule?  Can they speak?  Where can they speak and how… how is this determined by the UN?


Spokesman:  The value of your question, that it is a good question, doesn’t mean that I can answer it as quickly as I would like to answer it.


Question:  Okay, here’s the softball, ready?  Madagascar has a new Government.  Many people have congratulated it.  Does the UN, after all of its work on this island nation, have any statement on the formation of a new Government?


Spokesman: I have none with me.  Yes, Pam?


Question:  Final status update.


Spokesman:  Hashtag #statusupdate.


Question:  Has the Office of Legal Affairs…


Spokesman:  No. [laughter]  On Ukraine?


Question:  That’s actually more telling, have they done anything?


Spokesman:  No, they have…


Question:  Have they responded on Time Warner?  Have they…?


Spokesman:  The issue is still being… sorry, I didn’t mean to be flippant, and I shouldn’t be.  You were asking about Ukraine?


Question:  Yes?


Spokesman:  No, I don’t have an update for you, it’s still being looked at.  Alright, thank you much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record