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

28 March 2014

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

28 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 Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on his recent travels and work concerning Ukraine, in closed consultations at 3:00 p.m.  Once those consultations have ended, he expects to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout, at approximately 4:40 p.m.

This morning, the Council is receiving a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria from the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos.  Ms. Amos will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout after those consultations have finished.

Earlier this morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO, by one year.

** Central African Republic

This week has marked a year since rebels, known as the Seleka coalition, seized power in the Central African Republic.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, violence and displacement continue, with fighting continuing in the capital Bangui in the past week.  The Central African Republic Red Cross reports that at least 18 people were killed.

The number of internally displaced persons in Bangui has also risen again, from 177,000 to approximately 200,000.

Humanitarian agencies are concerned that thousands of displaced may stay behind in overcrowded sites.  Some 70,000 internally displaced persons are still living at the M’Poko airport site in extremely difficult conditions, made worse as the rainy season gets underway.

Lack of funding is also still of major concern, as only 22 per cent of the 551 million dollars requested for the Central African Republic has been committed or disbursed.

**South Sudan

The World Food Programme and the UN Children’s Fund started a joint operation today to deliver food, vaccines, nutrition supplements and other vital relief supplies to Akobo, in Jonglei State — one of the most isolated areas of South Sudan.

The two agencies are using helicopters and air drops to assist 30,000 people in urgent need and have set up emergency distribution points for food, health, protection, education and sanitation.

Akobo is the first location the two agencies are reaching under a new joint strategy.  Fourteen such missions are planned over the next month, seeking to support as many as 250,000 people in remote, conflict-affected communities in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states.  Other agencies are expected to join the partnership.

And there is more information in a press release.

** Afghanistan

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, wrapped up a three-day visit to Afghanistan today, telling reporters that the United Nations is committed to transparent elections in the country.   

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s deadly suicide attack and armed assault against a Kabul office of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, Mr. Ladsous met with key officials of that agency.  He said that the targeting of the Election Commission’s premises and its staff by enemies of democracy is repugnant.

Mr. Ladsous added that every eligible voter should exercise the right to vote and have a say in shaping the country’s future.  We have more details in a press release.

**East Jerusalem

UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley expressed concern today over the Israeli authorities’ demolition of a two-story building in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of At Tur on 26 March.  The building included two apartments, a mosque and a medical centre.

Mr. Rawley said that he is deeply concerned about the displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and destruction of their private property.  He said that these actions cause unnecessary humanitarian suffering and increase tension and also run counter to Israel’s obligations under international law.

Displacement rose significantly in East Jerusalem in 2013, with 298 Palestinians forcibly displaced from demolitions compared to 71 in 2012.  And we have a press release with more details.

**Press Conference

On Monday, at 12:30 p.m., there will be an end-of-term press conference here by Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of March.

And that’s it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, I’d like to ask you a question about this, one question is about the Palestinian blockade by both Israel and Egypt.  UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] for has been asking the Egyptian and the Israeli Government to ease the restrictions.  Has anything been done about it?  Has the United Nations talked to these two countries to ease the restrictions for the Palestinians?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we have, including through, of course, the UN Relief and Works Agency itself, which made a call, as you just pointed out.  So, we are asking for restrictions to be eased.  As you know, with Israel and recently with Egypt, we’ve made repeated entreaties to the parties to see what sort of normal commercial traffic can be restored to Gaza. 

Question:  On the question of 538 Egyptians sentenced to death, has the Secretary-General spoken to the Egyptian authorities about that, what is going to tantamount, some people call tantamount, to an extrajudicial genocide, is what is going to happen.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ll have seen what the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had to say about these death penalties and the Secretary-General supports the Office’s views in that regard.

Question:  Has there been any progress in the talks with the Egyptian Government as of yet?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have anything to disclose at this point, but certainly, we’ve made the call, as you can see.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding USG [Under-Secretary-General] Feltman’s report yesterday to the Security Council on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], could you just give us a little bit of a readout of what was reported and at whose request he was there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ll have seen what the Security Council had to say afterwards, and I think that describes a little bit of the information that they received.  And so, I’ll leave it at that.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Haq.  There are about 130 students outside of the UN offices in Caracas and they’re asking the SG [Secretary-General] to please send monitors, human rights monitors, to take a look at what’s happening in Venezuela.  Is the SG aware of this?  And is there any statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there’s no statement to make at this stage.  Our Resident Coordinator in Venezuela is aware of this and is consulting with officials on the ground and so, we’ll first see what progress he makes in that regard.

Question:  Sure, Farhan.  I noticed that yesterday you said the UN is concerned about the unrest in Sittwe, in Rakhine State in Myanmar.  And there are various articles saying that basically the census that the UN funded and participated in, which your office previously answered a question explaining the involvement in, was largely the cause of the unrest.  I wonder, what does the UN say to that and what is its own kind of risk assessment that it conducted before the census?  Does it now acknowledge that the risk assessment was erroneous?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I wouldn’t have any comment on our risk assessments.  We make them based on available data at the time.  You know, it’s not that they are predictive tools, they’re efforts to assess what the situation on the ground is at the current point in time.  Regarding the incidents in Sittwe, you’ll have seen, we mentioned yesterday what the Humanitarian Coordinator had to say about the situation.  Regarding that, following the attacks reported earlier this week on UN and non-governmental organizations premises in Sittwe, in Rakhine State, initial assessments show substantial damage to UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] property and vehicles.  The humanitarian community in Myanmar remains concerned about the safety and security of aid workers, as well as constraints on access to communities in need.  Despite the insecurity, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are determined to resume aid operations and continue to consult with the Government and local authorities.  So, that is what we’re trying to do in response.  We don’t believe that there should be any excuse made, by the way, regarding trying to impede the work of humanitarian agencies.  That needs to happen unobstructed.  Yes, behind?  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday in the General Assembly, a resolution was adopted on Ukraine, and it clearly points out that the referendum was not valid.  So, I wonder what the Secretary-General’s position on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well the Secretary-General will be speaking to the Security Council this afternoon, as I mentioned, on Ukraine.  So, first we’ll let him do that and we’ll try to provide what information we can about that.  And, as you know, the Secretary-General does intend to hold a brief press encounter once he’s done in the Security Council.

Question:  Sure, yesterday, after that Ukraine vote, Ambassador Churkin of Russia held a stakeout at the same time as the briefing was here.  And he said two things I want to ask you about.  One has to do with, he said that he pointed at the statement of a quote- high US [ United States] official that turns out to be President Obama, that he made in Brussels.  And what he said was that quote -Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum that was organized, not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations, unquote.  So, I wanted to ask you, is it the UN’s position that a referendum was ever held in Kosovo, or was it a vote by the Parliament?  And what was the UN’s involvement in the referendum in Kosovo, given this statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there’s actually a fairly lengthy record of UN involvement, primarily through UNMIK, the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo, and I’d refer you back over to that.  It’s…there’s been any number of resolutions and it’s impossible to characterize it in just a few sentences, but it’s been a period of a process that’s lasted since 1999, which is, as you know, continuing to this day.

Question:  …if not from this podium, maybe later, can you give a yes or no answer — has the UN ever conducted a referendum on the independence of Kosovo?  It’s pretty simple.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, actually, it’s kind of a legalistic question, and there are a lot of different aspects to it.  But, it’s very clear what the UN has done in terms of all of the resolutions we’ve had since 1999, and I would refer you to those.

Question:  [inaudible] 

Deputy Spokesman:  Please use the microphone for the sake of your colleagues and the people…

Question:  Sorry, Farhan, I keep doing this.

Deputy Spokesman:  I know, it’s tempting in the front row to not use the microphone, but please.

Question:  So, sorry.  Did not the ICJ [International Court of Justice] rule on Kosovo?  Do you have that off the top of your head?  I vaguely remember they said it was okay for them to be independent.  It’s a political thing, more than a legal thing.

Deputy Spokesman:  I remember they have a ruling, but I would shudder to actually try and summarize it, since I believe it’s probably more complicated than that.  I know that the full text of the judgement is available on the ICJ website, so I’d refer you to that.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Coming back to Venezuela, one of the things that the students have said is that they want, actually, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send an international commission to investigate the allegations of brutality, torture and abuse.  Today, the DA’s office in Venezuela explained that 37 people have been killed during these events.  And I understand that you mentioned that we have somebody there that is analysing the situation.  Do we have a timeline, and is the Secretary-General in touch with this person?  Will it be him personally making a statement about what has happened?  We’re talking about almost two months with this happens and we have several people that are detained.  Today, actually, Leopoldo Lopez, which is one of the opposition leaders, was denied to be bailed out of jail.  And the conditions, according to the opposition party are not the best.  The situation is not as serious as other countries in the world, but what is the Secretary-General’s position at this point, and what is what we can see in the next few days?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe the Secretary-General met in recent weeks with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, and we put out a readout of that.  So, I’d refer you to the readout, which expressed his concerns at the time.  Regarding a human rights inquiry, normally the mandates for those are set by the Human Rights Council.  Having said that, of course, the Resident Coordinator is on the ground, and he’s having consultations.  There are no details to provide, as yet, of that though.

Question:  On this nuclear summit that just ended in The Hague.  Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the assurances given by countries like India, Pakistan, which are not signatories to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], about the securities of their nuclear weapons?  Is that, what you’d call one of the things that can be called an achievement of this Hague summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General made clear his views about the summit while he was in The Hague.  He put out a lengthy statement at the nuclear security summit on Monday, which contains his views.  So, that describes where he stands on the issues.  Certainly, he was satisfied with the work of that summit.  I think he thought it was a very productive meeting, but regarding his specific views on nuclear security, that’s contained in the speech from Monday.  Yes?  Asma?

Question:  [inaudible]  Farhan, I want to ask you again, okay.  Yesterday, Churkin, Permanent Representative of Russia, said that this resolution will not change anything because it became a fact on the ground that Crimea is part of Russia.  What is your comment on this, number one?  Number two, if you support the will of the members of General Assembly, does this mean that you agree that this referendum is illegal?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, like I said, the Secretary-General will discuss the matters with the Security Council, and we’ll try to share with you what he has to say at that point.  Regarding the question of the General Assembly vote, of course with all resolutions of the General Assembly, we expect and entrust nations to abide by the votes of the membership at large.  Yes?  Joe?

Question:  Yes, in that connection, I believe I’m paraphrasing Ambassador Araud in comments he made this morning about Ukraine at the stakeout, to the effect that the General Assembly resolution will be, should be followed by all the UN agencies in terms of not recognising Crimea to be part of Russia, it’s still part of Ukraine, implying that, for example, UN maps and documents referring to Crimea would still presumably refer to it as part of Ukraine.  Has that message been transmitted formally to the Secretariat and is there any plans to undertake steps to implement that understanding?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think as with all General Assembly resolutions, what we’re first going to do is study this one, now that it’s been passed and adopted and determine from there what follow-up steps we need to take.  I don’t have anything to specify at this point on that. Yes?

Question:  Farhan, just a follow-up on Joe’s question, which is — can you find out for us if there is any change in the status as far as any UN agencies on anything?  In other words, the maps or any territorial definitions of Crimea for UN agencies?  So, that’s a follow-up — can you find out?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll try to follow up, but I think it will take some time.  First, we’ll need to study the issue.  But yes, we’ll try to have some details for you down the line on what that will entail.  But first, we need to see what the resolution precisely entails for us.

Question:  And then my question is just: can you give us some indication of a follow-up on the UN monitors in Ukraine?  Have they gotten into Crimea?  How is the Ivan Šimonović mission going?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we informed you about a week or so ago when Ivan Šimonović and some monitors were able to get into Crimea, so yes, that did happen.

Question:  But are all of them on the ground?  100?  Is that the number?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would need to check what the latest number is on the ground.  I don’t have the latest number.  Yes?

[The Deputy Spokesman later said that to date 10 international staff and five national staff were in Ukraine and that the total number of national staff to be hired is 25].

Question:  A few days ago in Geneva, the Human Rights Council, Paula Schriefer said she was deeply concerned about the credible reports of kidnappings of journalists and activists and the blocking of independent media and the barring of independent, international observers.  I was wondering if the Secretary-General could…?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is in what country? 

Question:  This is in Geneva, at the Human Rights Council.

Deputy Spokesman:  The blocking of journalists in Geneva?

Question:  No, in Ukraine.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  You need the noun.  Yes, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to have a human rights presence throughout Ukraine so that we can get first-hand information about this.  That’s one of the reasons that we’ve also tried, not just to deploy people throughout Ukraine, but to get cooperation from all the various sides.  So, we’re hoping to get some more information.  Yes?  Way in the back.

Question:  Do you have an update on the possibility or the possible peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, the Secretary-General has sent some recommendations on that to the Security Council, and we’re awaiting what their response will be.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Is there any comment on the nomination of Christine Chenkin to the role that Richard Falk used to play at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that’s a determination made by the Human Rights Council, as is their right.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about a second thing that Ambassador Churkin said and also something that some in the UN called censorship is the second question, I want to be sure to be able to ask.  Churkin also said, he spoke about the meeting that the Secretary-General had with the leader of the Svoboda party, which he said had been adjudged, the party had, as both racist and anti-Semitic and he called the meeting disturbing.  I wanted to know whether, I’ve asked you before about this meeting, whether the Secretary-General knew in advance that the Svoboda meeting would be at this meeting?  And also whether he will address this in the Council or at his stakeout afterwards, how this meeting, which a P-5 member calls disturbing, came to take place?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I believe was explained in the note that was sent to you, there was an effort to just have a brief meeting with a wide range of interlocutors.  The list of which we provided to interested journalists.  It was not designed to give any authority to any particular group or individual he was meeting with.  It was a meeting designed to introduce the Secretary-General to a range of different people on the ground.

Question:  Did he have the list of the attendees before the meeting took place?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any details to give about the list.  The list is what we’ve given and that’s the details we have on that.

Question:  And I wanted to…

Deputy Spokesman:  Your second question was what?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about this… I know you said you have no comment even if a letter has been received by Yukio Takasuabout the Staff Union dispute, but I wanted to ask you this – an editor in the Office of Legal Affairs Treaty Division submitted an article for the Staff Voices section of the iSeek and was told in response that although they welcome it as a venue for staff information, on the issues you’re writing about, we have to take the advice of management into consideration and it would not be published.  What I wanted to know is — what are the standards for this Staff Voices section of iSeek?  Is it really what the staff think and if an article, which I’ve seen the article, it actually quotes both sides… what is management’s role in deciding or censoring what goes into the Staff Voices section?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not aware of that dispute, so I’d have to check with the people responsible for Staff Voices.  It is meant to be a place where all staff can contribute their views.

Question:  It seems to come from the top of DPI [Department of Public Information], so that’s why…

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, I’m not aware of this at all, so I would need to check up what the details are.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, I was upstairs watching this on TV and thought I’d pop down and ask a question.  Riveting TV. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Very thoughtful of you.

Question:  Thank you.  A follow-up on this… on the question about the monitors that are in Crimea are moving forward, UNICEF, UNDP, if they want to work there.  With which authorities will they make arrangements?  Ukrainians or the Russians?

Deputy Spokesman:  They will make arrangements with whoever the relevant local authorities on the ground are, whoever it may be.

Question:  Local authorities?

Deputy Spokesman:  Whoever the authorities are on the ground, whoever it may be.  Yes? Anne?

Question:  Having the delegation of the European Union to the UN stated on 27 March that the European Union remains committed to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and does not recognise the illegal referendum on Crimea, which violates Ukrainian Constitution.  Since the UN Secretary-General works closely with the European Union, which has 28 Member States, did he have any particular response to this statement by the European Union and would you say that it reflects the Secretary-General’s position on Ukraine?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the European Union is of course a different organization.  We don’t have any comment on their views in general, no.  In front of Anne?

Question:  Sorry about my non-noun question.  Sorry about that.  As far as, some news bureaus are saying that there are now troop rotations on the eastern front of Ukraine, near [inaudible] Russia.  So, do you have any comment or could you give us any information about the observers that are there that could tell us anything about the make-up of the troops there, the armaments?  Thank you, Farhan.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well…clearly the Secretary-General has been in touch with a wide range of interlocutors in recent weeks and has made clear to all of them that we want all sides to avoid any hasty or precipitated actions and we want a de-escalation of the situation.  So, anything that goes against that is, of course, a source of concern.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka and also about Jens Stoltenberg, separately.  On Sri Lanka, there were these two human right defenders, Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan, who were taken into custody during the pendency of the resolution in Geneva.  And although they’ve been released, it was said at the Geneva hearing yesterday that both are subject to travel, can’t travel and can’t speak to the media.  And I wanted to know — is that something that the UN Secretariat would be concerned about?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think first and foremost, that would be an issue for the Human Rights mechanisms in Geneva, specifically the office dealing with human rights defenders.  So, I think you should ask them how they’re following up on this, because they’re the ones who’ve been expressing their concerns about this case.

Question:  And I wanted to ask, Jens Stoltenberg has just been named as head NATO going forward.  And since I know he’s the UN, the Secretary-General only in December named him as a Special Envoy on Climate Change, how quickly would he be leaving that post?  And would that post be filled?  Is it a post that the Secretary-General would intend to fill with another individual?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as always, if official take on different posts, then we’ll have to discuss with them what will happen to their UN post.  So, of course if someone is just named, then those discussions would just begin.  But, of course, you can be sure then that we would be in discussions with the person in question to make sure that we know will happen now to their UN responsibilities.

Question:  Can you check to see whether Mr. Stoltenberg sought any kind of advice or opinion from the UN in terms of seeking this post that it wouldn’t contradict with his existing UN post?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we don’t have to speak for Mr. Stoltenberg at this stage.  You’d have to check that with Mr. Stoltenberg.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  What we would do is see what happens to the post now.  That’s a different topic.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, there have been several pleas for some comment by the Secretary-General on the detention of Al Jazeera reporters and then also on the recent mass death sentences [inaudible] out in Egypt.  Do you have anything else?  Anything that the Secretary-General has said, other than the previous comments about freedom of speech?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I explained to Masood, the Secretary-General does support the views of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning the death sentences.  Regarding the case of the Al Jazeera journalists — yes, this has been a case of concern.  There are levels at which we’re working on this, but in order to enhance the chances for success, I really can’t provide any further details on that one.

Question:  Just to follow-up on that, without endangering any negotiations, is there anything you can say — there are some backdoor, backroom negotiations or discussions are taking place?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’d rather not endanger the process, as it is.  I think you can figure out that we’re working on this in our way, but I can’t provide any further detail on that.

Question:  Right, on this question of Svoboda party, which the European Parliament in October 2012 did pass a resolution saying no parties in Ukraine should have anything to do with them — despite Western governments denials or downplaying, and the media, of the existence of right-wing extremists in the square that helped overthrow this government violently and who were then rewarded with about six Cabinet posts, isn’t the Secretary-General a little uncomfortable about having neo-Nazis, basically, in a European government?  And using violence to overthrow a corrupt, but democratically elected President?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding extremism, of course, the United Nations stands against extremism.  Regarding the specific make-up of the government, again, this is something that’s being discussed in venues like the Security Council and again, I’d refer you forward to this afternoon’s discussions at the Security Council.  Like I said, we’ll try to get details for you about the briefing that the Secretary-General [inaudible] at that point.

Question:  Now that they’re no longer needed, they’re starting to trying to eliminate…the head of the Right sector was killed by police two days ago.  So, now it’s becoming an embarrassment, it looks like, to have these neo-Nazis in there.  No comment on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  No comment, but we’re aware of that report.

Question:  Can you just clarify: the Secretary-General will be coming to the stakeout at 4:40 today on his trip and everything else, Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we expect him to talk about his recent travels and the situation in Ukraine, yes.

Question:  Will he take questions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, a few questions.  He doesn’t have a lot of time, but he’ll take some.  Have a good afternoon, all.

* *** *

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