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

28 February 2014

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

28 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.  And welcome to those in the room and those following on webcast through the UN website.


** Syria


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that aid supplies have been delivered to a number of areas in Syria over the past few days.  The UN refugee agency provided an airlift yesterday of 31 metric ton of relief supplies from Damascus to Qamishly, including medicines, vaccines for 250,000 people, medical equipment and winterized relief items.  A UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) team was also able to deliver a limited number of food parcels in Yarmouk yesterday, but the team was forced to withdraw following reports of gunfire near the distribution point.


A further 50 males who left Old Homs City were reportedly cleared yesterday, according to the Governor of Homs.  And that leaves some 72 males awaiting screening.  UN protection officers remain on site to monitor the situation.


**South Sudan


The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, continues to conduct patrols in various parts of the country.  Yesterday, two UN patrols to Malakal, in Upper Nile State, observed an increased presence of troops in the town.  The patrol reported seeing two mortar rounds abandoned on the roadside.  The UN patrol also visited Malakal Teaching Hospital and transferred a further 14 civilians for medical treatment to its protection site.


The Mission reports that, as part of its protection mandate, it also visited two churches and a college and, in all, assisted 82 civilians sheltering there to move to the UN site.  UNMISS is protecting some 22,000 civilians at its site in Malakal.  UNMISS also reports that a team visited Jamjang Payam, Ajuang Thok refugee camp and Pariang town in Unity State on 26 and 27 February, and reported the situation in all those locations to be calm.


And you will have seen that Valerie Amos, the Emergency Coordinator, issued a statement on South Sudan yesterday.  She said she was deeply concerned by the grave humanitarian situation in the country, where, despite the recent ceasefire agreement, the lives of millions of civilians were threatened by lack of food, outbreaks of disease and continued violence.


She added that all those who continue fighting in South Sudan must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights laws:  to protect civilians, to respect the ceasefire, to stop targeting civilian facilities, and to allow safe access for aid workers.


**Security Council


We have just been informed that the Security Council will hold a private meeting at 3 p.m. this afternoon, and that is followed by consultations.  And that will be to discuss the situation in Ukraine.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it will have to reduce its geographical coverage in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to funding constraints.  Until now, it has only received $8 million, which is only 4 per cent of the funding required to assist hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by conflict and are hungry through August.  The Programme has already started to cut rations to internally displaced persons in Uganda and North Kivu.  The Programme stresses that the situation in Katanga Province is deteriorating and is extremely preoccupied by the arrival of refugees from the Central African Republic.


** Pakistan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that its team in Afghanistan reports that more than 90 people have crossed from northern Pakistan into Afghanistan.  District officials in Pakistan’s North Waziristan report that nearly 20,000 people, mostly women and children, have been displaced since 20 February because of military operations in the area.  The majority of displaced people urgently need access to adequate food, shelter and health care.  Although the Government of Pakistan has not requested international assistance so far, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is in contact with the authorities and is following the situation closely.  Some local non-governmental organizations are providing emergency aid, including food supplies and medical assistance to those displaced.


** Venezuela


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has condemned the violence over the past weeks in Venezuela.  She urges the Government to ensure respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  She says that the inflammatory rhetoric from all sides is utterly unhelpful and that it is time for all sides to move beyond verbal aggression and towards meaningful dialogue.  Navi Pillay is very concerned by the reported excessive use of force by the authorities in response to protests, and she calls on all sides to renounce the use of violence.


**Press Conferences Monday


On Monday, at 11 a.m., here in this room, there will be a press conference on the launch of the 2013 Human Security Report.  And this event is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations.


**Weather


And I think you will have seen the weather forecast; it looks like the New York area is in for another winter weather beating on Sunday and Monday.  We will, of course, keep you informed should there be closures or late opening of the Headquarters building on Monday.  So, we will make sure to keep you informed of what’s happening. Okay, questions, please?  Yes, Sylviane?


**Questions and Answers


Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.  Today, I am asking you if the Secretary-General will be heading to Paris next week to attend the meeting on the International Support Group of Lebanon, for Lebanon…


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon, yes; please could you use the microphone and repeat the question?


Question:  Thank you, Martin, again:  do you know if the Secretary-General is attending a meeting in Paris which will take place on 5 March, to… for the… on the International Support Group for Lebanon?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has asked the Deputy Secretary-General to attend; so the Deputy Secretary-General will be attending that meeting and representing the Secretary-General.


Question:  What do you expect to achieve at this particular meeting?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think we should wait to see what happens.  But, the fact that the Secretary-General has asked the Deputy Secretary-General to travel there because he himself will be travelling at that point is an indication of the level of support and importance that the United Nations attaches to Lebanon.  Evelyn, you didn’t have a question?  Well, that’s what I like to see.  Okay.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Do you have any readout of the meeting between the Secretary-General and the new [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Ambassador this morning… what has been talked?


Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you yesterday, these are protocol meetings and the Secretary-General had similar meetings with the new Permanent Representative of Cabo Verde and also the new Permanent Representative of Cambodia.  And we don’t typically provide readouts of such essentially protocol exchanges, where they’re simply greeting each other and the Secretary-General is welcoming the new ambassadors to their positions.  So, the short answer is no readout, but you did get the handshake.  Okay, yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Haiti and [the Democratic Republic of the Congo].  On… on Haiti, there is a recent report just out by Gustavo Gallón, who is the UN independent expert on human rights in Haiti, and he says, as a direct quote, that full compensation for the damage suffered by the Haitian people by the introduction of cholera to the island should be paid as quickly as possible.  So, I understand that he is an independent expert and doesn’t work for the Secretariat; at the same time, it’s a respected position and one, you know, a… a mandate formed by the Human Rights Council, so I wanted to know what in the face of this sort of either intra-UN or intra-UN system, uh, critique… what… what is the response of the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  Well, simply, that you answered the question yourself.  The Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteurs and other special advisers of various kinds are independent and they are not appointed by the Secretary-General and I don’t have anything further to say on that.


Question:  But just… just… if you don’t mind, the… the… it seems like… does the UN system expect, for example, countries when they are… when they are subject to these type recommendations or criticism by an independent, uh, experts of the Human Rights Council to respond in some way to them to say:  we agree or disagree, or that is why we disagree?


Spokesperson:  That’s for each individual Member State to decide.  Yes, Erol?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Secretary-General yesterday, talking on commemoration of Rwanda genocide — actually, the day is going to be 7 April — but he compared clearly what has happened in Rwanda what is going on in Syria.  We know that in Syria, more than 130,000 people died; in Rwanda, only in the hundred or so days, more than 800,000 died.  Does the Secretary-General think that what’s going on in Syria is a kind of genocide?


Spokesperson:  What he was trying to say, and what he did say, was that there had been a collective failure of the international community to respond to what was happening.  And, it was in that context that he was speaking.  That’s all I would say on the matter.  Yes?  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  In general terms, how would, how can the UN accommodate both sides in the conflict in Ukraine considering the… uh… [Viktor] Yanukovych essentially contradicted what the Ambassador to the UN said earlier this week — that it… that… uh… that it wasn’t an acceptable overthrow and what the Ambassador said earlier this week is that it was the will of the people.  So how, in general terms, can the UN accommodate both sides?


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a question of accommodating both sides because Ukraine is a sovereign country, and all citizens of Ukraine deserve the right to be able to determine their own future in a peaceful way.  And Robert Serry remains in Ukraine to help in this process and is continuing to meet various interlocutors to be able to discuss with them and to underscore the Secretary-General’s message, which is precisely that — territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine, the need for a reduction in tensions and also to ensure that the process that is under way is inclusive and peaceful and conducted through dialogue.  That’s what I would have to say at this point.  Yes, Joseph?


Question:  Yes, as a follow-up to that, does the Secretary-General have anything or planning to have anything to say about the unrest that is unfolding in the east… uh… the eastern portion of the Ukraine?  The hoisting of the Russian flag, the occupation of… of Government buildings, etcetera; and is Mr. Serry planning while he is in the Ukraine to meet with officials in east… uh… in the eastern portion of Ukraine, Crimea in particular?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, Mr. Serry is in Kiev at this point, and he is having meetings there.  But, he is, obviously, concerned and following closely what is happening in Crimea, as is the Secretary-General.  We don’t have any particular comment, except to say that obviously we are watching this because of the rising tensions that there evidently are.  And we are appealing to all sides to lower tensions and focus on dialogue.  And that’s the key message that Mr. Serry has carried with him to Kiev, and that’s a message that can be heard from there in the entire territory of Ukraine.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, thanks.  I wanted to ask you, this… this is a… maybe you will have something now or maybe… maybe you can get something.  I’ve been told by a… by a… by a… I guess you could call whistle-blowers in UN peacekeeping that there was an incident 8 February in eastern Congo in which Mai Mai Morgan… uh… raped 50 women and that the… MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is aware of it, sent a team some time ago, but that the report has not been issued and that… and… and… and there is a concern by these whistle-blowers that the UN is not speaking up on this… crime that they consider that the UN says it’s so serious.  And the allegation is that although the UN does report sometimes, that Mai Mai Morgan is close to the Congolese army, and is involved in… in… in… in the trade and in tusks and gold and other things, and so, I wanted to know, one, can you find out whether MONUSCO is aware of the rapes by Mai Mai Morgan and can you, if… if… if they are aware of them, can you explain why they didn’t report them?


Spokesperson:  I will certainly look into that with my colleagues from Peacekeeping Operations.  Okay, any other questions?  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  So, you mentioned that there will be an official, unofficial meeting at the Security Council on Ukraine this afternoon.  So, do you know if the Ukraine Ambassador will attend to that?


Spokesperson:  That’s a matter for the Council to decide.  But typically, for some of these kinds of meetings, the relevant concerned Member States can request to attend and can be given permission to attend.  But, that is for the Council to decide.  And as I say, it is a private meeting initially, at 3 p.m., followed by consultations.  And if we have any further details, we will let you know.  And I am sure you will be getting information through your own sources as the afternoon goes on.  Did you have your… wait… wait… wait… did you have a question?


Correspondent:  Yeah.


Spokesperson:  Please.


Question:  So, this morning Secretary-General introduced the new ambassador of [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to Under Secretary-General for [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs], Wu Hongbo.  So, does that mean link… any link to the humanitarian aid might be sent to, like, North Korea about foot and mouth outbreak or any updates of that… the disease over there?  Thanks.


Spokesperson:  I don’t think that you should see a connection there.  I think he would have introduced the new permanent representative to other officials, as well as who were present.  But, as I was mentioning yesterday, should there be a request from the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for assistance for any outbreak of foot and mouth disease or any other emergencies, then the United Nations system and the right part of the United Nations system will look at it very seriously on humanitarian grounds.  But, I don’t have any update specifically on that at the moment.  But, we will certainly look out for it, and if we have any, we will follow up with you.  Yes, Joseph?


Question:  Yeah, this is just a procedural question:  the difference between a private meeting and a consultation, which is also done privately, is it a matter of who is… could be invited to each of those meetings?  For example, the Ukraine may be not be invited to the private meeting, but invited to the consultations; does it involve the location of the meeting?  I guess I don’t understand the difference between those two.


Spokesperson:   Well, that’s a matter for the Council, and I would refer you to the Presidency of the Council to inform you on the procedural side of that and how…  I do not speak for the Security Council, okay.  Yes, please?


Question:  Can I sneak in one more on Ukraine, even though it seems you’re scraping the barrel dry with comment on this?  Do you… you mentioned that Mr. Serry is talking to the transition…


Spokesperson:  I’m doing my best.


Correspondent:  You are; you definitely are.


Spokesperson:  It’s a very deep barrel.


Correspondent:  [Laughter]  You said that Mr. Serry is talking to the transitional, uh, Government in… in Kiev, stressing…


Spokesperson:  Actually, I didn’t.  I said he is speaking to number of different interlocutors.  I may have said so yesterday.  He is speaking to any number of different parties, including foreign embassies based in Kiev to compare notes, to get their assessment and so on.  But, anyway, I interrupted you.


Question:  But, you may have answered my question.  But, you know, talking on the theme of territorial integrity or something you have said, you know, at this point, it does seem like some of the officials in Kiev are watching as territorial integrity is being threatened, not the other way around.  So, you know, besides, and I guess you said that he is talking to various embassies, but is the UN leaning on anyone else when it comes to the issue of Ukraine’s territorial integrity or is most of that conversation happening in Kiev at this point?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think it’s a question of leaning on anybody, but simply delivering the message about the importance of the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity as it stands at the moment.  Yes?


Question:  Great, thanks, Martin.  I want, uh… this is something I wanted to ask you on Sri Lanka yesterday, and it has to do with the… with the… the blocking of… of… of… the President of the country has been asked and said that they don’t block websites, that there is an entirely free press there.  And there is a publication called Colombo Telegraph, which has demonstrated that the website has been blocked in the country and it has shown up in some ex… some… human rights reports from outside of the country.  So, I wanted to know, what is the… what is the… the UN, not just the Secretary-General, but even the country team there, what is their sense of… of the outright ban on particular publications in the country and what… what can you say about it?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a direct link right now to the country team in Colombo, so I can’t answer for them.  But, they will be reporting back, of course, to the various parts of the UN system they represent.  And with regard to the Secretary-General, I would not characterize his own views on this particular matter, except to speak in more general terms that freedom of expression is something that we consider to be very important.  And that includes free access to websites and information on the Internet.  Did you have your arm in the air?


Correspondent:  No, I was just posing my hand.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  Well, make sure it doesn’t shift, okay?  Right, yes, please?


Correspondent:  Okay, thank you, Martin.  Just to follow up on the question regarding the presentation of the credentials this morning…


Spokesperson:  No, we really are scraping the barrel today.  Right, okay, come on.


Question:  [Laughter]  Okay.  Other than the Under-Secretary[-General] Wu Hongbo, who was there, were there any other Under-Secretaries during the presentation, or can you just tell us…


Spokesperson:  I was not there.  I was not there, so I cannot say.  But, simply put, the Secretary-General will introduce the new Permanent Representative to senior officials who are in the room, those that are present.  And I can check afterwards which senior officials were present.  But, I was not in the room; I was preparing for this barrel-scraping exercise.


Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.


Spokesperson:  Yes?


Correspondent:  Oh, great, thanks a lot.  I’m gonna try to scrape…


Spokesperson:  I am glad it was that finger, Matthew.


Question:  Yeah, oh.  [Laughter]  I’m going to try and scrape two scrapes at the barrel:  Michael Bloomberg and Western Sahara; totally separately.  There was, uh… Michael Bloomberg was at the… met the Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Washington yesterday.  It was listed on his schedule and it was described as, you know, US envoy on Climate Change and Cities.  So, I just wanted to know is there any…?


Spokesperson:  UN.


Question:  UN, excuse me, excuse me, I’d… it’s a… is there a read, I mean, did he go down there with any particular message from the UN system and… and is there any readout on… on the UN side of that meeting?


Spokesperson:  Oh, well, we can see if there is.  But, I think Mayor Bloomberg is capable of speaking for himself, and you could check with his communications people whether they have anything specific to say about that meeting.  We can… I can also check with our colleagues in the Climate Change Support Team to see if there is anything specific that would come out of that.


Question:  But just to figure… to… to figure out where I am being referred to; is it, I mean, is it like Bloomberg the company?


Spokesperson:  No, no, we will look into it.


Question:  Okay, all right, because I’m… all right.  Thanks.  And then on Western Sahara, I just wanted to ask, there is a pretty widely publicized petition that is being, there was, there was, it was collected at a conference and there was U… UK MPs taking about it, basically to petition the UN to, to ensure that MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) monitors human rights going forward, beginning in April… and I understand some part of that is directed to the Security Council that sets the mandates, but I am just wondering:  has anyone in the UN system received this petition, do you have any view of it and… and…?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll check with the office within the Secretary-General’s Executive Office that deals with incoming correspondence to see whether such a petition has been received.  I am not aware of such a petition having been received at this point.  But, I will check.  [He later added that the Secretary-General has not received that petition so far.]


Correspondent:  That’s great.


Spokesperson:  Yes, Evelyn?  This is the last question.


Question:  Okay, Martin.  I just wonder if you had at your fingertips the latest number of refugees, [internally displaced persons] in both Mali and Central African Republic, but mainly [Central African Republic], if one knows that in that chaos there?


Spokesperson:  I think that your comment at the end is probably part of the answer:  that it is very difficult to put precise numbers on this.  But, we’ll check with our colleagues from the refugee agency and elsewhere to see if we can get a fix on that.


Question:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  But, obviously, the numbers are large, and as we have said, it has an impact on work that is being done in the neighbouring countries on existing crises.


Correspondent:  Right.  Also, if they know, which countries, I mean Chad is one destination, but…


Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, yes, we’ll see if we can get an overall picture, yes.  Thank you.  Have a good weekend.  And let’s see what happens on Monday.


* *** *

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