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

11 April 2014

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

11 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and welcome to the briefing and a special welcome to our friends from NYC.  Welcome, enjoy.

**Secretary-General in Washington

The Secretary-General visited the Pentagon this morning, where he met with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

They discussed US contributions to UN peacekeeping, UN peacekeeping reform and new technology and innovation.  They also discussed the international commitment to Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.

In just a short while, the Secretary-General and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will speak at the Climate Leaders Summit, and the Secretary-General is expected to call on Governments to reach a universal legal climate agreement by next year that is both ambitious and achievable.  He will stress the need for both political and financial investment to deal with climate change, the single greatest threat to a sustainable future.

We'll put out his remarks in Washington later today, and the Secretary-General is expected to return to New York at the end of the day.

** Burundi

Moving on to Burundi, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, wrapped up a two-day visit to Burundi yesterday night.  His visit aimed to assess the situation in the country and hold consultations.

Mr. Dieng told us met with the President, the First Vice-President, the President of the National Human Rights Commission as well as other senior Government officials.  He also met with political party leaders, civil society and media organizations representatives, religious leaders, the diplomatic corps in Bujumbura as well as with United Nations staff present in the country.

From his consultations, the Special Adviser told us that it is clear that there is increasing political tension in the country ahead of the general elections next year.  He received reports of shrinking political space for the opposition, harassment and intimidation of the civil society, human rights defenders and the media.

During his visit, Mr. Dieng called on those he met to take measures to deescalate tensions in the country ahead of the 2015 elections.

He also raised with the President of Burundi the concerns regarding the alleged arming of youth groups allied with political parties.  He emphasized the need for the Government to take all measures to prevent the country from sliding into violence or incitement to commit violence.  He also encouraged the president to commission an independent investigation into the allegations of the arming of youth groups.

** Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it is extremely concerned about reports of anti-Balaka militiamen preventing civilians from leaving the Central African Republic and attacking them along the way.

Over the past two weeks, the Agency’s staff in Cameroon has been seeing refugees arrive with wounds from machetes or gunshots.  New arrivals say that anti-Balaka militias have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing them to wade through the bush for two to three months before reaching the border.

UNHCR says that an average of 10,000 people now cross weekly from the Central African Republic into eastern Cameroon.

The main entry points into Cameroon are no longer accessible due to anti-Balaka activities, forcing people to use alternative routes.  This has caused the number of entry points into Cameroon to grow from 12 to 27 over the last three weeks, making it even more challenging for UNHCR to monitor the border.

The Agency has, with its partners, increased the number of mobile clinics at entry points to provide emergency care as refugees arrive.  It is also supporting public health centres overwhelmed by the number of refugees, as well as the condition of those refugees.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that humanitarian organizations are warning of a serious food crisis later this year as violence, displacement and general insecurity continue to hamper people’s ability to produce food.

The looming rainy season could also make roads impassable, limiting aid organizations’ ability to reach people. 

Our humanitarian colleagues say that an estimated 7 million people in South Sudan are considered to be at risk of food insecurity, including 3.7 million people at high risk.

Humanitarian organizations plan to reach some 3.2 million of the most vulnerable people with assistance by June.  They have so far assisted 1 million people across the country, including many people who have been directly impacted or affected by the conflict.

And tomorrow in Washington D.C., the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will co-chair a Humanitarian Ministerial Stakeholders Meeting with the Administrator of USAID [United States Agency for International Development], Rajiv Shah, as well as the European Union’s, Kristalina Georgieva.  The Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is expected to share information on that tomorrow.  

** Syria

On Syria, just to flag Valerie Amos condemned yesterday’s car bomb attacks on a shopping street in Homs — which killed more than 20 people and injured more than 100.

She said that these attacks remind us again of the contempt the parties have for human life.

She added that attacks on civilians are war crimes and may also amount to crimes against humanity.  The use of car bombs, barrel bombs, aerial bombardments and mortars in residential areas, with no distinction between military targets and civilian, are violations of international humanitarian law.

She called on all parties to the conflict to commit now to uphold international humanitarian law.

**Economic Commission for Africa Report

The new report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission was launched today right here at UN Headquarters.  The report stresses the need for industrialization in the continent, stating it is a precondition for Africa to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

The report, entitled “Dynamic industrial policy in Africa: innovative institutions, effective processes and flexible mechanisms,” analyses why Africa failed to transform its industrial landscape.

And that report is available online, on the website of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

**International Day of Human Space Flight

And lastly, as our Friday feature, as you may not know, tomorrow will be the fifty-third anniversary of the first human space flight, which was carried out by Yuri Gagarin, opening the way for exploration that has generated important benefits for humanity.

Tomorrow, the International Day of Human Space Flight celebrates the beginning of a new era for space exploration, reaffirms the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and the aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs is arranging a Twitter chat tomorrow with Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, a veteran of two NASA (United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration) space shuttle missions and the first Japanese to go on a spacewalk in 1997.

And more information on this event is available on the website of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.

Back here on earth in this room, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, in the past, Secretary-General, day before yesterday, condemned the killing of 22 people in Islamabad.  But that particular strike has been going on in Pakistan for last, one year.  In Quetta in Pakistan, if you recollect about 100 people were killed.  For certain communities it is a state of siege, does the Secretary-General intend to send his or ask the United Nations Special [Adviser] on genocide to go and visit Pakistan to at least investigate see… where all this is coming from?  Where is this all being funded from?  And it’s never ending; it’s been almost a year.  One thousand people have died.

Spokesman:  I think as you saw, the Secretary-General is very concerned by the violence and condemned it in very direct terms, and it’s obviously a situation that we continue to monitor through the UN office on the ground and through our political office here, but I have no further specific information. 

Question:  The thing is will he or… consider sending [inaudible]

Spokesman:  When we have something to announce on that end, we will.

Question:  On a relevant issue the attack on Homs yesterday was announced and claimed by Al Nusra Front, which is financed by many Gulf States openly and which are helped through Turkey.  They are crossing the border freely through Turkey bringing weapons, and they attack and control a certain area near the coast of Latakia, which is threatening a large area.  What’s the… the message from Amos does not specify this group, which is nominated as a terrorist group.  And also what message should the United Nations send to the States which are helping this front to thrive and practice its carnage as they do?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General and his senior advisers have spoken often on the need for States that have influence to halt the flow of arms into Syria and to apply positive pressure on those places where they can apply pressure, and the call for the stop of flow of arms I think has been repeated and clear by the Secretary-General. 

Question:  How about the stations that really portray such an act like Homs yesterday as courageous or brave?  This was aired by many TV stations…

Spokesman:  I think that United Nations and the Secretary-General have condemned in no uncertain terms, the actions against civilians either through car bombs, barrel bombs or any sort of bombing, and so we would clearly not share that assessment.  Matthew?

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted to ask about the Secretary-General’s position on Western Sahara.  There’s an advanced copy of the report, the Secretary-General’s report that was circulated that would be ultimately a more formal document, but it seems to say the goal is a human rights monitoring mechanism, and now there are reports that that’s going be changed.  The word mechanism will drop, and I wanted to know, how does this… can you describe what the process is on reports such as this that are ascribed to the Secretary-General.  Who has input into them? Once they are sent around are they final, and if they are not, who… why… who has input in this case to change them? 

Spokesman:  All Secretary-General’s reports are ultimately signed off by the Secretary-General’s Office.  Any relevant department or mission would have input into it but a report is a final report once it’s final.  So I would ask you to wait a day or two until the report is issued, and then we can... you know nothing is final until it’s final. 

Question:  Right, but I mean because… it’s just to be… to some it’s …the consultations would be on the 17th, everything is moving… this is the month to do it.  So I wanted to know, since there is… there is a document that’s ascribed to the Secretary-General that says monitoring mechanisms, I just wanted to ask you, does Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon favour human rights monitoring mechanisms? 

Spokesman:  Again, once the report is out, and it’s final, it would be the Secretary-General’s report.  Until the report is out, we are not going to comment on it.  And once it’s out, it is the Secretary-General’s word, so there’s really nothing to add.  Yes sir?

Question:  [inaudible] people already hungry or do they not know where their next meal is coming from?

Spokesman:  I think it’s a whole wide range of issues.  Part of it is because of displacement and the violence; farmers are not able to plant crops.  So violence today is an investment in no food tomorrow — in a sense.  The immediate insecurity makes it challenging for people to reach towns or villages where they can get food.  The humanitarian community is stretched, very stretched in terms of feeding the people that we have in our care in UN camps.  The appeal is, I think I had mentioned that yesterday, is funded at less than a quarter, less than 25 per cent, I will double check for you.  So that’s what food insecurity means.  Yes sir?  

[The Spokesman later said that aid activities were only 32 per cent funded.]

Question:  The Secretary-General’s meeting with Mr. Hagel, did the topic of his recent trip to East Asia come up at all? 

Spokesman:  The readout is what I have, so if there’s more, I’ll let you know, but those were the broad issues they discussed.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, thank you Stéphane.  In Homs, do we know who was shooting at whom?  Who dropped barrel bombs?  Who started it?  Do you have any more details? 

Spokesman:  The details is what I have.  Our huge preoccupation is who was hurt and those were civilians.  Those were attacks in residential areas, and those have to stop.  There seems to be a challenge of not being able to distinguish between civilian and military targets.  And the civilians are the ones who’ve been paying the price.  Yes sir?

Question:  This is Iranian TV.  I want to ask you about the new Iranian Ambassador in the United Nations, as you know after Senate now, the House [inaudible] accepted this ban against this ambassador.  United Nations still has the same position?  This is a bilateral issue between Iran and US or …?

Spokesman:  Yes, it continues to be.  We have not been officially démarched or approached by either side, and we remain hopeful that it will be solved on a bilateral issue.  Yes?

Question:  I was away so congratulations on your appointment. 

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  The questions is that this force about Central African Republic, will it be raised through redeployment from other peacekeeping missions or are some countries have been contacted, and could you share with us which countries have been invited to contribute troops? 

Spokesman:  It will be raised partly through the rehatting of the African Union forces that are on the ground.  And it will be raised partly through new troop contributors or new troops from our troop contributors.  They will be meeting, I think in the next week or so or few days, organized by the Peacekeeping Department with troop-contributing countries.  Obviously, it is critical that as many countries who have the capacity help us in providing troops, in providing transport and all sorts of other logistical help so that the mission is at as a strong strength as possible when it officially takes over on 15 September.  But putting together a peacekeeping mission in the CAR is an extremely difficult challenge, both from the situation on the ground in terms of security, but even the resources and the logistics on the ground of setting up a peacekeeping mission in the middle of a landlocked country in the heart of Africa.  There are a lot of logistical hurdles, and we’ll need a lot of help from our troop-contributing countries and from Member States.    

Question:  But you don’t have a list [inaudible]

Spokesman:  As I said, there would be a more formal meeting with troop-contributing countries in the days ahead. 

Question:  Excuse me, the second part of question because you read it fast [inaudible]… responsibility of the UN about the agreement between UN and US for coming in new ambassador, what is responsibility?

Spokesman:  The host country agreement is clear, it’s a public document.  I will encourage you to take a look at it where the responsibilities of all sides are laid out.  That’s the agreement.  Obviously, on this particular case, I don’t want to comment because we have not been approached in any way by either the United States or by the Islamic Republic of Iran, so for us it remains a bilateral issue that we very much hope will be solved.  Matthew, and then I’ll go back to Nizar.

Question:  Yea, I want to ask a follow up on Iran nominee, and then I’ll…about Sri Lanka.  But I wanted to, I looked into it, and it looks like in 1988, in the case of Yasser Arafat, the OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] did say publically in a formal UN document, “The host country was and is under an obligation to grant the visa request,” and said there’s no exceptions and so, I wanted to know has anything changed in terms of the UN’s, not just position on the host country agreement, but position on making such a statement between 1988 and now?  Or between Yasser Arafat or this individual or…?

Spokesman:  The host country agreement remains unchanged.  It was signed soon after the creation of the UN when it was decided the United Nations would be headquartered here in New York.  That statement was made after a request for a legal opinion.  So I mentioned on this particular case, we have not been approached by any side.  Sorry, Nizar. 

Question:  The same front, Jabhat Al Nusra has threatened to blow up Aleppo castle, which is one of the most ancient castles in the region.  Is there any attempt in the United Nations to do some contacts with the countries who have some say with this organization to prevent that from happening? 

Spokesman:  I think you raise a very important point.  The protection of Syria’s cultural heritage is something that has been a big focus of Mr. Brahimi’s work, and as you will recall there was a joint statement with Mr. Brahimi and Ms. Bokova, the head of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], so obviously these are the kind of issues that are important to the political process because we know that destroying cultural heritage is just not stones but also wiping out history of a people, and it makes reconstruction that much difficult.  So it is something that is very much on our mind and it remains to call on all the parties to protect Syria’s tremendous cultural heritage.  Yes, in the back.  Go ahead. 

Question:  Does UN have a statement or comment on the ICC [International Criminal Court] judge’s decision or statement that the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] breeched its obligations in allowing Al Bashir of Sudan to enter and not arrest him?

Spokesman:  No, we do not.  Yes ma’am?

Question:  Thank you.  Do we have any recent report on food convoys entering Syria?  How many have succeeded in entering Syria since…?

Spokesman:  No, we can try to get something, the latest numbers from our colleagues at OCHA.

Question:  Stéphane, do you have any update on the stalled Middle East peace process?  Has the Secretary-General been able to speak with anybody in Israeli Government?

Spokesman:  No, no particular update to share.  Matthew?

Question:  About Sri Lanka and also about Myanmar.  On Sri Lanka, the Government has been quoted today as saying that it killed three what they called Tamil separatists.  And since this would be the first armed conflict since the 2009 end of the conflict on which the Secretary-General commented so much, I wonder if either the country team or either the Secretariat, what they think about that?  And also what they think of a Government minister there having said that those within Sri Lanka who made testify within the Navi Pillay inquiry that was authorized, would — could be prosecuted for violating the country’s Constitution.  Do you have any view of that?

Spokesman:  I have no particular comment on those incidents because I had not heard them before you mentioned them, but I think the Secretary-General’s position on the inquiry has been stated, and you can go back to the text already mentioned.  Nizar? 

Question:  Next year could be the centennial of genocide against the Armenians, which took place during World War I.  Is the United Nations planning to do something anniversary for the centennial?

Spokesman:  I have no information on that.  Evelyn?

Question:  Stéphane, did the Secretary-General speak to anybody about budget cuts in peacekeeping?

Spokesman:  This is an issue that comes up regularly, the full funding of peacekeeping missions.  There are increasing number of needs, and we would hope that all Member States that have the capacity to do so, contribute. 

Question:  Did he speak to anybody about it?

Spokesman:  I have nothing particular on that in the last day or so.  Matthew, and then we’ll stop.

Question:  Follow-up on that, and I want to ask this Myanmar question if I could.  But just on peacekeeping, I noticed that Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous is slated to meet with Wendy Sherman of the US State Department this afternoon, and I wonder, I don’t know if you got a readout of the Eliasson meetings, is it possible to know whether… if for example… the recent revelations about Darfur kind of troubling by the former Spokesperson describing you know, mis-public reporting.  Will this be raised?  Will this… what’s Mr. Ladsous agenda in meeting with ….

Spokesman:  Let’s see if we can get a readout, and I do owe you a readout on the Eliasson stuff.  Yes ma’am?

Question:  Can you give us further information about… [inaudible]. Can you give us further information about the role which UN plays in Ukraine now?

Spokesman:  Sorry, I didn’t understand.  The role that UN is playing?  Obviously, the Secretary-General and the UN remain very much engaged on trying to find a political solution.  There are contacts at various levels, and our country team remains on the ground.  Let’s stop here.

Question: [inaudible] I’m taking, I’m just going to wait for the comment on the census, but there’s a new development there that has been widely reported, which is that a journalist called Zaw Pe was arrested by the Government for “disturbing a government official”.  And in response, many of the newspapers have printed out a blank front page, but so it’s viewed that given the sort of transition of Myanmar does the UN or Mr. Nambiar, if he doesn’t have it now, maybe… can you ask him… does he have any response to the government locking this journalist up? 

Spokesman:  Thank you. We’ll allow our NYU [ New York University] students who have been silent to ask questions once you’ve all left.

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