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

16 April 2013

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

16 April 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.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Iran

You will all be aware that an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude occurred in the moderately populated region of Sistan va Baluchestan in Iran earlier today.  There are reports of deaths and injuries, both in Iran and across the border in Pakistan. 

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is in contact with the authorities in Iran and Pakistan and is monitoring the situation and stands ready to assist upon request.  The earthquake has struck less than a week after a 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit near Bushehr, on Iran's Persian Gulf coast.  At least 37 people died in that earthquake.  We will aim to provide more information on this latest earthquake as and when we can.

**Central African Republic

Earlier today, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic.

The Secretary-General is alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country.  He strongly condemns the Séléka movement’s acts of violence against the civilian population, and urges the de facto authorities to restore law and order throughout the country and to ensure the protection of civilians.

The Secretary-General further calls on the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the African Union to take immediate and urgent measures to address the gravity of the security situation, with the assistance of the international community.

Also, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed alarm today about continuing reports of widespread human rights violations in the Central African Republic.

And the UN refugee agency said today that fighting this past weekend in Bangui resulted in further outflows of refugees into surrounding countries.  There are now more than 30,000 Central African Republic refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about 1,000 new refugees in Cameroon, and nearly 7,000 in Chad.

**Côte d’Ivoire

The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, briefed the Security Council on Côte d’Ivoire this morning, saying that the country still faces challenges and threats, and that the presence of the UN mission remains necessary.

Mr. Mulet said that there is overall progress but the recent instability in the western part of the country, along the border with Liberia, shows that the security situation remains fragile.

Mr. Mulet said that the country continues to face significant threats to peace and security, including the continued existence of networks affiliated with the former regime aimed at destabilizing the Government; the reported presence of mercenaries, former combatants and other armed elements along the border with Liberia; and the uncontrolled circulation of weapons.  The full remarks are available in our office, which, I am sure you now know, is located on the 2nd floor of the Secretariat Building.

**Syria

The leaders of the five main UN humanitarian agencies have issued a joint statement, in which they appeal to political leaders involved to meet their responsibility to the people of Syria and to the future of the region.  They say that this comes following more than two years of conflict and more than 70,000 deaths, including thousands of children.

They say that UN agencies and their humanitarian partners have been doing all that they can.  They have helped shelter more than a million refugees, provided access to food and other basic necessities for millions displaced by the conflict, given access to water and sanitation to more than 5.5 million affected people in Syria and in neighbouring countries, and they have also provided basic health services for millions of Syrians.  But it has not nearly been enough.  The agencies are precariously close, perhaps within weeks, to suspending some humanitarian support. The full statement is online and it is also available in our office.

**Yemen

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen has expressed alarm about the worsening plight of thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa who are stranded in northern Yemen, and he said that situation needs urgent attention.

The Humanitarian Coordinator, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said that many migrants have suffered gross physical abuse and severe economic and sexual exploitation.  Many of them, including children, are stranded under extremely difficult circumstances.  Their plight must be urgently addressed.  And we have a press release with more details on that.

**Darfur

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Ali Al-Za’tari, expressed his serious concern today about the safety and well-being of civilians caught up in fighting between Government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army Mini Minawi faction in Eastern Darfur State.

Mr. Al-Za’tari called for immediate access to provide relief to those who need it.  He also urged Government forces and the faction to uphold their humanitarian responsibilities to protect civilians.

Also on Darfur, representatives of the Government of Sudan, the African Union and the United Nations met yesterday in Addis Ababa.  Their talks focused on the increase in the number of security incidents in Darfur and access for peacekeepers from the joint African Union-United Nations mission to the areas most affected by conflict.  There is more information on this online.

**Mali

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it is working with partner organizations to reach families in northern Mali whose access to food has been reduced by conflict and is expected to worsen with the lean season, which is from April to June.  The World Food Programme said that it is stepping up the transport of food by road and boat, and that it recently launched a logistics operation to bring in food from Niger.

The UN agency plans to support more than half a million people in Mali each month, including about 360,000 in the north.  It also plans to assist 163,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

**Press Conferences

Following this briefing, there will be a press conference at 12:30 p.m. here by Vuk Jeremić, the President of the General Assembly.

And then tomorrow at 12.30 p.m., the Secretary-General will hold a press conference here, and for that reason there won’t be a noon briefing tomorrow.

But there is today, and I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, Martin.  Nabil ElAraby, the Secretary General of the Arab League, has resigned.  How will that affect the Syrian peaceful endeavours?  Will…?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, like you, I have seen the one television report about that topic.  As and when we have more information about it, then I will let you know, but at this point we are just seeing one media outlet that is then being quoted by others.  So once, if we have anything else, of course we will let you know.  Yes, Hank?

Question:  Good day, Martin.  Thank you.  There are a number of reputable news outlets that have revealed leaks in British intelligence that say an MI-6 mission to Syria came back with soil samples that reveal the usage of chemical weapons in Syria.  Now they don’t say which side used them, and they don’t say exactly what kind of chemicals they found, and the British haven’t come up over the surface and actually admitted it, but it is a number of papers, a number of leaks.  So without asking the SG to comment, you know, on nothing that the British have said, what’s his blanket opinion of intelligence missions into places like Syria from countries that have admittedly called for the ousting of the sitting Government?

Spokesperson:  I don’t really have any comment on those reports, Hank.  As you know, the Secretary-General is focused on an investigative mission, a technical mission, which he has established, and we are hoping that that mission will be able to carry out its work in an impartial fashion as soon as possible.  

Question:  Martin, may I follow up?  Is there any news on that in particular?  Do you have… has anything changed on that since last [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  As we’ve said, we continue to be in touch with the Syrian authorities with the aim of having unfettered access as soon as possible for the team to be able to carry out the work that it needs to do.  Yes, you had a question, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  I have seen the statement by the Secretary-General following the resignation of the Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad.  Does he think that this development might delay or complicate the resumption of the peace process?

Spokesperson:  I think the point here is that there is a lot of work to be done in this area, and there was a recent visit to the region by the President of the United States, and that was followed up by the Secretary of State.  There have been other discussions elsewhere.  So it’s important that there is some momentum here.  You will have seen what the Secretary-General said; you will have seen also the remarks from Mr. Serry out of Jerusalem, and I think I would leave it at that at this point.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I have a question about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but I just want to… one follow-up on… on… on Syria.  I don’t know if you will… a… a pretty much Government-aligned newspaper there, Al-Baath, has… has come out saying why should we work with Mr. Brahimi, and… and… you know, saying as others have… have… have… have rumoured, that he might resign.  I wonder, since it’s a Government-placed newspaper, do you feel… is there… is there… would it be possible for Mr. Brahimi to… to continue if he lacked the confidence of one of the two sides he is supposed to be negotiating with, or do you have any response to this Al-Baath piece?

Spokesperson:  Short answer, no response to that, except to say that Mr. Brahimi is due here at the end of this week to brief the Security Council as the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, and he enjoys the full support of both of those organizations, and the Member States within them.

Question:  In… thanks, and I wanted to ask on… on the DRC, I… I… I have sent you this as well, but… so maybe some… I wanted to know if some… any part of this can be answered, and it has to do with earlier today, Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative, I…

Spokesperson:  Yes, I saw your e-mail…

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  …to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations…

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  …and I do understand that they will be responding to you shortly.  So I think we could move on to the next question as I think that you will be hearing from them quite shortly.

Question:  Okay, let me ask you about MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] then.  The… the… the… the… there are… there are reports that after the Secretary-General’s report came out, the… that… that Morocco has taken down its flags around the MINURSO headquarters… apparently Mr.… you know, the… the report says that the use of flags near the headquarters and the use of Moroccan licence plates on MINURSO vehicles undermines the credibility of the Mission.  One, can the UN confirm that these… that… that the flags have come down?  Two, are the licence plates going to come off?  And I guess those are the two questions, and I also wanted to know, I have asked you also… I don’t know… I don’t think I asked anyone else, whether the report, for example, on Western Sahara, and other reports, are they put online on… on… on UN documents system when they are, you know, available and legally available to be given… given out or is there some lull, and if so, what explains that lull?

Spokesperson:  On the first, on flags and licence plates, we will check with the Mission; I don’t know the answer to that at this point.  On the second, official documents are put up with no delay on the documents system.  It is as simple as that. Any other questions?

[The Spokesperson later said that further to the last report of the Secretary-General, Moroccan authorities recently removed all the flags, except one, from the perimeter of the MINURSO compound.  Discussions to find pragmatic solutions to the license plates issue are still ongoing.]

Question:  Can I ask a follow-up?

Spokesperson:  Yes, right at the back, thanks very much.  I’ll come back to you in a second.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday the Secretary-General sent a video message to the International Conference on Human Rights [inaudible], saying that there is a need to fight all discrimination against [inaudible].  Does that mean he supports all initiative of gay marriage where they take place?

Spokesperson:  He believes in universal human rights, and I wouldn’t go beyond what he said there, which is fairly clear.  Yes, Hank?  And then I am coming back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The opposition leader in Kuwait was given five years in prison yesterday for voicing opposition to the Emir.  It seems like a pretty hard hit to him.  What’s the SG’s reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  I’ve sent the report.  If I have anything for you, I’ll let you know.  I don’t have anything now.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.  I want to ask first also about CAR [Central African Republic] and Zimbabwe, but just on this procedural thing, I… I just… because I want to under… I want to understand this that the… the… the… I mean, it seems like without getting into the… the specifics of that, paper copies of some of these reports are available as much as two days before they go online, so since it seems to me that paper copies probably are a printout of the digital file, does it take the UN two days to put a digital file… I say this because, you know, as I… as I am sure your office gets a lot of inquiries, people saying, these reports are being written up, where is the report, so what explains the up to 48-hour delay between printing out a digital file and actually just putting a digital file in the UN documents system?

Spokesperson:  I think you are aware of the distinction, Matthew, and I don’t intend to go into that here.  What’s your question on the CAR?

Question:  Okay, the CAR, there is… obviously there is… in a… an… I am sorry, I got here a little bit late, maybe there was a readout on it, but there has been… there are reports of up to 20 dead in Bangui and Séléka seeking to disarm groups, and so I wanted… there is also the question of a journalist that I had sent to you… what… what’s the U… I guess, generally, what’s the UN’s presence currently in the country, and what’s the UN doing about what some people say is… as an unravelling situation, even with the… with the… with the new leader named, violence in the capital?

Spokesperson:  Well, at the very beginning of the briefing, after I mentioned the earthquake in Iran, I did provide some details from a statement on the Central African Republic which we issued a little earlier — a Secretary-General statement.  I also referred to a statement from Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and further also to something from the UN refugee agency.  So, in other words, covering the entire topic.  As to our presence there, as you will be aware, we have the Special Representative of the Secretary-General who heads up the mission there in extremely difficult circumstances.  She is in-country and working extremely hard and is — I am reliably informed — working very closely with the rest of the country team in Bangui, and also with other international players from the NGO community, to the extent that they are present.

Question:  Just one… just to sort of… to understand what the UN does there like, when… when on… over the weekend this journ… this journalist [inaudible], you know, he tweeted that he was… you know, had been taken by rebels, there is a lot of CPJ and others, many people were concerned about that.  Was the UN able to actually do anything to inquire into his… his situation or is that…?  How do [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, again, as I did say at the beginning, and the statement does say, that we are concerned about violations of human rights across the board.  And that may include this specific case, but in general, there are many violations, gross violations, of human rights of many individuals.  And certainly, those people will be held individually accountable; those people who are responsible for human rights violations there.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, many countries neighbouring Syria are not coping with the… are unable to cope with the influx of refugees coming from that country.  Jordan now is threatening to close the borders and stop that influx, inflow.  How is the United Nations dealing with this situation?  It is becoming beyond the means of all these countries.

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly that is something that is of great concern to the United Nations.  That is why the heads of those five humanitarian agencies put out what is after all a very unusual joint appeal about their concerns.  One, for the violence, which continues, the carnage that continues.  And two, for their inability to be able to respond as they would like to be able to because of a number of reasons.  One is access, two, the lack of funding, and three, the fact that the fighting continues and that there doesn’t appear to be the political will amongst those who do have influence to try to end that fighting. 

As for the flows of refugees, of course those countries immediately bordering Syria have really had to open their doors and have done so willingly and have shown great generosity, whether it is through formal refugee camps, or whether it is through the individual generosity of the families in those countries.  The United Nations, the Secretary-General has nothing but admiration for the way that those countries and individuals in those countries have responded to the plight of Syrian refugees.  The fact of the matter is that each of those countries is certainly becoming overburdened because of the numbers, because of the continuing flow, and because of the lack of funds that they need.

So it’s certainly incumbent on the international community to provide the support that is necessary to try to help to the best extent possible those people who have had to flee their homes with little more than what they have on their backs and can carry.  It is obviously an extremely difficult situation, and the fact that the heads of the five main UN humanitarian agencies have spoken out in this way, I think, highlights the urgency that they see in needing to deal with this.

Correspondent:  But these things are falling on deaf ears as it looks, and many of these countries who they pledged to donate to the crisis are reluctant to do so, whereas they are very generous when it comes to weaponizing the conflict.

Spokesperson:  Look…

Question:  Shouldn’t the United States… this United Nations, be outspoken about naming and shaming those who are weaponizing the conflict there?

Spokesperson:  Look, we’ve said all along that the further militarization of the conflict is unhelpful.  Pledges were certainly made in Kuwait City at that pledging conference.  The pledges need to turn into cash and that needs to happen as soon as possible.

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.