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

24 January 2014

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.

 

Thanks for your patience.  I was delaying for a bit to give those of you who are interested in some time to see the press briefing that was just happening from Lakhdar Brahimi.

 

** Syria

 

The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, held separate meetings today, first with the Syrian Arab Republic delegation and then with the Syrian opposition delegation, at the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

 

Mr. Brahimi then spoke to reporters in a briefing just now and said that the parties have agreed to meet again tomorrow.  He said he never expected the process to be easy, but added that the discussions he has had with the parties have been encouraging.

 

Mr. Brahimi said that the Geneva communiqué is the basis of the discussions taking place and the parties understand that.

 

** Egypt

 

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Egypt:

 

The Secretary-General condemns today’s terrorist attacks in Greater Cairo, which reportedly killed at least six people and resulted in a large number of casualties.  No cause can justify such acts of terrorism.  He conveys his condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of Egypt, and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

 

In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General encouraged the Egyptian people to renew their commitment to peaceful dialogue and non-violence.  He reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to support Egypt in building the future for all Egyptians with the dignity, freedom, responsible governance and development that inspired the uprising of 2011.

 

Revolutions and political transitions are complex phenomena that can take years to play out.  A peaceful and democratic Egypt is what the people of Egypt deserve and is critical for the region and beyond.  The full statement is online.

 

**Secretary-General’s Travel

 

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York from Davos, where he attended a number of events related to climate change and agriculture.  In his speech to a major session at the World Economic Forum, the Secretary-General said that the world faced an existential threat, but added that addressing climate change was also a great opportunity to support global efforts on sustainable development.

 

The Secretary-General said this was why he would host a climate summit in New York in September that would have two goals:  to encourage ambitious action to reduce emissions and build resilience, and to mobilize political will for a meaningful global legal climate agreement by 2015.  He said the next two years would be critical.

 

The Secretary-General also spoke at a session on “green investment”, saying that clean energy, sustainable production and consumption and environmentally sound transport and urban planning are good for the planet, good for people and good for business.  They can create jobs, new markets and boost economies.

 

Last night, at a World Food Programme event in Davos, the Secretary-General invited leaders to join him in signing the Zero Hunger Declaration. Those who sign the Declaration are committing themselves to take action to eliminate hunger within our lifetime through sustainable, climate-smart food systems. The Secretary-General’s remarks are available online. Like I said, he is returning to New York later today.

 

**Secretary-General’s Trip Announcement

 

On Sunday, 26 January, the Secretary-General will depart New York for Havana, Cuba, where he will participate in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Summit.  In Cuba, the Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with a wide range of Government officials and regional leaders.  On Wednesday, 29 January, the Secretary-General will travel to Germany.

 

In Berlin, he will meet with senior Government officials including Federal President Dr. Joachim Gauck, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, among others.

 

While in Berlin, the Secretary-General will also hold the inaugural meeting of his Scientific Advisory Board, which he set up last year.  The Board, which comprises 26 eminent scientists, aims to ensure that rigorous science is reflected in high-level policy discussions within the UN system.

 

The Secretary-General will travel to Bonn on Friday, 31 January, and meet with UN staff members, as well as local authorities.  The last leg of his trip will be Munich, where the Secretary-General will attend the fiftieth Munich Security Conference.  He will hold talks in the margins of the Conference with a number of officials in attendance.

 

The Secretary-General will return to New York on Saturday, 1 February.

 

**South Sudan

 

As you will have seen in a statement issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomes the agreement on cessation of hostilities signed yesterday in Addis Ababa by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in opposition.  He calls on the parties to immediately implement this agreement.

 

The Secretary-General congratulates the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the successful mediation of this agreement and underscores the necessity to continue without delay a national political dialogue to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, with the participation of all South Sudanese political and civil society representatives, including the Sudan People's Liberation Movement detainees.

 

The United Nations stands with the people of South Sudan and will continue to do everything within its means to protect civilians at risk and provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.  The full statement is available online and in our office.

 

Also welcoming the agreement is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson.  She calls on all the parties to start an inclusive and comprehensive political dialogue to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, work towards national reconciliation and build effective state institutions so the people of South Sudan enjoy the peace they so much deserve.

 

And you will also have seen that the Security Council issued a statement last night on this agreement, and that is also available.

 

**UNMISS

 

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has conducted 205 military and 37 police patrols in various parts of the country, including in Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile States.  In Bor, in Jonglei State, the Mission is protecting some 10,300 civilians.  In Juba, 1,800 troops and police are currently protecting approximately 35,000 civilians at two bases.  Overall, the Mission continues to protect 76,000 civilians at eight bases across the country.

 

**South Sudan — Humanitarian

 

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the humanitarian community also welcomes yesterday’s agreement.  It hopes that the agreement will lead to an environment where people feel safe to return to their homes and continue with their daily lives.

 

In the wake of the signing of the agreement in South Sudan, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that it is poised to seize any window of opportunity to deliver food to areas that have been difficult to reach.  The World Food Programme says that humanitarian access and the looting of food stocks remain major concerns.  Its warehouses in Malakal have been almost entirely emptied by repeated looting incidents, and WFP is urgently working to move more food into the town to help the tens of thousands of people uprooted by the clashes.

 

For its part, the UN refugee agency and its partners are starting a mass measles immunization campaign in northern Uganda to prevent the spread of measles among South Sudanese refugees.

 

** Central African Republic

 

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic says that the country continues to face a crisis of major proportions, with nearly 1 million people — or one fifth of the population — displaced and 2.6 million people in need of immediate assistance.

 

Abdou Dieng said that the humanitarian community remains committed to continue providing aid to those affected by the crisis.  The main focus of the strategy is to save lives and alleviate people’s suffering.  Mr. Dieng noted that security concerns, including looting and killings, are hampering the delivery of assistance.

 

** Iraq

 

The UN refugee agency reports that, during the past week, more than 65,000 people have fled the conflict in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in central Iraq’s Anbar Province.  Since fighting broke out at the end of last year, more than 140,000 people have been made homeless by fighting, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration.  This is the largest displacement Iraq has witnessed since the sectarian violence of 2006-2008.

 

The United Nations in Iraq has asked the Iraqi Government to help allow the opening of a humanitarian corridor to reach displaced and stranded families in Anbar Province.  In recent weeks, several bridges leading into the conflict area and communities hosting displaced people have been destroyed, making access difficult.  It is impossible right now to reach the area from Baghdad, and relief agencies are using roads coming from northern Iraq.

 

**IAEA

 

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) addressed the organization’s Board of Governors today.  Director General Yukiya Amano called the agreement reached last November on Iran’s nuclear programme an important and encouraging development after several years of little or no progress.  He voiced hope that all of the work undertaken by the Agency will provide an important contribution to advancing the resolution of the Iran nuclear issue and will lead to further positive developments.

 

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, please?

 

**Questions and Answers

 

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is about Myanmar.  Does the United Nations have any response to the recent reaction from the Myanmar Government, which strongly objected to UN claim of 40 killings of the conflict between the ethnic or religious groups?  Do you have any concern about the response from the Myanmar Government [which] shows the Myanmar Government and the international community are going back to the wrong direction?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything specific to say about the reaction by the Myanmar Government.  From our part, the United Nations has received information pertaining to alleged serious violent incidents that may have taken place in Du Chee Yar Tan village in Maungdawearlier this month.  We understand that the situation remains tense and efforts are underway to obtain further details.  Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar, presently in Myanmar, has had meetings with Government leaders, during which he expressed the concern of the United Nations and the need to address civilian protection concerns squarely.  The United Nations renews its call for calm and urges the authorities to protect human rights and civilian populations at risk, while also working actively to reduce communal tensions.  The United Nations also stresses the importance of addressing the underlying causes of these tensions and taking preventive measures to avoid any further loss of life.  The United Nations has urged the authorities to investigate these allegations in a timely and transparent manner.

 

And we also refer you to recent statements by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, and by Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Yes?

 

Question:  Just another Myanmar question.  There is a census coming up.  It seems that the United Nations system is involved in funding and maybe even participating in it.  Both Kachin and Rohingya groups have expressed a lot of concerns.  One, there is no box in the census thus far to checkRohingya, meaning… implying that they are not citizens.  Also, Kachin, they have other complaints.  I wanted to know:  is UN aware of these?  What steps are they taking, and will they fund a census that many groups think makes things worse rather than better?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will look into what we are doing on that question.  We need some details about that.  Of course, you’ve seen what our concerns are about the treatment of Rohingya and of Kachins.  Those continue to apply.  Yes, Rhonda?

 

Question:  Thank you.  I wondered if the Secretary-General has any response or comment to the proposals made by the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] on 16 January to the [ Republic of Korea].  This proposal that’s been… [inaudible]?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You mean on the family union?

 

Correspondent:  No, this is on the request… the efforts to calm tensions, not have anything that brings those tensions up further.

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s views in favour of having tensions calmed throughout the Korean peninsula are well known, and so, that’s consistent.  The idea of calming tensions is consistent with what he has been advocating for some time.

 

Correspondent:  But, this specific proposal that’s been made, and there has been some answers…

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t have any reaction to that.

 

Correspondent:  And the second question…

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Actually, can we go to someone else first?  Yes?

 

Question:  Yeah, it’s about Geneva II.  We know that Iran has been invited, but will… actually during the process, Iran has some kind of back seat during the discussion?  Do you have any information about that?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on this.  We consistently said we hope Iran can play a positive and constructive role.  At this stage, as you are aware, the talks are between the two delegations — the delegation from the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the opposition delegation.  And so, it’s those two parties and Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, who are in discussions.  We will see whether there is any other involvement by other Member States down the line, but that’s where we stand for now.  Yes?

 

Question:  My second question is about the letters that the Syrian Government has sent to the UN.  I’m wondering if the Secretary-General has been briefed on those letters.  There are over 200 letters supposedly about the nature of terrorism that has been attacking in Syria.  Is there any process?  Is there any response of the Secretary-General to those letters?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Whenever we get letters, those are evaluated by the departments that would be interested in them, and that’s been the case with these letters.   And we respond as appropriate.  Yes, Pam?

 

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you flesh out the Cuba meeting of the Secretary-General?  He arrives on Sunday and stays through Monday.  Is there anything, any meetings scheduled, other than the [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] meetings?  Thank you.

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He will have some other meetings and visits while he is in Havana.  We’ll give you the details of those as they proceed.  Some of the meetings he will have while he is travelling will be with the leaders of the [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States], of the Latin American coalition, that will be present for those talks.  So he will meet with them, with Cuban officials and also he will see some projects on the ground.

 

Question:  He’ll be there Sunday and Monday?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Hold on a second.  No.  He will be there basically on Monday and Tuesday, and then he will travel on to Germany on Wednesday.  Yes, Jonathan?

 

Question:  Do we have the names of who he’s meeting with?  Also, by chance, he will meet Fidel Castro?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any confirmation on that.  I don’t have any names to give just yet.  We’ll provide details as we can once the trip is under way.  Yes?

 

Question:  Sure.  On South Sudan, I wanted to know, there already, the [Riek] Machar side has said there are still continuing attacks by the SPLA against them in Unity State and Jonglei State.  One, I wanted to know if the UN is aware of that, if they have any awareness of continued military action?  Also, if there is going to be any UN role in this monitoring and verification mechanism envisioned by the IGAD agreement?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on your first question about reports of fighting: yes, the UN Mission in South Sudan says that sporadic fighting took place in parts of the country today.  It is critical that both parties implement the cessation of hostilities agreement in full and immediately.  The UN calls on all communities to cease hostilities and refrain from any act that could harm individuals and properties, or lead to further displacement.  Regarding the question on the monitoring mechanism, the establishment of a fully functioning ceasefire monitoring mechanism is essential for the implementation of the agreement.  The United Nations stands ready to provide critical support to this process.  The United Nations will continue to protect civilians at risk and calls on all parties to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel and facilities.  Yes, Evelyn?

 

Question:  Sorry for the delay.  On South Sudan, in any of these civil wars, there are going to be revenge killings and so forth, and I expect that the agreement will be breached quite often.  Who… does the UN have the capacity to monitor any of this, because so many troops have not arrived yet?  And I wonder how you can get a handle on what’s happening and who is violating what?  What can be done to stop it?  Because I imagine every other day, one side is going to accuse the other side of having violated.  That usually happens in these kinds of agreement signed on the top.

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s understood.  We are, of course, trying to get our reinforcements in as soon as we can get them.  Beyond that, like I said, we are looking forward the establishment of a fully functioning ceasefire monitoring mechanism.  That would be essential.

 

Question:  Do you have any idea when?  Do you have a timetable when other troops are arriving?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I believe I gave you some information a few days ago about how an advance team from the Nepalese had come in, and the rest of that contingent is expected to arrive in the coming days.  So, that’s the first one.  And as we get others, we will let you know.  Yes?

 

Question:  Also regarding South Sudan, you said that ceasefire monitoring mechanism is essential and the UN is ready to help with that.  But, in the South Sudan case, it seems that there are a bit… a lot of public criticism regarding the UN’s role.  So, how would the UN be perceived as taking a very neutral role on something like ceasefire monitoring?  Is there worry about that?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I would just refer you to the statement made just within the past couple of hours by President Salva Kiir, which was very appreciative of the work done by the UN Mission in South Sudan.  Yes?

 

Question:  Thanks.  I got a question about this WFP incident.  We have been getting statistics at the briefings for the past few weeks about the number of patrols happening every day across the country.  But, it seems like, because there are 200,000… food for 200,000 people that was taken, that would be a priority mission to go and figure out what’s happened to that, and if it can be, you know, brought back into WFP control.  Is there any plan to do that?  And furthermore, in the WFP statement, they said they are trying to get more food back into that base, but obviously, it’s not a very secure facility.  So, are there plans to reinforce it or to protect it better than was done previously?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we are trying to protect the food.  Of course, what’s essential is that the parties now abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement and stop all the armed attacks, as well as the looting of facilities.  This has been a constant problem.  And as for what the World Food Programme is doing, of course, you can ask them about their projects, but they clearly feel that it’s essential to keep providing food to the people in need.  So, we will need to get food to Malakal.  [The World Food Programme added that it tries to get the food back, sometimes successfully.  Communities assisted by WFP can also help put pressure on those responsible to return food.]

 

Question:  But, is there a plan to reinforce… to assist them and protect the food?  It seems like an unwise position to have the agency so separate on a matter that is of such consequence to people there.

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN Mission is working with the World Food Programme and trying to see if food can be delivered safely, but of course, part of the onus is on the parties themselves not to attack and loot our facilities.  Hopefully, with this agreement in place, the parties comply with it.  It can be now safer for things that are essential, such as humanitarian aid deliveries.  Yes?  [The World Food Programme later added that it is moving food into better protected UNMISS compounds in some places for now, and examining its plans for pre-positioning food stocks.]

 

Question:  I wanted to know, it’s said that Ivan Šimonović, assistant on human rights, based in New York, is going to meet with Native American representatives about the name of the Washington Redskins today?  I want to know:  is that true?  Will we get a readout if it is true?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we don’t provide readouts of all meetings of all officials, normally just with the Secretary-General, and sometimes with some other key officials.  I would doubt that there would be one on this.  I don’t have a confirmation on this meeting is taking place, but I can check.  Yes?

 

Question:  About the documents that have been sent, the letters that have been sent to the UN by the Syrian Government:  where would they go, and is there some way to find out what happened because there is over 200 dealings with terrorism?  There are negotiations going on.  Is there any process that those are going to be part of, or is it useless that they send those letters?

 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s always useful to send letters.  All letters sent by any Member State are processed and worked on.  Depending upon what the content of the letter is, different departments have inputs on what to do next.  So, we respond over time with all of them, but they are all logged and responded to in whatever manner is felt appropriate by the responsible departments.

 

Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.