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

3 February 2014

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

3 February 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.

Good afternoon, welcome to the briefing.

**Trip Announcement

As you will have seen, we announced a little bit earlier that the Secretary-General will depart New York on Tuesday evening for a visit to Sochi in Russia.

On Friday, 7 February, he will take part in the opening of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

The Secretary-General will also hold bilateral meetings with world leaders who will, like him, be attending the Games in Sochi.

The Secretary-General plans to return to New York on Saturday, 8 February.

** Sahel

The United Nations and humanitarian partners launched a three-year Regional Strategic Response Plan today to provide aid to millions of people in nine countries in Africa's Sahel region.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that some 20 million people are currently at risk of food insecurity in the Sahel and 2.5 million of them need urgent lifesaving food assistance.  An estimated 5 million children under five years of age will suffer from malnutrition in 2014, and some 1.5 million of them will face acute malnutrition.  Violence and insecurity have forced 1.2 million people to flee their homes and that is creating protracted internal displacement and a refugee crisis.

The plan seeks to mobilize an initial $2 billion from international donors in 2014, and the strategy comprises country plans for Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.

There is more information available in a press release.

**Security Council — Mali

The 15 members of the Security Council are on a two-day visit to Mali.

Yesterday, they went to Mopti, which is 600 kilometres northeast of Bamako, where they held meetings with the governor and other local authorities.  They also met with civil society representatives from northern Mali.

The Council members then visited the UN Mission’s camp in Mopti and were briefed on the security situation as well as on the activities of the UN agencies present in the region.  They also visited the camp’s field hospital.

Back in Bamako, the Council delegation met with the President of Mali, Mr. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and other members of his cabinet.

Today, the delegation met with the Serval Commander and with the Head of the European Union Training Mission.

And this afternoon, members of the Council will meet with officials of the Malian Government and members of Parliament.

This evening, the delegation will wrap up its visit with a press conference at the headquarters of the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

**South Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, wrapped up a two-day visit to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) today.

Earlier today, the Under-Secretary-General met with President Salva Kiir in Juba.  He stressed that priority must be given to implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed on 23 January.  He also conveyed the UN’s full support for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and its mediation process.

In a meeting with UN staff in the capital Juba, Mr. Ladsous commended the mission for its resilience throughout the crisis and for sharing the Mission’s facilities with thousands of civilians at risk.

During his trip, Mr. Ladsous also visited the Tomping UNMISS site in Juba, where the United Nations is protecting more than 25,000 civilians.

After meeting with displaced civilians and community leaders, Mr. Ladsous stated that seeing thousands of people safe at the UN facilities was a clear indicator that the Mission had made the right decision to open its doors to civilians seeking protection.

The UN Mission, however, reports continuing incidents of obstruction of movement of its personnel, making it increasingly difficult for the Mission to implement its mandate.

Overall, some 75,000 civilians are sheltering at various UN bases across the country.

** Sudan

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan and the head of the United Nations refugee agency [in Sudan] have welcomed the commitment of the Government of Sudan to provide international protection and humanitarian assistance to South Sudanese who have fled the conflict in South Sudan and the announcement by the Government of Sudan that they will be granted “special privileges”.

They encourage the Government of Sudan to further clarify the nature of protection it will extend and the modalities for granting such protection, in line with international instruments ratified by Sudan.

The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the refugee Agency expressed concern about reports of rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the sites where the newly arrived South Sudanese reside and to which [the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and other UN agencies have had limited access so far. They call on the Government of Sudan to facilitate sustained direct access to them.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, reports that early this morning, demonstrators in Bunia stoned several UN cars.  It adds that during the incidents, a peacekeeper lost control of his car and received serious head injuries, while four local civilians were injured, as well.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country, Martin Kobler, said that this kind of assault on civilians and on UN staff was not acceptable, whatever the reason.  He called on demonstrators to use peaceful means to express themselves.

**Security Council

Lithuania has replaced Jordan in the rotating Presidency of the Security Council, as I am sure you are aware.  We expect the Lithuanian Ambassador, Raimonda Murmokaitẻ, will brief you on Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. in this room on the Council’s work this month.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by President Tommy Remengesau of Palau on oceans and seas.

That’s what I’ve got for you.  Questions, please.  Yes, Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On South Sudan, thanks for the readout of the Under-Secretary-General’s visit.  I wanted to know a couple of things.  Over the weekend, there was a report by Riek Machar’s side that there was a town called Leer, which is Mr. Machar’s birthplace, was retaken and destroyed by the Government forces.  I wanted to know if the UN can confirm that and if there was any thought given to… did Mr. Ladsous reach out to what’s viewed as the army in opposition or the other side and, if not, what’s the impact on the United Nations’ ability to observing a ceasefire or monitoring it in some way?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to the first part of your question, as I did say, there are concerns about the obstruction of our Mission in its movements and this is making it very difficult for it to carry out its mandate.  And part of its mandate is of course to look at incidents of this kind and so I would need to check with the Mission whether those present conditions, those difficult conditions of lack of freedom of movement, have made it difficult for them to check on these reports.  With regard to the second part, I’m sure my colleagues in peacekeeping operations will let me know whether there was any interaction with a broad range.  I would assume that there was a wide-ranging mix of contacts, but I do not have details with me right here on what they were.

Question:  If you don’t… also on South Sudan, I don’t know if you’re aware, there’s a picture circulating pretty widely of Government troops in South Sudan outside Bor marching, but they all have on these UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) backpacks.  I just wanted to ask, I will ask UNCIEF, as well, but I wanted to know, does this seem wrong to the UN?  Is there some kind of restriction on the use of material provided on a humanitarian basis by humanitarian organizations in South Sudan?

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly do ask UNICEF, but I think it stands to reason that it’s not acceptable for any Government troops or indeed any other troops to be using backpacks that are intended for children and would presumably have contained school supplies.  I don’t think that’s acceptable in anybody’s book, school book or not.  Other questions?  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later said that the UN Children Fund had expressed its concern to see this flagrant abuse of UNICEF education materials by combatants. A large amount of UNICEF supplies — along with humanitarian supplies from other organizations as well as stores from schools and hospitals — had been looted in many locations during the conflict in South Sudan. UNICEF said that such thefts displayed a complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work.  UNICEF urged the parties involved to take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians, especially children.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There’ve been some reports, at least from the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the past few days of threats against UN and OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) officials.  Can you say anything about that?  There is a Thursday briefing, is that right, by Sigrid Kaag?  That’s not from here, I assume, but will they be reporting at all?  And has the Secretary-General said anything about the delay in some of the removal and destruction of the chemical weapons?

Spokesperson:  I think there’s some confusion here, just to come to the last part of your question.  The removal of the materials — and the Secretary-General did, indeed, address this on a number of occasions, notably while he was in Germany, and I would refer you to what he had to say there.  With regard to the briefing to the Council, I think that is indeed the case.  I can confirm the dates for you.  I believe, if I’m not mistaken again, that Ms. Kaag will actually be here and…

Question:  She’ll be here in New York?

Spokesperson:  She may, subject to confirmation, I believe that’s the case.  And I would imagine that she would address any of those kinds of concerns.  But, of course, we’re not going to get into details about any security incidents there may or may not have been.  We just would not do that.  Okay, yes, next question.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Sigrid Kaag would be in New York to brief the Security Council on Thursday.]

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Regarding the resignation of Nasser al-Kidwa [United Nations and League of Arab States Deputy Joint Special Representative], has he mentioned why he’s leaving his position and why at this time?

Spokesperson:  I think you would need to ask Mr. al-Kidwa that.  We’ve made clear the Secretary-General’s appreciation for the work that he’s carried out, not just with Mr. Brahimi but also before that with Kofi Annan.  And so, I think I would simply leave it at that.  If you wish to find out more I would refer you to, specifically to Mr. al-Kidwa.  And again, it’s also been said that he’s indicated to the Secretary-General his willingness to serve the United Nations in other capacities, should the Secretary-General wish.  And, as I say, the [Secretary-General] expressed his appreciation to Mr. al-Kidwa for his service.  Yes, please?

Question:  Martin, just a follow-up to that.  Is Mr. al-Kidwa going to be replaced?  Or is he no longer useful?  What is going on in the team?  Is he going to have a replacement?

Spokesperson:  I think there are discussions still going on about that so I’d stay tuned.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Pamela.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the Sochi trip of the [Secretary-General], is there an agenda… will he be meeting with different international officials, will he be watching the Games?  What will he be doing there?  And is he concerned about spectator security?

Spokesperson:  Well, security is a matter for the national authorities.  So, I think it’s for the Russian authorities to comment on security.  I did just say that he will be holding bilateral meetings.  We’ll provide details about those as we get closer to his arrival and when they actually take place.  Part of the programme is still being put together.  He’s there to take part in the opening — meaning the opening ceremony — and we will be able to provide details on that.  I will be on that trip.  Depending on the timing, if I can phone into the briefing as I did from Havana, I’ll happily do so if that would be useful.

Question:  Yes, definitely.  The calling in was useful.  Please, if you can, do it.

Spokesperson:  I can certainly recommend the barber, if you need a barber.  Three dollars a shot.

Question:  Down there?  Okay.  Very good.  I wanted to ask you about Cyprus.  I’m sure you’ve seen this protest or concern raised by Cyprus about the way the Secretary-General described the basis of suspending of talks.  He seemed to say because of the change of Government of the Greek Cypriot community in Cyprus.  They’re saying that, in fact, they were suspended when, by the Greeks, the Turkish Cypriot side when Turkey assumed presidency of the Council of Europe.  Which is it?  And what’s the response?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I would urge you to take a close look at the transcript of what the Secretary-General actually said.  I think that would help to clear up some of the confusion that has been created.  And that’s really all I have to say on that at the moment.  It’s really nothing more that I have to say on that at the moment.

Question:  This came up on Friday and it’s not a repeat.  Since the naming of Michael Bloomberg to this position on Climate Change and the Cities.  Maybe it was a timed thing, but he seems to have made a number of statements about what cities in Africa should do about reducing emissions.  He gave an interview on Bloomberg Africa TV that seems to concern various economic matters in Africa.  And I just wanted to know, I still I guess wanted to ask, whether there are any safeguards in place in terms of business interests and representing the UN.  But mostly, when should we understand him to be speaking for the UN?  If it’s on climate and cities, is he speaking for the UN?  Or if he doesn’t mention the UN, he’s not speaking for the UN?  That’s what I wanted to know.

Spokesperson:  I think Farhan, my colleague, addressed quite clearly the question of the terms of reference for this appointment and the way that any potential conflicts of interest are being dealt with.  I think he did deal with that question quite clearly and comprehensively already.  With regard to interviews that he may give, if he’s speaking in his personal capacity, as he’s entitled to do, then that’s what he’s doing.  Okay?  And let’s remember that he’s only just been appointed and there will be occasions where it will be possible for him to speak specifically in that role.  But, at the moment, I don’t think that that is yet taking place because he’s only just been appointed.  There needs to be a certain amount of briefing to go on about the UN side of the picture.  And let’s also remember that Mayor Bloomberg has had extensive experience in running this city and in addition, also is chairing a group of cities and you know what the role there is.  So, he has considerable expertise, not just in running this city until very recently, but also in working with other cities to ensure that in the future they can be more sustainable and environmentally sustainable.  And that’s even before he took on the role of Special Envoy.  Any other questions?  A moving hand — Edie, welcome to the show.

Question:  Thank you very much, Martin.  The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said today that the Secretary-General was going to address the IOC general assembly and that it would be the first time a UN Secretary-General has addressed that assembly.  Can you confirm that this will be part of the Secretary-General’s activities when he’s at Sochi?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that that is a part of his activities.  I would need to check on the precedence of whether it is the first time that any Secretary-General has addressed that body.  But certainly, as you will be aware, there’s a growing relationship between the IOC and the United Nations sharing very similar values in certain areas, in particular, not least, the use of sport for peace and development.  So, I think it’s in that context that the Secretary-General intends to build on the relationship he had with the predecessor of Thomas Bach, and it’s one of the reasons that the Secretary-General did want to go to the Sochi Games and to be able to speak to the membership.  I’m sure he will also be speaking publicly too.  Other questions?  I am looking.  Back of the room, I don’t see hands, so, yes, Matthew.

Question:  This may be somewhat logistical.  I’m wondering if the press conference of the Security Council in Bamako at the headquarters of MINUSMA, is there some way… they seem to say it couldn’t be live-streamed due to slow Internet.  Either via telephone or in some other way, is there a way?  It seems like you communicate with MINUSMA, there must be some connection possible.

Spokesperson:  I hope my colleagues in [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] are listening to this and can dial the line right now.  It is certainly true that the Internet speed leaves something to be desired as I recall from my own recent visit there — through nobody’s fault, of course.  Even if it’s not possible for you to listen through by telephone, I’m sure that there will be an audio recording that we could make available.  Okay?  I can see a hand right at the very back.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Mr. Haq told us last week that the Secretary-General had consistently spoken about the human rights situation in Cuba when he was in Havana.  There was also this open letter to the SG asking him to be more forthcoming and to speak about the violations that took place and detentions while he was there on the island.  Do you have any further comment?

Spokesperson:  Well, I was with the Secretary-General in Havana and I can certainly attest that he brought up the question of human rights repeatedly and in strong terms, including references to recent developments.  But, I would refrain from going into further details about that because that could be counter-productive.  Okay, Pamela?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General did bring up in Havana, or at least spoke on, violence against women at the UNiTE meeting.

Spokesperson:  Indeed.  It was a very interesting event.

Question:  Thank you.  But, there are some meetings coming up this week on the working group on sustainable development and gender equality.  Is there anything you expect the Secretary-General to say about the Millennium Development Goals, what they can do going forward?

Spokesperson:  Where?

Correspondent:  Here, Wednesday, are several meetings of UN Women and other side events.

Spokesperson:  Given that he’s leaving tomorrow evening to fly to Sochi, unless a video message is being recorded, it would have to be another senior official who would be speaking in his behalf.

Question:  I don’t mean physically speaking.  I mean, does he have anything to issue in terms of a statement about gender equality?

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check.  But, his record on gender empowerment doesn’t need to be defended by me standing here right now.  I think you all know what he’s done in that regard within the UN System and in promoting this across the world.  Wherever he goes, he addresses this.  And indeed it was very interesting to see on this most recent trip to Cuba that on our side of the table in the talks there were quite a few women in the delegation, including the Chef du Cabinet and Alicia Bárcena [United Nations Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean] and the outgoing resident coordinator, just for starters.  So, I think he’s got a good track record, and we’ll see if there’s a statement or some other message to this particular meeting you’re referring to.

Any other questions?  Okay, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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