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

8 August 2014

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

8 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.

Good afternoon.

** Gaza

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation in Gaza.

The Secretary-General expresses his deep disappointment that the parties were unable to agree to an extension of the ceasefire in their talks in Cairo.  He condemns the renewed rocket fire towards Israel.  More suffering and death of civilians caught up in this conflict is intolerable.

The Secretary-General urges the parties to swiftly find a way back to respect of the humanitarian ceasefire and to continue negotiations in Cairo to reach a durable ceasefire.

The extension of the ceasefire is absolutely essential for talks to progress and to address the underlying issues of the crisis as soon as possible.  The Secretary-General firmly calls on the parties not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza.

That statement will be available online.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, during the 72-hour ceasefire, aid agencies began to assess needs and stepped up the delivery of urgently needed relief.  Humanitarian needs remain enormous, with the provision of fresh food and drinkable water the most pressing.

Today, a Palestinian boy was reportedly killed and six were wounded as a result of renewed hostilities and several Israelis were reportedly wounded.  Rescue teams have retrieved additional bodies, bringing the cumulative death toll of Palestinians to 1,922, of whom 1,407 are believed to be civilians and 448 of those were identified as children.  More than 9,500 people have been injured.

The number of people displaced by the violence remains fluid.  As of last night, nearly 200,000 people were sheltering in 119 UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and government schools — 166,000 of them in 90 UNRWA shelters.

Preliminary estimates indicate that some 65,000 people whose homes were totally destroyed or heavily damaged need urgent support, including basic household items.  The ceasefire allowed for some repairs of critical electricity, water and sanitation infrastructure by local authorities.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided ready-to-eat food rations every day to 330,000 people sheltered in UNRWA and government schools.  Some 46,000 household kits have been distributed since the beginning of the conflict.

UNRWA continues to distribute water to emergency shelters and their Community Mental Health Programme has provided psychosocial support to 73,000 parents and conducted recreational activities for 79,000 children.

** Iraq

In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General said he was deeply appalled at recent reports of attacks by the terrorist group known as Islamic State.  He remains concerned about attacks in Kirkuk, Qaraqosh, Tal Afar and Sinjar, mainly affecting the vulnerable communities of Christians, Turkomen and Yezidis.

The Secretary-General called on the international community, especially those with the influence and resources to positively impact the situation, to support the Government and people of Iraq and do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of communities affected by the conflict.

As you are aware, the Security Council also issued a statement condemning the attacks in Ninewa and urging the international community to provide support.  Following that, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) announced that the UN is urgently preparing a humanitarian corridor that will allow people in need to flee from areas under threat.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the cooperation between the Governments of Iraq and the Kurdistan region, and the international community.  He added that it is time for Iraq’s political leaders to put the country’s interests ahead of their personal aspirations.

More information is available online.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the humanitarian situation has further deteriorated in Iraq, as armed clashes continue to drive the displacement of civilians fleeing the violence, including in Erbil city.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to provide assistance there.

The number of those displaced remains fluid and unverified.  An estimated 50,000 people are believed to be trapped on Sinjar Mountain, and more than 200,000 are estimated to have made their way to Dahuk governorate over the past 72 hours.

At the UN briefing in Geneva today, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has set up three emergency field kitchens in Dahuk to urgently cater to the needs of the increasing number of displaced people arriving from Sinjar.  The kitchens have helped the World Food Programme provide food to 75,000 people since 4 August.

** Ukraine

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, briefed the Security Council’s meeting on Ukraine this morning.

On the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight last month, he said that while it may constitute a war crime, a thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation is needed to determine the facts and circumstances of this act.

Mr. Šimonović said that it was disturbing to learn that the volatile security situation at the crash site continues to hamper the Dutch-led investigation.

He stressed the need to find a peaceful solution to the current situation, adding that we cannot afford to wait a day longer, when at least 50 people are being killed or wounded every day.

The price being paid by all Ukrainians as a result of the conflict is too high, Mr. Šimonović said.

He added that the political and economic consequences of conflict spill over Ukrainian borders, negatively affecting human rights worldwide — the civilian airplane tragedy being just the most drastic example.

** Libya

The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Libya, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, led a team from the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to Tripoli for consultations with the Libyan parties, with a view to ending the violence in the country.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed will also assess the humanitarian needs in Libya and explore options to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians caused by indiscriminate shelling, displacement, acute food shortages and the disruption in basic services.  The UN Mission is working closely with the international community in a joint effort to achieve a durable and sustainable ceasefire.

Meanwhile, in today’s Geneva briefing, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern about the situation in Libya, including about the frequent indiscriminate shelling of heavily populated areas in Tripoli and Benghazi, and the deteriorating living conditions in both cities.

The Human Rights Office reminds all parties involved in the hostilities that under international law, indiscriminate attacks are war crimes, as are attacks on civilians or civilian objects such as airports — unless such civilian facilities are being used for military purposes.  The Office appeals to all sides to immediately end all violations of international law.

**Ebola

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared today the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

This declaration is a legally binding instrument for all Member States on disease prevention, surveillance, control and response.

It’s been used twice before:  in 2009 during the swine flu pandemic and last May following a resurgence of polio, especially in the Middle East.

The Committee made a series of recommendations for affected States, neighbouring States and the international community.

It stressed that there should be no general ban on international travel or trade with the affected countries but that some restrictions and surveillance measures should be implemented.

More details on the Committee’s work and advice are available on the World Health Organization’s website.

And the Head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Karin Landgren, said today that the Mission is working in support of crisis logistics, while UNMIL Police and Military continue to provide back-up security to the Liberia National Police.

The Mission’s Radio also continues to inform all Liberians by spreading facts and dispelling rumours about Ebola.

Stopping Ebola requires Liberians to work together as one community, Ms. Landgren said.

Her full statement is available online.

**Sustainable Transport

The Secretary-General is announcing today the membership of a High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport to provide recommendations on sustainable transport, actionable at global, national, local and sector levels.

The Advisory Group, established for a period of three years, will work with governments, transport providers, businesses, financial institutions, civil society and other stakeholders, to promote sustainable transport systems and their integration into development strategies and policies, including in climate action.

This initiative represents one more step by the Secretary-General in advancing climate action and in implementing his Five-Year Action Agenda in which the Secretary-General pledged to forge consensus around a post-2015 sustainable development agenda and implement it.

The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Olof Persson, Chief Executive Officer of the Volvo Group, and Ms. Carolina Tohá, Mayor of Santiago, Chile, as Co-Chairs of the Advisory Group.  The full list of Panel members is available in a press release in our office.

**Afghanistan-UNDP

I was asked questions earlier this week about how the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is dealing with allegations in Afghanistan.

UNDP informed me that it can confirm that recent allegations concerning Afghanistan have previously been reported to the UNDP Independent Office of Audit and Investigation.  In order to avoid jeopardizing the investigation process, the details of investigations are kept confidential and very limited information is made available to offices outside the Office of Audit and Investigation, until the process of gathering relevant evidence and fact-finding has been completed.  Should the matter be substantiated, the evidence gathered by the Office of Audit and Investigation will form the basis of remedial action.

I was also asked about allegations concerning visas in Afghanistan.  Regarding UNDP staff participating in the UN Games in the United States, I can clarify the following:  only three of the four staff members who were mentioned in the allegations travelled from Afghanistan to the United States to participate in the UN Games.  This was private travel.  The staff members applied and obtained their US tourist visas themselves.  They also paid for all travel expenses.

**Zimbabwe-Ebola

I was also asked about whether Zimbabwe was withdrawing any police advisers from Liberia.

I can confirm that the Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe notified the United Nations on 7 August, which is to say yesterday, of the decision of the Government of Zimbabwe to withdraw its 30 police advisers deployed in Liberia due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.

The United Nations is giving top priority to the health and safety of all UN personnel in Liberia, while providing support to the Government of Liberia during this crisis.  No UN staff member has tested positive for the Ebola virus to date.

[He later said that UN Peacekeeping reported that Zimbabwe has reversed its decision to withdraw its police advisers from the UN Mission in Liberia.]

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I may have missed this at the very outset, so I apologize if you already stated something on this.  But does the Secretary-General have any comment on the resumption of rocket firings by Hamas into populated centres in Israel after the expiration of the 72-hour cease-fire?  Particularly in light of the fact that Israel indicated it would be willing to extend that ceasefire indefinitely, so long as it wasn’t attacked?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I actually read out a statement at the start of this briefing.  I’m not going to read the whole thing again, but yes, it says that that the Secretary-General expresses his deep disappointment that the parties were unable to agree to an extension of the ceasefire in their talks in Cairo.  And in it, the Secretary-General urges the parties to swiftly find a way back to respect of the humanitarian ceasefire and to continue negotiations in Cairo to reach a durable ceasefire.  The full statement is in the office.

Question:  Well, the problem with that, and maybe it’s buried elsewhere in there, is that that sounds like it was the fault of both sides not reaching an agreement on extending the ceasefire.  The fact is Israel did say it would extend the ceasefire.  It was Hamas, before the ceasefire’s expiration, its military wing said that they were going to resume the rockets, even with more powerful rockets, and in fact they did fire rockets right after the ceasefire ended.  So is there anything in that statement or anything else that the Secretary-General would say that would point, attribute fault here to Hamas for unilaterally resuming fighting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I would just refer you to the full text of the statement, and that’s where we stand.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah, it has also been pointed out, regarding the Secretary-General’s statement on the resumption of the attacks into Israel, as claimed by them, the thing is that the Hamas in Gaza has nothing.  At this point in time, every infrastructure has been destroyed.  The thing is, whatever they’re doing is an act of desperation — is what is being said at this point in time.  So, basically until normalcy is restored over there in Gaza to allow some food, human needs to be, first of all, satisfied in Gaza, nothing can happen.  The Secretary-General is not asking the international community because Israel has just got another billions of dollars from the United States and Hamas has nothing.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m at a bit of a loss to what the question is.  You’re asking what?

Question:  I’m asking if the international community can do something to organize some funding for Gaza to help it to recover after the devastation that has been caused by this conflict.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly, we are hopeful that the international community can do more to fund efforts so that Gaza can be rebuilt.  Of course, a crucial thing for that will be for fighting to be definitively stopped.  The worry today is that there’s been more fighting and there’s been more death.  And so we urgently need a humanitarian ceasefire, which in itself can help us to help repair what’s been happening on the ground and help deal with the humanitarian needs of the people on the ground.  But then, beyond that, we actually need a durable ceasefire, one that will last.  So that is what we’re looking at most crucially, but beyond that, we have been trying to provide humanitarian assistance as much as we can.  Part of what I read at the start of this briefing was about that work, and I can share that with you later.  Jonathan?

Question:  Farhan, while we’re on the topic of Gaza, I just have one follow-up question on that and then I have a question related to Iraq.  You, at the beginning of this press conference, mentioned yet again the figure of civilian casualties in Gaza, but did not mention how many combatants have been killed in Gaza.  As you know, we’ve been going back and forth with e-mails and at these press briefings I’ve been asking for explicit information about how OCHA compiles its figures and why there have been so many disputes in those numbers.  Again, I request that OCHA responded to my inquiries.  And also, why is it that you are not mentioning combatants?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If I can stop you right there, the numbers are not collected by OCHA, they’re collected by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  I understand that, but OCHA is the one that reports them and then you take that information and then disseminate it within this room, and we have yet to hear a proper accountancy of how many combatants have been killed in Gaza.  I’ll leave it at that, unless you have some way to respond to that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The numbers — you can see the numbers on the website of OCHA.  They’re provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I’ve told you what the methodology is, which is that that office compiles initial reports of fatalities from the media and other sources, and works with Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations to cross-check and verify these reports, and whether the individuals are civilians or combatants.  These preliminary figures are further verified through interviews once the security situation permits.  So that’s the basic methodology.  Beyond that, in terms of the numbers of combatants, you can see on the website what that is.  I told you what the total number of casualties were, what the numbers of civilians were and then the discrepancy between those two numbers is basically made up of two categories — people whose status is not yet determined and people who are determined to be combatants.  There’s been about an equal number of each.

Question:  Farhan, I did have a follow-up question on Iraq.  But please, again, if OCHA could come back with specifics on how the breakdown is developed, it would be very helpful.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ve seen their e-mails to you and I think they’re referring you to someone in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights who can help you, so please call that person.

Question:  Okay, on Iraq, just a question about Iraq.  We got the press release on how there are efforts now under way by the United Nations to establish a humanitarian corridor.  Can you give us a clear picture of how the UN might be able to respond in the immediacy of this crisis?  What requirements you need to be able to carry out your work to provide absolutely crucial humanitarian aid to the people in desperate need?  And whether you’re hampered in any way in your ability to react to this crisis because you need some sort of authorization from the Security Council or some other body?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of humanitarian efforts, we’re already trying to provide aid where we can, in places where it’s safe for people to gather and receive aid.  In particular, as I said at the start of this briefing, there are three emergency field kitchens set up by the World Food Programme in Dahuk to tend to the needs of displaced people who are arriving from Sinjar.  In terms of the humanitarian corridor, the humanitarian community in Iraq is preparing to provide assistance to people once they’re able to leave the mountain area, whether they move at their own accord, are located in areas freed by military intervention or by a humanitarian corridor.  And so we have aid positioned for them in places where they can get to, if they can get to safety from Mount Sinjar, for example.  Yes?

Question:  Just a quick question, are you encountering any political disruptions though in your ability to provide what you need?  Or are things moving along pretty well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The main thing that’s needed, ultimately, is security in the area and we need to make sure that people can get to areas that will be secure.  If the security is there, we’ll try to provide humanitarian aid where the people who are fleeing the violence can gather.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I’m going to ask you some follow-up questions about the UNDP answer that you read out, but I wanted to ask you about Iraq, first.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Everyone’s got multi-part questions today.

Question:  Yeah, well, I would respond to UNDP, but I wanted this.  Since Mr. Mladenov put out this press statement saying now that air drops have started, the UN in Iraq is urgently preparing, et cetera.  I wanted to ask, was the UN Secretariat informed in advance, you know, either of the humanitarian air drops or of the air strikes that began today?  What’s the relationship between… both of their aerial actions in Iraq and the UN?  Should the UN be… has it requested to be informed?  Was it informed?  What’s the relation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of information:  yes, today the United States reported that it has undertaken humanitarian air drops to people trapped on Sinjar Mountain in the Ninewa province, using US military assets.  About 16,000 meals and 190,000 bottles of water were reportedly delivered via parachute.  For further information, please contact the US authorities.

Question:  But isn’t this, I guess my question is, is that… they were talking about Ukraine, but in other places, basically it’s like, what’s the UN’s role of coordinating humanitarian action?  Like, isn’t in the name of OCHA?  So, I wanted to know, what’s going to be the UN’s role as various countries, I think another Security Council member said it’s going to begin humanitarian drops in the coming days.  Is it… what is OCHA, I guess, what is UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq], what’s their role in being informed in advance and trying to coordinate various efforts?  Or is it just a matter of every country does it in an uncoordinated basis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN in Iraq is going to try to get information as it can from the various parties and to coordinate, as it can.  One of the things, as yesterday’s statement said, was that the Secretary-General was calling on the international community, especially those with influence and resources to positively impact the situation, to support the Government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of communities affected by the conflict.

Question:  But did the US call the UN, did it communicate to the UN prior to air strikes?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you the information we have received.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, on this US strikes, beside the United States, is there any other country, Western country or any other country which is helping the Iraqis, does the United Nations know?  And would you be able to update us on any humanitarian situation that will now exist following the United States attacks on these people?  So, do you have any information that any other country is helping, except for the United States, and will there be an update?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re hopeful for assistance from as many countries as possible.  I believe that, in recent days, the Government of Turkey has been helping with the provision of humanitarian aid, as well.  Regarding the consequences of this action, we have to evaluate what’s happening on the ground, but we’re prepared to deal with the humanitarian needs of any of those who are displaced from the fighting.  But, of course, there’s been considerable fighting for some time now, and we’ve been very concerned about that situation; and so our humanitarian activities are a part of a continuum of efforts that we’ve been making to help the people displaced by the recent fighting.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A photo correspondent of news agency Rossiya Segodnya, his name is Andrei Stenin, disappeared in eastern Ukraine three days ago.  He was allegedly detained by Ukrainian forces and he’s now in [inaudible] region.  I would like to hear some comment from UN, if possible.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any immediate comment.  As you know, Mr. Šimonović was briefing the Security Council on the human rights situation in Ukraine just earlier today.  We would need to check with his office whether they have anything specific to say about this particular case.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to, after three days to say basically, that the UNDP is aware of the charges but won’t… one of the documents shows basically a threat by Afghanistan to UN staff.  It says, you know, don’t make these allegations of corruption.  And so it seems like, it seems kind of imperative to… I wanted to know whether in response to the documents that have been published, UNDP provided any, either protection to the staff involved?  I also wanted to know, I know that Helen Clark herself received a letter from the Office of the Special Investigator… of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in May, asking for a lot of information.  I wanted to know, whether, I guess, UNDP will only answer through you, so I’ll ask you, because I e-mailed them these questions.  I’ll ask you, did Helen Clark answer this… detailed request from a major donor or did she give the same answer, that UNDP is investigating itself?  When will that investigation be finished?  And will it be made public?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as I think I just pointed out to you, this is subject to an audit.  We’ll need to wait for that to proceed and the details of the investigation will be kept confidential while that investigation is proceeding.  As I also said, should the matter be substantiated, the evidence gathered by the Office of Audit and Investigation will form the basis of remedial action.  So that’s where we stand on that.  If there are further details once this has proceeded from UNDP, either they will get in touch with you, or I will.

Question:  Did they answer CGIAR?  Did they answer this?  I’m starring at this pretty lengthy letter, detailed letter sent to Ms. Helen Clark.  Did she answer questions from donor nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you’re aware, because I just said it several times, this is all subject to an audit and, therefore, there won’t be any further details to provide at this stage while the audit is under way.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, several months ago I asked you a question and you said you would get back to me with the information.  There was an investigation into the snipers in the Maidan at a time when there many, many advisers who were advising the Government, which subsequently, which subsequently…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, everyone, please use the microphones.

Question:  I know.  How far has the investigation gone into the identity of the snipers who killed a number of civilians in Ukraine prior to the overthrow, the violent overthrow of [Viktor] Yanukovych, who was democratically elected?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding the incidents at the Maidan, I’d just refer you to the work… there have been several reports that have come out from the human rights monitors.  The most recent oral briefing on the human rights situation was by Mr. Ivan Šimonović just earlier today and the details of that are available in our office.  So, I would just refer you to those.  That’s really the latest information we have on all of the incidents, including the sniper incidents.

Question:  Farhan, how soon would the United Nations office be able to prepare how much money is needed to alleviate the suffering of the Gaza, especially the children and the hospitals, and the infrastructure over there?  Will there be such an assessment and will there be an appeal to the international community as to how much money is needed for this devastated Gaza?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve already been providing updates about what the various needs are on the ground.  Of course, we’ll need to have those updated even further, depending upon whether there’s a restoration of a ceasefire on the ground or not.  At this stage, I don’t have a specific dollar figure to announce by way of an appeal, but while we’re assessing what the level of need is on the ground, we’ll come out with those numbers, and we’ll presumably have figures to give in terms of dollar amounts down the line.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, there’s a controversy where the Greek Cypriot side has taken issue with UNFICYP [United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus] document that referred to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which they said it shouldn’t be referred to as.  And so they pointed at that, and saying that the UN is sort of, uh, accepting this name of this break-away spot.  So, I wanted to know, since they’ve raised this, what’s the UN’s response to this?  Is this the correct term?  Was the term used?  If so, will it be used again?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, our terminology to deal with parties has not changed.  It has not changed.

Question:  It’s called UNPOL Sector 1 Operational Order Pilgrimage, et cetera.  I mean, it’s a document that they have, so it did change.  Or was it a mistake?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, there’s no change in the terminology that we use to describe the communities.

Thanks very much.

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