|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.
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the Briefing.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, in the past four days, more than 1,130 people were evacuated from the Old City of Homs, including 457 people yesterday, and food supplies were delivered for 2,500 people.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has said that all those who are wounded and sick, whether they are civilian or combatant, have the right to medical assistance under international humanitarian and human rights law.
At the same time, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has emphasized the need for the parties to the conflict to allow for the sustained delivery of aid to the 250,000 people who are in besieged communities and all those in desperate need across Syria.
And staying with Syria, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called the targeting of UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers who are delivering food and medical aid in Homs on Sunday disgraceful. It is a war crime to deliberately fire on those carrying out humanitarian operations.
The Human Rights Office said that it must not be assumed that those who remain in Old Homs and other besieged areas are all combatants. In addition, attacks against individuals who have left combat due to sickness, injury, capture or surrender, are prohibited by international humanitarian law. The Human Rights Office renews its calls for unimpeded, continued and safe access to all the besieged areas of the country.
In Geneva, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, met with both parties this morning. He confirmed again to reporters afterwards that he would have a trilateral meeting on Friday with Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov from Russia and Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman from the United States. He also anticipates travelling to New York fairly soon to brief the Secretary-General.
On South Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that in the eight weeks since the crisis began in the country, almost 724,000 people have been displaced across the country and nearly 145,000 have fled into neighbouring countries.
It adds that 85 per cent of displaced people are outside UN bases. Most families have lost any means of providing for themselves because of displacement, looting and the destruction of their property.
The Office also says that humanitarian partners have assisted 300,000 displaced people, but most of those displaced have not yet received help because of continued insecurity. It says that it is essential that conditions are created to allow for the safe return of internally displaced people.
The Office notes that even before the crisis, the humanitarian situation in South Sudan was critical, with more than 3 million people food insecure.
And as you know, this morning, the Security Council was briefed in consultations on the situation in South Sudan by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos; the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous; and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson.
And just to add one troubling factor, last week, unexploded cluster bomblets were found along the Juba-Bor road in the area of Malek, 16 kilometres south of Bor.
A UN Mine Action Service team working with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) found these items. Cluster bombs are unreliable and indiscriminate, with their sub-munitions causing potential long-term danger to civilians and vehicles. In line with the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the United Nations is firmly committed to ending the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions and mitigating the suffering they cause and, of course, condemns their use.
** Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that the security situation in Bangui continues to deteriorate, with targeted assassinations, increased violence and criminality on the streets.
The Office adds that it is particularly worried about the climate of complete impunity in the country, illustrated by public statements from anti-Balaka individuals claiming responsibility for the crimes and murders they have committed. The Office says it is also concerned that some members of the National Transitional Council itself have made public statements within parliament which could instigate inter-communal violence.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is working with various parties to try to re-start the judicial process in Bangui towards combating pervasive impunity in the country.
It recalls that fundamental rights of Central African people and foreigners must be respected in all circumstances and says that the leadership of ex-Séléka, anti-Balaka and the armed forces of the country, the FACA, have the responsibility to protect those rights in the areas under their effective control. The Office says these groups’ leaders will be held personally accountable for human rights violations perpetrated by those under their control.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, strongly condemned the attack against the convoy of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Osama al-Nujaifi, in the city of Mosul yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Mladenov urged all leaders to unite against terrorism, which is affecting all segments of Iraqi society. He called on the people of Iraq to support the security forces, local authorities and the tribes of Anbar in their fight against terrorism and to provide humanitarian support to those affected by the fighting.
In addition, he called on all sides to help rebuild Anbar through investment and socially inclusive policies and to address the causes of violence through dialogue and the political process.
In a statement issued this morning, the Secretary-General warmly welcomed today’s finalization of a joint communiqué and the formal relaunch by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders of negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
The Secretary-General also noted that his Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, will be stepping down, and thanked him for his perseverance and commitment for the past five and a half years. The full statement is available online and in my office.
For his part, Mr. Downer commended the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders for their commitment to resuming negotiations and working towards the successful conclusion of the Cyprus problem.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that millions of children have a better chance of a healthier future as India is now polio-free.
Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director, says that India’s success is the success of every child who will grow up free from polio.
He adds that it is also the world’s success — proof positive that we can defeat the scourge of polio, even in places once thought impossible.
In Afghanistan, following the recent diagnosis of a single case of polio in the capital, Kabul, a three-day vaccination campaign targeting some 73,000 children wrapped up today. A second round will be held later this month, targeting more than 110,000 children.
Polio eradication efforts in Afghanistan are led by the Ministry of Public Health, with UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) as key technical partners. Four National Immunization Days are held every year, during which more than 8 million children are immunized.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
And a couple of press conferences tomorrow; I know the suspense is killing you.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the Secretary-General and Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, will be here to discuss the release of a new population report on the International Conference on Population and Development.
And then at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the CPJ, to present their annual report entitled “Attacks on the Press — 2014 edition”. And this briefing — that’s why I’m mentioning it — is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
So, that’s what I have and if my voice holds out, I will answer some questions. Yes, Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin. Does the United Nations have any comment on the several hundred men, apparently aged 15 to 55, who are being held or were questioned coming out of Homs?
Spokesperson: Yes. We understand about 370 men who left Old Homs in the last couple of days are being screened by Government forces. More than 111 have been released so far. We are concerned for their welfare. And as I was mentioning yesterday, as I mentioned several times yesterday, we have UN protection officers present at the school where these individuals are being held and talking to the men after their questioning. It is essential they do not come to any harm. And along with our colleagues in other UN organizations, we will continue to press for their proper treatment, according to international humanitarian and human rights law. Yes, Ali?
Question: Thank you, Martin. That process going on now in Homs, can you tell us about the dimensions of the humanitarian suffering now that you’ve seen the people coming from inside the city? And I have another question, if you don’t mind.
Spokesperson: Yes, I may need to go to someone else first and come back to you, but another question is not going to be a problem. Just to give you one example — Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, who is the UNICEF Representative in Syria, has been speaking to UN Radio about some of the evacuations that have been taking place of civilians from Homs. And he said that this operation has been led by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the objective is and was to bring humanitarian assistance to civilians in Old Homs. The situation, as seen by Mr. Abdel-Jelil is that a lot of the children when they came out were terrified, frail and emaciated. In general, there were issues of malnutrition and the need for vaccination.
Before the operation began, UNICEF estimated there were more than 1,000 children trapped in old Homs. And Mr. Abdel-Jelil estimates that about 500 have come out, so that means that about half of them, according to their estimates, are still remaining. And the best way is to have ready access to the children and the civilians to provide them with humanitarian assistance, and for those who want to be evacuated.
Furthermore, as I mentioned yesterday, Valerie Amos has made clear that, from the initial teams who went into Old Homs, they were able to visit for what passes as for a hospital in Homs, and there were at least 30 patients there in atrocious conditions and needing very urgent evacuation. So, this remains a priority. Obviously, the situation is dire. I would want to say one thing: there have been reports suggesting that operations were suspended today. I just want to make it clear that that is not accurate. Today, the humanitarian teams continue to be on the ground, monitoring conditions, and working with interlocutors to see how this humanitarian pause, which was extended for three days, can move into a more sustained way of delivering aid and evacuating people who want to leave. And as we have said, it is vital that this is not a one-off. We need sustained aid delivery for Old Homs and indeed all the besieged areas where 250,000 people are living, and of course, for all those in need across Syria. We are hoping to see more evacuations tomorrow. Yes, Joseph and then Pamela?
Question: Thanks, Martin. Does the Secretary-General have any view on whether at this point in time it would be desirable to have a Security Council resolution passed on opening access throughout Syria for humanitarian aid, particularly since there appears to be some differences of opinion among the permanent members, but also some have said that such a resolution at this time might possibly interfere with the Geneva II negotiations. Does the Secretary-General have any opinion on that? Thank you.
Spokesperson: Well, I addressed that question yesterday. Valerie Amos has consistently said that she was grateful for the presidential statement that was issued, but she would have wished for a resolution and the Secretary-General concurs with that. It’s clear that there is a need for better access. This is what we’ve been talking about so far in this briefing with regard to just one location. So, I think it’s obviously up to the Security Council to decide. But, Valerie Amos, who reports to the Secretary-General, has made clear that the presidential statement was good to get and the follow-through has continued from that, but that she would have and still would prefer, she would have preferred and she still prefers, the idea of a resolution. And just to make another point here — it’s not as if this operation in Homs has just materialised overnight. This is something that’s been long negotiated over weeks, indeed months, and I think that indicates that, in parallel with whatever is happening in the Security Council or frankly not happening in the Security Council, there is work going on, on the ground, by humanitarian workers doing their best to negotiate access. But this is often a very long and painstaking procedure and then when it takes place, it’s extremely risky. So, that’s what I would have for you. Pamela?
Question: Thank you, Martin. On the Homs, again, evacuation — you talked about the young men in response to Edie’s question who have left. On the young men who stayed and didn’t fit one of the categories of evacuation; Farhan [Haq] mentioned yesterday that there would be, I think he said, protective non-military UN staff protecting those who stayed.
Spokesperson: I was briefing yesterday.
Correspondent: Oh, maybe it was you. Thank you. When you said yesterday, that…
Spokesperson: I could go down a little bit like this, if you’d like… [laughter]
Question: Sorry, there have been a lot of briefings. But, when you said there was going to be protective staff, non-military for those who stayed. What does that mean? How does that work?
Spokesperson: I did just mention that. I did say that these are UN protection officers, obviously not military. And their job is to speak to those men after they’ve been questioned and simply their presence at that site is intended to be a signal of solidarity and support and protection for those individuals while they’re being questioned and after they’ve been questioned by the Syrian authorities.
Question: So, they’re not armed, but the idea here is that they’re putting themselves in harm’s way if anything would happen?
Spokesperson: These are protection officers. Don’t be misled by the word “officers”. I mean, it means protection staff in the sense that they have a responsibility to protect civilians and this is what their role is. They are working within the framework of the humanitarian operation that’s going on. Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then I’m coming to Sylvian.
Question: Thank you, Martin. Regarding the wish of the Secretary-General and Valerie Amos to have a resolution for access to Homs to help the civilians there — such a resolution was already presented to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and he categorically rejected it as unacceptable and one-sided. Is the Secretary-General disappointed?
Spokesperson: Look, it’s for the Council to decide what goes through the body that they sit on. It’s important that you simply understand that Valerie Amos has said repeatedly that there was a presidential statement and that she would have preferred to see a resolution. Her view remains the same and the Secretary-General is in line with his Emergency Relief Coordinator. Sylvian? And then I’m coming to you.
Question: As a follow-up of Edie’s question, my question is: do you know the parties who have been screening the people who have been left and if they have been tortured?
Spokesperson: What do you mean?
Question: The party that was there, like the army? Or mukhabarat? Who are the people who screened them?
Spokesperson: As far as I’m aware, these were simply by Government forces and I don’t have any further details on that. And as I’ve said, we’re concerned for their welfare and that’s precisely why UN protection officers have been present and speaking to the men after their questioning. And it’s essential that these men do not come to any harm. And that’s why these UN protection officers are staying in the location. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Francesco [inaudible] from La Stampa. This morning, the Italian Foreign Minister contacted the High Commissioner for Human Rights, claiming a clear violation of human rights on the issue of the two Italian Marines held in India without a specific charge. I was wondering if the Secretary-General has any specific comment, since this is the first time that there is a formal contact between the Italian Government and a UN agency on the issue?
Spokesperson: Well, you were in contact with me yesterday and my answer is the same: that we don’t have any comment on this; simply to add that this is a bilateral matter and I don’t have any comment on it, okay? Please, activate the microphone.
Correspondent: Sorry, the development is that for the first time there has been contact between the Italian Government and a UN agency.
Spokesperson: That may be the case, but it’s still… this was from the Italian authorities, Ms. [Emma] Bonino to the Office of the High Commissioner. That does not change the fact that it is a bilateral matter. Masood?
Question: Yes, sir. I mean, after listening to Mr. Brahimi’s press conference this morning from Geneva, it seemed that he is not very optimistic about the outcome of the talks now and he’s coming to New York to brief the Secretary-General and Security Council on this. I’d like to know, what is it that the Secretary-General, I mean, it becomes a rhetorical question, he can do in order to get these talks really moving, otherwise they will stagnate and the peace process will die. That’s the fear.
Spokesperson: That may be your fear. But, it’s certainly something, as Mr. Brahimi said a couple of times, people have said that he needs to have a great deal of patience, tons of patience. I believe he’s demonstrated already that he has plenty of that and staying power; and he will continue to work on this with his colleagues. Yes, he has said that it is laborious and that they’re not making much progress, but of course, I don’t think anybody expected any else at this point. What’s important is that we had a first round and the two sides reconvened yesterday. That’s positive — that they reconvened. They are continuing to speak and as you also will have seen from the transcripts of the remarks that Mr. Brahimi has made clear that this was always going to be a rather long and drawn-out process. But, I don’t think anybody expected any different, surely. Yes, and then I’m coming to Somini. I haven’t forgotten you. Yes, please?
Question: I have two questions on South Sudan. The first is, I know you said yesterday the UN didn’t have a comment regarding the call for Ugandan troops to leave. Today, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, specifically called on Uganda. She named Uganda as a country that should withdraw its forces to help the peace process move forward. So, does the UN feel the peace process is impeded by the presence of Ugandan troops? That’s the first question. The second is: does the UN have any evidence of use of cluster bombs in South Sudan?
Spokesperson: Well, I did just mention to you what we have, which is that the UN Mine Action Service and the UN Mission in South Sudan discovered cluster bomblets on the roadside. And I mentioned the details of precisely where that was, and so that’s the evidence that they were there. We don’t have any further details on whether they have been used elsewhere at any stage. We do not at this point. With regard to your first question, I don’t have any comment at this stage. Should that change, I will let you know. Okay, Somini and then I’m coming to Evelyn?
Correspondent: Thank you, Martin. The men who are being held for interrogation, back to that question again. Just to clarify…
Spokesperson: Questioning, I think is probably a better word.
Correspondent: Held for questioning. You said 370 men were held for questioning and some 100 of them were…
Spokesperson: One hundred and eleven.
Correspondent: One hundred and eleven were released. So, is the UN… are the UN protection staff present in the interrogations and can you say what’s happened to…
Question: The questioning. And could you say what has happened to the remainder, the 370 minus 111; the 250-something?
Spokesperson: They are being screened, as I said, by the Government forces. And of the 370, more than 111 have been released so far, and I’ve said that we’re concerned for their welfare and that’s why UN protection officers have been present at the school and talking to the men after their questioning. And it’s essential that they do not come to any harm. So, the whole point is that the protection officers from the United Nations are there to ensure that there is proper treatment according to international humanitarian and human rights laws and they are working alongside colleagues in other UN organizations to ensure that.
Question: But they’re not present during the questioning?
Spokesperson: I did say… I’m not sure if you’re actually listening to what I’m saying. I did say after their questioning.
Question: Thank you, that’s why I ask for clarification.
Spokesperson: Yes, but I’ve said that three times now.
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on reports of a massacre in the city of the Syrian village of Ma’an. The Secretary-General has learned with great shock of reports of yet another massacre in Syria. Dozens of civilians are said to have been brutally killed on 9 February in the Syrian village of Ma’an. The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms all violence against civilians and calls for the perpetrators of this massacre, and all other crimes in Syria, to be brought to justice. Such horrific incidents should be a reminder to all of the urgency of ending the conflict and launching a political transition towards a new Syria where all people and communities are guaranteed protection, rights and freedoms. And I’m sure that this is being distributed electronically, as we speak.
Question: What was the name of the village again?
Question: Can you spell that?
Spokesperson: I apologize if my Arabic pronunciation… Ma’an.
Question: Okay. Just so we can look it up. You mentioned, Martin, that combatants were entitled to proper health aid. And who said they could not be treated properly?
Spokesperson: I think this is just a general expression of what is stated in international humanitarian law and human rights law. I think it’s just an indication that the Emergency Relief Coordinator wishes to make clear what the rules are in this particular area. Yes?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I’d like to ask about South Sudan, Ukraine and Viet Nam. On South Sudan, General Taban Deng Gai, who is one of the opposition figures that Mr. Ladsous met with, has said that the UN camp… refugee camp in Juba, was surrounded by the [Sudan People’s Liberation] army, that vehicles were taken, toilets that were built for [internally displaced persons] were destroyed, and that, essentially, the Government there is requesting to screen everyone in the camp to view if they’re part of the opposition. Is that true? And if so, what’s the response?
Spokesperson: No, it’s not true.
Question: What’s happened? There’s nothing to it?
Spokesperson: I’m just about to tell you, Matthew. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has taken a series of steps to strengthen security in relation to Protection of Civilians sites within the Mission's compounds. Security problems have continued to cause serious concern at the gates and in the vicinity of the UNMISS compounds.
On Monday, in other words, yesterday, the South Sudan National Police Service, therefore, conducted an operation outside the compound in Tomping, Juba. The operation was aimed at increasing security through searching for weapons, taking care of vehicles that could be a security threat and dismantling sale stands and liquor bars involved in illegal activity.
The operation was led by the South Sudanese police with the support of 50 UN police officers. At no point did the South Sudan Government troops surround the UNMISS compound, and neither was the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) involved in the operation.
Question: Is the police under Salva Kiir? I mean, I guess that’s what I wondered. What would you say to those that who’d say, in a dispute like this, if you want to be monitoring a ceasefire, that to be with the Government side…
Spokesperson: My answer… your question was: “Was the compound surrounded by the SPLA?” And my clear answer to that is: “No, it was not.” Okay, other questions please. Yes? Oh, you wanted to ask about Ukraine and I’ll come back to you on that. Okay, but let me just go…
Question: Thank you, Martin. Just a follow-up on Mr. Brahimi’s visit to New York — could you tell us when this will happen exactly?
Spokesperson: No, not yet. But, fairly soon is, I think, the expression I used. Yes, Ali?
Question: Sorry, just a follow-up. And is this meeting planned from before or is it due to the latest development that has happened?
Spokesperson: I think Mr. Brahimi periodically briefs the Secretary-General in person and indeed by telephone. He was able to use their presence in Munich recently at the security conference to be able to speak in person, but they also speak by telephone, and of course, they met in Montreux and Geneva. So, periodically in person, periodically by telephone; and now I’m coming back to Matthew for his question on Ukraine and then to Ali.
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. There’s a strange story today on Interfax which quotes the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Spokesman as saying “I have no knowledge of any official UN letter sending its Special Representative to Ukraine.” So, I just wanted to know, maybe he’s misunderstanding. He was asked this, so I think, based on the [ Victoria] Nuland tape, some people may have believed that this Secretary-General was going to send a more permanent Special Representative. So, basically, based on this, I wanted to ask you: was Mr. [Robert] Serry’s visit to Ukraine, was that, is that done? Does it remain part of his mandate to work on the issue? What’s the UN’s ongoing initiative on Ukraine?
Spokesperson: We’ve made clear that… well, first of all, the Secretary-General made clear his concern for developments in Ukraine over these recent weeks by asking Robert Serry to go to Ukraine; and the reason for that is that he is a former Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine. He knows the region and the people extremely well. And, he was able to speak to President [Viktor] Yanukovych and the then-Foreign Minister, now Acting Foreign Minister, and others, as well, including the opposition. Any requests for UN involvement requires a request from the opposition and from the Government, but the Secretary-General has made clear that the UN stands ready to assist in any way that it can to help end this crisis and certainly to ensure that there is dialogue and no more violence. I think I need to move around the room a little bit here. I think it was the lady in front of Mr. Abbadi. I’m sorry. I’m going to have time for two more questions after this.
Correspondent: I’m asking about…
Spokesperson: Hold it tight.
Question: The Syrian Government said that any resolution come out from Geneva II will be presented to a referendum. So, do you have any information that the delegation talked with Mr. Brahimi about this? Thank you.
Spokesperson: I think you need to speak to the Syrian delegation about that. This is a process, and it’s a Syrian-led process, mediated by the United Nations. We should not predetermine the outcome except to note that the key aim is a transitional government… transitional authority with full executive powers. Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then I’ve got time for one more question.
Correspondent: Thank you, Martin. Quick question first and then another one.
Spokesperson: No, no. One question, please.
Question: Okay. A very significant development took place today in the Chinese city of Nanjing, where the representatives of the two parties, China and Taiwan, met and agreed for the first time ever, since the revolution of 1949, to set up representative offices. Does the Secretary-General welcome this significant and historic development?
Spokesperson: Well, certainly, he’s aware of these talks that have been taking place and I’m sure that we’ll have something further to say on that. In general terms, any rapprochement, any dialogue is better than the alternative and if we have anything further to say, I will let you know. And one final question, which was Viet Nam, I think?
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you. There are a number of anti-death penalty groups — Harm Reduction International and the World Coalition against the Death Penalty — they’re calling for the suspension of UN counter-narcotics funding to Viet Nam, saying that this, in fact, essentially funds executions of people that are found guilty of drugs. There’s also been some crackdown on bloggers and journalists in Viet Nam. But, I wanted to know, on either of those two, is the UN aware of this? What’s the response to the range of groups raising these issues about crackdowns in Viet Nam?
Spokesperson: Well, on the first, I would refer you to UNODC in Vienna, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. I think they do what it says on the tin and they should be able to help you. And with regard to any crackdowns on journalists, you know journalists should be allowed to carry out their work unimpeded, but you may also wish to speak to UNESCO, who have the mandate to deal with media matters within the UN system. Okay. Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *