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

11 September 2013

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

11 September 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Responsibility to Protect

The Secretary-General spoke at an informal meeting of the General Assembly on the Responsibility to Protect today, saying that, despite that doctrine, atrocities continue to be committed and we continue to face challenges in our efforts to protect people from them.  He said that the crisis in Syria is a case in point.  The Secretary-General said that our collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes in Syria over the past two and a half years will remain a heavy burden on the standing of the United Nations and its Member States.

He expressed his hope that the current discussions related to safeguarding Syria's chemical weapon stocks will lead to the Security Council playing an effective role in promoting an end to the Syrian tragedy.  The Secretary-General added that prevention is at the core of the responsibility to protect, and we must all look into our own capacity to prevent.  This is where responsibility starts.  His speech is available in our office and online, as are the remarks by the Deputy Secretary-General on the same subject.

** Syria

The Commission of Inquiry dealing with human rights violations in Syria issued its latest report today, and the Commission said that civilians continue to pay the price for the failure to negotiate an end to this conflict.  Tens of thousands of lives have been lost and more than 6 million Syrians have fled their homes, the Commission said.

The report details massacres and other unlawful killings, which the Commission says are perpetrated with impunity.  It adds that an untold number of men, children and women have disappeared.  The Commission says that there is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement.  The full report is available online.


New UN statistics have revealed that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, are living abroad worldwide, with the United States being the most popular destination.  The data also show that migration from a developing country to another developing country is as common as from a developing country to a developed one.  Wu Hongbo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, has said that migration can make a very important contribution to social and economic development, both in the countries of origin and in the countries of destination.  More detailed breakdowns by region and country are available online.

** Planet Ocean

This evening, the Secretary-General is expected to attend the screening of Planet Ocean, produced by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a filmmaker and environmentalist.  The Secretary-General is expected to say that he hopes this film can generate political momentum to safeguard our oceans as we work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  You will be able to find his full remarks on our website this evening.  And this is also a reminder that correspondents are invited to attend the screening of that film this afternoon at 5:20 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.  The event is sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and OMEGA.

**Press Conferences

For press conferences, tomorrow, at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference here by the new Executive Director of UN-Women [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women], Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

And then, at noon, I will be joined by Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

That’s it from me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yes, regarding the statement by the Secretary-General on the subject of the Responsibility to Protect, are there any specific criteria for applying the concept?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, there have been several reports about the Responsibility to Protect and how it is applied.  The Secretary-General was, in fact, presenting his fifth report on that subject.  And his statement was followed by an interactive dialogue among Member States about how it is going to be promoted.  The Deputy Secretary-General also spoke at that interactive dialogue.  So, we have his speech and we also have the latest report out as a document and you can see those for further details.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Has there been any sort of update of timeline on the investigation, the testing of the findings from Dr. [Åke] Sellström’s team, even an update on how things have been going?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of an update on how things have been going, the samples arrived at the laboratories on 4 September — in other words, a week ago today — and they are being analysed at four different laboratories in Europe.  And so we will see when the analyses on that… on those samples is completed.

Question:  No even projected timelines at all at this point, as well?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no projected timeline on when the work will be completed yet.  Yes, all the way in the back?

Question:  Farhan, do we have any information or any details in the works in trying to get Geneva II for the Syria situation?  Is there any more details on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, what I can say on that is Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special… the Joint Special Representative for Syria, who has been in Paris in recent days for talks there, is on his way back to Geneva.  And he is ready to meet… he is available to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, should they wish to do so.  And he will try in whatever discussions he has in the coming days to take forward the proposal of the Geneva II conference.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan, maybe this question was asked earlier, I just want to know what’s… are there any contingency plans that have been drawn by the Secretary-General as to how to recover these so-called chemical weapons from the Syrians?  Along with this Russians are the… are the Sec… is… is the Secretary-General preparing any plans as yet?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, that remains a hypothetical circumstance.  We haven’t been tasked with the responsibility to decommission and demobilize all of Syria’s chemical weapons.  That’s a subject that remains under discussion and we’ll have to see how that goes.

Correspondent:  But… but, they… they… Why do you… you’re calling it hypothetical, then the… what… it is that… it is understood that ultimately United Nations is going to be in charge of that.  That is understood.  And you… it’s not a hypothetical question.  You keep on saying that again and again.

Associate Spokesperson:  We do that for things that are hypothetical situations.

Correspondent:  No, it’s not a hypothetical situation.

Associate Spokesperson:  This is something… ultimately, it is something we would need to be tasked with.  If, for example, the Security Council tasks us with that responsibility, we will be prepared, we will try to take up our responsibilities and we will need to be prepared for that moment, but at this stage, that hasn’t happened.  Yes, please, in the back?  Yes, you.

Question:  This is sort of a follow-up of the previously asked questions… question concerning the timeline of the report of Dr. Sellström, because the Government of Luxemburg today said that they expect it to… to come out next Monday.  Do you have any comment on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I do not.  We don’t have a timeline.  We will put out… the Secretary-General intends to report back to the Security Council once the work is done.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Farhan, a follow-up on Mr. Brahimi.  Have there been any contacts between the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi and Mr. Lavrov’s office or Secretary of State Kerry’s office in advance of his decision to go to Geneva to be available?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that Mr. Brahimi and his team are in regular contact with the US and Russian Governments, as they have been ever since the initial proposal for a Geneva II conference.  And so, they have been in regular contact.

Question:  Well, what I am trying to find out is, you know, is there any indication that Mr. Kerry, Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov will meet Mr. Brahimi, or is this a purely speculative trip on his part?

Associate Spokesperson:  It is not a purely speculative trip; it is certainly possible that he will have those meetings, but there is nothing I can officially confirm at this stage.  Yes?  You?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General expressed any level of confidence that a resolution within the Security Council can be met, and when can we expect that resolution process to continue?

Associate Spokesperson:  Ultimately, it is up to the members of the Security Council to determine any resolution.  The Secretary-General has been very clear in his calls, in his repeated calls, for responsibility for the Security Council.  He did so again today in his remarks on the Responsibility to Protect, and you heard what he has had to say to you when he spoke to the press on Monday.  So, we’d just refer you back to those.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, I am wondering as far as the Responsibility to Protect, and the UN regarding… is there a responsibility to pre-empt?  I mean, we’ve had public statements by officials for the last two years of mercenaries being funded to call… they’re calling themselves Free Syrian Army, or whatever the flavour of the day is, that creates destabilization in countries for regime change.  Today is the anniversary of the airlifting of the Benghazi, the culmination of the Benghazi situation.  And we… there’re documents saying that there were weapons and Al-Qaida airlifted from Benghazi to Turkey into Syria.   What does the UN do about another Member State under whatever guise — whether it is democracy — you know, arranging these kinds of things to overthrow other Governments?  What does the Secretary-General…?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has made very clear, and repeatedly clear, that he is against all further militarization of the conflict in Syria.  We have urged all the parties in the region and in the wider international community not to arm any side to this conflict.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about Sri Lanka and the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], but just about this issue of planning, like, I just want to be understa… to… to understand, like I… I heard last week that there is planning within DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and I… I saw the answer that was e-mailed to me today saying that there are… “has been contingency planning for a range of scenarios”, but that it is exclusively up to the Security Council.  So, I wanted to know, is… I understand that to implement a plan, it is up to the Security Council, but clearly, are you… you… you… can you acknowledge that DPKO does planning before it has any mandate from the Security Council and that this planning now involves this new proposal to search for and/or destroy chemical weapons?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I can’t confirm that.  We don’t actually talk in detail about contingency planning.  What I can say is that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations does do contingency planning for a range of potential scenarios.  Ultimately, what plan we adopt depends upon what scenario reflects the present reality.

Question:  And did you have a plan for the contingency of a… of a… of a… of a mili… you know, a military strike directed at chemical weapons facilities, as discussed by the United States?

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t comment on the specifics of our contingency planning.  It is a contingency, like I said, for a wide range of scenarios.  Erol?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Two quick questions:  Whether the chemical weapons that are now suggested that are going to be under control and then destroyed are going to be in that transition… put under the control of UN or somebody else, when they are calling about international community or whoever, who is going to be, UN is going to be in charge?  And number two… and number two, just what would be the role of General Assembly?  As we know, there is a draft resolution circulating in the General Assembly… how does the Secretary-General view that in resolving this, beside the Security Council?  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, regarding your second question, the Secretary-General has been wanting the Member States, as a whole, to take greater responsibility about Syria.  So, of course, he does encourage the efforts by the Member States to be involved.  That’s in the broad sense.  Regarding the specifics about what chemical weapons teams might do, those have not been developed yet in any way by Member States.  We don’t have a mandate for that sort of action just yet.  So, we will have to see what kind of mandate, as I was explaining to Masood just before you.

Question:  Is it fair to… is it fair to say that UN will have a role in the transition, beyond the point where they are going to be put under control and then destroyed?

Associate Spokesperson:  We would have to see ultimately what sort of role we are tasked with.  So far, that hasn’t happened.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the process of locating these chemical weapons and eventually destroying it, there seems to be difficulties in the process of negotiating this resolution to be put before the Security Council.  And the difficulty seems to be whether or not the resolution should be put in the framework of Chapter VII.  Does the Secretary-General have any view on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, he does not.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want… unless somebody… did you want to follow on that? Alright, I wanted to ask you about… something about the DRC.  There was a summary that was put out, I guess the beginning of the weekend, by the UN, purporting to summarize the views of the five that went, including Russ Feingold, EU [European Union] and AU [African Union].  And it specifically said… mentioned the M23 [23 March Movement], it didn’t mention the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] and then the five actually or the… the… those… those… those envoys put out their own statement that didn’t mention either group.  So, I wanted to know, what’s the UN… was… what was the basis of the UN summarizing the views of this, particularly non-UN officials, in such a way as to name one group and not the other and do you stand behind that summary, given that the… the… what was released by Feingold, EU and AU didn’t make the distinction that you did?

Associate Spokesperson:  We stand by the information that was put out earlier in the week.  As for further details, I believe that Mary Robinson, the Special Envoy, as well as Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, will be briefing the Security Council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes tomorrow, and we will have some further details at that point.

Question:  One more on DRC.  Can you, as… from the Secretariat side, can you confirm an upcoming trip by the Security Council to the Great Lakes region, Goma, Kinshasa, Kigali, Kampala, Addis Ababa?

Associate Spokesperson:  We can’t at this stage.  You’d have to check with the Security Council members whether they have anything further to say about that.  Yes, Trish?

Question:  Yes, as time goes by, there are increasing accounts of… from inside Syria, including the areas of Latakia and Alawite, areas that some of these children that are featured in these CNN videos as being chemical weapons victims are from pro-Alawite areas.  Would the UN… would this be part of their investigation to look into that?  And then, the second part of my question is:  if the rebels were behind this chemical weapons attack, what is… how does disarming Syria solve that problem?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, we are opposed to the use of chemical weapons and consider it to be an outrageous crime regardless of who uses it.  And we would have to be able to handle this particular problem if chemical weapons were used, regardless of which side was responsible.  Beyond that, as for the work of the chemical weapons team, it is up to them to determine what relevant information they will include in their reports and what they look at.  We will have to see what they come up with.  Yes, Haider?

Question:  Regarding Syria.  Is there any deadline set for the submission of inspectors’ report?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, they are going about their work now.  Once they are done, they will present it to the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  Did the Secretary-General have any reaction to President [Barack] Obama’s speech last night about Syria?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, he did.  The Secretary-General strongly welcomes the emergence of serious international discussions that could lead to an agreement in the Security Council to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons so as to prevent their use.  The Secretary-General welcomes, therefore, President Obama’s decision to take time to further explore this diplomatic opportunity to achieve this crucially important objective.  He also welcomes the efforts by the Russian Federation to advance a possible agreement.  He hopes the US-Russian meetings later this week will be productive in moving towards a process for addressing the Syrian chemical weapons threat, which all parties will be committed to.  The confirmed use of chemical weapons would be an outrageous crime, for which there must be accountability and determined efforts to prevent any recurrence.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Farhan, bearing in mind what you just have said in reaction to the… two very strong countries’ diplomatic initiatives, does the Secretary-General feel that somehow UN is left on the tail in these initiatives, since you don’t know the character of the role of the UN in that process of where the… the… the weapons are going to be stocked or destroyed?  And also, what character of the UN Security Council resolution Secretary-General would prefer?

Associate Spokesperson:  It would not be my place to say what type of Security Council resolution should be developed.  That will be crafted ultimately by the Member States.  If they come up with a resolution, we will comply with whatever they want us, whatever role they want us to fulfil.  But, in any case, what the Secretary-General has been pressing for is for the Security Council to come to a united decision.  It is crucially important at this late stage of the war that they come together and take some action that can prevent both the problems regarding the use of chemical weapons and the wider problem of solving this conflict.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Regarding the first question, is the…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Regarding your first question, no, no, we believe we have a strong role to play.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, just a follow-up, I just wanted to ask, is this on the… as Secretary-General’s appreciation of President Obama’s speech is… just wanted to ask you:  is the Secretary-General relieved that the attack is not going to take place?  Is that fair to say?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think I have just said what his views are, and that’s where we stand.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about C… CAR [ Central African Republic] and then the Sri Lanka question.  On… on CAR, there are reports now that this renewed fighting between supporters of former President [François] Bozizé and Séléka coalition have killed up to 73 people, and I… and I wanted to know, one, if the U… UN, with its presence there through Babacar Gaye and otherwise, can confirm it, and two, does… since the Secretary-General has been calling on the Security Council to act on Syria, does he… does he make any similar call as to the Central African Republic, given that people said there was no resolution in August because the penholder, France, was on vacation.  What is… is he satisfied with the Security Council not having met or addressed this issue in any way while there has been killing all summer long in the CAR?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has made his views on the Central African Republic known though his periodic reports and, as you know, there have been regular briefings of the Security Council.  We will have to see what action they will take on that.  Regarding the latest violence, we will check with the Peacebuilding Office whether there is any reaction to this.  So far, there has been none.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday, Martin [Nesirky] was saying that the situation was very… things were happening very fast when mentioned about the possibility of a resolution presented by France to the Security Council, and he said that he couldn’t give the specifics because things were going again very fast and they were evolving.  Can you say that it is safe to say that things have stalled at this point, maybe the bilaterals are not happening any more?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes; things are continuing to go fast.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, in… in the R2P discussion just before this briefing, the Swiss Ambassador brought up this report that was supposed to go… that, actually, I believe, has gone to the Secretary-General about the UN’s action and inaction in Sri Lanka in 2009, and he said that he hoped that this report would make the UN operate better in the future.  So, I wanted to know, I know I asked in Aug… early August and was told that he would have something to say, the Secretary-General, about it this month, September, so I am wondering, where is the report?  Is it… has it been finalized and why has it… why… why has nothing been said about it in the past month?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, it continues to be September, and we are still going through the process of reviewing.

Question:  But what’s the purp… I guess my… still… understanding is has anything been done on it since August or is it just… what’s the purpose, given…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, yes; the follow-up to the recommendation on Sri Lanka have continued…

Question:  And is it going to be released?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything further to say at this stage, no.

Question:  Will it be released publicly?

Associate Spokesperson:  We will see.  We will try to have some public information one way or the other, but ultimately, we will have to see what we can put out.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  If the chemical weapons are located in Syria and eventually destroyed, does the Secretary-General think that could have implications on States who possess chemical weapons, whether they use them or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  Without getting into too much speculation, if this crisis regarding the chemical weapons in Syria is handled successfully, yes, the Secretary-General believes that could provide a useful deterrent and it could be a step forward for the international community as a whole.  So, our hope is that we can handle this in an appropriate manner and remove this threat of chemical weapons.  Yes?

Question:  Elaborating on that last question, if it is a non-State actor who is acting with chemical weapons, would then the chain of custody be followed back to the suppliers of those weapons?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s not what chain of custody means; chain of custody means that…

Question:  The supply chain?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay.  I think that would remain to be determined.  We will have to see what the information shows.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  You… you… you summarized this DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] report on migration, so I wanted to… I wanted to ask you two things that were, actually that came up in that briefing earlier today.  One is whether the Secretary-General, having been asked prior… previously, has any view of Australia’s proposal that all asylum seekers can be sent to Papua New Guinea.  I know it is something that Kevin Rudd at the time called him about; did he ever reach a conclusion on it?  And also, that report seems to list Puerto Rico as a country or as a country or area.  So, I wanted to know, what’s the basis?  Maybe you’ll know this now or can find out, how does the UN determine what is listed as a country or area and does it concer… I mean, is Somaliland listed, is Puntland listed, is Western Sahara listed? I tried to get it from the guys; they didn’t answer.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I think the people who were here at the briefing earlier today are the ones to really ask about that particular question.

Correspondent:  They said look at the poster, and so I am asking… that’s why I am asking you.

Associate Spokesperson:  So, I believe they answered you and you can follow up further with them if needed.  Regarding Australia, I believe the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has already made its views know.  And I would refer you back to what they have been saying.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

* *** *

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