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

19 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, everyone.

** Lebanon

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on today’s attack in Lebanon:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist bombing near the Iranian embassy in the Bir Hassan neighbourhood of Beirut which killed at least 23 civilians, including reportedly one Iranian diplomat, and injured over a hundred others.  He extends his condolences to the families of those killed, as well as to the Government of Lebanon and to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  He extends his sympathies to those injured.

The Secretary-General calls on all in Lebanon to recognize that such appalling and indiscriminate acts of violence target all in Lebanon.  He urges all Lebanese parties to act with restraint and to support the institutions of the State, and particularly the security forces, as they seek to prevent further acts of terrorism.

The Secretary-General hopes that those responsible for this attack will be brought to justice expeditiously.  He reiterates the determination of the international community to support Lebanon’s security and stability.

Also today, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met with the Caretaker Prime Minister of Lebanon, Najib Mikati, and said that the attack underlines yet again the importance of all parties in Lebanon and of the international community coming together in support of security and stability in the country.

** Syria Refugees

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that an estimated 6,000 people have fled their homes in Qarah, Syria, making their way over the border into eastern Lebanon.  Humanitarian partners have been on the ground in Lebanon since last Friday working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and local authorities to cope with this influx.

Most of the newly arrived refugees are now in Arsal, in north-east Lebanon.  More than 1,000 of the newly arrived Syrian families there have registered with the local municipality in the past three days and have been provided with emergency assistance.  The refugee agency and its partners are doing all they can to ensure that temporary locations are protected against the elements and can provide some warmth to the refugees.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from the agency.

**Security Council

Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on developments in the Middle East.  He said that, four months since their resumption, the talks between Israelis and Palestinians have reached a delicate moment.  On the positive side, it appears that the negotiators have been engaging on substance and have gone some way towards narrowing their differences.  But, strains have been growing dangerously between the parties, and these can and must be overcome.

Mr. Feltman also discussed Syria, and said that more fighting will bring nothing but further suffering and despair for the Syrian people.  It is past time to move to a political process.  He also reiterated the Secretary-General's call for stemming the flow of arms and foreign fighters to Syria, as well as his commitment to deliver humanitarian assistance to all in need in Syria and in neighbouring countries.  His remarks are available in our office.

The President of the Security Council will read a press statement on Lebanon at the Security Council stakeout following consultations.

**Typhoon Haiyan

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos today visited Tacloban City and Guiuan on the far eastern coast of Samar Province in the Philippines.  She noted that major progress has been made in clearing rubble and debris from the roads and that the aid operation in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan has been scaled up substantially.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, as of today, the Government of the Philippines reports that 13 million people having been affected by Typhoon Haiyan, with 4 million people having been displaced by the disaster.  Ms. Amos said that a massive relief operation has been mounted by the international community in support of the Government, and that it will need to be sustained over the coming weeks and months.  She added that Government efforts, supported by the international community, are paying off, but it is clear that much more will be needed to respond to a crisis of this magnitude and to help families recover.

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, visited the Philippines yesterday. The Programme has so far delivered enough food for nearly 2 million people, in partnership with the Government.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that there are currently 31 Filipino medical teams and 22 international teams in the affected areas.  The Health Organization says that the medical community faces a twin challenge in the Philippines:  most people going to health centres are those who are injured, while there are also a number of people with non-communicable diseases, women who are pregnant or have just given birth, or those needing treatment for tuberculosis or diabetes.

For its part, the UN refugee agency said that thousands of typhoon survivors from Tacloban and other areas have sought refuge in surrounding areas or as far away as Cebu and Manila.  The agency and its partners will set up a service at the airport in Tacloban tomorrow to collect information on the uprooted to prevent trafficking incidents.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is in Warsaw and took part in the opening of the high-level part of the UN climate change conference there.  He said the science is clear that human activities are the dominant cause of climate change and that the consequences are profound.  He said he was inviting world leaders to a climate change summit in New York on 23 September next year, the day before the General Debate begins.

In Warsaw, the Secretary-General has also had a range of meetings on climate change, including with the Group of 77 and China and the European Union.  A short while ago, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters, and we are distributing those remarks as soon as we can.  I believe the opening remarks are out already.  You should also be able to find the press conference webcast on the climate change conference website. 

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General met with the Polish President.  And we've already provided some details on that meeting.

** Libya

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it is deeply concerned by violent incidents which started last Friday in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and have left more than 40 people dead and hundreds others injured.  The Office condemns the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators.  It calls upon the Libyan authorities to launch a prompt, impartial and independent investigation into the violent incidents and to ensure that those found responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses are brought to justice.  The Office also urges all sides to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence and engage in peaceful dialogue.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Mohamed ibn Chambas, addressed about 200 tribal leaders from all localities in South Darfur today.  He urged them to embrace the principle of resolving conflicts through dialogue, negotiations and other peaceful means and to guard against repeating the same patterns that have caused so much suffering in the region.

He also expressed concern about the tribal violence that has affected the civilian population and has contributed to an increase in the number of displaced persons in various camps around Darfur.  He said that, after 10 years of conflict and much suffering, it must be clear to everyone that there can be no viable military solution to the conflict in Darfur.  The tribal leaders are attending a two–day conference in Nyala, sponsored by the United Nations-African Union [Hybrid] Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which aims to discuss the root causes of tribal conflict and recommend possible solutions for sustainable peaceful coexistence in the region.

**Press Conferences

And as for press conferences:  tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here to launch the 2013 Least Developed Countries Report.  The speakers will be Mussie Delelegn, Officer-in-Charge of the New York Office of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and Marisa Diaz-Henderson, Economic Affairs Officer at UNCTAD.

That’s it from me. Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you so much.  My question is about this terrorist attack in Beirut this morning.  A branch of Al-Qaida accepted its responsibility about this attack.  Do you have any comment about that?  And the Security Council has any statement about this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding the Security Council, yes, I believe that they will read out a statement concerning today’s events in Lebanon and the President of the Security Council intends to read it once today’s Security Council consultations have ended.  We don’t have any further comment, beyond the ones that we have already provided by the Secretary-General and by Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, the Secretary-General apparently had raised the possibility of redeploying thousands of peacekeeping troops, possibly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, if necessary, to the Central African Republic.  Of course, that would require Security Council authorization, but the reports are that he might recommend that.  I mean, to what extend does that potentially undermine the fragile peace, if you will, or lull in fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where M23 (23 March Movement) was just neutralized, but yet there are almost 30 more rebel groups that still need to be neutralized, as well as Sudan?  I mean, is there a concern on the part of the Secretary-General that this may be overtaxing the ability of the peacekeeping forces to carry out their existing missions?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General has submitted a report to the Security Council on the desperate situation in the Central African Republic.  And that report contains a number of possible recommendations; different options that they can consider, that would include, for example, augmenting a regional force, possibly having an African Union force in the area, or possibly redeploying UN and other forces in the region.  So, there is a number of different options.  Ultimately, it is up to the Security Council to consider what steps would be most helpful, but all of them have to be seen in the light of the fact that this is a very dire situation.  We have had signals of immense human rights violations, a breakdown of basic order in parts of the country, and there is any number of potential steps that would need to be taken just to protect the civilians in that part of the world.  We are not trying to put at risk the Democratic Republic of the Congo or any other countries, but trying to figure out what, in the context of things that we can do right away, can be achieved in the Central African Republic.  And like I said, it will be up to the Security Council to consider what option they choose to consider.

Question:  But, this report, it appears in The New York Times, indicates that this could be rather imminent, that it may be too late to wait until next month when the African Union-deployed regional force could be set up.  And yes, there is violence in the Central African Republic, it is a deteriorating situation, but that’s true in other parts of the world and including within the areas that the peacekeeping forces might be drained out of.  So, I am just wondering, you say it’s one option, but this report quotes the Secretary-General as indicating that it is maybe moving to the top of the list of options.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, ultimately, it is the Security Council that determines what will be at the top of the list of options.  They have been presented with a range of them.  Ultimately, the Secretary-General would not be doing anything that deters the ability of the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to perform its essential tasks.  And as you have acknowledged, the situation there has improved and we are doing our very best, including through working with the parties on the ground, to make sure that that improvement continues.  But, ultimately, we do have concerns about a worsening situation; we cannot allow it to deteriorate any further.  And it will be up to the members of the Security Council to determine what kind of option they feel is the best path forward.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Farhan, there is a report by Human Rights Watch which still says that hundreds of Syrians, civilians, in the custody of the so-called… the opposition forces, were killed in custody.  And it also says that, in that, if that is, in fact, the… a fact, and if it can be proven, it should be given to the International Criminal Court.  What does the Secretary-General have to say anything about that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we wouldn’t have anything to say about the International Criminal Court; there has been no referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court at present, and that is not, of course, in our hands.  But, beyond that, we have been documenting, particularly the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the atrocities committed by all sides and we have been very clear that all sides on the ground in Syria have committed atrocities.  And we take it very seriously, and we will continue to provide a record of that and to weigh in against any of these actions by any of the parties.  There needs to be accountability, and some point down the line, our hope is that there will be accountability for the wide range of human rights atrocities that have been committed in this extremely long and brutal war.  Edie?

Question:  Farhan, the Russian Government has said that they… one of the main Syrian opposition groups has agreed to go to a conference there — I believe focusing more on the humanitarian aspect of getting aid into Syria.  Is this something that the Secretary-General supports?  And can you also enlighten us on what other meetings are taking place ahead of the main meeting next week between the [ United States] and Russian officials and Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been continuing his contacts on this issue, as has Lakhdar Brahimi.  I don’t have any main, major events between now and the next tripartite meeting to say. But certainly at that tripartite meeting, Mr. Brahimi will meet with the [United States] and Russian officials dealing with Syria and he will try to take stock of where we stand and the hope is that we can soon be ready to announce the date of the next international conference for Syria.  We will have to see whether that actually happens.  I don’t have any specific reaction to this particular development.  Pam?

Question:  Farhan, the statement you made about the transport of the chemical weapons yesterday was that it was a courageous act.  And what is precisely being done as far as we’ve seen it’s mainly Syrian security; what is being done to protect, not necessarily even, I mean, I think we’ve gotten some answers on the individuals, but to protect the weapons from being under attack when they are transported to be destroyed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, the chemical stocks are in the possession of the Syrian authorities, but are being monitored by the OPCW-UN joint mission; that is to say, the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  We are continuing to monitor those as… to ensure that they are not in any sort of insecure situation.  But, ultimately, the plan for their destruction has been submitted.  It was, as you know, approved by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons last Friday, and now what we are trying to do is see how that can now be implemented.  That would entail moving these stocks out of Syria for their destruction.

Question:  As a quick follow-up:  They are moving through combat zones.  Do you anticipate any other OPCW country contributing forces, anything else to protect the weapons themselves as they get… go through combat zones?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any further details to shed light on this at this stage.  A plan has been developed, the details of which are not public at this point.  But, certainly, it is vitally important that weapons of this nature be kept, be transported in a secure and safe manner.  The Secretary-General has been very clear about the need for that, as well.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Just a quick follow-up on that before I get to my question.  Is there any country that will take those weapons yet?  I mean, if they are transferred, there has to be… they have to be transferred somewhere.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we certainly believe that that is something that will happen.  What we have said is that, as we enter the most difficult and dangerous phase of the operation, the full and sustained support of the international community remains essential.  In this regard, the Secretary-General welcomes the generous pledges made by Member States and looks forward to continued support.

Question:  Okay, to my real question, to my other question, last week, there was an incident in the… at the [General Assembly], in which an interpreter inadvertently expressed, I guess an unauthorized opinion.  Two questions about that.  First of all, is there any protection for her, in case someone thinks for political reasons or other reasons she needs to go, as far as the UN is concerned?  Secondly, since the Secretary-General has been a bit fuzzy about this, he said one thing one day and then the opposite the next, does he agree with the interpreter that… that… that it’s a bit much, as she said about the… the nine resolutions about Israel, none about any other country?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, regarding the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General respects the right of the Member States as they move forward on their resolutions.  These are resolutions of the General Assembly; they are passed by the Member States and they need to be upheld by all countries.  That is the simple case.  And regarding last week’s incident, it was very quickly corrected, the matter is now resolved and we don’t really have anything further to say on it.

Question:  And the interpreter?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  She is not in any problem.  We are well aware of what happened.  She is… her situation, as I understand it, is fine.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, in the Fifth Committee, the Chairman of the Group of 77 referred to the so-called “flexible workplace” initiative, and discussed its advantages and disadvantages.  One of the disadvantages… advantages is the reduced real estate needs.  And one of the disadvantages is staff morale.  What is the flexible workplace initiative and how would management handle the question of staff morale?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on that, this is a proposal that has been made to the Fifth Committee.  I need to figure out where that stands, but as far as I am aware, this is part of a continuing dialogue that goes between the Secretariat and the Fifth Committee in terms of basically ways to improve working arrangements.  But, ultimately, we will have to wait to see how… you know, what decisions the Fifth Committee agrees to and comes up with.  So, at this stage, it is still something that is being worked out with them.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  A follow-up on [ Central African Republic] and then I’ll ask my real question.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On Central African Republic?

Correspondent:  Yes, exactly.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s not use acronyms…

Question:  All right… too many acronyms?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  …acronyms that sound like other words.

Question:  All right.  Okay.  All right, on the Central African Republic, I wanted to know, there are these reports of the breakaway from the Séléka rebels moving into Cameroon and the killing of Cameroon soldiers and the capture of the… of the breakaway Séléka leader by the Cameroonian forces, and I am wondering, is… is that something the UN can confirm?  What does the UN know about mounting tensions either between the two countries or along the border?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check with… whether BINUCA (United Nations Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic) has any particular information.  This could simply be a bilateral issue between Cameroon and the Central African Republic.

Question:  And thanks a lot.  And also… also, on UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force), which is another acronym, but on UNDOF, there are these reports of four Fijians being injured and taken for treatment inside Israel.  Was that the case and what was the cause of the incident?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any such report from the Disengagement Observer Force of such an incident.  If there was one, I will check.  But, as far as I am aware, there wasn’t… I haven’t seen any report on that.

Correspondent:  Because Fijian press has reported that; it’s in Fijian publications.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I haven’t received any similar report from UNDOF.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Will today’s suicide bombing attack at all change the dynamic of the whole Sunni-Shiite strife or what is going on in the region in terms of looking at the complexity… the complexities of Hizbullah and Al-Qaida?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I just draw your attention to one passage in the statement that we have issued on this, which is that the Secretary-General calls on all in Lebanon to recognize that such appalling and indiscriminate acts of violence target all in Lebanon.  He urges all Lebanese parties to act with restraint and to support the institutions of the state and particularly the security forces as they seek to prevent further acts of terrorism.  And so, that’s where we stand on that issue.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want to know, Uganda is complaining that its three helicopters that… that were destroyed in 2012 on the way to AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia)… that they have not been compensated by the UN for them and they say they are still waiting for that, and in fact, for that reason, they can’t, you know, recontribute and… and… and… and be providing this… these forces in… in AMISOM.  I wanted to know, what… what’s the delay, if it’s been more… it’s been more than a year, a year and three months now, what… what’s the procedure for compensating countries for destroyed materiel and what’s the problem in this case?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to check with… as you know, there is a [United Nations Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia], called UNSOA for short, and we’ll have to check with UNSOA how that particular payment is being handled through the Support Office.  You might also want to check with the African Union about whether they can confirm any sort of payment for AMISOM.

Question:  In case… one other helicopter question, I understand that ye… I mean, yesterday, I did try to ask Hilde Johnson, thank… thanks for highlighting her stakeout, she seemed to… it was a little vague and she said that there… there is a process under way to hold for accountability for… for the downing of the Russian helicopter, but I understand that they… she was asked directly whether a… whe… you know, whether the Mission there, UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) will continue to use civilian helicopters either in dangerous zones or to ferry military supplies places and it… it’s not… one, it’s not clear what the answer is; and number two, it’s not clear if there is… if there is an accountability process that… the… the… complaints have been raised about the way the helicopter was dispatched or deployed by… by the UN itself, not just those who fired the shots that… that shot it down.  What… can we get sort of more than just saying… because it has been a long time now, what… what the process is for the UN to review its own procedures that led to the downing of the helicopter?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I believe, as Hilde Johnson said, that the accountability process is being followed.  I don’t have anything to add precisely to what she said.  As for how the helicopters are used, those are operational decisions that are made by the commanders on the ground.

Question:  The only reason I am asking is that she… her answer was entirely about within the Sudanese Government that there… there is a presidential Salva Kiir process and I am wondering, does that…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  South Sudanese Government.

Question:  Excuse me, exactly.  So, does that mean that… that… that they’re are somehow subje… that the UN is subject to this South Sudanese review or is there a UN review of the complaints that were raised about their own behaviour?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like she said, we have a process that is ongoing and it involves working with the South Sudanese Government.  And we will have to see how that… what results that offers.  Have a good… Oh, yes?

Question:  I just wanted to know, is there any other meetings in Poland that the Secretary-General has?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, he’s going to have a few more days’ worth of meetings.  He will be there on Wednesday and then return here on Thursday.  We will provide you with the details of those as they come up.  But, he is there for the Conference of Parties, the nineteenth Conference of Parties, or COP-19.

Question:  The ASP?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah.  No, no, not the ASP (Assembly of States Parties), the Conference of Parties.  ASP is happening in The Hague.

Question:  He is not going to that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he is not there.  Our Legal Counsel is at the Assembly of States Parties, which is happening in The Hague.

Question:  He is just staying in Poland?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary-General is in Warsaw.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks.

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