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

18 December 2013

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

18 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 to those of you who are following on webtv.

**Secretary-General on South Sudan

The Secretary-General spoke to the press on South Sudan this morning to discuss his concerns about the current situation there.  He said that he had spoken to President Salva Kiir yesterday, urging him to do everything he possibly can to end the violence and to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law.  The Secretary-General also impressed on President Kiir the need to resume dialogue with the political opposition and welcomed the reports this morning that the President is willing to enter into such talks.

The Secretary-General said that it is essential to protect the human rights of all those who are detained.  Mandated human rights monitors must have full access to visit the detainees.  Security forces must operate in full compliance with international humanitarian law.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) continues to support civilians in its two compounds in Juba, now numbering close to 20,000 people, as well as several hundred in Jonglei.  The Secretary-General called on the Government to cooperate fully with the Mission as it fulfils its protection mandate, including in the provision of basic relief to civilians in need and in conducting human rights investigations into allegations of human rights abuses in recent days.

**South Sudan

And, also on South Sudan, the UN Mission there, UNMISS, reports that the situation in central Juba appears to have calmed down to some degree, except for reports of gunfire in parts of the city overnight.

The Mission continues to provide water and medical care, and its police personnel are maintaining order among internally displaced people around the camps.

It also says that tensions seem to be on the rise in the other states, such as Unity and Upper Nile.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General addressed the Security Council today at the opening of its debate on drug trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel.  He said that drug trafficking presents an enormous challenge to peace, stability, economic and social development in the region.

The Secretary-General stressed the need to promote a coherent, integrated and pragmatic international response, rooted in sustainable development and full respect for human rights.

He also encouraged Member States to actively engage in a broad and open discussion leading up to the September 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem.

And earlier, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the Disengagement Observer Force, as well as a resolution on the completion of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

** Central African Republic

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that an estimated 2 million people need assistance in the Central African Republic, including 1.1 million of them who don't have enough food.

Many people in the affected areas have received food aid, such as 10-day food rations and nutrition support.  Since the beginning of this month, the World Food Programme (WFP) has reached more than 80,000 displaced people in the capital, Bangui, with food supplies.

And the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, are in the Central African Republic today to assess the impact of the conflict on the civilian population, especially on women and children.

The mission, which will end on Saturday, will conduct field visits and hold consultations with the Transitional Authorities of the Central African Republic.  It will also meet representatives of regional organizations in the capital, Bangui, the diplomatic community, faith-based organizations, civil society, the humanitarian community and United Nations officials working in the country.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, has expressed concern about recent local conflicts in the country.  He said these clashes could threaten the country's progress towards peace and stability, as well as the rights of thousands of affected citizens.

Clashes have been reported near Jowhar in Middle Shabelle, some areas around Beledweyne in Hiraan and around K50 in Lower Shabelle.  Reports indicate that clan-based militia are evicting farmers and villagers from productive farm land.  Those affected often come from smaller, or minority, clans and communities.

Mr. Kay called on the Federal Government of Somalia to continue to take these incidents seriously and asked elders and leaders to find peaceful solutions.

He also said that the federal Government should investigate fully what has happened.  There is a press release available online with more details.

** Syria

The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Üzümcü, submitted yesterday to the Organisation’s Executive Council a plan for destroying the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons outside of the country.  The plan aims to meet a deadline set by the Council to destroy Syria’s priority chemicals by 31 March next year and other chemicals by the thirtieth of June.

He confirmed that the major elements of a transportation and destruction plan are in place and that the mission in Syria is making progress against heavy odds.

The Director-General cautioned, however, that time schedules have been disrupted by a combination of security concerns, clearance procedures in international transit, and even inclement weather conditions.  He said the possibility of some delays cannot be discounted.

** Syria — Humanitarian

The leading UN aid officials have urged all the parties to the Syrian conflict to ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations throughout the country.  A humanitarian ceasefire would allow aid convoys to deliver assistance to communities which remain out of reach for the time being.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that humanitarian aid is being, and will continue to be, channeled in a way which fully respects the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality. It should not be made a hostage of military or political considerations.

** Iran

As we told you this morning, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone yesterday with Javad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

They discussed the Syria crisis and the Secretary-General's hope that Iran can help achieve a political solution to Syria's trauma.

And, the Secretary-General did also speak by telephone with the new German Foreign Minister, Mr. [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier.  That was simply to congratulate him on his appointment.

**Press Conferences Today

As you know, immediately following this briefing at 12:30 p.m., the President of the General Assembly, Ambassador John Ashe, will be here for his end-of-year press conference.

**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the guest at the noon briefing will be the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, and he will be here to brief on the “Rights up front” action plan.

And, I’m right up front now, and I’m ready for questions.  Sherwin?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi Martin, thank you.  Has the UN Mission in South Sudan been able to establish the cause… the reasons for the recent upsurge in violence amidst claims of coups and reprisals and denials of coups by the opposition?  Are we closer to an understanding of what is going on there?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the point here is that it’s an extremely confused situation.  As we speak right now, there is a video, a conference call going on between the Mission and the senior leadership here at UN Headquarters in New York, precisely to try to establish a clearer picture of what is happening.  But, it would not be, in any case, for us to make such a determination.  Our concern is primarily for protection of civilians, and of course, protection of our own personnel who are working to help the people of South Sudan.  That’s where we are at the moment, so, clearly, you’ve seen the Secretary-General come out of the Security Council to address you directly about his concerns.  You will have heard that he’s been working the telephones.  He’s in constant contact with the Mission through peacekeeping operations.  And, as I say, there’s a video conference call going as we speak.

Question:  If I may, whose determination is that?  Who makes that determination?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not for the United Nations to determine the nature of any action that is taking place.  Simply, the role of the United Nations here is to protect the civilians who are being caught up in this; and as you’ve already heard from the Secretary-General those numbers have gone up in excess of 20,000 in the two compounds in Juba.  Yes, Masood, with a microphone, please?

Question:  Yes, your briefing at the top when you said that many organizations are dealing with Syria; aid organizations and human rights organizations have appealed to all sides to allow aid to go to the affected people.  The thing is… it has been reported again and again that it is the opposition groups now not allowing access to the humanitarian agencies to the people who are affected and impacted by the conflict so far.  What is the determination made by the United Nations as to who is doing this?  Why are they doing this?

Spokesperson:  I think Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, has been very clear about the difficulties that there are for access and that this is not one side or the other, but both sides; and it’s incumbent on all those who are blocking access for whatever reason to stop doing so.  It’s a delicate and sensitive matter, and I know that Ms. Amos and her team have worked extremely hard and continue to do so always with the plight of the Syrian people uppermost in their mind.  This is a delicate political matter, as well as a humanitarian matter.  As I’ve just said earlier, the key constraint is access.  The key requirement is always for aid to be delivered in an impartial manner, and that is what they will continue to do.  The Secretary-General has the greatest of faith in the work being done by our humanitarian workers in the field at great risk, and he also has the greatest of respect for the work that’s being done to try to improve the access.

Question:  Just to follow up on Syria, basically.  Are the invitations to attend Geneva II already getting ready for the people who are supposed to be invited over there and the groups that have been invited over there?  Will we get the list before Christmas or by the end of this year?

Spokesperson:  Have you written to Santa yet?  Listen, Masood, there is a meeting taking place on Friday in Geneva with Lakhdar Brahimi — not Santa Claus; Lakhdar Brahimi — and there will be [ United States] and Russian representatives.  There will then be an expanded meeting that includes the permanent members of the Security Council and the neighbouring countries, plus representatives of the League of Arab States and the European Union.  It’s at that meeting that the determination would be made on the invitations and so on; and after that, invitations will be issued in due time after that meeting.  But, I don’t think we’re quite there yet.  That’s why this meeting is taking place on Friday.  Yes?  Could I ask you to use the microphone, please?  It’s to your side.  There you are, and press the button on the microphone itself or maybe our colleagues in the control room will switch it on for you.  There you go, there you go.  When it’s red, you’re on.

Question:  The international drugs conventions have been massive failures.  The UN has traditionally been reluctant to recognize this and they keep on hammering away on the same old approach.  Is that likely to change in the run-up to the General Assembly session?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you just heard, the Secretary-General was addressing this topic in the Security Council and it’s part of a much broader debate and I would refer you to Yury Fedotov, who heads the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  He may well be able to provide you with a more detailed response.  Needless to say, there is a very lively debate amongst Member States in the run-up to 2016, and there are indeed a number of benchmark meetings, if you like, on the road to 2016.  So, the key point here is that it’s for Member States to engage in that dialogue.  Everybody recognizes that there is a huge problem with drugs and as we’ve just heard this morning, West Africa has become…

Question:  No, sir.  I’m not asking you about the general problem.  I am asking you about the specific UN approach to the problem.  Mr. Fedotov came before the Security Council two years ago and made a major statement that something needed to change.  The result of it was that the next annual report that his agency produced omitted the information that he had put before the Council.  He put before the Council the fact that the Afghan drug trade was $60 billion a year.  That fact has been omitted.  You have to look at the fine print to get that information.

Spokesperson:  Well, there are regular reports on the drug trade and drug production in Afghanistan produced by UNODC and I would refer you to those, and I would refer you to my colleagues at UNODC for more comment on this.

Correspondent:  The reports had omitted the information which Mr. Fedotov put before the Council.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we are going round in circles here and I would just refer you to UNODC and they may be able to help you further.  Karaman?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just to clarify one thing that has been subject for the Geneva II peace conference:  now there are some allegations that the… the Geneva II will include… that Mr. [Bashar al-]Assad may be part of the future of Syria.  What is the understanding of the Secretary-General of the first Geneva I communiqué?  Does he think that Mr. [al-]Assad can or should be part of the future in Syria?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  The Geneva I communiqué speaks for itself, and I’m not going to elaborate further on that.  It’s a very clear document, and furthermore, it will be for the Syrian people themselves to decide the future structure of their country.  That’s the entire purpose of having the Geneva talks that will be taking place starting in January, as you know.  Yes, Matthew?

Correspondent:  Thanks, Martin.  I hope to ask about South Sudan and CAR ( Central African Republic), but I want to ask you a Haiti question to be sure to get it in.

Spokesperson: We are running out of time.

Question:  Yes, I understand.  There’s a… there’s a… an OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report saying that cholera deaths have essentially doubled from June until October and there are… there are reports of also the spread of the same strain into Mexico, and so I wanted to ask you one, what the UN is doing, and two, to respond to a quote in today’s in (inaudible) where the Nepalese army spokesman says, “the UN has already made it clear that our Nepali soldiers had nothing to do with the epidemic”.  And I wanted to just one, is that an accurate statement?  Has the UN… is that the UN’s position on how cholera was introduced to Haiti?  And two, what’s being done in the light of this sort of doubling of… of deaths since June?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with my colleagues in OCHA on the figures you mentioned and come back to you.  I don’t have anything at the moment.  Yes, please, Oleg?

[He later informed the correspondent that, since its outbreak in October 2010, cholera has affected an estimated 694,842 people and claimed the lives of 8,494 people (as of 10 December).  From January to early December 2013 alone, Haiti reported more than 56,174 cases and 550 deaths.  Concerted national and international efforts have resulted in a steady reduction in the number of people affected and killed by cholera over the last three years.  The number of suspected cases has been reduced significantly every year, from 352,033 cases in 2011 to 101,722 cases in 2012 to 56,174 cases in 2013.  The number of people perishing due to the disease stands at 1.22 per cent, slightly over the 1 per cent internationally recognized global target for effective cholera control, but far below 2.2 per cent observed at the end of December 2010.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin. Russian lawmakers passed a sweeping amnesty law which will be applied to thousands of prisoners and apparently will set free the members of the punk rock group Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say on this?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  We’re aware of the reports, but I don’t have anything for you at the moment on that, Oleg.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.  I’ve got time for one more question, please.

Question:  The Secretary-General this morning on South Sudan, he said there’s a possibility of violence spilling out to other States, and there have been signs of this.  Can you elaborate on the signs?  Is it violence because of the political situation or is it violence because people are trying to escape?  What sort of violence is it?

Spokesperson:  Well, we did just mention two other areas where this is already taking place, so as I say, there is a video conference call going on right now and if there are more details that we can secure from that briefing then we’ll let you know.  But, needless to say that the Secretary-General was well briefed before speaking to you; and just to give you one example, there’s fighting between factions within the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) that’s been reported to have broken out within the army camp in Bor, Jonglei.  That was today, in fact.  And the South Sudan Red Cross has reported 19 civilians were killed in Bor Town and approximately 800 civilians have gathered around the UN camp in Bor to seek protection.  The UN is not taking any measures to relocate or reduce staff at the moment and we will continue to monitor the situation carefully.  So, one focus of attention is Bor and, as I did mention just a little while ago, tensions do seem to be on the rise in Unity and Upper Nile States.  It’s very much in flux and if we get more, certainly we’ll brief you.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon and Farhan [Haq] will be here with the Deputy Secretary-General tomorrow.  Thanks very much.

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