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

17 December 2013

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

17 December 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, to those of you in the room and those of you who are following on UN Web TV.

**South Sudan

The Secretary-General spoke by telephone this morning with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan.  He expressed his concern about the reports of fighting in Juba and of reports that members of certain communities were being targeted.  He said that up to 13,000 civilians have sought refuge at the UN compounds in Juba.

The Secretary-General urged all parties to cease hostilities immediately, and called on the Government to exercise restraint in the management of the situation and to guarantee the protection of all civilians regardless of their ethnicities.

And on the ground, the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, said that discipline, command and control in the security forces are more important than ever at this juncture.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, has also called on all South Sudanese and all parties to refrain from any community motivated violence and any action that fuels ethnic tensions.

The UN Mission continues to provide protection to civilians seeking refuge from the violence.  As of early this morning, the Mission’s clinic in Juba had admitted 39 civilians for medical treatment.  In the last two days, nine babies were born in the Mission’s health facilities, eight in Juba and one in Bor, in Jonglei State.

** Central African Republic

The UN refugee agency said today that it now believes that some 210,000 people have been displaced in the last two weeks alone in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

The refugee agency also said that it is sending additional emergency teams to the country because of the deteriorating situation there and reports of new displacement.  Staff have begun arriving this week and more are on their way.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has assisted nearly 100,000 people with 414 tons of food in Bangui since the beginning of the crisis.

Near the airport, the World Food Programme has been providing food to some 40,000 people as many people displaced by violence are located there.  The distributions have started from 13 December, but were halted over the weekend for security reasons and were due to resume today.

There are more details on this available online.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, has called for an investigation to be quickly launched after some 21 bodies were found by Mission troops in Beni territory, in North Kivu.

The Mission says that the victims, including women and children, were brutally killed and that three minors were raped before being beheaded.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Martin Kobler, said that these atrocities cannot go unpunished and he called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

The UN Mission is conducting foot patrols in the area and has dispatched helicopters to prevent any further deterioration of security.

**Security Council

The Security Council was briefed this morning by Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

Mr. Kubiš told the Council that progress continues and efforts are on track, although not without challenges and temporary setbacks.

Despite volatility and uncertainty, he said that the fundamental elements required to enhance stability in Afghanistan and the wider region are being consolidated as the drawdown of international forces continues.

Mr. Kubiš said that the United Nations remains committed to long-term partnership in support of Afghan institutions and Afghan priorities with the goal of a stable, inclusive and sustainable State.

His full remarks are available in my office.

And this afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, and that is followed by an open meeting and consultations on West Africa.

** Syria

The Office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced today that the international conference on Syria will begin in Montreux in Switzerland, on 22 January.

The conference will then continue with negotiations between the two Syrian sides on 24 January at the Palais de Nations in Geneva and will continue there.

As you know, Mr. Brahimi will hold a trilateral meeting this Friday with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, and [ United States] Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.  The meeting will be followed in the afternoon by a meeting with all the five permanent members of the Security Council and the immediate neighbours of Syria; namely, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.  It will also include representatives of the League of Arab States and the European Union.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

A couple of press conferences.  Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs to preview their World Economic Situation and Prospects for 2014 report.

And then at 12:30 p.m., the President of the General Assembly, Ambassador John Ashe, will be here for his end-of-year press conference.

**“Rights Up Front”

In response to a question yesterday to the Secretary-General during his press conference, the Deputy Secretary-General is briefing the General Assembly in an informal meeting of the plenary this afternoon on the Secretary-General’s initiative, “Rights up front”.

Last month, the Secretary-General wrote to UN staff about this initiative, and this commitment statement is available online.

So, that’s what I have and I’m happy to take questions.  Yes, please.  And then Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Today and yesterday… Syrian Army bombing Aleppo indiscriminately and some civilians and children died.  Is there any comment about it?

Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports of civilian causalities.  We are aware of reports about aerial activity, but we don’t have any firm details, so I would have to come back to you should I be able to get more details on that.  We are certainly aware of the reports.

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I want to ask about Mali, but I just have a follow-up to what you read out about “Rights up front”.  I wanted to know… I understand it’s an informal — is what the Deputy Secretary-General says… will that be public or webcast?  And also, will the “Rights up front” plan itself, as has been said by the Executive Office, be made public after this briefing?

Spokesperson:  I think we’ll have to wait and see.  I think you would need to check with the Office of the President of the General Assembly on whether that informal meeting is being webcast.  I just don’t know the answer to that.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Deputy Secretary-General’s presentation to the General Assembly on the “Rights up front” action plan would be available on the Webcast at webtv.un.org.]

Question:  But, and I’m sorry, I know that when the Secretary-General, for example, when he briefed on Syria chemical weapons on Friday, was that at the decision of the [President of the General Assembly] or the Secretary-General?  That’s why I’m asking you.

Spokesperson:  It is at the discretion of the Office of the President of the General Assembly.  Of course, it is possible for remarks to be distributed and I will check into that, but typically for such remark to be webcast, it’s at the discretion of the Office of the President of the General Assembly, and rightly so.  Okay.  Yes, Erol; and then Sherwin.

Question:  Just, if possible, a little bit of clarification.  Yesterday, Secretary-General, and before, repeatedly said that the perpetrators for the using of chemical weapons in Syria should be brought to justice and should face the justice.  However, when he was asked several times also — do you prefer this mandate of the Security Council, which was fact-finding mandate of the inspector’s team to be more than that, in fact, to find out who is to be blamed, who is behind this, he somehow avoided to answer that.  My question is:  how the Secretary-General view his appeal in that light without having the mandate for his UN team, any UN team to find out who is behind those heinous crimes?

Spokesperson:  That’s very simple.  The mandate that was provided by the General Assembly and endorsed by the Security Council was very carefully framed, and it was put to full effect in this investigation that took place.  The final report, as you know, was issued and the report on the Ghouta incident was issued earlier.  And the mandate was clear — to determine whether chemical weapons had been used, not by whom.  And it was indeed established that chemical weapons were used.  The question of accountability is something that needs to be dealt with, if it is to be dealt with, separately, not within the framework of that mechanism, which was laid down by the General Assembly.  It would be for Member States either to revisit that mechanism or to look at it in a different way.  And there are a number of different methods that could be used, that are available to Member States.  But, it would be for them to do that.

Question:  Will the Secretary-General call Member States to look [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I think that by saying that the Secretary-General believes that there must be accountability, in a sense, he has already done that.  Sherwin?

Question:  On South Sudan, has the [United Nations] Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) been able to establish what exactly is going on?  I mean, I know there have been claims of a coup by President Salva Kiir, precipitated by… started by troops that are loyal to the former Vice President, Riek Machar.  Do you know where the former Vice-President is?  Is there clarity on what exactly is the cause of this?

Spokesperson:  Certainly, the Mission is very closely monitoring this.  Its primary concern at the moment is to ensure the safety of the civilians who sought refuge, and indeed, civilians who are outside of the compound and seeking assistance.  And I know that OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is also deeply concerned about the safety and security of civilians that are affected by this armed violence and they are aware of reports of displaced people seeking shelter in other parts of the city.  The Office is saying that humanitarian partners urgently need access to areas where civilians may be located, to assess their needs and provide medical care to people who have been injured.  Also, the Office is working with Government authorities to secure access to where people may be sheltering.  The humanitarian partners are mobilizing aid including water, blankets and nutritional support to ensure that an immediate response can be launched once access is secured.

But, the violence, according to the latest information that we have from the Mission, continues.  Precisely between whom, and precisely what is the root cause of this is something that has yet to be fully established.  If we get more details from the Mission, who are of course monitoring and reporting — if we get more information that we’re able to provide to you, then certainly we would do that.  I think what’s really important — sorry to interrupt you — what’s really important is that the Secretary-General is looking at this extremely closely.  He spoke to President Salva Kiir this morning; it was around 7:30 in the morning New York time.  He urged all parties to cease hostilities immediately, and called on the Government to exercise restraint, as I mentioned earlier on, and also he urged the President to make sure that all security forces operate in full compliance with International Humanitarian Law.  And he said he was counting on the President to exercise real leadership at this critical moment, and to instil discipline in the ranks of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) to stop this fighting among them.  So, pretty clear words from the [Secretary-General] in a phone call to the President this morning.

Question:  So, fair to say, Martin, that the UN has not made a determination as to whether a coup has actually taken place?

Spokesperson:  I think I would need to check further with my colleagues in the Mission.  What it is fair to say is that there’s been considerable fighting and certainly enough fighting that a large number of people have felt it necessary to seek refuge in the UN compounds in Juba, and not just in Juba.  Yes Erol, did you have your hand up?  I’ll tell you what, I’m coming to your colleague a little bit further back here and then I’ll come to you.  Working?  There you are.

Question:  In light of the fact that the resolution was prompted by the Russians in terms of…?

Spokesperson:  Which resolution?

Correspondent:  I’m sorry — about the chemical attack, looking into dismantling chemical weapons.  Just yesterday, I’m not sure whom in the Russian delegation said that the attack was “staged”.

Spokesperson:  Which attack are we talking about?

Question:  The chemical attack in Syria on 21 August was staged either by the West or by the rebels.  I’m not sure.  But, how can the Member States come to an objective conclusion as to who perpetrated it, if the Russians are already making statements saying that the attack was staged?

Spokesperson:  The report into the 21 August incident and the final report that was issued just this week — they speak for themselves.  They are the result of extremely careful, professional work that has been recognized by everybody.  And I’d think that I’d simply say that the Secretary-General stands firmly behind that report and has full confidence in the professionalism and integrity of those who worked on that report.  Erol, then Matthew.

Question:  I just wondered whether the Secretary-General do have any comment regarding last week opening of yet another mass grave in northern Kosovo.  I don’t know the name now, but it was widely reported and actually that was one of the prepared questions yesterday — his press conference.  So, I wondered does he have any comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that at the moment.  Let me check for you Erol.  Okay.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  If possible, I’d like to ask about Mali, Cyprus and the Republic of Congo.  On Mali, I wanted to ask you that there are reports that the UN peacekeepers, Chadian contingent, shot at… trying to hit Tuareg rebels and injured two civilians.  And I wanted to know whether you’ve gotten that in.  And also, there’s a report of a shelling of apparently a compound, where both the UN peacekeepers and the French troops are both located.  Is that the case?  And putting the two questions together, does the UN acknowledge that its peacekeepers in Mali are combatants or parties to an armed conflict for purposes of international humanitarian law?

Spokesperson:  I’m leaving that part of the question to one side, for the moment and will simply answer the first part.  The Mission reports that, last night, there were at least three explosions that were heard in the vicinity of the Mission’s camp in Kidal.  Preliminary assessments indicate that rockets or mortars exploded in the vicinity of the camp, without causing injury to MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) personnel or damage to MINUSMA assets.  With regard to the other incident that I think you’re referring to, the Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, says that it is investigating the bombing attack on Saturday, 14 December, in Kidal, which killed two of its peacekeepers and injured a number of Malians. Since then, national forces and the Mission have further stepped up security and safety.  The Mission reports that on two separate occasions, its peacekeepers fired upon approaching vehicles in the context of security threats.  At this stage, we have nothing further to report on these incidents.  We will update you with information as we get it.  And that’s what I have for you, okay.  Any other questions?

Question:  Can I, just for the record, correct myself?  It was [inaudible] mass grave in Serbia, in Raska.  So, for the record, it was not in northern Kosovo.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you Erol.

Question:  On Cyprus, I wanted to know… it’s reported that the Government there has protested in some way to both to Lisa Buttenheim and there may be… either have done it yet or are going to do it here at Headquarters, about a meeting that Alexander Downer had in the northern part of the country.  Are you… what’s the response?  Was Mr. Downer’s meeting appropriate?  What’s your response to the Cypriot protest?

Spokesperson:  I have some information on Mr. Downer’s recent activities, which I’ll be happy to share with you a little bit later.  But certainly, the Secretary-General is, as always, extremely appreciative of Mr. Downer’s efforts and indeed of the parties concerned.  There has been some progress in recent days.  There is work that still remains to be done.  But, I will provide to you, and to others, more details right after this.

[The Spokesperson later said that, during his visit to Cyprus last week, Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser, held intensive discussions with the sides to move forward the conclusion of a joint statement that has been under negotiation over the past weeks.  Through these discussions and through constructive engagement by the Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Greece and Turkey, important progress was achieved on the joint statement.  Although this work has not yet concluded, the Secretary-General is hopeful that it will lead to a successful outcome soon.]

Question:  And do you have anything on Republic of Congo, Brazzaville, it’s reported there have been some… I don’t know if it’s a reported coup, but some kind of a crackdown.  And it was reported that a Colonel Ntsourou has sought refuge with the UN.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesperson:  Not right here, right now.  But, let me check with my colleagues.  Okay.  I have time for one more question.  Go on then, Matthew.  See, so don’t ever complain.  Don’t ever complain to me you don’t get questions, okay?

Question:  Well, I may complain in the future if something happens.  But, I’m very grateful today.  That I can absolutely confirm.  But, I wanted to know…

Spokesperson:  Your generosity knows no bounds, Matthew.

Question:  I mean, I acknowledge this.  What I wanted to know is, yesterday, it was said, sort of less than formally, that this idea of sending the guards to Libya is now a no-go.  It was said by a diplomat at the Security Council stakeout.  And I wanted to know, just from the Secretariat’s point of view, is there now an attempt to sort of revamp the plan with a smaller number?  Where does this issue of security… also Security Council trip seems to somehow ride on it.  What… do you have any ideas… is it going back to the drawing board, or is it a reduced force?  Where does it stand?

Spokesperson:  How, if and when the Security Council rides to Libya is a matter for the Security Council.  As for a guard contingent, I think that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Mitri, made it very clear in his presentation to the Security Council what this is for, which is to guard personnel.  Nothing more, nothing less.  There have been all kinds of misrepresentations in Libya through various means in the media and elsewhere suggesting that this is something more.  It is not.  It is simply a guard contingent to guard our personnel who are working in rather dangerous circumstances.  It is something that has been done in other missions and there is nothing untoward in that.  Obviously, there needs to be more work to make sure that people understand precisely what this is about, and I think if you look at what Mr. Mitri said in his briefing to the Council, he did spell out some of those concerns that have been expressed and tried to alleviate those concerns.  That’s what I would have for you.  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.