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

17 September 2014

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

17 September 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, everyone.

**Guest at Noon Briefing

In a short while, I will be joined by Paul Ladd, Head of Team and Lead Adviser on Post-2015 Bureau for Development Policy of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  He will brief on the upcoming report “Delivering the Post-2015 Development Agenda”, which is embargoed until its official launch on 25 September.


Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General warmly welcomed he announcement by the United States Government to provide a range of measures to assist in the global response to Ebola virus disease.  He called on the international community to be as bold and courageous in its response as those who are on the frontlines fighting this disease.  He also stressed that Ebola is not just a health crisis.  It has grave humanitarian, economic and social consequences that could spread far beyond the affected countries.  The Secretary-General will outline the international action plan to contain this threat at the Security Council tomorrow.  As for the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), they indicate 4,963 reported cases and 2,453 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  In Nigeria, there have been 21 cases and eight deaths, and in Senegal, there has been one case, but as yet, no deaths or further suspected cases attributable to Ebola.

**Security Council

The Security Council will discuss the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in closed consultations this afternoon.  Council members will hear an update from the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Fatiha Serour, today welcomed the start of a reconciliation conference in Kismayo.  She called the conference a positive step towards consolidating peace in the region and furthering Somalia's state-building process.  Ms. Serour urged all participants to create an environment that will allow for the development of resolutions that are inclusive and contribute to Somalia's wider peace process.  More information is available on the UN Mission in Somalia’s (UNSOM) website.

**Secretary-General Appointment

And I’ve an appointment to announce for today.  The Secretary-General and the African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced today the appointment of Abiodun Oluremi Bashua of Nigeria as Deputy Joint Special Representative for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID.  Mr. Bashua brings to the position a wealth of knowledge on the political context and operating environment in Darfur.  He has served in UNAMID since August 2009 at various senior levels, including as Director of Political Affairs and most recently as Director of the Joint Support and Coordination Mechanism.  Mr. Bashua has extensive experience in several United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan.  He has also served as Secretary to the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  And we have further details in our office.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and UN Development Programme will brief you on the launch the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force Report for 2014.  And we are trying to see whether we can have a guest on Ebola, although we might have that in the coming days.  That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, Edie?

**Questions & Answers

Question:  Is it going to be possible to get Mr. Mulet to stop at the stakeout to talk to us after he briefs the Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  We actually did ask.  We're as interested as you are.  I believe the answer right now is unfortunately no.  He's not expected to do that.  If that changes, we'll let you know.

Question:  There are so many questions raised by Mr. Ja’afari yesterday accusing the United Nations of connivance with the Israelis, Qataris, Jordanians by allowing the terrorists in the Separation Line to roam as they wish and to take weapons, abandoned positions, vehicles, equipment, everything, all the support has been rendered to the terrorists.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the question of our weapons and our equipment.  It's true that weapons, uniforms and cars that were taken from the Fijian peacekeepers were not returned to the released Fijian peacekeepers.  The possession of UN assets by non‑UN people is of concern to the United Nations.  Regarding our other assets from the places that we have vacated, all critical equipment, including weapons and sensitive data was removed from the said locations.

Question:  But here, these terrorists are probably using the fatigues of the observers their insignia, and this area should be totally without any armed groups. What’s the United Nations going to do about that?  Number one.  Number two, why the Israelis are not made accountable for helping these terrorists, as the report of the Secretary-General has mentioned — that there is cooperation between the Israelis and the terrorist groups.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding your questions, of course, we'll always continue to try to retrieve all of our equipment.  Like I said, the equipment you're referring to is the equipment that was simply taken when the 45 Fijian peacekeepers were seized.  And we'll do what we can to get those back.  But, it is a matter of grave concern for us that things like their uniforms and their weapons and their cars were taken from them.  The other critical equipment that we've had in that zone we kept with us and we do have those.

Question:  How about the countries that help them?  I mean, Qatar has been mentioned.  A telephone number has been given to the United Nations.  No investigations yet have revealed any results of that.

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been dealing with a number of countries trying to resolve the situation that has arisen in the area of separation and the area of operation the UN disengagement observer forces operations.  We'll continue to deal with a wide range of countries, trying to make sure that all of them play a responsible role in resolving this particular situation.

Question:  Some other stuff.  But, just on that, one of the issues that came up yesterday at the stakeout was whether the head of UN peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, spoke with the Force Commander prior to him issuing the order to, you know, whether you call it surrender or whatever you call it, that was ordered to both the Filipinos and the Fijians, so that seems like it's a yes or no question.  Can we get an answer from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] as quickly as possible whether Mr. Singha Singh spoke with Hervé Ladsous prior to issuing the order to surrender?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the Force Commander, of course all Force Commanders are in regular contact with Headquarters.  There's nothing unusual or abnormal about that.  We wouldn't disclose the nature of all of their communications given the impact that they have on the security situation on the ground, but it's perfectly normal for the Under‑Secretary-General for Peacekeeping to be in touch with Force Commanders.

Question:  Sure, but who's responsible for decisions?  Seems like a fair question given how it's worked out.

Deputy Spokesman:  If there's any need for a further review, we'll review any of the actions that have taken place on the ground.  But, for the time being, as you know, the situation on the ground is extremely complex.  And we're supporting the Force Commander as he carries out the necessary work to make sure that basically the peacekeepers are able to do their mandated tasks as capably and as securely as they can.

Question:  One last…  Who determines if a review is needed?  If a host country of a peacekeeping mission says openly a review is needed and makes various allegations, don't you then do a review?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that we'll have some form of a review.  But, at this stage right now, our main priority is to make sure that the peacekeepers can go about their work as much as they can and as safely as they can. Other Matthew.  Not that you're the other Matthew.  You can be the original.

Question:  Can I be "the" Matthew and not the other Matthew?

Deputy Spokesman:  You can sort that amongst yourselves.

Question:  The Scottish vote of independence that is taking place tomorrow could split a P5 country that could change the dynamic even here at the UN.  Does the Secretary-General have a message for the people in England and Scotland?

Deputy Spokesman:  We, at this stage, are continuing simply to monitor what's happening.  Of course, decisions that are taken by the public and through a free and fair electoral process is something that we encourage worldwide.  And we'll just study what the results of this referendum will be.  I do expect that once the vote has taken place, we will have a reaction to provide to you one way or the other. Yes, Richard?

Question:  Farhan, I missed the top, maybe I didn't miss anything.  On Ebola, you mentioned you might have a briefer, but what precautions is the UN taking on the GA and visitors from West Africa?  Stéphane, two weeks ago I asked, and he said there are ongoing discussions.  And I don't know if the briefer would talk about this issue, but speaking here on the home front, what can you tell us?  Where is the planning?  What precautions are being taken, if any?  Screening, different things, questionnaires, I don't know.  Please update us.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as far as that goes, we are looking forward to receiving leaders and ministers from the affected West African countries during the Summit and the General Assembly debate.  The World Health Organization has clearly recommended that there should be no unnecessary travel restrictions with the affected countries.  But, there needs to be robust exit screening procedures put in place.  And we have encouraged that.

Question:  [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  Because of them being exit procedures in the affected countries themselves. Yes?  Linda?

Question:  I know there are a lot of Ebola-related events going on tomorrow, Security Council… will she be coming to us or you don't know that yet?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll try to make people available as much as we can.  I don't have anything firm.  But, for example, I do believe sometime in the coming days we're trying to provide Anthony Banbury, who has been, as you know, Dr. Nabarro's Deputy in terms of our Ebola coordination efforts.  And we'll try to have him available to speak to you if not tomorrow, in the next day or so after.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, has DPKO approached Jordan and Israel about why they are allowing terrorists with their weapons to cross into the separation zone?  Because they have duty not to allow terrorists to go there.

Deputy Spokesman:  Without commenting on your editorializing, what I would say is that we are in touch with a wide number of nations trying to make sure that they play as helpful a role in terms of dealings with the various armed factions.

Question:  Do you mean I’m editorializing that I am inventing things?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, that's exactly what I meant.

Question:  Did they fall from the moon?  I mean, did they come from the moon?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to speculate on where they came from. Yes?

Question:  I understand that Stéphane yesterday issued clarification on the statement by Secretary-General on Cyprus.  Does this mean that the Secretary-General made a mistake?  Because I saw him reading from a prepared statement.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that doesn't… there was a misunderstanding about what he meant when he said what he said, which as you know is part of the transcript.  So we made sure that there was a clarification.  So, that there would be no misunderstanding among the separate parties about what it was that he said.  And the clarification is also part of the transcript.  So, I would just refer you to the full transcript.

Question:  What is the clarification?  Because I don't have it.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's in the transcript of the press briefing which I believe was emailed to you, so you do have it.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Golan, once again.  Can you confirm that the demarcation line between Syria and Israel is now fully controlled by rebels and there are no peacekeepers, anything?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  What I can say on that is the UN Disengagement Observer Force continues to implement its mandate as prescribed by the 1974 Agreement of Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces despite its decreased physical presence and its diminished activities in the area of separation and on the Bravo side.  UNDOF has adapted the manner in which it implements its mandate, continuously adjusting its activities and posture in response to the evolving security situation on the ground which has continued to deteriorate.  And beyond that, as I said at the start of the briefing, Edmond Mulet will brief the Security Council in its consultations this afternoon on the matter.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask something about Sri Lanka.  There's this UN Human Rights Council inquiry that's going to take place that's pretty much banned from the country.  And the Government says it has a Reconciliation Bureau to replace it as an in‑house thing.  What I wanted to ask you:  I heard from a number of people that DPA [Department of Political Affairs] is either going to be advising that Reconciliation Bureau or funding an adviser.  And some people find it strange that the UN… the DPA would be operating at kind of cross‑purposes to the Human Rights Council.  Can you ask DPA to confirm or deny that they are going to be working with the Reconciliation Bureau of Rajapaksa Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, we'll ask.  But, beyond that, of course, what we have done and what we continue to do is ask and encourage the authorities in Sri Lanka to cooperate with the work of the Human Rights Council.

Question:  Sure.  But, you can see why such funding, such a post would seem at odds with that.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware.  But, our position remains that we support efforts to make sure that the Human Rights Council body can go about its work.  Yes, please.

Question:  Today, Syria revealed three new facilities related to the chemical weapons programme.  Is this considered a violation to resolution 2118 (2013)?  And what is Ban Ki‑moon's reaction to this?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding resolution 2118 (2013), it would be up to the members of the Security Council to determine whether anything is a violation or not, so I'd leave the matter in their hands.  Yes?

Correspondent:  On the previous…

Deputy Spokesman:  I was going to say Matthew, but I wish… by the way, I wish you guys would kind of separate because you're in the exact same sight line.

Question:  Next time.  In the previous press conference, it was mentioned that there was going to be an event in Sendai in March next year regarding disaster prevention.  Who from the UN will be representing in that conference, do you know?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's a year off.  So, that remains to be determined.  We'll make a determination closer to the event.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan, again.  On Syria once again.  Can you confirm that there was some sort of vaccination campaign in Syria that had gone terribly wrong?  There were 40 children dead?  Do you have comment on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  I don't believe the number is 40.  I believe the number confirmed by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] so far is 15.  What I can say on that is that UNICEF and the World Health Organization are deeply concerned by the reported deaths today of a number of children in the Idlib area of Syria.  These deaths reportedly occurred in the location where a measles vaccination campaign was taking place.  And as a precautionary measure, we understand that the local health authorities have suspended the campaign in the district pending an investigation.  We're awaiting further clarification of the facts.  Measles is a major threat to children in Syria, and the campaigns are vital to protect them from this highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease.  Protection against measles is especially important for children who have been displaced from their homes and communities and who are living in camps or in other unsanitary conditions.

Question:  On the same subject.  Who's conducting that?  Is it the Coalition, the Syrian Coalition or the UNICEF itself, or WHO?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe… I'd have to check it out, but I believe that this is work that's supported by our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  But, I don't know who the parties on the ground conducting this are. Yes?

Question:  Sorry, Farhan, just a follow-up on my previous question.  What was the Secretary-General's reaction to this announcement by Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  Right now, what's happened after the end of the work of the Joint Mission that has been dealing with the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, is that all outstanding questions have been referred to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  And so, I'd have to refer you to them.  It would be up to them to verify any of the facts around this.

Question:  So, the Secretary-General does not have a statement regarding this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not at this point.  First, we'd need the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to look into this.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  I wanted to ask you again, there was a decision about the dispute tribunal, Mr. Wasserstrom.  I think on 5 September I asked Stéphane about it.  There was a finding that the Secretary-General refused to comply with production and discovery orders, and there's some controversy about whether other parts of the ruling may impact the UN's budget.  He said I should have something more detailed for you.  I'm wondering and still kind of waiting for this.  Is it OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]?  Who in the UN system will respond to or was he waiting to get something back from?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've received some advice from the Ethics Office themselves about how the Dispute Tribunal ruling, about the meaning of the Dispute Tribunal ruling, and we can share that with you afterwards.

[The Deputy Spokesman later added:  In response to your questions, we would like to reaffirm the Secretary-General's strong support for the professional work done by the Ethics Office.  Beyond that, in the case you have referred to, the UN Administrative Tribunal has ruled that Mr. Wasserstrom’s original UNDT (United Nations Dispute Tribunal) application was not receivable, on the basis that the Ethics Office does not make administrative decisions, but rather is limited to issuing recommendations to the Administration.  In not making administrative decisions, findings of the Ethics Office are not subject to UNDT review pursuant to the requirements of the UNDT Statute.  The Ethics Office concurs with this judgment.  Due to its independent status, and in order to protect its essential role as an independent and impartial body within the Organization representing neither management nor staff, the Ethics Office considers that its determinations cannot be deemed attributable to the Secretary-General, and therefore, cannot constitute administrative decisions.]

Question:  The Secretary-General started this review of whistleblower protection at the UN some time ago, I think more than a year ago.  Has there been any finding or public product from that?  It was a Canadian judge.  Last time the whistleblower protections came up, he named someone to look into it.  But, whatever happened to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe they are going about their work.  I don't have anything to share about that.  Once that's done, we'll be able to say something more.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, regarding the Ukraine, I gather that Foreign Minister Lavrov, as well as Ukrainian leaders, will be attending.  Is there any plan or has a meeting been organised with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that there will be meetings.  We, frankly, don't have a list of the Secretary-General's meetings next week to share at this stage because it's enormously fluid.  But, at some point, once we can confirm different meetings, we'll try to do that.  But, at this stage, his schedule is still a bit up in the air, so I wouldn't hold him to anything just yet.  Yes?

Question:  Hi. The Russian Foreign Ministry says that the Ukrainian Parliament granting special status to two eastern regions in Ukraine is a step in the right direction.  What does the UN have to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any particular comment on this just yet beyond the fact that, as you know, we have encouraged dialogue between the leadership in Russia and Ukraine.  So, anything that moves forward that process of encouraging better relations between those two countries is welcome.  And with that… okay, yes, one more.  And then I'll see whether our guest is ready.

Question:  Farhan, by you saying you believe that there are going to be meeting, you confirm that there will be meeting between Lavrov and some Ukrainian officials with Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have no idea what next week’s meetings will be like.  I do expect that he will meet officials from Russia and from Ukraine, possibly separately, I don't know whether there is anything that would happen together.  Closer to the event, we'll see if we are able to provide.  But, it's still a week away.  The arrangements that we make this week for next week are fluid and subject to change, so I don't want to be held to any of that just yet.

Okay.  And now let's turn to our guest.

* *** *

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