|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.
The Secretary-General is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he just met with the Presidents of the National Assembly and the Chamber of Deputies. Earlier this morning, he toured the “Sports for Hope Centre” with President Michel Martelly and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General visited the village of Los Palmas, in Central Department. There he met with a family affected by cholera. He also took part in a ceremony in the local church to honour Haitians affected by cholera and to express his solidarity. The Secretary-General said that the United Nations and its partners are strongly committed to ending the epidemic as quickly as possible.
He also launched the “Total Sanitation Campaign” with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, which aims to raise sanitation standards and improve health conditions. The United Nations will assist the Government of Haiti in targeting an initial 20 communes covering 3 million people within the next five years.
And in the evening, the Secretary-General met with President Martelly. Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said this was not the time for donor fatigue and that Haiti still needs the assistance of the international community. He also said that the holding of elections this year is essential. Later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will travel to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has condemned in the strongest terms today’s attacks in Urgun, in the south-eastern province of Paktika, and in Kabul. In Urgun, at least 43 civilians have been killed, including eight children. The death toll makes it the single worst attack this year in the country. The deliberate attack on a civilian shuttle bus in Kabul has killed another two people. Fatalities in Kabul include two staff members from the Directorate of the Presidential Administration.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ján Kubiš, said that the perpetrators must be held accountable. He added that civilians should be able to go about their daily lives without the risk of such horrific violence. Today’s explosions follow two suicide attacks earlier this week in Paktika Province, which killed four and wounded 11. The UN Mission continues to reiterate that international humanitarian law, to which all parties to the armed conflict are bound, prohibits the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate tactics, in particular improvised explosive devices. More information is available on the Mission’s website, and we also expect to issue a statement on this issue later today.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said today that the level of human loss and destruction in Gaza has been immense. During today’s Geneva press briefing, the Agency said that there have been 174 killed and well over 1,100 injured so far, but those numbers were increasing rapidly; a cause of concern was the large proportion of women and children among casualties. Also, 560 homes were completely destroyed and thousands of other buildings damaged in Israeli airstrikes. As we told you yesterday, some 17,000 refugees have sought refuge in 20 UNRWA schools. There are additional details in today’s Geneva press briefing notes.
UN agencies and partners from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached Madamiyet Elsham in rural Damascus yesterday for the first time in nearly two years and delivered food, household items, and hygiene supplies for about 5,000 people. It’s hoped that this will be the first of four days of deliveries, which would benefit a total of 20,000 people. Two mobile clinics also went in and provided medical services until supplies ran out. Aid workers observed that the large crowds were welcoming them and also noticed that there was no electrical power; people had been chopping down trees for firewood.
From Geneva, our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) say that a joint new survey with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has found that while food security has improved in some parts of Yemen, more than 10 million people — more than 40 per cent of the population — don’t know where their next meal will come from. Global acute malnutrition rates are serious across most of Yemen, reaching emergency levels in some areas. Twelve of the country’s governorates have critical levels of stunting, which is caused by malnutrition, resulting in children failing to grow properly. There is more information on this in the Geneva briefing notes.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that Typhoon Rammasun is projected to make landfall in the Philippines this evening and reach the capital, Manila, before noon tomorrow. Flooding and landslides are expected, with the country’s authorities saying the typhoon could affect some 43 million people. The UN humanitarian country team is monitoring the situation in collaboration with the country’s Office of Civil Defence.
The Security Council is holding an open meeting this morning to discuss peacebuilding. In that meeting, Council members have heard from the current and former chairs of the Peacebuilding Commission — respectively, the Permanent Representatives of Brazil and Croatia.
Also at the briefing in Geneva earlier today, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that an estimated 964 cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. So far, more than 600 people have died. In Guinea alone, six new cases and three deaths have been reported in the last few days. The Organization is monitoring the situation and increasing its efforts to reduce the number of cases. A new subregional coordination centre in Conakry is being set up to help control and coordinate response efforts in the three countries. More information is available online.
We have a statement from the Secretary-General, in which he says that Ameerah Haq has informed him of her intention to step down as Under-Secretary-General for Field Support. The Secretary-General would like to express his tremendous gratitude for her outstanding service. Throughout her career, Ms. Haq has consistently demonstrated a deep care for United Nations field staff, and a strong commitment to the values of the Organization. She began her service as a Junior Professional Officer, and over the course of a 38 year career worked in a wide range of development, humanitarian and peacekeeping roles, at Headquarters and in the field. Seven of her thirteen assignments, encompassing 20 years with the United Nations, have been served in the field, often in hardship duty stations.
As the Secretary-General’s Special-Representative in Timor-Leste, she led the final stage of the United Nations peacekeeping assistance to that new and independent country. As Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, during a period of significant expansion in the size and complexity of United Nations peace operations, she has successfully managed to provide enhanced support to United Nations missions, and troop- and police-contributing countries, while implementing a number of important reforms that created significant resource efficiencies, reducing the financial burden on Member States.
Following this briefing, at 12:45 p.m., there will be a press conference here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein on International Criminal Justice Day, which falls on 17 July. The Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (ICC), William Pace, will talk about issues facing the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute system.
That’s it for me. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Two questions. First, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to Egypt trying to broker a ceasefire and the Israeli acceptance and the apparent refusal by Hamas to abide by it? And secondly, when is Ameerah Haq’s resignation effective, and when do you expect to have any announcement of her replacement?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we only just announced her departure mere seconds ago, so I got that very recently. I’ll try to find out when her last day is, but that, I believe, is not immediate. And of course in terms of an announcement on a successor, that will take some time. We’ll have to start that; we’ll have to have that process get under way.
Regarding the situation in Gaza and Israel, of course you’ve seen what our concerns have been, and the Secretary-General had repeatedly voiced the hope that there would be support from other countries and the other leaders with whom he’s been speaking in terms of bringing the parties to a ceasefire. As you know, he did speak with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt last week. That was of the many leaders he’s been in contact with. I do think that we’ll have a little bit more to say on this just, potentially, even in a few minutes, but we’ve been trying to evaluate the situation on the ground to see exactly what’s happening in terms of the implementation and respect of a ceasefire. And I’ll see what we have to say on that as the afternoon progresses. Mr. Abbadi? Please use the microphone.
Question: Yesterday, the Spokesperson for the Libyan Government has said that the Libyan Government is considering asking the United Nations to provide international forces to establish order, in particular in Tripoli, and to protect civilians and the resources of the country, to prevent instability and anarchy and to help the state build institutions, such as the police and the army. This is a nation-building issue. Has the Secretary-General anticipated this request and has he initiated any internal measures towards that goal?
Deputy Spokesman: You’re aware, of course, that the United Nations has already been supporting the Government of Libya and the people of Libya in terms of help with Libyan institutions. That’s the sort of support that’s been provided by the Mission on the ground. Regarding a wider set of involvement, that’s something that would need to be evaluated by Member States. The mandate that the UN Support Mission in Libya has is one that you’re well aware of, and any changes to that mandate would entail, ultimately, approval by the respective Member States in the Security Council. So we’d have to consider that if that mandate is added. Right now, of course, we’re continuing with our mandated tasks, and that does include supporting the various Government Ministries, as much as we can do that. As you know, in recent days, that effort has been complicated by the relocation of our staff, as well, but we’re continuing to provide help as much as we can.
Question: But is the Secretary-General aware of this request and has he received any communication to that effect?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware of any formal communication. Certainly, he’s aware of the remarks that have been made in the media by Libyan officials over the past day. Yes?
Question: What’s happening to the Mission in Tripoli? Have they relocated? You mentioned something about them relocating because of what’s happening, and what happened particularly at the airport yesterday.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. As you know, last week, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) decided to reduce staff numbers in Libya because of the significant deterioration in security conditions. The most recent fighting in Tripoli has led the Mission to further reduce the number of staff, again for security reasons. We had mentioned that yesterday. That’s a temporary measure. We are continuously assessing the situation on the ground, and relocated staff will return as soon as security conditions permit. The United Nations remains committed to assisting the Libyan people with the political transition process and supporting Libya in building a democratic state based on the rule of law.
Question: Follow-up on Gaza, can I? Just a quick follow-up: What are the figures that the United Nations are operating with those who’ve been injured or killed at the side of Israel and at the side of Palestinians? So, the real figures that you’re operating on?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I said just now, in terms of the figures being used by the UN Relief and Works Agency, which, as you know, works very closely with the Palestinian population on the ground, they have recorded 174 people killed and more than 1,100 injured, wounded so far. And so those are their figures on the Palestinian side. I’m not aware of any casualties reported on the Israeli side in this.
Question: Are you saying that there are no casualties on the Israeli side?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I’m saying that we don’t have those numbers. You could get those from the Israeli authorities. I don’t have numbers similar to what’s been provided by the Relief and Works Agency. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Speaking of UNRWA, how many of their facilities have been bombed direct, schools and other places? And in Libya, what’s the number of staff left and withdraw? Is that known or is it still happening?
Deputy Spokesman: In terms of the numbers of Libyan staff, we’re not providing the precise numbers, but I can basically inform you that most of the international staff are gone. There are some local staff and there’s a few internationals, but at this stage, a large number of them have been relocated outside of the country itself. Again, that’s a temporary measure and we do intend to bring them back as soon as we can. Regarding your question about the facilities in Gaza, I believe we mentioned yesterday the Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, visited Gaza and at that point he stated that some  facilities operated by the Relief and Works Agency have been damaged over the course of the recent days. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about Haiti. There is online a picture of a protest held outside one of the Secretary-General’s events. Somebody holding a sign saying “Dead 8,563, Sick 704,000, Justice 0”, and I wanted to know, both in terms of that and one of the lawyers in one of the cases for the UN, alleging that the UN, in fact, brought through negligence cholera to Haiti, said, quote: “It is an insult to all Haitians for the Secretary-General to come to Haiti for a photo op when he refuses to take responsibility for the thousands of Haitians killed and hundreds of thousands sickened through the UN’s cholera epidemic.” So I wanted to know, what’s the relation…? I read all three, the speech, all three statements put out, including the press encounter, but what’s the response to protestors in Haiti saying the UN is responsible and needs to in some way directly address it? Different in kind than the international community as a whole? What’s the response? And has he taken any questions from the press while he’s been in Haiti?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General is about to give a press conference, so whenever we get the transcript of that, we’ll provide that. I believe he has two press conferences scheduled today — one in Haiti and then one later in the day in the Dominican Republic. And we’ve been putting out his various remarks on the road. Regarding questions of responsibility, the Secretary-General has tried to make it clear that his responsibility is to make sure that we are all mobilized — that is to say, the Haitians, the international community, and donors especially — to give Haiti a better future. He’s in Haiti, in part, to assure the Haitian people of his personal commitment and that of the United Nations to do all that can be done, with the Government of Haiti and the international community, to help overcome the spread of cholera. Haiti still hosts the largest number of suspected cholera cases in the Western Hemisphere, and this is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue. And so, the Secretary-General wants to be the advocate of the Haitian people and help them to achieve the future that they want and deserve. That’s part and parcel of why he came there.
Question: I understand. What would you say… If you don’t mind, what would you say to those who say that, like, at a minimum, the United Nations might want to consider like apologizing? Like saying, we’ve looked at it, we might have brought it. I mean, it seems like there remains a feeling there of dissatisfaction, at least in the case of this protest. Is that an apology or is that just saying there’s a problem and we’re going to help?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General has made clear that in his own tenure as Secretary-General, there are few things that have upset him more than the situation in Haiti since the earthquake of 2010. It has caused him considerable anguish. His heart goes out to everyone who lost a loved one or was affected. And so, he has been trying since that period to be helpful to the Haitian people and he will continue to try to do that.
Question: Is the cause of that anguish… and I appreciate what you’re saying about it, is that the cause that the UN brought it there? That’s why there’s a particular anguish about this humanitarian crisis?
Deputy Spokesman: On that, you’ve seen what we have had to say, and I don’t have anything to add. Yes?
Question: Yes, on Haiti, is the UN… well, what kind of aid is the UN giving to clean up or to ameliorate the devastating cholera outbreak?
Deputy Spokesman: There are quite a lot of things that we’ve provided on our website. I can give you a couple of details. For example, they are launching, yesterday they launched a Total Sanitation Campaign with the Government of Haiti, which aims to scale up sanitation and hygiene interventions in rural areas. Through that initiative, 3.8 million people in 750,000 households across the country’s 10 Departments will be supported to eliminate open defecation, get access to improved sanitation and adopt improved hygiene practices. And that Campaign is assisting affected communities through the construction of water sources in areas of high risk of cholera; the construction and rehabilitation of latrines and water points in key institutions, such as schools, health centres and markets. And of course, the UN Mission and the UN agencies in Haiti will continue to support projects to enhance water supplies in the country through the rehabilitation of water points and wells.
Question: Farhan, regarding the sale of ISIS or ISIL oil to other countries, is that not kind of financing terrorism, because these are considered terrorists? Those who are buying the Syrian oil from them, aren’t they directly or indirectly financing terrorism? And how does the United Nations deal with that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, there are treating and conventions concerning the financing of terrorism and nations are enjoined against that. We, of course, have repeatedly urged countries not to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and we’re continuing to do that; and that would mean through any way, whether it’s through arming them or through financing them.
Question: Regarding arming, yesterday, the Syrian Ambassador at the Security Council spoke about Suhail Drissi, who was one of the rebel leaders, providing Nusra two thirds of the weapons shipment that came from France through Turkey, financed by Qatar — all three. What are you going to do about such a letter, which he showed to the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, since this is a letter that’s gone to the Security Council, it’s up to them to evaluate what sort of follow-up action is needed. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. You indicated that Ms. Haq is putting an end to her current responsibilities. What reasons did she invoke for that?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any further to say on that this beyond the statement. Of course, after 38 years working here, it’s only natural to want to do something else, so we would respect that. Yes?
Question: I wanted to go back to the Egyptian initiative — can you give us more information about the contacts between Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, and the Egyptian President, Sisi? I just wanted to know more about the role of the United Nations in this initiative and how do you see the future of it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as the Secretary-General mentioned, he had spoken by phone with President Al Sisi last week. After that he spoke to reporters, and I would refer you to his press comments, where he talks about the priorities he laid out in all of his conversations with various people, including with the Egyptian President. And so that’s part of his press remarks from last week and I’d just refer you to that. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you have any response to the latest incident in Russia, in Moscow, with the subway train? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, on that, the Secretary-General was saddened to learn about today’s train derailment in Moscow, which killed many and left scores more injured. At this difficult moment, the Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims of this tragic accident, the Government and the people of the Russian Federation. He wishes a full and speedy recovery to all those injured. Anne?
Question: Yes, today, The New York Times ran an article entitled “Ukrainian Military Plane Is Shot Down, as Russia Adds to Presence at Border”. Has the Secretary-General had any reaction to this development and the fact that NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] stated the Kremlin has been rebuilding its forces on the border with Ukraine?
Deputy Spokesman: We do not have a reaction to this specific development. You’ll have seen what we’ve been saying about Ukraine and our efforts to make sure that the lines of communication remain open between Kyiv and Moscow, and that remains our priority.
I have the following statement, attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General to read to you on Afghanistan:
The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s attack in south-eastern Afghanistan. The attack on civilians in Paktika during the holy month of Ramadan is a despicable criminal act, which killed and injured many innocent people, including children.
The Secretary-General further condemns a targeted attack against civilian works in Kabul today, which killed two Government employees. Such attacks, directed against civilians, are serious violations of international humanitarian law. The Secretary-General offers his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and a swift recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General notes that these acts come just days after the release of the United Nations report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and underscores the serious challenges that still face Afghanistan. He once again commends the bravery and resilience and the Afghan people, who participated in two rounds of elections in a clear rejection of violence and who continue to work towards a more prosperous, peaceful future.
Question: Farhan, just a clarification on Libya and the UN staff — there was, I think, UNSMIL put out, somebody put out a statement that the remaining staff have all left. Is that what you said? And also, the staff that has left, all remain in Tunisia?
Deputy Spokesman: A large number of staff have been relocated to Tunisia. No, I’m not going to say that all of them left. For example, we have some local staff who have remained in country. I believe there’s still a small number of international staff; but yes, you’ll have seen the statement that the Support Mission put out yesterday, which indicates that the bulk of staff have gone, and that is the case.
Question: And all have gone to Tunisia?
Deputy Spokesman: Not all to Tunisia. But there are many staff in Tunisia.
Question: That was just a follow-up. The question on… Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority would join the International Criminal Court. I know we have a press conference coming up. Has the Secretary-General said anything on that membership?
Deputy Spokesman: No; we have not made any comment, no. Yes, Erol?
Question: Farhan, I have to ask you this. Two years ago, the Secretary-General, in July 2012, he was in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he visited Srebrenica, and he expressed his deepest feeling about the victims of Srebrenica genocide. Why the Secretary-General didn’t mention anything on this nineteenth anniversary? Did he simply omit to do that or this is a kind of such a policy, that one year you announce something, you say something, and another year, you don’t say, if anybody doesn’t ask?
Deputy Spokesman: That’s not the case. It’s simply not the case that we will put out statements every year to mark a specific occasion. Sometimes that happens, sometimes not. But, certainly, regardless of whether he’s put out a statement or not, the Secretary-General’s sentiments about Srebrenica are well known. He was appalled even at the time of the attack, and he’s been hopeful for justice. One of the reasons, indeed, that we continue to have the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is to get justice for these and other attacks.
Now, regarding the questions that I was asked earlier, like I said, I thought I’d have something more to say, and now I do:
The Secretary-General spoke with President Sisi on Sunday, 13 July. He appreciates and fully supports the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire agreement. He is deeply worried that the fighting has not stopped, despite Israel’s readiness to accept the ceasefire proposal and the Palestinian Authority’s support. He calls on Hamas to cooperate with the Egyptian initiative, and urges all sides to build on this opening of a diplomatic channel. All parties must respect international humanitarian law. The United Nations will in the meantime continue providing much needed emergency humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
Question: Not to stay short on that, are you saying that the SG’s regrettably missed this time or what? I didn’t quite think… why it was missing this time?
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t issue statements commemorating every event for each day of the year that comes out; otherwise, may days would be full with commemorative statements. But…
Question: It’s very much connected with the United Nations. It’s not for the very same day that you can mention it. I don’t quite understand. So please…
Deputy Spokesman: Regardless, I’m aware of the amount of concern you have over that. But regardless of whether or not we issue a statement each time the anniversary comes around, the sentiments the Secretary-General feels are unchanged and they are very strong. He continues to want to make sure, first of all, that justice will be done for all the people who suffered through the killings in Srebrenica; and second of all, he wants to make sure that the sort of killing that you saw happen in Srebrenica will not recur. Those priorities do not change regardless of whether a commemorative message comes out.
Question: Sure, I wanted… this goes back to MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] flying the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] leader, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. I know that Stéphane [Dujarric], and I believe you, at least one time, had emphasized that Mr. Remuli, the leader, never went to Rome. And so now a newspaper in Rome called Nindro is reporting in some detail that actually did go and they’re saying that he flew on an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Fiumicino Airport, and it’s quite detailed. And I don’t know, I guess I wanted to ask you, what’s the UN’s response, having from this podium said three and four times that he didn’t go, to this report? Is it false? Did he not go at all? What was the basis of saying of saying he didn’t go?
Deputy Spokesman: Okay, let me give you the basis. The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) transported Gaston Iyamuremye, the man you call Remuli, to Kinshasa, together with other members of the FDLR leadership. The Sanctions Committee did not give permission for a travel waiver to be issued, and Gaston Iyamuremye did not leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo; he was escorted back to the east the following day. Other FDLR members did proceed to Rome for the meeting. The United Nations representatives present at the Sant’Egidio meeting confirmed that Mr. Iyamuremye did not participate at the Rome meeting. MONUSCO continues to implement its Security Council mandate, including with regard to protection of civilians and the neutralisation of armed groups in the eastern DRC. The Mission refutes any allegations of collusion with the FDLR.
Question: When you say “escorted”, does this mean… this sort of implies, he is a person subject to an arrest warrant, so the question is — did he voluntarily go back? Did… explain what the relationship… especially where we’re having this ICC press conference between MONUSCO…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, I’ve given you the details. And the bottom line is that, regardless of what you were inquiring about, he did not, in fact, leave the country.
Question: Right, right. I’m asking a separate question now. My question now is, now that you’ve used the word “escort”, I wanted to know — did MONUSCO have this indicted FDLR leader in custody when they took him back from where they’d flown him to in the first place back, or did he return voluntarily?
Deputy Spokesman: What I said does not indicate who was escorting him back. He was escorted back to the east.
Question: Oh. By whom?
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