|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.
In remarks to the press made just now in Erbil, Iraq, the Secretary-General said that he is appalled by the news of an attack on a UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) school in northern Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge. Many have been killed — including women and children, as well as UN staff.
In his briefing to the Security Council from Ramallah just two days ago, the Secretary-General condemned Hamas rocket fire and called on Israel to exercise particular care to avoid just such an attack on United Nations premises where civilians have taken refuge. More than 100,000 Gazans — that’s 5 per cent of the total population — have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.
He once again says all sides must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN premises and to honour their obligations to humanitarian workers. Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop — and to stop now. We have his full remarks that will be issued in our office right now and should be posted online fairly soon.
**Secretary-General in Iraq
The Secretary-General has been visiting Iraq today and, like I said, he is currently in Erbil. Prior to that, the Secretary-General had visited Najaf, where he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, with whom he reviewed the current crisis in Iraq and the necessary humanitarian response, as well as the process of government formation. The Secretary-General noted that the parliament has elected a new speaker, Dr. Salim al-Jubouri, a few days ago, and that Dr. Fouad Massoum has now been elected as President of the country. The Secretary-General expressed his sincere hope that under his leadership, an inclusive government would be formed without delay and within constitutionally mandated timelines.
Earlier, in Baghdad, the Secretary-General had what he described as a good, constructive meeting with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. They discussed the security crisis, the government formation process, relations between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and relations between Iraq and Kuwait. The Secretary-General said that it is critical that all political leaders fulfil their responsibilities to ensure that the government formation process falls within the constitutional timetable. He said that Iraq is facing an existential threat but it can be overcome through the formation of a thoroughly inclusive government — a government that can address the concerns of all communities, including security, political, social and economic matters. We have his press remarks online.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports heavy firing this morning between Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Opposition forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops in western part of Nassir Town. UNMISS personnel report that opposition forces have abandoned Nassir Town. There are no reports of injuries sustained by UNMISS personnel nor internally displaced persons inside the Mission’s county operating base in Nassir Town.
The UN Multidimension Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, reports that it has officially received a request from the Malian and Algerian Governments to provide assistance for the search for the Air Algerie plane. The Mission reports that it has initiated search operations and has mobilized to provide the assistance required for rescue operation once the exact location of the airplane.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and High Representative to Nigeria, Said Djinnit, has strongly condemned the killing of civilians yesterday and over the weekend, reportedly perpetrated by the Boko Haram group in the town of Damboa, in Borno State, and in Kaduna, in Kaduna State. According to initial reports, more than 130 people died and some 15,000 were forced to move to the Borno State capital of Maiduguri, or to the neighbouring towns of Biu and Goniri. Mr. Djinnit encourages the Nigerian authorities to do their utmost to stop the cycle of violence and bring the perpetrators of this act to justice. He also reiterates the support of the United Nations to an effective regional cooperation to put an end to the terrorism threat and Boko Haram attacks.
** Central African Republic
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, and for the Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye, have welcomed the signing of an agreement on the cessation of hostilities by the Central African parties, yesterday in Brazzaville. They saluted the spirit that prevailed at the Brazzaville Forum. They said that the next steps of this process now need to take place in the Central African Republic with local consultations and a forum on national reconciliation and reconstruction in Bangui. There is more information in a press release.
The UN in Afghanistan today presented its proposal to the Independent Election Commission for a regulatory decision covering the criteria for ordering the recount of ballot boxes and the invalidation of ballots. This proposal is a part of efforts to support the comprehensive audit of the results of the presidential election run-off held on 15 June. Under the technical agreement reached by the two Presidential candidates, the UN was asked to propose the manner for the supervision of the audit. More information is available online.
The Security Council has held consultations this morning on the UN Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
And I have an appointment. The Secretary-General has appointed Diane Corner of the United Kingdom as his Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Ms. Corner succeeds Lawrence Wohlers of the United States of America who will complete his planned short-term assignment. The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Wohlers for his dedicated service and political engagement during a critical time of transition and start-up of the peacekeeping operation. Ms. Corner is currently the British Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and non-Resident Ambassador to the Republic of Congo. We have more on this appointment in our office.
Following the noon briefing today there will be a press conference by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on the Central African Republic. Speakers include Sylvain Groulx, MSF head of mission for the Central African Republic, and Dounia Dekhili, MSF Deputy Manager of Emergency Programmes.
That’s it for me. Any questions? Yes, please, Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, what happened today in Beit Hanoun that they say UNRWA, some eye witnesses which we interviewed on Al Mayadeen said that UNRWA brought buses to take the civilians out of the school when shells came from the air and from artillery, targeted them. Did you receive any official version from UNRWA on what happened really there?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re still getting the facts. As you know, this is something that happened in recent hours. We are aware of efforts by the Relief and Works Agency to see whether they could get the people inside the compound out of harm’s way. But, we’re still trying to get further details from them about that. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. With regard to the Secretary-General’s visit to Iraq and the developments in the territories controlled by ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, now, it’s becoming an escalation by ISIL not only targeted toward the Christian, but also including the Shiites, the Yazidis and other minority groups. Did the Secretary-General [inaudible] this matter when he was conferring with the Iraqi officials, and was that part of his discussion with the Grand Ayatollah Sistani or not?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you can see from his remarks that we’ve issued, of his remarks in Najaf, his views on this. So, he’s brought up the matter of the treatment of minorities and in particular, of Christians and others who have faced persecution in recent days. You’ll have seen the statement we issued, in fact, over the weekend about this. But, he did discuss this. Yes, in the back?
Question: Did you say UNRWA staff was killed? Or UN staff was killed in this attack? And also, is this the same school where missiles were found and that are missing?
Deputy Spokesman: No, this is not. The school that we were talking about was a vacant school. The premises we’re talking about here were one of the many facilities that are currently being used to house, basically, at this stage, more than 110,000 Gazans who have sought shelter with the UN Relief and Works Agency. So, this was full of dozens of civilians who were seeking shelter. [He later added that more than 140,000 Gazans are currently seeking shelter with UNRWA.]
Question: Thank you, Farhan. With regard to ISIL, following-up with the question of my colleague, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, said that this group has grown to be a complex threat to peace and security in Iraq, the entire region and beyond. Why isn’t the Secretary-General and the Security Council, why aren’t they acting upon the Charter provisions that are appropriate to and relevant to this, since it is a threat to international peace and security and even to the region?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, if you’re talking about the Security Council, they have discussed the recent gains made by the Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq, so they have seized to the matter and they have been taking this up. So, I’m not sure which specific actions you’re talking about. As you’re aware, the UN has a political mission in Iraq, which is working to try and help foster solidarity in the face of this threat. Meanwhile, in Syria, as you know, we’ve been seized of this matter for several years, of the questions of the various armed groups and the Government of Syria. I don’t know what specific action you’re proposing, but certainly, we’re aware of this, we’re aware of this as a threat and we’ve been trying to take action to make sure that this particular group gets no further outside assistance, as it continues with its activities.
Question: I was referring to the provisions of the Charter in this regard. Whenever the situation poses a threat to international peace and security and here beyond, even the region, the Council, and in some instances, the Secretary-General, take the necessary measure to meet these threats; this has not been done.
Deputy Spokesman: I would disagree that nothing’s been done to meet this threat. There’s quite a bit done. There’s been quite a bit done, and of course, as the engagement of the Security Council with this threat continues, they’ll continue to deal with this topic and see what further steps are needed. Yes, Richard?
Question: UNRWA has always been involved in conflicts in this area. I wonder if, for broadcast purposes, if you could look at the relationship and tell those who may not be familiar with UNRWA, what is the purpose of UNRWA there and what is the dynamic? Israel has always denounced, saying the staff has sometimes becomes too close to the people it’s supposed to provide aid to. And we’ve had incidents, I know, where cars were repainted, I think. Maybe I’ve got my location wrong. That could have been Syria. But, UNRWA has always been in the spotlight, until it fades away and then it comes back dramatically. Please address the dynamic of UNRWA.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, the UN Relief and Works Agency is active, not just in Palestine, but throughout the region, dealing with the question of Palestinian refugees in a great number of countries. It is a very large, very vast humanitarian undertaking and it has been one, basically since the late 1940s. It has performed a very valuable and often extremely risk tasks of protecting Palestinian refugee populations in a very dangerous part of the world. From time to time, we’ve lost UNRWA staff in various places. In fact, many of the casualties that the United Nations has faced among its staff in Syria have been the staff of the Relief and Works Agency present there. In this particular crisis, there have also been UNRWA losses. In fact, one of the things I wanted to point out is that we’ve received information from the Relief and Works Agency that three UNRWA staff have been killed in the current conflict. All three were teachers, two women killed along with members of their families by incoming Israeli fire while inside a residence and the third who was reportedly walking home after working in one of the UNRWA emergency shelters. So, we’ve had casualties, even aside from this particular incident. And, of course, in this incident, we’re still trying to calculate what the number of dead and wounded have been. Sherwyn?
Question: Farhan, is there any understanding from your part as to why the school was targeted?
Deputy Spokesman: I do not know. I do not know. It was a designated UNRWA facility.
Question: Chris Gunness of UNRWA said that he gave the coordinates to the Israelis not to attack that particular compound that they did. He said it was well in advance. I mean, Israelis had that information, when and where, how far ahead did they have that information? Yeah.
Deputy Spokesman: One thing I would caution: at this stage, because this is something that has happened in recent hours, there’s quite a bit of detail that we still need to know. And I don’t want to get out so ahead that we pronounce ourselves. At this stage, we do not know, and I cannot verify who attacked the compound. I’d like to be very clear on that. We do not know. We’ll, of course, get further information, but whoever attacked it, of course, this is something that the Secretary-General condemns. There should be no attacks, by any side, on UNRWA facilities, especially at this point when they’re hosting so many innocent civilians who have been seeking shelter with them.
Question: Valerie Amos, the UN Humanitarian Chief said, today, to BBC, the situation in Gaza is dire and it can be declared a humanitarian disaster. Does the Secretary-General have any plans to go and visit Gaza now that he’s there in the region? Or at this point in time, it’s not in the cards?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t have anything to announce. Certainly, the Secretary-General has been to the region. One of the things he makes clear in his remarks from Erbil, which you’ll be able to see in our office, is that he is staying in the region and that he plans to continue to work to obtain a ceasefire. We don’t have any other particular travel to announce at this point, though. Yes, Sherwyn?
Question: Farhan, when it is determined who attacked the school, what action will the Secretary-General take? Because, there’s two sides to this conflict and it’s going to be either/or. So, what will happen once that’s determined?
Deputy Spokesman: You’ll know once we’ve made that determination. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask something different. Yesterday, the UN’s independent expert on human rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallón, concluded his trip there and he noted that the Secretary-General had gone on 14 July and he said the following, he said — I hope that the Secretary-General’s visit will contribute to the implementation of the recommendations he made, which is for a reparations commission for the victims of cholera, to evaluate damages, corresponding compensation or indemnification of those responsible and the stopping of the epidemic and other measures. I wanted to know, since the UN’s independent expert on Haiti is saying that he hopes the Secretary-General’s visit leads to the payment of reparations to those affected by the cholera, that he said in his report, seems to have come from the UN, what is the UN… I understand he’s an independent expert, but just as countries respond to these reports, what is the Secretary-General’s response to this statement?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you’re absolutely right. He’s an independent expert. He speaks for himself. We don’t have to make any comment on this. On the Secretary-General’s views about cholera, I’d just refer you back to what he’s said, including what he said while he was on the ground in Haiti just a few weeks ago.
Question: You said you don’t… obviously you don’t have to respond to it, but doesn’t the UN system encourage countries to respond to human rights reports by UN independent human rights experts?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware that Mr. Gallón has asked for a response from us. Yes?
Question: Regarding the missiles that went missing in the UNRWA school, just to clarify, that was a vacant school. These were the missiles that were found last week. You mentioned on Monday that UNRWA was helping investigators try to figure out, you know, who might have put the missiles there. When did the missiles go missing? And were they turned over to police?
Deputy Spokesman: Actually, I’ve received more details from the Relief and Works Agency on this. What they say is that as soon as the second cache of weapons was discovered, and this was a second cache discovered just over the last two days, the UN Relief and Works Agency immediately informed all relevant parties and issued a statement strongly condemning the abuse of its premises. It evacuated the premises and placed a guard at the gate. At the same time, it began intensive consultations to find an international actor to help survey the weapons, so the extent of the problem could be ascertained and a safe disposal plan developed. There were 1,500 displaced civilians in schools on either side of the installation and their safety was paramount. UNRWA staff did not re-enter the installation until the following day, when displaced people from Beit Hanoun forced open the school seeking refuge. At that point, its staff went to secure the area in which the weapons had been discovered the previous day and found they had been removed.
So in other words, it was the recently discovered weapons that were found to be missing just the following day, because we had to vacate the premises; and when they returned, the weapons were missing.
Question: So, it was the weapons that were found on Tuesday? Those are the ones that were missing?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: And who was left alone with them?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, they had placed a guard at the gate. But, there was a solitary guard. Obviously, given the context of the sort of conflict we see on the ground, a single guard is probably not sufficient to protect an entire building, but our personnel are stretched very thin. We’re protecting, like I said, more than 110,000 people. And it’s hard to keep track of all of the UNRWA premises. It’s quite possible that over the course of that day the weapons were… whatever weapons were there, were taken away. Yes, Jonathan?
Question: Farhan, a little bit of clarification, please. The first cache, what happened to those rockets? And the second cache, what’s happened to those rockets? And, is it UNRWA’s practice in these types of circumstances to have such, I guess, unsuccessful means to protect something as serious as rockets? And also, what does UNRWA do to ensure that there is no fire from UNRWA facilities and UN-run schools?
Deputy Spokesman: There is not supposed to be any fire, any military activity taking place near UNRWA facilities. That is itself a violation of the rules and the laws governing this, which are premised on the inviolability of UN premises. So, it shouldn’t be used for any military activity. But at the same time, neither should they be targeted. Regarding the previous cache of weapons, those had been handed over to the local authorities, to the local police in accordance with the standard practice. When a second incident came up, UNRWA explored a range of options that included ways of disabling the weapons. Unfortunately, since then, the weapons have gone missing.
As a matter of how seriously we take this development, the UN at the level of the Secretary General has initiated a full review of such incidents and how the UN responds in such instances. We are taking concerted action to develop systems to increase our ability to prevent them. In order to achieve this, the Secretary-General has directed the UN Department of Safety and Security and the UN Mine Action Service to develop immediately and implement an effective security plan for the safe and secure handling of any weapons discovered in UN premises. Further, he has directed UN Mine Action Service to immediately deploy personnel with expertise to deal with this situation. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: News came out this morning from the, I believe it was the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] representative in Iraq, that ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham] had ordered all women in Mosul to get FGM [female genital mutilation]. And other reporters said they hadn’t heard it. Do you have anything on that? I thought all they did was want to rape people.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’re aware of what the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, had told reporters today. The UN in Iraq is verifying this information. If confirmed, this would be very serious. We are expecting more information from our team… from Iraq, including from the UN Country Team, which is looking into this issue. Masood?
Question: Since we are going through such scrutiny of UNRWA can you please also tell us, how many times has Israel attacked UNRWA in the last, what do you call, 25-30 years, since its creation? And how many people have died inside the schools in UNRWA?
Deputy Spokesman: You don’t expect me to be able to reel off figures about the last 25 or 30 years off the top of my head.
Question: I’m pretty sure… can you please put out such figures? Because, there are so many atrocities being committed against UNRWA at this point in time. So please, we would like to know how many people have. I’m sure…
Deputy Spokesman: There have been a great number of casualties over the years. I do know that UNRWA, I believe even on its website, has details of fatalities of its own staff. But, it would take certainly some time to get those precise figures that you want.
Correspondent: It’s not just in Gaza and UNRWA, it’s also UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], hundreds of personnel of UNIFIL were killed by Israelis over the years. And still, they get away with all these crimes.
Deputy Spokesman: That’s actually not a question. Yes?
Correspondent: Sure, I want to ask a question. It has to do with this free or gifted travel. I asked yesterday for some financial information, for the full audio file and also for when the Ethics Office…
Deputy Spokesman: The audio file was posted, like I said it would be. So, if you go to UN Radio, you can hear the audio for yourself. By the way, as I think we made clear…
Question: Can I ask my question? I started asking you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, just while you’re talking about the audio file though, in addition to that, the State Department did correct the transcript.
Correspondent: Absolutely. I noticed that. What I wanted to ask you is that you were asked… I’ve asked you for the following, for when the Ethics Office was asked about this trip and also for, yesterday you were asked, as you’ve been asked before, what the travel budget is and what the value of this gift is. So, what I’ve decided, I would still like those, but I wanted to ask you one more thing. This is actually a new question…
Deputy Spokesman: First off, before you veer off…
Question: I’m entitled to be in the briefing, I’m asking you a question. Can I ask you the question?
Deputy Spokesman: You just asked a question about the travel budget. The answer I have for you, right here, if you’re interested in actually receiving answers is…
Question: If you have it, why didn’t you send it?
Deputy Spokesman: The approved funding for the Office of the Secretary-General for travel for the 2014-2015 biennium is $2,190,300. So that’s from the GA [General Assembly] document.
Correspondent: I emailed you that yesterday and I said I was on deadline, that’s why I’m pursuing to ask the question, because I figured if you had the answer, you’d send it to me. But this is my question…
Deputy Spokesman: I never have any idea what your actual deadline is. “On deadline” is meaningless if you don’t give a date. Yes?
Question: I’m serious. Here’s the question. The question is as follows: the last 10 instances in which the Secretary-General or his senior officials have taken free, gifted travel from Member States. Can you provide that information? Because you’ve said that it’s impartial, it’s spread out over 193 States. Just provide that information, within 24 hours. That will be the deadline. Can you do it?
Deputy Spokesman: I think it would probably take more than 24 hours to get all those figures.
Question: How about five?
Deputy Spokesman: Five hours?
Question: Five trips? I mean it seems like you should… a Congressperson has to disclose gifts, right?
Deputy Spokesman: I can tell you on this particular trip we have mentioned and said right off the bat that there was a Qatar-chartered plane from the United Kingdom and that there was a Saudi plane that travelled to Saudi Arabia. That’s two flights.
Question: How did he get to Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: Huh?
Question: How did he get to Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: I have no idea.
Question: It seems like you might want to know, right? No?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, for any number of reasons, including, by the way, security reasons, the precise travel arrangements are not shared and are no public documents.
Correspondent: So, 10 past trips…
Deputy Spokesman: We can try to find those out. Certainly my colleague, Stéphane Dujarric is on the plane, so he can tell me.
Question: Are you going to provide the list of 10 trips? Five trips? Any disclosure?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, again, you’re not a prosecutor. Yes?
Correspondent: I’m asking you.
Deputy Spokesman: We’re trying to provide the factual details. Like I said, these are in-kind contributions. I’ve told you what the Ethics Office has said about this and their point is that this is a sensible arrangement and that the Secretary-General deals even-handedly with all 193 Member States.
Question: Last five?
Deputy Spokesman: Please, do not drown out other people. There’s five other people holding hands. Yes?
Question: Farhan, given the high-stakes diplomacy we’re seeing in the Middle East from the Secretary-General, the shuttle diplomacy, pushing for a ceasefire, what are his expectations of the Security Council and does he support the Jordanian draft that is currently under consideration?
Deputy Spokesman: I would not comment on a draft resolution as it proceeds. Of course, that’s really a question for members of the Security Council to consider.
Question: Sorry, you wouldn’t comment on a draft resolution pushing for a ceasefire, given that he’s in the region to accomplish just that?
Deputy Spokesman: He’s pushing for a ceasefire and he’s working with different parties. We wouldn’t comment on specific initiatives and given the sensitive diplomatic work that he has to do, we’re not really talking about specific proposals in detail, in public. What he is pushing for has been clear: he wants a halt to fighting and ultimately, beyond that, then he wants to be able to deal with the root causes of the problem.
Question: So, you don’t see a role for the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn’t have any comment on that. It’s really for the Security Council members to consider. Yes?
Question: The UN has been asked to provide some kind of protection force in the Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine to prevent some further grave-robbing and perhaps help get people in to look for bodies. Has that gone anywhere or is that moving anywhere?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know. I don’t know what stage it’s at. I believe that is also an issue which Security Council members would need to consider.
Question: And secondly, can I ask one more question?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Question: An Algerian plane coming down over Mali brings up all sorts of conspiracy theories, since many of the jihadists in Mali are Algerian-led and the border is quite large. Is there any information on how it may have crashed or who may have done it? Are the Algerians in the UN suspicious?
Deputy Spokesman: As I said just a few minutes ago, the UN Mission there, MINUSMA, did officially receive a request from the Malian and the Algerian authorities to provide assistance for the search of the missing Air Algerie plane. The Mission reports that it has initiated a search operation. MINUSMA is also mobilizing its personnel to provide assistance for any future rescue operation once the exact location of the airplane is confirmed. Luke?
Question: I’ve seen these figures that relate to the Secretary-General’s travel expenses. Specifically, just for him, this year it’s $376,000, next year $386,000. That increase is just over the UN’s inflation-adjusted rate. Is there a thinking, you know, as you said, I think, earlier this week, you know, we’re in the middle of the year, we’re already running a little bit low, perhaps, on the travel allotment for the Secretary-General. Is there a feeling in his office that in the future to avoid real or perhaps perceived conflicts of interest about travel, in-kind donations that the allotment for him should be increased? That if now, if he’s doing more active engagement internationally, that it would be good to raise the money for that ahead of time?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s clear that his travel expenses are considerable. It’s clear that he would need more money. What we would need to know, though, is, of course, what the Member States, what the General Assembly will be willing to grant in terms of a travel budget. And we, of course, remain in dialogue with the Member States on just that.
Question: Is the thinking that you would ask the General Assembly Member States to supply more money for this purpose?
Deputy Spokesman: We try to make them aware of what his needs are. In particular, they need to be aware of how much he has to do travel like this — this sort of necessary travel on short notice and we have to see how we can get that budgeted.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just as a follow-up for my colleagues regarding the crime that’s being committed by the bombing of the UNRWA school, will the Secretary-General still continue to acknowledge that Israel has a right to defend itself after this atrocious crime that’s been committed toward the UNRWA, towards women, children and elderly unarmed people?
Deputy Spokesman: Of course, Israel has the right to protect itself, and of course, it has the right to defend itself. That’s not in dispute, but we have also called for the rights of the other people, the people of Gaza, the people on the ground who have faced the problems from the recent attacks to be respected, as well.
Question: How can UN and the Secretary-General lead by example, by overlooking a very obvious war crime that took place? This is a war crime under the UN Charter, under international law, under international humanitarian law.
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, just a few minutes ago, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re still trying to get the facts of what happened. And, as I said just a few minutes back, we do not know for a fact who it was who attacked that compound. Yes, you, Jonathan?
Question: Farhan, can you please let us know when we might be able to, I know you’re trying to find out the facts of what’s happened at this school and obviously, we all want to know them before announcements and pronouncements are made by journalists in this room. One thing that would be helpful to know at this point is what the standard operating procedures are of UNRWA staff and UN staff when it comes to, and you mentioned how the first cache was handled by UNRWA when they were discovered at the UN-run school, what are… a clarification of what the standard operating procedures would be very helpful in terms of who they would hand over these rockets to, how they deal with issues when, for instance, the IDF [Israel Defense Force] is claiming on its tweets that they had informed UNRWA that they needed to vacate this school because there had been rocket fire emanating from the area. How does UNRWA handle these situations?
Deputy Spokesman: Those are two different types of situations: the situation about vacating premises and the situation of handling rockets. You asked about standard operating procedures; remember, last week’s incident was the very first incident ever, basically, in which rockets were found at any of the premises of the UN Relief and Works Agency. So, it’s not as if there was a standard operating procedure. This had not happened and it’s not supposed to happen, ever. It’s a violation of UNRWA premises in and of itself and it’s to be condemned. That first incident, they turned it over to the local police authorities because they figured that this is what was needed to happen. With the second such incident happening just a few days ago, they thought that they would need some other set of procedures to figure out how to handle this. But, before they could really act on that, those weapons, and I can’t even be precise about whether they were rockets or some other sort of weapons, went missing. And, so, as you see, the Secretary-General has now asked for a full review of such incidents and how the UN responds in such instances. The UN is taking concerted action to increase its vigilance in preventing such episodes from happening again. And, to this end, like we said, he had directed the Department of Safety and Security and the Mine Action Service to develop and implement an effective security plan. Beyond that, what I can tell you is that following the instructions from the Secretary-General, the UN Mine Action Service is preparing to deploy a team of explosive ordinance experts to Gaza in support of the UN Relief and Works Agency and civilians impacted by the conflict. The team and equipment that will be needed is being mobilized and will arrive in Gaza in the coming days. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Secretary-General, you said, just now wants to prevent things from happening, similar things in the future. The Gaza hostilities and conflict have been going on for three weeks and everybody knows that, including the United Nations. Why hasn’t the United Nations taken preventive measures to reinforce security around the UNRWA schools?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re doing as much as we can with security with the situation we have on the ground. It’s an extremely difficult situation, but we’re trying. And, like I said, the Department of Safety and Security is trying to see what we can do to keep all the premises safe. It’s a very difficult task and ultimately the only thing that will actually achieve that goal is a halt to fighting in Gaza. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. Yes, Widad?
Question: Farhan, can you provide any number of the people who have died in the attack? Do you have even an estimate, of the number of injured people…?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ve seen a variety of different numbers, but honestly, there’s nothing I feel secure in giving at this stage. I don’t want to give you a number that’s wrong. Yes?
Question: Farhan, obviously, the Israelis asked 40 per cent of the Gaza area to be evacuated and they are demolishing houses all over that place. Is that not effectively ethnic cleansing? Not forgetting that these people originated, as well, from other cities and towns in Palestine proper and they have been ethnically cleansed since 1948. Another thing, there is evidence on the ground that water tanks on houses are being sniped and depleted of water, in a way, putting the inhabitants there at the risk of no water at all, total shortage of water. Is that another practice of ethnic cleansing, as well?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s not for me to characterize what the activities on the ground have been. We’ve made clear our humanitarian concerns and our concerns for the protection of the civilian population throughout Gaza. This is why, ultimately, what we are trying to pursue is a halt to all fighting and this is what the Secretary-General is in the region to achieve.
Question: What was the United Nations position on asking whole population, 40 per cent of Gaza, to evacuate?
Deputy Spokesman: You’ve seen what we’ve had to say on Gaza and we stand by that. Yes?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura and also about Bangladesh. On Mr. de Mistura, I wanted to know whether he will continue, and he was named the head of this European Institute of Peace at one point in May. Is he going to have any other outside employment while serving as this Envoy on Syria and where will be based from?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re actually trying to work out the various arrangements about where he’ll be based. That’s the subject of some discussion; as you know, he was here in New York. He expects to Damascus and the region fairly soon, but his regular base is something we’ll work on. I don’t believe he’s going to have other employment while he works in this position. Yes?
Question: Briefly, did Mr. Djinnit say anything about involving Chad in the peace negotiations on the Central African Republic? Despite the difficulties with them, they seem to have the most influence of the neighbouring countries.
Deputy Spokesman: The remarks about the Central African Republic and the negotiations there were in a statement that was made, not by Mr. Djinnit, but by Mr. Bathily, the Special Representative for Central Africa, and Babacar Gaye. We have the full statement and you can refer to that. That’s available with us. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask, I know that the Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous has been in Nepal, Bangladesh and the region. In Bangladesh, while he was there, the Asian Center for Human Rights put out a pretty detailed report called “ Bangladesh, Sending Death Squads to Keep the UN’s Peace”. And they detail incidence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and elsewhere in Bangladesh, and tie it to particular units that have contributed troops to UN peacekeeping. So, I wanted to know, one, what’s the UN’s… DPKO’s [Department of Peacekeeping Operation’s] response to that report. Two, did it come up while he was in Bangladesh? And I wanted to ask you what I asked last week, which was, in Nepal, it was reported that he was somehow assessing the constitution writing in the country. This was said before he went. It was said when he arrived. And I wanted to know, did he do that? And if so, under what mandate?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we actually, since you asked that question, we put out a detailed note about his travel and what he was going to do. And it doesn’t involve that, no.
Question: And what about this Bangladesh human rights report?
Deputy Spokesman: On Bangladesh, the basic point is always the same — that if countries contribute troops to UN peacekeeping, they have to go through the proper vetting procedures to make sure that they are in compliance with human rights and other requirements by UN peacekeeping.
Question: This report names particular units. So, I’m just wondering, I’ve seen in the past, the UN has, like, issued some kind of response to Human Rights Watch reports, Amnesty International Reports. Is kind of viewed as a regional group? Or is there going to be a response to the units that they’re…some of whom are barred from outside military aid?
Deputy Spokesman: I know that my colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are aware of this particular report from this non-governmental organization and if they have a response, I’ll find out what that is. But certainly they know about it. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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