16 May 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 and welcome to all of our friends who are watching this on the UN webcast.  Good afternoon.


** Ukraine


The human rights situation in eastern Ukraine is deteriorating alarmingly, according to a new UN report released today.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on those with influence on the armed groups responsible for much of the violence in eastern Ukraine to do their utmost to rein in people who seem bent on tearing the country apart.  She also noted that there are serious problems emerging in Crimea, especially in relation to the Crimean Tatars.


This new report, covering the period from 2 April to 6 May, is the second to be produced by the UN human rights monitoring mission, which is based in five Ukrainian cities.


Speaking to reporters in Kyiv today, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović said that he has discussed the report and its recommendations with Government officials, the Ombudsperson and civil society representatives.  He said that he has stressed that it is critical for the Government to react immediately to the recommendations in order to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions ahead of the planned presidential elections.


The next report is scheduled to be released in June.  Both the report released today and Mr. Šimonović’s remarks to the press in Kyiv are available online.  And we do expect Mr. Šimonović to be back in New York, I think at some point next week, and he did say he would come and brief you as soon as it is practical for him.


**South Sudan


The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that its patrol was stopped in Bentiu yesterday by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and asked to return to its base despite receiving clearances earlier.  Similarly, another patrol was stopped on the road to Mayom town.


The Mission is concerned over these violations of the Status of Forces Agreement, as signed between the Mission and the Government, and calls on all parties to ensure unhindered freedom of movement of UN and humanitarian workers so they can continue to undertake their work.  The Mission is also concerned over rising tensions in and around the protection of civilians site in Bentiu, as well as over reports of violence within the site.  The UN continues to protect some 23,000 civilians at that site.


And in Upper Nile State, the Mission yesterday heard signs of gunfire and mortars in Abukhadra, close to Renk, but it says the situation there remains calm.  The UN Mission once again urges both sides to implement immediately the “Agreement to Resolve the Crisis in South”, including ceasing all hostilities and provocative actions.


** Central African Republic


From the Central African Republic, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the recent intensification of conflict in the centre-north has led to new displacement.


As of the beginning of May, more than 23,000 people were displaced in the Kaga Bandoro area, a near doubling from the level of a month earlier.  With further fighting in the past week, more people had to flee their homes.  The refugee agency says most of the displaced are Christians, mainly women and children who urgently need physical protection, food, non-food items, water and sanitation.


UNHCR, with other UN agencies, is providing shelters and non-food assistance, including tarpaulins, blankets, mats, kitchen sets, buckets and jerry cans.  The agency also says that there is new displacement in the north-west of the country.  The refugee agency has registered 2,445 displaced people in Paoua in Ouham Pendé prefecture following an attack in early May on a nearby village.  And there is more on the UNHCR website.


And also on the Central African Republic, our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says that it has secured, with its partners, the release of more than 1,000 children detained by armed groups so far this year.  That’s more than five times the total number of children released in 2013.


Since the violence in the country escalated in December last year, the estimated number of child soldiers in the Central African Republic has nearly doubled from 3,500 to around 6,000.  Children in the Central African Republic have been used by all parties to the conflict not only as combatants, but also as cooks, porters and guards.  Of the children released this year, one in five are girls.  There is more in a UNICEF press release issued today and it is available on their website.


** Sudan


From Sudan, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it is deeply concerned about the situation of Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year-old pregnant Sudanese woman who was sentenced to 100 lashes and to death by Sudan’s Criminal Court yesterday.


The Office says it is concerned about the physical and mental well-being of Ms. Ibrahim, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy, and also of her 20-month-old son, who is detained with her at the Omdurman’s Women Prison near Khartoum, reportedly in harsh conditions.  It urges the Sudanese Government to meet its obligations under international law to protect the right to freedom of religion, which is enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Sudan has ratified.  That article states that:  “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom of worship.”


**Telecommunication and Information Society Day


Tomorrow is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General notes that, as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) approaches its 150th anniversary next year, we should work together to bridge the digital divide and harness the power of technology to create a better and more sustainable future for all.  There is more information about this Day on the ITU website, and we have copies of the Secretary-General’s message in my office.


** Afghanistan


Also in separate statements yesterday, the Secretary-General and the members of the Security Council welcomed the announcement of the certified final results of the 5 April Afghan presidential elections.  The Secretary-General said that the Afghan-led elections mark an important step towards peaceful political transition in the country.


The members of the Security Council said that they look forward to the next steps of the electoral process and the continued orderly transition to a new administration.


**Ghanaian Peacekeepers


An answer for you Matthew, before you ask a question:  I can tell you that despite the commitment from the authorities to release all equipment belonging to our Ghanaian peacekeepers, there was a delay in receiving clearances from South Sudan on their movement.  The issue has now been resolved, clearances have been secured and the movement will take place shortly.


**Press Conference


On Monday at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which will discuss the World Conference and human rights.


I think that’s it for me.  Yes, sir?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you have a reaction on the elections in India?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General commends the Indian Government, the people and political parties for the peaceful conduct of the general elections.  The Secretary-General believes that although final results are still pending, the conclusion of the exercise today demonstrates once again that India’s popular designation is the world’s largest democracy is well deserved.


Question:  One follow-up on this.  Does the Secretary-General see any problem dealing with the new Indian leader, [Narendra] Modi, considering his human rights record and massive violation of human rights under his rule?  That is why the United States denied him a visa.


Spokesman:  I think we will, as I’ve just said the results, the final results are still pending and there is, as far as I understand, no official designation of a new Government; so I will leave it at that for the time being.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you confirm that on 21 May, Ivan Šimonović is going to be presenting his report to the Security Council?


Spokesman:  I can’t confirm it, but I expect that it will happen.  I mean, I know he told us that he would present it to the Security Council.  As to the exact date, you should check with the Council Presidency.  And he did tell us that he would on that date speak to you either here or at the stakeout.  Edie and then Matthew, sorry?


Question:  Steph, does the Secretary… I assume that the Secretary-General would endorse the findings of the latest human rights report on Ukraine.  Does… do you have any statement?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General was instrumental in the quick deployment of the mission and obviously it’s not for him to endorse or dis-endorse, but he obviously is very pleased that the Mission has been able to publish yet another report.  And he himself has expressed his concerns at a lot of the issues that are related, that are outlined in the report, notably hate speech and the incitement to violence.  Matthew?


Question:  I guess, yeah, some of these things.  On this… I wanted to ask you about, you know, the report came out… I’m looking at particularly the paragraph about the Odessa fire that killed 38 people.  It doesn’t ascribe the fire to any side; it just says that the Right Sector was there, that they were provoked and that it ended in a fire.  So I wanted to know:  is the UN ever going to… given that this was a pretty high profile… is the UN going to reach any conclusion?  There’s video out of basically of… of the Right Sector side people throwing off Molotov cocktails and I… is… just to finish the question on Odessa, with Šimonović going there, what’s the relationship between the report and his visit?  Is he going to try to collect facts about that incident or…?


Spokesman:  I think a couple of things.  First of all, I think the Odessa situation is mentioned a number of times in the report, with some recommendations and observations so the report speaks for itself.  Mr. Šimonović, if I’m correct, in his press remarks today in Kyiv noted that he himself would be going down to various parts of Ukraine to kind of get an update between 6 May, when the report is… the information of the report ends, and today — so I’m sure he will have more to say when he returns.


Question:  Also in Ukraine, I just wanted to… on this issue of the Ukraine’s use of the… or seeming use or filmed use of UN marked helicopters, you’re right, I mean, I wanted to clarify.  Yesterday I was asking you what the UN has found out and you said you’d never said you had given an update from here so I went back and looked and the Foreign Ministry of Russia said that they have a commitment from the Secretariat to inform them of the results of an investigation.  So can you confirm that an investigation is taking place?  And if so, why wouldn’t its results be made more generally available?


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  No, it’s not been made?


Spokesman:  I can’t confirm it and I really have nothing to add on the helicopters.  When I have more to share, I will.  Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you talk a little bit about the continuing role of the UN monitors in Ukraine?


Spokesman:  They will continue their work and I think, as the report states, they will… their next report is due out in June.  So they will continue to take a look at the situation, be present in the east and in parts of the south and they will continue to fulfil their mandate in terms of monitoring the human rights situation.


Question:  Have any been in Ukraine since the last time?


Spokesman:  Sorry?


Question:  Have any been in Ukraine… I mean, in Crimea, I’m sorry?


Spokesman:  They are… I think the report is explicit as to where they are.  There are none in Crimea at this point.  Stéphane?


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I know it just happened now but in the meeting between Secretary-General and Italian Foreign Minister, [Federica] Mogherini, do you know how… the discussion that was that problem the issue of the MRAO [Marines], the Italian MRAO still in India… I mean, what is was that… if you can tell us anything?


Spokesman:  I try to be quick, but I’m not… the audio of that meeting is not piped into my ear, so since it is going on right now, we will wait for the readout.


[The Spokesman later issued the following readout:  The Secretary-General met today with H.E. Ms. Federica Mogherini, Foreign Minister of Italy.  The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for Italy’s lead role in the International Support Group for Lebanon in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces.  He thanked Italy for its cooperation with the United Nations on Libya and called for sustained support to the country.  The Secretary-General also called on Italy to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers crossing the Mediterranean are treated with dignity.]


Question:  Then I ask a question maybe you can answer this.  Is the Secretary-General going to address his concern about the situation in the Channel of Sicily, in the Mediterranean with the situation of immigrants?


Spokesman:  I don’t want to pre-empt what the Secretary-General will raise, but it’s an issue he has raised a number of times with his interlocutors in Italy — last week, with the President, with the Prime Minister and the President of the Senate.  Mr. Lee?  Oh, sorry and then we’ll go to the back.  Go ahead.


Question:  Ok, sure, so I wanted to ask about Haiti and then some… some aerial vehicle questions, but maybe I’ll just…  On Haiti there was a brief filed yesterday by… by the plaintiff side in the cholera case and I wanted to ask you about, which seemed to me to make it newsworthy is that a number of former UN mandate holders, including Manfred Nowak, who used to be Special Rapporteur on torture, are signatories of an amicus brief and Mr. Nowak says that, “The UN needs to understand that immunity cannot mean impunity.”  And I wanted to know, it seems like these are pretty high-profile people, they’ve worked for the UN, I know they don’t… so is there… is there any change of thinking?  Is there any shift of thinking?  Is there any way the OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] can speak?  What will you say to these people that are kind of paragons of accountability saying that the UN is not…?


Spokesman:  I think you know I’m not going to comment on the legal aspects.  We’ve been down this road before.  The UN’s efforts coordinated by Mr. [Pedro] Medrano and the UN country team presence in Haiti are continuing… are working very hard to assess the… not to assess, to address the situation in terms of access to clean water, to health clinics and we’re working hand in hand, as you know, with Government in Haiti through the Joint Commission.  So the legal case is one thing; I think our work on the ground to do what we can to help Haiti continues.


Question:  Are we any closer to getting maybe Mr. Medrano to either do a briefing here or by video or in some way take questions on…?


Spokesman:  Well, we’re not getting further away from it.


Question:  Okay, well that’s a… that’s a plus.


Spokesman:  Okay, yes?


Question:  Now that Israel has requested that Yom Kippur be accepted by the UN as an official holiday.  What are the steps now that have to be taken and would the Secretary-General support this?  Thank you.


Spokesman:  I think I know what the process is but I don’t think… I’m not well enough briefed on it that I’ll answer right here, so we’ll check.  There is a process for declaring official UN holidays and I’ll see what that is.  Great, yes Matthew?  Go ahead.


[The Spokesman later added that this is a matter for the Member States.  A proposal by a Member State will go to the Committee on Conferences.  Its report would then go to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly.]


Question:  Sure, okay this is the aerial vehicles, some old, some new.  The new is I wanted to know, there’s a pretty high-profile controversy about the President of Mali, IBK [Ibrahim Babakar Keita] buying a $40 million jet and the IMF [International Monetary Fund] has suspended part of its loan and various donors have spoken about it, I wonder since UN is there in a kind of… something of a… of a support or working with the Government capacity, did they know about this?  What did they think about it and… and… what does it portend for?  Seems like some of the donors may actually stop aid.


Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment on that.


Question:  Okay, on the drone thing, I know that I tried yesterday to ask you…



Spokesman:  I know, I was expecting to have something for you today, if it’s after the briefing I’ll share it otherwise it will have to wait.


Question:  Okay and one last thing, if I could.  On Burundi, while you were away, I tried to ask…


Spokesman:  Yes, you can.


Question:  Okay, all right.  Sorry, I thought…that there were these letters that at least the major opposition parties in Burundi say that they gave to the UN, I’m not sure if they did or not but they’ve put it out.  There’s also NGOs that all of these asking for investigation of that cable so I had asked Vannina [Maestracci] and she’d said NGO letter wasn’t received and I really didn’t get an answer on the other one.  I just want to make sure were these letters received and if so…


Spokesman:  We’ll check with the political office if they’ve been received.  Have a wonderful weekend.


Question:  Last question?  I mean… I can?  Okay, just on Said Djinnit’s role in Nigeria, any updates on what he found, other than the fact that there would be… that he was looking more at the follow-up on when, if girls were released…?


Spokesman:  No, there’s nothing more to add.  We should have maybe on Monday, it will be more information about other visits but at this point there is nothing more to add to what I’ve said yesterday.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record