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

27 August 2014

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

27 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.


**Security Council


Good afternoon.  Today the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on peace and security in Africa, expressing its concern about the situation in the Sahel region.


Council members then adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, through June 2015.  Following that, they adopted a resolution modifying sanctions on Libya.


Tarek Mitri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya, in his last briefing to the Security Council, said that since his briefing more than a month ago, conflict, inflamed by air strikes, continues almost uninterrupted in Tripoli, Benghazi and other parts of the country.  He strongly condemned the recent indiscriminate shelling and said that those responsible for the loss of civilian lives must be held accountable.


Mr. Mitri added that more than 100,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced and at least 150,000 have fled the country.  Many people in Libya are living in deteriorating conditions with limited access to food, fuel, water and electricity.


He said that the dialogue remains the only alternative to the prolonged violence and warned that the present political impasse will be deepened further by the use of force.  He emphasized the UN’s continuing role to spare no effort towards bringing the various parties to the dialogue table.


His full remarks are available in my office and we do expect him to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout as soon as he is done with the Security Council.


**UNDOF


Since early this morning, the UN Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, has observed heavy fighting between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition in the area of separation.


During the fighting, several mortars landed in or near UN positions.  The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) retaliated with fire.  The UNDOF Force Commander remains in contact with the Syrian authorities and the IDF to urge restraint and prevent an escalation of the situation.


**Gaza


And from Gaza, for the first time since 2007, a World Food Programme humanitarian convoy successfully crossed from Egypt into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah gate.


After a seven-hour drive from Alexandria across the Sinai Peninsula, the trucks — carrying enough food to feed 150,000 people for five days — arrived at the Rafah crossing.  A second convoy is expected to cross into Gaza in the coming days.


WFP says that it is extremely important that it has access to the Gaza Strip from different routes to ensure a constant flow of supplies to meet the growing needs of people affected by the violence.  It also expressed its gratitude of the Egyptian Government for opening the Rafah crossing and for allowing WFP to procure food in Egypt.


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports from Gaza that heavy movement of people and traffic was observed across the Gaza Strip today, with Government and aid agency staff returning to their work places.  Shops and markets were open.  OCHA field officers are conducting assessment of displaced people.


The number of displaced people has already declined dramatically.  The UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, reports that as of this morning there were approximately 53,000 displaced people staying in their shelters, and that’s down from nearly 290,000 as of yesterday.


UNRWA estimates that more than 100,000 displaced people will stay at UNRWA shelters because their homes have been destroyed.  OCHA and Palestinian authorities are working together on a Gaza Early Recovery and Reconstruction plan whose first phase will cover 100 days after the ceasefire.


The ceasefire also enables the UN Mine Action Service to undertake risk assessments at UNRWA sites.  Thousands of explosive remnants of war have been left in civilian areas impacted by the conflict.


As you would recall yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General welcoming the announcement of a ceasefire.


**Afghanistan


From Afghanistan, in response to recent issues with the electoral audit process, the UN Mission in that country has pledged today to redouble its support to the Afghan electoral authorities to help expedite the completion of a thorough and credible audit of the presidential run-off.


The Secretary-General Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, who spoke to the media in Kabul earlier today, expressed the UN’s regret at the decision of one of the presidential candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to halt participation in the audit process.  He added that organization will continue to be actively engaged in dealing with the concerns about the audit process from both presidential candidates.


In an effort to protect the integrity of the audit process, the UN has requested Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s team to review their own participation.


According to UN mission, after a pause in the morning, the audit resumed this afternoon in the presence of UN experts, representatives of the Independent Election Commission, as well as international and national observers.


**Syria — Commission of Inquiry


And earlier today from Geneva, you would have seen that the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued its latest report which says that mass atrocities by both Government forces and non-State armed groups continue to take place in the country.


According to the report, members of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, murder, enforced disappearances and forcible displacement.


ISIL poses a clear and present danger to civilians, and particularly minorities, under its control in Syria and in the region.  The report also noted that journalists and other media workers are systematically targeted.


For its part, the Government continues to commit violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, with impunity.  Between January and July, hundreds of men, women and children were killed every week by the Government’s indiscriminate firing of missiles and barrel bombs into civilian-inhabited areas.  There is clear evidence of some instances that civilian gatherings were deliberately targeted, constituting massacres.


The report also said that, in April and May, Government forces used chemical agents, likely chlorine, in eight separate incidents in western Syria.


And the full report is online.


**Ukraine


Moving to Ukraine, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Šimonović, will begin a seven-day visit to Ukraine tomorrow.  While in country, he will meet with Ukrainian officials, representatives of the civil society and other groups.


Mr. Šimonović will also travel to the east of the country to assess the human rights situation there.  This will be his fourth visit to Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine earlier this year.


And on Friday, in Kiev, Mr. Šimonović will launch the fifth and latest report of the UN human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine.  The report is expected to document grave human rights violations and abuses committed in eastern Ukraine and the impact of the intense and sustained fighting on the civilian population.


**DPI/NGO


Back here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra, today addressed members of the global civil society at the opening of the sixty-fifth Department of Public Information/NGO conference this morning.


Ms. Malcorra said that presence of the NGO community is crucial and timely as Member States continue to negotiate the post-2015 development agenda, including climate change.  She underscored the need to strengthen the UN’s relationship with civil society, whose voices need to be heard more now than ever.


The conference is entitled “2015 and Beyond:  Our Action Agenda”.  And that will go on until 29 August.  


And her full remarks are available in my office.  


**Iraq


And a couple of other notes, from Iraq — the World Food Programme says that its food aid convoys have reached displaced Iraqis in Karbala, south-west of Baghdad.  So far, more than 700,000 displaced people in Iraq have received food and assistance from WFP and partners since the start of violence in mid-June.  This week alone, 2,000 displaced families in Karbala received food assistance after WFP sent convoys from Erbil.


And we have more information is available on WFP’s website.


**Mali


And our colleagues in Mali report that this morning eight rockets hit a UN peacekeeping camp in Aguelhoc in Mali’s Kidal region.  No casualties were reported.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Mali, Bert Koenders, called the attack cowardly and unjustified, adding that the goal of the UN Mission — much like that of the people of the country — is the return of peace.  He said that the attack took place on the eve of the resumption of peace talks in Algiers, a crucial moment for the country’s future.  Mr. Koenders called for the strict observance of the ceasefire.


**Ebola


And a note on Ebola — workshops organized by the World Health Organization aimed at strengthening preparedness and response against Ebola in West Africa began in the Republic of the Congo today.  The workshops bring together more than 40 Disease Prevention and Control Officers, Clinicians and Infection Control Officers and experts.


And more information is on WHO’s website.


**Secretary-General’s Appointment


And lastly, I have a staffing announcement to announce — a statement from the Secretary-General on the appointment of Robert Orr as the Dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Change.


The Secretary-General congratulates Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning, on his appointment as Dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland starting in October 2014.  The Secretary-General expresses his deep gratitude for Mr. Orr’s service and leadership over the past 10 years.  Robert Orr has been instrumental in defining new roles for the United Nations and innovative strategies for addressing world problems.


On subjects as diverse as counter-terrorism, human rights, peacebuilding, women’s and children’s health, sustainable energy, institutional innovation, public-private partnership and climate change, Mr. Orr has forged the strategy and architecture for a twenty-first century United Nations.


The Secretary-General has asked Mr. Orr to continue to serve the UN as a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Change, to support efforts towards a universal climate agreement in 2015 and global climate action on the ground.


He wishes Mr. Orr every success in his new role as Dean and looks forward to his continued engagement with the United Nations on climate change.  


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And tomorrow we will be joined by the UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) Deputy Director for Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini, and Odo Tevi, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Vanuatu to the United Nations.  They will be here to present findings from a new UNDP report entitled “The State of Human Development in the Pacific:  A Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a time of rapid change.”  And that comes just ahead of the meeting on the small islands developing States.


**Questions and Answers


Spokesman: That’s it.  Oleg?


Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  Are there any updates with the investigation of the incident in the helicopter in South Sudan?


Spokesman: An investigation to determine the circumstances of the crash, as you know, has been initiated.  The Secretary-General calls on all relevant authorities and parties to provide their full cooperation.  He reminds them that attacks then, that any — let me rephrase it.  He reminds all parties to respect the life-saving work of UN personnel.  And I would add that the Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families of the three crew members killed the crash and to the Government and the people of the Russian Federation.  And the Secretary-General wishes a full and speedy recovery to the fourth crew member who is, as you know, injured.  Matthew and then Benny.


Question: Also, on South, Sudan since you are on it, I know that the Secretary-General issued a statement about the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) decision but it seems that the main negotiator for the rebel side, Riek Machar and them, had said they are not accepting it and that they believe that it imposes Salva Kiir is, quote, President for life and doesn’t sufficiently address their concerns; that he would — Salva Kiir — would still be allowed to pick or not pick the Prime Minister.  So I guess does that statement still stand?  I thought — from when I read it I thought that it meant the UN understood this to be agreed to. 


Spokesman: I have nothing to add to the statement.  If I get new information from the reports you’ve stated, I will come back to you.  Mr. Avni.


Question:  Okay, regrettably I have three questions.  First on Afghanistan.  Is it — is the recount, are there any observers from Abdullah Abdullah’s side in the recount, in the resumed recount?


Spokesman: No.  My understanding is that the resume recount is being done in the presence of the Afghan experts, international observers and UN experts.


Question: What about Ghani?


Spokesman: No.  It’s my understanding that they are not present.


Question: Neither Ghani nor…


Spokesman: Exactly.


Question: Secondly, on UNDOF, is there any plan for the Force to relocate because they took — because the Al Nusra people and others have taken over the crossing in, where is it, Quneitra.  And also in the past, in cases like that some contributors to UNDOF pulled out, is the UN concerned that this will reoccur?


Spokesman: Well, we, obviously — you know, we obviously value — extremely value the commitment of the troop contributing countries and especially when they stay in times of crisis.  In terms of relocation, none that I’m — that I’m aware of.  And at this point we can’t — you mentioned this gate, the so-called Bravo gate.  UNDOF is not in a position right now to confirm that this fighting is still ongoing at the Bravo gate.


Question: So it’s in no position to confirm?


Spokesman: That this group has taken it over as there is still fighting going on.


Question: Okay.  And the third is there are reports today that the agreement that was reached in Cairo included an increased role for Serry as a member of the group that oversees the entry of concrete and other stuff.  Can you confirm it and can you add some details as to what those new development are?


Spokesman: Obviously I can’t add any details at this point but obviously as the Secretary-General has said and he has told his interlocutors in the region the UN stands ready to help in the implementation of the ceasefire.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, I asked you a question about the annual budget for preventive diplomacy and you asked me to look up the books.  I did with the assistance of — the able assistance of the Dag Hammarskjold library staff.  We could not put the figures together.  Can you help?


Spokesman: I can help but not at this very second.  Karim.


Question: On UNAMID, the UN, the Security Council is renewing it today.  I just wanted to know after the ICC (International Criminal Court) warned the UN of UNAMID you said that the Secretary-General opened an internal investigation.  We are still waiting for the result?


Spokesman: That is ongoing.


Question: So when are we —


Spokesman: I can’t give you an end date on it.


Question:  You said two weeks when the…


Spokesman: I don’t believe I said two weeks, but you can always — we can always check what I actually said.


Question: A timeframe?


Spokesman: I don’t have a timeframe to share with you at this point.  Yes.


Question: Thank you.  On Monday, I asked a question in regard to IS and your answer was proof that the question was put very poorly.  So if I may put it together again, the question…


Spokesman: Should I take that as a compliment?


Question: Yes.


Spokesman:  [inaudible]


Question: IS oppositions has been prosecuting those people that have different religion than they believe in.  They have no rights for females there and they are grabbing lands.  If you zoom out from there and look at the area altogether, you see that that has been the practice for many, many, many decades.  And those countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Sudan, Egypt, and Syria, they are part of UN flags.  And is it fair to say that the situation right now, it’s mainly because of the shortcoming of the UN, they are not implementing human rights to the Member States and they are not asking to honor the human rights.  Thank you. 


Spokesman: That is a very broad question.  As I said yesterday, it may be best for a graduate school seminar.  But I do believe that it is the responsibility of Member States to live up to what is enshrined into the [United Nations] Charter and to the charter including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to live up to the various treaties and protocols they have signed on to.  The Secretary-General has, I think, very clearly decried the abuses committed by ISIS and ISIL in the past and he will continue to do so.


Question: Sorry.  But if they don’t honor, isn’t it UN responsibility to force them?


Spokesman: There is…


Question: UN sense, we the people, not we the Government. 


Spokesman: I completely understand and I think everyone in the system from the Secretary-General to the Member States and Security Council has a role to play.  Erol.

Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  Two short questions.  First, tomorrow the President of Turkey, the new President of Turkey, will be inaugurated… Erdogan. And I confess the time and not a good student of protocol, but still is anybody going to talk to him, probably Secretary-General, will talk to him or his good wishes?


Spokesman: The Secretary-General has already spoken to President-elect Erdogan to congratulate him on his election and said he was looking forward to continuing to work with him on a number of issues ongoing in the Middle East as well as the talks on Cyprus.  He was also very pleased to hear that President Erdogan was expected at the climate change summit.  I do believe there will be UN representation at the inauguration.  I will try to get you that name and the level of that person.


Question: And another one can I go on?


Spokesman: Yes, go ahead.


Question: Short one on the renovation progress, how it’s going?  Do you expect that everything is going to be on time?  I’m talking about General Assembly Hall, and everything is going to be on time, five days in advance, five minutes in advance?


Spokesman: I’m an eternal optimist and I’m sure all systems will be go when Heads of States will arrive.  Mr. Klein, you moved to the right.


Question: Well, that is my normal direction.  But anyway do you have a current head count on the number of Heads of State and leaders of Government that will be attending the climate change summit?


Spokesman: At this point we have well over 100 Heads of States and Governments that are expected to attend the climate change summit.  Sir.


Question: [inaudible]


Spokesman: I have no comment on the particular case.  But I will say that the United Nations, that we have always stood for the freedom of the press and freedom of expression as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Matthew, no the other Matthew.  We are still on round one.


Question: The other Matthew.  All right.  Hi.  There is a report in the New York Times saying that Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe sent a letter encouraging Japanese war dead to be honored.  Does the Secretary-General have a response to that?


Spokesman: No.  I have no particular comment on that.  Matthew and then we will go…


Question: Sure.  I wanted to ask you, you started by mentioning in the Sahel presidential statement.  And I guess I wanted — adopted by the Security Council today.  And, in that, Chad at the stakeout, the President of Chad, acknowledged that they had wished that the Office of the Special Envoy not be in Dakar, Senegal, but be, in fact, in one of the G5 countries.  And I know that some of the P3 big contributing countries also said they didn’t want the position upgraded to USG Chad and the G5 countries requested because they said the Secretary-General had said that this is Assistant Secretary-General position.  So since the Secretariat’s views on both matters were cited in the negotiation of presidential statement, what is the rationale?  And why shouldn’t an office about the Sahel be located in one the five countries of the Sahel and why shouldn’t the envoy who is supposed to interface with Heads of State of the five countries be under the Secretary-General?  Can you explain?


Spokesman: I think, you know, the choice of the location obviously has to do with what is most efficient in terms of logistics and getting people in and out of the region.  I’m not sure too much should be read into it.  As for the level, it was the level that was deemed appropriate.  Karim and Mr. Abbadi.


Question: Just to follow-up on UNAMID, on 2 July you said that the review was to be completed within one month, so are we to understand that you are late?


Spokesman: Well, that would be probably a conclusion that anyone could make.  So let me get you an update.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  As you know, the President of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, is being investigated in Paris regarding some financial issues.  She is not expected to resign.  And does this issue weaken her position, her international position as IMF president?


Spokesman: I think her — my understanding is that she is returning and we will discuss that with the Board of the IMF and it’s up to the Board of the IMF to make that decision.  Yes.


Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  Is there an update on the current situation of the Yazidies in Sinjar?


Spokesman: Of the what?  I’m sorry.  I can’t hear your question.


Question: Yazidies. 


Spokesman: Yazidies, no.  We’ve asked, in fact, our colleagues who were in northern Iraq for an update so hopefully we will get something before the end of the week.  We are also trying to get a briefing into here from a senior humanitarian official in Erbil.  Mr. Lee…


Question: I want to ask about Ebola and also totally separately about Sri Lanka.  On Ebola, I know that you had the statement about air travel.  And I wanted to ask you to apply it to a specific case.  The French Government has recommended that Air France suspend its flights — temporarily suspend its flights to Monrovia, Liberia.  And Air France has already agreed to now suspend its flights to Freetown, Sierra Leone.  How does this relate to the recommendation of the UN has given?


Spokesman: Whether it’s Air France, and we have seen I think other airlines, British Airways and others, shutting down flights.  Now, we understand that these airlines are free to make the decisions they feel appropriate.  From our end, I think as Dr. Nabarro has said clearly, this only adds to the isolation of the countries and it is also — it hinders the ability of the UN and the humanitarian community to send in experts and other supplies that may be needed.  I think, as we have said here, the risk of infection, of casual infection, is extremely low.  You are infected with Ebola with contact with bodily fluid of someone who is already showing — who is already showing the symptoms.  So we would ask, we have asked private companies, airlines to continue to fly, to continue to deliver food.  Isolating these countries can only exacerbate a difficult situation.


Question: And if you don’t mind on Sri Lanka I wanted to ask, there is a panel of inquiry set up by Human Rights Council.  But there is an open letter published by a group in Sri Lanka and also by Amnesty International, on the website of International Commission of Jurists, calling on the UN system as a whole to provide protection to the people that will testify, given statements by the Government of Sri Lanka, for example, they will not let the inspectors in, that no one should cooperate.  There is a big concern of people being retaliated against, or worse, for cooperating.  I wanted to know:  Is there any precedent for the UN, the UN System, and I know that you are going to say ask them, but given the Secretary-General’s visit there and otherwise, is there any precedent for the UN in soliciting information about possible war crimes and providing protection for information, for people that come forward, and how might it apply?


Spokesman: It’s a good question.  I think we would have to look back at the historical records of the various investigations, human rights investigation, and you understand we can help you in that regard.  Mr. Avni.


Question: Just a quick follow-up on the Yazidi question.  Could you also help ask to add to your query a question about the Turkmen situation? 


Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, the situation of the Turkmen, Shia, Yazidi is one that we have expressed concern and we will try to get an update on as well.  Yes, ma’am.


Question: On Saudi Arabia, is there an update about the trial of Sheik [inaudible]?


Spokesman: No, there is not.  Yes?


Question: You may have already addressed this. 


Spokesman: Please turn on your microphone.  Thank you.  There you go.


Question: You may have already have addressed this.  There are now reports the US is considering air strikes on Syria.  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General?


Spokesman: I think I addressed that yesterday.


Question: Oh. 


Spokesman: This just in.  Okay, excellent.  Mr. Mitri is at the stakeout very shortly and will be very happy to see you all.  Thank you.


* *** *

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