15 December 2014

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, to all of you, the many of you who are in this room and the many of you who are, no doubt, watching it on the webcast.  Let’s go ahead and start.

**Climate Change

You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference that wrapped up in Lima.  He congratulated Peru for successfully hosting the Conference.  The Secretary-General said that the decisions adopted in Lima, including the Lima Call for Climate Action, pave the way for the adoption of a universal and meaningful agreement in 2015.  He urged all parties, at their first meeting in February next year, to enter into substantive negotiations on the draft text of the 2015 agreement coming from the Conference.  He called on all Parties, especially the major economies, to submit their ambitious national commitments well in advance of next year’s Climate Change Conference in Paris. 

**South Sudan

South Sudan:  Today marks the one-year anniversary since conflict broke out in the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, the newest member of the United Nations.  In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General said he was dismayed and saddened that the parties have yet to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.  The leaders of South Sudan have allowed their personal ambitions to jeopardize the future of an entire nation.  He called once again on the leadership of both sides to agree to an inclusive power-sharing arrangement to begin a transitional phase of governance that will address both the root causes of the conflict and ensure accountability for the crimes committed over the past year.  His statement is available online. 

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, added his own words and highlighted the “dreadful” situation of civilians in South Sudan.  He said they are victims of targeted killings, looting and violence, and have been surviving in increasingly desperate living conditions since the conflict broke out a year ago today.  His statement is available on the High Commissioner’s website.

**Security Council

Back here, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, briefed the Security Council on the region this morning and said that now is the time to de-escalate and refrain from provocative steps, re-build trust and set conditions for a return to negotiations that will resolve the conflict.  He noted that Israelis and Palestinians still demand an end to the conflict despite their strong malaise on the peace process itself.  Mr. Serry also described the situation in Gaza, warning that Gaza can now go both ways.  He said that we have the opportunity to make advances, but if critical issues remain unresolved, he fears that we may be heading towards another implosion with dire consequences.  We have just been told that Mr. Serry will speak at the stakeout to take just a few questions once he is done with closed consultations.  I will let you know when I see him.


The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, is in Lebanon, where he and Prime Minister Tamam Salam will meet today for the launch of the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan, which is designed to support Syrian refugees and the Lebanese communities that are hosting them.  Mr. Eliasson earlier today met in Beirut with the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri.  Speaking to the press afterwards, he noted that the country has more than a million refugees and said that the United Nations understands the strains that are being placed on Lebanese communities.  He told the Lebanese people that the United Nations will stand by them, saying:  “You have been brave, you have been courageous and we will be at your side.”  His remarks are available in my office.


As you know, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its latest report from the Monitoring Mission in Ukraine today.  As winter approaches, more than 5 million people living in conflict-affected [areas] of Ukraine are facing mounting hardship, with some struggling to survive.  That’s according to the report.  The report — the eighth so far by the Mission — says that the breakdown in law and order, as well as the fighting in the eastern regions, has had a direct impact on all fundamental human rights.  These include the security, liberty and well-being of individuals living there.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said that the conflict is in its ninth month and the situation is becoming increasingly dire for the population living in the east.  The report covers 1 to 30 November and details how significant damage to infrastructure, economic breakdown and the disruption of social and medical services are particularly affecting the most vulnerable.  The full report is available online, as are the opening remarks from Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who launched the report in Kyiv earlier today. 


Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, participated yesterday in a meeting in Brussels upon the invitation of the European Union.  He provided an update on the latest consultations and meetings to advance the freeze of hostilities in Aleppo.  He is currently traveling to the region to discuss that further.  His deputy, Ramzy Ezzedin Ramzy, arrived in Damascus over the weekend to discuss the freeze with Syrian officials. 

**Great Lakes Region

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you might recall that this is another one-year anniversary… one year since the Government of the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and the M23 [23 March Movement] rebel group signed two Declarations in Nairobi committing to immediate steps to find lasting solutions to end the conflict.  The consensus reached during the peace talks included amnesty and repatriation for eligible members of the ex-M23, as well as commitments to continue work towards the return of refugees and internally displaced people, national reconciliation and justice, as well as social, security and economic reforms.

In a joint statement to mark the one-year anniversary, the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, the Head of the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, and the Special Envoys for the region from the African Union, the European Union, the United States and Belgium noted with concern that the overall implementation of the accord is slow.  The Envoys called on the Governments of the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Uganda and Rwanda to strengthen their collaboration and speed up the repatriation to [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] of all eligible ex-M23 combatants, as well as their dependents.


Just to note that the Head of the UN Peacekeeping Department, Hervé Ladsous, is today and tomorrow in Dakar to take part in the International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa. 


Just one thing, a little show and tell:  the latest version… addition of the UN Yearbook, this is for 2010, has been released today.  For those of you who are old school and want to look at things in print, you can get that fantastic book in the bookshop — that’s where one buys books these days — in the bookshop and in libraries around the world.  This is the second edition published in the last year, with the 2009 one having been released earlier.

And that’s it.  Matthew, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks a lot.  About UN peacekeeping, I wanted to ask you about the events that took place, I guess, on Friday, where the UN peacekeepers fired tear gas and at least seemingly on video a pistol at protestors for the lack of elections in the country.  And I know you'd sent me back what MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] put out that day, that they're investigating it, but it seems like… can you say more about is… can you imagine a situation in which the firing of a pistol, as is shown on the video, filmed from two different directions, by a Jordanian peacekeeper, the firing a pistol at the protestors would be considered acceptable?  And what… what… what's the status of the investigation of also of them pushing a reporter?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  They are continuing to look into it.  As soon as I have something, I will get it to you.  I don't want to prejudge what the investigation shows.

Correspondent:  But, what I wanted to ask you is the statement they put out said they're investigating whether excessive force was used against protestors who they described as violent and causing all kinds of harm.  So, it seems like on the one side, they've already reached a conclusion, which if you see the video, they do throw rocks at a car.  But, on their side, they're saying, oh, we can't… on camera, the guy's shooting a gun and pushing a cameraman, so…

Spokesman:  I think we have to see the circumstances, if that peacekeeper felt physically threatened.  I don't know what the circumstances are.  I was not there.  But, I will… as soon as I have something to share, we'll report it.

Question:  Will the results be made public of this report?

Spokesman:  As soon as I have something more from the Mission, I will give it to you.  Mr. Klein and then we'll go to Erol.

Question:  Yes.  Can you give us any status on the disarmament of the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whether that is on track, at least on a satisfactory pace to the peacekeeping department?  And is the deadline for such disarmament in early January still in place?

Spokesman:  Yes, the deadline is still ongoing.  I would not describe the progress as satisfactory, but that deadline looms for all those combatants.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, actually, somebody described it as a black Sunday in Turkey, since the raid on journalists was made by the Government and more than 20 people were apprehended and arrested.  The EU [European Union] and [the United States] strongly condemned that.  What does the Secretary‑General say?

Spokesman:  I think the United Nations, as we've said often ere, underscores the freedom of the press and for journalists to be able to do their work freely, free from harassment.  Sherwin?

Question:  What is the UN’s position on presidential incumbents that seek to change the Constitution to extend their terms in office?  I think specifically at the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and Burundi, where the UN has missions and presences?

Spokesman:  You know, I think it is important for people to have trust in the institutions, in their public institutions, and trust in their leaders.  I'll leave it at that.  Sorry?

Question:  It doesn't answer my question:  what's your position on whether they should or should not extend their terms?  Given the political fallout, be it humanitarian…

Spokesman:  I think we've… we have seen a number of countries where that route has been taken and we've seen the impact that it's had.  And I'll leave it at that.  Olga and then we'll go to Linda and Sylviane.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  According to the latest report from Ivan Šimonović that was presented today, the special monitoring mission of the United Nations in Ukraine will continue to work in 2015.  Can you tell us about terms — they will work for three months again or it will be another term?

Spokesman:  They will continue… I believe their mandate's been extended, so we will continue to see these monthly reports.  I'm told Mr. Serry will be going to the stakeout shortly.  So, you have a few more minutes.  Sylviane and then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Can you elaborate more on the Lebanese crisis response plan; what is it exactly?

Spokesman:  I think the meeting is going on now, so we hope to have some outcome, but it obviously focuses on the international community can help to support Lebanon as it takes on a huge burden of refugees coming in from Syria.  But, as soon as there is an outcome, or I can get a text of the [Deputy Secretary-General’s] statement, I will share it with you.

Question:  Do you have… is it like the International Group of Support or nothing to do with that?

Spokesman:  No, I think is really focused on the humanitarian crisis and how the international community can help support Lebanon.

Question:  I have another question.  During his visit, Mr. Eliasson will put his effort in helping Lebanon in… for the election of a new president?  It has been a long, long time now.

Spokesman:  This is the message that he's carrying, is for Lebanon leaders to come together and find a solution in which they can actually elect a president.  Linda?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  My question involved Ukraine.  You mentioned that about 5 million people in the affected areas are facing severe hardship.  I was wondering if we can get breakdown on that in terms of what portion are the, you know, pro‑Russian separatists and which aren't?  And secondly, again, is there an update in terms of what kind of humanitarian aid the UN is giving in that area?  And finally, the other day, of course, you'd mentioned that there was concern about the Ukrainian Government withholding pensions to those who live in the east.  Has there been any progress in that in terms of putting pressure on the Government to…?

Spokesman:  This is something that Mr. Šimonović raised publicly this morning in Kyiv and underscored his concern that the law, this new decision by the Government is having a negative impact.  I mean, I think he understands the security concerns of the Government in terms of being able to secure the pipeline of money going into the east, but obviously, this is just another way in which civilians and innocent bystanders are being impacted.  People who cannot receive their pensions will face even greater hardships or be forced to move, which will add to the increase of internally displaced people.  As far as the breakdown of humanitarian aid, we'll try to get you something this afternoon.  Yes, sir and then Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about the Japanese correspondent in Seoul who was indicted by defamation law.  Today, there is discussion in the criminal law… criminal court in Seoul, and Human Rights Watch today criticized the Korean Government because they indict… they indicted the correspondent.  And also in August, another group, CPJ, Committee to Protect Journalists, also criticized Korean Government.  Also, in September, Journalists without Borders also criticized.  It seems, you know, that it is only United Nations as international organization which doesn't pick up this particular issue and doesn't speak up clearly.  Why is that?

Spokesman:  Well, I listened attentively to the list that you just read out.  I think those organizations have a very important role to play in protecting the rights of journalists worldwide.  Our position is, as I think I just told Erol, is very clear that journalists need to be protected.  They need to be protected from harassment and freedom of the press is a fundamental right.  Oleg?  We'll still go to the first round.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is there any reaction from the Secretary‑General to what's happening in Sydney today?  Is he following the news?

Spokesman:  We're all following the situation very closely.  You know, we're… I think it's unclear right now if all the hostages were released uninjured, which we hope is very much the case.  Our thoughts are with those hostages and the victims, and obviously this is an act that we condemn strongly.

Question:  As a whole, what's the reaction of the Secretary‑General to all these discussions about the radicalization of Muslims around the world?  Does he… is he seized of the problem and discussions on this?

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, this is a situation, an issue that we've been following closely and whether it's the Secretary‑General or through the Alliance of Civilization, he's being… he's encouraged cross‑cultural dialogue.  And obviously, a lot of these underlying issues that can lead to situations like that also need to be addressed.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I heard you on both… on Turkey and on South Korea, saying how the UN is committed to freedom of expression.  So, I wanted to ask you about these reports at the climate summit recently held in Lima, Peru, that those protesting it were basically told what could be on their signs.  There are a number of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that say they wanted to have a sign against the Keystone XL pipeline and they were told they can't have that sign while president… excuse me, while [United States] Secretary of State [John] Kerry was giving his speech.  How does the UN reconcile sort of micromanaging the content of protestors’ signs with its stated commitment to freedom of expression?

Spokesman:  Our commitment is unwavering.  I will look into the situation that you refer to, but I don't want to comment on it, because I don't know about it.  But, I would be happy to look into it.  Sylviane?

Question:  Mr. Staffan de Mistura, he is working in the region for freezing the Aleppo situation.  Is he working closely with the Syrian National Coalition?

Spokesman:  I think… As you know, Mr. de Mistura and his deputy and his colleagues are speaking to all… various parties.  He was in Turkey, talking to opposition members.  Mr. de Mistura will be travelling to the region.  As I mentioned, his deputy is in Damascus and we should have a wrap‑up of his visit towards the end of the week.  Great.  Matthew and…

Question: Sure.  I just wanted to… I've seen a story that the Fijian peacekeepers previously with UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] are being transferred to UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force] in Lebanon.  And I wanted to know, this is in… well, it's a report.  I wanted to know whether it is… whether the… the staffing of the UNDOF, given its inability to be on some sides of the line, is changing.  Also there was a reference in Mr. Serry's speech to the Council of an overflight, that it went across the Line of Separation.  It doesn't say whose overflight.  Can you state whose plane it is?

Spokesman:  Two things.  On UNDOF staffing, it was laid out fairly clearly in the Secretary‑General's report, which came out in the last 10 days.  On the overflight, this is something that we flagged from UNDOF last week and that's the information we had.  Obviously, they reported what they were able to observe, which is planes flying in a certain direction overhead.  And that's what they did.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Just to follow‑up on the Secretary‑General's statement on the climate meeting in Lima, is he basically satisfied with the direction in which this seems to be going, which is that, instead of a worldwide mandated cut to a certain level of greenhouse gas emissions, it looks like it's each country committing to its own plan to reduce greenhouse emissions?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think the Secretary‑General…

Correspondent:  Scientists… scientists specialized in the field are saying that that's not going to be enough to really solve the problem.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General welcomes the outcome.  Obviously, we're not going to get into the details of where we are right now.  There's still a lot of the work to be done.  The next meeting of the COP (Conference of Parties) is in Geneva in February and negotiators from all Member States still have a lot of work to do to come up with a very strong agreement in Paris next year.  Thank you all.

For information media. Not an official record.