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

8 April 2014

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

8 April 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 Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

** Syria

We issued a statement last night in which the Secretary-General demanded that the warring parties in Syria and their supporters ensure that civilians are protected, regardless of their religion, community or ethnic affiliation.  Both the Syrian Government and armed groups have the legal obligation and moral responsibility to do so.  They must do everything to avoid and prevent violence against civilians, including indiscriminate shelling and air attacks on civilian areas.

The Secretary-General condemned the killing of an elderly priest, Father Frans van der Lugt, in Homs yesterday and expressed his concerns about continuing gross human rights violations.

There is a belief by too many in Syria and beyond that this conflict can be won militarily.  More violence will only bring more suffering and instability to Syria and sow chaos in the region.

The Secretary-General again urges all Syrians and their outside supporters to put a stop to this conflict, now.  For the sake of families and communities across Syria, the Secretary-General appeals to all sides to permit immediately the unfettered access of humanitarian assistance and workers.   The full statement can be found online.

** Syria – WFP

Also on Syria, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided assistance to a record 4 million people in Syria last month but it says, in a special report published today, that a potential drought would strain the country’s already fragile food security situation.

The World Food Programme’s food security analysts say that rainfall since September has been less than half the long-term average, and will have a major impact on the next cereal harvest.  With three quarters of the rainfall season gone, it is unlikely that there will be a significant recovery in this agricultural season.

According to current rainfall data, the worst-affected governorates account for close to 50 percent of Syrian wheat production.

** Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today urged the candidates in the country’s Presidential elections, as well as their supporters, to respect the work of the two national electoral institutions as vote counting continues.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, called on the candidates and their supporters to await the release of official results.  He also counselled them against making premature announcements based on unofficial counts, which could lead to confusion.

And in a separate statement, the UN Mission in Afghanistan strongly condemned an attack in the southern province of Kandahar, which killed 15 civilians and injured another five through the use of an improvised explosive device.  The Mission says that the use of such illegal and indiscriminate explosive devices may amount to a war crime.  The full statements are available in our office.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Today Mary Robinson, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region, is visiting Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

During her visit, she was expected to meet with provincial authorities, civil society actors and women's groups, as well as UN leadership to discuss ways to further advance the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.

This Framework was signed one year ago by all the countries of the Great Lakes region to address the root causes of instability in eastern DRC.

**Security Council

Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is briefing the Security Council today in its closed consultations.  The topics were expected to include Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali and Libya.

**Press Conferences

Immediately following this briefing at 12:30 p.m., in this room, there will be a press conference by Afaf Konja, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, on the Joint Event of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on “The Role of Partnerships in the Implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.

And then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here entitled "Progress and Obstacles in the Fight against Impunity for Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo".  Speakers will include Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

That’s it for me, any questions? Yes, Masood?

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, these briefings are in closed consultations.  I don’t really have any details to give about her briefing.  I just refer you to her previous statements on this topic.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Is she going to brief the press?  And, if so, can you let us know when, even if there are other things going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the last that I checked with her office, they said that she may not actually have time to do it after the consultations end today.  If that changes, we’ll certainly try to squawk on the intercom that she’s available.  But, in any case, like I said, she will be doing a press conference in this room at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, as well.  Yes, she and Zainab Bangura will talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo, I just read that seconds ago.  Yes, please?

Question:  We’ve talked about the issue of the Iranian Ambassador somewhat being bilateral between the United States.  But, this has now reached a point where it seems difficult for you guys to stay out of, or the Secretary, staying out of it.  The Senate has passed this vote last night.  We’ve heard, you know, terminologies like he’s a terrorist or Senator Ted Cruz went as far as saying, would we allow Osama Bin Laden to be here if Taliban was running Afghanistan?  And the Spokesperson for Iranian Ministers said we will insist on him being the Ambassador.  Where does the UN come down here?  There is, you know, a mechanism where Iran can take this up.  What’s the next step?  Where does the Secretary-General come down?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I’ve said before, and as continues to be the case, right now this is a matter that’s being handled bilaterally between the two countries involved:  the United States and Iran.  And, of course, we also don’t tend to comment on domestic legislation as it passes through the legislative process in different countries.  Beyond that, what I can say is that you are all aware of the Host Country Agreement and we expect that the Host Country Agreement gets applied, but in any case, that’s not something, we haven’t being dealing specifically with this case right now.  It does remain a bilateral.  Several of you are calling follow-ups so let’s pick and choose.  First you and then, you.  Yes?

Question:  I guess I wanted to know, I mean the State Department Deputy Spokesperson has said that there are these carve outs to the Host Country Agreement, I just wanted, without respect to Iran’s nominee as Permanent Representative, is it the UN’s position that the Host Country, that there are carve outs?  That they can actually block people sent here to represent their country and, if so, what are those conditions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, frankly at this stage, while it’s being handled bilaterally, I wouldn’t have any comment to make on this.  I would just refer you to the text of the Host Country Agreement itself and you can see for yourself. Specifically, you can look at article IV, Sections 11 through 13.  Yes?

Correspondent:  [inaudible] United States, United Nations must take a position on this, one way or another, whether it agrees with what United States State Department is saying, whether it has a position of its own.  That Mr.… that the Ambassador of Iran should be allowed as an entity on its own.  So…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I said, at this stage it is being handled bilaterally. If there’s a need for us to have a role down the line we will consider it at that point.   Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  What’s the position of the Secretary-General as the reports come from the southern-east area of the Ukraine of troops being there, accusations from the Minister for the Interior of Ukraine saying that Putin has put people in that corner to try to get those three towns, that they we taking over different buildings?  Obviously, the crisis is actually escalating and not actually will see it restrained from those particular locations.  What can we expect and what the Secretary has to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’ll just repeat what we’ve said about this yesterday on this, which is simply that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the heightened instability in eastern Ukraine.  He urges all with responsibility and influence over the situation to defuse tensions and encourage all to express themselves peacefully to calm the situation.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Egypt, the Government there is preparing for elections.  Were there any approach to the United Nations in order to monitor these elections in Egypt from any side?  Who’s going to monitor the elections in Egypt?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not aware that any approach has been made to the United Nations about this.  As you’re aware, the United Nations does not play a principal role in the election monitoring in many elections unless specifically requested to do so.  Many times it’s other groups, so you might check with the Egyptian Government, but as far as I’m aware there is no UN role in the election monitoring.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi first and then back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In his remarks to the ceremony marking the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, the Secretary-General said, we could have done much more.  We should have done much more.  Why didn’t he explain why much more was not done?

Deputy Spokesman:  He mentioned exactly what the problems were at the time, and as you’re aware, the United Nations itself had come out with series of reports, most crucially the Brahimi report from the late 1990s in which we discussed ways of structurally reforming the United Nations to better handle things.  If you look at the Secretary-General’s speech, he also talks about a number of different advances we’ve made, including the responsibility to protect and most recently, his initiative to put human rights upfront, and so there’s a number of things that we are trying to do better that were not done at the time.  Yes, Masood?  First, Masood, and then back to you.  Yes?

Question:  On the situation in, Middle East negotiations, the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, has again threatened to take unilateral action [inaudible] in this process and has refused to now release the Palestinian prisoners and also, stop the settlements.  So, where does the Secretary-General weigh in on this process now, amongst all these things, at this point in time.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of, as you’re aware, you’ve heard what we’ve had to say about this in recent days, about the entreaties that we’ve being making both at the UN level and at the level of the Quartet.  Our Special Coordinator on the ground, Robert Serry, is in touch with the parties and we continue to press with them to make progress towards a two-State solution and to remain in negotiations with each other through the current deadline of 29  April.  Yes?

Question:  May I follow up with my question on genocide and the Secretary-General’s speech?  I do have the Secretary-General’s speech, I am reading it now.  He does mention that troops were withdrawn at the time when they should not have been withdrawn.  But, does he attribute any responsibility to anybody?  And have we learned the lessons from the ‘67 withdrawal of troops from Suez area which precipitated the Six-Day War?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we’ve tried to learn the lessons from Rwanda and Srebrenica with the follow-up we’ve done in those cases.  The UN commissioned reports to find out exactly what our failings were and how to improve from that and we’ve implemented a number of things.  And there were a number of failings at different levels; at the level of the peacekeeping mission of the Secretariat and of the wider international community, and I just refer you to what the reports said at the time, but as the Secretary-General made clear in his speech, one of the key problems was that troops were withdrawn.  You’ve seen in recent crises, such as most recently in South Sudan in the last several months, that when violence has flared up, there are many times now where the UN makes a commitment to stand its ground, and also, to do its upmost to protect people at UN compounds if need be, and that’s a very crucial different between now and then.

Question:  But does the Secretary-General at the present moment express any regret for what happened, like Kofi Annan did?  He mentioned that he expressed his remorse concerning the event in Rwanda?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I just refer you to the many statements he made while in Rwanda and you can see from them the tone that we take is a tone of feeling regret for what has happened in the past but doing our best to improve it so that it will not happen again in the future.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, thanks, Farhan.  I want to ask a couple of peacekeeping questions.  One is, yesterday across the street at IPI, Under-Secretary-General Ladsous, speaking of drones said that, or UAV’s, said that in some instances troops-contributing countries bring their own unmanned aerial vehicles into countries to patrol for themselves.  I wanted to know, he refused to answer my question, so I’m going to ask you.  I wanted to know how prevalent that is.  If you can find this out from DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and whether it’s required that the [troop-contributing countries] get the permission of the Host Countries or whether they seek that through DPKO itself, and whether, it’s, in fact, accurate to say that the drones in DRC are the first use of drones by the UN if [troop-contributing countries] have been using them themselves.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, if these are drones being used outside of the UN Mission then it’s not for us to talk about — it’s for the countries involved and they would have to have their own agreements, in terms of the territories that they use them with the countries involved.

Question:  He said the countries that come to serve in UN peacekeeping missions bring their own small drones to patrol near their bases.  I wanted to know is that then part of the UN mission?

Deputy Spokesman:  If that’s not, we’ve talked about the drones that are used by the United Nations.  If it’s not under the operational command of the United Nations, that’s a separate issue to be taken up with the countries involved.

Correspondent:  But what is, when a delegation goes to serve in a UN peacekeeping mission, isn’t it or all of its actions, does it have some separate legal authority to walk around the country and use drones and…

Deputy Spokesman:  There are troops that are peacekeeping troops and their assets are UN peacekeeping assets.  We are responsible for those.

Question:  Can you figure out from Mr. Ladsous what he meant when he said that?  Can you ask DPKO whether their troop-contributing countries bring drones into the country and whether they get approval and how common it is?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, if these are drones operated by Member States, then you need to take them up with the Member States involved.

Question:  Right, but what are they?  I don’t know what he was referring to?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve talked about the drones that are used by the UN and we’ve given the details of those drones.  Any other drones, you would have to ask about the Member States…

Question:  You didn’t say which countries they are?

Question: On these Egyptian elections, I mean, I just want to know the death sentences and mass death sentences passed to 529 people has still not been rescinded.  Also, in that case, at the elections that are going to be held, in the shadow of such death sentence, will that… they be deemed fair and due process to be followed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course we continue to monitor the situation on the ground in Egypt, including the question of the death sentences, and on that, I just refer you to what the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) has said which is a view supported by the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible] what the protocol is for closed or renamed UN peacekeeping missions basically letting go of their domain name and of their websites?  Yesterday, in connection with the Rwanda genocide commemoration… tried to look at monuc.org… used to have a lot of information, including about UN staff that were alleged to have participated in the genocide.  And not only is the information gone, but the website domain now tracks to some commercial service.  So, I wanted to know, is that common for the UN missions when they are closed, is all the memory flushed out in that way?  And how did this happen that monuc.org is now own some outside entity?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’ll have to check with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations how they manage their webpages.

[The Deputy Spokesman later added that UN Peacekeeping maintains pages on the UN Peacekeeping website for all past operations (http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/), and this includes MONUC (http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/monuc/).  Most active missions run their own local website.  In the case of MONUC, we understand their local website was renamed with a new URL to reflect the establishment of MONUSCO (http://www.monusco.unmissions.org/).]

Question:  Could I ask one more?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, you can, and then we’ll go to the back.

Question:  This came up yesterday when you said the Secretary-General will be meeting in Washington with Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, I wanted to know since these are both military figures, I guess I wanted to know, is this something that the Secretary-General requested or they requested?  There’s a report out saying that Hagel and Dempsey are both sceptics in terms of military intervention by the [ United States] in Syria.  And since, like, what are the topics?  What does he hope and what would you say to those who say it’s strange that the Secretary-General, man of peace, would go to [ Washington, D.C.] and meet, not with diplomats, but with military men?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it’s not unusual for the Secretary-General to meet with defence officials in different countries, but it’s perfectly logical for man of peace to talk to the people who deal with issues like defence and war to make sure that we can handle those situations easily.  Regarding the meeting, of course, we will try to have a readout on Friday when the meeting actually takes place.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can we move to the East China Sea for a second?  Has the Secretary-General ever taken a position on the disputed islands between Japan and China?  Secretary of Defence of the United States is in China now and there has been, definitely, a heightening of the tension between China and the United States on that respect.  Is there a position from the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we trust that the nations concerns will deal with this in an amicable manner.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  You need to speak into the microphone.  Carla, please use the microphone.

Question:  Victims of torture under the Franco regime, and this is 30, 40, 50 years ago, are bringing complaints, filing complaints, through Argentina against their torturers, some of whom are still alive.  Does the UN have anything to say about this?  I know some years ago when I spoke with Ocampo about the ICC he said that they deal only with cases, I guess, 10 years in the past.  This is 50 years in the past, but still the victims ate entitled to justice?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the ICC, the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court makes it very clear that the jurisdiction it has is for events that have taken place since the Statute, the Rome Statute, entered into force, not for events that precede it.

Question:  Yes, but is there any, does the UN have a position on now these claims of the victims of the Franco regime because the courts in Argentina are dealing with this so this is an international…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as a general principle, we’ve encouraged all countries to pursue accountability for any allegations of human rights violations that have occurred in the past and that’s just across the board.  I wouldn’t have anything specific about this which as you aware took place a long time ago.  Yes?  Go?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You mentioned yesterday that the UN-OECD Joint Monitoring team in four cities in east Ukraine, including Donetsk and Odessa.  Did you have any news or report from them, or at least, could you give us any sense of what they are doing with the situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  They accumulate information.  I do know that in the next week or so, the first of the reports on the human rights situation is due to go out and we’ll see what the information is that’s provided in that.  For now, I don’t have anything, any precise details, on the reporting to do.  That report will come out as a document.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask about, again, the former Spokesperson of UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur), Aicha Elbasri.  She, in the document that she’s given to Radio Dabanga and Foreign Policy, one thing in particular I wanted to ask you about is an e-mail to Michael Meyer, then, I guess, as the Head of Communications of UNAMID, and she says specifically:  “I believe that by selecting certain facts and providing the media, including Nesirky’s office, with incomplete/somewhat inaccurate information may constitute a breach of the PI policy of the UN.”  This had to do with an attack on a peacekeeping base.  And I wanted to know, one, you said that you won’t comment on leaks.  This seems to go to the heart of the credibility of the process here.  Basically, the person providing information from Darfur protested that inaccurate or incomplete information was being given to your office.  So, I wanted to know, it seems like you would want to comment on it, but, if not on that, does your office still stand behind the 19 April 2013, statement by the Secretary-General,which now is cast in entirely different light by the leaked documents?

Deputy Spokesman:  The statements we put out reflect the most accurate information that were available to get at the time.  If further information comes along down the line, we try to adjust the records so that we have the most up-to-date information.  And in all cases, we do try to get further information, including on cases in Darfur.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, rather than cherry-picking, we all know, and you are aware, that Colum Lynch has a well-written and well-researched series on Darfur and where the UN has screwed up over the years, as well as the African Union.  Can we have a briefing on this?  When, you know, not tomorrow, not the next day, but shortly, can someone deal with this because it’s a very important series?  And it’s not one incident and one gotcha thing — it’s a whole series of things.

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll see whether that is possible and whether there would be any availability to do that.  For right now, I will just refer you to the Secretary-General Strategic Review, which, as I mentioned yesterday, has gone to the Security Council and is an effort to learn from the lessons of our problems in Darfur and build a stronger presence there.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

* *** *

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