14 May 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.


**Secretary-General in Sweden


The Secretary-General is in Sweden today for the Global Forum on Migration and Development.  At the opening ceremony, he said that more than 1 in 30 people on earth is a migrant and that communities had much to gain from migration when it is managed properly — and much to lose when it is not.  He stressed the importance of grounding all migration policies firmly in fundamental rights.


The Secretary-General said he remained seriously concerned about the crises unfolding in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, adding that the loss of life is unacceptable.  Migration should be a journey of hope, not a perilous gamble, he added.  His full statement is available online.


Prior to the opening of the Global Forum, the Secretary-General had a meeting with King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, as well as Crown Princess Victoria.  He also met with Sweden’s Prime Minister.  And the Secretary-General is expected back in New York tomorrow afternoon.


**Secretary-General’s Travel to China


The Secretary-General will then depart to China on Saturday, 17 May, for an official visit to Beijing and Shanghai.  There he will meet with President Xi Jinping, the Premier of the State Council, Li Keqiang, as well as the Foreign Minister and State Councillors.


In Shanghai, he will attend fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.  He will hold several bilateral meetings with world leaders also attending the event in Shanghai.


The Secretary-General will also meet with representatives of the China Development Bank and the China Investment Corporation to discuss climate change.  He will attend an event for his Every Woman Every Child initiative, which aims to save the lives of 16 million women and children and improve the lives of many more.  The Secretary-General is also scheduled to address students at Shanghai’s Fudan University.  And we expect him back in New York late next week.


** Turkey Mine Disaster


Also, the Secretary-General will be sending today a letter of condolences to the President of Turkey following the mine disaster in that country.  He will express his personal condolences to both the impacted families and to the Government and people of Turkey.


**Security Council


Meanwhile, back here, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Burundi, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, briefed the Security Council today by video link from Bujumbura.  He said that the UN Peacebuilding Office in Burundi (BNUB) has begun a transition process as it approaches its end of the mandate.  He said that the political situation remains tense, with political space remaining restricted.  He added that it is vital that Burundi’s people remain calm.  The horizon may not be clear, the Special Representative said, but Burundi has a promising future.  His remarks are available in my office.


The chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Ambassador Paul Seger of Switzerland, also briefed the Council.  The open meeting was followed by consultations.


**South Sudan


On South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country reports that, despite shooting this morning in Bentiu and Rubkona in Unity State, which resulted in the airport closed for a few hours, the situation has otherwise remained calm.  The Mission also reports heavy deployments of Government and pro-Government forces in both areas.


A Mission patrol to Bentiu yesterday extracted five civilians and brought them back to the protection site.  Currently, more than 23,000 civilians are being protected at the UN site in Bentiu.  The patrol also escorted UN agency staff and partners to Bentiu Hospital.  As the patrol entered the hospital, they saw armed pro-Government elements looting the hospital as well as three military pick-up vehicles nearby containing medicines.


The Mission strongly condemns the looting of medical equipment and supplies and calls on the parties to respect and protect medical facilities and personnel, and those who are sick or wounded.  Such acts violate the Geneva Convention, said the Mission.


Other tensions within the Bentiu protection site included threats and physical assault against contractors guarding UN facilities on Monday and Tuesday.  The Mission says peacekeepers were called in to defuse the situation.


And also from South Sudan, just to give you an update on the UN bases in Juba: UN agencies and partners are continuing to work on upgrading these facilities to improve the conditions for people sheltering there.  Two areas are being developed due to concerns over overcrowding and the risk of disease outbreaks.  A new site, which is being built close to UN House, is expected to host some 13,000 displaced people.  A new space within UN Tomping is being cleared to accommodate some 2,000 people who are living in overcrowded parts of the base.  All in all, there are some 32,000 civilians seeking protection in the UN bases in the capital, Juba.


** Nigeria Abductions


From Nigeria, the High-level Representative of the Secretary-General to Nigeria, Said Djinnit, met today with President Goodluck Jonathan.  Yesterday, Mr. Djinnit met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence, and the Minister for Justice of Nigeria.  In these meetings, Mr. Djinnit explored with his counterparts the role of the UN in supporting Nigerian efforts towards the safe release of the abducted girls.  He explained that the UN is preparing a package to support the affected families and the girls after their release.  On the broader security front, Mr. Djinnit reaffirmed the UN’s support to Nigeria within the framework of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.


** Iraq


From Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, visited the area of Abu Ghraib today and spoke out against what he called the deliberate flooding of the area.  Floods in Abu Ghraib have caused the displacement of more than 12,000 families and submerged hundreds of houses, including at least four schools.  He reiterated the UN’s readiness to continue working with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and the local authorities to address the urgent humanitarian needs in Abu Ghraib, notably access to safe drinking water.


Mr. Mladenov called on the Government, the Iraqi Security Forces, local authorities and tribal leaders to work jointly and quickly to restore legitimate control over the flow of the river Euphrates.  He said that those who are now in control of the barrage in Fallujah should understand the consequences of their actions on the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.  And we have a press release upstairs.


**Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems


The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems is under way in Geneva.  And I think Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems would otherwise be referred to as “killer robots”.


Yesterday, Michael Møller, Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the meeting is only a first step towards addressing lethal autonomous weapons.  He urged delegates to take bold action, noting that, all too often, international law only responds to atrocities and suffering once it has happened.  Mr. Møller told participants that they have the opportunity to take pre-emptive action and ensure that the ultimate decision to end life remains firmly under human control.


**Big Data Climate Challenge


Today, I’m pleased to announce the launch of a Big Data Climate Challenge.  The Global Pulse initiative and the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Team are calling on world-class scientists, technologists and citizens from around the world to submit the best ideas that show data-driven evidence of the impacts of climate change.


The Big Data Climate Challenge will source projects from around the world that use Big Data and analytics to address real-world impacts of climate change.  A high-level advisory board of climate and data experts has been convened to evaluate the submissions.  Winning projects will be showcased at the 2014 Climate Summit that the Secretary-General has convened at United Nations Headquarters around the time of the General Assembly.


This initiative will help build public understanding of how Big Data can reveal critical insights for strengthening resilience and mitigating emissions.  The call for submissions is open on both the Climate Summit and UN Global Pulse websites (http://www.unglobalpulse.org/bigdataclimate).  We welcome applications and we have some colleagues from the Global Pulse initiative in the back, if you have some questions.


** Ukraine Helicopters


And speaking of questions, yesterday, a number of you, after the briefing, asked questions about helicopters with UN markings that had been seen in eastern Ukraine.  Just to repeat what we told some of you that:


The Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support are in contact with the Ukrainian authorities concerning this issue.  It is the responsibility of troop-contributing countries that provide contingent-owned equipment to peacekeeping missions to remove all logos and signage bearing the UN’s name once such equipment has been repatriated to the home country or is no longer being used for official UN purposes.  Moreover, every letter of assist that is signed between the UN and troop-contributing countries also clearly states that “the Government may only use such painted and marked aircraft for flights which have been tasked by the United Nations”.  And clearly their presence in eastern Ukraine has not been tasked by the United Nations.


**EZTV


An in-house matter which has been raised a number of times here regarding problems with EZTV.  I will read something which again, I am not sure I fully understand, but I’m told it is the right answer:  The issue appears to be related to high CPU utilization of the Wi-Fi firewall, which also supports the media guest LAN (local area network) users.  As per our discussions with the firewall vendor, the high CPU could be related to a software bug and their recommendation is to upgrade the software version.  Kindly be informed that we are in the process of preparing for the upgrade and will inform you once we have further update.  We are taking a multifaceted approach to resolve the issue and we expect to have a resolution by this evening.  I hope you understood it.


**Press Conferences


Immediately after this briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the sixteenth plenary session of the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia, chaired by the European Union.


And tomorrow, at 1:30 p.m., we will have a press conference by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the theme will be the Asian region.  The speakers will include Raja Devashish Roy, Chief of the Chakma Administrative Circle and the traditional raja of the Chakma peoples, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines.


That’s it.  Mr. Lee?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about the helicopters, and thanks for sending that out, but there are some questions that are left unanswered by it.  Since then, Ukraine has denied that they’ve used… that helicopters have any UN markings, and I’m sure you’ve seen the photographs and in the video.  So, I wanted to ask you, what has Ukraine said back to the UN?  Which Mission did these helicopters serve in?  Were they, in fact, Government-owned, or were they a contractor that served?  What was the… you know, what’s the tail number, basically?  Are you investigating it to find out…?


Spokesman:  I think we’ve spoken to the Ukrainian Permanent Mission here and we’ve made very clear our concerns and their responsibilities so we will see what the next steps are.  But obviously, these kinds of reports are troubling and we expect people to take the appropriate steps.  As for details of where these helicopters may have served, and even if they were UN helicopters, I don’t have any further information.  You know, we’ve obviously seen the pictures, like you have, and have reminded the Ukrainian authorities of their responsibilities.


Question:  So, have you asked for a response from them to describe which helicopters they are?


Spokesman:  Let’s see, I think this conversation happened late yesterday and we will see what the next steps are.  Yes, Pam, and then Edie?


Question:  Thank you Stéphane.  On the Nigeria issue, you mentioned that the High-level Envoy, Said Djinnit, met with President Goodluck Jonathan and others.  On the reference that you made to pursuing the Global Counter-terrorism Strategy, the UN Global Counter-terrorism Strategy, that lays out a way not just after the girls are returned, one would hope, but combating terrorism and sharing intelligence or pooling intelligence.  Is… are those things that the UN is proposing to do?  Can you flush out what it means to global counter-terrorism?


Spokesman:  The Global Counter-terrorism Strategy was adopted by the General Assembly and it sets out a framework in which to fight terrorism.  Obviously, a big component of that is a respect for human rights and fundamental rights when that is done and taking kind of a larger big-picture approach.  As far as the UN’s support, our added value is in what I’ve laid out; which is basically this package of support for the families and the impacted communities that we are working on, in terms of support for the girls that have already been released and looking forward to supporting them when the others are released, support for the families.  Our function currently is not to be involved in terms of UN assets, because we don’t have assets nor mandate to be involved on the ground in any counter-terrorism operation.  The UN’s… the focus of the UN is in terms of preparing a support package.  That’s the immediate focus and then obviously, there will be… there are other issues to be looked at in terms of how the UN could support and help, in terms of regional cooperation because obviously this has a regional dimension.


Correspondent:  Excuse me, just as a follow-up:  The Global Counter-terrorism Strategy passed by the [General Assembly] does lay out a role for the UN to sort of bring all this information together of Member States to actually combat terrorism…


Spokesman:  But, I think that there’s a bigger picture and there’s an immediate picture.  The immediate… you know, these are kind of longer-term issues.  The immediate support of the UN is more focused on support for the girls and the communities.  Edie?


QuestionSteph, on the Secretary-General’s upcoming visit to China, is he going with any specific messages or goals in mind for his talk with the Chinese Government leaders?


Spokesman:  A big focus on the trip will be the upcoming Climate Change Summit and the critical role that China can play in combating climate change and climate adaptation.  That would really be one of the major focuses of the trip. Yes, ma’am, and then we go to Nizar.  You’ve got to be ready.


Question:  Okay, sorry.  Today, the Foreign Minister of Iran accepted the invitation of the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia to visit Saudi Arabia, but he said that he’s waiting for the formal invitation.  About that, do you believe that the will… they will affect, in a good way, all talks in Syria, and what’s the side of Iran in the talks about Syria and coming period?  This is my first question.  My second question is about this Mission Representative of Syria, that coming… the next one will be representative for the United Nations only or the United Nation and Arab League, and you talked to Arab League about this?  Thank you.


Spokesman:  On your second part, I think the Secretary-General spoke about this yesterday.  We are looking at all aspects of the UN’s support for the political dialogue and for the peace in Syria.  So, a big part of that is our cooperation with the Arab League, but I think we have to and the contacts between the UN and the Arab Leagues are frequent and they are deep and obviously especially on Syria.  As to the exact title and formula for the next envoy, I think we’ll have to see when that happens, and obviously, it’s part of the deep discussions that are happening here.


On your other question, if I understood it properly, the Secretary-General has often said that Iran has a role to play in the political discussions in… revolving around Syria.  I don’t have any specific comment on the meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but obviously, dialogue between countries is always a positive.  Nizar?


Question:  Regarding the flooding of Iraq by the terrorists groups, is that concerned as a crime against humanity in a way, and also deprivation of water to cities, whole cities with 100,000 or more?


Spokesman:  You know, it’s clearly… these are clearly violations of international humanitarian laws.  The withholding of food or water or the misuse of water to deliberately flood neighbourhoods, and I think that’s why the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq has called, not only on the Government, but also community leaders and tribal leaders to work together to reinforce legitimate control over the flow of the river.


Question:  Did you receive any letter from the Syrians regarding the denial of water to Aleppo, now, over two weeks?


Spokesman:  I will check.  I will check if we received the letter. Yes?  Oh, sorry, Mr. Abbadi, you are next.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Going back to Ambassador [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s resignations, it seems that he has terminated his mission for three main reasons:  One, that the parties have not been able to make concession; two, that those who have influence on the parties have not exerted enough pressure on those parties; and three, that the forthcoming elections… June elections… presidential elections will not make it easy for the two parties to negotiate.  In fact, it may be… that the opposition will not want to negotiate with the [Bashar al-]Assad party.  Does the Secretary-General share these three reasons?


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General expressed his opinion pretty clearly yesterday and his frustration; he is disappointed as to where we are on the process.  He laid them out here in front of you.  It is clear that, you know, we would be doing some soul-searching as to how we can now best help this process along and that Member States, those who are directly involved, those who have… who can have an influence should also use this time to figure out how they can actually best support a political peace in Syria and bring an end to the suffering of the civilians.  Yes, sir?  Matthew, I’ll get you on the second round, don’t worry.


Question:  On the Republic of Sudan, there’s growing attention this week to the case of Mrs. Meriam Yahia.  She is a pregnant woman imprisoned currently along with her two-year-old for having converted to Christianity and she reportedly faces execution if she does not convert back to Islam by tomorrow.  Given that the, you know, [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and Freedom of Religion, Freedom to Convert, has there been any UN outreach to Khartoum on this?


Spokesman:  Let me check and see what, specifically, we may have done on this one.  [He later informed the correspondent that the case of Ms. Yahia appears to be a clear violation of freedom of religion — article 18 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.]  Silviane?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the presidential deadlock in Lebanon, is the UN exerting any pressure to break the deadlock, please?


Spokesman:  I don’t have anything from our coordinator’s office on that today.  Matthew?


Question:  I wanted to ask you about drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).  I know that they’ve been used in the eastern Congo, I was told here, I think on 5 May, that approvals will be needed for them to be used in Central African Republic, as Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous was talking about or elsewhere.  But now, I’ve found this solicitation that basically… that the procurement division solicited drones for the deployment in northern Mali and any other UN peacekeeping mission, is what it says.  So, I wanted to know, why, if approvals are needed, have they been sought or obtained and if now, why is the procurement division procuring drones for Mali?


Spokesman:  That’s a good question.  I will find out.  Nizar?


Question:  How does the Secretary-General feel that war criminal and one who participated in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila is a presidential candidate for presidency in Lebanon?  I mean Samir Geagea; he was convict, he killed the prime minister, he was a warlord and a war criminal.  How does the Secretary-General feel about a candidate like that?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment on that question.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  It’s obvious that the forthcoming visit of the Secretary-General to China is an important one.  What delegation is accompanying him?


Spokesman:  As I said, the trip will focus on the issues of climate change and the delegation will reflect that focus. Matthew?


Question:  Yes, I wanted to… because I guess the [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] from Burundi is not going to be here to do a stakeout, I wanted to ask you, his speech or presentation to the Council didn’t seem to mention directly this 3 April cable about the arming of the CNDD (Council for Democracy and Development) youth wing.  And definitely didn’t mention the persona non grata expulsion of the [Department of Safety and Security] Chief of Security there.  So, I wanted to know, has that Chief of Security been able to be returned to the country?  And what’s being done by the UN in terms of investigating the reported distribution of weapons to this youth wing?


Spokesman:  No, I think, as I told you when he was declared persona non grata, he was not in the country, so he has not returned to the country.  And I think if you read Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga’s speech, he does talk about the issue of armed groups and our position remains the same — is that it is something for the Government to investigate and we stand ready to help them.


Question:  And has that been done?  Has there been any report back by the Government…?


Spokesman:  Nothing that I’m aware of.  Thank you all and we’ll leave you in the hands of the piracy people.


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