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

25 September 2013

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

25 September 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 Speeches

The Secretary-General began his morning with an event on raising the visibility of the 2014 third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.  He said that more attention needs to be brought to the problems that these countries, many of which are isolated, face.  The Secretary-General added that all small island development States are exposed to high risks from environmental threats, especially climate change.

And then the Secretary-General addressed Member States on achieving the Millennium Development Goals and defining the next development agenda.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that the Millennium Development Goals have galvanized unprecedented national commitment and international support.  But, despite the substantial progress achieved, prospects for achieving the goals differ sharply across and within countries and regions.

A short while ago, the Secretary-General spoke at a ministerial meeting of the Friends of Yemen, where he called on all Yemenis to live up to their responsibilities under the Transition Agreement and contribute to a successful conclusion to the National Dialogue Conference.  He said that he is well aware that the transition process is fragile, but that he is confident that the people of Yemen will persevere on a peaceful and constructive path.

And about now, the Secretary-General is speaking at the Global Education First Initiative event, which will showcase the movement’s achievements over the past year.

And just to mention that the Deputy Secretary-General has also been appearing and speaking at a number of events, including on maternal and child health and on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts and other situations of violence.  And shortly, the Deputy Secretary-General will be attending a ministerial event that’s focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

And I think, as you will also be aware, the Secretary-General is going to be meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the permanent five members of the Security Council, and that will be taking place quite shortly; and we will try to provide some information on that after the event.

** Syria

And also, staying with Syria, just to say that the mission under Åke Sellström that’s looking into allegations of use of chemical weapons there has returned to the Syrian Arab Republic to complete its fact-finding activities for all pending credible allegations.  And these include the 19 March incident at Khan al-Asal, as well as two other incidents previously identified by the mission as warranting an investigation.  The mission will also discuss with the Government information that it may possess regarding allegations it reported on the use of chemical weapons pertaining to the incidents on 22, 24 and 25 August.

The mission can only finalize its work programme once it has been able to assess the conditions of the alleged sites, and this assessment will clearly have to take into account the passage of time, which may limit the availability of samples.  It should also be recalled that the aim of the mission is to collect evidence based on multiple sources in order to substantiate whether or not an alleged incident has taken place.  And we’ll try to keep you updated on that as we go along.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has strongly condemned attacks on schools and hospitals committed by parties to the conflict, in particular, by the armed group known as the Allied Democratic Forces, in Beni territory.

The Head of the Mission, Martin Kobler, said this group and all other parties involved in such acts must immediately stop committing these deplorable violations of the rights of the child, which have deprived more than 7,000 children of their education and affected the provision of health services for thousands more.  Following a joint investigation mission by the Mission, MONUSCO, and local authorities to Kamango area in Beni territory, it was found that [Allied Democratic Forces] elements had ransacked 11 primary schools and five health centres in July this year.  And there is a press release available online with more details.

And also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented its latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Human Rights Council.  It covers the period from November last year to May this year.

The report welcomes the progress made in promulgating a law establishing a national human rights commission, as well as proceedings against State agents accused of human rights violations.  But, it also draws attention to the need for the authorities to continue their efforts in the fight against impunity and to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.   The report also deplores the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the east of the country, despite the Government’s efforts.  And the full report is available online.

** Central African Republic

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, together with the European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, and the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, have called for urgent international support for the Central African Republic.  And that was at a joint event they co-hosted this morning.

Ms. Amos said that some 1.6 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in the country.  She underlined the need to invest in stability and recovery now.  She added that failure to act would prolong and worsen the appalling conditions people are enduring and create another threat to peace and security in an already fragile region.

** Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has welcomed the announcement by the High National Elections Commission that the process for the Constitution-Drafting Assembly elections has begun.  Tarek Mitri, the Head of the UN Mission, said that the constitution-drafting process presents an opportunity for the Libyan people to forge a new social contract that will govern a new Libya.

UN support in the forthcoming electoral process will include:  outreach to potential female candidates; promotion of electoral awareness and knowledge, particularly on matters pertaining to voter registration; media training in electoral systems; and support to security planning for the election itself.

** Pakistan

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the number of people killed in yesterday’s earthquake in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province continues to rise.  According to latest Government estimates, more than 270 people have died and nearly 450 people have been injured.  The UN and its humanitarian partners are in close contact with the National Disaster Management Authority and stand ready to provide assistance and mobilize more support from the international community, if requested.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided emergency health kits and a trauma kit to help thousands of people.  Other humanitarian partners have agreed to provide emergency relief supplies to local authorities.  And I would anticipate having something further to say on this a bit later today.

**Press Encounters Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at 11:30 a.m., there will be a press conference here by President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus.

And then at noon, I will be joined by Christiana Figueres, who is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

And, as I have said before, you can expect additional press conferences and stakeouts, and the schedule will be posted on our website, the Spokesperson’s website, and in the Daily Journal, each day for the following day.  And, of course, you can always check with my colleagues and with me.

**Arms Trade Treaty

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Arms Trade Treaty.

Today, a number of countries signed the Arms Trade Treaty, pushing the total number of signatures to more than half of all Member States.

The Secretary-General, as the depository of the Treaty, welcomes every signature to this important treaty.  At the same time, it is of particular significance that the largest arms exporting country in the world, the United States, is now also among those countries who have committed themselves to a global regulation of the arms trade.  He believes this will contribute to efforts to reduce insecurity and suffering for people on all continents.  He calls upon other countries to follow suit.

So, questions, please?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  And then, I am coming to you.  Yeah.  Please use the microphone, Mr. Abbadi, thank you very much.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sorry.  Thank you.  Yesterday, following the meeting between the President and President… I mean, the Secretary-General and President Barack Obama, it was said in the readout that they discussed several subjects, including UN reforms.  What aspects of UN reforms did they discuss?

Spokesperson:  It is a wide-ranging topic and it was not a long, long meeting, so I think this was an overview of where we are.  And obviously, if I have any further details, I will let you know, but it is important to recall that the Secretary-General has been extremely vocal on his efforts with regard to UN reform — reforming the United Nations so that it worked in a more efficient and transparent manner, and obviously, the United States has been an important partner in that endeavour, along with many other Member States.

Question:  Do you know if they discussed specifically the reforms of the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I do not.  And I think the arguments for the reform of the Security Council are well known and it is for Member States to deliberate on, and I think we have had that discussion any number of times.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I am Greg Beck from Tokyo Broadcasting System.  I had two questions now.  The humanitarian efforts in Syria meeting that you mentioned, is that the same as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, and where is that going to be?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s separate; it is a separate meeting.  I will be able to provide you with details on the precise location after this, but the meeting that I referred to, where the Deputy Secretary-General will be present, this is a high-level ministerial meeting involving quite a number of ministers, including the Foreign Minister of Jordan, for example.

Question:  Okay.  And my second question was regarding the [Arms Trade Treaty] statement you just read.  Is there any reaction to [United States Secretary of State John] Kerry’s statement after signing it, that it doesn’t change the US law in any way, or it doesn’t change the US’s policies towards arms?

Spokesperson:  No.  The statement that I just read speaks for itself.  And it is important to remember that this is a treaty that is governing the international arms trade; it does not relate to domestic arrangements regarding weapons.  Yes, right at the back, Haider.  Please use the microphone.

Question:  Thank you so much, Martin.  Yesterday, the President of Bolivia held a press conference in this room and I checked with many colleagues on the third and fourth floor… I was trying to listen to his entire press conference.  Somehow, the audio system is not working.  I am not trying to doubt about my colleagues, former colleagues in DPI [Department of Public Information], silencing President of Bolivia.  Please check with them and the audio system should be working.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I think the President of Bolivia will have been very clearly heard.  If there were difficulties with the audio system, then we will obviously check into that, sure.  Matthew, and then I will come to you.

Correspondent:  I… I… I have some… obviously some questions, but just to follow up on that, I… I… I… I… even as of last night…

Spokesperson:  Let’s just take the questions rather than making statements.

Correspondent:  Okay.  No, no, no, I am… I am going to ask you why the… the… the video of Evo Morales’ press conference didn’t work last night and it didn’t work and… and… and it was asked to DPI via Twitter and other ways, it did not work.  So, I just want valid… valid… vali… verify that this took place.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, as I say, if there are any difficulties, then obviously it will be looked into.

[The Department of Public Information later said that the full video was available at http://webtv.un.org.]

Question:  Okay.  The question I wanted to ask you is the… a variety of actual, you know, fighters on the ground in Syria have issued a joint statement, some of whom are… are on terrorism list and some of whom are not, saying that they disavow… have no link to and don’t recognize the legitimacy of the “outside Syrian opposition”, including, I think, Mr. [Ahmed al-]Jarba, who is going to appear here, and a variety of people.  So, I wanted to know, how does this change Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi and the Secretary-General’s goal of trying to put together Geneva II?  Who do they view as appropriate parties representing the Syria… you know, Syrian people for such a conference, and what do they make of this statement?  Has… has Mr. Brahimi met with Mr. al-Jarba in the past and will he meet in the future?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, to your multilayered question, I will give a single-strand answer, and that is that the focus remains very firmly on convening the Geneva II conference, the international conference on Syria, as soon as possible.  The Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, remain singularly focused on that, and they will be meeting together with Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov and Mr. [John] Kerry on Friday to help to push that process forward.

Question:  But, but who… if you don’t mind, who will… who… who are their and who are the UN’s interlocutors among the… the Syrian opposition?

Spokesperson:  This is a matter that is extremely important, and it is being discussed by the key parties who are looking at convening, so the United States and the Russian Federation have been meeting many times, together with Mr. Brahimi and with others.  And the focus is on convening that meeting as soon as possible.  And the focus is on ensuring that there is a strong representation there.  Precisely who comes is a matter that is still under some discussion.  And I am going to go for other questions before coming back to you, all right?  Yes, please?

Question:  Hi, Karen Rivera with Tokyo Shimbun.  I saw on the schedule that the Secretary-General is attending a P-5 luncheon today on the ministerial level at 12:40 p.m.  I assume that they will be discussing Syria.  Is your office going to issue a readout regarding the luncheon?  Will we get any updates as to what they spoke about?

Spokesperson:  Well, I did address that a little bit earlier, but I am happy to say again that yes, indeed, the Secretary-General is convening a meeting with the Permanent Five Foreign Ministers.  And we would certainly be aiming to provide some kind of information coming out of that meeting, from our side, at least.  Yes, please?  And the meeting is, indeed, focused on Syria, yes.  There you go!

[The Spokesperson later provided the following readout:  Today, the Secretary-General held a luncheon with the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council.  It had been agreed that the discussion on this occasion would focus entirely on Syria.  They discussed arrangements for the mechanism to be established soon between the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in order to inspect and safeguard Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons.  They exchanged views on the timing and other aspects of the peace conference to be held in Geneva.  The Secretary-General and the ministers underlined the importance of heightened efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis both inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries.]

Question:  All right, there we go.  My name is Haze Brown with ThinkProgress.org.  I am just here… up here for the General Assembly.  I was wondering if you can tell if there are any updates on whether or not Omer al-Bashir of Sudan is still planning on visiting the United Nations General Assembly to speak for Sudan, and if so, if we have the updates on what the UN is planning to do should he actually attempt to come, given his ICC [International Criminal Court] warrants?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any information.  That would really be a question for the Sudanese Mission here.  I don’t have any information on that.  Okay, yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to yesterday’s statement by President of Iran, [Hassan] Rouhani, acknowledging the fact of Holocaust?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is going to be meeting with President Rouhani to talk about a wide range of topics.  The Secretary-General has also been extremely vocal on this topic, including in Teheran itself.  And I would refer you to the remarks that he has made there about that topic.  And should we have anything further to say, particularly after the Secretary-General has met the President, then we will let you know.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, thanks, this is… there is a report out by Amnesty International critical of… of… of France’s deportation of 10,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania, and a… and a Minister, Manuel Valls, who said that they have a duty to return to their homeland.  So, I wondered what… there is some dispute about… about… whether… whether he means to India, where… where he means, but what is the UN’s view on… on France’s mass… mass deportation of Roma and Sinti?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that.  I’d need to look into it, Matthew.

Question:  And if you don’t… then I am going to ask, I have a few things from… from… from the photo ops, photo ops/meetings of yesterday.  I wanted to ask you, in the Sri… in the Sri Lanka meeting, I did notice that the DPR [Deputy Permanent Representative], Shavendra Silva, seems to come into the room and then at least before… before… while the photographers were still there, left the room.  Did he, in fact, attend the meeting, and… and… and what would you say to those who say, since his unit appears in the Secretary-General’s own initial report on Sri Lanka, that would be some… somewhat problematic?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, you can ask the Sri Lankan Mission that question.  What is your next question?

Question:  Okay, then I want to ask you about… about also about photo ops, about the UN side.  I notice in the meeting — it seemed to me in the meeting with Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia — there were… there seemed to be five UN individuals across the table from him, and then when the Minister for International Relations of Israel appeared, there seemed to be more than 12, so I wanted to know, could you… how would you respond to, some would say that it seems strange that with a president of a country, there would be five UN people, and with a minister of a country, there might be 14, including DPI and a variety of people.  How would you characterize those who attended the meeting with Israel and why were they there?

Spokesperson:  It shows your tremendous attention to detail, Matthew, but it also shows that you don’t fully understand how these things work.  I think it is self-evident that there would be a number of different members of the Secretariat, high-ranking advisers to the Secretary-General, who would need to be present at a meeting that is dealing with the Middle East peace process, for example; with humanitarian matters that relate to Gaza and the West Bank, for example; and where… in a region where we have a number of peacekeeping operations, for example, and therefore, that accounts for the differing numbers.  But, I wouldn’t get too hung up on the numbers there.  It very often relates to the different topics that there are that need to be discussed, and you need to have a range of experts who may be called upon to speak at the table.

Correspondent:  But just… just one, because I… I… I appreciate that.  For example, DPI…

Spokesperson:  I am glad you appreciate it, Matthew, because I went to some length to explain it.

Question:  No, no, I… I agree.  Just what I am wondering is like… so for… I mean, just take… choosing this one as one example, because I looked at the readout, what was the DPI interest in the meeting with Israel?  Can you answer that?

Spokesperson:  There are any number of different reasons why different people could be present at a meeting, okay?  Any number of reasons.   We have, for example, a lot of outreach programmes that relate to Israelis and Palestinians.  For example, on the Model United Nations, the Secretary-General was present and spoke to Palestinian students and Israeli students who take part in the Model United Nations.  I think that’s one example of why that would be necessary.  And that’s it, thank you 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.