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

16 January 2014

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

16 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Statement on Lebanon

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the Special Tribunal for Lebanon:  The Secretary-General welcomes the opening today of the trial of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, nearly nine years after the heinous terrorist attack which killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 21 others.  The Secretary-General stresses the vital importance of combating impunity for the long-term stability and security of Lebanon.  He notes with gratitude the continuing support of the Government of Lebanon, and of other Member States, for the work of the Tribunal.

Also on Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, strongly condemned the car bombing this morning in the area of Hermel in north-eastern Lebanon that has killed and wounded a number of people.  He extended his condolences to the families of the victims of this bombing.

The Special Coordinator said he continues to be disturbed by the recurrence of indiscriminate acts of violence in Lebanon during the past months.  He urged all Lebanese to exercise restraint and expressed his hope that those responsible for today’s bombing and all other acts of terrorism will be brought to justice as soon as possible.

** Syria

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned armed opposition groups in Syria today that executions and unlawful killings are in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, and may amount to war crimes.  She said that, over the past two weeks, her office has received reports of a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa by hardline armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  The High Commissioner reiterated her call on all parties to the conflict to treat individuals held in their custody with humanity and to immediately release all those who are deprived of their liberty in violation of international law.

Yesterday, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, called Dr. Hassan Abdel-Azim, President of the National Coordination Committee, following that group’s decision not to be part of the delegation of the Syrian opposition to the Geneva Conference on Syria.  Mr. Brahimi told Dr. Abdel-Azim that he respects the Committee’s decision, but deeply regrets that it will not be part of the delegation of the opposition.  We have a note to correspondents with more details.


Also on Syria, the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Üzümcü, confirmed today that the Italian Government has agreed to allow the port of Gioia Tuaro for the loading of priority chemicals brought from Syria by cargo vessels onto a [United States] ship, the MV Cape Ray.  The port is located on the Mediterranean coast of southern Italy and specializes in trans-shipment activities.

**Security Council

Bert Koenders, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Mali, briefed the Security Council this morning on the work of the UN Mission in that country, MINUSMA.  He told the Council that the coming year will be decisive for the people of Mali, and he said that Mali has a unique opportunity to tackle the root causes of the successive crises that the nation has undergone, and to build a durable basis for peace and reconciliation.

The Security Council is currently in consultations, and Mr. Koenders intends to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once those consultations have finished.  I believe that Ambassador Araud of France also intends to speak at the stakeout.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is improving security in its bases across the country where some 65,000 civilians are seeking shelter.  Among the security measures put in place are weapons searches and joint UN police and military patrols inside and in the immediate vicinity of all sites.

The Mission says that the last of the additional police units authorized by the Security Council last December will arrive by the end of next week.  These units will be deployed at bases in Juba, Malakal and Bentiu.

The Mission notes that it continues to face restrictions on the movement of ammunition for its troops.  It reminds all parties that, as stated by the Security Council, efforts to undermine the Mission’s ability to implement its mandate as it seeks to protect civilians will not be tolerated.

The Mission also notes that the congestion of the sites is a challenge to civilian safety.  Yesterday, it began moving several hundred people who had just arrived at the UN’s Tomping compound to another site where space is still available.  The Mission reiterates that it is impartial in implementing its mandate to protect all civilians.

In Malakal, the Mission reports that anti-Government forces appear to be in control of the town.  The Mission is protecting some 20,000 civilians at its Malakal site.  In Bentiu, the Mission reports heavy shooting and shelling.  As of today, 5,300 civilians are seeking shelter in two UN sites.  The Mission has conducted several patrols in the towns of Bor, Pibor, Malakal, Pariang, Bentiu and Juba.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, is continuing his visit to the country.  He has met with Government officials, community leaders and civilians at the Mission’s bases in Bentiu and Bor.

Also, we have a correction regarding our update yesterday on Malakal.  The UN military officer who we said suffered a gunshot wound was injured accidentally and not by a stray bullet.

** Central African Republic

John Ging, the Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the media today in Geneva on his recent mission to the Central African Republic, where some 2.6 million people need humanitarian assistance.  He called the humanitarian situation in the country “tragic”, and added that the communities he spoke to during his four-day mission have no confidence that the situation is going to get better any time soon.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners have appealed for $247 million to provide assistance in the Central African Republic this year, but have only received 6 per cent of the funding so far.

On Monday, 20 January, UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos and European Union Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva are expected to co-chair a high-level meeting in Brussels to discuss the humanitarian situation in the country, its implications and financial requirements for aid.

** Philippines

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, says that, two months after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, good progress has been made in many areas, but people are still dependent on humanitarian support, especially to rebuild their homes.

More than 14 million people were affected by the storm, with some 4 million of them having been uprooted at the height of the emergency.  Two months after the storm, the scale and spread of humanitarian needs is still daunting, Ms. Amos says.  She is particularly concerned that only 20 per cent of the funding needed has been secured to help people rebuild their homes.  She says that, in the coming months, the humanitarian community will focus on ensuring a smooth transition from urgent assistance to long-term recovery and rehabilitation efforts.

**Solidarity with Palestinian People

The Secretary-General has a statement that we will issue right now, saying that today marks the launch of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  This will be a critical year for achieving the two-State solution, bringing an end to the occupation that started in 1967 and securing an independent, viable and sovereign State of Palestine living in peace and security with the State of Israel, where each recognizes the other’s legitimate rights.

The Secretary-General calls on all members of the international community and, in particular, Israelis and Palestinians, to work together for justice and a durable peace.  Israel and Palestine need to live up to their commitment to a negotiated two-State solution and resolve all permanent status issues, in accordance with Security Council resolutions, the Madrid Principles, the road map, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and existing agreements between the parties.

The leaders of Israel and Palestine will need political will, a sense of historic responsibility and a clear vision for a better future for this and future generations.  The Secretary-General pledges to do his utmost in support of their efforts.

**Press Conferences

And last, there is a press conference tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.  There will be a press conference here by Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, and Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg.

That’s it for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What’s the press conference about?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that will concern the participation of women in the peace process in Syria.

Question:  On Yarmouk, I was wondering if there is any update about the efforts to gain access to this camp, or how are the negotiations going?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you’re aware, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], known as UNRWA, has been trying to get access.  It tried on Monday to get to the camp and was turned back because of the fighting in the area.  At that point, it had to use an entrance at the [south] of the camp, which was less secure than one of the other entrances that they could have used.  And so they’re still trying to see whether there is a way they can enter the camp from a different area.  So, their efforts continue, and the UN Relief and Works Agency is continuing to deal with interlocutors trying to get access to the camp again, but I don’t have any arrival of a convoy to tell you about.

Question:  And what are the arguments of the Syrian Government to not give them access to the south entrance that is safer?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t speak for the Syrian Government, but the answer… the reasoning they had given, was security considerations.  But, what the Relief and Works Agency believes is that there are other entrances that could be more secure, and so it’s trying to get access at one of those points.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan, can you tell us how many, I mean, in the view of… some of the groups have left this Geneva peace process, how many groups?  Do you have any count of how many groups have left after this last one that Mr. Brahimi is regretting not coming?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re not in the business of counting different Syrian groups.  What we have asked for is for a broadly representative delegation from the Syrian opposition, and we continue to hold out hope that, when the parties are to begin the meetings on 22 January, that the Syrian opposition will be represented by a broadly representative delegation.  And we’ll see what decision they come to about their delegation.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Right, what is the impact of the Brahimi note on the delegations?  It sort of floats by itself, without saying how is this going to weaken the opposition, or everybody’s sorry, or what.  And secondly, are Mr. Ging’s comments available anywhere, and if so, where, and in English, maybe?  And thirdly, could Ms. Amos’s office kindly coordinate?  There’s an appeal for every disaster this week and each agency has contradictory numbers, whether it’s Mali, [ Central African Republic], South Sudan and on it goes.  And, perhaps your office could encourage her to pull some of it together, so we’re not flooded with things that we’re going to throw away anyway because they don’t match up with what we’ve heard the day before?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we encourage you to hold on to all the pieces of paper we give you, as many and as complex as they may be.

Correspondent:  They’re not that complex.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ll try to see whether that can happen, but yes, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tries to pull all the numbers together as much as they can, and I believe they’ll keep trying with that effort.  Regarding John Ging’s comments, there’s no formal press release available, but I’ll try and provide you; our colleagues have given us a big chunk of his comments and I’ll try and provide that to you after the briefing.

Question:  And also what the impact on the opposition of what is Mr. Brahimi talking about, aside from looking at one group?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi is in touch with a wide number of people representing the Government side and the opposition side.  So, he’s been trying to get them to commit to coming.  And he will continue with those efforts.  This was simply an update.  Of course, he regrets that this one group was not able to make it to the Geneva Conference, but he continues to hold out hope for others and, like I said, we do believe that the Syrian opposition will come with a broadly representative delegation.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  What does the Secretary-General think about the pullout of many of the witnesses for the Lebanese Tribunal, and revoking their statements?  Over 15 of them have done that and they are suing the Tribunal for leaking their information.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the basic point about the Tribunal that I’d like to make is that it’s an independent body and it’s got a mandate, in accordance with the highest standards of international criminal justice, pursuant to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007) and the annex of that particular resolution.  In this case, as for other international tribunals, the United Nations respects the course of justice and the need for due process.  But, any legal or jurisdictional issues, or questions relating to the judicial process or the Tribunal’s institutional functioning, ought to be referred directly to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Question:  But, do you consider that leaking information about witnesses, which are supposed to be protected, is the highest standard?  I mean, does that apply, match with highest standard?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As I just explained, it’s not for me to speak for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  I do believe the Tribunal has, in the past, put out communications concerning its own concerns about the leaking of information, so I would refer you to them, and they can provide you with further information.  Sangwon?

Question:  Hassan Abdul Azim of [National Coordination Committee] that… he kind of rolled back his comments, kind of contradictory to the Brahimi note that was sent out earlier today.  He said more time is needed for the opposition groups to form their coalition.  Something around two weeks is ideal, but if there is an opportunity for the opposition groups to gather before Geneva II, then that they might consider attending Geneva II as part of the coalition representing the opposition.  So my question is:  is there a possibility that the Geneva II conference, or the principal talks slated for the twenty-fourth, to be postponed to a later date?  That could facilitate further discussion among opposition groups.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not going to speculate on any possibility of a change.  Right now, it’s clear what the dates are.  It’s clear that the first day of meetings will take place in Montreux on 22 January, and it’s clear that the expected start date for the talks between the Government and opposition sides will take place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 24 January.  I don’t have any changes to announce to any of those dates.

Question:  One follow-up… one follow-up:  if the opposition will decide tomorrow if they’re going to participate or not, if they do decide to not participate, if there is no opposition presence, does the Montreux meeting on the twenty-second still take place?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  We’ll see what the opposition has to say.  We do expect them to field a broadly representative delegation.  Yes?  First, Kristin, and then you.

Question:  Farhan, Al-Jazeera has seen Syria’s letter to Ban Ki-moon accepting participation in Geneva.  It sounds like they haven’t accepted all of the terms that were set out in that invitation, and I’m wondering if you could elaborate on some of the terms that were in that letter?  And just generally, is the Secretary-General worried that [Bashar al-]Assad is already backing down on, you know, the notion of a transitional Government, which was one of the bases of this negotiation?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I can confirm the receipt of a letter from the Syrian Government concerning its participation in the Geneva Conference for Syria.  But, I wouldn’t comment on the specific language of our diplomatic exchange with the Government of Syria.  As for what positions they will take, we expect them to make… the various parties to make clear their positions once they’re at the talks.  We do want both parties to come to the talks prepared to negotiate seriously with each other and to negotiate seriously on the terms of the Geneva communiqué that we have been trying to make operational over the past year and a half.  And those terms, as you know, include the idea of a transitional governing authority with executive powers.  Yes?  No, no… him first.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  In the letter that Kristin just mentioned, has the Syrian Government agreed to attend Geneva II, and were there any reservations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, I can confirm receipt of a letter from the Government of Syria concerning their attendance at the Geneva Conference for Syria.  It’s not for me to characterize the precise content of what the Syrian Government is saying.  Yes?

Question:  How many responses you have received in regards to these invitations, and from which countries?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a precise count.  Before the conference starts, we’ll try… we’ll draw up a list of attending parties, and we can make that available to you at that point.  Yes?

Question:  On the participation of Iran, have the recent consultations between various parties resulted in any progress on that, whether Iran will be attending or not, especially that the [Secretary-General] has supported their attendance?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything further to say about Iran’s participation at this point.  Sherwin?

Question:  Farhan, in light of John Ging’s comments regarding the Central African Republic and yesterday, France’s Ambassador in the Rwanda genocide meeting saying French troops are confronting a nearly impossible situation, what does the Secretariat make of the view that the international response, particularly on the security front, has been completely inadequate in Central African Republic?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve seen that the Secretary-General did present a number of options for what could be used for peace and security in the Central African Republic.  And there have been several options considered.  Ultimately, it’s up to the Security Council to consider if this current effort by MISCA, the international, the multi-national force in the Central African Republic, if that is not adequate, it’s up to them to consider whether there is any other steps that need to be taken among the various options that were detailed by the Secretary-General.  And so we’ll leave that in the hands of the Security Council.

Question:  But, in terms of one of those options, which was the full deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force, is [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] making plans for that eventuality, which seems more likely today?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  For most situations around the world, we make contingency plans depending on what might happen down the line.  I don’t have anything to say on that until and unless there’s a decision taken by the Security Council.  It’s ultimately their call.  Yes?

Question:  Human Rights Watch released a report on South Sudan today that said ethnic targeting and widespread killing was continuing unabated.  And you mentioned earlier some of the patrols that were going on outside certain cities, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on those, and if there has been any engagement thus far with belligerents on either side?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a question of dealing with belligerents.  Part of what we’re trying to do is to protect tens of thousands of people at the various UN compounds throughout the country and protect them from belligerents of either side.  So we’ve been trying to do that.  As you know, we’ve given you updates.  If there are any clashes resulting from firing nearby, we would report it, as we did with the firing incident near our compound in Malakal yesterday.  But, in terms of the human rights situation, I would like to point out, as I just mentioned, Mr. Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is in South Sudan.  He has been visiting Bor and Bentiu.  I believe he’s expected to speak to the press in Juba and then here… and then over the weekend, he is expected to come back here to New York, where on Monday, he will be the guest at the noon briefing, when he can talk to you more in depth about what he has seen concerning the human rights situation on the ground.

Question:  Farhan, as a follow-up to that, just in terms of, I’m sure you’ve seen Uganda’s involvement, military support, for the Government of South Sudan against the rebels.  What does the Secretariat make of Uganda’s military involvement now?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on this for now.  I believe that this is a matter that has been dealt with bilaterally between South Sudan and Uganda.  I don’t have any precise comment.  What we are trying to do, and where our focus is, is to find a political solution to the problems.  We hope that the mediation efforts being undertaken under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) make headway, so that we can actually have a political resolution to this crisis and a ceasefire.  And any actions taken by neighbouring countries to help that process along would be helpful.  Yes, Marcelle?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just following up on my colleagues’ questions, has the Syrian Government confirmed to the UN that they are going to be attending the Geneva II talks next week?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, they will be attending.  Yes?

Question:  Again on Geneva II, so do you have names of the Syrian Government delegation already?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe the delegation would be headed by the Foreign Minister, Walid al-Muallem.  Yes?

Question:  And so, regarding invitations to Geneva II, were these invitations drafted in the same way, or there were differences between the invitations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t characterize what the letters are.  We’re not sharing the letters we’ve sent, which are diplomatic correspondence.

Question:  A follow-up:  the Syrian Government has announced many times that the priority for Geneva II will be fighting terrorism and terrorist groups.  What do you comment on this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General, when he spoke to the press last Friday in this room, told you what he believes the priorities are.  And for us, the main priority is to move forward on the peace process that resulted in the Geneva communiqué.  And we’ll continue to do that effort.  Yes, Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  A sort of non-work-related question, or not even a question:  On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, Happy Birthday!

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, thank you very much.  Well, and as my present, I will then cut the rest of this meeting short.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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