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

10 July 2013

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

10 July 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.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

Following consultation with Member States, the Secretary-General has appointed Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa as Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, which is, of course, more commonly known as UN-Women.  Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka replaces Ms. Michelle Bachelet.  Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka brings a wealth of experience in advocating for women’s issues and was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President of South Africa.  We have more on this appointment in my office.

**Security Council ‑ Lebanon

This morning, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Lebanon.  As the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon’s stability and security becomes more and more apparent, the Council underscored its growing concern about the marked increase of cross-border fire from Syria into Lebanon.  In the face of attempts to undermine the country’s stability, the Council encouraged all parties in Lebanon to demonstrate renewed unity and determination to resist a slide into conflict.

The Council also said it is gravely concerned at the dramatic influx of refugees fleeing violence in Syria.  And it commended Lebanon’s generous efforts in hosting and assisting them.  It stressed the need for strong, coordinated international support for Lebanon to help it to continue to withstand the multiple challenges to its security and stability.  The full statement is available in the six official languages of the United Nations at the Media Documents counter.

**Security Council ‑ West Africa

Following the meeting on Lebanon, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, briefed the Council on the latest report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office in the region (UNOWA).

He told the Council that West Africa has continued to face multiple political and security challenges, including election-related tensions in a number of countries, as well as transnational organized crime, piracy and terrorist activities across the entire subregion.

Mr. Djinnit said that while the situation in West Africa remains at a crossroads, he is encouraged by the commitment of the West African leaders and of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to strengthen their collective architecture for peace and security, drawing lessons from the challenges faced in addressing the crisis in Mali and its regional dimension.  Mr. Djinnit is expected to speak at the Security Council stakeout at approximately 12:30.

** Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has strongly condemned yesterday’s roadside bombing in Herat province, which killed at least 18 civilians, including women and children.

The Acting Head of the Mission, Nicholas Haysom, said that he is deeply disturbed by the continued killing of Afghan civilians by improvised explosive devices.  The Mission said that the use of such tactics, which fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants, is a violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.

Mr. Haysom reiterated the call by the Mission upon all parties to the conflict to respect the sanctity of this holy month of Ramadan, and avoid actions which could harm civilians.

** Central African Republic

Babacar Gaye, who was recently appointed as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic, took up his functions yesterday as the Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA).

At a press conference in the capital Bangui today, Mr. Gaye reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to reaching sustainable peace in the country.  He said that the priorities are to strengthen political dialogue and to restore security in the entire territory, as well as to ensure respect for human rights and provide humanitarian assistance.

**Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace yesterday wrapped up a four-day visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which he undertook at the invitation of the country’s Government.

During his mission, Wilfried Lemke met with the Minister of Sport and Chairman of the National Olympic Committee and other officials.  He said that his visit was fruitful in increasing the understanding of the Democratic People Republic of Korea’s policies and programmes in the field of sports, as well as to identify areas where the country needs external assistance.  There is more information on Mr. Lemke’s visit on the website of the Office of Sport for Development and Peace.

** Myanmar

This morning, the Secretary-General attended the meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General said that the Government and people of Myanmar need continued support to move towards a truly irreversible reform process and to deliver the dividends of peace and inclusive development.  He noted that some important steps have been made in the past year, including the advancement of the reform process by the Parliament.

The Secretary-General said that he was deeply troubled by the communal violence and said that he remains deeply concerned about the plight of the Rohingya population and their disturbing humanitarian situation.  He said that there is a dangerous polarization taking place within Myanmar.  If it is not addressed urgently and firmly, underlying tensions could provoke more upheaval, undermining the reform process and triggering negative regional repercussions.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes?  First of all Masood, then Joe.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir. Maybe at the top of the briefing you made a statement about this Israeli troops coming at the Syrian border which is now deemed as a threat to the… to the whole region?  Is… do… do… did the Secretary-General has anything on that?  That they are citing threats, external threats, but they are massed at the Syrian border.  Secretary-General…

Spokesperson:  No, Masood, you did not miss something at the beginning of the briefing.

Question:  Okay, yeah.  So, did, does the Secretary-General has anything to say about this massing of the Syr… Israeli troops at the Syrian border which is, does UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] has anything to say about it, about this…?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment, not at the moment, Masood.  Simply to reiterate what we have said repeatedly and that is about the dangers of the crisis in Syria spilling over into nearby territories.  So, that’s all I would have to say at the moment.  Joe?

Question:  Yes, as you know, I think it was on Monday the Syrian UN Ambassador indicated that his Government was extending an invitation to Angela Kane and Mr. [Åke] Sellström to visit Damascus for the purpose of discussing the scope and modalities of an on-site investigation of chemical weapons allegations.  It was not clear whether they were considering extending beyond the incidents that they originally had reported.  Has there been any follow-through on the part of either the Secretary-General or Ms. Kane or Mr. Sellström to this invitation?

Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said, this was a step in the right direction.  We have said that the Secretary-General continues to believe that there needs to be access to all sites where there have been credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons.  As I think you will be aware, Dr. Sellström is meeting the Secretary-General this afternoon, and I would expect to be able to say something after that about that meeting.  But I think it may be premature to expect a very specific answer to the question about whether Ms. Kane and Dr. Sellström would go to Damascus.  We have received the invitation; it is being looked at.  And as I say, Dr. Sellström is seeing the Secretary-General this afternoon at 4 p.m.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Yesterday the Russian Ambassador handed over his report on the Aleppo alleged attack to the Secretary-General.  After the Britain and France and the United States handed over their evidence, you said that there has to be this caution about the chain of custody involved in this.  Does the same caveat apply to the Russian report?  Mr. [Vitaly] Churkin said that it was taken first-hand by Russian experts.

Spokesperson:  Well, that may be the case, but as Dr. Sellström has said, his team needs to be able to carry out its investigation.  And until he is able to do that with his team on the spot, he has been collecting information and analysing that information, and he will continue to do that.  And that is precisely why it is important to be able to have the access to the country itself and to the sites that we have been talking about all along.  But again, just to reiterate, Dr. Sellström is in town.  He is seeing the Secretary-General this afternoon.  And if, in other words, you can see that there is a high-level focus on this and will continue to be.

Question:  So, the same caution applies, then, to the new evidence?

Spokesperson:  It is not a caution; it is the same procedure.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Microphone.

Question:  Is Mr. Sellström going to talk to the press afterwards?  Will there be a stakeout or at least encounter with him?

Spokesperson:  The answer is no to all of the above.  I’ve said there will be a readout.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Can you confirm reports we are getting that the former South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is going to replace Michelle Bachelet at UN-Women?

Spokesperson:  I can; I read it out at the top of the briefing!  Congratulations!  Okay, yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks, Martin.  I wanted to ask you, um, it is said, including by MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], that there is renewed fighting just outside of Goma.  Maybe, I’m thinking maybe you have, and MONUSCO has apparently wounded and captured four assailants.  So, I wanted to, one, just to have, just… just know what the… what the… what the current update on that is.  And also I wanted to ask what the UN’s understanding is of whether the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over the intervention brigade and MONUSCO as a whole.  It is an issue that came up, uh, in a discussion by Patricia O’Brien yesterday.  The United Kingdom says, says the ICC [International Criminal Court] does have jurisdiction over MONUSCO, there seems to be some, I’m, I… I think there is some discussion within the Secretariat, can you say what the… what the current thinking is on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, on the last question, you quoted Ms. O’Brien, and she is the Legal Counsel.

Question:  She said that the, can I just, to clarify, I mean, she seemed to say there… there was a question raised by a troop-contributing country of whether it applies only to the intervention brigade or to the entirety of the MONUSCO force given that they, giv… and so that’s my… my question is whether it applies to the whole force.

Spokesperson:  As I said, Ms. O’Brien is the Legal Counsel and she did speak on that topic and you quoted her…

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  yesterday; …I don’t have anything to add to that.  With regard to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the mission there, MONUSCO reports that earlier today, at around 6 a.m. local time, some 30 non-identified armed combatants attacked an M23 armed group position at Kanyan Rochina, which is 5 kilometres outside Goma in North Kivu Province.  And in response the M23 launched a counterattack, the mission adds that as they were retreating, some of the attackers fired at MONUSCO positions, and in accordance with their rules of engagement, the peacekeepers fired warning shots before being forced to engage the attackers.  And in the firefight that ensued, four attackers were wounded and then apprehended by MONUSCO personnel.  They received first-aid and were then evacuated to Goma hospital by MONUSCO.  And the mission is saying that the situation is now stable, but it remains tense.

Question:  And then just, and, it sort of related to the question, but, do you… do you… in… in this, in cases like this, the captured, would they be turned over to the… to the FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] government for… for… for… you know, for… for… for holding in… in… in a prosecution or… or does MONUSCO have any role, one of the things that came up yesterday is the idea that, of the UN adopting rules about how to treat, you know, people that are… that are captured under the Geneva Convention and other things.  So, I am just wondering.

Spokesperson:  Well, in the first instance, as we said, they’re receiving medical attention.  And I think it would be looked at after that.

Question:  Okay, okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Evelyn, then I am coming to Masood, again.  Yes, yes, Evelyn?

Question:  In your readout could… could you kindly ask your doctor whether he is going to be making plans for his visit with the Ambassador here or that wouldn’t take place till he goes to Damascus.  Like how many sites he can see, and also will he be seeing the [inaudible] Britain, French and American on the subject [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  That’s quite a shopping list.  Okay, let’s see, Okay.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I am coming here first.  Yes, Anna?  And then I am going to come to Masood; and I have seen you at the back, Nizar.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes, the Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson made a statement at the Scandinavian House on 8 July marking the beginning of the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of European Union; the first of the Baltic countries to do so.  Besides Lithuanian’s historic milestone, and the fact that Croatia just became the twenty-eighth member of the European Union, what does the Secretary-General have to say when it comes to European Union expansion when it concerns Kosovo and Serbia?

Spokesperson:  Look, that’s a matter for the European Union, and not for the Secretary-General.  I don’t think you would expect me to comment on that. Okay, yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, and this is a follow-up on, from yesterday’s question, which I was asking you on [inaudible].  She is coming here, she is gonna be speaking on Friday.  But there is immense interest in her and is it absolutely sure that she will not meet with the press at all at the stakeout because of her reason, because she is not even meeting the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  How do you know that?

Question:  I am just told that that’s the case, but if she is, can you please enlighten me?  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I don’t think you would expect Malala Yousafzai to come to the United Nations Headquarters and not meet the Secretary-General.  Of course, that is going to happen.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is she is here to speak at the General Assembly, or to the membership of the United Nations.  And I think that is the public presence.  I do not think it is envisaged ‑ I am not her spokesperson ‑ but I do not think it is envisaged that she will speak to the press while she is here.

Question:  At the stakeout at all, yeah?

Spokesperson:  I do not believe that is likely.  But you will of course see her, and hear her in her remarks to the General Assembly, and certainly, you will be ‑ at least photographers and camera crews ‑ will be likely to see her when she meets the Secretary-General.

Question:  Yeah, when she meets the Secretary-General we should have stakeout.

Spokesperson:  Masood, I think I have answered the question already, okay.  Nizar…

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  …before I come to you, I just have one item I wanted to read out, with your indulgence, but I have not forgotten you.  [See statement on Myanmar in the main body of the briefing above.]  Nizar, please?

Question:  Can you update us about the, the, eh, UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force], how many soldiers have been so far arranged and whether there are yet more countries to contribute to the troops there?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, a Fijian contingent is being deployed.  Part of it has arrived; more are yet to arrive.  And I understand that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations remains in contact with other potential troop-contributing countries, but I don’t have details at this point.

Question:  Another question regarding the appeal by the Secretary-General for a ceasefire in Syria; total ceasefire, how…?

Spokesperson:  Hang on a minute; not a total ceasefire.  He is talking about the Holy Month of Ramadan…

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  …and for all those with weapons to put those weapons down for the benefit of the Syrian people.

Question:  Does that include al-Nusra, for example? The… the…

Spokesperson:  Anybody with weapons should put them down; as simply as that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about Central African Republic and also a… a media access question.  On… on… on CAR, I know that… that, you said that Mr. Babacar Gaye has arrived.  There is, there was a uh, pretty da… there was report, very troubling report put out by, uh, Médecins Sans Frontières about the lack of… of humanitarian aid and access.  And one of the things they mentioned is that… is that there are no international staff; I guess UN staff outside of Bangui due to I guess a DSS ruling, and I, what… what I wonder is… is that obviously it is a dangerous situation, but is that accurate, are… are there… there no, is there no presence, I know at one point there was [inaudible], there was some back and forth, what is the state of, of humanitarian access and does it really ride on this DSS ruling, is it something that might be reconsidered, what’s the response of the UN to this MSF call to I guess to reconsider that rule?

Spokesperson:  Well, Médecins Sans Frontières do wonderful work and analyse things very carefully.  But we don’t make security decisions based on non-governmental organizations, however good they are.  The United Nations has no staff members outside of Bangui, but several agencies ‑ in other words, UN agencies ‑ are examining the possibility of establishing a permanent presence in some priority areas.  Several missions have been conducted to asses the situation outside of the capital, and as I mentioned yesterday, Ms. Amos together with her counterpart from the European Commission will be visiting the Central African Republic and not just Bangui, but outside of the capital too.  I have time for one more question.

Question:  Can I just…

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Martin, just in case I missed, has there been any response to the SG’s for, on Ramadan in Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d have to look to see what people in the field have said.  I understand that it has been welcomed by some groups at least.  This is an important gesture and appeal by the Secretary-General for the sake of the Syrian people.  And that’s why he made this statement. It is unusual in its format, and I would say also in its length.  And that’s because he believes it is an important subject and it tackles, not just putting down weapons for a month, but also, for example, releasing prisoners and those who have been detained, for example, the Christian Orthodox bishops who have been held for a long time now.

Question:  Can I ask this media access question?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Question:  I had, I wanted to ask this one media access question…

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course, yes, yes.

Question:  Okay, no, I really do, I appreciate it, it’s just because it’s, it’s be… it… it has to do with GA access to the General Assembly and I, I wanted to, because there are increasingly plenary meetings there and, currently it seems that, I have gone there a number of times, that there are no in… in the interim, Nor… North Lawn General Assembly Hall, no seats on… on… on… for the… for the press or for the public.  And… and so then, the only way to cover it is… is to be a photographer and be in a booth, but then also you have no translation.  So, I am wondering, I am not trying to… to… I understand it’s a smaller space than the old General Assembly Hall, but I am wondering, is that the plan for September that no member of the public will be able to attend the meetings?  And even in terms of the press, if you go to the photo booth, how can it be done without any translation at all?  That’s… I am just wondering if this is gonna be fixed before September, what the status is.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that you have had a fairly detailed response from the Department of Public Information on this topic already.  I am happy to revisit that with them to see if they have anything further to say.

But I think the key word in everything that you said just then is “interim”.  I think everybody understands that this is a temporary arrangement while the true General Assembly building is renovated, and there may be some inconveniences for the time being, and people may need to adjust to that for the time being, for an interim period.  And we’ll certainly do our level best to help all media who wish to cover the deliberations in the General Assembly, not just during the general debate, which of course will be a particularly busy period, but throughout the period when it is in that temporary location.

All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you, bye-bye.

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