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

30 April 2014

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

30 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.

** Syria

Earlier this morning, as you saw, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned acts of terror against innocent civilians in Syria, including a car bombing and a mortar shelling in central Homs, and mortar fire in Damascus.

The Secretary-General appeals to all parties to this terrible conflict to at least, live up to their responsibility under humanitarian law and stop targeting civilian areas, including through aerial bombing and barrel bombs.

The heartbreaking situation in Syria falls not only on the conscience of the perpetrators of these acts, who must be brought to justice, but also on all Syrian and international actors, who must put their differences aside and exercise humility and bravery to work together to stop the violence and achieve a political solution to the Syrian conflict.  The full statement is available online.

Meanwhile, Valerie Amos has been briefing the Security Council in closed consultations this morning on humanitarian access in Syria.  She is expected to speak to reporters at the stakeout shortly and my trusted colleagues promised me they would bring me a note as soon as they know she’s on her way so we can let you know.

Also on Syria, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) expressed its outrage at today’s latest wave of indiscriminate attacks perpetrated against schools and other civilian targets across Syria, which left dozens of children killed and injured.

UNICEF also calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to immediately cease all attacks against civilians and to fully respect the special protection afforded to children under international humanitarian and human rights law.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, wrapped up their visit to South Sudan today.

During their mission, they met with President Salva Kiir and five senior Ministers in his Government.  They also met with the opposition leader Riek Machar.

At a press conference in Juba, both Ms. Pillay and Mr. Dieng stressed that South Sudan was on a dangerous trajectory.

Ms. Pillay said that what she had seen and heard during their mission had reinforced the view that the country’s leaders have embarked on a personal power struggle that has brought their people to the verge of catastrophe.

They also both stressed the need for accountability.  Mr. Dieng stressed that ethnicity should not be used as a reason to incite violence or demonise and exclude any community or section of the population.

And the High Commissioner added that if the people of South Sudan are to believe that there is accountability, investigations must move swiftly beyond statements of intent to action.  She also said that she and Mr. Dieng had warned the country’s political leaders that current and future investigations will inevitably examine the extent to which political and military leaders either knew, should have known, or failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Both senior officials also said that they had urged the leaders to show more concern for the 1.2 million people displaced inside South Sudan, and in neighbouring countries, and the many other South Sudanese who are now in real danger of facing famine.  Both of their statements are available online.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, as you would have seen, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Security Council on Ukraine, telling Council members that the spirit of compromise that had emerged two weeks ago appears to have evaporated.  He said that the implementation of the Geneva Statement has stalled as parties have sought to give different interpretations of what had been agreed upon.  Unhelpful rhetoric on the part of many has further escalated the already high tensions.

Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General has continued his high-level engagement with world leaders and is trying to help bring a return to diplomacy and a peaceful resolution.  In that spirit, the Secretary-General has asked Mr. Feltman to travel to Ukraine next week.

** Cyprus

And also on the subject of Mr. Feltman’s travels, he will also pay an official visit to Cyprus from 4 to 6 May.  During his familiarization trip, he is scheduled to meet with the two leaders during separate meetings on 5 May.

He will also hold a series of other meetings while on the island, including with the Greek Cypriot negotiator and the Turkish Cypriot negotiator.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fighters from the Alliance et Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain, otherwise known as APCLS, attacked this morning a MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) base and two army positions near Nyabiondo, in North Kivu Province.  MONUSCO troops returned fire and counter-attacked using helicopters, allowing the Congolese troops to recapture their positions.

The army suffered six killed, and three wounded, and MONUSCO has one wounded.  During the fighting, 4,000 civilians sought shelter at the MONUSCO base in Nyabiondo.  The Mission is currently supporting the Congolese Army against many different rebel groups in the eastern part of the country.

**Free & Equal

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today launched the first-ever Bollywood-style UN music video in Mumbai, India, to promote its Free & Equal campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.

The video stars Celina Jaitly, an actress and former Miss India who is a UN Equality Champion.  The dance moves in the video were choreographed by Longi, who was also the choreographer for Slumdog Millionaire.

In a message to the launch, the Secretary-General said that he is a staunch advocate of the Free & Equal campaign because he refuses to stand silent in the face of prejudice against LGBT members of our human family. And the statement is available online and the video, I’m sure, is available online as well.

**Antibiotics

In new report released today, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that antibiotic resistance — meaning when bacteria change and antibiotics no longer work in people who need them — is now a major threat to public health.

With data from 114 countries, the report entitled "Antimicrobial resistance:  global report on surveillance" focuses on antibiotic resistance in seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia, among others.  The results are of high concern, documenting resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics, in all regions of the world.

The report is kick-starting a global effort led by WHO to address drug resistance, measure its health and economic impacts, and design targeted solutions.  It also identifies several ways people can help tackle resistance, including using antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor, and only prescribing and dispensing antibiotics when they are truly needed.  More information is available on the World Health Organization’s website.

**Secretary-General Appointment

I have another appointment today.  The Secretary-General has appointed Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal as his Special Representative for Central Africa and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, which is based in Libreville, Gabon.

Since July 2013, Mr. Bathily has been serving as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.

He succeeds Abou Moussa of Chad, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his leadership and important accomplishments of the Regional Office during his tenure.  And we have more on this appointment available upstairs.

**John Ging

And tomorrow, I will be joined by my guest, John Ging, the Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and he will be here to talk about his recent visit to the Central African Republic.

I’m done; up to you, Mr. Klein.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I want to follow up on a question that I asked your yesterday and this concerns the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.  Yesterday, there was a report in Reuters actually, quoting a… what they characterize as an influential Hamas spokes… leader who participated in the negotiations.  He actually said and he was quoted as saying that President [Mahmoud] Abbas was not telling the truth, that Hamas would not ever recognize the State of Israel, which is one of the conditions that Mr. [Robert] Serry had said Abbas had represented to him was going to be adhered to in the unity Government.  There’s also a report over the weekend that Hamas spokesperson even threatened to sue The Washington Post for supposedly falsely quoting him as saying that Hamas would consider softening its position on recognition of Israel.  In light of all of that…I… I… I must ask again, to what extent did Mr. Serry perform due diligence, before he made the statements he did yesterday to the Security Council relying on what President Abbas had told him and not at least balancing it with these indications that Hamas is not on the same page?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think, you know, in any political situations when there are coalitions being built, negotiations being had, you’ll have people making comments left, right and centre.  I think we have no reason not to take President Abbas at his word; he’s our interlocutor for the Palestinian Authority.  Mr. Serry is doing his job in talking to him and reporting back on what was said.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Besides strong condemnation on Syria, what concrete action and strong action, can be… can the UN take for use of chemical weapons?  And also, second question, on the killing… on the trans-border killing between Syria and Lebanon, do you have comment on that?

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen anything on that particular incident; obviously, we recognize the fact that Lebanon has borne a great load in the impact of the Syrian conflict, both in terms of some cross border skirmishes and the refugees that it is housing.  I think in terms of concrete acts, I think you just have to look at what the Joint UN-OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) Mission has been doing in the work that they’ve been doing in support of the destruction of almost more than 92 per cent, I believe, of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.  And as I mentioned yesterday, the OPCW is also sending a mission to Syria to look into chlorine gas.  I’m also told Ms. Amos would be there in a few minutes, but I’m… yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has the United Nations sought for an explanation from the Syrian Government for why they haven’t adhered to their own commitment to destroy the last bunch of chemical weapons, that 7-point-something per cent?

Spokesman:  I think you know Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag spoke about this over the weekend.  They are working with the Syrian Government to ensure that everything is being done and think progress is being made.

Question:  Yes; again back to Syria with these two terrible events you cited.  On the theory that accountability is important, do you have any information of who did it?  Now the Syrian Government says in Homs it was one of the armed groups but we don’t know which one.  And then the Syrian children were shot by an air strike, it is pretty obvious that that was the Government, but do you have any of the background to confirm or deny that?

Spokesman:  We don’t have any hard facts to point fingers at anyone.  Obviously, I think we have seen repeatedly since the beginning of this conflict both the Government and the various armed opposition violating over and over international humanitarian law and targeting, wilfully targeting civilians, targeting children, and I think the issue of impunity and accountability continues to be at the forefront.  Those issues often take a little longer, but I think there are a number of leaders sitting in The Hague who would attest that accountability does come.  Yes, I’m being told that Ms. Amos is at the stakeout.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Mr. Feltman’s visit to Ukraine, do you have the exact dates and is… who is he going to meet in Kyiv and is he going to visit Slavyansk and other parts of the…?

Spokesman:  No, we expect it to be… my understanding is it will be after his stops in Cyprus and that the programme is still being evaluated but is obviously part of the Secretary-General’s diplomatic efforts.  Yes, and then we’ll go to you, Matthew.

Question:  I have a question on death penalty after the botched execution yesterday in Oklahoma and then there is… the other day, the Maldives announced they may stop the moratorium.  I was wondering what is your reaction?

Spokesman:  I think, on the Maldives, we spoke about that at length yesterday calling on the Maldives Government to alter its policy which now makes young children even possible to confront the death penalty.  I think, in just general terms, the Secretary-General’s position is guided by the 2007 General Assembly vote calling for moratorium on death penalties.  The Secretary-General spoke about, as recently as a few days ago, which he emphasized that the right… that the taking of a life is too irreversible for one human being to inflict on another, so I think he’s personal position on death penalty is well known.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure, I want to ask you about South Sudan; just one follow-up to that.  I mean, do you know if the Secretary-General is personally aware of this botched execution widely reported all over the world in which… the person was declared unconscious, came back to life and another one has been…

Spokesman:  I think you know Secretary-General watches the news.  And the other question?

Question:  Sure, on South Sudan, I wanted to ask you about the Secretary-General’s statement yesterday on South Sudan where he said he urged President Kiir to intervene personally to stop a negative campaign against UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) and to issue a public statement to this end.  What I wanted to know is one… I mean, can you say… to some it seems to… to say to a leader to… what does he mean by intervene personally beyond issuing a public statement?  And number two, the issues that have arisen about UNMISS, for example, the truck of weapons that were going to the Ghanaian peacekeepers, has that report ever been issued publically?  Has the… has the cluster bomb report… thinking of things within the UN’s power to do… to try to…

Spokesman:  I think the information on the weapons box was shared with the Government of South Sudan.  I think you know, like in any mission, there are… it is normal that sometimes there are points of tension between the host country and the mission, but I think here in South Sudan we have seen issues of having to do with our ability to move around that is being hampered.  Attacks on our compounds where we feel the Government has a responsibility to protect those compounds, so I think there are improvements to be made in the relationship between the Government and the Mission.

Correspondent:  Just to… I mean, the reason why I’m asking about the weapons when I still… I get e-mails from over there from people saying they haven’t seen the UN report.  So, I wonder what is the UN’s own duty to sort of work, go to the public and say this is what happened here, understand what we did.  It seems to me that that report has never been issued publically.  Maybe you gave it to the Government, but if people don’t know…

Spokesman:  I think we spoke about its conclusions from here but I will double check.

Question:  Thanks Stéphane.  I wanted to follow up on something that you said yesterday on the question of cross-border deliveries.  You said that if the UN was to oversee or help with the delivery of cross-border aid to Syria or any other country without the consent of the Government, there would need to be Chapter VII resolution… would need to be some stronger legal basis for it.  I understand that not all countries agree with this assessment and I’m just wondering if there’s been a dialogue between [the Office of Legal Affairs] and the countries that have a dissenting legal…

Spokesman:  You know, I think our focus is on the people and trying to deliver the aid within the restrictions that exist in this intergovernmental organization.  Yes, this is something that is being looked at, but I would also encourage you or one of your colleagues to ask this of Ms. Amos, who’s just been in the Council, where this was obviously one of the issues that was most likely discussed in her report on humanitarian aid.

Correspondent:  If I could follow up; I mean, Ms. Amos has been fairly clear in her position this and I’m trying to get a sense of the position of [the Office of Legal Affairs] and the United Nations as a whole because the main obstacle that keeps coming up is the legal obstacle as opposed to a rather formidable security obstacle that doesn’t seem to be the one that’s…

Spokesman:  I think, you know, as always, there are internal discussions.  There are always internal discussions going on, so I’m not going to go really any further in what I’ve said yesterday and what Ms. Amos will say today.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following Robert Serry’s briefing of Security Council on the state of the peace process… Middle East peace process, does the Secretary-General plan to speak toSecretary of State John Kerry?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything… I don’t have any information that he’s about to, but his contacts with Secretary State Kerry are frequent.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, you may not have it at your fingertips, or maybe you can look into it.  There’s a report of a… of a… essentially, rape by an UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) Jordanian peacekeeper in Liberia and it’s been reported in all Africa, from the local paper there… describes in great detail the events and it’s obviously kind of troubling and I wonder, what is UNMIL’s… did it happen?  Did it not happen?  And if it did happen…?

Spokesman: Obviously, reports of any sexual assault by UN staff or peacekeeper is very troubling; but I would look into it.  I don’t have any information beyond what you’ve just told me.  Thank you.

* *** *

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