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

17 July 2013

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

17 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.

**Security Council ‑ Protection of Journalists

In remarks to the Security Council this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General said freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and it depends on independent and pluralistic media.

He noted that in the past decade, more than 600 journalists have been killed while exercising their critical role and service in society.  In many cases, murdered journalists are covering corruption and other illegal activities.  In most cases, journalists receive threats prior to being assassinated.  He noted that every journalist murdered or intimidated into silence is one less observer of efforts to uphold rights and ensure human dignity.  He found it shocking and unacceptable that more than 90 per cent of the assassinations of journalists go unpunished.  He said that all murders of journalists must be investigated swiftly and justice served.

The United Nations “Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity” was launched precisely to create a free and safe environment for the media in conflict and non-conflict situations.  The basic rationale behind that plan is that protecting free media is a prerequisite for freedom of expression and democracy. 

** Egypt

And staying with precisely this topic, today, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, condemned the killing of an Egyptian photographer and urged authorities to respect the right of journalists to carry out their work in safe conditions.  Ahmed Assem el-Senousy was shot and killed while covering a demonstration on 8 July.  Irina Bokova urged all parties to respect the need of journalists to perform their professional duties safely.  More information is available on UNESCO’s website.

**South Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, today said that she is alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Pibor county in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, where some 100,000 civilians have been cut off from life-saving aid due to clashes.  Ms. Amos said that the fighting is threatening the lives of ordinary people and has reduced the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide urgently needed help.

For the first time since the hostilities began, aid organizations were able to deliver aid to the Dorein area along the Kengen River today.  Ms. Amos said that while this is good news, the delivery of food and other basic supplies into such vast and swampy terrain requires significant resources and she asked that the international community ensure that there are enough resources to reach all those in need in Pibor.

Ms. Amos, who also serves as the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that as long as the fighting continues, delivery of aid will be limited and we will not get help to those who need it.  She added that the UN will work with all parties to ensure people in need receive humanitarian assistance and reminded all sides to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians.

Also on South Sudan, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has reinforced its forces in Gumuruk and in Pibor.  They are instructed to use force to protect civilians when they are under imminent threat.  The Mission’s ability to deploy into areas of suspected fighting is severely limited due to constraints ranging from a lack of air assets to the need for secured landing sites.

**Humanitarian Assistance

And Ms. Amos said that 73 million people around the world need humanitarian assistance this year.  While presenting the mid-year review of global humanitarian action, Ms. Amos said that halfway through the year donors had provided $5.1 billion for humanitarian aid in 24 countries.  She also said that the deteriorating situation in Syria and neighbouring countries has added $4.4 billion to the original amount needed to cope with the world’s major crises.  A press release with more details is available in my office and also online.

** Lebanon

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met separately today with the country’s Prime Minister-designate, Tamam Salam, and with the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Plumbly said that in his meetings, the latest developments in Lebanon and the region were discussed.  He said that in both meetings, he stressed that the best way to safeguard Lebanon’s stability during this period was through reinforcing and respecting Lebanon’s state institutions.

Mr. Plumbly said in this context, the delay in forming a new government is a matter of concern, and encouraged all sides to engage with the Prime Minister-designate on the formation of his government.  The Special Coordinator also said the international community remains united in its determination to support Lebanon’s sovereignty, security and stability.

And his full statement is available online.

**Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The largest international meeting on disability issues began at the United Nations Headquarters today.  The Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will focus on building “disability-inclusive” development by improving social protection and reducing poverty.

According to the United Nations, there are more than a billion people with disabilities in the world.  About 80 per cent of them are of working age, and face physical, social, economic and cultural challenges to their access to education, skills development and employment. The Conference will end on 19 July.


The International Labour Organization (ILO) has called for additional job creation policies in the countries of the G20 (Group of 20).  At a press conference in Moscow, the International Labour Organization’s Director-General, Guy Ryder, said that unemployment remains at “unacceptably high levels,” with every G20 country facing serious job challenges.

According to the Organization’s update, unemployment is up in half of G20 countries and down only marginally in the other half.  Mr. Ryder said a significant improvement in the employment situation was unlikely unless countries undertake more ambitious policies to address the jobs deficit.  And you can find more details on this on the Organization’s website.

** Somaliland Flights

In response to a question yesterday regarding humanitarian flights to Somaliland, I can confirm that the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) has resumed flights and resumed them yesterday.

**Syria ‑ Humanitarian

Finally I have two updates on Syria.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that an inter-agency UN convoy entered Aleppo city, with the support of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, on 14 July.  The 15-truck convoy delivered relief items ‑ including food, medicine, surgical equipment, water and hygiene kits ‑ for an estimated 350,000 people, including 40,000 Palestine refugees.

UN staff assessed the situation on the ground.  They are seeking further access and they are looking for aid to be distributed in accordance with humanitarian principles.  They confirmed that there were major shortages of essential goods due to increased fighting.  They also confirmed that the price of basic commodities, such as bread and fuel, has risen sharply, and that there has been a breakdown of basic services in large parts of the city.

**Syria ‑ Chemical Weapons

The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and the Head of the United Nations mission to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic will travel next week to visit Damascus, upon the invitation of the Government.  The purpose of the visit will be to complete the consultations on the modalities of cooperation required for the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the Mission.

The Secretary-General hopes that the visit will result in a mutual understanding on the access for the mission to conduct its fact-finding activities and establish the facts pertaining to the reports received by the Secretary-General concerning allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

And that’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Yes, sir.

Spokesperson:  Well done.

Question:  Yes, sir.  On this protection of journalists issue which is in the Security… being… also being debated in Security Council.  I mean, we know that there… in the conflict, journalists are killed, but in a country like [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Your microphone has gone off.

Question:  In a country like Pakistan, where the journalists do not get any protection from the Government they become, I mean, victims in the conflict between warring parties within Pakistan, and especially the Taliban.  Now, my question is that, in that case, do you have any [inaudible] United Nations or U… U… I mean, the UNICEF… I mean, you know what they have that… organization…

Spokesperson:  UNESCO?

Question:  UNESCO.  Does it have any programme for journalists to train them how to avoid being in such a conflict zone so that they are safe, because consistently, journalists being killed one after another and they have no way of protecting themselves if the Government fails to protect them and it does not bring people back to justice.  So what I am asking is, does United Nations or UNESCO has a programme which can help the journalist towards that end?

Spokesperson:  Well, precisely the Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was launched for that reason.  So not just in areas of conflict, but also in non-conflict situations.  And I know that UNESCO would be able to provide you more details on that.  I would encourage you also to look in full at the remarks made by the Deputy Secretary-General this morning in the Security Council.  You also heard powerful testimony from journalists themselves and from news executives who have responsibility for journalists being sent to the field.  Everybody understands the important role that they play, as the Deputy Secretary-General has mentioned this morning and others too.  And it is incumbent upon all Member States to see to it that journalists are protected in the way that we heard during this discussion this morning in the Security Council.  So the Secretary-General is fully in line, of course, with what the Deputy Secretary-General has said this morning.  And indeed the Secretary-General himself has said all journalists across all media need to be able to do their jobs, when it is safe to speak the whole world benefits.  So… but to come back to the beginning, check with UNESCO, and I think they’d be able to give you more details on that plan of action and any specific training that may be attached to that.  Nizar, and then I am coming to you after that.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I wonder, Martin, if you have any line regarding the assassination today of a Syrian activist in south Lebanon in Sarafand area, Mr. [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Aware of the reports; I don’t have anything specific at the moment on that.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding President Ricardo Martinelli’s denouncement of… of Panama, regarding the shipment of what seems to be very sophisticated missile components from Cuba to North Korea, will we have any statement or reaction, please?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, the Secretary-General is aware of this development.  I think there are three points here.  One is that it is up to the 1718 sanctions committee of the Security Council to pronounce itself on the matter.  The second point is, of course, that all Member States are obliged to implement Security Council resolutions and to abide by them.  And finally, if it is confirmed that the vessel was carrying arms or related material, and the shipment was part of the purchase or sale to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, then that would indeed be a breach of the UN sanctions regime relating to that country.  But, as I mentioned at the outset, it is up to the sanctions committee, 1718 sanctions committee of the Security Council, to pronounce itself on that matter.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, thank you.  On Syria and Dr. [Åke] Sellström’s visit, the fact that he is actually going to Damascus to talk about the conditions, as I understand right, he is not accepting that he will conduct the investigation.  They are going to talk about the conditions on whether the Government in Syria will provide them with necessary accessibility.  Did that… does that mean that actually the Syrian Government revised their offer when they offered the UN first to go and investigate chemical, you know, weapon use allegations?

Spokesperson:  Look, I don’t speak for the Syrian authorities; you need to speak to the Syrian authorities about their reasons for the invitation.  We have said that we welcome the invitation.  As I have just said, Ms. Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Dr. Sellström, who is the head of the mission, will travel next week to Damascus, and the purpose of the visit is to complete the consultations on the modalities of cooperation.  So that means talking about the details of the cooperation that is needed for the mission to be able to conduct its activities.  So it is in that framework, okay.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you first about Mali.  The… the… the… Tiebele Drame, who is the… the… who negotiated this Ouagadougou Agreement which allowed the… you know, the re-entry into Kidal, he has now withdrawn his candidacy for the presidency saying that the conditions for a fair vote are not in place.  He was a pretty central Malian political figure and that’s what he has done, and I just wonder… I don’t expect… you know, without necessarily regard to this idea that the election should go forward and people should accept the result however imperfect, does this change things at all, in the sense of this… this individual saying it is not ready, what is the response of the UN system to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve seen the report; I don’t have anything specific on that at the moment.  If that changes, I will let you know.  Any other questions?  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask you about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also about disability, but on… on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is obvio… I mean, I was… I was half expecting some kind of a readout, it seems like there… there is pretty aggressive fighting there and I don’t now if MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] can say, you know, what’s… what is actually taking place there is… there were account… accounts of 200 peo… 200 killed in the last four days and I wonder, is… is… M23 says that FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] has set up its… its UN positions quite near theirs and then allows… excuse me, the M23 says that the UN allows FARDC, the Congolese army, to use UN positions to attack them, which… and… and… and… and pleads with the UN to not become a party in that way.  Is that something that MONUSCO denies?  Where are its positions and what is its relationship to the FARDC events that… that’s been going on?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know what the ground rules are for MONUSCO on the ground in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and if I have an update from them on precisely what has been happening today, then I would certainly be able to provide that to you and to others, of course.  So I don’t have anything specific on the points that you have raised just at the moment, Matthew.

Question:  Okay, and then o… on disabilities, there was a press conference obviously here just before this one and the Permanent Representative of Kenya, among other things, was somewhat critical of… of… I guess of the renovations of the UN and said that they were not accessible enough, that he… you know, he said there was no inkling of the… of how people with disabilities get around.  Rather than… than sort of look just only at this room, I wonder, is there some… some way to get a statement from CMP [capital master plan] of how… and I see ramps and staff… I mean, I am just… I am asking you basically on… on a question that a Permanent Representative raised whether these… this issue ha… ha… how… how… to the degree to which it was taken into account in the… in the CMP and I am also told that there is a Secretary-General bulletin that is in the process that is somewhere in the hamper being considered and I wonder, is that true, and would in fact trigger any… any type of changes for example in the renovation of the General Assembly or the parts that are not yet done of the UN?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will provide to everyone a fairly detailed explanation and description of the way that the renovation of the building has been conducted with the accessibility of those… for those with disabilities certainly very much in mind.  In fact, improvement to accessibility was a core goal of the capital master plan.  So the design teams were instructed right from the beginning of the project to fully meet host country and host city standards for both the permanent renovated structures as well as the temporary building.  But as I say, I will provide you with more details and send those out to all of you right after this.

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

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