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

25 March 2014

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

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

Hello, everyone.  Good afternoon. 

**Noon Briefing Guests

In a short while, I will be joined by John Ging, the Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Yasmin Haque, the UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Representative in South Sudan.  [He later said that Ms. Haque is now the Deputy Director of Emergency Operations at UNICEF.]  And they will be here to brief you on South Sudan.

Before that I will go through some of the notes on the system and take your questions, and then we will have our guest come around.

*Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is leaving The Hague, as we speak, for Greenland, where he will be until Thursday.  The Secretary-General will spend the night in the town of Ilulissat, which is 250 kilometres above the Arctic Circle.

During the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague that just wrapped up, the Secretary-General held several bilateral meetings, including with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte and Frans Timmermans; Queen Máxima of the Netherlands; and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General also met with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Discussions centred on the situations in Ukraine and Syria, as well as on the Central African Republic.  Readouts of all these meetings are available.

Before leaving The Hague, the Secretary-General congratulated the Government of the Netherlands for the successful organization of the Summit.  The fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit will be held in 2016 in Washington.

**League of Arab States

Lakhdar Brahimi is representing the Secretary-General at the summit of the League of Arab States, which is taking place in Kuwait.

In a message to the League which Mr. Brahimi read this morning, the Secretary-General welcomed recent efforts to improve humanitarian access in Syria, but added that the crisis can only be resolved through a political solution.  He appealed to the members of the League of Arab States, working with the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations, to take clear steps to re-energize Geneva II.  It is particularly essential that the regional actors are unified in encouraging all parties to return to the negotiating table.

The Secretary-General added that he continues to urge Israelis and Palestinians to make the necessary compromises to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  And on recent political developments in the region, the Secretary-General said that the adoption of Tunisia's Constitution on 26 January 2014 represented a major milestone for the country's transition.  And he said that Yemen’s all-inclusive National Dialogue Conference of 25 January 2014 also demonstrates that genuine dialogue and compromise are the best ways to achieve positive change.  His full message is online.

**Security Council

Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, is briefing the Security Council in its closed consultations this morning on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  Mr. Plumbly intends to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once those consultations have ended.

** Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned the lethal attack today on an office of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) in Kabul.  The Mission says that nobody should threaten civilian electoral institutions or their fellow countrymen and women who choose to exercise their inalienable right to vote.  The Mission extends its condolences to the families of all those killed and wishes a speedy recovery for those wounded.

The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said that the Election Commission and its civilian workers are conducting a public service so that Afghans can vote, and it is reprehensible that they have been deliberately targeted.

We have a press release with more details in our office.

** Egypt

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was deeply alarmed by the imposition of the death penalty against 529 people in Egypt yesterday after a cursory mass trial in which the majority of defendants were not present in court.

The Human Rights Office said that the astounding number of people sentenced to death in this case is unprecedented in recent history.  The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial that was rife with procedural irregularities is in breach of international human rights law.

Lawyers have reportedly filed a case contesting the trial on the basis of procedural flaws.

The Human Rights Office adds that it is particularly worrying that there are thousands of other defendants who have been detained since last July on similar charges.  The Minya criminal court in southern Egypt is today trying more than 600 individuals for membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, among other charges.  

There’s more information on the Office’s website.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Later today, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Abuja to co-chair the Regional Coordination Mechanism for Africa (RCM-Africa) of United Nations entities working in support of the African Union and its NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) programme.

The Deputy Secretary-General will subsequently address the opening session of the Joint African Union Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the Economic Commission of Africa’s Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, held this year on the theme “Industrialization for Inclusive and Transformative Development in Africa”.

While in Abuja, the Deputy Secretary-General will hold meetings with leading members of the Government of Nigeria, as well as visiting Ministers of Finance, Planning and Development.

The Deputy Secretary-General will also meet with the United Nations country team and representatives of the UN Nigeria Staff Association.  He will visit the site of the 2011 UN House bombing to lay a wreath in memory of the victims of the tragedy.

The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 30 March 2014.

**South Sudan

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the World Food Programme (WFP) are appealing to donors on behalf of partners for $371 million in urgently needed support for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees now arriving in neighbouring countries.

Since fighting erupted in mid-December, more than 204,000 people have already fled to Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.  With continuing insecurity and growing food shortages inside South Sudan, the refugee agency says that it expects the number of South Sudanese refugees across the region to reach 340,000 by the end of the year.

The agency also says that South Sudanese have recently been fleeing into neighbouring countries at a rate of nearly 2,000 per day, with most heading to Ethiopia and Uganda.  With more than 700,000 people displaced inside South Sudan and 3.7 million at high risk of food insecurity, UNHCR warns that the potential for further cross-border movement is high.

The regional emergency response will focus on protection activities and other life-saving needs such as food, water, sanitation, and health. 

That’s it for me, until our guests arrive, do you have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, you said the principles of the Charter are very clear and the Secretary-General is standing behind those principles through his own way.  It is clear that Member States can interpret the principles of the Charter in different ways.  For instance, the General Assembly resolution by Ukraine states that the annexation of Crimea is invalid by Article 2 of the Charter.  But, as the UN is required as a party to act in accordance with the principles of the Charter, can you tell us what the Secretary-General’s own interpretation of Article 2, number 4 of the Charter is in this case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you just pointed out, this itself is a matter that’s being taken up by Member States and we do expect that the General Assembly will take this issue up, possibly on Thursday.  At this stage, therefore, we’ll leave the matters in the hands of the Member States and we’ll respect their views and input.  Of course, we share our expertise, as requested and as needed by the Member States, but for now, the matter is in their hands.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about Turkey.  I know that you read out Navi Pillay’s statement on the Egyptian death penalty sentences, but she also in the same statement spoke about the banning of Twitter in Turkey, and I wanted to know, one, that was called in response to a question.  I don’t know what the distinction between the two is, but what’s the Secretary-General’s position on that?  And relatedly on Turkey, they’ve basically made public statements that they will go into Syria to protect a shrine there from ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], and I wanted to know, is this something that the Secretary-General, I know he’s spoken with the Turkey Foreign Minister, what does he think of these statements of going across the border militarily?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, of course, I can also draw your attention to the meeting that the Secretary-General had with the President of Turkey yesterday, and we issued a readout of that.  He’s made very clear his concerns about the situation and he wants an avoidance of any further tensions along the borders, and so he’s made that clear in his conversations with his interlocutors.  And of course, as we mentioned just yesterday, and I’ll mention it again, precipitous acts may aggravate the situation, which is not in the interest of any side; and we continue to hold that view.  Regarding your first question, I would just refer you to what the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights did say about Twitter.  We, of course, support the views of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and she in particular, or rather her office, referred also to the relevant General Assembly resolution on this and we support her views.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Has there been any correspondence between the United Nations and authorities in Egypt regarding the trials and regarding, mainly, the Al Jazeera correspondents there?  And also, for other trials that are going on in Egypt nowadays?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, you’ll have heard what we read just now concerning the views of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about the trials.  That’s in their release, and I just mentioned their alarm at the imposition of the death sentences, as well as some of the trial procedures, in general.  We’re also following and monitoring how the trial procedures work and we may say something further on this in due course.  Regarding the case of the Al Jazeera journalists, we have made clear our concerns and the need to ensure freedom of expression and of the media in Egypt.

Question:  I mean, were there any contacts between the United Nations, any official from the United Nations in contact with the authorities in Egypt in this regard, beyond the statements that they’ve issued?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think any contacts regarding this would be more effective if we didn’t provide so much detail about them.  You can be sure that the Secretary-General’s been concerned about this and that we’ve tried to do what we can, in terms of our influence, to bring about a successful resolution of this issue.  But, I wouldn’t be able to provide details, out of the need to try and protect the people concerned by this.

Question:  As a follow-up, what is the Secretary-General’s own view on the death penalties in Egypt?  His own view?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General supports the views of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and what they’ve said, which is what I just read out a few minutes ago.  Beyond that, of course, you’re well aware of the Secretary-General’s concerns about capital punishment in general and the need for States to abide by the wishes that the Member States clearly expressed in their recent General Assembly resolution concerning a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty. 

Question:  Last week, women MPs in Kenya walked out in protest over the passage of a bill that allows a man to take multiple wives without notifying a current wife, or getting consent from her.  Does the Secretary-General regard that as a violation of human rights, and women’s rights in particular?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we’ll need to look into that.  Part of what we’re trying to do is determine what our colleagues who focus specifically on human rights and women’s rights are saying on that.  And we’ll try to get their advice on this as we proceed.  But, we’re studying the matter.  [The Spokesperson later referred the correspondent to the General Recommendation by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.]

Question:  Thank, Farhan.  Just wanted to ask you, two things, two short things.  The Secretary-General visited Moscow and Kyiv in an effort to conduct this high-profile diplomacy on Ukraine.  Since besides Russian Federation, the key player here is indeed the United States.  Does the Secretary-General consider to visit Washington, as well, within this same effort on Ukraine, number one?  And number two, what does he think that he already achieved, although I know that you said yesterday that diplomacy is a process, that he already has achieved with his diplomacy, shuttle diplomacy between Kyiv and Moscow?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a question of what the Secretary-General has personally achieved.  We’re trying to get an improvement of the situation.  There are signs that there has been some progress to be welcomed.  You will have noticed that the Foreign Minister of Russia and the Acting Foreign Minister of Ukraine did meet with each other and there are other signs in the last day or so that we’re moving a little bit more in the direction of a direct dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv, which is something that the Secretary-General has been pushing for and has wanted to see.  What that will yield and what the efforts by the other countries on the ground will yield, we’ll have to see in the days ahead.  But certainly, there’s been some movement and we’re hoping that that movement will contribute both to… not just to a direct dialogue between the two countries, but also to a de-escalation of the situation.

Question:  What about Washington?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If and when we have a trip to Washington to announce, we’ll announce it.  I don’t have anything to announce just yet. 

Question:  I specifically asked a trip to Washington in the context of Ukraine.

Deputy Spokesperson:  And my answer would remain the same.  We announce trips in a certain way.  If we have something to announce to Washington, in terms of a trip to Washington, we’ll let you know at that time.

Question:  Hi, thank you, Farhan.  I just have one question and that is about the Secretary-General’s trip to Greenland.  Can you confirm this is the first trip of any Secretary-General and that the Danish website says he’s going to see first-hand, what exactly does that mean, the effects of climate change?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I believe in the trip note, in the announcement that we made last week, we talked about his efforts to see the effects of climate change in terms of also the glaciers that are there in Greenland.  So I’d refer you back to that note.  Yes, I believe he is the first of the Secretaries-General to visit Greenland, specifically.

Question:  And as a follow-up, do you have the agenda for this September on climate change?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Just yet?  No, it’s something being crafted.  We’ll share it whenever we can.

Question:  Farhan, since you said the Deputy Secretary-General and something about the Nigeria House, I wanted to ask you a question that I had asked a couple weeks ago, in writing, which is that at least one NGO (non-governmental organization) there, they claim that the rebuilding of the Nigeria House after the Boko Haram attack was paid entirely by the Government, $30 million.  And they’re saying this is unfair and is not how it’s done elsewhere, like, for example, this building here is not all paid by the US.  So they were saying that this money should be refunded to Nigerians because there are many actual victims of Boko Haram who are not receiving any compensation from the Government.  So, I wanted to know:  is that the case?  How was the reconstruction of the building funded, and what would be the response of the UN system to a Nigerian NGO saying that it’s not being done fairly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I don’t know whether that’s a fact, so first we’ll have to check what the funding is, and we’ll try to get back to you on that.

Question:  Sorry, kind of a delayed follow-up on my first question — so, you said you expected the GA [General Assembly] to take the issue of the annexation up, so can you confirm for me that the Secretary-General is holding back his interpretation of the Charter until the Member States are deciding on this resolution?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, it’s not that.  Like I said, we’re always ready to share our expertise with Member States, as and when needed.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I wanted to ask you about the activities of Mr. Brahimi at the Arab Summit meeting in Kuwait.  That’s one question.  The second — in his speech that he read on behalf of the Secretary-General, he called the parties to make major concessions, or I don’t know the exact wording, but what does he mean by major concessions?  What the Palestinian have to give in more that they didn’t already give?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding the concessions to be made, of course, that is the process of negotiations between parties and we don’t dictate to the parties what their negotiating postures need to be.  In terms of the vision we want to see, we’ve laid that out very clearly, not just in the speeches of the Secretary-General, but also, as you know, in the statements put out by the Middle East Quartet.  So, I would refer you to that in terms of what we want both sides to ultimately accomplish.  How they get there and what specific concessions they make, that’s a question of the negotiations with each other.  But we do encourage them to negotiate in good faith so that the dream that each of them has aspired for for so long can finally be realized.  [He also later shared a list of Mr. Brahimi’s meetings at the League of Arab States meeting in Kuwait.]

Question:  Farhan, just to follow-up on my colleague’s question — the Secretary-General and the United Nations as the custodians of the Charter, are you saying now that you are deferring that custodianship to Member States, who are pretty well known to take their national interests above that of the United Nations?  Surely, the opinion of the Secretary-General and that of the United Nations supersedes what Member States are going to decide on a document that is in print and established?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, and the Secretary-General is the guarantor of the United Nations Charter.  And he takes that responsibility very seriously.  This is why, wherever he’s been going, regarding this crisis, as indeed regarding many of the crises he deals with, he underlines what the principles of the UN Charter are.

Question:  You can then get 193 different interpretations of what that might mean, as in the case with Russia, for example.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, the Secretary-General, and we had a discussion like this with your colleague, Joe Klein, just yesterday — several Secretaries-General many times take their position about what the principles of the Charter are.  This Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has made very clear during his dealings with leaders on this crisis what the key principles are.  He spelled out the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes.  He spelled out the need for territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty.  And he is continuing to press on those and he will continue to urge all nations to abide by the principles of the UN Charter as we go about trying to find a resolution of this particular affair.

Question:  Farhan, did I understand you well before when you answered that there are certain movements, positive movements on the ground?  Did you say that it is thanks to the Secretary-General or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is precisely what I did not say.  I prefaced it by saying that this was not about what the Secretary-General has achieved.  You heard me say that, right?

Question:  No, I did not actually.  But I’m hearing you now.  So, you’re saying it’s…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that is what I said at the start, precisely so you didn’t make that wrong inference.

Question:  Okay.  But then what is left for the Secretary-General?  What was his role there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The objective of the work that the Secretary-General does is not to gain credit.  It is to resolve situations that are problems for international peace and security and for problems between the friendly relations between nations.  What he is trying to do, ultimately, is to restore the situation as much as we can to the good and friendly relations that Ukraine and Russia have previously enjoyed.  That’s what we’re trying to do.  It’s not about what the Secretary-General individually can achieve.  It’s about working with the Member States and the international community, with the Governments of Ukraine and Russia and with all other parties on the ground, on what we can achieve to bring about a peaceful, amicable resolution of this situation.

Question:  Then let’s just set the record straight.  Nobody was talking about credit.  I was asking just about what is the UN achievement.

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not a question of what any one person or one institution can get.  We’re all trying, hopefully, to attain the same goal, and with any luck, and with enough goodwill, we can succeed at this.  But it’s been a slow and frustrating process so far, but there are some signs that we can be making a little more progress on this.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask on Ukraine — there are a couple things.  The Defence Minister was forced to stand down, apparently for having ordered the troops out of Crimea.  And also, a right sector leader named Oleksandr Muzychko has been killed and there are some allegations that some of the Government were involved.  I wanted to know, does the UN have any sense of either of those two things, and also, what’s Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman, is he back from there?  I know that he stayed behind, but what’s going to be his ongoing day-to-day role on this situation and where is he now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Feltman is returning to New York.  Yes, he has been in Ukraine and he’ll be able to come back here and share some of his experiences and information from the last several days with people here at Headquarters.

Question:  With the press, as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe he intends to go to the press, no.

Question:  Farhan, is there an update on Darfur, and is there any part of Sudan where the African Union or the UN is involved that is having any success?  It’s not as bad as Darfur and South Sudan, but there are parts between the two that seem to be faltering also.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ll have seen what our concerns about the situation in Darfur have been and you’ll have noticed the special report that the Secretary-General put out last month on the strategic review of the UN-African Union Mission (UNAMID), and that report has, of course, gone to the Member States.  It identifies three main challenges faced by the Mission in implementing its mandate — the cooperation of the Government, internal managerial and coordination issues, especially with the UN country team, and the capabilities of our troop- and police contributors.  So the Secretary-General has made a number of recommendations in that regard and we’re hoping that our work in Darfur can be improved.

Question:  Farhan, will the Secretary-General be attending the G7 meeting in Brussels in June?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As with your colleague’s question about whether he will travel to Washington, we make announcements in due course.  I don’t have anything to announce on that at this stage.

Question:  Also on Darfur, I wanted to ask — I saw a story about Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous being in Pakistan and quoted Pakistan officials saying that they were told that their contribution will go down because many missions are being downsized, and they listed Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, but they also listed Darfur.  So, I guess I wanted to ask overall, I mean, this is what the article listed — is that the case?  Despite the many reports of increased violence and barring of peacekeepers from burning villages — is it true that that’s the direction that the Mission is going into?  And I also wanted to ask you about this Indian peacekeeper that served in UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur), I know it’s just one individual, but the person served in UNAMID, returned to India and has been officially punished for having gone to serve the Mission.  She had been told to opt out, once selected.  Given the UN’s interest in having women peacekeepers and women police officers in these missions, has there been any follow-up at DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] into the case of this person who served?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ve checked with our colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and they have no comment on that case.  Regarding the question of Pakistani contributions, of course, we’ll provide details on any changes in contributions by Member States as they come about.  I don’t have anything to announce one way or another.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  When will Mr. Lakdar Brahimi be back to New York to brief the Secretary-General about what happened at the Session of the Arab League States?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t quite hear what you’re saying.

Question:  When will Mr. Lakdar Brahimi be back to brief the Secretary-General about what happened at the Summit of Arab League States?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He’s not coming back to New York after this particular briefing.  We’ll let you know the next time he’s scheduled to come back to New York, but it’s not in the next several days or anything like that.  Yes?

Question:  Back to Sudan — has there been any progress on any of the border conflicts or disputes?  Whether it’s Abyei or North Kordofan, it just seems like the entire puzzle of Sudan is crumbling.  Is it the same as it was 10 years ago?  Or are we going somewhere?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That seems like a big enough topic for a lecture.  I think we’ll probably need to provide some of our experts in the field from the various situations dealing with Sudan to talk to you about that.  And of course, we’ll soon, in the next couple of minutes, be getting a briefing on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan.  It’s a mixed bag, overall.  But, yes, you’re right — there are a number of challenges in South Sudan, in Abyei, in Darfur, and we’re trying to do what we can with all of them.  And with that, I think that’s what we have for now.

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