|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.
The Secretary-General has appointed Michael O’Neill of the United Kingdom as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Mr. O’Neill will replace Sigrid Kaag, who has taken up her new appointment as Special Coordinator of the joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations.
Mr. O’Neill is currently serving as Senior Foreign Office Representative to the Gulf Strategy Group in the [ United Kingdom] Cabinet Office. We have more info on that appointment in my office.
United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners have launched a revised appeal for South Sudan today, calling for $1.27 billion to help 3.2 million people who continue to suffer the consequences of the conflict in the country.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said the Crisis Response Plan was revised to reflect the deterioration of the humanitarian situation and also to prioritize frontline relief and pre-positioning.
The Plan also intends to take necessary action now to prevent food security deteriorating later in the year.
The revised Crisis Response Plan will help aid organizations assist people displaced by the conflict, South Sudan refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries, host communities and others whose lives have been affected by the crisis. Nearly 60 per cent of the funding will go towards pre-positioning of vital aid supplies before the rainy season starts in June, making roads and bridges impassable.
We also have an update from the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS. The Mission continues its patrolling activities across the country, including in the capital, Juba, as well as in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity States.
Yesterday, a UN team visited Mayom County in Unity State. It reports observing many unexploded ordnances along the road, as well as in Mayom town. Assistance from the UN Mine Action Service is being sought by the authorities there to clear roads of unexploded weapons and explosives.
In Pibor, in Jonglei State, the Mission reports that the situation is calm. All civilians have left the Mission protection site in the town. However, 6,000 civilians still remain within the Mission site in Bor, also in Jonglei State.
The Mission also continues to reinforce its human rights monitoring capacity in various locations, including Juba, Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, where it has received reports of serious human rights violations.
** Central African Republic
The World Food Programme (WFP) says that food stocks are running low in the Central African Republic, with supplies for just one week available in Bangui. The World Food Programme is now preparing to start airlifting food from Douala in Cameroon — although the cost of transporting food by air is five times more expensive than transportation by road. A plane would fly a daily rotation to Bangui with the capacity to transport up to 100 metric tons every time.
The World Food Programme also says that the African-led [International Support] Mission for the Central African Republic (MISCA) has sent another armed escort to the border between Central African Republic and Cameroon, which was expected to reach the border by today. There are 43 trucks carrying WFP food blocked at the border because of insecurity.
Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners are setting up temporary classrooms for over 20,000 displaced children to enable them to return to school. Most of the classrooms are in Bangui, with some in the northwest of the country.
And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the humanitarian appeal for the Central African Republic is still underfunded, with just 11 per cent of the $551 million asked for. And that 11 per cent comes out at $60 million so far.
The World Food Programme (WFP) started an airlift today from Iraq to transport enough food to feed close to 30,000 displaced people for a month in northeast Syria. The airlift comes amid growing problems in reaching people, especially in conflict and besieged areas.
It is the second such airlift from Erbil in Iraq, to people who would otherwise be cut off from humanitarian assistance.
The first World Food Programme-chartered flight landed at Qamishli airport with 40 metric tons of food. A total of 10 flights will deliver more than 400 metric tons of food, as well as other items — mainly clothing, detergent and soap — for UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration.
Also on Syria, we have been asked in recent days if any UN personnel have been released from detention. We are trying to secure the release of all our personnel as soon as possible. I can confirm that, in the last few days, two staff have been safely released out of 21 being held.
On Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said today that there can be no stability in the country if half of its people wake up hungry every day and are living below the poverty line.
He said that more than half of the people of Yemen needed some kind of humanitarian assistance. Some 13 million people out of approximately 25 million do not have access to safe drinking water. Yemen has the second-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world after Afghanistan.
The humanitarian appeal for 2014 is $592 million, and funds from donors are urgently needed.
** United Arab Emirates — Climate Change
As you will have seen in the readout we issued last night, the Secretary-General has welcomed the United Arab Emirates’ offer to host a high-level meeting on climate change from 4 to 5 May in Abu Dhabi.
The meeting aims to encourage announcements of greater action and ambition by world leaders at the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September.
The May meeting will be called the “Abu Dhabi Ascent”, and will bring Ministers, as well as business, finance, and civil society leaders, together to develop a range of proposals for action so that partnerships can be broadened to deliver concrete action at the Summit in September. As you know, that is on 23 September.
**Answers to Earlier Questions
Yesterday, I was asked about the town of Leer in South Sudan. The UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, says it is aware of reports that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) is in control of Leer, and that parts of the town have reportedly been burnt down. The Mission is unable to verify or confirm these reports at this stage.
And I was also asked about the meetings of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations during his visit to South Sudan. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that Hervé Ladsous met with a variety of the Mission's key interlocutors, including leaders of the anti-Government forces delegation, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Garang, in Addis Ababa.
Mr. Ladsous has urged all parties to implement all provisions of the cessation of hostilities agreement immediately, grant freedom of access in the areas they control, uphold international humanitarian law and respect the Mission’s impartiality, as well as the inviolability of UN facilities.
Yesterday, I was asked about the Secretary-General’s remarks on the Cyprus talks that he made at a press conference in Munich.
The Secretary-General’s remarks, in an answer to a journalist’s question on the Cyprus talks, alluded to the political change in the Republic of Cyprus last Spring and the immediate impact of the economic crisis at that time, which had understandably required President [Nicos] Anastasiades’s full attention. This meant that the President’s stated desire to resume the talks at that stage was deferred. The UN had clearly expressed its understanding of these circumstances.
Importantly, the Secretary-General in these same remarks stressed that both leaders were committed to continue the negotiations and had agreed to have a joint communiqué before they resumed the talks. He reiterated the UN’s continuing and full support of the leaders in this effort.
**Press Conferences Today
This afternoon at 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by President Tommy Remengesau of Palau on oceans and seas.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Franscesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Assistant Director-General for Culture. He will speak about damage and destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
The guest at tomorrow’s Noon Briefing will be Amin Awad, UNHCR’s [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Regional Director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau and Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syria.
Then, at 12:45 p.m., as I alluded to yesterday, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitė, Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of February, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work.
That’s what I have. Questions, please? Ali, and then Nizar.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin. I have two questions. In fact, one, whether it is true that the Syrian Government had asked for the dismissal of Mr. Nasser al-Kidwa? This is one. Second, what is the exact role that Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman is playing [in] the Geneva talks? Thank you.
Spokesperson: I’ve seen a lot of reporting on the decision by Mr. al-Kidwa to leave his current position and let me just stress, I’ve seen some reports saying he was sacked, he was fired. Simply not true. Simply not true. He decided of his own volition that he wished to leave his current position and that is what happened, effective yesterday. And furthermore, when someone offers to resign and the Secretary-General accepts such an intention to leave a position, he accepts it, not under pressure from any Government, but based on his own assessment and based on the individual’s request. So, I would leave it right there. But just to say, once again, that it is incorrect, the reporting that I have seen that he was fired or sacked. Simply not true. Okay, other questions?
Question: Mr. Feltman?
Spokesperson: Mr. Feltman is the Director, the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Political Affairs, as you well know, and also happens to be an expert in the Middle East region. He was in Geneva and also in Montreux as part of the team working there. He’s now back in New York. And his role has been, as you would expect someone of his status and with his experience, to help in the process. But clearly, the main man here is Lakhdar Brahimi. He’s the main facilitator, mediator in this. Yes, Nizar?
Question: My question, Martin, is regarding the visit of Mr. Ahmad al-Jarba today to Moscow. What role did the United Nations play in arranging such overtures or rapprochement between the coalition and Moscow and whether they encouraged Mr. [al-]Jarba to visit Tehran, as well?
Spokesperson: Look, I don’t think that the United Nations needs to play a role in helping Moscow to have contacts with Mr. al-Jarba. They’ve met before and I think that the Russian Foreign Services is perfectly capable of maintaining its own links with the opposition groups. With regard to Iran, I think you could ask the Iranian authorities about that or Mr. al-Jarba.
Question: But would the United Nations encourage such contacts?
Spokesperson: Any contacts that can play a positive role on this very difficult process should be looked at. But, ultimately, it’s for those two parties to decide whether such a meeting would take place.
Question: About the release of…?
Spokesperson: Listen, listen, listen. It’s not a one-man show. There are other people with their hands in the air, including Mr. Abbadi. I can come back to you, Nizar, okay?
Question: Thank you, Martin. There are indications that the Syrian Government had decided to send an official delegation to the February talks in Geneva. Do you have confirmation of that? And is there a reaction on the part of the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: Standing here right now, I don’t have a specific confirmation, but the Secretary-General has said, and so has Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, that the date for the resumption of the talks is 10 February and that we would expect the delegations to be there on that day. Okay? Yes, Matthew?
Question: Thanks for the answers on South Sudan. I wanted to ask you two questions. One is that Riek Machar has, since yesterday, in the last 24 hours, announced a kind of formalization of the opposition, calling it the SPLM/SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army] and saying that it’s now an official, you know, formal opposition to the Government. And I wanted to know whether UNMISS or is the United Nations was aware of that, if they think that that’s kind of a positive step in resolving the issues? And also, on that issue of the UNICEF or UN system backpacks being used by the actual SPLA Government army, it was confirmed by UNICEF and they said they’re trying to find out which units of the army this was. They call it a violation of international humanitarian law. And I’m wondering, since UNMISS may be more in contact with authorities, certainly the army, than UNICEF is, is the United Nations itself raising this issue and pursuing this, what’s being called a violation of international humanitarian law by the army of South Sudan?
Spokesperson: Already yesterday, I said that it was unacceptable — already yesterday. UNICEF subsequently put out quite a lot of detailed commentary on this, making clear their views on this and saying that they were extremely concerned to see this flagrant abuse of UNICEF education materials by combatants. And in answer to the question of what UNICEF is doing to stop this kind of thing, in vulnerable locations where normal security precautions are not sufficient, UNICEF is indeed working with UNMISS to place supplies in mobile storage units that have been set up within UNMISS compounds, and therefore, in more secure locations. It’s obvious that UNICEF will be seeking assistance from UNMISS to help to secure supplies that belong in the hands of children and not in the hands of soldiers or other combatants.
Correspondent: My question is more, since I know that in the past UNMISS has actually worked with the army, I know not in this context…
Spokesperson: Are you suggesting that UNMISS is handing out UNICEF backpacks?
Question: No. My question is since, given that it was said by UNICEF that the UN system will try to find out who did it, it’s not that mysterious. There are pictures and it’s known where they were. My question is: what’s the follow through, other than locking up future backpacks? Are you going to get the old backpacks back? Is there going to be some identification?
Spokesperson: It’s clear that UNICEF has said a lot already on this and I’m not the UNICEF spokesperson, so, therefore, I would defer to them to give more details. With regard to the role of UNMISS, I will check with my colleagues from [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations]. But, UNICEF is also, as is the UN system in general, concerned about looting and misuse of all humanitarian and development supplies by combatants, not just UNICEF backpacks. It goes far wider than that. And that is equally reprehensible. Okay, other questions, please? Yes, Edie?
Question: Martin, can you tell us the nationality of the two UN staffers who were released in Syria and the 21 others still being held?
Spokesperson: The 21 included those two. At this point, no, I can’t, because I would need to check and also family members may need to be informed. For the most part, we’re talking about Syrian nationals, for the most part. So, I would need to check. We’re not giving too many details. I may be able to tell you for which organizations they’ve been working for. [He later said that the two were Syrian national staff.] Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Yes, just a follow-up. Who’s holding them?
Spokesperson: Again, I don’t want to go into too many details on that. Yes, please?
Question: You have spoken about Cyprus and you set some facts straight before that. You said that following last February, there were elections in the Republic of Cyprus. Right? You said that there was a change of Government in the Republic of Cyprus?
Spokesperson: No, I didn’t actually. [The Secretary-General] “alluded to the political change in the Republic of Cyprus last Spring and the immediate impact of the economic crisis at that time, which had understandably required President [Nicos] Anastasiades’s full attention”. That’s what I said.
Correspondent: Okay, I understand. The talks, the Cyprus talks ended before 1 July 2012, when the Republic of Cyprus took over the [European Union] Presidency. So, the Turkish Cypriot leadership decided not to talk while the Republic of Cyprus holds the…
Spokesperson: What’s your question?
Question: The question is, since we put the facts when the talks ended, shouldn’t we say the talks ended before 1 July 2012?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General expressed his understanding and the UN has expressed clearly its understanding of the circumstances that I spelled out. And also, what the Secretary-General said in Munich was that both leaders were committed to continue their negotiations and they’re working on a joint communiqué before they resume the talks. As you well know, the UN continues to offer full support to the leaders in those efforts. Yes, please?
Question: You mentioned, I believe you said Bentiu, that UNMISS had confirmed some human rights violations and I was wondering if you can elaborate on that at all? And also, if you can give us an idea if there is going to be any kind of public human rights reporting in the next weeks or months?
Spokesperson: I would have to ask my colleagues from the Mission, which has its human rights monitoring component, and also from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to see if they have any further details, which I’m sure they do, and how that’s being channelled, in what way it will be channelled. And certainly, in the next report from the Mission to the Security Council that would be part of their reporting mandate, and that is a report that is under the Secretary-General’s name, as you know. If there’s anything in a different format, I’ll let you know. I’ll check. Yes, did you have a question?
Question: Just a follow-up question on the UNICEF backpacks. Can you comment on a connection between the WFP reports of stolen foods and Government troops carrying the UNICEF bags, because they always act together, UNICEF and WFP?
Spokesperson: As I’ve said, the UN system as a whole is concerned about the level of looting, not just of food, not just of UNICEF backpacks, but across the board, all kinds of supplies and equipment. This is clearly and utterly unacceptable in a situation where you have hundreds of thousands, millions of people either on the move, displaced and thousands of people seeking protection inside UN compounds. This is just something we cannot accept and that the Mission and others have made that very plain to their interlocutors. Nizar and then Mr. Abbadi and then right at the back?
Question: There are indications that the Lebanese may form a Government, a non-inclusive Government, which excludes some parts of Lebanese society. Does the United Nations view that as helpful, especially after the long delay in forming a Government there?
Spokesperson: Once a Government has been formed, I’m sure that my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs will be analysing that, as well also as Derek Plumbly (UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon) in Beirut. But at this point, I don’t have any comment. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Martin. Given the gravity of the report of the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic, it appears that the World Food Programme has decided to airlift food and medicine to that country. Is there confirmation of this decision?
Spokesperson: I think I just mentioned it earlier in my briefing notes. Also, I would ask you to listen out, as I also announced, I think, but if I didn’t, I’d remind you that Anthony Lake, who’s the head of UNICEF, will be speaking to reporters at [1 p.m.]. I think along with the Development Commissioner from the European Union, Mr. [Andris] Piebalgs. So, that may be another way to find out more information about the humanitarian picture regarding the Central African Republic; and broader than that, but particularly the Central African Republic. Yes, right at the back, Sia?
Question: Thank you, Martin. For the past few weeks, the Secretary-General had conversations with the Iranian Government. Was there human rights still on the table? And if it is, any signs of Iran’s situation on human rights getter better?
Spokesperson: As you all know, the Secretary-General had a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Iran in Munich just the other day and we provided a readout of that meeting. The focus was very much on Syria and also on the nuclear programme. But, that’s as far as that rather limited conversation went because, of course, the Secretary-General was under a very tight schedule and was indeed due to leave for the airport right after that meeting. So, I think I saw Linda?
Question: Martin, are there any further details about the briefing this week on the removal of chemical weapons from Syria? And also, is it confirmed that there will be a press briefing afterwards?
Spokesperson: My understanding is Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag will speak to reporters afterwards, but for the first part of your question, I can’t pre-judge what Ms. Kaag is going to say inside the Council. Nizar, you had a follow-up question and I’m very happy to take it.
Question: Given the fragility of stability in Lebanon, especially after these consecutive explosions that took place, does a Government, which is like a fait accompli in Lebanon, is it helpful for stability? Do you believe that it is helpful?
Spokesperson: Nizar, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think we need to wait and see the full outcome of this. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Matthew, and then the last question will be Ann. Okay? I think I’ve been here quite a long time.
Question: Sure, I want to ask you about Darfur and also about a reported appointment that I want to just know if it’s true or not. On Darfur, maybe you have something on the Government ordering the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) to suspend operations. And I also wanted to know if there’s any response from the UN to former UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] spokesperson Aicha Elbasri. She’s gone public, saying basically that, while serving as spokesperson of UNAMID, she wasn’t given information; that the Mission under-reports abuses of civilians and other developments in Darfur. I wanted to know, what’s the response of the UN to that?
Spokesperson: I’d have to check with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on both of those.
Question: Vivek Lall. There’re four articles saying, he’s, I believe, an Indian computer specialist, that he’s somehow been named to a UN position of cyber-security and encryption. I wasn’t aware there is such a position? Are you aware of that appointment? Is it a false report? Is there such a position?
Question: Maybe I should hold up my piece of paper saying “no comment” again. I simply don’t know the answer to that, sorry. Ann?
Spokesperson: It has been reported that a meeting with the Secretary-General on the cooperation between the [European Union] and the UN is going to be held with the Lithuanian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Linas Linkevičius, and Catherine Ashton, the [European Union] Affairs representative. Do you know if any specific date has been set for that meeting?
Spokesperson: I’d have to check on that, Ann. I don’t know at this point. But certainly, already, the cooperation between the [European Union], the Commission and the United Nations is stronger than ever. You will have noticed that Mr. Piebalgs was also part of the delegation that went to the Sahel recently along with the President of the World Bank, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and also African Development Bank and African Union. So, there’s a clear coming together on various topics and the [European Union] and the Commission have worked very hard in many areas with the United Nations and I’m sure that if there is such a meeting, that it would simply be helping to reinforce that. I could also encourage you to ask the President of the Security Council that question tomorrow or even the [European Union] Mission that is based here in New York.
Okay, I’m taking that as a sign I can leave. Thank you very much.
* *** *