|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 is in Rome, where he spoke today by phone with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. He called to personally express his deep concern at the fate of the recently kidnapped schoolgirls in Borno State and to express his solidarity with the people of Nigeria, and especially the girls' families.
The President briefed the Secretary-General on the current state of the search for the abducted girls. The President accepted the Secretary-General's offer to send a high-level representative to Nigeria to discuss how the United Nations can better support the Government's efforts to tackle the internal challenges.
We also issued a statement this morning, saying that the Secretary-General shares the anguish of the families of the girls and the people of Nigeria at this traumatic time.
The Secretary-General reiterates that the targeting of children and schools is against international law and cannot be justified under any circumstances. He reminds all concerned that human rights law and international humanitarian law must be fully respected.
The Secretary-General is chairing the Rome meetings of the Chief Executives Board today. Tomorrow morning, he and the other members of the Chief Executives Board will have an audience with Pope Francis.
** South Africa
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the elections in South Africa.
The Secretary-General congratulates the people and Government of South Africa on the peaceful holding of parliamentary and provincial elections yesterday, amid reports of high voter turnout. He applauds the determination of South Africans to participate meaningfully in the democratic system the country has fought so hard to establish, starting with the first multi-racial elections 20 years ago. The United Nations is committed to continue supporting South Africa in its efforts to advance justice and development for the benefit of all segments of society.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) released today a report on the gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law that have occurred since the beginning of the conflict in mid-December.
Based on thorough documentation and investigations, the report says that there are reasonable grounds to believe that gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by both parties to the conflict. Violations include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, targeted attacks against civilians, and attacks on hospitals as well as against UN facilities and the peacekeeping mission and its staff.
The report also says that the widespread and systematic nature of many of these attacks, and information suggesting a degree of coordination and planning in some incidents, also give reasonable grounds to believe that certain crimes against humanity may have been committed.
The report calls for further investigations and says that these should move quickly and lead to the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators. They must also be conducted independently and in a transparent manner consistent with international standards and principles.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, said that accountability was critical to end the legacy of impunity in the country and that there could be no reconciliation without it. There is a press release available with the executive summary of the report. And you can also find the full report online.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on Syria’s chemical weapons programme. Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, briefed Council members this morning on the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons materiel. She will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once consultations have finished, possibly at around 1 p.m.
Then, at 4 p.m., the Security Council has scheduled consultations on South Sudan. Council members will receive an update from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, will also participate by video teleconference.
Earlier this morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution deciding to create “the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage”, to be awarded to those military, police, civilian United Nations personnel and associated personnel who demonstrate exceptional courage, in the face of extreme danger, while fulfilling the mandate of their missions or their functions, in the service of humanity and the United Nations.
**Secretary-General in Sweden
The Secretary-General will travel to Stockholm, Sweden, on Tuesday, 13 May, to attend the Global Forum for Migration and Development opening ceremony.
The Global Forum on Migration and Development is an informal Government-led process, open to all states who are members or observers of the United Nations. This year’s forum is being hosted by Sweden as the current chair of the Forum.
The Secretary-General will speak at the opening session of the Forum on Wednesday, 14 May. The Secretary-General will be received by the King and Queen of Sweden at the Royal Palace. The Secretary-General will also meet with the Crown Princess in connection with the conference. He will also hold discussions with the country’s Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, among others. The Secretary-General will return to New York in the afternoon of Thursday, 15 May.
Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang wrapped up a visit to Pakistan today. She stressed the need for more support to millions of people in the country affected by insecurity, natural disasters and chronic malnutrition. She visited the Jalozai camp hosting some 32,000 displaced people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There, she met with families which have been uprooted for years.
Ms. Kang called the protracted suffering of one million people displaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas “heart-wrenching. During her three-day mission, she met senior Government officials in Islamabad and Peshawar, discussing ways to enhance the close cooperation between the authorities and the international humanitarian community to assist those in need. More details on her visit are available online.
Six months ago today, Typhoon Haiyan swept across the central Philippines, affecting 14 million people across nine provinces and uprooting 4 million people. The humanitarian community in the country reports that the situation has stabilized across affected areas, but that progress remains fragile as millions continue to need assistance to rebuild their lives.
The acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines says that millions of people whose homes were lost or damaged now live in inadequate shelter, leaving them extremely vulnerable. He said that funds are urgently needed to sustain progress on disease control and preparedness.
I have a senior appointment to announce. The Secretary-General announces today the appointment of Marco Carmignani of Brazil as his Deputy Special Representative with the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau; he will handle the political portfolio. Mr. Carmignani brings a wealth of political and leadership experience spanning over two decades of service with the UN. We have his biographical details in my office.
A report issued today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, shows that inequalities in access to improved drinking water and sanitation facilities still persist around the world.
The report notes some progress. For instance, in 1990, only 62 per cent of people had access to improved water in rural areas. That figure jumped to 82 per cent in 2012. However, in addition to the disparities between urban and rural areas, there are often also striking differences in access within towns and cities. The situation of people living in low-income, informal or illegal settlements or on the outskirts of cities or small towns is particularly worrying.
The report reveals that by 2012, 116 countries had met the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water, 77 had met the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) target for sanitation and 56 countries had met both targets. The goal is to cut in half, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. And more on this report is available online.
This afternoon at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations and the Ukrainian-American Human Rights organization to present the report entitled "Crisis in Ukraine and its legal aspects".
And tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru to brief on the Preparatory Commission for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
That’s it for me. Any questions? Yes, Joe.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say on the reported decision by the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine to proceed with the referendum on sovereignty this Sunday? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, we’re simply monitoring developments to see how they proceed. It’s clear that there have been some improved words by different parties but as you’ve just noted, some of the actions remain the same. We, of course, will continue to monitor developments. Jeffrey Feltman has been on the ground in Ukraine, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and he was also in Russia, so we’ll see when he reports back what further information he’s got from his meetings on the ground. Yes, please.
Question: There was a report presented yesterday in London at London School of Economics with a very hard critic to the UN strategy to deal with the drug problem. I wanted to know what was the UN reaction, what was the Secretary-General reaction, to that report, and how do you think this might influence this special session in 2016? The report asked for a new international strategy. I also wanted to know if it’s feasible to expect a new strategy in that special session.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, it’s really up to the participants in that special session, the Member States themselves, to determine whether a new strategy is needed. For the time being, as you’re aware, we have the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to be the main body that we have dealing with the issue of drugs and drug trafficking, more generally. In terms of this report, what we’re hoping is that there’s any number of inputs that different bodies can provide that Member States can review so that they, in turn, can come prepared in 2016 to deal with the issue of how we go about dealing with drugs. Oh, and beyond that, I have the following, as well. Thank you.
The United Nations is not engaged in a war, it is pursuing peaceful solutions to the world drug problem founded on a balanced approach between demand and supply that embraces human rights, scientific evidence and the overriding principle of protecting people’s health.
Such efforts are entirely in line with the International Drug Control Conventions, which in the preamble to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, states that parties to the Convention are “concerned with the health and welfare of [humankind]”.
These principles were reiterated at the recent High-level Review at the fifty-seventh Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. At that meeting, Member States reached consensus on a joint ministerial statement that stressed health, prevention and treatment in countering the world drug problem.
UNODC, therefore, takes note of the report as part of the discussion on the direction of international drug control, which is to be reviewed and agreed upon by Member States at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 2016, as I mentioned earlier. Thanks. Yes?
Question: Farhan, my question has to do with posting documents on the Division of Ocean Affairs of the Law of the Sea Convention. Recently, on 17 April, Turkey, which is not a Member of the Law of the Sea Convention, had posting a note verbale that was sent to the Secretary-General that concerns an agreement, it doesn’t say with whom, but it’s with an illegal entity of the so-called TRNC, posting coordinates and other things. I wonder why the Division of the Ocean Affairs of the Law of the Sea decided to publicize this document.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, thanks. On this issue, the UN Secretariat maintains as part of its mandate a website providing comprehensive information on States’ claims to maritime jurisdiction. This information at times includes claims on baselines or the limits of maritime zones. UN Member States frequently use the services of this website to give publicity to such claims, as well as to other information or communications. The Law of the Sea Bulletin, a periodic publication issued by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, the Office of Legal Affairs, serves a similar purpose.
It is important to note that the publication or circulation of information, like the note verbale from Turkey, is a technical function. It is based on requests by UN Member States and is not related to the substance of the information. The UN Secretariat maintains this website on the principle of strict impartiality.
The website clearly states that posting of information does not imply any opinion on the part of the Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities. Publication of information does not imply recognition by the UN of the validity of the actions and decisions in question.
As part of this long-standing practice, any objections or counter-claims by other Member States to communications like this Turkish note verbale would also be posted on the United Nations website and/or published in the Law of the Sea Bulletin. Yes, Nizar?
Question: While the rebels in Homs were pulling out yesterday and today, they incinerated a very ancient church called Um al Zenar in the city. Also today, they blew up one ancient hotel in Aleppo near the Castle of Aleppo. Do you have any statement regarding these two incidents?
Deputy Spokesman: No, there’s no new statement to say. Of course, we are concerned about the destruction of any sites of historic or religious importance throughout Syria and we’ve repeatedly said that, and that would remain the case in this instance, as well. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. In Australia, today, the Tasmanian Government took further steps to open up about a million acres of forests for logging, and among those, I think, of import to the UN is about 180,000 acres that are protected by UNESCO. You know, given that the [Secretary-General] said on his speech in March on the International Day of Forest that “actions in addition just to rhetoric on the protection of forests”, any response to this policy or to the Abbott Government’s policy on forests more broadly?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think the first thing we do on that is to see first what UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has to say about this considering that as you said, this involves some, one of its heritage sites so first let’s wait and see what their initial response is. Yes?
Question: Sure, sorry, on Central African Republic, the French Defence Minister, [Jean-]Yves Le Drian, has been quoted that the French force will remain in Central African Republic until autumn. Given the, given that there’s already mounting criticism of the UN peacekeeping force only being deployed in September, has this been communicated to the UN? How does it impact the planning to deploy? Has there been any ability to…to speed up the deployment? What’s the UN doing on deploying MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic]?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, as you know, the United Nations is doing what it can to speed up the deployment of forces. At the same time, you’re quite right that we envisioned, as per the resolution of the Security Council, that this Mission will be up and running by September. What we’re trying to do is reach out to Member States to make sure that there will be the right mix of troops and equipment in place by then. In the short term, of course, we’re very thankful that MISCA and Sangari forces are present on the ground to prevent any vacuum which could be harmful to the civilians whom we’re trying to protect, so it’s important that they… that the French forces and the various other forces on the ground continue with their work until such time as the UN peacekeeping force can do more.
Question: Did Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous ask Chad to re-join the peacekeeping in Central African Republic?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have anything to say on that right now. If that changes, I will let you know. Yes, Joe?
Question: Farhan, has the Secretary-General welcomed the announced by President Putin that he’s going to withdraw troops from Ukrainian border or is he waiting for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to confirm that this is actually happening?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think at this stage, we are monitoring developments on the ground and what our focus is on deeds and not words. It’s certainly always welcomed if the things people say can help to de-escalate the situation, but what we’re looking for is to see if there will be de-escalation on the ground. And, we’ll just study what the actual circumstances on the ground are like before making any further comment on that.
Question: How will the UN know if the troops have been deployed, re-deployed?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’re in contact with a number of parties on the ground, and like I said, Jeffrey Feltman is himself in Ukraine, so we’re trying to evaluate the situation and see best what the situation on the ground is like. Of course, you’ve seen that the Secretary-General had called on all sides to avoid any provocative rhetoric and take steps to de-escalate the situation, so any move away from that is welcome, but ultimately, like I said, we want to see how that plays out on the ground itself.
Question: On the same subject, does the Secretary-General believe that sanctions against Russia are conducive to political or diplomatic solution to the crisis?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t believe the issue of sanctions on Russia… I mean, if you’re talking at the United Nations, that would be a decision for the Member States themselves.
Question: [Inaudible] some States… sorry. Some Member States have already taken sanction actions outside the United Nations. Does that help the political process?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it’s not for us to comment on nations’ bilateral affairs. This is not something that has come to the United Nations, however. Yes, please? Yes, you. Yes, exactly. Yes, please speak into the microphones.
Question: Thank you. I’m correspondent from Viet Nam National Television. So, right now, Viet Nam [inaudible] the situation in South China Sea… after Chinese ship were working to place an oil rig off Viet Nam Coast. About the situation of, the priority of Viet Nam is to resolve the situation through the peaceful means. So, what about the point of view UN about this situation right now? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t have any specific comment on this. Just in general, regarding the South China Sea, we hope and trust that all nations whose, who touch the waters of the South China Sea are able to resolve any dispute that arise from it in an amicable way, and we trust that they would do so, and otherwise, we’ll keep abreast of developments. Yes, and now your turn.
Correspondent: So, about the situation in the East Sea or South China Sea, but in case the situation escalate to the… some kind of military conflicts or something like that, so I think the UN also have some opinion or action to resolve the situation.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t want to speculate on what, on what may happen in the future. Like I said, we expect and trust that the nations involved will resolve any differences in an amicable way. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask about Haiti and cholera. It was said here on 21 April that there was this new committee that would be the Government of Haiti and of the UN, and Stéphane said that we expect a more official announcement shortly. Some people are wondering, what are the terms of reference of the committee? Who’s on it? Has there been any development in the two weeks since on setting up, on this committee?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe there has been, but I don’t think there’s anything to announce just yet. I’ll check if and when there’s something to announce and we’ll try to get some details at that point, but right now we’re just going through the work of trying to get it formed.
Question: And I also, I had wanted to ask you, about this… this Minova… the rapes and the two convictions. I know it’s been said here a couple of times that it’s being analysed, but I wondered… I wondered if you could explain, given that there is this stated formal human rights due diligence policy of suspending assistance to units that engage in abuse that are not held accountable — who, where does it stand? I mean… is that what the analysis is and who would make that decision? Would it be Martin Kobler? Would it be Mr. Ladsous? Who… how is this policy implemented on this very high profile, pretty much impunity case of mass rape?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn’t say pretty much impunity. There was a trial, there was a process. That in itself was a step. You’re absolutely right that what happened, the result of it, was disappointing and we’ve made clear, I believe my colleague Vannina made clear to you, how disappointed we were about this.
Having said that, we now have to evaluate the follow-up across, what, across the process of what happened and see how that affects our work with the relevant battalions. At this stage, we’ll let that process of evaluation go on, and if there’s anything to change about the relationship with any of the involved units, we can report it at that time.
Question: Could Mr. Ladsous or somebody, could somebody explain how this, who makes… you’re saying it, but it’s, like, who makes that decision? Because too many people it looks like 130-plus rapes per the UN, two convictions — it’s hard to see this as accountability. You’re saying they had a trial but…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I am and… and beyond that, of course, what we’re pressing for is exactly for there to be a trial. It’s not, you know, my place to comment on the workings of the judicial system of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve made clear our disappointment in what the result was. Now, we have to evaluate what that means in terms of the process, but certainly, we’ve been trying all along to get accountability for this and that meant getting the trials. How well that turned out? You’re quite right. It turned out in a manner that was, like I said, more disappointing than what we had expected. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
Correspondent: Thank you, Farhan. I waited for this question for long time. I raised my hand since the beginning. I don’t know why I was overlooked.
Deputy Spokesman: You and many others.
Question: Thank you. You indicated at the beginning that the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, has issued a report and a press release indicating that there are violations of humanitarian laws, but more than that, there is crime against humanity committed there. Why doesn’t the Mission refer or mentions the International Criminal Court? And it also calls for further investigation by national and regional groups. Why doesn’t it specify those national and regional groups?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I just refer you to the text or the report itself. It’s a very thorough analysis based on a considerable number of interviews, so it does, it does have quite a wealth of information in there about different groups, and it tries to provide a good amount of detail in there. Beyond that, in terms of the issue of the International Criminal Court, that, ultimately, questions and referral to the International Criminal Court either have to be made by States that are party to their Rome Statute, you know, if that were the case, or, if not, then it has to be referred by the Security Council, so those are decisions taken outside the scope of the work of the UN Mission itself.
One thing I would point out though, is that… is that one of the recommendations of the report is that further comprehensive and credible investigations must be undertaken to establish the scope of violations in South Sudan and the responsibility of perpetrators. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Right, in Nigeria, what exactly would the Envoy from the Secretary-General would… would be… what exactly would he do or she? There have been 3,600 or so people killed by Boko Haram this year alone.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, the basic terms of what this Representative would do are still being worked on. Ultimately, it would include ways of strengthening cooperation on issues of counter-terrorism and on issues of human rights. But beyond that, it’s a work in progress. Yes, Joe?
Question: Yes, since Iran’s original communication with the Secretary-General and with the Committee, the Host Committee, complaining about the denial of a visa to its designated UN representative, have there been any more communications between the Iranian Government and the Secretary-General, or any other developments regarding this matter?
Deputy Spokesman: No, there’s nothing really to say about that other than that the matter, I believe, remains in the hands of the Host Country Committee. Other Joe?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I believe it’s UN policy and UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) policy not to forcibly repatriate refugees, but we have a report now that Lebanon has sent back 41 Palestinians to Syria who apparently entered the country legally. Do you have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: We would need further details on that. Of course, it would be a place for UNHCR, the UN [refugee] agency, to comment, but you’re right, they have a policy of non-refoulement, and so the idea is if anyone goes back to their country they have to do so willingly. And so, that would have to be an issue of, you know, it should… needs to be verified, in other words, that people who are returning to a country have done so willingly, but again, it’s for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to determine whether that’s taking place.
Question: And on Nigeria, is the UN calling for a negotiation to free these girls and to oppose any kind of military or police operation?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing… we put two statements on this and that’s a wealth of statements just this morning and I just refer you back to those. Mr. Abbadi? See, you got it again, a second time, much, much faster.
Question: Thank you. Our colleague, Erol Avdovic, the other day asked the Secretary… Under-Secretary-General for Management what is the budget for the Secretary-General’s travel. Do you have those figures, and if not, can you provide them?
Deputy Spokesman: Among my wealth of papers, that is not there. But I’ll try and check and see what we can say about that. Yes, [inaudible]?
Question: Since Nigeria is a State Party to the International Criminal Tribunal and Ms. Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, yesterday said that the abduction of these girls and the sexual slavery could be considered a crime against humanity, what would… what could the Secretariat do within this framework to advance bringing Boko Haram to the International Criminal Tribunal?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, since Nigeria is a State Party, it could be a decision taken against Nigeria’s own Government, so we would leave that matter in their hands. It’s their decision whether they chose to do that. Yes?
Question: On Central African Republic, from what I could see on [the Associated Press] here, the French Defence Ministry said at least until autumn, which indicates they wanted to leave earlier, and that’s because of Boko Haram, they’re afraid they are going to come in there. Do you have… you don’t have any details on who’s coming and going — Europeans, French so forth? Only the UN peacekeeping…
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, we of course speak for UN peacekeeping and right we’re just in the process of reaching out to nations and getting contributions. Yes, Nizar?
Question: It’s been over a month now since a child of 10 years old was sentenced in Bahrain for over 10 years of jail for taking part in a demonstration. We haven’t heard anything from United Nations or from Human Rights Council regarding this particular incident. Is there anything new on that? I asked about this a couple of times in the past.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I mean, you’re aware of the consistent concerns that the High Commissioner for Human Rights says about judicial processes affecting people who are minors, in other words, below, below the legal age, and those would apply across the board, but we have no specific comment on this, no. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask, I think you were the one, the moderator when Zainab Bangura was here speaking about sexual violence and conflict in April, and she said that she was going to meet with this Yasmin Sooka who had done a report for the Secretary-General about Sri Lanka and a more recent report on rapes there. I guess I wanted to ask because this week, she, Ms. Sooka presented at the Canadian Mission her report and the [Deputy Permanent Representative] of Sri Lanka, Shavendra Silva, basically denied the whole thing, said there’s not a problem at all. So, I wanted to know, since she’s been here and said she’s speaking with the Mission and they want to have a focal point, who did Ms. Sooka meet with while she was here in New York? And what steps to follow-up on what Ms. Bangura said are being taken to pursue this, these documented cases of post-conflict rape in Sri Lanka?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t know here entire schedule but you’re right. Ms. Bangura herself said that she did intend to meet with her and I believe that happened. If there’s any details of that meeting to share, I’ll let you know. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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