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

22 July 2014

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

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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Today in this room, the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador, actress Mia Farrow, will be the guest at the noon briefing.  And she’ll brief on her recent visit to the Central African Republic.  So, first, I’ll get through this part of the briefing and then we should have our guest shortly.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on the Middle East just now from Ramallah, the fifth stop on a journey that has, so far, included Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Israel.  He will continue on to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and other countries, as needed.

He mentioned the recent discussions on the way forward and added that it is his hope and belief that these talks will lead to results and an end to the fighting in the very near future.  He stressed his pride in his many UN colleagues, with the UN Relief and Works Agency [in Palestine and the Near East] (UNRWA) in the lead, who have courageously assisted the people of Gaza under such difficult circumstances.

He warned that the escalation of violence is now acutely affecting the Relief and Works Agency’s regular operations.  A total of 23 UNRWA installations are closed as a result of the conflict.  A total of 77 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June as a result of the conflict.  He said that the premises have been used to store weapons, which he called unacceptable.  Today, about 100,000 people — more than 5 per cent of the population of Gaza — are seeking shelter with UNRWA.

The Secretary-General told the Security Council that the parties must heed the Security Council’s call to return to negotiations in order to find an end to this conflict through a viable two-State solution.  We have his full remarks online.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Before going to Ramallah, the Secretary-General was in Tel Aviv, where he met earlier today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In a joint press encounter with the Prime Minister, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations strongly condemns rocket attacks against Israel and he warned against the use of civilian sites for military purposes.  He said he fully shares Israel’s right to defend its citizens, but called once more for maximum restraint.  And he said his message to Israelis and Palestinians remains the same:  Stop fighting, start talking and address the root causes of the conflict.

In their meeting, the Secretary-General updated Prime Minister Netanyahu on his recent contacts in the region, including with Egyptian President Al Sisi.  The Secretary-General reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire, without conditions.  He stressed the need to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.  Once a ceasefire is in place, the Secretary-General underscored the immediate need to address the underlying issues.  They agreed to remain in close touch and may meet again tomorrow before the Secretary-General leaves for Jordan.

Before leaving Cairo this morning, the Secretary-General met with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al Sisi.  The Secretary-General thanked the President for his leadership role in the current efforts to establish a ceasefire in Gaza.  They both agreed on the need for an intensified, concerted international effort to stop the fighting urgently and also focus on the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.  We also issued his press remarks last night when the Secretary-General had separate meetings with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and with [ United States] Secretary of State John Kerry.

** Iraq

The UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, has reported that more than 450 Christian families from Mosul are now in Dohuk.  The majority of the 100 Christian families who had recently arrived in the district of Telkef have no or little resources, and are staying in churches.  UNHCR continues to assess the situation and provide essential relief supplies to families in need.

At the UN briefing in Geneva today, the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization (WHO) presented a new report on the completion of the first phase of the biggest ever vaccination campaign in the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria.  Despite the challenges, particularly due to the crises in Iraq and Syria, some 25 million children under five were vaccinated for polio in seven countries in the region.  Polio has returned to Syria, largely due to the disruption of routine vaccination, the damage to Syria’s health infrastructure and the exodus of trained health workers from the country.  Mass displacement inside Syria has also led to overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions, increasing the risk among children.  And more information is available online.

** Lebanon

The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major General Paolo Serra, today bid farewell to the Lebanese authorities in Beirut.  He said afterwards that he thanks Lebanon’s leaders for their unflinching support for the UN mission’s work.  Major General Serra introduced the Lebanese authorities to the incoming UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Luciano Portolano of Italy, who accompanied him on the visits.  Major General Portolano will take up the position of UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander on Thursday.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that a surge of conflict in the first half of this year prompted a more than fifty-fold increase in the amount of life-saving food and goods it moved globally by air, compared to the same period last year.  From January to June 2014, WFP aviation delivered some 8,700 metric tons of cargo — that’s over 56 times what was transported by air during the same six-month period in 2013.  WFP says that more than 90 per cent of the supplies were delivered to the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria.  Insecurity, limited humanitarian access and rains often mean food and other supplies cannot be moved by road or boat.  There is more in a press release on this.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The UN Children’s Fund and the Government of the United Kingdom are hosting the first-ever Girl Summit to accelerate progress to end female genital mutilation, or FGM, and child marriage — two practices affecting millions of girls around the world.

UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake said that female genital mutilation and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential.  He added that girls are not property and that they have the right to determine their destiny.  According to UNICEF data released today, more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the practice is most common.  Child marriage is even more wide-spread, with more than 700 million women alive today having been married as children.  More information on this is available on UNICEF’s website.

**Noon Briefing Guests

And like I said, we will have shortly with us UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, who I see is in the room now.  And she’ll brief on her recent visit to the Central African Republic.

Tomorrow, the guest at the noon briefing will be John Ging, the Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and he will talk about Ethiopia. 

That’s it for me.  Do we have any questions first, and then we’ll go to Ms. Farrow right after?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thanks, Farhan.  Today, the Israeli military shot at Al Jazeera’s bureau in Gaza and yesterday the Israeli Foreign Minister verbally attacked our…

Deputy Spokesman:  Please use the microphone.

Question:  Oh, it’s on.  Can you not hear it?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I can’t hear you.

Correspondent:  It’s on.

Deputy Spokesman:  This happens, every now and then.  Does it not?

Correspondent:  Yes, it does.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and hopefully the people who are listening in on this briefing hear exactly what you’re saying about that.

Question:  How is this one?  Can you hear this one?

Deputy Spokesman:  Speak as loud as you can, but it’s not picking you up.

Question:  Al Jazeera’s bureau was shot at by the Israeli military today in Gaza.  And yesterday, the Israeli Foreign Minister verbally attacked our coverage and said that the Israeli Government would try to shut down our operation in Israel.  What is the Secretary-General’s response to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, you’re aware of our concerns about the violence as a whole, the violence that is affecting everyone, including our personnel and the people who live in Gaza.  Of course, we uphold the right of reporters to go about their work without hindrance, and that goes without saying.  Yes?

Question:  I have a follow-up on that, Farhan.  Did the Secretary-General discuss this with the Prime Minister of Israel today?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’ll have seen the readout we put out and that’s the sum total of what we can say about their discussions.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Other than [what] we understood from the short press statement that the Secretary-General did stay in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu, what else did they agree besides?  Did they agree, for example, that the Israelis told him that they are willing to move towards the ceasefire?  What the Secretary-General is requesting, actually?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General just now briefed the Security Council in an open meeting about his discussions.  He said that he couldn’t share all the details of the discussions he’s been having, but he did say, and I repeat, that it is his hope and belief that these talks will lead to results and an end to the fighting in the very near future.

Question:  Just as a follow-up?  How would you describe, in as short as possible terms, the mission of the Secretary-General at this time at the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it is part of a series of efforts by different people.  You’ve seen the efforts the Secretary-General is making, Secretary of State John Kerry and other leaders around the region to push for support for the Egyptian-led peace initiative.  The momentum of those efforts is increasing, and let’s see where we go from there.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  As far as I know, UN is on the front line for human rights.  Saying that, yesterday, I asked you a question in regard of “P5+1” and Iran and nuclear talks and if human rights is on the table.  Your answer was that they’re watching.  They’re not actually…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that’s not what I said.  What I said was the talks concern Iran’s nuclear programme.  I don’t speak, before you go any further, I don’t speak for the P5+1.  Those are six countries for whom I do not speak.

Question:  But, since everybody is on the table right now and making decisions, isn’t it better that [the] UN jump in, since the UN representative, Mr. [Ahmed] Shaheed, has got over 3,000 failures on human rights in Iran, throw some of them on the table and say, look, since everybody is making a decision, this should be first?

Deputy Spokesman:  The format of these talks was decided by the respective parties and it is between those parties.  We are monitoring what will be the result of these talks and we’re hopeful that it will lead to a productive result.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Some news reports indicate that some children had been injured in the school of UNRWA in central Gaza.  I know there is an ongoing investigation, but do you have any information regarding that development?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in terms of that, I don’t have any updates about that.  I do know from the information that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has received, that, as of this morning, the crisis in Gaza has seen at least 582 Palestinians killed, including 145 children, while more than 100,000 people are displaced in 69 UNRWA schools.  I know that there have been problems and you’ll have seen that we’ve been reporting on the damage to different UNRWA schools.  The Secretary-General reported on that to the Security Council just within the past hour.  But, I don’t have any information about that specific incident.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Thailand and also about the Secretary-General’s travel.  On Thailand, there’s criticism of their deportation back to Myanmar/Burma of two journalists that were fleeing prosecution for articles that they wrote.  And there’s also a new edict by the military Government there, saying that it’s illegal to criticize the Government and that local authorities can shut down media operations.  So, I wanted to know, I know there’s kind of a generic statement on this, but with the military Government in Thailand moving in this direction, what’s the UN’s view of these two developments?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it’s certainly the case that, as far as we’re concerned, that all journalists do need to be able to go about their work throughout the world without any hindrance or obstruction; and that is the case with Thailand, as with other cases.  So, we would monitor the events with the same sort of concerns that we have everywhere else.

Question:  And about this travel, if you don’t mind.  I wanted to ask you this.  And thanks for your answers yesterday.  It was helpful.  But, I ended up asking Transparency International what they thought of this receipt of a funded private jet by the Government of Qatar, and they said it would seem the Secretary-General would have had to have previous clearance to undertake such a trip, paid by the Qatari Government, from the Office of Ethics.  They’ve done a study of the UN’s ethical system.  So, I wasn’t clear from yesterday, I understand things move quickly, but was an opinion sought from the Ethics Office about the receipt of a free private jet from a Government that’s viewed by some as having a particular view in the conflict?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m aware that, as a standard policy, we inform the Ethics Office of all such offers, yes.

Question:  Can you confirm that they were informed in this case?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t know about particular case.  I know from past cases, every time that I’ve asked the Ethics Office about this, that they have talked about being informed about this and they do approve these in case of the exceptional circumstances.

Question:  Will you ask them on this?  This is why I’m asking you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I can do that, but yes, this is what has happened several times in the past.

Question:  Farhan, there are obvious security concerns for the [Secretary-General] not to travel to Gaza, which he did in 2012 to southern Gaza and Khan Younis and Gaza City.  But, there have been calls from a lot of organizations, including the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation], for him to actually make a trip to see some of the casualties.  Can you explain… I mean, Ramallah also has had security problems, can you explain why he has not?  And also, his vocabulary changed on the ceasefire — “we hope for a ceasefire in the coming weeks” and in the last day, including this morning, he said “we hope for a ceasefire in the coming days”, or hours.  Do you have anything to tell us?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, just on the latter point, just to say that he, of course, is part of a series of talks among leaders in Israel and Palestine and the wider region, trying to obtain a ceasefire.  It’s clear that the momentum of these efforts is picking up, but beyond that, I don’t have anything to say on that.  Regarding Gaza, I don’t think it’s possible for me at this point to talk about whether he will or will not go there.  He is in Ramallah right now.  As you know, the travel plans that he has have changed fairly rapidly over the course of the last few days and we’ll have to see where he ends up.

Question:  Follow-up? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Just on vocabulary, as Pam mentioned, it was obvious to some that the Secretary-General was using harsher words, standing by the Arab leaders, on criticising Israel — that Israel has to do far more.  I’m not interpreting probably well, unlike standing by the Israeli Prime Minister, when he emphasized on the other side, other things.  What say you?

Deputy Spokesman:  I say that the Secretary-General stands by all the words he’s been saying over the past several days.  They are clear and they are consistent.

Question:  Thank you.  My second question — the Security Council has put a readout which is condemning the attacks in Iraq and it starts with “members of the Security Council express their deepest concern”.  Do you think that these comments will save lives in Iraq?  Just sitting and saying we are condemning?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s not simply a question of their comments.  The Secretary-General himself issued a statement about this over the weekend, but we’ve also followed this up on the ground with the efforts by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).  So, I would just refer you to what we’ve been saying over the past two days about UNAMI’s work on the ground and the work of the UN High Commission for Refugees on the ground to deal with the people who’ve been suffering.  But yes, we condemn the way that minorities have been treated in Iraq, but we are following up to try and help those people as they try to get some assistance now that they’ve been forced to flee.

Question:  Can I just do a quick follow-up?  I’m sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Does UN know where they get the guns from?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly we’ve asked all parties to avoid arming the extremist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams ( ISIS).

Question:  Who are the parties?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can’t say.  What I can say is…

Question:  So, there are parties who are helping?

Deputy Spokesman:  Wherever the arms may be coming from.  Some of them may be arms that have been pilfered, for example, from the conflict in Syria.  But, wherever the arms are coming from, we don’t want the arms to be going in, either for the militarization of the conflict in Syria or for the cross-border problems that have now hurt the people of Iraq.

Correspondent:  Thank you so much.

Deputy Spokesman:  And with that, I think I will turn to our guest.  Ms. Farrow, please – step right up.

* *** *

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