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

4 December 2013

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

4 December 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.

**Noon Guest

Today, we are very pleased to have with us the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang.  She will brief you on her recent visit to South Sudan.

Ms. Kang, please, the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Ms. Kang issued separately.]

I have a few more brief notes and then I can take any questions, if there are any further ones after that.

**Security Council

In consultations this morning, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco provided the Security Council with an overview of the Department of Political Affairs’ work in preventive diplomacy and mediation.

This afternoon, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), will give an update to Council members on the Mission’s work in Syria.  That is also in closed consultations.  Afterwards, Ms. Kaag intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout.

** Syria

Also on Syria, Syrian refugee women have a key role to play in the country’s future, the protection chief of the UN refugee agency, Volker Türk, said today.

He said that more than 80 per cent of the more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees were women and children — a particularly vulnerable population facing serious protection risks such as early marriages, child labour, isolation and lack of livelihoods.

Mr. Türk also underlined the importance of preventing sexual and gender-based violence affecting Syrian refugees.  There is more information on the refugee agency’s website.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hérve Ladsous, travelled today to the town of Pinga, north-west of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, together with the Secretary-Generals’ Special Representative for the country, Martin Kobler.

The trip reaffirmed the UN Mission’s (MONUSCO) continuing support to stabilize the area.  The Mission now has civilian personnel on the ground in Pinga, as well as troops.

Mr. Ladsous emphasized the importance of the return of State authority to the region, including Government administration and services, as well as the implementation of a Government-led programme of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former members of armed groups.

Yesterday, Mr. Ladsous met with President Joseph Kabila in Goma to discuss key issues related to the consolidation of peace and stability in the east.

** Burundi

The UN Office in Burundi, BNUB, calls on all Burundian political parties and actors to show restraint with respect to the ongoing constitutional review process.  It welcomes the Government’s commitment to promote dialogue before the adoption of important instruments, particularly the Constitution and the Electoral Code, in the spirit of the recommendations of the road map.

In a document issued today, the UN Office welcomes the consensus reached on the need to involve all sociopolitical components of the country in the constitutional review process.

** Somalia

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, has completed a two-day mission today to Jowhar town, Middle Shabelle region, which is the epicentre of recent flooding and the location of recent clan conflict.  The aim of the mission was to assess the impact of the floods and conflict and the humanitarian response efforts.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that an estimated 11,000 households were affected by the flooding and that nearly 3,000 families have fled the conflict.

Mr. Lazzarini held talks with clan elders from the two warring parties on their mediation efforts, and with representatives from the settlement for internally displaced persons.  He said that the fighting must end.  The clan elders told him that an agreement had been reached to resolve the conflict.


The Green Climate Fund Secretariat opened today in Songdo in the Republic of Korea.  In a video message for the opening, the Secretary-General said that the Fund can make a significant contribution to our collective efforts to support mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.  The Secretary-General also reiterated the importance of bringing the Fund into full operation as soon as possible.

Also speaking on the occasion, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said that today is an historic day, and she urged Governments to capitalize the Fund soon.  Her full remarks are available online, as is the Secretary-General’s message.


And last, today, at 3:15 p.m., journalists are invited to the inauguration of the UN Headquarters Accessibility Centre in Conference Room 1.  The Secretary-General will open the event.  The Accessibility Centre will enable persons with disabilities to participate more easily in events and meetings at the United Nations.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, Masood?  Again, please use the microphone.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sorry. In this regards to this Syrian peace process in January, I just wanted to find out that today, as you see it in The New York Times, there is a story which says that most of the… basically concludes that most of this, the opposition groups are now being infested with these extremist groups, Al-Qaida and… and so forth… Al-Nusra and so forth; and these are some of the groups which will be participating in that conference.  And this is the question which I have been asking:  How will the United Nations make sure that these groups that are there will not participate and not have direct participation in such meeting, though that is a peace process?  So, how will that happen?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The question of the participation of the opposition really is one for the opposition.  We have made clear our expectation — which is to say that the Secretary-General and Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria have made clear — that there needs to be one opposition delegation at the international conference that is expected to take place on 22 January.  And so we are hopeful that there will be a single opposition delegation and a single Government delegation at those talks.  As for the composition, that will be left to the respective sides.  Benny?

Question:  Just to follow up on that — sorry about that; it takes time, by the way, with this whole microphone business — to follow up on that, if there is a, yester… on Monday, Navi Pillay accused top Government officials, including Head of State, of possible responsibility for war crimes.  The question is:  How could somebody who is… who the UN is accusing of responsibility for war crimes, participate in a peace conference rather than the… I don’t know… be tried by the [International] Criminal Court, the ICC?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, in her press conference on Monday, Navi Pillay made clear that she has not said that the Head of State of the Syrian Arab Republic is a suspect.  She did say that, based on their facts collected by the Commission of Inquiry, the responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity points to the highest level.  She said that lists of those identified for their responsibility have been handed to her by the Commission of Inquiry on a confidential basis.  Those lists remain sealed until the High Commissioner is requested to furnish them to a credible investigation, which could be national or international.  And so we’ll have to wait for that point, for the investigations.

Question:  So, so, was that the clarification?  Because initially her quote was “at the highest level, including Head of State”?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, but you will see that she also took on additional questions about, specifically about him in that same transcript.  So, I would refer you to the transcript.  What I am telling you right now is simply also from the same transcript of the exact same press conference.

Question:  But the people who will be there are not the Head of State; the people who will be there will — from the Government — will be people at the highest levels of government.  Could it be that we are negotiating here with suspects in war crimes?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: At this stage, the important thing is to make sure that on both sides you have a delegation — a Government delegation, a unified Government delegation, and unified opposition delegation prepared to come to the talks and prepared to deal seriously with each other.  The question of accountability does remain, and like I said, there is a sealed list of names that is in the possession of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Those lists, again, will remain sealed until she is requested to furnish them to a credible investigation.

Question:  When is that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Whenever that may be.  Ultimately one will be needed, and we will press for accountability; we will press for there to be a credible form of investigation.  When that happens, it’s too soon at this stage to predict.  Yes, Erol?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]  I agree with Benny that it takes time; probably that’s the whole idea of this microphone.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, yeah; no, this is actually our Machiavellian tactic to build in a pause.

Question:  That’s what I am saying; sparing the time.  Anyhow, a follow-up on Geneva II press, eh, peace conference, excuse me.  If I am not wrong, I have heard from this podium that United Nations will make sure — sorry for my interpretation, it’s not real quote — the participation of radical groups and Al-Qaida at the Geneva II conference.  It seems to me that you are not sure, that United Nations is not sure, that they can do that indeed, and be sure that those radicals are not participating in the peace conference.  That’s number one.  And number two, does the Secretary-General has Plan B, whatever the result of Geneva II conference is?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as to your first question, again, it is not for the United Nations to choose the members of the different delegations.  Ultimately, that is a question for both the Government and the opposition.  And we do expect them to come up with their own delegations.  You know where we stand against all forms of religious intolerance and extremism, and that remains the case for us.  At the same time, again, we are not choosing who will represent the opposition.

The second point, though, about a plan B is:  let’s give time for our current plan, which is to say the plan for an international conference for Syria, to see where that leads us.  And we can see what the results of that will be once that happens.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, great.  I… I… I’d like… a logistical question about Geneva II and then I’d like to ask about Mali.  On Geneva II, you said that… that… that Bra… Bra… Mr.… Mr. Brahimi has said that somehow all the hotels are already booked at that time, due to the World Economic Forum and some watch convention, and so, he said it may be moved.  But, I wanted to know, one, can… can you confirm that that’s true?  And two, was… weren’t the scheduling of the World Economic Forum and this watch convention known at the time that the day was announced?  Like, what would you say to those who say it’s kind of bad planning?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as for the planning, we are planning it, as you know, we have been planning to hold it as soon as we can hold it, and we are, and that continues to have been the case when we set the date for 22 January 2014.  We would have liked to have been able to hold it sooner, but this is when we believe we can get the parties and we can get the responsible countries all to agree on.

Regarding where it is held; ultimately, it is not as important where the conference will be held, but that it is held.  What we want to do is get the parties together; whether that happens in Geneva or in the area around Geneva is not as crucial as having the parties together.  And that’s what we are focusing on.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, of course you are aware about what happened in the historic city… town, of Syria, Maloula, of ransacking churches, destroying everything there, burning houses and kidnapping 19 nuns from the churches there. Do you have any statement regarding that?  Also, yesterday Mr. [Bashar al-]Ja’afari, the Representative of Syria, said that thousands of Saudis are involved in the attacks, and 300 of them have been arrested and taken prisoner during the attack on Maloula and the neighbouring place.  What is the position of the United States, sorry, United Nations, regarding such an onslaught by Saudis against Syria?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding your second question, we don’t have first-hand information about this, but certainly, the Secretary-General has clearly and repeatedly called for all parties in the region to play a responsible role and to avoid any further militarization of the conflict.  And he continues to do so.  Regarding the violence in Maloula, as elsewhere in the country, as indeed throughout the country, this is yet another reason why the violence needs to be halted and why the parties need to come to talks.  And of course, we have also made clear about the situation of all those kidnapped and detained that we once more implore all those who have been detained to be freed.

Correspondent:  But, here we are not talking about internal; we are not talking about internal parties, we are talking about foreign Powers sending troops into Syria and, of course, with all the logistics to attack.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have repeatedly urged all foreign forces to avoid the further militarization of the conflict in Syria and we continue to do so.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  About Geneva II again, this conference was the proposal of this, the aim is, you know, to finish… to end the civil war.  But, this point seeing the situation in the field with the Al-Qaida extremists being so stronger and stronger, it looks like probably the Geneva conference at this point should start to be aimed at the Government and the opposition that will be there to ally… to find a solution where they can actually fight together against these extremist.  I mean, is it realistic to think that you can end the civil war with the strongest… one of the strongest fighting forces, who is going to be there to try to gain power?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s restate once more what the objective is of this conference:  As you know, there was initial Geneva conference that was held a year and half ago that resulted in the Geneva communiqué.  The point of this conference is to implement what had been agreed to then in terms of making sure that you can actually have a transitional body in Syria with full executive powers.  And that is what the focus will be.  To the extent that that sort of body can help to marginalize the various groups that have been blocking any chance for peace, of course, that would… it also would be a welcome development, but we are focusing on making sure that all sides are able to halt fighting and to get us to a transitional government that can be a way out of the situation that we have been in for the past three years.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  A follow-up on that. First of all, didn’t Brahimi say at one point in an interview a couple of weeks ago that… that… that Geneva II will not lead to a ceasefire?  And secondly, about that, you said that the… the… the aim is to get reaffirmation of Geneva I, including transitional government, but the Syrian Government said in a statement yesterday that the idea is not to have any change in the regime.  So, how could we have, how could we square those two things?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we are certainly aware of statements that can be made by either side prior to the talks.  What’s important is that they show up at the talks ready to negotiate with each other and we’ll see what they say, and more importantly, what they do when they actually get to the talks.  And regarding the point of a ceasefire:  it’s not necessarily the case that something may happen immediately, but I would refer you back to what the Secretary-General said in his statement when he announced the date of the talks about the importance of halting the fighting, and I’d just refer you back to that.  Yes, Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, we, or I, asked about the [ United States] contra… I mean, the contractors who were bidding for the chemical weapons destruction… um, what?

Correspondent:  Thirty-five.

Question:  The 35 contractors.  Is there any information that you were able to get if the UN is going to vet these and if you can pa… if, I know Sigrid Kaag is here today.  Is there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, well, yeah, two things:  one is, of course, Ms. Kaag is here today and she will talk to reporters following her briefing to the Security Council.  So, you can talk to her at the Security Council stakeout.

Correspondent:  Yes, but I… I mean, one would doubt that she will have a list of 35 countries, but…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  But, beyond that, there is some information on the website of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  This is the group… that’s the body ultimately that is going to deal with this case.  And it doesn’t necessarily have all the information that you might be asking for, but I’d just refer you over to their website and to our colleagues at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  They can help you out.

Question:  No, I… I understand that.  Totally understand that.  My question is just:  Is the UN procurement in any way vetting?  In other words, once it’s a joint mission, only OPCW will procure these…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that that part of the process is being handled by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  Ms. Kaag might have some more details for you.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  As, as this question is evolving on this participation of… on Geneva II as to, I mean, is there going to be a criterion set that so and so countries can’t participate because they are not involved in crimes against humanity and so and so countries or will participate and will not be allowed and so forth?  Is there a big criteria being developed, or it is just one of those things, because there are so many countries who are objecting to this process, they are themselves involved in this human rights, I mean, violations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think it will be more obvious, once the invitations are sent out, who is being invited.  Ultimately, in the coming weeks, on 20 December, Mr. Brahimi will meet first in a tripartite format with the [United States] and Russian officials, and then in a wider format, to take stock of where we stand, and then we can see what further details we can provide at that point about invitations and what kind of participation people will have in the January conference.

Question:  Is it the twenty-second?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What?

Question:  The twenty-second?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  20 December.

Question:  Twenty-third?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Twentieth.

Question:  20 December?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Two-zero.  Twentieth.  Is my pronunciation that bad?

Correspondent:  No, it’s my hearing.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.  It is the twenty-second of January for the conference, but twentieth of December for the preparatory.  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up on Masood’s question.  Is one of the main criteria for those who are participating, who are going to be invited actually, because we have heard [United States] Ambassador Samantha Power talking about Iran, possible Iran participation that they should [have] agreed on the communiqué, excuse me, from 30 June 2012, and that should be [a] precondition or condition?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any comment on how countries’ participation will be decided.  Those discussions are going on right now, and when we have more details about the precise invitations, we will provide it at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you on… on Mali, about this incident of the protesters at the airport in Kidal being shot.  Yesterday Ambassador [Gérard] Araud of France said, you know, that there should be a Mal… the Malian investigation, but also a MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) investigation in terms, in terms of the event.  I… I… I’ve asked, you know, it was reported that MINUSMA told the protesters to disperse before the army opened fire on them, and so I wanted to know:  can you say or find out whether MINUSMA is, in fact, conducting some kind of an… an inquiry into it and whether that will be made public?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I have already… I believe we’ve shared with you by e-mail the details of the incident as we received it from the UN mission, MINUSMA.  If we get anything further about the investigation, I will share that at that point.

Question:  The reason, I want to say is that the press… the press release, which many reporters said was unclear or it did was deplore the incident.  So, I wanted to know, I am gonna keep… continue a… either… either… what was their role at the airport, in terms of the protesters in telling them to leave or at a minimum are they gonna investigate that, because the press release doesn’t address… doesn’t even describe the incident.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I am not aware of any investigation.  If there is one by the UN mission, by MINUSMA, we will let you know at that point.

Thanks very much.

* *** *

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