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

23 January 2014

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, everybody.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General is in Davos to attend the World Economic Forum and related events there.


The Secretary-General spoke at an event with Millennium Development Goals Advocates and other champions for the empowerment of girls.  He also met with the Rwandan President and Norwegian Prime Minister, the co-chairs of the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group.  We’ve issued the remarks and will provide a readout of this and other meetings.


The Secretary-General spoke also at a press conference on climate change with the President of the European Commission and the World Bank President. There's a transcript of that coming soon.


The Secretary-General flew to Davos from Montreux, where he met first thing this morning with the Chinese Foreign Minister, and we've issued a readout on that meeting.


There are many more events today and tomorrow before the Secretary-General flies back to New York on Friday.


** Syria


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is meeting in Geneva this afternoon, bilaterally, with the heads of the two Syrian delegations: first with Mr. Ahmed al-Jarba, and subsequently with Mr. Walid al-Mouallem.  We will inform you of other meetings tomorrow as they develop.




The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [in the Near East] (UNRWA) is leading a three-day social media campaign, reaching tens of millions of people around the world to demand that the parties to the Syria conflict allow aid to flow to Yarmouk, the besieged Damascus neighbourhood, and a key area hosting Palestine refugees in Syria.


The Relief and Works Agency says that a small amount of food aid has been allowed into Yarmouk in the last few days, but adds that the amount delivered has been a drop in the ocean.  The Agency demands that Yarmouk and other civilian areas throughout Syria are open to safe, regular and substantial humanitarian access; that the civilian residents of Yarmouk be granted free and safe movement; and that all sides to the Syria conflict comply with their international obligations to protect civilians in Yarmouk and beyond.


In the campaign, more than a thousand people and organizations signed up for a Thunderclap, which simultaneously sent out a tweet to over 11.5 million Twitter accounts.  We have more details in a press release in our office.


**Security Council


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Darfur.


He said that both the humanitarian situation and security situation had deteriorated in 2013.  He added that protection needs remained considerable as well as the associated challenges facing humanitarian actors.  He called for increased support for local mediation efforts by the African Union-UN [Assistance] Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).


Mr. Ladsous said that durable solutions depend on the larger political context, that is, the need for a ceasefire and a comprehensive peace agreement.  He also said that it was essential to strengthen dialogue with the Government in order to improve access to populations affected by conflict.  He also called on the Government to respect the terms of the status-of-forces agreement and to ensure that Mission personnel have full freedom of movement in implementing their mandate.


Earlier this morning, the Security Council also adopted a presidential statement on Mali.  This afternoon it will hold consultations on South Sudan.


**South Sudan


On that, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that it is now protecting approximately 76,000 civilians at eight bases, including 27,000 in Malakal, in Upper Nile State.  Additionally, the Mission has conducted 186 military and 62 police patrols in various parts of the country in the past 24 hours, including in the capital, Juba, and in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States.


The Mission has received reports of fighting continuing to occur in multiple locations in the country.  In Bor, in Jonglei State, the Mission reports gunfire being heard from the north of its compound yesterday evening.  The Mission is also making improvements to strengthen its perimeter walls at its site in Bor, where it is protecting some 10,000 civilians.


In Malakal, the Mission reports that its human rights division continues to seek to verify the accuracy of reports of serious human rights violations, to collect evidence and document human rights abuses and the violations of international humanitarian law that might have taken place.  Reports and allegations relate to violations by both the so-called “White Army” when it controlled the town, and by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) after it regained the control of the town after 20 January.  The Mission stresses that verification by its human rights team, at this stage, has been extremely difficult because of fighting and subsequent lack of access.


[Buzzing sound]  You know, I might have to turn this off.  One second.  I forgot I had this in my pocket, and that’s probably what’s doing it.


The Mission also reports that it has completed weapons searches in all its main bases in the country where civilians are being protected.  The Mission is also seeking to work with national authorities to ensure that areas immediately surrounding its bases are free of weapons.


** Myanmar


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, says that she is deeply concerned about reports of alarming levels of violence — including the killing of many civilians and a policeman — in Maungdaw Township in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.


[Buzzing sound]  No, that wasn’t me.  It’s one of you.  Okay.


She asks the Government of Myanmar to take all necessary measures to ensure the full protection of all civilians.  She also requested that the Government allow the safe and continued access for humanitarian staff to affected areas to assess needs and help all those affected by the recent violence.  Ms. Amos also called for an immediate and impartial investigation into the violence and for the rights of those arrested and detained to be respected.


** Pakistan


In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General says that he strongly condemns recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan.  He reiterates his deep concern over continued terrorist attacks and sectarian violence in Pakistan.


The Secretary-General says that he is also deeply concerned about the recent attacks on polio workers, which have resulted in several deaths.  These unacceptable attacks are hampering efforts to eradicate the disease in Pakistan, one of the last three countries where polio remains endemic.  The full statement is available in our office and online.


**Press Conferences


For press conferences, tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Sin Son Ho, the Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations.


**DPI Holocaust Exhibition


And correspondents are invited to attend the opening of the exhibition titled “A Remembrance of the Holocaust in Hungary:  70th Anniversary Exhibition”.  The opening will take place this evening, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., on the first floor of the Conference Building.  The exhibition will be on display until the end of January and is one of several events organized for Holocaust Remembrance Week.


That’s it for me.  Any questions?  Yes, Tim?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On behalf of Pam, I’ll welcome you.  My question is about the Syria talks.  Mr. Brahimi must have finished his meetings with the two sides now.  Can we confirm that there will be some kind of negotiations tomorrow, and will they be in the same room?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details to share about tomorrow’s meetings just yet.  One of the things that Mr. Brahimi was looking into was what the format of tomorrow’s meetings would be.  He’ll advise us on that once he is done with his discussions today, but we haven’t gotten word from our colleagues in Geneva just yet on that.


Question:  But there will be meetings tomorrow?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We expect a meeting tomorrow.  This is what we’ve been saying for some time now, that the talks between the parties would start in Geneva at the Palais on 24 January, which is tomorrow.  We’ll just have to tell you what the format will be and what exactly the proceedings are once we get that information.  Right now, Mr. Brahimi, like I just said, was in discussions with each party and we’ll see what he has to say at the end of that.  Yes, Pam?


Question:  Yes, a follow-up, Farhan, on Tim’s question.  Maybe jumping a little bit far ahead, but assuming something comes out of the negotiations with… I mean, in Geneva, is there a plan for a next step?  Another set of negotiations?  And then, just a follow-up on Iran, has the Secretary-General had any chance to meet with either Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif or any of the Iranians in Davos, or have any conversations as a follow-up to the back-and-forth on invitations?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On the second question, no, I don’t believe the Secretary-General has met with anyone from the Iranian side in Davos so far.  As with other meetings, the idea is for us to provide readouts once any meetings take place.  So we’ll try to see if he meets with them.  We’ll try to get details, but at this point, like I said, that hasn’t happened.  Regarding your first question, as I indicated to Tim just now, some of the details of the subsequent meetings in the Palais are still up in the air.  We do expect the parties, as we had announced previously, to continue with their meetings, starting tomorrow.  But how that will happen, what format that will be in, those are details we’ll have to provide once we can get them. Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask on South Sudan, two things.  One, just factually, if the UN is aware of the status of the signing a ceasefire?  People say it’s about to be signed and what the UN’s role has been in those talks.  And also, President [Salva] Kiir, through spokespeople, has said… he has said that his country is at war also with the UN.  “The President hasn’t given the green light to attack UNMISS, but UNMISS has to rethink their strategies.”  And he’s made two specific allegations:  one, that vehicles belonging to the Government weren’t returned to them, and that UNMISS employees texted out messages from “rebels in the camps”, saying that they would join the rebel forces.  And so, what’s the response of the UN to those two specific allegations, and does this impact the deployment of peacekeepers?  What do you make of a country saying they’re at war with the UN?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on your second question, the Foreign Ministry of the Government of South Sudan has issued a statement today in which it clarifies what it describes as the misinterpretation of President Kiir’s press statements on Monday, 20 January.  The Foreign Ministry’s statement reiterates the Government’s respect for the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, and its cooperation with UNMISS.  We refer you to that statement and beyond that, we’re not going to comment on reported statements attributed to individual Government officials.  As for your first question about a ceasefire, we are monitoring to see whether that has, in fact, happened.  If something of that sort has happened, we’ll react in due course.


Question:  What about the vehicles?  Forgetting that it’s said by a spokesperson, is it… the case that vehicles were parked… I’m just saying, factually?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You heard the bit where I said, beyond what I just said, we’re not going to comment on reported statements attributed to individuals Government officials.


Question:  It’s not about the statement, it’s about the fact of vehicles.  Were vehicles returned to the Government or not?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You heard what I had to say two days ago about where we stood on some of the statements that were deemed unhelpful, and I’ll just refer you to my comments from the Tuesday press briefing.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In the event that the parties to the negotiations in Geneva now do not reach an agreement on the transition plan, does the Secretary-General have a fall-back position?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  First, the point is to have the parties talk with each other and see what they can agree on, what they can come up with.  It’s taken a good deal of effort and a good deal of compromise by the parties simply to make it to the table.  And we appreciate the fact that they’re finally available at the same spot.  And hopefully we can get on to the next step of the process.  You’ll have seen what the Secretary-General said at his press conference yesterday:  this is only a first step, but we’re trying to build on that.  Let’s see what we can build on that first, and if things do not work out well, we’ll evaluate the situation at that point and we’ll see what we can do with that.  Yes?


Question:  Kentaro Okasaka from Kyoto News.  Could you elaborate a little bit more about the press conference by Mr. Sin Son Ho tomorrow?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, just that there will be a press conference, like I said, tomorrow at 11 a.m. in this room.


Question:  Is that from Mr. Sin Son Ho’s side, who seeked the opportunity to do a press conference?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  All Member States are entitled to hold press briefings in this room, as they so choose.  Yes?  Yes, you.


Question:  I didn’t know where you were pointing.  The buzzing drowned you out.  What was Valerie Amos… which country was she concerned about?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  About Myanmar.


Question:  Okay.  Fine.  Now, my question is:  do you have any information of why the Syrian Government is denying aid to Palestinians?  Syria has had in the past been very generous with Palestinian refugees.  Is it because they’re Sunnis or what?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not really my place to clarify what the reasoning of the authorities [is].  The authorities have been working with UN agencies to try to open up some access for Yarmouk.  One of the problems is that, for example, last week, the entrance that they had provided was an area that was less safe and a convoy that we had brought into the area had to be turned back because of fighting in the area.  We’ll admit that this is a dangerous area and that there’s fighting in the area, but that makes the need to deliver aid, and to have a point which is safe enough for us to deliver aid, all the more crucial.  And so, a number of UN agencies have been trying to get access, and as my colleagues in the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] can tell you, they’ve had some minor success in recent days in getting small amounts of aid in.  But, we need to be able to have more aid convoys go in because the needs on the ground in Yarmouk are immense.  Yes?


Question:  I wanted to ask about [the Central African Republic] and also Haiti.  On the Central African Republic… Navi Pillay, on the twentieth, on Monday, said a couple things.  She said that the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces appears to have left Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks.  She also said that the [Force of Central Africa] troops may have been involved in the killing of Christian civilians.  So, I know that when the report first came out, Martin said, wait until the twentieth when there was this Human Rights Council event.  Now that the event has taken place and Navi Pillay herself has said those things, I wondered, what does this mean, both in terms of the UN’s human rights due diligence policy and the use of some of these same [Force of Central Africa] contingents in Mali as UN peacekeepers?  And also, what’s the response to NaviPillay saying that the Sangaris force may have left Muslim communities vulnerable to attack?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, regarding your question about other contingents, when we deploy contingents in places like Mali, or anywhere else, we try to do our due diligence with the troop-contributing countries to make sure that all those units are not involved in or associated with any violations of human rights.  And so, that’s what happens as we try to bring forces into any theatre of operations.  Regarding your question about the comments by Ms. Pillay and so forth, you will have seen also the various UN officials who spoke at the Security Council yesterday, and they also spoke to reporters at the stakeout afterwards, and I’d refer you to their comments.  But, beyond that, I wanted to point out that regarding human rights allegations, that the Commission of Inquiry that we intended to set up has, in fact, been named.  And the Secretary-General yesterday afternoon did release the names of the three members of this Commission of Inquiry, and they’ll be able to look more precisely into any allegations of human rights violations on the ground.


Question:  Thanks a lot.  All I meant is that, I understand that you vet the individuals or the units before deploying them or re-hatting them to places in Mali.  I’m just wondering, can something happen, such as a country’s military being allegedly involved in the killing of civilians elsewhere that impacts on that?  That’s my question.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The force that is on the ground in the Central African Republic, MISCA (African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic), the multi-national stabilization force, is not a UN force.  It’s a multinational force.  It’s not under our command.  We do due diligence on the forces that are under our command.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Sorry, on South Sudan:  are the camps, the UN camps, are they full now?  Can they not take more people?  And why are you strengthening the perimeter walls?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re strengthening the perimeter walls as part of an effort to make sure that the camps are safe and secure.  We haven’t stopped taking people in.  The policy has been that people who need protection are welcome in the various camps.  And we’ve been taking in, as you’ve seen, a large number of people.  Our resources are stretched.  There’s a limit to how many people we can possibly provide for, for a substantial period of time, but within our capacity, we’re trying to provide for whoever needs assistance.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Despite the Secretary-General’s withdrawal of the invitation to Iran to participate in the Geneva Conference, he still thinks the country is a very important partner in any settlement of the conflict.  How does he plan to associate them with future discussions on Syria?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you’ve seen, the Secretary-General has been in touch with the Government of Iran, including in recent days he has spoken several times with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  And he’s made clear that Iran has a role, a significant role, to play in dealing with the conflict in Syria.  So he will continue to engage with them and he hopes they will continue… that they can play a constructive and positive role in resolving this crisis.  You had a question?


Question:  Yes, thank you, Farhan.  On the follow-up meeting and tomorrow’s meeting at the UN Headquarters in Geneva on the Syria talks, what other UN officials will be there?  Will Valerie Amos continue with these meetings?  Other than, of course, Lakhdar Brahimi and his staff?  Will there be other UN official at any level?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  These are meetings that are being chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, and so it is he and his team who are doing this.  Other officials are now going to other areas.  As you know, the Secretary-General has travelled on to Davos, so this will be under the purview of Mr. Brahimi and we’ll get details from him.  Hopefully, at some point or another, depending upon the progress of these talks, we can try to see whether he can come before the press in Geneva, as well.


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I want to ask about Haiti and also, [unmanned aerial vehicles] or drones.  On Haiti, I know that the Special Envoy, Pedro Medrano, has made sort of an appeal for funds to combat cholera in Haiti, but seems to have said that legal wrangling over the epidemic has to be put aside in order to tackle the sweeping advance of the disease.  And I wanted to know, first, just factually, the fact that the UN is being sued, or people are trying to sue the UN in a class action suit, has that, thus far, cost the UN any money?  And just factual, I wanted to know if the UN has accepted the legal papers that the attorneys in that case were seeking to serve them?  It seems to set up, like, that the reason to not pursue that case is to focus on it.  But, couldn’t the UN do both at once?  And is there some monetary damage to the UN of the lawsuit thus far?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any comment on the legal case beyond what we have said many, many times in the past.  What I can say about what you’re asking is that what the adviser, Pedro Medrano, was indicating in the interview you just cited was that now is the time to address the epidemic; that his office, as the coordinator for the response, is rightly focused on making the response as effective as possible.  That’s all he’s saying by that.


Correspondent:  Okay.  I just meant… It seems like he was commenting, at least the way… the article I’ve read on it, on the case.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The quote from the [Agence France-Presse] article is that “we will have enough time in the future to discuss the cause.  There will be a proper place to discuss that.”  That’s the quote.  But, like I said, what he’s indicating by saying that is that it’s now the time to address the epidemic.


Question:  On drones, can I ask you just one thing?  There was an “other business” Security Council consultation yesterday afternoon — maybe it was in the morning — and I was told that Mr. Ladsous had presented a different version… about the crash; it was described as a crash in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] of the drone, was called a hard landing and that the number of drones may have increased from three to five by April.  I don’t know if that is an increase.  Can you give some indication, number one, was it a crash or a hard landing?  And number two, is there any change in the drone deployment in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] beyond what was said publicly to date?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we gave some details about what happened to the unmanned aerial vehicle when it happened.  I don’t have any further things to say on that.  We didn’t… I don’t believe, at that point, we classified it either as a crash or a hard landing, but in any case, the point was that no one was injured and there was no other property damage except to the unarmed unmanned aerial vehicle itself.  Regarding how many drones we’re going to have in the future, we can check with [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations].


Have a good day, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.