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

26 February 2014

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

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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

So, good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing, which is also being webcast through the UN website.

** Thailand

A short while ago, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said that he is increasingly concerned about the political crisis in Thailand.  He has condemned the recent escalation of violence in different parts of the country.  The Secretary-General believes strongly that there should be no place for violence by any side in resolving political differences and disputes.

The Secretary-General urges the parties and all concerned to respect human rights and the rule of law.  He strongly urges the parties to engage as soon as possible in meaningful and inclusive dialogue toward ending the crisis and advancing genuine reform.   The Secretary-General expresses his readiness to assist the parties and the Thai people in any way possible.

** Syria

Today, the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations said that a shipment of sulphur mustard, commonly known as “mustard gas”, had left Syria.  The Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag, welcomed the shipment as an important step in the elimination of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme.

The Joint Mission looks forward to Syria’s continued efforts to complete the removal of the remaining chemical materials in a safe, secure and timely manner, through systematic, predictable and high-volume movements.  And I can tell you the Secretary-General also welcomes the news of this latest shipment.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that a further 58 men who had left the Old City of Homs were released yesterday, with some 125 men still being processed.

Air raids are reported to be continuing on many areas in the Aleppo Governorate, affecting neighbourhoods in the eastern part of the city.  Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent managed to transfer 5,000 bread packs and 1 ton of bananas to Aleppo’s central prison, which is besieged by armed groups.  And a plane carrying about 38 tons of flour provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) arrived in Qamishli, in Hasakkeh Province, yesterday.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that it observed forces arriving yesterday east and south of the Mission’s compound in Malakal in Upper Nile State.  And also yesterday, personnel from the Mission conducted another patrol to the Malakal Teaching Hospital.  The Mission reports that some patients said they witnessed opposition forces looting the hospital.  A further 100 patients and civilians from the hospital were transferred to the UN Mission’s protection site in Malakal for medical treatment.

The UN Mission’s patrol also visited displaced civilians sheltering in a church in Malakal town, and they reported lack of access to medical services.  The Mission will give the people seeking refuge in the church the option of moving to its base, so they can be better protected and receive medical treatment.

In the capital, Juba, the Mission says it has observed women and children leaving its two protection sites, reportedly for neighbouring countries.  The Mission is protecting some 43,000 civilians in Juba, with more than 75,000 overall seeking shelter in multiple Mission sites around the country.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that nearly 900,000 people have been displaced from their homes in South Sudan since the conflict began in December, including 710,000 people who remain inside the country and 171,000 who have fled across borders.  Humanitarian partners are providing aid to some 327,000 of the internally displaced people, and food partners have reached some 280,000 people with food assistance since the start of the crisis.

**Security Council

In a meeting this morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution welcoming the recent progress in the political transition in Yemen.  Among other things, the Council decided that all Member States shall, for an initial period of one year, freeze without delay all funds, other financial assets and economic resources that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by individuals or entities designated by a Sanctions Committee set up by the resolution.

Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, spoke to reporters following the passage of this resolution.

And also this morning, the Security Council received an update on the Security Council mission to Mali by Ambassador Gérard Araud of France.

And after that, Jose Ramos-Horta, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Guinea-Bissau, briefed Council members by videoconference on the progress towards elections there.  He urged the defence and security forces to refrain from interference in the forthcoming elections and to protect candidates.  And he called for intensive international support for Guinea-Bissau after the elections.

** Yemen

Also on Yemen, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has condemned the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks by Yemen’s armed forces in Al Dhale Governorate and called for unrestricted humanitarian access to the area.  She said today that she was shocked by a series of attacks led by Yemen’s armed forces in that Governorate that reportedly killed more than 40 persons since December, including at least 6 children.

She called upon the Yemeni authorities to carry out credible and transparent investigations of alleged human rights violations in Al Dhale and to hold those responsible accountable.

** Philippines

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, is in the Philippines, where she visited Guiuan and Tacloban, some of the areas hardest-hit by Typhoon Haiyan.  She said that in the three months since she was last in the Philippines, she saw today how much progress has been made in supporting local communities, but that a great deal more needs to be done.

Ms. Amos called on donors to continue supporting emergency and longer-term relief and development efforts in the country.  About half of the nearly $800 million humanitarian appeal has been raised so far.

** Nigeria

You will have seen this morning that we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly condemns the brutal slaying yesterday of dozens of students at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi in Yobe State, in north-eastern Nigeria, by unidentified gunmen.  He extends his sincere condolences to the bereaved families and hopes that the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the increasing frequency and brutality of attacks against educational institutions in the north of the country, and he reiterates that no objective can justify such violence.

**Slavery Remembrance

Tonight, starting at 6 p.m. in the [Economic and Social Council] Chamber, there will be a special screening of the film 12 Years a Slave.  The film will be followed by remarks by the Secretary-General and a question-and-answer session with the film’s director, Steve McQueen.  The screening is part of the UN’s annual commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

That’s what I have. Questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

Questions and Answers

Question:  I just, first I wanted to ask you, I saw the, the statement by the Secretary-General, delivered by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) to the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) meeting in… in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And there has been, President Omer [Hassan A. al-]Bashir of Sudan is there and he is obviously indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] is a signatory and is, availed itself of the Court.  So, I am wondering whether the Secretary-General or MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) or anyone in the UN system has any, has any view of the, the presence of an ICC indictee and an ICC member State where there is a large UN presence.

Spokesperson:  Well, simply put, there is a Security Council resolution covering this matter, and countries are obliged to adhere to Security Council resolutions.  And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Question And is there any contact by either the… the… the… the Secretary-General of UNCTAD or any other UN individual with Mr. [al-]Bashir during this time… during the time of the COMESA meeting?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any such contact.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On the situation in Afghanistan, now that the [Barack] Obama administration has said that it is going to withdraw completely from Afghanistan, it is going to create a chaos in the whole situation.  Is the United Nations ready or getting ready to deal with the situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, if I understood it correctly, President Obama told President [Hamid] Karzai that he’d ordered the Pentagon to start planning for possible complete withdrawal by the end of the year.  So, it’s a planning process, as I understand it.  But, either way, of course the Mission, our Mission in Afghanistan is looking at this very closely.  I don’t have any specific comment at the moment, but I can assure you they are looking at it very closely.

Question:  I am just saying are there any plans for, for, contingency plans for the future?

Spokesperson:  I think that this is still a question of analysing what this could mean in general terms for security in Afghanistan, and therefore, for the operations of our Mission there.  You are not using the microphone, by the way.

Correspondent:  Oh, sorry.

Spokesperson:  Too late.  Terribly sorry.

Correspondent:  [Laughter]  I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.  If I may, I just want to ask one more time about this Kashmir situation which is going out of control in…

Spokesperson:   This is becoming an interview with you, Masood.  And you have asked me about Kashmir any number of times; the answer is going to be the same.

Question:  Still the same?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  Okay, sir.

Spokesperson:  Over and out.  Okay, thank you.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Martin, It has become clear…

Spokesperson:  Kashmir?

Question:  No, no, South Sudan, that the cessation of hostilities agreement is being ignored and violated by both sides.  Is it fair to say now that we have a fully fledged civil war on our hands in that country?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think that one would want to put a particular label on this at the moment, except to say that many people are suffering.  You’ve heard of the conditions, for example, in the teaching hospital in Malakal, the movement of forces around the Mission compound in the same place, many people on the move, I read out a long list of statistics — lots of numbers.  And behind each of those numbers is an individual who is suffering in some way or other, either by being displaced or having to cross borders.  So, I don’t want to put a label on it at this point.  But, it is certainly a crisis of quite some magnitude.  And we, that’s one reason why the Mission has been augmented with other troops to help protect civilians.

Question:  There seems to be a general approach by the United Nations not to label things.  I mean, it was very slow to label what has happened in Egypt, Syria and other examples.  Why, why is that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it is a question of being slow.  I think it is a question of wanting to be certain that particular thresholds have been crossed and there is certain terminology when you are talking about mass atrocities, for example, certain terminology where you need to be very careful about what kind of language you use.  And the same applies here.  I think, yes, Ken?  Yes, yes.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], do you have an estimated timeline on when the new [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] ambassador will present his credentials to the Secretary-General?  And do you expect them to talk about other issues, as well, when they actually meet?

Spokesperson:  Well, Ambassador Ja Song Nam is going to be presenting his credentials to the Secretary-General on Friday, at 11 in the morning.  Typically, at such occasions, this is the handing over of credentials and there can sometimes be a brief meeting, but that is not always the case.  I think we will need to wait until Friday to see whether that is the case in this particular instance.  So, 11 a.m. on Friday, and the name of the ambassador is Ja Song Nam.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  If I am correct, the Secretary-General is currently meeting Ambassador [Sylvie] Lucas of Luxembourg who also chairs the 1718 Committee.  I know you can’t talk about what they talk about, would [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] be one of the issues that they’re discussing?

Spokesperson:  I think the purpose of this meeting is in the context of Luxembourg’s presidency of the Security Council next month.  And so, it is looking at the agenda for the month, rather than focusing on the Ambassador’s, the Permanent Representative’s, chairmanship of that particular Sanctions Committee.  Yes, please?

Question:  Given the continuing violence in the [Central African Republic], Mr. Edwards has stated the importance of protection by presence for both civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as the fact that existing number of troops there on the ground are far too low.  Does the Secretary-General believe that the 3,000 troops requested last week will be sufficient to address these problems?

Spokesperson:  Well, what we’ve said is at least 3,000 and that this is an initial, if you like, surge, because of the need to move people in, troops in quickly.  But plainly, this is another crisis of huge proportions.  And more action does need to be taken, that’s why it is being considered so seriously by the Security Council and by the Secretary-General.  But, the figure was carefully said as at least 3,000.  Okay?  Masood, you’re being very busy today, you’re very, very industrious.

Question:  Yeah, this time I have a microphone in my hand.  Mr. Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s representative in Afghanistan, was in Peshawar, Pakistan, yesterday, speaking with opposition leaders.  Do you have any content of the conversation that he has had with them?

Spokesperson:   I don’t, but I can try to get some information on that for you on Mr. Kubiš’ conversations.  I’ll try to do that for you, okay?  I’ll try to give you at least something today, all right?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Great.  On, I wanted to ask also on… on Central African Republic two things.  One is that there is a report that… that some of the Ugandan troops that are currently in South Sudan will be transferring to… to the Central African Republic, and I wanted to know, given the Secretary-General’s call, I mean, there is… they may be there in the context of MISCA (International Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) or maybe they’re… they’re in some rapid deployment, but is the UN aware of that, and do they think… does the UN think that would be a good thing?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that you’d need to check with Ugandans whether they are moving their forces in that way.  I simply do not know our peacekeeping colleagues are aware of this, or indeed, our Political Affairs colleagues, as this is the overall brief is with the Department of Political Affairs.  If they have anything further on that, I will let you know.  But, I really think that the first address is the Ugandan authorities to check on that.  Did you have a second question related to the [ Central African Republic]?

Correspondent:  I actually did [the Central African Republic], but I also want to ask about Haiti, so I want to make sure that you…

Spokesperson:  Well, you can, but let me just come to you first.  Yes, please?  Yes, and Evelyn, as well.

Question:   Do you have, uh, on Ukraine; do you have any comment on this mounting separatist movement in the south-east of the country?  And also, the new authorities now hunting Mr. [Viktor] Yanukovych and put him on the international wanted list.  Do you have also any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  No comment on that.  I’d simply say Mr. Serry, Mr. Robert Serry, who is in Kiev, he has been continuing to have meetings and discussing the overall developments in Ukraine.  And Mr. Serry has reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for an inclusive political process that reflects the aspirations of all citizens of Ukraine and preserves Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity.

Question:  Just one follow-up:  can you confirm that Mr. Serry is in touch with Mr. Yanukovych?

Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that’s the case.  I do not believe that’s the case.  If it turns out to be the case, I’ll let you know, but doubt that that’s the case.  Yes, Evelyn?  And then I’ll come to you, Matthew.

Question:  In South Sudan, is it still the case, or has it been… well, there are the various ethnic groups, representatives of which have been hired by the UN as guards for the displaced people and everything else in different areas are fighting each other; is that still going on or…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think if it was, I would have been informed by colleagues in [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations], who have been giving daily updates as you know.  But, I am sure they are listening right now, and if they have some information which has come in on that topic, we will let you know.  But, to my knowledge, that may have died down.  But, we will check.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks a lot. I’d like to ask about Haiti and… and Myanmar.  On… on… on Haiti, I know that you’d said that, that the, the head of [the Office for Legal Affairs] won’t give a briefing, but I noticed I guess it’s today where, or it was maybe done yesterday an interview with Mr. [Pedro] Medrano with [the Department of Political Affairs], and he is very much speaking about the case, so I wanted to ask you, it seems fair to, like, I have no way to get a response from him; he said, you know, that… that… that… that… that addressing the case would require the entire framework of peacekeeping to be changed.  “That, there are three issues:  responsibility, guilt and compensation.  These are not perimeters that the international community has defined.  If Member States want to change this, we are prepared.”  So, since he says “we”, it seems like, is this a UN position?  The UN is saying that… that… that… that dealing with the… the Haiti cholera claim of having brought it to the island is something that’s up to the [General Assembly]? I… I… I just want to, I guess I wanted to understand more about it, and also understand if the UN says it doesn’t speak about the case, Mr. Medrano has now given, he’d spoken to [Agence France-Presse], he spoken to [the Department of Political Affairs], is there some way to get him in a more accessible forum, maybe by video, where he could actually answer questions… what this sentence means?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll check on the last part of your question.  But, as I have stated in other cases that are subject to litigation, it is not the UN’s practice to discuss in public the details of or the response to claims filed against the Organization.  And I think you will appreciate that this is, and particularly, as you have a legal background yourself, that this practice is quite common in ongoing litigation.

Correspondent:  No, I guess the problem, I, absolutely, I… I mean, my under… it just seems that Mr. Medrano is obviously doing his interviews, they seem to be in a… in a course, so it’s almost, from the outside, it looks like this is the attempt to sort of put a messaging on it in a way where there is not as much opportunity to…

Spokesperson:  Mr. Medrano will soon be visiting various countries in Europe, and that’s the background to the series of interviews that he has been giving in advance of that trip to Europe.  Okay, any other questions?  Yes, Evelyn?  Microphone.

Question:  Yes, just a brief one while we are throwing terms around today:  would you… would you characterize the Central African Republic as civil war?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think we should be playing this kind of game with a very serious matter.   Whatever you want to call it, it is a crisis of enormous proportions with tremendous suffering and with enormous de facto partition of a very sizeable country and with, now, violence that has broken down into religious and ethnic lines; something that was not the case at the beginning.  And that of course is extremely troubling.  Yes, last question?

Question:  Thanks a lot, I wanted to ask… I have been… been meaning to ask about Myanmar, there is a report that… that Vijay Nambiar, when he was there, met with a defence services commander-in-chief and the way… the way the quote goes, said that Myanmar could contribute to [United States], you know, peacekeeping operations, if interested, essentially either solicited or… or left the door, made the door open for Myanmar to contribute UN peacekeepers.  And so, since, you know, there are many people, just remain concerned, including Mr. [Tomas] Ojea Quintana, about a lack of rule of law and some abuses by the army and there is still [a United States] arms embargo on, on the country, I wonder is… is… is it possible to know whether Mr. Nambiar said that or maybe some variation on that and what the UN’s position is on Myanmar contributing troops?

Spokesperson:  Well, troop contributing is a conversation that would be had with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  So, I would need to check with them, and also with Mr. Nambiar on precisely what was said with that, in that meeting unless, bear in mind, that Mr. Nambiar on his trip had any number of troops with different officials.

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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