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

21 October 2013

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

21 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

So welcome to the briefing.  Good afternoon.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, briefed the Security Council by videoconference this morning.

Mary Robinson gave an overview of the Kampala Dialogue negotiations.  She said the parties reached consensus on 8 out of the 12 articles of the draft agreement under discussion.  However, they found it difficult to agree on certain contentious and difficult issues that had remained problematic throughout the talks, namely the amnesty, disarmament and integration of M23.  She added that the parties had agreed to convene soon in order to overcome their differences and she said it was critical that they remain committed to a swift conclusion of the Kampala process.

Martin Kobler also urged, in particular, the M23 to use the dynamics of the last days to move constructively and without delay to sort out the remaining issues to restore peace in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He said that the situation on the ground remained volatile and of great concern.  He noted that the UN Mission had observed in recent days a considerable military build-up on both sides of the frontline.  He also noted that M23 had fired twice at unarmed UN helicopters and has strengthened offensive positions threatening UN peacekeepers.  Their full remarks are available in my office.


And also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission there, MONUSCO, has deplored the lack of progress in prosecuting the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including mass rape, committed in November of last year in Minova, in South Kivu Province and in neighbouring villages by the troops of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).

The Mission says that despite the support it lent, along with other partners, to the investigations conducted by military justice and in spite of the Congolese authorities’ commitment to prosecute the perpetrators, none of the presumed perpetrators of these human rights violations has been brought to justice ‑ almost a year after these incidents.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Martin Kobler, said that Congolese officials should fulfil their obligations in compliance with international as well as Congolese law, especially towards the victims of such atrocious acts and their families, to whom justice must be rendered.  And there is a press release from the Mission that is available online.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a panel discussion on Africa’s innovation in governance through 10 years of the African Peer Review Mechanism.  He said that the mechanism has deepened a democratic political culture among African Governments.  He added that it has fostered more principled leadership and constructive national dialogue, as well as having opened up greater space for citizens to participate in the decisions affecting them.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

As we announced last week, the Secretary-General will leave New York this evening for Denmark.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will address the Global Green Growth Forum in Copenhagen.  And he will then meet with the Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and Chairperson of the Foreign Policy Committee.  He will also attend a meeting with institutional investors, hosted by the Minister of Finance.  We expect to be able to issue the Secretary-General’s remarks, and also the details of his meetings, tomorrow.


The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Nairobi tomorrow to meet with Kenyan Government representatives and to visit the UN headquarters in Africa:  the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON).  He will meet with senior management and staff of the UN Office, as well as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).  He will also meet the Heads of UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes for Kenya and UN Regional Offices.  The Deputy Secretary-General will represent the Secretary-General and speak at the opening of the Global South-South Development Expo.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has strongly condemned the deadly attacks against civilians yesterday in Twic East County, in Jonglei State.  The attacks resulted in high numbers of killed and wounded.

The Mission reports that as soon as the fighting stopped yesterday, the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flew health partners to the areas.  By the end of the day, the Air Service had evacuated a total of 31 seriously wounded civilians to Bor and Juba.  They also reported more wounded civilians remaining in the area and, this morning, the Air Service dispatched a helicopter to continue the medical evacuations.

In addition, the Mission carried out an aerial reconnaissance to determine the scale of the attacks and check on the movement of the attackers.  Today, the Mission flew in a team of UN investigators along with South Sudanese counterparts to investigate the attacks.  This Mission will also work closely with the South Sudanese authorities to have the perpetrators held to account.  And there is more available in a press release from the UN Mission.


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, visited Iraq today as part of his continuing efforts to see how leaders in the region can contribute to make a Geneva II conference with the Syrian parties a success.  He has now left Iraq for Kuwait, where he will meet with Government officials tomorrow.  Over the weekend, the Joint Special Representative was in Cairo, where he met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

Also on Syria, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has called on all parties in Syria to agree to an immediate pause in hostilities in Moadamiyeh, outside Damascus, to allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access to evacuate the remaining civilians and deliver life-saving treatment and supplies in areas where fighting and shelling continues. 

She said that humanitarian workers have been denied access to Moadamiyeh in rural Damascus for months.  Although the evacuation of more than 3,000 people took place a week ago, the same number or more remain trapped.  She said that it is vital that all parties to the conflict respect their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws to protect civilians and to allow neutral, impartial humanitarian organizations safe access to all people in need, wherever they are in Syria.

**Press Conferences

Today at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here by James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.  He will be joined by Paul Kanyinke Sena, the Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Myrna Cunningham, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

And then tomorrow at 1:15 p.m. there will be a press conference by Juan E. Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

That’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin?  Bearing in mind everything what has been said, including here at the United Nations Headquarters, and what has been written on Syria and Geneva II conference, how do you assess… how does United Nations assess who is actually going to call, if I can put it like that, call the shots when the date will be settled?  Is that going to be United Nations or at least this case the superb diplomacy of United States and Russia Federation?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  The Geneva II conference, the International Conference on Syria, will be convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  And so it will be for the Secretary-General of the United Nations to announce dates when that is appropriate.  And that’s what I have.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the… there was a Saturday update on the Saudi rejection of the Security Council seat, where the Arab Group urged Saudi Arabia to stay on the seat.  Have you had any communications, has the Secretary-General weighed in at all, any formal letter or demarche, anything?

Spokesperson:  No, we have received nothing so far.  In other words, we are where we were on Friday when I last spoke to you.

Question:  All right, and no comment by the Secretary-General on all of this further to Friday?

Spokesperson:  No.  Joe?  And then Sylviane?

Question:  Yes.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the attack yesterday on a church in Egypt, which was targeted against Christians and which apparently cost at least three lives, including a 13-year-old girl?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is obviously aware of the violence that there has been in Egypt for quite a few weeks and months now, including this most recent attack.  I don’t have anything specific on this particular incident, except to say that obviously the Secretary-General is monitoring these developments very closely and he would condemn and regret any loss of life in such circumstances.  I am coming to Sylviane next, yes?

Question:  Okay, thank you.  I would like to… I have a question, a follow-up question, on the dates of the International Conference on Syria.  There is date, 23 November, which has been given officially, and then there is no date, they said at the end of November.  What is the position?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually I would correct you; no date has been given officially.  I just said that it is the Secretary-General of the United Nations who is the convenor of this conference, and it will be the Secretary-General of the United Nations who will make an announcement when he is ready to do so, but he is not ready to do so.

Question:  I have two other questions… I have two other questions, one of them it is, what does…?

Spokesperson:  Why don’t we share it around a bit and I will come back to you, Sylviane?

Correspondent:  Okay, okay, thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yes, please?  And then Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Nesirky.  My question is, everyone has been saying that the Saudis have not formally rejected the seat; however, they did send around a letter in Arabic to many of the missions, rejecting the seat.  So why has that letter not been officially recognized as their formal rejection?

Spokesperson:  Because, well, first of all, the point here is that it must be an official notification to the United Nations, not to the Member States.  We have not received anything officially, formally, so far.

Question:  So that letter from the Kingdom of Saudi didn’t go to the Secretary-General’s office?

Spokesperson:  We have received no notification in writing or in any other form, for that matter, since the announcement on Friday.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, yeah, but again follow-up on that, and then I have a question.  This… the Saudi Press Agency, which is the official State agency, has announced that officially; isn’t that a notification to the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  No, it is not, the short answer.  So…

Question:  Okay, my question then, is regarding the hostages who were released in Syria yesterday, those… the nine ones who were held in Syria for over 500 days.  Yesterday, they said they were only few dozens of metres away from the Turkish border, where they were held all this time, and Turkey and Qatar both played a major role in their release.  How… they were released only because there were two pilots kidnapped in Beirut as a return.  How does the United Nations view that certain States are helping terrorists to kidnap civilians and hold them for such a long time?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would simply say that it is obviously to the relief of everybody that those hostages have been released.  I don’t have any further comment on that.  Matthew, and then I am coming back to Sylviane.  I can see you, too.

Question:  Thanks, thanks a lot.  I… I… I… I saw the… the… the press release put out about the Minova rapes by MONUSCO.  Then I also saw what Mr. Kobler said in the Council, which was that I… he said, “I do recognize the steps taken by the Government, my colleagues and myself are in regular contact with the Government to provide regular updates”, at least as prepared for delivery.  So what I wanted to know is how this, the idea that no one is being held accountable, 11 months after the rapes, squares with the UN’s human rights due diligence policy, which says that the UN will not provide support to units which engage in abuses just like this?  What is the timeline?  How… how long can it go and the UN still be providing support to the very units implicated and named by the UN as involved in the rapes?

Spokesperson:  I would simply say, Matthew, that the Mission is adhering to the due diligence policy and Mr. Kobler has spoken both through the statement and in the Security Council on this topic.  I don’t have anything to add to it at this point.

Question:  But… the only thing… I just… I guess and may… and maybe you can answer it or DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] can answer it.  What is the policy, how long…?  I mean, can you see why, from the outside, 11 months of no prosecution and still assisting the units militarily seems inconsistent with the human rights due diligence policy?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I will check to see if there is anything further to be said.  But, the second thing is that the Mission is adhering to the policy, and also it is for the authorities in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] to carry out the investigations and to prosecute people.  It is not for the Mission to do so, okay?

Question:  But is the policy in writing?  That’s the last thing, can we get a copy of what the human rights due diligence policy of the UN is to… to see how it… you know, because I understand that there is a duty on them, but there is also a duty on the UN to live up to what it said.  I heard Ms. [Patricia] O’Brien speak about the policy, but is it… is it a policy that is in writing and available?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check for you, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Okay, thanks.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  I appreciate that you gave me the floor; they have three questions there, two questions there and one of them was on the hostages.  Is there any… what is the Secretary-General has to say about the release of the hostages?

Spokesperson:  Well, I just said that it is obviously a source of relief that the hostages have been released, both those who were held for many, many weeks and months…

Correspondent:  For one year.

Spokesperson:  …and also those who were being held in Lebanon also.  So…

Question:  There is no statement on that?  No UN statement?

Spokesperson:  There is no statement.  I have simply said that it is a source of relief that they have been released, and I am sure that that would go for the families and the people concerned.

Question:  I would like to ask also another question regarding the meeting today with… between Secretary-General and philosopher… Italian philosopher Umberto Eco… philosopher, writer and… this is my way of thinking, yeah, okay, thank you.  It is about the launching of a new initiative in Encyclomedia.  What is the role of the United Nations in this initiative?  Can you tell us about that?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can’t tell you too much about that.  I am sure that my colleagues could do so, and will provide some more information, but Professor Eco is here to speak at UN Headquarters.  It is going to be webcast live so people will be able to follow it.  And, it is because he will be here at UN Headquarters that the Secretary-General will be meeting with Professor Eco, but I don’t have anything further about that particular aspect that you raise, but I know that my colleagues in the Department of Public Information (DPI) will certainly help me out on that.  Edie, you had a question, I think?

[The Spokesperson later added that today's lecture by Professor Umberto Eco was arranged by the Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Italian Mission.  The topic of the presentation ‑ Against the Loss of Memory ‑ provides a thought-provoking perspective as to how mankind relates to history and memories of past events both as communities and individuals.  In the United Nations context, much of the work is related to preserving the historical record of the Organization, and also to foster remembrance of past events such as the transatlantic slave trade, the Rwanda genocide and the Holocaust.  Through UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations also works to protect the world’s common cultural heritage.]

Question:  Yeah, as a follow-up on the question of the Saudi seat:  is the Secretariat making any outreach to the Saudi Mission to clarify the position and try and actually get some kind of an official statement?

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly there is an interest in many quarters to understand precisely what was meant by the statement issued on Friday, and so I think you can understand that there is an interest, but I don’t have any further information on the precise contacts at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I just wanted to get an update on the Somali piracy report that is due to the Security Council from the Secretary-General’s office; whether you can characterize the report, whether the Secretary-General continues to agree with the report from September that the incidents of piracy have decreased off the Somali coast.  Thanks.

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t want to pre-empt what may or may not be in the report.  I’ll check afterwards for you on the status of that; in other words, when it is going to be delivered to the Council.  Let me check on that afterwards for you.  [He added later that the report had gone to the members of the Security Council later in the afternoon.]  Yes, Pamela?  And then I am coming to you.

Question:  Two quick follow-ups, thank you, Martin.  One is on Sylviane’s question.  Umberto Eco was asked this morning what was the relationship with the UN and his answer was I am not quite sure, but he welcomed it, and that the UN had invited him to present these… the new project, Encyclomedia.  Do you see it as something that will help the loss of memory, which is his theme, by the international public in terms of history?  Or could you get some comment on that?  And that… Yeah, that’s a first follow-up.

Spokesperson:  Right.  Well, as I say, and I have remembered your question, I haven’t forgotten it, I mean, I have… I will check with my colleagues from Public Information, I don’t have anything on that, okay?

Question:  Thank you.  The second is just… the second is just on the… the Kampala dialogue, there were reports from the DRC Foreign Minister that the talks had stalled late Sunday night.  Is this something that both Mary Robinson and Martin Kobler had said something about, and is it something that you believe should be addressed?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said at the very beginning, Ms. Robinson did give an overview.  And, she did say that the parties had reached a consensus on 8 out of the 12 articles that were under discussion for this draft agreement, but they found it difficult to agree ‑ the parties ‑ on certain contentious matters.  And she said that the parties had agreed to reconvene soon to overcome their differences.  And so, she also said it was critical that they remain committed to a swift conclusion.  So, in other words, it is not over yet, in Mrs. Robinson’s view.

Question:  And is that… can you confirm that piece that they fell apart on was the amnesty question?

Spokesperson:  As again, I did say earlier that there are a number of topics that had been problematic throughout the talks, according to Mrs. Robinson, and those included the amnesty, disarmament and integration of M23.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  A follow-up on the date for Geneva II.  In the joint press conference between Nabil ElAraby, the Secretary General for the League of Arab States, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Envoy, UN-Arab League, he indicated that the conference will be on 23 November.  Now we see many from different corners of the world coming this date, 23 November.  What is keeping the Secretary-General from announcing the date?

Spokesperson:  He convenes the conference, and when he is ready to announce dates, he will do so.  He is not ready to do so at the moment.  It’s as simple as that.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yes, regarding the abduction of two bishops in Syria.  Now since these… Turkey and Qatar have leverage all over the rebels and they managed to release the nine hostages, Lebanese, why don’t they use the same offices in order to release those abducted bishops?  Nobody knows about them since they were abducted.

Spokesperson:  I think that’s a question for them.  And, I would simply say that those clerics who have been held for a long time also should be released immediately and without any preconditions.  And, those who are in a position to try to influence those holding them should certainly exercise that influence.  Yes?

Question:  Why the United Nations doesn’t… doesn’t… I mean contact these countries and try to influence their… to expedite the… any kind of release?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, the simple fact of the matter is that these clerics need to be released as soon as possible.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you.  Martin, when you say the Secretary-General is the one who is going to call the conference, excuse me, it seems that you are suggesting that he is the only authority who will do that on his own decision or so.  But, it means also that many other factors are really deciding behind, I am not saying closed doors, but on… on all these meetings when it is going to be.  And we heard yesterday, if I can put it like that, confusing dates made by another President… I mean Secretary-General of the Arab League before we had announcements in the press.  So, really, on what depends when the Secretary-General will be able to say this date is going to be?

Spokesperson:  When the Secretary-General is ready to make an announcement, he will do so.

Question:  On what it depends?

Spokesperson:  It depends on many factors.  Bear in mind that Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, is travelling in the region; bear in mind that there are other meetings going on today and tomorrow in Europe that have a relationship with the planning for such a conference, but just simply to say that the Secretary-General is the person who is convening this conference.  He will be the person who sends invitations, and when he is ready to do so, he will do so.  And you can ask me as many times as you like, you are not going to get a different answer, okay?  Yes, Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure, thanks, Martin.

Spokesperson:  Maybe something different.

Question:  Yeah, it is something different.  These peacekeepers, soldiers from Nigeria that served in Mali, have now returned to their country and have been assigned to Borno State, I guess to fight Boko Haram.  But they’ve… they’ve gone public with complaints that money that was… they were owed for their service in Mali, up to $2,000 apiece, was never paid by the Government.  So I wanted to know, this is now reported in the Nigerian press, what is the procedure for… for UN-provided funds actually reaching the soldiers that perform as peacekeepers and what is DPKO’s response to this public complaint by Nigerian peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’d need to check with my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations on this specific case, but the general methodology is as follows:  that DPKO, Peacekeeping Operations, does not pay individual peacekeepers directly.  Money is given to the country concerned to then pay their peacekeepers.  And that’s how it is done.

Question:  But what if they are… I mean, like, for example, there was this dispute about the Chadians also in Mali and the… the… the… they either mutinied or left their post because they didn’t get paid.  At what point does DPKO say there is a problem here if soldiers are actually walking off their posts due to not getting paid?  What… what steps have been taken, for example, in the case of the Chadians?

Spokesperson:  Well that was self-evidently a problem, Matthew, and discussions took place about it.  On this particular instance that you have referred to now, involving, it would seem, Nigerian peacekeepers, we will look into it.  I don’t have anything further for you on that.  Joe?  And then this will be the last question here.

Question:  I have to go back to the Saudi notification for a moment, I am sorry.  But when you said that the United Nations, I believe, had not received any specific notification, official notification, were you speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General specifically and the Secretary-General’s office, or have you also checked with the President of the General Assembly, President of the Security Council, who logic would say might be the recipient of such notification?

Spokesperson:  Well, your forensic questioning is wonderful, Joseph, but I am ahead of you on this one, because the President of the General Assembly, his office ‑ and I did check beforehand ‑ so far has received nothing.  The Security Council Affairs Division, which would be the conduit for correspondence to reach the Security Council, has not received anything, and neither has the Executive Office of the Secretary-General on the 38th floor.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  All right, last question, yes?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Nesirky.  My question is:  you said tomorrow the Special Rapporteur on torture is coming, and I was wondering if he has been able to make any progress yet on Bahrain.  I know he was scheduled to be in Bahrain, and he was rebuffed by the Kingdom of Bahrain, and had that meeting been rescheduled?

Spokesperson:  Wait a little over 24 hours and you can ask him yourself, okay.  Right, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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