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

4 April 2014

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

4 April 2014
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

I’ll read a few notes and take some questions.  Thank you for bearing with me.

**Secretary-General in Prague

The Secretary-General arrived last night in Prague from Brussels.  Today, he visited the UN offices in Prague and then delivered a lecture at Charles University, one of the oldest universities in Europe.  The Secretary-General told the more than 200 assembled faculty and students that the Czech Republic was a dynamic country that had been buffeted by the winds of global change many times.  While we deal with many immediate crises, the Secretary-General said that we also need to keep our eyes on what may seem less immediate but more destructive long-term threats.  He called on the young people in the audience to be activists for global justice, peace, human rights and human dignity.

The Secretary-General then met with the Czech Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka.  Prior to attending an official lunch hosted by the Prime Minister at the Hrzansky Palace, the Secretary-General and Mr. Sobotka had a brief press encounter.  The Secretary-General told reporters that they had discussed climate change and the situations in Ukraine, Syria and the Central African Republic.  And he also expressed appreciation for the Czech Republic’s current and future contributions for UN peacekeeping.  The Secretary-General also recently met in the past couple of hours with the President, Miloš Zeman.

Prior to meeting the President, he met with the Mayor of Prague, who showed him the flood protection barriers along the Charles River.  The Secretary-General expressed his admiration for the work the City of Prague has done on disaster preparedness and dealing with climate change.

** Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemns the abhorrent attack on two international journalists today, which left one dead and the other wounded.  The two journalists — photographer Anja Niedringhaus and reporter Kathy Gannon, both Associated Press staff members — were shot in the Tani district of Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan.

Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that he was outraged by this attack on civilians.  He added that the journalists were going about their work, informing the world how Afghan citizens are exercising their right to shape a better future for themselves, their children and their country.  And we have a press release with more details.

** Lebanon

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, ended her visit to Lebanon today with a call for greater support for the people of Lebanon who are experiencing challenges as a result of the Syria crisis, as well as continued support to Syrian refugees.  She said that the world must do more to support the people and Government of Lebanon as they are struggling to meet increased demand for services like health, education, electricity and water and sanitation.  We should not take their generosity for granted.

Ms. Amos visited Syrian refugee families in Akkar and Tripoli in northern Lebanon.  She also met key Government officials, including President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassile, to discuss how the international community can continue to support Lebanon.

** Central African Republic

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provided detailed information today on the incident involving Chadian soldiers in Bangui on 29 March, following an initial investigation carried out by a human rights team on the ground.

According to the information collected so far by the Human Rights and Justice Section of the UN [Integrated Peacebuilding] Office in the Central African Republic, BINUCA, on 29 March, Chadian national army soldiers in a convoy consisting of several military pick-ups entered Bangui, and went to the neighbourhood known as PK 12.  As soon as the convoy reached the market area around 3 p.m., it reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation.  At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce.  As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.

According to information the human rights team has gathered so far, it seems the Chadian force’s action was totally disproportionate, as they were shooting in a crowded market full of unarmed civilians.

According to the team’s preliminary findings, around 30 people were killed as a result of the shooting and more than 300 were seriously injured, including children, people with disabilities, pregnant women and elderly people, as they were less able to run for their lives.

** Somalia

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that it has received confirmation that a man was executed by a firing squad in public yesterday in Kismayo, Somalia.  The man was found guilty last week of killing an elder, but the Office says that it is not clear by whom exactly and possibly not even by a court.  The UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) had urged a stay of execution, including at the highest levels within the regional Interim Juba Administration, which appears to have been heavily involved in the sentencing and execution.  There is more information on this online.

**Guests at Noon Briefing on Monday

And Monday is World Health Day.  And we will have here as a guest of the Noon Briefing, Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, the Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Office in New York.

Immediately after that briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ted Chaiban, the Director of Emergency Programmes at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).  Mr. Chaiban will brief on his recent trip to the Central African Republic.

That’s it for me.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On the Middle East peace process, as Mr. [John] Kerry said today in Dubai, basically saying that both parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, have taken steps that have undermined the process.  My question is:  has the United Nations so-called Quartet done anything… participated in any way, to move the process forward, since the process is dying?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, as I believe I mentioned a few days ago, just two days back the Quartet Envoys did speak with each other by telephone to discuss how to keep the process going forward.  What we’re doing on our side, as you know, Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has been meeting with the various sides.  We have made it clear that we hope that a way can be found to see negotiations through until the scheduled end of the nine-month timeframe, set to expire on 29 April.  The goal remains to arrive at a substantive basis for negotiations towards a comprehensive peace agreement on all final status issues.  Asma?

Question:  It’s a follow-up on the same question about Palestine.  The Israeli authorities refused today to release 26 prisoners.  It’s like a punishment for the request of Palestine to join the international treaties and conventions.  What is your position from this and what is your position from this request?  Do you consider… do you believe that Palestine is a State and has the right to join these treaties and conventions?  And follow-up to answer question, please, can I?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, first on these questions.  Regarding the issue of Palestine prisoners, it is important that the parties apply their best efforts in the period ahead to create a climate of trust and an environment as conducive as possible to the continuation of negotiations.  We continue to reaffirm that point.  Regarding your other questions, we are guided by the General Assembly resolution that was voted on in 2012.  Yes, back to you?  It is going round-robin a bit.  Please use the microphone.

Question:  Has the United Nations… I am asking on this death case of the Egyptians, have the United Nations received any assurances from the Egyptian military Government that they will reconsider them or that they will give them separate trials?  Because at this point in time, it’s an en masse, I mean, order given for death sentence to these people.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we have made our views known.  We’ve discussed our concerns about this as you are aware of what we said last week on this matter.  Those remain the case and we’ll continue to monitor developments at this stage of course, we are waiting to see what the Egyptian Government will do.

Question: Have the Egyptian Government given you any assurances, is what the thing is?  Or has anybody spoken with the United Nations at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been in touch with the Egyptian authorities.  We are waiting to see how this works, both in the legal system in Egypt and with the Government of Egypt.  Matthew?

Question: Sure, Farhan.  I wanted to ask you about the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, I guess, findings, or preliminary findings, on the killing in Bangui.  Many people are now saying at the same time Chad has said it’s pulling its peacekeepers out.  How will this impact accountability?  First of all, are those who did this firing in any way related to those who are working with MISCA (International Support Mission in the Central African Republic)?  Are they still in the country?  And how does this overall seemingly pretty outrageous event of shooting into a crowd without provocation, how does this impact [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] continuing to use Chadian peacekeepers in Mali and elsewhere?  What will be the connection between accountability for those who committed these acts and the continued use of peacekeepers from the same military in Mali?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, these are, as you have acknowledged, preliminary findings.  We’ll have to see what further work the team is able to do, but they are trying to get accountability for what happened on the ground.  And of course, we’ll have to see what their findings are as we get more information from the team about what they have determined.  It is not determined whether or not these particular troops were in MISCA or not.  It’s quite possible that, in fact, they were not part of MISCA.  But, in any case, we are having the team go forward with their findings, and as you know, anytime we accept troops for UN peacekeeping, they have to go through a vetting process.  So, of course, no troops who are found guilty of atrocities would be included in UN peacekeeping.

Question:  But, some have said that this Special Forces unit is actually run by a relative of the President [Idriss] Déby.  So I wanted to know:  [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] deals with the Chadian Military at a high level in terms of recruiting peacekeepers so they obviously have some leverage.  So, I just wanted to know if there’s any connection between the Human Rights Geneva Council trying to get accountability and [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations], which actually has the leverage to get accountability?

Deputy Spokesman:  You use the formulation “some have said” a few times, but in this case what we’ll need is to get the facts from the team and we’ll await what they actually find in terms of further details behind this particular incident and who was involved.  Yes, Asma?

Question:  Just wanted to make my question more clear about the follow-up about the same question.  If the American side considers that this step would affect badly on the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.  Do you… does the United Nations consider this step… effect bad in these negotiations of joining the treaties and conventions?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you’ve seen what we’ve said over this over the past couple of days and I have nothing really to add to that.  Nizar?

Question:  It’s regarding the elections in Syria, the presidential elections.  Does the United Nations view the July elections, the presidential ones, as an impediment to the reconciliation in the country?  Or what’s your position regarding that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ve heard what Lakhdar Brahimi had to say about this.  He spoke to the Security Council and he spoke at the stakeout afterwards directly about the questions of elections, and I would just refer you to what he said.  Iftikhar?

Question: Thank you, Farhan.  How does the United Nations look at the release of some group of Taliban prisoners by the Government of Pakistan in order to encourage in the ongoing talks with the Palestinian — I mean, with the Taliban leadership.  Does the UN have any view on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment on this for now but we’ll have to look and see what the UN office, the UN Mission in Afghanistan, has to say about it.  And we’ll see whether they have a reaction.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

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