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

19 February 2014

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

19 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.

** Ukraine

First of all on Ukraine:  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on all parties in Ukraine to exercise maximum restraint after more than 20 people were killed during violent clashes in Kyiv between riot police and protesters on Tuesday.  She strongly condemned the killings and urged the Government and protesters to act to defuse tensions and to take swift action to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.  She also called for an urgent and independent investigation to establish facts and responsibilities, including the possible use of excessive force, and to ensure accountability for these deadly clashes.

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General reiterated to all sides that the use of violence is unacceptable.  The Secretary-General urged both sides to redouble efforts to build on recent positive measures, including an amnesty for those detained as a result of the protests and the vacating of Government buildings by protesters.  And he called for the immediate renewal of genuine dialogue leading to rapid results.  And that full statement is available online.  And I can tell you that we expect to have more to say on this grave and unfolding crisis a little later today.

**Rule of Law

The Secretary-General spoke at today’s Security Council meeting on the rule of law, a subject which he said is at the heart of the United Nations’ work.  He noted that strengthening the rule of law is now an integral part of the mandates of peacekeeping operations and special political missions.  Today, 18 Missions around the world currently mandate rule of law support.

He added that he is encouraged by the Security Council’s continued commitment to ensuring that the United Nations makes the most and the best of rule of law assistance in peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions.  And we have those remarks online as well.

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has reminded leaders in positions of authority that they have legal obligations and will be held personally accountable for the serious human rights violations committed in the country as a result of their actions or of their omissions.  She said that most of the ongoing human rights violations are being committed by anti-Balaka elements, who are deliberately targeting the Muslim population of the capital.  She also said that the situation was also evolving dangerously outside Bangui, with ex-Séléka forces now regrouping in the north.  She noted that, given the strong feeling of resentment among ex-Séléka forces and the displaced Muslim population, the large non-Muslim community was clearly exposed to possible retaliatory violence.  There is a statement from the High Commissioner online.

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that clashes across the Central African Republic continue to threaten the lives of civilians, including aid workers, and are hampering aid efforts.  A UN Humanitarian Service (UNHAS) flight scheduled to take Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos and the head of UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS], Michel Sidibé, among others, to Bossangoa in the north, was cancelled because of that violence.

In Bangui today, Ms. Amos met with the transitional President, Catherine Samba-Panza.  And she reiterated the humanitarian community’s commitment and stressed the need for a political solution and the restoration of security.

** Syria

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that 11 more civilians, including a child, were evacuated by the Syrian Government and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent from the Old City of Homs.  UN staff on the ground observed the arrival of the people at a hospital in Homs, where they were brought because a number of them were sick.  An estimated 600 males, including some children under 18, have been brought to the Al Andalus shelter facility for screening since evacuations began on 7 February.  About half of them have been released so far.

The United Nations continues to advocate for the speedy release of all children from the facility and calls for the protection of all civilians under international humanitarian and human rights laws.

And staying with Syria, Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), expressed his outrage that at least 18 people were killed on Tuesday when an explosive struck near the Zeitoun school in Muzeirib, which is 11 kilometres north-west of Dera’a in southern Syria.  Among the dead were five Palestine refugee school children and a staff member of the Agency.  At least 20 other people were injured, including two staff members and eight school children, two of whom have lost limbs.  This comes just eight days after the Relief and Works Agency condemned an explosion that injured 40 school children at its Turaan School in the same town.

Mr. Grandi expressed his revulsion at this wanton disregard for civilian life and international law and added that all parties to the conflict are obliged to ensure that civilians and UN installations are protected.  And meanwhile, the Relief and Works Agency says that the first aid deliveries were allowed into Yarmouk camp since 7 February.  Between 18 January and 7 February, the Agency delivered more than 6,500 food parcels to Yarmouk.

**South Sudan

We have an update from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  In Malakal, in Upper Nile State, the Mission reports sporadic gunfire this morning coming from the north of Malakal town.  The situation within the Mission’s protection of civilians site in Malakal remains tense, as a result of clashes over the past two days between civilians sheltering in the site.  The Mission reports 6 civilians dead and at least 43 injured.

This morning, the Mission reports that fighting between civilians resumed at the Malakal site, although on a significantly smaller scale.  The situation is currently reported to be under control.  The Mission is working with elders and community leaders from all ethnic groups to reiterate the need for peaceful coexistence in the camp and adherence to camp rules.  At its Malakal site, more than 1,000 UN military and police personnel are protecting some 22,000 civilians seeking shelter.  Overall, approximately 75,000 civilians continue to shelter at UN bases across the country.

** Lebanon

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, condemned the double bombing in southern Beirut suburbs today that killed and wounded a number of people.  He extended his condolences to the families of the victims of this bombing.  Mr. Plumbly called on the Lebanese to remain united in the face of such appalling and indiscriminate terrorist actions and to build on the positive step taken a few days ago with the formation of a new government.  He reiterated the commitment of the international community to supporting Lebanon in these efforts.

He welcomed the recent efforts of the Lebanese army and security forces in detaining terrorist suspects and preventing attacks and hoped those responsible for today’s bombing and all other acts of terrorism will be brought to justice as soon as possible.

And I would expect more on this from the Secretary-General himself a little later.

** Iraq

Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, welcomed the decisions by the Council of Ministers of Iraq concerning the Anbar Province.  In a statement today, he called it a positive step in addressing the security and humanitarian situation in the province.  He said that the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) is ready to support all initiatives that will allow the people of Iraq to live free of fear of terror in a democratic society that is built on the rule of law and the protection of human and minority rights.


And turning to Libya, Tarek Mitri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, issued a statement today reaffirming the clear rejection by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) of any threat to use force in the political process, which is contrary to basic democratic principles.

The Mission also reiterates its firm stand of supporting the legitimacy of democratically elected institutions and their role in ensuring the transfer of power to an elected body.  In this regard, the UN Mission values the decision by the General National Congress to call for early elections as soon as possible to prevent any potential constitutional vacuum.

And we have a statement with more details on that in my office.

And I am happy to take questions.  Yes, please?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I saw the statement from the Secretary-General last night on the topic of Ukraine.  But more has been made in the media about leaders who have actually tried to phone the President of Ukraine.  Some, like the United States Vice President, have been successful; others, I believe, like the German Chancellor and the European Commission President were not able to get through.  So, as we wait for the words of whatever statement comes later, over the past 36 hours, has the Secretary-General had an open line to the President of Ukraine, and if so, has he used it?

Spokesperson:  No, he has not.  That option does remain there.  But as you will recall, the Secretary-General met with President [Viktor] Yanukovych in Sochi just very recently; a meeting that lasted 95 minutes, I can tell you.  And the Secretary-General spoke very clearly about the need for peaceful dialogue.  And of course, in the context of what has been happening in the last 24 to 36 hours, clearly something has gone terribly wrong.  And I would expect there to be more on this in the coming hours from the Secretary-General.  Indeed it may even come during the course of this briefing.  Any other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, great.  I want to ask about South Sudan and also about Sri Lanka.  On South Sudan, there is some reports from there that… that the UN is… is sending a mining team to look around Bentiu at… at unexploded ordnance, and it’s unclear if this would be clu… the cluster musician… munitions of the type that they said they found on the road to Bor.  So, I wanted to know, one, can you confirm that, and also is there any update at all on the UN determining, I have seen some reports that the cluster munitions of the type found on the road to Bor are, were the kind that would have been dropped from the air.  Is that the case, and if so, does that eliminate the opposition from… from the suspects, and what… what… what’s the next step on finding out how to act on the concern the Secretary-General expressed?

Spokesperson:    Well, with regard to the UN Mine Action Service, we’ll certainly check with them as I am sure you could too.  But we will certainly check with them to see if they have any information on that.  With regard to the cluster munitions, they were used, as the Secretary-General has said.  Who used them and in what way were they used; in other words, how were they placed where they were found, this is something that is still under investigation.  And if I have anything further, I will let you know.

Question:  Just to be, but under… under investigation by who?  By whom?

Spokesperson:  By the Mission.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Talat, and I’m, then I’m working along the front row here.

Question:  We understand the friends of Lebanon meeting [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?  And you are a television man.  [laughter]

Correspondent:  Pretending to be! [laughter] We understand that the friend of Lebanon meeting will be held in Paris on the fifth — I don’t know if this has been announced or not yet — and that the President of Lebanon will be representing his country in that meeting.  Now, as a chairman of the group, the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is he attending, and if not, why not?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’d need to check first of all whether this information is correct, and then I’ll come back to you.  [He later said that the Deputy Secretary-General would attend on the Secretary-General’s behalf.]  Yes, Ali?

Correspondent:  And I will thank you for that if you can confirm anything.  Well, my question is on Syria and whether the situation in Syria is now better than what it was before Geneva II or it is the same.  I don’t see what was the reason for this political process if the situation in Syria is still worsening.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, this has been going on for three years, and the fighting has intensified during that period, as you know, to terrifying degrees and with casualties as we’ve just mentioned among Palestine refugees too, but of course the Syrian population has been bearing the brunt of this.  And the fighting has continued during the political process that began in Geneva and before that with the international meeting in Montreux.  That is not unusual when you are negotiating an end to a conflict.  This has happened in many cases in the past.  Bloodshed has unfortunately continued while the political process has been working its course.  That doesn’t make it any more acceptable.  The bloodshed, the killing, the maiming that has been going on for the past three years and is, has been at an intense level in recent months — all of that is wholly unacceptable.  But we still believe that the political process is crucial and it is the only way that we will be able to end the military conflict that is taking place in Syria.  Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Martin, and we will, you will be sorely missed.

Spokesperson:   That’s very kind of you, thank you.

Question:  My question is about Ukraine again.  There was a report on the UN website, the meeting between Special Envoy Robert Serry and the Ukraine President in late January.  Is there, has there been any contact of Mr. Serry with the President, and at that, in that conversation the Secretary-General offered to send Mr. Serry back for consultations on political dialogue.  Has there been any response to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General raised that topic again in the meeting with President Yanukovych.  At the moment, as I understand it, President Yanukovych does not see the need for an international mission to help with this crisis.  But that was, of course, already last week.  Things have changed rather dramatically and in an extremely grave fashion in the last 24-36 hours.  The Secretary-General remains convinced that the dialogue that had begun and had been making some progress, including with changes in laws, amnesty and so on, is the right way to go.  And certainly, the use of force that we have seen, and from both sides, is clearly excessive and has no place in an ancient European capital of Kyiv.  It’s just something that seems inexplicable at this point, and I am sure that the Secretary-General will have more to say on this quite shortly.

Question:  And so, just on the first part, Mr. Serry hasn’t tried to communicate with either the President or opposition?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, not to my knowledge.  I will check, but I don’t believe that’s the case.  And just to your first point, I’m obviously going to miss this encounter, but I still have a way to go before it is a real goodbye.  Sherwin?

Question:  I certainly won’t say goodbye, Martin.

Spokesperson:  [laughter].

Question:  On South Sudan, on South Sudan, could you provide clarity on the UN movements?  I have seen reports that at the base, for example, in Malakal, UN personnel have not been able to leave due to the ongoing fighting.  You mentioned fighting between civilians, and how has that impacted or affected their ability to protect civilians, which is essentially the mandate there?

Spokesperson:  Well, at a certain point it was not possible for our personnel to leave the compound.  And the protection site where this fighting broke out yesterday when it was at its most intense, it was not really possible for the peacekeepers to intervene in the way that they needed to simply because of the intensity of the fighting that was going on.  And the casualty figures speak for themselves.  I don’t have any further update except to say that a significant number of wounded anti-Government forces were admitted to the UNMISS hospital in Malakal for treatment yesterday.  And today all of the approximately 35 walking wounded who had been discharged by the physician on duty left the UNMISS compound in the late morning.  Approximately 35 severely wounded anti-Government forces were removed by their comrades by mid-afternoon, and only a handful of people remained in the mission’s Malakal compound hospital as of 4:00 South Sudan time this afternoon.

Question:  Do you by any chance have a total of how many people have died since this conflict began in December?

Spokesperson:  You mean…?

Correspondent:  Total casualties.

Spokesperson:  Not just within the camps, but in general?

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check with my colleagues in the mission on that to see if they are keeping a tally.  Given that a lot of this has been happening in remote locations, it is probably quite difficult to put a precise figure on this.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  With the situation on Ukraine, does the Secretary-General think that there is sort of lack of attention to the things happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina these days?  There is sort of imbalance when some Western powers and some European, for instance, blame the Government in Ukraine but they support it in Bosnia and blame the opposition over there.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is Secretary-General of the United Nations, which consists of 193 Member States.  Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of them just the same as Ukraine.  And the Secretary-General, as we have already said, is paying close attention to what is happening in Sarajevo and elsewhere, and he has been concerned about the violence.  He has called for there to be proper dialogue.  And he is also concerned about the potential for this to expand further.  So, he is keeping a close eye on it.  I would reject the notion on our part at the United Nations that there is some kind of double standard here; I would reject that notion totally.  One shouldn’t compare different crises in this way which unfold for different reasons in different ways.  But certainly, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a source of concern for the Secretary-General.  Yes, and then I am going right at the back.  Yes?  And then Evelyn, yes.

Question:  Okay.  On the situation in Venezuela, what the Secretary-General position is especially after the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of the opposition?  And also they have issued more arrest warrants for other opposition leaders.  What does the Security Council… could do, or what the UN can do?  Just right now a group of Venezuelans were protesting outside, asking the UN to take action and to do something in the situation right now.

Spokesperson:  Well, again this comes back to Oleg’s question.  What we are seeing in different parts of the world and Thailand is another example of protests on the streets; and in the case of Venezuela, arrests.  The Secretary-General is monitoring this closely and I would anticipate that we will either have some kind of statement on this a little bit later or something further to say about our interaction with the Venezuelan authorities.  But we are certainly monitoring this with some concern.  Yes?  Same question?  Okay, same answer.  All right.  Evelyn, I haven’t forgotten you.  Yes?

Question:  There was report yesterday by Doctors Without Borders asking, condemning the international community’s failure to protect the Central African Republic population as well as the humanitarian workers on the ground.  Is the… does… the… is there a plan, a strategy to at least, you know, protect the people who are trying to help people?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you are aware, the Security Council will be meeting tomorrow on this very topic, and the Secretary-General will be speaking to the Council in consultations and then will be speaking to reporters afterwards.  I think that this is an extremely important meeting with extremely important recommendations and proposals from the Secretary-General, and I would urge you to wait until then to hear what is said, except for me to say Valerie Amos, who is after all the Emergency Relief Coordinator, the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is actually in the Central African Republic. That’s a clear indication of the humanitarian community’s really great concern for what is happening, including the security of the personnel who are trying to deliver aid.  She herself had wanted to visit Bossangoa today, but was unable to do so because of the fighting.  So, it is a vivid illustration of precisely the point that you are making, and which is very well-taken.  But I would urge you to listen to what the Secretary-General has to say tomorrow when he speaks to you at the stakeout after the consultations.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, Martin, is there any update about the captives or the… yeah, the captives in Homs, the young people that UNICEF talked about under 18 that have not been released.  Most of them are young men of fighting age. 

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, earlier, about half of those who are being held since the evacuations begun on 7 February have been released so far, and I will try to get updated figures as we can.  But this is something that continues to be a source of concern for us — the welfare of those being held, those being questioned — and that’s why there has been a continued UN presence for precisely that reason, to try to ensure the welfare of those who are still held.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Do you have any update on Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s visit to New York?  Is it still on the agenda of near future?

Spokesperson:  No update on timing.  I don’t think the dates have been set yet.  And in any case as I have said to you, a plane ride does not make the difference in communication necessarily.  There are other ways for Mr. Brahimi to stay in contact with the Secretary-General and other members of the senior staff here in New York.  But a visit to New York is planned, but I don’t have dates at this point.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, great.  I want to ask you about Sri Lanka and Switzerland.  On Sri Lanka, the meeting that was held yesterday of the Secretary-General and his team and the Minister of Youth and Skill Development.  Two questions, one, the Sri Lankan press has… has… in reporting on it, has gone back to something that Farhan [Haq] answered earlier in this month where he said that… that… that… that there needs to be a study whether there has been any wrongdoing that’s occurred in the course of the final stages of the Sri Lankan conflict, and they gleaned from that that the Secretary-General does, is unsure if there was wrong, wrongdoing, not just who did it, but that there was wrongdoing.  So I just wanted to just ask you, is… is… is this, are, is this a mischaracterization of what was said, or based on the various reports that the Secretary-General has received, uh, is he clear that some wrongdoing took place and it was just a matter of who did it and who should be held accountable?

Spokesperson:  I think we’ve said all along that wrongdoing took place and that people should be held accountable.  But the key point here is that we don’t typically characterize the comments made by interlocutors in bilateral meetings of that kind and typically we don’t expect the other side to do so as well.  You will have seen the readout that we provided.

Question:  That’s the one thing I wanted to ask you and thanks a lot, I… I did see it and I di… and I noticed the word reconciliation in.  I didn’t see the word accountability.  But what I wanted to ask is whether did the minister invite the Secretary-General to Colombo in May for this world conference on youth, and how would this invitation and possibly attending relate to these issues, this call for accountability, things that may take place in March at the Human Rights Council, is there any…?

Spokesperson:  Well, again…

Correspondent:  …what can you say about that?

Spokesperson:  Again, again, I am not going to characterize what was said by the interlocutor.  What I can tell you is that we have a youth envoy, the Secretary-General’s envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, and he is an appropriate person to attend such a meeting should a decision be taken in that direction.  Switzerland, and I’m just seeing if there are any other questions, first of all — Switzerland?

Correspondent:  Okay, this is… this is… I was gonna ask this yesterday, so, it is a little bit stale.

Spokesperson:  I know you were; I know you were.

Question:  But it is… it is… it’s still a policy issue, which is that there was, um, over the weekend it was widely reported, there was a hijacked Ethiopian plane that… that landed in Geneva.  And… and what I wanted to ask you about is the side of it that various people reported, some thought it was sort of comedic, but that there was no response by the Swiss Air, Air Force that they sort of, they seemed to be operating nine-to-five and other countries in, escorted the plane in to land.  So, because there is the UN in Geneva and because Switzerland is a host country, I wonder if the UN has any comment on that, has, they, have they communicated with Switzerland, is there any, because I know that here in the US there is a lot of communication with the host country about security of the building, security, et cetera, is there any UN response to the idea that unbeknownst to many the Swiss Air Force doesn’t work in other than nine-to-five hours?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s plainly a question for the Swiss military.  And with regard to their working hours and as regards security of UN premises, we are not going to go into details about that, nor about our interactions with the Swiss authorities on these matters.

Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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