|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.
** Central African Republic
Right after this briefing, the Secretary-General will hand over UN documents to the Chargé d'Affaires of the Permanent Mission of the Central African Republic.
The documents will replace core documents that were destroyed, looted or lost from the Central African Republic’s Foreign Ministry during recent fighting in Bangui.
These include treaties, resolutions, UN publications and UN reports, stretching back as far as 1960, when the Central African Republic joined the United Nations.
They also include digital copies of maps which have been placed on DVD for transport to the Central African Republic, given the issues with internet access and downloading.
The ceremony, to which you are all invited, will take place in the reading room on the first floor of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, at 12:50 p.m. today.
Also from the Central African Republic, the United Mission in the country (MINUSCA), as well as the Senior Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) have condemned the attack yesterday on a humanitarian convoy transporting to safety members of the Muslim community, which left two people dead and six injured. The convoy was hit by a grenade.
The UN refugee agency says that the 18-truck convoy was transporting 1,300 people previously trapped in the so-called PK12 neighbourhood of the capital, Bangui, and unable to leave due to insecurity.
The convoy was heading to Kabo and Moyen Sido in the north of the country, which is a three-day journey. A UNHCR team accompanying the convoy says that three babies have so far been born.
The relocation was carried out on a strictly voluntary basis, at the request of the people. It was decided as a measure of last resort to save lives, in accordance with the principle of humanitarian imperative.
This was the second relocation operation from PK12, following the movement of 93 people, including 35 children, to Bambari on 20 April.
The refugee agency says that as of 22 April, there are more than 600,000 internally displaced civilians in the Central African Republic. Among them are more than 15,000 Muslims who remain at risk, as they are surrounded and threatened by anti-Balaka groups in 15 locations across the western part of the country.
UNHCR and its partners are supporting mediation efforts to allow for co-existence. These efforts have already produced some positive results in areas like Bouboua, where people recently returned from the bush where they had sought shelter.
Also from the Central African Republic, the Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Ging, today met with Government officials, including the Prime Minister of the Transitional Government, to discuss support for urgently needed humanitarian actions in the country.
Mr. Ging is expected to be here as the noon briefing guest on 1 May — that’s Thursday — and he will brief on his mission to the Central African Republic.
Back here, Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning. He told Council members that he believes we are at a moment of truth in the Middle East Peace Process, which must be used for reflection. The way ahead can no longer be inaction or business as usual.
He warned the parties that not making a choice now is the most detrimental of all, leading down the path of a one-State reality on the ground. He called on the international community to come together in a collaborative effort to define a substantive basis for early resumption of talks and a chance to achieve the two-state solution.
Earlier, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire until April 2015. And the Council also renewed the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara, better known as MINURSO, for one year.
I understand that later this afternoon, after the Middle East meeting, there will be another meeting on Ukraine, probably around 5:30 p.m.
From South Sudan, I just want to update you on the visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on her joint mission with the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng.
Today, they were both in Bor, in Jonglei State. And yesterday they met with Ministers in Juba, including the Foreign Minister. And Ms. Pillay also met with President Salva Kiir.
Tomorrow, also in Juba, Ms. Pillay and Mr. Dieng will hold a press conference, which we will report back to you and that will mark the end of their visit.
On the humanitarian front, Toby Lanzer, who heads up the humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, has called on all parties to the conflict in South Sudan to observe one month of tranquillity this May. He is asking the parties to stop the violence and to provide a safe environment for civilians.
Lanzer said that this would enable people to be safer and move freely, without fear of violence — whether to tend to their livestock or for other reasons, or even to ask for asylum in neighbouring countries if they so wish.
He said that a month without violence will allow people to plant and cultivate, which is done at this time of the year. He added that the conflict which broke out in mid-December has put 7 million people are at risk of food insecurity across the country.
Lanzer also said that while the only way to reverse this crisis and its grave humanitarian consequences is to find a political resolution to the conflict, but he added that one month of tranquillity this May is a tangible step that will have an immediate impact on the lives of millions of people.
**Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will visit the Republic of Congo, Chad and the Central African Republic, starting tomorrow.
He will first hold discussions with the national authorities in Brazzaville and in N’Djamena, as part of his efforts to develop regional dialogue and to build support for the new United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
Then at the end of the week, Mr. Ladsous will be in the Central African Republic, where he will meet with local authorities and UN staff.
From Iraq: Iraq is holding nation-wide Council of Representatives elections and Governorate Council elections in the Kurdistan region tomorrow.
Today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, congratulated both the newly elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Kurdistan Region Parliament. Mr. Mladenov expressed his hope that the same spirit of compromise and mutual understanding which led to the election of the Speakership will continue to prevail during the government formation process.
And last night, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General strongly condemning the wave of violence and terrorist attacks that has targeted political leaders, candidates and electoral staff ahead of the elections. The Secretary-General urges all political leaders and personalities to create the conditions necessary to enable Iraqi men and women to participate in the electoral process and to have their say on the future of their country. And that statement is available online.
From Syria, the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, announced today the creation of an OPCW mission to establish facts surrounding the allegations of the use of chlorine in Syria. The Syrian Government, which has agreed to accept this mission, has undertaken to provide security in areas under its control. The Secretary-General has expressed his support and assured the assistance of the United Nations in meeting the significant security and logistical demands of this mission. The team is expected to depart for Syria soon.
And on Egypt, as you saw yesterday afternoon, we put out a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General expressing his alarm at the preliminary mass death sentence, as well as his concern about a court case which banned the activities of the April 6 Youth Movement. The Secretary-General intends to discuss these issues and others with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Nabil Fahmy, later this week.
And today from Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, strongly condemned the shocking imposition of the death penalty that I just referred to. And her statement is available online.
Also from Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its deep concern about a new regulation in the Maldives implementing the death penalty, effectively overturning a six-decade moratorium on the use of capital punishment in the country.
The new regulation adopted by the Government over the weekend provides for the use of the death penalty for the offense of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18. For some offences, children as young as seven can be held responsible. The office of the High Commissioner urges the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. And we have that full statement available online.
A couple of other announcements: the Secretary-General today appointed Peter Thomas Drennan of Australia as the new Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, replacing Kevin Kennedy of the United States.
Mr. Drennan has been serving as Deputy Commissioner National Security with the Australian Federal Police since 2009. He brings to the position an extensive career in policing and law enforcement at the community, national and international levels. We have more information on the appointment upstairs.
And the Secretary-General thanks very much Mr. Kennedy for his service in that post since the departure of Gregory Starr.
I was also asked a bit earlier today about the killing of a Dutch UN staff member in Cambodia.
The UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Cambodia confirms the death of Ms. Daphna Beerdsen, who worked for UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) as a consultant in the past. Ms. Beerdsen’s partner is currently an international consultant for UN-Habitat. Their child was medically evacuated to Thailand where she is being treated.
The Resident Coordinator cannot give any further comment on this case as it is under police investigation and very much appreciates the cooperation from the media to respect the privacy of the victims and their family. Our heartfelt condolences go to their family and friends at this extremely difficult time.
** Republic of Korea
Lastly, the Secretary-General this afternoon will visit the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea to sign a condolence book in relation to the ferry disaster that struck that country.
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. In fact, I want to focus today about the press and the dangerous situation that journalists are facing, especially in the Arab world. They are killed in Syria and other parts and they’re even treated harshly and unfairly under the name of justice sometimes in like what’s going on in Egypt, so we are witnessing a new trend of dangerous actions against journalists. I wonder whether the United Nations and whether the Secretary-General is going to do something in this regard, thank you.
Spokesman: I think we’ve very loudly condemned the targeted killing of journalists whether from here or our colleagues at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). You mentioned Egypt. The Secretary-General has raised the issue of detention of journalists in Egypt with the Foreign Minister when he met him a few weeks ago. It is universally accepted norms that journalists should be able to work freely, but as I’ve said before, I think it’s especially important in conflict areas that journalists be able to go about their reporting freely. It’s an essential job that they do. I think we have upcoming World Press Freedom Day that will be marked here. I’m sure there will be a message from the Secretary-General but this is something that we have spoken out and raised in various political forums, as well.
Question: I just wonder whether there is a sense that what is… what is… what’s the United Nations doing is maybe not fair in order to respond to all these mistreatments and or…?
Spokesman: I think we’ve raised the issue publically, we’ve raised, in some circumstances, raised the issue more privately but obviously there’s also the responsibility of governments to ensure that press is allowed to work freely.
Question: I’ll follow-up on the same subject. Yesterday, there was outrage in Lebanon and there’s picketing and Members of Parliament expressed their concern regarding what they called as terrorism by the Special Tribunal of Lebanon terrorizing journalists such as Al Jadeed Television or New Television in Beirut and the Al Akhbar newspaper. They say that the Tribunal itself is at trial here… at a media trial, for why are they going after the publishers, not the leakers of the information? The Special Tribunal of Lebanon was supposed to be and we were told here that it is meant to be of the highest standard. Is the highest standard not protecting the witnesses and concealing their statements? Is that not a duty of the Tribunal? Why would they go to the journalists who published leaked information and target them and this is intimidation to the journalists…
Spokesman: I think the Tribunal is independent of the Secretariat. It’s supported by the Security Council. I think a lot of those questions that you asked should be asked of the prosecutor’s office for the Tribunal. [The Spokesman had previously shared the relevant press release of the Tribunal with the journalist.]
Question: Sure, same topic. One, I wanted to… I wanted to ask you on Ethiopia, do you yet have a statement… various countries about the locking up of these journalists, given that you have a headquarters there?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything specific on Ethiopia, but I think I spoke about the universal principles and…
Question: I wanted to ask a more specific UN question. There is a… there is… I guess a member of the UN system, World Intellectual Property Association [sic] (WIPO), they are… based on a… a blog post on ipwatchdog.com that simply reported that one official had filed a complaint against the director, the head of the agency, the ipwatchdog.com, said that they received threats from WIPO’s legal department resulting in the take down of the article and I wondered, in terms of UN… the UN’s own commitment to sort of freedom of the press, is there a way to come to understand why a UN agency would… would demand the…the withdrawal of an article reporting a complaint against its director?
Spokesman: I don’t know the case, I don’t know what the article was or the alleged… I can’t confirm the alleged accusations against WIPO; as you know, WIPO is an independent… is a specialized agency with its own bodies but again, you know, articles critical of senior UN leaders appear all the time and I read them. Yes, Joe?
Question: Um… I’m going to change the subject… to Ukraine. Question I have is, in light of the continued detention of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)-related observers and also in light of reports at least that President [Vladimir] Putin is cutting off communications with some senior world leaders, presumably including President [Barack] Obama, have there been any attempts in recent days or will there be in the next few days of direct communication by the Secretary-General with President Putin to continue to urge restraint, use his influence on the release of those detainees, et cetera?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General spoke out forcefully yesterday on his call to release the OSCE monitors, we’ve had contacts with Russian officials at various levels, if and when there is a direct phone call between the Secretary-General and Mr. Putin, I will be able to confirm it.
Correspondent: But, has there been… so there… so, you’re saying there have not been any attempts because he had several telephone conversations in the past weeks…
Spokesman: I think, you know, once the phone calls have happened, I will be able to confirm them. Yes sir?
Question: On Ukraine, the Secretary-General already urged all parties to avoid actions that could raise tensions in the situation. What can you say about the sanctions against Russia from United States and European countries?
Spokesman: I think the… you know, we’re often asked to comment on actions of one side or the other. I think there is the blanket reaction from the Secretary-General is for all parties, whether those directly involved or those who have an influence to do whatever they can to de-escalate the conflict. Pam and then Mr. Abbadi, sorry.
Question: Stéphane, there is a major protest planned for tomorrow by several UN… I mean, several human rights organizations opposite the UN before Valerie Amos’s talk tomorrow to call on UN agencies to deliver the aid to 3.5 million desperately needed folks. There was some talk at the time of the passage, unanimous passage of [resolution] 2139 (2013) that it would allow the UN to deliver this aid, regardless of consent or not of the Government of Syria. Has there been any further interpretation by the Office of Legal Affairs or by your good offices to…that this would allow the UN to deliver aid?
Spokesman: I think, first of all, we all have to realize that the UN and our partners and our colleagues on the ground are… face extremely difficult challenges in trying to deliver aid throughout Syria, whether in Government-controlled areas or even more challenges in areas controlled by the opposition, because it’s sometimes, the security situation those areas is even more challenging when it’s not always clear who to negotiate with to provide safe passage. The resolution, you’re right, has asked for delivery assistance to cross all borders. The Secretary-General reported on it. I would encourage you to watch Ms. Amos tomorrow, listen to her briefing and she will also take your questions afterwards.
How to reach people in the hardest, the most difficult to reach areas is something that our colleagues work on, day in and day out. On the legal issue, because you raised it, I mean, it’s the long-standing and consistent position of the United Nations that, consistent with its Charter and the decisions of its competent intergovernmental bodies, the Organization can engage in activities within the territory of a Member State only with the consent of the Government of that State.
The only exception is where the Security Council has adopted a binding resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter, authorizing the Organization to act without the Government's consent.
But, you know, at the end of the day, I think for [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], for all our humanitarian partners, it’s not about the legality of the issues, it’s really about the people and trying to deliver aid in some of the most difficult circumstances. Yes, sir?
Question: Just a follow-up on that. Does that mean that…the Security Council needs to take further steps in order to deliver humanitarian assistance, in the event of the blocking that you are facing?
Spokesman: I think that the primary responsibility for the dire humanitarian situation in Syria lies with the parties in the conflict. They are the ones that have the responsibility. We have, I think I’ve told you what the Organization’s long-standing policy is, the Security Council will act in the way it best sees fit. We are really right now focusing on trying to get that aid in, working with the Government, regional Governments and the parties on the ground.
Question: As a follow-up, how do you respond to the critics that the United Nations is not doing enough for… that could be doing to help refugees, Syrian refugees in Lebanon, in Jordan?
Spokesman: Could more be done? Yes, of course, more can be done; the brunt of caring of these refugees is on the shoulders on the Government of Turkey, the Government of Lebanon, especially given the situation in Lebanon where most of the refugees are in urban areas, are not in camps. In Jordan, UNHCR’s partners are doing everything it can to create an environment when people can live in dignity; what’s missing is funding. The humanitarian appeal for Syria is, as we heard a few weeks… a few days ago, is not fully funded. We are on the ground working as much, as hard as we can, doing as much as we can to help the refugees. At the end of the day, it will have to be a political solution; it will have to be a negotiated solution that creates the circumstances in which people can return to their hoes in Syria. Evelyn? Sorry, Mr. Abaddi, I really… I promise you, you’re next.
Question: Again, the Council has said something about cross-border… cross-border humanitarian aid. Is what you’re saying in all your description is that there’s a safety issue if Valerie Amos’s team try to bring in food over the Turkish border, for example?
Spokesman: I think that, you know, it’s a conflict area; there’s a safety issue all the time. And in any conflict, not just in Syria where you’re dealing with on the one hand, Government forces and on the other hand, armed groups that may or may not coordinate with each other, it’s even more challenging in the Opposition-held areas, because it’s not always clear who’s in control and who do you need to negotiate with in terms of access. Mr. Abbadi? I’m sorry to keep you waiting and I hope I have an answer to your question.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you indicated earlier, the Security Council adopted a resolution on Western Sahara. Is the Secretary-General pleased with the fact that the parties would resume negotiations under the auspices of the Personal Envoy?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General could only be pleased that if the parties would return to the table under the auspices of the Personal Envoy.
Question: I just want to ask a follow up on that. After the… after…a fter the vote… the new Moroccan Permanent Representative gave a stakeout and when asked if Polisario could speak on the UN microphone, he said “no”, and then he said that’s because of UN rules. So, I think I’ve asked three times, what is the rule? And so, now, the day has passed, I guess in terms of them actually speaking in connection with the vote, but if you have Permanent Representatives on camera saying that there is a UN rule, can I ask you what the rule is?
Spokesman: You can. Matthew, I’m not being flippant with you, if I could answer your question, I would answer it.
Question: Who answers it? How is there a UN rule that can’t be stated by the UN?
Spokesman: I’m not saying that there is a… I’m not saying that there’s a UN rule. Yes, sir?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. I want to ask question about UN staff killed in Cambodia. Do you have any information about where is she from and what nationality and how and why she was killed?
Spokesman: I think I was… I think I just read that out. You may have not been here but it is… the person who was killed was a Dutch national. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Special Coordinator for the Middle East this morning, as you know, briefed the Security Council and at the end he said something like this: I believe we must use the current moment of reflection for discussion on a substantive basis for an early resumption of talks. What does he mean by discussion on a substantive basis?
Spokesman: Well, I think, he means exactly that: that this should be a resumption of negotiations on the substantive issues by the parties.
Question: I want to ask, I guess… I want to ask about Burundi. One, just overall I’ve seen that one of… one of the two generals that was listed in the UN memo as participating in an event in which weapons were handed over has given an interview and has confirmed being at the place and then said, on the UN allegations about the weapons, “I’ll speak later”. So, I wanted to know, what has the UN done to track it down? And also, back on this press freedom issue, two journalists that reported on the memo, one from Radio Publique Africain and from Radio Sans Frontieres, both have been arrested for reporting on this UN memo. So, I know you said you wouldn’t talk about a memo, but it seems since they’re now being charged with false reporting for publishing a UN memo. Is it… can you say at least that the memo was an authentic document that a journalist could legitimately publish without being arrested?
Spokesman: Look, I think journalists should be allowed to publish what they want without me having to say whether it’s legitimate or not. A free press is critical to a political process to negotiation… you know, a political process to reconciliation and we hope in whatever country that journalists are not harassed and are able to do their work.
Question: What will you say to those who say that in a way that the approach of the… of the UN there and here to this memo is, sort of, the UN wants to stay in the country, therefore won’t confirm that the memo was…?
Spokesman: I think the memo… you know, Matthew, the memo is secondary. There are all sorts of internal documents, sometimes things leak and sometimes they don’t. The point is that we have flagged repeatedly from this podium, in private meetings, in public meetings on the issues of the arming of youth wings and calling on the Government to investigate it. So, whatever may or may not have been in this memo, I think it’s something that we have talked about publically. Yes, Joe?
Question: Yes, going back to Mr. Serry’s report and the related issues. Mr. Serry indicated that he spoke to Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas and got assurances from Mr. Abbas regarding the intention, at least during the interim Government to adhere to policy of non-violence, recognition of the State of Israel and adherence to previous agreements. However, nothing was said about any direct contact with Hamas, so my question is: is the Secretary-General contemplating authorizing Mr. Serry to meet directly with the appropriate Hamas officials to get a direct assurance that they agree with Mr. Abbas?
Spokesman: Mr. Serry is also the Representative of the Secretary-General to the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). He meets with the Palestinian leadership. If there are other contacts, I would let you know; but he’s meeting with President Abbas as the President.
Question: But, in his report and I realize we can probably follow up on this tomorrow but in his report, he characterized the reconciliation, assuming that those three conditions that Mr. Abbas represented would be met were actually complied with; but the other partner to this reconciliation to make this successful is Hamas. So… so… maybe getting permission from Mr. Abbas or whatever will take, wouldn’t it be constructive before commenting whether this reconciliation is positive or not to get assurances on the record from Hamas that they will abide by the conditions?
Spokesman: Mr. Serry has the contacts that he needs to have on the Palestinian side. He met with President Abbas and listened to what President Abbas had to say about the unity Government and we then reported on it. Thank you. Oh, sorry… almost done.
Question: Sorry, just for planning purposes. As for Mr. Ban’s visit to mission… South Korea mission, can we physically cover it?
Spokesman: I think you have to… it’s to the Consulate of the Republic of Korea, the Consulate General. I would call the Consulate General and they would have to make the arrangements.
Question: And are we expecting any readouts?
Spokesman: No, it’s a signing of a condolence book. I think the Secretary-General has already expressed his feelings of sadness on this tragedy in the letter he sent to the President. Evelyn?
Question: Is there any possibility of a Quartet meeting considering what the peace talks are going nowhere?
Spokesman: None to announce.
Question: Yesterday, Mr. [Jan] Eliasson met with the Patriarch gregarious Duraid Lahham of Syria. Can you tell us exactly what they discussed?
Spokesman: I will try to tell you because I saw the meeting and I said to myself to make a note to get a readout and I didn’t and I will. Matthew and then Oleg? Go ahead.
Question: On… great. I wanted to know one thing is… I don’t know if you’ll know this now but I wanted to ask there’s a report saying that the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Deputy Secretary-General, Alexander Vershbow, is coming to the United States and will meet with, “UN Officials”, so I wanted to know given what’s going on…?
Spokesman: Let me find out.
Correspondent: Okay, this is the question I wanted to ask you, yesterday in the Committee on Information, getting nitty-gritty here, there… there… various countries raised issues about why their languages aren’t represented, that the archives of UNTV are not presented in Spanish, Chinese, Russian. So, I wanted to… it wasn’t really clear to me what the answer on that was… maybe you can… I mean…
Spokesman: I think the answer is that it’s an effort that we have tried, [the Department of Public Information] has tried to improve the situation in terms of languages. We are now able to webcast in the six languages; I know that they’re working the technologies to archive it in the six languages. It’s an issue of resources, it’s an issue of mandate, but it’s not an issue of will and of willingness to do more in many languages. And in fact, a lot of the UNTV programming is now done in different languages.
Correspondent: This is a simpler one, I know it will be the last one for me, I know there’s an event down there, but I wanted to ask on the actual UN EZTV which has channels and it’s an in-house thing, it seems like now, there’s two French channels, there’s two American news channels, there’s Al-Jazeera, there’s no Russian or Chinese channel, so…
Spokesman: We’re trying. Part of the issue is what we can get for free, we had to cut costs in terms of subscription so it was a cost issue, but I know it’s an effort on the part of [the Department of Public Information] to add more channels in different languages, but it’s also trying to do it in a way that doesn’t cost us a dime.
Question: It’s seems like P3 TV, do you see why?
Spokesman: Okay, that’s a comment, not a question.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this fact-finding mission created by OPCW, will the UN have any part in it, like the previous mission?
Spokesman: No, it’s separate from the Joint Mission. It’s an OPCW, we may if needed, provide some logistic assistance because we have people on the ground; but it is an OPCW mission and it’s separate from the Joint OPCW-UN Mission. I will give you the last word.
Question: Just you didn’t mention what would happen to Kevin Kennedy. Is he staying here in another job or retiring or what, since he’s been here a long time?
Spokesman: I don’t know. He’s a great senior UN official, he served the UN in many, many capacities all over the world and I know we all very much appreciate his work and I do hope to see him again somewhere in the UN system. Thank you.
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