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

6 August 2014

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

6 August 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General on Gaza

The Secretary-General spoke at today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza, telling the Member States that it seems that the long-overdue ceasefire there is holding.  For the moment, he said, the near constant firing of Hamas rockets and Israeli missiles and mortars has subsided.

But the Secretary-General added that we cannot rest as the suffering continues.  This ceasefire has come at a price that is almost too much to bear.

He said that we must spare no effort to turn the current calm into a durable ceasefire that addresses the underlying issues of the conflict:  ending rocket fire from Gaza, weapons smuggling, opening the crossings, lifting the blockade and bringing Gaza back under one Palestinian Government that accepts and adheres to the PLO commitments.

He also discussed the attacks that hit UN premises and emphasized that the UN flag must be respected and assure protection to those in need.  UN shelters must be safe zones, not combat zones.

The Secretary-General thanked UN staff in Gaza for their bravery and sacrifice and paid tribute to the staff members who have died during the conflict.  Tomorrow, he said, the UN flag will be flown at half-mast in their memory.

We have his remarks in our office and online.

** Gaza

Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, also briefed the General Assembly today, speaking from Cairo, and he discussed efforts to obtain a prolonged ceasefire.  He said that Gaza’s legal crossings must be opened, in a way that is compatible with Israel’s security concerns.  And he discussed the importance of bringing the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza.

Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), spoke to the Member States from Gaza, and he said that 90 of the Agency’s premises were hit during the conflict.  He said that UNRWA has asked for investigations to be carried out regarding the attacks on Agency-run schools that had been sheltering displaced Gazans.

Kyung-wha Kang, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, discussed the toll of the conflict, saying that more than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed.  Of those identified, at least 1,300 were civilians, including more than 400 children and 200 women.  Meanwhile, 64 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians have been killed.  Ms. Kang added that more than half a million people, or over one quarter of the population of Gaza, were displaced by the conflict.

And Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, talked about the need for accountability.  She said that the conclusions and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry established last month by the Human Rights Council will be presented in March 2015 and should be carefully considered and followed with appropriate action.

**South Sudan

The Security Council was briefed this morning by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, on the latest developments in South Sudan.

He said that South Sudan was on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a protracted internal conflict.  He added that both sides continue to believe that they can achieve more through the pursuit of a military option.

Mr. Mulet said there was an urgent need for the international community to speak with one voice so that the parties would participate meaningfully in the peace talks and warn them of the consequences of impeding the peace process.

He stressed that the parties needed to reach an agreement without further delay on how to end the conflict and embark on the path of reconciliation.

His full remarks are available in our office.

And this afternoon, the Security Council will meet on the situation in Burundi.

** Ukraine

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council held an open meeting on Ukraine.

Speaking on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, John Ging told Council members that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, and the worrying increase in violence in urban areas puts a greater number of people at risk.

Until violence is ended, he said, we will continue to see an increase in human suffering, and in the number of people displaced.  Immediate action is required to prevent this crisis from worsening.

Mr. Ging said that some 3.9 million people live in areas directly affected by violence.  The fighting has significantly damaged infrastructure, affecting the power and water supply.

He also noted that as conflict intensifies, casualties are on the rise.  He cited reports from the UN’s Human Rights Office and the World Health Organization (WHO) that at least 1,367 people — both civilians and combatants — have been killed, and more than 4,000 people have been wounded by fighting in eastern Ukraine since mid-April.

** Iraq

In a statement issued yesterday, Security Council members condemned the attacks by the Islamic State in Sinjar and Tal Afar in north-west Iraq.  They expressed concern about the hundreds of thousands of people, many of them from vulnerable minority communities, displaced by the attacks and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Council members called upon all Iraqi communities to unite to respond, with the support of the international community, to the violent and senseless threat to Iraq’s unity, identity and future.

Also on Iraq, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that, according to Government estimates, up to 200,000 people may have fled Sinjar, including some 45,000 people who have arrived in the Kurdistan region since 3 August.  There are also reports that some 3,000 Iraqis have fled into Syria and UNHCR is trying to help them gain permission to cross back into the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

More information is available online.

**Ebola

The World Health Organization issued today an update on Ebola.

Between 2 and 4 August 2014, a total of 108 new cases, as well as 45 deaths, were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.  This brings the total number of cases to 1,711, and the total number of deaths to 932.

As announced yesterday, the World Health Organization is convening today an Emergency Committee of international experts to review the outbreak.  A summary of the meeting will be made public and a press briefing will be held on Friday.

Among the main new developments in the four affected countries, let me highlight a few:

In Guinea, exit screening is currently being tested, in partnership with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Liberia, security issues continue to be of concern, as community resistance remains high.

In Nigeria, the Government is focused on following up the contacts from the first patient.

And in Sierra Leone, efforts are under way to map where treatment centres and laboratories are most needed and getting those set up.

More details are available on WHO’s website.

** Hiroshima

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and the Secretary-General sent a message to this year’s Peace Memorial Ceremony held today in the Japanese city.

He said that today’s solemn commemoration connects memories of a tragic past with the vision of a future free of nuclear weapons.

The Secretary-General said that one of the great ironies of modern science is that humans are searching for life on other planets while retaining and modernizing weapons of mass destruction that, if used, can destroy all life on planet Earth.  He said that we must address this failing and counter the militarism that breeds the pursuit of such weaponry.

He called for immediate and concrete progress so that the hibakusha — the survivors of the bombing — and the world can witness the final destruction of the last nuclear weapon as we end the historical nightmare known as the age of nuclear weapons — and welcome the dawning of a new era of hope, peace, and prosperity for all.

His full message is available on our website.

**South Sudan

And also on South Sudan, further to what we told you yesterday on the situation in Bunj in Upper Nile State, the UN Mission in the country, UNMISS, reports that approximately 110 peacekeepers arrived in Bunj earlier today to protect United Nations and humanitarian personnel, as well as civilians who have taken refuge in United Nations facilities.

The peacekeepers are in the process of collecting national staff members of humanitarian aid organizations deemed to be at risk and who need to be evacuated as soon as possible.

The Mission reports that about 220 NGO and UN international staff were flown out of Bunj today.  About 80 were brought to Juba and the remainder landed in Malakal.  Evacuation operations are expected to continue tomorrow.

That’s it from me.  Any further, any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What is the United Nations response to this video from a documentary on the UNWRA school that shows one or two cases, maybe more of students being taught jihad… [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we need to be able to verify the authenticity of the videos.  We certainly try to discourage any type of militant activity or any sort of encouragement or incitement to take place in any of our facilities.  One thing I would like to point out, as the Secretary-General just said in his remarks, mere suspicion of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.  And he said that regarding, as you know, the attacks that have afflicted the premises that are run by UN Relief and Works Agency.

Correspondent:  Follow-up if I could [inaudible] video from a year before, 2013, not related to these attacks, that link just you made.  So, would the UN be very concerned if this is true, the video, we had incidents like this before in UNRWA facilities?

Deputy Spokesman:  We would be concerned about any inappropriate activity or incitement.  Yes?

Question:  Good afternoon, Farhan.  Could you please elaborate a little bit on Ukraine issue?  It was mentioned before that Under-Secretary-General, Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman, was scheduled to go both to Kyiv and Moscow, and to try to bring the sides closer together.  Do you know what UN’s exact agenda is in both capitals?  And what kind of outcome we are trying to envision?  Thank you.   

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding Mr. Feltman, because of the nature of the crisis in Gaza, he has not been able to leave for Ukraine.  So that trip has been postponed.  I don’t have any dates to give for when he will travel to Kyiv and Moscow.  But at this stage, he has remained in Headquarters over the period when we thought he was going to leave.  Regarding our activities, of course we continue with our various humanitarian and human rights activities on the ground.  John Ging briefed the Security Council yesterday on the humanitarian situation in the country in his capacity as Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, has helped keep the Council informed periodically on the human rights situation, and, as you know, the last report from the human right monitors came out just a little over a week ago.  So, that’s other work we’ve been doing.  Yes? 

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  Now that ceasefire in Gaza is holding, does, has the UN had any chance to verify the figures of Palestinian deaths by Israeli attacks in the Strip?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of the work we are doing, updated numbers are provided everyday on the casualty figures.  As the Secretary-General pointed out, the casualty figures now exceed 1,800 Palestinians.  Out of that, more than 1,300 of them were determined by our offices on the ground to be civilians.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Gaza and also Afghanistan.  On Gaza, I heard what the Secretary-General said in the General Assembly and it made me wonder whether he is planning to institute a board of inquiry like he did in 2009 under Ian Martin, which was a study of damages to UN premises.  Seems like… Is that routinely done?  Is that something that would be done at a later stage?  Is he not going to do it?  What can you say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can’t say anything about that at this stage.  Normally, when UN premises are attacked or otherwise damaged, the traditional process is to set up a board of inquiry.  So, that would be the standard procedure.  But I don’t have any details to give.  As you know, most of these are internal processes.  When we can share details down the line, we will do so.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  [inaudible]  What is the General Assembly going to do, adopt a resolution or declaration?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is an informal meeting of the General Assembly.  They receive several briefings, as I said earlier before you came in, from the Secretary-General and many other officials, including Robert Serry, Kyung-wha Kang, Pierre Krähenbühl, and Navi Pillay, from the various components of the UN system.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there is no resolution envisioned, as far as I’m aware.  Roger?

Question:  Any updates yet on the activities of Staffan de Mistura, to try to negotiate peace in Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not much.  He continues to be in contact with interlocutors.  He is trying to see where we can go in terms of revitalizing the diplomatic process for Syria.  So, he’s been in touch with a number of contacts, but there is nothing specific to say at this stage.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about payments.

Deputy Spokesman:  And then, the person behind you after you.

Correspondent:  Ok, sorry about that.  I didn’t hope…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Correspondent:  The payments by UNDSS (Department of Safety and Security) and UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) in Afghanistan to members of the Ministry of Interior and other Afghan forces that are already under full salary by the Government.  Various documents have come out that show an internal UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) whistle blower seeking to raise these issues within UNDP because, I guess, because as the country team, or whatever.  But the documents list, they name UNDSS, they name UNAMA, and basically the person was told, “Don’t raise this anymore.”  So, I was anticipating you to say “Ask UNDP”.  And I have more than 24 hours ago.  I don’t have any answer from them.  But I want to ask you, because the documents are not just about UNDP, but about DSS and UNAMA, is it… what are the rules?  Is it UN’s, DPKO’s (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), DPA’s (Department of Political Affairs) and DSS’s understanding that Afghan forces shouldn’t receive out double payments.  If this information came to light, I think it did, what was done about it?  That’s my question to you.  I don’t know if you get an answer today.  Is it possible?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I’m sure you’ve anticipated, and indeed you said you anticipated, yes, I’m aware that UN Development Programme is in touch with you on this.  They’ve informed you that they will get back to you.  And so, we will first have to wait for what their reply is.  First ask them.

Correspondent:  How long…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  It’s no use trying to get the two of us talk at cross purposes with each other.  UNDP will get back to you.  Yes?  Now you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Good afternoon.  My question is about Nigeria, the missing Chibok girls.  Has the UN abandoned them?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not at all.  Not at all.  We have continued to try to push for their release and their unconditional release.  The Secretary-General has done so.  His various Envoys dealing with this issue, including Said Djinnit, who has been sent to Nigeria several times to deal with support, and Gordon Brown, who deals with the issue of access to education, have also continued to stage events, including, by the way, one just a week or so ago that involved Malala Yousafzai, who stood up in solidarity for the rights of Nigerian girls to have an education.  So, we are continuing with that.  And of course, we are also continuing with other efforts to give psycho-social support to the families of the schoolgirls, as well as to those who have managed to work their way to freedom.  So, we are trying with that.  And of course, we will keep up with that effort and we once more do urge their immediate and unconditional release.  Yes?

Question:  Who is in Nigeria? Any of the top officials, Gordon Brown or anyone?  And psycho-social support is UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and probably a couple of other agencies, but are any of the officials you mentioned in Nigeria?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t believe any of them are in Nigeria.  Gordon Brown was there recently.  Said Djinnit, as you know, will be shifting positions, but he had travelled there several times in the past.  Like I said, Malala Yousafzai, in her capacity as someone working on this issue, has also helped with that.

Question:  While I’m on location, where does de Mistura live?  Is he in Damascus?  Or commuting?

Deputy Spokesman:  So far, he’s been working out of Geneva.  If that changes, we’ll let you know.

Correspondent:  Because Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag set up shop in Damascus for months.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Ms. Kaag yesterday actually briefed the Council from Cyprus, which is where she has also been based.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, could you tell us a little bit if UN has information on Tony Blair’s peacekeeping activities?  Because we haven’t heard from him in a long time and we had this hope that he was trying to get the sides talk together, negotiate and come to some peaceful resolutions.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, he’s done some work on behalf of the Quartet.  Of course, that’s a series of entities, which includes the UN, but he doesn’t work strictly for the UN.  I don’t have any specific updates to give you on him.  In terms of the current talks that are taking place in Cairo now, our person there on the ground is the Special Coordinator, Robert Serry.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Sri Lanka and also South Sudan.  In Sri Lanka, there was recently a meeting in Colombo of families of the disappeared, predominantly Tamils, who were broken up by a mob of monks.  It’s something that a number of ambassadors in the country have denounced, including the United States State Department.  I’m wondering, given the UN’s interest in the country and the upcoming inquiry, is there any UN comment on what seems to be intimidation of possible witnesses.  And also on sort of the same topic, for that inquiry, they put out a form telling people to email in their evidence of abuses by October.  Some people said that given that it’s not encrypted, it may actually put victims or witnesses at some risk.  I wonder, I know it’s a Navi Pillay question, but I wanted to ask you, is there a UN system-wide thinking of how, given surveillance and other things Governments can do, to use encryption or some kind of privacy in terms of collecting of evidence?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you are well aware of the comments that Navi Pillay and others made in terms of making sure that human rights defenders and others who provide information are kept safe and protected.  Any of the use of the evidence would have to be in keeping with that, in terms of protecting sources of information.  So, that is the main point there.  Regarding the protest, of course, I don’t have a specific comment on this, since we don’t have the first-hand details about this particular situation.  But what I can tell you is of course that we stand by and continue to uphold the right to peaceful assembly everywhere in the world, and that needs to be respected.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Is there any update… now there is a bit of ceasefire in Gaza?  Is there any update on some kind of a UN protection force?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask you on South Sudan and Edmond Mulet.  He described how in Bunj how the situation occurred with breakaway factions of SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) and local militia, and basically said that humanitarian workers of the Nuer tribe were being targeted.  So when you said that national humanitarian staff are being evacuated, is this Nuer-specific or is this all national staff… is this viewed that the Nuer group in particular is being removed?  Can you unpack this idea of… I don’t know exact how you phrased it, you didn’t just say all national staff.  How was that phrased?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  What we said is that we are “collecting national staff members of humanitarian aid organizations deemed to be at risk and who need to be evacuated as soon as possible”.

Correspondent:  And “deem” means based on being…

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t have any further detail to share for now.  Yeah?

Question:  Follow-up to the question about the Chibok girls.  President Goodluck Jonathan met with Malala and parents at her urging, and has since been accused of bribing the parents to keep quiet about the missing girls.  And 12 of the parents have passed away, an usually high number.  Does the UN plan on doing anything about the obvious corruption that’s going on in trying to get these girls back?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any details on this, and I don’t have any comment on that for now.  Yes?

Question:  On South Sudan.  How fragile do you think the possibility for ceasefire and an agreement is?  It seems fragile.  But are you hopeful?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, for us it’s important that the parties both be present for the mediation by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, IGAD.  And so we want them to participate in talks.  And at this stage, we are monitoring and seeing whether that in fact will happen.  We may have a further statement on South Sudan down the line, sometime later today.

Have a good afternoon.  Oh.

Question:  What is the curriculum taught in the UNRWA schools regarding Israel?  And what is taught in East Jerusalem by UNRWA schools?  Are they the same, are they different?

Deputy Spokesman:  There is an approved curriculum, which is gone over by our agencies.  It’s certainly one that teaches facts and does not teach anything approaching incitement or anything of the sort.

Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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