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

2 July 2013

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

2 July 2013
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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Homs, Syria:

The Secretary-General is following with grave concern the escalating conflict in Syria, in particular the developing situation in Homs, where heavy fighting has been raging in recent days.

An estimated 2,500 civilians remain trapped in Homs.  The Secretary-General calls on the warring sides to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and to allow immediate humanitarian access, as well as opportunities for trapped civilians to leave without fear of persecution.  He reminds all combatants of their obligations under international law and underscores that those responsible for any atrocities will be held to account.  The Secretary-General expresses his concern over threats to seize two Shiite villages in the northern province of Aleppo.

The Secretary-General calls again for stopping the supply of arms to all sides and appeals to the parties in Syria and their supporters to focus instead on the search for a political solution that remains the only way out of this tragedy.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is in Iceland today, in his first visit there as Secretary-General of the United Nations.  He met the Minister of Foreign Affairs and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament.  In his remarks to the members of the Committee, he said that the United Nations has gained significantly from Iceland’s support in critical areas such as international criminal justice, human rights, gender equality and humanitarian assistance.

The Secretary-General also visited a geothermal power plant and gave a speech at the University of Iceland.  In his remarks, he said that Iceland is a global leader in renewable energy, giving the world a glimpse of the possibility of a sustainable, low-emissions future.  Later today, the Secretary-General will meet with the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

** Afghanistan

The Deputy Secretary-General wrapped up a five-day visit to Afghanistan today and reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to the country’s future as it undergoes its political and security transition next year and beyond.

The Deputy Secretary-General held a range of high-level meetings and also visited the province of Kandahar.  He met with President Hamid Karzai, Government ministers, the parliamentary speakers, and election and human rights officials, as well as representatives from political parties and civil society groups.  In those meetings, he said he conveyed that the UN is committed to continued partnership with Afghanistan, provided that this is the wish of the Government and the Afghan people.

The Deputy Secretary-General said upon his departure that he was encouraged that there is a strong consensus among all actors, from the President to civil society groups, that Afghanistan’s achievements of the past decade must be protected as it advances through its political, security and economic transition processes.  We have more on this in a press release available from my Office, and the Deputy Secretary-General will speak with you tomorrow about his travels at the noon briefing.

** Pakistan

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today welcomed Pakistan’s renewal of its commitment to provide protection and safety for the more than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees in the country.  Pakistan remains the world’s largest refugee hosting nation, having generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees since 1979.

Pakistan announced last week at a tripartite meeting with the Government of Afghanistan and the refugee agency that it would extend refugee cards for Afghans, which had been set to expire on 30 June.  The agency said that this extension will help end uncertainty among Afghan refugees in Pakistan over their status.  There is more information on this on the refugee agency’s website.

** Egypt

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that it is following with great concern the extremely tense situation in Egypt.  It conveyed a strong message of solidarity and support to the Egyptian people.  The Human Rights Office urged the Egyptian Government to continue to make every effort to protect the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations.  It regretted the deaths that have occurred in Egypt since Sunday, and stressed that any perpetrators of attacks against peaceful demonstrators, who are found to have used excessive force, should be held accountable.

In a note we issued yesterday, we repeated the Secretary-General’s call for all parties to uphold the law, while respecting the right to demonstrate peacefully.  This right, in particular, must be extended to female demonstrators, given the concerns over the high number of reports of sexual assaults.  It is crucial at this time that Egyptians find a way to resolve differences through democratic means.  Peaceful dialogue and non-violence are the keys to restoring stability and moving Egypt’s transition forward.

** Indonesia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that an earthquake of magnitude 6.2 struck Indonesia’s Aceh province today.  The national disaster authorities have confirmed two dead and some 150 injured in the Bener Meriah and Aceh Tengga districts.  The Office is coordinating with the local authorities and agencies to monitor the situation.

**Press Conference

Following this briefing, at 12:30 p.m., Rosemary DiCarlo, the Acting Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations and the President of the Security Council for the month of July, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

**Briefing Guest Tomorrow

And tomorrow, as I mentioned, I will be joined by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, who will be here to brief you on his recent trip to Afghanistan.

Questions, please?  Tim?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  Could you tell us the name of the two villages you mentioned in the Secretary-General’s statement, and how you know they are under threat?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information; we’ll have to get it for you, I don’t have it with me in my notes.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to check on that.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Microphone, please.

Question:  The SG is constantly concerned about the situation in Iraq, what is he doing to replace Mr. Kobler?  Is there a shortlist?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Kobler… when we have an announcement on Mr. Kobler’s replacement, we will make it.  He is working very hard on getting that done, among other things.

Question:  [inaudible]  No?  Thanks, Eduardo.  Can you please comment on the outcomes of the America-Russian meeting in Brunei?  There seems to be little progress reached in preparation on the conference that it set to be convened not earlier than September mostly because of the lack of leadership between the opposition.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I can’t comment on the meeting because we were not present at that meeting.  We’d have to, you’d have to ask the Russian and United States spokespersons to comment on it.  What we can say is that work continues to creating the conditions necessary for a conference to take place.  And the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi continue to work with the Americans and the Russians to make this happen.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Eduardo, I… I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the Democratic Republic of Congo.  One is, there is an… there is a… there is an article, a South African article, today saying that basically the South African troops that are part of MONUSCO would become part of the intervention brigade, saying that there are some memorandum of understanding that is yet to be… to be signed.  So I… I’d heard that it was a… it was all systems go with the intervention brigade, is there some… are there documents that were meant to be signed and what are the issues that are holding it up?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to check on that for you, Matthew.

Question:  And did… I… I wanted to ask you whether DPKO has provided you any answers to the various battalions and regiments that I tried… that I asked them about Saturday, I asked you about yesterday, just to know, yes or no, whether MONUSCO works with those units.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have got no reply on that.  In the back?

Question:  Yes, I don’t know if you could repeat the position of the Secretary in terms of Egypt and Syria maybe in Spanish if that would be possible at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re testing my linguistic abilities.

Correspondent:  I’m sorry.

Deputy Spokesperson:  [reads two statements in Spanish]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  Sure, Eduardo…

Deputy Spokesperson:  In English or Spanish?

Question:  I… I was wondering whether you were doing that on the fly.  So, hats off.

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the fly.

Question:  I wanted to ask you, yesterday, I asked Nicholas Kay, the… the envoy to the Somali, whether… about whether his guards that I had asked you about previous… Denel, were armed, and he seemed to say… you know, he said that, well, the take security very serious and “some of our guards are armed”.  So I wanted to know, what’s the UN position on that?  I thought that there… there was previously a report about private military companies in the UN and my understanding of the UN’s response to it is that, although they do use private military companies that these are not armed guards.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out for you, Matthew, I don’t have the latest on what Mr. Kay said today.  So I’ll have to find out for you.

Question:  Okay, but can you also find out what the UN policy is on your being armed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try and find out what the UN policy is, yeah.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Pam?

Question:  Yeah, Eduardo, there is a lot of diplomacy going on in the Middle East; any thoughts of revamping or having a meeting of the Quartet?  Any attempts?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have heard nothing yet about that.  If we have something, we will announce it.  One… Nizar?

Question:  Is there an update about the response to the appeal regarding the Syrian crisis?  A lot of these refugees, many of them are under… sleeping under bridges in open air in Lebanon, in Jordan, not only… not only those of the [inaudible] there are so many refugees who are all over the place, nobody is catering for them.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I would suggest you raise that with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees if those are your concerns; they should be raised with them.  Matthew, last question?

Question:  I got a couple on Sudan; one about money.  Which do you…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Money.

Question:  All right.  So it was announced today that… that a… and I… I don’t know why it was announced today.  Skanska announced today and put out a press release that they have been awarded $65 million contract for the renovation of the General Assembly Building.  But the timing seemed strange, because they… it’s already been fenced off and people thought that they’d already been given this whole contract.  So is there some way to know what… you know, I… I… I… I understand you are going to say ask Skanska, but I want to know, from the UN’s perspective, did they release a second contract to Skanska and was it done competitively?  And if it wasn’t done competitively, why wait until now that it is already fenced off?  Why… isn’t Skanska already working on the building?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to find out for you, Matthew; I don’t have that information with me.

Question:  Okay.  How about…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you.  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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