|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.
**Secretary-General in Brussels
The Secretary-General arrived in Brussels for a three-day stay. This morning he delivered a keynote address at the International Conference on the Prevention of Genocide. The Secretary-General told the participants about the Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to improve prevention through an intense and early focus on human rights violations. He said that the Rights Up Front approach has been on display in recent months in South Sudan, where the United Nations opened the gates of its peacekeeping installations, offering shelter to people fleeing violence. He added that the conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic are nightmares for vulnerable people. But they are also a challenge to everything that has been put in place — the pledges, the mechanisms — to exercise our collective responsibilities to prevent such crimes from happening or recurring.
In the afternoon, the Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings with senior officials of European institutions and the Belgian Government. He also attended a gathering to mark the tenth anniversary of the creation of the UN Regional Information Centre. He will finish the day with a private dinner with King and Queen of Belgium.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will attend a number of events focused on Africa, including the European Union-Africa summit and a high-level meeting on the Central African Republic. He will also have a number of bilateral meetings with a variety of senior officials also in Brussels.
** Central African Republic
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern today about the deterioration of the security situation in Bangui since the High Commissioner’s recent visit, with at least 60 people killed since 22 March.
The Office noted that a series of clashes between anti-Balaka and Muslims has taken place in various neighbourhoods of the capital in the past week. Increased tensions and clashes between anti-Balaka elements and MISCA [African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic] forces have also been reported, with anti-Balaka reportedly directly targeting MISCA military and civilian personnel on several occasions.
In light of this further deterioration of the security situation, the Human Rights Office once again urges States to support the Secretary-General’s urgent appeal for thousands more peacekeepers and police.
And in a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest possible terms all acts of violence against civilians and against international forces working in the Central African Republic to re-establish peace and order. He stressed the fundamental importance of protecting civilians at all times.
The Secretary-General reminds all those who are involved in spreading the violence, including those directly or indirectly supporting or otherwise facilitating the actions of armed groups, that they will be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice. In this regard, he stresses the importance of quickly establishing a list of individuals who act to undermine peace, stability and security in the Central African Republic, as called for by Security Council resolution 2127 (2013).
** Central African Republic Refugees
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the renewed intercommunal violence in the Central African Republic has triggered further displacement within the country and across its borders. Since the attacks in the capital early last week, the number of internally displaced people in the country has risen to 637,000, including 207,000 in Bangui alone. This represents an increase of nearly 16,000 uprooted people.
At the height of the crisis, the refugee agency says that close to 1 million people were displaced by violence inside the Central African Republic, including 700,000 in Bangui alone. More than 2,000 people have also been killed in the conflict between Séléka and anti-Balaka fighters since December last year.
Anti-Balaka forces control major routes to and from Bangui, as well as many towns and villages in the south-west of the country. They pose a particular threat to Muslims in the PK12 neighbourhood of Bangui, in Boda, Carnot and Berberati, to the west of Bangui, and in Bossangoa, further north. The UN Refugee Agency fears for the lives of 19,000 Muslims in those locations and stands ready to assist with their evacuation to safer areas within or outside the country.
The agency adds that mostly Muslim CAR [Central African Republic] refugees continue to stream into neighbouring countries. In the past three months, more than 82,000 refugees from the country have found shelter in Cameroon, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Republic of Congo and in Chad.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) continues to express serious concerns about the recurring and numerous violations of the Status of Forces Agreement between the UN and the Government of South Sudan.
Despite assurances from the Government, movement restrictions of UN personnel continue, as do forcible searches of UN vehicles, flights, and convoys, and threats and harassments against UN and UN-associated personnel.
The Mission reiterates that the Government has the obligation to respect the Status of Forces Agreement. Ensuring the freedom of movement for UN peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel remains essential to the protection and assistance of vulnerable populations in the country.
In Malakal, in Upper Nile State, the Mission observed large numbers of civilians returning from Malakal town to the protection site. Some of the civilians said they were advised by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops to not enter the town because the situation was volatile, while others reported to the UN Mission that they had heard gunshots in the southern part of Malakal. The Mission continues to protect more than 21,500 displaced persons at its camp in Malakal.
The humanitarian situation in the country also remains extremely fragile.
The Heads of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, and the UN refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, are currently in South Sudan and said they were alarmed at the scale of the needs arising from the crisis.
Against this backdrop, aid agencies in South Sudan warn of even more dire humanitarian consequences if urgently needed funds are not raised in the coming weeks. The South Sudan Crisis Response Plan, which covers January to June 2014, is only 30 per cent funded. Of the $887 million shortfall in funding, $232 million is the bare minimum required for the next three months to avoid the humanitarian situation deteriorating sharply.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that UN agencies and humanitarian partners are seriously concerned about the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where insecurity, the temporary scaling down of humanitarian staff and an ongoing curfew are affecting the delivery of life-saving aid to those in need.
Despite the challenges, aid workers remaining in Sittwe are continuing to provide assistance, including food, water and health care.
Demonstrations in Sittwe last week caused damage to the premises of UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations. The UN is closely consulting with the Government and local authorities to ensure that the conditions for the return of humanitarian workers are safe and secure.
Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu, the Permanent Representative of Nigeria and the President of the Security Council for the month of April, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.
And that’s it for me. Any questions, yes, Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, today, Dr. [inaudible], a Syrian doctor working in north Syria, reported a staggering number of 18,000 children whose organs have been harvested, mainly in Turkish refugee camps. In Turkish hospitals, when they go for treatment for minor injuries, many of them perished and their organs were totally taken out. What is the Human Rights Council and what other investigations are doing about this? Why should this come from a doctor who works there and not from the United Nations?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, as you know, because of our limited presence on the ground, we don’t have any first-hand information about the report you’ve just cited. We have tried through the work of the Commission of Inquiry, dealing with human rights and reporting to the Human Rights Council, to get as much information as we can through the sources that we have at our disposal about violations of human rights in Syria. And so, the Commission of Inquiry has a produced number of reports, as you’ve seen, and the Human Rights Council has evaluated them. It’s on the basis of what the Commission of Inquiry can acquire and the information that it’s able to verify that the Human Rights Council is trying to act.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Can you please inform us about the activities that Mr. Brahimi is engaging in nowadays? And then, can you also tell us whether Mr. Mokhtar Lamani is still working or he’s resigned and left the country?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think we informed you that Mr. Lamani had indicated that, after spending more than a year-and-a-half in a non-family post, his desire to be relieved of his responsibilities. At the same time, he is staying in the post until a decision is taken about his status, and so he remains there.
Regarding Mr. Brahimi, he continues with his work dealing with different interlocutors. As you know, he represented the Secretary-General at the League of Arab States summit that took place in Kuwait last week, and he is continuing with his discussions.
Yes, hold on. There first, yes.
Question: Hi, I’m Micah Luxen from IPS [Inter Press Service] News. I was wondering if the UN is monitoring how many people in the LGBTQ community are being killed in Uganda following the outlaw of homosexuality there.
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t have an estimate for the numbers of people who have been directly affected. We’d need to get some more data on that, and I think our colleagues dealing with human rights would need to be able to look into that. You’ve seen what our concerns are, and the Secretary-General and Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner of Human Rights, have both made clear their concerns about this legislation and those still stand.
Question: Sure, sure, I just wanted to ask a follow-up on Mr. Brahimi. The Syrian coalition put out a statement today saying that Mr. Brahimi, or responding to what they say are reports of Mr. Brahimi seeking a trilateral meeting with Wendy Sherman of the US and her Russian counterpart April 10th [inaudible]. Is that, I wanted to know is that, can you confirm that that’s been sought? Or what is he actually… OK, that’s my question.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we can’t confirm any meeting at this point. If we have a meeting to announce, we’ll announce it in due course, but there is nothing to announce at this stage.
Yes? You have another one, okay?
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Darfur. There are satellite photographs, recently released, that show, next to the Khor Abeche camp, basically, that the camp did shelter people that lived in the surrounding IDP [internally displaced persons] camp, that the camp was entirely destroyed and burned down and that the sheik was killed by fire. Some people say that it is Government-supported rebels. In any event, it seemed clear like a lot of people were killed right next to a UN camp. So I wanted to know, what is the response of UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] to those who say it shows that they are not really able to protect people? And also, why hasn’t the UN itself raised the red flag about this attack in Khor Abeche?
Deputy Spokesman: I will check with our peacekeeping colleagues what information that they have from UNAMID on that.
[The Deputy Spokesman later noted that a UNAMID convoy with relief items from UN agencies arrived in Khor Abeche on 26 March. The Mission’s peacekeepers, with the support of community leaders, distributed food to thousands of internally displaced persons who are taking refuge at the Mission’s base there.]
Have a good afternoon everyone. Oh wait…
Question: Another question. Regarding the fighting in Kasab, obviously some of the rebel groups are targeting Armenians in particular. Their churches are being ransacked and totally damaged. And other Armenian families are fleeing the region. Is there any reports coming from the United Nations about that?
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the reports of these attacks and we’ve been monitoring the situation. As with all the violence in Syria, we are concerned about these attacks and the displacements of people, and it offers yet another reason why all the fighting must be brought to a halt.
Question: …Kenya and Sri Lanka. I mean, maybe… there was this bombing yesterday in Nairobi which has caused a big, you know, concern, I guess, in the part of the Government. I wanted to know if there’s any UN or UNON [United Nations Office at Nairobi] comment on it. And also, whether the UN had any view of the Government in Kenya saying that Somalis should be returned, basically people living in Nairobi should be returned up to camps. There seems to be a lot of calls on their part to, first they were calling down to close down the large refugee camp, and now they are trying to re-camp individuals who are among the population. What’s the response?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I believe the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has already made its concerns about any efforts to move people who are refugees out of Kenya. And so I just refer you to what they’ve been saying.
Question: And what about the bombing? Has there not, did the UN there put out any statement of…
Deputy Spokesman: I am not aware of any statement of anything that came out from the UN office in Nigeria, no.
Question: And I wanted to ask, you mention the Rights Up Front plan that the Secretary-General has spoken about. Since there was a resolution passed last week in Geneva at the Human Rights Council calling for an independent, international investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka. Since then, Mahinda Samarasinghe, who the Secretary-General has met with in the past, has said that Sri Lanka will not participate in any way, will not corporate, and essentially won’t allow these investigators into the country. And I wanted to know if the Secretary-General or the Secretariat has any response to that.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, the Secretary-General has consistently underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Sri Lanka. He welcomes the determination by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to advance accountability and promote lasting peace and reconciliation in the country. The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to constructively engage and cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner on the implementation of the resolution adopted last week by the Human Rights Council. He recalls the commitments made to him on accountability by the President of Sri Lanka in their Joint Statement of 2009. The United Nations will remain engaged with Sri Lanka to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to make progress in accountability, reconciliation and a lasting political solution.
Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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