|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, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good morning to all the esteemed members of the press.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has urged all parties in Egypt to make a concerted effort to restore calm by ensuring that the human rights of all citizens are respected and protected during this delicate period, and are subsequently entrenched in sound laws and institutions. Ms. Pillay expressed support for all Egyptians striving for a State that would safeguard their human rights and freedoms, and guarantee respect for rule of law.
Ms. Pillay also said that she is concerned by reports of widespread detention of leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood. She said that there should be no more violence, no arbitrary detention, and no illegal acts of retribution.
We issued a readout yesterday of the Secretary-General’s conversation by telephone with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamal Amr. In that call, the Secretary-General expressed deep concern about military intervention into civilian and constitutional affairs. He reminded the Foreign Minister of the need for the Egyptian authorities to protect the fundamental human rights of all Egyptians, including freedom of speech and assembly. He also called for an end to all violence, especially sexual violence against women.
The Secretary-General called for a peaceful dialogue that includes all parts of Egypt’s political spectrum to find a way forward. He stressed the need for a quick return to civilian rule in Egypt, based on a clear road map for elections.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is extremely concerned about the human rights and humanitarian impact of a major offensive launched on 28 June by the Syrian Government forces and affiliated militias to retake several opposition-controlled districts in Homs. According to information just received, the Al-Khaldiya neighbourhood has been experiencing heavy shelling since the early hours of this morning. These attacks are now affecting all of old Homs District.
Also, Syria’s food security situation has significantly deteriorated over the past year and domestic agricultural production will further decline over the next 12 months if the conflict continues, according to a new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Working with partner organizations in Syria, the World Food Programme reached 2.5 million people with food assistance in June and is planning to feed 3 million people in July. The agency is increasing its logistics and operational capacity to feed 4 million people by October. In addition, the World Food Programme is providing food assistance to nearly 1 million refugees sheltering in neighbouring countries.
The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Denmark today. Yesterday, while in Copenhagen, he inaugurated UN City with Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that UN City is an example of how modern, energy-efficient offices can play their part in building the future we want. Once complete, UN City will house around 1,200 personnel from eight UN organizations providing support to humanitarian, peacebuilding and development operations around the world.
The Secretary-General also met with senior Government officials, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Development Cooperation. He is expected to arrive in New York this afternoon.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Mali, Bert Koenders, is welcoming progress made in implementing the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement, signed in June. He noted that representatives of the parties which signed the Agreement have agreed on the return to their barracks of armed groups, as well as on the return of the first elements of defence and security forces and administration in Kidal. Mr. Koenders stressed that this represents a significant development in the process of normalizing the situation in Kidal. And there is a press release from the Mission on this.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, wrapped up a visit to Sudan today. During the three-day visit, Mr. Ladsous travelled to El Daein in East Darfur State, where he met with the Governor and other members of local government, leaders of Native Administration and civil society, and internally displaced people at the Neem camp.
In Khartoum, Mr. Ladsous met with President Omer al-Bashir and other senior officials. Speaking to the press in Khartoum yesterday, Mr. Ladsous expressed concern over the recent intensification of conflict in Darfur and its impact on the civilian population.
Also on Sudan, the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur, UNAMID, says that yesterday, a patrol of peacekeepers was ambushed by unidentified armed assailants near Labado in eastern Darfur. Three peacekeepers were injured in the exchange of fire. One assailant was killed, and the body was handed over to Government authorities.
This morning, Under-Secretary-General Ladsous visited the injured peacekeepers at a mission hospital in Nyala, southern Darfur. In meetings with senior Government officials, Mr. Ladsous condemned the attack on UNAMID peacekeepers. Speaking to the press, he said that attacks on peacekeepers are a crime, and stressed that the perpetrators must be apprehended and prosecuted.
The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, has expressed his concern about the humanitarian situation in Kismayo following heavy fighting that took place in June. At least 71 civilians were killed and 300 injured over the course of the month. In addition to the killing and wounding of civilians, fighting in Kismayo has had serious humanitarian consequences. A polio vaccination campaign targeting 24,000 people of all ages has been temporarily suspended. That’s a grave concern in light of a wild polio virus outbreak that has resulted in 41 confirmed cases in southern and central regions of Somalia in May and June.
That’s it from me. Yes, you in the back?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you hear me now?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes. Yes, I can.
Question: Voice of America, Latin American service. Can you tell us a little bit more about the situation in Egypt and especially, we know the African Union has removed the membership of the… of Egypt in their Union? Can you say from the UN perspective what that could mean, and also what you hope to see in the next few days, especially after the violence had increased in the past few hours?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, we don’t actually have a comment on the decision that was taken by the African Union. That’s clearly, of course, their decision and for them to comment on. Regarding violence, yes, we have, we are aware of recent reports of violence. As we have made clear, the Secretary-General has reiterated his appeals for calm, non-violence, dialogue and restraint. And he continues to do so at this time. The preservation of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, remain of vital importance. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. Farhan, I wanted to ask you about… maybe you can… you can somehow elaborate on this, the Secretary-General said in… while he was in Iceland, he said that… that Edward Snowden misused… misused data, and that the Snowden case is “something I consider a misuse”, and that the use of digital communication should not be misused as Mr. Snowden did. Meanwhile, Navi Pillay has said that surveillance regimes such as the one that he has described, you know, are counter-productive and hurt the war on terror. So what… if… if it is possible, what does the Secretariat… what does he mean by misuse? If something is an abuse, pursuant to Navi Pillay, could its exposure somehow be a misuse? What should Mr. Snowden have done?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t confirm, and I wouldn’t be able to comment on the accuracy or otherwise of what you are characterizing as his views. I wouldn’t have a comment on a private meeting, which is what took place in Iceland. Regarding his views on this issue, however, what we can say is the following:
There should be no misunderstanding about the position of the United Nations with respect to freedom of expression: the Secretary-General believes strongly in and defends freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone and pillar of any society, and the United Nations stands strongly behind this fundamental human right. Restrictions to freedom of expression are permissible only insofar as they comply with international human rights law. Freedom of expression is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability. International human rights law also protects privacy. Without it, freedom of expression cannot exist.
Further, on the issue of whistleblowers in general: whistleblowers can play an important role in bringing problems and issues of concern or wrongdoing to light. There are protections within many organizations for whistleblowers, including the United Nations.
Question: Can I just… I just wanna…
Associate Spokesperson: Other people have questions, too.
Question: Yeah, I know, but the Guardian says he said it, so are you saying… are you denying that he said it?
Associate Spokesperson: What I said is what I said, which is that this was a private meeting. I wouldn’t confirm or otherwise comment on the accuracy of what you just said. Yeah?
Question: Farhan, maybe this question has already been asked. I just wanted to ask you, when the Secretary-General issued a statement on Egypt, why didn’t he call it like it was? It was a coup. Instead of just saying that he was concerned and return to democracy, why didn’t he say that it was a coup and that… that this legitimate Government should be restored?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, what I would like to point out, what he did say a few hours after the events in Egypt on Wednesday, is the following: In their protests, many Egyptians have voiced deep frustrations and legitimate concerns. At the same time, military interference in the affairs of any State is of concern. Therefore, it will be crucial to quickly reinforce civilian rule in accordance with principles of democracy. And this is something that he also made clear in his conversations with the Foreign Minister yesterday, and in the readout that followed. Yes, Tim?
Question: Thank you. Did the Secretary-General raise the case of the detentions of Mr. [Mohamed] Morsy and other members of the Islam Brotherhood in his conversation with the Foreign Minister?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything further than the details in the readout. You’ve seen what Navi Pillay has had to say about detentions. She said quite a bit about this today, and certainly we share her views on this. Yes?
Question: Yeah, I just want to make sure that, you know… I mean, I know what the Secretary-General said; we wrote about it. But the thing is… I mean, given that international concern… I mean, basically there was condemnation everywhere except for United States, and what I am saying is, why wasn’t this particular military action, because as we know it, there were helicopters flying all over the place just hour… I mean, hours… a… a day before, tanks, they were getting ready for this coup. So it was a pre-planned coup. Why couldn’t anybody say that this was a pre-planned coup and it was mi… military which determined the fate of Mr. Morsy and others?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have any further comment on the precise words that were used. Clearly, the wording of our statements is something that is considered very carefully, and will continue to be. As you are aware, as this situation progresses, we will continue to monitor events on the ground, and will try to see what wording best characterizes that situation. And that’s where we will have to stand. Yes?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask two things about Mr. Ladsous’s visit to Sudan. One is that there… there is an account now… I don’t think this was in a private meeting, it could have been a press conference. Mr. Ladsous said that of this… this… of an attack on a UNAMID patrol in East Darfur, he said that the UN kept the body of one of the assailants and hopes to identify, using that body, the gunmen who attacked the peacekeepers. And I just wonder, is that common? Is that… what the kind of legality is of… of… of keeping the body of an opposing… of a… of a… of a… I guess of an… an assailant, and also the meeting with Bashir, obviously is indicted by the ICC [International Criminal Court] for… for war crimes and genocide? Can you say why this is… was considered a necessary meeting and whether any of his other interlocutors were also indicted by the ICC, such as the Defence Minister, Ahmed Haroun, or Ali Kushayb or any of the other I… ICC indictees, did he meet them as well?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, regarding the question of the body, as I just pointed out in the note that was read, one assailant was killed and the body was handed over to Government authorities. Those were the appropriate authorities and that is the case with that. Regarding the meeting with President Omer al-Bashir, in the matter of UN representatives meeting persons indicted by international criminal jurisdictions, the overriding test is whether contact with such a person is strictly necessary for carrying out UN-mandated activities. As the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Mr. Ladsous has the responsibility of ensuring that UNAMID is able to carry out its mandate, and it is for this reason that the meeting with President Bashir was necessary. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Regarding the situation in Homs, the Syrian Government has called for the Red Cross to go into the town and help there. Are there any plans for the Red Cross to proceed to Homs?
Associate Spokesperson: Hold on just one second on that; too many pieces of paper. Yes, regarding Homs, the UN role in such situations is to advocate for an environment conducive for civilians to leave safely, and for safe access to provide people with humanitarian assistance, while the International Committee of the Red Cross is specifically mandated to undertake evacuation. UN humanitarian agencies and partners continue to do their best to provide humanitarian aid to people in need in Syria, whoever and wherever they are.
Question: A follow-up on the same subject. Obviously, there are many parties in Homs and other Syrian towns, including those who are coming from other neighbouring countries in the… far away, as in Europe, et cetera, these foreign fighters. Do you call on these to pull out in order to alleviate the situation of the civilians?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I’d just refer you back to the statement that the Secretary-General put out a few days ago regarding fighting in Homs and in other areas. We, of course, have wanted an end to any further militarization of this conflict. Yes, Edie?
Question: Farhan, going back to Egypt, is there any role for the United Nations other than monitoring the situation? Does the Secretary-General, for instance, consider the possibility of sending someone, some high representative, there or is this just a watching operation on the part of the UN?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, we certainly would like to be able to help as much as we can. You know, our basic point is the need for a quick return to civilian rule, based on a clear road map for elections, and we will see how that follows. But if any further actions on our part are needed, we will see what further steps need to happen. But certainly, the Secretary-General was in touch with the Foreign Minister, Ms. Pillay has made her own concerns known and we will continue to follow up at various different levels, as need be. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask, there… there was a… 30 May… there was a letter by 19 members of Congress to the Secretary-General about urging him to take more responsibility for the introduction of cholera into Haiti, and it came up in the press conference here with… with, with Ambassador, Acting Permanent Representative [Rosemary] DiCarlo, and… and the United States have since provided me a response about the funding they have given to cholera in Haiti. But they have said as for the 30 May letter to the Secretary-General, we’d refer you to the UN for a response. So I know I asked at the time, but I wanted to know, was the letter received? Has it been responded to in some way and what… what is the response?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, the letter from the Congress people was received, and yes, it will be responded to. Yes?
Question: Farhan, regarding the casualties in Syria, obviously, we don’t have any breakdown on how… how they… who are they. For example, one even said 90,000 or more. How many of them are from the… the breakdown of those, how many are from pro-Government, how many are anti-Government… from the opposition?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have that sort of breakdown, and it is very difficult to have a precise breakdown of that. As you know, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been using a methodology to evaluate what the casualties are in the conflict as a whole, and is continuing periodically to do that. But as for a breakdown by faction, that’s a fairly difficult thing. It’s been trying to provide figures and will continue to do that as this progresses.
Question: What do you… what do you say about the figure, those who are saying that more than 40 per cent of them are pro-Government, 70 per cent of the 40 per cent are Alawites?
Associate Spokesperson: I’d just refer you to the figures that had been released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which as of the last count just a few weeks back, had cited more than 93,000 deaths. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes, in Egypt do you have information [inaudible]? Do they send something?
Associate Spokesperson: We have UN offices in Cairo, quite a few of them, yes.
Question: Yes, but are they sending you reports, and do you have any independent reports from them, of what’s happening? How many people are being killed, reports of one being killed and two being injured by the… the army?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, we are able to receive information from our colleagues in Cairo. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask, the… the… and I don’t want to put this in the context of the Government… of the Group of Experts report on… on… on… on the Democratic Republic of Congo, so much as to say, does DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] maintain a list of battalions or units or regiments of the Congolese army that it supports, because the report is out, it’s been seen, it’s been published, but just factual question saying do you support X, and I’ve… I previously to Eduardo [del Buey], I ran through the numbers, I won’t do it here, but this is six days ago DPKO was asked, yes or no, do they support particular units in light of reports of… of support of FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] gold-mining child-soldier recruitment and in… for some reason I was told, you know, they were going to check with… with MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] and get back, but six days have gone by. Is there some policy against stating how the human rights due diligence policy is implemented or what’s this slowdown for six days?
Associate Spokesperson: Not at all, and there is no… it’s bizarre to think that there is a particular time frame by which answers are given. They are trying to get the best answers and they will continue to work on that, on getting…
Question: Is it on a computer? I mean, I have… that’s what I am saying, is how do they keep track of what units they support?
Associate Spokesperson: I believe my DPKO colleagues have been seized of this matter and they are looking into it.
Question: And one other… thanks, two weeks ago, there was… I was… DPKO was asked about just to respond yes or no whether to their knowledge the head of UN Mine Action Service in Mogadishu, David Bax, provides information to the United States as… as alleged by a whistleblower, but just yes or no; and it’s been two weeks, so it seems like it is not that… I mean, I don’t know, what is the time frame? Are they not going to answer that question or…?
Associate Spokesperson: We answer all of your questions. It takes time for some answers to come back, and others… and less time for others. But you have seen over the time, and you know this; I have sent you e-mails like this, and you know, sometimes a week or so later, we get an answer and we send it to you. Yeah? Do you… was your hand up? No? Are we done then? Oh.
Question: I guess this about the Taliban and the talks that are ensuing between United States. Does United Nations actively support these talks that are going on between Taliban and the Afghan Government and the United States?
Associate Spokesperson: What I can say is what we have been saying on the ground: that we would be supportive of any process led by the Afghan Government. And we could support it if so needed. Okay, have a great weekend, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record