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

4 November 2013

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

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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is on his way to Bamako, Mali, where he will start a joint visit to the Sahel with the World Bank, the African Union, the European Union and the African Development Bank.

Earlier today, we issued a note to correspondents in which the Secretary-General said that the cycle of crises in the sub region could be broken.  He underlined the importance of working together and investing in governance, security, resilience and opportunity for women and young people, in order to help the Sahel move from fragility to sustainability. That note can be found online and includes the important financial pledges announced today by the World Bank and the European Union.

In the coming days, we will update you on his activities in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad — the countries he will visit on this trip.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, and his Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, together with the envoys of the African Union, the European Union and the United States, expressed their concern about renewed fighting between the M23 (23 March Movement) and the armed forces of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In a joint statement, the envoys took note of the M23’s announcement of a cessation of hostilities and said it was a first and necessary step to peace.  They also urged the M23 to renounce its rebellion as already agreed.  The Envoys further called upon the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to refrain from further military action at this stage.  The envoys recognized the substantial progress in the Kampala Dialogue and urged both parties to remain committed to seeing the political process through to a final agreement.  That statement is available online and in our office.

**Lord’s Resistance Army

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Abou Moussa, and the African Union Special Envoy for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Francisco Madeira, called on the fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army to stop their activities and return to normal life.  In a press release issued following a recent joint mission to the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan, the two envoys called upon the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, to lay down his arms.  The press release is available online and in our office.

** Syria

The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will meet in Geneva tomorrow with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov and United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.  That meeting will be followed the same day by a meeting that includes the other three Permanent Members of the Security Council.

** Yemen

Jamal Benomar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen, has helped broker an agreement to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to have access to Dammaj — a town in the northern governorate of Sa’ada — in order to bring in medical and other supplies and evacuate the wounded.  Dammaj has been the centre of clashes between Houthi and Salafi armed groups for the past several weeks, which has recently escalated, resulting in dozens killed and injured.

Mr. Benomar has been closely following the conflict in and around Dammaj, and he has been in close communication with President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Minister of Defence, and Houthi and Salafi leaders in Dammaj and elsewhere.  He has pressed all concerned to implement an immediate ceasefire and to allow unfettered humanitarian access into the area.  He also has urged them to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue to reach a sustainable solution to the conflict in the area.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Farid Zarif, strongly condemned yesterday’s attacks against polling stations in northern Kosovo, calling them “utterly deplorable”.  Following the recent wave of violence during the election process, several polling stations in northern Kosovo were vandalized and individuals present were attacked.

Mr. Zarif has said that these criminal actions were intended to prevent the population from exercising their democratic right to vote.  He also said that these acts of hooliganism have no place in democratic societies and their perpetrators must be urgently held to account.  The full statement can be found online and in our office.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning adopted its programme of work for November, in its first consultations under China’s Council presidency.  Council members then heard an update on the humanitarian situation in Syria from the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos.  Ambassador Liu Jieyi of China, the new Council President, will brief you in this room at 12:30 p.m. on the Council’s programme of work for this month.

**Press Conference

And then, this afternoon at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Anton Katz, the Chair of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] Thank you so much.  Okay, I just wanted to address the issue of the Kosovo violence that you just mentioned.  On the eve of the election on Friday night, Secretary-General welcomed the election.  Now Special Representative Zarif condemned the violence.  I wonder whether the Secretary-General, since he is occupied with his trip to Africa, etcetera, does he have enough information what is really going on there, and who is to be blamed for this last round of violence?  Does the Secretary-General himself want to address this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you yourself mentioned, the Secretary-General did himself issue a statement prior to the elections and the sentiments in that statement still stand.  And the Secretary-General is monitoring the situation closely.  According to the reports from the UN [Interim Administration] Mission [in Kosovo], UNMIK, the elections went largely peacefully across Kosovo, with some 48 per cent turnout reported.  However, there were also attacks on three polling centres in north Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, towards the end of the day, which led to the closure of these polling centres.  There were no casualties reported, except injuries to the election staff.  At present, the situation in north appears to be calm, according to the UN Mission.  And so we are continuing to keep abreast of the situation.

Question:  Who did… who did… do you have information?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think the UN Mission is going to be investigating exactly what happened with this, and we will continue to get updates from them.  Yes?

Correspondent:  This microphone is jammed, so…

Deputy Spokesperson:  How many of the microphones are not working?

Question:  [Laughter]  No, Farhan, two questions.  First, has the Secretary-General made any specific protest to the United States about this report that his talking points for his meeting with President [Barack] Obama last April were obtained by the [United States] National Security Agency, and if it wasn’t… there was no specific protest specifically about that, was there a more general protest?  And secondly, has anybody received any document from the Saudis about the Security Council seat?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Second question first; the answer remains no, we have not.  As for the first question, this is specific to the news story that you saw over the weekend, but we did make clear back in August, when these reports first surfaced, that we would be in touch with the relevant authorities, and we did that.  The [ United States] authorities have given assurances that United Nations communications are not and will not be monitored.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Farhan, does the Secretary-General have any comments on the weekend attack in North Waziristan which killed a Taliban leader with whom the Government of Pakistan was about to enter into peace talks?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comment on that.  Yes?

Question:  Related to this… to this question of the Secretary-General’s notes before meeting with President Obama, I mean both The New York Times and The Guardian say this was a document provided to them by Edward Snowden that shows that the actual, you know, the talking points were taken by the United States.  So, I wanted to… I mean, it seems pretty personal, I just wonder if you have anything beyond what you said in August.  And also whether you have any… the Secretariat has any comment on the [United Kingdom] charging David Miranda, the… the… one of the workers on this project with terrorism for trans… for… for… for, you know, conveying encrypted NSA (National Security Agency) documents, such as the one that shows the Secretary-General was spied upon, and you know, charging him essentially as a journalist with terrorism, is this… this is something the UN has commented in other cases, what can you say about it in this case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, we would need to see some of the further details on this.  We don’t have the further reasoning, but as you know, our general principle remains that all journalists must be free to go about their work without any harassment, and, of course, that remains our point of principle.  At the same time, of course, like I said, we are not privy to the sort of documents that were the basis of this decision.  Regarding that, regarding the claims, it is in the period since we first learned of this in August that we did get in communication with the [ United States] authorities.  And like I said, we got the assurances that I have just described.

Question:  Could… just one follow-up, because there are… and… and maybe you… you hadn’t seen this, but the… the… the [United Kingdom] made a filing in court that’s public that says that the… the… the disclosure of information meant to influence a Government for the purpose of promoting a political cause falls into the definition of terrorism.  So, many journ… many people are saying this would actually cast a pall over many types of investigative journalism, so, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but it is a public document.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and in UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, would be the people to ask about these sorts of things.  Of course, every country has its domestic laws, and we respect that.  But, of course, there are certain things, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that we hold to be pre-eminent, and we hope that all laws are in conformity with the norms, with the human rights norms, that have been established.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, just to follow on to this line of questioning, what branch or level of the [ United States] Government gave the assurances that the UN received?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t say.  Yes, please?  Yes, Trish?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Please use the microphone.

Question:  Okay, yeah, on 13 September, a group of scientists delivered a letter to the Secretary-General concerning the situation in Fukushima and an appeal to him, as the global executive in charge of international health and safety, with a multi-point programme for international aid and help to clean up the situation in Fukushima.  Has there been any response to the Secretary-General to this letter or the events in Fukushima?

Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of the basic problems at Fukushima, that is really a question that is being addressed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  And they have been in touch with the Government of Japan on that.  So, that would be where the follow-up is happening.  Yes, Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the G20 allegations of… or the allegations that Russia gave devices that were potentially bugging devices to diplomats — and the allegations come from an Italian newspaper and a separate investigator — since the United Nations was at the G20, are there any of those devices that were given to the United Nations, and also have you any… in any way independently verified whether those were listening devices?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any comment on that.  We don’t have any independent information on this.  In terms of the point of principal, what I can say is that the inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the UN and other international organizations, whose functions are protected by the relevant international conventions like the Vienna Conventions, has been well-established international law.  Therefore, Member States are expected to act accordingly to protect the inviolability of diplomatic missions.

Question:  All right.  And then, as a follow-up to the last round of questioning, since your statement said that when the conversations with the administration that assurances were given that it is not being bugged and it will not be bugged, was there any conversation about past listening, surveillance?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is nothing that I have to share with you on that, no.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Erol?

Question:  [inaudible] Farhan, is there… is there any sort of Ban Ki-moon’s plan on Cyprus?  As the news media reported recently, we all know about Kofi Annan’s plan on Cyprus and is that such is developing after his meeting with the… his Special Representative?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d just refer you to the note to correspondents we issued last Friday.  As you know, on Friday afternoon, the Secretary-General met with Alexander Downer, his Special Adviser on Cyprus, and we put out a note describing where they feel these talks and the process is going.  And I’d just refer you to what we put out then.

Question:  There is nothing [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, just look at what we put out on Friday and that’s where we stand on this.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I’ve seen the… the… you know, the sta… obviously that statement you described abou… of… of the envoys on the Great Lakes, but I wanted to know, there have been… Uganda has said rep… again that shells are falling into its territory and it’s reported that President [Yoweri Kaguta] Museveni is sending troops to the border, so I just wonder what… one, what kind of presence the UN has in Uganda, I saw a quote from a UNHCR person, whether they can verify… I know there is a verification, but what… on… on what seems to be a pretty serious cross-border incident, what’s the UN doing and what can the UN say?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding the situation as a whole, we do have an update from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, who say that fighting has continued today despite the M23’s declaration yesterday on the cessation of hostilities.  The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], MONUSCO, confirms the shelling of four mortar shells fired this morning by M23 in Bunagana which killed four people, including Congolese Armed Forces soldiers, and wounded 10 others.  MONUSCO can also confirm that the Congolese Armed Forces are now in full control of Mbuzi hill and maintain pressure around M23 remnants on Runyioni and Chanzu hills.  The UN Mission’s force is strengthening measures concerning its protection of civilians mandate on the Kiwanja-Rutshuru-Bunanga axis.  And that’s where we stand for today.  Yeah, in the back?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Do you have anything about Egypt’s first freely elected and only freely elected President, today’s trial?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have said in the past that we believe that the people who have been detained, including Mohamed Morsy, need to be tried or released.  So, we are hoping that due process will be followed, including in this particular case.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks.  This… this is… this is some… something from last week.  Du… during the… and it is… it is… there is a part of it, I think is… that’s for the Secretariat, or at least I think it is.  There was a meeting on the Western Sahara.  Normally, or in the past, a representative of [Frente Polisario], as a party to those… to that process, has been able to both speak at the stakeout and to be in the quiet room of the Security Council, and they complained this time that they were told they cannot speak at the stakeout as they have in the past and nor can they enter the quiet room of the Cou… of the Council, and I think you know… I know that you might say ins… you know, ask the Council, and I’d ask you who is the spokesman of the Council, but to the degree that there is a stakeout in front of the Security Council, is that property of the Security Council or is that something that’s in the UN building, and I wonder what is the UN’s policy on the party, I know that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, for example, did a stakeout during general debate week, what is your position on who gets to speak at the stakeouts?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you are absolutely right that when it comes to the Council’s rooms, you need to ask the Security Council.  And I would just advise you to ask them what the rules are on this.

Question:  What about the stakeout, though?  Do you… I mean, somebody said to me is… as in the GA, like, who controls that?  Is that… is that… it’s not inside their chambers, and… and it is manned by UNTV and paid for by all 193 States in terms of the budget, so who… who really makes that decision and how is it made?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we can check with our [Department of Public Information] colleagues what role we have in this, but as you know, this entire building is governed by the Member States…

[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified regarding stakeouts outside the Security Council that, when the Security Council meets, a stakeout is set up outside the Security Council, and is available for participants of the Council meeting.]

Correspondent:  Sure.

Deputy Spokesperson:  …so, we respect the rules of the Member States in terms of procedures for the stakeouts.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Geneva II, is there any date next to 23 November to 26?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well…

Question:  …as set by the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You are absolutely right that it is up to the Secretary-General to set a date.  As of now, he has not set a date.  But, when it is appropriate to do so, he will set one and we will announce it.  Karaman?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Your mic’s off again.

Question:  Okay.  How close are we get… heading?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, tomorrow, Mr. Brahimi will meet with a number of senior diplomats from the [ United States], from Russia, from the P5, and also I believe from some other involved States.  So, he will have a wide range of discussions to take stock of where we stand and we can see where we can proceed from there.  Karaman?

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  Karaman’s up.  Yeah?

Correspondent:  He can [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, you can go first; then Erol.

Question:  Thank you, thank you, Farhan.  Now, following the Geneva II, Farhan, Mr. Brahimi seems like he has totally forgotten about massacres taking place in Syria until the Geneva II happens… takes place.  Is it… why is the UN keeping quiet?  There are hundreds of people being killed everyday in Syria and all the focus is being put on the Geneva II instead of… you know, nobody is criticizing what is happening on the ground.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are not being quiet.  We do, in fact, even as we speak, Valerie Amos is in the Security Council talking to the members of the Council about the humanitarian situation, including our concerns that there are about 2.5 million people within Syria who are hard to reach because of the problems that we have had getting access to these people.  And, of course, our priority remains to stop the killing.  That’s why we are putting an emphasis on having a Geneva II conference.  That’s why Lakhdar Brahimi is continuing with his own diplomatic efforts.  What we want is for the killing to stop because you are absolutely right, everyday, people die; you know, people’s lives are destroyed; there are people in besieged areas who face the threat of starvation.  It’s all extremely serious and we want all of that to end.  Yes, Mr. Klein?

Correspondent:  Yes, we were told last week that Ms. Korg is going be coming to New York to brief the Secretary-General…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Kaag.

Correspondent:  Kaag, I knew I was going to get it wrong.  All right, thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  You were close, though.

Question:  Thank you.  And that that would take place presumably some time this week.  Can you confirm whether that is still scheduled for this week, and also whether she will be providing us with a press briefing?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, actually I can confirm both things.  It is not, because the Security Council President has to brief you in the next few minutes, I am not going get ahead of him and tell you what the Council’s programme is for tomorrow, but tentatively, we do expect her to brief the Council fairly shortly.  It could even be in consultations tomorrow morning, and she has agreed that once she has briefed the Council, she would be willing to go to the Security Council stakeout and take a few questions from the press.  So, we will give you more details once we can do that.  Oh, Erol?

Question:  Okay.  Just technical sort of question.  Who else from UN is attending that preparation meetings in Geneva on Geneva II conference, beside Mr. Brahimi?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think we will provide you with some more details tomorrow.  Our colleagues in Geneva did put out a note with some of the details and we can share that around with you, but basically, we will have a little bit more to say about it once it actually takes place tomorrow.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Farhan, I wanted to ask you whether United Nations legal department has been in touch with the Member States about Saudi Arabia getting back in the game, basically in joining the Security Council.  At this point in time, they still want to stay away.  So, do you have any update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, we don’t have any update on the situation regarding Saudi Arabia’s Security Council seat.  We have never received a formal notification from them, and there is nothing to say about it on the legal side either.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Farhan, is there any update of what Valerie Amos told the Security Council on the humanitarian crisis?  Did you get anything in your office?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on this right now.  I believe the discussions are happening as we speak, and I do not believe that Ms. Amos intends to speak at the stakeout afterwards.  But I think what…

Correspondent:  That’s why I am asking.

Deputy Spokesperson:  …I think our office might provide some details after she is done.

Question:  Where would they provide them, how would they provide [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Potentially, one of them might speak to you at the stakeout, but I don’t have a confirmation on that just yet.  But, I am hoping that someone from our office can give some details then.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  What?

Question:  After this press conference or during the [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Timing is always a mystery to me.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

[The following note was later shared with correspondents:

(Under-Secretary-General) Amos has just briefed Security Council members on the humanitarian situation in Syria.  She shared the following update:  The humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate rapidly and inexorably.  The number of people we estimate to be in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria has now risen to some 9.3 million.  Of them, 6.5 million people are displaced from their homes, within the country.  On behalf of the humanitarian community, (Under-Secretary-General) Amos continues to press the Council for their help and influence over those parties who can ensure the protection of civilians and civilian facilities; the safe passage of medical personnel and supplies; the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance; and can facilitate progress in expanding critical, life-saving relief operations.  The Council's sustained engagement and leadership is vital if we are to see the calls in the presidential statement (2 October) translate into meaningful action on the ground.]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, Matthew?

Question:  Sure. I want to ask you about Rakhine State in Myanmar, there are reports there of… of the state Government assuring protestors that ING… international NGOs like MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) and others could be closed down and attacks on MSF offices for supposedly siding with Rohingya.  Is the UN aware of this and what are… what are… what are they doing about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, of course, we want to make sure that all humanitarian workers can go about their work.  As for what is specifically happening to MSF, you’ll need to ask MSF what is happening.  Yes, Trish?

Question:  Is there any update from the Secretary-General on Israel bombing Syria?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary-General has seen the media reports.  We do not have any direct information about this.  The Secretary-General urges all parties to avoid any actions that could increase tensions and to respect the sovereignty of all countries in the region.  Yeah?

Question:  Returning to Ms… Mrs. Valerie Amos, can we ask her to come and brief us in this room?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, today, she is not going to be doing any briefing to the press is what I have been told, but hopefully someone in her office can provide some details.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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