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

28 April 2014

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

28 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  It’s Monday, I was about to say happy Monday, but I wasn’t completely sure that it was Monday, but it is Monday, thank you.  Happy Monday and welcome to all of us watching on the webcast.


**Olympics


A short while ago, the Secretary-General took part in an event, also attended by Olympians and other athletes, to celebrate the power of sport for development and peace.


He noted that sport can be used to bridge cultural, religious, ethnic and social divides.


The Secretary-General quoted the US former basketball player Magic Johnson, who said that we all play with different races of people in sports, which is what makes it so beautiful.


The Secretary-General announced that the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, will sign a Memorandum of Understanding.


He also said that he has decided to appoint the former and Honorary IOC President, Jacques Rogge, as his Special Envoy on Youth Refugees and Sport.


The Secretary-General’s full remarks are online and in my office.


The Secretary-General just concluded making some remarks to the press, along with the IOC President.


**Security Council


Prior to the event on the International Olympic Committee, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council open debate this morning on security sector reform.  He told Council members that when he visited the Central African Republic earlier this month, he saw the terrible consequences of disintegrating security institutions.


The Secretary-General said that the United Nations has assisted in developing and implementing national security strategies in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.  It has also contributed to public financial management of the security sectors in Liberia and Somalia.  And, it has supported defence sector reform in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  But, he noted that there is an increasing gap between the growing expectations of what the United Nations could and should do, and the resources to meet them.  We have his full remarks available upstairs and online.


**South Sudan


The UN Mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, reports fighting between Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Opposition forces in Mayom in Unity State, with the town reportedly changing hands twice over the weekend.


According to the latest reports received, the town is currently under SPLA control, although fighting persists.  The Mission also says there was fighting near Manga, north of the State capital, Bentiu. 


In Bentiu itself, peacekeepers extracted 16 civilians, including one female and one child, from various locations around town and brought them to the protection of civilians site in the UN compound.  The mission also accepted 200 patients from Bentiu hospital who arrived at its gate yesterday.  Currently, some 22,500 civilians are seeking shelter at the Mission site in Bentiu.


And also over the weekend, the Mission says that there were clashes in Mapel in Western Bahr el Ghazal State.  Fighting between youth and some soldiers, involving heavy weapons and mortars, was reported in the centre of the State capital of Wau.


On Sunday, the Mission received more than 650 internally displaced civilians at its protection site in Wau, with reports of more civilians on their way seeking shelter.


UNMISS once again reiterates the need for fighting to stop and for both sides to abide by the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and urgently reinvigorate peace talks.


**Lakhdar Brahimi


I’ve been asked more than once about the travels of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.


So I will confirm that Mr. Brahimi will be here in New York this Friday, on 2 May, and he’ll meet with the Secretary-General and other senior officials then.  He expects to brief the Security Council while he’s in New York during the first half of May.  And I do expect him to speak to you at some point in some form, whether it be here or more likely at the stakeout following Security Council consultations.


** Syria


Also on Syria, the head of the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, Sigrid Kaag, said yesterday that Syria has now removed from its territory or destroyed in-country more than 92 per cent of its declared stockpile of chemical weapons material.  She said that this is a significant achievement, which has been accomplished in a short period of time and in difficult security conditions.


However, she added that nearly 8 per cent of Syria’s declared chemical weapons material remains on its territory.  This should be removed in the shortest possible timeframe, despite the difficult situation.


Ms. Kaag added that in recent weeks there have been renewed allegations of toxic chlorine gas attacks in several different parts of the country.  All necessary steps should be taken to establish the facts surrounding these unsubstantiated allegations.  According to the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is now a State party, the OPCW is the appropriate body to assess these allegations.


**Weapons of Mass Destruction


In a video message, the Secretary-General marked the tenth anniversary of the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 1540 (2004), which seeks to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their acquisition by non-State actors.


He said in the message that the use of poison gas in Syria was an alarming reminder of the continuing threat of weapons of mass destruction.


The Secretary-General noted that this is particularly important to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.  His full video message is up on the website.


** Iraq


From Iraq, the UN country team and its implementing partners and Iraqi authorities have delivered humanitarian assistance yesterday to populations affected by the floods in the Abu-Ghraib district of Baghdad.


Also WFP [World Food Programme] and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] distributed supplies, and we have more information on the Mission’s website.


**Geographical Names


Today, I also want to flag, I don’t know if some of you have noticed downstairs, at the bottom of the escalators, there’s an exhibit to mark the beginning of the twenty-eighth session of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, which is taking place this week in Conference Room 2.


The United Nations recognizes the importance of an international agreement on geographical names as a way of promoting good communication and a more peaceful world.  This Group of Experts does not have the mandate to decide on geographical names; it respects the authority of each UN Member State to decide its own names for national and international use.  However, it provides a forum for discussion of good practices and methods of naming locations.


The work covers a wide range of issues, from naming some 17,000 islands in Indonesia to promoting the recognition of indigenous names in countries such as Canada and Australia.  So far, a great part of this work has focused on the conversion of names to the Roman alphabet.


More on this topic is available on their website, but I think it’s an interesting item.


**Health at Work


Today, for those of you who didn’t know, is World Day for Safety and Health at Work, with a focus this year on issues related to the use of chemicals.


In a message, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, said that there were still too many serious incidents fatal or highly damaging to human health and the environment.  These incidents must spur us to act with a sense of urgency, he said, globally, regionally, nationally and at workplace level.


In that context, the ILO also marks the first anniversary of the garment industry’s worst-ever industrial accident, the collapse of the “Rana Plaza” which killed more than 1,100 workers in Bangladesh.


**Holocaust


And lastly, as I had mentioned, you are all invited today to attend an interactive presentation titled “Learning about the Holocaust through the Arts”, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. this evening in Conference Room 1.  And you will have the pleasure of seeing Academy-Award winning actress Olympia Dukakis perform a special reading at the event.


**Noon Briefing Guest


And lastly, after this briefing, I will be joined by Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, otherwise known as CTBTO.  He will discuss the readiness of the CTBTO international monitoring system to detect nuclear tests.


That’s it from me.  Yes, sir, and then we’ll go down the line.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wonder whether you’re surprised that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is running again for another term in Syria.  Also, I have a question on Egypt:  whether the Secretary-General has any comment on the new mass death penalty sentences in Egypt.  Thank you.


Spokesman:  On Syria, I think the Secretary-General and the Joint Special Representative clearly made their opinions known about the elections and the timings of these elections in regards to the political process, and that position remains unchanged.  On Egypt, we expect a statement on Egypt; it should have been down here, yet it’s making its way through the pipeline, so I will have something either by the end of the briefing or shortly afterwards. 


[Following the briefing the Spokesman issued the following statement on Egypt:


The Secretary-General is alarmed by the news that another preliminary mass death sentence has been handed down today in Egypt, the first of which was on 24 March.  Verdicts that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those which impose the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.  As such, the Secretary-General is conscious of the regional and security implications of such sentences.  Stability in Egypt is essential for the overall stability of the entire North Africa and Middle East region.


Separately, the Secretary-General is concerned about a court case today banning the activities of the April 6 Youth Movement.  He was disappointed that the appeals court on 7 April upheld the jailing of three emblematic figures of the 2011 uprising, including two founders of the youth movement.  While respecting the independence of the judiciary, he recalls that both he and the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns before and after the law regulating protest was promulgated, believing that it could lead to serious breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.


The Secretary-General intends to discuss these concerns and other issues with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Nabil Fahmy, later this week.]


Question:  Stéphane, I was also going to ask about Egypt, so I will cede.


Spokesman:  Ok, Matthew, and then we’ll….


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Central African Republic and also Ethiopia.  Central African Republic, there are two different reports.  One was about the killing by French soldiers of civilians and the PK5 neighbourhood of Bangui, and since I’ve seen quotes to the UN Mission, I wonder, can you now say what’s going to happen?  It sounds like civilians that were not armed were killed.  Also, an attack on MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières]by Séléka, do you have anything on either of the two?


Spokesman:  I haven’t seen anything on the death of civilians by Sangaris soldiers.  If I get anything, I will share with you.  Obviously, on the killings of the MSF workers, I think that all of the humanitarian community strongly condemns the attack on the health facility in Ouham Province.  As you know, I think 16 civilians were dead, and including three Médecins Sans Frontières staff workers.  I think in these… in any situation, particularly here, it’s important that all parties, any armed groups abide by the principle of international humanitarian law in protecting aid relief personnel.  And it also underscores the continuing insecurity in the CAR (Central African Republic) and the need for the international community to respond accordingly.


Question:  And do you have… I just want to know, maybe you will have a statement on this.  Over the weekend, three journalists… well actually nine journalists, but three journalists and six described bloggers were arrested in Ethiopia by the Government.  And a number of countries have spoken on it.  Does the UN have a statement…?


Spokesman:  I don’t have anything on that.  If I do, I would… Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  Last week almost top ten countries of the human rights offenders have been chosen by UN to join…


Spokesman:  Sorry, guys, I need to hear the question.  I’ll get to you, I just need to hear the question, please.


Question:  Last week, top ten of countries that have the record of human rights offenders have been chosen to join… to safeguard the human rights by UN.  I was wondering what’s Secretary-General react….


Spokesman:  I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand… I’m not sure I understand the question.


Question:  Last week countries, like China, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Sudan and some other countries there, which they have the worst human rights records, has been joined to safeguard human rights by UN.  I was wondering what Secretary-General reacted to this.


Spokesman:  I think if I understand what you’re referring to, these decisions on memberships of different committees and commissions are the purview of the Member States themselves.  Obviously, the Secretary-General expects all countries to abide by their human rights commitment.  Masood?


Question:  Yes, Stéphane I thought you had already anticipated what I was going to ask.  In any case… in any case, I want to ask about Iraq, where it seems like that the inter… inter… no, I mean…faith or inter-sectarian violence has taken a new sort of way, where people are been killed right, left and centre; so does this Secretary-General’s Representative there have anything to say?  There has been a long time since we’ve heard about that.


Spokesman:  No, I think the Secretary-General’s Representative in different statements have clearly condemned the violence that we’ve seen, especially the violence that is taking place along sectarian lines. Yes ma’am, and then we’ll…


Question:  Stéphane, two quick ones.  On the OPCW stuff you read out, you said… Kaag said the OPCW is the appropriate body to access the allegations on the chlorine, alleged chlorine attacks.  So does… can the Director-General of the OPCW decide to have an investigation into that?  Does the Secretary-General have to decide?  And then I have a second question.


Spokesman:  It will have to be up to the OPCW, which is not under the authority of the Secretary-General.


Question:  Okay; and my second question is Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist who won the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] prize in 1999, the Guillermo Cano Prize, has been reportedly disappeared in Beijing.  Do you have any reaction or anything from UNESCO?  


Spokesman:  I haven’t seen anything yet on that.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the reported statement by Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel could become an Apartheid State in the absence of two-State solution?  Does he share this view? 


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General’s views on the need for negotiations for two-State solution has been explained clearly and is unchanged.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about disarmament.  The Disarmament Commission concluded its 2014 work without any agreement and the collapse of consensus is bothersome.  Does the Secretary-General have any concrete recommendation on how to move things in this commission? 


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General and his Representatives have repeatedly called on the Member States to move the work of the Commission forward.  Erol and then Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is not about the recommendation; it’s rather about comments.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the last week digging and apparently finding from 200 to 300 bodies of the Kosovo Albanians in Southern Serbia mass grave?


Spokesman:  I haven’t seen anything.  Obviously, I think any allegations of mass atrocities needs to be properly investigated and those responsible need to be brought to justice.  Pam?


Question:  Stéphane, you mentioned that the Secretary-General had a message on the tenth anniversary of [Security Council resolution] 1540 (2004) and disarmament.  Does… I was… has there been any statement this weekend about the allegations or the fears of a North Korea, a possible North Korea nuclear test?   


Spokesman:  No, I think Farhan [Haq] spoke to that on Thursday.  We have nothing to add.


Question:  Nothing to add.  And has he… has the Secretary-General reached out to anyone in Seoul or anything else about a potential new nuclear test?


Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware on the Secretary-General’s end.  Yes, sir?


Question:  Does the UN have a comment on the reports on unsanitary living conditions and overcrowding in the UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) space, specifically in Bentiu?


Spokesman:  You know, I think… as I’ve read out, we are housing thousands of people in Bentiu and in other sites.  I think more than 70,000 over all of South Sudan.  The Mission, our humanitarian partners are all scrambling to ensure that we have the minimum… the best possible living conditions for all the people that we are protecting in these camps.  But I think, as I’ve said repeatedly here, it’s very challenging because the financing isn’t there and because the Mission wasn’t designed for this.  We are doing our utmost to protect people from the violence and we are working to try and improve the living conditions in the camps.  Yes, Edie?


Question:  I’m taking my question back.  The mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, was shot in the back today and the situation appears to be getting worse.  Is… does the Secretary-General have any comments on these latest escalations, and has he been making some phone calls to try and see if there’s anything that can be done to reduce the tensions?


Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General has been in touch with both… at various levels with both Russians and Ukrainian authorities.  His message remains the same:  that he is extremely concerned by the growing violence, by the growing climate of instability and of fear; and whether it’s an escalation of rhetoric or whether it’s an escalation of violence, the stakes remain very, very high and we’re very, very concerned of the situation spinning out of control even more.  Matthew, and we’ll go this way.


Question:  Sure, follow-up on Ukraine.  I wanted to know… first… the monitors or observers that have been taken captive… I think the question was asked here on Friday, but they’re called the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) monitors and others are saying they are not actually OSCE monitors, they are Vienna Document monitors.  What’s the UN… the people that were taken, are they working for the OSCE?  And also, the Deputy Foreign Minister that was here said… it was said he was going to meet with the Deputy… with the Under-Secretary-General, then he said Deputy Secretary-General… whom did he meet with?  And, is there a readout?


Spokesman:  Second question, I will check who he met with.  First question, my understanding is that they are working for the OSCE, I do expect… I have some statement also in the pipeline which should have been here by now on the hostage taking, which is obviously something that we view with extremely grave concern and that these people were doing work and should have been protected.  But, an official statement would be sent shortly.


[He later issued the following statement:


The Secretary-General strongly condemns the recent capture and detention of OSCE military monitors as well as a number of accompanying Ukrainian staff.  He urges those responsible for their abduction to release them immediately, unconditionally and unharmed.  The Secretary-General underlines that those who continue unlawful acts will be held accountable for their actions.  He appeals to all those with influence to assist in the urgent resolution of this matter.


The Secretary-General stresses that international missions working in Ukraine must be allowed to perform their duties unimpeded.


The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.  He also calls on them to find a way back to the spirit of compromise exhibited during the Geneva talks on 17 April.  A diplomatic and political solution to this crisis is imperative and long overdue.]


Question:  Is there any comment on the sanctions?  I just wanted… also on Ukraine…


Spokesman:  No; I mean, you can refer back to what I’ve just said.  Yes, ma’am?


Question:  Stéph, on Friday, I think it was, you said the Secretary-General was going to be making some phone calls including possibly President [Vladimir] Putin and we were supposed to have readouts.  I don’t recall ever seeing readouts…


Spokesman:  As soon as I can give you something, I will share it with you.  Yes, Masood?


Question: On this readout that you said may be issued… no, on this statement that may be issued on the Egyptian death sentence and so forth.  There’s also a report that Egypt has effectively banned the school or the organization which began the Arab Spring…


Spokesman:  I think you will have to wait as I have had to wait for the statement, but I expect it to touch upon both issues that you’ve raised.


Question:  Okay, on this issue, too?  And then also about the Middle East Peace process, which seems is all dead, so does the Secretary-General intend to somehow jumpstart this process in any way… any idea… does the United Nations have any idea?


Spokesman:  There would be an open meeting in the Security Council on the Middle East this Wednesday, if I’m not mistaken, and Robert Serry, the Special Coordinator, is in town; he will be here, he will speak in the open briefing and he will also speak to the press at the stakeout, so you can get an update from him.  Madame?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is a happy note.  Does the United… Secretary-General have a reaction on the announcement of the wedding of the Goodwill Ambassador, George Clooney, with Lebanese Amal…?


Spokesman: Inasmuch as I would like to comment on things that may get me into TMZ, I won’t.  And, George Clooney is no longer a [Messenger of Peace] for the UN, but I’m always happy for people when they get married.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Speaking of TMZ, does the Secretary-General have any comment on Donald Sterling… given that the event today was about sports, and you quoted Magic Johnson.  The tape that came out in which the owner of the Clippers said he does not want black people taken to the game, any comment?


Spokesman:  I think, Matthew, you were here in the beginning when I read… when I highlighted what the Secretary-General said and when he, I think, this event… we have seen incidents of issues of racist comments recently made in basketball here.  We’ve seen in Spain over the weekend, on the soccer pitch or the football pitch; I think the Secretary-General’s comments were made, he made reference to the Los Angeles Clippers, and he quoted Magic Johnson, in his very wise words about the fact that what makes sports so beautiful is when all races play together.


Thank you very much.  And if you wait two seconds, we will have the executive director of the CTBTO come right up here.


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