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

11 October 2013

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

11 October 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.

**OPCW — Nobel Peace Prize

The Secretary-General congratulated the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for being awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize today.  He extended his warmest respects to the Organisation’s Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü, with whom he spoke by phone.  He noted that this recognition occurs nearly 100 years after the first chemical attack and 50 days after the appalling use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Far from being a relic of the past, chemical weapons remain a clear and present danger.

He noted that, later today, the Security Council is expected to approve a first-of-its-kind OPCW-UN joint mission in Syria following the landmark work of the UN chemical weapons investigation mission.

The Secretary-General said that the OPCW has greatly strengthened the rule of law in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.  But progress in achieving the total destruction of chemical weapons must be complemented by efforts to gain universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

He added that, from the battlefields to the laboratories to the negotiating table, the United Nations is honoured to work hand-in-hand with the OPCW to eliminate the threat posed by chemical weapons for all people and for all time.  Together, we must ensure that the fog of war will never again be composed of poison gas.  We have a video delivered earlier in Brunei available online and we will have further information about the Secretary-General’s responses to this as the day proceeds.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

Right now, the Secretary-General is headed back to New York from Brunei.  Earlier today, he met with the Sultan of Brunei, whom he congratulated on the successful conclusion of Brunei’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Secretary-General also met in Brunei with U Thein Sein, the President of Myanmar.  They discussed Myanmar’s transition process, the human rights situation and the ASEAN-UN partnership.  The Secretary-General congratulated the President on the progress made in the areas of democratisation, national reconciliation and socioeconomic development.  He also called on the Government to continue its efforts to address communal violence, urging strong action to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and that true reconciliation takes place.

On his way back to New York, the Secretary-General stopped off in Singapore, where he met with senior officials from the country’s Foreign Ministry.  He is due back in New York tomorrow.

** Syria

The advance team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations has made good progress in verifying the information submitted by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic on its chemical weapons programme.  At the end of the first 10 days of operations on the ground, the verification teams have inspected three sites and plans are under way for further site visits.

A second group of OPCW inspectors and more UN support staff have arrived in Damascus, bringing to about 60 the number of people on the advance team.  As the OPCW has received initial and supplementary information from Syria on its chemical weapons programme, the advance team is now in the process of verifying that information.  It has also overseen the destruction by Syria of some of its munitions stockpile, as well as some of its chemical weapons production equipment.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that soaring food prices, the unavailability of food for children, displacement and loss of income have made it difficult to provide Syrian children with adequate health care and nutrition.  The number of children admitted to hospitals with severe or acute malnutrition has reportedly increased in Aleppo, Dar’a Deir-ez-Zor, Hama, Homs and other areas.  Humanitarian partners report that six children have died from malnutrition in the past month in Moadamyieh, rural Damascus.

** Iraq

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern that, over the past two days, the Iraqi authorities have executed at least 42 individuals, including one woman, on terrorism charges.  The Office says that the number of people who have been executed in Iraq has risen from 18 in 2010 to 67 in 2011, 123 in 2012 and 140 so far this year, with almost a quarter of the year still to go.  The High Commissioner’s Office calls on the Government of Iraq to halt all executions immediately, and to review and commute the sentences of the hundreds of other people who are believed to be on death row in Iraq.


The World Health Organization (WHO) called today for the phase out of mercury fever thermometers and blood pressure measuring devices by 2020.  The initiative, called Mercury-Free Healthcare by 2020, was launched to mark the signing of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.  The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, said that mercury is one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern.  It poses a particular threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.  There are more details on this online.

**Press Conferences

And last, following this press briefing at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Nicole Ameline, the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Ms. Ameline will brief on the work of the Committee and on her interactive dialogue with the Member States at the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which took place this morning.

That’s it from me.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General [inaudible] on this latest human rights report issued about the opposition committing human rights abuses against the civilian population in Syria, which is a very damning report as it is, and is also because on this weapons are being distributed to all these rebel groups and they are able to do these crimes against humanity.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for accountability in Syria and that there should be no impunity for crimes against civilians by any of the parties on the ground.  And he continues to hold that position.  Regarding the latest reports, this is another example of the reason why all the fighting needs to be halted, which is why we continue to push for a diplomatic solution and we continue to push for an international conference on Syria, hopefully to be held in Geneva by the middle of November.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Farhan, I wanted to ask you about this follow-up report on… on… on… on Sri Lanka.  I’ve gotten a copy of it and I wanted to ask you, it seems, about one particular thing in it where it says it recommends that in situations not on the Security Council’s agenda, that briefings be given by the Deputy Secretary-General, and I just, I wasn’t clear why, and it talks about an… an Article 99 attitude being adopted.  I thought that that’s the right of… of the Secretary-General and is there some, what should be made of this idea that it wouldn’t be the Secretary-General himself that would take… take the lead in the future on such situations?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, this is something that we are actually going to be in dialogue with Member States about, as you know.  But basically, in terms of the concrete steps, based on the Internal Review Panel, the Deputy Secretary-General has now put together concrete actions that will put, first of all, human rights responsibilities at the centre of UN thinking; second of all, better collection of human rights information; third, a straightforward crisis management system to ensure clear responsibilities; fourth, better gathering of political support from Member States; and fifth, improved action on the ground.

And the Secretary-General has asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead implementation of these actions, and he’ll be tracking the work in all those areas closely.  But that work is in process right now.

Question:  Can I just, and thanks, I real… I appreciate that.  I mean, I have seen in the report it has 16 points and what I wanted to know is are these things that the Secretariat intends to do that is, or is this something that is still subject to sort of Member States approval in some fashion?  And when will it be, I mean, now it has been released, but when will it actually be released as a document that the Secretariat says “this is what we are gonna do and judge us against this”?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we are going to continue to brief you and others as the implementation of this proceeds.  Right now we are at the phase of continuing to brief Member States, the NGO [non-governmental organization] community and also the media on our implementation of the recommendations stemming from the Internal Review Panel.  And as you know, the Internal Review Panel report and the recommendations themselves were made public earlier.  But in terms of other information that we can put out, we’ll be preparing a summary of the Action Plan and an update and will share those in due course.

Question:  Okay, thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With regard to the joint mission, the OPCW and the UN advance team in Syria; when will the advance team mission end, and when we will see the start of a full implementation of the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapon programme?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, if you look at the Secretary-General’s letter to the Security Council, it envisioned a process of several phases and the third and longest phase of which will begin on 1 November.  And that is when you will have a much larger presence.  But as I just mentioned a few minutes ago, the team on the ground is already being expanded and is up to nearly 60 people right now.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Regarding the situation in southern Lebanon, yesterday there was incursion by Israel into Al-Abbasiyah area close to Al-Ghajar and where they changed things on the ground across the Blue Line.  And today there were kind of skirmishes with the locals who were harvesting the olive trees in the region, in the Aytarun area.  Did you receive anything from UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] regarding that, and what have they done to stop Israel from doing that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We will check with UNIFIL about the latest report; I don’t have any information from them so far.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later told the correspondent that, this morning in the area near Aytarun, tensions arose at the time when civilians were picking olives on a Lebanese farm land that straddles the Blue Line.  Lebanese and Israeli patrols deployed in the area on their respective sides of the Blue Line.  The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) immediately engaged with both the parties on the ground, as well as through liaison channels, to contain the situation and restore calm.  Following the Lebanese Armed Force’s intervention with the civilians, the situation in the area returned to normal and UNIFIL continues its regular activities in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces.]

Question:  [inaudible]

Associate Spokesperson:  Microphone, please.

Question:  Is that okay?  Hello!

Associate Spokesperson:  You all do a very good collective job of reminding each other.

Question:  [laughter]

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Do we have more of a concrete date on the meeting in Geneva?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, we do not.  At this stage Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, is engaged in discussions, and will continue to reach out to various different parties trying to get this locked in.  But, at this stage, all we can really say is that our target is to have this ready by the middle of November.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Farhan, I know that, we all know that the Secretary-General has too much on his plate, but does he, how does he follow the situation on Cyprus, negotiations, state of negotiations, when is the last time that he met his Special Representative?  And what does he think in order to overcome this that many would say frozen conflict?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General did meet with the leaders of the Cypriot communities just a few weeks ago on the margins of the General Assembly.  So, he has been involved directly with them, and you will have seen the readouts we put together of that.  And he is in regular touch with Alexander Downer.  So, he continues to be apprised.  But I would just refer you back to those readouts.

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  Can you please elaborate a little bit more; what does it mean in regular contacts with his Special Representative and if there is any possibility to have Mr.… the Special Representative for Cyprus here to brief us.  He didn’t brief us.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the Special Representative is Lisa Buttenheim, who is the person on the ground in Cyprus.  I assume you want to meet with the Special Adviser, Alexander Downer…

Question:  Yes.

Associate Spokesperson:  …who is a different person.  We’d have to try to organize that the next time he is in New York.  I don’t know when that will be.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  [inaudible]  That one in Egypt and one in Iraq where the, I mean the killings are continuing but for some reason the whole world seems to be oblivious to all that is happening [inaudible].  Has Secretary-General again asked his representative in Egypt to go and have an assessment of the situation over there?  And also in Iraq, where killings [inaudible].  What is [inaudible] has to say about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, regarding the latter — Iraq — you will have seen the statement that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq put out on the recent executions just a day ago.  Regarding Egypt, the Secretary-General had a statement a few days ago about the situation there and I’d refer you back to what he said.  Tim?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Haq.  There’s a meeting in Africa today, the African Union summit on relations with the ICC [International Criminal Court]; did the Secretary-General send a message there? [inaudible]

Associate Spokesperson:  Your microphone is going dead.

Question:  It’s gone dead.

Associate Spokesperson: Okay, try again.  No, no, it’s back up.  Try again.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General send a message or is the UN, did the UN have any involvement in this summit at all or make an input?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any UN representation at that meeting.  But I can check for you on that.  Regarding the ICC, of course, we would simple reiterate the Secretary-General’s strong support for the work of the international community — the International Criminal Court and its efforts to end impunity that leaders around the world have enjoyed for so long.  So, he has called on countries to continue to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, and we certainly hope that that strong support that the Court has received during its early years can continue.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about… about… about the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] in the DRC.   There is, there are reports in the South African press saying that the, these attack helicopters called Rooivalks are gonna be deployed there, they show them on the tarmac already painted white and say that all they are waiting for is a letter of assist from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].  Problem is, I mean, not the problem, in any case these helicopters use 7mm rockets and military experts, military experts are saying that this is… this is… this could cause grave danger to civilians, civilians, they couldn’t be used anywhere near civilians, these are really serious attack helicopters.  So I wanted to know, when, number one, could you say what the status of procu… of… of… of DPKO obtaining such helicopters are, what safeguards are in place, and finally, Mr. Kobler has been quoted as saying that M… he has, quote, irrefutable evidence of M23 also obtaining weapons, and I wonder, one, what that evidence is, and two, if you could see it’s kind of almost an arms race.  If the UN is bringing in these attack helicopters and saying we are gonna neutralize you, unless they are gonna disarm, why wouldn’t a group take arms and what… what… what does the UN say to… to… to its role in a seeming arms race in eastern Congo?  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the question of helicopters, we have already talked about the procurement of different assets on the ground.  I don’t have anything to add about helicopters for now.  Regarding the question of the M23 and its arms, the UN Mission, MONUSCO, informed the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the existence of a logistical and arms depot under M23 control in North Kivu.  The Mission formally requested the Mechanism to investigate it, and in particular to assess whether there has been a violation of the arms embargo and to determine the origins of the weapons and ammunition.  Yes, Pam?

[The Spokesperson later provided the following from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations:  “In order to enhance MONUSCO’s capabilities in eastern DRC, the United Nations asked one of the Mission’s troop contributing countries, the Republic of South Africa, to provide three attack helicopters and two utility helicopters to the Mission.  South Africa has accepted the request and preparations are ongoing.  MONUSCO also currently has attack helicopters from Ukraine and Bangladesh.  MONUSCO will continue to use all assets in accordance with its rules of engagement.”]

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You already answered yesterday about the cholera suit.  Apart from commenting on the litigation, the High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that someone should be compensated.  Is there any view of the Secretary-General on that issue, on compensation?  And then, as a follow-up to Tim’s question, does the Secretary-General have any comment about the allegations of corruption in the ICC case against Kenyatta and their withdrawal from the Assembly of State Parties?  I know you said he reiterates his support for the ICC, but anything specifically on Kenya?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, first of all, regarding Navi Pillay and her remarks:  the role of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is to stand for the rights of victims, and her comments should be understood in that context.  As the legal process is under way, we cannot make any further comment on this particular situation.

Question:  [inaudible]

Associate Spokesperson:  That was the comment on her comment — sorry if that seemed oblique.  Secondly, on Kenya, as far as we are aware, the withdrawal, the process of withdrawal from the Rome Statute has not been complete.  At this stage, we simply continue to say what we have been saying in terms of encouraging all countries to support the work of the International Criminal Court, which we believe is very valuable work against impunity around the world.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan, a follow-up to my question about killings in Syria; is the Secretary-General at any point in time going to ask the Security Council to impose arms embargo on, in Syria supplied to these rebel groups and everybody else?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, you are well aware that we have continually asked for all sides to stop, all parties in the region and around the world to stop any arming of the parties on the ground in Syria.  We believe that any further militarization is completely unhelpful, and we have stood against that and will continue to.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, I want to follow up on that:  how can you equate, I mean, State and non-State parties, especially when there are terrorists, well-known terrorist groups there like Al-Nusra, which is categorized as terrorist group; also Al-Qaida and others.  You equate, I mean, yield the ban on arms, shipments to both the same level?

Associate Spokesperson:  Nizar, all sides have been proven to be using arms against civilians.  All sides have demonstrably been using weapons to kill hundreds, indeed thousands and tens of thousands of people.  So, yes, we believe that weapons should be halted from going to any of the parties on the ground.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  I keep hearing comments in this room and other places in this building that the United States is supplying Al-Nusra or Al-Qaida with weapons, and I have not, I have seen no evidence of that.  I have no doubt American arms reach everyone; they may even be under your desk as there are enough of them afloat, but have you heard of anything like that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We are not aware, but then again, we don’t have the sort of presence on the ground that would enable us to have first hand information on this.  It would have to be someone else being able to provide that.  Yes?

Question:  A question about Haiti that is not cholera related, I wanted to know whether the Secretariat has any view or comment on this decision by the constitutional court in the… in the Dominican Republic that, uh, Haitians born, well, Dominican born people of Haitian descent will lose their citizenship and be seemingly returned in their tens of… or more of tens of thousands what… what’s the view of either of MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] or… or the Secretariat, if there is a view?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we are looking into that situation.  If we have anything to say about it, I will certainly let you know, but we have been monitoring that and evaluating it.  Yes?

Question:  I keep losing this.  On Syria again, is the UN going to help supply security or is, for the inspectors, or is this something done outside of the UN?  I have heard Russia has volunteered, perhaps some others.

Associate Spokesperson:  I just…

Question:  Does this go through your office or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  I just refer you to the text of the Secretary-General’s letter to the Security Council which lays out the vision that we are awaiting approval for, and hopefully should, we expect to have some response potentially today.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  A follow up on Masood’s question on Egypt.  I have read several statements issued, referred to the Secretary-General condemn… urging the interim Government to proceed with the road map, etcetera.  However, over the past period, up till yesterday, there is a continued terrorist attacks on military facilities, personnel; three or four days ago there was an attack on a satellite station in a suburb south of Cairo with an RPG.  We have not heard anything from the Secretary-General with these, with regard to these attacks on Government facilities; yet we heard condemnation for unpeaceful actions done by demonstrations on October 6 in Cairo.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, in truth, if you look at the statement that we issued, I believe it was on Monday, you will see that it refers to both things:  to attacks on military installations as well as to attacks on demonstrators.  So, I would just refer you to the text of that statement.  Yes?

Question:  A question about Libya:  how safe do you think the mission of the United Nations in Libya is now, especially after the kidnapping of the Prime Minister and then the release of him?  Do you feel, do they still feel that they are safe in Libya?

Associate Spokesperson:  We continue to go about our work in Libya and we trust that we will have sufficient security to go about the work that the mission needs to do there.  Yes?

Question:  One, sorry, another question regarding Sri Lanka; when, when…

Associate Spokesperson:  Wait, let’s vary it up then.

Question:  No, no, please, I wanna defer this one.

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  Yeah, when there was that attack on Sri Lankan Tamils, did the United Nations call for stopping arming the Government, for example, when the thousands of people were killed?

Associate Spokesperson:  I would just refer you to the statements we put out at the time which did in fact call for corridors for peace; places where essentially combat could be halted in order to allow for people to flee from the fighting.  Each situation is different and the statements are different, but yes, we did try to call for places where people could be safe, and we made a number of statements on Sri Lanka, and I’d just refer you to the whole sweep of them.

Question:  [inaudible] supplying the Government with weapons; did you call for that to stop it?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think you can see for yourself what the statements themselves said.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible]

Associate Spokesperson:  Is it working?

Question:  I think so.

Associate Spokesperson:  All right, Pam, if you have a working one, then maybe…

Question:  [crosstalk]  Try that now.

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the situation recently in Nairobi with the West Gate Mall attack, the Vice President was on trial for war crimes and that trial was suspended so he could deal with the crisis in his country; now that that situation has somewhat dissipated, is he back on trial and…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Since those are decisions taken by the International Criminal Court, which is independent of the United Nations, I’d just refer you to the officials of the International Criminal Court for what their reasoning is in that particular case.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, do you anticipate — I know we have been asking you this several times — any kind of briefing by Mr. Brahimi on where it stands, what delegations are going, I mean, how far it’s… it’s… it’s getting to the end of, [inaudible] not the end of October, but we are heading there…

Associate Spokesperson:  We are not even close to the end of October!

Question:  [laughter]  All right, we have got a few days, but this, you still have to get invitations out, and you’ve got to get all the logistics ready.  Is there anything you can tell us about progress on this happening?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I do think that Mr. Brahimi intends to step up his activities after the Eid holiday next week and we will see what we can say about that once we have further information from him.  But we will try to provide more information at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot, and I have a follow-up to… to… to… to Nizar’s question on Sri Lanka if you’d just, I wanna just get your answer instead of just writing them in, were the… the zones that you were desc… describing, are these the so-called safe zones where in fact many of the people were killed in the final stages of the conflict called bloodbath on the beach by John Holmes, is that the ones that you are describing?

Associate Spokesperson:  There was a proposal, as you know, there were proposals both for safe zones as well as for days when the fighting would be halted.  As you know, many of those concepts did not work out or be implemented the way that we had wanted them to be, but I’d just refer you to the statements which were part of our effort to push for greater safety for the civilian population.  And of course, you have seen what our follow-up reports have said also.

Question:  Okay, great, and then, I had wanted to ask you a que… I know on… on Libya you’d said earlier that there was no comment because of the sensitivity to, you know, sovereignty, Member States, I don’t wanna, it is not the exact quote, but now, ha… ha… having to do with the seizure, the US seizure in Libya, there was an answer that was given by your office saying that there was no comment understanding that… that… that Member States have se… have sensitivity; maybe I am misquoting him.  This is my main question I wanna ask you:  now the US has spoken, has said that it believes that its seizure was entirely legal consistent with the law of armed conflict, and there are many experts in this that say this would involve defining the entire world as a battle field in the global war on terror and an individual such as the one seized as being an active participant, although he was in his home and presumably out of… out of the picture for some time.  I wanted to know, now, is there any, whether it is the Secretary-General or Navi Pillay, does anyone in the UN system have any view on the invocation of the law of armed conflict to seize somebody in Libya and put them on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean?

Associate Spokesperson:  Regarding that particular incident, there has been a press release issued by the UN Support Mission in Libya reflecting the views of Tarek Mitri, the Special Representative, and I’d just refer you to his press release.  Yes, one more?

Question:  One last question on Libya; on the referral, I mean, the decision by the ICC allow the al-Senussi, the intelligence chief’s trial to take place within Libya, is there any comment by the Secretary-General?

Associate Spokesperson:  As with your colleague’s question…

Question:  No, I know… [inaudible]

Associate Spokesperson:  …on Kenya, this is a decision made by the International Criminal Court, so, we just refer you to the…

Question:  And no comment on it, okay.

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have a comment on the judicial working of the International Criminal Court. They are an independent body.

Question:  No, but one of the requirements of the International Criminal Court is not to decide a case if a country is willing and able.  Is there any judgement by the Secretary-General of Libya’s willing and able to actually try him?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, that was, again, that was a decision made by the International Criminal Court; citing the principle of complementarity, which is part of the Rome Statute.  That’s, it’s their call to determine whether these systems are applicable under the Rome Statute and that’s the call that they have made.  So, I’d just refer you to that.

Have a good weekend everyone.

* *** *

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