BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
TUESDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2013
TRANSCRIPT OF SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PRESS BRIEFING ON SYRIA
- Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
- I leave shortly for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg. But I wanted to take just a few minutes with you before my departure to brief you on the crisis in Syria, particularly on the chemical weapons investigation.
- Since the horrendous attacks in the Ghouta area of Damascus two weeks ago, the United Nations Mission led by [Dr.] Åke Sellström has been working urgently to establish the facts regarding the nature and extent of any use of chemical weapons.
- As the first probe of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century, the Mission’s success is in everyone’s interest.
- Last Friday, I briefed the Permanent members of the Security Council on the status of the investigation. This morning, I briefed the Council’s ten non-permanent members.
- This afternoon, my High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane, will brief other Member States.
- I have called for the Mission to be given every opportunity to complete its task. The United Nations investigation is uniquely placed to independently establish the facts in an objective and impartial manner. Its work will be conducted strictly according to internationally recognized standards.
- The Mission has worked around the clock following its return from Syria to prepare the materials it gathered for analysis. I am pleased to announce that all biomedical and environmental samples will have arrived at the designated laboratories by tomorrow.
- We are doing our utmost to expedite the process. At the same time, I need to stress the importance of not jeopardizing the scientific timelines required for accurate analysis. As soon as the Mission has arrived at findings on the Ghouta incident, I will promptly report the results to Member States and to the Security Council.
- And as soon as it can, the Mission will return to Syria to complete its investigation and to prepare its final report.
- As I have stressed repeatedly, if confirmed, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be a serious violation of international law and an outrageous war crime.
- Almost a century ago, following the horrors of the First World War, the international community acted to ban the use of these weapons of mass destruction. Our common humanity compels us to ensure that chemical weapons do not become a tool of war or terror in the 21st century. Any perpetrators must be brought to justice. There should be no impunity.
- Bearing in mind the primary responsibility of the Security Council, I call for its members to unite and to develop an appropriate response, should the allegations of use prove to be true. The Security Council has a duty to move beyond the current stalemate and show leadership. This is a larger issue than the conflict in Syria; this is about our collective responsibility to humankind.
- Whatever the source, this latest escalation should be a wake-up call for the international community. We must put an end to the atrocities the Syrian people continue to suffer. We should avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for a political settlement.
- I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons. At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate a political resolution of the conflict.
- The turmoil in Syria and across the region serves nobody. I appeal for renewed efforts by regional and international actors to convene the Geneva conference as soon as possible.
- The G20 summit meeting in St. Petersburg is meant to focus on economic issues, including the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development. But I will use the opportunity of this gathering to engage with world leaders on this tragedy, including humanitarian assistance for the more than 2 million refugees and 4.2 million Syrians who have been displaced internally.
- It is imperative to end this war.
- Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen. Now I would be happy to take one or two questions.
Q: On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you, Secretary-General, for the briefing, and we wish you well on the G20 meeting. My question is, since you are talking about an end to impunity and you are also talking about the primacy of the Charter, which would prohibit any military strike without UN Security Council authorization and with a stalemate in the Security Council, what is it that you are proposing? What’s in the toolbox of the UN to avoid that kind of confrontation to end impunity and do you think the inspectors report will be out before the U.S. Congress convenes? Thank you.
SG: As I have repeatedly said, the Security Council has primary responsibility for international peace and security. For any course of actions in the future, depending upon the outcome of the analysis, the scientific analysis, will have to be considered by the Security Council for any action. That’s my appeal – that everything should be handled within the framework of the United Nations Charter. The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and/or when the Security Council approves such action. That is the firm principle of the United Nations. And as I said again for your second question, our mandate to investigate the other allegations of chemical use remains unchanged and when we are ready, we will send, dispatch, our mission again to Syria for the final report. The timing will have to be considered later on, depending upon the situation.
Q: Do you mean, Secretary-General, that the position taken by President [Barack] Obama that in his opinion there should be a strike is illegal, and why did you agree, or your team, agree to limit the mandate of the investigation team to only, as you put it, the nature and extent of, rather than if the team has information as to who is responsible. Was this what the Syrian Government insisted or stipulated before agreeing to the protocol?
SG: I have taken note of President Obama’s statement. And I appreciate his efforts to have his future course of action based on the broad opinions of American people, particularly the Congress, and I hope this process will have a good result. And as for other issues, I have clearly stated my positions on the other issues, pertaining to this chemical weapons use.
Q: But who put the limits on the mandate? Is it the Syrian Government? What is the mandate of the team, of Sellström’s team, is not identified, so who put such limitations, on the mandate? Was it the Secretariat when it negotiated, was it the Syrian Government or was it the Security Council?
SG: This is the United Nations’ decision and my decision. The mandate of this team is to determine the use of chemical weapons – whether there was or not the use of chemical weapons. It’s not to determine who has used against whom. We do not have that kind of mandate at this time. So it’s not… one may think it is a limit, but this is based on the recognized standards of the international community. We’ve been working very closely with the OPCW [the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and the WHO [World Health Organization]. Thank you very much. I have to rush to the airport at this time. I hope you will understand. Thank you.
REFUGEE AGENCY: MORE THAN TWO MILLION SYRIANS ARE SHELTERING ABROAD
- The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that the number of Syrians forced to seek shelter abroad since civil war began in March 2011 passed the 2 million mark today, with no sign of the outflow ending soon.
- This trend is nothing less than alarming, representing a jump of almost 1.8 million people in 12 months, UNHCR said. One year ago today, the number of Syrians registered as refugees or awaiting registration stood at about 230,670 people.
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said Syria had become "a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history." He added that "the only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees."
- Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) appealed today for humanitarian access inside Syria to avoid a situation in which hunger becomes an additional factor pushing more people to flee the country. In August, WFP was only able to dispatch food for 2.4 million people -- short of its goal of feeding three million people a month -- as a result of the deteriorating security situation.
SECRETARY-GENERAL TO TRAVEL TO G-20 SUMMIT IN RUSSIA
- The Secretary-General is heading to Saint Petersburg in Russia today to attend the G-20 Summit.
- On Wednesday, he will give a lecture at Saint Petersburg State University.
- On Thursday, the Secretary-General will participate in the G-20 Summit. He is expected to have a wide range of bilateral meetings with world leaders.
- The Secretary-General will return to New York on Saturday.
TEAM FROM U.N. MISSION IN IRAQ VISITS CAMP ASHRAF
- One day after the tragic events that took place in Camp Ashraf, a delegation from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), led by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Gyorgy Busztin conducted a visit to the camp on Monday, where they met separately with the camp’s surviving residents and the commander of Diyala’s Police.
- Inside the camp, the delegation witnessed 52 bodies in a makeshift morgue. All the deceased appeared to have suffered gunshot wounds, the majority of them in the head and the upper body, and several with their hands tied. The delegation also saw several damaged buildings, including one burnt, and was shown quantities of explosives.
- The delegation was informed by the camp’s residents that seven persons were still missing.
- Mr. Buzstin expressed his outrage at the brutal killing of the camp’s residents. He took note of the statement issued by the Government of Iraq announcing it has initiated its own investigation into the tragic events and acknowledging its responsibility for the safety of the camp’s residents. He called on the Iraqi Government to ensure that a thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into this atrocious crime is conducted without delay and that the results of the investigation are made public.
- In a statement issued on Sunday, the Secretary-General deplored the attack and appealed for the urgent restoration of security in the Camp, as it is the responsibility of the Government of Iraq to ensure the safety and security of the residents. The Secretary-General called on the Government of Iraq to promptly investigate the incident and disclose the findings.
U.N. HUMANITARIAN COORDINATORS URGE GOVERNMENTS OF SUDAN, SOUTH SUDAN TO IMPLEMENT PACT ON FREEDOMS OF RESIDENCE, MOVEMENT
· Ali Al-Za’tari and Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinators for Sudan and South Sudan respectively, issued a joint call today to encourage the Governments of the two countries to fully implement an agreement, signed on 27 September 2012, providing for the four freedoms of residence, movement, property and economic activity to nationals in each other’s state.
· The Coordinators applauded the setting up of the Joint High Level Committee to oversee the management and decision-making of issues relating to these people, and encouraged both Governments to scale up efforts to provide nations of the other state with documentation, including residency and work permits.
· They also appealed to the Governments to facilitate the safe and voluntary return for those who wish to return and encouraged the Governments to lead the return process and appeal to the international donor community to assist this endeavour.
U.N. SPECIAL ADVISER VISITS YEMEN, MEETS PRESIDENT AND OTHER OFFICIALS ON NATIONAL DIALOGUE
- The Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, is currently in Yemen, continuing his efforts in support of the country's political transition.
- Since arriving last week, he has met President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister Mohamed Salem Basendwa, Minister of Foreign Affairs Abou Bakr AlQirbi, and a wide range of leaders of political parties and civil society organizations.
- Mr. Benomar is working with all sides to help reach consensus on a final outcome document of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). In this regard, he met with President Hadi and leaders of all political parties on Sunday, 1 September. He congratulated the Yemenis for conducting “the most genuine transparent and inclusive National Dialogue the Arab region has ever witnessed.” He also urged all sides to cooperate in the final stage of the NDC and reach agreements on the outstanding issues, such as the structure of the state and the Southern Question.
- Mr. Benomar and his team of experts are providing advice to the Conference on how to address these issues.
- The Special Adviser will attend the ministerial-level Friends of Yemen meeting in New York on 25 September. He will also brief the Security Council on 27 September.
SECRETARY-GENERAL’S ENVOY ON TALKS BETWEEN GREECE, FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA SET TO TRAVEL TO REGION
- Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will travel to the region during the period 9-11 September 2013 for meetings in Athens and Skopje.
- Ambassador Nimetz will be meeting in Athens and Skopje with senior government officials of both countries to continue discussions on finding a mutually acceptable resolution to the “name” issue.
MALI: U.N. BODY HELPING CHILDREN RETURN TO SCHOOL
- The United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) said today that it is scaling up efforts in Mali to help half a million children whose lives have been disrupted by conflict, flooding and the nutrition crisis, to get back to their books. Some 200 schools have been closed, destroyed, looted, and in some places contaminated with unexploded ordnance, since January 2012.
- As schools in the north slowly reopened earlier this year, classrooms in Gao and Timbuktu were packed with students, in many cases, sitting on the floor because there was no furniture, while in Kidal, schools remain closed. In the south, already overcrowded classrooms saw an influx of about 75,000 displaced students.
- UNICEF and partners have already delivered learning materials for over 90,000 students. During the coming school year, 9,000 teachers will receive training, and temporary learning spaces are being set up while schools are refurbished or repaired.
- Funding remains a constraint, with just 27 per cent of the $12 million sought for emergency education received so far this year.
HUNGER ON RISE, U.N. FOOD AGENCY WARNS
- The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that the food security situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating and hunger is on the rise, with an estimated 2.2 million people – one in four of the rural population – expected to need food assistance during the pre-harvest period early next year. That figure is the highest since early 2009, when more than half the population required food support.
- The current high levels of food insecurity are due to various factors including adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs.
- To meet the increased needs, WFP and its partners are providing regionally-procured cereals as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses. Cash transfers will be used in selected areas to afford people flexibility and help support local markets. Distributions would be gradually scaled up from October until harvest time in March next year.
- To help people withstand future droughts and other shocks, WFP has been implementing a Cash or Food for Assets programme in rural Zimbabwe since June. Under that programme, vulnerable communities received food or cash while taking part in projects such as the construction of community irrigation systems and deep wells.
SECRETARY-GENERAL COMMENDS LEADERS FROM PACIFIC ISLANDS FOR EFFORTS TO TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE
- The Secretary-General commended the leaders from the Pacific Islands region for their commitment to the fight against climate change in his message today to the 44th Pacific Islands Forum.
- He said that the Pacific Islands region was among the first to raise the alarm on the implications of climate change not only for themselves but for the world. He also noted that the Pacific Island region is among the most vulnerable while climate change affects us all.
- The Secretary-General invited the leaders from the region to the Climate Change Summit scheduled to take place in September 2014 in New York, which aims to catalyze ambitious action to reduce emissions and enhance climate resilience while mobilizing political will for a universal and comprehensive agreement in 2015.