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

7 April 2014

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

7 April 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.

I have a few more notes and can take any additional questions you might have.

**Secretary-General in Rwanda

First off, this morning in Kigali, the Secretary-General joined the President of Rwanda at the official commemoration ceremony of the Rwandan genocide.  The opening of the event, known as Kwibuka 20, took place in Kigali’s Genocide Memorial Centre.  There, the Secretary-General and President Paul Kagame, joined by two young people born at the time of the genocide, lit the flame of mourning.  The flame will remain lit for 100 days.

The Secretary-General spoke about the genocide in Rwanda, which he called one of the darkest chapters in human history.  He said that many United Nations personnel and others showed remarkable bravery, but added that the United Nations could and should have done much more.  In Rwanda, he said, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed.  He said that the shame of Rwanda and Srebrenica still clings, a generation after the events.

The Secretary-General noted how UN response has improved since then, from the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, to the expansion of international criminal justice, to his recent call to the United Nations system and the international community to put human rights up front.

And the Secretary-General also spoke at an event for the UN staff who died during the genocide, saying that he honoured his fallen colleagues and offered his deepest condolences to all those they left behind.  We have his remarks, as well as readouts of the meetings he held with other leaders attending the commemoration, available in our office and online.

** Central African Republic

On Saturday, the Secretary-General visited Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, where he met with the Head of the Transitional State, Catherine Samba-Panza, and members of the Government, and also met with displaced people camped near the airport and those living in the grounds of Bangui’s main mosque.  He also visited the UN office in the country, BINUCA.

The Secretary-General said that he was in the Central African Republic to shine a light on what was happening in the country, and he promised to do his utmost to garner the political will so that a United Nations peacekeeping mission could be approved as soon as possible, and so that adequate resources can be granted to help the country return to a more stable path.  He emphasized that the human rights of all Central Africans must be protected, regardless of religion.  And we have the various remarks and readouts available online.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of this week to participate in a series of events taking place in line with the spring meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Thursday, 10 April, the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, will speak at the 2015 Countdown Summit for Global Education.  That event will take place at New York University’s Global Academic Center, which is in Washington.  That afternoon, the Secretary-General will join World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in events on anti-poverty measures and education.  The first of those events is called “End Poverty Call to Action”, and the second one, which again includes Gordon Brown, is called “Learning for All”.  The Secretary-General will also visit the Inter-American Development Bank later in the day and meet with its President, Luis Alberto Moreno.

On Friday, 11 April, the Secretary-General will visit the Pentagon, where he will meet with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  In the afternoon, the Secretary-General and President Kim will participate in a number of events, including on moving towards universal health coverage by 2030, on climate change, on providing sanitation and water for all, and on inequality and shared prosperity.  They also expect to meet with the heads of the multilateral development banks.  The Secretary-General will return to New York later that day.

** Somalia

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, condemned the murder today of two UN consultants working for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  The two international consultants were in Galkayo to support UNODC efforts in the region when they were shot by unknown gunmen at Galkayo Airport in Puntland.

Mr. Kay said that there can be no justification for such a callous attack, and he called on the authorities to conduct a full investigation immediately and bring the perpetrators to justice without delay.  The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov, also condemned the killings in the strongest possible terms.  Both statements are available online.  And we may also have something further from the Secretary-General to say on this later today.

[The Spokesman’s Office later issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms today’s cold-blooded killing of two colleagues working for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) at Galkayo Airport in Puntland, Somalia.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims.

The Secretary-General urges the relevant authorities to fully investigate this outrageous crime and to bring the perpetrators to justice without delay.  He expresses his appreciation to all United Nations staff in Somalia for their continued dedication under difficult circumstances.  The United Nations remains determined to support the people and the Federal Government of Somalia in their efforts to strengthen peace, security and the rule of law in the country.]

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that some 413 civilians have voluntarily moved today from the Tomping protection of civilians site in Juba to the UN House site, also in the capital.  The UN House site has been recently expanded.  UN peacekeepers provided protection to the civilians, as well as to the trucks that transported their belongings to UN House.

Since relocation began on 12 March, more than 1,345 civilians have moved from Tomping to UN House.  Special Representative Hilde Johnson told media last week that with the rainy season starting, conditions are becoming worse, with the sites in Tomping and Malakal, in particular, at imminent risk from epidemics, particularly cholera.  Relocation of internally displaced people from these sites, therefore, has become a necessity.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur, UNAMID, is protecting newly internally displaced people who gathered near the mission’s base in Mellit, North Darfur.  The mission is also assisting humanitarian agencies in delivering aid to them.

Since 1 April, more than 2,000 people — mostly women and children — arrived at the base in Mellit.  They reported that their villages were attacked by armed groups suspected to be members of Rapid Support Forces and militia elements at the end of March.

Meanwhile, in Khor Abeche, South Darfur, some 3,000 displaced are continuing to take refuge inside the mission’s compound, where they have received food and other aid from the humanitarian community.  A team of engineers from the mission are working on securing the camp, located next to the mission’s base.  When completed, it will have a secure perimeter covering an area of 70,000 square metres.  The displaced currently inside UNAMID’s base will be able to settle in the near future in this secure area.

** Afghanistan

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General congratulated the people of Afghanistan on Saturday’s historic presidential and provincial council elections.  He said that the elections mark an important step forward in Afghanistan’s first democratic transition of power.

The millions of women and men who cast their ballots are a testament to the courage and the commitment of Afghans to exercise their rights and shape their future.  The Secretary-General welcomes their momentous achievement.  Afghans braved threats and intimidation to exercise their right to vote, and in doing so, they have sent a powerful message that the perpetrators of violence cannot win.

Also over the weekend, the members of the Security Council put out a press statement welcoming the holding of the elections in Afghanistan.  The members of the Council reiterated the importance of these historic elections to Afghanistan’s transition and democratic development.

**Solomon Islands

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that more than 20 people have been confirmed dead in the Solomon Islands due to heavy rains which have caused flash flooding.  Many people are missing and more than 50,000 people have been affected.

The Government is leading the response with the support of the Red Cross, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and donors.  They are working together to help 10,000 people in evacuation centres around the capital, Honiara.  Aid agencies, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), are sending shelter, health and food supplies.

**Press Conferences

And last, at 12:30 p.m. in this room tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Afaf Konja, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, on the Joint Event of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on “The Role of Partnerships in the Implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.

And that’s it for me.  Any questions, yes?

Question: [inaudible] Syrian food rations have been cut due to a shortage of funds?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we have been worried about the shortage of funds, which is causing different agencies to cut basic rations.  At the same time, we have been imploring for money, and some additional assistance has been coming in.  In particular, today I can say that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Director, Rashid Khalikov, thanked the Government and people of Kuwait at a ceremony in Geneva today for their sustained and generous support to humanitarian operations to support the Syrian people.  Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang will address a second ceremony in New York this afternoon.  At the two ceremonies, seven United Nations humanitarian agencies and the International Organization for Migration will receive cheques totalling $204.5 million from the Government of Kuwait to support the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis, and so we are hoping that will help with some of the problems, but we do need more funds all around.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Speaking of Syria, there are reports that in the last week or so there were attacks in suburbs of Damascus with a certain chemical weapon that incapacitates, doesn’t kill.  Does the UN have any confirmation about the nature of that weapon and whether there were, and about those attacks?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we do not.  As you know there haven’t been, the work of the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]-UN Joint Mission on the ground is basically to ensure the destruction and the removal of chemical weapons from the country.  They are not an investigation body, but they have been monitoring the situation in Syria; we don’t have any confirmations of attacks.  They have conveyed to us in recent weeks that there have been different charges and counter-charges, but there’s nothing solid to confirm in terms of attacks.

Question:  But since, as you said, the job of the OPCW-UN Mission is to eliminate, to take all the, this is a weapon that, at least, as far as I know, hasn’t been described before, so is there any thinking that there might be other weapons that Syrians haven’t reported on?

Deputy Spokesman:  The work of the Mission, as you know, when it started its work last fall, they went through a thorough effort of verifying the chemical stocks that Syria has.  At this point, they have verified the destruction or removal of more than half, basically a little bit over 53, 54 per cent of the chemical weapons material, and they are working now to complete the rest.  Yes, but they verified that declaration and you’re aware of that, that was a few months ago. 

Question:  [inaudible]  These reports are talking about a new type of weapon, which obviously wasn’t declared or that wasn’t known at the time or was developed since then.  I don’t know, but either way, is that something that is part of the job of the OPCW-UN Mission?

Deputy Spokesman:  If they were to believe that they need to take more different materials on they will inform us of that at that point.  At this stage, they are proceeding on the work that they’ve done, which they believe to be the work of destroying all of the reported verified chemical weapons material.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  On the same subject, Seymour Hersh, in his recent article about chemical weapons in Syria, spoke about a conspiracy and a cover-up, and he referred to specific reports about the involvement of the Turkish Government on the top level in this conspiracy.  And the cover-up by some reports here, US reports, regarding the prevalence of the chemical weapons in Syria and who’s involved in that.  What is the United Nations doing about such allegations, which are very serious, and the case of immunity here — people who can get away with such crimes using weapons as… for deceit and killing Syrian people and then blame someone else for that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you are aware, the work by Dr. Åke Sellström and his team was to determine whether or not chemical weapons had been used.  They did not have a mandate to determine who had used them and, in fact, they did not identify who had used them.  So we have not put the blame on any particular party.  We’re aware of this report, as of others that have placed the blame on one side or another.  That was not the work done by the UN team, however.

Question:  A follow-up on that; well Turkey, in particular, arrested 10 terrorists from Al-Nusra who were bringing civilian aircrafts from Libya, sarin gas, which is important gas as you well know.  What did the United Nations do?  What about the case of accountability here?  Anyone perpetrated such a crime should be made accountable; how does the United Nations deal with that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you are aware, we are trying to destroy all the chemical weapons inside Syria and, of course, we’ve repeatedly urged all countries, in the region and outside, more broadly beyond the region, not to contribute to the further militarization of the conflict in Syria.  And we continue to hold to that call.  Sorry, a number of people have questions.  Asma?

Question:  In Ukraine… [inaudible] pro-Russian demonstrations, a couple days ago and they wanted to join Russia like Crimea [inaudible].  What is the role of the United Nations in light of the escalation of the crisis?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, I can say that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the heightened instability in eastern Ukraine over the weekend.  He urges all with responsibility and influence over the situation to defuse tensions and encourage all to express themselves peacefully to calm the situation.  Yes, Pam?

Question: Yes, follow-up to that, can you tell us if any of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] and UN observers are in that area of eastern Ukraine where this has taken place?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that there are UN monitors in a number of these areas; one second.  What I can say is that all international staff members on the UN’s human rights mission have been deployed.  Field offices have been established in Lviv, Odessa, Donetsk and Kharkhiv.  And national staff members are currently being hired.

Question: [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have fresh reports beyond, of course, what I’ve just read.  Yes, Yoshita?

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary-General or the UN have any message for the people of India as they begin their national elections today?  It’s the biggest, largest democratic exercise that is being undertaken now for the next few weeks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, simply that the Secretary-General is viewing the elections with great interest, of course, this is one of, this is regularly one of the large exercises in the entire world, and we hope it will go through peacefully and successfully.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, Farhan.  I wanted to ask you about these memos, including by Under-Secretary-General Ladsous, leaked by Aicha Elbasri of the former Spokesman of UNAMID. I wanted to ask specifically about the incident in March 2013 where the kidnapping took place.  I had asked here in this room about it and your office had said you were checking back with them.  And a memo has emerged from Mr. Ladsous to Mr. Chambas of 10 April 2013, making references to reports being made that he was still unclear.  One, I wanted to know what’s your response — what was ever done, actually done, to ensure — what were the findings?  What were the… I have seen Mr. Ladsous’ statement, but what were the actual findings about this incident, about the peacekeepers that were involved, and basically, what more can you say about it?  Seems to be that Mr. Ladsous and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] were saying things here in New York that were not, or tend to be disproved by some of the memos that have been released, including by Radio Dabanga and Foreign Policy.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first off, of course I don’t have a comment on the leaked memos.  We’ll try to follow up and see what was done regarding the specific March 2013 incident because there was follow-up, some of which I believe we reported here at the time from this podium.  If we have any further details we’ll share it with you then.

Question:   What about the end-of-mission?  I’d also asked about Ms. Elbasri; she seems like she had, before making this leak, she had said, gone public and said that she did an end-of-mission report in which she accused UNAMID of basically covering up crimes in Darfur.  So one, I mean, if you are not commenting on the memos — they have all kinds of markings and stampings — do you contest their veracity?  And two, what can you say about her end-of-mission report?  What steps were taken?  Did DPKO disbelieve her?  Did they make any changes?  And if she tried internally, why can’t she go externally by leaking?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, like I said, I won’t comment.  Trying to make a comment on the veracity is commenting, and I’m not commenting on leaked memos.  Beyond that, regarding the sort of criticisms, part of what we’ve been trying to do is deal with the problems that the mission faces.  In the case of UNAMID, as with every other mission, there is tension between the necessity to preserve the consent and good will of the host Government required to allow peacekeepers to do their jobs, and the sometimes contradictory imperative to report accurately and candidly on any and all incidents of violence.

UN Peacekeeping is aware of the issues raised, including in this series of articles and foreignpolicy.com, and it takes them very seriously.  As far as that goes, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations launched a strategic review recently to assess UNAMID’s performance in an environment in which new conflict dynamics have emerged and old ones remain unaddressed.  You’ll have seen the special report of the Secretary-General on the strategic review of UNAMID, which was published in February.  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 troops and police contributors.  And so that strategic review has gone to the Security Council, where it has received support from the Security Council.  And we’ll see what we can do to further improve the work of the mission.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, yesterday, Saudi authorities arrested five bloggers just for announcing that they are not happy with their salaries and that the meagre payment they are receiving are not adequate for their families.  And the authorities publicly announced that they are arrested.  What’s the United Nations going to do or the Human Rights Council about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’ll have to look into it. I’ll check with our human rights colleagues what’s being done on that.  Yes?

Question: Two questions:  one has to do with this memo and draft Secretary-General’s bulletin about the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund that I showed you on Friday.  Can you, given that this has been, both by the old union here and by staff in Geneva, has been sent around widely, can you say, is this an accurate depiction of the plan within the Pension Fund?  What’s your response to what I sent you on Friday?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any details on if this is an accurate thing.  As you know, there are a lot of drafts that go through and we’ll have to wait on what the final product looks like.

Question:  And I have one other; I wanted to ask you, this was also something that I wanted to ask on Friday but I’ll ask you now.  It has to do with this story about what so-called Cuban Twitter, i.e., the USAID.  And I know something was asked here, but I want to ask something more specific, which is that, in this extensive expose of the USAID involvement in a faux Twitter in Cuba by the Associated Press, there’s a guy called James Eberhart, who is described basically doing the work of the US Government in terms of setting the thing up, and it turns out that he’s a UN contractor both in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and elsewhere.  And so I wanted to know this, very specifically, what is the UN’s response to this kind of blurring?  Does it have any problem with repeat contractor of them playing a sort of surreptitious semi-intelligence role in setting up communications systems in some countries that are actually funded by other countries? 

Deputy Spokesman:  I won’t have any comment on the situation regarding the Twitter account in Cuba one way or the other.

Question:  Is Mr. Eberhart still a contractor of the UN?  Can you check that out?  There are two instances…

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t know whether he is, but in any case, our contractors are firms, it’s not individuals necessarily.  Yes?

Question:  In Za’atari camp in Jordan, the refugees there are treated like concentration camps.  They are not allowed to go anywhere, and recently in the past 48 hours, there were attacks against them by the police and over 20 were injured because they were protesting that they are confined there.  They cannot go anywhere and they are not free to travel around.  

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we’ve been doing our best to work with the Government of Jordan in providing for people in Za’atari.  As you know, Za’atari itself has been overcrowded and what we’re trying to do is set up a different camp nearby in Jordan, and so, we’re continuing with that.  Regarding the latest efforts, the UN refugee agency continues to monitor the conditions of people in the Za’atari camp and tries to make sure that their basic needs and their basic rights are respected.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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