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

17 April 2014

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

17 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.

**South Sudan

The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s attack on civilians and United Nations peacekeepers in the UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] protection-of-civilians site in Bor, in the capital of Jonglei State, in South Sudan.  This attack on a location where civilians are being protected by the United Nations is a serious escalation.  The Secretary-General reminds all parties that any attack on United Nations Peacekeepers is unacceptable and constitutes a war crime.  The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and pledges all possible support to those wounded in the attack.

The Secretary-General calls on the Government of South Sudan to immediately take steps to ensure the safety of all UNMISS protection-of civilians-sites in South Sudan.  He also calls on all parties to refrain from any actions or statements that could further escalate the situation.

And the UN Mission in South Sudan gave us more details on the attack on its base in Bor.  It says that the assailants — a mob of armed civilians — came to the base under the guise of peaceful demonstrators intending to present a petition to UNMISS.  The armed mob forced entry onto the site and opened fire on the internally displaced persons sheltering inside the base. 

The number of people killed or wounded is yet to be confirmed.  The Mission will publish casualty figures once they are ascertained.  At the time of the attack, there were some 5,000 displaced civilians in the protection-of-civilians site inside the base.  We do, however, already know that dozens of internally displaced persons were wounded in the attack and are receiving medical attention at the UN compound’s clinic.  Two UN peacekeepers sustained injuries repelling the mob.

The statement is available on our website, and there is more on this on the Mission’s website, on UNMISS’s website.

Also from South Sudan, in Unity State, the UN Mission says it is gravely concerned about the fighting that has erupted since Monday.  It condemns these renewed hostilities in the strongest possible terms as serious violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement.

As a result of the fighting, the number of internally displaced persons in the UNMISS compound has risen to over 12,000 since Monday.  The Mission says that continued fighting will only exacerbate the already dire situation for the civilian population and calls on both parties to fully comply with the cessation of hostilities agreement that they signed under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, otherwise known as IGAD.


Moving on to Kenya, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is concerned over the arrest and detention of over 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers.  UNHCR says that they were rounded up during counter-terrorism operations launched by Kenyan security forces in Nairobi since the beginning of the month targeting undocumented foreigners.  Most of those who have been arrested are Somalis, 82 of whom were deported to Mogadishu on 9 April 2014.

The agency says that it has received access to the Kasarani stadium and police cells where those arrested have been held and where UNHCR was able to secure the release of a number holding refugee documentation.  But UNHCR is disturbed by reports of harassment and other abuses and also says that the conditions at Kasarani stadium and in the police stations are overcrowded, and sanitary conditions are inadequate.

The Agency has welcomed the assurances it has received from the Government of Kenya that no registered refugee or asylum-seeker will be deliberately deported, but it remains concerned that others could also face threats if returned. 

** Syria

In a statement that we issued earlier today, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that it is deeply regrettable that negotiations regarding civilians and fighters trapped in the Old City of Homs and the inhabitants of the Al-Waer neighbourhood were brutally stopped.

Mr. Brahimi said that violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed so close at hand.  He added that it is alarming that Homs, where people have suffered so much in the past three years, is again the theatre of death and destruction.  The Representative urged all parties to return to the negotiating table and complete the deal, which was on the verge of being signed.


And from Vienna, a memorial service was held today at UN Headquarters there for Clément Gorrissen and Simon Davis, who were killed in Puntland, on 7 April in an attack by an unidentified gunman at Galkayo airport.  Gorrissen, a French citizen, and Simon Davis, a UK citizen, worked for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and were on mission in Somalia to build local capacities to address illicit flows of money.  UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov addressed the open-air service, which brought together family, friends and colleagues of the departed, and rang the Peace Bell in remembrance of the two fallen staff.

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, our colleagues from the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) say that displacement figures continue to rise in the country.  More than 644,000 people have been displaced by the conflict so far, with over 200,000 in Bangui alone.  Humanitarian organizations have identified two additional camps hosting some 10,000 people in the capital.  The Office also says that, recently, more people in various provinces across the country and in Bangui’s PK5 neighbourhood fled their homes after their houses and villages were looted and burned to the ground by armed groups.

Despite the insecurity, humanitarian organizations are reaching people with life-saving assistance.  Since the beginning of April, the World Food Programme and its partners have distributed food to over 70,000 people.  They also continue to pre-position food stocks before the start of the rainy season.

** Côte d'Ivoire

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is in Côte d'Ivoire today, where he was scheduled to meet with President Alassane Ouattara before concluding his four-day visit to West Africa tomorrow, with meetings in Guinea, including with President Alpha Condé.  Mr. Feltman also visited Senegal and Mauritania on this trip.

In Senegal, he met with President Macky Sall, and they discussed the elections in Guinea-Bissau and the need for the international community to remain engaged.  While in Senegal, Mr. Feltman also met with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali.  Mr. Feltman encouraged the President to pursue efforts aimed at promoting national dialogue and reconciliation in Mali.

In Mauritania, he met with President Abdel Aziz and Foreign Minister Ahmed Ould Teguedi.  He congratulated the President on his election as Chairperson of the African Union and reiterated the UN’s commitment to a strategic partnership between the two organizations.  They discussed the forthcoming presidential election in Mauritania and the ongoing national dialogue, for which Mr. Feltman offered the UN’s support.  They also spoke about the implementation of the UN’s integrated strategy for the Sahel.


And I was asked earlier in the corridor about reports of Chinese weapons bound for the UN Chinese peacekeeping troops in Mali, and I can say that the UN Mission in Mali confirms that there has been no missing shipment of weapons, equipment and goods destined to the Chinese contingent serving with the Mission.  This is a batch of containers that had travelled to Mali by road from Côte d’Ivoire, where they had arrived by sea in November.

**Palais des Nations

And lastly, Matthieu — concernant la question posée hier sur la rénovation du Palais des Nations à Genève, j’ai les détails suivants:

L'Assemblée générale a approuvé en décembre dernier le principe de la rénovation du Palais, dont le coût est estimé à 830 millions de francs suisses. L'Assemblée générale a demandé au Secrétariat de chercher des sources de financement innovantes, afin de réduire la facture finale pour les États membres. Parmi les solutions, une aide du secteur privée est en effet envisagée.

That’s it.  I discovered Matthew’s fluent French skills yesterday.  No, the question had been about private contributions to the renovations to the Palais des Nations in Geneva, and our colleagues in Geneva tell us that as part of the General Assembly resolution, the Secretariat had been asked to look at innovative financing opportunities and one of those is — would be — financing from the private sector.  And this is one of the options that is being looked at.  So these things are being looked at, but there’s, as far as I’m aware, there are no companies that have committed, and this is options that are being looked at as part of innovative financing. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Since you just read it out, will the idea be like Global Compact members or any kind of screens?

Spokesman:  You know, I think options are being looked at and I would hope that they are being done in the most transparent way possible.  Back to English, Mr. Klein. 

Question:  I won’t use my high school French.  But I do want to follow up on the General Assembly resolution, which was passed several weeks ago regarding Crimea, and in response to several questions about how the Secretariat might implement the guidance in that resolution, which had said that the annexation of Crimea was invalid.  I’d like to find out the progress of the review by the Secretariat of that resolution, and how it would impact the way in which the Secretariat, for example, would describe Crimea in UN official documents, on maps, etcetera.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I mean I think it’s an ongoing process, but as we’ve said we are being guided by that resolution.  But if I have any updates, I will share them with you.  Yes, Lou?  If you’re not ready…

Correspondent:  Regarding the Ivory Coast weapons issue and the Chinese weapons that didn’t go missing en route to Mali, maybe as a follow-up if you could find out whether the sanctions committee — the Ivory Coast sanctions committee — was notified properly about all shipments going through Ivory Coast en route to Mali, because this is an issue that has been raised by the Group of Experts, and I realize you are not going to want to comment on the Group of Experts thing itself, I just like to be clear. 

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean what I can tell you is that we are engaged with the Secretariat of the sanctions committee to seek a standing waiver for the transfer through Ivory Coast of arms and equipment under UN embargo.  That’s intended solely for use by the UN Mission, and this will, however, require a provision in the relevant UN Security Council resolution. 

Question:  That would be a blanket sanctions waiver specifically related to arms?

Spokesman:  My understanding — specifically to the transfer through Ivory Coast.  Yes ma’am?

Question:  About Geneva III [inaudible] said in Peking that he is looking forward that Geneva III will be confirmed soon, and I think that Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi met with John Kerry, and I wanted to know if they discussed certain steps will be taken in concerning to Geneva III. 

Spokesman:  I am not aware of a meeting between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Brahimi, but I will check if that’s actually happened.  Obviously, you know, the contacts are continuing, and I think in the statement that I just read out from Mr. Brahimi, his call to all the parties to get back to the table is very clear.  But until we have something to announce, I won’t be able to announce it. 

Question:  About the peace in the Middle East, today, I think they are trying to continue negotiations, but the Palestinian side, the Palestinian official said that the negotiation will not be productive without releasing the prisoners, which Israel promised that they will release them, sorry.  So what’s your comment on this?

Spokesman:  I think that we would continue to urge both parties to live up to their commitments and engage in constructive talks.  Karim?

Question:  I have a question on Burundi, and I’m sorry for my colleagues, but I need a sound bite in French, so I’m going to ask the question in French.  Le Burundi a décidé d’expulser Paul Debbie du PNUD.  Je voudrais savoir quelle est la réaction du Secrétaire général à cette décision d’expulser Paul Debbie et si vous considérez une réponse à cette décision du Burundi?

SpokesmanNous regrettons la décision du Gouvernement d’avoir déclaré M. Debbie comme persona non grata. Nous allons adresser cette question directement avec le Gouvernement du Burundi par les voies diplomatiques normales.

What I said is that, we regret the decision by the Government of Burundi to declare a UN staff member persona non grata.  We’ll address this matter with the Government of Burundi through usual diplomatic channels.  Yes, let me make a round of first calls and then, I tend not to look left.  I’m sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  Regarding South Sudan, do you have nationalities of the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] staff injured in Bor?

Spokesman:  I do not have the nationalities, but once people have been notified, we are able to give you more details.  Yes?

Question:  Also on South Sudan, who did it?  Something called the White Army?  Are they youths?  Are they militia?

Spokesman:  Well, they were described by our colleagues as armed civilian mob.  You know once the shooting starts, it’s hard to say exactly who these people are, but we do believe regardless of who they are that the Government of South Sudan has a responsibility to protect UN premises, and our colleague Toby Lanzer, Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, also said today that there’s really no excuse for any direct attacks on civilians or on those who are risking their own lives to protect civilians.  Masood?

Question:  Yes sir, on this report that Iran has degraded its weapon, I mean the… its nuclear fuel as demanded by the international community, can that be verified?  And also, in that case, will the Secretary-General recommend degrading the Iranian sanctions also? 

Spokesman:  I think that’s a question at this point best asked to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].  

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Burundi.  The… it’s pretty clear that the persona non grata expulsion is related to this 3 April cable that I’d asked you previously about because a paragraph of that says, ‘the chief security adviser conveyed the following…’ and described in detail the passing out of weapons to a youth wing of CNDD [Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie] party, where it took place, all of that.  So I wanted to know is, you wouldn’t at that time even acknowledge the cable, but what has been done in the two weeks since Debbie provided all these details by the UN system to verify… I understand that there were various statements made, have any of these things been investigated?  And given the link to this cable, can you now confirm the cable and say….

Spokesman:  You know I’m not going to talk about the cable.  What I can tell you is that repeatedly over the last — I lose track of time — over the last two weeks or 10 days, we have brought up this issue with the Burundian authorities.  The allegations that we received, the reports of arming of youth groups.  The Secretary-General brought it up to the Vice-President, Mr. Dieng brought it up to the President and many other officials he met in Burundi and given the seriousness of the allegations, we wanted to share them with the Government.  We shared them with the Security Council, and we called on the Government to investigate these allegations.  It is the primary responsibility of the Government to investigate these actions. We stand ready to support the Government in these investigations, if requested.  But we’ve said that it’s up to the Government to investigate them.  

Question:  But does the Government’s decision to basically throw out of the country the person who made the allegations give you a lot of confidence in the Government’s investigation of the allegations? 

Spokesman:  We would like to see the Government investigate them, and we regret the Government’s decision to expulse, to declare a staff member persona non grata.  Oleg, first round still. 

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, yesterday Assistant Secretary-General announced that the next report on human rights in Ukraine is going to be out on 15 May.  I just wanted to confirm is that true, that it’s going to be focused on the situation on Eastern Europe and which timeframe will….

Spokesman:  I have absolutely no reason to doubt what the Assistant Secretary-General Mr. Šimonović said.  So he said it will be out on 15 May, I think he did say where it would be focused.  What he says is true.  No, I don’t mean to take it lightly — I don’t what else to tell you.  Obviously, we have teams on the ground and they will report back through the channels, and we will issue another report.  But I think in his presentation, and in the report itself that was issued earlier this week, it’s clear what the next steps are in the reporting mechanism.  Masood and then Evelyn.

Question:  Yes, on this State Department report yesterday on Afghanistan said that the situation in Afghanistan, even after the election… after the American took leave, they will not be able to govern the country properly because of the security situation over there.  Does the Secretary-General’s representative over there agree with the assessment given by the Americans of the situation… security situation in Afghanistan now?

Spokesman:  You know, I haven’t seen the State Department statement, but obviously the security situation in Afghanistan is what it is.  It is what we can all see, and we’re doing what we can to work with the Afghan Government in order to improve it.  Evelyn and then Joe and then Matthew and then Carla. 

Question:  Ok, on Homs, do you have any more details?  It seems the Syrian is bombing?  Do you know who’s fighting who?  And I assume from what Mr. Brahimi the evacuation has stopped. 

Spokesman:  No, I think on Homs, Mr. Brahimi has said how alarming the situation is there now and how sad it is that the civilians who have suffered so much are again in the centre of the fighting.  I don’t have any details as to who is perpetrating the violence, but if I do get anything, I will let you know. 


Question:  Yes, Ambassador Churkin yesterday during the open Security Council meeting on Ukraine launched a pretty caustic attack on the balance of the UN’s human rights report on Ukraine.  He called it biased and it ignored information regarding the supposed persecution of Russian speaking minorities and so forth.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment and response to…kind of… back up institutionally the UN’s objectivity and its findings because it was under attack in the open media? 

Spokesman:  We back up the UN’s objectivity and its findings.  I think there is no doubt as to the support of the Secretary-General for the human rights mission in Ukraine.  It was a mission that he pushed hard to deploy quickly.  It deployed quickly; they did a very quick and thorough work, and it’s the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we have no reason to doubt its content.   

Question:  Well in a report, at least in the New York Times yesterday, President Putin was quoted as having told the Secretary-General in a telephone conversation that he expected condemnation of the… what he characterized as the unconstitutional actions of the Kyiv Government in dealing with the takeover of certain Government buildings in the east.  Now, can you confirm that that conversation did take place and what the Secretary-General’s response to it was?  

Spokesman:  I did — I issued a readout of that phone call two days ago. 

I don’t have that readout here, but we can check the records. 

Question:  I don’t recall that specificity…

Spokesman:  No, but it was put out…

Question:  I mean that level of specificity I don’t think was there, so is there any…?

Spokesman:  I have nothing beyond the readout. 

Question:  According to the report on Ukraine issued this week by the High Commissioner for the Human Rights, misinformation propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgency [inaudible].  Did the Secretary-General have any specific reaction to this report based on information collected by Ivan Šimonović during the two missions to Ukraine? 

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I think what I just said is that we stand by the report and support it and it is the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it’s not for us to comment on it except to stand by it.  Matthew and then Masood.  

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Western Sahara and also about Darfur, if it’s possible.  On Western Sahara, there’s reports of both a crackdown on a protest in a letter by the President of… the Secretary-General… sorry… about the Secretary-General about a protest in Laayoune on Tuesday where they said that there was a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.  There’s some YouTube video of it, but I’m wondering since… since the media there is quoting from the letter, can you confirm that such a letter has been received?  

Spokesman:  If I could right now, I would but I can’t so I’ll check. 

Question:  Ok, so… I guess is it possible that… is Mr. Ross going to do a stakeout?  Is there some way to…

Spokesman:  I don’t believe that he is.  Masood, did you have a question?  Masood?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Russian Foreign Minister Mr. Lavrov has just said that the international community has decided on a joint road map to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about this?

Spokesman:  No, I think if just said it while I was here, I am creative but I cannot do play by play diplomatic commentary.  So let me see what he said, and then we can react, but I can’t — if he said it in the last 20 minutes, I will trust you, but I can’t really comment on it.  Please.

Question:  Any update on the Palestinian letters?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  No, nothing new?

Spokesman:  No, nothing new.  Oleg?

Question:  The Ukrainians — back to Ukraine — the Ukrainian side today adopted some measures against Russian citizens that forbid coming to Ukraine anybody, any man between 16 and 60 years old.  This measure was condemned by Russian officials.  Does Secretary-General have anything to say about it? 

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen.  If I have something, I will let you know. 

Matthew and then we’ll call it a day. 

Question:  Sure, I wanted to talk about Darfur and Puntland, if it’s possible.  In Dafur…there is… Radio Dabanga is reporting that the Government Rapid Support Forces have killed two in East Jebel Marra in a town called Tangara.  They said that they are in control of the water supply there and blocking… well, restricting movement on roads leading to El Fasher, which is obviously the capital… the headquarters of UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  So I’m wondering if the UNAMID mission or DPKO, particularly in light of recent disclosures, have any report on this …

Spokesman:  I will check, but I don’t have anything with me.  

Question:  And Puntland reports you made this… Puntland has said… which is obviously, a region of Federal Somalia or independent country depending how you look on it, they say they want to tax the UN.  They’ve said the Minister of Taxation has said, we are taxing the UN.  So I wanted to know… I’m pretty sure that they… that that’s not supposed to happen.  Does the UN pay any fees or taxes in the region of Puntland?

Spokesman:  I do not know.  And on that word, I will leave.  Thank you and I’ll find out if I have anything. 

* *** *

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