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

31 December 2013

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

31 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.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, says it is gravely concerned about mounting evidence of gross violations of international human rights law that have occurred in South Sudan during the past 15 days.

The Mission reports that extrajudicial killings of civilians and captured soldiers have occurred in various parts of the country, as evidenced by the discovery of large numbers of bodies in Juba, as well as the Upper Nile and Jonglei state capitals of Malakal and Bor, respectively.  It has observed massive displacement and arbitrary detentions of civilians.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, condemned in the strongest terms the atrocities committed against civilians of different communities by elements from both sides during the crisis.  She called for perpetrators to be held accountable.

The Mission has been actively collecting information every day since the crisis began and will continue to investigate all reports of serious human rights violations.

It reminds all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and act in accordance with human rights and humanitarian law.  The Mission also calls on key leaders in South Sudan to send strong public messages to their respective communities, insisting that the violence must stop.  And there is more in a press release from the Mission.

And also on South Sudan, the Mission reports that fighting broke out today in Bor, Jonglei State, as anti-Government forces attacked the town in the vicinity of the United Nations base.  The Mission continues to protect approximately 9,000 civilians inside this base, and it reports that the base remains secure.  The Mission also reports that it observed a number of anti-Government individuals moving eastwards towards Pibor and also southwards.  In Malakal town, in Upper Nile State, the Mission has been conducting patrols.

The leadership of the UN Mission in South Sudan continues to engage with the Government at the highest levels, as well as with opposition political figures.

And you will have seen that the Security Council issued a press statement last night, supporting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) efforts to bring about peace.  The Secretary-General reiterated his full support for the IGAD mediation process, as he did in his telephone call to President Salva Kiir yesterday, and again emphasized the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the security situation in the Central African Republic remains tense and has triggered a new wave of displacement in the capital, Bangui.  There has been a 70 per cent increase in the number of people displaced in Bangui, from 214,000 on 17 December to 370,000 today.  A total of 785,000 people have been displaced across the country and some 2.2 million people need assistance.

Despite the insecurity and access constraints, aid organizations are reaching as many people as possible with assistance.  The World Food Programme has distributed 555 tons of food to more than 133,000 people in Bangui this month.  It has also reached more than 41,500 people in Bossangoa and 21,500 people in Bouar.

At the international airport in Bangui, where agencies estimate that between 70,000 and 100,000 people have sought refuge, humanitarian partners are trying to reach people with emergency assistance, including medical care and malnutrition screening for children.

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is working with its partners to establish mobile child protection activities.  A comprehensive humanitarian assessment is being planned at the site to further develop a coordinated response.

To increase the humanitarian response, organizations have redefined their priorities in a 100-day intervention plan.  And this plan seeks some $152 million for the first three months of next year alone.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, has condemned in the strongest terms the attacks perpetrated by armed men on a number of strategic sites in the country.

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, has called on Congolese officials to swiftly shed light on these incidents in line with the constitutional order and legislation.  It also reiterates that attacks on civilian populations must be brought to an end.

The Mission reports that approximately 100 people are believed to have been killed in the attacks and is working to verify this information.  The Mission has also called on the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide information about the attacks as it follows up through the national legal framework.  The Mission has strengthened security at its bases, and continues in its focus of protecting civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

** Syria

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) says it has received reports that at least five Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus have died because of malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported deaths to 15.

The situation has progressively deteriorated for some 20,000 Palestinians trapped inside Yarmouk, where the Agency has been unable to enter the area to deliver desperately needed relief supplies since September.  The Relief and Works Agency urgently asks all parties to immediately heed their legal obligations and allow urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk and other Palestinian refugee camps.

And the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says that the number of registered Syrian refugees grew to more than 2.3 million people over the course of this year, with refugees continuing to pour out of Syria at a rate of 127,000 people a month.  The Agency estimates that some 4.1 million Syrian refugees will need assistance by the end of 2014, including 2 million children.

Across the region at present, some 400,000 refugees live in formal camps, but nearly 2 million reside outside formal settlements.  To keep pace with the exodus, more than 196,000 tents and 809,000 plastic tarpaulins were distributed to refugees residing in camps and informal sites.

** Yemen

In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, condemned the shelling of a funeral gathering in Al Dhale province on 27 December, which resulted in the death of at least 19 people, including children.

Mr. Benomar expressed serious concern that the attack is being attributed to Government Armed Forces.  He welcomes the investigation into the attack by the authorities and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

** Myanmar

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said that it welcomes the pardon granted yesterday by President Thein Sein of Myanmar to political prisoners.  The Office commended this as an important step in the reform process of the last year and shows the significant progress that has been made in solving the problem of political prisoners in Myanmar, in line with the President’s pledge.

However, the Office added that it regrets the presidential pardon did not include three workers from international non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders in Rakhine state.  The Office asked the authorities to release those prisoners and to ensure that the prisoner review committee continues its work to resolve all pending cases.  And the full statement is in my Office.

** Philippines

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that enormous shelter needs still persist in typhoon-affected areas in the Philippines.  Despite those needs, the funding for the shelter and camp coordination is lagging well behind overall funding levels.

Humanitarian partners are working with the Government, while encouraging additional actors — especially the private sector — to become involved.  The Office also said that greater support is needed to rebuild livelihoods and market mechanisms, particularly as food assistance decreases in coming weeks and months.  And the latest full situation report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is available online.

** Sierra Leone

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the closing of the Special Court for Sierra Leone:

On the occasion of today’s closing of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Secretary-General wishes to congratulate the judges, principals and staff, both Sierra Leonean and international, on the important achievements that have been accomplished over the course of the eleven years of its existence.  The United Nations is proud of its partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone in establishing the Special Court, which ensured accountability for the unspeakable crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s over a decade-long civil war, and thereby greatly contributed towards establishing peace and stability and in laying the ground for Sierra Leone’s long-term development.  On 1 January 2014, the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone will take over the residual tasks of the Special Court.

Of the impressive legacy and the many lessons that the work of the Special Court leaves behind as we move forward in truly establishing an age of accountability, one lesson stands out above all:  justice is an indispensable element for peace to be sustainable in post-conflict societies.  The Secretary-General’s principled commitment to international criminal justice will remain steadfast and unwavering.

**New Year

And finally, just to wish you and your families a very happy new year.  We have moments here in this briefing room, as you know.  And I cherish, I think, almost every one.  I wish you health and happiness and continued ingenuity in trying to catch me out.  I know that the Secretary-General will want to wish you a happy new year personally before too long, but in the meantime, I pass on his best wishes.  There won’t be a briefing tomorrow.  But we will be back on Thursday.

Questions, please?  Yes?  There is a button on the side of the microphone.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay, great.  Ellen Ratner from Talk Radio News Service.  In South Sudan, two questions, a micro one and a macro.  Micro:  how is food security being handled in Bor, Juba and other places where there is conflict, and is there enough food and is it being delivered?  And on a macro level, it seems that between South Sudan, Central African Republic, DRC, there is a lot of conflict going on in Africa.  Does the Secretary-General or you or anybody have any have any idea why now?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I was saying yesterday, I don’t believe that the Secretary-General sees any linkage between the different crises in those different countries.  But of course, a confluence of crises of that kind of magnitude places an enormous burden, not only on the people of those countries and they are the one who suffer the most, but also on our peacekeeping operations and on our humanitarian operations.  It means that we are stretched in many directions.

And in addition, national Governments who fund operations and provide money to appeals, they also then find it difficult, because they are facing multiple crises.  And that is in addition, of course, to the natural disaster that occurred in the Philippines.  So, on several fronts things do look dire as we end this year and enter into 2014, but I can assure you that our humanitarian colleagues continue to work extremely hard, as do our peacekeepers in the locations where they are.  And that also applies to the Central African Republic, where our humanitarian workers are doing their level best, as I mentioned earlier, to provide assistance.

With regard to the micro question, I will ask my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for a precise update on how food is being provided specifically to those civilians seeking shelter inside our bases and what is going on beyond that.  I will seek an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is there any update on the Syrian Conference?  I remember like a week ago, Secretary-General said that he will send the invitations by the end of the month.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is looking forward to issuing the letters of invitation to the International Conference on Syria as soon as possible.  On 20 December, Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi announced the list of countries whose invitation had been agreed with the Initiating States of the Conference.  There are also several issues that need to be finalized by the Initiating States and once that is done, we will promptly issue the invitations.

Let me remind you that the most important part about the International Conference for Syria is of course the intra-Syrian negotiations, where the Government and opposition delegations are expected to agree on the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué and launch a political transition process in Syria.  Another very important aspect is that, as we prepare for the conference, all Syrian sides should take urgent efforts to reduce the levels of violence, release those abducted and detained, end the sieges and improve humanitarian access.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  Sure, thanks Martin.  I have two questions on South Sudan.  One is, there is, in terms of this linkage between problems, the commander in charge of, that’s taking control of Bentiu has said that he believes that the JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] rebels from Darfur have taken control of Pariang in Unity state.  And I wanted to know:  first of all, does UNMISS still have a presence, has it reinforced its presence in Pariang and does it have… can it confirm or deny this, that some of the members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front have in fact crossed the border and taken up positions within South Sudan?

Spokesperson:  I will check again, but the information that I had yesterday is that that is not correct.

Question:  And the other one, if you don’t mind.  And this is not to try to catch you out; it’s a factual… about this exchange, the Japanese bullets that went to the South Korean unit in South Sudan.  There’s some factual kind of things that… I just wanted to make sure I understand it correctly.  Did the South Korean unit originally reach out to Japan for the ammunition because they were under fire or did they reach out to UNMISS and not in fact contact Japan?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you could ask the South Korean Mission that.  Or the Japanese Mission.

Question:  Both… since it also involves UNMISS, I guess my question is just… it’s reported… some reports say they went directly to Japan, but some say they went to UNMISS and UNMISS procured or, you know, arranged for the bullets to arrive from Japan and from also the US military, so just on that side, I wanted to know… what’s the relation between UNMISS and the US military?  And you might say, ask the US military, but I wanted to ask you.

Spokesperson:  Well, you could do that, too.  Thank you for answering your own question.  But, I’ll see if I can get anything from the [Departments of] Peacekeeping Operations on that and Field Support.  I’ll see what I can get on that.  But, clearly, when there is an agreement or an arrangement between two troop-contributing countries, the best people to ask would be those countries involved.  Yes, please?

Question:  The UN qualifies what is happening in South Sudan as extrajudicial killing; so my question is:  what is the distinction between acts of terror, such as the ones that are happening in Volgograd, where twice the population has been killed, and what is happening in Africa?  And do you have any comment or information about what is happening in Volgograd?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further, beyond what we said yesterday.  As you know, in fact, as this briefing was taking place yesterday, I was aware that the Secretary-General was about to speak to President [Vladimir] Putin and immediately after the briefing the Secretary-General then briefed me on his telephone call with President Putin.  You saw we issued a fairly detailed readout on that.  I think that speaks for itself.

Again, I would refer you to what’s been said by the Mission in South Sudan.  They put out quite a detailed statement today on what’s been happening and they fear that many of the violations that have taken place have been ethnically targeted and most of the more brutal atrocities are reported to have been carried out by people wearing uniform.  And so UNMISS is seeing evidence of the apparent targeting of South Sudanese citizens on ethnic grounds and this, of course, can lead to a perpetual cycle of violence that can destroy the fabric of a country, which, after all, is the newest country in the world.  Yes?  And then I’m coming to you.  Yes, first of all, Tim?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the UNMISS statement they said a “large number of bodies”; is that dozens or hundreds?  What’s a large number?

Spokesperson:  I think I’d have to go back to them.  I would think that they have chosen that expression for reasons that they have not been able to conduct a specific body count.  As you know, this is a very fluid moment in South Sudan, but it is obvious that many people have died.  But I would have to refer back to the Mission to try to get a more specific number for you.  Yes?

Question:  I’m sorry I was late.  I don’t know if in your opening statements you said anything about the… both sides in South Sudan apparently agreeing to start peace talks?  Do you have any details about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I would say at this point is that we’re obviously aware of the talks that have been going in Addis Ababa.  We await to hear more details of this.  As we’ve said, we are supportive of the mediation efforts that have been going on.  We’re also aware, as I’ve just reported from our own Mission in Bor, that there is fighting in Bor.  So, therefore, we await to hear more details from those negotiations, but we’re certainly following it very closely, as we are through the Mission on the ground in many locations we’re in.  Could you switch the microphone back on again?  And then I’m coming back to Timothy.

Question:  Okay.  I just wanted to ask you about an AP report about an American family that is, has been running an orphanage for 10 South Sudanese children for quite a while now.  And now they’ve had to take refuge at a UN refugee camp in the Juba area.  And their dilemma right now is whether to flee South Sudan themselves, given the violence that has broken out.  The name of the American couple is Brad and Kim Campbell.  Apparently they’ve been in touch with the US Embassy and the UN about the possibility of evacuating all of them, including the South Sudanese children, given that these children, who range in age from 5 to 16, know this American couple as their parents.  Now, they’ve been with them for two years.  Do you know anything about that situation and whether the UN is involved at all?

Spokesperson:  I personally do not know anything about that, but I’m certain that my colleagues in the Mission will do and I will ask for my colleagues to follow up and we can get back to you at that point.  Tim and then Matthew?

Question:  Thank you, again.  Last week, the Secretary-General held talks with President [François] Hollande of France about Central African Republic and your statement said the Secretary-General promised to expeditiously start measures to improve security there.  Have those steps been taken with the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  What I understand is… just to give you a little bit of an update, the UN Office in the Central African Republic, which, as you know, has the acronym BINUCA, is reporting the number of violent confrontations has actually decreased in Bangui over the past few days.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Babacar Gaye, is focusing on re-establishing field offices to strengthen UN field presence; as well as human rights monitoring and reporting, with an increased presence in the field.  He’s also working to ensure the full deployment of the UN Guard Unit to enable UN personnel to carry out their task with protection, as required; and to start immediate planning for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

I will see if we have any further details when that full deployment will take place, but that’s what I have for now.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask about immunity, and then, if I can, two investigations questions.  On the immunity, the situation between the Indian diplomat and the US continues to be in the news.  And I just wanted to know, there’s a statement today by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs that they believed that the UN informed the US that the diplomat was accredited to the General Assembly up until today, and they also separately believe that that accreditation to attend the General Assembly involves full diplomatic immunity.  I wanted, I don’t… the second one is a legal question that the UN may have an answer to.  But the other one, does the UN routinely inform the host country of all individuals who are accredited to the GA?  And separately, does that mean that she had full diplomatic immunity?

Spokesperson:  I would need to check with the Office of Legal Affairs on this.  This is primarily, as you know, almost exclusively a matter between the Indian authorities and the host Government.  If there is a UN angle related to a GA pass, then of course, I would come back to you.  But I need to check again with Legal Affairs on that.  Okay?

Question:  And the other one:  I just wanted to be sure I ask again about this David Bax in Somalia.  There was a UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] investigation, it was about the middle of the year that it was said that it had begun.  I wanted to know, you know, if it’s finished or when the idea for finishing it is?  And the second one, there was a decision in the last week by the Dispute Tribunal on the Head… Acting Head of Investigations for OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services], Michael Dudley, and it seemed to… it was pretty damning and it said that evidence was altered and withheld in an investigation of the UN Medical Service.  So, I wanted to know, now that that investigation, or the Dispute Tribunal process is finished, what is the thinking of OIOS in terms of a Head of Investigations that was found by a UN body to have altered it or withheld evidence?

Spokesperson:  I do not speak on behalf of the Office of Internal Oversight.  As you know, it reports separately, so therefore, I will check to see if they have anything to say.  But I do not speak on their behalf.  And with regard to the investigation you were referring to out of Mogadishu, I don’t believe we have any update on that at this point.  Okay.  That’s it for 2013, unless something happens between now and the end of the day.  And again, I wish you all a very Happy New Year, both you personally and your families.

* *** *

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