|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.
Apologies for the delay, but the technology is apparently working so hopefully, I am working as well and we can get going.
The Secretary-General is in Mexico today where he will address the high-level meeting of the global partnership on development cooperation early this afternoon.
Since his arrival yesterday, he held several bilateral meetings, including with Mexico's Foreign Minister, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña. We issued a readout of this meeting and will issue other readouts as they come.
The Secretary-General will also meet for the first time with Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto later today, before heading back to New York this evening.
On Ukraine, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued its report on Ukraine today. It says that misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered in the country to avoid the further escalation of tension.
The report is based on information collected during two missions to Ukraine in March by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović and a team of UN human rights monitors who have been on the ground since 15 March. It looks at the root causes of the protests that have taken place since November 2013, as well as the lack of accountability for human rights violations by the security forces and weak rule of law institutions. It also assesses the human rights situation in Crimea and makes recommendations for the way forward.
The report also says that it is widely assessed that, while there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, these were neither systematic nor widespread.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that it is critical for the Government to prioritize respect for diversity, inclusivity and equal participation of all — including minorities — in political life. She also called for immediate measures to build confidence between the Government and the people, and among the various communities, and reassure all people throughout Ukraine that their main concerns will be addressed.
And as you know, the full report is available on the OHCHR website.
On South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) has received reports that Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, as well as Unity oil fields north of the town, are under the control of opposition forces today.
The Mission says that there are reports of civilians among those killed during the fighting in the early hours of this morning, but the number of casualties is yet to be determined. Many civilian bodies were also seen during the extrication by the UNMISS Mongolian Battalion of civilians from the oil refinery yesterday.
The Mission reports that stray rounds of small arms fire impacted some tents and containers inside the compound. One civilian within the protection site has been wounded as a result of a stray bullet, and is currently being treated at the UN hospital on the base.
The Mission is also making efforts to extract civilians around Bentiu, including civilians who are sheltering at the former WFP (World Food Programme) compound and at the Bentiu hospital. Yesterday, UNMISS relocated some 75 civilians from the Rubkona airstrip to the UNMISS protection site in Bentiu and another 90 were evacuated today.
Several thousands additional internally displaced persons have also arrived at the Mission protections site in Bentiu.
The Mission has also received reports of fighting in Guit County near Bentiu.
And also on South Sudan, the UN refugee agency says that it is working to improve conditions of South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia and also moving them to higher ground as the rainy season approaches.
Yesterday, UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) airlifted the first batch of some 4,000 emergency tents to the Gambella region of Ethiopia. The remaining tents will arrive on six more flights over the coming days.
The agency also relocated refugees who were living in low-lying water-prone areas in Kule camp to higher ground and is starting a similar relocation at Leitchuor camp today.
Meanwhile, the refugee agency and its partners have started preparations on a new camp that will accommodate up to 30,000 refugees on high ground. The camp is expected to be ready to receive people by the end of April.
Ethiopia currently hosts 95,000 refugees from South Sudan. And refugees continue to arrive from South Sudan into the Gambella region at a rate of 800 to 1,000 people per day. And more information is available from UNHCR.
On Mali, humanitarian organizations are warning that more than 1.5 million people need immediate food assistance in the country. Food insecurity continues to worsen this year due to instability in the north and poor food production.
UN agencies and humanitarian partners have reached some 600,000 with food assistance since the beginning of the year. They are also distributing agricultural supplies and tools to farmers who need support.
But, insecurity and a funding gap of over $500 million continue to hamper aid efforts.
Lastly, I was asked earlier today for a reaction on the ruling by India’s Supreme Court on transgender people, and our colleagues in the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights tell us that we welcome the historic ruling of India's Supreme Court legally upholding the rights of transgender people across India. The decision officially recognizes a third gender in law and confirms that discrimination on grounds of gender identity is impermissible under the Indian Constitution. It should pave the way for reforms that make it easier for transgender persons in India to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity, as well as access to employment and public services.
And I have more in my office if you are interested.
**Press Conferences Today
As soon as I’m done here, there will be a press conference here organized by the Permanent Mission of France on the situation in Syria. Speakers will include Ambassador Gérard Araud, the Permanent Representative of France; along with Professor David M. Crane, the former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, the forensic pathologist based in the United Kingdom.
That’s it. I will take a few questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a question on Mr. Brahimi’s activities, is he doing his work as normal or is he still…there are again rumours that he’s resigning.
Spokesman: No, as far as I know, he is in Geneva and continuing his contacts from there but if I have an update I will share it with you.
Question: I have another question. I heard that somebody broke into the… here in one of the UN buildings and stole documents or machines related to visa or passports, UN passports, is that true or not?
Spokesman: I’ve not — that’s the first I hear of it. I will check up on that. Matthew?
[The Spokesman later informed correspondents that there had been no theft of any equipment related to UN laissez-passer or official travel documents.]
Question: I wanted to ask you on Ukraine if you’ve seen one of the candidates for the elections in May, Oleh Tsarov, was publically beaten up, arrested and the head of the Svoboda party, who I know the Secretary-General met with when he was there, has said he should be removed from the ballot and charged with treason, have his citizenship removed. So, I’m wondering what the comment of the Secretary-General is?
Spokesman: These kinds of attacks, including the one of Mr. Tsarov, is strongly condemned by the Secretary-General. I think the message of the Secretary-General and the one you see in the report from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights is one calling for inclusiveness in the political dialogue, for space where people are able to express their opinion. I think regardless of people’s political views, social or other views, everyone should be able to speak up freely and participate in the process.
Question: The report also mentions of this Svoboda party the attack of film beating up of a TV news executive. And I wonder, since that happened before the Secretary-General met with the leader of the party, can you give a little colour? Is this something that the Secretary-General raised when he met with the leaders of Svoboda?
Spokesman: I think the message that the Secretary-General raised when he met with a number of political parties — it was not a one on one with a Svoboda representative — is what I just said, is that Ukraine needs political inclusiveness; it needs an open dialogue where people are able to express themselves. Benny, and then we’ll move that way.
Question: Two quick questions. First of all, is there anything new about OLA (Office of Legal Affairs) thinking about Iranian Ambassador designate? And secondly, on Syria, now both sides are saying apparently that there was a chemical attack. Does the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)-UN team have anything to say about that?
Spokesman: On the issue of the Iranian visa, the Secretary-General’s legal adviser will be meeting with a delegation from the Iranian Permanent Mission this afternoon at 3 p.m. I expect to be able to give you an update afterwards. I also just spoke to the Permanent Representative of Cyprus who told me that there will be a meeting of the Host Country Committee on 22 April, that they have received a letter from the Iranians, and so far, they expect the Iranians to brief on their position during that meeting which will be on 22 April. On Syria, obviously those kinds of reports of the use of chemical weapons are very concerning to us and we are talking to our colleagues in OPCW. Okay, good. I like that. Thank you, go ahead.
Question: Today, terrorists in Syria killed three Lebanese journalists while they were doing their duty. Reporter, and a camera man and an assistant, they were just shot at and aimed at purposely. Do you have any statement regarding that?
Spokesman: You know, as I have not seen this particular report, but obviously, targeted attacks on journalists are to be condemned and have been condemned repeatedly by the Secretary-General. Journalists do vital work, especially in conflict areas, in trying to get the news out.
Question: I have another question regarding the sentencing of a 10-year-old child in Bahrain to life sentence just for taking part in a protest. This was last week.
Spokesman: I don’t have anything in particular on that, but let me see what I can get. We’ll move this side.
Question: Talking about refugees brings me to Lebanon which exceeded the million refugees, Syrian refugees, this month. Is there any idea or discussions about setting up camps for refugees in Lebanon because Lebanon is the only case where people live in cities and towns with the nationals?
Spokesman: You know I don’t want to speak for my [inaudible] for the High Commission for Refugees, but what we can say is I think, Lebanon has been carrying an immense burden of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese Government, the Lebanese people have really gone out in trying to help the refugees. And as you’ve mentioned, having refugees in urban communities makes it that much harder to reach them and to provide them services and I know our colleagues at UNHCR are trying to do their utmost and are talking to the Government of Lebanon to try to see what more help we can bring. Yes sir?
Spokesman: You know a question is asked, you are allowed to ask whatever you want to ask. I give an answer to my best ability, sometimes they meet, sometimes they don’t. Yes?
Spokesman: Your lawyer obviously did. Yes, sorry go ahead.
Question: We don’t want to be testy. Now can you please tell us about this letter that the Israeli Mission has written to the Secretary-General? Israeli Ambassador to the Secretary-General asking for removal of Jordanian [inaudible]… because she has or he or she have been indulging in anti-Israeli propaganda and so forth…
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has full confidence in her and her ability to do her work.
Question: Israeli Mission has… so you have already responded to this particular question?
Spokesman: You’ve asked me a question, I’ve given you my answer which is the Secretary-General has full confidence in her and her ability to do her work. Yes ma’am sorry to keep you waiting.
Question: I want to ask a…what is the role of the… Russia that UN believe of Russia… I mean that what is the role which the United Nations believes that Russia should play in this crisis in Ukraine?
Spokesman: Sorry, say again?
Question: What is the role which the UN believes that Russia should play in this crisis in Ukraine?
Spokesman: I think the role that the Secretary-General would like all parties and all countries to play is one to help find a peaceful and diplomatic solution and to avoid confrontation in as much as possible. Sure.
Question: The Jordan Ambassador was kidnapped in Libya today and the kidnappers want to exchange him with a prisoner in Jordan. Did you have any contact — did you contact the sources in Libya or Jordan to know what is happening there? Thank you.
Spokesman: We’ve had no official communication on that, but obviously, the kidnapping of a diplomatic envoy is extremely troubling and we are following that situation. Yes, Ken sorry and then Jonathan. Good, ahead.
Question: Thank you, one follow-up on Ukraine. So, could you tell us what the position of the UN vis-à-vis this operation that the Ukrainian authority has launched according to them, this anti-terrorist operation to evacuate this poor Russian people from the regional Government building. Actually, the Secretary-General had called to not take any further step to raise tensions. Do you this is part — this is something to be avoided or what’s the position of the UN?
Spokesman: I think, as I mentioned, the Secretary-General is gravely concerned by the disturbances currently ongoing in eastern Ukraine. He has called on all parties to do their utmost to try to de-escalate the situation and avoid further violence. Jonathan. We are running short of time, so if you’ve had one question, you’ll get one question but I’m not going to do a second round.
Question: Stéphane, the Committee on Relations with the Host Country and its review of the Iranian diplomat, how deep does that Committee go into allegations about his involvement in the hostage taking of the [United States] Embassy in 1979 and also, there are some court papers in which a former intelligence official from Iran gave testimony implicating him in the murder of a diplomat… a dissident. How thorough is it?
Spokesman: I think you know we have to wait to see what the Committee does and what the Committee decides. It will hear from the Permanent Mission of Iran, but I don’t want to pre-judge what the Committee will do. It’s a Committee of Member States they are free to do their work as they choose to. They are obviously focused on the relations, as its name implies, on the relations with the Host Country on visas, all sorts of other issues that come up between the Host Country and the UN. But, I’m not going to pre-judge what the Committee and the Chair of the Committee would want to do.
Question: How binding are their decisions? Are they legal? Do they give recommendations?
Spokesman: It’s a committee of the General Assembly. Yes ma’am?
Question: Is it a consensus? [inaudible].
Spokesman: I think you would have to address those questions to the Permanent Representative of Cyprus on how he runs his Committee, but it works the along the traditional General Assembly rules.
Question: Stéphane, just one thing on that. You mentioned that the Iranians will be briefing the legal adviser of the Committee, but is the United States also going to be doing that?
Spokesman: I’m sharing with you what I’ve been told by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus who asked me to share this information. Obviously, the [ United States] is a member of…. Benny — you are welcome to answer the question but — the [United States] is a member of the Committee, so as any other member of the Committee, I’m sure they will have the right and they have the right and they may want to choose to speak, but I can’t speak for them. Yes ma’am?
Question: Coming back to Ukraine, yesterday you actually answered this question. It’s about the request for the peacekeepers from the interim President in Ukraine, have the UN received any formal request by them of sending peacekeepers? And you said it has to be approved by the Security Council before that happens, what would be the process if that were to happen? How long it will that take to actually have a group come in there?
Spokesman: I think that we are getting way ahead of ourselves. So, your question implies green light all the way along this road. It would have to be voted on by the Security Council. I think on how long it will take; that’s purely speculative. But, you’ve been here and you know how long peacekeeping missions can take. But obviously, the first step would be an approval by the… any peacekeeping mission would approval by the Security Council. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Getting back to South Sudan, Unity State is where the oil is, what’s been the impact of the latest? Do you have any details on it? Have oil workers told to go home?
Spokesman: We’ve extracted a number of oil workers, some Russian oil workers, I don’t know what other nationalities are but obviously this kind of violence and insecurity is harmful to the overall economy of South Sudan and the future of South Sudan if they can’t extract their natural resources. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On 28 March, the Members of Commission on Inquiry into the death of Dag Hammarskjöld submitted some kind of report to the Secretary-General whereby they presented new material given by Member States. The Secretariat… the Secretary-General indicates that this new material will be consolidated. Number one, what is consolidation meaning in this case? And second, will that new material be made available? Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Abbadi, I have to… when you ask a question I always feel like I’m not ready for class. And in fact, I have some information on that, I just don’t have it with me. I promise to do my homework. Matthew, I don’t want to leave you in a bad mood. Go ahead.
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you about peacekeeping. I wanted to ask of the…a person who surrendered to MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), excuse me, to the Congolese Army, FARDC, was in turn after his very public surrender has been killed. His name is Morgan, Maï-Maï Morgan. So, I wanted to know since many people have said it seems like an execution; one, is MONUSCO looking into this? Two, since MONUSCO works with various units of FARDC, can it state with unit performed this act? And will they continue to work with them under the human rights Due Diligence Policy?
Spokesman: I’m actually prepared for you. Yesterday, indeed, the UN Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo airlifted the body of warlord, Paul Sadala, who’s otherwise known as Morgan from Komanda until Bunia. Our understanding is Morgan that had decided to surrender with 42 of his elements to local authorities and FARDC at the end of last week. We can confirm that he is, in fact, dead. He was given over to the UN dead in Komanda. The UN Mission’s doctors tried to resuscitate him upon his arrival, but were not successful. Our involvement, MONUSCO’s involvement was really receiving this convoy and the body. And at this point, we are waiting to get some outcome of the UN fact-finding mission on the ground to get a bit more detail.
Question: Does the UN believe that the killing of people that surrender may make it more difficult to get FARDC, ADF and others to surrender?
Spokesman: We are trying to figure out the exact circumstances of his death. The only thing that we do know is that he arrived at the UN base and he was dead. We tried to resuscitate him unsuccessfully. Richard?
Question: I may have missed this, apologies if it was in part of your opening remarks. There’s a planned execution tomorrow in Iran of a woman. The UN agencies have been protesting. Do you have any information on that?
Spokesman: I do not at my fingertips, but I will see what I can get. Yes, Carla? Sorry, you have to use the mic because I’m half deaf.
Question: There were reports in The New York Times that Mr. Brennan, the head of the CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency), is in Kyiv advising the Government there. Does the UN have any comment about that in view of the fact that the West is accusing Russia of advising the eastern Ukrainian…?
Spokesman: No specific comment because we obviously have no specific information on Mr. Brennan, but what I can say overall is that the Secretary-General has repeatedly called on all parties that have influence in this situation to try to help it to bring to a close in a peaceful manner and to work towards a diplomatic solution.
Question: [Inaudible] which obviously you talked about yesterday and Secretary-General talking to [inaudible], I just want to ask you, is the Secretary-General going to ask the so-called Quartet to gear up its action to jump start the peace process at all? Or the Quartet is going to remain dormant?
Spokesman: The Quartet at the working level is — all the envoys are very often in touch with each other on the ground, but I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday. So, thank you and I’ll leave you to your next guests. Thank you.
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