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

20 February 2014

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

20 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.

So, good afternoon.  Welcome to the Briefing.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General will talk to the Security Council at 3 this afternoon about the situation in the Central African Republic, and he will discuss the sort of assistance that the people in the country need.  And after that formal meeting, at about 3:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout about the Central African Republic and he will take a few questions at that time.

This morning, the Security Council also held consultations on the work of the sanctions committee dealing with resolution 1718, which, as you know, concerns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

And just to come back to the 3 p.m. session, that is open and so you will be able to hear and see the Secretary-General’s remarks to the Council.

**Central African Republic

And staying with the Central African Republic, Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, concluded her visit to the Central African Republic today.  After returning from Bossangoa, she told reporters in Bangui that she had been shocked by what she saw, including burned homes and people so scared by violence that they sleep in the bush at night.

During her mission, Ms. Amos met the Interim President and members of her Government, as well as religious leaders, representatives of civil society, humanitarian organizations and UN agencies.  She said she had been looking at the impact of the violence and the lack of security and what that impact was having on the people and the institutions of the country.  She said more thought needs to be given to what more can be done to deal with the situation as it is now.  And she also said that all the people with whom she met felt very strongly that time is of the essence if we do not want to fail the people of the Central African Republic.

And this again underscores the importance of this afternoon’s Security Council session.


The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known as UNRWA, resumed its food distribution [yesterday] to civilians inside Yarmouk in Damascus, after a pause of 11 days.  Since 18 January, the Agency has delivered more than 6,500 food parcels of food and other supplies to civilians.

The Relief and Works Agency welcomes the agreement and arrangements between various groups which helped to create the conditions for the resumption of the Agency’s humanitarian work in Yarmouk today.  And it hopes that the positive developments in Yarmouk can give momentum to peaceful dialogue between all parties so that there can be humanitarian access for all civilians in Syria.


Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with Prime Minister Tamam Salam today and congratulated him in person on the formation of the new Lebanese Government.  They discussed, among other things, the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and the humanitarian challenges the country faces, particularly on the question of the Syrian refugees.  Mr. Plumbly also extended the UN’s condolences for the victims of the bombing yesterday in Bir Hassan.

Yesterday afternoon, you will have seen we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned that bombing and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. 

So, that’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes, Edie?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, first, since I was upstairs writing about your new appointment, I wasn’t down here to congratulate you on returning to Vienna and tell you how much you will be missed.

Spokesperson:  Thank you very much.

Question:  I wondered if the Secretary-General — I know he has had plenty to say about Ukraine, but there has been another very serious outburst of violence overnight and I wondered if there is any update.

Spokesperson:  Well, I have literally just come from a meeting with the Secretary-General on that very topic.  And he is obviously aware of the latest news reports that are coming out of Kiev and he is increasingly alarmed by the level of bloodshed, and particularly he is appalled by the use of firearms by both police and protesters.  And obviously this has to stop immediately. 

He is also aware of the various efforts that are going on on the part of the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  And as you will probably recall, when the Secretary-General last met President Yanukovych, which was in Sochi, he said that the United Nations good offices are also available if both sides request it.  And that offer is still there.  That is what I would have at the moment.  But simply to say that the Secretary-General is calling for an end to the bloodshed and a return to real, genuine, constructive dialogue that can help to resolve what is obviously a deepening political and security crisis.

And I would also say that you may wish to ask the Secretary-General the same question this afternoon.  The focus of his remarks most certainly is on the Central African Republic, which is a major international crisis where the United Nations has heavy involvement.  But if you have a question on this topic directly to the Secretary-General, he may well be able to answer it.  Yes, Ali, and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Martin. Does the Secretary-General believe that the time has come for the Security Council to act on the humanitarian situation in Syria?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, he is aware that there is a draft resolution, and dealing with humanitarian access.  But it is for the Council to deliberate on that.  The Secretary-General and the Emergency Relief Coordinator have been consistently calling for increased, improved, universal access, and they continue to do that.  Obviously it is for the Council to deliberate and decide on the draft resolution that they have before them, as I understand it. 

It is not for the Secretary-General to dictate to the Council what they should do with that draft resolution.  But certainly, the question of access applies across the board, whether in areas controlled or blockaded by Government forces or controlled or blockaded by opposition forces.  And as we have just seen, there can be developments and movement; and finally after a lot of hard work by our UNRWA colleagues, food supplies and other supplies were able to be delivered [yesterday] to Yarmouk, which of course is a Palestine refugee camp in Damascus.

So, these things are possible.  It takes a lot of hard work.  The Security Council’s support in this through the presidential statement was helpful, and clearly we will be watching closely to see what happens with this draft resolution.  Okay, yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General has now announced that you have been appointed to the post in Vienna.  First of all, congratulations, and second, what is the nature of the responsibility that you will be undertaking there, and at what level?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, it is a temporary job opening as the Director of the UN Information Service at the UN Office in Vienna.  That’s the role.  It is a temporary vacancy.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  Something related to that, but I wanted to ask first about South Sudan, um… there…

Spokesperson:  Well, get to the related bit first.

Question:  Oh, okay, Oh, okay, good.  I wanted to know if you could, and I was meaning to ask this yesterday but it all happened so, so quickly, I mean, it is related in the sense of the… the changes that were announced yesterday.  I wanted to know first what the status of the recruitment for the head of the News and Media Division is, and… and actually I wanted to ask whether journalists both here and… and… and outside of the UN can have any input in terms of what the criteria should be for that post.  And also, what the recruitment was for the Spokesman’s process.  Was this one, was this put in The Economist, or was it done more quickly?

Spokesperson:  Both the position of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the position of Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General are personal appointments by the Secretary-General, and he is able to make direct appointments to both of those posts.  And that is what he did.  With regard to the position that will now fall vacant in the News and Media Division, the Director of that, Stéphane Dujarric’s current post, that is a matter for the Department of Public Information headed by the Under-Secretary-General, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, and I am sure that he will be dealing with that in due course.  And as for the question of what input journalists have in appointments to UN posts, I don’t think that that’s really a serious question.

Question:  [inaudible] I have just one more, can I have one follow-up on that?  It’s just — and I would like to get your answer at this point — I just wanted to know, it’s sort of, the announcement yesterday made me… made me wonder, do you, does… is it, in your view, and the UN’s view, is the role of Spokesperson and the role of, say, Media Accreditation that goes with that, are these two separate functions?  Are these… are the person answering the question and the person who decides who gets to come in and answer, answer questions, are these two divided, its… its functions simply because Mr. Dujarric has performed one and now returns to this one, I wanted to know if, that’s why I am asking you actually about the… the recruitment.

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be clear:  Stéphane Dujarric was Spokesperson to Kofi Annan in the final part of Kofi Annan’s second term.  And did an extraordinarily effective job at that time, and I have no doubt that he will perform superbly standing right here.  And when he takes up his role on 10 March, it is as Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and he will have nothing to do with Media Accreditation in the same way that I have had nothing to do with Media Accreditation.  I think that’s very clear.  The role of Spokesperson is very clearly defined and limited in that sense.  Yes, Masood?  And then I will come to you Oleg.  Yes?

Question:  I just want to say the same thing.  I mean, I wish you the best in your future endeavours, so to speak, and I hope that you made the right decision to go there.  Sorry to see you go.  I just wanted to ask you a question about this — maybe this has been asked you earlier — Mr. Robert Serry, who is now, I mean, United Nations representative now, had been in Ukraine?  And has he [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:   He did visit Ukraine a while ago, and he had meetings with the opposition and with members of the Government, and including President Yanukovych.  But that was, that preceded the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Yanukovych in Sochi, which took place, if I am not mistaken, on the 7th.

Question:  So, I just wanted to, so, he has no other latest inputs since then?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Serry remains in touch with the Secretary-General on this topic, as well as on his usual portfolio.  As you know, Mr. Serry was dispatched to Kiev because he is a well-known figure there, having been the Dutch ambassador to Ukraine for some time.  And it was in that context that he was sent.  But he remains in close contact with the Department of Political Affairs on his normal beat, and on this particular topic that is concerning everybody at the moment.  The scenes from Ukraine are, of course, quite devastating when you think where this country is located, in the heart of the European continent.  Right, yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is there any update from the Joint Mission on Chemical Weapons in Syria, because there were reports that Syrian authorities may not be able to destroy the stockpiles on schedule?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with my colleagues from the Joint Mission.  I don’t have anything for you on that at the moment.  I’ll check with them.  Okay, right, yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, I wonder, what’s the criteria of issuing a condemnation regarding protesters or rebels when they commit atrocities or they kill someone, of the security people?  Last week you issued, the Secretary-General issued, a statement condemning the attack on the security forces in Bahrain out of a single incident, which was, of course, nobody knew who attacked the security forces at the time.  But yesterday in Ukraine, over nine security people were killed, yet we do not see a similar statement issued by the Secretary-General.  Why the condemnation can be applied there, not in Ukraine?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think that you should compare incidents in different parts of the world and seek to draw parallels.  There are obviously very different in nature.  The Secretary-General has spoken in the strongest terms about the need to end the violence in Ukraine.  And as I have just said, he is appalled that both the police and protesters are using firearms.  And that’s got to stop immediately.  But he will condemn the loss of life through the use of firearms, of course.  It’s not acceptable in anybody’s book, and particularly in a country which is a major Member State of the United Nations.

Correspondent:  But the security forces could be doing that in an attempt to protect civilians or protect institutions or buildings or any amenities…

Spokesperson:  Look, look, I am not here to analyse precisely what is happening in Ukraine, given that this is extremely fluid and it is a fast-moving story and extremely gruesome story as well.  So, I am not going to stand here and analyse or try to theorize what the security forces are doing for whatever reason and what the protesters are doing.  But the main thing is that the use of force needs to stop immediately and people need to talk to each other.  That’s what needs to happen.  Joseph?  And then I am coming to you, yes?

Correspondent:  Also, I wish you the best of luck in your new endeavours…

Spokesperson:  Thank you, Joseph.

Correspondent:  … and you will be missed. 

Spokesperson:  Thank you.

Question:  My question is on South Sudan.  There have been recent reports, as you know, of ethnic clashes within some of the UN encampments.  So, I would like to find out what the current status of that is.  Is that situation now been stabilized?  Does the Secretary-General have any comments concerning the spread of these ethnic clashes within the areas that are supposed to be safe for civilians?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mentioned yesterday that there had indeed been clashes the day before that were particularly intense inside the protection area of the UN base in Malakal, where there had been fighting outside the base as well.  And the intensity of the clashes within the protection sites was such that our peacekeepers were not able to intervene.  It was too dangerous, too intense.  Yesterday the situation was more calm and had stabilized.  I do not have at the moment an update on the very latest on the situation in the camp there, or indeed in other camps, but I will seek to get that as soon as I can.  I am going to the back.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any updates on Venezuela?

Spokesperson:  Not today.  You will have seen the note that we issued yesterday and I think it remains the same.  I don’t have anything to add to that.  Yes, please?

Correspondent:  Congratulations and best luck for your new job.

Spokesperson:  Thank you.

Question:  And my question will be about Turkey, and the Turkish President approved two days ago new Internet law.  Many international organizations, they are concerned about this law because it is bringing more censor for the freedom of the press.  What would you like to say about this?

Spokesperson:  What I would like to say is that we are aware of the legislation and we are studying it, but I don’t have any comment on it at the moment.  We are looking at it quite closely.  Matthew, and then Masood, and Masood, thank you for your kind comments, as well.  Okay, yes?

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask you about… about South Sudan.  Two things:  one, the… the… President Museveni of… of Uganda was pictured on a tank on… on the border, which may have been just kind of a photo-op, but it said that he is going to… to South Sudan today.  So, I wanted to ask you again… I know that… that… that…

Spokesperson:  On a tank?

Correspondent:  No, not necessarily on a tank, I think he went on a tank, then he is gonna fly there.  But what I want to ask is about the troops that are there, whether it’s, what the UN’s position is on, there has been an… an interview on Radio Miraya, on the UN’s radio station, which the South Sudan Government has said there… there is a gap to fill within their army, and they are asking their strategic friends to remain.  So, they are on record on UN’s own media saying Uganda is staying, and I wanted to know, is it still the UN’s position that under the agreement signed in Addis Ababa that the foreign forces of either side should leave the country?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  It is?

Spokesperson:  It is.

Question:  Okay.  So what’s being done about that?  Has… has that… that… has this been conveyed by Hilde Johnson, for example, to President Kiir, and… and… and were this stands?

Spokesperson:  I am sure that the Mission is in constant contact with the Government of South Sudan and would have made that position clear.  I am pretty sure.  And I will try to get a further update on that, and also to address the question that Joseph put about what is happening inside the camp in Malakal in particular.  Masood, and then Mr. Abbadi, yes?

Question:  Martin, OIC has been expressing concern about the situation of Muslims in Rohingya in Burma and they have been again expressing concern.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative over there was Mr. Nambiar; he is no longer there, I mean, at least he has not given the latest report there.  What is the situation, because it is again about to explode?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware of the views of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and we ourselves, including Mr. Nambiar, have expressed our concern about the welfare of the Rohingya in Myanmar.  And I will see if he has an update after his most recent travels, but I don’t have one with me right now.  Okay, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  During his first mandate, and part of the second mandate, the Secretary-General has been emphasizing priorities for the United Nations.  And he started from economic development, then moved to democracy and security and human rights, and then poverty and now to the new item — rule of law and social justice.  What is, in the Secretary-General’s view, the priority of priorities?

Spokesperson:  Look, all of these areas are crucial and all fit into the three pillars of the activities of the United Nations — peace and security, and development and human rights.  They are each equally important, but the Secretary-General has made clear that the work on what comes after the Millennium Development Goals is going to be all-encompassing, including the work on climate change.  All-encompassing in the sense that it will reflect, if the Member States so decide, not just economic development, but also questions of social justice and equality — meaning gender empowerment, for example, health and all of these other topics that you have mentioned and others besides.  But the priority is to deal with the agenda that comes after 2015 — in other words the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.  It is crossing the line on the climate change agreement and it is also working on the Millennium Development Goals that there are still to be achieved.  There is still a lot of heavy lifting to be done in some areas.  Overriding and underlining them, of course, is to eradicate extreme poverty, which has a knock-on effect on all of these areas.  Yes, Evelyn, you’ve been waiting very patiently.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  But I need your microphone, please.

Question:  Yes.  How is it we don’t learn?  Okay.  [laughter]

Spokesperson:  But how is it that I keep forgetting to remind you?

Question:  [laughter]  Yes, thank you.  Central African Republic:  as you know, Chad’s President called for a UN peacekeeping force.  Are you hearing this from other African nations, or is he standing all alone?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General have been speaking with a wide range of African and European leaders in the run-up to this afternoon’s Security Council session.  So I would urge you to listen to the remarks at that point where the Secretary-General will be setting out his ideas and proposals for how to deal with this.  And as Valerie Amos said from her visit on the ground dealing with the humanitarian aspect of this, time is of the essence.  The Secretary-General could not agree more.

With regard to the entire crisis, the political and security aspects as well as the humanitarian aspects, every day that we delay in providing what is necessary for the people of the Central African Republic is a day where more people are displaced, more people potentially are killed, and this is something that needs to be addressed with a great degree of urgency, and hence this Security Council session this afternoon and also the importance that is attached to that.  Nizar, are you just waving your pen or you have a question?

Question:  No, no, I have a question.  Well, the situation around the al-Aqsa Mosque is getting worse and worse by the day and the clerics in al-Aqsa Mosque are warning that the settlers, helped by the security forces, Israeli ones, are threatening the very existence of the mosque.  Given the importance of the mosque to the Islamic world, what does the United Nations intend to do in order to put an end to the intimidation and attacks against prayer worshippers in the mosque, also, to prevent such an eventuality from happening?

Spokesperson:  I will need to check with Robert Serry, with his Middle East hat on, and I will come back to you, Nizar.

Question:  I thought he is very busy in Ukraine these days, no?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely; he remains very busy on his primary responsibilities.

Question:  I asked last week about raising a flag which is an erroneous or faulty flag of the United Nations.  Now I have seen that it has been patched.  How does it befit the United Nations to raise a patched flag at the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Again, this is a question for the Member State concerned, but I will look into it further.  Yes?

Question:  That’s great.  Haiti and also something about peacekeeping...

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  I want to ask about Haiti and then I have an unrelated question about peacekeeping.  There was an interview with Mr. Medrano on the issue of cholera, and he said that he, two things: he said that… that the person to answer about the… the… the legal claims is the head of OLA (Office of Legal Affairs), Miguel de Serpa; he said he is who is now dealing with the issues before the federal court in Manhattan.  So I wanted to ask, I wanted to ask, one, if it’s possible to ask him questions, could he hold a briefing on the topic?  And in terms of dealing with the top… with… with the issues in the federal court, whether the UN has, the Secretary-General or Mr. Mulet has, have received the court papers, and… and if they acknowledge that as a… as a sufficient service of process to have the UN respond in the court?

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly Mr. Medrano is correct that the Legal Counsel is the person who is handling the legal aspects of this, as you well know.  I very much doubt that he will give a briefing on the topic.  If he did, it would be very short, as I think you also know.  I will check whether there is any update on the legal process, but you may wish to check with the Manhattan courts yourself.

Question:  No, I mean, there is… there is a motion pending saying that the UN refused service, and the reason I am asking this is because yesterday there was a whole debate about rule of law.  So I am trying to limit it not to the content of the… what the UN’s response would be, but simply, given that it is a court system and given that papers have attempted to be served — I understand at the Secretary-General’s residence as well as on Mr. Mulet — just a factual statement of whether they have received the papers or not? I think that is consistent with rule of law, sort of.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, I will check with the Office of Legal Affairs.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  This will be the last question, okay?  Thank you very much.

Question:  Right, just a quick follow-up; you mentioned that the SG and Baroness Amos wanted troops there; additional troops there…

Spokesperson:  Well, I didn’t say that Ms. Amos wants troops there.  She is simply saying that…

Question:  Oh.  But other UN officials that said it here…

Spokesperson:  …that time is of the essence to deal with this crisis.

Question:  Right, and a peacekeeping force will take months.  Is there any interim thing planned?

Spokesperson:  Listen to the Secretary-General this afternoon.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.

* *** *

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