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

17 January 2014

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

17 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody. 

**Secretary-General’s Travels

You will probably have seen that earlier this morning, we put out an announcement concerning the Secretary-General’s trip starting next week.  On Monday, 20 January, the Secretary-General will depart New York for the Swiss city of Montreux, where he will convene the Geneva Conference on Syria.

As the Secretary-General has said, he views the Conference as a unique opportunity for ending the violence and ensuring that peace be restored.  He also hopes that the transition foreseen in the Geneva communiqué of 30 June 2012 can be implemented in a way that fully meets the aspirations of the Syrian people, with the establishment of a transitional governing body based on mutual consent at the core of this effort.

On the sidelines of the Conference, the Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with delegates attending the meeting.

On Thursday, 23 January, the Secretary-General will travel to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, focusing on meeting the global climate challenge.

While in Davos, the Secretary-General will engage private sector leaders as well as Heads of State and Government in public and private sessions, aimed at advancing concrete deliverables at the 2014 Climate Summit in September.

The Secretary-General will return to New York on Friday, 24 January.

**Secretary-General’s Briefing to General Assembly

The Secretary-General just briefed the General Assembly on his priorities for the coming year and also discussed the challenges that the United Nations faces in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, among other places.

On Syria, the Secretary-General said that we will press the parties in Montreux to launch a political process, move to a transitional governing body with full executive powers, and stop the violence.

He pointed to South Sudan and the Central African Republic as two situations that require the heightened and focused attention of the international community, where grave violations of human rights are taking place and where there is a great danger of mass atrocities.

He said that the crisis in South Sudan has reached tragic proportions. The United Nations has opened its peacekeeping bases to people in imminent danger, providing protection and shelter to tens of thousands of civilians.  Many of them are alive today only because they made it in time to the UN Mission’s camps.  He added that, as we help civilians, we are promoting a peaceful resolution for South Sudan.

The Secretary-General said that he remains deeply concerned about the violence and pervasive fear in the Central African Republic, especially reports of atrocities against civilians.  Wherever such atrocities occur, the perpetrators must be held to account.  His remarks are online.

**South Sudan – Rights

Wrapping up a four-day visit to South Sudan, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović said that fighting in the country has turned into a horrifying humanitarian and human rights disaster, with mass atrocities committed by both sides.

He said that one month of conflict has set South Sudan back a decade, and that the situation has now reached the threshold of an internal armed conflict.

During his visit, he received reports of mass killings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, widespread destruction of property and the use of children in conflict.

Mr. Šimonović’s visit took him to Juba, Bentiu and Bor, and he met senior Government officials, anti-Government forces, armed groups, UN officials, diplomats and a wide range of civil society representatives, including traditional and community leaders.  He also met with displaced people and victims of the fighting.

He described Bentiu as a ghost town, and he characterized what he saw there — including some 15 bodies lying on a road — as a horror.

Mr. Šimonović said that he made clear to military leaders on both sides that accountability is key and that an independent and impartial fact-finding commission should be established as quickly as possible.  As we said yesterday, Mr. Šimonović will brief journalists here in New York on Monday.

**South Sudan

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that it has conducted more than 140 patrols in the past 24 hours.  It is protecting more than 67,000 civilians in its bases around the country.

In Bor, the Mission said that there are no civilians and that it has received reports of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army advancing towards the town.

It also says that the situation in Upper Nile State remains fluid, with civilians continuing to arrive at its protection site in Malakal, where there are currently 22,000 people.

In the capital, Juba, the Mission’s health workers at its Tomping site say that their medical capacity is severely overstretched.  The site was built to treat UN staff, but is now handling pregnancies, deliveries and children’s diseases.  As of today, there are nearly 30,000 civilians who have sought shelter at two bases in Juba.

The Mission says that its operations have been obstructed, including deliberate restrictions and delays in delivering rations and water to troops and civilians in its bases in Juba and in Western Equatoria State.

It reminds all parties that, as the Security Council has said, efforts to undermine the Mission’s ability to implement its mandate, as it seeks to protect civilians, will not be tolerated.

**South Sudan – Humanitarian

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that nearly half a million people are estimated to have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan, which started on 15 December.

It says that people need food, water and health care.  Aid organizations have reached over 200,000 people with aid so far, including food for more than 160,000 people in six States, while hundreds of children have received nutrition supplements.

As more South Sudanese refugees are fleeing into neighbouring countries, the UN refugee agency is working to set up new camps and expand existing ones in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 84,000 South Sudanese people have left their country since the start of the fighting.

The UN refugee agency expects that number will exceed 100,000 by the end of this month. The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF has expressed its deep concern about the use of children as combatants in South Sudan.  And we have more on the websites of the respective organizations. 

** Central African Republic

The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, BINUCA, reports that an election to fill the position of the Head of State of Transition in the country is expected to take place next Monday.  Along with other regional and international partners, the UN Office is providing advice and other support to the process.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the Central African Republic, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, has called on the people and the leaders of the country to maintain calm and show maturity at this critical juncture.

Meanwhile, UNICEF says that 23 children between 14 and 17 years old were released from armed groups in Bangui on Thursday, and many more were identified for release in the coming days.  The children released yesterday, among whom six are girls, were taken from a military base to a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO, reports that, today, it has deployed the Force Intervention Brigade in the Beni area in North Kivu Province, to provide support to Congolese Armed Forces operations against the armed group known as the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF.

The Congolese Armed Forces’ military operations were launched following the massacres committed by the ADF last month in Rwenzori, when 21 civilians were slaughtered, including children and women.

**CERF

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has allocated nearly $90 million to sustain emergency aid operations in some of the world’s worst, yet most neglected crises.

The funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) will ensure that relief work continues in 10 countries, which include Colombia, Myanmar, Sudan and Yemen.

Ms. Amos said that people living through some of the most critical humanitarian crises do not always receive the attention that they need.  She said that the new allocations will help millions of people who are caught in crises that have been forgotten or overshadowed by other emergencies.  More information on this is available online.

**Press Conferences Today

And immediately following this briefing at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, and Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg.

**Noon Briefing Guest Monday

And like I said, on Monday, the noon briefing guest will be Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.  And he will be here to brief you on his trip to South Sudan.  Yes, that’s it from me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  First, just a follow-up on what you said concerning the Congo, because I thought the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) was going to be the next priority after the neutralization of M23 (23 March Movement).  So, I’d like to see if… you might not know this now, but what the current status of any action is regarding the FDLR.

My second…the question I wanted to ask, though, regards the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinians.  The other day, the Secretary-General made a statement regarding the designation of this year as the Year of Solidarity.  I’d like to know what steps the Secretary-General is taking to ensure that any meetings during the year under the auspices of the International Year of Solidarity that are open to NGOs (non-governmental organizations) will be open to all accredited NGOs in a non-discriminatory basis?  And, if you could provide, when you can, any budget estimates for expenditures out of the regular budget to support any activities that the UN… in relation to the Year of Solidarity.  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the year has just begun, so we’d have to draw up what the events marking this year would be.  You’re right; we declared the International Year of Solidarity just yesterday.  And of course, we would follow our normal rules for NGO access for all events that take place under our auspices.  Yes, Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the Geneva II Syria Conference, has the Secretary-General been informed at all about the Istanbul decision about whether the opposition will participate?  And have you been informed about the decision by the Syrian Government to implement a ceasefire?  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, well, first of all, about the opposition — no, we haven’t received any information just yet about the proceedings in Istanbul.  We’re monitoring them as they proceed and we’ll respond accordingly, depending upon what the decisions reached at that meeting are.  Regarding communications with the Government, as I believe I mentioned yesterday, we had received a response from the Foreign Minister of Syria to the Secretary-General’s invitation to send a delegation representing the Syrian Government to the Geneva Conference on Syria.  Regarding ceasefires, of course, we’ve been encouraging the Government and the opposition to halt fighting as much as possible and take steps to ensure the success of the talks that are to begin on 22 January.  Yes, Sanghwon?

Question:  On that note of the Syrian Government’s letter in response to the Secretary-General’s invite, yesterday, a leak of the Syrian Government’s response said that they object to certain points mentioned in the Secretary-General’s invite.  What points are they?  And how does that reconcile with how can they be accepting an invitation to peace talks when they don’t agree with certain points or certain terms, I’m assuming, of the conditions that have been laid out?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course, it’s not my role to speak for the Syrian Government, so I can’t explain what their particular positions would be.  That would be for them to do.  What I can say is that they did… that we did, like I said, receive a response from them.  The Foreign Minister confirmed the participation of the delegation representing the Syrian Government.  As it was an answer to an invitation, the Secretary-General has not responded.  And the United Nations has not made public the invitations or the responses, as both constitute diplomatic correspondence.

Question:  Just following up:  so, the Secretary-General sees the Syrian Government’s letter as acceptance of the Geneva I communiqué?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Foreign Minister, like I said, confirmed the participation of the delegation.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Next week, the President of Iran, Dr. [Hassan] Rouhani, is going to be in Switzerland.  Is there going to be a meeting between Secretary-General and Dr. Rouhani?  If yes, is there going to be… human rights in Iran going to be mentioned?  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific meetings to confirm just yet.  Whenever there are meetings, we’ll put them on his schedule and provide readouts as appropriate.  But, I don’t have anything to give before this trip has started.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You said that the Secretary-General is concerned, concerned about the atrocities in the Central African Republic.  John King, the humanitarian director, said this morning that elements of genocide exist in the [ Central African Republic], as they existed in Srebrenica and Rwanda.  Does the Secretary-General consider it appropriate now to address a written communication within the framework of Article 99 of the UN Charter to warn the members of the Council of possible impending disaster?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding that, as you know, the Secretary-General in recent months has initiated a plan called “Rights up front”, where we try to respond to crises from early warning signs of atrocities.  The Central African Republic is, in fact, one of the cases that we’ve been viewing with concern within the framework of the “Rights up front” plan and we’ve been trying to rally the international community in recent months to take more and greater action on the Central African Republic.  Regarding the situation as it stands today, I’d refer you again to the remarks that the Secretary-General made, where among other things, like I said, he said that he was deeply concerned about the violence and pervasive fear in the Central African Republic, especially reports of atrocities against civilians.  Wherever such atrocities occur, the perpetrators must be held to account.  We’re continuing to remain seized of the matter and as you know, the Secretary-General has presented a variety of options to the Security Council for them to consider and to evaluate how those options are succeeding or not.  Yes?

Question:  I have two questions.  My first question is about Yarmouk camp.  I wanted to know if you have new plan to enter the camp or did you talk to the Syrian authorities to persuade them to facilitate the entry of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) to the camp?  The second question is about, are there any developments in relation to Middle East countries responding to the Egyptian initiative to make the area free from weapons of mass destruction?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on the Egyptian proposal as it stands.  I believe that would be a matter for discussion amongst Member States.  As you know, of course, we support efforts, in the broad sense, efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.  Regarding Yarmouk, the latest information I have is that an estimated 18,000 people, mostly Palestine refugees, have been sealed off in Yarmouk without any aid, apart from some polio vaccines since September 2013.  There are credible reports of severe and chronic malnutrition.  The UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], UNRWA, continues to seek access.  As you know, one of their aid convoys was turned back due to heavy fighting on Monday and we’re still trying to find access to that camp.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Of course, I’m revisiting the subject of the Special Tribunal of Lebanon.  A lot of criticism is emerging in Lebanon and elsewhere that it is accusing the Tribunal of being political.  And of course, in the inception of the Tribunal, it was initiated in the beginning that it should be viewed as just and fair and apolitical.  The accusations heard on air and in the papers today in Lebanon since yesterday all accuse the Tribunal of being politicized and it has been incepted by the Security Council with nine votes only.  It was not ratified by the Parliament or by the President, and so, a lot of criticism has been made.  How do you feel that the United Nations could not really show that justice is being done by this Tribunal?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve seen the statement that the Secretary-General had to say on this yesterday and we stand by the views expressed in that statement.  Regarding how the Tribunal was set up, of course, it is set up pursuant to a Security Council resolution and it’s also worth noting that the Special Tribunal was established in response to a request from the Government of Lebanon.  The trial is a trial of individuals indicted in the case.  And as you know, the Tribunal is an independent body with a mandate to try those responsible for the terrorist crime committed on 14 February 2005, in accordance with the highest international standards of criminal justice, pursuant to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007) and its annex.

Correspondent:  Well, I remember Nicolas Michel, the [Under-Secretary-General], at the time said that this Tribunal should be viewed as being fair and just.  This is not the case when it comes now, for example, the miscarriage of justice — four Generals were imprisoned for four years and then released without accusations.  And now they are in The Hague accusing that Mr. Detlev Mehlis was behind that.  The picture coming from the Middle East shows that there’s a lot of criticism and it is not viewed as being, doing justice here.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As I just mentioned, the Tribunal is an independent body.  For any specific complaints about the work of the Tribunal or specific questions about that, I’d urge you to talk to the Tribunal, which has its own spokespeople.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot, Farhan.  I wanted to ask about Mali and [the Office for Internal Oversight Services].  On Mali, I wanted to thank you for this written answer you gave yesterday afternoon that Mali has said that its completed its investigation of the alleged rape in Mali by the Chadian troops.  And it said that the UN awaits advice on the outcome of the investigation.  And what I wanted to know is whether… what part of that is going to be made public, given both the human rights due diligence policy, etcetera?  I appreciate you saying that the investigation is finished, but, has… did they clear the soldiers?  Were the soldiers found guilty?  Where does it stand?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As we emailed to you, the Mission does await advice on the outcome of the proceedings.  We know that there have been proceedings regarding the case.  You know this is a case regarding sexual assault and so, we await further information from that.  We’ll try to make public what we can of the information that we receive.

[The information previously shared on this issue was:  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations officially notified the Government of Chad of these allegations in late September.  The Government of Chad officially responded, saying that it would take responsibility for the investigations. The Government of Chad has further advised the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that it has completed the national investigation, and the United Nations awaits advice on the outcome of the investigations and follow-up accountability measures as appropriate.]

Question:  So, they literally just told you that it’s complete, but…no indication on what was done?  I guess I wonder when…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The information I have in the email that was sent to you is the information we have.  If we have any further updates, we’ll share it with you at that point.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the UN have a response on President Hamid Karzai’s statement about the killing of civilians in a bomb attack in Afghanistan?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have no specific reaction to the latest comments.  Of course, you’ve seen what our views are about any sort of military operations that can harm civilians and the positions that we’ve taken, including with our officials on the ground, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), trying to make sure that all appropriate steps are taken to minimize all possibility of harm to civilians.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  In South Sudan, do you have any further notice of when other troops are arriving?  I know police have arrived.  Because the UN seems to be reduced there with all the killing going on to a very important and sometimes dangerous, but still, an innkeeper providing housing, rather than pushing back the fighting.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve been providing updates of new personnel as they come in and you’ve seen the arrivals of new police units.  But, in terms of military personnel, there’s nothing to report just yet.  Hopefully, we’ll have something as they come, but, as you know, it takes time sometimes to have them come properly equipped and with all of the logistics in place for their arrival.

[He later added that the Mission says that the advance team of 25 Nepalese soldiers arrived in Juba on Wednesday, as part of the 5,500 troops authorized by the Security Council to strengthen the Mission’s protection mandate.  The rest of the battalion is expected to follow shortly.]

Question:  One thing on South Sudan, the MSF (Médicins Sans Frontières) has said that their compound in Malakal was raided and somehow they said that what was taken was, you know, computers, and not everything.  But, they don’t say who did it.  And I’m wondering, given that there’s a UN presence… is there… are these the Salva Kiir… Riek Machar-related rebels, who’s responsible for that and what’s the UN going to do, you know, about medical services in Malakal, since they’re pulling out now?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First off, for questions about who attacked the MSF facilities and what they took, I’d suggest that you would ask MSF.  They would have the details.  We have, of course, been urging all sides to allow the humanitarian workers to go about their tasks without any impediments and we continue to push for that.  And of course, we’ve tried to make sure that their facilities are protected as much as we can.  But, in any case, the basic point, as I just read earlier on, is that we continue to remind all parties, as the Security Council has said, that efforts to undermine the Mission’s ability to implement its mandate as it seeks to protect civilians will not be tolerated.  And we feel the same for efforts to obstruct the work of humanitarian workers: that they must be allowed to go about their work.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  The Quds Committee, the Jerusalem Committee of the Conference on Islamic Cooperation, is holding a high-level meeting in Rabat today and tomorrow and it is being attended by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President.  Who is representing the UN at the meeting?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of whether we have any representative, but I’ll check.  [He later said that Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, was attending.]  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  Farhan, I’m just trying to find out if there’s been any inflow of letters or any other messages to the Secretary-General or other bodies in the UN over the issue of a probe by UN investigators into how the Vatican handled the sex abuse, child sex abuse issues?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that this is an issue that’s being handled by one of the human rights committees working out of Geneva.  It’s not handled here at the Secretariat, but if you talk to the Office for Human Rights in Geneva, they might be able to provide you with some details.

Question:  The nature of my question was whether the Secretary-General has, in fact, felt some of the heat of perhaps some reaction to this investigation at this point.  I mean, obviously, yes, it is taking place in Geneva.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is not an issue that’s being dealt with here.  Ultimately, he’s not handling… this sort of questioning that you have seen in the media over the past day is not something that we’ve been handling.

Question:  Sorry, it’s the problem of sitting so close to the front.  You think you don’t need this [microphone].  In the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], the last report from the [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] said that M23 was regrouping and at the same time, FDLR is on the agenda to isolate or abolish or kill or whatever.  Do you know what they’re doing?  What the priority is?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You’ve seen what Martin Kobler has had to say about the threats posed by various different armed groups, including FDLR, and we continue to monitor them and to warn that unless they disarm and join the peace process, they could face the sort of action that we’ve been taking against other armed groups, such as the M23.  So, we’ve given that warning out to all armed groups.  We’re monitoring, of course, what’s been happening with the M23.  I’d refer you to the recent reports that have come from Mr. Kobler in his own updates.  And, of course, today, as you can see, we’ve helped support operations against one of the groups:  the ADF.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot, Farhan.  I wanted to ask about the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  There was that decision in December where the Head, or Acting Head, of the Investigations Division… it’s said, the decision said that he acknowledged altering and withholding evidence.  So, I’m still waiting for some… what, what have they done since then on that decision?  I’ve seen a memo from Ms. [Carman] LaPointe to OIOS staff saying, because it’s subject to appeal, they’ll be no public comment.  I wanted to know, if your Office doesn’t speak for OIOS, who does?  And also, who decides whether to appeal the decision?  Is it the Secretariat?  Or does OIOS make its own legal determination and have they appealed?  And, if not, what’s the next step?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, actually, the basic point is that as long as legal proceedings continue, it would constrain all of us, including us, from comment.  And, in fact, because we’re not aware of whether there’s going to be a final decision on appeal just yet, we are constrained from comment.  So, I wouldn’t have anything to say.

Question:  But, are you appealing?  I mean, you’re saying a final decision… has an appeal been filed?  And who decides?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If I were to comment on whether we were appealing, that would count as a comment, which I am prohibited from doing.

Question:  How about… who decides whether to appeal?  Your Office or OIOS by itself?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You keep trying, but you understand the basic point:  The way the rule works is that I cannot comment.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I know we’re going to have a briefing with the Ambassadors on the women in Syria.  But, they have already made public statements that they would like 30 per cent of the delegation to be women.  Has that been conveyed to… they said they conveyed that to Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi; has that been conveyed to the Secretary-General?  And is there any response from the Secretary-General?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve certainly communicated the desire for broadly representative delegations that would include women.  In terms of having a precise percentage or quota, I don’t know how… what the percentage will be in the delegations that are drawn up.  As you know, one of the delegations, we don’t have a confirmation of their participation even just yet.  So, we’re waiting for that, but certainly, we do hope that it will include a good share of women and will be broadly representative.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

* *** *

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