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

24 March 2014

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

24 March 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon. 


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is in The Hague today for the third Nuclear Security Summit, along with more than 50 Heads of State.  In his statement at the opening session, he said that nuclear security remains a pressing concern, not least the risk of nuclear terrorism.  He discussed nuclear security assurances, saying that in the case of Ukraine, security assurances were an essential condition for its accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  However, the credibility of the assurances given to Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 has been seriously undermined by recent events.


He reiterated his support to efforts to engage Iran to guarantee that their use of nuclear technology is solely for peaceful purposes, and he urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with all relevant Security Council resolutions.  His full statement is available online.


During the two-day Summit, the Secretary-General will have a series of bilateral meetings.  He already met with Xi Jinping, the President of China, as well as with the Minister of Intelligence of Israel, Yuval Steinitz, and we have the readouts of those meetings online.


** Syria


The Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2139 (2014), concerning the humanitarian situation in Syria, has gone to Security Council members this morning.


Also today, we can confirm that 66 out of the 79 trucks carrying UN humanitarian aid from Nusaybin in Turkey to Qamishli in Syria have so far made the trip.


We have been informed by the Syrian authorities in charge of the Qamishli border point, in Al-Hassakeh governorate, that they will continue to grant access to the United Nations to continue with the planned convoy.


The Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, Nigel Fisher, stressed the importance of providing humanitarian agencies and partners with the security guarantees required to enable them to deliver aid safely.  He said that he was pleased that this UN convoy was authorized to enter, but he reminded the Governments of Syria and neighbouring countries and other parties to the conflict to ensure adherence to and full implementation of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014). 


Mr. Fisher also expressed appreciation for the role of the humanitarian actors on the ground and reaffirmed that the United Nations will continue to negotiate access and security for all humanitarian activity in Syria.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in that country.


She said that the long awaited adoption and promulgation of the electoral law, last December, along with this month’s accord emanating from the Inter-Haitian Dialogue, prepared a path toward inclusive and transparent elections to be held later this year.


Honoré also said that, in accordance with the request made by the Security Council, the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, was on track to achieving a 15 per cent reduction of its uniform strength by the end of June 2014.  She added that the further development of the Haitian police was vital for enduring stability in Haiti.


She said that progress made in peace, security and stability must be maintained through a consolidation of the democratic process, rule of law, good governance and improving services to the population.


**South Sudan


The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) continues to express concern over the recurring violations of the Status of Forces Agreement, as signed between the United Nations and the Government of South Sudan, including restrictions of movement of UN personnel and threats to UN staff.


The Mission once again calls on all parties to respect the life-saving work of the UN in South Sudan and to ensure unhindered freedom of movement of UNMISS and humanitarian workers, so that it can carry out its mandated tasks in support of the South Sudanese people.


And over the weekend, the Mission reported hearing sporadic gunfire in Malakal town as well as close to its base.  It also observed Sudan People’s Liberation Army deployments in the southern part of Malakal and in the barracks in the north of the town.


** Darfur


The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is providing protection to thousands of people who recently sought refuge at the Mission’s bases in Korma, in North Darfur, and Khor Abeche, in South Darfur, after violent attacks by armed assailants on villages and on a camp for internally displaced persons respectively.


The Mission says that in Khor Abeche, on 22 March, about 300 heavily armed men attacked a camp for internally displaced persons, setting fire to dozens of shelters and stealing livestock belonging to the residents.  As a result, at least 2,000 displaced persons sought refuge at the UNAMID base.


Also on the same day, hundreds of families approached UNAMID’s base in Korma and advised that Kobe town and neighbouring villages had been attacked by armed men on 21 March. 


The Mission has deployed additional peacekeepers to enhance the protection of the estimated 1,000 displaced persons gathered at the Korma base.


And also on Darfur, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan has expressed deep concern at increasing violence and displacement in Darfur, as tens of thousands of people continue to be displaced from their homes.


In a statement, the Humanitarian Coordinator said that more than 200,000 people in Darfur have been displaced since the beginning of the year.  He added that the scale of this new displacement is also stretching the ability of aid agencies, national and international, to deliver basic services to those in need, especially in Darfur’s camps where there is already a shortage of capacity amongst aid agencies.  His statement is available online.


** Iraq


Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, expressed shock and dismay at the murder of Mohammed Bdaiwi, Radio Free Iraq’s Baghdad Bureau chief.  Mr. Bdaiwi was shot dead on Saturday by an officer of the Presidential Guard in Baghdad.


Mr. Mladenov strongly condemned this despicable crime.  He said that the Iraqi authorities have reacted swiftly to obtain the surrender of the culprit.  It is now up to the judiciary to prosecute him and to hold him accountable before the law.


He called on the Government to do all it can to ensure that security forces personnel strictly abide by their rules of engagement for the protection of civilians, so that such tragic events do not happen in the future.


** Pakistan


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, is in Pakistan for a two-day visit.


Today, in Islamabad, Mr. Ladsous met with the President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain.  He also met with the Foreign Secretary and with the Minister of the Interior.  Mr. Ladsous also gave a lecture on ‘The UN Perspective on Global Peacekeeping’ at the National Defence University.


Tomorrow, Mr. Ladsous is expected to meet the Defence Secretary of Pakistan as well as with the senior military leadership.  He will also visit the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., there will be a press conference here on the 2014 United Nations World Water Development Report.  The theme this year is: Water and Energy.  This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Public Information and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow


And, tomorrow, I will be joined by John Ging, the Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Yasmine Haque, the UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.  As I mentioned last week, they will be here to brief you on South Sudan.


That’s it for me.  Any questions?  Yes? Please speak into the microphone.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  My question is about the Secretary-General’s recent visit to Russia, the Russian Federation and to Ukraine.  And my question is, when he spoke with either Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov or President [Vladimir] Putin, I wondered if he spoke about the Support Group for Ukraine, which is essentially taking the elements of the 21 February agreement, which the Secretary-General had welcomed, that had been agreed to by a number of the EU [European Union] ambassadors and Foreign Ministers, but I wondered if he was aware of the Support Group and if he spoke about it?  It has a number of different provisions and have you heard anything about that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  On that, the Secretary-General did speak to the press after his meeting with President Putin, and I would just refer you to his remarks, which detailed extensively the nature of his discussions with the President and the Foreign Minister; and that’s where we stand on those proposals.  Stefano?


Question:  Yes, we just had a press conference with the North Korean Ambassador, and he’s been saying, practically, that while North Korea and South Korea were trying to have their discussion on trying to, for example, for the reunion of families and it was very encouraging and everything, United States undermined all this.  I would like to know what the Secretary-General thinks about the ongoing discussion between North and South Korea, and if there is an element of disturbance by a third country?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we wouldn’t have any comment about the remarks that were made by the Ambassador.  At this stage, of course, we simply encourage any efforts to help resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula, including discussions between the respective Governments in Pyongyang and in Seoul, and we would encourage them to continue.  Masood?


Question:  Yes, Farhan, can you tell us, maybe you made a statement on the death sentence passed through today on 523 Egyptians.  Has the Secretary-General said anything about that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, at this stage, on the case of the death penalties that have been announced in Egypt, we are trying to get further information, and I do expect that, possibly within the coming day, as we get further details about the nature of these sentences, there will be some remarks on this by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.  Of course, you already know what our stance is against the imposition of capital punishment, and that remains true in this, as in all other cases.


Question:  On another situation, Israel has shut down all its embassies, missions, all over the world.  How is it affecting its relationship with the United Nations?  Has it also stopped working with the United Nations, also? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we continue to work with the Israeli Mission.  There’s been no problem reported with that.  Let’s share around the questions a bit, yes?


Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about Turkey and also about Ukraine.  Turkey has said that they shot down a Syrian jet and they also say that their Foreign Minister spoke with the Secretary-General about it.  Does the UN have any comment on this development, and can you confirm the discussion and give some readout of it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm the discussion.  What I can say is that, while we don’t have the full picture, the Secretary-General and his senior advisers are in close contact with both Syrian and Turkish officials to urge both sides to ascertain facts, refrain from additional military actions and de-escalate.  Precipitous acts may aggravate the situation, which is not in the interest of any side.  [He later confirmed that the Secretary-General had spoken by phone with the Turkish Foreign Minister on Sunday evening.]


Question:  And could I ask… and thanks for the readout from Stéphane [Dujarric] that the Secretary-General, among the parliamentarians he met with, was the head of the Svoboda party, Oleh Tyahnybok.  But, I wanted to know, I saw that he mentioned in the readout some discussion of, you know, dialogue, sort of.  I wanted you to address the following: Mr. Tyahnybok has been quoted in the past as saying that Ukraine was run by a, quote, Moscow Jewish Mafia.  And more recently the Svoboda party filmed itself beating up TV news executives and put the video online.  So, many people see them as an extremist, and I wonder, does the Secretary-General have any… what can we read into this meeting?  Was he given the list in advance?  Does he with that he hadn’t met with them?  Was he happy to have met with them?  What can you say about this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have anything to add to the information that we provided over the weekend.  Basically, as we pointed out, the Secretary-General met with a list of people.  We are capable of proving that list to those of you who are interested.  But this was a general meeting with a wide range of interlocutors.  We don’t have anything further beyond, like I said, what we’ve already provided.


Question:  Did he know who he was going to be meeting with in advance?  That’s one question that I wanted to know?  Did he know? That’s a factual question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  The phrase “I don’t have anything to what I’ve said” is exactly what it is.  I have nothing to add.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Secretary-General met with Vladimir Putin last week, and he met with the Ukrainian leaders.  After the conversations, we don’t really have a plan for them to meet in the diplomatic efforts that he’s been doing.  However, now the concern is that possibly Russia is moving to the south-east of Ukraine and that they might take more territory.  What’s the position of the Secretary-General on that respect, and if it’s any, in terms of trying to get to a diplomatic solution?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, of course we continue with our diplomatic efforts, not just from the Secretary-General, but from officials across the system.  We’re in touch with all the various parties, including in Russia and Ukraine, and we continue to push for a de-escalation of the situation, and we have repeatedly reminded all parties to avoid any hasty or precipitate action, and we’ll continue to do so.


Question:  Do you see a possible plan on the future?  Like, do we see in months, weeks, a solution, a mediator or somebody that could be intervening from the UN to try to get that to actually happen?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s see what the days and weeks bring.  Right now, we are continuing with our diplomatic efforts, like I said.  If there’s anything that’s produced from that, we’ll let you know.


Question:  I may have missed this because I was not in briefings last week.  Has the Secretary-General said anything about the Svoboda party’s attack on the head of the Ukrainian television, which forced him to sign his resignation?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We are opposed to all attacks on the media, as we always have been, and we support the freedom of the media and freedom of expression.


Question:  Did he say anything about this particular event?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no details on the event beyond what we’ve shared already.  Yes?


Question:  The Secretary-General met with Xi Jinping, the President of China, and your backgrounder on it talked about Ukraine, their talks, and then the Shanghai meeting on building confidence.  Any conversation about North Korea?  We just had a press conference about the fourth round of short-range missiles that have been… rockets that have been tested in the past month?  And that, from their perspective, the military manoeuvres were done at the same moment as the family unification, and now it may be in jeopardy.  The Secretary-General often has made comments about the Korean peninsula.  Has he said anything about all this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we haven’t made any comment on the recent military exercises, but as I pointed out after one of your colleague’s questions, we do encourage any dialogue between the authorities in Seoul and in Pyongyang as a way of reducing the tensions on the Korean peninsula, and we encourage them to continue.  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Yes, I know you’ve tried to address this question before, or at least you’ve been asked this question about the Secretary-General’s reluctance to make a statement concerning whether the referendum, Russia’s actions in taking over Crimea is against international law.  But I want to put it in a little historical context here.  Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan was quoted as saying publically that the US invasion of Iraq was, quote, illegal.  He made that flat declaration.


Deputy Spokesperson:  He didn’t make that flat declaration.  I was there.


Question:  He was quoted as saying that.


Deputy Spokesperson:  The reporter asked, after repeated questions, would this then be regarded as illegal, and he said, “Yes, if you like.”  That was after considerable back and forth.  Old history, but continue. 


Question:  In any event, he did say “yes” to the question.  But the point is, is the Secretary-General changing policy and not responding to a similar question at all, as to the legality of Russia’s actions?  Or, is he… is an analysis being undertaken internally, after which he may make a comment?  I mean, could you provide why there was a difference between what the former Secretary-General did and the current Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Joe, those are two completely different situations, two completely different instances…


Question:  No, no, no.  Let me just finish the question, because the Secretary… the issue is, first of all, the US invasion of Iraq has often been used as a comparison to what Russia has done and the inconsistency in the US position; but secondly, secondly all I’m asking is why the former Secretary-General was willing to opine on the legality of one super‑Power and this Secretary-General appears to be reluctant to provide an opinion, one way or another, on the legality of Russia’s actions.  That’s the question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first, I’d have to correct you on a number of scores.  First of all, I think your description of the previous Secretary-General’s actions is not quite the case.  He said a number of things about Iraq and taking them all together is quite a complex argument.  It can’t be reduced as simply as you’ve done.  Secondly, they are two separate cases and have very particular circumstances; and I think every Secretary-General has the right to look at the particular circumstances of each situation and respond accordingly.  Thirdly, the Secretary-General, this Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has made very clear that as this situation is resolved, it has to be done in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter, which include territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty.  He said that in the readout, in fact, we put out just yesterday of his meeting with the President of China.  And he is going to continue to press on those efforts.  Right now, what he’s trying to do is push for a direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow because he believes that’s the way forward, and that’s what he’s trying to do in an effort to resolve this particular crisis.  Jonathan?


Question:  Just one quick follow-up on this UN Charter/Russia annexation question: is it just that it’s impossible to ascertain, when looking at the UN Charter, which side is right in this particular case, Farhan?  Or is there a delay in the Legal Department of the United Nations, for instance, weighing in on this subject matter?  And then I have a follow-up question about North Korea.


Deputy Spokesperson:  This is something that does get looked into, the legality of it.  The principles of the Charter are very clear and we, particularly the Secretary-General, are standing behind those principles.  How those will be applied in this case also depends on what sort of cooperation you can get between the parties.  This is why it’s essential to have a direct dialogue between the parties.  As you know, and as I’ve said repeatedly over the last week or two, the United Nations does not determine borders between States.  States do.  It’s up to States to agree with each other about the actions that they’ve taken.  And what we’re trying to do is help resolve this situation in a peaceful and diplomatic way, and that’s our priority.  But yes, we do have the principles that we’re trying to uphold.


Question:  Yes, the follow-up I have is that — we’re hearing that there is a desire for direct dialogue by the Secretary-General, but the Russian Federation says they don’t recognize the coup and the government being put in by the coup.  So that seems to be a stumbling block, and we don’t hear the Secretary-General looking at that aspect of it; and he did say that the 21 February agreement was a good agreement.  So he did recognize that agreement at that time, and yet, there was a coup after that agreement.  So I’m wondering, is there some time that he will look at the current complexity and will speak to the fact of there’s a difference on whether that government is a legitimate government or not?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I can assure you that the Secretary-General is well aware of the complexities of the situations.  He has met with interlocutors in Moscow and Kyiv, and they’ve explained what their diverging views are.  What he’s trying to do is find a way to bring them together and set aside some of the different disputes that have arisen between them and let’s see how he can achieve that.  But he’s continuing with his diplomatic efforts across the board.


Question:  Thank you, my dear.  The Secretary-General said there is the Government, the Syrian Government, and the opposition are both responsible for the delay of humanitarian aid’s arrival, for humanitarian aid; and there’s like 9 million people need help.  There was a resolution, and you said now in the statement, that you confirmed that the resolution should be implemented.  So… if the problem is still like this, what is the mechanism of the implementation of this resolution?  I wanted to understand that.  A follow-up for Ukraine, maybe I’ll ask this question another way, today the Russian forces seized another Ukrainian military base and the Secretary-General said that, like you said, that he wants all sides to avoid provocation, but what changed after the visit?  What will… we don’t see that there’s any change after the visit of Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN doesn’t work in the same way as a magic wand.  Diplomacy is a process.  It’s not necessarily the case that immediately you’ll see a change on the ground, but we are continuing with our efforts.  The Secretary-General has been continuing with his discussion, his top political aide, Jeffrey Feltman, has been continuing with his efforts.  As you are aware, Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, was able to get into Crimea, and we’ve been trying to prepare for a human rights presence there, as well as elsewhere in Ukraine.  So we are continuing with a number of efforts to help materially improve the situation on the ground and allow for a diplomatic response.  How long it will take to bear fruit, some of that is up to the parties.  But we’re initiating these processes, and let’s see where they go from there.  And regarding the question of the mechanism for the enforcement of resolution 2139 (2014), part of that had to do with having the Secretary-General report back to the Security Council about how the resolution is being implemented on the ground.  That report has now gone to the members of the Security Council, and they can evaluate it.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I wanted to ask about South Sudan and Mali.  On South Sudan — I just wanted to check — there’s been another incident in which the Juba Monitor newspaper has been seized, the full press run has been seized by the Government national security forces of Salva Kiir.  I wanted to know if UNMISS is aware of that and what they think of it? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any reaction from UNMISS on that.


Question:  On Mali, there’s various stories out that the refugee flows were overcounted almost by a power of 200 per cent.  I’m sure you’ve seen this.  Although it’s a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] question, since the European Union humanitarian aid service, ECHO, has said that they suspended aid because of this overcounting, i.e. that in some camps people brought in local children in order to have a higher number in order to get food, which was later sold.  What’s the UN’s response to that to make sure either that it doesn’t occur in the future, or do they dispute that that occurred in the case of the Mali crisis?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll need to check with our colleagues from the UN refugee agency and see whether, what their evaluation is.  But, I’ll check with them.  Yes, in the back, Carmen?


Question:  Thank you, Mr. Haq.  There are least 34 people already, civilians, 34 civilians killed in Venezuela, with the current violence there.  Any further statement regarding the situation?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing new to say.  You’ve seen the concerns that we’ve expressed about the situation in Venezuela, and we’d expressed that earlier.  And our concerns about the situation still apply; but nothing new to say.  Jonathan?


Question:  The follow-up question I had was about North Korea.  The Ambassador, just a short time ago, blamed all these claims about human rights abuses in North Korea on the United States, says it’s a complete US fabrication.  Could you comment on the UN report, actually, the independent report that laid out a lot of atrocities being committed in North Korea, the UN’s position by such remarks by the North Korean Ambassador and how the Secretary-General weighs in on the issues of rights abuses in North Korea?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has believed that the question of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea needs to be taken seriously.  Of course, the report by Michael Kirby, the independent expert, is precisely that: it’s a report by an independent official, and so we wouldn’t characterize it.  But it’s been presented to the Human Rights Council, and it’s for the Human Rights Council to take that report up seriously.


Question:  When Secretary-General met President Xi, did they talk about issues, the riot in Taiwan, the student’s protest against the controversial China pact, and if not, what’s the comment from the Secretary-General over the trade pact, especially the riot in Taiwan?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t actually have any comment on that.  The only details of that meeting are what we have in the readout and that’s what we have for the accounting of their meeting.  Yes?


Question:  Did the Secretary-General say anything about the sniper attacks, both in Ukraine and Crimea and the leaked conversation between the Foreign Minister and Estonia and Catherine Ashton, saying that the sniper attacks in Ukraine were not the result of [Viktor] Yanukovych’s forces, but they were the result of the anti-Yanukovych forces?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t comment on leaked comments, including, of course leaks that are from people who are not in the United Nations one way or another.


Question:  But the sniper attacks were reported in the New York Times, and the New York Times said it was not clear who was behind it. 


Deputy Spokesperson:  And we do have a human rights presence on the ground, and we’ll try to get the facts on all the various incidents that have occurred in Ukraine, thanks to the arrival of these human rights monitors.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.


* *** *

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