|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the SpokesMAN for the Secretary-General
[Applause from correspondents upon the Spokesman’s stepping up to the podium.]
Spokesman: You can save that for my last day! [Laughter]. Thank you.
I’ll start off with a statement from the Secretary-General on the situation in Ukraine and this is in the Secretary-General’s own words:
I am increasingly alarmed by the developments in Ukraine. Since the beginning of this crisis, I have appealed to all parties to de-escalate tensions and to engage in direct and constructive dialogue in order to forge a peaceful way forward. Recent events in Crimea in particular have only served to deepen the crisis. As tensions and mistrust are growing, I urge all sides to refrain from hasty actions and provocative rhetoric.
The international community must help the key actors to calm the situation and work toward a durable and fair political solution. A further deterioration of the situation would have serious repercussions for the people of Ukraine, the region and the global community. I also continue to urge the relevant authorities to ensure that the human rights of all in Ukraine are respected, with particular attention to the rights and protection of minorities.
At this crucial juncture, we cannot afford either miscalculations or inaction. Above all, a resolution of the crisis must be found on the basis of the United Nations Charter principles, including the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
And that statement from the Secretary-General is available in our Office and online.
**Ukraine: Assessment Visit
Also from Ukraine, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović is continuing his visit — his mission.
The Secretary-General, as you will recall, had asked him to travel to the Ukraine urgently to mark the continued high-level engagement of the United Nations with Ukraine, to assess the human rights situation, and to develop recommendations for further action.
Mr. Šimonović has held numerous meetings, including with the acting Foreign Minister, the Ombudsperson, the diplomatic community in Kyiv, international organizations and civil society representatives. He will travel to Kharkiv this evening and plans to go to Crimea and Lviv after that.
Mr. Šimonović and his delegation intend to stay in Ukraine until 15 March.
**Commission on Status of Women
Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the new session of the Commission on the Status of Women, saying that we have come a long way but that there is much still to do for women’s empowerment and little time to do it. He said that more girls are in school, but we are far from ending gender disparity at all levels of education. He said that the United Nations is committed to helping Governments provide the education, as well as quality sexual and reproductive health services that too many women and adolescent girls lack. He added that their reproductive rights must also be ensured.
He also spoke about the campaign to end female genital mutilation, adding that, last week, he met a young woman in London, named Fahma Mohammad, who is leading a global campaign against the practice. He said he was deeply moved by her strong voice and clear message and will continue to speak out against female genital mutilation. His remarks are online and also available in the Office.
Turning to Darfur, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is deeply concerned over an outbreak of intercommunal violence in Saraf Omra, North Darfur, which led to mass displacement of civilians and a number of casualties over the course of the past few days. Thousands of displaced civilians have sought refuge in the vicinity of the Mission’s base. Peacekeepers have taken up station around the displaced to provide protection. Additional troops and police have also been deployed to the base to bolster security. In addition, the Mission has provided water and evacuated 38 casualties, 24 of which were in a critical condition, for medical treatment.
While the fighting has subsided, the Mission says that the situation in the area remains tense. It adds that it is working with the humanitarian coordinators to provide further assistance, including food and sanitation support. The Mission is supporting reconciliation efforts between the conflicting parties, which commenced yesterday, and has called the parties to cease hostilities and resolve their differences peacefully.
Also in South Darfur, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) say that more than 45,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the Um Gunya area. Many people have fled to camps surrounding Nyala, the State capital. Humanitarian agencies are ensuring that adequate water and food supplies are made available to those affected.
The United Nations has also assessed humanitarian needs in some of the villages to which people have fled. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that some targeted assistance is being provided in those places but that many people have expressed the wish to continue onward to Nyala camps as they fear continuing insecurity.
In South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) reports that a heavy rainstorm in the capital, Juba, on Friday damaged tents, temporarily affecting nearly 8,000 internally displaced persons in the protection area at the Tomping compound. The Mission says that the tents have been fixed and there are no reports of civilians being injured. It is also in the process of moving some of the affected displaced people from Tomping to the UN House over the next few days.
Over the weekend, a Mission patrol to Malakal in Upper Nile State observed the presence of armed opposition forces in and around the town, including at premises being used as the headquarters for the opposition. Still in Upper Nile State, the Mission delegation that visited Melut yesterday was informed by local officials that the town is filled with displaced civilians, many of whom have arrived from parts of Upper Nile and Jonglei State. Local officials also highlighted food shortages in the area that are causing tensions with local communities.
Also on South Sudan, in response to a number of questions raised last week regarding the Ghanaian contingent’s equipment, UNMISS reports that a joint mission comprising of Government officials and the UN Mission travelled to Rumbek today in preparation for the arrival of a New York delegation which will travel to South Sudan midweek.
An investigation will be launched immediately after the arrival of this delegation to understand the circumstances behind this incident. In the meantime, the Mission says that it is important to wait for the facts to come out and respect all provisions of the status-of-forces agreement signed between the UN and the Government of South Sudan.
Moving on to Syria, in the last few days, the World Food Programme (WFP) has succeeded in reaching many areas of Syria that were inaccessible for months. But the agency says that delivering food to people in desperate need remains a challenge. Over the last few days, the World Food Programme reached Al-Houle in rural Homs for the first time since May 2013 and delivered food for up to 20,000 people. Trucks carrying food rations for another 20,000 people arrived in Ar-Raqqa Governorate for the first time in six months.
Locally-negotiated ceasefires have allowed convoys into areas of Rural Damascus as well as rural Dara’a. Five trucks delivered food for 17,500 people in camps for displaced people north of Idlib. Among the camps were some that had not been reached directly by the World Food Programme since the start of the conflict in 2011. There is more information from WFP online.
Turning back here at the Security Council — Tarek Mitri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, briefed the Council this morning on the work of the UN Support Mission in that country. He noted the recent polarization in the country, including the storming of the parliamentary premises last week. He said the use of force to achieve political objectives is to be unequivocally rejected. Mr. Mitri also highlighted that there has been a dramatic increase in violence in Libya in recent months. And he noted the alarming attacks on media outlets and abductions of media personnel, which he said must be condemned. The Security Council followed up its meeting on Libya with consultations on the same topic.
And at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Council has scheduled a closed meeting on Ukraine.
**Press Conferences on Monday
Following the briefing here, at 12:30, Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Director of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), will speak to you.
And tomorrow, at 10:15 a.m., we will have here Najat Vallaud Belkacem, the Minister of Women’s Rights and Spokesperson for the French Government; she will be here in this room.
And following that, at 11:00 a.m., there will be a press conference on the launch of the Inter-Parliamentary Union-UN Women “Global Map of Women in Politics”. And the speakers will include Anders Johnsson, Secretary General of the IPU, and John Hendra, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women.
That’s it. And just remember what Martin told you when he left; which is, be nice to me. [Laughter.] Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin [inaudible].
Spokesman: That’s okay, that’s okay.
Spokesman: No, no, go ahead, go ahead.
Question: Stéphane, congratulations. Welcome, and we will be nice to you. That’s not a promise, but, you know… My question is on Syria. Today the President of the National, Syrian National Council, Mr. Al-Jarba, speaking at the Arab League meeting said, I quote him: “Time for diplomacy is over,” I unquote him. What is the reaction of the UN? Does this mean that there… there… it will have any impact on the Geneva process, and what is Mr. Brahimi doing now, you know, especially now that the Geneva process is kind of dead, is locked? Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Brahimi as you know is here. He will be briefing the Secretary-General and also briefing the Security Council, I believe, on Wednesday, if I am not mistaken. Thursday — there you go! I’m just making sure you guys are paying attention. [Laughter.] As for the end of diplomacy, we believe diplomacy should continue, and will continue, and the UN will continue its effort to find a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the conflict. Yes, George?
Question: [inaudible] after you said was going to be travelling all over Ukraine, including into Crimea and up to Lviv. May I assume regardless that we will be getting bulletins, daily bulletins of some kind and his progress and activities and anything that happens?
Spokesman: That’s what I am here for.
Question: [inaudible] considering what happened to Mr. Serry in Simferopol.
Spokesman: Yes, that’s what I am here for. So, we will update you on Mr. Šimonović’s travel as much as is possible. Evelyn?
Question: On Mr. Šimonović, do you have any date that he may go to Crimea? And has anybody agreed, the Russians, for example, that he can come there?
Spokesman: I believe that I said he would go Wednesday to Crimea. If you are not paying attention to what I am saying, I am not paying attention to what I am saying!
Question: Sorry. Sorry.
Spokesman: That’s okay. He is going to Crimea later this week; he will be there. Pam?
Question: On the Robert Serry incident and trip, he told an interview, I mean, he said in an interview when he returned that a mechanism, what can be done, his answer was a mechanism is needed. There have been suggestions, particularly by the US, UN that there be UN monitors and OSCE monitors. Has any progress been made on that? And do you see any mechanism that the international community can have to resolve the crisis?
Spokesman: I think there are a number of discussions going on and different places and at different levels — the focus, all of the focus, being on finding a peaceful solution and avoiding any sort of provocative action. And also, as the Secretary-General said in the statement, that whatever solution is done within the framework of the Charter on the peaceful settlement of conflicts. But there are a lot of negotiations and discussions going on at this time.
Question: Anything on UN monitors?
Question: Have there been any offers for UN monitors?
Spokesman: I have nothing to add on that.
Question: Thank you.
Question: Congratulations, Stéphane, and welcome back to this podium. I have a follow-up on Ukraine and a question on Syria. On Ukraine, today the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the situation in eastern Ukraine. I wonder whether the United Nations share this concern with the Russian authorities. This is my follow-up. And my question on Syria is that the end of President Assad’s term is really looming soon, and I wonder whether the Secretary-General has any message for President Assad who in, in a verge of preparing for running for re-election in Syria? Thank you.
Spokesman: I think on Ukraine, Mr. Šimonović is going there to assess the situation with his own two eyes. One of the challenges I think that we face is getting hard facts for ourselves and see what the situation is on the ground. You know, the Secretary-General’s concern is a general one, and that is when to avoid further deterioration of the situation. On your second question, I have nothing specific beyond what is already said about Syria. Yes, Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph, and welcome back to, now it’s not a hot seat, may be it is a hot podium!
Spokesman: I may need a stool.
Correspondent: [Laughter.] Two follow-ups: Could you tell us who the Secretary-General has been talking to about Ukraine? I assume he has been in contact with a number of world leaders. Particularly, has he spoken to either President Putin or Mr. Lavrov? And secondly, is Mr. Serry now back in the Mid-East or is he coming here to brief the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: My understanding — let me get update on Mr. Serry. My understanding is he is back in the Mid-East, but obviously has a lot to offer on the Ukraine file and will be called upon. You know, the Secretary-General and a number of his close advisors have had contacts at different levels with all concerned parties. I don’t have an update on the phone calls over the last 48 hours, but I will try to get something if I can. Ali and then we’ll get back to you.
[The Spokesman later confirmed that Robert Serry was back in the Middle East as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.]
Question: [inaudible] transfer of chemical weapons from Syria, yesterday there was an attack on a convoy and there could have been a very major incident should they have succeeded in destroying some of the chemicals by bombardment, especially in densely-populated areas. And obviously those who targeted them meant that. If they had they succeeded in that, there could be a chemical catastrophe in the region. What did you receive from the, eh, those who are running the convoy? And are there any precautions to be taken in the future so that they can secure, they don’t go through populated areas?
Spokesman: I have not received an update from the Joint Mission, but obviously, they are doing whatever they can to ensure safe passage. But it is also incumbent on everyone to ensure safe passage for the convoy. I think, as you rightly point out, these are very dangerous cargos that they are moving around out to the ships. And so, it is important that everybody respect the safety of those convoys.
Question: [inaudible] headlines is more important than really guaranteeing the safety, because obviously if you want to take extraordinary measures in order to secure these things, you need more ample time for that.
Spokesman: I think you need to do both. I think it’s not an either or preposition. You need to, the deadlines need to be met, but you need to make sure that everything is transported in the safest possible way. And it is a balance to keep. Matthew?
Question: On Friday the… the… the US government made a filing in Federal Court here about the Haiti cholera case saying that the UN should be immune. And it’s been reported that the head of OLA, Mr. de Serpa, put it in a letter, or a letter was accompanied it basically saying that the Secretary-General couldn’t be served, and that this was one of the basis for the US saying that the case should… should not go forward. So, I wanted to ask, if you could, whether… is it true what was also said in court under oath which is that a… a… a copy of the court papers were taped to Ban Ki-moon’s house door on 20 January and how that would be consistent with OLA’s letter.
And I also just wanted to ask about USGs. I came, I didn’t know that Augustine Mahiga is a USG and Margaret Vogt is an ASG, and I wanted to know, are posts like this given out; was… was any announcement made of… of… of the transfer of, for example, Mr. Mahiga from the Somalia post to a USG and Ms. Vogt from the CAR [Central African Republic] post to an ASG. And also Iqbal Riza, I still see listed as a… as a high official. Can you, you might know this, but, can you describe what his current mandate, you know, what he has been doing; what is he doing?
Spokesman: You know, on Mr. Mahiga and Ms. Vogt, I think part of the — what is the right term — the outgoing process of a head of mission is that they stay behind for a short while to ensure to de-brief their colleagues, that there are lessons learned drawn up. I think it would not be good for the Organization if a head of mission would just, you know, left their post without some real transfer of knowledge. Not just to hand over, but a real transfer of knowledge. So, that’s what — my understanding, not specifically these two cases, is that it is common practice for some heads of mission to stay on for a short while to ensure this full transfer of knowledge.
As for Mr. Riza, I will double-check. I think I know what his current post is but I don’t want to speculate.
[The Spokesman later said that Mr. Riza was a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General.]
Question: But I mean, like, like Roger Meese of DRC, he didn’t, did he… did he do it and people are paid at the level of USG and ASG during retirement?
Spokesman: It’s a valid question, and I’ll see what I can get on that.
Question: What about the Haiti papers, if you don’t mind?
Spokesman: The Haiti papers — what I can tell you is that we are aware that the US authorities have filed a submission requesting the Court to recognize the immunity of the Organization and its officials in this case. It’s an ongoing matter. The Organization is not in a position to comment any further on this. In any event, it is a filing by the US Government. The UN has no comment to make on it, except to note that it is standard practice for the Organization to assert its immunity in cases filed against it in national courts.
Now, obviously the legal case is one thing, but as you know, the UN Mission in Haiti and Mr. Medrano are working very hard hand-in-hand with the Government of Haiti to deal with the cholera issue. Yes, Joe?
Question: Thank you, and welcome. In your reading of the Secretary-General’s statement on Ukraine, he referred generally to the preservation of unity and territorial integrity, but didn’t get very specific about the up… for example, of the upcoming referendum on Sunday. I am wondering whether the Secretary-General sees that referendum, which has not been sanctioned by the central Government, as inconsistent with the principle of unity and territorial integrity that he has articulated. Thank you.
Spokesman: You know, I don’t think we want to get into the details of minute-by-minute announcements, counter-announcements. I think the message from the Secretary-General as he says is that tensions and mistrust are growing and that he urges all sides to refrain from hasty actions and provocative rhetoric. And that above all, a resolution of the crisis must be found on the basis of the UN Charter’s principles, including the peaceful settlement of disputes. So, you will… those are the Secretary-General’s words. I really can’t add anything to that. But I think his message and his thoughts are fairly clear in the statements.
Question: Will the Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Yatsenyuk be coming to the UN on the thirteenth and will he be meeting with the Secretary-General? That’s citing, apparently, a release on the Government website. A separate question on Syria: Can you give any updates on the staffing situation of Mr. Brahimi’s office? Any sort of updates on Mr. Lamani? Any replacement?
Spokesman: No updates on the staffing of Mr. Brahimi’s office. We’ve seen the reports. We do expect the acting Prime Minister to come to New York later this week. I think his exact programme hasn’t yet been set. Obviously, the Security Council Presidency would have to set the timing and format of the meeting. And as for meeting with the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General is here all week but I haven’t, nothing to my knowledge has yet been set. Karim?
Question: On South Sudan, on this incident of UN trucks carrying weapons when they were supposed to carry food, I’d like to know, who is leading the investigation on the delegation to South Sudan? Is it high-level? And what is the common practice for peacekeepers to move weapons when they are in a country?
Spokesman: Well, you know, peacekeepers need — these things are worked out in specific status of forces agreements. Obviously peacekeepers, when they’re in a country, need to move weapons around. That’s a general, obviously a general and basic practice. It would be a senior delegation from New York that will travel to the region. But again, I don’t want to prejudge what the outcome of their findings will be so we have to wait for the outcome of their investigation.
Question: Who is leading the investigation?
Spokesman: These people must have names, but I don’t have their names. Yes, Matthew, I’ll come back to you?
Question: Aid reaching parts of Syria that haven’t been reached for months, in the context of compliance with the humanitarian aid resolution, how significant do you see this development? How would you characterize it?
Spokesman: It depends if you look at it from here or if you look at it from a person who’s been in a camp for three years and not gotten food. So for anyone who receives food, it’s significant. We’ve seen some progress on humanitarian access, but obviously, as you mentioned, the Security Council passed a resolution and we expect all to abide by it. But I think any delivery of food to a person in need is significant.
Question: In terms of compliance? In terms of cooperation?
Spokesman: It’s hard for me at this point to judge compliance in general. We get the information from our humanitarian colleagues as it comes. It’s a challenging situation both for obviously the recipients and for the people trying to deliver the aid. Erol?
Question: Mr. Dujarric, my question is a quick follow-up on my colleague’s question on what’s going on with Mr. Brahimi’s mission. Actually, the question is how the Secretary-General, does the Secretary-General, did the Secretary-General actually put a little bit aside the issue of Syria with these developing on Ukraine. Number two: the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mr. [Ahmet] Davutoğlu, is coming to UN actually this week and he’s going to meet the Secretary-General. Does the Secretary-General have anything more to offer him on the Cyprus issue regarding talks on that?
Spokesman: On Cyprus, whatever was said by Martin still stands. I’m not going to add anything to it. I think in terms of attention, there is enough bandwidth for the Organization to pay attention to CAR, to Ukraine, to Syria and all the other crises. So I don’t think anyone has left, put Syria on a backburner or aside. Richard?
Question: Fred, the latest on oil-for-food. Oh, hold on. I’m sorry. [Laughter.] Different decade. Thanks, Fred. Welcome back.
Spokesman: Welcome back to you, Richard.
Question: I have to ask while I’m here, there was a Bloomberg Pursuits fashion model story. I don’t know if you’ve been asked this since it’s your first day. There was a $4,500 approximate location fee paid to the UN for the use of the UN grounds for models posing. Where does that money go? And number two: do you think that was good taste of the UN to approve this when one of the models is going through a security magnetometer while there’s a TV monitor drawn of an explosion in Syria at a time with over 100,000 people dead, do you think people might get the wrong idea for the Organization that hasn’t been able to make any progress on this story to have a fashion model posing next to this type of violence on a TV screen?
Spokesman: I don’t have the details of this particular shoot. What I will tell you is that over the past number of years the UN has made itself available for the creative community. The money that is charged goes to paying for overtime for services. There is no… it’s not a for-profit activity of the Organization. When movies are filmed here and there’s overtime done for security, that’s paid for. We’re trying to open the UN and make it interesting to people who may not pay attention to the United Nations. It’s something we’ve been, it’s a very active creative community outreach programme that is continuing. Matthew?
Question: On Sri Lanka, over the weekend Channel Four came out with a new video, showing in some detail soldiers killing captured Tamil Tiger women, combatants and engaging in sexual abuse. This is in the run-up to the Geneva thing. So what I wanted to know is whether in the UN system, which is, which has put some time into the Sri Lanka issue, are they aware of this? What do they think about this? Does it impact the UN continuing to take Sri Lanka as a peacekeeping country, given what’s shown on the video? And as to yourself, I wanted to ask, what’s the status of the News and Media Division recruiting a new replacement and are you going to be involved in that in any way?
Spokesman: I plan to only be involved in answering your questions, and I mean your questions. That’s the focus, my focus until the day I’m told not to do it anymore. I’ve got enough to do here. On Sri Lanka, no, I haven’t seen the video and I think Martin has spoken extensively on Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General’s positions from here in the last few days and that stands. Stefano?
Question: There are reports in Ukraine there are about 250 people missing. Can you confirm this? Do you have any information to confirm this number? And is the UN people that you have already in Ukraine, are they doing something to try to find out what happened to those people?
Spokesman: Well, obviously Mr. Šimonović’s mission has a big human rights focus, so expect to get input from him on the general situation on human rights. I don’t have any particular information on these reports of the missing at this point. But obviously, as the Secretary-General said, the issue of protection of people and protection of rights throughout the Ukraine is a very important one. Yes, all the way in the back?
Question: Thank you, Mr. Dujarric. Just as with the potential catastrophe, had that attack been successful, the chemical weapons, is the UN going to be making any statement regarding the potential catastrophe had those missiles from Iran reached Gaza? Thank you.
Spokesman: Sorry, what’s the last part of the question?
Correspondent: The missiles that were shipped from Iran that were intercepted by Israel en route to Gaza.
Spokesman: No, I don’t have anything specifically on that. Yes?
Question: The Saudi authorities have just released a new list of terrorist organizations, including ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham], including Nusra… Jabhat Nusra and other Saudi organizations. How does the United Nations view that, Saudi Arabia renouncing terrorism? Also is the Islamic Front, which is active in Syria and newly formed, does it, is it considered as a terrorist organization by the United Nations or not?
Spokesman: I think there are various legislative mechanisms in the UN to deal with labelling of terrorist organizations. I don’t have any update on the specific cases you mentioned.
Question: But what is your position regarding the Saudi renouncing?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything on that at this time. Evelyn?
Question: More details on Darfur, who’s fighting who there? Some media reports say Arab tribes are fighting each other. Others say it’s pastorals, which are not Arab.
Spokesman: I don’t have any further information at this point except to say that the Mission, as I mentioned in the note, is trying to gather more information.
Question: Are the peacekeepers allowed into that area?
Spokesman: The peacekeepers are trying to get to the areas they need to get to. We’ll go to Matthew and then I have to read out an answer and then we actually have a guest at 12:30. I do want to let these briefings breathe, but today, we may have to cut it a little short. Matthew?
Question: I thought you might have something on this threat by Libya, reiterated in the Council this morning to actually fire at the ship that’s loading oil and I wonder, from a kind of an environmental perspective, is the UN, how do they feel about that? And just on South Sudan, are you aware of these reports that there were landmines in the boxes? Some people in South Sudan are holding signs saying that there were landmines and that’s inconsistent with Ghana having been a signatory and the UN’s role there?
Spokesman: Obviously, on Libya, we would want to make sure that there’s no environmental disaster through any unfortunate actions. On… what was the other question?
Correspondent: On South Sudan.
Spokesman: On South Sudan, I think we have to wait. There are a lot of claims. We have to let the investigation run off.
On the question you asked about Mr. Mahiga, my colleagues in Political Affairs have told me that for several years now DPA [Department of Political Affairs] has welcomed some of our departing SRSGs to come to Headquarters for brief stints following their field assignments in order to develop and share lessons learned that can prove valuable for other mediators and mission chiefs who may face similar challenges in the field.
This is the purpose of DPA’s Mediators in Residence Programme, which has hosted a number of former SRSGs, including Ian Martin, Mr. Ould-Abdallah, Augustine Mahiga, and Margaret Vogt — which is basically what I said so I’m glad I was right. We have to cut it short because we do have a guest and I promise to leave you all the time in the world to ask questions tomorrow.
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