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

4 March 2014

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

4 March 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.

Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is on his way to Sierra Leone to mark the closing of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the country.

Before he left Geneva, the Secretary-General met today with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany.

The Secretary-General and the Minister discussed latest developments in Ukraine.  The Secretary-General stressed the need to urgently de-escalate the tension and facilitate dialogue for a peaceful resolution, and he pledged the United Nations’ support in this regard.

The Secretary-General and the Minister also discussed the situation in Lebanon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the trip to Sierra Leone.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And coming back to Ukraine, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, continued his visit in the country.  He met with the acting President, Prime Minister and acting Foreign Minister.  In his meetings, the Deputy Secretary-General stressed the need for calm and international unity in the pursuit of peace.  He also reiterated the Secretary-General’s call that Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be respected and preserved.  The Deputy Secretary-General also held meetings with diplomatic representatives in Kyiv.

As part of the mission, the Deputy Secretary-General has asked Robert Serry to travel to Crimea in order to take stock of and evaluate the situation there. Mr. Serry is now departing Kyiv and should arrive shortly in Crimea.  The Deputy Secretary-General will continue his mission in Ukraine tomorrow.

**Security Council

The Security Council adopted its programme of work for March this morning.  Ambassador Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, the Council President for this month, will brief you on that programme of work just after this briefing, at 12:30 p.m.  Yesterday afternoon, the Council held a formal meeting on Ukraine, as I am sure you are all aware, on which it received a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco.  He provided details on recent developments and reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for dialogue to de-escalate the tensions immediately.


Syria has submitted to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) a revised proposal that aims to complete the removal of all chemicals from Syria before the end of next month.  The OPCW-UN Joint Mission also verified that two more consignments of chemicals have left the port of Latakia, including a quantity of mustard gas — a priority 1 chemical — which was previously reported last Wednesday.  Another movement, a significant consignment of other priority 1 chemicals, is scheduled to arrive in Latakia during this week, which will bring the total number of movements so far to six.

The six movements represent more than 35 per cent of all chemicals that must be removed from Syria for destruction, including 23 per cent of priority 1 chemicals and 63 per cent of priority 2 chemicals.  In addition, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has verified that Syria has destroyed, inside the country, more than 93 per cent of its stock of isopropanol.  And we have a press release with more details on this.

And Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission, briefed the OPCW Executive Council in The Hague today.  She will be briefing the Security Council tomorrow on Syria’s chemical weapons programme and she is expected to talk to reporters at the Council stakeout after that, at about 1:30 p.m.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) condemned a grenade attack on Monday evening against one of its convoys in Beni, North Kivu.  Five peacekeepers were wounded in an attack by two unidentified men on a motorcycle, about 10 kilometres away from the town’s airport.  The Head of the UN Mission, Martin Kobler, said the attack was unacceptable and would not diminish the support given to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) in the fight against armed groups.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, strongly condemned the killings over the weekend by unidentified armed groups in Nigeria, in the localities of Maiduguri, Mainok and Mafa, in Borno State.  Mr. Djinnit expressed condolences to the bereaved families and to the people and the Government of Nigeria.  He added that this unprecedented cycle of violence must stop.  We have more details in a press release from the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA).

**South Sudan

A patrol from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Malakal County in Upper Nile State observed large movements of civilians on Sunday across the River Nile, reportedly due to fighting in Lelo.  The Mission has received reports that Wau Shilluk in Upper Nile State has been re-taken by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).  The Mission continues to protect some 75,000 civilians at various sites across the country.

**Central African Republic/South Sudan

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is increasingly concerned about the needs of refugees who have been fleeing the Central African Republic and South Sudan and travelling to neighbouring countries, in particular Chad, Cameroon and Ethiopia.  The Agency appeals to its partners and the Governments in these countries to provide urgent support to these populations.  The crises in South Sudan and the Central African Republic have together caused one of the biggest refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) situations that Africa has seen in recent years.  The two crises have forcibly displaced some 1.8 million people across a region with very sparse support capacities.

Within South Sudan, there are currently nearly 740,000 people who are internally displaced and nearly 200,000 sheltering in neighbouring countries.  The UN estimates that, by June, as many as 3.2 million people could be in need of humanitarian help.  Already, food security is a problem.  In the case of the Central African Republic, there are currently more than 700,000 people internally displaced and more than 290,000 who have fled as refugees.  More than half the country’s 4.6 million people are in need of humanitarian help.

**International Narcotics Control Board

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) issued its Annual Report for 2013 today.  The report says that only one in six problem drug users worldwide — some 4.5 million people — receives the treatment he or she needs, at a global cost of about $35 billion per year.  The report also says that heroin, cannabis and cocaine are the drugs most frequently used by people entering treatment worldwide.  Prescription drug abuse is also a major threat to public health, outpacing the rates for illegal drugs in some countries.  And further information on the report can be found online.


I was asked yesterday about movements on the borders between Ukraine and Russia.  The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has not observed any irregular movements in Ukraine or on its borders.  It does not have any information to support reports of substantial numbers of refugees arriving from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.  For any more details, please contact the UN Refugee Agency itself.

**Press Conferences

And tomorrow at 12.30 p.m., Afaf Konja, Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly, will be giving a press conference here on the high-level event of the President of the General Assembly on “The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  And that’s an event that’s taking place on 6 and 7 March.

Questions, please? Yes, Ali.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Have the United Nations or any of its organs seen any credible information about political retributions in Ukraine? 

Spokesperson:  About?

Question:  Political retributions or killings or abuses against minorities in Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine, or anywhere in Ukraine, since that the United Nations have a country team there, and Mr. Eliasson there.  And also Mr. Serry was there.  Have they seen any violations of human rights?

Spokesperson:  That’s precisely why they are there, and there may be further developments that would assist them in undertaking such a look at potential human rights abuses, as reported in the media.  A couple of things:  It is a very small team that we have in Ukraine, both as a country team and now with the Deputy Secretary-General there.  But as I mentioned, the Deputy Secretary-General has asked Robert Serry to travel to Crimea precisely to take stock of the situation there.  Now again, there is a limit to what one person can do.  But certainly the intention is to try to get a good fix on what’s happening there and to report back.  The Deputy Secretary-General, through his meetings in Kyiv, is able to get a sense there from people on the ground and from speaking to diplomatic representatives.  I may have a little bit more to add later about the human rights component, but not at this stage.  Joseph, and then Pamela?

Question:  With regard to the Central African Republic, you know, the Secretary-General had requested or recommended beefing up on a transitional basis, or bridge basis, I think he said, the existing African and French forces, and also increasing EU [European Union] commitment.  Is the Secretary-General satisfied that that request is being met on an urgent time-sensitive basis?  When is he preparing to make his formal recommendation to the Security Council on a UN peacekeeping operation?  

Spokesperson:  Well, as we mentioned yesterday, that particular report with recommendations has gone to the Security Council.  And so, that is something that you may be able to ferret out, using your journalistic skills.  With regard to the first part of your questions, I think there is a need, and the Secretary-General believes there is a need, to hurry up.  There is a pressing requirement for those extra forces that he set out in his previous appearance at the Council.  And the reason for that is obvious.  But there are discussions going on to try to accelerate that process.  And if I get any information from my colleagues in both the Departments of Political Affairs (DPA) and Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), then we’ll provide an update.  But I don’t have specific numbers at this point.  Pamela, then Evelyn?

Question:  Martin, there’ve been several proposals to have international monitors or observers to Crimea by the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and the UN.  Several different bits of information about whether they have been dispatched or if there is some framework for this; Victoria Nuland in Brussels yesterday said some of these have begun being dispatched.  Does the UN and OSCE in any way shape these international monitors and has either the Ukraine or Russian Government approved of these?  And one final little follow-up, which is that there’ve been back and forth between the United States and Russian presidents about whether the Russian forces in Crimea are in violation of international law.  Has the Secretary-General weighed in on this?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the final part:  no, he has not.  And with regard to international monitors, I think OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, the Swiss President, has made clear that this is an idea.  And the Secretary General of OSCE has made clear that this is an idea or proposal.  But to my knowledge, they have not said that there are people on the ground already.  And plainly, that requires an undertaking within the OSCE, which is a consensus-based organization.  And with regard to UN involvement, clearly that would require discussions here.  So…

Correspondent: I’m just trying…

Spokesperson: Wait, wait, wait.  I haven’t finished yet.  The Secretary-General has said repeatedly that there needs to be de-escalation and the United Nations will play its part.  The Deputy Secretary-General is in Kyiv to underscore precisely that point.  Sorry, you had a follow-up?

Question:  Thank you.  You partly answered it.  Just, is there some, any actual plan at the UN side for monitors?  Is there some proposal, has anyone been contacted?  That’s all.  

Spokesperson:  At this point, I think, it is the OSCE that has put forward this idea, and we need… we have close relations with the OSCE.  We would need to be in discussion with them about it.  I’m sure that my colleagues from the Department of Political Affairs are doing just that.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you.  I thought the OSCE, you have to follow up, just sent an advance team there.  No?

Spokesperson: Well, they don’t have…  To my… I’m not the spokesperson for the OSCE.  I used to be.  [laughter]But I’m not anymore.  But simply to say, there is no monitoring team, no monitoring activity going on, as I understand it.  Okay? 

Question:  My question is… I’m little confused about Mr. Serry.  I thought the Russians didn’t like him, didn’t want him in Crimea, and didn’t talk to him.  Now he is on his way there.  Did this change? Or is he not going to see any Russians? 

Spokesperson:  Well.  That’s your own assessment of the situation.

Correspondent:  Churkin said he… I don’t think he is very impartial…

Spokesperson:  Ambassador Churkin, I think properly you meant to say.

Correspondent:  Sorry, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said at the microphone somewhere in the last three days of constant back and forth, that he didn’t think he was impartial, Mr. Serry.

Spokesperson:  Well, that may or may not be the case, but Mr. Serry is in an airplane on the way to Crimea as we speak.  Okay?  Yes, Matthew and then Masood.

Question:  I want to ask you.  It was listed that Angela Kane met yesterday with US Assistant Secretary for Non-Proliferation Tom Countryman.  I wanted to know, is it possible to know, was the topic Syria chemical weapons, Iran, what was the topic?

Spokesperson:  We can certainly find out, but as you know, Ms. Kane is High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.  That covers a broad range of subject matter.  So I will see if we can find out if it was on a broad agenda or something more specific.   [He later said that the meeting did not happen due to the closure of the US federal Government because of weather on Monday.]

Question:  Can I… I’ve been meaning to ask this about… I understand you… 

Spokesperson:  Wait.  Unless it’s specific…

Correspondent:  It’s related.  Syria chemical weapons is the connection.  It’s up to you. 

Spokesperson:  Well, as it is up to me, then I will ask Masood first and then I’ll come back to you.  Okay?

Question:  Martin, I’m just going to ask you:  Did I hear you correctly that the Deputy Secretary-General is going to Crimea and he is seeking permission to go to Crimea?  

Spokesperson:  No, you did not hear me correctly.  What I said was that the Deputy Secretary-General has asked Robert Serry to go to Crimea and Robert Serry is on his way to Crimea as we speak.  

Question:  Okay.  The other question I wanted to ask you is about Syria.  I want to ask you about chemical weapons, which have been transferred, there are accusations that Syria has only…

Spokesperson:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  I will come back to Matthew and then I will come to you, like ping pong.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I’ve been meaning to ask this.  On the disposal of the chemical weapons in Syria, it was announced a couple of weeks ago that one of the two winning firms is firm called Veolia, and it’s a… what I wanted to know is… it is just a question.  It turns out, you know… precursory research finds that it’s a company that does business in what is described as “illegal” settlement in Occupied Palestinian Territory, OPT land.  There has been a protest about that.  But what I wanted to know is what from the UN point of view, was there any criteria, other than cost and expertise, that was applied when the company’s bid for this work of removing chemical weapons from Syria or destroying the weapons?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are standard procurement requirements.  And I will check on this particular matter and will come back to you.  But I don’t have anything specific at the moment.  [He later said that the contact came from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.]  Yes, Masood?

Question:  My question is about also Syrian chemical weapons.  There are charges that only… Syria has so far only been able to dispose of 11 per cent of its chemical weapons.  Do you have any percentage as to how much per cent Syria has…

Spokesperson:  Did you arrive late, Masood?  I did read out a large number of percentages, and I don’t intend to read them out again.  I would be happy to give them to you afterwards.  Okay?  Ken, please, and right to the back of the room.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], it’s been reported that DPRK launched artillery shelling, additional seven of them.  I remember that… I would like to know what the Secretary-General’s position on this.  Last time you mentioned that he is closely following the report.  But this is the third time… so is there any…    

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think there is any specific comment on this particular latest reported firing.  As you pointed out, there have been a couple of other instances, and the Secretary-General keeps, of course, a close eye on this, but I don’t think we will be passing comment on every single one, except to say that, of course, the whole key component for security on the Korean peninsula is to ensure that tensions remain low.  That’s where I would leave it at this point.  Yes, right at the back of the room?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General met with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Venezuela.  Do you believe that after over a month of protest, and leaders that are under the Government are detained in prison.  Is the UN thinking, or the Secretary-General, of sending monitors or somebody from the UN to explore what’s happening there, be on the ground?  We understand that he hopes to meet with [Nicolas] Maduro, the President of Venezuela, in September during the climate meeting.  Is there hope that… a high-level meeting before that happens, and then we probably will see a group of the UN on the ground to try to understand what’s going on there?

Spokesperson:  Well.  There was quite a high-level meeting just yesterday you referred to, the Secretary-General meeting the Foreign Minister.  And indeed, just not so long ago in Havana, the Secretary-General did meet with President Maduro.  That was their first encounter, and that obviously did predate the protests.  But the meeting with the Foreign Minister came at a time when the protests continue.  And I think the readout that was issued speaks for itself about the need for dialogue.  As you know, there is also a regional commission of the United Nations based in Santiago that also does keep close eye on developments across the continent, and therefore I should think they will be looking at it, too.  I cannot say whether any specific team would be sent; that would also require consent of Venezuelan authorities as well, of course.  Yes, Ali?  Then I’m coming to you.

Question:  I have a quick question on Egypt about the journalists who are detained there despite all the calls from so many non-governmental organizations around the world.  They haven’t been released.  I wonder whether the UN is doing anything in this regard.  I also have a question on Lebanon:  that the Secretary-General, you said, discussed this Lebanon with German Foreign Minister.  What are the Secretary-General’s concerns these days regarding the situation in Lebanon?  Thank you.   

Spokesperson:  Well, he is obviously aware of the tensions that there have been but also the formation of the new Government, which is obviously a very positive development with regard to Lebanon.  With the Deputy Secretary-General now in Ukraine, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman, will be attending the support group meeting that’s taking place in Paris tomorrow.  And with regard to Egypt, obviously, we are equally concerned about the fate of these journalists and would hope that they could be released as soon as possible.  Journalists carrying out legitimate reporting have no place in detention.  So that’s what I have for you on that.  Yes, then this will have to be the last question because I do not wish to be standing here as the Ambassador of Luxembourg enters the room.  So, last question?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just one follow-up on Robert Serry’s visit to Crimea:  Could you confirm that he is the first UN official to be there since the beginning of the crisis?  And also, could you give us even a rough idea of what could be his activity on the ground?  Will he visit the Russian bases, for example?  

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s to take stock of and evaluate the situation there, which I know is wonderful UN-speak, but it’s the closest we are going to get to an exact rendition of what Mr. Serry will be doing there.  I’m sure we will get more details in due course.  And he is travelling there after the Deputy Secretary-General asked him to go.  To my knowledge, this is the first visit during this present crisis of UN officials there.

Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  

* *** *

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