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

29 October 2013

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

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

I am joined again by John Ging, who, as you know, is the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). And he is here to brief on the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic and also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I know that he will have some introductory remarks and will then take some questions.  And then after that, I will move a little bit over to my right, to the lectern, and carry on with the rest of the briefing and will be happy to take some other questions.  But for now, John, welcome back, and please, the floor is yours.  Welcome.

[The press conference by Mr. Ging is issued separately.]

So, first of all, I just would like to welcome a group of students who are sitting in on the briefing today.

** Syria

Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, ended a two-day visit to Damascus, in which he said that the Syrian Government and UNICEF had agreed on the importance of reaching hundreds of thousands of children in some of the worst affected parts of Syria with lifesaving vaccines, including those against polio.

Mr. Lake said that immunizing children is in its very nature non-political and has no connection to any military considerations.  He said that, with cases of polio now emerging in Syria for the first time since 1999, vaccinating children against polio is an urgent and critical priority for Syria and indeed for the whole world.

Also today, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that Wild Polio Virus Type 1 had been isolated in 10 cases in Syria.  Another 12 cases are still being investigated.  The cases are in the Deir Al Zour Province in the north-east region of Syria.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding a formal meeting this morning to discuss its working methods.

Yesterday afternoon, in a press statement, the members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attacks by the M23 rebel group against the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in North Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which one Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed.

** Nigeria

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spoke out today against forced returns to north-east Nigeria amid the recent escalation of violence in that region.  It also called for borders to be kept open for Nigerians fleeing the country and who may be in need of international protection.  Violence is estimated to have displaced some 5,000 people within the region, but as humanitarian access has been hampered by the attacks, the UN refugee agency believes that the actual number of people affected could be significantly higher.  Some 10,000 Nigerians have crossed into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in recent months.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will be visiting Côte d’Ivoire from today until Thursday.  During his visit, Mr. Ladsous will attend the fourth African Union High-Level Retreat of Special Envoys and Mediators in Abidjan.  He will also have meetings with the Ivorian authorities and meet with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, and staff of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).

**Press Conferences

Later this afternoon and tomorrow, there will be a number of briefings by human rights Rapporteurs.  And you will find out more about those briefings on our website.

And tomorrow at the Noon Briefing, the guests will be from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and they will discuss the challenges of adolescent pregnancy.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Benny?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Today in Geneva, Israel ended its boycott of the Human Rights Council and… and presented its annual or… whatever, the periodic review.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly welcomes the decision of the Israeli Government to participate in their universal periodic review in Geneva today.  This follows efforts by several international leaders, as well as those of the Human Rights Council President personally, which were supported by his Bureau and the Human Rights Council as a whole, and that was through a constructive, consensual and cross-regional approach.  The Secretary-General himself had impressed upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials the importance for Israel to re-engage with the universal periodic review mechanism as a cooperative and universal process enabling the international community to assess the state of human rights in all countries in the world in a fair and equitable manner.  And the Secretary-General certainly looks forward to a productive dialogue between Israel and the Human Rights Council.

Question:  Just to follow up:  The boycott, so-called boycott, of Israel of the Human Rights Council, which lasted a year and half or so, was because Israel alleged that the Human Rights Council is biased against Israel; very specifically, Israel is the only country that is not a full member of a regional group at the… in Geneva and also, there is one operative paragraph that singles out the… the occupied territories that doesn’t exist in any other human rights situation in the world, and therefore Israel alleges that the Human Rights Council is biased against it.  Does the Secretary-General think that all those… that those problems have been fixed?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to the second part of your question, I would simply repeat that the Secretary-General views this obviously as a universal process that enables the international community to assess human rights in an equitable manner and in a fair manner to all countries across the world.  And with regard to the first part of your question, you may wish to check again on the regional groups.  Yes, Joseph?

Question:  Yes, do you have any progress report that you can provide to us on the activities of the Joint Coordinator for the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]-UN Mission in Syria?  And, I think when she was introduced by the Secretary-General at that time, it was indicated that there was at least a hope that there would be a press briefing by her, you know, within a week or two, and I don’t believe that’s happened.  So could you find out when we can expect such a press briefing?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as I think we mentioned yesterday in our online update, the Special Coordinator, Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag, has been, as you know, in Damascus and in Cyprus.  She is going to be in The Hague this week and she will be briefing the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  She will then be coming to New York to brief the Security Council next week, and I will certainly relay your interest.  I think that she is aware, not least because of the dozens of interview requests that my office has received for her, she is aware of the interest.  However, she wanted to be able to really get a good fix, a good handle, on what is happening in the Mission in Damascus and also to look at the staging area in Cyprus, which is going to be an important component of the work of the Mission.  And then also she wanted to be able to report to both the Executive Council in The Hague and the Security Council here.  You will have seen already the update, the report, that has been presented by the Director General of the OPCW, Mr. [Ahmet] Üzümcü, that was submitted to the Executive Council in The Hague, and has also been submitted via the Secretary-General to the Security Council.  And on top of that, the Secretary-General has written his own letter to the Security Council as part of the reporting requirements.  And that gives, I think, a good overview and I’d refer you to that.  I am going back here, and then I am coming to you, Masood.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Regarding the terrorist attack in Saravan in Iran, to province of Sistan and Balochistan, has the Secretary-General have any comments or condemning the terrorist attack?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment, no.  I’d have to look into that and see what we have got on that.  I don’t have anything at the moment.  Masood and then Nizar?

Question:  Yes, sir.  This… do you have any Secretary-General’s reaction to Israeli attack inside Gaza yesterday, late yesterday?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as you know, rockets were fired out of Gaza, and then there was a military operation by Israel into Gaza, or over Gaza, I should say.  Again, the Secretary-General would urge restraint on both sides in this matter.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, one of the documents conveyed today to the press or published by the Security Council is showing that Mr.Reban as a representative of the Syrian coalition to the United Nations.  How can… I mean, we have… we have the Mission of Syria here and then one of the documents says that he is the representative of the Syrian coalition to the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, very simply put, I am not familiar with this document.  I’d have to look at that.  I am just not familiar with it, okay.  Yes, please, Edie?

Question:  Two questions, Martin?  First, has there been any letter that you know of from Saudi Arabia to any of the UN bodies or to the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, no.

Question:  And secondly, this morning, the Syrian State media announced that the Syrian Deputy Prime Minister had been fired for holding talks with US officials in Geneva about the hoped-for Geneva conference.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this as he, of course, is the convenor?

Spokesperson:  Well, Edie, we are obviously aware of those reports, but we don’t have any immediate comment on them.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I wanted to ask a… a… a… some questions about Somalia.  There was a… Shabelle Radio, which is a pretty well-known media there, was evicted by the Government from it… from its premises and… and some equipment destroyed.  The Government has announced that all media now have to register in two weeks or face, I guess, closure.  And also, a journalist, [Mohamed Mohamud] Tima’adde, has… was assaulted and died… is the seventh this year to die, and I wonder whether the Mission there or the Secretariat here has any comment on what seems to be a trend in this direction.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Deputy Secretary-General was in Mogadishu at the weekend, and he will be reporting to the Security Council later this week.  And he will speak to reporters after he has spoken to the Security Council, and I am sure that he will be addressing that particular topic, if not in the Council itself, then when speaking to you afterwards.  And so I would defer to what the Deputy Secretary-General might have to say. But I would say, with regard to this, that obviously we are following it very closely, not least because the Deputy Secretary-General was just there, and certainly, the death of any journalist carrying out his or her professional duties is something that we would regret.  And if someone has been killed in the course of their duties, that is something that we would of course condemn very strongly.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, had said that he learned with deep sorrow of the death of Mohamed Mohamud Tima’adde, a reporter with Universal TV, on the evening of 26 October.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also condemned the killing.]

Question:  Okay.  And if… if you don’t mind, I am sorry to ask about more… more… more death, but I wanted to ask you, there… there is a… there is conflicting reports whether AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] was definitely ambushed by Al-Shabaab in Lower Juba region and there is some… some are saying that there were five peacekeepers killed that… some people were saying none and I just wonder, here we…we obviously heard about the Tanzanian and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], there seems to be a… an immediate reaction, is it the same?   Are there… are there in fact peacekeepers being killed in AMISOM that are… it’s of… Security Council-approved mission, supported by DFS [Department of Field Support], are you aware of these… these deaths of, it said, Sierra Leonean peacekeepers or is it not the case?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I’d have to check with my colleagues in Political Affairs, who keep an eye on AMISOM.  I am personally not aware at this point about that, but I would be happy to look into it further to see if we can update you on that.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this Saudi Arabian… in… I mean, this whole thing going on for a long time, do you think it is still up to the regional groups to come up with the solution or the Secretary-General or the Secretariat can come up with any sort of a solution to this whole problem that… who is going to replace Saudi Arabia?  Is it going to be replaced?  Or is that seat going to be vacant, has been resolved, that situation?

Spokesperson:  They are all big questions, Masood.  I know that they are the topic of considerable conversation in and around this building, and they have been for… well, ever since the announcement was made on Friday the week before last.  I don’t have any update.  I would simply point out again that this is a matter for Member States, and not for the Secretary-General.  He is obviously following it very closely, but this is a matter for Member States.  Yes, Nizar?  And then Matthew.

Question:  Yeah, Martin, regarding the situation in Bahrain, it has been a very long time since we heard any statement describing the situation there.  Also, the escalation in Tripoli, in Lebanon, do you have any statement regarding that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I know that the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, who is the head of our mission, political mission in Beirut, he had a meeting today with Government officials and did speak about precisely this topic, Tripoli, after he had that meeting.  So I would refer you to what he said.  I think he was even speaking in Arabic; as you know, he speaks fluent Arabic.  With regard to Bahrain, I don’t have any update beyond what we have said in the past, Nizar.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about DRC and also about Abyei.  One the… the… the DCR question is one that I have been… the… the… the… I know that on Friday it was said that the Forced Intervention Brigade in MONUSCO weren’t involved and… and… so I just want… weren’t involved in the fighting of FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] against M23, so… I know a peacekeeper did die and I would I just wanted to get, I guess, the UN… what’s the UN’s description… what… what was the Force Intervention Brigade, you know, doing at that time?  There was a description by France, but I would rather get the Secretariat’s one.  And then I have this Abyei question, if you don’t mind.

Spokesperson:  What was the Abyei one?

Question:  Okay, the Abyei one is… is… it has to do with… it seems like, despite it being, you know, countenanced against the Security Council and by… by… by the Secretary-General’s statement that there is a… a… a… a sort of informal referendum taking place, there are pictures of ballots being cast, I mean, by… by residents of Abyei, and I wanted to know, what… what is the UN make of this?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have said that clearly, it’s not countenanced; we have said that there should not be unilateral moves undertaken, that this should be done in a consensual fashion, so I’d refer you to the most recent statement that was made on this topic by us.  With regard to the Force Intervention Brigade, it is not undertaking offensive operations at this stage, but it is working as part of the UN Mission to protect civilians.  The Force Intervention Brigade troops have been intensely engaged in protection of civilians activities ‑ just as the other MONUSCO troops in North Kivu ‑ and this is in order to minimize the harm to civilians in the recent clashes between the M23 and the Congolese Army.  The Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed in an ambush by the M23 while he was on a protection of civilians patrol in a zone known as the “Governor Hills” on the Kiwanja-Rutshuru axis, and that is 25 kilometres north of Goma.  Contrary to what you have been saying, Matthew, I did not say “no”, I said, “at that time”, okay?  So I think you should be careful about that.  Thanks very much.  Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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