Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 March 2013

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 March 2013
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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, and welcome to the briefing.  Apologies for the slight delay.


**Noon Briefing Guest


We have on the phone line from the region, I believe from Thailand, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar.  And he has just wrapped up a visit to the country, where he met with the President and other officials.  And we thought it would be useful for Mr. Nambiar to give you a very brief overview, not least because it is extremely late or early where Mr. Nambiar is, and we are very grateful that you’ve come on the line here into the briefing today, Mr. Nambiar.


So could we ask you to provide a brief overview, and then perhaps take a couple of questions?  Over to you, Mr. Nambiar.


[Press conference by Mr. Nambiar issued separately.]


And just to add also that the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has also voiced his concern about this situation in Meikhtila.  Mr. Adama Dieng’s full statement as well as some more information on Mr. Nambiar’s latest visit can be found online and in my office.


Just to come back to some other items before we move to questions.


**Fact-finding Mission


The Secretary-General has appointed Professor Ǻke Sellström of Sweden to head the UN fact-finding mission which will investigate allegations of the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.


Mr. Sellström is currently a project manager at a research institute in Sweden.  The institute is called the European Center for Advanced Studies of Societal Security and Vulnerability, in particular major incidents with Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Substances.


He is an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security.  He has taught at universities in the United States and served as Director at the Swedish Defence and Security Research Institute (FOI).


Mr. Sellström served as Chief Inspector with UNSCOM, and as Senior Adviser to the Chairmen of UNSCOM and UNMOVIC for the disarmament of Iraq — UNSCOM being the UN Special Commission and UNMOVIC the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.


** Syria


The UN refugee agency has appealed to all parties to ensure safe passage for convoys delivering humanitarian aid to civilians inside Syria.  Several convoys have had to be cancelled or delayed recently, and this is depriving many Syrians of vitally needed help.


According to the latest estimates, at least 3.6 million people are internally displaced in Syria.  The refugee agency is working with the Government and non-government parties to see that aid gets through, but for now assistance is only reaching a fraction of those in need.


The agency’s goal is to deliver relief items to at least 1 million people by June of this year, and it hopes to reach many more people in the months after that.  And as of 20 March, it had delivered relief items to more than 437,000 people in some of the most affected provinces.  The aid includes bedding, shelter, household items and clothes.


**League of Arab States


In a message sent to the League of Arab States Summit in Doha, the Secretary-General says that we must inject urgency towards reaching a political solution while there is still time to prevent Syria's destruction.  The goal is difficult, but clear:  an end to violence; a clean break with the past; and a transition to a new Syria in which the rights of all communities are protected and the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians for freedom, dignity and justice are met.


On Yemen, he says that the path of peaceful dialogue has been chosen with the National Dialogue Conference, which is the most inclusive and participatory process in the history of the country.  And the Secretary-General adds that we are entering a critical period with regards to the Palestinian question.  This message is available in English and in Arabic.  Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is attending that Summit meeting in Doha.


**Security Council


The Security Council received a briefing in consultations this morning on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous.  He provided an update on recent events in the peacekeeping force’s area of operations.  And as you know, Mr. Ladsous spoke to reporters at the stakeout after those consultations.


The Council began its work today by unanimously adopting a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) by one year, until the end of March 2014.


** Central African Republic


As you may have seen, the members of the Security Council heard yesterday a report by Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, an Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on the situation in the Central African Republic.


In a press statement released after that meeting, the members of the Security Council strongly condemned the recent attacks and the seizure of power by force in the Central African Republic on 24 March by the Seleka coalition, as well as the ensuing violence and looting.


The members of the Council called on all parties to refrain from any acts of violence against civilians, including foreign communities, to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access consistent with international law, and to fully respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law.


Regarding the situation of UN personnel in the Central African Republic, the United Nations has temporarily relocated non-essential staff from the Central African Republic to Yaoundé, Cameroon.  A total of 40 staff members considered critical personnel will remain to continue United Nations operations in the country.


And also on the Central African Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that many people injured by the recent fighting there have been brought to hospitals around Bangui.  Medical centres are finding it difficult to cope with the influx, and power cuts are affecting their ability to provide care.  The United Nations has helped to deliver medicine to keep minimal medical services up and running, but more is needed.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that widespread looting is apparently continuing, including of one paediatric hospital.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme and other humanitarian staff in Bangui are preparing to reassess needs and start delivering urgent assistance as soon as security allows.


**Arms Trade Treaty


As you know, the Final Conference on an Arms Trade Treaty has entered its second and final week.  On Thursday, the treaty will need to be agreed upon by consensus.  The Secretary-General has called the absence of a global instrument dealing with conventional weapons “a disgrace”.  He has consistently said that a strong and robust arms trade treaty will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence.


The negotiations now stand at a critical juncture.  There are a range of views on the scope of the treaty, in particular if ammunition should be fully part of that; and the criteria which arms exporting States will need to use to determine if a particular arms export is warranted.


The Secretary-General has full confidence in the very skilful leadership of Ambassador [Peter] Woolcott of Australia to guide the Final Conference to a substantive outcome.  And he calls upon Member States to show a shared determination to close the gaps in the poorly regulated international arms trade by agreeing to a set of legally binding global standards that will make a difference.  This is long overdue, he has said, so we all expect a willingness to compromise on all sides.  The Secretary-General has been active in encouraging Member States to reach an agreement, and he has been reaching out to some of the key players in this regard.


**Secretary-General on Bangladesh


The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a General Assembly meeting paying tribute to the memory of Zillur Rahman, the late President of Bangladesh, and his full remarks are available online.


**Press Conferences


Just a reminder that at 5 p.m. this afternoon, there will be a press conference here by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, on behalf of Community of the Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR); and the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Peru, on behalf of the Union of the South American Nations (UNASUR).


And then following that press conference, at 5:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations.


Tomorrow at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference on the United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum.  The theme is “Shaping tomorrow’s innovators:  Leveraging science, technology, innovation and culture for today’s youth”.


**Ousted President


I was asked yesterday about President [François] Bozizé of the Central African Republic.  The UN refugee agency says that it was not, and is not, engaged in any aspect of the situation of Mr. Bozizé.  The agency says it has not taken part in any movements in which Mr. Bozizé may have been involved, now or before.


Questions, please.  Yes, Sean?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just on President Bozizé, the UN has called for the full implementation of the Libreville agreements, and [inaudible], that he was, he was the signatory to those agreements and was to, was to remain in power until 2016.  What is the UN’s position on the future of President Bozizé in the CAR?


Spokesperson:  I don’t really have any further comments, except to say what you’ve just reiterated that the Secretary-General has condemned the unconstitutional seizure of power, and has reiterated that the Libreville agreements remain the most viable framework to ensure durable peace and stability in the country.  We all know that things have moved on the ground, and that also the developments are still fraught and fluid.  So we need to monitor this.  I know that my colleagues from the mission there continue to monitor it.  And beyond that, the United Nations remains in touch with regional players as we continue to monitor this as it unfolds.  Yes, Ali, and then Miki?


Question:  Thank you, thank you, Martin.  Now that the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Sellström as head of this mission to Syria, do we know what will be the mandate, the exact mandate, of this mission?  When is it going to go to Syria, and what is the scope, in fact, of this mission since the UK and France have asked for, to look into other incidents?  What is the decision of the Secretary-General on this issue?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has received a reply from the Syrian Government.  That happened yesterday.  And that provided additional information on the allegation that the Syrian Government has asked to be investigated.  I can tell you that the UK Government has also provided additional information.


The terms of reference for the mission are being finalized, and that is, as I mentioned yesterday, in consultation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO).


One thing to stress is that, while those terms of reference are being finalized, work is already well under way so that the mission can be dispatched quickly.  But I don’t yet have a time frame for precisely when that will happen, of course.  Yes, Talal?


Correspondent:  The same question.


Spokesperson:  Uh, Miki, and then Talal, I beg your pardon.


Question:  Same issue, but you wouldn’t know the size of the team and when they are going in yet?


Spokesperson:  As I just said, the terms of reference are still being finalized, and that includes the composition of the team.  As we have said and stressed, this is a technical mission, so it will include technical experts who would be required to be able to collect samples, for example, of a biomedical nature or of an environmental kind.  That work is still going on in consultation with the OPCW and with the World Health Organization.  Yes, Talal?


Question:  Do we understand from your answer that you have not received the letter for more information from France, just the United Kingdom?  Or was the United Kingdom letter representing both countries in this case?  That’s one question.


Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, this was a letter from the UK Government.


Question:  The second point I would like to come to, we heard the President of the Security Council for this month, Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin, yesterday saying, and I am quoting him, “We are somewhat perplexed that at this moment the mandate for the mission, the Secretariat is reluctant to include in the mandate identification on who used the chemical weapons, which should be the task of this group.”  Now, what he is saying, there is a reluctance within the Secretariat to include in the mandate of the inquiry team finding out who is respo… who is the culprit, to use not only the fact that weapons of ma… chemical weapons have been used, but who used them.  Can you speak to that reluctance since you represent the Secretary-General, if such reluctance exists, as the President of the Council said, and why is that?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I heard, the President of the Council also spoke at the stakeout today, and not just yesterday.  This is a technical mission.  It is not a criminal investigation, it’s a technical mission.  And the guidelines for that are set out in quite some detail, and available for public scrutiny online — I would encourage you to look at them — in a number of annexes that relate to the overall framework which is, as we have said before, guided by a General Assembly resolution and reaffirmed by a Security Council resolution.  The Secretary-General, as I mentioned in a note that was sent out over the weekend, said that the provision of the information from the Syrian, French and UK Governments would be crucial in defining the terms of reference for the mission and the scope of its work with a view to verifying any alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.  So, verifying any alleged use of chemical weapons.  And also, just to address an earlier point, again, as I mentioned yesterday, the initial focus of the investigation will be an incident involving the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Kfar Dael region in Khan Al-Asal area in Aleppo Governorate.


Question:  I understand that, but what you are saying to me is the mission, the main mission of the team, is to find out whether chemical weapons use or not.  But are you really confirming now what the Ambassador of Russia has said that it is, exclude, since you said that it is not a criminal investigation, it will exclude finding out the party that perpetrated such an attack?


Spokesperson:  It is a technical mission; it is not aimed at…


Correspondent:  No, [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  If you’ll let me finish my sentence, it is a technical mission which is aimed at ascertaining whether chemical weapons were used, and not by whom.  Yes?  Sorry, I need to come up here first and then I am coming back to you, Ali. Yes?


Question:  My question is on the situation in Egypt.  Today President [Mohamed] Morsy ordered, issued a warrant of arrest for many opposition parties and leaders in Egypt, and closing eight TV channels.  There is any comment from the Secretary-General regarding the situation and political process in Egypt?


Spokesperson:  We are monitoring the situation; I don’t have anything for you at the moment on that.  Yes, I — Masood has been waiting patiently, and then I am coming back to you, and I know you are waiting patiently as well.  And I know Matthew is as well.  So, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you.


Question:  Yes, I am going to ask you a question about this wave of rapes and attacks on women in India.  I mean, has the Secretary-General spoken to anybody about this misogynist plague afflicting India?  Only yesterday, a South Korean girl was raped, and just before that a Swiss girl was raped and so on and on and on.


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has spoken out about the need to deal with sexual violence against women.  He has been extremely outspoken about that in any context, whether it is in India or elsewhere.  If I have anything more specific on the most recent developments, I will let you know.  Yes, Ali, and then I am coming to you, Matthew.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Again on Syria, today in the Arab League Summit, the Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib sat on the Syria seat in that Summit, and he said that he wants also to take over the seat at the United Nations; seat of Syria at the United Nations.  Is there any reaction from the United Nations in this regard?


Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously following developments at the League of Arab States Summit, not least because Mr. Feltman is there to represent the Secretary-General.  With regard to membership or recognition, you know very well that that is a matter for member States, and not for the Secretary-General.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask you about Nepal, Palestine and then again something in-house.  In Nepal there is a… there is a… there is a… beginning a two-week training; it is described as a training for UN peacekeeping missions of over 800 troops from 23 countries.  And it, what gave, one, I wanted to know what the UN’s involvement in it is since every article I have seen about it describes it as preparation for UN peacekeeping missions, but inevitably because, because of the… the… the outstanding allegation that it was Nep, Nepalese peacekeepers who inadvertently brought cholera to Haiti for not being screened, from, coming from a country in which cholera was prevalent at the time, is there any, it seems, what can you say to those who would say bringing twen, peacekeeper, prospective peacekeepers from 23 countries to Nepal might not be a good idea absent some safeguards on DPKO’s (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) part on either screening or ensuring that what took place in Haiti as is, as is widely alleged doesn’t take place elsewhere.  What’s your response?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check with DPKO.


Question:  On Palestine, could I ask, there is a memo — you may have seen this one — it’s a… it was a memo by Patricia O’Brien, which I am — I am not sure if she is still OLA, or she is gone to Geneva as Ireland’s Ambassador, I know she was nominated for that — but there is an… a memo written by her…


Spokesperson:  Just to interrupt you…


Correspondent:  Please.  Yeah.


Spokesperson:  Ms. O’Brien is the Legal Counsel of the United Nations.


Question:  Even better, then… then… then we can… then… then… then let’s get it on because this memo is 21 December 2012 and it involves the status of… of Palestine and its right to participate in conferences such as the ATT (arms trade treaty), and it is… it goes… it seems, actually, I think the Palestinian… Palestine Mission is, likes the memo, it seems to say they have many rights that are not yet accorded to them.  But what I wanted to ask you about is that the memo says right at the top that it is not for distribution to Member States.  And so the question has arisen, if it was just to Ban Ki-moon it might be, you know, it is a personal legal advice, but it seems to be directed to at least two dozen UN officials and so, some have asked, what is, who owns the UN, i.e., if it is a UN legal position, how can it say right on it, don’t give it to Member States?  Can… can that… can you explain that?


Spokesperson:  The answer to that is simple, Matthew, we don’t comment on documents that may or may not have been leaked.  Next question?


Question:  Okay.  All right, this is… this is… this is… thanks a lot, this is the… this is the… the, uh, I want to do this one right, if, if you can, and I don’t want to waste your time.  I asked you yesterday, you’d asked me to ask Stéphane [Dujarric] about this entry without consent or notice into… into… into the Inner City Press office on Monday.  His answer now acknowledges that they should not have entered the Inner City Press portion of the office without providing notice.  But they did; fine.  He’s said that the photographs taken, he said our pho… these are not our photographs that were given to Buzzfeed. I think, I don’t know if that means DPI (Department of Public Information) or all of the UN individuals who went in.  Pam Falk of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) has said they were not her photographs; she did take photographs, but has made a legal threat not to write about that they may be her photographs.  So I really, I just want very simple answers.  Since the UN acknowledges that the entry was now improper, what individuals were allowed to enter that portion of the office, which of them took photographs and to where did they give those photographs since DPI is the one that allowed them to enter and acknowledges that it was wrong?  Just, I want to close this one off.


Spokesperson:  I know that you wrote to the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information and Communications yesterday, and that you received a reply from Stéphane Dujarric, I don’t have anything to add to that.


Question:  Do you see why, I just wanted to, one follow-up on that, do you see why the reply, my question is he is saying it is not the UN’s photographs, so inevitably that makes me believe the only person I am aware that took photographs was Pamela Falk of UNCA, but she has made a legal threat that if I write that, I guess CBC News will sue.  So I am asking you, it seems like, it’s just, it’s simple to clean it up; I didn’t take the photograph, the photographs were taken that day, clearly in an area that DPI invited individuals into.  So I was limited to one question — who did they invite in?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to add beyond what I have already said.  Yes?


Question:  Maybe I missed it, somebody asked; is there any update on the timetable when this mission, technical mission, will go to Syria?


Spokesperson:  You didn’t miss it, because I didn’t say that the timetable has been determined, let alone announced at this point.  What I did say was that work is well under way so that the mission can be dispatched quickly.  And that is certainly the case.  There is a lot of work going on, in consultation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with the World Health Organization.  They have existing rosters of experts who can be mobilized extremely quickly.  But of course, what you need in place are the terms of reference so that those people who are going in will know precisely what it is they are intended to carry out.  That’s where we are.  Last question.


Question:  [inaudible] CAR’s suspension by the African Union?


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a matter for the African Union.  I would simply reiterate, and I am not going to, what the statement said the other day, okay?  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.