6 May 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 Vannina Maestracci, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Bonjour. Welcome to the noon briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, I will be joined by Yukio Takasu, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will be here to brief on the financial situation of the organization.

**Secretary-General in South Sudan

The Secretary-General has just recently wrapped up his one-day visit to South Sudan, where he met with President Salva Kiir and spoke by phone with former Vice-President Riek Machar.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with the President, the Secretary-General said that he was in Juba with a heavy heart, as he remembered the hope he had witnessed three years ago when South Sudan became a country.  He commended President Kiir for expressing his intention to meet shortly in Addis Ababa with Riek Machar.  And before leaving, he told the press that Riek Machar had also informed him that he will be in Addis Ababa for meetings with President Kiir on 9 May — that’s Friday.  The Secretary-General added that the President had assured him that the United Nations — including the leadership of the UN Mission [in South Sudan] (UNMISS) — have his full support.  The Secretary-General also said that he was proud of the courage shown by the UN Mission in South Sudan.  By opening its gates around the country, he said, the Mission had saved tens of thousands of lives.

While in the country, the Secretary-General visited the Tomping Protection of Civilians Site, which is currently home to some 21,000 South Sudanese civilians.  He was able to see the hardship faced by the families living in the camp and pledged to them the UN’s support.

** Ukraine

The High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed deep concern about the surge of violence in Ukraine.  Navi Pillay urged all sides to make a much greater effort to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, especially in towns in eastern and southern Ukraine.

She added that opposition groups must stop all illegal actions, including detentions and seizing public buildings in violation of Ukraine’s laws and constitution.  Ms. Pillay also called on the Government to ensure that military and police operations are undertaken in line with international standards.  She stressed the need for the authorities to carry out prompt, transparent and comprehensive investigations into the events in Odessa and Donetsk regions that led to the deaths of dozens of people recently.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) currently has a monitoring mission of 34 staff based in five locations:  Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Donetsk and Kharkiv.  The mission is due to publish its next report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on 15 May.

** Nigeria

And the High Commissioner also said she was deeply concerned about the claims made in a video believed to be by the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria.  In it, he says he will sell the abducted schoolgirls “in the market” and “marry them off”, referring to them as “slaves”.  She warned the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law.  These can, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity, she said.  She added that the girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families.  The High Commissioner has contacted the President of Nigeria and urged the Government to spare no effort to ensure the safe return of the girls to their homes and communities.

** Chad

Also today, the UN Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, visited a transit site for refugees from the Central African Republic in Gaoui, near the Chadian capital.  More than 100,000 people displaced by the conflict in Central African Republic are in Chad and are urgently in need of more support.  Valerie Amos said that women and children make up the majority of the displaced people from the [ Central African Republic] and that many are without shelter and food.  UN agencies and humanitarian partners are working closely with the Chadian authorities to provide support, including food and vaccines.

** Afghanistan

The UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief, Kyung-Wha Kang, concluded her visit to Afghanistan today and called for continued support for vulnerable communities affected by conflict and natural disasters.  She noted that many regions of Afghanistan are prone to recurrent natural disasters.  Over the past 10 days alone, a combination of melting snow and heavy rains has killed hundreds of people, and floods have displaced more than 70,000 people.  Ms. Kang said that investing in disaster risk reduction must remain a key priority.  She underscored the need to continue helping to strengthen the Government’s ability to prepare for and respond to disasters.  We have a press release with more details in our office.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today it was disappointed by the judgment of the Operational Military Court in North Kivu against 39 Congolese military, who were accused of rapes and crimes committed in Minova and its surroundings in November 2012.  The High Commissioner’s Spokesperson said that the judiciary did not meet the expectations of the numerous victims of rape who fully participated in the trial.  He added that the outcome of the trial confirms shortcomings in the administration of justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Court condemned 26 members of the Congolese army, including two for rape, one for murder and most of the rest on more minor charges such as looting and disobedience.  Fourteen officers were acquitted.  A report issued in May 2013 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], MONUSCO, documented 135 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by Congolese military in and around the town of Minova as units retreated from the front lines.

And also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission, MONUSCO, rescued 14 passengers from the waters of Lake Kivu after a boat capsized.  Three MONUSCO boats and two helicopters participated in the operation.  Rescued passengers were taken to a medical facility.

**Security Council

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), concerning Lebanon.  Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy dealing with that issue, will brief the Security Council and then talk to reporters at the stakeout afterwards.

**Tomorrow’s Guest

Tomorrow, the guest at the noon briefing will be Gyan Chandra Acharya, the Under-Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. And that’s what I have for you. I’ll take a few questions before our guests arrive.  Erol, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just two questions on Ukraine.  First of all, is Mr. Šimonović’s report… final report on human rights in Ukraine out?  And whether it is going to be covering the newest development as we all know that are going on.  And also, is Mr. Serry in the region?  Did he start his… started… did he start his shuttle diplomacy between Moscow and Kyiv?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Feltman is in the region.  I believe he…

Correspondent:  Sorry… Mr. Feltman.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we announced that earlier and he announced it himself.  But yes, I believe he’s on his way to Ukraine.  Yes, and on Mr. Šimonović, I’m not sure what’s the status of the latest report, and I’ll check.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, on Ukraine again.  How can… can the United Nations take part in investigation of what… what had been going on in Odessa on the 2 May?  I mean the burning of people alive in the building.

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ve called — both the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights just now have called for investigation into this incident, so let’s see where that goes, but there was a call for an investigation.  Mr. Abaddi?

Question:  Thank you, Vannina, still on Ukraine.  The Foreign Minister of Germany is now recommending that there be a second Geneva Conference on the problem.  How would the Secretary-General consider such an issue?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not sure I want to speak about the specifics of a second Geneva; as you know, we are still referring to the 17 April one.  And you know, right now what the Secretary-General is hoping to do by sending Jeffrey Feltman there is to send a very strong message to all actors there that they need to de-escalate the situation.  And so, that’s what we are doing and hoping to find our way back to diplomacy.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask… the… I saw the… the… statement by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights about the low level of convictions for the Minova rapes.  So, I guess I wanted to know… I saw also MONUSCO said that they took note of it, but they didn’t say in any way how this stated human rights due diligence policy, which is supposed to mean if accountability is not brought to units to which the UN provides support, that the support will be suspended.  What’s the… what’s the connection?  What’s the next step?  Or is the… does the UN deem two convictions for 130 rapes to be enough accountability to continue to support the two units at issue?

Associate Spokesperson:  We said we were disappointed, so that’s the first thing.  The second thing is, as we also already said, we still look and analyse these convictions, so that’s what needs to take place right now.  But, yes, of course, we’re disappointed; you know, women went and testified, and that’s a courageous act, and we did record 135 rape cases.

Question:  Right, but ,I guess… I just wanted to know… like, who makes the decision about suspending support to the 41 and 391 battalion?  Is it MONUSCO who makes it?  Is it DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) in New York?  What’s the next step?  Who’s analysing the decision and who makes the decision?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think a lot of people at the UN are going to look at these convictions, whether it’s our office for human rights, the Mission itself, of course, who did take note of this.  And you know, we’ve also said repeatedly that there are indeed shortcomings in the judicial system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we’re definitely here to assist them and to improve that system — that judiciary system, that’s what we would like to do with them. 

Correspondent:  Right… I guess I just want to say… I just…

Associate Spokesperson:  I understand your question on due diligence.

Correspondent:  It’s about the policy.  It’s about supporting those two systems.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes and you got my answer.  Yes, sorry?

Correspondent:  Hi, I’m Mika from IPS News…

Associate Spokesperson:  Sorry, you’re what?

Question:  Mika, from IPS News.  I saw on Twitter that more schoolgirls were abducted in Nigeria and I wanted if the UN had heard that.

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have an update on that.  And you saw what Ms. Pillay just said about the first abduction — if there’s a second one.  Obviously, the Secretary-General is also very concerned about the fate of these girls and the fact that girls are being sold, reportedly being sold.  No human being should be sold, and the fact that they were abducted from a school, a place where they should just get an education and feel safe, is, of course, unacceptable.  Erol, we’re going for a second round.

Question:  As you know, we just witnessed the newest round of negotiations… not negotiations, rather talks, between the representatives of Former Republic of Macedonia, Mr. Jolevski, Ambassador Jolevski, and of Greece, Ambassador Vassilakis, with Matthew Nimetz here, Special Representative of the Secretary-General.  Does the… is the Secretary-General satisfied with this round of talks and does he has… his favourable proposal to support out that was made recently by Nimetz on the name of the Former Republic… Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia?

Associate SpokespersonErol, I’m not going to go beyond what Ambassador Nimetz just said at the stakeout.  He just spoke at the stakeout and I’m going to let that be for now.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I’m just asking for the Secretary-General’s opinion on that.

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, I mean, I can check.  He’s on a plane right now.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Vannina.  The Secretary-General of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Mr. Rasmussen, said that, because of the situation in Ukraine, Russia is now an adversary not a partner.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about what might be viewed as a return to the language of the cold war?

Associate Spokesperson:  Look, the Secretary-General’s aim here again, is to de-escalate the situation, find a way back to diplomacy.  You know, that’s the solution here — it’s through diplomacy, so that’s all I have to say about that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, while I guess the Secretary-General is in South Sudan, I still wanted to know, there were two things that the UN said that they would investigate and at least it seemed that they would make the reports public.  One was the Ghanaian weapons that were found in a box being taken by land to Bentiu.  There other was the cluster bombs that came even before that so I think on 30 April, I asked Stéphane, have those reports being made public and he said I’ll check.

Associate Spokesperson:  Right, and I believe we answered you.  Yes we did, we sent you a line.

Question:  What’s the line?

Associate Spokesperson:  On the Ghanaian…

Correspondent:  That there were 44…

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we sent you a line, that’s our answer for now.  If I have anything else at some point, Matthew, I will definitely…

Correspondent:  I’m only asking because I didn’t get a line.  I got a line that there were 44 peacekeepers there.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m pretty sure we answered you on that.  I mean, I can go through the transcripts and figure it out, but I’ll see, okay?  Yes?

Question:  Are we still expecting a briefing on the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think Sigrid Kaag will brief on Thursday.  Is that [8 May]?  Yes, [8 May], and she is expected, I think, to speak to you at the stakeout, I’ll check.  Let’s give a chance to someone else, Matthew.  Yes, Masood?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Associate Spokesperson:  Can you use the mike, Masood?  I’m sorry, I should have asked.

Correspondent:  I was just saying… somebody maybe asked this question about these girls being held in Nigeria…

Associate Spokesperson:  Before you came in Masood, I read a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Correspondent:  I realize that.  I’m going to ask another question in that reference.

Associate Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  I mean, I believe that there is a so-called rapid deployment forces in the United Nations had envisioned.  So, invoking responsibility to protect can the Security Council or the Secretary-General see sending a force… a United Nations force instead of… I mean, the other nations trying to intervene to save those girls… to save those girls, is that a possibility that can be considered?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, to send a rapid UN deployment force?  I’m not sure I understand.

Correspondent:  There was on envisioned…

Associate Spokesperson:  Any… any deployment of a force would go through the Security Council.  Right now, you know, the Nigerian authorities are doing everything they can to bring them back to safety and we at the United Nations, you know, we are here to assist and help them in any way, if there is something we can do to help those girls come back to safety and to their communities.

Question:  I understand that, that’s what the Secretary-General said.  What I’m saying, [the] Secretary-General, can he ask the Security Council to act on it?  This is one of the most horrendous crimes ever.

Associate Spokesperson:  It is a horrible crime, and you know, hopefully there would be a resolution quickly and the Nigerian authorities will find them.  We’re certainly hoping that anybody who can, you know, who has information, who can help out in this situation will do so.  And, that’s us included, of course.  Oui, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask about Burundi.  There are two letters that have emerged that were sent to the Secretary-General, where they say… people say they were sent.  One was from a group of [non-governmental organizations] in Burundi and now, a group of 12 political parties, including the major, all the major opposition parties wrote to the Secretary-General asking for UN investigation of the 3 April cable saying that the Government was arming the youth wing… to remain in power.  And, I wanted to know, one, maybe you won’t have it here, but can you, today, confirm or deny that these two letters were received and say whether… what the response has been?  Whether, in fact, the UN is, itself, investigating the contents of the cable?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, let me check first if we did, indeed, receive these two letters and we’ll start there.  Okay?  Thank you.  Anything else?  Very good, I’ll get our guests.

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For information media • not an official record