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

24 February 2014

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

24 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, welcome to the briefing, good afternoon, everyone.  And just to remind people that the briefing is also being webcast.

**Security Council

The Security Council today heard a briefing from the Chairperson-in-Office for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Didier Burkhalter, and I believe Mr. Burkhalter should be coming to the stakeout to talk to reporters any minute now.

** Ukraine

In a statement we issued this morning, the Secretary-General reiterated his call for non-violence in Ukraine and urged all Ukrainians to express their differences peacefully and through dialogue, and to seek a durable solution through compromise.

The Secretary-General, above all, calls for an inclusive political process that reflects the aspirations of all Ukrainians and preserves Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity.  In order to bring about a stable and prosperous future for Ukraine, the Secretary-General calls for a firm commitment, by all concerned, to uphold the key principles of democracy and human rights, and thereby create a conducive environment for free and fair elections.

To assure Ukrainians of the support of the UN and the wider international community, the Secretary-General has sent his senior adviser, Robert Serry, to Ukraine.  In his meeting with the new Speaker of the Parliament, Oleksander Turchinov, Mr. Serry conveyed the Secretary-General's solidarity with all Ukrainians and his commitment to assist a Ukrainian-led inclusive governance process.  And the full statement is available online.

** Syria

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) says that it is trying to get aid into the Yarmouk camp in Syria following the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014), which called for improved humanitarian access in Syria.  The Relief and Works Agency’s Commissioner General, Filippo Grandi, visited Yarmouk today and a small amount of food was distributed.

You’ll recall that the Security Council voted unanimously to adopt resolution 2139 (2014) on Saturday morning.  The Secretary-General said after the passage of the resolution that, if it is implemented quickly and in good faith, at least some of the suffering can be eased.  But he added that this resolution should not have been necessary.  Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law.  His remarks are online, as I’m sure you’ve already seen.

** Iraq

Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, welcomed the announcement yesterday by Iraq’s Defence Ministry of a 72-hour halt to military operations around the city of Fallujah.  He said that the announcement has raised the possibility of boosting the much-needed delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of families in critical need of assistance in Fallujah and other parts of Anbar Province.  The United Nations will continue to work with the Government of Iraq, local authorities and the people of Anbar to ensure that emergency aid is delivered to those in need.

**South Sudan

We have an update from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  The Mission conducted multiple patrols to Malakal in Unity State over the weekend, where it reported the situation to be tense.  The patrol reported that the town was deserted, with signs of looting and burning.  The Mission also counted more than 100 bodies scattered along their routes. 

UN Mission personnel also visited various civilian sites in the town, including churches and a hospital.  At the Malakal Teaching Hospital, the patrol observed approximately 100 patients, most of whom were wounded or sick.  UNMISS extracted 13 patients requiring urgent medical attention to its hospital within its base.

The UN Mission continues to protect some 22,000 civilians at its site in Malakal.  Overall, 75,000 people are sheltering in a number of bases across South Sudan.

And just to say that we had been asked last week about reports on social media platforms that claimed that some of the national staff of the UN Mission in South Sudan had locked themselves in a bunker at the UNMISS compound in Malakal.  The UN Mission said that it is unaware of any incidents of violence among its national staff members since the crisis in South Sudan began on 15 December.

** Uganda

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has denounced the anti-homosexuality law signed into force in Uganda today.  Navi Pillay says this law would institutionalize discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and could encourage harassment and violence against them.  The law which was signed into force criminalizes and imposes life imprisonment for homosexuality, same-sex marriage and “aggravated homosexuality”.

Ms. Pillay said that disapproval of homosexuality by some can never justify violating the fundamental human rights of others.  She added that the law is formulated so broadly that it may lead to abuse of power and accusations against anyone, not just LGBT people.  She also expressed deep concern that the law could threaten the critically important work of human rights defenders in the country.  She urged the Government to take immediate steps to ensure that human rights defenders are not prosecuted for their advocacy.

The High Commissioner voiced hope that the law would be reviewed at the earliest opportunity in light of its fundamental conflicts with Uganda’s Constitution and its international human rights obligations.  And her full statement is available online.

I can tell you the Secretary-General is seriously concerned about the negative impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act signed into law by the President of Uganda today.  He shares the view of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that this new law violates human rights.  It will institutionalize discrimination, restrict the vital work of human rights activists, and could trigger violence.  It will also hamper potentially life-saving efforts to stop the spread of HIV.

And also, the Secretary-General has a meeting at 12:40 — so in about half an hour from now — with the Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations.  This is a meeting to discuss South Sudan, but I can assure you the Secretary-General will also be raising this topic of the Anti-Homosexuality Act when he meets the Ugandan PR.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Moustapha Soumaré, has strongly condemned recent attacks against civilians in North Kivu’s Masisi Territory.  Clashes between the Congolese army and armed groups in north-west Masisi have led to the displacement of thousands of people.  An estimated 40 people have been reportedly killed and villages have been burnt down.  Humanitarian supplies and health centres in the area have been looted.  Mr. Soumaré added that aid organizations still face numerous challenges but will continue to respond to the emergency needs of the most vulnerable people.

** Philippines

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, will undertake a two-day visit to the Philippines this week to assess the humanitarian response nearly four months after Typhoon Haiyan struck the country, affecting some 14 million people.  During her visit, she will meet with Government representatives and humanitarian partners, and she plans to travel to the hard-hit areas of Guiuan and Tacloban.

Despite progress made in the Government-led relief operation, millions of people still require urgent assistance to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Ms. Amos visited the Philippines twice last November to see first-hand the impact of the disaster and to ensure adequate support for humanitarian assistance.

** Thailand

As you will have seen in a statement we issued yesterday on Thailand, the Secretary-General condemned the escalation of violence over the past week, in particular armed attacks against protesters in which even children have been killed.  He called for violence from any quarter to cease immediately and for the Government to bring those responsible to justice.

The Secretary-General believes strongly that there should be no place for violence by any side in resolving political differences and disputes.  The full statement is available online, and I can tell you we continue to monitor this very closely indeed.

** Small Island Developing States

The Secretary-General spoke at an event this morning launching the International Year for Small Island Developing States, which he said provides an opportunity to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the people of small island developing States and to honour their many contributions to the world.  He said that all small island developing States share a common understanding that we need to set our world on a sustainable path.  And they are all poised to help lead global discussions on our collective future.  And you can find the full remarks online.

**Press Conference Today

Following this briefing, at 12:30, there will be a press conference here on precisely that topic, on the International Year of Small Island Developing States.  And the speakers will be the President of the Republic of Nauru, the Prime Minister of Samoa, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Barbados and the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Republic of Mauritius.

At 3 this afternoon, also here, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, and he also plans to hold a press conference here at 11 tomorrow morning.

And that’s what I have.  And so we have time for some questions.  Yes, Ali?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There is a report in Beirut that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas played a major role in the Geneva II Conference.  In fact, they are saying that he is the godfather of that conference.  I want you to confirm or to deny these allegations.  And also I have a question about Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi.  What is he doing nowadays?  When does he plan to come to New York?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, those dates are still being worked on, with regard to the Joint Special Representative on Syria.  He continues to consult widely and is in touch regularly with the team here in New York and beyond.  With regard to your impassioned plea for me to confirm or deny, I am not going to do either as I would need to look into that further.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Matthew?  And then I will come to you.

Question I want to ask about Central African Republic, and also something on Somalia.  On Central African Republic, on… on… there are two separate reports. One is of… of… of three Muslims being killed in the streets of Bangui.  It… it… it is… it was described by a French wire service as being right next to the French soldiers in which it took place.  And I wanted to know what is the ongoing BINUCA [United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic], what, can they confirm this… this incident, and… and what, where… where does it fall into their probing and reporting?  And also there are reports of MISCA [African-led International Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] peacekeepers killing four civilians in the neighbourhood of Bangui as well; that’s a more recent report.  And I just wondered, do you have anything on either incident?

Spokesperson:    Well, again, I would refer you to the relevant authorities, in other words, the French and the African Union.  Yes, we do have a political mission there.  I will check with them whether they have any update for us.  I would also note that the Secretary-General recorded a radio message that has been widely broadcast across the country and is being broadcast again today.  And he did that in both French and Sango, the local language.

Question:  I am only asking you because, at least in the case of the MISCA one they are the ones accused of killing the civilians so I can certainly ask them, but I am asking, I am wondering, if there is any UN role in… in vetting this type of incident?

Spokesperson:    As I have said, Matthew, I will ask.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There was the bombing today in Aleppo in Syria and other places, is this…?

Spokesperson:  That there was what, sorry?

Correspondent:  Bombing.

Spokesperson:  Bombing, right.

Question:  Yeah, yeah.  And other places.  And this happened after the Security Council resolution.  I am asking that, I am just… the resolution didn’t clarify the sanctions on the party who will not be committed to the terms of the resolution.  So, did the United Nations, and also did the United Nations agree with the Government, saying Government or other parties about the mechanism that will facilitate the delivery of the aid?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, the resolution that was passed, you will have heard the Secretary-General’s comments on this.  He said, in fact, it should not have been necessary to pass such a resolution because humanitarian access should be guaranteed in any case under international humanitarian law.  And with regard to bombings, there has been violence going on for nearly three years now — bombing, shelling, shooting and all kinds of other carnage affecting the Syrian population and of course hampering the delivery of humanitarian supplies.  In addition, there have been difficulties with access.  That is what is being addressed by this resolution, but I don’t think that you would expect that from one day to the next that everything would suddenly change and that access would suddenly be easily achieved.  What I would also say is that the Secretary-General was encouraged by the unanimity in the passing of this resolution, and his only regret is that there is not a similar unanimity in dealing with a political resolution.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  On this Central African Republic, on which the Secretary-General has sought 3,000 more troops for the situation to be stabilized, if at all, I mean, the killing to be ended, is there an update on that, and how soon are those troops going to be deployed?

Spokesperson:   Well, that is as soon as possible, and I think you will find that the Secretary-General is going to be providing more details on this in due course.  My colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations are working on this.  It also involves, of course, liaising very closely with the African Union and with the European Union on the force generation that is needed for this quick surge.  And at a later stage, of course, there is the discussion on a full UN peacekeeping operation.  But what is being talked about at the moment is combining forces through additional troops from the European Union and the African Union.  That’s the first step, and that is still being worked on.  The Secretary-General and others continue to make phone calls to leaders to encourage them to contribute to that push.

Question:  Basically, the troops that have been, countries that have been tapped are from European Union and African Union for this particular project?

Spokesperson:  Primarily, primarily so, yes.  Yes, please, Kim?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On Syria, the Secretary-General is expected to file a report in 30 days to the Security Council.  So I wonder how he is going to collect the information of developments on the ground, especially, you know, the information of, on the hard-reached area, it’s, you know, originally difficult to reach?

Spokesperson:  Well, this will be primarily based on the work of our humanitarian agencies and coordinated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  So they will be in the lead on compiling that information so that the Secretary-General is able to report within the allotted period.  Stefano, did I see your arm in the air?  No?  You were just waving friendly?  Was there another question at the back there?  Did I see someone else?  No?  Okay, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I most probably missed that part on the Ukraine, but I would like to ask you…

Spokesperson:  You did.

Question:  What is the status actually of the offer of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to help Ukrainians to help with the independent investigation of what has happened?  And in general, I… I like to ask you this question, actually, does the Secretary-General have a feeling that the, since he talks several times with President [Viktor] Yanukovych or former President Yanukovych, that somehow the events in Ukraine were so fast that he couldn’t anticipate what is going to happen?

Spokesperson:  Well, do you think anybody could have anticipated what happened over the weekend?

Correspondent:  I am asking about the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think that the Secretary-General has a crystal ball any more than other world leaders.  What we saw was something that unravelled in a bloody and unexpected way, very rapidly.  And I can simply reiterate what the statement said this morning:  that the Secretary-General sent his senior adviser, Robert Serry, to Ukraine to assure Ukrainians of the support of the UN and the wider international community.  As you know, Catherine Ashton of the European Union is there as well, and Robert Serry will be meeting with Baroness Ashton a little later, possibly around this time, so they can coordinate their efforts in reaching out to various people in Kiev.

Question:  Excuse me.  Sorry.  Sorry.  How does the Secretary-General feel about this, I would say transition of… of — for example, the Prime Minister of Russia said that they are dubious about this new Government, et cetera, so what does the Secretary-General really thinks about this new…

Spokesperson:  Well, he has called for firm commitment by all concerned to uphold the key principles of democracy and human rights, and thereby create a conducive environment for free and fair elections.  And he has conveyed through Mr. Serry his solidarity with all Ukrainians and his commitment to assist a Ukrainian-led inclusive governance process.  And the key point is that this inclusive political process should be peaceful and involve dialogue and compromise.  And he has reiterated his call for no more violence.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I wanted to ask you, does the Secretary-General has any comment on this fall of the Egyptian Government, which was announced this morning by the Prime Minister of Egypt?  Does he have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment at the moment.  We are obviously monitoring that, and we have taken note of this development, but I don’t have anything for you at the moment on that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Great, I wanted to ask you on Somalia, this, the… the… going back to… to June of last year, I… I had been asking you about this David Bax of UN Mine Action Service in… in Somalia.  And I know that in January it was said in this room that… that UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] had looked into it, had found no… no evidence of misconduct and no further action was deemed necessary and the matter was closed.  Since then, I have seen a UNOPS letter, the letter that was directed to Mr. Bax, and it actually, it… it seems to say that a matter about flights from African Skies Limited Airlines was referred back to management; and that particularly since African Skies Airlines is a contractor of Bancroft, which was the initial complaint, which is a contractor that information was provided to about bombings in Mogadishu, including genetic information, I… what I wanted, I just want us to kind of square what’s happened since the matter of the flights in the letter by UNOPS was referred back to management, and how is it consistent with the answer that nothing, nothing was found and no action would be taken?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you seemingly have a letter from UNOPS, why don’t you ask them?

Question:  But, because the answer, because I’ve been, I have been asking here, then I was told UNOPS would investigate and the answer would be given here, it was given here so I’m asking here.

Spokesperson:  You could still ask them again.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yeah.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thanks very much.

* *** *

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