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

4 June 2013

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

4 June 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, everyone.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Guest Today

I am joined today by Ms. Kang Kyung-wha, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.  And Ms. Kang is here to brief you on her recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I think you have some introductory remarks, and then we can go to questions.  Welcome.

[Press conference by Ms. Kang issued separately]

**Secretary-General Appointment

I have an announcement.  The Secretary-General and African Union Chairperson Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced today the appointment of Lieutenant General Paul Ignace Mella of Tanzania as the Force Commander of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  And there is more information available online, or it will be shortly.

Lieutenant General Mella will replace Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba of Rwanda, who completed his assignment on 31 March this year.

The Secretary-General expresses his deep appreciation to Lieutenant General Nyamvumba for his dedication and invaluable service during his tenure with UNAMID.

** Syria

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry dealing with Syria says in its latest report, out today, that the conflict there has reached new levels of brutality.

The report says that allegations have been received concerning the use of chemical weapons by both parties.

However, it says conclusive findings may be reached only after testing samples taken directly from victims or the site of the alleged attacks. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Secretary-General’s investigative team, led by Professor Åke Sellström, is granted full access to Syria.

The report also says war crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily reality in Syria.  It says that a diplomatic surge is the only path to a political settlement.

**Syrian Refugees

The UN refugee agency said today that it has been seeing small numbers of refugees arriving in eastern Lebanon after escaping from the embattled Syrian town of Al-Qusayr, where heavy fighting flared up three weeks ago.

The refugees are mostly women and children, and they have told the refugee agency’s staff that Qusayr has been badly damaged and the living conditions are extremely difficult.  They said the route to Lebanon was dangerous and it was unsafe to travel with men.

The refugees describe Qusayr as a ghost town, heavily damaged and rocked by warfare.  People are hiding in bunkers or holes dug as shelters.

The refugee agency does not have access to Qusayr and the refugee accounts are hard to verify.  It says that it is imperative that people seeking a route out of Qusayr, and other unsafe locations, be allowed access to safe areas. And there is more information available on the refugee agency’s website.

** Turkey

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed its concern today about reports of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers against protestors who had initially gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the redevelopment of the historic Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Turkey.

The Human Rights Office said in Geneva that it welcomed the authorities’ call for an investigation.

The Office of the High Commissioner said that it was calling on the Government of Turkey to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is fully respected and it also urged protestors to ensure that demonstrations remain peaceful.

** Central African Republic

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated more than $7.1 million to assist some 1.1 million people in the Central African Republic.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic, Kaarina Immonen, said that this allocation will enable the humanitarian community to provide food and medical assistance, access to potable water and sanitation, support to victims of gender-based violence, waste management support and reproductive health care.

The Central African Republic has an estimated 206,000 internally displaced people and 17,000 refugees.  Nearly 50,000 Central Africans have fled, mainly to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Chad.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for resolute efforts to eradicate global malnutrition and hunger, in a report release today.  According to its flagship annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture, 2 billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies, while 1.4 billion are overweight.

The report says that the cost of malnutrition to the global economy in lost productivity and health-care costs could account for as much as 5 per cent of the global economic output.  It also notes that 26 per cent of all children under five are stunted and 31 per cent suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

There are more details on this report, available on the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

**Press Conference Today

The Security Council adopted its Programme of Work for June this morning.  And at 1:15 p.m., not long from now, there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of June.

**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

And tomorrow, I will be joined by John Ging.  He is the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and he will be here to brief you on his recent mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That’s what I have; questions, please? Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir, in view of this latest report issued in Geneva, which also called for… that the situation in Syria is so bad, that there should be a diplomatic surge; does the Secretary-General believe in that report also, that, that report is as urgent as, as the report presented in Geneva, that the diplomatic surge is essential to bring about to save lives and to bring about some sort of a political solution?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been saying for a long time that there needs to be an enhanced and accelerated push for a political solution to this carnage, to this crisis, which has been going on now for more than two years.  And, of course, he has seen this report, the Commission of Inquiry’s report, and frankly, he finds the catalogue of atrocities in that report to be both sickening and staggering.

As I say, he has said for a long time now that there needs to be this push, there is this push, there will be the meeting that starts tomorrow in Geneva, this three-way meeting.  And certainly, he would wish to see progress made there in the push for a political solution, and of course, in the first instance, this international conference.

Question:  Obviously, you are talking about this three-way meeting between the United States, Russia; and the thing is, so, he does believe that this is part of that push, and does he believe any additional efforts are needed?  Because, I mean, nothing seems to be enough.

Spokesperson:  As I was saying yesterday, when you have such a deep-seated conflict, and now extremely divisive conflict, in Syria, it is not easy to switch track and to engage in political dialogue.  But, that is precisely what both the United States and the Russian Federation have proposed.  The United Nations is playing its role through the Joint Special Representative and others, including Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  They are in Geneva, they will be part of those discussions tomorrow.  And the Secretary-General certainly hopes that there will be progress made there in Geneva towards the international conference that has been advocated and is obviously long overdue.  Yes, Nizar, and then, Margaret.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you; there are reports today speaking about eight to nine deaths in the protests in Turkey.  Also that the use of the chemical, what looks like chemical gas or poison gas, against protesters; some people speak about Agent Orange being used in these, in quashing the protests.  What do you have about that?  And also, what is the position of the United Nations regarding these, the way the police have been handling it?

Spokesperson:  Well, you will have seen, or you will have heard — I just read out parts of the briefing from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights that was a briefing given in Geneva today, and I would refer you to that.  Margaret?

Question:  Can you just give us a little update on where that chemical weapons team is, Mr. Sellström’s team?  Are they in Cyprus, Beirut?  Are they, are they still ready to go in within 24 to 48 hours?  Are they in capitals?  What, what have they been up to?

Spokesperson:  They are not all in place.  I think that’s obvious.  But, they can be very quickly assembled and deployed in the kind of time frame that’s been mentioned all along — between 24 and 48 hours.  Mr. Sellström continues to work with information made available to him and his team.  Obviously, it is not a substitute for a presence in the country, and that is something that the Secretary-General has stated repeatedly:  that a credible and comprehensive inquiry requires full access to the sites where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used.  And only on-site investigation could provide evidence on whether or not chemical weapons were used.

So, the Secretary-General remains gravely concerned about any allegations of chemical weapons use, by any party in Syria, and the Secretary-General has, of course, as you know, stressed on many occasions that any use of such weapons would be an outrageous crime.

Mr. Åke Sellström continues to conduct the Mission’s work outside of Syria, and as I said, to analyse all information that is made available to his team.

Question:  Where is he based, exactly?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is based in Sweden, but he is able to be in the Netherlands, in The Hague headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  I do not know his precise whereabouts at the moment.

Joseph?  Nizar, I am coming back to you, okay, Nizar.  Yes, Joseph?

Question:  Actually, one of my questions is a follow-up on what Nizar just asked.  Is the Secretary-General considering making any personal statement beyond what you just read out from the Geneva, from the Office of Human Rights, regarding this escalating protest in Turkey?  And, and secondly, there is a report that an Egyptian court just sentenced an activist to six months in jail for “insulting” Egyptian President [Mohamed] Morsy.  Is there any consideration of a statement from the Secretary-General regarding this apparent suppression of free expression?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the second question, Joseph, I will check.  On the first question, as I said yesterday, the Secretary-General is closely monitoring developments in Turkey.  And, if we have anything further to say on that, then I will let you know.  Yes, Matthew? 

Question:  Sure.  It’s actually on this, I, I, I want to ask about Darfur and Somalia, but the, on this question of Mr. Sellström and the chemical weapons, I wanted to just kind… make sure I understand something.  I think the, the, that, that, that your office on, on, on 23 May, said that information provided by the journalist Anastasia Popova had been received by the High Representative, and, uh, uh, uh, and, and was being converted into a usable format and being sent to Mr. Sellström.  And then, yesterday, speaking to Ms. [Angela] Kane, it seems like, I, I just want to make sure I understand, or has it not, she said there was some problems with the, with, with, with, with, with the material, that it was much shorter than she thought it would be, but it seemed to me that it hadn’t been given to Mr. Sellström; do you, are you aware whether it has been or not and is there a way to find out whether, and if not, why not?

Spokesperson:  There is a way to find out, Matthew; the footage of alleged chemical weapons use that was provided by Anastasia Popova has been passed on to the head of the mission, Mr. Åke Sellström.  And, as I have said, he continues to conduct the mission’s work outside of Syria, and to analyse all information made available to it.

Question:  Because from her com-… the com-… and I don’t, I don’t know the gentleman’s name, but the colleague that was with her yesterday said something about that they tried, but technically it wasn’t feasible; maybe they, that he just mean he couldn’t, they couldn’t make it as good as they, as they…

Spokesperson:  Well, maybe you could go back and look at the footage that you’ve recorded on camera without actually telling Ms. Kane.  What’s your next question?

Question:  Okay, my next question is this, is the following, whether in Darfur it is reported that, that, that, that Ali Kushayb, who is one of the ICC [International Criminal Court] indictees for genocide and war crimes in, in Darfur was seen in April as, as, in, as part of an attack on a village; and I wanted to know, since UNAMID is there, are they aware of that?  Are, are, are they aware of, of, of the involvement of an ICC-indicted individual in this attack and, if so, what’s, what, you know, what do they think of it?  Do they think that this proves that that the ongoing involvement of, of, of these individuals in war crimes?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with UNAMID, Matthew.  I think you had one other question, but I’ll go to Nizar first, okay?

Question:  Revisiting the issue of Turkey and the chemical report from Geneva, last week, the Turkish authorities seized some chemical material or held by Jabhat al-Nusra, about two, three gallons of sarin gas, poison sarin gas.  Has the United Nations been in touch with the Turkish authorities to establish where they were going; where they originated; their destination?  Is there any communication between the United Nations and the Turkish authority about this material?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with the Office for Disarmament Affairs, Nizar. Yes, Pamela?

Question:  There has been some talk about a fourth venue for where chemical weapons have been used.  Is there any… has Sellström’s mandate to continue to take in information intelligence from the other parties he is visiting, the [United Kingdom], France, anyone else who has intelligence — is the mandate continuing?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Sellström has a mandate to conduct an investigation, and that investigation continues.  He requires access with his team to Syria itself; and absent that access, he continues with his team to analyse information which is made available to the team.  There are three specific requests for an investigation to be carried out:  from the Syrian authorities, from the French, and from the [ United Kingdom] authorities.  You will be aware of which locations are involved there.  But, as the Secretary-General has said, there is a requirement to carry out an investigation into any and all alleged uses of chemical weapons.  And that’s why the Secretary-General has said that he remains gravely concerned about any allegations of chemical weapons use by any party.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I do have another question.  I, I just, since you brought this filming thing, I just wanna make it clear, it took place here in the briefing room, and I was told that, if you have a pressing question, ask her; so, I, I don’t think there was any, should be any surprise that you might be filmed in the briefing room answering a question.  But, that said, I wanted to ask, at, at the, at the, at the brief, at the session this morning of the Human Rights Council, it was said in, in, in, in a speech that Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, who was identified as the, as the [Deputy Secretary-General], although, I think they meant [Under-Secretary-General], is investigating the role of Qatar in the three kidnappings of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade or Battalion, and I wanted to know, since there has been some back and forth about what, what this 22 May letter from the Syrian Mission to Mr. Ladsous was.  Is there… can we find out, you know, yes or no?  Is it true that [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] is conducting an “investigation” of a Qatari role in the, in the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], Matthew.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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