|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.
The Secretary-General arrived late last night in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, directly from São Paolo, Brazil, where he attended the opening game of the 2014 Football World Cup. He travelled to Bolivia with President Evo Morales, who had also witnessed the opening match.
Upon arrival at Viru Viru airport, the Secretary-General told journalists that he was pleased to be in Bolivia to attend the fiftieth anniversary summit of the Group of 77 and China. He noted that this summit comes at a time when the Member States are focusing on three important issues: the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the finalization of the post-2015 development agenda and a meaningful global climate agreement. He said that a strong partnership between the G-77 and China and the rest of the UN Member States is needed to achieve these ends.
Early this morning, the Secretary-General joined President Morales to visit Santa Rita, a rural community about 200 kilometres away from Santa Cruz. We’ll try to get details of that visit later today. And the Secretary-General will speak at the plenary of the summit of Group of 77 and China tomorrow.
**Iraq — Human Rights
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has expressed extreme alarm at the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Iraq, including reports of summary executions and extrajudicial killings. She said that reports suggest that the number of people killed in recent days may run into hundreds and that the number of those wounded is said to be approaching 1,000. She called for the immediate cessation of acts of violence and abuses committed against civilians in violation of applicable international human rights and humanitarian laws. And we have more information in my office.
**Iraq — Humanitarian
Also on Iraq, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is concerned about the shortage of shelter as the displacement numbers increase. Some 300,000 people are reported to have arrived in Erbil and Dohuk with little more than the clothes they were wearing. Many families in Dohuk are sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and unfinished buildings.
A growing number of people were now staying in a transit camp near the Khazair checkpoint, near Mosul. UNHCR has helped the Iraqi Government set up tents and is providing other relief items. Other UN agencies are installing latrines and water tanks. A new camp, expected to host some 3,000 people, has been set up near Dohuk in the Kurdistan region. Two more sites are being planned in the area. The Refugee Agency has observed that some Mosul families are returning after hearing that water and electricity services have been restored. As many as 25,000 people are displaced within Mosul.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that health clinics have been set up at displacement sites, and health partners are working with the Government to provide basic services including medicines and surveillance to families stranded at checkpoints. The World Health Organization and UNICEF will be providing measles vaccination for those entering into camps in the next few days.
UN agencies are moving further supplies into the country in anticipation of further displacement, including a World Food Programme-organized flight from Dubai to transport humanitarian supplies to Erbil.
Ahead of the run-off presidential elections in Afghanistan tomorrow, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ján Kubiš, urged the country’s people to take part in the polls. Speaking to reporters in Kabul yesterday, he said that he is convinced that the people of Afghanistan will have the same determination, resilience and courage tomorrow that they did during the first round of elections.
Mr. Kubiš also took note of the ability, resilience and courage of the security forces to provide a secure environment for the elections. He called on the candidates themselves to urge their supporters not to commit fraud and to act responsibly, not only as politicians, but Afghan citizens. His full remarks are available online.
**Central African Republic
And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that humanitarian organizations in the Central African Republic are concerned about the dire plight of the almost 134,000 people who have fled into neighbouring countries, including more than 95,000 to Cameroon alone, since December 2013.
It adds that acute malnutrition rates among refugees are reportedly between 20 and 30 per cent — that’s well above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent. The World Food Programme (WFP) launched an emergency feeding operation earlier this month in Cameroon to help 100,000 people over the next eight months.
Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that in the past six months since violence erupted in the capital city, Bangui, at least one child has been maimed or killed in the country every single day on average.
UNICEF also says it is seriously concerned that the Central African Republic is the least funded appeal of any of its humanitarian emergency appeals. UNICEF needs in the Central African Republic has recently increased to $120 million for 2014, less than 25 per cent of which has been met.
That’s it for me. Any questions? Yes, Iftikhar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, thank you, Farhan. The situation in Iraq is very sectarian in nature, with the implications for the region and beyond. Does the Secretary-General believe that it constitutes a threat to international peace and security?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, Iftikhar, the determination of a threat to international peace and security is one that is made by the Security Council. The members of the Security Council, in fact, heard an update on the situation in Iraq from the Special Representative, Nickolay Mladenov, just yesterday, and they have, of course, been seized of the matters in Iraq for many, many years already. They will continue to follow up on this, but it is up to them to make a determination of any further threats.
Question: Doesn’t the UN Charter gives the Secretary-General powers to determine such a threat, you see, and bring it to the attention of the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: He can bring matters to the Security Council under Article 99 of the Charter, as you are well aware. We are already briefing the Security Council. Like I said, Mr. Mladenov did that just yesterday, but the matter is in the hands of the Security Council, and we will respect their judgement. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. What is Mr. Mladenov doing in terms of trying to promote this national unity meeting that he has endorsed and that the Security Council has also endorsed?
Deputy Spokesman: Nickolay Mladenov is in touch with the various parties on the ground. He’s been talking to all the various leaders about initiatives, and he is trying to see what he can do to bring the Iraqi Government and people together. In a related development, by the way, Mr. Mladenov has urged the Iraqi Federal Court today for the timely certification of the 2014 Council of Representatives election results. The current Council of Representatives mandate expires on 14 June, and he said that there is a need to guarantee the continuity of the Parliament due to the current crisis. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask, after Mr. Mladenov’s briefing, was… is… this was summarized at the stakeout that Mr. Mladenov was quite assured that Baghdad is well protected and the Government is in control. According to him, there is no immediate threat or danger of violence spreading to Baghdad. So I wanted to know, what was the basis of that? Is that in fact the UN’s assessment, and if so, based on what?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, the United Nations makes regular security assessments, not just in Iraq but everywhere that the United Nations is at work, and we have been have been assessing the situation throughout Iraq. Of course, there are threats in different parts of Iraq; you’ve seen the statements that the Secretary-General has released on this. But at this stage, we do believe Baghdad for now is safe. That may change, and of course if there are any changes, we would raise alerts accordingly.
Question: And does the UN have, I mean, there are various calls to, you know, arm the populace, basically to defend Baghdad? Is that… what is the position on that?
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the comments made by Ayatollah Ali Sistani. We don’t have any comments to make about that. Yes?
Question: Okay, non-Iraq — I wanted to ask you, does… I haven’t seen the UN system speak on this, maybe I’ve missed it. In Myanmar, there is a pending law that would outlaw interfaith marriages involving Buddhists and non-Buddhists, and I wanted to know if Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar’s good offices or anyone in the Secretariat has any view on this?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any comment from Mr. Nambiar at this stage. If that changes, of course we can let you know. But regarding the overall issue, of course, you are aware of the basic principles of freedom of religion and different personal freedoms that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we would expect all countries to abide by those.
Question: And also, in Geneva, the Sri Lankan ambassador there said in a session of the Human Rights Council: “We reiterate the categorical rejection of this resolution and our non-cooperation with the OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights]-driven comprehensive investigation.” So they, you know, sort of alluded to it before, but they have now said in a UN venue that they will not cooperate. And I wanted to know, one, if there is a position; and two, if anyone in the Secretariat intends to speak to the [Mahinda] Rajapaksa Government about this?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly we would expect cooperation with the work of the human rights bodies regarding Sri Lanka. I actually have a little more to say on that, but I’ll have to share that later — I don’t have it with me right now. Yes?
[The Deputy Spokesman later added that the Secretary-General supports the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and commends the leadership she has demonstrated to assist Sri Lanka in advancing accountability and reconciliation. He fully understands the challenges and complexity related to post-war processes, and therefore encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the international community, to strengthen the existing domestic processes in a manner that is inclusive and respectful of human rights and to work towards lasting peace in Sri Lanka.]
Question: Back to Iraq, there is a possibility of United States intervention in the situation in Iraq. How would the United Nations look at such an intervention?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn’t want to speculate on what the future may bring. You’ll have seen what the Secretary-General has said about the situation in Iraq, and we stand by the remarks, the statements that we have put out in the last few days, but what the future may hold — let’s see. Yes?
Question: I know I had asked you last week about this letter from three UN system unions to the Secretary-General about… directly to him… about the layoffs or cutbacks planned at UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]. And I wanted to know, you had said at that time, you couldn’t confirm receipt of the letter at that time, but can you now confirm it?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ve been checking, and I still don’t have any confirmation of those letters. At this stage, like I said, the matter is in the hands of the UN Development Programme. All right, have a good afternoon, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record