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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, and welcome to the briefing.
**Noon Briefing Guest Today
It is a pleasure to welcome back Christiana Figueres, who is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Welcome back. And I know that Ms. Figueres has a few remarks to make, and will then be happy to take questions. And after that, I will be able to give you some information on some other activities taking place here today and answer your questions directed at me.
So, first of all, Ms. Figueres, welcome, and the floor is yours.
[The Spokesperson continued with his portion of the briefing after the press conference by Ms. Figueres.]
So I have a few more items, and will be happy to take questions after that energizing briefing, I would say. Let’s hope I can keep that up.
So first of all, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and this is on the Appeals Chamber Judgment in the Charles Taylor Case.
The Secretary-General welcomes today’s delivery by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) of the appeal judgment in the case of Mr. Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia. This is a historic and momentous day for the people of Sierra Leone and the region. The judgment is a significant milestone in international criminal justice, as it confirms the conviction of a former Head of State for aiding, abetting and planning war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Secretary-General wishes to congratulate everyone at the SCSL for this important achievement and thank them for their commitment to ensuring accountability for the serious crimes committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone.
The SCSL has been a model of a cooperative partnership to bring those responsible for serious international crimes to justice in accordance with international standards of fairness and due process of law. It has helped the process of national reconciliation and the restoration of peace in Sierra Leone.
The Secretary-General thanks all Member States which have contributed to the Court, and calls on the international community to preserve and promote its legacy by supporting the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone which will commence functioning upon the closure of the SCSL in the coming weeks.
And you will have seen that we, just a short while ago, issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Pakistan earthquake.
And in that statement, the Secretary-General says he is saddened by the loss of life in Pakistan, and the damage to thousands of homes caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck parts of Balochistan on 24 September. The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the people and Government of Pakistan, particularly the families of those who have been killed or otherwise affected in this disaster. The United Nations stands ready to lend assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs resulting from the earthquake and to mobilize any international support needed.
And this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Ministerial Meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Partners Forum. The Secretary-General noted there that the horrific attack in Nairobi this past weekend was a grim reminder of the potent threat posed by Al-Shabaab. He said that it reminds us that we must give the highest priority to our common goal of building peace in Somalia. The Secretary-General said that Somalia continues to face a serious security challenge, and that this is the time to redouble our commitment to security.
The Secretary-General then addressed the first-ever high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament held by the General Assembly. He said that some might complain that nuclear disarmament is little more than a dream, but he added that that ignores the very tangible benefits disarmament would bring for all mankind. And the Secretary-General said that it was now up to Member States to take meaningful, practical steps to achieve our great disarmament goal.
At a meeting on the Sahel, the Secretary-General noted that our collective efforts have helped improve the political and security situation in Mali and address some of the broader challenges in the region. He added that the United Nations integrated strategy, developed under the leadership of his Special Envoy, Romano Prodi, prioritizes governance, security and resilience, but needs adequate resources and the engagement of the whole UN system.
And a short while ago, the Secretary-General addressed the Foreign Ministers of the Group of 77, which he said can help the United Nations effectively use multilateralism as a force for change.
And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will be speaking at a number of events. These include one on the World Humanitarian Summit, the Security Council high-level meeting on small arms, and a special meeting of a group of supporters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He will also make remarks at a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations, as well as at the meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar. On all those, we will be providing information and the remarks.
And the Deputy Secretary-General spoke this morning at a meeting on the rule of law and the post-2015 development agenda.
And yesterday evening, he spoke also at a meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, saying that participants had taken an important step by committing Governments to intensifying their efforts to achieve those goals.
In a separate meeting on humanitarian needs in Syria and its neighbours, the Deputy Secretary-General noted that some 7 million people in Syria — that’s nearly one third of the population — have been displaced. Another 2.1 million have fled the country as refugees. He said that more than 3,000 schools and more than half the country’s hospitals have been damaged or destroyed. You can also find the Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks online.
As I have mentioned already, the mission led by Professor Åke Sellström arrived in Damascus yesterday afternoon to resume its fact-finding activities in Syria related to the pending credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons. And just to say that the mission is continuing to receive the highest level of support and assistance from various parts of the United Nations in Syria and in the region. And following its arrival in Damascus, the team finalized preparations for its forthcoming work, including meeting with Syrian authorities in connection with its fact-finding activities. And we will keep you updated on that as we go along.
Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Yemen, has concluded a month-long visit to the country and will present his report to the Security Council tomorrow. His report is to highlight the progress made in the political process and the National Dialogue Conference in Yemen. It also focuses on the initial deliberations of the two-week long negotiations on the Southern Question, as well as the remaining challenges. After the Security Council meeting, the Special Adviser will head back to Sana’a to continue supporting talks and facilitating consensus on the Southern Question, the outcome document of the National Dialogue and the launch of the constitution-making process.
Shortly, in fact around now, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will be briefing a ministerial meeting on violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. This will mark the first time that this topic will be discussed at the ministerial level at the United Nations. In her remarks, Ms. Pillay is expected to highlight the remarkable progress made in the past decade in securing the human rights of members of the LGBT community, but to point out that despite advances, serious challenges remain. And her full remarks will be issued shortly.
**Press Encounters Today and Tomorrow
Needless to say, as you are all very well aware, there are numerous stakeouts and press conferences taking place this afternoon. And details on all of them are available either on our website or in my office.
Questions, please? Yes, Mr. Abbadi. And then Matthew, yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin. As you know, yesterday, the Secretary-General met with the Foreign Ministers of the P-5 and it was noted that they discussed Syria and the possibility of the Geneva conference and some dates for that conference. Were any specific dates discussed and was the Special… the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, present at the meeting? Thank you.
Spokesperson: On the last part, yes, he was. On the first part, the focus at that meeting was primarily on the chemical weapons aspect of what is happening in Syria, but of course, there was discussion on the broader picture, which encompasses the need to move forward as quickly as possible to the international conference on Syria that needs to be held in Geneva as soon as possible. What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General will be holding another high-level preparatory meeting for that international conference on Syria, and that will be tomorrow evening in his offices, and I am sure that we will provide details after that. And needless to say, you can tell by the title of the meeting what the discussion will be about there. Matthew?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I am going to ask you about DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and also about Haiti. In… in DRC, there is the… it’s reported or there… there is differing… differing reports about renewed fighting between the M23 and the… either the Government, and the M23 says that there is also FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) and Mai-Mai involvement on the Government side. What is the status of this fighting and what is MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) or its intervention brigade doing?
Spokesperson: I am aware of the reports, and I am awaiting an update from my colleagues from the Mission there. I am sure that they are heavily focused on this, and as soon as I have some information, I will let you know.
[The Spokesperson later provided the following information from MONUSCO: “On 26 September, fighting broke out in Mabenga, north of Goma, when patrols of the M23 and the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) ran into each other. MONUSCO reports that two M23 were killed in the clash and one FARDC soldier was injured. The fighting has since stopped. MONUSCO is closely monitoring the situation and stands ready to protect civilians at risk in the area."]
Question: And on the other… I wanted to ask you, there is a… there is a day-long, but it’s this afternoon… it’s… it’s… will peak, a protest outside the United Nations about the Haiti cholera issue alleging that the UN brought cholera and… and that more than 8,000 people have been killed. So I wondered, I just wanted to be sure to get… use this site to get your response to… to this… this, you know, civil society protest on this issue. Is there some… beyond saying that the legal claims are not receivable, is there some response to… to… to this demonstration?
Spokesperson: Well, everybody is entitled to demonstrate to express their opinion. The position of the Secretary-General is and always has been that while the claims are not receivable, that this decision would not in any way diminish his personal commitment and that of the United Nations to do all that the Organization can do to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic. And I think that we have been providing quite a lot of detail about the efforts under way on the ground in Haiti to help in that respect. The key factor here is the funding shortfall and also the fact that many of the partners that work with the United Nations in tackling this do face difficulties themselves in raising the funding that they need to work with the United Nations to tackle this. That is one of the key focuses of the work that the United Nations is looking at right now.
Question: Is this coming up in any of the… the… the… either the bilaterals or the meetings with the Secretary-General? Can you say anything about what in terms of trying to meet this? I also… I mean the protesters are saying there should be reparations, not just work on the sanitation system, but I just wanted to know, in the many meetings, which clearly the Secretary-General was having, is this… is this coming up and… and what can you say about that?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is certainly stressing in the relevant meetings with the relevant leaders that there is a considerable funding shortfall internationally, and that this is something that needs to be addressed so that this cholera epidemic can be worked on in the right way to help the people of Haiti. Yes, right at the back, and then I am coming to you. Yes, please?
Question: Martin [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Could you use the microphone, please? Thank you very much. Yes?
Question: Martin, is it true that the President of [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: You need to press, switch the button.
Correspondent: Oh, that’s right!
Spokesperson: There you go, there you go, there you go!
Question: Is it true that President Abbas will be allowed to sit in the Head of State chair before he gives his speech even though they are permanent observer status?
Spokesperson: He will be allowed to use that chair. The Office of Legal Affairs did look into this matter, and the State of Palestine is a non-member observer State. And I think as you know, the Holy See, the Vatican, when the Pontiff, the Pope, has spoken at the General Assembly, has also used that chair in the same way, and that is the legal precedent, if you like. Okay, yes, please?
Question: Hi, Hayes Brown, Think Progress. I have two questions; one on Syria, one on the LGBT meeting going on upstairs. The first; you… as you noted, the chemical weapons team is back in Syria. I was wondering if you have announced yet what the other sites are that they are going to be visiting. Last time they were there, there were two… they were visiting, I believe, three sites and they’d only announced the name of one of them.
Spokesperson: Well, what we have said is that the team will continue its investigations related to the allegations that stemmed from the Khan al-Asal incident from March, and that they will also be investigating other pending allegations, but we are not saying precisely where they are. You will recall that, as I said yesterday, there were two other pending allegations, but there are also three other incidents that were brought to the attention of the United Nations by the Syrian authorities. And so, together, they need to be looked at to see to what extent the team will further investigate. So for now, what we are saying is other pending allegations, okay. And when we have more details, we will let you know about that.
Question: All right, thank you. And the other question is, so, first of all, will you be releasing the list of the full Member States who are taking part in the LGBT ministerial upstairs? And what sort of push-back was there from Member States on having this meeting in the first place?
Spokesperson: Well, on the first part of your question, I believe that there is a list already available. The press release from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as I recall, does list the Member States that are talking part and the ministers of those States. And with regard to the other part of your question, I think you’d have to ask the Member States themselves. I don’t have information on that. Pamela?
Question: Thank you, Martin. Can you flesh out a little the Friday evening meeting on the Geneva Syria meeting… summit with the Secretary-General? Will there be a list of who is attending and is it assumed to be related to the European Union Catherine Ashton meeting in terms of participants?
Spokesperson: It is a high-level meeting, and we’ll provide more details at the time. We’d already said, as you know, that there was going to be a trilateral meeting involving Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry, along with the Secretary-General and, obviously, Mr. Brahimi. That format has now been expanded, and we will provide details on that meeting and I would hope to be able to give you some kind of a readout of that meeting immediately afterwards.
Question: And so just to follow-up…
Question: …at a minimum, participants are the two Secretaries of State, the Secretary-General and the Special Envoy… Joint Special Envoy?
Spokesperson: That is correct. There are other Member States involved, and if I am able to give you details before hand, I will. But certainly, afterwards, we will be able to do that. Joe, and then Oleg, yes?
Question: Yeah, just [inaudible] the Sellström team to Syria, has it been worked out yet or is it still under discussion how long they will be permitted to stay in Syria to conduct their work or will it be open-ended until they determine they have enough evidence to take back? And can you describe discussions relating to security guarantees, hopefully to avoid the sniping incident that occurred the last time?
Spokesperson: No, Joe, I am not going to talk about security arrangements; I think that’s pretty obvious. The team, as I said, has been focussing since its arrival, and of course even before that, in its preparations to go back to Damascus, on how it is going to work, what it needs to hone in on during its stay in Syria. I don’t yet have full details of how that is shaping up. They will be there as long as they need to be to complete the work that they had already started and so that they will then be able to finish the final report on the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Thanks, Martin. You said that the chemical experts finalized their preparations; does it mean that tomorrow they are ready to start their work?
Spokesperson: Let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow, okay. I can’t prejudge exactly what they are going to be doing and when. Yes?
Question: Do you have any information about threats that the Venezuelan President says he received and that’s why he cancelled his trip to UNGA this year?
Question: No? Nothing came into the Secretary-General’s office?
Spokesperson: I have no information on that. I can certainly check, but I have no information on that. Yes?
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that no correspondence or communication on this issue was received.]
Question: Sure, Martin, I want to ask, the… the… the… there is now a report that this sexual abuse incident in… in Mali is attributable… is attributed to… to… to the Chadian component. And people are linking it to in fact that same kind of unit of 160 that left Tessalit, came to Gao and had no place to stay and were driving around in 40 vehicles. So I just wanted to know, one, is there any update on what… you know, it… it… it… it had been said that… that the Mission was going to speak with Chad and with those soldiers as to why they left their post, but also, can you… one, can you either confirm or deny this idea that the… the… the allegation is that it was rape by four Chadian soldiers? And two, is there any connection between that and them having left their post and where are they now; where are these 160 Chadian soldiers?
Spokesperson: Well, I will have to come back to you on the last bit of your question. On the first aspect, I can confirm that the allegations have been levelled against Chadian soldiers, and the troop-contributing country, in other words Chad, has of course been notified. And as I have said before, the country, the troop-contributing country has primary responsibility for investigating the matter and ensuring that appropriate disciplinary and judicial measures are taken should the allegations be well founded. And the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, will offer all necessary support to the troop-contributing country to ensure that it is able to fulfil its responsibilities in this regard.
Question: Can I just ask, because I mean… and not to… to… even at… when they were incorporated into MINUSMA there were questions raised because they are on the UN’s child soldier recruitment list that maybe this was problematic and I know it… through… the various road… benchmarks were set on the child soldier issue for them to meet and it was said if they don’t meet them they will be out of the Mission. Is it… is it… having these two problems both at once, is there some review of whether, you know, maybe it is not the right time to have Chad serving in that Mission?
Spokesperson: Well, there is clearly an investigation under way into this specific allegation, which is a serious allegation and which we take very seriously. And as I said on Monday, as soon as that allegation surfaced, the Mission did spring into action. And as I have said, the country has been notified and obviously has the primary responsibility to investigate. The broader question that you have raised, I would need to come back to you on that.
Question: And just one last thing on this, sorry, it just came… came to mind as you were saying that. I know that the Secretary-General met with President Deby last night; I just wondered if maybe you can say, I’ve read the readout; it doesn’t seem to get to this level of detail, but can you say whether this… whether the child soldier issue or this more recent sexual abuse issue came up in that meeting?
Spokesperson: Well, the question of these allegations relating to Chadian soldiers, the allegations that have become apparent this week, they were indeed raised by UN officials with the Chadian delegation that has been in New York this week. Yes, Pamela, last question?
Question: Thank you. Just on the 4 p.m. P3… P5+1, plus Catherine Ashton on Iran, will there be any involvement by the Secretary-General and will the Secretary-General be… and/or will the Secretary-General be briefed on the results on the Iran nuclear programme?
Spokesperson: Well, I am sure that there will be an opportunity for the Secretary-General to be updated on that meeting. No, there is not a role for him in that meeting itself, but as I think you are aware, the Secretary-General will be meeting with President Rouhani this afternoon, at 2:10 p.m. And we will of course provide a readout of that meeting as soon as we can after it finishes. Thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.
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