|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, and thank you for being patient.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released a new report, saying that the number of civilian casualties has increased by 24 per cent during the first half of 2014 compared to the same period last year. The report also says that ground combat among parties to the conflict in Afghanistan is now killing and injuring more civilians compared to the improvised explosive devices. The greatest impact of ground combat has been on children and women. This year, the number of child casualties has more than doubled and two thirds more women have been killed and injured compared to 2013.
The Director of Human Rights for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Georgette Gagnon, added that this year fighting is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and the homes of ordinary Afghans. She called for more efforts to protect civilians from the devastating impact of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing civilians. The press release from UNAMA is available online.
** Central African Republic
The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, otherwise known as MINUSCA, reports that the past weeks have witnessed an alarming escalation of violence and attacks against civilian populations in the Bambari area of the Central African Republic. Most recently, on 7 July, a brutal attack against the displaced persons at the site of Saint Joseph Cathedral and the Bishop’s residence in Bambari resulted in at least 27 deaths, including women and children.
The Mission condemns in the strongest possible terms all acts of violence. The UN Mission remains actively engaged in efforts to end the violence and strongly encourages all parties to lay down their arms and engage in political and reconciliation processes aimed at putting a sustainable end to the cycle of violence in the Central African Republic.
And from Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Nicholas Kay, has condemned last night’s attack on Villa Somalia, the seat of the Federal Government in Mogadishu. He said that this was the latest in a series of attacks by Al-Shabaab against Somalia’s political institutions.
Speaking from Villa Somalia today, following meetings with both the President and Prime Minister, Mr. Kay said that the political progress in Somalia is only possible through the unity of its political institutions. He said that the unity is being attacked by those determined to plunge the country back into turmoil. Mr. Kay reiterated the UN’s support for the people and institutions of Somalia as they make progress towards stability and peace. And more information is available online.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today welcomed the generous contribution of $9.5 million from Kuwait to UN humanitarian agencies and the International Organization for Migration, responding to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Iraq. An additional half a million dollars from Kuwait has been allocated directly to the Kuwait Red Crescent Society and the International Islamic Charity Organisation.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said the funding will help the humanitarian community scale up efforts to provide aid to displaced families and host communities in Iraq. An estimated 1.5 million people have been affected by the latest upsurge in violence in Iraq. Many people urgently need water, food, shelter, health care, sanitation and protection from violence.
On a related note, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, today visited the Governorate of Dohuk, as well as the Garmawa transit site for internally displaced people in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Dohuk has seen an influx of over 200,000 displaced people in the last two weeks.
Ms. Badcock said that the UN and its humanitarian partners are rapidly scaling up to help displaced people. Emergency items such as food, water, tents and medical supplies are reaching families in need. Additional aid workers and emergency funds are being mobilized to continue the scaling up of efforts.
Meanwhile here, in its closed consultations, the Security Council heard an update on the situation in Lebanon this morning from the UN Special Coordinator in that country, Derek Plumbly. And he just spoke to you a few minutes ago.
And from Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, said today that he is extremely alarmed about the recent escalation of the conflict in Amran Governorate. Over the past few days, violence has displaced thousands of families, as well as affecting many more. He said that there are reports of more than 200 civilians, including women and children, having been killed. Thousands of people are reportedly trapped inside the conflict zone in Amran City, unable to flee the fighting.
The Humanitarian Coordinator said that all parties to the conflict have a responsibility to make sure that civilians are spared from the fighting and that those who are affected by conflict are able to move to more secure areas. He also called on all parties to facilitate aid agencies’ access to civilians, and to protect and respect humanitarian activities, workers, and property at all times to ensure that aid can reach the most vulnerable people.
A new World Health Organization (WHO) report profiling efforts to address non-communicable diseases in countries will be launched tomorrow at 1:15 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. WHO Director General Margaret Chan will be joined at the event by health ministers from six countries.
While many countries have taken action to address heart diseases, cancer, lung diseases and diabetes, the death toll from such diseases is still unacceptably high. The new report will show how progress in addressing non-communicable diseases has been insufficient and highly uneven.
I have an appointment to announce. The Secretary-General has appointed Christian Friis Bach of Denmark as the next Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). He will replace Sven Alkalaj of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the Organisation.
Mr. Bach is currently Head of the Parliamentarian Group for the Danish Social/Liberal Party. And we have more information on this appointment in my office.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., in this very room, there will be a press conference on the latest figures from the World Urbanization Prospects: the 2014 Revision.
I do expect the Secretary-General to speak to you in this room at 4:30 this afternoon about developments in the Middle East. I do expect it today. With that, I will take your questions. Marcelle, then Mr. Abbadi, then Iftikhar and Matthew.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane; is the Secretary-General going to announce a new UN Envoy to Syria today?
Spokesman: I’ve been in this game long enough not to predict what will be announced or what will not be announced.
Question: Just to follow up, can you tell me if that role is still a joint envoy between the UN and the Arab League?
Spokesman: I will indulge you in asking you for some more patience until the announcement is made, to answer that question. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In Iraq, there are reports that say that the jihadists have taken over a site with dangerous chemicals. Is the Secretary-General concerned?
Spokesman: We’ve seen that report and I’m trying to get a bit more Mission… excuse me, a bit more information from the Mission on that. My understanding is that it was a site that had been previously used to store chemical weapons, but it did not contain them. But I will check with the Mission and see if there is more information. Mr. Iftikhar Ali?
Question: On Afghanistan, has the Secretary-General been in touch with the two rival candidates in the disputed presidential elections, as President [Barack] Obama has already done?
Spokesman: At this point, the contacts have been led by our Mission in Afghanistan. If there’s something new to announce, I will say it. Mr. Lee?
Question: Okay, this was the follow-up on [Lakhdar] Brahimi replacement. Is Mr. [Staffan] De Mistura in town? And, when is the last time the Secretary-General spoke with him?
Spokesman: I don’t have any information on the whereabouts of this gentleman.
Question: Okay. Can I ask? I just wanted to ask that, yesterday there was a filing in the Haiti cholera case and it also included an attachment, a letter from OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] addressed to Samantha Power earlier this year, I mean, from this letter I wanted to ask you the following: it said, the UN is basically claiming, “We’re totally immune unless we waive it.” And so, I don’t know if, but I want to ask you this: has the Secretary-General ever considered waiving the UN’s immunity, at least partially, in this case? And also, can you, is it true that the Secretary-General is going to the Dominican Republic in the middle of July, and will he also go to Haiti and inaugurate a soccer stadium?
Spokesman: I don’t have any official announcement on travel at this point. As far as Haiti and the legal standing, our position has not changed.
Question: But did he ever consider, at some earlier stage, had he ever considered and rejected it?
Spokesman: As I said, what we’ve said about Haiti and the legal position remains the same. And, as I’ve also said, our work with the Government in Haiti on addressing the cholera spread is continuing. I think there was a meeting, in fact, this morning of the Joint Commission run by the UN and the Government of Haiti. And, we continue to appeal for funds and we continue to work in partnership with the Government of Haiti on that. Seana and then…
Question: Just a quick question on the two short-range ballistic missiles that were fired from North Korea. Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General on that, and do you expect any reaction?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything at this time. Just to reiterate what we’ve said in the past with the launch of these missiles. Yes, sit, we’ll go over to you. Press the button please. No, it’s on the mic, the button is on the microphone. It’s in black. Alright, we’ll have Edie and then we’ll come back to you.
Question: Stéphane, has the Secretary-General been making any comments, any calls on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?
Spokesman: Yes, quite a few and that will be part of what the Secretary-General will brief you on later on. Yes, sir, now that you have your mic on?
Question: There are reports that the Security Council Sanctions Committee has determined that the shipment of arms seized in the Red Sea in March originated in Iran and that would be a violation of the resolution, arms embargo on Iran arms shipments. So, I am wondering if your office has any comment on that, and if you do, what kind of action you would expect from the Council?
Spokesman: These reports are done by independent experts hired by the Sanctions Committee and it is up then to the Security Council Sanctions Committee to address the findings of these reports. Mr. Lee?
Question: I want to ask you about Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and also about spying, generally. The MSF report, I wanted to ask you, the report has been analysed dysfunctions in, as they put it, in a number of humanitarian situations, including South Sudan, Jordan, DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and the report I wanted to ask you about, they say that the UN is at the heart of the dysfunction. It said that the agencies are being too cautious and even with the promised scale-up, this hasn’t solved the problems. You know, what is the UN’s response to that?
Spokesman: And what is your second question?
Question: The second question is just sort of, maybe it’s a long shot, but there’ve been recent revelations that the US Government surveilled a number of prominent Muslim-American, both professors, lawyers and somebody running for office, and the documents that have been leaked also have something about “raghead”… Basically, pretty troubling things. And, I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General, here in the host country, is aware of these, and what he has to say about that?
Spokesman: I have not seen those reports. On the MSF, we’ve obviously seen the report. I would argue that, contrary to being risk-adverse, UN Humanitarian workers are taking risks everyday — whether in Syria, the Central African Republic, the many other places we work, whether it’s ourselves, our partners, whether it’s John Ging, Valerie Amos. I think they’ve been very vocal in underscoring the risks that humanitarian workers take every day. We obviously welcome MSF’s report. I think it is part of the debate in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit. We always like to look at these challenges. We are always happy to improve the way we work. What is clear is that there is an increasing strain on what humanitarian workers have to do every day, what the system has to respond to every day. And that strain is something we see every day, that I talk about here every day. Look what’s going on Iraq, what’s happened in the last few months in South Sudan. And funding is obviously a critical missing piece of how we can react. So we are open and always happy to receive constructive criticism. But I think that the situation is probably a lot more complicated than MSF makes it out to be. Benny and then Evelyn?
Question: A follow up on the report on the Security Council Report, the Sanctions Committee Report: has the Secretary-General seen this report? Is it pertinent to his assessment of what’s going on in the Middle East, because obviously, it is?
Spokesman: I think you’ve answered the question, Benny. You know, as I said, the report is one of reports that are made by Security Council Sanctions Committee experts and it’s up to the Security Council to deal with it.
Question: Has Ban [Ki-moon] seen it?
Spokesman: That’s what I have for you. Ms. Leopold?
Question: I will find the button here. Has the Secretary-General weighed in at all on the Ethiopian dissident that was taken off the plane in Yemen and returned to Ethiopia?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen anything on that, but I will check. Thank you all, and we will confirm the SG speaking to you later this afternoon.
Question: [inaudible] …reports from every agency, not just the reports on the relevant media disaster, but it’s like everyone is emptying out their desk, so they can go on leave in August, and if you have any influence… you know, they don’t write themselves.
Spokesman: If I had any influence… Dot, dot, dot. Thank you all; have a great day.
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