4 June 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Security Council President on Work Programme for June


The role of transparent resource management in conflict prevention, the situations in Mali and Somalia, and a debate on sexual violence in armed conflict would be among the Security Council’s top priorities in June, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom said at Headquarters today, briefing correspondents in his capacity as the 15-member body’s President for June.

Throughout the press conference, Mark Lyall Grant was peppered with questions about the evolving situation in Syria, from reports of possible chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime, to arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, to efforts by the Council to secure access for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry.  He answered all of them in his national capacity.

On the Council’s work programme, he said that his country’s Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, would chair a 6 June briefing on Somalia, expected to culminate in a presidential statement.  On 19 June, the Council would hold an open debate on conflict prevention and natural resources, highlighting the role of transparent resource management in fighting corruption, protecting human rights and promoting sustainable development.  A presidential statement would also likely cap that meeting, to be attended by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, a World Bank senior official and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

On 24 June, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague would chair an open debate on sexual violence, he said, during which he hoped a resolution would be adopted.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura were expected to brief the Council.

Other highlights included a 12 June debate on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; a 17 June debate on children and armed conflict, to be attended by a number of Prime Ministers; and a 20 June debate on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The Secretary-General’s report on Mali, due on 10 June, and the long-awaited United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel, due on 14 June, would set the stage for two briefings later in the month.  On 25 June, the Council would hear a briefing on Mali, marking the last opportunity to discuss that situation before the 1 July start of a new peacekeeping operation there.  The Council would be briefed on 26 June by Special Envoy Romano Prodi on the Secretary-General’s report on the Sahel.

Turning to the Middle East, he said the Council would meet on 5 June to renew the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1731 Iran Sanctions Committee, and on 12 June, to renew the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), during a meeting on troop contributing countries.  An 11 June briefing on Yemen would be followed by 27 June consultations on moving the Iraq-Kuwait dossiers from Chapter VIII to Chapter VI.

A “horizon scanning” meeting would also be scheduled, he said, as would possible briefings on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, depending on developments in those countries.

Taking questions, Mr. Grant said there had been credible evidence that chemical weapons had been used in small quantities by the regime in Syria.  On 23 May, the United Kingdom had told the Secretary-General of three incidents in which they might have been used.  More broadly, he said, the Commission of Inquiry report stated that sarin and other nerve agents had been used, but that there was no compelling evidence that anti-Government groups possessed or had used them.

He said he could not speak to evidence presented by France, which was separate from information contained in the report.  He had understood from public statements by the French Foreign Minister that France had compelling evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.  He regretted that the Syrian regime had blocked access to the country for the United Nations investigation.  The United Kingdom would continue to hand over evidence from wherever it received it.

He went on to say that the next Geneva Conference should be held as soon as possible, recalling that the United States and the Russian Federation had spoken of organizing an event before the end of May.  He hoped a date would be set after tomorrow’s meeting of senior officials.  Stressing that all efforts should be made to implement the June 2012 Geneva communiqué, he said it was important that representatives from both sides were “credible and empowered” when they came to Geneva.  Those with influence on Damascus must help ensure that the regime met those criteria, and especially, implemented the Geneva agreement.  “No one is being invited to Geneva to reinterpret the Geneva communiqué,” he asserted.

Asked about the Security Council’s inability to say anything about the situation in Syria, he said the United Kingdom had pushed for a press statement on the humanitarian crisis in Al-Qusayr, requesting that humanitarian access be allowed.  He regretted that it had been blocked by one Member State. “The Security Council should be active on the issue of Syria,” he stressed.  The focus now was on the next conference in Geneva, the timing of which would determine whether the Council played a role in solving the crisis.  He did not anticipate any significant output from the 15-member body before that time.  Afterwards, however, he expected “rapid consideration”, in either June or July.

He added that the Council had held extensive discussions on Syria over the last two years, which had sometimes led to agreement around compromised texts, as in April 2012.  However, three subsequent drafts had been vetoed by the Russian Federation and China.  “Sometimes views are so far apart it is not possible to bridge the divide,” he said.

Asked for his reaction to the grim catalogue of abuses being committed in Syria, he said he shared the Secretary-General’s reaction:  “appalled and staggered”.  The United Kingdom had been aware of the depth of atrocities for more than two years and had repeatedly called the Council’s attention to them.  He regretted that the Council had not responded in an appropriate manner.

To questions about arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, he said the United Kingdom had been a sponsor of the Arms Trade Treaty for more than 10 years and would start ratification procedures quickly, with a view to completing them by year-end.

More broadly, he explained that the European Union had decided to lift its arms embargo on weapons to the Syrian opposition.  However, the United Kingdom had not taken a decision on whether to supply arms to one group or another.  “No decision has been taken on whether, how or when to supply weapons to anyone,” he said.  It was true that the opposition was under massive pressure and did not have the means to defend itself.  It was important remember that what had started as peaceful protests had only grown more violent because of the regime’s refusal to engage in dialogue on issues important to the Syrian people.

Answering other questions ‑ including on when the next annual report by the Iran Panel of Experts would be released ‑ he said he would like all such reports to be made public and the United Kingdom would push for that.  There had been a trend of countries blocking reports, although none had blocked this particular report.

To a question on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, in his national capacity, that the United Kingdom supported the intervention brigade.  New thinking was required and the decision to set up the brigade had already had a deterrent effect, which could help to change the dynamic in the region.  The United Kingdom had “zero tolerance” for sexual violence by peacekeepers and militias alike.

To reports that Australia and the Philippines were pulling out of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force and that the Force’s mandate might be adjusted, he said informal discussions had been held about whether the mandate could or should be amended.  He hoped troop contributors would remain in the mission.  While its operations were more restricted than in the past, its presence still sent an important symbolic message.  UNDOF should continue, even in a more limited modus operandi.

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For information media • not an official record