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

12 February 2014

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

12 February 2014
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


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.

** Central African Republic

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, wrapped up a visit to the Central African Republic and said today that he had witnessed a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions.  He said that massive ethno-religious cleansing was continuing and that shocking barbarity, brutality and inhumanity have characterized the violence in the country.

Mr. Guterres also said that he was deeply distressed that nearly half a million Central Africans have been newly displaced since December alone.  In all, 2.5 millions are in desperate need.

He said that humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations were doing an exceptional job in helping the victims of this humanitarian crisis, but that they all faced dramatic underfunding.

The High Commissioner also said it was vital to re-establish security, law and order in the Central African Republic.  He added that the international community must come together for a significant and immediate increase of the forces and police on the ground.

He said the Central African Republic should not fall through the cracks of international attention.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) began to airlift food into the Central African Republic today.  In total, 1,800 metric tons of cereals — enough to feed 150,000 people for a month — are due to arrive by air on about 25 flights over the next four weeks.

The World Food Programme also says that food is urgently needed to be pre-positioned across Central African Republic before the start of the rainy season in May when many roads will be impassable.

** Homs

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that food for around 1,000 people for one month was delivered to community leaders in Homs, in Syria, today, and approximately 200 men, women and children were reported to have left the besieged area so far today.  Aid workers said that many people were frail and had difficulty walking.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is waiting along with partners to receive people being evacuated from Homs at the reception point at the edge of the Old Town.  A centre in the suburb of Al Waer was designated by Syrian authorities as a destination place for evacuees to shelter should they choose to do so.  So far, only 200 have opted to go there, while the rest have asked to be taken to neighbourhoods in Homs where they have ties or might feel more secure.

As for the school where men are being questioned, the Refugee Agency has a regular presence at the school, along with staff from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  So far, more than 150 of the 336 men and boys there have been questioned and have left.  The Refugee Agency expects to have updated numbers later today.

** Syria

The trilateral meeting between the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov and United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will be held in Geneva tomorrow afternoon.

Mr. Brahimi met this morning with the two delegations from the Syrian sides simultaneously.  Earlier today, he also met with Mr. Gatilov, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, is continuing to undertake military and police patrols in various parts of the country.

In Malakal, in Upper Nile State, a Mission patrol yesterday reported the town to be tense.  The Mission noted that most of southern Malakal was deserted, while SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] presence was observed in the eastern side of the town.  The Mission is protecting some 22,000 civilians at its site in Malakal.  Overall, approximately 75,000 civilians continue to shelter in UN bases across the country.

And you will have seen that we issued a statement this morning in which the Secretary-General welcomed the start yesterday of the South Sudan political talks in Addis Ababa, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  He reiterated the importance of national political dialogue, with the participation of all South Sudanese political and civil society representatives, including all senior SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] detainees.

The Secretary-General also noted with deep concern the reports of fighting and skirmishes in parts of Unity and Upper Nile States. The full statement is online.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding a meeting today on the protection of civilians, and Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Council that civilians continue to be killed, injured and maimed in conflict by targeted or indiscriminate attacks.  She said that the recent examples of Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan bear this out, with parties to conflict failing, sometimes deliberately, to respect and protect civilians, despite their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that more than 95 per cent of peacekeepers work today in missions specifically mandated by the Security Council to protect civilians.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, peacekeepers have utilized a clear and robust mandate to respond to those who would perpetrate attacks on civilians, and this past November witnessed the surrender of the M23 rebel movement.  He added that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has in recent weeks provided unprecedented protection for up to 85,000 civilians fleeing violence.

Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, also briefed the Council by videoconference.

** Gaza

Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, visited Gaza today and expressed his concern about the deteriorating situation in the Strip.

Mr. Serry said that, during the past two months, there have been more rockets being fired at Israel, border incidents, and Israeli retaliatory operations causing death or injury to civilians.  The United Nations condemns the rise in violence, and all parties must act in accordance with international law.

He said that social and economic conditions in Gaza are also deteriorating as a result of continued closures.  In particular, imports of construction materials have dramatically decreased.

Mr. Serry stressed that imports of construction materials for the private sector through legal crossings remain essential for the Gaza economy, while material must not be diverted from its intended peaceful purposes.  He also expressed hope that the Rafah crossing with Egypt would soon resume normal operations.  We have a press release with more details on that.

** Afghanistan

An appeal for more than $400 million has been launched to meet the most acute humanitarian needs in Afghanistan this year.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Mark Bowden, said that the country remains a protracted, complex emergency, with 5 million people in need of life-saving assistance despite more than a decade of international and Government development efforts.

He said that humanitarian funding and response must remain robust, adding that otherwise Afghanistan could become a forgotten emergency as international attention moves onto to other crises, such as those in Syria and South Sudan.  There is more information available online on that as well.


In remarks to the press today, the Secretary-General said that, in the two decades since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Cairo, there have been considerable advances in equality and empowerment for women, global health and life expectancy, and education for girls.  Much has been accomplished through the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  But much remains to be done.

He said that, as we look ahead to the 2015 MDG deadline, there are two priorities: to intensify efforts to achieve these life-saving Goals; and second, to define an ambitious, compelling and feasible post-2015 development agenda.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

One press conference tomorrow, at 10 a.m.: That will be a press conference here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations on the launch of the annual NGO “Peace and Cooperation” school award, this year under the slogan "The Family”.  That of course will be taking place in this briefing room.

Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you on…I saw the Secretary-General’s statement on South Sudan.  I saw at the end here where he said, “The Secretary-General condemns the use in the South Sudan conflict of cluster bombs.”  So, I wanted to follow up on yesterday.  Yesterday, it seemed that you said that remnants of bombs were found by the side of the road.  You were asked, had they been used, and you said we don’t know that yet.  Has the UN learned since yesterday, too, now that these were used in the South Sudan conflict?

Spokesperson:  Well, that appears to be the case.  Yes.

Question:  So… when?  Can you say a little more about that?  It seems… I’d like to know more about it.

Spokesperson:  Well, time has elapsed, Matthew.

Question:  Right, but what did you learn?  How recently were they used and by which side, obviously?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re not in a position to be able to say who or by whom these cluster bombs were used.  But, as the Secretary-General said, such munitions were used, and that’s something that should be condemned.

Question:  And I just… you may have anticipated this question.  I wanted to ask you this.  I did see what was emailed… I asked you by email to send some summary or transcript or remarks that the Secretary-General made.  And you did send what looked to me to be a sort of an opening statement.  I wanted to know, was anything else said in the session for which you sent that on, for example, this topic of South Sudan?  But also on, for example, Ukraine and the call about Jeffrey Feltman?  I’d just like to know, what else was said and why this wouldn’t be shared with the entire press corps here?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are two answers to this.  The longer answer, that yes, what we emailed out, what we distributed and what we put online was a verbatim set of opening remarks by the Secretary-General at the lunch he hosted for the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) Executive Committee, yesterday.  We are not in the habit of providing a full transcript of what was partly on the record and partly off the record of a conversation that ranged over many topics.  You will have seen the reporting from that.  The short answer is that, Matthew, get over it.  Next question, please?

Question:  Hi, thank you, Martin, for all your insights.  My question is on the Secretary-General asking France and the Foreign Minister [Laurent] Fabius for more troops for the Central African Republic.  He said he was going to speak with him again.  Did he get any response, especially in light of the State visit?

Spokesperson:  He did speak again.  Just to be clear, as you will have seen in the readout of the first conversation, the request was for more European Union troops, not specifically and only French troops, but for European Union troops.  There was a second conversation, as the Secretary-General said there would be, and as we signalled in the transcript of the remarks he made at the beginning of the lunch.  I would simply say that they continued their conversation about this topic.  I don’t have any further details at this point.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Russia is going to introduce a draft resolution in the Security Council against terrorists in Syria.  Does the Secretary-General have any opinion about that?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point.  I think that’s a matter for the Council.  We’ll take a look and see what the resolution says, but this is a matter for the Council.  Yes?  Say again.

Question:  I’m losing the microphone.  Yes, Martin.  On that draft resolution, Russia hasn’t circulated it, but three other countries have done one on trying to put pressure on Syria and other groups to allow humanitarian aid.  Is the Secretary-General involved in this at all?  Or has he seen it?  Or does he have any reaction?

Spokesperson:  As I say, draft resolutions are a matter for the Council members, and we have simply said, and I’ve said it the last two days now, that Valerie Amos welcomed the presidential statement on access.  She would have preferred a resolution and the Secretary-General is of the same view.  But, with regard to the present resolutions which you’ve mentioned, both the one that Ivan mentioned and the one that you’ve just mentioned, this is something that is in play, and it’s for the Council members to deliberate on and not for us to comment on.

Question:  And another short question, is there any ETA [estimated time of arrival] for the Europeans arriving in CAR [ Central African Republic]?

Spokesperson:  Gosh, that’s a lot of acronyms.  Try Brussels.  Yes?  Yeah, that’s you.

Question:  Today there was the release of two reports, one that was done here in the CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists] and Reporters Without Borders, and there is an emphasis on freedom of the press on the fact that…spying on journalists that’s considered a very serious matter.   United States, for example, by Journalists Without Borders, had been now placed on, I believe on 46 in the chart.

Spokesperson:  Right, so what’s the question?

Question:  The question is, is there any reaction from the Secretary-General on this particular aspect of spying on journalists?  Does the Secretary-General consider this a serious matter that should not be done?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I would say is that I noticed that there was a reference in the CPJ report to the need for there to be a specific reference to freedom of the media in whatever follows the Millennium Development Goals; and I would note that in the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, there is a specific line in, I think it’s in point 10 of this report, which is some 84 pages long, I think.  And in that report it says that, as one of its universal targets, there is the need to ensure that people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information.  Now, of course, this is the recommendation, or one of the recommendations, in this High-level Panel report.  It is now… the whole process is in the hands of Member States, with input from the Secretariat of the United Nations.  This is a Member States-driven process, but certainly there is a clear emphasis that’s put by the High-level Panel on the need for independent and information.  I’m not going to comment directly on the other part that you mentioned.  Mr. Abbadi and then I’ll come to Oleg, yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  From the notes you read, I understood that there is some kind ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic.  Other parties are describing the situation as genocide.  Do we have a discrepancy here? 

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think so.  I think what Mr. Guterres is simply describing, as I read out, something that is unfolding in truly a dramatic fashion and on an appalling scale.  So, I think that’s what I would refer you to — his specific remarks.  You will also have seen what the Secretary-General said yesterday, where he referred to the distinct risk that there is of the country disintegrating.  So, I think everybody is aware that the Central African Republic is at serious risk and that there needs to be a lot more done, and certainly that includes, as Mr. Guterres said, more forces, more police on the ground.  And that is part of the conversation that the Secretary-General has been having with a number of world leaders, including Mr. Fabius.  I’m coming to Oleg and then Joe.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  On this trilateral tomorrow in Geneva: Is there planned any participation of the opposition or other Syrian parties in this meeting or after that?

Spokesperson:  Well, it wouldn’t be a trilateral meeting, then, would it, Oleg? 

Question:  After that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the two Syrian parties are working through and with Mr. Brahimi, and it’s for Mr. Brahimi to say further.  I believe he plans to speak to the media tomorrow, and I’m sure he could provide more details on that.  For the time being, the two Syrian parties met together with Mr. Brahimi today.  There was no public statement after that.  But, as you heard, we announced that there would be this trilateral meeting and I think you need to just have a little patience and wait and see what’s said tomorrow, Oleg.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I’m going to exercise my freedom of media that is enshrined in the UN document by asking you a follow-up on the Feltman question.  As you very well know, Article 100 says that no staff member shall seek or receive instructions from any Government or any other authority external to the organization.  Does the Secretary-General think that Mr. Feltman has in fact received instructions from his own Government, as revealed by this YouTube audio tape?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely, the Secretary-General has 150 per cent confidence in the work of Mr. Feltman.  I would refer you to a speech that Mr. Feltman made to Brookings about this move from being a State Department official to being the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and I think you will find that that’s quite an interesting read.

Question:  I appreciate your answer, but you didn’t answer my question.  You said he still has confidence in him.  Did he violate Article 100?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has full confidence that Mr. Feltman acted entirely as he should do as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs for the United Nations.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  And I understand your thing of “get over it”, so I’m phasing it this just way.  I would just like to ask you factually whether the question of Ukraine and specifically Mr. Feltman came up?  And I ask it because without any rancour, it seems like normally ‘Q and As’ you do distribute to the rest of the press corps.  And even off the record, it’s hard to understand why correspondents here…do you not trust people with it?  We understand what off the record is, so…

Spokesperson:  How can you distribute something that is off the record?

Question:  You could email it to resident correspondents.  I mean…I wanted to ask you, since I’m covering Ukraine…[inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I think one could take this offline.

Question:  Was any question asked about Ukraine at the situation with Mr. Feltman?  And if so, what can you convey of the answer?

Spokesperson:  There was no reference to the topic that you just mentioned specifically with reference to Mr. Feltman.

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary-General have anything on the high- level meeting between the two Koreas that just took place for the first time in seven years?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously we still need to analyse the outcome of that meeting.  I would simply note what we already said, that the Secretary-General did meet with Kim Yong Nam, the nominal head of state, the number two in the DPRK, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  And as the Secretary-General said, and as I’ve said, they spoke for more than half an hour.  This was itself a rare, unusual meeting; and so, without seeing cause and effect, I’m simply saying that there is a positive movement at the moment.  And obviously we need to analyse further to see precisely what comes out of this.  The Secretary-General’s main message was that there should be a decoupling of politics from the family reunion track, because there are many, many people who, of course, by definition are now very elderly who are longing to be reunited, even if it’s just for a couple of days, with their loved ones, either in the North or the South.  And that needs to be decoupled from the politics that obviously surrounds the peninsula.  And that was his main point, and that was evidently part of the conversation that was taking place in Panmunjong today.  But it needs further analyse before we would comment on it.  But the simple fact of the meeting, the Secretary-General certainly welcomes that.  I’m going to Ivan.  The same question?  Okay.  All right.  I thought it might be, but I wasn’t sure.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask, yesterday in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] chamber there was a meeting, its said on the front of it DM [Department of Management] about mobility, but a number of Permanent Representatives and the Deputy of the EU [European Union] raced in, and they said they had been quote — summoned to a meeting about mobility.  So, I wanted to know, what… it wasn’t in the UN Journal and it wasn’t on UN TV, obviously.  It didn’t say “Closed”, but I wanted to know, what was the meeting, and what is the pitch of the Secretariat to Member States on the mobility proposal?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check.  But it sounds like the Permanent Representatives were rather mobile to get there quickly.  So, let’s see if we can find out any more.  Okay.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you. 

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