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

6 February 2014

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

6 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.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the delayed Briefing.  We’ll try to do this quickly, because I know there are a couple of briefings after this.  What we’re hoping is that Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, can call in and give some details about the Secretary-General’s trip to Sochi.  And I believe he’s trying to call now.


Until then, I’ll read a few quick notes.  First of all, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson to the Secretary-General on the terrorist attacks in Iraq:


The Secretary-General strongly condemns the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, including against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a full recovery.


The Secretary-General appeals to all Iraqis to unite in confronting terrorism.  The United Nations stands by the people and the Government of Iraq in this endeavour.


And, with that, the next thing is that I believe Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, is on the line from Sochi.  Martin, are you there?


Spokesperson:  I am, indeed.  Can you hear me okay?  This is Martin calling in from Sochi.  Can you hear me?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I can hear you.  The room’s not that full right now, but there are some people around.  Can you give us some highlights of what’s happening with you?


Spokesperson:  By all means.  The Secretary-General at this moment is attending a dinner with President [Vladimir] Putin and the Chinese President is there, too — there are various conversations going on across the table.


But, earlier in the day, the Secretary-General spoke at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session here in Sochi.  He was the first Secretary-General to do that.


As you will have seen from his remarks, he said that the Olympics show the power of sport to bring together individuals regardless of age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.


And he also renewed his call for all combatants to lay down their weapons during the Games and to fulfil the promise of the Olympic Truce.


The Secretary-General also gave a press conference with the IOC President, Thomas Bach, and was able to talk about the relationship between the IOC and the United Nations in the service of peace and development.  He gave examples of how that works.


Then, this afternoon, the Secretary-General was able to visit the Olympic Village.  He had lunch in the canteen, cafeteria, with many athletes from different countries.


Then, later on, he ran with the Torch, taking the flame from Thomas Bach, the IOC President, and then running and passing the flame on to a young Russian teenager.


So, that’s roughly where we are.  I’d be happy to take any questions, if there are.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s great.  Thanks, Martin.  Does anyone have any questions here for Martin Nesirky?  Okay, alright, if not, thanks very much for the update, Martin.  I guess we’ll stay in touch and I hope you have a great time with the Olympics.


Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ll try to phone in tomorrow, if it’s possible and I’ll give a further update.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks, Martin.


Spokesperson:  All the best.  Bye, Farhan.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll just quickly read out a few notes and take any questions, if there are any. 


**Security Council


First of all, as you will have seen, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Joint Mission’s work in Syria.


And as you can see, she spoke to reporters just now.  The consultations have ended.  And the Council President also read out elements to the press concerning the work of the Joint Mission.


**Central African Republic


On the Central African Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that there are now an estimated 838,000 internally displaced people in the country, including 413,000 in Bangui.


It also says that insecurity continues to hinder humanitarian operations.  Since 28 January, four violent incidents have been recorded against humanitarian partners, including carjacking and the looting of international non-governmental organizations.


The World Food Programme provided approximately 1,760 metric tons of food to nearly 280,700 people in January.  This represents an increase of 9 per cent in beneficiaries and 4 per cent in tonnage compared with December.


However, due to the security situation and the depletion of its stocks, the World Food Programme will only be able to serve the most vulnerable people with half the normal amount of food rations in February.


Meanwhile, a measles vaccination campaign launched at the beginning of the year in 70 sites for internally displace persons in Bangui has reached almost 140,000 children out of 150,000 targeted.


**Philippines


The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho, is calling on donors to provide an additional $19 million for urgent shelter needs as well as health, education and early recovery efforts, nearly four months after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake devastated parts of Bohol Island.


Donors have provided $15.1 million towards a six-month action plan for Bohol.  The Humanitarian Country team released a revised action plan today.  The funding requested has been reduced from $46.8 million in the original plan to $33.8 million now.


The Philippines authorities and humanitarian partners have contended with a series of disasters, including Super Typhoon Haiyan, since the 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Bohol on 15 October last year.  The United Nations is continuing to support the authorities’ efforts on many fronts and will not forget the plight of people affected in Bohol.


**Female Genital Mutilation


Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM.  In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General said that there is no developmental, religious or health reason to cut or mutilate any girl or woman. 


He said that just because a harmful practice has long existed does not justify its continuation.  He added that all “traditions” that demean, dehumanize and injure are human rights violations that must be actively opposed until they are ended.


According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 125 million girls and women have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated.  A further 86 million young girls worldwide are likely to experience some form of the practice by 2030, if current trends continue.


**Press Conferences


After this, at 12:45 p.m., or just a few minutes from now, 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 is the Chair of the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows.


And before he takes the stage in the next few minutes, I can take a couple questions.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Tension is building again between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction by Ethiopia of the mega-dam, which apparently will divert water to that dam, water which Egypt considers a national security issue.  What measures is the Secretary-General taking to defuse tension between the two countries?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I know that we’ve been in touch with each of the countries about this in the past.  I’ll see whether we have any update on the work that we’re doing on that.  Yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations continues to follow the discussions on the proposed dam project on the Nile River and encourage continued constructive engagement and dialogue between Egypt and Ethiopia.]


Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Today, in Pakistan, there were all these demonstrations on Kashmir, asking for India and Pakistan to resolve this issue as soon as possible.  The Pakistani Prime Minister says that he’s willing to listen to anything that India has proposed.  Can the Secretary-General, or will the Secretary-General propose to India to at least sit down and talk with Pakistan, because that is what it’s not doing.  Even… there’s no dialogue.  They don’t even want to talk.  So the situation will stand at a stalemate forever.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, as you know, on Kashmir, as with another of conflicts around the world, our good offices are available if both sides were to request that.  And that remains the case today.


Question:  So… the stalemate will continue forever?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re aware of what our principle is in terms of the use of UN good offices, and that remains the case in this particular case.  Do you have a question?  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Yes, in the two stakeouts that were just held, there was sort of a difference in interpretation of the Syrian regime’s behaviour with regard to meeting the milestones.  The Joint Coordinator, when asked, said she didn’t think that Syria was deliberately stalling.  But Ambassador [Samantha] Power did use the terms “delay, foot-dragging”, put more onus on the Syrian regime.  Where does the Secretary-General stand in this?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d refer you to the recent report that the Secretary-General sent to the Security Council, where he did talk about delays and he said that the onus is on the Syrian Arab Republic to meet the various milestones that have been set.  At the same time, he made clear, as Sigrid Kaag did just now, that those delays are not insurmountable.  And she made clear that the important deadline is the one in June and we continue to believe that that deadline can be met.  Yes, Margaret?


Question:  Farhan, can you just be more specific about this humanitarian announcement?  The language of welcoming it and the Syrian Government said on their side that they agreed this agreement with the UN, but your language says it’s between the parties on the ground.  Can you please be more specific about this and how is it different than what Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi said in Geneva?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi in Geneva made clear that he had wanted the parties to come to an agreement concerning the situation in the Old City of Homs.  What I can say right now is that we welcome the reports that the parties have agreed to a humanitarian pause to allow civilians out of and aid into the Old City of Homs.  The United Nations and humanitarian partners had pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs ready for immediate delivery as soon as the green light was given by the parties for safe passage.  Aid staff are also on standby.  Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the news of the humanitarian pause agreed in Homs, which will allow civilians to leave and the delivery of essential life-saving supplies for about 2,500 people.  She will continue to follow developments closely.  She said that we need to see unhindered, continuous and safe access for humanitarian workers to deliver aid to the millions of people trapped in all the hard-to-reach or besieged areas across Syria.


Question:  Okay, but I’m sorry.  I’m still confused.  Who is this deal between?  Is it between the opposition and the Government?  Or is it between the UN and the opposition and the Government?  I just need clarification of the parties.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What was needed all along was for the parties to agree with each other on the conditions for aid to get into Homs and for people to get out of the Old City of Homs.  Some of those agreements entail agreements with humanitarian workers; in other words, there need to be arrangements so that humanitarian aid can get in, just as there is any time humanitarian has to get into an area that’s been the site of fighting.  So, right now, we welcome the news that this agreement has been reached.  What we’re trying to do is see whether it can be implemented on the ground.  Valerie Amos has made clear that she’s monitoring the situation.  We’ll see what progress we can make and whether aid can actually get to the people of Homs, who have needed it for so long.  Yes?


Question:  There was a report by Human Rights Watch yesterday on this Israeli Defence Forces turning Palestinian village in Ramallah into a tourist spot and that lots of Palestinians are now being displaced because of that.  Has the Secretary-General got anything to say about that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment on that for now.  We’re studying the reports.


Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I saw that UNMISS [United Nations Mission] in South Sudan had said that something like 266 more peacekeepers had arrived.  Do you know from which Mission they were relocated from?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe we had made, I think Martin had made an announcement a couple of days ago about the new arrival, but I believe that in any case that these are Nepalese peacekeepers. 


Question:  Okay, I thought that was the police unit.  Is it the one from Haiti or from West Africa?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I’d have to check.  [He later confirmed that the peacekeepers were redeployed from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).]


Question:  And I also… on reports.  I wanted to know whether the Secretariat has seen this report out of a human rights group in Australia, essentially saying that during the Sri Lanka event, in the final stages of the conflict, that there was a destruction and concealment of mass graves and also that its been… on a list of countries in which mass atrocities are still quite possible.  I wanted to know, given the Secretariat’s interest in 2009 and this Rights Up Front project, what’s the response to this new study?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve made it clear that there needs to be more done to get at the heart of what happened in Sri Lanka.  You’ve seen what the Secretary-General’s reports on the situation have said and it’s clear that there continues to be a need for all the facts to be learned and for there to be a study of whether there’s any wrongdoing that’s occurred in the course of the final phases of the Sri Lankan conflict.  The Secretary-General has said that repeatedly and we continue to hold by that.


Question:  An international process?  Just one follow-up, because it’s been a number of years now: Is a national process still credible or should it be done in Geneva?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Ultimately, it’s up to different Member States to determine whether there will be an international process.  We have presented information to them and we’ve made clear what we believe is the need for accountability and we rely on the Member States’ judgement to follow through.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Mr. Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin, the Permanent Representative of Russia, said that there’s no delay in the time of getting rid of chemical weapons and at the same time, sir, Samantha Power said that there’s delays, and also Sigrid Kaag.  So, my question is that, how do you treat this big gap between America and Russia in Security Council?  And don’t you think that this will be a big obstacle to reach a final resolution about the problem?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Sigrid Kaag just spoke at the stakeout and she made very clear that the final deadline, the June deadline, is the crucial one, and that she believes that it can be met.  And she also believes that there’s support throughout the Security Council for us all to meet that target.  So, certainly everyone’s focused on what the final objective is and I believe that she made very clear that they are all united towards meeting that objective.


Question:  I’m speaking about the big gap between the opinions of the members of the Security Council and this would be an obstacle?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Sigrid Kaag was asked about the question of delays and I’d just refer you to what she said at the stakeout.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clear the stage because very soon we will have Thabo Mbeki and the other members of the panel speak to you.  So, stick around.  They’ll be right here.


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