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

23 April 2014

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

23 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.

** Syria

In a joint statement, the heads of five UN humanitarian agencies said that their year-old appeal for access to people in need in Syria has gone largely unanswered.  The humanitarian situation, they say, deteriorates day after day.  And for the civilians remaining in the cities of Aleppo and the Old City of Homs, which are experiencing heavy fighting, the worst days seem yet to come.

The agency heads called on all parties to enable unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need, using all available routes, either across lines inside Syria or across its borders.  They also called on the parties to lift the siege on civilians currently being imposed by all sides, and to end indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilians by the Government and opposition groups.

The statement was signed by the heads of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN refugee agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO).

**Security Council

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Mali, Bert Koenders, told the Security Council this morning that Mali had made significant strides and that the support of the international community has been critical in this regard.

He added that the risks and difficulties of the road ahead should not be underestimated.  He said that an inclusive political dialogue remained the first priority and had to start as soon as possible.

Mr. Koenders called for a sustained commitment by all stakeholders to consolidate peace and stability in Mali.  He added that this was all the more important as the security situation in the northern regions remains very fragile.  His full statement is available in our office.

Following its open meeting, the Security Council held consultations on Mali and is now holding consultations on the situation in Syria.  And this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the situation in South Sudan, and we expect them to be briefed by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Ladsous.

**South Sudan

Moving to South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues say that humanitarian organizations have scaled up emergency assistance to communities affected by the recent violence in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity State.

UN agencies and partners are providing assistance, including food and medical supplies, to tens of thousands of people sheltering in the UN peacekeeping base there.

Our humanitarian colleagues at [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] also add that water and sanitation conditions at the base remain critical, with people receiving between 1 and 3 litres per person per day.  Aid agencies are working to improve the quantity of clean water in the area, and they have constructed a waterbore hole and continue to set up sanitation stations for treatment.

Humanitarian organizations are also extremely concerned by the safety of close to 5,000 people sheltering in the peacekeeping base in Bor, in Jonglei State, where the situation remains tense.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the head of the [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the country (MONUSCO) has pledged MONUSCO’s support for the upcoming elections.

During a visit at the Independent National Electoral Commission, Martin Kobler said that UN support will focus on technical and logistic assistance.  He also stressed the need for elections to be properly funded and planned.  And we have more on the Mission’s website.

**UNESCO/Mobile Phones

And lastly, from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), a report issued today by UNESCO finds that mobile technology helps to fight illiteracy, even in areas of extreme poverty.

The study conducted in seven developing countries found that a large number of people read stories to children from mobile phones, and that many neo- and semi-literate people use their mobile phones to search for text that is appropriate to their reading ability.

Worldwide, 774 million people cannot read or write, and illiteracy can often be traced to the lack of books.  At the same time, the International Telecommunications Union estimates that of the 7 billion people on Earth, 6 billion have now access to mobile phones.

**Guests at Noon Briefing

And lastly, I will be joined shortly by Nicholas Kay, the UN Representative in Somalia, as well as Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia and the Head of the AU Mission in that country.

And then we will be followed by Afaf Konja, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.

And tomorrow, my guest will be Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, will brief you on the launch of the Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Violence.

Joe.  He beat you to it, sorry.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Is the Secretary-General yet at the point of invoking the dispute resolution provision of the agreement between the UN and the Host Country, the United States, regarding the Iranian designee for UN Ambassador?  And if not, is he waiting for a determination by the Committee, as seized of the matter, and/or the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  I think this issue is currently being discussed in the Committee as the Chair of that Committee, the Permanent Representative of Cyprus, said yesterday, the Committee remained seized of the issue, and so we are watching what happens in the Committee.

Question:  But, based on past precedent, particularly the dispute involving the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] a number of years ago, in that case I think the Secretary-General had been more proactive in: A; trying to negotiate, and B; determining that there was a dispute, and then it went to the General Assembly.

Spokesman:  I am not going to question your knowledge of what happened in 1988, because I don’t remember in detail what happened in 1988.  But, my understanding is that we had been requested to… formally requested to provide a legal opinion by the Committee.  So, again, I’m doing something I shouldn’t do, which is venturing into an area that may not be fact-filled in my head.  But, the point is that, here, this is… this situation that we are focusing on, this situation is being discussed in Committee, if and when a formal request comes from the Committee, then we would act upon it.  But, currently, it’s in the Committee and that’s where we’re watching it.

Question:  Follow-up?

Spokesman:  Hold on two seconds.  You’ve got to be ready.

Question:  Yes, I am sorry about that.  I was wondering, I want to rephrase my question that I asked yesterday.  I was wondering if, in your opinion, if UN set up a certain criteria for those who want to join UN, for those who want to join Security Council, those who want to join human rights or those who want to send ambassadors here, if UN stick with certain criteria, life of yours and ours, will be better and everything function much better?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I would love to have our lives work better.  I think, you know, the membership of the United Nations is an issue for Member States to regulate.  The issue of requirements are laid out in the Charter which is up to Member States to discuss, so I think we are venturing here into hypotheticals and what would make our life better and easier, and I think there are a lot of things that would, but the fact remains this is a Member State organization.  The Member States decide on the rules they agree on and they agree on the Charter.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Okay, since you are long enough here, Monsieur Dujarric, and you have more than several lives at the United Nations, as far as I do, as well, but can you tell me… do you actually… to follow-up on my colleague previous question about the proactiveness of the Secretary-General, do you remember the time when there… some kind of other discussions of who can be the Permanent Representative in the form or shape of consultations who are happening here?  And do you, what do you say on the case in 1986, before you and before me, when Nora Astorgafrom a Latin American country, what was that, Nicaragua?  Although she was charged with such kind of events like luring the Sandinista general who has been killed and, etcetera, etcetera… still was here accepted and was given a visa.  So how do you…?

Spokesman:  I think you know, we can discuss this ad nauseam and I think it’s a fascinating topic to discuss and looking back and looking at precedent.  But, I think it may be more of a classroom topic than a press briefing topic.  This particular issue we are focused on is, one, that the Member States are discussing in the Host Country Committee.  And we are waiting to see what comes out of that Committee, and it remains a clear fact that it is up to each country to nominate ambassadors, permanent representatives.  It’s not the role of the Secretary-General to vet or approve them.  Yes, Pam?

Question:  A quick follow-up on that.  What you’ve been asked about 15 times now, Stéphane, and that is, has Cyprus, as the Head of the Host Country Committee, requested a legal opinion?

Spokesman:  There’s been no… I mean, you know as much as I do.  The Chair of the Committee came out and I think spoke to press yesterday.  There has been no formal request from the Committee to the Office of Legal Affairs.

Question:  All right, and then just one other follow-up:  Sigrid… Sigrid Kaag… Kaag is… briefed the Council or is briefing the Council now.  You said something about somewhere in the first two weeks…?

Spokesman:  She’s still coming in early May, I think, somewhere between the fifth and tenth or something, so she’ll be here, and I’ve talked to her and she knows your interest and I know your interest and we all have your interests at heart.  Joe and then Matthew.  No, no, I’m avoiding history lessons.

Question:  [Inaudible] authorized peacekeeping mission for Congo, within 48 hours there were 3,500 troops on the ground from eight nations.  What has changed since then?

Spokesman:  The change is that we have many more, much more demand for peacekeepers than we used to, more than in 1960, and the landscape, the military landscape, has changed.  Certain countries are obviously are not as ready to contribute to, physically, to peacekeeping operations as they used to.  There are budgetary issues.  The world has changed, and it’s unfortunate that we’re not able to mobilize those kinds of soldiers that quickly anymore.  But, it’s not from lacking of trying. 

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  I think, no, I think that’s a misreading of the situation.  I think you compare the peace and security landscape now and the need and the demand.  The peacekeeping market, right, the market for peacekeepers is different than it was.  This Secretary-General and his senior officials have repeatedly asked for contributions. Countries do what they can and we appreciate those contributions tremendously.  But, it’s a different time.  Matthew?

Question:  Great, sure.  I want to ask you, very fast, three things that happened today.  One is the Ugandan Military Spokesman, Paddy Ankunda, has basically blamed the UN for what had took place in Bentiu and said… and said the UN, with this number of peacekeepers, should have done more and has tried to use it to say that’s why the Ugandans are still the country.   I wanted to know, is there a UN response, and what the relations between UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) and the Ugandan military force in South Sudan?

Spokesman:  I don’t think he blamed the UN.  I saw the comments, you know, the characterization may be a little off.  I think our UN peacekeepers have done a tremendous job.  Our humanitarian colleagues have done a tremendous job in South Sudan keeping people alive, sheltering people.  This was not what the Mission was designed for, this is not what the compounds were designed for.  We are dealing in a very hostile environment, a very difficult logistical environment, difficult weather environment with the rainy season coming along.  I think we are doing above and beyond what the Mission was designed to do.  We can always do more and we can always improve.  The primary responsibility of keeping civilians safe is that of the Government of South Sudan.  We very much appreciate what the Ugandans have done at one of our facilities in helping with security, but I think, I would gently disagree with the assessment that was put forward.

Question:  Given that the attackers in Bor, not Bentiu, but Bor are viewed as Government supporters and the Government actually there did, maybe you would accept the word blame, the information minister said the peacekeepers shouldn’t have fired in the air and it inflamed the youth.  Do you think the Government can protect…?

Spokesman: I think the Government has a responsibility to protect.  I think when a small, relatively small, number of peacekeepers are faced with a large number of armed people without uniforms, they… and are trying their best to avoid violence, I think shooting in the air or shooting on the ground warning shots is probably the best thing they can do.  I think our peacekeepers have acted very well under very difficult circumstances.  Yes, in the back.

QuestionA la veille de l’adoption du projet onusien concernant la MINURSO, comment vous évaluez le progrès des droits de l’homme au Maroc?

SpokesmanEcoutez, je crois que tout ça est dans le rapport du Secrétaire général, j’espère avoir un peu plus de détails à vous donner un peu plus tard cette après-midi.


Question:  [Inaudible] current situation in the camp where the people are sheltering?  How bad are the conditions and how long can you sustain that population in the camp?  And secondly, when this crisis started in the middle of December, soon after the Security Council authorized extra troops to go to South Sudan.  How many of those are actually there now?

Spokesman:  In terms of how many troops are there on the ground?  That I have to get, I have to check the exact numbers.  The conditions in the camps are extremely challenging.  They are very difficult, as I just said, these camps were not designed to house thousands and thousands of people, of families, were not designed to be set up as feeding centres in an area where it’s prone to flooding and rainy seasons.  All these are very, very difficult and challenging times.  There is a lot of tension in these camps.  I‘m sure these people would all rather be home, but the security conditions in the country don’t make it possible. They feel the security condition is not good enough for them to return home.  And again, it’s the responsibility of the Government, it’s the responsibility of the opposition, to avoid the targeting of civilians and to protect civilians.

[The Spokesman later clarified that the Mission currently has 1,016 police and 7,723 military peacekeepers.]

Erol, and then Matthew.

Correspondent:  [inaudible] as you said, fascinating issue.  Did Iran Government ask for the legal opinion or who asked actually, I didn’t quite understand.

Spokesman:  There has been, I said there was no request for legal opinion.

Question:  There was, that was not request for opinion?

Spokesman:  It was not.  There was no request from the Committee.  Matthew?

QuestionLes détails seront pour toute la presse? On your Western Sahara answer ?

Spokesman:  I referred to the report.

Correspondent:  Okay, you said you might have something…

Spokesman:  If I have something else I will…

Question:  Ok, I wanted to ask you about this Kosovo vote on a court.  There has been a lot of controversy around the Dick Marty report about organ trafficking by the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), and today there was a vote in the Pristina to agree to a court with an international component to investigate it.  And I wonder, given the UN’s interest in the issue, is there any comment on it?  Reaction to it?

Spokesman:  Not from the hip.  I’ll see if I could get you something.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, I read with interest what all the aid agencies had to say about Syria.  Is this, this is pre… predict what Valerie Amos is going to say in her big [resolution] 2139 (2014) up follow?

Spokesman:  I think you can expect her message to be very similar in terms of the appeal.  She will obviously have more details on issues of access.  It would be fantastic if the situation changed radically from today to the time she delivers her reports, but I tend to doubt it.  Carla, and then we need to, then I have something to read and then we need to wrap up because we have our guests.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  [inaudible] report to the Security Council.  While he alleged massive amount of Russian involvement in manipulating the situation in Ukraine, he totally ignored the very, now famous or infamous, conversation which was confirmed by the State Department between the [ United States] Ambassador, Pyatt, and Victoria Nuland, in which they were essentially cherry-picking the next leaders.  This is while Yanukovych was still President.  And Nuland said, I don’t think we should have Klitsch, but I think Yats is our man.  And it all turned out exactly, this was not really the people in charge now and an expression of the Ukrainian people there actually that were chosen, anointed, and again, I believe I had asked you about the presence of the director of the CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency) in Kyiv the weekend prior to last, and you said that the Secretary-General was hoping that all would exercise their influence to de-escalate the matter, but Mr. Šimonović completely ignored the fact that following…

Spokesman:  I think… I’m sorry… I just want to kind of answer your question because we do have guests waiting and I want to take one more question.  Mr. Šimonović’s mandate, his remit, was not to comment on leaked audio, as fascinating as it may have been.  His was to focus on human rights.  He followed his mandate and I think the report is very clear.  He wasn’t there to comment on the situation as a whole.  So, I really have nothing to add to the report.

All right, I’m going to ask you to hold your question, but I’m going to give you an answer before you ask me a question.

Yesterday, you asked about the new commander of the Force Intervention Brigade.  The mission told us in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] that Brigadier General James Mwakibolwa finished his one-year duty as commander.  He was replaced by Brigadier General Kimweri, also from Tanzania.

I’m sure you have a follow-up, but you are going to have to hold on to it because I hear a lot of noise back there and I don’t want the guests to be restless.  I’ll be back in two seconds.

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