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

18 November 2013

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

18 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General is in Poland, and he is now on his way to Warsaw to attend the UN climate change conference there.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General visited Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  He said that Auschwitz-Birkenau is not simply a register of atrocities.  It is also a repository of courage and hope.  He said that nothing can truly prepare a person for a visit to the epicentre of evil, where systematic murder, unique in human history, reached its atrocious climax.  The Secretary-General said that for all the victims, we need to reaffirm that we will never forget.  He also said that, for our shared future, we need to embrace our common duty as members of the human family to build a world of peace, justice and human dignity for all.

The Secretary-General flew to Poland from Lithuania, where he held talks with the President and other leaders.  We have issued details on his meetings and activities there and also in Estonia and Latvia.  You can find details on our website.


Shortly before leaving Lithuania this morning, the Secretary-General said, in response to a question at a press conference, that the recent typhoon in the Philippines is a wake-up call for the international community to accelerate its efforts to fight climate change.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, according to Government estimates, nearly 13 million people across nine regions have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan, including more than 4 million people who have been displaced and some 2.5 million people who require food aid.

Authorities report that more debris has been cleared, while public services are being restored, but the affected are still facing power outages and fuel shortages.  Nearly half of the health facilities in four affected regions remain closed.

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has arrived in the Philippines for a follow-up visit and is expected to visit affected areas in the coming days.

She is expected to speak to the press in Manila tomorrow, at 6 p.m. local time, with the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that at least 200,000 people in Tacloban and six surrounding districts are now receiving clean water, with the first water treatment plant having coming back to full operating capacity last night.

UNICEF, the Philippines armed forces and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) took part in negotiations resulting in an initial emergency fuel supply to run the plant for four days.

In the past 48 hours, UNICEF has been trucking and airlifting water and sanitation supplies to Tacloban and other affected areas to restore clean water supplies and reduce the threat of diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated water.

**South Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, briefed the Security Council this morning.

She said that despite enormous challenges and a State struggling to establish and extend its authority, progress had been made in some key areas.

However, she also noted that the situation in parts of Jonglei state continues to be worrying.  She said that with the dry season approaching, the mobility of both armed groups and the SPLA will increase, creating risks of increased attacks, but also opportunities for response.  She added that with this in mind, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had developed a series of contingency plans to address emerging security threats and protect civilians.

Ms. Johnson also said that the behaviour of security forces continued to be a cause for grave concern, whether with regard to human rights abuses or incidents of violence and harassment affecting UN personnel, diplomats and ordinary citizens.

She said that the UN Mission continued to monitor and investigate reports of alleged violations and abuses, and would increase its public reporting.

** Darfur

Following clashes between Salamat and Misseriya in Central Darfur in the past weeks, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) facilitated the travel of the Wali, or Governor, of Central Darfur and the State Security Committee, yesterday. They were accompanied by a team of UNAMID officials to Um Dukhun to mediate between the two tribes.

The delegation met with the local security committee, the local peace and reconciliation committee and representatives of both the Salamat and the Misseriya.  It also met with representatives from international non-governmental organizations and the Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Commission operating in the area who confirmed that the security situation has improved since 14 November.  The Mission says that international non-governmental organizations have decided to stay on to carry out their activities, instead of evacuating as previously requested.

The Mission says it remains gravely concerned about the impact of inter-tribal violence on the civilian population in the affected areas and will continue to exert intensive efforts to bring the fighting parties to agree on a cessation of hostilities.  The Mission also stands ready to facilitate longer-term reconciliation between them.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Last, we have a press conference tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.  There will be a press conference here to mark the World Toilet Day.

The speakers will be: Ambassador Karen Tan of Singapore; Therese Dooley, the Senior Advisor on Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF; Tanzeba Ambereen Huq, the Head of Disaster, Environment & Climate Change Programme at BRAC Bangladesh; and Alex Kent, International Campaigns Manager at Water Aid.

That’s it from me.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  Thank you, Farhan.  I’d like to know…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Microphone, please.

Question:  Thank you again, Farhan.  I would like to know, I mean, I know that typhoon in Philippines has taken priority over everything else, but how are the Syrian… is the Syrian peace process going along, because it seems to be on hold for now?  Do you have any update for us on Syrian peace process?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, actually. If you look at the transcript of the Secretary-General’s press conference earlier today before he left Lithuania, he was asked about that, and he talked about how he was hoping to have an international peace conference on Syria, to be held in Geneva hopefully by mid-December.  He doesn’t have a date to announce yet.  At this stage, we are still waiting for Lakhdar Brahimi to have his next tripartite meeting with the US and Russian officials.  That will take place in Geneva on 25 November and we will take stock again of the situation. But hopefully by then, we can see whether we can actually have [the] Geneva II peace conference held by mid-December.

Question:  So, will this process keep going until, the way things are going, until January of next year?  Because it doesn’t seem like…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s see.  Obviously I know that you are as impatient as you ought to be, and as we indeed have been for this conference to be held.  But we are moving closer, and our hope is that we can announce a date soon enough; that the Secretary-General will be able to announce a date soon enough.  We are not in that position yet, but he said once again, and will continue to work for it, that we are going to try to have it done by mid-December.

Question:  On this typhoon, I just want to know, yesterday the United Nations, I mean, World Food Programme’s Director had said that most of the food is now coming, but is still not enough.  Have you, has the United Nations assessed the situation as to what is enough and how much more food and supplies are needed before you call it, that it is okay now?  0bviously, people are still dying.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, the ability to distribute aid efficiently has improved dramatically in recent days. There has been much more ability to get aid into the areas that are needed.  But yes, it is still not enough.  Valerie Amos will go back to some of these areas, including Tacloban, in the coming days.  And she will be able to assess for herself how good the humanitarian response has been and what more is needed. Yes?  I think Pam had her hand up and then Erol.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  One of the issues that has been cited quite frequently on the aid to the typhoon in the Philippines is corruption, or possible corruption by the Philippine Government.  And so there was a transparency site set up by the Philippine Government.  What is Valerie Amos and other UN agents doing in terms of directing aid?  Are they specifically directing it not to the Philippine Government, or what is the suggestion by the UN?  That’s… and then you mentioned climate change: is there a determination, because the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] recent report was not that definitive on these kind of typhoons and other issues, that this typhoon was a result of climate change?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a question of whether this particular typhoon or any specific disaster can be attributed to climate change.  The argument that the experts themselves have been making is that the warming of the Earth will allow for greater intensity of different weather patterns; different intensity, so that the typhoons that occur, the various storms that occur will be more intense and create more damage.  That is what we have been concerned about.  And the Secretary-General spoke about this during his press conference in Lithuania this morning, and I’d just refer you back to his statements.

Regarding transparency, I think John Ging touched on this matter when he spoke to you on Friday.  I don’t really have that much further to add, but we are certainly trying to channel aid into actual goods — that is to say, food, medicines, non-food items such as tents — that can be delivered to the people of the Philippines.  And that’s what we are trying to get to them.

Question:  Rather than channelling through the Government?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, there is money giving to the Government.  As you know, one of the first things we did is provide money through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), because certainly the Philippines authorities themselves are doing a heroic job of trying to get aid to the people in need and we are trying to give them as much help as they possibly can.  But at the same time, part of what we are trying to do is also get basic goods directly to the people who need it.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan. First of all I would like to address this press statement that was just issued hours ago.  Secretary-General was in Auschwitz and he dealt with his speech and he mentioned killing fields of Cambodia, forests of Srebrenica and hills of Rwanda.  Does the Secretary-General has anything to say or to address the issue of discovering of the biggest, apparently biggest mass grave of Tomašica in north-western Bosnia few weeks ago?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I told you our initial response last week when you first asked this question.  I don’t have anything further to say on that.  Of course, as you can see, even today, in the context of witnessing the site of one of the world’s greatest horrors, he did once again refer to the killing fields of Srebrenica and so that shows you how seriously he takes — he, the Secretary-General — takes this matter.  But beyond that, I don’t have anything specific to say about this mass grave beyond what we said a few days ago.

Question:  Can I ask one on Geneva II?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  After Matthew gets his turn, yes.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to know, the, with the, the, the events that took place in Tripoli all weekend long of the, the, you know, killing of at least it seems like it’s, it’s somewhere between 40 and 60, what’s the UN, since it has a Mission there, what’s its view, and what, what’s its role in trying to either disarm the militias or negotiate in some fashion, it seems like it’s a pretty big event and, and what, what’s the reaction of the Secretariat here?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the special mission, the UN Mission in Libya, UNSMIL, has been working with parties also to try and foster a dialogue.  I can show you a release that they put out last Friday where they talked about expanded efforts to bring together different groups in terms of a dialogue and the forward.  But they are trying to resolve the issues.  Tarik Mitri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, has been briefing the Security Council about our security concerns and has been making very clear the need to deal with the various parties on the ground; but yes, part of what we are doing is working with them through dialogue with the various factions so that they are all brought into a dialogue in an inclusive manner.

[He later shared with the correspondent the press release from the Mission, which says: “The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) strongly condemns the violence which took place in Tripoli on Friday 15 November, resulting in the tragic loss of life among civilians, and calls for its immediate cessation as well as for supporting the efforts by the authorities to restore calm, stop the bloodshed and ensure security and stability for all Libyans”.]

Question:  But is there, is there like a human rights component of, of, of the Mission there, and can you also, can you confirm there is, there, the varying uh, accounts of how many people have been killed, and whether they were in fact civilians or other militias that were fighting, what’s the, does the UN have any kind of insight into that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have been reporting back, and we will continue to report back to the Security Council about the details of the various incidents.  So, I would wait for them, for the Mission itself to prepare its tally.  But, yes, they have been informing them and they do have a human rights component, yes.  Yes, Masood?  No, no, no, it’s your turn.  Oh, you had your hand up?  No?  Okay.

Question:  I came in a little late, but, I believe there is a meeting on 20 November in Geneva…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, please speak into the microphone.

Question:  Yeah, it’s on.  Uh, 20 November in Geneva; maybe I’ve got the wrong one… Oh, okay.  Um, on Iran, uh, how optimistic are you that there will be an agreement between the US and Iran or…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, these are talks between the six parties and Iran.  We have been following them and keeping apprised of the developments.  We are certainly encouraged that the parties are trying to deal with their outstanding concerns through dialogue, and we hope that that will continue.  Yes?  I don’t know whether your microphone is working, because I can barely hear you.

Question:  Nothing? Is that better?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, much better.

Question:  Okay. I’m calling, regarding the response to the appeal, $300 million, $301  million for the appeal for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, just trying to see how, how well the international community has been responding to that appeal.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) actually has a website which has been tracking the funding. So I’d just refer you to that.  The money is coming in slowly but surely.  But certainly we need more response right now, because the needs are very urgent.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just to follow up on those questions on Geneva II, since we now know that it is not going to be held on the end of November, of this month, and you are basically, if I can judge like that, guessing that it is going to be in the middle of December or so, um, how would you describe or would you describe what are the three major factors that are really influencing the most the date of the Geneva II conference?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is not really actually a guess, Erol.  We are trying to get the work done.  We think we are moving closer, but ultimately an announcement has to wait until we can be sure that we will be able to hold it by a certain date.  But when we are trying for mid-December, that is something that is a goal that we are working towards.  That, I think, is not an unrealistic possibility at this stage.

As for what the causes are, we have been very clear that the main important thing is to make sure that you will have a Government delegation and an opposition delegation that will be ready to attend.  And this is what we have been trying to get cleared.  Once that is done, I think a number of things can fall into place.

Question:  Is that only two?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Three is an arbitrary number; I don’t believe that that’s… Yes?

Question:  On this, I just want to know, do you have any update, anything, any Secretary-General’s comment on this situation and sectarian violence in Pakistan, in which a city like Rawalpindi garrison, city like Rawalpindi is under curfew and in Baluchistan, the same thing? Does Secretary-General have anything to say about this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, if you have looked at our statements about Pakistan in recent months, the Secretary-General has made clear his concerns about the violence there, and particularly about sectarian violence.  And so we stand by what he has been saying on that.  I don’t have anything new to say, but certainly we have taken a stand against all forms of religious intolerance and religious violence.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, in, in the Security Council meeting just now, the, the Permanent Representative of South Sudan said that they, they have made UNMISS, the Mission, aware of complaints against UNMISS.  And there is also I saw in Hilde Johnson’s statement she’s talked about violations of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) by South Sudan.  I wanted to know, one, can, is there any response to what this, what South Sudan has raised, and also, is there any update on the, the investigation of the shooting down of the Russian helicopter there as…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, as far as that goes, I do believe that Hilde Johnson may be willing to come out to the Security Council stakeout position once the Council consultations are over.  I don’t believe that that will be done until around 12:30 or so.  I don’t know how much longer the consultations will last. But if we have something about press availability by her, we will let you know and she can probably address your questions.

Question:  And can I ask… because I wanted to ask, just this, it’s a related question about so… you know, status-of-forces agreements, I tried to ask you last week this idea of whether you know, there are, there are standing claims commissions anywhere in any UN peacekeeping mission that have actually been established and the topic of Haiti is being addressed this day, you know, today on Capitol Hill in a hearing where the issue came up.  So I am just wondering, I am, I am not able to, can you get, can you get a yes or no answer of and say where there is a standing claims commission in any UN peacekeeping mission?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, I brought that question after you last asked to our colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO); if we have a reply I will give it to you.  I think it’s, I think there is something more than simply a yes or no; it’s, we’d have to have facts about where there would be these bodies.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, daily question again: Any update on the status of Saudi Arabia’s place at the Security, UN Security Council?  Beside, beside the, the letter that you announced.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we confirmed that the letter has been received; that happened last week.  And at this stage, the matter is in the hands of the Member States.  We’ll leave it to the Member States to resolve this.  I think…

Question:  Do you have any information on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you are as aware as I am of the reports about different activities that the Member States might undertake.  But any firm decision will have to be made by them.

Question:  But can I ask one follow up on that?  I am sorry, it is directly on that; there is a report that, that, that Jordan called the Secretary-General and said that they, they want it and they have also written a letter.  Can you confirm that the Secretary-General received a call from Jordan to that effect?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm a call; I’ll check whether there was any letter that was formally received.  I am aware of the, as you are, of the media remarks concerning Jordan, but, like I said, any ultimate decision on this is not in the hands of the Secretary-General; it is in the hands of the Member States.  Yes?

[He later confirmed that a letter has been received from Jordan, which is being translated.]

Question:  Thank you, Farhan. During the visit to Latvia and Estonia, did [the] Secretary-General raise the non-citizens issue with the Heads of Government, because when he was in Tallinn, I guess it was a press conference with the President of Estonia last weekend, he was asked this question and he didn’t answer?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything to add to what Martin [Nesirky] told you last week where we… where he did bring up the question of the non-citizens issue, and we stand by what was said then.  But as for whether this was there, I’d just also refer you the readouts that we put out of his discussions while he was in Latvia. Yes?

[The Spokesperson later added from Warsaw that the Secretary-General did raise this topic.  In Riga, he welcomed the progress made by the Latvian Government on this matter and looked forward to its continued efforts to promote the full integration of ethnic minorities into Latvian society.  In Tallinn, he said that he understood that Estonia has taken various measures over the past number of years to ensure the equal treatment of individuals in the country in a number of areas.  He said he welcomed this progress and looked forward to Estonia's continued efforts to promote the full integration of ethnic minorities into Estonian society.  While the topic was not raised in Vilnius, the Secretary-General certainly congratulates Lithuania on its accession to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness this year and on taking steps to reduce the number of stateless people in the country.]

Question:  Thank you, Farhan. Winter season already started and refugee, Syrian refugee crisis is still on the table and rising, still rising.  Do you have any information about this crisis and can you update us, please?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  About which crisis, did you say?

Question:  Syrian refugee.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, yes.  I mean, you have seen the numbers that we have had of essentially millions of refugees as well as internally displaced.  So we have been trying to get aid to the neighbouring countries; specifically to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, who have been dealing with these refugee issues.  So that is largely in the hands of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  But you will have seen the numbers we have been putting out and our repeated appeals for aid.  As you know, in January, there will also be another donors’ conference to be held in Kuwait to deal with the humanitarian needs, both of displaced people within Syria and of the refugees in neighbouring countries.  And we do hope that donors will be generous in contributing to that, because the needs are growing and expanding ever more rapidly. Yes?

Question:  While the Secretary-General is in Lithuania, will he be discussing the case of Algirdas Paleckis?  There were 36 letters sent to Navi Pillay last year protesting the Lithuanian Government’s attempt to incarcerate Paleckis; violation of article 19, and actually I was with him when the State Department met with him, the case is actually on the list of, of the State Department human rights report.  So I was wondering, will the matter be raised because Mr. Paleckis is now fighting it in the, I believe the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Carla, the Secretary-General has left Lithuania.  We’ve put out the details of his trip; so you can just, so you can look up his press remarks as well as the readout of his accumulated meetings and that’s got all the details of his visit.

Question:  I thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want, you, you, you gave a readout on Darfur, I wanted to know there, there, there reports of, of Chad soldiers, not, re…,re…, crossing into Darfur in some capacity  and actually some of them being killed, I belie…, in, in, in, in, in fighting in Darfur.  Since there is a UN mission there, I wonder is there, one, can you confirm the entry of Chadian troops and what is their role in the tribal fighting that, that the UN is trying to, to mediate and flying people to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll check with UNAMID.  Thanks. Oh, yes, one more.

Question:  Yeah, Farhan, just on the movement of chemical weapons outside of, to outside of Syria; is there any update from OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] or, or the UN — because it is a joint mission  - on the movement and a fear that has been reported pretty widely about moving these chemical weapons across battlegrounds?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, we understand that bilateral discussions are under way to finalize arrangements regarding a State party hosting destruction activities.  The hosting of destruction facilities and the transport of chemical weapons is an extremely challenging and courageous act, one which will remove the threat that these weapons might be used again in the Syrian conflict. The Secretary-General also emphasizes that the timely execution of the plan will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of the chemical weapons.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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