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

2 August 2013

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

2 August 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.

** Syria

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that allegations that armed opposition groups in Syria executed dozens of Government soldiers captured after a battle in Khan Al-Assal in July are “deeply shocking”.  She noted video footage that suggests that executions were committed in Khan Al-Assal.  In a statement issued in Geneva, the High Commissioner said that there needs to be a thorough, independent investigation to establish whether war crimes have been committed.

The High Commissioner said her team in the region was investigating the reports, and had examined the videos and collected accounts from people in Aleppo.  That team is continuing to investigate the circumstances and scope of the killings.

Ms. Pillay also renewed her call to the Syrian Government to grant access to the country to representatives from her Office and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, in order to be able to investigate human rights violations, no matter who committed them.

**Secretary-General Appointments

I have two appointments by the Secretary-General to announce.

The Secretary-General has appointed Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria as his Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  He will replace Martin Kobler of Germany.  Mr. Mladenov was most recently serving as Foreign Minister of Bulgaria.

The Secretary-General has also appointed Ibrahim Thiaw of Mauritania as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  He will succeed Amina Mohamed of Kenya.  Mr. Thiaw has been working in the United Nations Environment Programme since 2007 as Director of the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation.  We have more information on both appointments in my office.

** Mali

The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that Mali’s electoral authorities today announced the provisional results of the presidential elections held on Sunday, 28 July.  Final results will be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court after review.  A run-off election between the top two candidates is scheduled to take place on 11 August.  In accordance with its mandate, the Mission will continue to provide security, technical and logistical assistance to the electoral process.  The Mission stands ready to assist Malian authorities as requested.

**Press Stakeout Monday

On Monday morning, the Foreign Ministers of four members of the “Mercado Común del Sur”, or MERCOSUR, will hold a press encounter at the Security Council stakeout.  This event with the Foreign Ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela will take place at 11:45 a.m., after their meeting with the Secretary-General.

**Security Council

And finally, this morning, the Security Council, in its first consultations for this month, adopted its programme of work for August.

Just after this briefing, at 12:30, Ambassador María Cristina Perceval of Argentina, the President of the Security Council for August, will brief you here on that programme of work.  English and Spanish interpreting will be provided and that makes it all the more important, then as now, that you use your microphones when you ask questions.

So questions, please?  Masood?  I’m watching.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Is it working?

Spokesperson:  It’s working.

Question:  Okay.  My question is about Iraq, where they said 1,000 or more than 1,000 people have died.  Now, does the Secretary-General have any way of doing something about it, in the sense, except for issuing a statement of concern and so forth, and sending his special emissaries over there to talk to the Government, or devising ways of fighting this form of terrorism that is there?

Spokesperson:  Well, you’re right that the Secretary-General has been quite vocal on this topic, including very recently about this dreadful spike in violence, including the many civilian deaths that you just referred to.  But I did just announce that the Secretary-General has appointed his new Special Representative for Iraq, Mr. Mladenov of Bulgaria, and I’m sure that he will be turning his attention to that in just the same fashion that Mr. Kobler did before him.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask both about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sri Lanka.  On DRC, I wanted to know… the question is kind of… first, there’s just a very factual question about a protest that apparently occurred and the stoning of MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] vehicles.  I wanted to know if you had any… any readout on that.  But more generally about the… the… you know, the ultimatum or the deadline… the 48-hour deadline.  Questions have arisen, including here, among Security Council members, of whether the Secretary-General and Mary Robinson… were they given any prior notice of that?  There seems to… there’s been some criticism of the way it was announced from the ICGLR [International Conference on the Great Lakes Region].  So I just… just to understand how these things occur.  I know that missions may have total independence, but was the Secretary-General and was Mary Robinson, as his envoy to the Great Lakes… were they told in advance of this impending 48-hour deadline?

Spokesperson:  Well, missions don’t have total independence.  I think you understand that, Matthew.  They operate under Security Council mandate, and the Force Commander and the Special Representative for the Mission have clear reporting lines, so I don’t think that you should see this as some kind of autonomous decision-making.  That’s the first thing.  The second is that, yes, we are aware of the reports, of some incidents in and around Goma relating to the Mission.  I’m still waiting for some details from the Mission, and when I have them, I will update you.

[The Spokesperson later said that MONUSCO confirms that there were demonstrations in Goma today, with protesters calling for MONUSCO to extend the Security Zone announced earlier in the week, by which the Congolese Armed Forces are being supported by MONUSCO to protect civilians in a densely populated area around Goma and Sake.  The Mission confirms that the situation in Goma is now calm after talks with civil society groups, as well as extensive outreach through the Mission’s radio station, Radio Okapi, with the Governor of North Kivu and civil society leaders giving interviews and reaching out to the population.]

Question:  Just if you don’t mind, one follow-up on that because I understand that the… there is a reporting line, there is a mandate; I guess the question is, someone on the Council said, you know, that they don’t micromanage these things, so my question… I guess my question to you is a decision like… such as to announce a 48-hour deadline to have all weapons out of that area, is that the kind of thing that gets checked at Headquarters before it’s announced, or is that viewed as simply as implementation of a mandate given from New York and can be announced?

Spokesperson:  I think it would depend on the circumstances.  I don’t think that I am in a position here to lay down the certain policy on how Force Commanders take decisions in the field.  When I say that they have a reporting line to the Security Council, it’s obvious that the Security Council is not sitting there giving instructions every day.  I mean that there is a clear mandate provided, in this case, not least, for protection of civilians in part.  Therefore, the need for the Mission to carry out the operation that it’s carrying out is to ensure that civilians are better protected in an area where they have suffered enormously.  Let me go to other people and I will come back to you.  I heard about Sri Lanka and I’d be very happy to answer that question in just a second.  Yes, Pamela?

Question:  Martin, is… has the Secretary-General received a response or is there any readout on a response to the release of [Mohammed] Morsy’s detention?  And also, does the Secretary-General have a… a date to give the credentials or accept the credentials of new US UN Ambassador Samantha Power?

Spokesperson:  On the first:  no, I don’t have anything on that at the moment.  On the second, Ambassador Power will be one of a number of new permanent representatives presenting their credentials to the Secretary-General on Monday afternoon.

Question:  Afternoon?

Spokesperson:  Monday afternoon, yes, that’s correct.  Yes, please?  Masood, I will come back to you.  Yes, please?  Tim, I saw you, too.

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question about the peace process.  I know it’s a fluid situation, but were there any assurances given to the Secretary-General that the Palestinians won’t be going to the ICC [International Criminal Court] or any sort of… kind of, how do you call it, situation that might impede any of the talks in terms of… because there have been threats in the past of going to the ICC or making some statement next month to the General Assembly in regards to the…?

Spokesperson:  No, nothing specific.  I would simply refer you to the statement from the Quartet.  I think that that covers a lot of the ground that you have just referred to.  So I don’t have anything specific on that for you; no, I don’t.  Tim, and then Masood?  Okay, yes?

Question:  Thank you.  I wondered if you had any comment on the Zimbabwe election, and also in Cambodia, the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has called for a UN inquiry into the election that was held there.

Spokesperson:  On Zimbabwe, obviously we’re monitoring that very closely, but I don’t have anything specific at the moment on that.  On Cambodia, the United Nations, as I’m sure you know, did not play a role in the elections in Cambodia, which took place on 28 July, but the Secretary-General is certainly following the situation and the United Nations calls for any complaints about the electoral process or the election to be made peacefully and adjudicated fairly, with the ultimate aim being the accurate determination of and respect for the will of the Cambodian people.  And on your specific point, the United Nations has not received a formal request to participate in a committee which would reportedly investigate irregularities.  Yes?  And then I’m coming to you, Ali.

[On Zimbabwe, the Spokesperson later issued the following statement:

The Secretary-General has been following the elections in Zimbabwe closely.  He commends the Zimbabwean people for a broadly peaceful election day and for exercising their democratic rights.  He stresses, at the same time, that the concerns which have been raised about certain aspects of the electoral process should be pursued through established channels.  These concerns should then be considered transparently and fairly.  The most important thing is that the will of the people of Zimbabwe is respected.

The Secretary-General hopes that the same calm and peaceful atmosphere will prevail during the vote counting and throughout the completion of the electoral process.  In this regard, he recalls the commitment made by the incumbent President and Prime Minister, as well as other political parties, to ensure peaceful elections and he calls on them to send clear messages of calm to their supporters.

The United Nations encourages the country’s leadership to govern responsibly and inclusively and to pursue policies and reforms that could serve to deepen democratic governance and also spur economic recovery that would benefit all Zimbabweans.]

Question:  In Bangladesh, the banning of political party…

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  In Bangladesh, a political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, is now completely banned from participating in any elections.  It is one of the… it was supposed to be one of the biggest political parties, but obviously it was against the ruling of Awami League.  So does the Secretary-General have anything to say about this banning of the political party, which is [inaudible] at this point in time?

Spokesperson:  Short answer, not at the moment, but I’ll check for you, Masood.

Question:  And another thing…?

Spokesperson: I’ll come back to you.  Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is the Quartet going to meet any time soon in the coming weeks regarding the political… the peace process in the Middle East?  And my question:  is the Quartet also going to play any role in these negotiations that’s going on nowadays in Washington?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I would refer you to the Quartet statement, which does make a reference there to its role, in general terms, in the Middle East peace process and the very final sentence of the statement says that the Quartet intends to meet soon at the envoys level, so not at the principals level.  And I’ve been asked a couple of times already this week when that might be.  At this point, it’s still “meet soon” and “intends to do so”, so once I have something more concrete, including a date and beyond intention, I’d be happy to let you know, but I don’t have that at the moment.  Yes, Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I wanted just to follow up what Tim asked on Zimbabwe.  What do you mean when you say that, you know, you’re monitoring very closely?  Who do you engage with?  The UN didn’t have an observer team on the ground.  What sort of engagement happens, so that you are then able to inform… that informs a decision or a statement that… that is to come in future?  Can you just speak about that a bit?

Spokesperson:  We have seasoned political officers who keep a close eye on these things, whether they are in the country or not.  And there are plenty of people within the Department of Political Affairs who do closely keep an eye on this and other electoral processes that are going on, not just in Africa.  So at this point, as you have seen, the votes are not yet completely counted, so many factors are still at play here; so that’s why I don’t have anything further at the moment.  I would imagine that I would have something further to say later, but not right now.

Question:  If I may.  So it’s not just to say that you would follow the lead of the African Union, for example, or SADC [Southern African Development Community]; you would have your own people that would make your own decision based on informed decisions?

Spokesperson:  Based on their assessment.  The Department of Political Affairs and the political leadership is perfectly capable of making its own assessment, I think.  Matthew, I know you had a question you wanted to ask?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka and then if possible, one DPA [Department of Political Affairs] question.  On Sri Lanka, there is… there is… I guess the… the sort of pressing news is that there has been live fire by the army at a protest on Colombo Candy Road.  It’s been filmed.  It’s given rise to a lot of concern there and some countries have spoken.  I wanted to know if the UN has, either the country team or here, has any response to that?  And also that report… I mean I know there is… you may… that I think it’s been completed… the one that was completed by the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General], Jan Eliasson.  Is it going to be made public?  Do you have any comment or summary of… of what’s in it?  And then the third, just in a related thing, is in the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting coming up in Colombo, there’s been a lot of controversy about freedom of the press.  There’s been some death threats made to journalists that seek to cover the meeting, and I wanted to know whether the UN is aware of that and has anything to say about it.

Spokesperson:  On the first, your reference to apparent incidents involving live fire in Sri Lanka, I’ll have to look into that.  I don’t have anything.  On the second, the Deputy Secretary-General recently presented recommendations to the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General is now studying those recommendations and I would anticipate that the Secretary-General would have more to say on this subject next month.  In the meantime, as the Deputy Secretary-General told you when you asked him about this at his press conference last month, we need to be better prepared for action when we see, at an early stage, human rights violations.  But as I say, I would anticipate the Secretary-General would have more to say on this subject next month.  And with regard to the third part of your question about freedom of the media, that is something that the Secretary-General firmly believes is hugely important.  It’s important that journalists should be able to carry out their work unencumbered and free of intimidation.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Two brief ones.  The never-ending [Rafik] Hariri trial dates, can you confirm that it’s now going to be in January 2014?  Maybe I missed the announcement from you.

Spokesperson:  You didn’t miss an announcement from me.  It would come from the Special Tribunal, and I don’t have anything on that at the moment.

Question:  To follow up on Zimbabwe, can the UN make a determination without having people in the country?  Is that possible without interviewing on how the winner doesn’t have the majority vote?

Spokesperson:  Look, as I say, my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs are closely watching this and I’m sure that they will be analysing it, too; and they will then, I am sure, advise on how best to respond, but I’m not in the position to do so at the moment.  Yes, Edie?  I should have said, please use the microphone; I forgot to remind you.  Yes, and Edie remembered.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I was wondering whether the Secretary-General has any response to this request by UN Watch… by this Geneva-based human rights group, who said that it sent a letter to the Secretary-General and to Navi Pillay condemning the incoming Iranian President’s statement, describing Israel as an old wound that should be removed and asking the Deputy Secretary-General to cancel plans to attend Hassan Rouhani’s Sunday inauguration.

Spokesperson:  Well, on the last bit, the Deputy Secretary-General never intended to attend the inauguration.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, will be attending, on the Secretary-General’s instructions, the inauguration; and so that’s the first part.  I will need to check whether a letter has been received.  You’re telling me about it now and you almost seem to be out of breath so it must be hot off the presses, so I don’t have anything to say at the moment.

[The Spokesperson later added that, according to the established practice regarding formation of new Governments, the Secretary-General will be also sending a congratulatory letter to President Rouhani following his swearing-in on 4 August.  The letter is expected to reiterate the Secretary-General’s willingness to work with the new Iranian President and his Government on issues of importance to Iran and the international community, and urge Iran to play a constructive role in regional and international affairs.  The Secretary-General looks forward to meeting with President Rouhani should he decide to participate in the forthcoming general debate.]

Question:  No, it’s just that I was running… I was running downstairs.  Could I… could I ask if the Secretary-General has received one other letter?  This is from the Syrian National Coalition, which said it sent a letter urging him to have the chemical weapons team go to Khan Al-Assal first and pledging their cooperation, since they control the village now.

Spokesperson:  Well, I will need to check on the letter, but as a general statement of principle, we’ve already said that the mission, when it goes, will visit three locations contemporaneously, and one of them is Khan Al-Assal, and we’ve said that we are not disclosing the other two locations for security reasons.

[The Spokesperson later added that neither that letter nor the letter from UN Watch had been received.]

Question:  This was specifically asking them to go to Khan al-Assal first.

Spokesperson:  Well, the word I just used is contemporaneously.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I have a DPA question, but just one follow-up on this Rouhani situation.  There seems to be some dispute about the accuracy of the quote that… that… that may or may not be in the letter that you may or may not have received, so whatever response you have, I would like to know what… you know, if you respond to the letter or if you respond to the underlining quote ascribed to the…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course, I will be checking whether a letter has been received, but at this point I’m standing here I don’t have… I have a screen, but it doesn’t help with that, I can assure you.  It just tells me the time, which shows me that I don’t have much time left, so one last question?

Question:  Okay, I’ll be very brief.  This is just… this is the DPA question and it has to do with, again, that Alexander Downer question that I wanted to make sure it doesn’t… because… since… since asking whether it would be a conflict of interest for him to run for the South Australian Liberal Party chief position while being the envoy to Cyprus.  He’s now given a press conference and said… and said… he, quote, flicked away the idea that it was a… there could be a conflict.  I think you may have missed… “if you were named Ambassador”, then I guess he couldn’t be still working for the UN, but is there an answer from DPA on what rules apply to even part-time envoys seeking political or office in a political party while serving in the UN?

Spokesperson:  I will need to check further on that, Matthew, but as I think you know, the quote there about flicking away was indeed about reports about ambassadorship and not about any party role in Australia.  So let me check further on that.  Pamela, last question, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There was a panel discussion on mercenaries, the private military and security personnel, yesterday, and they said the Secretary-General usually produces the report to the General Assembly each year and this one would be next year, which I think that means not this GA [General Assembly].  Does the Secretary-General have any view on the use of these contract workers in, for example, peacekeeping missions?  If something happens, how are they treated?  Are they under the UN Convention for Personnel… related, or UN-related personnel?  Are they under the Geneva Conventions if there’s something bad that happens?  And does he have a position on that in the interim before they release the report?  And then just one… just a very minor detail, which is, you mention the Secretary-General… I think you mentioned just now a Secretary-General press conference where he stated something last month?

Spokesperson:  No, I was referring to the Deputy Secretary-General.

Correspondent:  Oh, okay.  Got it.  Perfect.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  With regard to the panel that gave a press conference, yesterday and more importantly the general work that they do and the work of private contractors, this is obviously a very involved topic and not something that I can really deal with here right now, but I’ve heard the questions you’ve asked and if I have specific answers to those, I will come back to you, including on the timing of any report from the Secretary-General.  Thank you very much.  And as I’ve mentioned, please do remember to use the microphones when asking questions of the Permanent Representative for Argentina, the President of the Security Council for the month.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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