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

28 January 2014

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

28 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, who was later joined by teleconference from Havana by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

This morning in Havana, the Secretary-General has been taking part in a summit of CELAC, the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States.  He will address the Summit later today.

About now, he is meeting the Chief of Cuba´s Civil Defence.  Earlier, he visited the Latin American School of Medicine, where students from around the world train to be doctors.

The Secretary-General is expected to have a number of meetings with leaders attending the CELAC Summit, and we will aim to provide details on those meetings when we can.  He will speak to reporters before leaving this evening for Germany.

And Martin Nesirky may call in with more details sometime later during this briefing.  We will see whether we can arrange that at some point while this one progresses.

**Security Council

The Security Council received a briefing this morning on Burundi by the Head of the UN Office in that country, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.  He said that he could express optimism about Burundi’s recent progress and discussed the process towards holding transparent, free and peaceful elections in 2015.  His remarks are available in our office.

Earlier, the Security Council, in a resolution, decided to extend the mandate of the UN [Integrated] Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) until 31 January 2015.  The Council also authorized the European Union to deploy an operation in the Central African Republic and placed sanctions on individuals found to be acting in violation of the arms embargo established in resolution 2127 (2013) or those who were planning, directing, or committing acts that violate international human rights law or international humanitarian law.

The Security Council will hold consultations on Yemen this afternoon.

** Central African Republic

Also on the Central African Republic, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that 10 trucks carrying food — 250 metric tons of rice and maizemeal — arrived in Bangui on Monday, after a 600-kilometre journey from the Cameroon border.  The trucks were part of a 60-vehicle convoy escorted by troops from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic, known as MISCA.  The World Food Programme says that the convoy was slowed by frequent improvised checkpoints set up by armed groups.

The World Food Programme welcomed the cooperation between MISCA, officials from Cameroon and the Central African Republic that made the road journey possible, but it warned that securing the country’s roads is crucial to provide a food lifeline to growing numbers of displaced people.

It says that more escorts will be needed in the weeks ahead, as the food that arrived on Monday represents only 5 per cent of the cereals needed to provide assistance across the country for one month.

Another 41 commercial trucks carrying World Food Programme cereals are still stranded at the Cameroonian border, along with hundreds of other vehicles.  The World Food Programme is working to unblock the situation at the border.  There is more information in a press release.

**South Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, was today in Malakal in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, where an estimated 42,000 people have been displaced by fighting.  Together with Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer, she visited displaced communities and aid agencies’ warehouses, including a World Food Programme warehouse which was recently looted.

She also met displaced families sheltering in a teaching hospital, which is now hosting about 500 civilians, and visited a UN peacekeeping hospital where more than 900 patients have received some kind of treatment.  Ms. Amos said she was concerned about the current situation and the impact of the violence across the country.  She added that humanitarian organizations were supporting the Government’s efforts to respond to the immediate crisis, but said they also needed to start preparations to respond to needs during the rainy season in April.  Ms. Amos is expected to wrap up her mission tomorrow with a press conference in Juba.

And also on South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, reports it is now protecting approximately 79,000 civilians at eight bases in the country, with half of those sheltering in two Mission sites in the capital, Juba.

The Mission says it has conducted 235 military and 63 police patrols yesterday in various parts of the country.  The Mission has received reports about the deteriorating security situation in Koch and Leer counties in Unity State.  An UNMISS patrol to Mayom in Unity State observed that many parts of the town were burnt.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the humanitarian community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is concerned about the impact of violence on civilians in Katanga Province.

It reports that persistent violence over the last several months has left hundreds of thousands of people displaced.  There are now 400,000 displaced people in the province, up from 50,000 three months ago.  Since October 2013, more than 700 houses in 20 villages have been attacked in Manono, Pweto and Mitwaba territories in Katanga.

The World Food Programme started food distribution on 15 January to people displaced by recent violence, and is planning to provide more aid in early February.  Other partners have provided life-saving assistance to more than 20,000 people in the northern part of the province.  But the Office says that insecurity is hampering efforts to reach more people and expand the presence of humanitarian agencies in the area.

** Syria

The World Food Programme said today that the United Nations hub in Homs, Syria, is preparing for an inter-agency convoy to deliver urgently needed humanitarian assistance to besieged families who have been trapped in the Old City of Homs and have not received humanitarian assistance for almost two years.  WFP has trucks on standby to deliver food for trapped families, and is also prepared to provide ready-to-eat food rations to women and children who choose to be evacuated from the Old City of Homs if access was granted.  Humanitarian deliveries to the Old City have been impossible since the siege of more than one year.

The World Food Programme is increasingly concerned about people living in hard-to-reach areas across the country with no access to food assistance.  More than 775,000 people in Al-Raqqa, Al-Hassakeh and Deir Ezzor have not been reached by WFP assistance for consecutive months, while over 40 locations in rural Damascus remain under siege, affecting an estimated 800,000 people.

Also, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says that it has not been able to deliver aid to Yarmouk camp for the past 10 days.

**World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) says only 1 in 10 people who need pain relief care is currently receiving it.  This unmet need is mapped for the first time in the Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life, published jointly by the World Health Organization and the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance.

Palliative care includes addressing the physical, psychosocial and emotional suffering of patients with serious advanced illnesses.  About one third of those needing palliative care suffer from cancer.  More information on this is available on the World Health Organization’s website.

**DPI Holocaust Exhibition Opening

Correspondents are invited to attend the opening of an exhibition titled, “When You Listen to a Witness, You Become a Witness”, which will take place this evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Visitors’ Centre.  The exhibition will be on display until the end of January, and is one of several events organized for Holocaust Remembrance Week.

**Press Conference

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the launch of their latest flagship report on education.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I’m sorry, Mr. Haq, I got late to the noon briefing.  I wanted to know if the Secretary-General would be meeting with anyone in Cuba regarding the detentions and the people being harassed to keep them from going to Havana and having a parallel summit to CELAC?  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details of any such meetings right now.  One thing I can say, though, is that we are trying to have Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson who’s travelling with the Secretary-General, call in sometime in about 10 or 15 minutes from now.  So, if he has any details at that point, he can probably share something there.  Yes, Lou?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Regarding the situation in Homs, who exactly has the power in Syria to allow these… this aid convoy to go in?  Is it the Mayor of Homs?  Has he been approached by the United Nations?  What exactly has been holding it up?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of… I don’t have the level of detail in terms of which specific individuals, but we’ve been trying to get agreement from both the Syrian Government authorities and the opposition, so that we could have aid get into Homs.  That effort has been made in two venues: on the ground through the work of the UN agencies on the ground, but also through Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s dealings with the parties to see whether getting humanitarian aid to places like Homs and Aleppo can be handled as part of the series of confidence-building measures and steps between the parties that can be agreed to.  So far, there’s no real progress on the ground to report to you.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up:  so, is the implication there that both sides are equally capable of giving a green light because the United Nations is awaiting a green light to go in there?  It’s just unclear who is able to give that green light.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think it’s more accurate to say that our priority at this stage is to get access and to work even-handedly, as much as we can, with the parties.  That’s not to say that the parties necessarily share an equal amount of the blame, but at this stage, we will work in a non-partisan way with the parties in the effort to get aid to where it’s needed.  As you know, that’s always been a very neutral and non-partisan task that we handle, and we’re trying to get it accomplished.

Question:  I wanted to ask, also on Syria, for some response on your part.  It seems that the issue of the United States saying that it would be providing aid to armed groups inside Syria has led to some problems in the Geneva talks.  I know that the Secretary-General said he had been dismayed by Iran’s statement after the invitation.  I just wanted to know, does he think… what’s the United Nations position on that?  Is it a violation of the letter or spirit of Geneva I?  What is the United Nations position on the United States providing aid to armed groups in Syria?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, actually, just before I came in here, Mr. Brahimi has been speaking to the press today and you can see what he says on the webcast, which is provided by us.  But, he actually took a question on that and he made clear that he has been told that this is not the official United States position, and I refer you to the comments that were just made by Mr. Brahimi.

Question:  But if it were their position, would there be dismay?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t answer questions based on the premise “if it were their position”.  He said it was not their position.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I understand that the transition agreement has to be agreed upon by both parties.  Is that correct?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re trying to get an agreement by both parties, yes.

Question:  If that is the case, it is conceivable and likely that the Government would not agree to the transition agreement unless it’s party to it.  Having said that, one can only think of the possibility of a Government formed by technocrats and independent members.  Does the Secretary-General… does Mr. Brahimi… are they thinking of the possibility of a Government by independent technocrats?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, I’m not going to be drawn into any speculation.  What Mr. Brahimi is trying to do is work with the parties for what is a Syrian-led effort to work out a transitional arrangement.  And he’s working with the parties to see what they themselves can agree to, and we’ll see where this process goes.  He has made clear that this is not going to be an easy process. Clearly, there are days when the movement of the process is slower than others, but the talks continue to proceed and he’ll work with them to see where they can arrive at.

Question:  Just a follow-up:  this is not a question of speculation, this a question of practicalities.  If the Government is not agreed to as a party of the transition agreement, what other possibilities are there except forming an independent Government?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, again, most of the questions premised by “if this happens” are ones that I’m not going to be drawn into.  Ultimately, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.  Let’s see what the Government and the opposition are able to agree to.  They are there.  They are talking.  It may be at times a frustrating process, but let’s see what they themselves can get to as this series of negotiations continues.  Yes, you in the back?

Question:  On South Sudan, you mentioned that there was fighting in some parts of the country.  I’m wondering if you have anything on the broader scope of the ceasefire?  Does UNMISS think the ceasefire is effective?  It sounds like there’s lots of violations.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we made clear, the UN Mission, UNMISS, has received reports of sporadic violence in some parts of Unity and Upper Nile States.  It’s made clear that it is critical that both parties implement the cessation of hostilities agreement in full and immediately.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the Congo, who’s fighting?  Is this a repeat of the independence movement that cost so many lives?  If so, why would they be burning down huts and so forth?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe this is fighting by a Mai-Mai group in Katanga.  In terms of why, I’ll try and check with MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) what the nominal cause of this is.  Yes?

Question:  On South Sudan, thanks for confirming yesterday that these 350 Ghanaian peacekeepers would go from Côte d’Ivoire.  The President of Ghana said there was a total of 850, so I wanted to know, is it… can you confirm that 500 will be going from UNAMID (United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur) in Darfur and what steps are, given that the most recent report to the Security Council said that things are actually getting worse rather than better there, what steps are being taken to make sure this doesn’t leave some kind of a vacuum in Darfur?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a confirmation of troops moving from Darfur just yet.  If I have that later down the line, we can report at that point.  The troops that we’re moving, as we told you, are coming from the Côte d’Ivoire Operation, UNOCI. 

Correspondent:  That’s 350 and the other one said 850.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll work out arrangements for additional troops.  We’ll make announcements when that comes in.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the talk between Iran and P5+1, which is supposed to happen next month in New York, how much will the United Nations be involved in this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we are not a party to these talks.  This is from the group that’s known as the E3+3 and Iran, and it’s their arrangements to make.  As far as I’m aware, we do not have a confirmation that this is happening in New York nor would it be our place to confirm it.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask, on Central African Republic, there are reports of still whole Muslim and predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods, Miskine and PK5 being attacked and that the brother of the former Séléka number two, Nouredinne Adam, has been killed today and I wanted to know, is this, and I know that obviously there’s a lot of transition and peacekeepers coming in, and… but what is the United Nations… is the United Nations able to confirm that neighbourhoods are still under attack on a religious basis and that this brother of Nouredinne Adam has been killed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a confirmation on the brother of Nouredinne Adam.  What I can say is, regarding Bangui, for example, that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that since 21 January, clashes between anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka members, supported by armed Muslim civilians in the Bangui neighbourhoods of PK5, PK11, PK12 and PK13, have resulted in several casualties.  Mobs went on a rampage, looting shops, homes and mosques in Muslim areas of those neighbourhoods.  The fighting has also forced ex-Séléka and Muslim civilians to flee towards the town of Damara, some 65 kilometres north of Bangui.

Question:  Could I ask just one follow-up?  Because I know she’d earlier said the disarmament of the ex-Séléka had left these communities at risk.  I’m wondering is the United Nations aware of any change of strategy, let’s say by the Sangaris force or by MISCA, to actually affirmatively protect areas if the ex-Séléka have left town and are being taken out by Chadians?  What’s the plan to protect these neighbourhoods that you’re describing?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t speak for the Sangaris force or MISCA.  You have to ask each of those forces respectively what they’re doing.  And with that… okay, one more.  Let’s keep this going and see if Martin calls in.

Question:  About the report of OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) regarding the Syrian chemical weapons, was it supposed to be presented to the Security Council today or this week?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe there’s a report to be presented today on that.  We gave an update on the work of the OPCW-UN joint mission, that is to say the mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, where they reported yesterday that a second shipment of chemical weapons from the port of Latakia did get loaded on board Danish and Norwegian vessels.  So, that’s the latest update we have from the mission.  They have some updates from their website about the work they’re doing, but we’ll inform you of their next Security Council briefing when that happens.  And if you could beg my indulgence just for a few moments, let me just check if there’s any possibility of having Martin call in.

Hello, Martin, are you there?

Spokesperson (by teleconference):  I am indeed.  I can tell folks a little bit about what’s been happening today.  Is it okay to go ahead at this point?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Martin, we’re trying to get the bridge line set up.  If you can, why don’t you talk about what the Secretary-General’s been doing in Havana?

Spokesperson:  I will certainly do that.  He spent part of the morning attending the Summit of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, taking place here in Havana.  He’s due to address the Summit later today.  I’m standing outside the offices of Civil Defence of Cuba and he’s just come from visiting the Latin American School of Medicine, where students from around the world have been trained to be doctors from more than 90 countries, in fact, and so he’s able to speak to the students and to some of the professors.  He’s also likely to have a number of meetings with leaders who are attending the CELAC Summit, and in addition he will be speaking to reporters at a press conference.  And I think that’s it, in short term.

He made a visit to the Latin American School of Medicine which has been quite impressive.  The students are from so many countries and they undertake a six-year training programme followed by specializing in [inaudible] before going back to their own countries.  Of course, Cuba has a strong record on helping with its own doctors in many parts of the world.

So, that‘s what I have at the moment.  I’m happy to take any questions that there might be.

Question:  Mr. Nesirky, thank you very much.  Carmen María Rodríguez from Radio Martí.  There have been reports from Havana that dissidents and the opposition have not been able either to get close to the Secretary-General.  They want to meet with them.  They also want to hold a parallel summit to CELAC.  Have you any indication that the Secretary-General would have time to meet with them?  Thank you very much.  And is he aware of the harassment of the opposition?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  First of all, you must remember that the Secretary-General is here at the invitation of the Cuban Government, and in his meetings with Government officials, he’s consistently raised the question of human rights, and he is certainly aware of recent developments, including over the past few days, with regard to a certain number of individuals.  Any other questions?

Question:  Hi, Martin.  It’s me, Matthew.  I saw the readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with Raul Castro.  It said, you know, that they addressed the impact of the United States embargo on Cuba.  I’m wondering if you can give a little more on that?  Did they discuss how to soften the blow?  Did they discuss trying to get it lifted?  How did they address it?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, it’s not just with President Raul Castro.  He discussed the impacts of the United States embargo on Cuba with other interlocutors, too, including the First Vice-President.  It was more in the context of the economic and social transformation that is taking place here, and also within the context of the port that has opened yesterday, coincidentally, this new deep-water port at Mariel.  Certainly on the part of the Secretary-General, there was no intention to lay down the law and so on, but simply a discussion and questions from him about the impact, and what Cuba does to be able to continue while there still are such sanctions.  Do you have any other questions?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If not, thanks for calling in.  Have a good rest of your stay in Havana.  Hello?

Spokesperson:  Simply to stress that certainly the Secretary-General has consistently raised the question of human rights and had quite lengthy discussions with senior leaders here.  I’ll be able to brief people more at a later stage.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks, Martin.

Spokesperson:  Bye for now.  Oh, just one last thing.  Tim Witcher, if he’s in the room or if he’s not and he’s listening, I’m terribly sorry that I cannot attend your farewell.  It’s been tremendous to have you at the United Nations, covering the United Nations.  I’m sorry to see you go but I know that you’re going to have a splendid run as sports editor in Paris, and I hope to catch up with you at some point.  I wish you all the best; I’m sorry I can’t come to your drinks tomorrow.  All the best from Havana.  Bye for now.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We also wish him well.  One last thing:  I was asked about the OPCW-UN report.  There is a written report, which is here in my hands, and we’ll have copies of that available.  That comes in the form of a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, dated yesterday.  Thanks.

* *** *

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