Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

3 July 2014

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

3 July 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

** Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomes the decision of the Independent Election Commission to launch an additional, ongoing audit of a number of polling stations in the second round of the presidential election, in which the total number of ballots cast was 599 or higher.  The Mission encourages the Election Commission to implement further measures that could enhance the transparency, neutrality and impartiality of the electoral process, and separate and reject fraudulent ballots from valid votes.  It also welcomes the re-scheduling of the announcement of the second round’s preliminary results to Monday, 7 July.  The UN Mission looks forward to the conclusion of the electoral process, in accordance with the relevant laws and mandates of the electoral institutions and the orderly transition of a new administration.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that, given the security situation and the projected deterioration of the food security situation, the number of displaced persons in UNMISS bases is expected to remain high over the coming months.  And you will recall that Hilde Johnson, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, said that nearly 100,000 people are seeking protection in the ten UN bases across the country.

In a press conference in Juba today, the Mission said that work on improving existing Protection of Civilians sites and building new sites is continuing.  In Malakal, for example, two thirds of the displaced — that’s almost 12,000 people — at the UN base have already moved into a new site.  And in Juba, a new site is ready to welcome up to 13,300 people.  Relocations to this site have started, with 672 displaced moving there so far.  The Mission also said it was concerned about the situation in Bentiu, where 100 to 200 displaced people continue to arrive daily.  The Mission adds that there are sanitary and health concerns, given how crowded the base is.

** Syria

The UN refugee agency says that the Syria refugee crisis is fast becoming the world’s largest displacement.  Today, there are close to 3 million Syrian refugees, and the number of those seeking safe haven is increasing by 100,000 every month.  For Iraq, the Agency says that the monthly refugee influx from Syria is lower than had been expected.  As a result, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] Iraq has revised its planning figures downward for refugee support for the remainder of this year.  Their current planning projections are that 250,000 Syrians will be seeking humanitarian aid in Iraq at the end of this year.

** Iraq

The UN Population Fund, better known as UNFPA, has warned that an estimated quarter of a million women and girls, including 60,000 pregnant women, affected by the conflict in northern and western Iraq, are in need of urgent care.  As health facilities are overstretched, UNFPA expects that the number of unassisted childbirths may rise, jeopardizing the lives of mothers and newborns.  Moreover, it remains concerned, as in any emergency, about the vulnerability of women and girls to gender-based violence and exploitation.  UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, said that the Fund is redirecting its resources to respond to the crisis.  It needs some $6.5 million to meet the needs of more than 200,000 women and girls.

Also, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] reported that it has made its first delivery of essential humanitarian supplies to Sinjar, in the western Governorate of Ninevah.  The town is now sheltering some 50,000 displaced people, more than half of them children.  It has delivered water, hygiene kits, jerry cans and safe birthing kits to help displaced families cope with the crisis. And more information is available online.

** Somalia

From Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, has condemned the murder of Mohamed Mohamud Hayd, a member of the Somali Federal Parliament.  He expressed his deep concern regarding recent attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, where Mr. Mohamud was killed today.  The Special Representative called for peace and reconciliation during the time of Ramadan.  And he urged Somali authorities to make every effort to bring the perpetrators to justice as quickly as possible.

**Chikungunya

And you may have heard about the spread of Chikungunya virus in the Caribbean region over the past months, with imported cases reported in the United States.  The Pan-American Health Organization, known as PAHO, continues to monitor the virus, which is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites.  The virus, Chikungunya, was found for the first time in the Caribbean in December 2013 and has now spread to many other parts of the region.  The disease rarely causes death, but joint pain can last months or even years for some people and complications may occur in children or people over 65 years of age.  If you’re interested, more information is available on the PAHO website.

** Argentina

Even though Mr. Klein is not here today, I did want to answer something he’d asked about on the human rights implications of Argentina defaulting on its sovereign debt.  The UN believes that it is important, among other things, that countries facing such a situation take the appropriate measures, including in respect of their obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to ensure that the most vulnerable people are not disproportionately affected by measures taken in the wake of a default.

**Press Conference Monday

And on Monday, at 10 a.m., in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the Secretary-General will launch the Millennium Development Goals Report 2014, at the opening of the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council.  And following that, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by the lead author of the report, Keiko Osaki-Tomita.

**Week Ahead

And on Tuesday, 8 July, at 11 a.m., in this room, Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia [University]; and Laurence Tubiana, the French Ambassador for climate negotiations will speak to reporters about the Deep Decarbonization Pathways report.  And we do expect the Secretary-General to make some introductory remarks, as well.  That’s it.  Don’t pause for more than 10 seconds, or I will be out of here. Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, of course, you are following the situation in the occupied territories and West Bank and Jerusalem, in particular, and the carnage there is escalating.  The Israelis are really also inciting, using fascist slogans like “exterminate the Arabs” while thousands and thousands are signing onto that, including soldiers.  What is the United Nations doing, especially that the Security Council looks idle on the matter?

Spokesman:  I think the Security Council, if I am not mistaken, issued a press statement yesterday concerning the death of the young Palestinian teenager.  You know, the Secretary-General is reiterating his call on all parties to avoid any escalation, whether that be in terms of actions on the ground or in rhetoric — anything that could escalate the violence further, which could lead to a further loss of life.

Question:  How about the attacks on Gaza?  Does he see that these attacks are justified, given that the three Israelis who were killed, nobody knows who killed them, actually or factually?

Spokesman:  I think the answer to that question would be incorporated in what I have just said.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary-General have any opinion on the humanitarian crisis of the unaccompanied minors crossing from Central America and Mexico to the [ United States]?  Some [ United States] agencies estimate that up to 90,000 minors without the company of an adult are going to cross this year the border.  It seems that this has the scale of a refugee crisis.  Does he have something on that?

Spokesman:  I think our colleagues in UNHCR have spoken out on the issue very, very recently.  And we do… As in all these cases, I think it is important on countries to not only treat migrants with dignity and to ensure that their rights under international law are respected, and especially when it comes to minors.  Matthew?

Question:  Thank you.  I have some MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and peacekeeping questions, but I thought I would start with this one.  In Myanmar, there has been a curfew declared in Mandalay after violence between Buddhists and Muslims, and I wondered, one, whether Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar and his good offices have any comment on this, and two, whether the UN country team there is in any way affected by the curfew?  What is its knowledge?  Do they think the Government’s reaction is appropriate?

Spokesman:  I have not seen anything from Mr. Nambiar’s office.  I haven’t seen those reports, so I will look into those.

Question: What about… there is quite a bit of controversy about Australia stopping at least two ships of Sri Lankan asylum seekers at sea and recording — one has 150 people on it; the other has 50 [people] — recording their asylum claims, while at sea, and I wanted to know… some people claim it violates international law, but does the Secretariat…?

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen those particular reports, but I would just repeat what I have said to your colleague about the need for nations to respect, treat migrants with dignity and to respect their obligations under international law.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  There are reports that the Guinea Ebola outbreak is out of control.  Is the Secretary-General concerned with the spread of the disease, and what is the UN or the WHO [World Health Organization] doing to contain it?

Spokesman:  As you know, we are obviously following that situation.  The agency in the lead is the World Health Organization.  There is currently a ministerial-level meeting going on in Accra, in Ghana, which is I think scheduled to wrap up either today or tomorrow, along with health ministers from West Africa.  As soon as we get a readout and a wrap-up of that meeting, we will share that with you.  Talal?

Question:  Fatou Bensouda, the ICC [International Criminal Court] Prosecutor, on the seventeenth of last month, has labelled some very serious allegations against UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] at the Security Council, and was backed by eight countries who spoke at the Council that day, including two permanent five members.  She asked the Secretary-General for an independent and complete investigation into these allegations.  Yesterday, you announced that the Secretary-General instructed the UN to have a review of UNAMID, within a month to have results.  Is that tantamount to a complete and independent investigation into these very serious allegations?

Spokesman:  I think, you are right, the allegations are very serious.  There have been a number of various, specific, reports by the mission — situation reports, code cables, reports to the Council — and what the Secretary-General wants to do is to have the Secretariat take a much closer look at what has actually been reported, also looking at the cross-cutting managerial issues.  There have been a lot of fact-finding processes over the past two years — audits and reviews — and to have a real hard look at how the Mission has been performing.  He will obviously take a look at the results of that study, and the recommendations, to see what’s been implemented and what’s not, and then develop a next step and a course of action to address them.

Question:  Is that what has been asked by Fatou Bensouda?

Spokesman:  I think for the Secretary-General, you know, he expects the best out of the staff, out of the missions.  Obviously, the allegations raised are very serious, and I think it is an important step for him to have a full overview of what has actually been said, what has been done, and more importantly, what may been recommended in the past and not actually done.

Question:  What is corrective action?  You said after this review…

Spokesman:  You know, I don’t want to pre-empt… sorry, I won’t interrupt you, and you won’t interrupt me.  You go ahead.  Go ahead.

Question:  Will there be accountability for people who are found guilty, if any, of such serious allegations?  You see, the point of having an independent body looking into these allegations is there will be no questions after about the impartiality and transparency of this.  But, to have it done by the UN, investigating the UN will leave it open again to other allegations.  And would it be made public, by the way?

Spokesman:  I wouldn’t want to prejudge what the outcome of what the Secretary-General has tasked his staff to do.  Let’s complete it, and then obviously we will be about to report back to you in some fashion as to what has been found.  Nizar, and then Matthew?

Question:  Regarding the release of 32 truck drivers by ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Shams] in Iraq — they were Turkish drivers.  Did the United Nations play any role in their release?

Spokesman:  I am not aware that we played any role in their release, but we are obviously very glad that they have been released.

Question:  I have another question regarding Haiti elections; yesterday I asked about that.  Do you have any update?

Spokesman: I don’t have any update on that.  Yes, Matthew?

Correspondent:  On MONUSCO, since it seems like good day for some back and forth and parley, and then the helicopters.

Spokesman:  [laughs]  What day is not a good day for back and forth?

Question:  It seems like it is possible, so…I just wanted to ask you, on this killing of 38 individuals in Mutarale, which took place in South Kivu in June, and MONUSCO is under fire for inaction, although they had peacekeepers nine kilometres away, some people are saying that, in fact, the killing, it wasn’t about cattle ranchers, it was about the same armed youth wing from Burundi, which is exactly where they were said to be training, and I wanted to know, given that, I think, Mr. [Martin] Kobler has said, there was a certain inactivity by MONUSCO, but what is being done now to find out whether that youth wing is in fact in that location, as is alleged?

Spokesman:  I think you are right, Mr. Kobler expressed yesterday his regret at the fact that there was a delay in action by the UN forces in intervening.  We will see what further steps are taken as a result of what happened.  As for the youth wing, and the presence that you report, I don’t have anything on that.

Question:  Okay.  This is my hope for… maybe it’s not a big back and forth.  I just wanted to ask, what I tried to ask yesterday, very calmly.  I wanted to ask about this flying by MONUSCO of the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] leader.  I guess I just wanted to understand, did… did… just also to understand how these briefings work.  I know that I asked you whether they flew, and you said you weren’t aware of it, which seems totally fair, that was on Friday.  By Monday, when I asked again, I just wanted to know, can you say, did you ask DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] here in New York or MONUSCO, and did they tell you anything?  And if so, what did they tell you, and when did they tell you?

Spokesman:  Okay.  If I am given information to release publicly, I don’t like to hold on to it.  All right?  So, if I am given information I will share it with you.  The fact that I wasn’t able to share anything with you is that I had nothing to share with you.  The Mission addressed it, as you saw, so there is really nothing more for me to add on that.

Question:  But, I want to ask again a sort of fundamental question.  If flying a sanctioned individual around, how can a UN peacekeeping mission take action that is sort-of confidential from its own Member States?  That is what I would like to know; not even just from the public, but even from Member States.  Are you saying that they acknowledged to you that they had flown this sanctioned individual, but told you not to say it?  Am I reading you correctly?  Did you ask them?  Did they tell you?

Spokesman:  I think there are obviously activities that MONUSCO needs to do in terms of FDLR disarmament.  I think there was a [request] filed for a temporary lifting of sanctions for him to fly out of the country.  It was denied; and he did not fly out of the country, which I think is what had been reported in one of the newspapers out of Rwanda.  He did not fly out of the country.

Question:  This is the last thing.  I know that you sort of focussed on that.  But, I said on Friday, did they fly him inside the country?  For some, that is strange…

Spokesman:  I understand.  I understand what it is to some.  As I said, they have to address, they have some operational needs for disarmament with the FDLR.  I think we have had a good back and forth.  Nizar?

Question:  The question is regarding, on the meeting in Berlin yesterday regarding Ukraine, how does the United Nations view what has been agreed there?  And are the observers back watching in east Ukraine?

Spokesman:  Yes, the observers… I have nothing on the Berlin meeting, but as far as the human rights observers, they are continuing their work.

Question:  Before the long weekend, just wondering if there are any updates on Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s replacement?  I have to ask this.

Spokesman:  You know, I have been in this job for quite some time cumulatively.  I will not, as much as I would like to risk saying something.  I will not say anything.  Once it is announced, it is announced.  I just hope we will all have a peaceful weekend.  You will all hear before me, I have no doubt about that.  Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about this.  Since noon yesterday, it was announced by the [United States] that they had had military trainers for some time in Somalia, and they went to great pains to say, not working with the Somali army, due to child soldiers and other issues, but they had been training and working with AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] for some time.  So, I wanted to know, since the UN has this UN support mission for Somalia that worked with AMISOM, maybe you will know this or maybe you can find out, did the UN know of this, is this…?

Spokesman:  We can ask.

Question:  And do you have any comment on the peacekeeping deal?

Spokesman:  Yes, I do, in fact, and it will be my last comment.  The Secretary-General is very pleased that Member States could come together in a spirit of compromise and cooperation to agree on a peacekeeping budget.  As for the delay in the voting of this budget, we would not expect it to be a precedent.  Thank you and have a wonderful, wonderful, 4 July weekend, and do not come here tomorrow at noon.  Or you can, but I won’t be here.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.