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

25 February 2014

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

25 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, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing, which is also being webcast from the UN website.

** Uganda

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda:

The Secretary-General is seriously concerned about the signing into law of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda.  The Secretary-General reiterates that everyone is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and live a life of worth and dignity without discrimination.  This concept is embedded in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Ugandan Constitution.

The Secretary-General shares the assessment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that imposing sentences of life imprisonment for homosexuality, same-sex marriage and so-called “aggravated homosexuality” could fuel prejudice as well as encourage harassment and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  As noted by UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS], it may also obstruct effective responses to HIV/AIDS.

The Secretary-General urges the Government to protect all persons from violence and discrimination, and hopes that the law can be revised or repealed at the earliest opportunity.  He offers the support of the United Nations for constructive dialogue to achieve change on this matter.

The Secretary-General conveyed these concerns yesterday to Richard Nduhuura, who is the Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Headquarters here in New York.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will travel to Switzerland this weekend, where he will first attend the tenth Seminar of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General in Mont Pelerin.

Then, on Monday, 3 March, in Geneva, he will take part in the opening of the high-level segment of the twenty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council.  The Secretary-General will meet with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, as well as with the President and members of the Human Rights Council.  He will hold a joint meeting with several human rights non-governmental organizations, and is scheduled to have meetings with representatives of Member States attending this session of the Human Rights Council.  Ninety ministers are expected to attend this year.

Also in Geneva, the Secretary-General will inaugurate a photographic exhibition which will mark World Wild Life Day, which is celebrated on 3 March.

And then on Tuesday, the Secretary-General will travel to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and he will be there for the closing ceremony of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) after 15 years of UN peace and political missions in the country, marking the transition to a UN presence focused on development.  And during his visit, the Secretary-General will meet with the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, and other senior officials, as well as with representatives of major political parties and civil society.

The Secretary-General will return to New York on March 6.

** Syria

The Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s informal briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, saying that he hopes that the resolution adopted by the Security Council three days ago will make a difference on the ground.  He said that access is still needed to hundreds of thousands of people in the north-east who have received hardly any help for three years.  Civilians who want to move freely out of conflict zones should be able to do so.  Medical centres must no longer be used to house fighters and store arms.

The Secretary-General called on the Syrian Government to authorize more humanitarian staff and partners to work in Syria.  It is not credible to cite bureaucratic procedures as reasons for delay when it is the Government itself that controls those procedures.  We have these remarks available online.  And as you will have seen, other senior officials spoke at the meeting, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres; the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay; the World Health Organization Director General, Margaret Chan; and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-wha Kang.

** Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that more than 15,000 people in 18 locations in the north-west and south-west of the country are presently surrounded and being threatened by armed groups.  It says that these populations urgently need better security. 

The Agency and its partners are responding through protection-by-presence, humanitarian assistance, advocacy for protection measures and, in exceptional cases, through facilitating the movement of these communities to safe sites.  But it says that humanitarian efforts alone cannot be a sufficient solution to this crisis.  The UN Refugee Agency is appealing again to all armed individuals to stop indiscriminate attacks against civilians, and it is also calling for the deployment of more international troops.

And meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning of a regional crisis as thousands of people continue to flee violence across the Central African Republic.  It says that neighbouring countries are struggling with more than 150,000 new arrivals in urgent need of assistance.  The World Food Programme is concerned that it cannot meet the needs of these extremely vulnerable people because of insufficient funding.  Many of the surrounding countries are already hosting large numbers of refugees from various countries and resources are stretched.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, reports that its military and police conducted a number of patrols in various parts of the country in the last 24 hours.  Yesterday, a Mission patrol to Malakal, in Upper Nile State, noted that the town was still deserted of civilians, with the presence of a very small number of opposition forces.  The patrol also visited a church in Malakal where displaced civilians are sheltering, and assessed the situation there to be non-threatening.

The Mission also says that it was able to take another 33 patients from the Malakal Teaching Hospital and bring them to the Mission hospital for further medical treatment.  The Mission continues to protect some 21,500 civilians at its base in Malakal.

The Mission also deployed a patrol to Mayom and Abiemnom in Unity State yesterday.  In Mayom County, Mission personnel observed large numbers of heavily armed Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops.  The Mission says that the number of civilians being protected within various UN sites remains at approximately 75,000.

**Security Council

Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the Middle East this morning, and told Council members that a defining moment is coming near on the Middle East peace process.  United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s months-long work to address Israeli and Palestinian aspirations and concerns in a fair and balanced manner has opened a credible political horizon for achieving the two-State solution.  Mr. Feltman said that any meaningful political initiative must continue to strive towards a comprehensive settlement.

He said that the progress in the talks in Geneva on Syria has been limited so far, confirming the deep rift between the two sides, yet he added that it is no small feat that these long-awaited negotiations have finally begun, and both sides remain committed to sitting at the table.  That is something on which the international community must try to build, and we have Mr. Feltman’s remarks available in our office.

** Libya

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed its deep concern today about the continued violence in the country, including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings and other attacks.  The UN Mission calls upon officials and all forces to do their utmost to put an end to all acts which threaten stability in Libya, put the security of its people at risk, violate human dignity and undermine the values that Libyans uphold as they aspire to build a State based on the rule of law and the respect for human rights.


We informed you yesterday that the Secretary-General dispatched Robert Serry to Kyiv as his Senior Adviser to assure all citizens of Ukraine of the support of the United Nations and to also convey that the Secretary-General expects all key international actors to work collaboratively to help Ukraine at this challenging time in the country’s history.  In a press release, Mr. Serry said that he has held meetings with, among others, the new Speaker of Parliament, the Vice Prime Minister, the acting Minister of Finance, and the acting Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the situation in Ukraine and concerted efforts to bring about a stable and prosperous future.

Mr. Serry said that he had delivered important messages from the Secretary-General, including that the United Nations stands in solidarity with all citizens of Ukraine.  The United Nations is committed to assist a Ukrainian-led, accountable and inclusive governance process, in a spirit of non-violence and upholding the key principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, thereby creating a conducive environment for free and fair elections.  As the Secretary-General has said, the United Nations is committed to the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

**Press Conference Today

This evening at 6 p.m., Alvaro Garcia Linera, the Vice-President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, will be here to brief on the ambassadorial meeting of the Group of 77.

So, questions, please?  Yes, Ali?

Questions and Answers

Question:  On Syria, I asked before, Martin, that whether the Secretary-General is still planning to appoint a replacement for Mr. Nasser Al-Kidwa.  And can you please elaborate a little bit whether the Secretary-General is contacting Mr. Nabil Elaraby in this regard or not?   And also, whether we have in the horizon a date for when the third round of Geneva talks is going to be held.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the second question, not yet.  But obviously Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, and others are working very hard to ensure that that third round does begin as soon as possible.  But no date has been set at this point.

As for a successor to Mr. Al-Kidwa, there have been discussions, which I am not going to go into here, and at this point there is no appointment to announce.  Yes, Edie?

Question Thank you, Martin.  Could you tell us how long Mr. Serry is going to remain in Kyiv?  I assume that is where he is at the moment.  And does he, is he having talks with all the political parties, and I am talking about, you know, President [Viktor] Yanukovych’s party as well as, of course, all the new players?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is having a wide range of discussions while he is in Kyiv.  It is not completely clear at this point how long he will be staying there.  But certainly the intention is to have a wide range of conversations conveying the same message that I have just referred to.  If I get a precise date for when he is moving on out of Ukraine, I will let you know.  But I don’t have that at the moment.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Today, the Saudi Permanent Representative at the Security Council made a request that all who are responsible for committing violations for human rights should be brought to the ICC [International Criminal Court].  How will this impact on the prospects of a third round of Geneva conference on the Syrian crisis, since there are opposition groups as well as the Syrian Government involved in committing violations for human rights?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has said that accountability applies to all combatants and their commanders in Syria.  But as you well know, a referral to the International Criminal Court would be a matter for the Security Council and would be for them to have to discuss that.  Mr. Abbadi, then Masood.  I can see your hand is well showing.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  The Secretary-General has condemned the violence in Sri Lanka on 23 February, but there are indications that the country might be moving into civil war.  Does the Secretary-General contemplate any preventive measures to head off this development?

Spokesperson:  I would have to look into that, Mr. Abbadi.  I don’t have anything for you on that.  Masood?

Question:   Martin, this is a question about India and Pakistan and about Kashmir.  The situation in Kashmir has again been occupied, in Indian-occupied Kashmir, following the killing of seven civilians who were earlier deemed to be militants.  So, does the Secretary-General have anything to say, beyond that he has his good offices open and that he will… and that thing over there.  This is not the first time in this year, so far.  And again and again and again…

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comment, Masood on that particular topic.  Sherwin, please?

Question:  And on, I just wanted to ask you about Egypt…

Spokesperson:  Well, you can ask me in just a second, Sherwin is next.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  On Uganda, are you able to characterize the meeting the Secretary-General had with Uganda’s Permanent Representative yesterday?  In addition to that, we are quickly seeing a sort of an ideological divide between Western, so-called Western Governments that have been very critical of this legislation, and, you know, crickets from African Governments that have said absolutely nothing.  Is the Secretary-General concerned that Governments in Africa that probably have greater leverage on matters that relate to fellow African Governments are remaining silent on this issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t comment on how individual Member States approach their advocacy in this particular case, but simply to reiterate that the concept of everyone living a life of dignity without discrimination is firmly embedded in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and therefore this is a universal concept that is universally applicable.  And the fact that some people may disagree with this does not mean that we should not continue to advocate strongly for universal rights for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.

Question:  Would he, for example, reach out to Governments in Africa that are friendly on this issue, on LGBT rights, and ask them to, you know, to… to convey the message?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is something that has been often discussed, of course, more particularly with countries where there has been a move towards legislation of this nature.  And I should mention indeed that the Secretary-General himself raised this matter almost a year ago in Uganda with President [Yoweri] Museveni personally, urging him to ensure that this legislation should not be passed.  Yes, Matthew?  And then I am coming to Evelyn, okay?

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask a follow-up on that.   The President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has, in pretty widely circulated remarks, he said that gays are vermin and that his Government will fight them like mosquitoes that cause malaria.  And many Governments have condemn… have condemned the remarks, but I am wondering, did I miss it or is, well… not that I missed it, just, do you have any, what… what… what… what do you, what, beyond legislation, what does the Secretariat think of those, that kind of a comment?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Secretary-General would certainly condemn those remarks as being inappropriate.  And I would simply repeat what I have said, that in line with his serious concern about the signing into law of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, this is all about everyone being entitled to enjoy the same basic rights, and to characterize individuals regardless of their orientation, sexual orientation, is something that should be looked at very carefully and condemned.  I don’t think that that’s appropriate.  Yes, Edie, next please.  Not, Edie, I beg your pardon; Evelyn, sorry.  I just need another drink of water, that’s what it is.  All right. 

Question:  [laughter] I was also going to ask a follow-up.

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is water, by the way!

Question:  To follow up Sherwin’s question on Uganda, there are about, I think, 38 African countries have legislation of one kind or another against homosexuality.  Can, is there any, are there any actions the UN can take besides advocacy statements?  Through Human Rights Council, through somewhere else?  It won’t pass through the GA, but…

Spokesperson:  Well, on the Human Rights Council, of course that would be for the Council members to deliberate on.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights has been very outspoken; the Secretary-General has been consistently strong in advocating the rights of the LGBT community, wherever they may be.  And it would follow, therefore, that where there is legislation that is discriminatory, we would be in favour of that legislation being changed to ensure that everybody can enjoy the same basic rights.  Yes, Joseph?  And I am coming to you, Erol, yes?

Question:  Yes, actually on the same theme, I know that the Secretary-General has focused specifically on Uganda.  He also had, I believe, made some critical remarks concerning India in a case there some time ago.  But what I haven’t heard — maybe I just haven’t heard it, but I haven’t heard any criticism directed at many of the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] countries that have in their constitutions or in their legislations and have had for some time very strict laws against homosexuality and severe punishments.  It seems like this issue has come more to the fore around Uganda, which is fine, but some would say this has been rather selective and there has been silence about…

Spokesperson:  Not at all, not at all.  It is a universal concept and should be universally applied.  In other words, everybody’s basic rights are the same and this is embedded in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  So, this is a universal theme.  Yes, Erol?  And then Oleg.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Martin, does the Secretary-General have any plans to talk by phone or any other way with the newly…

Spokesperson:  Smoke signals?

Question:  Excuse me?

Spokesperson:  Smoke signals?  You were saying “other ways”, but…

Question:  Do you hear me or don’t hear me, or just smoke signals?  [laughter]

Spokesperson:  I’m hearing you, I’m hearing you!

Question:  Okay.  With the… with the President of the Ukraine Parliament, Mr. [Oleksandr] Turchinov, and if I missed that again, please sorry, and can you just tell me, did the Secretary-General in the meantime talk to any of the Bosnian leaders as he did with the Ukrainians, since you said from that podium that he treats equally all the crises, all the countries?  Beside that, we are all aware of the political realm which obviously goes in favour of Ukraine right now.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can assure you that in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina the Secretary-General continues to monitor that closely, as does the Department of Political Affairs.  With regard to Ukraine, you don’t have to keep apologizing, I did say that Robert Serry is in Kyiv, and has been in Kyiv as Special Adviser for the Secretary-General, given that he is a former Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine, and he has been conveying messages on behalf of the Secretary-General.  And, therefore, telephone conversations have not been necessary at this point.  You will be aware that the Secretary-General did speak to Mr. Yanukovych at the end of last week.  Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Coming back to Ukraine, Mr. Turchinov was…

Spokesperson:  You might need to hold the microphone closer to you.  Or speak louder.

Question:  Mr. Turchinov was quoted as saying that the UN, as well as the European Union and other countries, see the new Ukrainian authorities as the only legitimate.  Is that true?  Because my understanding is that the only legitimate authorities are the ones that are elected through the electoral process.

Spokesperson:  I would just refer you to what Robert Serry has said.  This is a Ukrainian-led process, and I would just refer you back to what I had said earlier on quoting Robert Serry, okay?

Question:  Okay, I have one more question.

Spokesperson:  I am going to go to… you can ask another question by all means, but I am going to the back of the room.  Yes, here, yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  A couple of weeks ago several Iranian border controls have been kidnapped and been hostage somewhere in Pakistan and the Pakistani Government is not willing to kind of cooperate with the Iranian Government.  I was wondering if UN knows about it or have done anything about it?  Thank you.  And they have been subject to torture, as well, the way the picture shows.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  This is clearly a bilateral matter between the two countries and we don’t have any comment on that at the moment.  Oleg, I am coming to you again for your second question. And then to Matthew.

Question:  On the announcement of the South Korean President about the formation of a committee on the unification with the North Korea, does the Secretary-General have anything to say on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, there is already a Ministry of Unification in the Republic of Korea, as I am sure you are aware, and the context of the remarks was that this was one year since President Park Geun-hye was inaugurated.  We are obviously aware of the remarks, but I don’t have any particular comments on that matter.  The Secretary-General is on record repeatedly talking about that the aspirations of the Korean people as a whole, but we don’t have any particular comment at the moment on President Park’s most recent remarks.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  There is different things I’d like, I wanna be sure to ask this one, and it has to do with the… the Haiti cholera case, and I, again it is limited to, now there has been an amicus brief filed by the Haitian Lawyers Association and Haitian Women of Miami, joining in a motion basically to get the court to certify that the UN has been served.  And what the quote I wanted to ask you about is by the… the attorneys for the plaintiffs.  They say we’ve tried for four months to serve papers on the UN, sending process servers to the United Nations Headquarters.  When they get there, they are denied access.  So, I… I know I have asked a couple of times, but it seems like without commenting on the case, just factually, is, has the UN received papers, physically received papers, and is it, and… and… and… shouldn’t that be answered just in the sort of, uh, rule of law spirit? 

Spokesperson:  Well, I will check again with colleagues in the Office of Legal Affairs to see whether we have an answer for you.  And to come back to your previous request for a briefing by the Legal Counsel, he will not be speaking to the media.  It is not the job of the Legal Counsel to provide briefings to the media.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the Secretary-General has called on the parties in Ukraine to work out some kind of deal, peaceful resolution of the conflict there.  Given the fact that the Parliament has now decided to send the former President to the International Criminal Court — if they find him, that is — does the Secretary-General think that this is going to complicate the process he is calling for?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point it’s hypothetical, so I am not going to answer that question.  I think, Masood, you seem to be quite keen.

Question:  I want you to give me a follow-up in any case.  I just want to ask you about…

Spokesperson:  Well, this is the follow-up.

Question:  …the question that I asked yesterday about Egypt, where the Government has resigned and so forth.  You said you will have something to say, well, that… later on, which you didn’t.

Spokesperson:  I said I might have something, if I remember correctly.

Question:  Yeah. So, I am just asking you:  do you have something?

Spokesperson:  No, I do not.  [laughter] Joseph?

Question:   Yeah, just following up on the Haiti question; I understand your answer that the head of the Legal Office cannot or will not appear before the media.  But just… one of the arguments that’s made by the UN is that this involves political and policy… necessarily involves political and policy issues that in turn might be an exception to the idea of private actions.  So, I was wondering whether either Monsieur [Hervé] Ladsous or someone from the peacekeeping office would be willing to discuss with the press, just from a policy standpoint, what they would see as the impact of such kinds of lawsuits exposing peacekeeping operations to significant potential financial damages.  What that… without getting into the merits of the specific case, what that could have as the way of impact on financial sustainability of future peacekeeping operations.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can’t imagine that there would be a specific briefing dealing with that topic, but you would be free to ask that question the next time that Mr. Ladsous gives a briefing.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  On Lebanon, is the Secretary-General going to attend the Paris meeting next month of the International Support Group for Lebanon?  And if not, who is going to represent the United Nations?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  The Deputy Secretary-General.  Yes, please?

Question:  The Deputy…?

Spokesperson:   The Deputy Secretary-General, at the Secretary-General’s request.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I don’t know if you talked about this, but I am asking about the visit which the visiting Filippo Grandi visited Yarmouk yesterday I think and I want you to brief us about what happens there and how he found the situation on the ground there.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, you will have seen that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) did issue quite a long statement, a press release that described what Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General, found on his visit to Yarmouk yesterday.  He said that the people inside Yarmouk were traumatized.  Some parcels of aid, food supplies and so on, were delivered.  At this point it is about 7,000 parcels.  Clearly, a lot more needs to go in to help the people there.  But certainly, he was shocked by what he saw and was able to speak to a lot of the people there and thus gauge the way that they feel, which is that they are traumatized by what they are experiencing.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I wanted to, this… this may be construed as a legal question, but it’s… it’s… it’s something not asked by the press but by a Member State yesterday in the C-34 [Committee of 34], the peacekeeping committee.  Indian Ambassador [Asoke Kumar] Mukerji said, he said a number of things, but this is one thing I wanted to ask, either if you have an answer or can get an answer.  He said:  if there are casualties among traditional peacekeepers from actions by armed groups in MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] due to this ill-conceived dual mandate approved by the Security Council, who, Madame Chairperson, will be accountable?  And I think he is referring to the idea of having the Force Intervention Brigade be a part of MONUSCO and putting traditional peacekeepers, such as the Indian, delegation at risk.  And so, there has been this, this request to know whether the UN believes that the entirety of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force is now a… a combatant or party to an armed conflict due to it and I know Ms. [Patricia] O’Brien, right before she left, said some things on it, but is it possible to, what is the current, either in a briefing or sort of indirectly, what’s OLA’s [Office of Legal Affairs] thinking on this question raised by a Member State?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll certainly try to get something for you on that, yes, by all means, but I don’t have anything at the moment to add.  Yes, Evelyn?  This will be the last question.

Question:  Okay.  Martin, is the SG going to [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon, yes, use the microphone, please.

Question:  Oh, goodness gracious, I have done it again!

Spokesperson:  You nearly knocked yourself out then, as well, but…

Question:  Yeah.  Hi, Martin, okay, is the SG going to meet Mr. Brahimi while he is in Switzerland?  And also, do we know who is fighting who in Yarmouk?  Is it both sides fighting each other and the Palestinians caught in the middle or unable to get the food there?

Spokesperson:  It’s a very complicated picture in Yarmouk, and so I would not want to characterize it.  But a lot of work has gone into trying to speak to the various parties involved to ensure that some supplies at least can get in.  Not enough has got in so far, by any means.  And Chris Gunness, the spokesperson for UNRWA, has been providing daily updates, which we have tried to ensure are circulated to all of you if you have not been receiving them directly from him.  And remind me, what was the first question?

Question:  If the SG is going to…

Spokesperson:  All right, yes, yes.  Yes, I think it is anticipated that he will meet with Mr. Brahimi at some point, but I am not sure whether it will be in Mont Pelerin.

Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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