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

18 July 2014

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

18 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Ukraine

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the downing of a Malaysia Airlines aircraft in eastern Ukraine on 17 July, killing nearly 300 people, including 80 children.  This horrifying incident must at the very least prompt a serious and sustained effort to end the fighting in Ukraine.

The Secretary-General calls for a full and transparent international investigation into the incident and offers the full cooperation of the United Nations in such an inquiry.  There must be accountability for this tragedy:  anyone found to be responsible must be brought to justice.  The United Nations is in touch with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has offered Ukraine its investigative capacity in order to put together an international team.  The Secretary-General echoes calls for all parties to grant immediate and unfettered access by investigators to the crash site.

The Secretary-General conveys his deepest condolences to the families of all victims and to the Governments and peoples of their countries of origin. 

Further on Ukraine, the Security Council held an open meeting on Ukraine this morning.  The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told Council members that nearly 300 innocent people from many countries were killed, including a World Health Organization staff member.  Mr. Feltman said that we face a rapidly deteriorating crisis in Ukraine that bears consequences far beyond the country’s borders.  He said that we deeply regret that the glimpse of hope following the announcement of President [Petro] Poroshenko’s peace plan has quickly dissipated.

He said that the United Nations will continue to do its part, with the Secretary-General being in close contact with world leaders.  Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General has asked him to return to Kyiv and Moscow in the coming days in the spirit of his good offices.  He expressed hope that the shock of the downing of the civilian passenger jet yesterday will prompt a serious and sustained effort to end the fighting and concentrate positively on Ukraine’s future.

For its part, UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, today expressed its deep sadness over the loss of life of those on board the flight.  It believes that many of the passengers were on their way to take part in the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.  UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that the deaths of so many committed people working against HIV will be a great loss for the AIDS response.

**Israel-Gaza

A statement we issued yesterday evening expressed the Secretary-General’s alarm at the serious escalation in Gaza, including resumed rocket fire into Israel and the subsequent launch of an Israeli ground operation into Gaza, despite his repeated urgings to the contrary.

This escalation will inevitably increase the already appalling suffering of the affected civilian populations.  The Secretary-General calls for an immediate end to the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and Israeli retaliatory action.  He asked the parties to do their utmost to ensure the protection of civilians and United Nations premises and staff, and that humanitarian assistance continues to reach all those in need.  All parties must respect international humanitarian and human rights law, and there must be accountability for any breaches of those obligations.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and urges regional and international partners to exert all possible influence to bring about an immediate end to the suffering and bloodshed.  He will continue his efforts to that end.  The full statement is online.

And in his remarks to the press yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General noted that there had been a number of recent incidents involving the deaths of civilians, including the appalling killing of four boys on a beach in Gaza City.  He urged Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties. 

And the Security Council has scheduled a meeting on the Middle East at 3 this afternoon.

As of 17 July, at least 230 Palestinians, including 171 civilians, have been killed by Israeli air, naval and ground strikes in Gaza.  At least 48 children and 31 women are among the fatalities.  One Israeli civilian has been killed by Palestinian rocket fire. 

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that an estimated 96,400 people need shelter assistance because their homes have been damaged or destroyed.

More than 22,900 people were sheltering in 24 installations belonging to the UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, as of 17 July.  Supplies are being delivered to shelters daily, including mattresses, food and water and hygiene kits.  Since the start of the emergency on 7 July, 84 schools, including 47 UNRWA schools, were damaged.  Also, about half of the sewage pumping and treatment systems no longer operate.

**Syria

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke to the press briefly to introduce his new Special Envoy and Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura and Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy.  He said that they will travel to Syria, the countries of the region and other relevant countries in the near future.  The Secretary-General reiterated his commitment to help stop the violence and achieve a Syrian-led inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.  The full support of the parties and the international community, including especially a united Security Council, will be essential.  The Secretary-General added that the Syrian people have suffered enough and too long.  It is time for action, and it is time for peace.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that cross-line deliveries are taking place inside Syria where possible.  For example, inter-agency convoys involving the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent went to besieged Madamiyet Elsham in Rural Damascus yesterday, when assistance for 5,000 people was distributed in the eastern areas.

On 16 July, food, household items, water and sanitation and nutrition supplies for about 10,000 people were delivered, while two mobile clinics were deployed and 1,000 vaccines, including polio and regular immunization, were delivered.  The plan is to continue daily convoys to Madamiyet until 20 July, to reach the planned target of 20,000 people inside the town and 5,000 people in the eastern part.  People in this area had not received humanitarian assistance regularly since 2012.

**Iraq

A new report by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documents a litany of serious human rights violations committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and associated armed groups between 5 June and 5 July.  Some of the crimes may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, says the report.

The report also documents violations committed by the Iraqi security forces and associated forces.  It provides details on the hardship and suffering imposed upon civilians, including large-scale killings, injuries as well as destruction and damage to livelihoods and property. 

The report says that ISIL and associated armed groups have carried out many of these attacks in a systematic manner heedless of the impact on civilians, or have systematically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure with the intention of killing and wounding many people.  Targets included markets, restaurants, shops, cafes, playgrounds, schools, places of worship and other public spaces where civilians gather in large numbers.  More information is available online.

**Afghanistan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, today visited the headquarters and premises of the Independent Election Commission, where the audit of the results of the country’s 2014 presidential election run-off is taking place.  Mr. Kubiš said that the comprehensive audit is the way to enhance the credibility of the country’s electoral process and acceptance of the run-off results.  He added that the audit’s findings will eventually be adjudicated by the Commission in the presence of the United Nations, and in accordance with international best practices.  More information is available online.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, and the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, have expressed their deep concern over reports of alarming levels of violence in Bambari and elsewhere in the Central African Republic, including several cases in which armed groups deliberately targeted camps sheltering people who have fled their homes.

In a joint statement, they call on all parties to the conflict, and on those who may have influence over them, to end attacks on civilians, schools, hospitals, religious sites and humanitarian aid workers.  These attacks are intolerable violations of international law and the perpetrators must be held accountable.  They are also asking all European Union and UN Member States to maintain and step up their efforts, both on the security side and by finding new funding streams for humanitarian operations inside the Central African Republic and in neighbouring countries.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

I have an appointment to announce.  Following the recommendation of the Secretary-General and after consultation with Member States, the General Assembly re-elected Joan Clos of Spain as Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).  His new term will run from 18 October 2014 through 31 December 2017.  Nominated by the Secretary-General, Mr. Clos was first elected for a four-year term in 2010.  We have more on this appointment in our office.

**Week Ahead

And we also have available in our office the Week Ahead of the United Nations.  Just a couple of highlights, on Tuesday, 22 July, in the morning, the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on the Middle East.  And also on Tuesday, the UN Children’s Fund’s Goodwill Ambassador, Actress Mia Farrow, will be the guest at the noon briefing and she will brief on her recent visit to the Central African Republic.

**Mandela Day

Last point I want to make is that today is Nelson Mandela International Day.  The Secretary-General, in his remarks, said that, as we remember Nelson Mandela, we also mourn the recent passing of one of his allies in the struggle against apartheid:  Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer.  He added that today we remember all that Nelson Mandela taught and gave and we pledge to act on his example.  And he added that this afternoon, he will join volunteers from MillionTreesNYC to tend to a tree across the street in Ralph Bunche Park.

That’s it for me.  Yes?  Masood, and then Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, Farhan.  Has the Secretary-General, given the situation as it exists in Gaza, as serious as it is, has he spoken with the Israeli Prime Minister, Israeli leaders, or any other world leaders to bring this situation to some sort of a standstill?  Because, at this point in time, we all know, with the Israeli operation, lots more people are going to be killed.  So has the Secretary-General made an effort to speak, to reach out to other international leaders to bring about a closure to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary-General has been calling leaders around the world each day on this particular crisis.  And indeed, one of the people he is calling today is the Prime Minister of Israel.  So his contacts continue on this.

Question:  And you just said in your briefing that there are, how many people UNRWA has… like 90,000 people who are seeking refuge in UNRWA’s, what do you call, places?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I said is that 22,900 people are sheltering in UNRWA installations.  However, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that roughly 96,400 people need shelter assistance because of damage or destruction of their homes.  Erol?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Two questions, also on Palestine/Gaza situation:  Number one, yesterday, we did have two statements by the Secretary-General.  First one was on humanitarian pause and he expressed his hope that it’s going hold, the truce was going to hold, that he even prised his Special Representative, Mr. [Robert] Serry, who brokered the truce.  However, just few hours after that, Secretary-General issued another statement, which actually showed that he didn’t anticipate.  My question is:  did he anticipate what may happen, what will happen?  And I also think it’s a good point in time to ask you this more philosophical question, is the Secretary-General… is this Secretary-General aware and disappointed that his calls to do things right from the moral point of view are not responded by world leaders anywhere?  And what does he say for that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first things first.  On the first part of your question:  yes, the Secretary-General, if you have seen his statements earlier this week, was warning against the possibility of a ground offensive, even at the start of this week.  And so we have continued with those warnings.  And yesterday morning, part of what he was trying to suggest is:  Look at what’s accomplished by a humanitarian pause, look at the fact that we can actually improve people’s lives if the fighting is halted.  Let’s see what we can do to have a ceasefire.  A few hours later it was clear that, as he has warned earlier in the week, something different happened, and you saw the statement we issued about the start of the ground offensive.  But regarding your second point, of course the Secretary-General is disappointed if his calls are not listened to, but it’s a larger problem, which is not whether people listen to him or to the United Nations.  It’s in everyone’s interest that this fighting be halted.  He believes, and experience over the last years has proven his point, that there can be no military solution to this conflict.  The only way out of this particular problem that the Israelis and the Palestinians keep facing every few months and every few years is to have a negotiated solution.  We have tried to assist them over the course of that for decades now and, ultimately, the solution this time will be the same as before — they need to halt fighting, and they need to return to the table and negotiate.

Question:  Just a follow-up, quick follow-up:  I’m sure you, as American student, know that when you do the things the same way all the time, you cannot expect a change.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know it before, I didn’t come to America because I’m from Balkans, but it’s true.  My question is, with all this, what you’ve said, which is appreciated, does the Secretary-General still feel the need to change something, even in rhetoric or in his diplomatic approach, in order to be more convincible to those leaders that he mentioned?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he continues to try to see ways in which things can be done better or differently in order to achieve the goals that he wants.  The goals that he wants for this particular situation are the ones that we’ve laid out in our statements and those will remain unchanged, but if other efforts are needed, if he needs to do different things about it, he’s willing to do that.  And of course he is considering what the best steps are in order to bolster support for a cessation of hostilities and he will do that; and we’ll announce any of those steps as they come.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Ukraine and the plane downing.  In Mr. Feltman’s speech, he said the Secretary-General strongly condemns this apparently deliberate downing of a civilian aircraft.  And I guess I just want to make sure I’m not misreading it.  Is he saying that what’s apparently deliberate is the downing of an aircraft or that it was apparently deliberate to down a civilian aircraft?  It makes a big difference.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as far as that goes, I don’t really speak for Under-Secretary-General Feltman’s words on this.  The wording of the statement that we just said was saying that we strongly condemn the downing of a Malaysia Airlines aircraft.  Regarding what he means by that, of course, we have no precise information about who did this and why.  That is something that would need to be investigated, but we are aware of the reports that there was an effort to destroy an aircraft with a surface-to-air missile.  If those reports are borne out by evidence, we’d have to see what the consequences are, but, of course, we do not know precisely how that operation was carried out.  That is one of the reasons why the Secretary-General, as you know, has called for an investigation.

Question:  Sure; and just on calls, it seemed like the Secretary-General was going to speak with President Poroshenko today and now it’s tomorrow.  Is there some… I’m just wondering, there’s obviously a lot of interest in this and various Ambassadors in the Council were citing their calls to Mr. Poroshenko, is that because of his schedule or the Secretary-General’s schedule?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, his intention is to see whether he can talk to President Poroshenko today.  I don’t know whether that’s something that can be done.  Of course, there [are] always issues of logistics in making phone calls, but that has been his intention.

Question:  And just finally on this, the Dutch Ambassador in his speech in the Council said he was asking the UN for assistance in getting the remains of the Dutch victims back to his country.  So has the Secretary-General, I don’t know who he’s asked, but I’m asking you now, are you aware of such a request and what can the UN do in that situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re aware of the request, but at this point, I’m not aware that there’s any UN role in that.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I just wanted to know about this ceasefire proposal given by Egypt.  Is it still on the table and can that be improved to bring the Hamas closer to accepting the ceasefire?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, as the statement we issued last yesterday makes clear, we continue to support Egypt’s effort to secure a ceasefire and we hope that that can be supported.  Yes, Pam?

Question:  Farhan, the Secretary-General has mentioned the investigation by the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization.  Has he contacted Richard Benjamin or anyone at ICAO?  And is there any response or imminence to a visit to the region by ICAO in the investigation?  And, as a second point on that, the CTBT [Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty] folks who were here talked about the fact that they can track missiles.  Has there been anyone in touch with the CTBT?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not aware of anything with the CTBT.  Regarding the International Civil Aviation Organization, what I read before you came into the room, part of what I read was a statement that says:  “The United Nations is in touch with the International Civil Aviation Organization, which has offered Ukraine its investigative capacity in order to put together an international team.  The Secretary-General echoes calls for all parties to grant immediate and unfettered access by investigators to the crash site.”

Question:  Right.  No, I heard that.  The specifics of that are… has the Secretary-General spoken with the ICAO, and when do you think they would get to the site?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it’s up to the International Civil Aviation Organization to determine how it goes about…  Obviously, there would be a need to get there as soon as possible. I don’t believe the Secretary-General has personally spoken with the head of the International Civil Aviation Organization, but we have been in touch with them.

Question:  Alright.  Just, also on the follow-up, the calls to [Benjamin] Netanyahu, you said there’s going to be a call by the Secretary-General to the Prime Minister of Israel today?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s the intention.

Question:  And will he be calling, also, President [Mahmoud] Abbas?  And has he reached out to Hamas?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has spoken in recent days with President Abbas.  I don’t believe that’s one of the calls that he has scheduled for today.  But today, he did intend to call the Prime Minister of Israel.

Question:  And on Hamas?  Any direct contact?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not by the Secretary-General.  Certainly not, no.  Yes?

Question:  Well, first of all, as a follow-up to that, what about by Mr. Serry?  Have there been any attempts at direct communications, that you’re aware of, between Mr. Serry and Hamas?  So that’s a follow-up; then I have another one.

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Serry has been in touch with a wide range of people on the ground, trying to see what can be done to resolve the situation.  I don’t have any specific details of his contacts to give you, though.

Question:  Okay.  And my question is that, UNRWA acknowledged and actually apologized to Israel after it located some stored weapons, I believe rockets, in at least one of its schools.  I’d like to know whether the Secretary-General himself has anything to say about that.  And secondly, although he noted and criticized Israel’s initiation of a ground invasion, does he have anything to say about what preceded that, which was the discovery of Hamas operatives coming out of a tunnel into Israeli territory, with the intention, allegedly, of possibly attacking a nearby kibbutz?  That was an incursion, a ground incursion in itself, which proceeded what Israel did.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’d just refer you back to the language of the statement and you’ll have seen that he talked extensively both about the resumed rocket fire into Israel and the subsequent launch of a ground operation.  Regarding your first point about the Relief and Works Agency:  Yes, they themselves brought this information to light and they made clear that this is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.  And, of course, we share their views on that.  Yes, Asma?

Question:  Just a follow-up on the statement which we heard yesterday about the situation in Gaza.  Secretary-General is talking about the rockets of Hamas and the ground invasion.  I just wanted to know, does the United Nations think the responsibility is equal between Hamas and Israel?

Deputy Spokesman:  The different parties are responsible for different actions, each of which is contributing to the hostilities on the ground, and we want each of them to stop the actions that are contributing to these hostilities.  Ultimately, both of them have things that they can concretely do to bring the fighting to a halt so that we can resume the course of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that’s what we want them to do.

Question:  Another thing, yesterday when got the statements about the humanitarian pause and a couple hours after there was a ground invasion from Israel.  Did the United Nations know before that this would happen at the same time?

Deputy Spokesman:  We had our concerns about the situation on the ground, which was shared by our colleagues on the ground.  At the same time, of course, we’re always hopeful that the parties will be able to take a reasonable course and pursue a different option, which is to say, an option of a ceasefire.  It’s our regret that they didn’t do that and they proceeded along.  But yes, we had been concerned for some time about the possibility of a ground invasion and had made that clear in statements that we issued earlier this week.

Question:  Farhan, the Israeli accusation that the Hamas or the people in the occupied Gaza using the women and children as shields — has that been verified by the United Nations over there?  Especially UNRWA, which has been specially accused of harbouring these people who are now being dubbed as criminals, being used a human shields?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’d just refer you to the briefing that we’d given over to the Security Council about a week ago about our concerns about where the attacks were coming from and the activities that were taking place by Hamas.

Question:  Israel continues to accuse these people.  It has not stopped after your briefing.  It doesn’t matter.  They continue to say that they’re being used as human shields, which in itself is a serious accusation, but has it been confirmed?

Deputy Spokesman:  In this case, we neither want Israeli forces to attack areas where there’s a heavy concentration of civilian population, nor do we want attacks to be launched from areas where there’s a heavy civilian population.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, France has banned a protestor rally in Paris set for Saturday about the situation in Gaza and I wanted to know, since I’ve heard other statements by the Secretariat about the right of assembly and the right to express one’s view, do you have any view on France outlawing a demonstration about the situation in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  Of course, our general point of view on this is always that people have the right to peaceful protest and that needs to be respected everywhere.

Question:  So it’s not being… would you say to ban such a protest is not respecting that right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’d have to see how this proceeds.  You’re talking about something that is happening in the future and whether it’s granted or not, I don’t know.  But, the bottom line is, if people are engaging in peaceful protest, they have the right to go about that.

Question:  The people in the occupied areas have a right to defend themselves, haven’t they?

Deputy Spokesman:  I once again just refer to what we’ve been saying.  All sides have concrete things that they can do that can put the fighting to a halt, and that’s what’s needed.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you something about Ethiopia.  I had asked this before, there are nine journalists, six of them are bloggers with something called Zone 9, and in April, they were arrested and a number of Member States have condemned it.  But now they’ve actually been charged with terrorism and they’ve been also charged for working with foreign human rights organizations and using social media to undermine stability in the country.  And they’re basically just social critics and bloggers.  So, I wanted to know, since this case has been some time brewing, has there been any response by the Secretariat, especially given that you have a big office in Addis Ababa, what’s the view of the continued incarceration and now charging as terrorists of six journalists in Ethiopia?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said something about that press freedoms in Ethiopia in recent weeks, so… I think that that may be applicable, but we can check and see about that.  [He later shared a press release from 9 May in which High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concerns about the increasing restrictions placed on freedom of opinion and expression in Ethiopia, following the recent arrest and detention of six bloggers and three journalists.]

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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