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

21 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Climate Change

The Secretary-General met this morning with Michael Bloomberg, the UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and he praised Mr. Bloomberg’s work when he was Mayor of New York City in helping to make New York a carbon-free city. 

The Secretary-General said that megacities like New York are vulnerable to the impact of climate change.  But he noted that at the same time, considerable work is being done to make New York City resilient against the effects of climate change, through policies on land use, transit, improved building codes and sustainable energy.  He said he would rely on Mayor Bloomberg’s help to make the UN Climate Change Summit meeting in September a great success and to get a global climate change agreement by next year.  His remarks are available in our office and online.

**Security Council

The Security Council is continuing its discussion of the situation in the Central African Republic this morning, in its closed consultations.

The Secretary-General briefed the Council on the Central African Republic yesterday afternoon, and said afterwards that international efforts there must be increased.  He said that the international community is working hard to protect people from atrocities, restore stability and provide emergency relief, but it is simply not enough.

The Secretary-General has put forward a six-point initiative for addressing the most urgent priorities and needs, including for more troops and police, increased efforts for the peace process, support for the Government, funding for humanitarian assistance and accountability.  He said that time is of the essence.  A delay of a week or even a day can mean the difference between life and death for many people.

The Secretary-General is also sending a video message to the people of the Central African Republic.

**Central African Republic

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the number of refugees from the Central African Republic has sharply increased this month in Cameroon, as violence continues through the country.  Since the beginning of February, a total of nearly 20,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have crossed into Cameroon.  This is up from less than 5,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in the first week of the month.  The latest influx brings to more than 35,000 the total number of refugees who have fled to Cameroon since March 2013.

The refugee agency says that they have started registration and are moving the new arrivals in eastern Cameroon to a new site which can host up to 10,000 people.

And as we told you yesterday, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, wrapped up her visit to the Central African Republic yesterday and said that security needed to be restored so that people can go back home and not live in fear.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners are increasing their delivery of life-saving aid as fast as security and access conditions allow.  The humanitarian community also calls on donors to give generously to support humanitarian response efforts in the Central African Republic.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, condemned an attack on the headquarters of the Somali Government in Mogadishu today.

He spoke to the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and expressed his condolences to the families of those killed and his wishes for a speedy recovery to the injured.

Mr. Kay said that the Somali people were tired of shootings, bombings and killings.  He added that it was time for a new chapter in Somalia’s history and that we could not allow a slide back at this critical time.

He also said that the United Nations and the international community remain steadfast in their determination to see a new Somalia rise, and continued to support Somalia in its quest to stabilize and rebuild institutions.

And we also expect later in the day a statement from the Secretary-General on this attack.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) reports that it conducted a patrol to Malakal town in Upper Nile State yesterday to assess the situation after the recent wave of fighting which began on 18 February.

The Mission observed Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Opposition forces and armed youth on the streets as well as opposition elements along with some South Sudanese National Police and other uniformed personnel at a former SPLA checkpoint.  The Mission says it counted more than 50 bodies in various parts of the town.

The Mission patrol further noted that Malakal town had been looted and appeared to be generally empty of civilians.  The UN Mission also reported sporadic firing this morning close to its Malakal compound.  The Mission says that it responded by moving armoured vehicles to the spot.  Two women, who sustained wounds, were admitted to the UN hospital inside the base.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that aid organizations are concerned by reports from civilians in Malakal that a number of people have been killed this week at the Malakal Teaching Hospital, including those who sought shelter at the facility.  Access to the hospital is currently restricted due to insecurity in the town, and aid agencies have not yet been able to verify the reports first-hand.

And as I said about the statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General noted with deep concern the reports of renewed fighting in Malakal and the catastrophic consequences for civilian populations.  He urged all parties to the conflict to respect international human rights and humanitarian law and ensure that civilians are protected.  And that statement is available online.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, said he was deeply concerned by the violence yesterday in Bukavu, South Kivu, where 47 people were injured during a rally.  The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, was able to visit and hear the testimonies of 27 of the injured, civilians and police.

The Mission highlights that the freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration are enshrined in the Congolese Constitution.


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, called upon States today to make commitments so that an additional 100,000 Syrian refugees can be resettled or admitted in 2015 and 2016.

The refugee agency had earlier called upon States to provide solutions for 30,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees through resettlement or other forms of admission by the end of 2014.  To date, 20 countries have offered more than 18,800 places towards this goal.

The agency anticipates that in the coming years, there will be increasing numbers of vulnerable Syrian refugees who will be in need of resettlement, relocation or other forms of humanitarian admission.

And there are currently more than 2.4 million refugees registered in the region.

**Press Conferences

On Monday at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the International Year of Small Island Developing States.  Speakers will include the President of the Republic of Nauru, the Prime Minister of Samoa, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Barbados and the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development of the Republic of Mauritius.


And I can confirm that the Secretary-General has just spoken to President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, and he urged the President to implement the agreement fully, as soon as possible.  I expect we will have more details on this and the developments in Ukraine a little bit later.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan, and congratulations for the… for your new position.  My first question is about Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, whether he is coming truly on Monday to New York and whether we know anything about when he is going to brief the Security Council in this regard?  And I have another question, please, on Syria, as well.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, no, there is no current plan for Mr. Brahimi to travel in the next few days.  As you know, he did say that he intends to come to New York at some point soon to brief the Secretary-General and the Security Council, possibly, as well.  But we have no dates for his travel just yet.

Question:  In fact, my original question was that the Secretary-General yesterday expressed his disappointment because of the lack of any progress in Geneva talks.  And Mr. Brahimi himself also apologized to the Syrian people because he was not able to achieve any progress.  Is the United Nations really looking into whether the approach was taken into this political process was not the right one?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, actually, I would just refer you as well to what the Secretary-General said.  You mentioned a bit of what he said, but what I’d like to read out from what he said to reporters just yesterday afternoon is that he did say:  “While I am disappointed the two sessions of the political negotiations have not brought good progress, we should not be overly pessimistic.  We have to continue.  There is no other option but to continue this Geneva Conference.  That is what I am emphasizing and I have been continuously discussing this matter with Lakhdar Brahimi, and I will continue to do that.”  So that is where he stands and we will continue with the efforts.

Question:  No, but my question was whether the United Nations is looking into or reviewing the approaches that were taken by the mediators in this political process?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  A standard part of any diplomatic process is to constantly review how the negotiations are proceeding, whether the track that we are on is working or not, and that is something that Mr. Brahimi and his team have continuously been doing.  And they continuously try to adjust to see how best we can bring the parties together.  And they will continue to do that.  There is nothing, there is no particular shift to announce at this stage, though.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Great, thanks a lot. I want to ask about, on… on South Sudan, two things:  one is that there are reports and — and thanks for the report that you gave — there are reports that in the recent days within the camp itself, not only has there been sort of violence between the… the people the UN is seeking to protect, but actually staff on staff, national staff on staff, there is a report of people having to… to lock themselves up to not be attacked by other UN staff members, and I wanted to know if that’s something that you can confirm.  And I also wanted to know if there is any response, Uganda has said publicly that they will not participate in any investigation or probe of the use of cluster bombs in South Sudan since it was said that the UN Mission will be investigating.  What do you do if one of the two… two or more potential users of the cluster bombs says they won’t participate?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ll have to see what the results of the investigation are.  Once we can actually collect information, obviously, as you know, when the UN tries to gather information about various things, there are times when different parties may or may not choose to participate, but you can get information from a variety of ways. So, at this stage, let’s wait and see what results they can get.  As for the situation in the Malakal camps, what the UN Mission in South Sudan reports is that they don’t have any reports of fighting amongst the internally displaced people at the camp today.

Question:  Well, just one follow-up, if you don’t mind?  Would you expect Uganda, would you, or any country, but particularly a country that is participating in a UN-supported peacekeeping mission in Somalia, would you expect the country to cooperate with the UN investigation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We encourage all countries, all Member States to cooperate with the work that the United Nations does.  That’s a given.  At this stage, though, we will allow the UN Mission to proceed with its work and come out with results when it can.  Yes?  Oh, first you?

Question:  Okay, so both in Syria and in South Sudan the United Nations is very active with refugees, but is the United Nations in either of those countries or — well let’s just focus on those two countries — doing anything to prevent arms from arriving from third-party countries?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a question of capabilities at this stage.  As you know, the Secretary-General has spoken out very forcefully against the militarization, the further militarization, of the conflict in Syria.  We have no presence at the borders of Syria.  There is no UN peacekeeping mission in the country, so it is not as if we ourselves can police how that cross-border traffic of arms may or may not go.  But certainly in our diplomatic dealings in the region and throughout, we have tried to discourage countries from arming the parties there.  And the same goes, of course, with the conflict in South Sudan.  Nizar?

Question:  On the same subject, how the Secretary-General views the categorization of these organizations — the armed groups in Syria between benign or malignant ones, in the recent arrangements in order to provide weapons for them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s not a distinction we have made; that’s not our language.  I wouldn’t have a comment on what other Member States chose to do in terms of their descriptions. 

Question:  But how does he view that other Member States are categorizing them this way?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What the Secretary-General is trying to do is get all factions, regardless of how they are called, all factions to cease fighting.  That’s the point of the diplomatic process, that’s the point of having talks in which you can have the implementation of the Geneva communiqué from 2012 and the establishment of a transitional governing body.  Ultimately, we need all parties to set aside their arms, and this is what we are trying to achieve.

Question:  About Hebron, a question regarding the… the clashes that took place today in Hebron and the crackdown on the protesters, the Palestinians there, do you have any statement on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is no comment at this stage from the UN Special Coordinator, Robert Serry.  If that changes, I will let you know.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just first a follow-up on Nizar’s question.  Since we all know that there are, as my friend, good friend of mine, says, there are not many angels in Syria, I wonder how the Secretary-General, indeed as you said he is communicating with all factions, fractions [sic], how he communicated with those very radicalized and very radical fractions [sic]?  I really wonder in that process, if you can put light on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, part of the Geneva process is to have the two sides form themselves into two distinct delegations that are broadly representative.  In other words, one delegation representing the Government of Syria and one representing the broadest possible section of the opposition.  That is what the effort is.  Now, of course, it is up to the opposition forces themselves to sort out their affairs so that they can be represented in a unified manner.  But that is not something that we can achieve for them; they have to do it. But that is what we are trying to do in Geneva. And of course operationally on the ground, we do have contacts with different factions as needed for various efforts, including, for example, for the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Question:  Farhan, it seems it is still not clear to me, and I think it is really not clear to many other journalists who are trying to understand this.  Are you saying that Secretary-General is able to communicate to all fractions [sic], including those most radicalized, and how, again, this is the question?  It seems to me that you are saying something that doesn’t make sense — I’m sorry to say that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I was talking about was the process of the negotiations in Geneva, which involve having two separate delegations:  one in which the opposition will try to compose itself as broadly as possible, as fully-representative as possible of the opposition forces throughout the country, and the other would be the delegation of the Government of Syria.  Operationally on the ground, we do try to reach out and communicate with as many factions as we can for a number of tasks to be accomplished, such as the delivery of humanitarian aid.  That is a separate thing in terms of the diplomatic process that we are talking about in Geneva, however.  Yeah?

Question:  I want to ask you on… on the Central African Republic.  Yesterday the Secretary-General said to the Security Council that his, the Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry, you know, will soon arrive.  So, I just… I… I wanted to ask you a couple of things.  One is, you know, there was this statement by Navi Pillay on… on 20 January that the disarmament of ex-Séléka by the French forces put Muslim communities at risk of retaliatory attacks, and I wanted to know from you whether this is viewed as within the scope of the work of that Commission.  And also, if you have any updates on, you’d said that the… even though it is a political mission, that they were aware of and would look into the… the… first that the killing of 10 individuals by the French force about some weeks ago, and more recently that high-profile case where soldiers lynched a Muslim individual minutes after being spoken to by the new President.  What’s the… what’s… what’s been the status of our view looking into that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we did report to you, the Mission on the ground, the peacebuilding mission, which is BINUCA (United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic), said it will look into this.  They haven’t provided any updates.  When they do, we will let you know.  As for you first question about the Commission of Inquiry, it is up to the Commission of Inquiry to determine what specific acts, what specific tasks, they will look into.  So I wouldn’t prejudge that for them.  We will let them go about their work and then they can proceed to look into what the acts on the ground are that need to be studied as they see fit.

Question:  Well, just to, would you, I mean, since… since the Secretary-General was talking about the need for accountability and against impunity, would… would the various things listed by Navi Pillay in her statement of 20 January seem to the Secretariat to be the kind of things that should be investigated by the Commission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, again, it is not up to the Secretary-General or the Secretariat to determine the scope of the Commission of Inquiry’s work.  They have the independence needed to determine that for themselves.  So we wouldn’t be telling them what to do.  Of course they will have seen Navi Pillay’s comments for themselves, and they can evaluate it accordingly.  Yes, yes, you?  Yeah, sure, you’re next.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Has there been any contact between the Secretary-General on the topic of Ukraine and the White House — phone calls, coordination, conversation, nothing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any recent conversations with the White House.  The Secretary-General has been in touch with a number of officials from different Governments trying to get the various details.  I think I just mentioned that he spoke just within the last few minutes with President Yanukovych.  We hope that we can have some further details, possibly a statement, in the coming hours.  [The Spokesperson later issued the following statement:

The Secretary-General is encouraged by the agreement reached between President Yanukovych and opposition leaders on a process for the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine.  He has called President Yanukovych today to personally welcome this important step forward.  The Secretary-General stressed that it will be critical to ensure the swift implementation of the agreement in order to de-escalate the situation in the country and initiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.  The Secretary-General commends the spirit of compromise, as well as the collaborative international approach to finding a resolution to the crisis.

The Secretary-General also welcomes the signing into law of the resolution passed by Parliament yesterday, which has resulted in the start of a pullback by police from the centre of Kiev.  He reiterates his appeal for no violence and for dialogue to remain the primary channel for addressing the numerous grievances that have surfaced.

The Secretary-General hopes that these developments and subsequent constructive efforts of key actors and parties will lead to a definitive end to the crisis in Ukraine and open the way for the country to embark on a genuine process of reform.]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?  Erol?

Question:  Farhan, again on Ukraine, now finally, even if anything I missed, I do apologize something of your statement regarding the talk with President Yanukovych.  Will the offer of the Secretary-General as we understood yesterday for helping Ukraine authorities to investigate who was involved in violence, et cetera, was accepted and in which direction that goes?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, remember, this is a call that just happened while I have been here.  So I have no real details to provide to you.  What I can say is that we as the United Nations remain ready to support the implementation of an agreement by helping to de-escalate the situation and to support all efforts towards a lasting solution to the crisis.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, regarding the relief help which happening in Syria, the Government has already allowed relief to go to the rebels, rebel-controlled areas in Homs, in Yarmouk and Ghouta and other areas.  However, we do not see any progress with regard to old sieged towns Nub-el Zara, and other, Maliya, Maloula, or the relief, or the release of the hostages such as the bishops, the two bishops and the 12 nuns who were kidnapped from Maloula.  Why doesn’t the United Nations make it conditional?  If they want, if they can help these areas which were controlled by the rebels, they should reciprocate by allowing relief to the areas which the rebels themselves besiege.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We believe that all parties on the ground in Syria need to allow humanitarian access to all areas.  There is roughly, nearly a quarter of a million people in need in various parts of the country, and we need access to all of them.  And we continue to seek access to all of them.  And of course we also continue to call for the release of all people who have been detained against their will.

Question:  The United Nations negotiates with rebel groups before entering Yarmouk or Homs and they make, they facilitate, these things, and we have seen that they are… the presence of the United Nations there.  Why… why, when they do that, why they don’t make it conditional that there should be some kind of reciprocity?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t make the delivery of aid conditional.  We give aid to people in need.  That’s not something that we stick different provisos to.  It is essential that it gets to the people who need it so that they can live.

Question:  But you already are talking to these groups which are taking a lot of hostages?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We talk to different forces on the ground so that we can get access to the people in need.  That is essential in order to do the life-saving work that needs to be done.

Question:  So, when do the… when… when do these areas — the same thing — when do these areas like Nub-el and Zara, will have attention enough in order to get some relief to them?  They are already two years under siege.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, we are continuing with our efforts.  You have seen what officials like Valerie Amos have had to say across the board, and we do try to seek access across the board.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  First of all, I forgot to say in the very beginning, thank you for having again the transcript of your daily press briefing.  It is now on the line.  And…

Deputy Spokesperson:  We should cheer the guy in the back, Derrick [Bwalya], who is back to do this.

Correspondent:  Thanks!

Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you, Derrick.

Question:  And again, can I ask you something just on the figures?  I probably know that it is not going from the top of your mind, but UN is saying that more than 100,000 people died in Syria.  Another independent, I would say, observatory for the Syrian opposition saying 136,000 died.  And also if you can tell us a little bit about how many refugees indeed are out of this conflict?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I believe I just said in the note I read on this that there are currently more than 2.4 million Syrian refugees registered in the region around Syria.  But that’s just also the tip of the iceberg in terms of people displaced within the country.  As the Secretary-General said yesterday, about a third of the people in the country have been affected one way or another by the conflict, so this is a huge number — about 9 million people.  As for deaths, as Navi Pillay has made very clear, we need to have a reliable methodology to make sure that we can verify an accurate number for deaths.  So our death toll has not officially risen since last summer, when it was in excess of 100,000.  Now, of course, it is well in excess, but we need to have the work done, including with the groups on the ground so that they can agree on an accurate number that we can all live with.  But certainly, it is much, much ahead of the 100,000 figure that we had cited last summer.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

Question:  Can I ask one more question?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, sure.

Question:  Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.  I wanted to ask about this meeting that took place, meetings that took place upstairs on… on climate.  I wanted to, I noticed that on the schedule there was a meeting after the, after the Michael Bloomberg meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, so I wanted to, we, as well as Mr. Bloomberg.  Is there any way to know, I guess I wanted to… I… I have asked previously now with Mr. Bloomberg having this UN post while still running a business empire, whether there is any, been any consideration in the terms of reference or otherwise what possible conflicts of interest could exist and how to avoid them.  And separately, whether what took place in these three meetings, also I saw Stéphane up there, Stéphane Dujarric, the incoming Spokesman, so I wanted to just ask you in what… what… what… in what capacity he was there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He is currently, as you know, the head of the News and Media Division of the Department of Public Information, and he is there in that capacity.  As for our guidelines, of course we have reporting among all, by all senior officials so we can be sure that all conflicts and potential conflicts of interest are avoided, and will do that in the case of Mr. Bloomberg, as well.

Question:  And will he do public financial disclosure as… as… as the Secretary-General says he recommends to all UN…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All senior officials are encouraged to do a public financial disclosure. 

Question:  One last question, Farhan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The last, last question.  Each of you gets the last question.

Correspondent:  Okay [laughter].  Well…

Question:  And me?

Deputy Spokesperson:  And you will have the last question too.

Correspondent:  [laughter] Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let everyone have a last question.  Okay, you first.

Question:  Well, I asked several times this week and last week about, regarding States who provide deformed flags, patched flags.  What’s the policy of the United Nations on accepting such flags to be risen in front of the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not determine what constitutes the flags of Member States.  Member States give us their flags.  I think it is up to the Member State in question, for you to ask them and deal with them about this particular issue.

Question:  Yeah, but… but… should….  Sorry… Yeah, shouldn’t there be a standard, I mean, they should adhere to?  A minimum standard that the flag should be plain, the same like the one risen in their country, for example?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We rely on all the Member States to provide us with flags that are accurate depictions of their flags.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, indeed.  I want to ask you, does the Secretary-General have any reaction regarding the election in northern Mitrovica in Kosovo, since we know that there was last month was killing of one of the potential candidate for Serb, uh, Dimitrije Janicijevic.  So, does he have anything to say on that or would you have…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, we do not have a comment on that.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

[The Spokesperson later said that the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been closely following the five-day campaign for the mayoral elections in northern Mitrovica to be held on 23 February.  The Mission is encouraged that the campaign took place in an atmosphere of overall calm, with no security incidents reported.  UNMIK looks forward to the conduct of Sunday’s election in the same atmosphere of peace and calm, and joins Serbian and Kosovo leaders in calling for a high voter turnout to ensure the legitimacy of the electoral outcome.  UNMIK stands ready to work closely with the local authorities and international partners on the ground in order to facilitate the conduct of a smooth mayoral election.]

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