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

22 August 2014

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

22 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.

**Press Conferences Today

Good afternoon, I’ll try to be quick because I know we have got two press conferences coming up after the briefing.  At 12:30 p.m., the Permanent Representative of Russia, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, will be here, and at 1 p.m, Ambassador Oleksandr Pavlichenko, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Ukraine, will also be here.

**Secretary-General Phone Calls

As you would recall, yesterday I told you that the Secretary-General would be making a round of calls to a number of key players in the Middle East and beyond concerning the situation in Gaza.  He spoke this morning with the Foreign Minister of Egypt [Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim], the Secretary of State of the United States [John Kerry], the Emir of Qatar [His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani] and the President-elect of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  In broad terms, they discussed the crisis in Gaza, including the need for the parties to return to the ceasefire negotiations under Egyptian auspices.

The Secretary-General also spoke of the UN’s readiness to support any agreement that the parties may reach.  He stressed the importance for the parties to establish a durable ceasefire with a view to the eventual return to a resumption of meaningful negotiations on a two-State solution.  During the discussions, the Secretary-General lamented the heavy loss of civilian life in Gaza and emphasized the United Nations’ commitment to assist Gaza in its recovery efforts once a ceasefire has been established, one that addresses the underlying causes of the cycle of violence so that a permanent calm can be reached between both sides.

In addition, with both Secretary Kerry and President-elect Erdogan, the Secretary-General also discussed the current situation in Iraq.  He expressed his deep concern over the situation in northern Iraq and over the plight of Christian, Yazidi and Turkmen communities.  Lastly, he told President-elect Erdogan that his personal engagement and support in reaching of a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus was vital.  He said he looked forward to the President-elect's participation in the upcoming Climate Change Summit in New York this September.  And the Secretary-General, he is expected to speak to both President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu later on today.

** Ukraine

Turning over to Ukraine, Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, continued her mission to Ukraine and met today with Vice Prime Minister [Volodymyr] Groysman.  She also met with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as with members of the diplomatic and donor community in Kyiv.  Ms. Amos told UN Radio this morning that the humanitarian situation in Ukraine has deteriorated quite rapidly and that we need to be able to see how we can support the authorities to reach the nearly 200,000 people who have been uprooted.

Tomorrow, she is expected to visit eastern Ukraine to see for herself the needs of the people affected by the current crisis.  And for his part, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is wrapping up his visit to Ukraine today.  And we have just been informed that there will be Security Council consultations at 3 o’clock on Ukraine today.

** Syria

Moving on to Syria, with more than 191,000 people having been killed in Syria between March 2011 and the end of April this year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, today spoke out against what she called the international community’s “paralysis” on the conflict.  Navi Pillay said that the number released by her office is more than double the number documented a year ago.  But, she said, tragically, the new figure is probably underestimates the real total number of people killed.  Ms. Pillay said she deeply regrets that, due to the onset of so many other armed conflicts, the fighting in Syria and its impact on millions of civilians has dropped off the international radar.  And there is more information on the website of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

** Iraq — Humanitarian

Moving on to Iraq, according to our humanitarian colleagues, they tell us that following more displacement in Iraq since the beginning of August, the United Nations has increased its planning number to 1.45 million people.  This is an increase of 250,000 people from the previous planning of 1.2 million displaced people.  [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] also says that there have been increasing reports of abduction of women, particularly those belonging to minority groups, by armed groups.  Human trafficking within and outside the country is of grave concern.

Also on Iraq, at the press briefing in Geneva today, the UN refugee agency reported that its operation to bring more aid into Iraq is on target to deliver more than 2,400 tons of relief supplies by air, land and sea to some 500,000 displaced people.  So far, two aid flights have delivered tents, blankets and other essential shelter supplies.  And we have more information on a lot of these activities on the [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] website, as well as UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].

** Gaza

And I’ve been just told that the Secretary-General has just spoken to President [Mahmoud] Abbas just now.  And moving on to Gaza, [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] says that the number of displaced people in Gaza continues to rise.  It is currently at 460,000 — more than one quarter of the entire population of Gaza.  And as of yesterday, nearly 280,000 people were reported seeking refuge in 83 schools run by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], while another 29,000 are being hosted in the Government shelters supported by UNRWA — up from 26,000 the day before.

** Yemen

And a note from Yemen, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, says that he is doing his utmost to help address the roots of the current unrest in the country.  He has been closely coordinating with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and other political leaders to reach a sustainable political solution through dialogue.  Mr. Benomar has urged all parties to maintain a spirit of national partnership and constructive cooperation to overcome the current challenges and move the political process forward.

**Ebola

Lastly, a note on Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that it is working on a six to nine-month plan against Ebola, an operational document that will detail the strategy against the virus.  And that plan should be presented early next week.  Meanwhile, the UN System Coordinator for Ebola, David Nabarro, is wrapping up his visit to Monrovia, Liberia.  He will be giving a press conference at 1.30 p.m. local time in New York, along with Karin Landgren, the Head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), and the WHO Assistant Director-General for West Africa, [Dr. Keiji Fukuda], as well as the Liberian Assistant Minister of Health [Tolbert Nyeswah].  If you are interested, you can’t participate in the press conference, but you are able to dial in.  We have that phone number in my office if you are interested in listening in.

And in light of recent decision made by several countries to close their borders to people travelling from Ebola-affected countries, the World Health Organization reiterates that it does not recommend any ban on international travel or trade.  It stresses that closing borders doesn’t work and is detrimental, as affected countries will be pushed towards a humanitarian crisis and the international community’s ability to fight and reverse the Ebola outbreak will be hampered.  And the World Health Organization and the rest of the UN system also continue to highlight that the virus is not airborne and that becoming infected with it requires direct physical contact with body fluids of people who have been infected or died from Ebola.

On that note, I will take a few questions before we turn this over to the Permanent Representative of Russia.  Nizar, then Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] outside from the Yazidi community say that almost 17,000 have perished in the Sinjar Mountains because food has not reached them.  Another thing is that even in the Kurdish area, they have been harassed and some of them are kidnapped.  How can the United Nations monitor that and verify such allegations?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the plight of Yazidi and other minorities, including the Turkmens and Iraqi Christian, is high on the mind of the UN system, as it does its work in northern Iraq.  We are hampered by the security situation in some places in terms of our ability to go and assess the exact situation.  But, our colleagues from the humanitarian operations are doing quite a lot of heavy lifting in terms of bringing supplies, as I’ve just mentioned, to try to reach those communities most impacted.  But, the violence against minorities is something we have condemned and we will continue to condemn.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask you about the Central African Republic and Darfur.  First on Central African Republic… I know I ask you yesterday, and seems like now the death count is going higher than five and there’s been protests against French troops in the PK-5 neighbourhood.  I wanted to know if you had…?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything unfortunately for you today on that.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I’ll be asking again.  And in Darfur, it seems that Mr. Mohamed ibn Chambas went to Kalma Camp and met with residents who expressed a variety of complaints, but he was quoted as saying there that UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] cannot stop Government forces from entering camps for the displaced, and it has left many people confused whether, what is UNAMID’s role in terms of protection of civilians given these [inaudible] entrances in the camp and people lying on the ground…?

Spokesman:  I will… we will check with the Mission to verify the quotes and see what actually they have been doing.  Masood and then Oleg.

Correspondent:  The Secretary-General in his travels and meetings with the world’s leaders, will he be also discussing the threat, the [inaudible] threat being posed by ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Shams].  And that, at some point in time, will he recommend that ISIS as an entity poses direct threat to international peace and security, hence it should be declared under Chapter VII.  I mean, international community…

Spokesman: I think the issue of ISIS and its activities in northern Iraq, in Iraq and beyond, have been high on the agenda of the discussions of the Secretary-General with his interlocutors as it was discussed the situation in Iraq today.  And it will continue to be so.  And we’ve continued to… we’ll continue to condemn the violence they have perpetrated, especially against minorities and vulnerable groups.  Oleg?

Question:  Do you have a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Abbas?

Spokesman:  No.  Not yet.  But, I can assure you that it was along the same lines with what I have mentioned, which they discussed the situation in Gaza and the Secretary-General encouraging all the parties to return to the Egyptian-led ceasefire talks.  Oleg? 

Question:  With the Russian humanitarian convoy finally crossing the Ukrainian border and getting to Luhansk, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this development?

Spokesman:  I had hoped to have a statement for you, but it is slowing making its way through the complex pipes that lead down to my office.  So, as soon as I’ve been cleared to issue it, I will issue it.  Yes, sir.

Question:  I know that Navi Pillay’s office hasn’t been doing regular Syria casualty reports since I believe last summer.  But, given the fact that the publications of these numbers today brought Syria back into the headlines, is there any push to try to get more regular reports?

Spokesman:  I think, you know…

Correspondent:  Unfortunately, without these reports, Syria…

Spokesman:  I think this is one of the reasons the report was put out.  This is led by her office.  I think they feel much more comfortable with the methodology they use.  And you know, sadly enough, it takes, it unfortunately takes reports of deaths and causalities to put stories back onto the headlines.  But, we have tried to keep Syria at the forefront here.  We’ll…  I think you need to check with the High Commissioner’s Office to see what the periodicity of these reports will be.  Stefano.  Then…

Question:  Yes, thank you.  In Ukraine, it looks the situation is getting worse.  The Secretary-General, in the beginning of the crisis, travelled to Moscow and Kyiv.  Does he see now the situation is getting… like its almost open war… is the Secretary-General see a role in trying to stop these crises, but like not with the special envoys or something, but personally be involved?  Also because in Syria, looks like this… he was never able to do that.  So, is there still space, room for him to be able to again shuttle between Moscow and Kyiv?

Spokesman:  You know, when the time is right and I think there could be travel.  But, I think at this very moment, even as we speak today, he has two of his most senior aids, advisers, head of the political affairs unit and head of the humanitarian, coordination of humanitarian affairs department in Ukraine, to support and encourage a peaceful resolution.  So, I think it is high on the mind and high on the agenda of the Secretary-General.

Question:  Just two quick questions.  Do you have any timeline on when Mr. Feltman may be back to brief the Council on Ukraine?  And on the issue you mentioned on Iraq, the increasing number of abductions and trafficking, do you have any sort of figures, new figures?

Spokesman:  We’ll try to get you increased figures on that.  Mr. Feltman, I think it’s up to the Council to see when they will ask him to present to the Security Council.  So, I would direct your questions to the Presidency of the Council.  Yes, all the way in the back?

Question:  Thank you.  I’m [inaudible] from Radio Republic Indonesia.  Could you give me more information about [the Secretary-General] visiting to Indonesia?  What he will talk about with Indonesia’s President?  What speech he will deliver at UNAOC [United Nations Alliance of Civilization] in Bali?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You know, we made quite extensive announcement yesterday of the visit.  It is as you mentioned a visit focused on the Alliance of Civilization meeting that will take place in Bali.  It will be a message, I think, a speech that will reflect a lot of the tensions we are seeing and a lot of violence we are seeing amongst… between civilizations so to speak currently.  So, I would pay attention to that speech.  And he will be meeting with the President of Indonesia while in Bali.  Matthew?  Then, Nizar, sorry.

Question:  Thailand and Colombia.  In Thailand, the military Government has named Prime Minister their own General, Prayuth Chan-ocha.  I wondered what is the UN thinking as this process goes forward and seems like… It’s not really a move towards democratization.  It’s actually a kind of giving a political post to a military figure.  Is there any comment from the UN on that?

Spokesman:  And your second question?

Question:  The second question has to do with… In Colombia, the UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] has been found to violate national labour law and has been ordered to pay $50,000 for not providing social security or other benefits to its employees.  And I wondered, one, what’s the response from the UN system?  Number two, does the UN seek to at least either voluntarily or legally comply with labour law in countries in which they [inaudible] 500 employees?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  I have no information on that particular case.  I would check with the UNODC.  On Thailand, the Secretary-General continues to appeal for prompt return to constitutional civilian democratic rule and all-inclusive dialogue that will pave the way for long-term peace and prosperity in Thailand.  He urges all parties to work together constructively and refrain from violence and respect human rights.

Correspondent:  But, General as Prime Minister is contrary to that.

Spokesman:  You asked the question with preamble you delivered.  I answered that.  I answered the question.  Nizar?

Question:  I think the issue of Sheikh al-Nimr, which you thankfully issued a statement yesterday representing the United Nations.  What crime did he commit that he merits facing the trial?  Shouldn’t the United Nations be appealing for his release, rather than facing trial for a crime which is just for speaking?  And this is something that should be sacred in any place.

Spokesman:  I appreciate your comment.  But, I think my statement yesterday was clear and at this point I have nothing to add to.

Correspondent:  No no… the United Nations always called for the release of journalists or statesmen.

Spokesman:  As I said, that’s… I hear you, but you need to hear me.  And that’s what I said yesterday.

Great.  Thank you very much.  We will leave the podium to Ambassador Churkin and then the Deputy Permanent Representative of Ukraine.

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