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

15 January 2015

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon. We will do a little shorter briefing than usual today because we have the President of the General Assembly coming in about 20 minutes.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Honduras today.  Yesterday, he started his visit to Honduras by meeting with President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado.  They discussed Honduras’s social and economic issues, as well as concerns regarding Honduras’s security and human rights situation.  The Secretary-General welcomed the Government’s willingness to strengthen its relations with the United Nations through the opening of a local presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. And a readout of the meeting has already been issued.

The Secretary-General also addressed the National Congress of Honduras and received the highest distinction from the Assembly, the Gran Cruz Extraordinaria con Placa de Oro.  In his speech to the Congress, he said Honduras had emerged from the political turbulence of recent years but that big obstacles to opportunity remain, like poverty and inequality, violence, insecurity and impunity.  He said the National Congress needed to be a space to build consensus, and effective responses.  He specifically called on representatives to ensure that the Human Rights Office, which the UN will open in the next few months in Honduras, receives the support it needs to carry out its vital work.

The Secretary-General had a series of meetings this morning with Honduran officials and civil society representatives and is on his way to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Copan Ruinas.  From there, he will travel to El Salvador to attend on Friday the twenty-third Anniversary of the Peace Agreements, which put an end to the civil war in El Salvador.

**Security Council

Back here in the Security Council, Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council in its open meeting this morning on the Middle East.  He regretted that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have taken the challenging steps, or made the bold decisions, required to begin the process of reversing the ever-widening trust deficit between the two sides.  Instead, we have witnessed developments which may unfortunately further reduce the likelihood of talks resuming in the future, he said.  His full statement is available in my office.

**Barbershop Conference

The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke this morning at the Barbershop Conference, which, he said, aims to jolt our thinking, to make us dispel clichés, and to change our behaviour.  He commended the Conference for its focus today on ending violence against women and girls.

The Deputy Secretary-General said that he and the Secretary-General are convinced that this must be the century of women and girls.  It is up to all of us to make that a reality.  And he spoke about the need to change the discourse among men on the issue of gender equality.  He noted that, 20 years ago, 12 per cent of parliamentarians were women.  Today, he added, 22 per cent of Members of Parliament are women, which, although nearly double what it was twenty years ago, is still not nearly enough.  And his statement is in my office.


From Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria for the Secretary-General, said he was engaged in intense discussions with the Syrian Government and the opposition forces regarding a freeze in the city of Aleppo.  He added that his office will send another delegation, led by his deputy, Ramzy Ezzedine Ramzy, in an effort to reduce violence and possibly freeze all military activities in Aleppo.  The Special Envoy said that he looked favourably on potential meetings in Cairo and Moscow as starting points for a political dialogue among Syrians.  He said he would follow up on those and any other points.

Mr. de Mistura also warned of the challenges posed by the long-running war, with 12 million people in need, 7.6 million people displaced and 3.3 million refugees.  220,000 people have been killed and 1 million wounded.  Meanwhile, polio, typhoid and measles have now returned into Syria.  And his remarks are available online.


From Darfur, our colleagues at the African Union-UN joint mission and its Acting Joint Special Representative (AJSR), Mr. Abiodun Bashua, was in El Geneina today in West Darfur, as well as yesterday.  He was there to assess the security situation, the cooperation between the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and local authorities and the humanitarian situation.  During his two-day visit, he met with the West Darfur Governor (Wali), as well as with internally displaced persons in the Ardamata camp.  There is more information in a press release.

**Saudi Arabia

From Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, appealed today to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to halt the punishment of Raef Badawi, who was publicly flogged 50 times last Friday and is reportedly due to be flogged again tomorrow and every Friday until his sentence of 1,000 lashes has been carried out.

High Commissioner Zeid said that flogging is at the very least a form of cruel and inhuman punishment.  Such punishment is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.  He appealed to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Mr. Badawi, and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.


Meanwhile relating to Nigeria, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, said today that the world must unite to condemn Boko Haram's new barbaric low with their evil use of young girls as suicide bombers to carry out their murderous attacks.  He noted three attacks over the past week using girls who blew themselves up in crowded areas.

He added that, in contravention of international law, children are now being fired on indiscriminately as easy targets by Boko Haram, exploited as slaves and sex objects and deployed as suicide bombers.  Mr. Brown said that, as we approach the first anniversary of the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their Chibok school, we must resolve to do more against Boko Haram and ensure that the children are better protected by supporting President Goodluck Jonathan's safe school initiative.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the DRC, the UN Mission in that country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and the Congolese Army launched today joint operations against the FRPI, the Force de resistance patriotique d'Ituri, in Aveba, which is in Province Orientale.  This followed an attack by the FRPI on the Congolese army position in Aveba.  Two days before, the Mission visited Aveba for talks with the leaders of the FRPI on their surrender and release of child soldiers.  MONUSCO provided support for the Congolese Army to prevent the FRPI from advancing towards the base and is also doing its utmost to protect civilians.  The mission continues to monitor the situation.

**Internally Displaced Persons

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Brookings Institute have launched a new report on key developments in the protection of internally displaced people since humanitarian reforms began in 2005.  And more information on that report is online.


And lastly today, civil society organizations around the world have launched a UN-supported digital movement to underscore the importance of 2015.  As you know, the year provides an historic opportunity to adopt a new sustainable development agenda and a global agreement on climate change.  The movement encourages everyone to use the hashtag #Action2015 to raise awareness to the need for world leaders to take action this year.  As you would recall, last week the Secretary-General told the General Assembly that 2015 must be a time for global action.

Mr. Klein?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  During an interview in India, the Secretary‑General reportedly said that he thought it was time for the international community to move beyond trying to define terrorism and just move to combat it.  Understandably, that makes sense with respect to groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.  But isn't there a problem in connection with groups like Hamas, where there's a difference of opinion?  And in the Security Council resolution that was tabled by Jordan that failed to pass, there is a reference to combating terrorism without any definition.  So does the Secretary‑General think that groups like Hamas and others that are not quite as clear-cut as ISIS, that it's still advisable to move beyond trying to define terrorism in international consensus?

Spokesman:  I think the debate about what constitutes terrorism is an ongoing debate.  The important issue is to condemn terrorist acts and for Member States to work together, along with the Secretariat, along with its global antiterrorism strategy, to try to address the terrorism that we've seen so vividly just in the past week — whether it's in Nigeria or Paris and other places.  So I think the general message is don't — let's not wait for Member States' agreement on what constitutes terrorism, but we can still move to address the issue of acts of terrorism, as we see around the world.

Question:  But if terrorism is used in a resolution like the one I cited, if it had passed, there's going to be a sharp difference of interpretation, and so isn't it just really kicking the can down the road…?

Spokesman: Well, I think — listen, the Security Council is the master of its domain.  They will pass the resolutions.  There will always be issues of interpretation.  The point is that terrorism is something that we have — the world has been victim of for a long time now, and we've seen an intensity of it quite vividly even in the past year, and the issue needs to be addressed.  And there are mechanisms through which that issue can be addressed, one of them being the global antiterrorism strategy.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Earlier today, Samantha Power mentioned that the Middle East Quartet will meet, the Middle East Quartet envoys will meet at the end of the month.  Can you provide more information when, where and on what level it will be?

Spokesman: Not at this very second, but I will do my best to get you the information — to you.  Go, and then Roger?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding what's going on in France, as you know, Charlie Hebdo issued the new edition with the prophet Mohammed on the front page and it's causing a huge repulse in the Muslim world.  So the UN is usually, of course, defending the freedom of speech and of reportage, but at the same time calling for the mutual understanding and harmony between different cultures and civilizations.  What's your comment on that?

Spokesman:  Well, I think your question answers itself.  I think the Secretary-General has repeatedly spoken out in defence of the freedom of expression and he has also spoken out for increased dialogue between faiths, between people to increase global understanding and to try to limit and diminish the points of friction we have seen between civilizations and between religions.  Abdel Hamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, in fact.  One about the Quartet.  It was mentioned in Miss Samantha Power's speech today in the Security Council.  She said the Quartet is meeting towards the end of the month.  Is there any information about the Quartet?  Where they are meeting?  What they will discuss?

Spokesman:  Olga just asked the question, and I said I would get her the information.  The answer to her stands for you, sir.

Question:  Okay.  Now, the second question is about the word "occupied."  I have noticed that in many speeches lately, the word "occupied" West Bank, "occupied" Gaza is missing.  The speech of the Secretary‑General in the General Assembly, right before he travelled to India, he spoke about Gaza, but without mentioning "occupied."  Today in the remarks of the Assistant Secretary‑General, the word "occupied" is missing.  In fact, it's a trend started with the first report by Jeffrey Feltman to the Security Council, when he skipped the word "occupied", and there were many questions raised here in Noon Briefing.  Why the word — is there a new lexicon?  Doesn't the UN recognize that these territories are occupied and there is an occupying Power and there's occupied territory — people also?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think the lexicon and the definition has changed.  Yes?  Roger and then — sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thanks.  On Raif Badawi, I understand there was some communication with the SG's office in the last week or two with the Saudi Head of State.  Are there any further plans?  And can you talk about the nature of that communication?  Has he personally phoned or is there going to be…

Spokesman:  No, I can't go into any details of communications, but I can tell you that the Secretary‑General fully stands by what the High Commissioner has said on this case.  Mr. Iftikhar, please, and then Stefano.

Question:  Former President Jimmy Carter said in interview that one of the reasons motivating the attack in Paris was the unresolved question of Palestine.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on that?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not going to comment on what — I saw Mr. Carter's comments.  It's obviously his opinion.  I think the analysis of what provoked and motivated these horrendous acts of terror will take some time and I think the reasons behind it are probably fairly long and wide.

Question:  Secondly, in view of the grave situation of Syrian refugees, as you described it, is the United Nations taking any emergency steps to relieve this?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, we — very recently, as in a few weeks ago, again appealed for vast sums of money to meet the humanitarian needs.  And I think, as we see winter approaching, our colleagues on the ground, WFP [World Food Programme], UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency], are doing their utmost to bring to the refugees the basic needs that they will need to survive this very harsh winter.  We've seen the snow in Syria already.  I think all those images should be a reminder to all those leaders who have influence to bring that influence to bear and to find a political solution to this conflict, because while they dither, people are suffering.  Carmen?

Question:  The Secretary‑General asked the international ‑‑

Spokesman:  Are you using your microphone?

Question:  Yes, I am.  The Secretary‑General in the General Assembly speech spoke about the 219 girls who were missing in Nigeria.  And now you mentioned the concern for the suicide bombing girls that are being used.  Is there any link between the missing girls and the girls who are being used?

Spokesman:  We — you know, all we know these actions that we've — unacceptable and frankly actions that defy words by Boko Haram as… as Secretary‑General's Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown, has just said.  What the links — the operational links — are, we're not, I'm not in a position to know, but what we do know is that these are the actions of a group which have systematically targeted girls and women in the most horrendous way.  Stefano, and then we'll have to… Linda and then we have to go.  The PGA [President of the General Assembly] is waiting.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Again on freedom of expression and what happened in Paris, the Pope just arrived in the Philippines and he said that freedom of expression is a right but it's also a duty.  And then he says should never offend religions.  So I would like to know again, for the Secretary‑General, what are the boundaries of the freedom…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has — as I mentioned ago, has defended staunchly freedom of expression.  And he's also called for greater mutual understanding and respect and I think he answered part of that question.  I would refer you back to his remarks outside of the General Assembly.  Linda, quick question, then Go, then we'll stop.

Question:  Following up on that question.  Does — Stéphane, does the Secretary‑General favour the support of the publication of the new material?

Spokesman:  We're not going to — the Secretary‑General is not in a position to approve or veto the publications of cartoons or editorials around the world.  He's not the editor‑in‑chief.  What his position is is to staunchly defend the right of freedom of expression.  Go?

Question:  Yes.  On the same item, a very quick follow-up: So can we say that Secretary‑General is concerned of the fact that there are a lot of repulse to that new edition?

Spokesman:  That there are a lot of new ‑‑

Question:  Repulse.

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is obviously concerned of the situation that we see today, with increased tension between cultures and religions, and is calling for greater global understanding while at the same time staunchly defending the right of journalists and of people to express themselves.

Question:  We can say he's concerned of that tension?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I've said it so I think you can write it.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.