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

16 July 2013

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

16 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Syria – Security Council

The Security Council met on Syria this morning.  Before moving into consultations, it was briefed by the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres; the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos; and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović.

Mr. Guterres stressed that the situation in Syria cannot be treated as a simple humanitarian emergency.  He reiterated his call on all States to keep their borders open and to receive Syrians who seek protection.

Ms. Amos said that at least 6.8 million Syrians require urgent humanitarian assistance, including more than 4.2 million internally displaced people.  Nearly half of those who require assistance are children.

On the human rights front, Mr. Šimonovićsaid that the supply of weapons to both sides must stop and that the solution should be political, not military.  He added that parties must initiate immediate negotiations to reduce violence and human rights violations, and improve the protection of civilians.

This afternoon, the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the Sahel and will be briefed on Iraq.

** Syria

Just coming back to Syria.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is in Syria today, the second day of her three-day visit, to assess the impact of the crisis on children.  Prior to her arrival in Syria, Leila Zerrougui visited Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon.  In each country she has visited, the Special Representative has been meeting with families and children affected by the violence in Syria.  And Ms. Zerrougui plans to speak to reporters when she returns to New York.


The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, expressed its great sorrow today at the death of a staff member in Syria.  The death of 39-year-old Muhannad Ashmawi brings the total number of UNRWA staff members killed as a result of the conflict to seven.

Mr. Ashmawi served in two UNRWA schools in Yarmouk refugee camp.  He was seriously wounded in a shell explosion on 9 July and died of his injuries on Sunday.  UNRWA said that his death occurs against the backdrop of intensifying armed conflict in Yarmouk and other Palestine refugee camps and neighbourhoods across Syria.  This is aggravating an already dire humanitarian situation, causing new waves of significant, recurrent displacement and raising the toll of deaths and serious injuries among Palestinians and Syrians.  UNRWA condemned the persistent failure of all sides to protect civilians and safeguard human life in Syria.


And the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has said today she was deeply shocked at news of further destruction to cultural heritage in Syria, particularly reports of damage to the Crac des Chevaliers, a World Heritage site.  Irina Bokova called on the perpetrators to cease the destruction immediately and urges all parties to the conflict to safeguard the site, along with all of Syria’s cultural property.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to Congo, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) reports that fighting between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the M23 [23 March Movement] armed group continued yesterday in Mutaho, north of Goma.  According to the mission, MONUSCO, during the fighting, the M23 used rockets.  Two rockets fell near MONUSCO positions in Munigi, a third rocket landed near Goma airport.  There are no reports of casualties.  A number of civilians have fled towards Goma for safety.  The Mission adds that the Congolese army maintains control of Mutaho and has consolidated its positions around Kanyaruchina, a few kilometres away.

And also on the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has expressed his concern about the deteriorating situation in North Kivu following renewed fighting near Goma.  Moustapha Soumaré said that the clashes could lead to disastrous humanitarian consequences and appealed to all parties to the conflict to take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of civilians.

The UN refuge agency (UNCHR), together with its partners, is rushing to help the tens of thousands of people who have fled into western Uganda to escape the new emergency underway in North Kivu.  And even before the arrival of the newest refugees, Uganda was already home to more than 210,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, more than 60 per cent of whom came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And for its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that its response, so far, is focusing on providing safe water and sanitation and on child protection.

**South Sudan

Given the recent serious clashes in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, the UN peacekeeping mission there, UNMISS, has reinforced its presence in Gumuruk and Pibor.  However, due to severe logistical constraints and the lack of secured helicopter landing sites, the Mission’s ability to deploy into the area of the fighting is very limited.

The Mission continues to be deeply concerned about the situation in Jonglei.  It does not have a full picture of the clashes yet, and is continuing efforts to gather information and document the reports, in particular from the clashes in Pibor County.  The Mission remains in regular contact with senior officials from the Government, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and community leaders in a bid to halt the violence.  The Mission welcomes the recent instructions to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to protect civilians under threat, and reiterates that the Government has the primary responsibility in this regard.

**Humanitarian Relief

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, today announced the allocation of some $72 million for humanitarian work in neglected crises in 12 countries.  These new allocations bring the total amount provided through the underfunded emergencies part of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to an unprecedented $172 million in a single year.  And the detailed press release including with a list of the countries can be found online.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Abdoulaye Mar Dieye of Senegal as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  Mr. Dieye will replace Tegegnework Gettu who has taken up his new appointment as Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management in the UN Secretariat.  Mr. Dieye has been serving as Chief of Staff and Director of the Executive Office in UNDP.  And there is more information on this appointment in my office.

** Sudan

In response to questions I was asked yesterday about the attack over the weekend on troops serving with the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID), I have the following I can tell you:

The peacekeepers were attacked when they were undertaking a routine confidence-building patrol.  The peacekeepers were outnumbered four to one by their attackers who numbered between 100 and 150 people, and they had trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

The identities of the attackers have not yet been established.  The United Nations is conducting its own investigations and calls on the Government of Sudan to identify and bring to account those responsible.  One truck was stolen during the attack and the mission later recovered three damaged vehicles.

Regarding UNAMID’s mandate, it has a Chapter VII mandate.  And following this weekend’s attack, the UN has been in regular contact with the Permanent Mission of [ United Republic of] Tanzania.

**Press Conference

One press conference tomorrow:  at 12:45 p.m., in this room, there will be a press conference to discuss the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  And that is a conference which will be taking place here at United Nations Headquarters from 17 to 19 July.

Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?  Use the microphones, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Oh, I’m sorry.  On this… these reports which are coming in… reports coming that there are 150, 200, or 300 Taliban fighters going into Syria to fight with the rebels.  Now, has United Nations got to make any determination who is funding these rebels to come all the way from Pakistan into Syria and that how come they have been given this access all the way into Syria?  That’s what…

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, I am not in a position to confirm that there has been such a deployment.  And I think it is quite difficult for the United Nations to make that determination as we don’t have a monitoring presence of that kind to be able to keep track of all people who are involved in the fighting there.  But, simply to say that we are concerned generally about the nature of the fighting there.  You’ve just heard quite a few details, not just from me, but from the various speakers at the Security Council discussions this morning.  I think their eloquence and the details they have provided which should be sufficient for now.

Question:  The other question is the one we asked about Iraq.  The… I mean, I know you must have said something yesterday or today earlier.  Iraq… 100 people have been killed in terrorist act, one after another.  Has the Secretary-General’s envoy over there made any determination why… why this sudden outbreak of this terrorist attack?  Is it because it is month of Ramadan, which…?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned a little earlier, there will be a briefing to the Security Council this afternoon on that very topic — Iraq.  And I will see if we can get any further details for you.  I would also refer you to the most recent report by the Secretary-General on the Mission in Iraq.  If there is anything more specific related to the question you have asked, then I’ll come back to you for sure, Masood.  Yes, Joe, and then Nizar, okay?

Question:  Yes, Rwanda has reportedly accused both Congolese and United Nations troops of deliberately shelling its territory, and I was wondering if there is any response from the UN on that accusation.  And related to that, you had discussed in your opening remarks about the humanitarian relief being provided near the Uganda border, but there are… there is renewed rebel fighting that is causing some of that influx of refugees across the Uganda border… again reportedly radical Islamists, and I am wondering why MONUSCO has focused so much on M23 and not broadened its mandate to other rebel groups that are causing civilian casualties?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it is correct that MONUSCO has been focusing on one particular rebel group.  There are other rebel groups operating in the area, including the Allied Democratic Forces, ADF.  And I think you are also aware that the Mission’s key role is certainly to protect civilians, and it will continue to do so regardless of which rebel group is involved in threatening civilians.  So, the Mission is really closely monitoring what is happening in the area and not only that, but is mobilized to protect civilians.  And as you point out, I did refer to some of the details.  Much more is available from the briefing notes from the Geneva briefing that took place a little earlier on what the various parts of the humanitarian community within the UN system are doing on the ground there to help those who have fled this most recent fighting.

With regard to the very first part of your question, Joe, we have seen the reports; if I have anything more concrete, I will let you know.  I don’t have anything at the moment.  Nizar?

[The Spokesperson later noted that UN peacekeepers have not been involved in the fighting around Goma, and therefore, were not involved in any alleged shelling of Rwanda's territory.]

Question:  Yeah, Martin, I wonder if you have seen this report that Al-Nusra is intending to declare northern Syria as an Islamic State by the end of the month of Ramadan.  This is something I think the Permanent Representative of Syria spoke about today in the Security Council, and about the news that 1,500 of Al-Nusra crossed Turkey within a period of few days, and they want in… in clashes with the Syrian… Free Syrian Army, they are in some of the posts, but I wonder what Turkey is doing in order to prevent such influx, and what is the position of the United Nations with regard to declaring northern Syria an independent Islamic State?

Spokesperson:  Well, I haven’t seen those reports, and so I don’t have any particular comment on that, Nizar.  And clearly, if you have questions for Turkey, I think you know how to reach the Turkish authorities.  I don’t have any specific comment on any alleged movements of people in the way that you have mentioned.

Correspondent:  But, there is… there are large number of statements and resolutions speaking about integrity and sovereignty of Syrian State and non-interference from abroad…

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, Nizar, I don’t have any… I… first of all, there are all kinds of allegations of movements of people, locations of movements, what they may or not be about to declare.  I don’t have any particular comment on those reports.  And in fact, on the first one you mentioned, I have not even seen the report, so I’d need to look into that further, okay.

Correspondent:  I have another issue…

Spokesperson:  Please.

Question:  …which is regarding to the media at the United Nations.  It is being… I mean, our job is becoming much and much difficult, especially with regard to filming the meetings in the Security Council and elsewhere.  They filled the booths with tables.  And today, we faced another problem, which is, we were denied access to the roo… floor.  During the session itself, the audio was moved from floor to English only, and these things… these hiccups are happening almost systematically and regularly.

Spokesperson:  On the very last part, I am aware that there was a technical problem.  I am also aware that our colleagues moved very quickly to ensure that those who needed to have access to Arabic had access to it.  And I think that there is an important word that you did use there, which is “hiccup”.  This is the early stages of a new system; there was no overlap with the old system, therefore, it was, if you like, a cold start with the new system.  And inevitably, there are some difficulties initially, and I know that that doesn’t bring any comfort to you if you are trying to do your job, and I am sorry about that, but certainly, my colleagues are working as hard as they can to try to make sure that the hiccups become less frequent and that you can do the important job that you do in the best possible circumstances.

Question:  How about filling the booths with tables?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check on that, okay.  Yes?  Matthew, and then Ivan.

Question:  Sure.  [inaudible] DRC question, but I wanted to be sure to ask you this one on Mali.  There have been a couple of stories, both in English and in French.  I am assuming he may have spoken French — the Secretary-General — quoting him as saying that the results… about the election, the results, even if the election is imperfect, must be respected by all the parties.  And it says the same thing in French.  It seems to be an inaccurate description, but I was… first of all, is that… is that what he said?  Does he… what does he mean…?

Spokesperson:  He was speaking in French and…

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  …and yes, he did say that.

Correspondent:  Okay, so what… what it means in advance to say an imperfect result would have to be respected, I guess that’s the… and I also looked at the… what was sent to us as a transcript and I didn’t find that… that phrasing, but the more important thing…

Spokesperson:  Yes, it was sent out.

Question:  Okay.  So… so what does it mean to say… how imperfect could it be that the Secretary-General says in advance the results have to be exp… have to be accepted?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think he is speaking in general terms.  Everybody knows that this is very difficult circumstances.  It is hardly ideal circumstances for arranging an election.  The United Nations Mission there will be providing logistical support to help that election to take place in the best possible circumstances, and I think he is speaking in that context.  I wouldn’t over-interpret it, Matthew.  And we did certainly provide those remarks, and yes, he was speaking in French.

Correspondent:  I just searched for the word “imperfect” that is why… may be that’s the prob… I’ll research it in French.

Spokesperson:  That’s…

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  …probably not a bad idea.

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  And the reason he was speaking in French, apart from being in Paris, was that he was at the headquarters of the Francophonie…

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  …when he made those remarks.

Question:  But I just… just because I… I… and I appreciate that, I mean, you can… can you understand why some would be… to saying advance there is a level of imperfection at which a… he might not say accept the results, right?  It’s not like accepting regardless.  He [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  As I say, as I say, I wouldn’t over-interpret it.  It says what it says, and the point here is that everybody understands that these are hardly ideal circumstances for arranging an election of that importance and magnitude.  Ivan, yes?

Question:  Thank you.  The former New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, well known for his activity in Korea, has proposed to appoint a Special Envoy for the United Nations on North Korea to deal with all the problems surrounding this country.  What does the Secretary-General thinks about that?

Spokesperson:  Are you offering, Ivan, given your Korean expertise?

Correspondent:  No.

Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen that report.  I think that there are multiple parts of the UN system that deal with that topic, including the Security Council.  So, I don’t have any immediate response to that.  If that changes, I will let you know, Ivan, in Korean or in English, okay.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  On this E… European Union statement, which Israel is protesting that there should be no business done in the occupied territory by other countries, do you have any comment on that as to why this European Union came out with this such a strong statement that the occupied territory should not be dealt with by other countries?  [inaudible] specify Israel, in particular?

Spokesperson:  I have my work cut out commenting on matters of the United Nations.  I am not going to comment on matters that are coming out of Brussels in that fashion.  I think there are plenty of spokesmen and women working for the EU and for the Commission to help you with that, Masood.  Other questions, please?  Joe, and then Matthew, yes?

Question:  Yeah, just following up on, I think it was Nizar’s question earlier about cross-border from Turkey into Syria of alleged terrorists.  The Syrian Ambassador told a few of us after his speech this morning that he had sent a… or the Syrian Government has sent a whole bunch of letters to the UN — he didn’t specifically identify which part, the Security Council, perhaps, and perhaps to the Secretariat — recounting evidence of… of these cross-border incursions, which he characterized as an invasion of Syria’s territorial integrity.  He mentioned one example in particular involving flights fro… I believe, Turkish intelligence-sponsored flights from Yemen bringing Al-Qaida into Turkey and then they would cross into Syria.  So, what my question is, is whether you are aware of these letters and what does this… you know, what action, if any, is being taken in response to them, if, in fact, you confirm that those letters have been received?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not aware of any letters of the specific nature that you have mentioned.  But, certainly, we can check to see whether there have been any recent letters from the Syrian Mission.  But, I don’t have anything right now.  Matthew?

Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I want to ask you a follow-up on DRC, something about Mr. Downer and something about Somaliland.  On… on… just on the DRC, I wanted to ask, yesterday, I had asked you whether the… the Geneva Conventions apply to FARDC and they had being saying that they would show prisoners.  There are now photographs online of… of them manipulating bodies of dea… of… of… of M23 dead fighters, and what I am… when… when I question on this… you on this, I don’t… not expecting the soldiers seen these pictures to say… is MONUSCO or the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights monitoring which FARDC units are actually doing the fighting and… and is it… is it the case that, if these units are, as is depicted, you know, sort of disfiguring bodies of dead combatants, is… does that re… result in a… a suspension of aid to them?  Is that… trigger the human rights due diligence policy kind of what’s… what’s being done as this renewed fighting takes place to make sure the units the UN supports aren’t involved?

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, there is a very strong human rights component within the Mission, and part of its role is precisely to monitor developments in this sphere.  I don’t have anything on this specific incident you have referred to, nor yet in response to the question you asked yesterday.  But, as a general proposition, I think, regardless of conventions, common decency would suggest that combatants are not paraded and that the corpses of combatants should not be defiled.  But, that is not passing a legal judgement, but simply speaking out of common decency.  What is your question on Mr. Downer?

[The Spokesperson later added that MONUSCO is closely monitoring the situation.]

Question:  It has to do with whether… he is in, obviously, the… the good offices envoy on… on… on Cyprus, but he’s… he’s announced, and I haven’t seen it retracted, that he is gonna be running to be the President of the South Australian Liberal Party.  So, I wondered what… what the… I… there was… this came up one… for a moment, regarding Mr. Prodi, but I wonder, what are… what are the… what are the rules applicable to being a… to… to running for, particularly if he would win… were to win the… the presidency of a political party in a country, and… or… at the same time being admittedly a part-time when actually employed UN envoy?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, I think the caveats that you have provided in your own question partly answer it.  And, if I have anything further from the Department of Political Affairs, I will let you know.  But, I don’t have anything further on that at the moment.

Correspondent:  Okay, one is just for…okay, all right, if you… if you could… because I… it seems like if it’s a conflict if he wins, this may be a conflict running, because he’d have the same… I’m just…

Spokesperson:  Well, you know…

Question:  …noting.

Spokesperson:  …of course, it is at this point still hypothetical…

Correspondent: Right.

Spokesperson:  …but the principle is well taken in the question that you are posing, and I will see if my colleagues have anything.

Question:  And the other one is just… it’s just a purely… it’s a fact.  It has come up before, this issue of the airspace in… in Somaliland.  I know that flights were suspended for a time; it’s… it’s announced, but I wanted to know if… if the UN can confirm it that… that UNDP, I believe it was, but the UN system had said… had told Somaliland that its airspace would no longer be under its… its control.  They suspended flights.  It seems that they have now been told that they control their air… this airspace of this Somaliland entity and that UN flights have resumed, but I don’t… I know… I have seen that reported, but not said by the UN.  Is… is it the case and have UN flights resumed?

Spokesperson:  I have not seen that said by any part of the UN at this point.  What I told you before, what we’ve said before to my knowledge still stands.  If there has been any change, I will let you know.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  All right.  Yes, last question, Masood?

Correspondent:  Yes, sir.  On this… I mean, last question, but related, one is on this report and…

Spokesperson:  What you mean is you want two questions?

Question:  Yeah.  Well, they are related, it’s about India.  One report, which is in the newspapers today, that there are a number of rape cases against women and girls being registered in India and we have talked about that earlier, that the Indian Government… Secretary-General had talked once to the Indian Government, something about these continued incidents of rape which are going on, on the tourists first, now again the Indian girls who are being raped, consistent… consistently.  That was one.  And in that context, I wanted to ask you, do you have any update on Kashmir where these incidents are also being reported?

Spokesperson:  No update on Kashmir, Masood.  That’s the short answer to that one.  And on rape cases in India, we have spoken about this before, and it is not simply a terrible problem in India.  Indeed, it is, but it is a problem in other parts of the world, too.  And the Secretary-General has consistently spoken out very clearly against violence against women, and particularly sexual violence against women of this kind, which is unacceptable in any circumstances and outrageous.  And authorities in all parts of the world need to be doing more to combat that.  And the Secretary-General’s own advocacy for that fight against sexual violence against women is there on the record for all to see, and he will continue to speak out about that.

Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.

* *** *

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