|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, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
**Noon Briefing Guest
Today I will soon be joined by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura. And she is here to brief you on the launch of the report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence. And we will begin that briefing once my part of the briefing is done, right away.
This morning the Secretary-General is making a round of phone calls to Heads of State or Government of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to express his support for their efforts in bringing President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and opposition leader Riek Machar to the negotiating table. The Secretary-General feels that the two parties need to be warned strongly of the consequences of their actions before the country descends into yet further violence.
And you will have seen that this morning the Security Council issued a press statement on South Sudan, in which it expressed horror and anger at the mass violence in Bentiu on 14-16 April. The members of the Security Council indicated their willingness to take additional measures should attacks on civilians and violations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement continue.
The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, has strongly condemned the attack this morning on a convoy of barges hired by the Mission to deliver urgently needed food and fuel supplies to its base in Malakal, Upper Nile State. The barges came under small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades were also fired at the convoy of four vessels. Four crew members and UNMISS peacekeepers were wounded during the incident. The Mission has not yet established the identity of the assailants.
The UN Mission once again calls on the main parties to the South Sudan crisis to comply with the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement they signed in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on 23 January 2014, and also respect the inviolability of UN assets and facilities in South Sudan.
And just to give you an overall update, there are now more than 78,000 civilians seeking protection in eight UN Mission in South Sudan bases throughout the country. This includes 32,000 people in Juba, more than 18,000 in Malakal, more than 22,000 in Bentiu and more than 4,800 in Bor.
In Juba, UN agencies and partners continue to work on upgrading facilities at the UN bases to improve the conditions for people sheltering there. Two areas are being developed due to concerns over overcrowding and the risk of disease outbreaks. A new site, which is being built close to UN House, is expected to host some 13,000 displaced people. And a new space within UN Tomping is being cleared to accommodate some 2,000 people who are living in overcrowded parts of the base.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council this morning on the work of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID.
He said that Darfur was currently seeing renewed violence as well as large displacement of population.
Ladsous added that in light of the political and security environment in Darfur, and of the challenges faced by UNAMID, steps were taken to strengthen and streamline the mission.
He said that the mission, together with the UN country team, and with the support of UN Headquarters, were coming together on more effective strategic operational planning with an oversight mechanism in order to make the best use of available resources. His remarks are available in our office.
The Security Council is now holding consultations on Darfur. And this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on Yemen. We expect Jamal Benomar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen, to speak to you at the stakeout afterwards.
**General Assembly on Death Penalty
The Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly today at the opening of a two-day debate on ensuring stable and peaceful societies. He said that at least 20 per cent of humanity lives in countries experiencing significant violence, political conflict and insecurity, and that countries with major violence have poverty rates more than 20 per cent higher than average. The Secretary-General stressed that violence and homicide are a global phenomenon. He encouraged Member States to work together to develop a post-2015 development agenda that will address the underlying causes of violence and conflict wherever they occur.
The Secretary-General also spoke at a panel event this morning on the death penalty. He welcomed the growing trend against capital punishment, with some 160 countries having either abolished the death penalty or no longer practising it. However, the Secretary-General deplored the fact that many States still execute people with little regard to due process. He emphasized that the right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights. Both sets of remarks are available online and in our office.
We issued a statement earlier this morning on the recent presidential elections in Algeria. In that statement, the Secretary-General congratulated the people and the Government of Algeria for the overall peaceful manner in which the presidential elections were held. He encouraged the Government of Algeria and all political parties in the country to work together in an inclusive and peaceful manner to maintain stability and strengthen the democratic process in Algeria. The full statement is in our office and online.
The OPCW-UN Joint Mission confirmed delivery of a further shipment of chemical weapons material in Syria today. By today, 92.5 per cent of Syria’s chemical materials have been removed or destroyed in country. The Joint Mission’s Special Coordinator, Sigrid Kaag, welcomed the significant progress of the last three weeks, and she strongly encouraged the Syrian authorities to conclude the removal operations as part of their efforts to achieve the 30 June 2014 deadline.
In addition to the removal operations, the Syrian authorities have destroyed buildings, equipment and empty mustard gas containers, and decontaminated other containers in a number of chemical weapons storage and production sites. A majority of these sites are now closed.
The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam today, and told reporters that he expressed appreciation for the security measures that the Government has been taking. He also emphasized the continued UN support for the Government as it tries to address the challenges of hosting a large number of refugees from Syria.
Mr. Plumbly also said that he welcomed the beginning of the presidential election process yesterday, and underscored the UN’s concern that it be completed successfully within the timeframe set by law.
Today is the first day of World Immunization Week 2014. Organized by the World Health Organization and its partners, this Week is an opportunity to remind families and communities how effective vaccines can be. Today, immunization averts 2 to 3 million deaths each year from diseases such as diphtheria, measles, pertussis, pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus. One important driver of this progress has been the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), which celebrates its fortieth anniversary in May 2014.
When EPI was established, just 5 per cent of the world’s children were receiving basic immunizations. Now this figure stands at more than 80 per cent.
However, more than 22 million of the world’s children (about one fifth of infants) are still not being immunized with basic vaccines.
And more information is available on the World Health Organization’s website.
We were asked yesterday about the creation of an international war crimes court in Kosovo.
I can say that the United Nations has not been involved in the discussions related to the establishment of a “specialist court”. The United Nations is, nonetheless, already cooperating with the European Union-led investigation and will continue doing so. The establishment of the court, in connection with allegations raised in the 2011 Council of Europe’s report, should help strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo and ensure accountability.
And we will soon be having our guest, Zainab Hawa Bangura.
Then tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., there will be a press conference here on preventing the misuse by terrorists of travel documents. Speakers will be Jean-Paul Laborde, Assistant-Secretary General and Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate; Ronald Noble, Secretary-General of INTERPOL; and Raymond Benjamin, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
And then at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Danylo Lubkivsky, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, on the current political situation in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Before we get to our guests, do you have any questions for me? Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Yesterday, UN welcome countries like China, which has the most death penalty in the world, and then Iran, which is the second-most death penalty in the world. And then Turkey, which has the highest jailed journalists in the world, and then Israel, which is the highest land occupier in the world. And actually the list is on and on and on. Where come then the committee who oversees human rights? Are you still human rights is something the UN is really fighting for, or is it becoming like… everyday joke? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: This is the sort of the question we get every year. How come countries that have bad human rights records sit on UN human rights bodies? First of all, you know many of our bodies in the United Nations are bodies that are selected or elected by Member States, and it’s up to Member States to improve them. But on the question of human rights, we’ve made it very clear that we believe that all countries have problems with their human rights records. All countries need to go through improvements. This is why, for example, on the Human Rights Council, you have the concept of universal periodic review, where every country has to undergo a thorough and often very critical review of their records so that they can go about improving their own records. We’re well aware, and in fact many of the statistics you’ve cited are statistics that come from the United Nations, so we’re very well aware of the problems different Member States have in terms of their records having to do with things like capital punishment or detentions. And yet, what we try to do is bring all countries into the fold and have them improve their records. Yes, Masood?
Question: Now that Israel has decided to… I mean [inaudible] hold any talks with the Palestinians. And the Palestinian Authority has joined together with Hamas, the peace process it seems is now almost completely dead. The Secretary-General… what does he intend to do to recall… at least salvage, if at all he can, and will he be asking the Middle East Quartet Envoy to go there, or what is it that he has in his mind to make this process keep going now that it seems that it’s lost?
Deputy Spokesman: Well certainly the Members of the Quartet will need to evaluate and assess the latest developments. We have received reports of progress on Palestinian reconciliation. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East process, Robert Serry, is meeting today with President Abbas to get his assessment on this important development, among other things. The United Nations continues to support Palestinian unity based on the PLO commitments and under the leadership of President Abbas. And beyond that, we’ll continue to survey the situation, and as you know, Mr. Serry and the Secretary-General and other officials throughout the system are continuing to work with all the various parties to try to make sure they continue negotiations towards achieving a two-State solution.
Question: Basically there are no… no new ideas… or talk to the Israelis or the Palestinians about this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I’ve said what we’ve just said, and part of what I just mentioned is that Mr. Serry is in touch with President Abbas today and we’ll continue with our assessment with the situation on the ground. We’ll continue to be in touch with our Quartet partners and we’ll see where we go from there. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan, but you don’t have any comment on the Israeli suspension of peace talks with the Palestinians? This is a follow-up on Masood’s question and my… I have a question on Syria. Now that the Secretary-General has issued the new report on 2139 resolution… what does he want from the Security Council to do regarding the humanitarian situation in Syria? And also, I wonder whether the Secretary-General supports the investigation of the new allegation of they use the chlorine gas in Syria. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: That’s quite a few questions, alright. First of all, regarding the implementation of resolution 2139, the Secretary-General has of course been surveying the situation, as has the humanitarian branch of the United Nations. And we made it clear two months that since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139 none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Security Council. Civilians are not being protected. The security situation is deteriorating and humanitarian access to those most in need is not improving. So what the Secretary-general believes is that the Security Council must take action to deal with these flagrant violations of the basic principles of international law.
Regarding your question on chemical weapons, the Secretary-General is aware and very concerned about recent media reports on the use of chlorine in the Syrian Arab Republic. The international community has firmly rejected the use of toxic chemicals under any circumstances to inflict harm, as demonstrated by the overwhelming international support for the global ban on such weapons. Allegations of such use should be made subject to the procedures in terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is under the purview of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
And regarding your first question, as I’d mentioned to Masood, we need to assess the latest developments concerning Israel and we’ll be doing that.
Question: Follow-up on the chlorine issue; have they established that really chlorine was used in any place in Syria? Because yesterday what we heard at the stakeout is that chlorine has not been used, or it was not even discussed by the Security Council members.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Nizar, as I just mentioned, allegations of such use should be made subject to the procedures in terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and that, of course, is under the purview of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Yes, Asma?
Question: Farhan, follow-up in the question of Masood also because I had the same question, but you said now that the United Nations supports the Palestinian unity and the Palestinian side… the Israeli side thinks that this agreement will hinder the talks because one of the sides refuse to recognize Israel as a State. Do you…?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, but in that regard, what I said to Masood, to be precise, was that we continue to support Palestinian unity based on the PLO commitments and under the leadership of President Abbas. So that’s an important point to make.
Question: So does that mean that the United Nations doesn’t believe that this agreement will hinder the talks?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I have nothing to add to what I just said. We support the idea of Palestinian unity based on the PLO commitments and under President Abbas’s leadership. Yes, Edie?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the targeting of foreigners in Afghanistan, and especially with this morning’s killing of three American doctors?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course we are against all violence in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General has spoken — and spoken, as you’ve noticed in our recent statements, fairly recently — against the violence and attacks on civilians in Afghanistan up to and during the election process. And he continues to be opposed to all such attacks, whether regarding foreigners or Afghans. Yes Edie — sorry Evelyn?
Question: It’s alright, two ‘ELs’ next to each other. Yes, Farhan, on the chlorine attacks that are being reported by media — and it was raised in the Council but nothing was decided — can the… is the Secretary-General, from what you’ve just read, going to ask anyone to look into this, because he has influence over the OPCW and there are some joint UN ventures with…?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe… First let’s see what decisions the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and its Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü, have to say. I believe that they might say something about this in the coming days in their own right, so we’ll wait first to see what they intend to talk about. Matthew.
Question: Sure, thanks. I want to ask about South Sudan and also Darfur. On South Sudan, I wanted to ask this question, which is that… you know days after the… the mass killing in Bentiu, this UN official, Mary Cummins, said we need the Ghanaian battalion to arrive soon. So since it was some weeks ago… that the weapons that were supposed to go and serve them were found in the box… a lot… the question has risen… are they not there? Did they not arrive there? So I wanted to know — I’ve asked it here and I’ve tried to ask Mr. Ladsous, he didn’t answer — where… what is the status of the Ghanaian battalion that was the subject to so much controversy weeks ago?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, and we’ve also been checking with our colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations about this status of the Ghanaians. If there’s any update on that I’ll let you know.
[The Spokesman later said that, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as of now, 44 members of the Ghanaian Battalion were in Bentiu.]
Correspondent: And I want to ask you about Darfur.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, well other people also want to ask, so I’ll come back to you. Yes.
Question: Farhan, what’s the position of the Secretary-General on the situation of Ukraine? We know the tension has risen in the past few hours. Vladimir Putin mentioned that he’s going to start military exercises in the border with the eastern parts of Ukraine, and then we of course know that NATO is mobilizing their units and the United States has started some exercises in Poland. We also know they agreed to a truce last week. What’s their take on that?
Deputy Spokesman: By an amazing coincidence, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Ukraine to read out right now:
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about continued violence in eastern Ukraine, which has led to loss of life, further instability and which is contributing to a climate of fear and anxiety. As the stakes are now so high, the Secretary-General is seriously concerned the situation could easily spin out of control, with consequences we cannot predict. He stresses, in the strongest terms, the necessity for all parties to honour their commitments under the Geneva Statement. Military action must be avoided at all costs. The Secretary-General calls on all sides to immediately refrain from violence, intimidation or provocative actions and find a way forward towards de-escalation.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The agreement you refer to amongst the Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, which does not include Islamic Jihad, stipulates that National Government will be formed in the next five weeks by independent people and that legislative elections will be held in the next six months. I know that Serry is going to talk to Abbas, but what is the position of the Secretary-General at this stage? Does he have any comment on this important agreement?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I just gave the comment to Masood right now in terms of our efforts to evaluate the situation, Mr. Serry’s discussions and the fact that the UN continues to support Palestinian unity based on the PLO commitments and under the leadership of President Abbas. Beyond that we will wait for the further discussions that will take place, first and foremost with the Palestinians and then down the line with other officials. Yes.
Question: Since the Council is meeting today about Darfur, there was a letter released by the… three of the main rebel factions in Darfur, Minni Minawi, Abdel Wahid and JEM, calling on an immediate launch of an investigation into UN officials and deliberate misinformation of the reports of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations submitted by, they call him assistant Secretary-General, Mr. Ladsous. I wanted to know, what to do you think of this call by the main groups that are part of the Doha process that Mr. Chambas meets with? They’ve asked for a comprehensive investigation of false reports, so what’s your response to their critique?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think in recent days and weeks, I and my colleagues have been saying from this podium what we’ve had to say about the work that the UN mission, UNAMID, has been doing, the UN-African Union mission, has been doing, in terms of its work on the ground and its reporting. I don’t really have anything to add to that. Of course, if we feel the need to make responses to specific requests from different parties, we’ll evaluate that at the time and then respond accordingly. But at this stage, you’ve seen what we’ve had to say and we stand by the record of what the mission has done.
Question: Have any of the reports been corrected? Have any reports that have been submitted on UNAMID or Darfur, many of which are now subject to quite a bit of question given leaked documents, have any been corrected, amended? Is there any change in what you’ve submitted to the Council?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, in terms of the daily updates of what happens on the ground, whenever there’s more precise information, we’ve either given it here, or more particularly, the Secretary-General has given more full accounting in the reports that he gives to the Security Council, and that’s been the case for years now. You’ve seen his reports, you’ve seen reports that are given in the oral briefings to the Security Council, and those try to make sure that the most accurate and up-to-date information is available. Yes, Masood.
Question: Yes, in case of [inaudible], does the Secretary-General think that matter is now closed? That it is… that the so-called Host Committee is seized of the matter and that’s about it. And on the other thing, specifically on Israeli decision to halt talks, specifically do you have anything to say about that?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, this is something that has just been reported in the last couple of hours. It is something that we’ll need to assess, so I don’t have anything specific to say on the latter point beyond what I’ve just been saying. In terms of the issue of the Iranian diplomat and the visa issue, as we’ve been saying, the matter is right now in the hands of the Host Country Committee; they remained seized of the matter and we’ll leave it in their hands. Yes, Nasir.
Question: I have two questions, one about Bahrain and the other about Kuwait. Sheik Hussein al-Najati, a Bahraini cleric was deposed from behind after his nationality was revoked by the State although he was born in Bahrain and he’s a Bahrain citizen. What does the United Nations think about that? Another thing, Kuwait closed two TV stations and several newspapers for broadcasting or publishing a tape about a possible coup d’état plot. How do you view that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t have specific comments on either of these questions. Of course you’re well aware of our position in favour of freedom of expression and of freedom of the media in all parts of the world, and would continue to press for all countries to respect the rights of journalists to go about their work unhindered. Yes please.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Some officials of Republic of Korea said that DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) has completed its preparation for the next nuclear test. Do you have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you’ve seen what we’ve had to say about the previous tests that have been conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and so the sort of concerns we have, we still continue to have. And of course we continue to urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not to conduct any test that would be provocations and to enter into negotiations with neighbouring countries. But at this stage, of course, we wouldn’t have any reaction to an event that hasn’t happened yet, and of course we continue to monitor the situation. Yes?
Question: I have a question that you may not be able to answer right away, but does anything work in Sudan? That involves international links; this is not the fault of Hervé Ladsous, it’s not the fault of Hilda Johnson, there is also Mr. Mbeki, former President Mbeki, negotiating. There’s the African Union near the border States, there’s South Kordofan, there’s Blue Nile; is… did you see any hope of any of the political contacts that’s being going on with Sudan for a long time working? It’s not just South Sudan and Darfur; it just seems that the Government has never had a positive with the UN.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that’s a very large question, but of course what we need is for there to be willingness by the various parties on the ground, which is to say, the Government of Sudan, the Government of South Sudan, the various armed groups in the countries concerned. A willingness to lay down their arms and a willingness to talk with each other, this is part of the reason why, as I just mentioned at the start of this briefing, the Secretary-General is having a round of phone calls with leaders throughout the region so that we can get some sort of headway going regarding the crisis in South Sudan. But it applies also, of course, to Sudan, to the situation in Darfur and the various other ones that you’ve described. There really needs to be genuine political will to resolve things other than the manner of military means, and we are continuing to implore all sides to do just that.
Correspondent: It’s not an equal side of armed groups and the Government. The Government has far more power than armed groups; it doesn’t mean the armed groups are innocent.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we are aware of that and certainly our diplomats are trying to deal with the disparate groups and their disparate control of arms. But yes, we also need to bring all of the effective players in the region into this so that they can bring their own respective influence to bear.
Question: Farhan, yesterday the Syrian Permanent Representative presented a letter which he said he sent it to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council about 300 terrorists killed in Syria, 228 of them are Saudis. Is there any message to Saudi Arabia… he accused Saudi Arabia of sending these people to be killed in Syria or to kill the Syrians as well. So is there any message to Saudi Arabia to stop sending such terrorists to Syria?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you’ve of course heard that we’ve repeatedly asked all parties, including all countries in the region, to avoid any further militarization of the conflict, and we’ve been calling on them to do that repeatedly and we continue to make that call. Yes please, your turn.
Question: Next week on Monday, NPT prep comm is going to be held, and I wonder if there’s any US high official speaking at the beginning of the session? And what would the Secretary-General expect? What sort of outcome or result will he expect to have?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe we have comments that we issue at the start of these preparatory committee meetings so we’ll try to share those with you once we have those. But of course, the Secretary-General encourages all parties to work together so that we can get a good agreement on nuclear non-proliferation, which is the point of having these meetings in the first place.
Question: Just one follow-up, do… follow-up on North Korea and nuclear… possible nuclear test; so… just… a week ahead of this prep committee, does the Secretary-General… or does the UN, think it’s more provocative to announce the… their, you know… will to carry out…?
Deputy Spokesman: Again, we’ve previously expressed our concerns about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; that remains unchanged. Of course, there hasn’t been a test conducted yet so I don’t have anything more to say. It’s quite possible that this would not happen and if there are no tests conducted that would be a positive thing. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you, [inaudible] there was a finding by the dispute tribunal that the… OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) in charge of investigations, Michael Dudley, had involved in sort of tampering with evidence and this was… the Head of OIOS had written to staff and said, you know… either that they might appeal, I’m not sure they have appealed, but I became aware that now Mr. Dudley has been assigned to Procurement, and so to some it seems strange, unless there’s been some new finding by the UN system other than the public finding of this previous problem. Is… is… can you… can you confirm, and more importantly, explain why at this stage this transfer to Procurement, how it’s consistent with good government, transparency or anything else?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I won’t have any comment on this case until the procedure is concluded and…
Question: Has the appeal been filed? It’s now been… this was in December was the decision and it’s now April.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The situation regarding the Senkaku Islands, Diaoyu Islands, is getting very tense again, once more. In addition to the Secretary-General saying that the two parties should sit down and negotiate, what does he have to offer in the framework of preventive diplomacy?
Deputy Spokesman: Of course, we always stand ready to help any country if they mutually agree on a UN role. At this stage, I don’t have anything beyond what we’ve had to say.
And now if I can just get to my guest who has been waiting for some time, let’s hold on one second and we will bring in Zainab Bangura.
* *** *For information media • not an official record