|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 morning… Good afternoon, everyone.
At a meeting yesterday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials, the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) proposed an additional audit of polling stations to strengthen the credibility of the country’s electoral process.
The Mission said that, for weeks, both presidential candidates have requested a full investigation of serious and credible allegations of fraud, and have strongly urged measures that would separate fraudulent ballots from valid votes. The Mission shares these concerns and supports an extensive and thorough investigation and audit. The Mission urges the Independent Election Commission and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission to take up this proposal and start implementing the proposed audit with utmost impartiality and transparency. The full press statement from the UN Mission in Afghanistan is available online.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed alarm today at the Israeli military operations resulting in the killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, as well as the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. She appealed to all sides to abide by their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Ms. Pillay warned in particular that attacks must not be directed against civilians or civilian objects, nor should military assets be located in densely populated areas or attacks be launched from such areas. The High Commissioner expressed deep concern about the prospect of a ground offensive and strongly echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire.
You will recall that the Secretary-General said yesterday that it is imperative not only to restore calm today, but to establish a political horizon for tomorrow. Without the prospect of an end to the conflict, the sides will grow ever more polarized. He added that deepening violence and distrust will only complicate diplomatic efforts, and will surely resound around the region, with potentially dangerous consequences for all.
Around 6 this morning, local time, radars from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) detected the firing of three rockets towards Israel from the general area of Ain Arab in south Lebanon. Israeli authorities informed UNIFIL that one rocket impacted in northern Israel. The Israel Defense Forces returned artillery fire towards the general area from where the rocket fire originated. At this time, no casualties have been reported from either side. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Paolo Serra, and the Mission’s leadership are in close contact with the parties, urging maximum restraint in order to prevent any escalation of the situation. In coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNIFIL has reinforced its presence on the ground and intensified patrols across the area of operations to prevent any further incidents. UNIFIL, in cooperation with the parties, is currently investigating to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident. Major General Serra said that this is a serious incident in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area. He added that it is imperative to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this attack.
You’re aware that the Secretary-General announced the appointment yesterday afternoon of Staffan de Mistura as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria. In addition, after consultation with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, the Secretary-General also announced the appointment of Ambassador Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy as the Deputy Special Envoy for Syria.
The Secretary-General added that the Special Envoy will provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to the violence and human rights violations and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Mr. de Mistura has had a lengthy career at the United Nations, and his previous posts include serving as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. Before that, he has worked as the Deputy Executive Director at the World Food Programme (WFP), the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq and the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon.
**Syria — Refugees
At today’s Geneva briefing, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on European countries to strengthen their response to the Syrian crisis. In a new report, UNHCR urged States to ensure access, including fair and efficient asylum procedures, to provide adequate reception conditions and to actively adopt other measures which can provide protection and safety for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. An increasing number of Syrians are now seeking safety in countries beyond the immediate region. Many are embarking on long and dangerous journeys to reach safety and, in some cases, to reunite with family members already in Europe.
Since the conflict began in March 2011, some 123,600 Syrians have sought asylum in Europe. Relative to the 2.9 million refugees in countries immediately neighbouring Syria, these numbers remain small — only 4 per cent of Syrian refugees have sought asylum in European countries, excluding Turkey, since the conflict began. There are more details on the UNHCR website.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and its partners today launched a revised appeal for $658 million to respond to the growing regional refugee crisis resulting from the conflict and worsening humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
The agency said that it expects 715,000 people to be made refugees from South Sudan by the end of the year — double the number initially estimated earlier this year. The continuing conflict and worsening humanitarian situation in South Sudan are fuelling an exodus of refugees into Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda at a much higher rate than anticipated. The agency said the refugees arriving in these countries are in a terrible state, traumatized by the situation they fled from, as well as by the difficult journey. More information on the revised appeal is available on the refugee agency’s website.
Today, Gordon Brown, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Global Education, has called for the global community to show support for the schoolgirls of Chibok, Nigeria, on 22 July, which will be the 100th day of their captivity. He is encouraging civil society and youth organizations to hold vigils in solidarity with the schoolgirls and to send letter of support to the community for their safe return and for the Safe Schools Initiative.
Today is World Population Day, and in his message, the Secretary-General calls on the world to renew its commitment to help young people unleash progress across society. There are an estimated 1.8 billion young people in the world today, mostly in developing countries, and many of them are denied their rightful opportunities to get quality education, find decent work and participate in the political life of their societies, says the Secretary-General.
He remains particularly concerned about adolescent girls who may face discrimination, sexual violence, early marriage and unwanted pregnancies. He calls for more investments in health, education, training and employment for young people as they undergo the critical transition to adulthood. By empowering today’s youth, he says, we can lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future for generations to come. His full message is available online.
And we’ll have available for you the Week Ahead at the United Nations. Among the items to flag, on Thursday, 17 July, at 10 a.m., in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the General Assembly will hold a thematic debate on “Promotion of investment in Africa and its catalytic role in achieving Africa’s development objective”, and the Secretary-General is expected to deliver opening remarks.
That’s it for me. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Given the fact that Mr. Obama has offered his offices for a ceasefire in Gaza and the Secretary-General has been calling to end it, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says the ceasefire is not on the table, at all. So is there any way that the Secretary-General of the United Nations can somehow ask the international community to get together to stop Israel from creating another disastrous situation which can lead to another humanitarian crisis of no end?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General is well aware of the need to speak out on this and this is why he has been speaking out. He, in fact, spoke recently with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, trying to plead for calm throughout the situation. And you will have seen that he also spoke at the Security Council yesterday morning and talked about the severity of the crisis that is unfolding. So he has been maintaining his discussions, including with leaders of the region. Some of those calls are happening today, and he will continue with his contacts with anyone who he believes can have an influence in calming the situation down.
Question: No, but the thing is that the Israeli Prime Minister is on record, reported by Israeli media, that the ceasefire is not on the table and that is absolutely a declaration of war, so to speak, for people who are not armed at all.
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the media comments and, like I said, the Secretary-General is continuing with his contacts and he will… and he and other officials, including Robert Serry on the ground, will continue with their efforts to try to bring the situation back to a restoration of calm, and hopefully back to a restoration of the negotiations that have been suspended.
Question: On another question about Pakistan. The IDPs… There are about 800,000 IDPs now since the army operation began. Apparently, Pakistan does need a lot of humanitarian aid, which is not forthcoming. Is there any way the Secretary-General can motivate the international community to help Pakistani in that time?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have been providing updates. As you know, the UN refugee agency and others have pointed out that at least 700,000 people have been on the move in North Waziristan. We are trying to provide aid as we can. Of course, we would need to do that in coordination with the Government of Pakistan and we will see what kind of assistance they request. Yes?
Question: Sure, just now at the stakeout, Russian Ambassador Churkin made this four-point proposal that he says has been circulated to the Council. So I wanted to at least put the question in… whether… what the UN thinks of… of, you know, condemning casualties among the civilian population, but especially a role given to the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]. I wanted to know, what is the UN’s role at this point in trying to defuse the situation in eastern Ukraine? And do you have any comment on the Government in Kyiv blocking certain TV channels from being viewed inside the country?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the second question, of course, as you know, we stand for freedom of expression and freedom of the media, and we would urge all Governments, all Member States, to allow for freedom of expression to be observed and upheld. Regarding your first question, as Ambassador Churkin made clear, this is a proposal that he has brought to the other members of the Security Council, so we’ll wait to see how the members of the Security Council respond and what they can agree to.
Question: I guess, there seems to be, the centrality of the role of the OSCE. I wonder, does the UN or the Secretariat see it as, kind of a… not a wasted opportunity, it seems like on this issue the… either peacekeeping or even DPA side of the UN has been kind of sidelined. Is that… What do you say to that?
Deputy Spokesman: As well you know, the question of peacekeeping mandates is one that is decided by the members of the Security Council. These are proposals, like you have just heard, that have been made to the members of the Security Council, and we’ll have to see what they respond and what sort of mandate they are willing to give. Yes?
Question: The United Nations oversaw the destruction of chemical weapons by Iraq in the past. What is the opinion of the United Nations regarding the recent letter from Iraq on hundreds or thousands of rockets are still there which are fell in the hands of terrorists at the moment, containing sarin gas?
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the letter. We have received that and circulated that. Regarding chemical weapons in Iraq, the letter does not state there is any threat from actual stocks of chemical weapons. You can look at the text of the letter itself.
Question: Yeah, but in your opinion, or in the experts’ opinion, should this material have remained there? Why has it not been destroyed at all? Maybe the rebels can… or the terrorists can reinvigorate it?
Deputy Spokesman: The stocks of chemical weapons, I can just refer you to the documents that were provided by what was then called the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM, and its successor UNMOVIQ, the [UN] Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. But stocks of chemical and other weapons were destroyed under their supervision at the time. What this is talking about is abandoned facilities, essentially, that were left behind, which is a separate matter. Yes?
Question: Yes, are you in touch with UNRWA in Gaza, and have they confirmed that there are about 100 deaths so far in Israeli occupation or more than that?
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t have a confirmation of those particular numbers. The numbers we received as of late yesterday was a little bit less than that, but of course we will keep getting reports on the ground. Certainly, we have made clear our concerns about the civilian casualties, regardless of what the precise numbers are. And the humanitarian agencies, including the Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), are deeply concerned about the growing humanitarian emergency in Gaza following Israel’s launch of its military operation on 7 July. The work of humanitarian organizations has clearly been affected by the ongoing military operation. An emergency operations centre, manned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has been set up in Gaza to coordinate the humanitarian response by agencies on the ground. Humanitarian partners are calling for immediate respect of international humanitarian law, including the prohibition of targeting of civilians and civilian objects and prohibition of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. Yes?
Question: I know there, and you have just reiterated the UN’s kind of generic position on press freedom, but I wanted to ask you a specific one. It has to do with Myanmar. A couple of days ago, five journalists there, four reporters and an editor, were sentenced to 10 years of hard labour for having published a story about a weapons factory in the country. And since I know that the UN has something of a, you know, I don’t want to say a special relationship, but has a good offices envoy, Mr. Nambiar, etcetera, I wanted to know, do you have anything? This seems similar to, let’s say, the situation in Egypt or elsewhere, where journalists are essentially sentenced to prison for what they reported. And I wanted to know if you had any specific comment on this imprisonment.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we will check if we have anything specific to say on that. Okay, one more?
Question: Since there’s time, I wanted to ask this yesterday, but since you’re here, I’m going to ask you today. It may seem strange to you, but in the Secretary-General’s press availability, the… the… I wanted to ask you this, I noticed in looking at the transcript afterwards, I noticed that it wasn’t complete, and I understand that the transcripts are never complete. But it seemed that, for example, a statement made, you know, thanking him, that… for taking questions which it’s been sometime that he hadn’t done it. And also to be specific, you know, saying on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, this was removed from the transcript, but other information was put in. So I wanted to know, what… who decides this? Is the transcript supposed to be an accurate depiction of what was said, or can things be taken out? Would a question about corruption come out? Where does it stop? What’s the process by which a briefing is transcribed and made public?
Deputy Spokesman: We check against the tape. If there are certain bits that are inaudible or unclear, those wouldn’t make it in, but everything that is audible we transcribe. Yes?
Question: Farhan, what do you know about these Pakistani refugees now pouring into Afghanistan, also in Khost and so forth? Does the United Nations have a record of how many have crossed into Afghanistan? 100,000? Last time, the UN said it was like 50,000.
Deputy Spokesman: We had some numbers that we put out yesterday from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. I’ll share those with you right after.
Question: Can I ask one more?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Question: It has to do with this appointment of the Deputy for Syria. I just wanted… it is a little unclear to me, I understand that the League of Arab States recommended Mr. Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, but did the Secretary-General interview him? Was there any… when has he met him? What’s the… how can you describe the interaction between the two, in terms of understanding him as a UN envoy?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General, as he made clear yesterday, is the one who appointed him and named him. And he did it after consultations with Nabil ElAraby, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States.
Question: But did he speak to him? Did he speak to Mr Ramzy?
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t describe interview processes. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Some time ago, you told us that the mandate of the monitors in Ukraine, human rights monitors, is supposed to be ending in August. I want to ask is there a possibility of renewing the mandates? Were there discussions on this? And could you possibly say when the next report is going to coming out? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, reports have been coming out basically every month and we would expect that. I believe… I believe we have made clear to you what the current mandate is and we’ll see whether that gets renewed once it’s done.
Question: Regarding the appointment of Mr. de Mistura, how long since you first advised the Syrian Government of the intention to appoint him, because yesterday, Mr. Ban Ki-moon mentioned that that was done in consultations with the Syrians? When was the first time you consulted, and when was the last time?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you will have seen, we put on the Secretary-General’s schedule his meetings and you will have seen that he’s had meetings this week with the Syrian Permanent Representative, and, of course, the announcement was made, as you saw, yesterday afternoon.
Question: Well, the first meeting was two days ago, and the second meeting was yesterday, as I knew. That means you advised him two days ago and the appointment was the following day.
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