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

29 January 2014

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

29 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General arrived in Berlin from Havana a couple of hours ago and has already met the Interior Minister of Germany.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be meeting President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development.  He will also attend the inaugural meeting of his Scientific Advisory Board.

**South Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, wrapped up her three-day visit to South Sudan today.

At a press conference, she said that, so far, aid agencies have assisted more than 300,000 displaced people.  She added that, while this had saved many lives, humanitarians have not been able to provide assistance to many others due to the continuing insecurity.

She also said that aid workers had been subjected to violence, and that there were worrying reports of interference in humanitarian activities.

During her meetings with high-level officials, including President Salva Kiir, Ms. Amos highlighted the urgent need to implement the agreement to cease hostilities, signed last week in Ethiopia, and welcomed the President’s statements about reconciliation and assurances for more humanitarian access.  She said she hoped the agreement would lead to an environment where people will feel able to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.

She also called on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure that all civilians are protected, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

** Central African Republic

Last night, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the new Government in the Central African Republic.  He said the establishment of a new Government offers a fresh opportunity to move the political process forward.

The Secretary-General also said he remained deeply concerned about the ongoing sectarian violence in the country and the humanitarian crisis that affects more than half of the population.  He repeated his call for contributions to the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, or MISCA, during the donor conference to take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this Saturday.

The Secretary-General also appreciates the timely adoption yesterday of a new Security Council resolution on the Central African Republic which reinforces the mandate of the [United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office] in the country (BINUCA), provides for sanctions on individuals involved in violations of human rights and of the arms embargo, and authorizes the European Union’s troop deployment to the country.  He said that the Council’s sustained engagement will be crucial to the efforts of the United Nations to restore peace and stability in the country.  That full statement is available online.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and head of the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission there, MONUSCO, said today that he was extremely concerned by the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Katanga Province.

As you know, yesterday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also expressed its concern, noting that there are now 400,000 displaced people in the province.

Mr. Kobler said that all armed groups must stop their activities and allow humanitarian access to the civilian populations.

**Security Council

Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, spoke at today’s open debate of the Security Council on “War, Its Lessons, and the Search for a Permanent Peace”.

He said that past crises have shown that the immediate imperatives tend to be so overpowering that what appear to be longer-term aspects often receive less attention.  At the same time, he said, peacebuilding is now an indispensable part of the UN’s conflict management and prevention work.

Mr. Feltman discussed how the United Nations deals with the need for reconciliation, as well as how the UN's approach to crisis management can be combined with the imperative of enabling societies to heal.  His remarks are available in our Office.

**DPI Holocaust Exhibition Opening

Correspondents are invited to attend the screening of the film Blinky and Me, which will take place this evening from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Conference Room 2 of the Conference Building.  The film highlights the struggles of Jews during the Holocaust and tells the life story of Australian Animator Yoram Gross.  The screening is one of several events organized for Holocaust Remembrance Week.

That’s it for me.  Any questions?  Oh, okay, you were just waiting for a few seconds.  Matthew and then Tim.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In the Ukraine, I’m not sure if I missed some announcement on your part that Robert Serry met with President [Yevgeny] Yanukovich and I wanted to know:  is that the case?  What’s the UN’s… why was it him, given his title?  And what’s the UN seeking to accomplish?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General asked Mr. Robert Serry to travel to Kiev on his behalf to convey the United Nations’ solidarity with Ukraine and to encourage dialogue.  He will be in Ukraine from yesterday until Thursday, tomorrow.  As for his past experience, he has worked in the Ukraine before.  He continues to be the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  That hasn’t changed.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Reuters reported today that only less than 5 per cent of Syria’s chemical materials [have been] taken out of the country.  Can you confirm that?  How much… how many percentage taken out of country?  And what is the Secretary-General’s position on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As the Secretary-General has said in a letter, in a report that he sent to the Security Council over the past few days, it’s clear that the 31 December 2013 deadline for the removal of all priority chemical weapons material was not met and the 5 February 2014 deadline to remove other chemical materials is imminent.  So, those deadlines have not been met.  But, as he says in his letter to the Security Council, the delay is not insurmountable. The 30 June 2014 deadline is still five months away.  However, it is imperative that the Syrian Arab Republic now examine the situation, intensify its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material and continue to meet its obligations under resolution 2118 (2013) and the decisions of the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  Tim?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Geneva talks are discussing this humanitarian convoy to Homs.  Can you tell us where the convoy is and what it’s carrying?  Is it enough food for two weeks or two months or whatever?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As we pointed out yesterday, the humanitarian groups are ready with a convoy to Homs once they have the remaining approvals that are needed to get there.  The humanitarian organizations working in Syria remain ready to proceed with convoys of life-saving aid for people into areas affected or cut off by the fighting, including the Old City of Homs.  As negotiations among the parties to the conflict continue over aid going into Homs and civilians being evacuated from there, it would be up to those parties to make that possible.  As for amounts and other things, we would usually expect to have more information once convoys have safely reached their destinations.

Question:  Approval from?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  From the Government and opposition sides.  We’re looking for approvals from both sides.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Farhan, is the Secretary-General pleased with the progress of the talks in Geneva?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you are aware, these are early days.  As we made clear at the start of the process, we never expected the process to be easy, and it hasn’t been easy.  But, at the same time, as the Secretary-General made clear at the start of the talks last week, the important thing is to get the parties to the table.  And we are still encouraged that they remain at the table, that they continue to discuss matters with each other, and we hope that something more can come out of this.  Ultimately, this is the start of a process.  It may be a turbulent process from time to time, but we’re encouraged that the process has finally begun after so many years of fighting.  Yes?

Question:  Also on Syria, I wanted to know what the state of the UN or the mediato…, mediation team’s contacts with the Free Syrian Army are.  And I’m asking because this new children and armed conflict in Syria report says… describes a number of parties, but it says specifically there are consistent reports of the use of child soldiers by the Free Syrian Army and it describes particular cases, ages, dates, places.  So, I’m just wondering what’s the interrelation between the UN’s position on recruitment of child soldiers and invitations to participate?  And sort of… what… what happens now that this report has come out in terms of the UN’s dealings with the Syrian issue and the Free Syrian Army in particular?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regardless of parties, the fact is the invitations to the parties were to the warring sides in an effort to bring the war to an end.  That doesn’t imply any sort of approval or otherwise of the actions taken by either party.  We’ve been very clear that both parties are culpable and are liable for different offenses committed over the course of the war, whether that includes the recruitment of child soldiers, violations of humanitarian and human rights laws, including killings, and other violations.  That’s one issue.  But, it’s important and it’s imperative at this stage to bring the parties into negotiations with each other and that is why the parties have been invited.

Question:  Thanks for that.  The reason I’m asking is because it seems like some countries, even the host country, seem to make a distinction between extremists, bad rebels and what are viewed as more positive armed groups, and I wanted to know…I understand the UN is not obviously, you know… do you have anything to say about that given that, given how public that debate by major States is?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  That’s not a distinction I have any comment about.  What we’re trying to do is bring as many of the parties who can put an end to the fighting to the table.  That’s the priority at this stage.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Is there a final disposition on where the evacuation, if there is one, of Homs is?  If it only includes women and children?  There’s been a back and forth.  And is the OPCW, the [Sigrid] Kaag briefing, going to be here in New York or there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The briefing to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons takes place over there, in The Hague.  I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about.

Question:  Will she be giving a press briefing?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There’s no press briefing on the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons scheduled for here just yet.  If that comes up, we’ll add it to the schedule and inform you.  But, it’s not there.

Question:  And the status of the Homs?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s something ultimately that depends on actions taken by the parties.  This is a matter the parties have been discussing, including in Geneva.  I believe, even as we speak, Lakhdar Brahimi will be talking to the press in Geneva.  And I don’t know what the progress has been on the particular issue of getting people to leave from Homs.  As Mr. Brahimi pointed out in his press remarks over the last couple of days, this has been a complicated matter to deal with.

Question:  One little follow-up:  my colleagues at [the Associated Press] have reported there was some sort of discussion… or your colleagues… that there was some discussion this morning of transition.  Can you elaborate at all on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I can’t.  Of course, once you’re done with this briefing, you’re free to go to your webcast monitors and look at Mr. Brahimi’s briefing and he may have some more details.  But, at this stage, we don’t have an update on what today’s discussions had contained.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Back to the report that Matthew was talking about, there seems that the Secretary-General provides some data on abduction of UN personnel and international organizations.  But, the data seems to be of the end of October?  Do you have any updates on the 22 United Nations personnel being abducted by armed groups?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t.  I can ask where we stand on that.  But, I haven’t received any recent updates on our abducted personnel.  As you know, we’re trying to make sure that all of our personnel who’ve been detained for one reason or another will be promptly released.  But, I can check and see what that latest status is of that.  Yes?

Question:  On South Sudan, please.  What do you mean by the continuing security situation or concerns?  And also the interference with the aid workers, has that been since the ceasefire was meant to have started, that Ms. Amos spoke of?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we can refer you to her overall press conference transcript.  I believe the opening remarks at least are available with us.  I don’t have any further details from what she had said then.  But, if we can get anything else on that, I’ll let you know.  Have a good afternoon.

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