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

15 January 2014

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

15 January 2014
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.

** Nigeria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nigeria.

The Secretary-General shares the deep concern expressed yesterday by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, following the recent signing into law of the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria.  The law introduces a wide range of offences, in breach of fundamental human rights, including 14-year jail terms for same-sex couples who live together or attempt to solemnize their union with a ceremony.  The Secretary-General fears that the law may fuel prejudice and violence, and notes with alarm reports that police in northern Nigeria have arrested individuals believed by the authorities to be homosexuals, and may even have tortured them.  As UNAIDS and the Global Fund noted in a statement yesterday, the law also risks obstructing effective responses to HIV/AIDS.

The Secretary-General reiterates that everyone is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and live a life of worth and dignity without discrimination.  This fundamental principle is embedded in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Secretary-General strongly hopes that the constitutionality of the law can be reviewed.  The United Nations stands ready to assist Nigeria in any way to bring about constructive dialogue and change on this matter.

**Secretary-General in Kuwait

The Secretary-General spoke at the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, which has been taking place today in Kuwait City, and said that the world was sending a message to the Syrian people that they are not forgotten.

The conference raised more than $2.4 billion.  The Secretary-General said the United Nations would make the best use of this money to provide food, water, shelter, emergency treatment and other supplies and services to millions of people in need.  He said the international community responded generously at this conference and he was now calling on all concerned to step up efforts to bring the parties together.  He also called on all parties to respond to today’s generosity by letting relief aid reach all besieged areas.

Earlier today, he met the Emir of Kuwait and thanked him for his outstanding commitment to Syrian relief efforts through Kuwait’s $500 million pledge today.

And on the margins of the pledging conference, the Secretary-General also held a series of bilateral meetings with delegations present in Kuwait City, including with the Secretary of State of the United States, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

The Secretary-General will return to New York tomorrow.

And I would also expect that we would have some readouts on the bilateral meetings I just mentioned.

** Syria

Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos also addressed the Conference in Kuwait today and told participants that, as the violence intensifies and the situation on the ground becomes more complex, people are becoming increasingly desperate.  She said that she was deeply troubled by the persistent reports of people running out of food in besieged communities, where some 245,000 people live.

Ms. Amos also said that, despite the call by the UN Security Council for an end to indiscriminate attacks and for the unhindered passage of humanitarian aid, we have yet to see any major difference on the ground.

And we have an extremely stark example of that with regard to the Yarmouk camp in Damascus.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, has expressed its profound disappointment that one of its convoys had to turn back on Monday after unsuccessfully trying to gain access to the Yarmouk camp in Syria.

The convoy comprised six small trucks with food for 6,000 people, along with 10,000 doses of polio vaccine and some medical supplies.  It had to turn back when a bulldozer that was clearing the road ahead of the convoy was fired upon, with subsequent firing taking place nearby.

When Syrian authorities gave the Relief and Works Agency clearance to deliver assistance to Yarmouk, they required it to use the southern entrance to the camp.  This meant the convoy had to drive some 20 kilometres through an area of intense and frequent armed conflict.

This is an extremely disappointing setback for the residents of Yarmouk, who continue to live in inhumanely wretched conditions.  The Relief and Works Agency remains undaunted by these frustrating impediments and is already pressing the Syrian authorities to support a further attempt to deliver humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk.

I can tell you the Secretary-General is similarly concerned and frustrated and, as I just mentioned, he called in Kuwait City for access to all besieged areas.

**South Sudan

I have an update on South Sudan.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that one civilian seeking shelter in its Malakal base, in Upper Nile State, was killed by bullets after gunfire entered the UN base there yesterday.  Dozens of civilians and a UN military officer suffered gunshot wounds inside the base yesterday and received medical attention at the Mission’s hospital.  The Mission said that peacekeepers fired multiple rounds of gunfire to deter anyone engaged in fighting from coming too close to its base, in order to protect civilians.

Today, the Mission reports that the fighting has stopped in Malakal, but the situation remains fluid.  The Mission says that sporadic gunfire can still be heard some distance from the UN base, where it is now protecting some 20,000 civilians.

The Mission also continues to report loud explosions and gunfire in the vicinity of its base in Bor, where it is protecting 9,000 civilians within the UN base.  Meanwhile, in Bentiu, 6,000 civilians are seeking shelter within the UN base.

Also, you will have seen, in a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General called on all parties to cease hostilities and urged them to engage constructively with the negotiation process being led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

**Genocide

The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at an event on genocide this morning, held on the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, and he said that the consequences of failing to heed the warning signs in Rwanda were monumentally horrifying.  He said that we must never forget the collective failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide.

At the same time, the Deputy Secretary-General pointed to improvements in efforts to protect civilians, saying that we need look no further than South Sudan today for an example of dedication and innovation in protecting people.  He said that, in spite of a tragically great number of people being killed in the conflict, thousands of civilians are alive today because they have sought shelter inside United Nations compounds and have been provided with protection and assistance.

The Deputy Secretary-General called for greater effort to take action against atrocities.  He said that over the last few weeks alone, men, women and children have been slaughtered not only in South Sudan but also in the Central African Republic and in the nightmare of Syria.  His remarks are available online.

** Great Lakes

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging leaders attending a major summit in Africa’s Great Lakes region to ensure that those suspected of committing international crimes and serious rights violations do not continue escaping justice by crossing borders.

Navi Pillay says that the high-level meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) under way in the Angolan capital, Luanda, is an opportunity for countries to advance the fight against impunity.

The meeting’s goals are the promotion of peace, security, stability and development, and Ms. Pillay says that they will be achieved only if those responsible for violence and illegal economic exploitation are held to account.  More information is available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Also, Mrs. Mary Robinson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, is in Luanda and spoke at the meeting.  And we’ll try to make her remarks available a little bit later.

**Investors

Today, more than 500 global financial leaders are gathering at the United Nations to discuss the growing urgency of climate change and investor actions that are needed to help solve the climate crisis.  The all-day gathering includes key players in the climate debate and is co-hosted by CERES, an organization which focuses on sustainability, and the UN Foundation.

**Press Conferences Today

And linked to that, this afternoon at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference here on this Investor Summit on Climate Risk.  Speakers will include Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Questions please?  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, judging by what Mr. [Jan] Eliasson said today about genocide, that the UNMISS in South Sudan has managed to save the lives of thousands of people.  Does it mean that in future conflicts, say like in south Lebanon for example, the…

Spokesperson:  It’s where?

Question:  In future conflicts if they happen, in south Lebanon for example, UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] can host refugees, civilians if they seek shelter in their compounds?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that every situation would be looked at individually, because, of course, scenarios will differ.  But the fundamental point here is that, with this newly promoted Rights Up Front plan, the idea is to raise the alarm at an early stage and to do far more to protect civilians and to place human rights, and the rights of civilians, at the very centre of everything that we do.  And so, therefore, put in that context, obviously, each peacekeeping force would be looking very carefully at the options available to it to help civilians.

It may differ from context to context, but certainly in the case of the mission in South Sudan, as you know, in excess of 60,000 people are sheltering in 10 bases.  The conditions… I was speaking to one of my colleagues who has just come out of South Sudan for a short break, and he was describing conditions inside one of the main compounds in Juba.  Everybody is working extremely hard to help thousands of people in a space which is simply not designed to hold such large numbers of people.  But the people feel secure there and that is, of course, the aim of the game.

Question:  In the case of the previous war of 2006 in Lebanon, the number of people from Marwahin town who sought refuge in the compound of UNIFIL, there was in hundreds, not in thousands; however, they were denied.  What is the criterion for people to seek shelter at a mission?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, as I say, times have moved on.  And this particular crisis in South Sudan is a test case for the Rights Up Front plan and the idea of putting the human rights of civilians and the protection of civilians at the very centre of everything that we do.  So this is a real turning point that the gates were opened and people were allowed in.  So don’t judge what happened in 2006 against what might happen in future.  …Yes, and then I’m coming to you.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Can you tell us a little bit about the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], the unarmed drone, the surveillance drone that crashed in near Goma in DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo]?

Spokesperson:  I can.

Question:  And also, I assumed you might be able to, and who is operating them in other countries?  I mean, you just started… the UN just started the programme.  Is it the military?  Is it the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]?  Who actually operates the drones?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Right.  So what I can tell you is that, this morning in Goma, an unarmed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) belonging to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) veered off the runway and crashed while landing.  This incident did not result in injuries or damage to property, except of course to the UAV.  The Mission is working with the company which provides the UAV services, SELEX, to repair the unmanned UAV.  The Mission is also investigating the cause of the incident.

The Mission continues to use its remaining UAV for surveillance operations.  So at this stage, up until this morning, there had been two.  MONUSCO’s UAV capacity will reach its full operational capability of five by April this year.

And as for the cost of repairing the UAV that crashed, well, that’s covered by the contractor and it is also the contractor who operates the unmanned aerial vehicles, and they are also responsible for the data collection that is, obviously, the main reason for having these craft in the air.

Question:  And so, just as a follow-up, that’s SELEX that actually operates the drones?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, that’s the case.  If my colleagues from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] have different information, I will let you know.  Okay yes, and then Lou and then you?

Question:  Thanks Martin.  There have been a series of allegations this week that, from the Syrian National Coalition and others, that poison gas has been used in the Damascus suburb of Daria.  I guess it’s an ongoing siege there.  I looked back at the briefings from last March, when Member States were submitting inquiry appeals about chemical weapons incidents, and at this podium you reiterated how that process functioned.  Has the UN received any such requests of inquiry into these recent chemical attacks and, more broadly, I guess, would it be right to characterize that, in an effort to carry out the extraction and destruction of chemical weapons, the UN and the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] have moved beyond the stage of this, where investigations are still going to occur?

Spokesperson:  Well, these are two separate things.  The mission that is now under way, the Joint Mission, the OPCW-UN mission that is dealing with the destruction and removal of the chemical weapons stocks, that’s a Security Council-mandated mission.  The investigation that preceded it and, of course ultimately led to the mission being set up, that investigation has been completed with the final findings that you’re familiar with.  That does not preclude other allegations being put forward.  To my knowledge, that has not yet happened but I would need to check with my colleagues to see whether any correspondence has been received about that, about those allegations.  Whether it would trigger the Secretary-General’s mechanism again, I do not know.  That’s an imponderable at this point, particularly when I don’t even know whether any correspondence has been received on this.  But I think it would be fair to say that, given that the mission dealing with destruction and removal of the chemical weapons stocks is in full swing, the focus is there primarily.  [The Spokesperson later added that no further requests have been received.]  Okay, I said I was coming to Lou and then to you.  Yes?  And I haven’t forgotten you, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  The statement that was issued last night from your office about South Sudan, one of the things that was in there was an expression of concern about the theft of food aid and the commandeering of vehicles used to deliver aid by both sides in the conflict.  I wondered if it was possible to get more details on this.  How widespread this has been?  I mean, obviously, it’s enough of a problem to include it in a statement, so I was just wondering if you had any more specifics.

Spokesperson:  I do not have specific details on the food supplies.  I would need to ask my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), along with my peacekeeping colleagues, to see if we have any more details on that.  That’s basically what I could say; and just simply to reiterate that any such restrictions or any such purloining of food supplies is utterly unacceptable, and it’s intended for civilians who desperately need it.  Okay, yes and then, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  My question will be about Middle East peace process.  And yesterday, there was reports that Israeli Defence Minister’s words against Secretary of State John Kerry.  How Secretary-General thinks these words affect Middle East peace process, and how he sees the Israelis thinking as to long-lasting peace?

Spokesperson:  I think this is a bilateral matter between the Israeli and US authorities.  I think both have spoken on the alleged remarks.  I don’t have anything to say on that particular matter.  I would simply reiterate the Secretary-General’s strong commitment to the Middle East peace process and his strong involvement in trying to help to move things along.  But I’m not going to comment on a bilateral matter of that kind.  Yes please, Mr. Abbadi, and then I’m coming to Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  This is a follow-up to Nizar’s question regarding genocide.  It’s important to have human rights observers or workers planted in the area so as to raise concern about the possibility of development of genocide in [a] particular area.  But what would that do to raise the concern of the most important organ of the United Nations Security Council in order to lead it to act?  I was sitting with the members in 1994, both at the private consultations, as well as official deliberations, and the news was coming minute by minute, hour by hour, and clearly the tendency was not to act.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Again, the Deputy Secretary-General has spelt out how we have learned from the tragedy and failures of Rwanda.  There were subsequent failures too, as we know, including in Srebrenica.  But that is one of the reasons why this Rights Up Front policy is really being given a high priority at this stage, and I would note that the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, arrived in South Sudan today and he will be visiting a number of locations, as I think I mentioned just the other day.  And he will, on his return, brief you here on Monday, I believe, and that will be a good opportunity for you to hear directly about his concerns about what he’s seeing on the spot; and of course, that will also form part of briefings to the Security Council, I am sure.  Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On Iraq providing evidence that another country in the region is supporting terrorism, the Secretary-General, speaking at a press conference in Iraq, said that he will discuss this matter with the Security Council.  I wonder what the format of this meeting will be.  Will it be inside the Security Council or some other meetings outside?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General will be briefing the Security Council at some point in the not too distant future, so I think it would be in the context of that.  But he also has regular monthly lunches with the Security Council, at which the discussions range extremely widely, so that could be another venue for such a discussion.

Question:  One follow-up?

Spokesperson:  Yes, please.

Question:  He didn’t have such [a] lunch this month yet, right? Or…

Spokesperson:  I do not believe so.

Question:  Okay, thank you.

Spokesperson:  Stefano first.  And then I’ll come to you in a second.

Question:  It’s still a follow-up on genocide to see if this is part of the change that there also on the Secretary-General that I want to praise here with my question.  When there was last December, end of December, when the situation in South Sudan was getting very bad, we journalists, we asked the Security Council President if it was the moment to bring more troops or help.  And the answer that day was no, there was no need for more troops, just to move the troops around.  If I remember well, just a few hours or just one day after, the Security Council read a letter from the Secretary-General saying many things.  One was:  we need more help right away for South Sudan.  And the question is:  is this part of a new approach of the Secretary-General, in general, not this Secretary-General, but the United Nations, on the issue of act right away when danger of genocide is [a] prospect?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is not specifically talking about genocide, but protection of civilians.  And the same applies in the Central African Republic, where, of course, there has also been a call, requests by the Security Council to the Secretary-General to prepare options for a potential UN peacekeeping operation.  At the moment, as you know, there is an African-led force in place, MISCA [African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic].  So I think what you’re seeing is a clear and fundamental shift in the way that the Secretary-General and his senior advisers from peacekeeping operations, political affairs, humanitarian affairs, look at emerging crises.  They want to ring the alarm bell far earlier and make it louder.  And that’s what you’ve seen in South Sudan.  It’s what you’ve seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the Force Intervention Brigade.  And in the Central African Republic, you are seeing work being done and you’re also hearing that the likes of John Ging, the Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, speaking out extremely strongly about what needs to be done.  More does need to be done in the Central African Republic and I know that work is going on here to see what else can be done.  Okay.  I’ve got time for one more question after Nizar and that’ll be you.

Question:  Revisiting al-Yarmouk siege.  Now this is the fifth attempt, probably, by UNRWA and refugee agencies to deliver food to those who are trapped in Yarmouk, in Damascus.  And over, around 50 people have already perished as a result of starvation in that.  Are there any contacts made by the United Nations in order to put pressure on the rebels who are preventing the convoys from entering Yarmouk to stop firing at them?  Is there any way that they can find remedy to this?

Spokesperson:  I can assure you that my colleagues in Damascus and including Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, who was there over the weekend, have been putting as much pressure as they can.  And indeed, the Security Council has done so too, to ensure that there is unhindered access, unfettered access.  And the Secretary-General has repeated that again in Kuwait City.  Regardless of who is blocking the way, the fact of the matter is that the Syrian authorities insisted that UNRWA use a particular circuitous route through a very dangerous area, rather than using a more direct and safer route.  And it’s for UNRWA to continue to work with the Syrian authorities, and of course, to liaise with other groups to seek access to an area where people have lived in difficult conditions for many years anyway and now live in the most atrocious conditions and with cases of malnutrition and starvation.  Last question, please?

Question:  …You corrected that you, the, the authorities are the obstacle to delivering food now.

Spokesperson:  I’ve said, I explained already in the note that I read and I elaborated.  But I’ve also just said to you, Nizar, that the colleagues from the Relief and Works Agency are able to liaise with other groups, too, to ensure, to try to ensure, safe passage.  But, as you well know, this is hardly an easy place to operate in the best of times.  But it is in the hands, primarily, of the Syrian authorities to allow access to Yarmouk camp.  Yes, last question?

Question:  Yeah thank you, about South Sudan.  Could you give us a little more details about what happened in Malakal base?  Can we say that this attack was conducted by anti-Government force?  And also, do you have any details of the troops in charge of the protection of the bases?  What are their nationalities and how many are wounded?

Spokesperson:  Well look, this was not, this was not an attack on the compound.  This was a fight between different groups and what ended up happening was that live rounds, gunfire, was coming into the compound, and that’s why you ended up with one young teenager killed, and dozens of people wounded, both displaced people and one UN military officer.  The bulk of the peacekeepers are from an Indian contingent and, as I explained, multiple rounds were fired to deter those that were fighting each other outside from coming closer to the compound, because of course, had they come closer, more fire could have entered into the compound.  But that’s as much detail as I have, really, on that at this stage.  Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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