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

30 September 2013

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

30 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.

** Syria

The team of chemical weapons investigators led by Professor Ǻke Sellström, which was in Syria to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons there, has just left the country after completing its six-day mission.  The team will now move to the phase of finalizing its report, which the team hopes will be ready by late October.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke by video link today to the UN refugee agency’s Executive Committee in Geneva, and he drew attention to the needs of more than 2.1 million Syrian refugees who have registered or are waiting to be registered in five neighbouring countries.  He said that the impact of the refugee crisis on neighbouring countries has been very significant, with public services becoming severely overstretched.

António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said that Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have been sheltering an unrelenting flood of Syrian refugees, saving lives and providing protection.  And they have been generous hosts to their neighbours, but all of them are stretched to their limits.  And Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, also spoke at the meeting, and we’ll be able to share her remarks with you as soon as we get them.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq has expressed his shock at the series of car bomb explosions that hit the city of Erbil yesterday and caused a number of casualties.  Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov said that, for many years, the city Erbil has benefited from peace and security.  He urged the regional and national authorities to work together to ensure that conditions will remain calm and tranquil, and that those responsible for the attack will be brought to justice.

**Landlocked Developing Countries

The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a ministerial meeting of landlocked developing countries.  He said that the economies of landlocked developing countries remain fragile and vulnerable to external shocks, such as the global economic crisis and climate change.

To address these challenges, the Secretary-General said that policies should be results-oriented and broad-based.  He also called on landlocked developing countries to strengthen partnerships and take advantage of cooperation and investment among developing States, while stressing the need for a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations.

The Secretary-General also said that the concerns and perspectives of landlocked developing countries must be taken into account in crafting the post-2015 development agenda.  And his full remarks are available online.

**Press Conferences

This afternoon, at 4 p.m., there will be an end-of-presidency press briefing here by Ambassador Gary Quinlan, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations and the President of the Security Council for the month of September.

Tomorrow, Azerbaijan assumes the presidency of the Security Council for the month of October.  And, I understand that the President of the Security Council for October will brief reporters on Wednesday.  And he is meeting the Secretary-General this afternoon to discuss the coming month’s work.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please. Yes?  Can you use the microphone, please?  It seems like you have half a dozen microphones on the go there, but please, yeah.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Can you tell us what the Secretary’s reaction is to the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) team departing to Syria, it is reported that they should be starting work tomorrow, Tuesday, in Damascus, and the process of destroying the chemical weapons?

Spokesperson:  Well, this joint operation is, indeed, scheduled to begin tomorrow.  Obviously, we are not giving exact details of departure times and so on, but it is certainly the aim of that team, which comprises technical experts with UN logistical and security support, to get down to work quite quickly.  It is a very tight timetable, and I know that my colleagues at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have provided some details on what precisely that entails.  And I would refer you to them for some of the nuts and bolts, if you like, but simply to say that this is very much a joint venture.  And we will be trying to provide information as we go along on that operation.

Clearly, last Friday’s Security Council resolution and the work that stems from that and the Executive Council decision from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — major steps.  Now, we need to look beyond that; the bigger picture, that’s the humanitarian track, and also the political track.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, on the OPCW mission, there was a briefing in The Hague and they gave a lot of details, but is there any plan on who will protect both the OPCW team and also the sites themselves?  Would it be Syrian Government forces; will it be anything to do with the United Nations?  Thanks.

Spokesperson:  Well, security arrangements for the team itself — we are not going to get into that.  And with regard to the sites, I would need to check with my colleagues at the OPCW about that before I come back to you.

Question:  But just, as, is there anything envisioned in terms of — we had a discussion with Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous a few weeks ago — is there anything envisioned in terms of troop-contributing countries from peacekeeping troops or UN peacekeeping troops themselves or is it all Syrian Government?

Spokesperson:  As you will have heard — I think we need to be quite careful here — this is an advance team that is going in tomorrow.  There is a larger mission that will need to do a lot of work in the weeks and months ahead.  The recommendations for how that larger operation will take place will be put together in the coming eight or nine days by the Secretary-General in close consultation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  And I think it would be in that context that we would then be able to address the question that you have raised, but not now.

Question:  Okay, all right, thank you.  And there is no specific security arrangements for the 20-person advance team?

Spokesperson:  I can assure you that there are; but we are not going to tell you about them here.

Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Last week Secretary-General met President of Iran, Dr. [Hassan] Rouhani.  Did they speak anything about human rights in Iran and gender rights in Iran?

Spokesperson:  Yes, they did, and we mentioned it in the readout and I was asked a follow-up question here, and I provided some more details.  Yes, of course, the Secretary-General did raise the topic of human rights.  He did specifically mention the release of a dozen human rights activists shortly before President Rouhani came to New York, and in particular the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh.  He mentioned that person in particular.  He encouraged the Iranian authorities to continue to engage on human rights matters.  And that is where I would leave it at this point.  Yes, Margaret?  Yes, please.

Question:  Glad to see you survived ministerial week, Martin.  This morning Mr. [Walid al-]Moualem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, said in his [General Assembly] speech that they wanted, Syria wanted, the mandate of the team, the chemical weap… Dr. Sellström’s team, to be, include who used chemical weapons.  And he said that the US, France and Britain obstructed that, blocked that.  Since the UN was part of those discussions, do you have anything further on how the final mandate came to be and whether this is correct or incorrect?  What do you say?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has addressed this topic directly himself.  This is partly driven by the mandate that is set out in the guidelines for the Secretary-General’s mechanism.  This is a mechanism that was put together and then approved by the General Assembly, subsequently ratified by the Security Council.  In other words, the guidelines that were put together, that provide that kind of limited role, is driven by Member States in the resolution that was passed by the General Assembly and then endorsed by the Security Council.

The Secretary-General furthermore made it clear that he believed that it was the correct path to take.  He continues to believe that.  The mandate has focused on whether chemical weapons were used and not by whom.  We have been able to establish, thanks to the work of Dr. Sellström’s team, that chemical weapons were, indeed, used.  But, it is not for that team, it is not for the Secretary-General, to apportion blame or responsibility, but simply to ascertain whether weapons of that kind were used.  Okay.  Yes, Matthew?  And them I am coming to you, Erol.

Question:  Sure, great, thanks a lot.  I have questions on the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Haiti, but since we are on Syria, I wanted to ask you this:  it is a double, there was a letter from, from Syria, at least that I have seen a copy of, dated 24 September, which raised… questioned in advance the event held Thursday in ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), sponsored by France involving Ahmad al-Jarba, said that it violated the UN Charter and set a bad precedent of interference in the internal dealings of States.  So, I understood it on Saturday you said that you hadn’t, weren’t aware of the letter, so I sent you a copy.  What is the response of the Secretariat to that argument, and in particular the meeting also held at the Secretary-General’s residence on Saturday with Mr. al-Jarba?  It didn’t seem, may be I missed it, was it in the, was it in the Media Alert?  It wasn’t an official meeting, why wasn’t there a photograph taken [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, first of all, I don’t think you expect me to consider a copy of a letter that you send me to be my way of figuring out whether the Secretary-General received a letter or not.  What I had said to you in the e-mail reply was that I was not aware.  And I have looked into it subsequently; a letter was received and, as you will have seen, the meeting went ahead.  I think you can take that as our response.  The second part of your question is about the meeting that took place at the Secretary-General’s residence on Saturday evening.  This was arranged at relatively short notice, and therefore, it did not figure in the Media Alert.  Another reason for it not being in the Media Alert is precisely because it took place at the Secretary-General’s residence.  That is his home.  I think you will understand.  And we gave a readout of that event and that meeting in some detail because of the considerable interest that there is in the whole question of arranging the Geneva II international conference.  And that is something that Mr. Brahimi and the Secretary-General are working extremely hard to ensure that it can take place within the time frame that they have established.

Question:  I, no, thanks a lot, I… I… I guess you are saying that the meeting took place, so it was received before the meeting, this one that was held Thursday in ECOSOC?  And I, you were saying that… that… that… that the letter you looked into it and it had been received, it is just that you had been unaware of it, but that the response I should take that the fact the meeting went forward as the response, so I just want to ask you to clarify one thing; the Syrian argument is that this sets a precedent where any Member State — and I just want to make sure that this what the response means — any Member State can invite an opposition, armed opposition or otherwise, from any other Member State and have a meeting inside the UN and deem them the sole legitimate representative of the other country?  Is that the… is that the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I am simply saying that that meeting went ahead, and I don’t think that you should draw broader conclusions from it.  That meeting…

Question:  But who makes the decision, is [inaudible]…?

Spokesperson:  That meeting went ahead, okay?  So, let us move on to the next question.

Question:  So, in… in this case, the Secretary-General believes that this was, this rebel group is legitimate, and therefore, it went ahead?

Spokesperson:  Next question, Matthew?

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask you about the trip that’s taking place to the, to the Great Lakes, and so I wanted know how the decision was made it was a… a… a notice was sent out by your office saying that journalists could go on the trip?  And I wanted to know, I asked to go on the trip and I am not going, I did go in 2010, but more, as a sort-of more prag… proactively, more systematically, I wanted to know how the decisions are made which journalists accompany the Security Council.  Is it made by the Secretariat or is it made by the Security Council as a whole or by particular members of the Security Council, because I have checked with other members who led legs of the trip and they were not informed, so I wanted to know from you how the decision was made.

Spokesperson:  This was taken in consultation with the lead mission from the Security Council for the entire trip.

Correspondent:  But who, I mean, for example, the final leg of the trip has no French involvement at all; it is led, it is co-led by Azerbaijan and another country.  So, I am wondering…

Spokesperson:  Matthew…

Question:  …how did, who made the decision?

Spokesperson:  Listen, I am happy, I don’t think the rest of the press corps is specifically interested in your travel arrangements.  And I am happy to…

Correspondent:  [inaudible interjection]

Spokesperson:  …or your lack of travel arrangements.  And I am happy to discuss that further with you outside the briefing room.  Yes, Timothy?

Correspondent [Erol]:  You said to me before…

Spokesperson:  I am coming to you, Erol, I haven’t forgotten you, and I am coming to you.

Correspondent:  I am desperate, because last time you forgot me.

Spokesperson:  Well, sometimes I forget you, but even if you are sitting in the front row.  Please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just had a quick question about Dr. Sellström’s mission:  does that mean he won’t go back to Syria now, now that he is finalizing the report and they didn’t go to Khan al-Assal in the end?

Spokesperson:  They are now heading out of Syria with the aim of finalizing their report, and I will be able to provide details on where they have been, but not right at this moment.  They have not visited Khan al-Assal to my knowledge, but, that does not mean that they have not been able to collect a large body of information, which they had been doing in any case in the lead-up to their initial visit and then to their return.  And so, if I have any more details, I will let you know.  And I know also that they will now be seeking to marshal all of the information that they do have with the aim of putting that report together by the end of October, as we just said.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Over the weekend, we interviewed Foreign Minister of Macedonia and he said that, although Macedonia has been long ready for the compromise over the dispute over the name, one Member State is breaking, is not respecting the Charter of United Nations.  He obviously was thinking of Greece.  Whether the Secretary-General, after his last meeting here, during this General Assembly and he didn’t produce anything, I am wondering what the Secretary-General has to say on that, whether he is disappointed on that?  And also, as you know, quick question, there is a draft resolution on humanitarian aid on Syria drafted by uh, by Australia and Luxembourg.  Only 12 organizations, so far, are allowed to deliver the aid to Syria.  What are the thoughts of the Secretary-General?  Which path should be taken in order to advance that?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to the name issue, the Secretary-General met leaders from both countries, and he underscored the need for there to be political will on both sides.  And he also underscored the role of Mr. Nimetz, who will continue to try to help the two parties to come to an agreement on this topic.  He obviously feels that there should be faster progress on this, and that requires political will on both sides.  And that’s the point that he stressed in his meetings with leaders from both countries.

With regard to the humanitarian access, the Secretary-General said in his remarks to the Security Council on Friday, right after the vote, that we must capitalize upon the new-found unity of the Council by focusing onto other equally crucial dimensions of the conflict, the dire humanitarian situation and the political crisis.  And he said that we expect Council members to firmly demand that the Syrian Government and the opposition uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the lifting of all obstacles to humanitarian access.  And he noted that some besieged communities have not received any assistance for more than 10 months.

And he also said in his speech to the General Assembly, on Tuesday last week, that the Syrian Government must lift all obstacles, and the opposition, to humanitarian access.  And so, simply to say that the Secretary-General remains very much focused on this; the Deputy Secretary-General, as well, that’s why he was speaking to that Executive Committee meeting in Geneva of the UN refugee agency.  This is an inter-linked topic.  And finally, just to say that in all of this, the Secretary-General believes that human rights monitors, UN human rights monitors, could play a useful role in reporting and deterring further violations given what we have already seen take place in Syria over the last two and a half years.  Yes, Pamela? Yes, and then I am coming to you.

Question:  Just to clarify on Tim’s question, the Sellström mandate will have with this trip be completed?  There won’t be any future trips, is that correct?

Spokesperson:  Well, the mandates will be completed when the report is completed, and that…

Question:  Well, not, but I mean, I mean there won’t be future trips?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge…

Correspondent: Okay.

Spokesperson:  …they have now completed their work in-country, and they are now moving to the phase of finalizing their overall report.

Question:  All right, and just… um…  Thank you.  The Human Rights Council independent inquiry said about a week ago that they did believe that it was within their mandate, they can’t get into Syria, apparently, but they, they believed it was within their mandate to investigate who, who perpetrated the attacks.  Has there been any follow-up on that, and does the Secretary-General, does your office believe that it is within their mandate?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a question for the Human Rights Council; that’s not a question for the Secretary-General, okay?  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible] Thank you, thank you.  To follow up on Tim’s question, can you say anything more about Dr. Sellström’s mission?  Where did they go, what kind of cooperation did they receive, what did they look at?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a great deal of additional detail at this point.  I can certainly try to get some more, and make that available.  But, there has been good cooperation from the Syrian authorities in the work that has been done on this most recent return visit, and indeed from when they arrived earlier in August on that first phase, if you like, of the investigation mission.  I think we have already mentioned that they did visit one location on the second visit.  I will see if I have any further details.  But, let’s be very clear here that you do not just have to go to visit sites to be able to gather information of different kinds — speaking to survivors and witnesses and looking at medical documents and so on.  This does not necessarily require having to go to a specific location.  And of course, with the passage of time, it becomes more difficult at a location, at a site of an alleged attack, to be able to collect samples that would be meaningful.  And, that is why the incident on 21 August was jumped upon by the investigators because they were able to get there in relatively short, at relatively short, notice and collect samples relatively quickly, within a couple of days of the event that took place.

Question:  May I ask a follow-up to that?

Spokesperson:  Please.

Question:  The human rights monitors that you mentioned, is there anything specific to say on that?  Is the Secretary-General calling for human rights monitors to go?  Is there a plan for any monitors to go?

Spokesperson:  What he was saying is that they could play a useful role.  Of course, this would be subject to discussions, not least with the Member State concerned, but also within the UN system itself.  But, I know that there is a readiness, a willingness and a desire in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to play that role.  And the Secretary-General certainly believes that that would be useful.  I am going to go further back; I can see you are poised, Matthew, but so are others.

Question:  I have two quick questions; have you received any news from the Saudi Arabians regarding their last minute cancellation of their speech today?

Spokesperson:  The short answer is no.  think you’d have to check with them.  We did receive notification that they would not be speaking today; I think you would need to ask them why that was and whether they still intend to do so.

Correspondent:  Right.  The…

Spokesperson:  Yes, second question; you had another question?

Question:  Yep, the UN Webcast online actually hasn’t been working since this weekend.  There is a YouTube link that a lot of people have been using as a last-minute follow-up, but I thought I would let you know that it hasn’t been working for myself and many other colleagues.  I want to know if you could provide us any update with that?

Spokesperson:  We are certainly aware of that, and I believe sleeves are rolled up and people are working hard to fix it.  But, you are absolutely right that there is a work around involving YouTube, but clearly the webcast from the UN website has not been working and people are trying to fix it.  Sorry about that.  Please, yes? Yeah, you put your hand up?

[The Spokesperson later said that the UN webcast was working again.]

Question:  Yes, I did.

Spokesperson:  And then right in front; I was going to the gentleman in front first, and them I am coming to you.  You had your hand up, yes?  Then I am coming to you, I am coming to you.

Question:  Just on Mali, if your office has a response to the Kidal outbreak of the last few days, and what the UN is trying to do to get rebels to get back to the peace negotiating table?  Thanks.

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, is working closely with the Malian authorities and Operation Serval regarding follow-up to the suicide bombing in Timbuktu and on strengthening security in the town, as well as on restoring order in Kidal.

MINUSMA is also working with the parties to the 18 June Agreement and international partners to help ensure that implementation gets back on track.  And it is vital that there is cooperation amongst the parties within the implementation mechanisms of the Agreement and discussions on the way forward to continue.

Important steps include the ceasefire, the launch of an inclusive dialogue with all Northern armed groups and communities, and the cantonment process.

I think, generally speaking, the security incidents that you have seen take place over the past couple of days in Timbuktu and Kidal are obviously clear indications of the need for continued vigilance.  And you will also have seen that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. [Bert] Koenders, condemned the suicide bombing that took place in Timbuktu.  Please?

Question:  Martin, can you say why Dr. Sellström’s group has not gone to Khan al-Assal, firstly?  And secondly, how ultimately will it be determined who is accountable for these, for the use of chemical weapons if his group’s work is not going to be considered, or his, the mandate is not that they would find out themselves?  How are you gonna determine this?

Spokesperson:  Well, simply put, it is not for us to determine.  It is for others to determine if they so decide.  But, as I think I answered the first part of your question, about why the team did or did not go to Khan al-Assal or to other locations, visiting the site or a site does not mean that you cannot gather information about it of varying kinds that could be useful for the report that is to be written.  There are any number of factors that would be taken into account; one of them, as I mentioned, is the passage of time, another, of course, is security.  But, if I have any more details on other locations that were visited or not visited, I will let you know.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about…

Spokesperson:  Oh, sorry, I didn’t answer on the accountability in more general terms.  As I say, the Secretary-General said in the Security Council and in the General Assembly that there absolutely must be accountability.  How that will look is obviously something that will need to be decided by the relevant bodies.  And he said in the General Assembly on Tuesday, full accountability for serious international crimes is also vital, either through referral to the International Criminal Court, or by other means consistent with international law.  So clearly he has spoken about that and he did so also in the Security Council.  It would be for others to decide precisely what form that would take.

Question:  So are we to understand that the information gathered by Dr. Sellström’s group will be examined by someone else and then, therefore, accountability determined after that?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, as I say, the report is, the final report — you already have the report on the incident of 21 August in the outskirts of Damascus — the final report is now going to be put together, and again, with the focus on whether chemical weapons were used in all of those pending allegations.  But, it is not for us, for the United Nations, for that team, to apportion blame or responsibility.  It would be for others to do so.  Should others decide to do that, then, of course, the report may be something that they look at.  But, that would be for them to decide.

Question:  Who are the others?

Spokesperson:  That is for Member States, primarily.

Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about Haiti, Angela Kane and if you have time, DRC.  On Haiti, the speech by the Prime Minister… uh… uh… in the General Assembly said that the UN has “moral responsibility for the eruption of the cholera epidemic”, and said that the response is far from being sufficient, and I wondered, given that he is the Prime Minister of the country, what the response of the Secretariat is to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister of Haiti, and they discussed the question of cholera in Haiti, and the focus was very much on handling that outbreak and the need, specifically, for additional funding.  There is something of a shortfall in funding for that, and that is precisely what the focus is on.

Question:  But the… the… it was just, I guess this phrase “moral responsibility”, people sort of, some made something of it because up until now the Government has… has resisted saying the things that the litigants or potential litigants are saying, and so is, does this change anything that the Government uses this phrase?

Spokesperson:  The focus of the United Nations and, as we understand it, of the Haitian authorities is to help the people of Haiti to overcome the cholera epidemic.  And a key component of that is funding.

Question:  Okay.  And speaking, speaking of funding — and I just wanted to ask you this — there was an invitation I think sent out today for, for a talk in Oc… late October by the Global Security Institute or… on a variety of topics, it mentioned Syria, it says it will be held in the elegant Del… Delegates Dining Room.  But, it says Angela Kane will speak and it says the charge will be $100, and I just wanted to know as kind of just a matter, is it… is it common for… for… for this type of attendance to be charged to hear a UN official speak on a topic within their work mandate?

Spokesperson:  Well, if you are implying that Angela Kane is going to get an appearance fee, I think you can take it as read that she will not.

Correspondent:  Sure, but is it…

Spokesperson:  Any other questions?  Thanks.  Have a good afternoon, thanks very much.  Thank you.

* *** *

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