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

18 February 2014

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

18 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, everyone, welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Briefing Guest

I am joined again by John Ging, the Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and he is here to brief you on his recent visit to Somalia.  So, some remarks first from John, I am sure, and then questions. Please.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Today the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed the report of the independent UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which was published in Geneva yesterday.  She said that its findings need to be treated with the greatest urgency, as they suggest that crimes against humanity of an unimaginable scale continue to be committed in the DPRK.

Ms. Pillay said that in January 2013, she urged the international community to put much more effort into tackling the human rights situation of the people in DPRK.  Two months later, the Commission of Inquiry was established by the Human Rights Council.  She said that the Commission has now published a historic report, which sheds light on violations of a terrifying scale, the gravity and nature of which — in the report’s own words — do not have any parallel in the contemporary world.  She added that there can no longer be any excuses for inaction.

The High Commissioner said that insufficient attention was being paid to the kind of horrific and sustained human rights violations that are reported to be taking place on an ongoing basis in the DPRK.  That has now been partly rectified.  She added that we now need strong international leadership to follow up on the grave findings of the Commission of Inquiry, calling on the international community, in line with the report’s recommendations, to use all the mechanisms at its disposal to ensure accountability, including referral to the International Criminal Court.

Ms. Pillay said that it is vitally important to maintain the momentum on addressing the serious violations that this remarkable report documents in such a comprehensive manner.  The spotlight on human rights in the DPRK should not be dimmed as the news headlines fade away.  The independent Commission of Inquiry is scheduled to formally present its report to the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva on 17 March 2014.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], has reported heavy fighting between soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers and the opposition in the vicinity of its compound in Malakal in Upper Nile State since early this morning.  The Mission says that fighting appears to have subsided since the afternoon although it continues to report sounds of gunfire and mortars.  The Mission says it is providing medical treatment to a number of wounded combatants as well as civilians within the base.

Over the weekend, the Mission also received reports of fighting between SPLA and opposition forces east of Malakal in Baliet County.  The Mission says it is deeply concerned about the fighting and reiterates the necessity for parties to fully implement the Agreements on Cessation of Hostilities and Status of Detainees.  The parties must cooperate fully with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, which the United Nations is supporting.

Overall, the UN Mission is protecting 75,000 civilians in a number of bases around the country, including some 22,000 civilians in Malakal alone.

**General Assembly Debate on Water

The Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s thematic debate this morning on water, sanitation and sustainable energy, and he said that access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene must feature prominently in the post-2015 development agenda.  The Secretary-General noted that in the poorest communities around the world, hundreds of millions of people — especially women and children — spend hours each day collecting firewood and water.  He added that the health toll from unclean water and household air pollution is immense.  Meanwhile, some 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation and some 1 billion people practice open defecation.

The Secretary-General emphasized the goals of his Sustainable Energy for All initiative:  universal access to energy by 2030; improved efficiency; and an increase in the share of renewable energy sources.  And we have his remarks available in my office and online.

** Libya

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern today about the potential for a new law in Libya to lead to undue restrictions on the freedom of expression and opinion.  It is also concerned about an increasing number of attacks against journalists in recent months.  The Human Rights Office said that the law appears to go against the spirit of the 17 February revolution.  It said that the law contains broad and vague language that could clearly be used to arbitrarily curtail freedom of expression and opinion.

The Office also condemned recent acts of violence and intimidation against journalists and called for impartial, speedy and effective investigations into such attacks with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.

** Uganda

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, says that it is deeply concerned about a bill in Uganda that would further toughen punishments against gay men.  It says that the bill calls for a 14-year jail term for a first conviction and life imprisonment for the offence of “aggravated homosexuality”.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé says that Uganda was the first country in Africa to break the conspiracy of silence on AIDS and to give voice to the most marginalized, but that he is now scared that the new bill will take Uganda backwards.  He strongly urges the Ugandan authorities to reject the bill and to ensure the human rights and dignity of all people in Uganda.  And there is more information on this on the UNAIDS website.

That’s what I have, and I will take some questions.  Erol?  And then, I will come to you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, now when we have Geneva II second round wrapped up without results and even Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi apologized for probably raising the expectations too high to the Syrian people and could not deliver on that, does the Secretary-General have to say anything, what is the plan B, what we are talking all around or all the time before the conference took place?  And does he feel any kind of… that he should probably offer an apology or explanation to the Syrian people?

Spokesperson:  I think what Mr. Brahimi was doing was not apologizing for raising expectations, but apologizing for the lack of progress to the people of Syria, who after all themselves had great expectations.  I think Mr. Brahimi has been as the Joint Special Representative for Syria consistent rather in playing down the expectations that there are for rather obvious reasons.  That doesn’t mean that we should not push ahead, and that is precisely what Mr. Brahimi intends to do.  As he said, he will be coming to New York at some point to discuss these matters with the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General remains convinced that Geneva II, this process that has started — and let’s remember that it has only just started, and it is likely to be a long process — is the way to go, and he is certainly looking to the parties who have now gone back to their respective locations to think long and hard and to come back as soon as possible so that this process can continue.

Question:  But does the — just a follow up, a short one — does the Secretary-General or anyone at the UN who was organizing the conference do think that the format will not be as the Geneva was, will not produce as probably another format, like the Dayton peace accord or peace, peace negotiation would produce?

Spokesperson:  Look, again, this is a process.  It’s not a single event or an event that takes place in one meeting or two meetings.  This is going to take a long time.  It is a process, and we are sticking with that process.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  As we speak, I’m actually looking at some very violent footage right now, security forces in the Ukraine have surrounded the Maidan protest area, there have been a number of deaths reported this morning and there have been calls by the opposition and civil society for the UN to become involved and prevent this from really spiralling out of control.  Do you have anything from the Secretary-General to say on this matter?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has been following developments in Ukraine closely.  As you know, in Sochi he had a meeting with President [Viktor] Yanukovych and they spoke at some length.  He was in fact encouraged by recent positive measures taken on both sides, including the amnesty for those detained as a result of the protests at that time, as well as the decision by protestors to vacate Government buildings, but he is extremely concerned over today’s reports of renewed violence and indeed fatalities.  He reiterates his appeal to all concerned to act with restraint in order to avoid any further violence.  The Secretary-General urges the renewal of genuine dialogue between all parties leading to rapid results.  Yes, Masood?  And then I am coming to Nizar.

Question:   On Syria, has the Secretary-General basically made an assessment or will he make an assessment along with Mr. Brahimi as to what went wrong over there and why did the talks in fact, as Mr. Brahimi put it, fail?  I mean, in the sense, there are blames being, I mean blame game going on between some people.  They are blaming the Syrians and the Syrians, the Russians blaming the other side.  Does… does the Secretary-General…

Spokesperson:  Look, Masood, there is a certain inevitability to criticism being placed on various parties and fingers being pointed in various directions.  This is the start of an enormously complicated process after three years of conflict.  It should not really surprise anyone that it is difficult and that the parties have found it difficult to find a common voice.  So the Secretary-General remains determined to push ahead with this, as does Mr. Brahimi, and they remain in close touch with each other on how best to push forward, and indeed, of course, with the co-initiators of this process, the United States and the Russian Federation.  Nizar?  And then I am coming to you, and I haven’t forgotten you, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  My first question is about Yarmouk.  I understand there was some agreement recently with the rebels and with the various armed forces in the camp to withdraw from the camp and allow for relief.  Has this materialized?  Also, another question about the imminent attack on the National Congress in Libya by some armed groups who declared that they annulled the National Congress and consider it unrepresentative of the people.

Spokesperson:  On the second question, Nizar, I will have to check.  On the first question, on Yarmouk, you will have seen that Chris Gunness, the spokesperson for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], has been giving frequent updates.  To my knowledge, the aid that UNRWA is very keen to get into Yarmouk has not yet been delivered, but I await an update from my colleagues in UNRWA so that I can give you the very latest.  But as I understand it, there have still been difficulties, but I will endeavour to provide an update on that.  Yes, please, and then Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Today, Iran meeting with the P5+1, I was wondering if the UN is doing anything to keep human rights alive and on the table of negotiation.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  This is a very different strand, as you understand it.  The talks that are taking place in Vienna between the E3+3, P5+1 on Iran, this is focused very much on the nuclear programme and that is what the team there is focused on.  As you know, the United Nations does not have a specific role in those talks that are going on; but Lady [Catherine] Ashton did brief the Secretary-General on the impending talks when she met with him last week here in New York.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you noted, the Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, is going to submit a report on the situation in DPRK to the Human Rights Council and the report concludes that there are massive violations of human rights in the DPRK.  Does she think that this situation threatens international peace and security?

Spokesperson:  I think you need to ask her that.  You’d need to check with Ms. Pillay or with her spokesperson Rupert Colville on that matter.  Edie?

Question:  Martin, just a quick follow up:  Do you expect Mr. Brahimi to come to New York to brief the Secretary-General before the end of the month?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know about dates, and Mr. Brahimi hasn’t publicly mentioned dates, and I have certainly not heard any dates mentioned.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some, but I haven’t heard any mentioned at this point.  Pardon?

Question:  How urgent is this?

Spokesperson:  Well, Erol, getting on an aeroplane and coming to New York doesn’t have to be the answer.  There are video conference calls, there are telephone calls that take place all the time, so I don’t think that question is really well placed.  I am coming to you next, yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Coming back a little bit to Iran, what will be the plan for the organization who is overseeing the dismantling of the nuclear, well, not dismantling, but following the process of what is happening in the nuclear plants in…

Spokesperson:  Well, look, this is a negotiation that is taking place between the P5+1 and Iran, and the United Nations is not sitting there at the table.  So, therefore, you are addressing the question to the wrong person at this point.  Further down the track, it may be that there is a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but at this stage this is a negotiation that is taking place in Vienna between the parties that I mentioned.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you. Martin, I want to ask a question about Central African Republic.  Do you have any update, the latest situation for the civilians?  And there were some reports that some civilians trapped between anti-Balaka militias and some peacekeeper soldiers.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I would — the first thing is that Valerie Amos, who as you know is the Humanitarian Relief Coordinator, is scheduled to be visiting the Central African Republic, and I would hope to be able to get an update from her and her team to provide some more details.  I don’t have an immediate update right now.  What I can tell you is that the Security Council debate on this topic, the consultations, I should say, on this topic are scheduled to take place on Thursday and the Secretary-General will be reporting to those consultations, and I would hope that he would also be speaking to you after, right after that as well.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I want to, something on Central African Republic and then I also want to ask about Switzerland and something on Syrian refugees.  I… there… there was… there has been…

Spokesperson:  That’s your shopping list. Let’s do one by one.

Question:  Okay, definitely.  On Central African Republic, there is a… there have been some quotes by, which described as the anti-Balaka leader and his spokesman, Alfred Negaya, in which they very openly say we, they have targeted Muslims and… and they say that the MISCA [African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic] came to the house of the… of the leader, I… I… I… what I wanted to know is… is there, and I understand what you are saying that… that the MISCA is the MISCA, but given that there is a UN mission in Bangui, are they aware of these comments, is there any move afoot to… to… to arrest the leader of the… of the anti-Balaka?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the UN mission is a political mission; not a peacekeeping mission.  MISCA is an African Union mission and you should direct your questions on that particular topic to the African Union.  With regard to the Mission, our mission, which is a political mission, I will check to see whether they have any information, but I think your first port of call should be the African Union, and I’ll come back to you on the other questions because I can see other hands in the room.  Yes, please Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is the Secretary-General still planning to appoint a replacement for Mr. Nasser Al-Kidwa?  And my other connected question is about whether Mr. Brahimi is just looking for stronger support from Russia and the United States in order to push this political process in Geneva II.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I think Mr. Brahimi feels that he has had steadfast support from the US and the Russian Federation right away through; right from when John Kerry, the Secretary of State, and Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, announced this initiative and then the UN followed through, and it took time as you know.  It materialized first with the international meeting in Montreal and then followed by the talks that are taking place in Geneva, or have taken place twice, and Mr. Brahimi has made it clear that they should continue, and I think that it is clear that Mr. Brahimi relies very heavily on the support of the United States and the Russian Federation and he has found that support very helpful.  That’s why they have regular trilateral meetings to help to push the process forward.

With regard to a replacement for Mr. Al-Kidwa, I’d need to check.  I don’t have anything on that.  Masood, and then Mr. Abbadi, and then… oh, I’m sorry, then Ken.  I’ll come to Ken after Masood and then I’ll come back to you Mr. Abbadi.  Yes, first of all, Masood?

Question:  Just a follow-up on a Syria question again.  I just wanted to, when Mr. Brahimi comes here, is the Secretary-General going to somehow address the press and tell us what is the way forward?  And has he also found the reasons as to why this Geneva II failed?  And will he take that into account to move forward?

Spokesperson:  Look, again, this is a process and it is not going to be resolved overnight, and it does not depend on Mr. Brahimi, as I have already said, getting on an aeroplane and coming here to meet the Secretary-General for an analysis, a post-match analysis to take place.  It is already taking place, I can assure you, and consideration has already been given to how best to plan for the next round.  But let’s be clear about this: This is a long game, this is a difficult, difficult set of negotiations and it is not going to be easy to deal with by any means.  I am going to go next to Ken.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Back to the report on human rights abuses in North Korea.

Spokesperson:  Yes, could you speak up a little bit, please?

Question:  Sure.  So, what’s the Secretary-General’s, uh, his own position now on this report, and he obviously keenly following the situation.  Last week he stated twice, I would say, more than twice that he would welcome the trust, you know, building the trust and the cooperation on the Korean peninsula.  So, does this report affect, uh, you know, anyhow on his position on the Korean peninsula?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would anticipate having something further to say on this a little bit later, on the Commission of Inquiry.  With regard to the positive developments on the peninsula, the Secretary-General remains convinced that this is a development that needs to be encouraged.  The family reunions are of course a key part of that and it was a major step that there was that de-coupling that we saw last week and that the family reunions are set to take place.  With regard to the Commission of Inquiry report, I would hope to have something a little later, but I don’t have it now.  Okay, Mr. Abbadi and then I am going to take one last question because it is a long briefing that has been going on, okay?  So, Mr. Abbadi and then Matthew, please choose one of your questions.

Question:  Thank you, Martin. Once Mr. Brahimi has briefed the Secretary-General and possibly the Security Council, would he be willing to give a press briefing here?

Spokesperson:  I would have to check with him, but as you have seen he has made himself available frequently in Geneva, which is where the talks are taking place.  So I don’t think that we need to feel too hard done by here. It’s just a fact of geography rather than anything else.  Last question to Matthew, please, one question.

Question:  I understand.   Switzerland will have to wait.  I wanted to know if there is a UN system response.  There is a pretty high profile kind of dispute about a photograph that was widely tweeted over the weekend of a… of a… ostensibly a four-year-old refugee from Syria crossing into Jordan all alone, and then it later arose that, you know, that he was 30 paces behind his family.  So, I wanted to know, I, there… there… there is, does the UN feel that… that... on its side somehow it mis-portrayed the photograph for the situation or is it entirely a media in how it was reported and how, how does this impact, I guess, people’s looking at… at… at information they receive from the UN system about this crisis?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it was UNHCR, the Refugee Agency or someone working for UNHCR, so I would encourage you to speak to Melissa Flemming, the spokesperson for the refugee agency on this.

Question:  But do you think it impacts at all the, I mean, UN system more widely than that, I’ll do that, but I am wondering if you have any response, too.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, please do.  Social media as you know yourself as a frequent user of it, and meaning that you tweet a lot and you read a lot of tweets as does everybody here, and that use other forms of social media, some news agencies — and I can see one of them in this room right now — do not report based on tweets unless they have checked with the primary source.  So, there are checks and balances that can be put into the way that you use tweets.  So, I’ll leave it there and maybe I’ll tweet something later.  All right, have a good afternoon.

[He later added that the United Nations Refugee Agency had said that, as one of four related images tweeted in the span of 11 minutes, the photo of Marwan was meant to help document an influx of Syrian refugees crossing the border into Jordan.  But it quickly lost its context when it was retweeted, eliciting concerns that the boy may have been alone for hours or days, not minutes.  The Refugee Agency sought to clarify Marwan’s situation with subsequent posts and statements, noting that his parents were steps away when the photo was taken and that they were safely together.  And once another photographer brought it to UNHCR’s attention, the Agency also posted a wider shot showing Marwan among a large group of refugees.]

* *** *

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