7 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 Today

In just a short while, I will be joined by Gyan Chandra Acharya, the Under-Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).  He will brief you on the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developed Countries scheduled for November this year.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is in Rome today.  Right about now, he is meeting with the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano.

Earlier today he also met with Matteo Renzi, the President of the Council of Ministers, as well as with Pietro Grasso, the President of the Senate.

In these exchanges, the Secretary-General discussed the situation in Ukraine and expressed hope that the European Union, the United States, Russia and Ukraine would soon sit down together again to de-escalate the situation and come up with a lasting solution.  They also exchanged views on the efforts to protect the lives of people trying to cross the Mediterranean to seek refuge in Italy.  The Secretary-General stressed the need to respect the human rights and dignity of refugees.  He also thanked Italy for its contribution to the UN, and particularly to peacekeeping.

Also today, the Secretary-General addressed the World Committee on Food Security.  He said that yesterday, while he was in South Sudan, he saw a country on the brink of a food security calamity.  He also said that he wanted to talk with the Committee about what they could do together anywhere that hunger needlessly stalks the human family.  The Secretary-general said we would not eliminate extreme poverty or achieve sustainable development without adequate food and nutrition for all.  And we issued those remarks a little bit earlier today.

**Security Council

The Security Council held a meeting this morning in which they discussed a resolution adopted 10 years ago which requires Governments to prevent non-State actors or terrorists from acquiring, proliferating and using nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In his remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General said that in the past decade, the landmark resolution had accomplished a great deal, but that there have also been setbacks, including the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria.  He said that for the resolution to work more effectively it must be a global commitment and that it is critical for every country to implement this resolution. 

His full remarks are available online and the Council also adopted a presidential statement on the issue.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict says that she is deeply concerned over the fate of the more than 200 girls abducted from their school in Nigeria’s Borno State last month.  Leila Zerrougui said that reports of additional abductions of girls in the country’s north-east are extremely worrying.

Ms. Zerrougui, together with other senior UN officials, has asked the Nigerian Government to spare no effort to ensure the safe return of these young girls to their families.  She said that all children — regardless of their gender, ethnic origin, social status, language, age, nationality or religion — have the right to education and to live free from any form of violence.


The UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos called for urgent donor support for Chad, following her visit to the country which she wrapped up late yesterday.  The humanitarian response plan managed by the United Nations in Chad is currently only 5 per cent funded.

Since the beginning of the year, the Government of Chad and the humanitarian community have evacuated over 70,000 people from the Central African Republic and helped with the return of some 28,000 Chadian migrants to their areas of origins.  Humanitarian partners are also assisting more than 61,000 people in transit sites.

And Chad is also facing persistent food insecurity and malnutrition affecting around 2 million people, mostly in the country’s Sahel region.  Last year, 45,000 children died due to malnutrition in the country.

**Air Quality

The World Health Organization said today that air quality is deteriorating in many of the world’s cities.  According to a new report, only 12 per cent of the urban population being monitored reside in cities that meet air quality guideline levels.  And half of it is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels recommended by WHO (World Health Organization) — putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.

The World Health Organization’s urban air quality database covers 1,600 cities across 91 countries.  The newest report notes that individual cities can take local action to improve air quality and thus go against regional trends.  It says that good air quality can go hand in hand with economic development, as indicated by some major cities in Latin America which meet, or approach, the WHO air quality guidelines.  And there is more on this on WHO’s website.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

I have a few senior appointments for you — three in all.

At the UN Development Programme, Maria Eugenia (Gina) Casar of Mexico will assume responsibilities as Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator.  Ms. Casar succeeds Rebeca Grynspan, to whom the Secretary-General expresses gratitude for her leadership and advocacy on issues such as inequality, social cohesion, and the empowerment of women during her term with UNDP.

And Jessica Faieta of Ecuador will replace Chile’s Heraldo Muñoz as Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director for the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.  The Secretary-General is also grateful for Mr. Muñoz’s dedication and commitment during his term with UNDP.

And finally, Grete Faremo of Norway will take up the post of Executive Director of the UN Office for Project Services.  She replaces Jan Mattsson of Sweden, to whom the Secretary-General expresses gratitude for his outstanding contribution and commitment.

And there are more details available on these three appointments in our office.

**Press Conferences

And finally, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru to brief on the Preparatory Commission for the 2015 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said that this press conference would take place on Friday, 9 May.]

And then at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine on the situation in Ukraine.

And that’s what I have for you, so I will take a few questions.

Asma, sure, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] us some information about the process of [inaudible] today in old Homs as the United Nations participate in this and if there is any [inaudible] with them in this process?

Associate Spokesperson:  If there’s any what, sorry?

Question:  [inaudible] with them in old Homs today, thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  What I can tell you right now — of course you know that agreement was brokered by the parties and it’s for them to broker such agreements.  The UN has always, always called — and consistently done so — for lifting of sieges, wherever they are, and also has asked for unhindered humanitarian access.  You know, we would support all efforts that go in that direction so that would apply to what’s going on in Homs.  Do you have a follow-up or can you wait?

Question:  Yes, a follow-up.  I’m asking about the vehicles if United Nations was participating if [inaudible] of the fighters.  I want more information about what was… what… how it was going there, okay?  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s not a lot of clarity right now on what’s going on, so we’re also trying to figure out.  So I can give you a general idea of where things are going, what we’re aware of, but I don’t have any details for you specifically on this. Okay?  Pam, sure.

Question:  Thanks, Vannina.  Is there any… we’ve seen comments and expressions of concern by the Secretary-General about the girls abducted… and the additional abductions of the girls in Nigeria.  Is there… is there anyone on the ground?  Is there anyone being sent to assist?  A lot of different countries are… is the UN in any way involved?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t say we are involved.  I would say we are strongly encouraging everyone in the international community who can have influence on this situation and obviously its resolution to exert such influence.  And you have seen the SG’s concern on this and he is alarmed at the increasing frequency and the brutality of the attacks in the north of Nigeria.

Question:  Follow-up on… follow-up on that.  I wonder if the clerics from Saudi Arabia and other countries can contribute to the release of these hostages, or these slaves, as they were enslaved by extremist Islamists, by issuing some edicts in that regard.

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not for me to tell other people what to do.  As I said, we certainly hope that everybody who can exert influence and help for the resolution of this situation and bring back those girls to their homes and to their families, that those people would do so.

Question:  Because, because these people… I mean, their allegiance is to some clerics, and of course you are appealing for those who can contribute.  These are the ones who can contribute, they’re senior clerics.

Associate Spokesperson:  As I said, everyone who has influence and can basically help to have a successful resolution and get those girls back home should absolutely do that.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask in… there’s a lot of reporting about the Government of Sudan bombing the only hospital in the rebel-held area of Southern Kordofan by Kauda, so I’m wondering, does the UN have any comment on the bombing on a medical facility by the Government of Sudan? 

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specifically on this, but you know, as a general rule, we would condemn bombings of a medical facility, of schools, of anywhere where people should be safe and are not.   Just one thing — I’m just trying to find it. 

Question: Burundi?

Associate Spokesperson:  No. We checked on Burundi.  You asked about two letters, is that right?  There’s one by the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that we did not receive.  We’re still waiting for an answer on the other one.  So that’s one thing.

And on your other question — apologies, we actually hadn’t shared that with you, but it’s sometimes hard given the number of answers we do provide you.  Here’s the answer:  the UNHQ team from New York concluded its investigation following its visit to South Sudan in mid-March.  The results of the investigations were subsequently shared with the Government of South Sudan.  And I also want to refer you to what the Secretary-General said yesterday after his stakeout with President Kiir where he does address this question.

Question:  What about the cluster bomb report?  That was also the question.

Associate Spokesperson:  Sorry, you got three answers just now.  Joe?

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question about this chemical weapons resolution referred to and then a follow-up on Ukraine if I can.  The… this resolution from 10 years ago deals only with non–State actors, is that correct?

Associate Spokesperson:  Non-State actors and terrorists.

Question:  Then the Deputy Secretary-General mentioned Syria, that chemical weapon attacks continue and happen in Syria, is he suggesting that non-State actors were involved in the chemical attacks in Syria?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think he’s suggesting that the use of chemical weapons anywhere is not acceptable.

Question:  Okay, on Ukraine, can I follow up?  One, is the reaction to President Putin that he’s withdrawing his troops, and two, in the statement… [phone rings]

Associate Spokesperson:  Oh you lose, Joe.  We’re going to someone else.

Question:  In his statement… in his statement, nice try, very nice try.   The statement that he put out last week about the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitors being released, he buried in the bottom a mention of this fire in which at least 40 people were killed and there’s no condemnation of that.  And now the new video has emerged showing a mob attacking this building with Molotov cocktails and people jumping out of the building unarmed and beaten… to death with baseballs and attacked.  It was horrific attack.  Why wasn’t there any condemnation and why wasn’t there a separate statement on that?  Thank you.  

Associate Spokesperson:  There was a statement on… [phone rings]  You don’t deserve an answer Joe because your phone rang twice.  Come on.  On the… I don’t even know what the first question is anymore now.  On the second question, yes, we put out a statement that dealt with both what happened in Odessa and the release of the OSCE monitors and there was a call for an investigation of that incident in that statement and I’ll just refer you to that statement.  I have nothing more to add on that right now.  And your first question, sorry?

Question:  Reaction.  Putin has announced that he’s withdrawing the troops from the border.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything for you on that, but we’d welcome anything that leads to a de-escalation of the situation.  Hold on Nizar, hold on, not you.

Question:  Yes, my question, also on Ukraine and I’ve asked this a couple times before, just to give us a status update on the Secretariat’s implementation of the General Assembly resolution which declared a Crimea referendum invalid and not recognizing the annexation of Crimea into Russia, so presumably it would still be considered under that resolution part of Ukraine…

Associate Spokesperson:  I remember you asked Stéphane this and he said it would take a little bit of time to actually get an update on that.

Question:  It’s been a number of weeks now, can you give us a little bit of an idea?  I mean, in terms of maps, in terms of official documentation, any directives?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s a very, very broad question so just give us a little bit more time.  Oleg?

Question:  Can you provide any readouts of the meetings of Under-Secretary-General Feltman in Moscow?  Who did he meet?  What did he call for?

Associate Spokesperson:  He met with the acting President — oh, in Moscow, sorry.  In Ukraine he met with the acting President.  In Moscow, no, I don’t have readouts to give you at this point.  Yes?  I’m sorry I don’t know your name.

Question:  I’m Yoshita with Press Trust of India, hi.  Just about the meetings with the Italian officials… the Secretary-General’s meeting… would you know whether the… issue of the Italian marines came up given that Italy has been asking for international arbitration to settle the dispute with India?

[The Spokesperson later said that the issue came up during the Secretary-General’s meetings with Italian officials.]

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have full readouts of what was said in the meetings.  As I said, he already had two — with the President of the Senate and also the Prime Minister, the President of the Council of Ministers, and he’s having the one with President Napolitano right now.  I know some of the subjects that were discussed including, you know, Italy’s contribution, climate change, Ukraine — but I will check if they spoke about that issue.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you.  Does the UN have any comment on the climate change report issued by the United States, which says that the thing… the phenomenon is happening now?

Associate Spokesperson:  Which says that the phenomenon is happening now?  I think the Secretary-General would share that view that climate change is happening now.  It’s something he’s been saying, you know, one of his priorities is to say that climate change is happening now and that the time to act is now.  I don’t know fully the report, I haven’t read it.  Let me check if I can get you further on his reaction to that report.  Nizar?

Question:  Okay, revisiting the issue of Homs… of Homs, since the rebels, or also the terrorists, foreign terrorists are setting fire to the premises, of their quarters where they used to be, will the United Nations go and investigate or someone from the Mission in Damascus, go and investigate.  I mean, if there are traces of abnormal weapons used or… in that place and if there are any human rights violations were perpetrated in those premises.

Associate Spokesperson:  I think we’re not there yet.  As I said, the situation isn’t entirely really clear right now.  So let’s get a clearer picture before we start asking who will investigate what.

Question:  The visits should happen very quickly… I mean, while the traces are still there, shouldn’t it?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s obviously a comment, not a question.  Anybody else?  Sure, go ahead.

Question:  Concerning Crimea, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Crimea Threatens Tatar with Crackdown”.  What can the UN do to protect the indigenous people, who are mostly a Muslim population, who were deported under Stalin, considering that the Tatar leader is now banned from returning to Crimea for the next five years?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m just going to refer you to what the Secretary-General already said on discrimination anywhere, and that would, of course, apply there.  Let’s do this quickly, because we still have a guest.  Matthew, one more?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about Thailand and also about MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], or actually, Minova.  On Thailand, do you have a comment… does the Secretariat have any comment on the court ordering the Prime Minister to step down… change of the Government? 

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, he does.  The Secretary-General has been informed of the decision of the Constitutional Court today that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra be removed from office, along with nine other Cabinet Members.  More than ever the Secretary-General appeals to all sides to work together to seek a solution through constructive dialogue.  He will continue to follow the situation in the country closely with the hope that all sides will exercise utmost restraint and show full respect for democratic principles, rule of law and human rights.  That’s our reaction.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  On Minova, I wanted to ask you this, I saw that Mr. Kobler, the envoy, said he was “personally disappointed”, which I know is the word you used here, but the Mission said “Bien qu’il n’y ait pas de droit à l’appel, l’affaire n’est pas close.”  So I wanted to know, what does it mean?

Associate Spokesperson:  J’ai vu aussi sur Twitter ce tweet.  Je ne sais pas, on va se renseigner auprès de la Mission.  Je pense que ce qu’ils veulent dire c’est que l’affaire n’est pas close c’est-à-dire que l’on est encore en train d’analyser les condamnations, les sentences.   C’est ce qu’on avait dit qu’on allait faire. I just said that it wasn’t closed in the sense that they are still analysing the convictions. 

Correspondent:  You should do it in French.

Associate Spokesperson Really?  I wish I could, I wish you all spoke French, that would make my life easier!  Anything else or can we get the guest?  Asma, very quickly, and Masood, sorry, sorry. 

Question:  The reaction… is there any statement of the United Nations on the desecration of mosque in Jerusalem by Israeli settlers?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything.  I’ll see if somebody on the ground has issued something for you, Masood, okay?

Question:  As a committee of… review… review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, there is a lot of Arab countries and also Arab group ask it for final date to convey in the conference… the Helsinki conference who was delayed from 2012 to establish a free zone of weapons of mass destruction.  What is the position of Secretary–General from this?  Does the Secretary–General support this request from the Arab group?  Thank you. 

Associate Spokesperson:  I think these conferences are decided by Member States and it’s for them to work out what they want.  I am not sure I understand entirely the question, so maybe… I need to go get the guest, because they’ve been waiting for 20 minutes, but maybe we can talk about this a little bit after, yes?  Anything else?  Masood, yes?

Question I just want to ask you about this advisory issued by WHO about three countries at risk with polio; Pakistan, Cameron and Syria.  Is there an update on that what would be the regimen for these countries and the nationals of these countries to follow?  Has…?

Associate Spokesperson:  What will be the… I’m sorry?

Question:  Has… The WHO issued any advisory or any instructions on the regimen in these countries nationals has… have to follow in order to travel.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m sure that there’s more than just telling them that there’s risk of polio there so maybe we’ll look, but I’m sure there has to be some guidelines on the measures that they can take to reduce the risk of polio in their countries, so I’ll look at that.  I don’t have that with me right now.

[The Associate Spokesperson later provided the following information from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the correspondent:

Pakistan, Cameroon, and the Syrian Arab Republic pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014.  These States should:

-        officially declare, if not already done, at the level of head of State or Government, that the interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency;

-        ensure that all residents and long-term visitors (i.e. >4 weeks) receive a dose of OPV or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between 4 weeks and 12 months prior to international travel;

-        ensure that those undertaking urgent travel (i.e. within 4 weeks), who have not received a dose of OPV or IPV in the previous 4 weeks to 12 months, receive a dose of polio vaccine at least by the time of departure as this will still provide benefit, particularly for frequent travellers;

-        ensure that such travellers are provided with an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis in the form specified in Annex 6 of the International Health Regulations (2005) to record their polio vaccination and serve as proof of vaccination;

-        maintain these measures until the following criteria have been met: (i) at least 6 months have passed without new exportations and (ii) there is documentation of full application of high quality eradication activities in all infected and high risk areas; in the absence of such documentation these measures should be maintained until at least 12 months have passed without new exportations.

Once a State has met the criteria to be assessed as no longer exporting wild poliovirus, it should continue to be considered as an infected State until such time as it has met the criteria to be removed from that category.]

Thank you.  I’ll just go get our guest.

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