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

14 February 2014

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

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.

**Security Council

The Security Council began a meeting this morning on the cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations, notably the European Union.  And while discussing such cooperation, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations and its regional partners face an urgent test, as the dark clouds of mass atrocities and sectarian cleansing loom over the Central African Republic.

He emphasized the need to live up to the promises made in the Security Council to act swiftly and robustly in the face of such bloodshed.  The Secretary-General said he is committed to do everything in his power to prevent further atrocities and reduce the risk of a de facto partition of the country.

The Secretary-General said that he intends to return to the Security Council on Tuesday with recommendations for containing and then ending the crisis.  He said that this will be a crucial opportunity to fortify collective efforts and show that cooperation between the United Nations, African Union, European Union and others can help the people of the Central African Republic at their time of need.  And we have his remarks in our office.

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that hospitals and clinics have been devastated in the country.  The vast majority have been extensively looted and damaged and most health workers have left their posts, leaving huge gaps in delivery of care.

The World Health Organization adds that even before the conflict, health needs in the Central African Republic were enormous.

The World Health Organization says it is taking key steps with its partners, such as extending health services to displaced persons in camps, vaccinating children and distributing drugs.  The Organization is also setting up a system with partners to detect when outbreaks occur and working to address major gaps in health services.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that over the past two months, it has verified the killings of 37 children and the maiming of 96 children.  The Fund also says that the targeting and emptying of communities over the past couple of weeks has also led to a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied and separated children who are particularly at risk.

And finally on the Central African Republic, just to let you know that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will be travelling to the country next week, from Tuesday to Thursday.

She will be there to take stock of the grave humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic.  And she is expected to visit the field and meet with senior Government officials, UN representatives, international non-governmental organizations, donors, religious leaders and affected communities.

On 20 February, Ms. Amos is scheduled to hold a press conference in Bangui at the end of her mission.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that overcrowding of protection of civilian sites in the country is a major challenge for the United Nations and the humanitarian community.  With the rainy season approaching, there is great concern that these sites will become breeding grounds for disease outbreaks and epidemics.

To address this, the Mission says that the Government of South Sudan has accepted a Chinese donation to build a new protection of civilians site in Juba, adjacent to the UN House.

The Mission adds that construction, with the assistance of UN Office for Project Services, has already begun, and is expected to be completed before the start of the rainy season.  Emergency funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been made available for this project.  Additionally, the UN House, which hosts some 15,000 civilians, will also be expanded.

Overall, UNMISS is protecting approximately 75,000 civilians in a number of bases around the country.

And also on South Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that more than 700,000 people are estimated to have been displaced since the violence began on 15 December, while nearly 150,000 have fled across borders.  It adds that some 302,000 people have been reached with assistance.

The Office also says that humanitarian access to sites outside UN bases remains limited, especially in Jonglei and Unity States.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners are concentrating on pre-positioning supplies in safe places before the rainy season begins in April, when it will become extremely difficult to move humanitarian supplies around the country.

** Syria

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed its deep alarm today at reports of a major military build-up and the increased threat to the population in the town of Yabroud, an opposition-held area in the Qalamoun Mountains of Syria.  The Office noted estimates suggesting that there are some 40,000 to 50,000 people in that area and that thousands have been fleeing over the last few days.

As you know, Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council yesterday on Syria and noted that she had brought before the Council 11 points that they could act on immediately that would make a difference on the ground, building on last October’s presidential statement.

** Great Lakes Region

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, was in Kinshasa over the past two days where she held constructive discussions with the Congolese President and other Government officials on the implementation of national commitments to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.

She also met with international partners to encourage their engagement and support to the process, as well as with local non-governmental actors.  She said that the engagement of civil society was crucial to achieving the goals and objectives that have been set.

** Indonesia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, following increased volcanic activity at Mount Kelud in Indonesia, authorities have recommended that people living within a 10 km radius of the crater be evacuated.

Two people have reportedly been killed and 70 have been taken to hospital.  More than 100,000 people have been evacuated.

International assistance has not been requested at this stage, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs continues to monitor the situation.

** Afghanistan

In response to a question yesterday on Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) understands that there is a bilateral agreement between the Government of Afghanistan and the United States on the release of detainees.  The Mission hopes both the countries will quickly resolve this matter.

** Viet Nam

In response to a question about Viet Nam we received earlier this week, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has received a letter from several groups and its contents are being reviewed by the Human Rights Advisory Group.  A reply will be sent in due course.

The Office says that, as a part of the wider UN Secretariat, it advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning its abolition.

**Press Conferences

Today at 12:30 p.m., Afaf Konja, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be giving a press conference here to provide details on the President’s first thematic debate of the year on Water, Sanitation & Sustainable Energy in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

And the guest at Tuesday’s Noon Briefing will be John Ging, the Director of the Operational Division at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

And as you will be aware, UN Headquarters will be closed on Monday and so Tuesday will be the next Noon Briefing day.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes?  Microphone, microphone please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On Afghanistan, I heard the statement that you read out, but the United States regards these prisoners as dangerous criminals?  Does the United Nations also hold that view?

Spokesperson:  As I’ve just said, this is a bilateral agreement between Afghanistan and the United States and the Mission, our Mission hopes that both countries will quickly resolve this matter.  That’s all I have to say on this topic.  Okay, anything else?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask again on South Sudan.  Recently the Defence Minister of South Sudan, Kuol Manyang, has said that the Government of South Sudan is paying, is funding the Ugandan, the presence of the Ugandan troops in his country.  Since I know in the past the UN has spoken about how the disruption of oil might impact humanitarian operations in South Sudan, I wonder if this changes… I’ve asked you a couple of times what the UN view is of this presence of Ugandan troops in the country as it relates to Addis, but now as it relates to the use of scarce governmental funds to pay for this, for their presence.  So, do you have any comment on that?  And also on the cluster bombs, is there any more information on their actual use in this conflict and which side may have used them?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further update with regard to the cluster munitions, Matthew.  On the first part of your question, we would simply hope that the parties will abide by the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which they signed on 23 January and which calls for a progressive withdrawal of allied forces invited by either side.  Okay, so, yes, right at the back there.  Yes, please?  And then I’m coming to you, yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Martin, there has been protests, anti-Government protests in Venezuela, and I wanted to know if the Secretary-General has been following this and will there be any statement?  There have been student leaders killed.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is obviously aware of the demonstrations that have been taking place.  And I would refer you to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which has said that it’s deeply concerned about the escalation of violence and the death of at least three people during demonstrations in the Venezuelan capital yesterday.

Thousands of people in large cities throughout the country reportedly took part in protests against rising crime rates and increasing economic hardship.

The Office of the High Commissioner has received reports of intimidation of journalists, as well as reports that some local and international journalists were attacked while covering the protests.

The Regional Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in South America has called on the Government of Venezuela to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression are guaranteed, and that a prompt, full and impartial investigation into the killings and any act of excessive use of force is undertaken.

So, that’s what I have for you.  Yes, please.  I’m working my way down towards the front.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Again, with the family reunion between the two Koreas.  You know, after two rounds they agreed that the reunions would go on as scheduled, regardless of the military exercise between the US and Korea.  So, in fact, [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has decoupled the two issues, as the Secretary-General emphasized during his talks with Kim Yong Nam of [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  So, at this stage, does the Secretary-General have any comment or statement on the outcome of this?

Spokesperson:  I’m anticipating a statement any moment now.  And it may even be that one of my colleagues will come running into the room while the briefing is still going on.  But, I can already tell you that the Secretary-General is, of course, welcoming this development.  And as you rightly point out, the Secretary-General, when he did meet Kim Yong Nam, did emphasize the need to decouple the humanitarian and particularly the family reunion matters from security and political matters.  So, I would expect something quite soon.  So, please stay tuned.  Yes?

[He later issued the following statement:  The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the agreement between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea to hold family reunions from 20 to 25 February at Mount Kumgang as scheduled.  The Secretary-General is particularly encouraged by the agreement after he called upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, during his recent meeting in Sochi with Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Supreme People’s Assembly, to show flexibility and to decouple humanitarian matters, such as family reunions, from political and security matters.

Tension between the two Koreas has been high and inter-Korean relations have remained strained for far too long.  As such, this important development is a step in the right direction.  The Secretary-General encourages both sides to keep up the momentum by continuing high-level engagement and taking further steps to build confidence and trust.

The Secretary-General reaffirms his strong commitment to contribute to promoting peace, development and stability on the Korean peninsula, as well as improving inter-Korean relations.]

Question:  Martin, recently the Lebanese intelligence captured a senior terrorist called Mr. [Naim] Abbas, who admitted or confessed after interrogation that he was involved in the assassination of many senior officials in Lebanon, including Francois Hajj, Pierre Gemayel, Judge Eid, who are all associated with the Hariri Tribunal.  How is the United Nations dealing with that?  Is the United Nations following the investigations?  How will that affect the work of the international tribunal on Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that, Nizar.  I’ll check, but I don’t think that we would be commenting on that.  Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the Valerie Amos trip to Central African Republic, can you flesh out, you said she’ll be meeting with several officials; what will she be doing precisely in terms of looking to send humanitarian aid and meet with people?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further details beyond what I provided just then, which was, if you like, late-breaking news to me.  And therefore, I would ask you to contact my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  They may be able to provide some more details and should that be the case, we’ll make sure, of course, that everybody gets to know those details.  Some… one second, some details may of course be not appropriate for public consumption at this stage, for security reasons.

Question:  Sorry, the end of the trip, I mean, the Bangui press conference will be the twentieth, the beginning of the trip, sometime next week?  Is that what you were saying?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can go back.

Question:  Do you know how many days?

Spokesperson:  I think we could address this offline, because I did read out a note.  It says she will be travelling to the country next week from Tuesday to Thursday.  Matthew, and then back to Iftikhar, I guess?

Question:  On Central African Republic, the Secretary-General in what he was saying just now in the Council, he said, you know, recently there have been large-scale attacks on Muslims… he names three places and he says where peacekeepers have not been able to deploy.  So, I wanted to ask you, there’s been some reporting and even tweeted photographs of a neighbourhood called PK12 in Bangui, where they said that the imam was killed.  I mean, this is like in the last 24 hours.  So, what some people are wondering, is even… there are soldiers that are deployed there.  Like in Bangui, there’s the Sangaris force, there’s MISCA (International Stabilization Force in the Central African Republic)… from this line, I wanted to know is there an acknowledgement by the UN that in fact, these killings, largely of Muslims, largely are taking place, you know, still, right in the capital and what’s… what’s the plan to address that?  I mean, I’m looking at the paragraph, but I wanted to, just factual…

Spokesperson:  The plan to address this is that the Secretary-General has said that he is committed to do everything in his power to prevent further atrocities and reduce the risk of a de facto partition of the country.  And he said he is duty-bound to bring to the Council’s attention his best possible advice on how to address threats to international peace and security and he’s intending to return to the Council on Tuesday with recommendations and he looks forward to discussing with them what it will take to curtail the violence urgently and save lives and protect human rights.  And also, of course, support the delivery of humanitarian assistance and strengthen the command and control of the forces on the ground.  And again, this is a really critical moment.  Yes, there are atrocities being committed.  The Secretary-General has used extremely strong language to depict that.  Is everything being done that could and should be done?  No, it is not.  And that is why he is signalling to the Council that we must act decisively and we must act now to prevent the worst.  And so, come Tuesday, the Secretary-General will be back in the Council with recommendations for containing and then ending the crisis.  A lot of work is going on in the background and has been going on in the background involving obviously UN officials and others from the European Union, African Union.

This is a major crisis and we should remember that there are many, many people who’ve suffered terribly.  Many have been killed in terrible circumstances and others have had to flee for their lives.  And I mentioned earlier the catastrophic state of the health system, such as it was, in the first place.  And so, it’s absolutely crucial that we act swiftly.  The Secretary-General is also seeing in the context of “Rights up front”.  This is raising a very large red flag and saying that action needs to be taken right now, and he said so in the Security Council and it was an open session.  You were able to see and hear precisely the force of the language he was using.

Question:  I guess, no, thanks a lot for that.  I just… there’s reporting, not by the UN, but by others on the ground there, of anti-Balaka now having brand new AK-47s, whereas even it was said a few days ago they were using, you know, old weapons.  Obviously, everyone is against this.  But, I’m wondering… is the UN collecting this kind of information and making it public, i.e. killings in the capital, new weapons coming in, stuff like that?

Spokesperson:  There are human rights monitors, we have a political mission there at present, as you know, working in extremely difficult circumstances.  A political mission — we don’t have a peacekeeping operation there, as you know.  And, so, questions about the peacekeeping, if that’s what one wishes to call it, that is taking place at the moment, should be address to MISCA; in other words, the African Union or to the French at this particular point.  But, the whole focus here is on coordinating efforts and trying to ensure that the components that are on the ground are augmented and that there is a stronger command and control of the troops that are deployed to ensure that we don’t see further atrocities of the kind that we have already seen.  Yes, Iftikhar, and then Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Do you have any reaction to the strong criticism by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister of Ms. Amos, calling for Security Council action for access into Syrian areas?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  I think Ms. Amos’ remarks speak for themselves and were widely welcomed in the Security Council and I think that there is nothing that I wish to add to that.  Pamela, I think you had a question?

Question:  Yes, just that António Guterres, the High Commissioner, called the [ Central African Republic] ethnic, religious cleansing.  Is that a characterisation that the Secretary-General agrees with?

Spokesperson: Well, you’ve heard what the Secretary-General had to say today and the nomenclature at this stage is, of course, something that is the subject wide discussion.  What’s more important at the moment than the philosophical or etymological debate is really that we have to do our utmost to prevent further atrocities and retaliatory violence.  We’re seeing mass movements of people.  We’re seeing a cycle of revenge and reprisals, entire Muslim communities fleeing for their lives, including today out of Bangui itself.  We don’t need to put a label on this at this point to know that this is an extremely serious crisis and the Secretary-General has made clear in the Council that there needs to be urgent, swift action and he intends to return on Tuesday to the Council with recommendations on how we could seek to contain this terrible crisis and bring it to an end.  And I will bring this to an end now, because I can see my colleague Afaf here, ready to brief you on the activities of the President of the General Assembly.  So, enjoy the weekend everybody and stay warm.  Thank you.

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