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

6 March 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, everyone.  And welcome to the briefing.

** Ukraine

The Security Council will hold consultations at 2:30 this afternoon to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, who will talk to the Council by video teleconference from Kyiv.  That is, as you know, in closed consultations, but we’ll try to provide some details later.

The Deputy Secretary-General continued his visit to Ukraine today, ahead of his departure from the country tomorrow.  He met separately with Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate, and with Metropolitan Antony, the deputy head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate.  In those talks, the Deputy Secretary-General underscored the role that churches can play in resolving the crisis in Ukraine by enhancing inclusiveness and promoting dialogue.  He also held wrap-up meetings with the authorities in Kyiv.

The Deputy Secretary-General has been rejoined in Kyiv by Robert Serry.  Also arriving today is Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović.

**Security Council

The Security Council met today to discuss the Central African Republic, and the Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Humanitarian Affairs — respectively, Hervé Ladsous and Valerie Amos — and High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres briefed Council members on recent developments there.  Mr. Ladsous said that the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission would take six months.  He presented the Secretary-General’s recommendations for a future UN presence and said that the scale of the needs in the country is daunting and that there is no quick fix for the problems there.

Ms. Amos and Mr. Guterres discussed their recent visits to the country.  Ms. Amos said that the Central African Republic is experiencing sectarian brutality, persistent insecurity and fear, with tragic humanitarian consequences.  More than 650,000 people are displaced in the country, more than 288,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, and thousands more want to leave.  Mr. Guterres said he was shocked by what he saw in the country and that, since December, the majority of the Muslim population in the west of the country has effectively been cleansed.

Under-Secretaries-General Ladsous and Amos will speak to reporters at the stakeout after consultations have ended.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that the capital, Juba, is tense today.  The Mission says that, earlier this morning, some shots were fired in the vicinity of the UN House and that firing also occurred close to the UN House yesterday evening.  However, the situation within the compound is calm.  Small arms and machine gunfire also took place in the vicinity of the UN Tomping compound, wounding one civilian.

The Mission is concerned about gunfire occurring in the vicinity of its compounds and calls on all parties to respect the work and inviolability of UN premises.  In all, the Mission is protecting some 43,000 civilians at two of its sites in the capital.  The UN Mission, meanwhile, continues to conduct military and police patrols in various parts of the country.

Yesterday, a UN patrol to Malakal town in Upper Nile State found much of the town empty of opposition forces, with the opposition forces’ headquarters abandoned.  The Mission also undertook a mission to Pibor in Jonglei State on Tuesday, following the peace agreement signed recently between the Government and David Yau Yau.  Local county officials informed the Mission that the security situation in the town was calm, and many displaced people had returned in the recent days.

We have also been informed that the UN Mission will investigate an error in the transport of weapons for a new peacekeeping contingent.  It is the policy of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) that during the crisis in South Sudan all arms and ammunition for the peacekeeping contingents are flown into respective areas and not taken by road.  This is an important security measure.

In connection with the transport of cargo of general goods belonging to the Ghanaian battalion on the way to Bentiu, several containers were wrongly labelled, and contained weapons and ammunition.  This is regrettable.  The Ghanaian troops are part of the surge of the Mission’s troops to assist South Sudan, and the goods were en route to Bentiu, passing through Rumbek.  An investigation team will look into this matter urgently, in cooperation with the Government of South Sudan.

**‘Children, Not Soldiers’ Campaign

And finally today, the United Nations is launching its global campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”.  In a message, the Secretary-General says that although thousands of children have been released from armed groups, thousands more remain.  He is asking all concerned Governments, regional and non-governmental organizations to work with the United Nations to intensify efforts to meet the goal of zero use of children by any government forces by 2016. 

The Secretary-General says that progress will help to fuel further success in reaching the many non-state actors that also continue to recruit children.  His full message will be read this afternoon at 4 p.m. by Leila Zerrougui, his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

Questions, please?  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, thanks.  A couple of follow-up questions:  Is Mr. Serry going to be staying in Kyiv after the Deputy Secretary-General leaves?  And these weapons that were mislabelled and going by road: were they stolen?  How were they discovered?

Spokesperson:  No, my understanding is that these were belonging to the Ghanaian battalion, and so… but this is under investigation.  And so, I would just leave it at that for the time being.  I am sure that more details will emerge in due course.  To answer your first question: Robert Serry as you know, does have a job; he is the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and he needs to be back in the Middle East region quite soon.  And I would anticipate that he will not be staying beyond the period that the Deputy Secretary-General is in Kyiv.  Yes, Pamela, and then Ali?

Question:  Martin, just on the incident with Robert Serry yesterday; is there a sense that — I know you don’t discuss security arrangements, but there will, if there are UN monitors or if, for Ivan Šimonović as well, will there be additional security for UN officials in…?

Spokesperson:  We are not going to talk about security measures; I think that’s obvious.  But I can assure you that the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) is fully engaged in this matter.  Yes?

Question:  All right.  And just on his trip, I’m sorry, is there any feedback on what, um, he was the Ambassador, the Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine, has he given any insights about what to do next that you can share?  Robert Serry, that is.

Spokesperson:  Not before he has reported to the Secretary-General and the Security Council.  And that would be, the conduit for that initially is, of course, through the Deputy Secretary-General, who is briefing the Security Council this afternoon, as I mentioned a little bit earlier.  Yes, Joseph, I believe you had a question?

Question:  Actually, Pam asked my question, so…

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, that’s telepathy from row behind.  Okay, yes, Ali?  Followed by Jonathan.

Question:  The Parliament in Crimea voted in favour today for this referendum on whether to split on Ukraine.  Who decides whether this, what’s going on now in Crimea, is legitimate or not?  And since Mr. Serry was there, can you now say that Crimea is under occupation or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are a couple of points here, and that is that it is a matter… recognition and questions of legitimacy are the domain of Member States.  And therefore it is for Member States to deliberate on such matters.  And as for the second part of your question, we have all seen varying reports, we’ve all seen the presence, Robert Serry has felt the presence, so to speak, of a certain kind, but it is not for us to deliberate and to pronounce on how you classify what is happening there.  But clearly, this is a serious matter, and clearly it is something that will be discussed in the Security Council consultations.  The Deputy Secretary-General’s main message, our main message is that cooler heads need to prevail, need to bring the temperature down.  That was the message the Deputy Secretary-General also brought when he visited the various Orthodox Church leaders that I mentioned earlier, and it has been the case in all his meetings with the authorities in Kyiv.  Just with the microphone, please?

Question:  Can you please clarify that what Mr. Serry felt the presence of who?

Spokesperson:  I think everybody saw on camera and heard from Mr. Serry himself yesterday; he spoke to Wolf Blitzer on CNN, and I believe he may have spoken to other broadcasters too.  So I would rather focus on what needs to happen, which is that there needs to be a lowering of the temperature, a lowering of the tension.  You know that there are talks going on between the United States and Russia at a very high level, and that other institutions, the European Union is involved, the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is involved, and the United Nations is involved, all with the aim of trying to reduce tensions and to roll this crisis back a long way.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  Martin, why is the Deputy Secretary-General leaving so soon?  He only arrived a couple of days ago.  And if Serry is going to depart, that leaves really no top-ranking UN official on the ground in the midst of a major crisis.

Spokesperson:  That’s not correct.  I just mentioned that Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights is arriving today on the mission which the Deputy Secretary-General mentioned yesterday; a fact-finding mission that will last quite a long time to look into questions of human rights.  And that includes, of course, minorities; it includes speaking to the authorities in various parts of the country.

Question:  My meaning though is on the political track; of a person who would be able to engage with the disputing parties in trying to work out a negotiated settlement if this were to defuse tensions, I understand that there is going to be a UN representative working on humanitarian issues, but there is an ongoing…

Spokesperson:  Human rights, human rights, human rights.

Question:  Ah, yes.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Deputy Secretary-General is reporting to the Security Council and has been reporting regularly to the Secretary-General of course.  The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York as we speak from Sierra Leone, and the intention is that the Deputy Secretary-General will be able to brief the Secretary-General in person, face to face, as soon as possible.  But they are continuing their contacts by telephone in the meantime.  And I know that the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) will continue to monitor things very closely.  And what further steps are taken, we will let you know.  Yes?  I am moving along the front rows, so don’t get too frustrated, Matthew, I am getting there. 

Question:  I understand that you don’t want to speak about security arrangements, but had Mr. Serry applied for approval from the local Crimea authorities before going there, as has been done in Syria when UN officials visited opposition-controlled areas?  If not, can you explain why?  And secondly, from the position of the Secretary-General, how does the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty coincide with the right of people to self-determination?

Spokesperson:  I just need to reiterate that Mr. Serry’s arrival was well known, the visit was well known and coordinated appropriately.  And I’ve already answered the second part of your question: this is a matter for Member States.  Matthew?

Question:  Thanks.  Both on Ukraine: One is, I just wanted to ask you, to verify a quote.  APP is quoting Mr. Serry when he arrived at the Kyiv airport as saying, asked if he would return to Crimea, he said, I don’t think so and that he would stay in Ukraine, quote, probably until Saturday.  So I wanted to know if you’ve seen the story; did he say those things?  And also if the UN has any comment on… this morning was announced by the US that they’re imposing travel bans and creating a sanctions system for, including derivatives, meaning people viewed as supporting any move to establish governmental authority in any part of Ukraine without the approval of the authorities in Kyiv?  Do you think… some Member States call this, you know, unilateral sanctions and a negative thing.  What does the UN think of this, is it helpful at this time?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the second part, I’m not going to comment on individual Member States’ actions or intentions in this particular area.  With regard to the first part of your question, Mr. Serry was intercepted, I think that’s one way of putting it, by a number of journalists on arrival in Kyiv and did answer a few questions.  I have not yet received an official transcript of what he said, so I don’t want to confirm quotes until I have seen the transcripts.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Mr. Serry but said no transcript would be provided.]

Question:  Does he have a spokesperson with him or a staffer of some kind that would hold the tape recorder and get you the transcript?

Spokesperson:  We’ll need to look into that.  Yes, Stefano?  And then Richard.  Okay?

Question:  I want to go back on Ukraine, on Crimea.  I want to go back on the reason that the Russians say why they had to intervene in the way they did.  They talked about protection, the responsibility to protect; it looked like we were back a few years when we were talking like this about Libya and so on.  Just recently former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, compared this way of talking of [ Vladimir] Putin to Hitler, saying also Hitler had the same reason to go to Czechoslovakia and so on.  I would like to know, what is the reaction to this kind of talking?  First of all, does the UN have any information that minorities in Russian-speaking Ukraine were under any danger?  And, second, what you think about what former Secretary Hillary Clinton says, that this reminds her, the same kind of arguments used at the beginning, on the coming of the Second World War?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s clear that the main reason for Mr. Šimonović’s visit, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, to Ukraine is precisely to look into the matters of minorities, other human rights questions, including what happened at Maidan and many other topics.  So this is going to be a very detailed fact-finding mission.  And I don’t have any comment on your second question.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  Thanks for the Wolf Blitzer plug… one brief…

Spokesperson:  Other brands are available, I should have said.

Question:  Yes.  What was the route that Robert Serry took yesterday to go from Crimea to Turkey?  Did he change planes or stop briefly in Kyiv?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  I think it was…

Question:  Because the statement put out said he’s flying to Kyiv.

Spokesperson:  No, it did not.

Question:  It didn’t?

Spokesperson:  No, it did not.  It said he would shortly rejoin the mission in Kyiv.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  And that was deliberately worded because, at that point, we weren’t sure precisely what the routing would be.

Question:  Since you only have a day and a half, I think, correct, in this briefing room and you’ll be able to speak freely starting now.  [Laughter]  With the Ukraine issue a week old, what is your sense in talking to people on the thirty-eighth floor and other people on the road that there’s a sense that it’s still in the diplomatic arena, that this is going to work out, that it’s just a matter of time or this is something much more serious that we… you don’t know where it can spiral out of?

Spokesperson:  It’s a very broad question and an important question, Richard, of course.  That’s why the Secretary-General, even on his travels, is devoting an inordinate amount of time to this matter and it’s why he asked the Deputy Secretary-General to go to Ukraine to be there on the ground to build on the work that Robert Serry had already been doing and has continued to do.  This is an extremely unusual moment in international relations, something that we have not seen in quite some time.  But I’m not a free man, as you might have implied.  I remain an international civil servant, and therefore I must choose my words carefully, as I always try to do.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Now analysts are reporting that the interception of that ship yesterday by Israel coming in from Iran has averted another war, and I wondered if there would be a statement today.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  No, we won’t have any comment on that.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  This is about you, actually.  Personally, I want to thank you for the work you’ve done here.  But I have a question: what, of all those years you served here as a spokesperson for the Secretary-General, you say that this, for example, this crisis is an unusual crisis in Ukraine.  You saw many.  What was the moment that for you that was, as you say, the most unexpected, the most difficult for your work to be there as a spokesperson of the Secretary-General?  And also, if you have any advice, before you leave, for us.  [Laughter]  What we should do to improve the coverage of this institution for the public outside there that doesn’t really, sometimes, it’s very, too complicated to understand how really the UN works?

Spokesperson:  First of all, thank you for what you said.  Secondly, the work that everybody does here is important in whatever sphere, your writing or broadcasting.  Of course, it is absolutely crucial, and the Secretary-General says it himself repeatedly, that you play a vital role in being the conduit to the general public, many of whom, as you say, are not aware of the work that the UN does, whether it’s in peacekeeping, humanitarian matters, human rights and development.  So your work, Stefano, and others in this room and beyond, of course, is absolutely crucial.  Dissenting voices, critical voices are also important to hold us, meaning the United Nations system, to account.  That is also important: to be able to keep us on our toes.  With regard to what may or may not have been the most difficult moment, well, some people have asked me, why are you leaving right now, in the middle of a major crisis?  I mean, my answer is that there are always crises.  Just a couple of weeks ago and today, the Central African Republic is a hot topic.  The Central African Republic remains as grim and awful as it was when it was at the top of the news.  It’s simply been overtaken by a story of a different geopolitical and strategic nature.  So what I’m trying to say is there have been perpetual crises and high points as well, and it’s very difficult to single one out, I would say.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you, on Yemen.  It was said publicly that the UN was sending its humanitarian team to the south.  I just wanted, if you could confirm and say a little bit about it?  It seems like it’s been delayed or stopped by the Yemeni authorities based on security concerns.  And somewhat relatedly, because of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and involvement in the Yemen situation, does the UN have any view of, there’s been a withdrawal of ambassadors by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE [ United Arab Emirates] from Qatar, saying some intra-GCC security agreement that seems to involve support to the Muslim Brotherhood has been breached.  And I wanted to know, does the UN have any view of this division in a regional organization that it works with on the Yemen issue?

Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports that you referred to about the withdrawal of some ambassadors, but we don’t have any comment on that.  With regard to Yemen, I will check with my colleagues.  I think we will be able to provide some update there.  Yes, Ali?  And then Joseph.  And then I think we’ll finish.  We’ve been here quite a long time.  My voice is going to give out.

Question:  Did you receive any complaint from the Syrian Ambassador to the UN about the decision taken by the US authorities to restrict his movements?  Because there are some reports in the pro-Syrian media outlets about this, that they’re complaining to the UN.  Second, beyond the statements that the UN has already issued regarding the journalists in detention in Egypt, is the United Nations going to do, really, to take an action, maybe to call the Egyptian authorities in this regard, or whatever?

Spokesperson:  With regard to the first part, whether we’ve received a letter.  I’ll check with our colleagues who deal with correspondence.  We don’t always know immediately when a letter has been received, but we can easily check that.  On the second part, I addressed that already yesterday, and I’m not going to comment further.  Yes, Joseph?  This is the last question.

Question:  I don’t think this one is mental telepathy from anyone else, although it is a follow-up to question that was just asked, and it’s again about this seizure of alleged Iranian rockets headed to Gaza.  You said the Secretary-General would not have any comment on this, period.  Or…

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment at the moment.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.  But, we don’t have any comment at the moment.  Okay.

Question:  Is any under consideration?  Because often the Secretary-General does comment on actions by Israel with respect to settlements or any other actions that might impede the peace process.

Spokesperson:  As I say, I don’t have anything at the moment.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.  Thank you.

Question:  We’ve heard on Venezuela that human rights experts from Geneva wrote to Venezuela and complained about human rights abuses and are asking for an investigation.

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check.  I don’t have anything on that, Richard.  I’m sorry.  I will check.

Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon, everybody.

* *** *

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