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

14 November 2013

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

14 November 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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Hello, good afternoon.

** Philippines

In remarks to reporters in Latvia today, the Secretary-General said the world has been following the tragedy and utter devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.  He said he was receiving regular updates from his Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, who was in Manila.

The Secretary-General said he was especially concerned about the tens of thousands of people exposed to the elements.  He said the United Nations and the rest of the international community are doing everything possible to rush assistance to those who need it.  He said that the people of the Philippines are showing great courage and resilience, but they need our help.  They need it now and they need it fast.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, spoke to reporters in the Philippines today about the need for a sustained and collective response by the international community to help those affected by Typhoon Haiyan.  She spoke after visiting Tacloban, one of the worst affected areas, yesterday and speaking to survivors who were homeless and waiting for relief supplies to reach them.  She said that tens of thousands of people are living in the open or sheltering in the remains of their homes and badly damaged public buildings, exposed to rain and wind.

The latest information we have received from the Government of the Philippines is that the number of people affected by the typhoon stands at nearly 12 million, of whom 920,000 are displaced.  The Government also reports that 4,460 people have died in the disaster.

**Secretary-General in Latvia

The Secretary-General arrived in Latvia earlier today at the start of a trip that will also take him to Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.  He has had meetings with the President and the Speaker of Parliament and visited the Freedom Monument in the Latvian capital Riga.  The Secretary-General also spoke to reporters, and we have provided a transcript of what he had to say.

Tomorrow the Secretary-General will have further meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and attend a conference marking the ninety-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Latvia.  After that, he will fly to Estonia.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in an open meeting this morning, received an update from Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, concerning her office’s efforts to work with the Libyan Government in addressing the serious crimes committed in Libya.

Prior to that meeting, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which it welcomed the cessation of hostilities between the DRC Government and the M23.  The Security Council also called for the swift conclusion and implementation of a final, comprehensive and agreed outcome, in line with the Kampala talks, that provides for the disarmament and demobilization of the M23 and accountability for human rights abusers.

The Security Council expressed deep concern regarding the sustained regional threat posed by the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, or FDLR, and stressed the importance of neutralizing the FDLR and all armed groups.

**South Sudan

The Government of South Sudan and humanitarian organizations launched a multi-year humanitarian appeal today in Juba to help communities affected by hostilities, displacement, natural disasters and poverty in the country.  The three-year appeal (2014-2016) seeks $1.1 billion to meet the needs of more than 3 million people.


The Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Farid Zarif, met with a range of political leaders in northern Mitrovica yesterday.  In his meetings, Mr. Zarif stressed that all sides must respect the rules of peaceful and democratic conduct in the interests of their own community.  He added that the political leaders he met wanted to know whether they would have a key role in shaping their own destiny.  He said that these elections are one important step in achieving this objective.  And we have the press release available on the Mission’s website.

**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

And last, tomorrow, John Ging, the Director of the Operational Division at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will be the guest at the noon briefing.  And he will brief on the UN’s work in the Philippines during the first week after Typhoon Haiyan, also known locally as Yolanda.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday in the Fifth Committee, the delegate of India said, and I quote him:  “It is impossible to get consistent lists of Assistant Secretaries-General and Under-Secretaries-General at the UN.”  Why is this so?  Why in the… in… given the fact that the Secretary-General has always defended the policy of transparency at the UN, why is it not possible to obtain a complete, full list of senior officials since the Secretary-General became Secretary-General of the United Nations?  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think it is the case that it is not possible to do that.  We have a number of public websites on the www.un.org web pages which list the senior officials of the UN.  If you go, for example, to the Secretary-General’s page, there is an icon there for his team, and you can just click on his team and you will see all of the senior officials that are part of the Secretariat; the Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General right there.

Question:  But what people want is to know the exact number of these high officials since the Secretary-General has been appointed.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, cumulative, over the years, not just the latest ones?  Well, the latest ones are all available on the website.  Of course, if you want the back history of that, the Secretariat has that data and can share that.  But if you have looked at our various pages over the years, we have always announced these appointments.  We announce them here at these briefings and then we put them up on the web.  It is completely transparent.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible] I want to ask you about [inaudible].  I just want to follow up on that.  I mean, I… in the past, things with like the when actually employed, you have some kind of honorary and… and I mean, I am thinking one that comes to mind without any particular, you know, casting aspersions like Joseph Verner Reed, like I have… he doesn’t show up on the list, but is still… was in the mix.  So is there some way to just get a list of all, you know, the… the… the when actually employed possibly uncompensated, but blue-passported, UN officials?  There seems to be a… a group that are not, you know, you… maybe… what… they were named some decades ago, but where is the… it’s a comprehensive list of USGs?  Can that be provided today or tomorrow or this week?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, like I said, you can check the public websites, they have all the officials listed.  They don’t have them as whether they are a dollar-a-year people or when actually employed people, you know, the nature of the contract.  You know, we provide those details when we are asked; those aren’t a secret either, but…

Question:  So I think… when… would… we’re asking.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  …but the public website lists all of our officials and it’s there for you to look at whenever you want.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Has the Secretary-General had any conversations with Jordan about their upcoming seat or expected… I mean, it has to be voted on, but about the potential of their upcoming seat on the Security Council?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, this is not something we are involved with — the Secretary-General or the Secretariat.  As Martin Nesirky made clear in recent days, the question of what to do following Saudi Arabia’s decision on the Security Council seat is really a matter for the Member States to consider and we leave it in their hands.

Question:  I know… I understand that, but has he had any discussions on anything about the Security Council with Jordan, as far as you know?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of it, but in any case, we wouldn’t have any role, so I doubt he would have that sort of discussion.

Question:  No, I understand.  All right, and just on Kenya and the ICC — you mentioned Libya and the ICC — any conversations with the ICC about the Kenya vote on Friday?  They were defer… the referral vote?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the referral vote is a matter for the Security Council to consider.  We, of course, will be watching to see what the members of the Security Council decide, but it is in their hands to determine what to do about this particular request.

Question:  And no conversations by the Secretary-General with any of the principals…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, this is…

Question:  …about that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  …this is really for the members of the Security Council.  It’s a resolution that they are to consider.  So we would stay out of any comment on that.

Correspondent:  All right.  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah?

Question:  Yeah, I had wanted to ask you, the… I… from news reports, it looks like Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous is in Russia.  He has been quoted there as saying that… speaking about the possibility of UN peacekeepers in Syria, so these three articles quoting him on that, and I wanted to know, can you elaborate a little more?  What’s tha… that’s that statement, there was a mission that was then closed — what’s the statement based on?  He also, in a recent… in trying to figure out what he meant by that, he’d said recently that he may be getting attack helicopters for Mali from Central America and I wanted to know, can you… he sold that to RFI.  I wanted to know, can you… is that… is there a request to Guatemala or some other country?  What… what can you say?  I’m just sort of gleaning these things from things he says out in the field, but what do they mean?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding the helicopters, we don’t have anything to announce just yet on that.  If we do, we will let you know.  As for his other comments, those are comments that he made in interviews.  He’s been visiting Moscow for the last day or so, and he had some interviews with people.  They speak for themselves.

Question:  I mean, di… but is that in… in… would you say… you say they speak for themselves, but is he… is he… is this a consideration by DPKO peacekeepers in connection with the chemical weapons mission or with some other mission?  That’s what I am asking.  It doesn’t… to me it didn’t speak for itself.  But it is a short quote.  Is there some way to get to know what he meant or what DPKO is planning?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the chemical weapons mission, any decisions on that are decisions that are to be arrived at by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or the Security Council, so you will see whether there is any mandate given to any of the bodies.  Right now what they have given is a mandate for the joint OPCW-UN mission, which we have deployed there.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday, there was great criticism levelled at Israel for the expansion of settlements.  Has the Secretary-General made any statement about the stabbing and killing of a 19-year-old soldier in Afula yesterday?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We haven’t made a statement, but of course, we are appalled by this crime.  Hopefully, whoever was responsible for this will be brought to justice.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible]

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, of course we stand against attacks against innocent people, and of course we hope that there will be accountability.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  There is some report from Damascus saying that Geneva II is set again on 12 December and that the SG will announce officially about it by the end of the month.  Do you have any comment on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Not really.  The Secretary-General has no date to announce for the Geneva II conference; in other words, the international conference for Syria, at this stage.  Once he believes that the time is right to announce a date, he will do so, but we are not at that stage yet.  We are working to do everything we can to make sure that a conference can be held before the end of this year.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, in view of the record production of poppy crop in Afghanistan, is the United States… is the United Nations system stepping up its efforts to curb the production?  And does the ISAF have any role in doing so?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’d have to ask ISAF about the work that they are doing.  Regarding our work, the Office on Drugs and Crime put out a report about this just yesterday, and I’d refer you to their report.  One of the things that they talk about is the need to basically have other means of gainful employment and productive economic activity that can steer the local economy away from the production and cultivation of opium.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Last year, Secretary-General went to Srebrenica and he expressed great sadness what he has seen there at the site.  These days… few days ago it was discovered in north-western Bosnia apparently the biggest mass grave with the Bosnian Muslims in previous war, Tomašica.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say on that and should he address that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any immediate reaction to this latest development, no.  Of course, you have seen what we have had to say about the tragic loss of lives throughout the entire Bosnian conflict and the sort of responsibilities of the various parties for that.  And you have seen the work that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has done to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.  But I don’t have any particular thing to say about the finding of this new mass grave other than it once more underscores the terrible plight that the people of Bosnia had to face.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Sorry I… I… I was out of my breath because I was running for the briefing.  Anyhow, the… can you please or would you… do you think that the Secretary-General specifically should address this issue?  This is apparently the biggest mass grave discovered yet in Europe after the World War II.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll see whether we have anything new to say about this.  Certainly, we have been aware over the years of the existence of mass graves in Bosnia and we have spoken out against the sort of crimes that led to so many people being killed an placed in mass graves, and so those sentiments still apply, but if there is anything further to say, certainly.  And on a cautionary note, don’t run for the briefings, we are not moving anywhere.  Okay.  Here you go.  Yes, Evelyn, you had a question?

Question:  Sorry.  Ah, yes, can you update the number of refugees from Syria and the number of displaced within the country?  The agencies seem to compete with each other.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the latest figures are on the UNHCR website and I think you have seen the…

Question:  [inaudible]

Correspondent:  Microphone!

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, yes, yeah, please use the microphone.

Question:  I’m sorry.  Okay.  What have I done now?  I’ve made a mess of everything.  Anyway, Farhan, the IDPs are UNHCR also?  Because I looked at that and it’s a very confusing website…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, but Valerie Amos gave a briefing to the Security Council on this in fact just about a week or may be two weeks ago.  Where…

Correspondent:  Yeah, the October 25th [inaudible].

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  …where she gave the figures.  And that’s the latest updated ones that we are standing behind.

Correspondent:  Right, okay.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Pam?  And then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Valerie Amos was there talking about the flash appeal for the money for the Philippines, but is there any… and there were some pictures I have seen, some reports of medevacking hospital patients out at some hospitals that don’t have electricity or water; is the UN involved in any medevacking of patients to area hospitals where there is electricity or water to surgery supplies?  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, many different countries, the Philippines authorities, other countries and the UN are all involved in various efforts.  I am not aware of what if anything we are doing in terms of medevac.  I don’t believe that that is in our capabilities, but I will have to check.

Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, the… the former UN official and also former Canadian Ambassador to the UN, Stephen Lewis, has appeared on TV in Canada speaking about var… about the… the… the Haiti cholera and he said that… that it really is hurting, you know, that… that the US… it would do… it would do the UN a lot of good to be seen as principled in the face of having caused so much devastation.  So I wanted to… there is… as I am sure you have seen, there is more and more coverage of the case and there is more and more… there was a… a study put out in Washington saying that the UN should at a minimum apologize and ensure that standing claims committees are… or commissions are in fact established by peacekeeping missions.  I wanted to know, one, is there any response to this, particularly by a former UN official, and also, can you just either… either state or find out whether any UN peacekeeping mission currently has in place an active meeting a standing claims commission such as are provided in the SOFA [status of forces] agreements they have with countries?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, standing claims commissions are, I believe, set up in agreement with the countries involved, so that would have to be a process that a peacekeeping mission engages in.  It’s not as if it just comes into being by itself.

Question:  The announcer [inaudible]?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  And regarding Stephen Lewis, no we don’t have any response to his comments.

Question:  Okay.  Just one… I want to ask you this then, to… response to this, because the analysis says that countries that host these missions are not even whether they request them as a Government or not that the SOFAs should automatically set these up since people in countries in way small and large, sometimes can be injured.  So the question would be, what would you say to that… that the fact… I just want to know factually, are there any standing claim… claims commissions in any of UN peacekeeping missions, and if not, what would you say to the analysis that it is a… it’s a dead letter, that in fact there is no accountability to the people in which these missions are located?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there is an accountability process.  In every place where peacekeepers operate, they do have to have an agreement on how they operate, which is why there is a status-of-forces and a status-of-mission agreement in the first place.  Whether the bodies that could be potentially set up are set up or not is part of the discussion they then have depending upon what the circumstances of mission are.

Question:  But could we just know whether there are any?  Do you see what I mean?  I just… I mean, I am not assuming that you would have it in… in… in a file, but can DPKO be asked whether any exist?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You can check with our DKPO colleagues on that.  I am not aware.  Yes in the back?  Yes, you.

Question:  Hi.  To go back to the Philippines just a second, I may have missed this, did you say that the Secretary-General was on the phone with Ms. Amos?  And if yes, did she clarify to him exactly what are the obstacles for the distribution of aid?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, he has been in constant contact with Ms. Amos who by now has actually left the Philippines.  But she was able to provide details of the problems.  Part of what she said is that aid delivery has been hampered by logistical challenges.  While most airports have now reopened, electricity and power are still to be restored in some areas.  Many roads are covered in debris and there are fuel shortages.  However, as each hour and day passes, more aid is reaching people affected.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  This is a question about sports.  Does the Secretary-General have any thoughts on the retirement of India’s cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t frankly know how much he is aware of it.  I certainly am aware of Mr. Tendulkar and we will miss him.  Yes?

Correspondent:  This is a big day for him.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It is indeed.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I would like to go back to the question I asked about the Indian representative’s statement that [inaudible] finds it impossible — and that is his word — to get a consistent list of ASGs and USGs.  The reason I asked that question is that some delegations have been saying in the Fifth Committee that there has been a considerable increase in expenditures at the UN as a result of appointments of senior officials.  So if that is the case, and as you said, there is nothing to hide, why not make a full list available?  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, the information is available — all of the officials have been publicly announced, all of them have been placed on the website.  I know that, I know that the officials of the UN system are in constant dialogue with the Fifth Committee and with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions to provide them whatever information that they have asked about all this.  So if what they are wanting is simply cumulative information that is available at hand and that will be part of the dialogue.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, you have been pretty clear about the reason that peacekeeping forces are not screened in the wake of or not going to be future… screened in a future for cholera is because of WHO guidelines.  Our correspondent JeffGlor was there, and a lot of people seem to think because it was a recommendation of the report that there be future screenings that there would be some kind of provisions made.  There is absolutely no screening for cholera in the future, is that correct?  Because of the WHO guidelines?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Exactly.  The decision was in line with the policy guidelines of the World Health Organization which do not recommend screening people who are asymptomatic for cholera.  And so we go by their reasoning as the experts on this.  Yeah?

Question:  Can I just again… following up on… on Mr. Abbadi’s question, I wanted to know if you… you have some… there’s been this… this controversy about the proposal to make a… a… a new Under-Secretary-General position for corporate partnerships, and I wanted to… in the middle of that it emerged that… that Mr. Orr’s ASG post has been funded from various kind of put together by empty budget lines, so, one, I wanted to know, do you think that… what would you say to the criticism that that is a kind of a… that’s less than transparent in the sense of how… how an ASG position has been funded?  And two, what do you make of the criticism that… that this is not… that a new ASG when they are various… new USG post when there so many budget cuts being implemented at lower down the staff levels… it doesn’t make sense?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, this is actually a proposal that has been discussed with the General Assembly.  The General Assembly has not decided at this stage to act on an appointment for a new post concerning partnerships.  If and when the General Assembly acts, and only then, will the Secretary-General initiate a process to seek the most qualified candidate, but we continue to wait to see what their decision is going to be on that.  It’s up to them.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any… do you know of any press conferences that would be coming [inaudible] from… on the chemical… from any of the chemical weapons figures?  [inaudible]

Correspondent:  Microphone.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, please, speak…

Question:  Oh, I have done it again!  All right, I am so sorry.  I will be expelled here.  When you sit in the front, one thinks everyone hears.  Do you have any scheduled or can you schedule a press conference with any of the major figures on the chemical weapons team?  Who are reporting one after another this month?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, well, at this stage, there is nothing on schedule from them.  I do believe my colleagues at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will have some information to provide tomorrow for you, which is when their Executive Council is expected to come to some key decisions.  And so we will wait to see what they have to say on that.  And hopefully we can have some details then.

Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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