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

10 February 2014

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

10 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, everybody.  Welcome to the Briefing.

** Homs

Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the news that the parties to the conflict have agreed to extend the humanitarian pause in Old Homs City, for a further three days.  She expressed the hope that this will allow for the evacuation of more civilians and the delivery of much-needed additional supplies.  The protection of civilians caught up in this horrendous conflict in Syria is the greatest priority for UN agencies and humanitarian partners.

Since 7 February, humanitarian teams working with the local authorities, representatives of all sides and community leaders, in extremely dangerous circumstances, have managed to evacuate more than 800 people from the Old City of Homs and bring vital food and medical supplies to people who have been besieged with little aid for nearly two years.

Ms. Amos said that it is absolutely unacceptable that UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers were deliberately targeted.  She is deeply disappointed that the parties were unable to hold their ceasefire in Homs.  This led to 11 people losing their lives needlessly as the operations were being carried out.  She said that the international community must press for full accountability.

I can also tell you that the Secretary-General is writing a letter to the team in Damascus to thank all of them for their work and the great personal risk they place themselves at in these dangerous circumstances.  And I think that this letter will be going to Damascus quite soon.

** Syria

The second round of the intra-Syrian talks started this morning in Geneva.  Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi met with the delegation of the Syrian opposition headed by its Chief Negotiator, Mr. Hedi Albahra, and subsequently with the Syrian Government delegation headed by its Chief Negotiator, Ambassador Bashar al Ja’fari.

The discussions centred on the agenda of the second round of the talks, chiefly questions relating to the cessation of violence and terrorism and the establishment of a transitional governing body in accordance with the Geneva communiqué of 30 June 2012.

**OPCW-UN Joint Mission

Also staying with Syria, the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations announced that a third shipment of chemical weapons material took place from Syria today.  The material is on board a Norwegian cargo vessel accompanied by a naval escort from the People’s Republic of China, Denmark, Norway and the Russian Federation.  The United Kingdom is participating in the naval escort in international waters.   Finland is providing experts onboard the Danish vessel.

The Joint Mission also confirms that the destruction of some chemical materials has taken place inside Syria, alongside the removal of chemical weapons material, and it welcomes progress to date.  The Syrian Arab Republic is encouraged to expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of these chemical materials.

** Central African Republic

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), Babacar Gaye, has condemned the violence that has engulfed Bangui for several weeks.  This weekend that included the killing of Jean-Emmanuel Ndjaroua, a member of the National Transition Council; that was by unidentified armed persons.

Mr. Gaye said that this violence creates a climate of fear and it also encourages the emergence of acts of banditry.  He urged the Central African authorities to establish a functional system to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes and put an end to impunity.  There is a press release available on this in English and in French.

I should add that the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General remain extremely concerned about the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, underscores the necessity of the national political dialogue to continue without delay to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, with the participation of all South Sudanese political and civil society representatives, including Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) detainees.

Over the weekend, the Mission facilitated the travel of an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) needs assessment team to Malakal in Upper Nile State in order to operationalize the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism of the cessation of hostilities agreement.  Earlier today, IGAD officials also visited Bor in Jonglei State.  The Mission says it held discussion with IGAD in both locations.

Meanwhile, the Mission continues its military and police patrols in locations around the country.  In Nassir, in Upper Nile State, the Mission reports the situation to be volatile.  The Mission has received reports of fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and anti-Government forces in Thorgwang in Manyo County.

In Bor, Jonglei State, the Mission notes that some Government officials have begun returning to the town, as have civilians, but in limited numbers.  The Mission continues to protect some 6,000 civilians at its base in Bor.  Overall, approximately 75,000 civilians are being protected in a number of sites across the country.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Filippo Grandi, the outgoing Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).  And Mr. Grandi will brief on his tenure at UNRWA and the current and future challenges facing the agency.

Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, in Bosnia there is about… it is described as the biggest unrest since the war that was stopped 1995 by the Dayton Peace Accord.  It was described by the High Representative of international community, Mr. Valentin Inzko, like that:  the biggest unrest.  Does the Secretary-General have knowledge of that and need to comment on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re obviously aware of the unrest and I’ve certainly been briefing the Secretary-General, including during the visit to Russia, just to keep him up to date, and he is up to speed on what is happening.  We don’t have any direct statement at this point.  We would simply urge anybody who wishes to protest against the authorities to do so in a peaceful manner.  And that is where I would leave it at this point.  Yes, please, and then Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In terms of Syrian chemical weapons, do you have the details of how much, from all total chemical stockpiles, how much is destroyed or shipped out of the country?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have those details at hand.  I would refer you to the Joint Mission.  If I’m able to get that information and then distribute it to you, I’d be happy to do so.  But, you may wish also to try speaking directly to the Joint Mission or indeed to the OPCW in The Hague.  But, if I get some details, certainly I’d be happy to make those details available to you.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then Pam?

Correspondent:  On the same question regarding the nuclear material being shipped somewhere…

Spokesperson:  Chemical.

Question:  Chemical, I’m sorry… chemical material on a ship, accompanied by other ships from different countries.  Where is that ship heading?

Spokesperson:  Again, I’m not in a position to disclose that at this point.  But, should I get more information on that, I’ll let you know.  Okay, Pamela?

Correspondent:  Yes, Martin.  You mentioned that there was a call for accountability for the attack against UN and Syrian Red Crescent forces in Homs…

Spokesperson:  Forces?  They weren’t forces — personnel.

Question:  I mean, personnel.  Is there going to be some kind of investigation that someone does about who was responsible, since both sides have accused the other?  And do you have any, does the UN or Syrian Red Crescent have any information on who perpetrated the attack?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think we would want to get into apportioning blame at this point.  The most important aspect here is that, as Valerie Amos has said, through skilful negotiations, that the team in Damascus, our colleagues have been able to secure an extension of that cease fire, which after all was a ceasefire that was very shaky over the weekend.  But, they’ve now secured another three days, which includes today, to try to bring more people out and to get more supplies in.  And that would certainly include trying to help somewhere in the region of 30 people in what passes for a hospital inside Old Homs City, and they are in bad shape and need to be evacuated as soon as possible.  So, to answer your question about any investigation:  I don’t know at the moment what form that would take, but as you know, the United Nations, particularly the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is fastidiously collecting information that will form part of the Commission of Inquiry’s successive reports.

Question:  Right.  And just as a follow-up on the 600 people or so who were evacuated:  were there young men?  And after the discussion about whether it would only be women, children and elderly, if there were not, were they held back before they got to the convoys?

Spokesperson:  A number of people who did not fit into the immediate category, they are not being detained; they are being looked after with UN protection officers, meaning staff.  I don’t mean military officers; I mean protection staff, to ensure that they come to no harm.

Question:  My question is the same… a follow-up on Pamela’s questions.  The number of people who were evacuated, what is… because there are conflicting numbers.  Some say it’s 600-something.  And other say between 300 [and] 400.  Also, how are they being catered for afterwards?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t need to say “some say”.  We can say that Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, has said that in extremely dangerous circumstances, humanitarian teams working with local authorities and so on have evacuated more than 800 people.  Okay?

Question:  Are they all accounted for after they are released?  I mean, after they left?

Spokesperson:  I’ve just explained that a number of those did not fit into the immediate category, and protection staff are ensuring their safety and well-being.  I’m going to Matthew and then I’ll come to you.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask on South Sudan — the opposition or rebels have said they are not going to proceed with the talks that were supposed to begin… re-begin today.  They say because the 11 detained were not all released, which they say was required by the Addis agreement.  And also they’re saying that the Ugandan troops should leave the country.  That this was part of the agreement in Addis and over the weekend, the [ United States] came out and said there should be a part, you know, a phased withdrawal of the Ugandans.  Does the UN… one, what is the UN’s role in getting the talks continuing, given that, I guess, Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous did meet with, to some degree, both sides?  And two, does the UN have a view about the Ugandan [peacekeeping forces] remaining in the country?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on the Ugandan forces that remain in the country.  With regard to the negotiations, I did just say that IGAD is leading those mediation efforts, but as I also said, the UN has been involved with speaking with IGAD to help that process along.  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  My name is Hasmik.  I’m asking about… there was a video [that] was published today by some activists.  The video shows that United aid workers warned civilians from some of its neighbours.  And they say that this is… a UN worker said that this neighbour is from the regime part.  What about this video?  This is my first question.  My second question is there is some reports that say there [are] some Christians that were arrested in Homs and they couldn’t go out because some of the groups are arresting them and they couldn’t go out.  I just wanted to know if this is true.  And also, they say that civilians got arrested or were arrested after they were going from the Old City.  Is this true, also?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the third part, I’ve just told you that UN protection staff have been with those who did not fit into the immediate category of those to be evacuated in the first instance.  With regard to the video you mentioned, there are very many videos that surface and I’m not going to comment on each and every individual video.  On the second point, I’ll try to check and see if I can find out anything further from my colleagues, but at the moment, their priority is to evacuate as many people as they can in extremely risky circumstances; and also, in the opposite direction, to take in as much aid as they possibly can.  So, I believe I was going somewhere else in the room now for a question.  You had a question, I believe.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I have two questions.  One, on Syria, are there any measures to be taken to protect the aid workers further, any measure?  And is there any investigation to decide which side actually attacked?

Spokesperson:  Well, I did answer that part of the question already.  We’re not looking to apportion blame at this point.  Whoever was doing the firing, clearly this was entirely unacceptable, given the operation that was under way.  And with regard to any security measures that may be taken, that’s not something that we would talk about.  All I can assure you is that that every possible precaution is taken, including in planning such operations and the Department of Safety and Security here has been heavily involved in that, and obviously with our protection teams on the ground to try and ensure that the humanitarian aid workers can do the work that they need to do.  But, I can’t go into details about the full security arrangements, for obvious reasons.

Question:  Second question:  during his visit to Sochi… his stay in Sochi, did the Secretary-General have ever any chance to talk, discuss about the North Korean problem with anyone?

Spokesperson:  Well, Kim Yong Nam, who, as I think you probably know is Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and essentially the Head of State and number two in the country, he was also attending the opening ceremony and the Secretary-General did indeed have an opportunity to speak with Kim Yong Nam at some length.  They spoke about the family reunions, and the Secretary-General certainly encouraged Mr. Kim, the Chairman of the Presidium, to follow through on the agreement on the family reunions.  So, this is something that should be divorced from politics.  This is a humanitarian matter.  And they also discussed relations between the United Nations and the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and furthermore, the Secretary-General took the opportunity, in his conversation with Kim Yong Nam to invite him to the climate summit here in New York on 23 September, this year.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  How is the humanitarian aid coming after the conference of Kuwait?  Are there any more countries subscribing to it?  Or are there any big payments maybe being made?

Spokesperson:  You mean, following through on the pledges?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  I think I would need to defer to my colleagues in OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to provide an update on that.  Okay, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Joint Special Representative, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, has now submitted a specific agenda to the parties at the Geneva II Conference.  It’s understood that among those items on the agenda is the question of the transition of government.  It’s also understood by some that the setting up of a transitional government does not mean the destruction of existing institutions.  Is that the understanding of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Look, I’m not going to go into the precise details of what’s being discussed.  I did say, when reading out the note at the beginning, that part of the conversation is, indeed, about the transitional governing body, as set out in the Geneva communiqué of June 2012.  I don’t have anything further at this point.  Mr. Brahimi is not speaking to the media today.  Maybe he will tomorrow.  At the moment, he’s been speaking, as I said, to the two delegations separately and with the aim of walking through various steps.

Correspondent:  Another question, if I may.  I understand that the French Government is going to introduce a resolution regarding access to the civilians in Homs.  Would the Secretary-General…

Spokesperson:  In where, sorry?

Question:  In Homs.  Would the Secretary-General be in favour of such a resolution?

Spokesperson:  Well, you will have heard Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, repeatedly call for a resolution, should that be possible.  There was the presidential statement and there needed to be follow-through on that.  She said that a resolution would be helpful and that the Secretary-General would certainly subscribe to her view on that.  But, ultimately, it is a matter for the Council.  Seana, I think you had a question?

Question:  Just going back to the North Korea encounter.  Was there any indication that he would attend the climate change conference?

Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t wish to characterize the response of the interlocutor at this stage.

Question:  How long did they meet for?  Could you provide any more colour on this meeting, as to where they met?  How long?

Spokesperson:  They spoke for quite some time.  But, I think I would leave it at that.  And when I say “quite some time”, probably more than half an hour, which is, of course, quite unusual.

Question:  The UN protection officers that are with those people that are in categories who haven’t been evacuated — how long will they remain with them?  Will they remain beyond the three-day ceasefire?

Spokesperson:  As long as it takes.  And again, I would need to get some more information from my humanitarian colleagues to provide some details on that.  But, clearly, we take this very seriously.  If we’re evacuating people, we have a responsibility for all those who are being evacuated.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask about Mali and whistleblower protections.  On Mali, there seems to be different accounts of some fighting that took place in the north.  The Government has said that Mujao attacked and killed 30 people and at least it’s reported that the Mission said that this was inter-communal violence between Tuareg and Pule.  And I just wondered… what is the Mission’s response to the Government claiming that Mujao did these killings?  Does the Mission agree or disagree?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check.

Question:  The other one is about whistleblowers.  There’s the new [ United States] law that requires the Secretary of State to certify that all the UN’s Secretariat and agencies have protections in place.  So, I wanted to know if you have any comment on the law?  But also, I remember that Louise Otis, this Canadian judge, was going to do a report to the Secretary-General on whistleblower protections throughout the system and that it was going to be done by the end of the year, last year.  So, is the report finished?  Can we learn a little bit about it?  And does the UN think that their budget could be impacted by this new law requiring whistleblower protections to be certified?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that my colleague Farhan Haq has addressed this matter last week.  I’d be happy to share with you what he had available at that time, with regard to that specific law.  With regard to the report you mentioned, I’d need to check.  I just don’t know the answer to that at this point.  Okay.  Right.  Any further questions?  Last question.  Okay.

Question:  Martin, just will the Secretary-General meet any of the interlocutors of today’s Kosovo Security Council, Mr. [Ivica] Dačić of Serbia or Mr. [Hashim] Thaçi of Kosovo?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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