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

11 March 2014

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

11 March 2014
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General. 


Edie, may we start?  [Laughter]


Good afternoon.


** Ukraine


Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović continued his mission to Ukraine and is in Kharkiv today.


[A correspondent’s phone starts to ring]


He met with local authorities there to discuss human rights-related measures that can help to de-escalate tensions, as well as allegations regarding human rights violations.  He also… [Phone continues to ring]


Spokesman:  Phone; somebody pick up whatever phone is ringing.  Thank you.


Correspondent  It’s Pamela’s.


Spokesman:  Sorry?


Correspondent:  It’s Pamela’s.  [Inaudible]…


Spokesman:  Well, she’ll stay out.  Why don’t we start again?


Correspondent:  [Inaudible back-and-forth among correspondents as phone continues to ring]


Spokesman:  You guys tell me when we are ready here.


Correspondent:  I know how to put it off.


Spokesman:  Just give it to me; give it to me, give it to me.  Give me the phone.  Give me; I’ll take the phone.


Correspondent:  That’s it; just put it on silent.


Correspondent:  Or just turn it off.


Spokesman:  Yeah, just turn it off.


Good afternoon.


Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović continued his mission to Ukraine today, and is in Kharkiv.  He met with local authorities there to discuss human rights-related measures that can help to de-escalate tensions, as well as allegations regarding human rights violations.  He also met with a range of pro-Russian, as well as pro-Ukrainian civil society representatives.


Mr. Šimonović is assessing the human rights situation in the region.  He is also calling for respect for human rights and discussing options for the UN and international partners to assist in strengthening the capacity on the ground, where necessary.


He plans to travel to Lviv tomorrow.  Regarding travel to Crimea that we mentioned yesterday, Mr. Šimonović will not be travelling to Crimea given the logistical situation, especially given the fact that the airport is closed for flights coming from other regions of Ukraine.  And if we have an update, we will share that with you.


** Somalia


Turning to Somalia and the Security Council, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Somalia, Nicholas Kay, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that Somalis desperately needed improved security and that national reconciliation must move quickly.  He added that the establishment of federal states needs to be accelerated and is critical to the creation of a cohesive and effective federal structure in Somalia.


Kay also stressed the need to conclude the constitutional process and said that legislation needs to be set in motion for the constitutional and electoral processes.


Kay said that the progress in Somalia had been mixed so far — but that it is nevertheless progress.  He called on the international community to continue to provide the support necessary so that Somalia could undertake the significant work that remains.


** Darfur


On South Darfur, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed her deep concern today that civilians in South Darfur have been bearing the brunt of recent attacks.  She said there has been a disproportionate use of force by armed groups in areas in South Darfur that are not military targets.  And she said there must be an immediate halt to attacks on unarmed civilians.  She urged the authorities to protect civilians and hold to account those who have committed grave breaches of human rights and humanitarian laws.


Ms. Pillay also voiced concern that peacekeepers from the United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, as well as human rights and humanitarian agencies, had been prevented from reaching areas affected by the attacks.  The High Commissioner also called on all parties to the conflict to participate in UNAMID’s mediation initiatives.


And also, as you will have seen yesterday, we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, where he expressed his deep concern about the escalation of violence and its impact on civilians in Darfur.  He urged all parties to immediately cease hostilities and to negotiate a peaceful settlement to conflicts in South and North Darfur.


Also in North Darfur, on the ground, UNAMID says it has reinforced its presence by an additional company of peacekeepers and civilian staff to bolster security and assistance efforts.  Humanitarian workers, escorted by UNAMID peacekeepers, are delivering aid to several thousand civilians gathered near the Mission's base on the outskirts of the town of Saraf Omra.  Reconciliation talks, which UNAMID is supporting, are currently ongoing.


** Syria


Turning now over to Syria, UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, said today that more than twice as many children in Syria are now affected by the conflict, compared to 12 months ago.  In a new report issued today, UNICEF draws attention to the problems faced by 5.5 million children inside Syria, and living as refugees in neighbouring countries, who are suffering from violence, the collapse of health and education services, severe psychological distress and the worsening economic impact on families.  Up to a million children who are trapped in areas of Syria that are under siege, or that are hard to reach, are particularly hard hit.


Yacoub el-Hillo, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, adds that Syrians are now impoverished, with half of the Syrian population living below the poverty line.  He said that more than 2.5 million jobs have been lost and unemployment is estimated at 48 per cent.


** Jordan


On a related note, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, welcomed the decision this week by the Jordanian Government to open the country's third refugee camp — Azraq — on 30 April.  Azraq is located nearly 100 kilometres east of Amman.  The camp will initially house relatively small numbers of refugees, but will eventually be able to accommodate up to 130,000 people.


The refugee agency said that the opening will be timely, as in the past weeks, we have seen the numbers of people crossing the border increasing by 50 per cent, to an average of 600 people daily.  This increase is putting strains on Za'atari, the main camp hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan.  Za’atari is currently hosting some 100,000 people, which is close to its capacity.  This is yet just another sign of the efforts the Jordanian authorities are doing — and other neighbouring countries — in assisting the Syrians impacted by the conflict inside their country.  And I will remind you that about 80 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are living in urban areas.


** Myanmar


Turning to Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, today welcomed the joint press statement issued yesterday in Yangon after a meeting of the members of the Union Peace Making Work Committee, army representatives, Members of Parliament and representatives of the ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team.  That two-day meeting ended yesterday.


Mr. Nambiar hopes that, with two sides now working on a single text of a joint nationwide ceasefire agreement, they will very soon be able to reach agreement and proceed to the early signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement, and the launching of a national political dialogue immediately thereafter.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


From the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in that country, MONUSCO, announced today its support and direct engagement alongside the Congolese army for current operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the FDLR, and other affiliated armed groups.  The Head of the Mission, Martin Kobler, urged all FDLR rebels to surrender without delay.


**Press Conferences


Press conferences; tomorrow, there will be a press conference at 11 a.m. on “Indigenous Women in the Post-2015 development agenda”.  Speakers will include Lucy Mulenkei, the Executive Director of the Indigenous Information Network, who is from Kenya; Otilia Lux de Coti, the Executive Director of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, from Guatemala; and Miriam Labanue, who is from Papua New Guinea.


Following the Daily Briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Irina Bokova, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Director-General, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Representative, on the issue of the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria.


That’s it.  Yes, Benny?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  So, regarding the lawsuit in Brooklyn on Haiti, first of all I… maybe you have addressed it yesterday, is there any strategy, UN strategy, on how to do this?  And secondly, a factual question:  they claim in their lawsuit that in 2004 there was a SOFA agreement in which the UN waived its immunity, and also that the General Assembly specifically assumed liability for damage caused by members of its forces in the performance of their duties.  Are these factual…, are these two facts correct?


Spokesman:  We are not going to comment on any ongoing litigation concerning Haiti.  And what I did say yesterday is that the legal issues are the legal issues; and in parallel, we continue to work with the Government of Haiti on the issue of cholera eradication.


Question:  Regardless of that, was the SOFA agreement, did it contain a waiver of immunity, regardless of whether there is a lawsuit or not?  [Inaudible]…


Spokesman:  I understand.  I don’t have anything further to add, Benny.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  The Israeli authorities today killed a Jordanian judge, Mr. Zueter, at a checkpoint.  Is there any statement from the, your coordinator therein, or from the united, the [Secretary-General], regarding that?


Spokesman:  No, I saw that.  I don’t have anything on that at this time.


[The Spokesman later shared the following statement by the United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. James W. Rawley:  “The Deputy Special Coordinator is deeply concerned by reports that three Palestinians died in separate security-related incidents in the West Bank within a 24-hour period, including two shot dead.  We urge that thorough investigations be conducted into all such cases, welcoming steps taken to this effect, and that accountability for any violations of international law be ensured.  We call on all concerned to demonstrate restraint and work towards de-escalating tensions.”]


Question:  When is Mr. Serry going back to Ramallah or Jerusalem?


Spokesman:  I believe he is on his way back, if he is not already back.


Question:  I have another question regarding Iraq.  Mr. Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of deep involved in supporting terrorism in Iraq.  Did they, did the Iraqi Mission (UNAMI) here, or Mr. [al-]Maliki himself, provide to UNAMI any evidence to support such allegation?


Spokesman:  Not that I am aware, but we will check with the Mission.  Go ahead.


Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, yesterday Secretary-General in his statement said that regarding Ukraine, we are on the crossroad.  So, can you please put a little bit more light on that statement?  What does it mean, actually?  Does the Secretary-General mean that the upcoming referendum on Sunday, 16 March, is the crossroad?  And again the members of the, some members of the Security Council, according to Madam President Lucas, were against, were against the, a referendum, were criticizing referendum, announcing that they are not going to recognize the results of the referendum.  Where does the Secretary-General stand on this?


Spokesman:  I think the statement from the Secretary-General was… [Correspondent’s phone rings]… We’ve got to start again.  You’ve got to turn off your phones when you come in here.


The Secretary-General’s statement, I think yesterday, was fairly clear — he was asking for all sides to refrain from hasty actions and provocative rhetoric.  He wants cooler heads to prevail.  He wants calm so there could be an inclusive dialogue.  I think, you know, his concern about the crisis deepening, the call for a referendum by the Crimean parliament, I think, adds to the unhelpful complexity of the situation that is already very tense and very volatile.  So I will leave it at that.


Question:  Okay, do you have names for this investigation mission going to South Sudan from New York?  And also, what is the protest outside the press room today that we saw on the way in?


Spokesman:  Sure.  No, I don’t have names.  I think they are just senior to mid-level officials that are going from New York.  We are very much aware of the protest, I mean, I am aware of it, because I saw it, like you, they were in front of the office here; they were in front of the cafeteria.  It has to do with issues in the Publishing Section of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management.  The organizers informed management yesterday of their intentions to stage the event.  A decision was made allow it to continue, as long as it did not hinder the operations of, you know, of the building.


I have quite a lot of background I can give you.  I think the headline is that the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management is doing its  utmost to try to find jobs for the people who are impacted by the abolition of the posts which, losing a job; the abolition of posts is never easy, obviously, especially for those who are impacted.  But, senior managers in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management are really trying their utmost to explore other opportunities for impacted staff.


And the, you know, cuts in the Publishing Section were made as a result of budget cuts and General Assembly resolutions asking us to look at new ways of working in that sector.  Ali, and then…


Question:  A follow-up on that?


Spokesman:  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just you said that the… they’re trying to find jobs for these people. Are they trying to find the jobs within the UN system or…?


Spokesman:  Within the UN system, yes.


Question:  So, is this a commitment from the United Nations to find jobs for them?


Spokesman:  Senior management are trying their utmost to find jobs for the people whose posts were abolished.


Correspondent:  I am asking whether this is a commitment or not?


Spokesman:  There is a commitment to do their utmost to try to find posts for these people.


Question:  Okay, I have another question on… on Syria, please, and whether, what are the plan for Mr. Brahimi here, how long he is going to stay and whether he is going to accept the invitation by some members in the General Assembly to address the situation in Syria within the General Assembly?  Also, I have a question about the released nuns in Lebanon and in Syria; they came to Lebanon and I didn’t see any comment from the Secretary-General on that.  Thank you.


Spokesman:  Sure.  Let me take it in a different order.  We are obviously extremely pleased and delighted that the nuns were released.  But, it also serves as a reminder of all the other people who are held against their will in Syria.  And the Secretary-General would renew his call for people to be released, people who are held against their will.


On Mr. Brahimi, he will be here a week, if not a bit more, and he will be in this room tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., so you are welcome to ask him questions.  Details of who he will brief and when are still being worked out.  But as I said, really the first appointment on his calendar, public appointment, is tomorrow here at 12:30 p.m.  Raghida?


Question:  Regarding the report of UNESCO, UNICEF rather, were there any recommendations as to what to do about the situation of, the stark situation of the children of Syria?  Why is there no statement by the Secretary-General since this is, of course, a point of, you know, marking this terrible situation?  And will you be doing, will you, will there be any mechanism to try to do something about it, you know, since it is such a horror for children to be in such a situation?


Spokesman:  We can expect a statement from the Secretary-General this week, either today or tomorrow, on yet another marking of time of the conflict in Syria.  As for the UNICEF report, I think obviously the main solution would be to find peace to the country and to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution.  UNICEF is working very hard to try to find the resources it needs to help the children.  As the press release mentioned, access inside Syria is a great challenge, and a lot of children are no longer in school, which, as we’ve seen, is a risk of creating another lost generation of children.  And a lot of work is being done by UNICEF and UNHCR and other to ensure that the children who are in camps receive some education.


And as I mentioned, you know, with about 80 per cent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan being in urban environments and almost a 100 per cent, I believe, in Lebanon, being in urban environments, it creates a strain on those countries to absorb, to have their educational systems absorb those children.  So, there is a lot of work to be done by UNICEF, and I would encourage you to read the report.  Pam?  Is your phone off?  Because it was on when you weren’t here.


Correspondent:  [Inaudible]


Spokesman:  Okay.  Yeah.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, and I apologize for the phone.  My question is just first a clarification on the Brahimi meeting tomorrow.  Will he be also discussing the peace process, or just the cultural issues of Syria?


Spokesman:  Well, the aim of the press briefing is to discuss the destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage, which…, you know, the destruction of cultural heritage in a country has tremendous impact for generations to come.  We’ve seen it in other places, whether in Afghanistan, so…


Question:  Yes, absolutely.  But, there might also be interest in…


Spokesman:  And I am sure you can ask him other questions, and I will…


Question:  Okay.  Then my main question is just, the [Assistant Secretary-General], Ivan Šimonović, just gave press briefing in Ukraine saying that the UN would like to pursue options on the ground.  What kind of options are those, and is there any chance that Mr. Serry will also be going back, or is the…?


Spokesman:  No, I have no information Mr. Serry is going back.  He remains, as I said, an important resource for the Secretary-General.  As for the options, Mr. Šimonović is there to look, to assess, where the situation is and how we could best help.  So, when we are ready to announce some options, we would.


Question:  All right, but just as a follow-up, there had been some calls and suggestion obviously, OSCE monitors tried to get in and didn’t, and that it would be OSCE and UN monitors; is there a proposal to whoever is in Crimea to have UN monitors on the ground? 


Spokesman:  I think there are a lot of discussions that are going on, a lot of options that are being looked at, and that’s why they are options.  And then when we are ready to announce something, we will.


Question:  Thanks a lot. Today, Crimea proclaimed independence from Ukraine, and Parliament is waiting, of course, to confirm that on Sunday after the referendum. The declaration referred to Kosovo secession from Serbia, which was endorsed by the United Nations International Court of Justice [sic].  Is there anything that the Secretary-General can say about that, because they are leaning into that agreement done here at the United Nations and that helped Kosovo to try to do the same in Crimea and the Russian Government supports what happened today in Crimea?  Can you give us a little bit of light about that?


Spokesman:  I am not going to go into the comparisons between Crimea and Kosovo.  We can let others do that.  I think I would just refer you back again to what the Secretary-General has been saying, which is asking for all sides to refrain from any hasty or provocative actions or rhetoric in what is already a very, very complex and volatile situation.  Edie?  Yes, go ahead.


Question:  Just to put more light on again, Stéphane, actually is the Secretary-General aware, for example, why Mr. Šimonović, besides the logistical problem, doesn’t not, does not go to Crimea?  Is there any security reasons?  As you probably read, there are mercenaries from former Yugoslavia, from Serbia.  They call themselves Chetniks, and they are sort of dangerous people, many would confirm; they are in Crimea.  Is Mr. Šimonović aware of that?  Are you aware of that?  Is there security concern because of that?


Spokesman:  I think, you know, where Mr. Šimonović and other UN envoys have gone into a volatile situation in the Ukraine, his safety is paramount.  And obviously, the fact that the airport doesn’t accept flights coming from anywhere, from what we understand, at least, anywhere but Russia, makes it impossible for him to travel.


Question:  But you are aware of all dimensions [Inaudible]…


Spokesman:  I think our, you know, our Department of Security takes a close, close look at what the situation is on the ground, and does what it can to ensure his safety.  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  [Inaudible]… Oh, sorry, I keep doing this today.  UNAMID is having reconciliation talks; between whom?  Did they tell you, because they rarely say (a), who fights, and (b), who does peace?


Spokesman:  Between different armed groups.  We’ll leave it at that.  Yes, all the way in the back and I’ll come to you, Ken.  Yes, please?


[The Spokesman later added that, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the fighting in North Darfur was between armed groups from the Aballa and Gimir tribes.]


Question:  As for the airport in Crimea, is there a… do you… do… do we know who actually gave the order to keep the airport closed?  Is there an official order, the airport is closed, that’s it?


Spokesman:  No, I mean we are — in this case we will be — clients of the airport.  If they tell you the airport is closed, who gave the order is really secondary.  If we wanted to go fly in there, they tell us the airport is closed, we will take it at their word.


Question:  But, it came from the airport itself?  It says we are closed?


Spokesman:  You know, there are no flights — I mean, we don’t, we are not using our own planes.  So, we are using commercial flights.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesman:  If they don’t fly, we don’t fly.


Question:  And you said that they accept only flights from Russia?


Spokesman:  That is our understanding, so, since Mr. Šimonović is in other parts of Ukraine, he cannot fly into Crimea.


Question:  But we don’t know if they accept flights from Greece, or that’s not [Inaudible]…?


Spokesman:  No, I can’t speak for the Crimean airport authority.


Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.


Spokesman:  Ken, and then…


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Japan marked the third anniversary of the great earthquake and tsunami with more than 260,000 people still living in temporary housing or other makeshift residences.  Does the Secretary-General have anything, any message to the people affected by this disaster?


Spokesman:  I think, you know, the Secretary-General took a very keen interest on, at what happened in Fukushima.  If you remember, the UN immediately reached out.  He travelled there very quickly, and I think his heart goes out to all the people who are continuing to suffer from the tragedy, from what happened at Fukushima.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Yesterday I asked about this attack which took place two days ago against the convoy going to Lattakia; did you get anything from the OPCW or other organizations regarding that?


Spokesman:  You did ask, and there you go.  What I can tell you is the Joint Mission told us they are aware of a security incident which occurred two days ago in the area of Lattakia.  Security conditions remain very much of great concern to the Joint Mission.  But, they refer you to the Syrian authorities for any specific questions on the incident.  Yes, in the back?


Question:  Mr. Stéphane, two years ago the Secretary-General raised important issue and asked the Middle East leaders to hear their people, and he said, listen to your people.  As I see now outside the corridor, many of UN staff raising signs asking about, you know, was it, contract termination.  Why he doesn’t hear to his people also?


Spokesman:  Well, I don’t know if… did you come in late to the briefing?


Correspondent:  Yes, yes.


Spokesman:  Yes, because I already answered that.  We are very much aware of the… I mean, you know, you can go back to the transcript; I don’t want to repeat word for word what I said.  But, the answer is yes, not only have we heard them, but we are working with them


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesman:  Edie?


Question:  Steph, a follow-up on the question of Mr. Šimonović.  Is there any discussion that he might fly to a country where he could fly into Crimea as opposed to going from Ukraine in order to see the situation on the ground, which is obviously very important?


Spokesman:  Understood.  I think, you know, with the situation changing very quickly, we are taking it day by day and looking at options.  But, obviously, if that changes, we will inform you.  Benny and then Pam.


Question:  Yesterday the Israelis displayed what they said was evidence that the weapons that they seized was from Iran, which is barred by the United Nations rules from exporting any arms.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that, or do we stay still with the “we don’t have any comment”?


Spokesman:  I’ll take part B:  I don’t have anything specific on that for the time being.  Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Mr. Feltman told members of the Security Council in the meeting yesterday that Mr. Šimonović was going to Crimea today.  Um, so, is that, has that changed or is that still part of the plan?  And number two is, he’d mentioned, according to a Security Council member, that there was a climate of fear and threats against those who have been there; the Ukrainian troops that have been asked to surrender have, have, threats to the families; have you got any more, have you gotten any more information from Mr. Šimonović on that?


Spokesman:  I think on Mr. Šimonović, I just mentioned that he is not going to Crimea.


Correspondent:  [Inaudible]…


Spokesman:  You know, as I said to Edie, I think we are taking things day by day.  He was going to fly in, the airport is closed; logistics can’t — he can’t go in.  Obviously, an overriding issue and focus of what he is doing is looking at the protection of minorities and ensuring that people are safe and do not feel threatened, and to see how we can lower the rhetoric and the climate that is currently there.


Question:  A follow-up?


Spokesman:  Yes, sir.


Question:  Stéphane, can Mr. Šimonović first fly to Moscow and then from Moscow to [Inaudible]…?


Spokesman:  Listen, I think he appreciates all of you, you know, acting as Expedia or Travelocity.  The point is we are taking things one day at a time.  Currently, the logistics don’t allow us to go into Crimea.  As, I think, I answered to Edie, there is also, we’re looking at the overall security issue.  All these things are in factor.  But, the point is he is in Ukraine; he can’t fly to Crimea today or tomorrow.  What we decide or what he decides to do over the next few days is really to be seen.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself, which I already did yesterday by saying that he would be in the Crimea.


Correspondent:  Is he, is he cutting off his trip because of, until…?


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  So, he will stay until [the] fifteenth?


Spokesman:  Right now, as I said, we are taking it day-by-day.  I have not been informed in any way that he is leaving before the fifteenth.  Yes, Ma’am?


Question:  Hi.  When you say “minorities”, who were you referring to?


Spokesman:  Well, I think in all parts of Ukraine there are different minorities depending where you are, whether they are Russian speakers, Ukrainian speakers, Tatars, and I am sure a lot of other minorities — not being a Ukrainian expert — but I am sure there are other minority groups.  And I think in a time of volatile change in any country, of upheaval, uprising, the protection of minorities needs to be up front, and we need to ensure that no one is scapegoated.  And we’ve seen that in other situations.  Nizar?


Question:  There were reports yesterday that Saudi Arabia has threatened Qatar with total siege by, from sea, air and land.  Do you have anything regarding this?


Spokesman:  I do not, I do not.  I think I am done.  Thank you.


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