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

31 July 2014

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

31 July 2014
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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Sorry to keep you waiting.  We are still waiting for Pierre [Krähenbühl] to join us from Gaza.  He’s still in Security Council consultations by phone, and as soon as he’s free, he will come here via phone and we will see his picture pop up.  It will be just a phone link, as we couldn’t get a video link working.  That’s it.  I will try to decaffeinate myself, calm down.  I will brief you on something, as a matter of fact, so thank you for coming.

**Guest

As I mentioned, we will have Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), join us in a few minutes.  So, he will give us, obviously, the latest update on the ground from Gaza.

**Security Council

As you all heard this morning, both he and Valeria Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Head of the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs briefed the Security Council this morning on the latest developments in Gaza.  Both of those briefings were open and the text and videos were made available to you.

**Secretary-General in Costa Rica

The Secretary-General met with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica in San José last night and spoke briefly to the press afterwards.  And we put those remarks out, as well.

** Iraq

From Iraq, the United Nations has expressed concern over rising levels of violence and instability across Iraq and its impact on the lost lives of civilians. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Jacqueline Badcock said that immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access is now urgently needed to deliver life-saving assistance to and restore basic services for communities affected by the conflict.  So far, more than half a million people have been displaced since June, bringing the total displacement this year to 1.4 million people.  Since the beginning of the year, an estimated 5,500 people have been killed, including almost 900 people in July alone.  Ms. Badcock said that, in many instances, basic public services, including health facilities, water supplies and power grids, have been targeted, worsening the humanitarian situation and access to people in need.  More information is available online from the UN [Assistance] Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

**Ebola

The number of individuals infected by the Ebola virus in Western Africa continues to grow, with 1,323 confirmed cases, including 729 deaths, according to the latest figures published today.  Despite the increasing number of cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization (WHO) still does not recommend any trade or travel restrictions.  However, the Organization continues to work together with its partners through the Subregional Ebola Outbreak Coordination Centre in Conakry, Guinea, to accelerate the control of this outbreak.  The World Health Organization also remains in close contact with the International Civil Aviation Organization on potential efforts to facilitate repatriation flights, as well as matters relating to air ambulance services in the affected areas.  More information is available online from the World Health Organization.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

Today, the Secretary-General has appointed Catherine Pollard of Guyana as Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Ms. Pollard succeeds Franz Baumann of Germany, to whom the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management are grateful for his dedicated service to the Department since 2009.  Ms. Pollard is currently Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, a post she has served in since 2008.  We have more information available upstairs on that appointment.

** Argentina

In fact, a number of you, especially Joe, had been asking about the situation with the Argentinian debt and just in reaction to today’s development, I can answer in response to questions:  The Secretary-General’s foremost concern is for the Argentine people.  He hopes the impact on the people of Argentina will be as small as possible.  The Secretary-General cannot comment on the legal proceedings.  However, this case has raised crucial questions regarding sovereign debt restructuring processes.  The IMF [International Monetary Fund] and many Member States have spoken out about this issue.  The Group of 77 and China, as well as regional bodies such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and MERCOSUR [Common Market of the South], have also made statements with respect to the Argentine case and its implications for future international debt restructuring efforts.  The Secretary-General believes that these are important issues for Member States to address, and he welcomes further discussions among them.

**Press Conference

Tomorrow we will have a press conference at 11 a.m., in this room, by the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ri Tong Il.  He will brief the press on “the latest developments of the situation in the Korean peninsula”.  That’s at 11 a.m., tomorrow, in this room.

I’m happy to take some questions from you.  Masood, and then Matthew and then Karahman and then Linda?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In view of what the Secretary-General said immediately after he arrived in San José about this attack against the school and killing of a hundred Palestinians again yesterday, does the Secretary-General and the United Nations believe that there are crimes against humanity being committed in that conflict as yet?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General spoke about this and the Deputy-Secretary-General, I think, spoke eloquently about this yesterday, about the need for accountability; and I think I really have nothing to add to those remarks made yesterday.

Question:  Are you saying that there is a need for accountability?  Because there is definitely a sense of outrage, as the Deputy Secretary-General said, and the briefing that we are being listening to, what the UNRWA Under-Secretary-General is saying…

Spokesman:  I think you are right.  There has been very strong — and I would say almost emotional — responses from a number of senior UN officials, in light of what we have seen on the attacks on UN compounds and the level of violence that we have seen and I think his calls for accountability have been very clear, [cell phone rings] as Mr. Avni, please…

Question:  A follow-up?

Spokesman:  I think, as I said, both the Secretary-General and the Deputy-Secretary-General, Mr. [John] Ging, Ms. Amos and the Commissioner General of UNRWA have spoken very eloquently and strongly, and I have nothing to add to those comments.

Question:  Follow-up?

Spokesman:  Yes, Erol.

Question:  Regarding what the Deputy Secretary-General said yesterday, when he [was] asked repeatedly what would be sort of redline or threshold or whatever, and I don’t like to sound cynical since we are talking about human lives here, that the UN would do something differently than up to now, meaning not only changing rhetoric, because, as you said, there were emotional reactions, but push for the Security Council resolution or ask more clearly for the references for the ICC [International Criminal Court] or so?

Spokesman:  Whatever the Security Council decides, the Security Council will decide.  They are masters of their domain.  As I said, the Secretary-General, the Deputy [Secretary-General] were very clear in their condemnation of the violence.  The Secretary-General’s repeated message since the beginning of this crisis has been calling all parties to stop the fighting, to stop the fighting now and to start dialogue.  And the issue of accountability, I think, was raised and was raised clearly.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Some Gaza questions, but I want to make sure… I want to ask this other one about peacekeeping.  Last week, it arose there was a report by the Asian Center for Human Rights about the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] using soldiers from Bangladesh that were said to have been involved in human rights abuses in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and now it turns out that there’s a report from the Open Society Institute about similar recruitments from at least three other TCCs (troop-contributing countries); it was reported on IRIN, which is or has been or is a UN-affiliated news centre.  So, I’m wondering, what is the response to DPKO to these very detailed reports, including specific battalions, specific commanders being recruited and sent into peacekeeping missions in the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] and Mali?

Spokesman:  I hear your question.  I know there are procedures in place.  I have not seen those particular reports that you are mentioning.  I will look at them and give you a response.

Question:  And one thing on Gaza, Tony Blair, I understand he represents the Quartet, but in previous instances, he’s been active on things like economic development; I know that now, with the power plant out, there’s no cell phone service, there’s a lot of problems, so I just wonder, what is Tony Blair doing and does he report to anyone in the Secretariat what he’s… he got an award recently from Israel that some people found was sort of badly timed.  I’m just wondering what is his relationship to the UN?

Spokesman:  I think Tony Blair’s appointment remains the same, as an Envoy of the Quartet.  I don’t’ have any update on his activities.  If I do, I will share them with you.  Rhonda?

Correspondent:  But what…

Spokesman:  Just wait two seconds.  There are a lot of hands up.  There’s a lot of time and we’ll come back to you, Masood.  Yes?

Question:  The question I have is about what’s the international law regarding what’s going on in Gaza, and in the past we’ve raised the question of Gaza is an occupied place; and I thought Israel doesn’t accept that, but I wondered what the UN’s position is on that, because when there is an occupied situation, then there is an obligation of the occupying power to use police action, but not to treat it as a military activity.  And I thought there seems to be internationally a lot of confusion on this and I’m wondering what the Secretary-General uses as his guidance, because the International Court of Justice decision said that it was an occupied place, so can we get clarification?

Spokesman:  The Deputy Secretary-General, I think, talked about this yesterday and the Geneva Conventions and the need for protection of civilians, so I would refer you back to what he said yesterday.  Joe, and then Linda?

Question:  There seemed to be, maybe it’s a minor discrepancy, but between the statements of Valerie Amos and the Commissioner General of UNRWA regarding the number of staff fatalities.  I saw on one statement a reference to seven and the other a reference to eight.  So, I’d like to know if we can get that reconciled.  And secondly, and maybe this is something perhaps the Commissioner General can speak to or provide information to your Office and you can send to us, can we get information on the names and backgrounds of the UNRWA individuals, the fatalities?

Spokesman:  Sure, but what do you mean by background?

Question:  I mean, just their experience, who they are; whatever publically available information there is and their names?

Spokesman:  I’ll try to get you that.  Linda, and then Luke, and then we’ll go to the back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, there were some reports that an UNRWA health clinic was connected to Israeli terror bombs, I mean, terror tunnels and that some Israelis were killed in the health clinic because they had been near there and they were trying to destroy the tunnel.  I mean, is that something the UN can confirm, and if so, what is the reaction?

Spokesman:  I think I will leave the UNRWA-specific questions to the Commissioner General.  We should have him shortly.  We’ll go the front.  Did you have a question?  Yes, Mercedes?  You’ve got to be ready, you got to be ready.

Question:  I thought there were more people on line.  Sorry.  I was wondering, I’m sure the Secretary-General is aware of the crisis of credibility that the UN is facing in general, and when something like this happens, and six of the UN shelters in Palestine are attacked and the UN is not even able to take any action on that, what kind of accountability can we expect on this?  Is he aware of the consequences that it has for the UN and how this is going to…?

Spokesman:  I think that the Secretary-General is acutely aware of the situation, of the impact it has on the UN.  But, as we all know, and I don’t want follow the footsteps of the Deputy Secretary-General and pull out a Charter, but the UN is many different things and I think it is the Security Council, it’s the General Assembly, it’s ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], and it’s the Secretary-General.  Every part of the UN has to live up to its own responsibilities.  I think the Secretary-General, I think, has been as clear and as direct as I have ever seen him in commenting on the situation, on calling for the parties to cease fighting immediately.  You heard the Deputy Secretary-General talk yesterday about the need to remember the human beings who are at the centre of this, Palestinians, Israelis who are the centre of this.  As for the Security Council, they have to… the Security Council has to live up to their own responsibilities, the General Assembly, the Membership, so, as you know better than I, this Organization is a complex Organization made up of many moving parts.  And each one of those parts has to live up to its responsibilities.

Question:  I’m sorry, when he talks about accountability, what would he like to see?

Spokesman:  Accountability is for those who have been… who have violated international law, international humanitarian law to be brought to account.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Some news report indicated that the Israelis are spreading water on the faces of civilians in Gaza containing pesticide with strong odour and blinding the citizens there.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports.  Karahman, and then Luke.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Ambassador [Riyad] Mansour just today said that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza.  I was wondering if there was some kind of connection or some kind of communication between the Secretariat and the Palestinians as to how to document what the Palestinians are saying that are gross crimes against humanity or war crimes — how are these accounts recorded and what is the Secretariat doing just to prepare that, if the time comes for accountability, there is evidence that they have?

Spokesman:  The Secretariat is in touch with the Palestinians, both in terms of permanent mission here.  We have a large UN presence on the ground and obviously our colleagues at the Office at the Special Coordinator [are] in touch with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.  Luke?  Let me go to Luke and then I’ll go to you, Benny.  You left in the middle.  Go ahead.

Question:  The [Secretary-General] said he’d like to see standards put in place for when munitions are found in UN facilities, if and when.  It seems like the larger problem is there are so many UNRWA sites that are abandoned, also, and John Ging said this.  Is there any talk of putting in…?

[Cell phone music announcing Pierre Krähenbühl’s call to the briefing]

Spokesman:  Pierre?

General Commissioner:  Gaza has joined in on the meeting.

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