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

13 January 2014

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

13 January 2014
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.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Special Representative:  Martin, good morning.  I can hear you properly.  I am along with my colleagues Andre-Michel and Maria.

Spokesperson:  Wonderful.  So, first of all, I’d just like to welcome you to this briefing.  I know that the correspondents here will be keen to hear from you first of all using the headsets, which they have, and then to ask questions.  I understand we have about 20 minutes.  Of course, Babacar Gaye is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic.  The acronym for that is BINUCA.  He is joining us, as you can see, by telephone link from Bangui to brief on the situation there in the Central African Republic, the situation which you all know is extremely tense and precarious.  So, I’m going to hand over to you, Mr. Gaye, to brief us and then I think we have about 20 minutes and we can have some questions, too.  Over to you.

[Press conference by Mr. Gaye issued separately.]

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much indeed for this briefing.  We slightly overshot the time, but I think that shows the level of interest that there is in this topic.  I think we all wish you continued courage and success in the work that you’re doing within the Mission and, of course, on the humanitarian front.  So, thank you again to you and your colleagues, [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Gaye, and also for sparing the time to give us this briefing.  Thanks very much.  All the best.  Bye-bye.

Special Representative:  Thank you.  Thank you, Martin, for the support. Thank you.

Spokesperson:  So, you can continue to use the headphones if you like.  Maybe there’s a nice radio station there, I don’t know.  Thank you.  Excuse me, let me regroup a minute.

**Secretary-General in Iraq

The Secretary-General arrived in Baghdad this morning.  He met with the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and discussed the security and political situation in Iraq, as well as the situation in Syria.

Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said that he was worried about the deteriorating security in parts of Iraq.  He said it was important for all political leaders to unite in their stance against terrorism and come together to stabilize the situation.  He also encouraged measures to strengthen the country's social fabric.

The Secretary-General thanked Iraq for opening its border to Syrian refugees and called on all Member States to provide funding and assistance to countries hosting Syrian refugees.

The Secretary-General also met with the Vice-President, the Speaker of the Council of Representatives and the Chairman of the Independent High Electoral Commission.  And about now, he's meeting the Foreign Minister.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to Kuwait City, in advance of the Second High-level Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, which he will chair on Wednesday.

** Syria

Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, highlighted the dire humanitarian situation affecting 9.3 million Syrians at the end of her visit to Damascus on Sunday.  During that visit, she held talks with members of the Government and humanitarian partners about the plight of people in communities which have been blocked by Government or opposition forces and who have not been reached with aid for months.  She said she was particularly worried about reports of starvation.

Ms.Amos also held talks with the Government on the protection of civilians.  She emphasized the need to build on steps to reduce the impact of violence on civilians, like the recent ceasefires which allowed evacuations from the Old City of Homs and from Adra Umaliyeh in rural Damascus.

Meanwhile, a two-day meeting to support women’s participation and to ensure that their voices are heard in the Syrian peace process ended today with a statement by Syrian women civil society members and activists that calls for support of the political process and respect for the rights for Syrian women to full political participation in all matters related to shaping the future of their country.  The meeting was convened in Geneva by UN–Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), together with the Government of the Netherlands.

**Security Council

The Security Council discussed the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning, and heard updates from Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country, and Mary Robinson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.

Mr. Kobler said that, after the military defeat of the M23 (23 March Movement), it was important to move forward with the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration.  And he urged the Congolese Government to move forward with its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration plan. He added that the staff of the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], MONUSCO, is being redeployed where it is most needed, in the areas affected by armed conflict in the East.  Before July, two thirds of the Mission’s substantive staff will be active in its operations in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mary Robinson said that the positive atmosphere that prevailed following the defeat of the M23 and the signing of the Kampala agreement has vanished.  She said that the region is going through a period of renewed turbulence.  She added that the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, agreed to one year ago, remains the best chance to achieve sustainable peace, security, cooperation and development in the Great Lakes region.  However, it is essential that the pace of its implementation be increased in order to maximize its impact.  Those remarks are, of course, available in our office.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) continues to protect nearly 60,000 civilians at ten bases across the country.

The Mission is in the process of creating a new site for the uprooted in Juba.  There are already 30,000 displaced people seeking shelter in two Mission locations in the capital.

The Mission says that anti-Government forces are in control of Bor in Jonglei State.  The Mission said that there have been reports of sporadic gunfire, close to the UN Mission’s base there.

The security situation in Bentiu in Unity State is reported to be relatively calm.  Nearly 9,000 civilians are being protected by 570 UN peacekeepers at the UN’s base there.  Over the weekend, a Mission patrol to Bentiu and Rubkona saw looting and burning of houses by civilians and people dressed in military uniform.

Additionally, the UN Mission has been undertaking patrols in Juba, as well as in Malakal and Nassir in Upper Nile State.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that some 355,000 people are now internally displaced in South Sudan, nearly half of whom have been reached with aid.  The Office also reports that more than 42,000 people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Humanitarian agencies are extremely concerned about reports of violence against civilians and aid workers, and the looting of humanitarian compounds and commandeering of vehicles.

And staying with South Sudan, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, will visit South Sudan tomorrow to assess the human rights situation in the country and the impact of the fighting.

During his four-day visit, Mr. Šimonović will meet with senior Government officials, the national human rights community, diplomats, representatives of civil society and people who have been uprooted by the fighting.  He plans to travel to Malakal, Bentiu and possibly Bor.

And also, still with South Sudan, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a new emergency operation to expand aid to people affected by the crisis in South Sudan.  The operation seeks to provide food for up to 400,000 internally displaced people.  It will cost nearly $60 million and last three months.

The Programme, which began providing food for the uprooted just days after fighting broke out last month, has already reached at least 100,000 people.

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that the recent violence in South Sudan is threatening to increase hunger and human suffering considerably.  The organization said that the fighting could unravel modest gains made in food security in the past two years.

** Mali

The UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) says that, on Saturday, a patrol of peacekeepers was fired upon by attackers near Aguelhok in Kidal Province.  Three peacekeepers were wounded in the subsequent exchange of fire.  They were evacuated for treatment to Gao.

The peacekeepers were investigating a series of explosions which had taken place in the area the day before.

** China

Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, was a keynote speaker today at a Shanghai conference on Global Transformative Governance with a focus on China-UN cooperation.  In his speech, he focused on the UN’s work in conflict prevention and peacemaking and emphasized the importance of Chinese-UN cooperation.

From Shanghai, Mr. Feltman then travelled to Beijing, where he will have consultations with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials on a wide range of issues on the UN’s peace and security agenda.

**Press Conferences

A couple of press conferences:  Tomorrow, my guest will be Martin Sajdik, the incoming President of the Economic and Social Council.  Ambassador Sajdik, of course, is the Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations.

And then tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here entitled “Genocide:  A Preventable Crime — Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities”.  Speakers will include Ambassador Eugéne-Richard Gasana, the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations.  That’s what I have.  I can take a few questions; please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks Martin.  I’m seeing reports of a car bomb in Baghdad at the time of the Secretary-General’s visit.  Can you confirm his safety, first off, and if so, do you have any further details about his whereabouts during that event and whatever reaction he might have?

Spokesperson:  I do not at this stage.  I will look into that.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, on the Iran, the Geneva II… not Iran, the Geneva II conference on Syria.  [Associated Press] is reporting that the UN did not actually invite Iran.  Can you confirm that?  And also, how are the invitations going to the Syrian opposition?  There was a press conference this morning about the opening of humanitarian corridors by [Sergey] Lavrov and [John] Kerry, and has the UN been informed of this?  And is it being put into place or is the UN being contacted about it?

Spokesperson:  On the latter part, I don’t have an update on that.  But, I think we’ve already said that Iran is not included in the invitations that have been sent out.  The Secretary-General and Joint Special Representative [Lakhdar] Brahimi have consistently expressed their view that Iran, as a regional Power, can contribute to the solution of the Syrian conflict, but Iran is not included in the invitations that have been sent out.

Question:  And just as a follow-up on that:  there were some comments today by Lavrov and Kerry that they would welcome Iran’s participation with a few qualifications.  Would the UN consider adjusting that, or changing that, and inviting Iran if the major parties to the conflict felt that they should?

Spokesperson:  It’s the initiating States — in other words, the United States and the Russian Federation — that have been discussing the participation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  And should they find some accommodation, formulation that would allow for Iran’s participation, then, of course, a letter would be sent.  But, it’s for those two initiating States to further discuss, which they may have been doing in Paris today, and Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, who is also there.  But, this is not something that I have any update on at this point.

Question:  And on the opposition?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on that.  Yes, Matthew, and then Nizar?

Question:  Sure, I wanted… I wanted to ask you about this.  There’s been some debate about this, uh, photograph of an UNMISS camp in South Sudan with a sign separating Dinka from Nuer.  And I understand that DPKO’s (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) position is clear, is that this was done at the request of community leaders.  Since some people, obviously, have questions about both the wisdom, and I think… I guess my question is, what… does the UN have some policy if community leaders asked to separate people by religion, would it be done?  By race?  What’s the UN’s… what’s the limits of that policy?  And do they stand behind it?  Because I remember at the beginning of this conflict, Hilde Johnson said it’s not an ethnic conflict; it’s really a power play.  What can you say about this separation in the camps?

Spokesperson:  What I can say is that many people, thousands of people, in fact, owe their lives to the fact that the UN opened the gates of its bases, 10 bases, and allowed, as we’ve said, 60,000-something people in.  And it is also obvious that there is the potential for tension within those camps and compounds.  I do believe that my colleague has provided some information related to the signs that you mentioned.  That came from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  Let me check and see, if it’s not been communicated to you, that it is.

Question:  No, no… I mean, I’ve seen the comment that it was at the request of community leaders.  I only am, I’m asking you to respond to, obviously, some people have said that there’s a danger, for example, of what happened in Srebrenica, of dividing people up and making them, sort of, a clear target.  And I just wondered, is there some overarching, beyond… you know I… obviously, UNMISS was dealing as best we could… as best as it could.  Is there some UN policy on separating people along ethnic, racial or religious lines?

Spokesperson:  It wasn’t just doing it in the past.  It continues to do so and I don’t have anything further on that at this point.  Should I receive something further, I’ll let you know.  But, the fundamental point here is that everybody understands that the security situation outside of the compounds is precarious; I’ve provided some details just a little earlier, and inside the camp, the situation is precarious simply because it’s overcrowded.  It’s a large number of people in compounds that were not meant to be, in essence, [internally displaced persons] camps.  So, everyone is doing their level best.  It’s obvious that tensions could arise, as in any crowded location where people are under a lot of stress and strain.  So, if I have anything further from the Mission on that, I would certainly let you know.  Yes, Nizar?  And then I’m coming to Evelyn.

Question:  Martin, my question is regarding the condition that was put forward by [Ahmed al-]Jarba, regarding the toppling or the… toppling of President [Bashar al-]Assad as a condition to go to Geneva II.  Do you view this as an obstacle?  Or are the conditions helpful in this case?  Then, I have other questions on Syria itself, inside.

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s take it one step at a time.  But, we’ve said all along that this is without preconditions.  And of course, on the first day, in Montreux, there will be a meeting with Foreign Ministers.  This is an international meeting, a show of support, if you like, for the process, and then with an intervening day for the move to Geneva.  Then, the talks will begin between the Syrian opposition delegation and the Syrian Government delegation, mediated by the indefatigable Lakhdar Brahimi.  And I would say it is then for the Syrians themselves to determine the outcome, based on the Geneva I communiqué that was issued last year.  That, I think, is the framework.  And the key point is that we want people to come with an open mind and without preconditions.  Evelyn was next.  And then I’m coming to you.  Yes, I know you do, but others do.  I will come back to you.

Question:  Yes, Martin.  Just to confirm what I heard, the [Secretary-General] does want Iran to attend the Geneva II talks, is that correct?  And then…

Spokesperson:  We’ve said that consistently, that… well, what we have said consistently is that the presence of Iran at those talks would be helpful and useful, as a regional Power with influence on the Syrian conflict, and that it can contribute to the solution of the Syrian conflict.  That’s the view of the Secretary-General and of the Joint Special Representative.  But, as I…

Question:  So the answer is yes?

Spokesperson:  The answer is yes.  The answer is yes, but simply to reiterate the formulation.

Question:  Right.  And also, I’m wondering on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, which is a war crime or close to one to prevent food from reaching civilians, why can’t the UN say in Al-Ghouta, near Damascus, it is the Government preventing them?  In a certain section of Aleppo, it is Al-Nusra or [the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria] or someone?  Because without naming and shaming, the accountability won’t be there.

Spokesperson:  Well, I would ask you to take a close look at what Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, has had to say in Damascus, both to the media in general and in at least one interview she’s given; she’s been quite forthright, I would say.  And there is a certain choreography here.  She’s been visiting Damascus, Syria, right ahead of the Kuwait pledging conference.  She will be able to provide a first-hand account of the conditions and of her discussions with the Syrian authorities and others about access, and so on, that relate very much to what you’ve been talking about.  The access is the major stumbling block.  Her concern is, as I mentioned earlier, that there are even reports of starvation amongst the population.  I do think I need to move on.  I will come back to you, I promise.  First of all, I need to come to you.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  It’s always Syria.  I need to make sure I have understood this well.  The United Nations is the host of the negotiations, the peace negotiations in Switzerland, right?  But, the invitation, the possible invitation to Iran would be issued only if there is agreement between the two i nitiating States, the United States and Russia.  Have I understood right?

Spokesperson:  You’ve understood it correctly.  The United Nations is the convener and the host.  The initiating States have been discussing these questions and, of course, it was a challenging task to draw up the list of participants.  That list was read out at a press conference already and those countries are well known at this point.  But, Iran is not included in the invitations that have been sent out.  Yes, Nizar?

Correspondent:  Well, we are talking about the blockades.  I mean, Ms. Amos and also other officials, UN officials, did not speak anything about Nubul and al-Zahraa, especially these are the longest blockades.  These two towns, which host about 70,000 people, is the longest blockade by the opposition forces since the conflict has begun.  Also, in Yarmouk, four or five attempts to deliver aid was stopped by the opposition armed forces or sniped at and prevented in the last few days.  More than 40 people died in the Yarmouk refugee camp of the Palestinians there.  Also, in another place, Maleeha…

Spokesperson:  So, what’s the question please, Nizar?

Question:  The question is, here, if we… if there is a need to name and shame, who is doing that?  Why don’t we hear one voice from the United Nations naming both sides, not just one side?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, that is just simply not the case.  I just said earlier on, and you should read Ms. Amos’s statement in full, that she held talks with members of the Government and humanitarian partners about the plight of people and communities which have been blocked by Government or opposition forces and who have not been reached with aid for months.  She has provided quite a lot of detail.  I would refer you to what she has said in her full statement.  And I would also refer you to OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for more details.

Correspondent:  But, most of the time, it has been mentioned, Martin, Moadhamiyeh as a major area which has been blocked, of course…

Spokesperson:  Nizar, your attempt to depict the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or indeed the United Nations in general, as siding with one side or the other is not acceptable.  The United Nations has played an impartial role in providing aid to everybody it can reach.  The point is that, on both sides, both Government and opposition, there have been blockages and there have been difficulties with access and Ms. Amos was there precisely to try to push through and get assurances for access.  And that is regardless of who is blockading whom.  It’s the plight of the individual civilians, wherever they are, that we should be concerned about and not trying to point the finger at the United Nations for siding with one side or the other.  That’s just not acceptable and it’s not true.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks.  I wanted to ask, just on Haiti, obviously on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake there’s been a lot of coverage.  So, I wanted to… one was that, you know, The New York Times ran an editorial basically it’s saying the UN troops caused the epidemic, stating that as a fact, and I wanted to know if you have a response to that.  The other is that [ United States] Congress people, Congressman John Conyers and 65 other members of Congress have written that, that… I’ll just, the key line is, “in order for the UN to maintain its credibility around the world, it is imperative for it to acknowledge its legal responsibility”.  And I just wonder, do you have any response to these?  Is there anything you can say to 65 or 66 members of Congress writing that and The New York Times stating as a fact that the UN caused it?  What’s the thinking, now that four years have gone by since the earthquake?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think our position on that particular question is well known and has not changed.  What I would like to point out is that a huge amount of work is being done on sanitation across the board by UN agencies working together with the Haitian authorities.  And I think that more will be done.  And I think there will be more to be said on this topic in the days to come.  But, on the legal position, our view has been expressed many times and I don’t have anything to add to that.  Yes, please?

Question:  This is Darabi from IRNA.  Any comments by the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, on the road map achieved between Iran and 5+1?

Spokesperson:  Of course, progress has been made and there is still a long way to go to reach… to go beyond an interim settlement.  But certainly, progress has been achieved.  You’ve seen we’re coming up to this 20 January milestone.  I think that that’s something that the Secretary-General welcomes.  He is also aware of reports, not yet confirmed, that talks may resume in February.  That would also be a welcome development.  So we continue to watch this very closely.  The Secretary-General, obviously, has a keen interest in this, even if we are not directly involved in the negotiations as the United Nations.  I’ve got time for one more question, if there is one.  Pardon?  Pardon?  Bangladesh?  Please.

Question:  Do we have any updates about Mr. [Oscar Fernandez-]Taranco’s mission in Bangladesh and his visit there and what has been achieved so far with regard to the turmoil currently in the country?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General is reiterating his calls for restraint and urges political leaders on all sides in Bangladesh to respect the right to assembly and expression, and to continue the dialogue leading to inclusive polls in the future.  And he is concerned about the arrest and detention of high-profile opposition leaders and large numbers of activists.  The Secretary-General is also deeply concerned about the recent attacks on religious minorities, in particular, the Hindu community, and encourages the Government to take immediate action to prevent further violence and to ensure the protection of such communities.  He underscores the need to initiate a thorough and independent investigation into these incidents.  The expectations of the people of Bangladesh for peace, tolerance and an inclusive political process must be respected.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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