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

13 December 2013

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

13 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Guest at Noon

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the Briefing.  I am joined by Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous, who is the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.  And, he is here for his, if you like, end-of-year press conference.

I know he will have some introductory remarks and we’ll have time for questions, probably for about half an hour.  So, without further ado, please, Mr. Ladsous.

[Press conference by Mr. Ladsous issued separately.]

** Syria

Yesterday evening, as you know, the Secretary-General received the final report of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.  And the report was made available to all Member States and to the public, and of course, the media very shortly after he received that report.

In transmitting the final report of the Mission, the Secretary-General noted with deep concern that the team collected evidence and information substantiating several reports that chemical weapons were used on numerous occasions at multiple sites, including on a small scale against both civilians and military targets.

While it must be emphasized that the Mission was ultimately unable to independently verify every aspect of these allegations, it assessed that, in addition to its previously published conclusions on the Ghouta incident, chemical weapons have probably been used in four other reported incidents.

The Secretary-General once again condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons.  He emphasizes that the international community has a moral and political responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.

The Secretary-General will brief Member States on the report later this afternoon.  As you know, that will be at 3 p.m., and his remarks will be webcast and available for you to listen to.

And immediately following that briefing, what you will have at around 4:30 p.m. in this room is a press conference, briefing, by the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Under-Secretary-General Angela Kane, Professor Åke Sellström and the team leaders, Scott Cairns and Dr. Maurizio Barbeschi, from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO), respectively.  They will, of course, be able to answer questions of a technical nature on the report, which looks like this.  It is fairly weighty and quite technical in places.


The Secretary-General opened this morning the Central Emergency Response Fund High-level Conference, and that is here at UN Headquarters.

He said the Central Emergency Response Fund, known as CERF, has grown to become one of the largest and most reliable sources of humanitarian funding.  Since 2006, it has disbursed more than $3.2 billion to emergencies in 88 countries.

The Secretary-General added that this year alone, CERF funds have helped urgent humanitarian operations in Syria, Mali and the Philippines and that it has also been fulfilling its mandate by providing critical funding for less visible emergencies.

He called on Member States to give as much as possible to this Fund.  He said that in 2013, the CERF received $435 million — close to its target of $450 million.  And he called for this figure to be matched and indeed exceeded in 2014.  His full remarks are available online.

** Syria — Human Rights

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that Syrians continue to fall victim to a callous indifference to human life and disregard for safety, exemplified by the increasing trend of abductions and enforced disappearances.

She said that in recent months, there has been a significant and deeply alarming rise in abductions of human rights defenders, activists, journalists, religious figures and others by armed opposition groups, as well as the continuing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals by Government forces in Syria.

Ms. Pillay urged all parties to the Syrian conflict to stop terrorizing civilians through abduction, hostage-taking, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The High Commissioner also expressed concern over the apparent abduction of 12 nuns from Maaloula and called for their immediate and unconditional release.  You will recall the Secretary-General has also expressed his concerns on that matter earlier this week.

** Central African Republic

The Secretary-General recorded a radio message today in French and in English to the people of the Central African Republic.

In this message, he says that the bloodshed must stop and he appeals to everyone to follow the path of peace.  He also says that he has a clear message to all who would commit atrocities and crimes against humanity:  “The world is watching.  You will be held to account.”  The Secretary-General says that the United Nations is committed to helping the country recover from this crisis.  The radio message will be available online later today.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, meanwhile, said the Humanitarian Country Team has continued to respond to the deteriorating situation, delivering relief supplies and services.  It also said that while the agencies are rapidly increasing their aid operations, much more needs to be done.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that in the capital, Bangui, the fighting and sectarian violence of the past week has displaced an estimated 159,000 people, with 450 killings reported there and 160 in other parts of the country.  And the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that a humanitarian cargo flight arrived in Bangui today carrying 77 metric tons of emergency supplies for immediate distribution to up to 37,500 people.

** Great Lakes

As you will have seen, the Secretary-General has welcomed the conclusion yesterday of the Kampala Dialogue between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the M23 group.  He said that this constitutes a positive step towards ending cycles of deadly conflicts that have caused immense suffering to the Congolese people.

The Secretary-General also called on all other armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to lay down their weapons and pursue their objectives through peaceful political means.  He hopes that the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours will build on the latest positive developments by working together to address the root causes of instability in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo through the full implementation of their commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region.

** Haiti

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, welcomed the publication this week of the electoral law in Haiti’s official Journal of the Republic.

In a joint press statement, along with other members of the international community in the country, Ms. Honoré said that it constitutes an important step toward the organization of the elections.

The Special Representative also said that the holding of the elections is a necessary condition for the strengthening of the democratic process and the rule of law.

**Security Council Stakeout

At approximately 1 p.m., at the Security Council stakeout area, there will be a press encounter.  Speakers will include Ambassador Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala and Ambassador Gérard Araud of France.  I understand they will be speaking on the topic of protection of journalists.

**Press Conference Monday

And finally, a reminder that on Monday, at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General will be here for his end-of-year press conference.  And as a result, there will be no noon briefing that day.

But there is today, and I’m happy to take questions.  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you about this open letter issued by Médecins Sans Frontières about what they call the unacceptable performance of the UN humanitarian system in the Central African Republic.  They describe, basically, UN aid officials locked down inside the FOMAC compound, not coming out, not even providing aid to people inside and also a failure to respond to their requests…

Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ve seen it.

Question:  So my question is, one, what do you make of it?  And two, I wanted to ask, it’s been raised to me, do you see this in any way being related to this idea of a Rights Up Front Plan, the idea that the UN would be very responsive to this type of thing?  They’re saying that it’s right in front of them and they’re not responding.  What is the response to the letter?

Spokesperson:  Médecins Sans Frontières and other key NGOs have maintained a strong presence in the Central African Republic throughout the emergency.  We are working closely with them.

The Emergency Directors visited the Central African Republic in October to take stock of the challenges and to discuss how to strengthen humanitarian operations.  The Humanitarian Country Team has continued to respond since then to the deteriorating situation and to deliver relief supplies and services.

UN agencies, funds and programmes have been deploying to the field as security conditions permitted, sending mobile teams to locations including Bossangoa.  UN agencies and the UN Mission, BINUCA, have 84 staff deployed in six locations outside Bangui:  in Bouar, Paoua, Bossangoa, Kaga-Bandoro, Mbaiki and Zemio.

As this crisis worsens, it is important that all efforts and resources are focused on delivering aid to people in desperate need.  There will be a time for evaluation of the humanitarian response, but now is the time for action.

And I would simply also add that medical care and supplies are being delivered to hospitals and dispensaries at IDP [internally displaced persons] sites.  Food is reaching thousands of displaced people in Bangui and Bossangoa and UN agencies and NGOs are providing tents and mattresses and establishing access to safe water for the displaced.  Soap and jerry cans have been distributed to improve hygiene and reduce the risk of disease spreading.

While the agencies are rapidly boosting up their aid operations, much more needs to be done.

So, that’s what I would have for you at this point.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  Martin, before the execution of this Bangladesh politician, top UN officials issued formal statements appealing to the Bangladesh Government not to execute him.  But after the execution, nobody has officially reacted.  Why is this?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General regrets that this execution took place.  He had discouraged this action, both given its potential to incite violence, particularly in this sensitive time prior to the elections, as well as the United Nations’ firm position which is to oppose the imposition of the death penalty under any circumstances, even for the most serious international crimes.  He also encourages the growing trend towards a phasing out of the death penalty.

The Secretary-General calls on all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.

And you will also have seen that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for restraint from all sides to avoid further political instability and encourages a meaningful dialogue to resolve this situation.  That’s, I think, a response.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any statements regarding a drone strike that killed 15 in a Yemeni wedding convoy?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  We’re certainly aware of that report and I would anticipate having something to say a little bit later on that, but I don’t at the moment.  Yes?  I can see you right at the back, amazingly.  Yes?

Question:  Okay.  You asked me?

Spokesperson:  Yes, and then Carla.

Question:  The OIC, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, has issued a statement also about the situation in occupied Kashmir and it has asked the Indian Government to continue to hold talks with India and Pakistan.  But the thing is that the Indian Government has totally rejected it.  Now, the situation on the ground is bad.  The Secretary-General, I know, in the past has offered his services.  Is he doing that now also?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to offer beyond what we’ve said in the past on this, Masood.  I think you know that.  Yes?  Could you switch the microphone on?  Thank you.

Question:  According to yesterday’s New York Times, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] wants Ukraine to accept harsh conditions, including raising domestic gas prices and imposing strict budgetary austerity measures.  These conditions could lead to more political upheaval.  And today’s Times had a big section on Eastern Ukraine not wanting to join the EU [European Union].  Is there any agency within the United Nations that would prohibit people, such as the former US Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, from essentially bullying the Ukrainian Government to join the EU when this could, again, according to the New York Times, lead to civil conflict in Ukraine?  Half the country does not want this.

Spokesperson:  Well, with respect, Carla, that’s not really a question that’s addressed to me.  It’s a statement you’ve made with a kind of a question in it.  It’s for the people of Ukraine to decide their own future.  Everybody’s watching very closely what is happening on the streets and through dialogue, which is the most important aspect of all this; it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.  But it is for the people of Ukraine to decide and, of course, many countries are concerned about the tensions there are.  The Secretary-General has expressed his own concerns about those tensions and has spoken to President [Viktor] Yanukovych about the need for dialogue and for the need for restraint on all sides.  But, ultimately, it’s for the people of Ukraine to decide.  Please, at the very back.

Question:  Yes, Martin.  Regarding the final report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, who, if anyone, is going to determine the responsibility for these five attacks?  That seems to be kind of the elephant in the room.

Spokesperson:  There are often elephants in the room; in this briefing room, for sure.  I can see one right now.  But the point here is that, as we’ve repeatedly said, that was not the object of the exercise.  However much people would wish it to be the object of the exercise, it was not.  The mandate for this investigation was very clear.  It was to establish whether chemical weapons were used and not by whom.  Therefore, however frustrating that may be to many people, that is the case.  What you have before you, and I’m sure that you have read it, is an extremely compelling document that shows a high degree of professional expertise — and not only that, expertise that was carried out in extremely dangerous circumstances.  I would urge you to ask any further questions you may have on the report to those people who will be sitting here a little bit later this afternoon.  After all, you will have the team leaders from the OPCW and WHO, so medical and chemical weapons expertise.  You will have the team leader, the head of that mission, Professor Sellström and the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.  That’s a fairly weighty line-up to be able to answer your questions on that report.

Question:  On this, who could change it?  Wasn’t the Secretary-General, maybe I’m wrong, could it be changed now, even with the report now in the hands… like, now it’s time to find out who did it?

Spokesperson:  Look, the mechanism is very clear.  The mandate for the mechanism is very clear.  It would be for others, and this is of course purely hypothetically, it would be for others if they wished to pursue it further in a different way.  But the mission did what it was mandated to do, which was to establish whether chemical weapons were used, and that, they did.

Question:  Back to the execution topic.  There was one in DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about it?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of the report on the execution of Jang Song Thaek in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

This is an internal matter, and the Secretary-General has no specific comment on it.

Nonetheless, the position of the United Nations and the Secretary-General on the question of the death penalty is clear:  the United Nations opposes the imposition of the death penalty under any circumstances, even for the most serious international crimes.  He also encourages the growing trend towards a phasing out of the death penalty.

That’s what I have.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about… well, it’s really procurement and it’s with respect to Mali, at least initially.  It was said… and thanks to your Office for the answer, that there was a Letter of Assist signed for airfield support in Northern Mali, in Kidal.  I wanted to know either one of two things, if it can be explained why the amount of these Letters of Assist are not public, given the statements made about budgetary transparency?  And secondarily, I wanted to asked you, figures were cited by Ambassador [Gérard] Araud at the stakeout about what percentage of UN procurement goes to Russia, goes to France, and this is actually why I would like these Letters of Assist dollars… could the UN provide a breakdown, including Letters of Assist, how much of the Peacekeeping budget goes to France?  But not just from public tenders, but from these Letters, as well.

Spokesperson:  Presumably, it would be more appropriate to know what the percentage breakdown is for all countries, not just one Member State, Matthew.  I will ask.  But, as I recall from the previous response I gave to you, the details of the Letters of Assist are not in the public domain, so I don’t know whether there will be much more that can be provided on that, but I can ask.  Joseph and then the last question will be coming to you.

Question:  Martin, this is just to clarify, when you respond as to what is — quote — an “internal” or “domestic” matter versus something in which the UN system would have an opinion.  Because yesterday there was some discussion about the law passed in India, I am certainly not taking any position on it at all, but there was condemnation of that law dealing with marriage between people of the same sex…

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it was to do with marriage; it was relationships.

Question:  Relationships.  But in any event, there were comments made by the Secretary-General and also by Ms. Pillay, but yet you just indicated that, although giving us the general position of the UN condemning capital punishment, that that execution in North Korea was an “internal matter”.  And I would just like you to clarify that.  Why would an execution of that nature be regarded as an “internal matter” and not specifically condemned, when there was a condemnation of this law in India, this court ruling…?

Spokesperson:  We’ve made it very clear, and you alluded to it yourself, that the position of the United Nations and the Secretary-General on the question of the death penalty is clear.  The UN is opposed to the imposition of the death penalty under any circumstances, even for the most serious international crimes and it would leave it there.  Last question?

Question:  Back to the chemical weapons in Syria.  So, why didn’t the Secretary-General make any reference to accountability yesterday when he announced the report?  It was the first time he did not mention accountability at all and he has always mentioned accountability every time he talked about chemical weapons in Syria before.  And does he call the Security Council to take any action in light of this report?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I would not read too much into that.  He has repeatedly called for accountability and he said yesterday that that use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity.  And we need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria.

I would also note, if you would bear with me, that he will be speaking this afternoon to the General Assembly and his remarks will be available there.  He is expected to say there to the General Assembly that the international community has a moral and political responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.

Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon and a nice weekend.

* *** *

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