6 June 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon everyone.


**Secretary-General’s Statement


I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning Palestinian administrative detainees.


The Secretary-General is concerned about reports regarding the deteriorating health of Palestinian administrative detainees who have been on hunger strike for over a month.  He reiterates his long-standing position that administrative detainees should be charged or released without delay.


The United Nations on the ground is closely following the overall situation of Palestinian detainees.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently reiterated to the Government of Israel the Secretary-General’s concerns on these issues.  She also expressed concerns regarding a legislative amendment before the Israeli Knesset that, if passed, would permit force-feeding and medical treatment of prisoners on hunger strike against their will under certain conditions, in contravention of international standards.


The Secretary-General has taken note of the related concerns raised recently by various human rights organizations and has responded, reiterating the United Nations well known positions.


**General Assembly on HIV/AIDS


The Secretary-General spoke at a General Assembly meeting this morning on reviewing progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and he said that between 2011 and 2012 alone the number of people accessing HIV treatment globally increased nearly 20 per cent.  He added that we are on track to providing antiretroviral therapy to 15 million people by 2015 and to eliminating mother-to-child transmission in just a few years.


But the Secretary-General warned against letting confidence turn to complacency.  He said that progress remains uneven.  Two out of three children who need treatment do not get it.  Death rates among adolescents are increasing.  Epidemics in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa are getting worse.  And we have his remarks in our office and online.


**South Sudan


From South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, reports intense small arms fire and shelling this morning close to its base in Renk, Upper Nile State.  And yesterday, a Mission patrol to Baliet observed that most houses as well as a hospital have been destroyed and looted.


The Mission continues to call on all parties to respect the work and inviolability of UN premises and protection of civilian sites, where more than 93,000 civilians are sheltering across the country.  And the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, visited Unity State this week and raised concerns over issues regarding the protection of civilians in meetings with Government and security officials.


Mr. Lanzer also visited a hospital in the town of Leer and met community representatives and humanitarian partners.  Much of the town, including the market and hospital, has been looted and destroyed, and Mr. Lanzer heard accounts of incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.


**Libya


The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has announced a political dialogue initiative ahead of Libya’s parliamentary elections scheduled for 25 June.  The initiative will support discussions aimed at fostering agreements on urgent and divisive issues.  The Mission hopes that it will help to pave the way towards concluding the political transitional period, following elections.  And we have more information in a press release.


And also, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that it is deeply concerned by the violence in Libya that has led to a number of people being killed and injured in the east of the country, particularly in Benghazi, including people not directly involved in armed clashes.


The Office urges all sides to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid further escalation and engage in peaceful dialogue.  It calls upon the authorities to renew their efforts to meet their obligations under international human rights law, specifically with respect to protecting the right to life.


The Human Rights Office also deplores the detention of staff members of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in recent weeks.  Most recently, on 4 June, four staff members of the Mission were temporarily detained upon arriving at Tripoli airport.  The Office calls on all parties in Libya to ensure that UN officials and aid workers can perform their impartial human rights and other work without harassment or intimidation.


**Iraq


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the number of civilians displaced by violence in Iraq’s Anbar province continues to climb.  With a deteriorating security situation, it is also becoming harder for humanitarian workers to reach people in need.  As of today, the Iraqi Government says that 434,000 men, women and children have fled their homes since fighting escalated in January this year.  However, the Iraqi authorities have had to suspend registration over the past month because of insecurity.  The refugee agency believes the current figure is now close to 480,000.  A UNHCR special appeal for $26.4 million, launched in March, is currently only 12 per cent funded.  Better funding is critical to help those who are displaced now, and when they return home in the future.


**Yemen


Humanitarian organizations in Yemen are concerned about the new displacement of as many as 20,000 people in the northern Amran Governorate, due to heavy fighting between Government forces and armed rebels in the last two weeks.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that a ceasefire in Amran came into effect two days ago and is reportedly holding.  But it adds that the main road from the capital Sana’a to Amran remains closed.  This closure has also interrupted delivery of assistance to another group of 40,000 people who have been displaced since 2011.  The affected people reportedly need food, water and health care. 


A number of humanitarian partners continue to operate in Amran city, but all operations outside the city have been suspended.  A needs assessment will be carried out as soon as security conditions allow.


**Haiti


The Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous is wrapping up his visit in Haiti today.  He will be giving a press conference in Port-au-Prince in a short while, at 1 p.m., that you can see live on the UN Mission’s website:  minustah.org.


**Kosovo


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo is stressing the critical importance of maximum participation of all communities throughout Kosovo in Sunday’s Assembly elections.  Farid Zarif underlined the need for a free and fair process, voicing hope that Assembly members will be chosen through broad voter participation and a clean and credible vote.  His full statement is available on the website of the UN Mission in Kosovo.


**World Cup


And finally, to mark the start of the World Cup tournament, the Secretary-General, the Permanent Representatives of all 32 competing countries and some local schoolchildren will take part in a special photo op at UN Headquarters on Monday.  The Ambassadors will be wearing their national team jerseys and the Secretary-General will be suiting up in a jersey of his own.


The Secretary-General and the Permanent Representative of Brazil will also say a few words about the World Cup and the power of sports to unite and entertain people across the globe.  This event will take place on the lawn on the north side of the Rose Garden at 12:45 p.m.  If it rains, it will be moved to another venue, and all accredited press are invited.


**Press Conferences


As for press conferences today, immediately following this briefing at 12:30 p.m., the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Afaf Konja, will be here to announce the high-level event on the “Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  She will also announce tonight’s General Assembly concert, “Setting the Stage:  2015 and beyond” with various artists.


And on Monday at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here on “Expanding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — Implementing of the UN Convention”.


That’s it for me.  Any questions, yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted… I wanted to ask you about… the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], which has been monitoring eastern Ukraine, has… has put up once again its report on the bombing at Lugansk.  And they’ve said that… that it’s their conclusion that this… these were rockets fired from an aircraft, and since the Ukraine… the Ukrainian air force is the one flying airplanes there, I wonder if the Secretary-General has any comment on the use of a jet plane.  Those killed included women and children on its own territory.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, although we’re aware of the report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, I wouldn’t comment on that directly.  At this stage, as you know, the UN has human rights monitors deployed in Ukraine and they’ve being reporting periodically to the Security Council and we’ll await their next report.


Question:  Are they going to specifically look at this incident and the footage that exists of it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, they’ve been looking at a wide range of circumstances.  I wouldn’t conjecture what the report is going to have in it before it comes out. 


Question:  But… I mean, does the Secretary-General… as a general matter, does the Secretary-General believe that a country should use jet planes and…?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ve already heard what we’ve said about the appropriate use of our own technologies, and in terms of our own helicopters, we’ve made that clear to you in past weeks.  Regarding the use of helicopters in general or other aircraft, we’d evaluate the situation.  You’ve seen what we’ve had to say in the past, and beyond that, like I said, we’ll await for the next report by the human rights monitors on the ground.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Regarding the settlement activity of Israel in the occupied territories, most of the comments about it still just telling that it is illegal.  Why don’t we hear some more stronger voices from the United Nations condemning, for example, such activity?  Why is not condemned?  This is stealing of land of people and building on them settlements.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ll have seen the statement that we put out on this, and you’re quite correct that we have said on many occasions that the building of settlements on occupied territory is illegal under international law.  The Secretary-General calls on Israel to heed the calls of the international community, to freeze settlement activity and abide by its commitment under international law and the road map.  Beyond that, what I can add is that the Secretary-General also did speak by phone today with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and also discussed this and other matters.  Yes, Yoshita?


Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, I had asked a couple of days ago about the Indian aid worker who was abducted in Afghanistan.  Is there any sort of comment from the Mission there?  Any update?


Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We’ve checked with the Mission, I don’t have anything to say on that.  Of course, as a general rule, the Mission and indeed the Secretary-General have weighed in against the abduction of all civilians, and of course we would hope for their prompt release.  Yes?


Question:  In the eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], in Bukavu, there was a big jailbreak.  300 convicted people broke out; there was a shooting apparentl,y some death of police or… or FARDC [Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo].  Does the Mission there have any information on… on… on who escaped?  Whether any of these people were… there have been war crime trials, rape trials, and what’s their comment on it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, of course, we’d first need to get the information from the authorities on the ground.  It’s ultimately the law and order authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who would need to provide the information about what happened over the course of this incident.  If we get any information from them the mission may react accordingly but they haven’t reacted yet.  Yes, Oleg?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There is a draft request being prepared in the Parliament of Ukraine asking to throw out Russia from the UN.  This is the request to the General Assembly and the Security Council.  Do you think it’s helpful in this current political situation and is the UN ready to review such a request and what’s the due process to it?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, any process that involves the inclusion or otherwise of Member States to the United Nations is ultimately a matter for the Member States to resolve, so I wouldn’t have any comment on that.  As far as I’m aware, the matter has not come to the attention of the Member States of the United Nations.  Yes?


Question:  Yea, regarding the deprivation of the Syrians of their share of the Euphrates river, has the United Nations established the facts about how much water has been denied and what impact it will have on the population?  Especially Aleppo have been struggling for some time now with no running water. 


Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve been talking to our humanitarian colleagues to get any further details on this, but as far as I’m aware, we’re not aware or cannot confirm at this stage any significant diversion of waters from the Euphrates river.


Question:  But… but the level of water in the al-Assad lake is so low and it went down to a halt almost now.


Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, they’re looking into the situation.  At this stage, they have nothing to confirm about any significant diversion of water.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, in… in… in Pakistan, Geo News has had its license revoked, which is the company of whose anchor Hamid Mir was… had the assassination attempt on him.  And I wonder, does the UN have any response to this, you know, large… one of the largest media there being… having its license revoked?


Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that that’s a process that’s still being worked out in the court system, but as you’re aware, of course, we believe and the Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed [inaudible] that all media be free to go about their work without obstruction, so that’s his principle on that.  Regarding Hamid Mir, I believe the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] has put out some remarks about [this attempt].  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, as you must probably know, in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by the end of the month, from 25 to 28, is going to big anniversary of 100 years marking the start of the World War I.  Does the Secretary-General intend to drop, to go there, or anybody?  Are you aware that anybody from the UN system will be there?


Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I’m aware, there’s no trip planned by the Secretary-General.  If there’s any travel by a senior official there, we’ll let you know at that point.  Yes?


Question:  Sorry, I just have a quick question.  Is there any update on the cholera situation in South Sudan?  I know you had been giving us numbers earlier in the week.


Deputy Spokesman:  We had some numbers earlier this week.  I don’t believe we’ve had any new numbers in the last day or so.  Next time we get a new update, we’ll try and share that with you, though.


Question:  And I had another question.  You had mentioned Mr. Ban, Secretary-General, would be in an outfit.  Do you have any details on what that outfit is?  You piqued my curiosity.


Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, the intention was in fact to pique your curiosity so that you’ll go there at 12:45 at the Rose Garden at the North Lawn and see for yourself what the suit is.  I haven’t actually seen what it looks like, but apparently it looks interesting, cool.  Yes?


Question:  I wanted to ask you, there… there… there’s been a lot of controversy about the what are called layoffs at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and I know that Stéphane told me to ask UNDP, but I wanted to know, now there’s a letter dated yesterday from their UN system-wide unions directed to the Secretary-General, not to UNDP, expressing deep concern about this restructuring and asking the Secretary-General to hold Helen Clark to UN system rules.  And I wanted to know, one, will you confirm that you’ve received the letters from the unions?  And two, what’s the Secretary-General’s response to this?  You know they represent I would say the majority of UN staff.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, as Stéphane pointed out to you, this is an issue for UNDP.  It’s ultimately that organization that has to deal with its own funders and its own Governing Board and so I would refer you over to them.  At this stage, it’s not really for us to comment on the actions that Ms. Clark and UNDP and its management are taking.


Question:  Other than comment, these are unions representing across the board, it’s FISCA, I couldn’t name the other ones, but they say:  we therefore ask that you as UN Secretary-General intervene in this matter to put the restructuring on hold and remind the UNDP Administrator of the rules to which she is legally bound.  So they’ve asked… I guess what I’m saying is that… is what you’re saying that… that request is not… what’s the response to that request?


Deputy Spokesman:  That’s not what I’m saying.  We’ll review requests as we get them and respond accordingly.  At this stage, I have no comment to give though, this is a matter for UNDP and I suggest you talk to Dheepa Pandian and the people there.


Question:  But can you confirm the receipt of the letter?  Not right now, but is there a way to know…


Deputy Spokesman:  No, I cannot confirm it right now.  Yes?


Question:  Will you confirm it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Erol?


Question:  Farhan, talking to the President of the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, he mentioned, he expressed his view of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that is going for long now, and yesterday we had that long discussion at the Security Council.  What is the position?  The recent position of the Secretary-General since we now know that the… all the trials are going to go for 2017.


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General, as you know, has long been supportive of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  Prosecutor Serge Brammertz has just briefed the Security Council yesterday and outlined the amount of time it needs to take for the Tribunal to complete its work.  And, of course, we believe that the Tribunal should be allowed to take as much time as it needs to get its work concluded.  And, of course, it continues to be in dialogue with the Security Council on that very issue.


Question:  Just a follow-up.  What about funding concerns?  Too much money, where the funding will come and the so-called residual mechanisms that…


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you’re aware the two Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda have assessed funding and so it’s up to the Member States to pay out their assessed funds.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you please confirm whether Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad has been shortlisted for the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights, and if so, who are the other candidates?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesman:  No, as you’re well aware, we don’t try to provide names of candidates prior to an appointment.  At this stage, this is a post that is being considered where needing to look at candidates.  Once a name has been arrived at, it would be submitted to the Member States of the General Assembly.


[The following information was later announced:


The Secretary-General, following consultations with the Chairmen of the regional groups of Member States, today informed the General Assembly of his intention to appoint Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein is currently Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a post he held previously for six and a half years, from 2000 to 2007.  From 2007 to 2010 he served as Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States and non-resident Ambassador to Mexico.  He also served as Jordan’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador, from 1996 to 2000.]


Question:  Follow-up please?  Can you confirm that the Secretary-General or Prince Zeid was interviewed yesterday or the day before?


Deputy Spokesman:  No, I cannot. 


Question:  Can I just… I want to ask a follow-up on that… whether it would be forgetting whether you’ll confirm that he was interviewed or not, whether the… the… what the rules applicable to the UN offering a job or considering for a job a sitting diplomat who on a mission who votes for the UN budget, votes on the Secretary-General’s positions.  Is there any kind of guidance on… on… on somebody needing to step down to seek such a job or it seems… it seems to present structurally an issue that arises often in the Fifth Committee where diplomats are offered jobs at DPKO while they’re voting on a budget.  I wanted how this… how this applies to this instance or an instance like it.


Deputy Spokesman:  Anyone who takes up a full-time position like that would give up their other positions to join the United Nations.  These are positions that are given ultimately for people who accept their responsibility as international civil servants.


Question:  Do you see the possibility of a problem of applying for a UN job while working and voting for your country?


Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew, if you look at the past appointees to high level UN positions, you’ll see a number of them have served for their various Governments.  We take it as a given that that stops once they take up their UN position.  Yes?


Question:  Just a follow-up of yesterday’s Matthew’s question.  He asked about the list of those candidates.  What is the wisdom for United Nations for not to announce that list, or to announce that list as one would expect for the such high position?


Deputy Spokesman:  The reason for that and the wisdom behind that is ultimately to protect all of the candidates themselves…


Question:  From what?


Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, as you’re aware, some years back we did used to put out short list.  It was believed that it may not be helpful for all the candidates and, of course, because only one of them will ultimately get the job.  And the candidates themselves, in some cases believed that it was in their best interest not to have a short list like that made public. 


Question:  Did the candidates ask the Secretary-General not to announce their names or the Secretary-General…


Deputy Spokesman:  Look, like I said, this was a decision that was made some years back but it was made in the interest of the candidates themselves and in the interest of ensuring that strong candidates will feel confident that they can apply without any… without any problems. 


Question:  How about confirming that it’s… that the search is limited to candidates without giving their name from the Asia group?  Is that… who would that offend?  Is… because it’s often viewed as a regional… I guess you’re saying this is not regional whatsoever…


Deputy Spokesman:  That’s not the case.  That’s not the case.  It’s whoever the best qualified candidate is.  As you can see the current High Commissioner of Human Rights is from South Africa.  Her predecessors have included people from Ecuador, from Ireland, from Brazil — it’s from all around the world.  It’s no particular region.


Question:  I’m asking you to respond to people in the human rights community who say that this… it’s now Asia’s turn and the same way that the next General Assembly… the next General Assembly President would be from the Africa group.  That this is how it’s done, and I wanted to know has the Secretary-General interviewed candidate, any candidate from a country not in the Asia group for this position?


Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not actually giving the names or nationalities of any of the candidates so I wouldn’t be able to confirm who the candidates are.


Correspondent:  Region seems to…


Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t.  He advertised widely, including in many key publications.  It’s a case where we sought applications from around the world, so it’s not restricted to any particular region.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General interviewed any candidate from South-Eastern Europe and former Yugoslavia, not to precise, any other States like Croatia for example?


Deputy Spokesman:  There’s any number of ways to try and get me to offer you details.  Possibly the easiest way for me to just answer all this would be to say, I’m not privy to this so therefore I do not know and cannot say.  Have a good weekend everyone.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record