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

18 September 2013

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

18 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.  Sorry for the slight delay.

**Peace Bell

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Peace Bell Ceremony to mark the International Day of Peace.  He said the International Day is a time for reflection, a day when we reiterate our belief in non-violence and call for a global ceasefire.

The Secretary-General said that perhaps nowhere in the world is this more desperately needed than in Syria, where the death and suffering has gone on for too long.  He repeated his call to all parties and their supporters to work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through negotiation.

Following that event, the Secretary-General addressed a student conference commemorating the International Day of Peace, and the theme there this year is “Education for Peace”.

**Security Council

In its consultations this morning, the Security Council heard a briefing from Haile Menkerios, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, on the situation between the two countries.

Then this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a meeting to consider a draft resolution on the UN Mission in Liberia.  Council members will also receive a briefing by Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for Sierra Leone.

**Special Political Missions

The Secretary-General has published the first overall report on the UN’s Special Political Missions.  The report traces the history and evolution of political missions.  In it, the Secretary-General says that the civilian missions are an “indispensable instrument for the maintenance of international peace and security”.  The missions, he says, have been able to defuse tensions, help countries to step back from the brink of conflict, and support national efforts to build a sustainable peace.  He urges strong Member State support to ensure their effectiveness, and the report (A/68/223) is available online.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow at 10:50 in the morning, there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Le Hoai Trung, the Permanent Representative of Viet Nam to the United Nations.

And then at 12 o’clock, there will be a press conference on the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force Report for 2013.  And the title of that report is “The Global Partnership for Development: The Challenge We Face”.  And the speakers will include the Secretary-General, and that means there will be no noon briefing tomorrow.

And following that press conference, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference on the upcoming Annual Treaty Event, which will be held at UN Headquarters between 24 and 26 September and between 30 September and 1 October 2013.  And this year’s event will focus on the rights of the child.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, the Russians have said that the… they have evidence that the opposition was responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack.  What will happen to that evidence if they want to present it to the United Nations, to Dr. [Åke] Sellström’s team?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, this mission has already been working in strict adherence to the mechanism and to the guidelines that there are for that mechanism.  And there are standardized procedures for that, including receiving evidence or information.  And so the same will apply.  We have to remember, as the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, that the report that was made public on Monday was specifically into the incident on 21 August of this year.  The team will be returning to Syria as soon as possible to be able to continue its work and complete its work on the allegations relating to Khan al-Asal and all other pending credible allegations, and that would be before completing the team’s report.  And so it would be in that context that if there is additional information then it would be for the team, within the guidelines that already exist, to evaluate it.  And that is as much as I can say at this point.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Martin, so you’re saying that this report isn’t necessarily final, that it could be reopened…?

Spokesperson:  No, look.  Um…

Question:  [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Joe, there was a report on the 21st of August incident.  The findings in that report are indisputable.  They speak for themselves.  And this was a thoroughly objective report on that specific incident.  However, we have also said that the team will be going back to Syria to look into the Khan al-Asal allegation and other pending credible allegations.  And then an overall report would be completed at the end of that work, and it would include reference to the material that is already in the finished report on that specific incident on the 21st of August.

Question:  It could include additional information?  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Well, look, what I… I have just answered that question from Edie.  Within the guidelines that exist, it is feasible if there is additional information for it to be evaluated.  It is a different matter whether it would end up in the report or not.  It needs to…

Question:  The report says that [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Which one are we talking about, now?

Question:  The August 21st report that came out.

Spokesperson:  And by the way, I have just remembered, you are not using the microphone.  So I am in trouble.  Microphone.

Question:  Because I am too close to [inaudible].  On the 21st… the… the August 21st report has to be a caveat in there in which it says that evidence had been moved, people were bringing pieces of rocket fragments to them, and that it could have been manipulated.  Well, at least, since Sellström is not being made available to us, you are here unfortunately to defend this report.  So how serious should we take that in terms of… you just said it was indisputable, but we now hear there is a huge… it could be a huge problem with the report…?

Spokesperson:  No, I think you are quoting rather selectively from that report.

Correspondent:  Well, it’s not in front of me.

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Correspondent:  It’s not in front of me right now.

Spokesperson:  No, I know it isn’t, but it is in front of me.

Correspondent:  That’s what it said.

Spokesperson:  It’s in front of me.

Question:  It says possibly manipulated, correct?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, the key point here is that there were a number of points that were raised there when that particular one is mentioned.  I can’t, I am going to struggle to find it, [inaudible] pages.

Correspondent:  It’s in the munitions section, and…

Spokesperson:  Would you like me to answer or not?

Correspondent:  …V, Annex V.

Correspondent:  Page 22.

Spokesperson:  Would you… would you like me to answer it or not?

Correspondent:  Yes, I’m trying to, we’re trying to help you.

Spokesperson:  Thank you.

Correspondent:  You’re welcome.

Spokesperson:  That would make a change, Joe!

Correspondent:  We all got to start somewhere!

Correspondent:  Limitations.

Spokesperson:  Limitations, that’s right.  Limitations, but of course, in addition, there is a huge amount of evidence where they are saying very clearly that they have full chain of custody.  And what we have also said is that the analytical results and the factual findings in the report are based solely on the information obtained on the ground by the mission.  And that information has come from multiple sources of evidence, including remnants of munitions, environmental and biomedical samples, and then, of course, information provided by survivors, patients, health workers and also the first responders.

Question:  Are you going to read us that section?

Spokesperson:  What?

Question:  Are you going to read the section that I was… you say I am selectively quoting?

Spokesperson:  No, you just… I can’t see any point of reading that piece I have just…

Question:  Okay, so I correctly selectively quoted?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to… I’m not going to read the whole point, but I think that you did not read out the whole section.

Question:  But you are dismissing it as irrelevant, or should we take it seriously?

Spokesperson:  No, it is a limitation, but as stated here by the experts, by the team, but what we are saying is that there is a huge wealth of information here, a body of evidence that has been collected by those experts in their respective fields, and the work of the mission has been prepared to withstand independent scientific scrutiny.  And it adheres to the most stringent protocols available for such an investigation.  And so some of the methods that are used include applying the concept of traceability, documentation, and, as I mentioned earlier, the use of standardized procedures.  And also, the chain of custody for all samples has been meticulously documented and retained.  Yes, please?

Question:  So have you received any new report or information from Russia on the chemical weapons in Syria?  And two, please…

Spokesperson:  No, no.

Question:  Nothing yet?  When is the mission… when is the mission going back to Syria?  And are they waiting for a new approval from the Syrian Government to go back to Syria?  And are we talking about the same mission with the same experts and same mandate, or is there anything new?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General has said himself that the team will go back as soon as possible.  And that depends on a number of factors, not least, on security.  But it also requires liaising with the Syrian authorities for entry.  The mandate already exists for that part of the investigation which has not yet been completed, the original part of the investigation, in other words, into Khan al-Asal and all other pending credible allegations.  So, that mandate exists and is unchanged.  So, it is a question of being able to go back.  It is also important to note that, of course, a lot of work has already been done on that part of the allegations.  It is the need to go back to complete the work that we are talking about, okay.  But we are not saying precisely when, except that it would be as soon as possible, as soon as practical.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, you keep speaking about three sites to be investigated:  Khan al-Asal and two others.  Why…?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I’ve said.  I said Khan al-Asal and all other pending credible allegations.

Question:  Oh.  But there were… originally the plan was to go before the 21st of… when… 18… when they went there on the 18th of August, the plan was to visit three sites, which were Khan al-Asal and two other sites.  Why these two other sites were kept… the names were kept secret?

Spokesperson:  As I say, all other pending credible allegations.

Question:  Okay, on [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes…

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Question:  [inaudible] about these two particular sites, because the two sites which were… their names were kept secret.  Why were they kept secret?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, as I said, the approach is according to the mandate to look at the allegations relating to Khan al-Asal and all other pending credible allegations.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Sir, it is just going to be a part of all this…?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Question:  …what I am asking is that you said in the… at the outset, the report is indisputable.  The Russians are disputing that [inaudible] not disputed.  It is disputed.  So?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am glad you asked me that, Masood, because we are checking with the Russian Permanent Mission to find out precisely what Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said in Damascus.  On the face of it, these reported remarks are an attempt to call into question the Secretary-General’s investigation team led by Professor Sellström and the credibility of its thoroughly objective report.  We can only stress that the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, including just yesterday, to all 193 Member States in the General Assembly that the investigators are going to return to Syria as soon as practical to complete their work on Khan al-Asal and all other pending credible allegations before completing the team’s report.

The Secretary-General has the fullest confidence in the professionalism of his team and their work and findings.  They worked impartially and to the highest scientific standards, despite the exceptionally difficult conditions of the war in Syria.  And they will continue to do so.  And finally, the mission confirmed unequivocally and objectively that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.  It detailed the types and trajectories of the rockets used to deliver their lethal payload that led to the deaths of so many civilians.   The environmental and biomedical samples demonstrated the widespread nature of the attack.  The terrible facts speak for themselves.

Question:  So, what you are saying is for final, that there is not going to be a revised updated report at all?

Spokesperson:  The facts speak for themselves.  Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The… we just heard from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and language that they would like to see in the current chemical weapons resolution that the Security Council is drafting, and that they have been in touch with them about it, and the Secretary-General, as you know, talked about the failure of the Security Council in the past on Syria.  How important is it in your… in the Secretary-General’s mind… in your mind, for the UN’s credibility to get some resolution through quickly?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General said in his remarks to the Security Council and to the General Assembly, and indeed here, and when he spoke at the stakeout after being in the Security Council just the other day, on Monday.  And on all of those occasions, he said that we don’t have any time to lose, that the Security Council needs to find unity in this of all questions, and they need to work hard to come up with a resolution, and he has spoken at some length about what that could entail.

Question:  Just specifically on UN credibility, since he sort of referred to that in the failure comment, do you think this restores UN credibility?  I know he is saying it should be done.

Spokesperson:  I think people tend to use this one label.  I think what has been at stake is the reputation of the Security Council because they have not been able to find a unified voice.  The United Nations as an institution has worked throughout the past two and half years to deliver humanitarian aid and to seek a political solution to this crisis.  And work on both of those fronts and on monitoring human rights will continue.  Joe, please?

Question:  Yes, you… you just mentioned that in the report there was precise information about the trajectory of the rockets and, in fact, as the New York Times characterizes in a front-page article today, it indeed listed the precise compass directions of flight for two rocket strikes.  I am wondering why a next step was not taken by the Sellström team to figure out, and there are methodologies to do that, and as mentioned in this article, to trace back based on that trajectory where the rockets came from, there are models to do that.  And according to two independent studies…

Spokesperson:  Okay, Joe, I get the picture, I get the picture…

Question:  You’ve seen the article.  Okay, so…

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course, but as the Secretary-General himself said yesterday, sitting right there, the mandate of the mission is very clear, we have said it many times, it was to ascertain whether chemical weapons were used and to what extent, and not by whom.  And that is I think quite clear.  I…

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  With the microphone on, please, yeah?  Yeah, yeah, thank you.

Question:  It’s not a question of by whom, it’s just a question, you could say from where it originated, then you can draw inferences if you want, who was in control.  But we are talking about just tracing it back geographically, which is quite possible, as proven by these two studies, to the originating site of those rockets.  Why wasn’t that follow-though done?  Was there an explicit instruction not to do that, or was it oversight?

Spokesperson:  No, it’s not within the scope of the mandate.  It is as easy as that.  Yasu, yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  My question is about the report of the commission of inquiry on the human rights in North Korea.  Reportedly, the head of the Commission reported unspeakable atrocity of North Korea yesterday in Geneva.  Do you have any reaction from the Secretary-General on that?  And do you have any reaction to share with us about the criticism by China saying that the report is politicized accusation?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you pointed out, the commission of inquiry presented an oral update to the Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, and those initial findings, particularly the ones gathered at the recent public hearings in Seoul and Tokyo, point to widespread and serious human rights violations in the DPRK.  And the Secretary-General has confirmed his support for the work of the Commission, and he has repeatedly urged the DPRK authorities to work towards improving the life of its people and to abide by global norms, including on human rights.  The Secretary-General hopes that the DPRK will cooperate fully with the work of the Commission and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country, and also implement the recommendations of the universal periodic review.  Okay, yes, Matthew?

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:   There is.

Question:  So Martin, we understand that the previous mission, the mandate was not to verify who used the chemical weapons, but when the chemical investigation team returns to Syria, will the mandate then be extended to determine use?

Spokesperson:  No.  The mandate, in fact, predates the mandate for the 21st of August incident and it covers it in its entirety.  In other words, under the terms of the mechanism, the Secretary-General’s mechanism, this is the aim to find out whether chemical weapons were used and not by whom.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Martin, I am confused because I believe that under the agreement that was reached, I believe on August 20th between Syria and the United Nations, the investigators were to investigate three sites:  Khan al-Asal was one, there were two others which are named in the Sellström report.  Now you are saying that they are going back to investigate — and I quote what you said — “all other pending credible allegations”.  Does…?

Spokesperson:  You know, well, you’re quoting me, but you’re also quoting the Secretary-General.

Question:  I’m quoting the Secretary-General.  When… when was this expanded, and has the Syrian Government agreed to this expansion of the investigation to more than the three sites?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be clear, if we want to be really pedantic about it, it is not necessarily an expansion.  It is simply a different form of words, okay.  Yes, Joe?

Question: Martin, on the…

Spokesperson:  Joe, I said.  And then I am coming to you, Nizar.

Question:  Martin, I wonder, it seems a little disingenuous to say that the question of trajectory wasn’t part of the mandate.  It wasn’t.  The mandate was to find out whether chemical weapons were used and which ones they were.  So this report walks right up to the door without going through it, laying out there for anybody like Human Rights Watch and the New York Times, cleverly, to have trace back where it came from.  So the issue is, didn’t the… didn’t this report exceed its mandate?

Spokesperson:  It was done strictly according…

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  …it was done strictly according to the mandate.  And as I have said, it adhered to the most stringent protocols available for such an investigation.  And it is done in such a way, the work, that it can withstand independent scientific scrutiny.

Question:  Okay, before I lose the mic, one, one day, the Secretary-General said it was a crime based on the 1925 protocol against chemical weapons, but that repor… protocol specifically talks about an international conflict, nothing to do with civil wars.  Does he still feel this is a war crime based on that protocol?

Spokesperson:  He said, has said that he considers the use of chemical weapons in this instance to be a war crime.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Based on the 1925 protocol?

Spokesperson:  He said [inaudible].

Question:  Martin, a follow-up on Edith’s remarks… on Edith’s remarks…

Spokesperson:  On whose remarks, sorry?

Correspondent:  The remark of Edith.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  That the names were mentioned in the report by Mr. Sellström, and he specifically says Saraqueb and Sheikh Maqsood, in addition to Khan al-Asal.  Why were they concealed in the first place, and what made them reveal them now?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it is a question of concealing really, Nizar.  All we are saying is that there was a request from the Syrian authorities and also from the French and the British to look at Khan al-Asal.  And there have been subsequent credible allegations.  So that is why we have said, the Secretary-General has said, that the team will be returning to complete its work leading up to its final report looking at Khan al-Asal and all pending, other pending credible allegations.

Question:  So do you need a new agreement with the Syrian Government on other pending other than Sheikh Maqsoodand Saraqueb?

Spokesperson:  As we have said, there is a pre-existing mandate and the team is going to be returning as soon as possible to be able to complete its work under that mandate.

Question:  But by revealing the names, would that not jeopardize their mission, because they can see them in the first place, to protect the mission.

Spokesperson:  Nizar, simply put, the mission worked in extremely dangerous circumstances when it went there.  And we don’t underestimate the dangers of continuing to work there.  But the team worked with bravery and courage, and, despite being shot at, continued to go in four times to collect samples and interview people.  And they have made it clear, with the support of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization, that they will go back to complete that work, okay.  Thank you very much.

Question:  When in the case of Khan al-Asal the [inaudible] finish this thing, in the case of…

Spokesperson:  Well, it sounds like an interview this time, Nizar.

Correspondent:  No, it’s not an interview, just a follow-up, like any other person who does follow up.

Spokesperson:  Please go ahead, please.

Question:  Yeah, the… the… in the case of Khan al-Asal, when it was mentioned, the… the opposition attacked the place and destroyed the whole town and killed hundreds of people after that.  Now, if we… they are mentioned… these two other places are mentioned, then there is a risk that the same thing will apply to them, because they know that the team will go there.

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, look, it is a war zone, and people, regardless of the chemical weapons usage, which has already been documented by this team and which is outrageous, and everybody agrees, I think that it is outrageous, despite that, for months and months, for two and half years, people have been slaughtered and they continued to be slaughtered.  And not just by chemical weapons, but rather by conventional weapons, and that is why it really important that, in addition to the work that is going on now on a resolution to deal with the chemical weapons, that there needs to be work on the political process as well.  And Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, is working very hard on that.  Yes, it is no easy place to work, but the team has made it clear that they will return to complete their work, and the Secretary-General has said that they will do so.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

Question:  Yeah, one last, one last thing, one last thing…

Spokesperson:  Thank you very much, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much, thank you.

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