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

5 February 2014

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

5 February 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.

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General arrived in Sochi a short while ago to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics.

Tomorrow, he will deliver a speech to the International Olympic Committee session, the first Secretary-General to do so.  He will also speak to reporters along with the President of the International Olympic Committee.

The Spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, hopes to be able to call in tomorrow or Friday to help brief you.  And we will see about those arrangements.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, and his Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, along with the Special Envoys of the African Union, the European Union and the United States, have welcomed the new amnesty law adopted by the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] Parliament.

The Special Envoys said this was a positive signal.  It reflects the commitment of the Government to the Nairobi Declaration, which brought an end to the M23 (23 March Movement) rebellion.

The Envoys said that the adoption of the Amnesty Law was the next step in bringing sustainable peace to eastern [ Democratic Republic of the Congo].  It will facilitate the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.

The adopted law grants amnesty for acts of insurgency, acts of war and political offenses.  The Envoys commend the new law for excluding amnesty for crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Envoys also urged all armed groups to use this opportunity to lay down their arms.

And also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Martin Kobler, has condemned the killing, this morning in Beni, of one of the Mission’s national staff.  He was shot dead while going to work.

Mr. Kobler has urged the authorities to immediately launch an inquiry, arrest the perpetrators of this act and bring the persons involved to justice as soon as possible.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned in the strongest terms the attack on the Foreign Ministry of Iraq today, which killed and injured a number of people.

He said that those who orchestrate such attacks should be condemned by all political, religious and civic leaders in Iraq.  And he said that political leaders should show national unity in dealing with such threats and unite against terrorism.  The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has his statement on its website.

**Yarmouk

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, has begun a large-scale polio vaccination campaign targeting thousands of children in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

The Relief and Works Agency has also continued with food distributions in the camp, with over 800 parcels distributed yesterday.  This brings to nearly 5,200 the total number of parcels delivered since 18 January, when the Agency was first permitted limited access to Yarmouk.

The Agency has also continued to transfer food supplements, such as iron in tablet and drop form, multivitamins and rehydration salts.

** Lebanon

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, and his Deputy, Ross Mountain, met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati today.  They discussed the latest developments in Lebanon and the region, including the social and economic impacts of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon and the humanitarian response.  We have a press release with more details.

**Security Council

This afternoon at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hold consultations on its programme of work for February.

After that, at 4:45 p.m., Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitė, the Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of February, will be here to brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Afaf Konja, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to announce the President of the General Assembly’s Special Interactive Briefing with Civil Society.

And then at 12:45 p.m., there will be a press conference on the High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa.  Speakers will include Thabo Mbeki, the former President of the Republic of South Africa who chairs the High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows.

**Questions from Yesterday

And last, we were asked yesterday about the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Darfur.

The [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], UNAMID, says that it hopes that the Government of Sudan and the International Committee of the Red Cross will reach an agreement as soon as possible, so that the ICRC can resume its activities assisting the people of Darfur and the whole of Sudan.

Also yesterday, we were asked about reporting by the African Union–UN Mission on developments in Darfur.

UNAMID notes that it reports verified information on the situation in Darfur to the United Nations and to the African Union on a daily basis.  This information is then made public in the Secretary-General’s quarterly reports to the Security Council and, as the situation warrants, in press statements.

That’s it for me.  Any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you tell us what the Secretary-General can say about the report issued about the Vatican and what they have to say, the representative in Geneva, especially about the policy the Vatican had implemented after years and years of covering sexual abuse to children?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this in an independent panel, so we don’t speak for their views.  We allow them to speak for themselves.  We’ll do that in this case.  And I believe the report will be evaluated in due course by members of the Human Rights Council.  So, we’ll let that process take its course.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you, on Central African Republic, there’s a report by [the British Broadcasting Corporation] that an ex-Séléka member was lynched and his body burned by Central African Republic soldiers.  So, I wanted to know, is this something… this is something that took place in the capital and there are pictures and I wanted to know is this something that the UN in Bangui is aware of and what would be the implications in terms of… I know that MISCA (African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic) works with the soldiers to try to restore peace.  Has there been any progress in the inquiry you described on the killing of 10 by the French forces, that you said was… that they heard the report and were looking into it.  What steps have been taken since?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on your first question about this reported lynching, the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, known as BINUCA, has been informed of this specific incident.  BINUCA human rights officers have been mobilized to establish the facts.  In line with its mandate, the Office will liaise with national authorities to advocate for a thorough investigation into the incident.  And there’s no progress on the earlier incident that we had mentioned to you.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today the Syrian opposition came out and asked the UN Security Council to impose Article VII on the Assad regime because of not meeting the deadlines on the chemical weapon commitment.  What is the [Secretary-General’s] reaction to this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding the Secretary-General, you’ll have seen the letter that he sent about a couple of weeks ago to the members of the Security Council concerning the work of the joint mission in which he mentioned the delays and mentioned the need for the Syrian Arab Republic to work harder to meet the deadlines.  But, he also mentioned at the same time that the delays are not insurmountable.  Now, tomorrow, we do expect, if the Security Council agrees on its programme of work for the month, that there could be a briefing to the Council tomorrow by the head of the joint mission, Sigrid Kaag.  And afterwards, Ms. Kaag has said that she would intend to come to speak to reporters at the stakeout and she could take any further questions about this.  But, like I said, the Secretary-General believes the delays are not insurmountable and we continue to work to make sure that on our side as much can happen as quickly as possible and Syria needs to do the same.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any new information about the bilateral talks between the [Secretary-General] and Heads of State at Sochi?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  The Secretary-General just arrived in Sochi within the past couple of hours.  We don’t have any readouts to give.  Whenever there are bilateral meetings, we’ll try to provide those readouts.  I believe those will be in the coming days.  However, not today.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the United Nations or the Secretary-General have any reaction to the report by the UN Human Rights Committee today, which said the Vatican systematically adopted policies that allowed priests to abuse tens of thousands of children over decades and criticized the Vatican’s attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, one of your colleagues asked that.  At this stage, the information collected has been collected by independent experts.  We wouldn’t have any comments on this right now.  But, we’ll let this process work its way through the UN human rights bodies.  Pam, you had a question?

Correspondent:  Same question.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.  Jonathan?

Question:  Just wondering, will we be briefed by that same group of experts on the Vatican investigation?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe they’re located in Geneva.  I don’t know whether there’ll be a Geneva briefing.  My colleagues in the Geneva offices might arrange that if needed.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the Committee on the Rights of the Child experts gave a press conference earlier today in Geneva.]

Question:  But, we often have rapporteurs come here to speak in this very room.  Is that anticipated?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know when they’ll next be coming, but the next time they come around here, we’ll try to set something up.  Yes?

Question:  A short while ago, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was here speaking about the necessity that the humanitarian help in Syria should include also the ruins and the heritage, the cultural heritage of Syria.  Does the Secretary-General subscribe to that opinion?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, we agree with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that cultural heritage needs to be preserved and we’ve encouraged all Member States to do what they can to ensure that all the cultural heritage sites are preserved in the way that UNESCO has stated.

Question:  Is there any position regarding those who incite the destruction of such heritage?  Does the United Nations intend to do something about that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re against any efforts to destroy cultural heritage sites, of course, and when such sites have been damaged or destroyed, we, basically through the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, work to try and get those sites restored.  But, of course, in Syria, the larger problem is not just that the cultural heritage sites are being damaged and destroyed, but the country as a whole.  We’re trying to get the war as a whole to end so that the country is not destroyed.

Question:  My question is specifically regarding those who incite the destruction of ruins and you know who I’m talking about:  the Salafi groups, the Wahabi groups who issue edicts encouraging such.  What’s the position of the United Nations regarding them?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, we’re against efforts to destroy any cultural heritage sites.  I wouldn’t comment on your characterization of this, which is a little one-sided.  Of course, we want all sides not to attack such sites.  Yes?

Question:  On South Sudan, I wanted to ask two things.  One is Médecins Sans Frontières has put out a report with a lot of concern about the Tomping camp in Juba.  I know that the UN is doing all that it can, but they seem to be saying that the level of people dying every day in the camp is “above the emergency threshold”.  They’re saying this is causing them to really think what should be done next.  Does the UN acknowledge that the number of people dying inside the camp is about this threshold?  And what do they propose to do about it?  And also about Leer, I just wanted to ask you again.  In the last 24 hours, there’s been some satellite imagery that really shows the town burned down.  I’m wondering if the UN is aware of that and will make that part of its human rights inquiry in the country?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe Martin already commented on the work that the UN Mission had done to see that the town of Leer had in fact been burned.  So he reported on that yesterday and so I refer you to his comments at yesterday’s briefing.  Regarding Tomping camp, that is one of the camps in which we are trying to protect as many people as we possibly can.  As you know our resources have been stretched very thin, but this is one of the many sites where thousands of people are being protected.  I’ll see whether we have any specific update on what’s being done to ensure that conditions in the camp are maintained.  But we’ll check on that for you.

And with that, have a good afternoon, everyone.

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