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

26 April 2013

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

26 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.  Apologies for the slight delay.

**Syria

I have just come from a meeting with the Secretary-General.  He has asked the head of the Syrian chemical weapons investigation team, Åke Sellström, to visit New York for consultations on Monday.  The Secretary-General may speak to reporters also on Monday.

We remain in close contact with the Syrian authorities, most recently through another letter from Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, yesterday urging the Syrian Government to grant unconditional and unfettered access to the mission. 

The Secretary-General urges the Syrian Government to respond swiftly and favourably so that this mission can carry out its work in Syria.  It is precisely because of such serious allegations about possible chemical weapons use that the mission must be allowed immediate and unfettered access.

**Syria — Refugees

A report by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has found that the Syria refugee crisis is increasingly straining health services in surrounding countries.  Meanwhile, refugees are themselves facing increasing difficulties in getting access to the quality treatment they need, particularly those who have chronic and other costly health conditions.

The refugee agency says there are now more than 1.4 million refugees around the region so far.  They suffer from problems in having access to quality health care, particularly for people living outside of camps.  Also, the increasing numbers of people needing medical help is straining existing health services in the affected countries where they live.

The refugee agency is continuing, with its partners, to provide medical care for refugees in the camps in Jordan and Iraq.  But for those refugees who live outside of camps, often in urban settings, the situation is more difficult.  And there are more details on this on the website of the refugee agency.

**Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, called for restraint and serious dialogue following the recent clashes that killed and wounded hundreds across Iraq.  He expressed his fear that the country could head towards the unknown if decisive measures are not taken immediately and effectively to stop the spiral of violence from unfolding further.

He appealed to the Iraqi Government to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the Hawija incidents, in which clashes erupted between demonstrators and the Iraqi Security Forces.  He also reiterates his call for the release of the prisoners detained in the aftermath of that crackdown.

**Yemen

In Yemen, the UN refugee agency has recorded the arrival of more than 30,000 refugees and migrants so far this year.  Most are Ethiopian nationals, with the rest coming from Somalia and a small number from other African countries.  Since 2006, when the refugee agency began gathering data, close to half a million people have arrived in Yemen by taking the perilous boat journey from the Horn of Africa.

Many of the new arrivals are abducted or abandoned at the coast.  They make their way, generally by foot, to Haradh district in the north, where they often find they are unable to continue on to Saudi Arabia.  Many suffer from hunger and exposure.  There is more information on the UN refugee agency’s website.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Bangkok this weekend to participate in the sixty-ninth session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP.  He will chair the Meeting of the Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM), which was established to improve coordination among the work programmes of United Nations entities regionally.  He will also participate in a partnership meeting involving the UN and ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

During his visit, he will hold bilateral meetings with the Thai Government as well as Heads of State and high-level government officials from Asia and the Pacific.  He will also make two field visits to the Klong Bang Bua urban resettlement project in Bangkok and to the city of Ayutthaya, which is a UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] World Heritage Site.  He will also hold a town hall meeting with UN staff. 

And then on 1 May, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Singapore at the invitation of the Government and will hold bilateral meetings with senior Singapore Government officials.  He will tour the NEWater visitor centre to view firsthand innovative technologies for reclaiming water.  He will also give a public lecture at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.  And he will return to New York on 4 May.

**Chad

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said today that the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated nearly $5 million to UN agencies and partners to address the humanitarian emergency in Chad.

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Chad, Thomas Gurtner, said that this money comes at a time when humanitarian agencies face a significant lack of funding, and that it will meet, among others, the urgent needs of more than 30,000 Sudanese and Central African Republic refugees and more than 19,000 Chadians returnees from Sudan.  The money will be allocated to the UN refugee agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

**Myanmar

And the Central Emergency Response Fund has provided $5 million in additional funding to provide assistance to some 69,000 people uprooted by the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.  This brings the total amount allocated by the Fund to the humanitarian situation in Rakhine since June of last year to $15 million.  The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar said that, thanks to the Fund’s immediate support, aid agencies are able to respond decisively to provide urgent relief. But he cautioned that additional funding is still needed to meet all of the needs.  And there is more available on this online.

**Chernobyl

In a statement we issued earlier today, the Secretary-General marked 27 years after the Chernobyl tragedy, reiterating the commitment of the UN system to stand by those affected by the disaster and to work for greater nuclear safety and sustainable energy worldwide.

He honoured the emergency workers who risked their lives in responding to the accident, the more than 330,000 people uprooted from their homes and the millions of people living in contaminated areas who have long been traumatized by lingering fears about their health and livelihoods.  The Secretary-General said the countless women, men and children affected by radioactive contamination must never be forgotten.  His full message is available online and in my office, in English and in Russian.

**Bangladesh

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries caused by the collapse of a garment factory on the outskirts of the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, earlier this week.  In a letter to the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, the Secretary-General has expressed his deepest sympathies to those who have lost loved ones or have been otherwise affected by this tragedy. 

**South Sudan

We were asked yesterday about the situation in South Sudan.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, travelled today to Lakes State, where she met with the new Governor and the State Council of Ministers.  While the security situation has improved recently, the Special Representative raised several issues with the new Governor, including governance issues, the rule of law and the media.  The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is not aware of any direct threat against individual journalists in Lakes State, though concerns regarding the issue were raised with the authorities.

**Bangladesh Statement

And I have a formal statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bangladesh, as I was mentioning just now.  The Secretary-General has already written to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, but we also have a statement which says that the Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries caused by the collapse of a garment factory in the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, earlier this week.

He extends his sincere condolences to the Government and people of Bangladesh.  He expresses his deepest sympathies to those who have lost loved ones or have been otherwise affected by this tragedy.  The United Nations stands ready to provide any assistance that may be needed.

And that’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, Pam?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There was a follow-up letter apparently by the British to the SG about the use of chemical weapons, after the first British/France letter.  Has that been shared with the other members of the Security Council and will that be made public in any way?  Or could you characterize what evidence is in that letter?

Spokesperson:  I think the answer to virtually all of those questions is probably no.  And so… but we are not going to characterize the contents of any letters that we have received where there is information regarding this mission that the Secretary-General has established, and particularly when it comes from a Member State.  You would have to speak to the Member States concerned to see if they wish to provide information from the letters that have been sent to the Secretary-General.

Question:  And has that been shared with other members of the P5 [five permanent members] or the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that that will have been done by the Secretary-General.

Question:  All right.  And a little follow-up, which is:  can you give some insight as to why Angela Kane added Homs to the investigation?

Spokesperson:  I think this was not a question of Angela Kane adding something.  There have been a number of requests from three Member States, in writing, and after those requests for an investigation from those three Member States was received, then the United Nations, through Ms. Kane’s office, asked for further information — evidence, if you like — but further information to be able to work on.  And so it was in that context that more information has been gathered.  One of the locations that was mentioned in one of the requests, at least, was also for Homs and not simply for Aleppo.  And that’s how that was in the request for access from the Office for Disarmament Affairs to the Syrian authorities.  And just to be very clear, that what we’ve said, and the Secretary-General has said it quite a few times publicly now, is that there needs to be access, unconditional access and unfettered access.  Wherever there are allegations of the use of chemical weapons, then this mission needs to be able to investigate that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  James, and then Evelyn, yes?

Question:  More on chemical weapons.  Can you confirm that a member of the UN chemical weapons investigation team travelled to the UK and examined physical evidence there?  And my second question, you are not getting any access from the Syrians, these five weeks on; is the Secretary-General minded, if this continues, to abandon the investigation or investigate from afar?

Spokesperson:  Well, you give the impression that since this mission team was established, that they haven’t been doing anything, and that’s far from the truth; they have been quite a lot precisely because information has been provided and information is available without actually visiting Syria.  That is not enough.  You need to be able to go into Syria to be able to do that investigation properly, on site.  But in the meantime, certainly, the members of that team have been collating and analysing the evidence and information that is available to date from outside.  And that’s, I think, where we are.  And this is precisely because the team has been gathering information, and that’s available off site, and analysing it, that we need to move to the next step, which should have been there right at the beginning, which is access to the country.  And in the meantime, Mr. Sellström’s team will continue with these off-site activities and that may include possible visits to relevant capitals.

Question:  And they have been to the UK already; one member of the team?

Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.  Okay?

Question:  Can you confirm that or not?

Spokesperson:  No, I can’t.  Not sitting here, no.  Yes?

Question:  Five weeks later, isn’t that enough time to clean up whatever sarin might have been spilled around?  And secondly, has any… well, go ahead if you answer that, I have a follow-up.

Spokesperson:  No, come, come.  Go on.

Question:  Yeah, had… is anyone talking to the Russians among the UN, since they are the only big Power left who has any influence on the Syrians?

Spokesperson:  I think senior advisers are speaking to all manner of Member States inside and outside of the Security Council.  Of course, there is the concern about the degradation of possible evidence, of course; and that’s why we have repeatedly said that we need swift access and unfettered access to be able to have the experts go in and do the job that they need to do.  Everybody knows that there is that risk that the evidence can deteriorate over time when you are talking about possible chemical weapons.  I’ll come to you in just one second, Andrea, let’s just… yes?

Question:  Sure, I have some other questions, but on Syria, I wanted to… yesterday, I had asked you about the… the New Zealand peacekeepers, or… or UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] personnel.  Can you confirm that they may… there are now more reports that they were… they have been either accommodated and… and moved to Israel or not?  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, they are not UNDOF.  They belong to UNTSO, which is the Truce Supervision Organization, and there is a small number of New Zealand military observers.  I am trying to ascertain their precise location at this point.  They do operate inside the area of responsibility of UNDOF, but they are from a separate team.  So I am hoping to have a little bit more detail, but once I get it, I will let you have it.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that four military observers from New Zealand are currently serving in Observer Group Golan.]

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is supposed to meet the UN Secretary-General today; do you have a readout or any update?

Spokesperson:  Well, I understand that President Sarkozy is indeed in town.  And he asked to see the Secretary-General today.  And I understand that that meeting will take place; after all, the Secretary-General did work quite closely with President Sarkozy when he was in office.  So yes, I can confirm a meeting will take place today.  And I don’t have any details on what, after all, is going to be a private meeting.  And I doubt that I will also have details afterwards.  Alright?

Question:  A follow up?  Just because, since I… since I asked yesterday, and I am looking at today’s schedule and it’s not on.  Is there some… are meetings like this not put on the schedule of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  There is one word I did mention in this — “private” — and you asked yesterday whether President Sarkozy was going to be meeting the Secretary-General that day, and that was not the case.  He is meeting him today.  And as I say, it is a private meeting at the request of President Sarkozy.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  On Mali, after the resolution has been voted, are we going to have a Special Representative soon, and any details on who that would be?

Spokesperson:  Well, typically, when we have an announcement, we will make it.  I don’t have that yet.  It is also obvious that there needs to be some movement on that as the planning moves into higher gear for the peacekeeping operation and that whole multidimensional aspect to the Mission is going to be in place.  So the short answer is:  I don’t have anything yet.  As soon as I do, I will let you have it, okay.  Alright, yes?

Question:  I want to ask about DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Madagascar, more if it’s possible, but on the DRC, it’s reported that…

Spokesperson:  I think we’re going to stop with Madagascar, okay?

Question:  Okay, sure.  It’s reported that M23 has… has… indicates that they… that their delegation has left Kampala and it is unclear if the talks were continuing.  So I wanted to know:  what’s the UN’s role been in those talks?  Some people are saying, with intervention brigade going, the Government is… sees no need to negotiate with them.  What’s… since I know Susana Malcorra had gone there at one point, is it the UN’s understanding that those talks will continue?  And I also wanted to ask about this force commander, Carlos Alberto dos Santos de Cruz.  If you just could… how… how are force commanders selected?  I know with SRSGs [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General] there is a whole interview and…

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s just stop it right there, because, no force commander has been appointed yet.

Question:  He gave an interview on BBC and said he is the force commander.

Spokesperson:  Well, with respect, appointments are announced here, not on the BBC.

Question:  But how are they selected?  Is that… is that just a DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] thing or is it… is it… do you… do you… what’s the selection process for a force commander?

Spokesperson:  Force commanders are the appointment of the Secretary-General, and when appointments are made, they are announced.  And that is a process of close consultation with any number of Member States who may be involved in that selection.  With regard to the first question about the M23, I will check.  I don’t have an answer for that.   Madagascar, last question?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about the… the… the… the… Lalao Ravalomanana, the wife of the Marc Ravalomanana, returned to the country in March, apparently she was asked to… to commit to the Government of [Andry] Rajoelina that she wouldn’t make any political statements as a condition of returning and visiting her ailing mother.  Now, she is announcing that she is going to run for President, so a lot of people saying, since the UN has had some involvement in this, what did you think… what did the UN think of this… this condition on her return, and do they believe that she has an absolute right to make political statements and to run for office or… or… or… what’s their position on this growing crisis as some call it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check.  I don’t think we have any immediate position on that, but I’ll certainly check for you, Matthew.  Thank you very much. Have a good weekend.

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