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

11 August 2014

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

11 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

We’re going to be join in-progress, probably in about 10-15 minutes, by Kieran Dwyer, who is the Chief of Communications at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Kieran happens to be — it doesn’t happen to be, actually is — in Erbil and travelled to Erbil a few days ago and will be updating us on the humanitarian situation in Kurdistan and the surrounding regions.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the video conferencing machinery up and working from Erbil, so he’ll just be joining us by phone.

** Iraq

In the meantime, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, today welcomed the decision of the President of Iraq, Dr. Fuad Masoum, to accept the nomination of the largest bloc in Parliament, Dr. Haider al-Abbadi, as Prime Minister-designate, to undertake the formation of a new Government.

Mr. Mladenov said that President Masoum has fulfilled his role in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and asked the nominee of the largest political bloc to form a Government.  It is important now for all political groups in Parliament to cooperate in forming an inclusive government that reflects the wishes of the Iraqi people for security, prosperity and democracy.  He urged all political leaders to work within the framework of the Constitution and show moderation in their statements and actions.  The Iraqi Security Forces should refrain from actions that may be seen as interference in matters related to the democratic transfer of political authority.

And as you’ll recall, in a statement issued on Saturday, the Secretary-General called upon all Iraqi political parties to abide by the constitutional timeline that governs the nomination of the Prime Minister.  He also called for reason and wisdom to prevail and urged all leaders in Iraq to form a broad-based Government that is acceptable to all components of Iraqi society.

** Gaza

And as you saw, yesterday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians.  The Secretary-General expresses his strong hope that this will give the two sides, under Egyptian auspices, another chance to agree on a durable ceasefire for the benefit of all civilian populations and as a starting point to address the underlying grievances on both sides.  The full statement is available upstairs… sorry, next door.  Old habits die hard.

Also on Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, as of yesterday, there were more than 230,000 internally displaced people taking refuge in 90 schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) in Gaza.  Nearly 40,000 more were hosted in 23 government and private schools and public facilities, and 25,000 families are registered at the Ministry of Social Affairs as being with host families.

People need water, emergency food and other basic assistance.  Most of Gaza’s households reportedly have no water supply, or receive water for a few hours every five days.  Fuel is needed to operate critical water and sanitation facilities until repairs of the electricity grid can lead to the resumption of the former power supply level.  Preventive health services for displaced people in shelters are required to prevent the outbreak of communicable diseases.  UNRWA and the World Food Programme (WFP) were already regularly providing basic food assistance to over one million Palestinians in Gaza before the current hostilities.  The two agencies are now also providing food rations to all displaced people sheltered in UN schools or government schools every day and continue to provide food assistance for people living with their relatives, and to patients, as well as hospital staff.

**Ebola

Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) tell us that experts in medical ethics met today in Geneva to assess the role of experimental therapies in the Ebola outbreak response.  The recent treatment of two health workers infected with the Ebola virus with experimental medicine has raised questions about whether medicine that has never been tested and shown to be safe in people should be used in the outbreak.  The panel discussed whether it is ethical to use unregistered interventions with unknown adverse effects for possible treatment or prophylaxis, and what criteria should guide the choice of intervention.  Under the leadership of the World Health Organization, activities in the field, in all four countries impacted by the outbreak, include infection prevention and control, community mobilization and tracing of people who have been in contact with Ebola patients.

**UNAMID

The African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur, Mohamed ibn Chambas, said today that fighting between Government forces and armed movements reduced considerably during the past months.  But, he added that inter-communal violence and acts of banditry and criminality continue to be a challenge for the civilian population of Darfur, UNAMID (United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur) peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel.  Speaking to reporters in Khartoum, Mr. Chambas also said that the troops and police of the African Union-UN mission in Darfur was becoming more proactive and adopting a most robust posture in protecting civilians.

Concerning the recent mediation efforts, he said that he had intensified coordination with the African Union High-level Implementation Panel and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.  And he added that they had agreed to look into organizing a preparatory meeting, as soon as possible, with representatives of the armed movements and the Government of the Sudan.  The meeting would explore ways of addressing the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur, deliberate on how the parties can bridge their differences and make progress towards a comprehensive settlement in the Darfur conflict.

That is it for me.  I’m happy to take some questions from you before our caller calls in.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, hi.  Surely, you probably have seen the Wikileaks revelations that Mr. Ban Ki-moon in 2009 coordinated with the Israelis his report on the Board of Inquiry on Gaza.  Do you have any response to those allegations?

Spokesman:  We’re not going to comment on leaked documents, especially when those documents aren’t even ours, as I think the leaked document appears to be a cable from the [ United States] State Department.  I would say, however, in broad, general terms that the Secretary-General and his senior officials consult widely with other delegations as they go about their regular work.  But, ultimately, the language that you find in documents under the Secretary-General’s name, including cover letters and others, is the responsibility of the Secretary-General and his senior officials.

Question:  So, was he… did he, as they say, for example, sit with the Israelis and discuss…?

Spokesman:  As I said, I’m not going to comment on what is inside this supposed document from the State Department, I’m just… my broad answer to you was how we work, in general.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, the Commission of Inquiry into the human rights breaches was announced.  Can you tell us a little about the details of who is going to be in the Commission and what is the deadline, what they’re looking to get?

Spokesman:  No, I saw a press release — I think that was embargoed until about a few ago — from the High Commissioner, the Human Rights Commission.  It is a Commission of Inquiry that is independent of the Secretariat and the Secretary-General.  It was put together by the Human Rights Council, so I would refer you to Geneva.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask a short question on Gaza and then something on Afghanistan.  On Gaza, I wanted to know whether there’s been any movement by the Secretariat to establish a Board of Inquiry into the destruction of UN facilities.  Has there been?

Spokesman:  I have no update on that.

Question:  Okay, and then on Afghanistan, I wanted to ask, you may be aware last week there was some back and forth about the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) programmes in Afghanistan that resulted in Farhan [Haq] on Friday saying that an audit is ongoing, and while the audit is ongoing, there will be no comment.  At least that’s how I interpreted it.  But, I’ve looked into it and it turns out that there was an audit that was completed of this very programme called “Closing the Security Gap” project, finished in February of this year by Grant Thorton.  It made a lot of negative findings, but… it wasn’t clear to me, since UNDP never directly answered the questions, is this audit that’s being cited the old audit?  Is there a new audit?  If there’s a new audit of the same programme, how much was paid for the former audit?  And can you explain how it’s appropriate for the Secretariat to not answer questions about DSS [Department of Safety and Security] and UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] by referring to a UNDP audit that may already be completed?

Spokesman:  So, you had a short question on Gaza and short answer, long question on Afghanistan.  My short answer is, show me what you have, what you’re referring to and I’m happy to look into it because I’m a little confused by the number of audits myself.

Correspondent:  I have also two questions, Stéphane, on Gaza and Western Sahara.

Spokesman:  I get paid the same.

Question:  And the statement by the Secretary-General by the ceasefire, you mentioned to address the root causes, the underlying causes on both sides.  Is that fair characterization to put both sides and the grievances or underlying causes of both sides?  A whole population of 1.8 million, who has been under occupation for 47 years and under siege for eight years, you put the underlying causes exactly at the same footing with Israel?  Is that fair characterization?

Spokesman:  You know what, I think you may be editorializing the Secretary-General’s statement.  Obviously, whenever there’s a conflict between two parties, it would be my assumption that there are grievances that need to be addressed on both sides.  No one is comparing or trying to weigh the importance of the grievances and the underlying causes on both sides, but clearly, both Israelis and Palestinians have needs to be met, have issues that need to be dealt with.  So, I think you’re over-interpreting the statement.  Second question?

Question:  Second question about Western Sahara, there’s press report talking about the crisis between Christopher Ross and the Moroccan authorities that has not been… he hasn’t visited Morocco for the last three months.  The press reports also said he might submit his resignation in October after he submits his last report, so…?

Spokesman:  I think my colleague Farhan addressed… that question was raised last week and it was addressed, but I will check it for you.  Mr. Ross and then Oleg.  Mr. Roth?  Sorry, Roth, Ross, yeah?

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s view on the change and the comings and goings in Iraq?  I realize the UN doesn’t want to get involved [inaudible].  What’s going on according to the UN?

Spokesman:  Well, I think you know, obviously, this is a situation that has been of great concern to us and we’re seeing the violence and the impact on the civilian population.  You know, the Secretary-General’s, I think, message is clear.  He calls up all Iraqi leaders to show wisdom and leadership in creating a broad-based Government in which every segment of Iraqi society feels they have a stake.  Oleg?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan… thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  I’m going to go back on vacation.  Thank you.

Question:  So, Russia today announced that they are sending their first humanitarian convoy on Ukraine in cooperation with the Red Cross.  Is there any comment from the Secretary-General on this?  And were you taking part in any consultations in preparation of this convoy?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any specific, anything new and specific on Ukraine.  But if I do, I will share it with you.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  I also have two questions, if it’s okay?  It seems to be that day.  So, the first question is about Armenian-Azerbaijani border.  There have been some skirmishes, and it seems that Azerbaijan is trying to provoke Armenia.  And three Armenian soldiers were killed during the skirmishes and one civilian person, 31 years old, male, was taken as a captive and then murdered in cold blood by Azerbaijani terrorists.  What is the stance of United Nations on this?  Are there any steps that are going to be taken?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It’s obviously a delicate situation.  I will not risk and ad-lib an answer on that.  Let me get some guidance and I will get back to you.  Second one, yes, of course?

Question:  On the second question is about the situation in Ukraine — according to UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, at least 50 people are being killed or wounded every day in Ukraine.  As we can see, we have enough evidence to call this, if not a major political crisis, then at least a humanitarian one.  What kind of practical steps is [the United Nations] going to take in regards to this?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously our presence in Ukraine, our country team is working with the Government to see how they can help on the humanitarian front.  And the Secretary-General’s calls to all parties involved in the conflict in Ukraine from the beginning have been clear in that they need to sit down and reach a negotiated… reach a settlement and settle their differences peacefully.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You mentioned that the WHO convened an ethical review of experimental treatment for Ebola today, Ebola, sorry?  Do you know, do they have a statement or is it still going to be going on for a few more days?

Spokesman:  That’s a very valid question and one that we’re trying to get an answer from our colleagues at the World Health Organization.  My understanding is that the meeting was just initially begun.  I don’t think they’ve reached an conclusion on the ethics of that.

Question:  Okay, great I wanted to ask two questions on envoys.  One has to do with Libya.  Basically, the UK Ambassador to Libya and a slew of other officials and newspapers have said that Bernardino Leon is the new Special Representative and Tarek Mitri is out.  And so, as I asked by email on Saturday, I wanted to know, is that the case?  Has the Secretariat written to the Council about that?

Spokesman:  I think, Matthew, you haven’t been at the UN as long as I have, maybe just a year or two after I came, but as you know, when there’s an announcement to be made of a new envoy, senior official, nothing is official until the announcement is made.  If there’s a letter to the Security Council, it will then become a document, so, obviously as, often, whether it was for this post, or as we saw it for the successor to Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, there were a lot of names floating around and lot of people announce things.  I would wait for the official announcement.

Correspondent:  The other is one is on Ray Chambers.  He was recently named to a panel by Chris Christie of New Jersey and the article reporting that said that he’s a former UN official.  But, the website says that he’s the current, you know, adviser to the Secretary-General on…

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any changes to Mr. Chambers.

Question:  Can he do both?  Can he serve the State of New Jersey and the UN at the same time?

Spokesman:  Let me check what his exact status is.

Question:  When do you expect Staffan de Mistura to meet with us?

Spokesman:  I know he came to New York while I was away, I think just to meet with the Secretary-General.  We’ll see when he comes back.  I’m sure he will want to make a tour of the region and major Powers before coming back here and speaking to the press.

Question:  Can you get him here?

Spokesman:  I would love to organize something.

[The noon guest, Kieran Dwyer, then provided a briefing from Erbil, Iraq, and took questions from journalists.  The Spokesman then concluded with the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Iraq:]

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General welcomes the forward movement towards Government formation in Iraq.   He also commends Iraqi President Fuad Massoum for having charged Dr. Haider al-Abbadi, in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution, with the formation of a new Government.  He encourages Dr. al-Abbadi, Prime Minister-designate, to form a broad-based Government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society, in accordance with the constitutional time-frame.

The Secretary-General is concerned that heightened political tensions, coupled with the current security threat of “Islamic State” could lead the country into even deeper crisis.  He strongly urges all political parties and their supporters to remain calm and respect the political process governed by the Constitution.  The people of Iraq deserve to live in a safe, prosperous and stable country – one that all groups in Iraq, including religious and ethnic minorities, can meaningfully contribute to and feel as their own.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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