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

27 March 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke at the open meeting of the Security Council this morning and expressed his deep concern about the grave dangers facing minorities in parts of the Middle East.  At stake are millions of individual lives and the social fabric of entire countries.  He warned that right now, thousands of civilians are at the mercy of Da’esh.  And he discussed the spreading violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, where the bombing of mosques last week has further fuelled sectarian violence.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms all persecution and violations of the rights to life and physical integrity of individuals and communities based on religious, ethnic, national, racial or other grounds.  He urges all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to spare innocent lives.

He told the Council that the United Nations is developing a Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism, which will be launched in September.  The Secretary-General added that he hopes to convene a group of respected women and men with deep understanding of the region’s religious, civil, cultural, academic and business sectors.  They would serve as an advisory panel on inter- and intra-sectarian dynamics.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, also spoke to the Council and described the attacks on minorities by both States and non-State groups, including Da’esh, throughout the region.  He called on the Security Council to refer Iraq and Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to act decisively to end the fighting in Yemen, Libya and other countries.  Those statements are available in our office.

And this meeting is presided over by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, and he will be at the stakeout at approximately 12:30 p.m. this afternoon, so just about half an hour from now.

**Peacekeeping

This morning, the Secretary-General opened the first-ever Chiefs of Defence Conference, which brought together chiefs of defence and senior military officials from more than 100 Member States to discuss issues central to UN peacekeeping.

The Secretary-General noted the challenging mandates facing peacekeepers, given the dangerously complex global security landscape marked by terrorism, organized crime, civil conflicts and even health crises today.

He added that UN peacekeeping remains uniquely placed to combine political, security and early peacebuilding functions under a single strategy.

Today, more than 130,000 military, police and civilian staff serve in 16 peacekeeping operations around the world — making it the largest deployment in UN peacekeeping’s history.

The Secretary-General’s full remarks are available online.

**Yemen

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, issued a statement from Sana'a today, urging all parties to the conflict in Yemen to show restraint, observe their obligations to protect civilians and allow access for humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

He said that he is extremely concerned that the escalating conflict could divert scarce resources available to Yemeni authorities away from providing basic services and a safety net for the most vulnerable.  This could have disastrous consequences for the well-being and survival of millions of vulnerable people who are already deprived of access to basic health care, safe drinking water, food, nutrition and protection.

He said that in the course of hostilities in Yemen over the last year, there has been a growing rate of violations, including the targeting of schools, health facilities and other social infrastructure.  These incidents have often had a disproportionate impact on children, and in 2014, some 100,000 people were displaced because of the conflict.

**Iraq

The newly appointed Special Representative for Iraq, Jẚn Kubiš, arrived today in Baghdad and immediately assumed his responsibilities as the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Mr. Kubiš said that he looks forward to working with the Government and the people of Iraq in restoring security and stability, ensuring the return of the millions of internally displaced Iraqis to their homes, and promoting inclusive cooperation, national reconciliation and the protection of human rights for all.

**Vanuatu

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that two weeks after cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, food for more than 166,000 people has reached all 22 affected islands.

WFP is supporting the Government-led relief effort, bringing in emergency equipment from UN Humanitarian Response Depots in Dubai and Malaysia to help authorities with the large volume of cargo arriving in Vanuatu.

After the initial relief phase, WFP plans to provide further food assistance to the most vulnerable until they can provide for themselves.

More information is available on WFP’s website.

**Cambodia

And from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC): the International Co-Investigating Judge today charged a former Khmer Rouge official, Ao An, with crimes against humanity of murder, extermination and other crimes.

These crimes are alleged to have been committed at execution sites and security centres.

There is more information on the Extraordinary Chambers’ website.

**Albinism

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today welcomed the strong statement by President Arthur Peter Mutharika of Malawi, in which he condemned attacks on people with albinism.

The President’s statement was followed up by the unveiling of a five-point plan of action by a Government minister.

The Office said it hopes that this series of measures will result in a significant improvement in the security and well-being of people with albinism in Malawi, urging authorities to ensure that the Government’s action plan is fully implemented without delay.

In neighbouring Tanzania, President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete earlier this month promised to put an end to the current wave of killings in the country.

The Human Rights Office said that it has been informed that Tanzanian authorities have begun developing an action plan to raise awareness and fight against impunity, though it appears that most of the witch doctors arrested in recent weeks have now been released.

There is more information on this available online.

**Honour Roll

And for the honour roll:  Brunei Darussalam has paid its dues, becoming the sixty-fifth Member-State to pay its contributions in full.

**Press Conference Monday

And for press conferences, on Monday at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here on the World Water Development Report.  And then at 3:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven.

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Nizar.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, obviously, these bombardments by the Saudis [inaudible] to Sana'a and other areas are targeting mainly civilians.  Scores of civilians have been killed as reported by the press and by television messages.  Also, there were bombardments across the border into Saada and many civilians were killed today.  How does the United Nations view these killings?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General made clear yesterday that all parties have to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians and of all humanitarian and UN and associated personnel.  And they also, of course, have to abide by the rules and principles of international human rights law and refugee law.

Question:  How safe… I have a follow-up on that.  How safe is the mission in Sana'a… the UN mission in Sana’a?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are continuing to monitor conditions for our staff.  As you notice from what I just read, the humanitarian coordinator is on the ground in Sana'a still.  There's a significant number of international and national staff in Sana'a.  And we're monitoring the conditions.  If we feel that there's a need to relocate them temporarily, we'll do so, but we haven't taken that… we haven't done that so far.  They remain in the country.  Yes.

Question:  A follow-up on this question.  The Secretary‑General has not weighed in on whether or not it is right for the Saudis to intervene so blatantly in Yemen.  I know he made a statement on… you made that statement on behalf of the… yesterday.  But that still doesn't answer the question.  What is it in the international law that is… is it right for Saudis to attack inside Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  We actually had an extensive discussion about this yesterday at the noon briefing, but I would basically just refer you to the statement.  Beyond that, the Secretary-General did speak yesterday with Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister of the Saudi Arabia, and he reminded him that all parties involved in the military operation have their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians.  The Saudi Foreign Minister's response was that the coalition intends to continue its military offensive and will seek to protect civilians.

The Secretary-General does continue to have his concerns and he intends to meet with the King of Saudi Arabia [Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud] or with Prince Saud Al-Faisal at the League of Arab States Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh [Egypt] where he will be this weekend and he will discuss this pressing issue with the Saudi leadership as well as with other members of the League of Arab States.  Yes. Joe.

Question:  Yes, in reference to the Secretary-General's address this morning to the development of a plan of action on preventing violent extremism, could you give us any more details of what the scope of that is going to be, what agencies are to the United Nations will be involved in developing and implementing that plan, and how that plan of action and its implementation and the panel of experts that he tends to convene will interact with the existing Alliance of Civilizations mechanism?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the existing Alliance of Civilizations will be part of the group of various offices and experts who are working on developing this plan.  Of course, it's still in the process of being made, but ultimately we're trying to bring to bear all the various branches of the UN from the political to the humanitarian to the Alliance of Civilization side, and also to the development and economic side, to see how each of their various expertise can come to deal with the plan, both to tackle the root causes of extremism and to deal with it as it surfaces in different societies.

Question:  Well, will the Department of Peacekeeping be involved as well?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that they have some involvement in this as it is crafted, but, ultimately, the plan itself will be presented in September, and you'll be able to see for yourselves the various… how the various components are brought in.  Yes, Stefano first and then back to Masood.

Question:  Yes.  Again, on the speech of today, this morning of Secretary-General, he also mentioned again Libya, the situation in Libya, and he said that the main party must quickly reach agreement.  Now, is quickly fast is going around now for few months, and I repeat it again — I heard representative of the European Union at the Security Council a couple of weeks ago where she says it's not a question of weeks but of days.  Already past two weeks.  So when are the United Nations, they put a kind of deadline, if you want to call it like this, what are the consequences if there is a deadline on the parties to get an agreement?  What are the consequence if this deadline is not respected and again what is a month, few weeks, six months?  And then another question, has nothing do with that, but it's still on the speech.  He [Secretary-General] now been using the word Da’esh instead ISIS.  I think it's already an improvement, but when did it happen that they change the name from ISIS now to Da’esh?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, this group has many different names, and as you know Da’esh is the Arabic acronym.  So it's really just a question of using a different language rather… while using the exact same acronym for what is in English sometimes called Islamic State.  Part of what we're trying to do is and what the Secretary‑General has been doing conscientiously for many months now is to use Da’esh instead of Islamic State so that people listening to him here do not think that we are under any illusion that this is either constitutes an actual State or is actually Islamic.  Neither which tends to be the case. 

Now, regarding your first question, we are frequently impatient about how long it takes for parties to come to agreements.  As you know, many diplomatic processes drag out for months and years, and it's very hard on the people who have to face the consequences of conflict.  So for us, we try to keep them on a tight leash, but at the end of the day, a deadline for a diplomatic process is not really like the sort of deadline by which you turn in a library book.  There's no fees enacted for when that… the book comes in overdue.  We want an agreement whenever we can get it, but we keep trying to put as much pressure as we can so that this process goes as quickly as possible.  But you're right as with Libya — this has gone on for a long time, and it has to stop.  Masood and then Matthew.

Question:  Yeah.  When is… Farhan, when is the last time the Secretary-General talked to Israeli leadership about freezing the settlements?  Because, obviously, he's been making these statements, again… I mean this has been going on forever, but when is the last time that he talked to Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] about this freezing the settlement, which is…

Deputy Spokesman: That was just last week.  He did that, I believe, last Thursday or possibly Friday, but I think it was Thursday.  He spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu.  We put out a readout of that call and that did include a call for a freeze on the settlements.  Matthew. 

Question:  There are reports that the Arab foreign ministers agreed on a draft resolution creating a new five-Arab military force.  Now, when the Secretary-General goes and meets the representatives of the Arab League shortly in Egypt, how is he going to react to this draft resolution?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think he'll discuss this matter with the leaders he meets, and we would just have you keep your eyes out for the remarks he makes while he is in Sharm el‑Sheikh and the readouts that we put out, but his views will be contained in those.  Yes, Nizar.

Question:  How much has the Israelis released today, I mean money for the Palestinian Authority?  Yesterday Mr. Serry spoke about $400 million.  Did they release the full amount or part of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say on that is that we welcome today's decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume the transfer of the tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.  The full, timely and predictable transfer of Palestinian tax and customs revenues is an Israeli obligation in accordance with the provisions of the Paris protocol on economic relations and is essential for the Government of the State of Palestine to be able to meet its financial obligations.  This was an announcement.  We'll see when the actual money comes over, but, as I just said, this is an obligation, and we welcome the decision that they've taken.  Yes, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding this meeting of the defence chiefs, do you expect a declaration or a statement to come out after the meeting is over this afternoon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in the afternoon, there will be some events at which, by the way, the Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, will speak, and they'll have some wrap-up comments.  I don't know whether at that point there'll be a declaration, but stay tuned, and they'll have their comments at that point.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan… just a technical question on this defence chief conference.  Could you precise the number of the country which sent a delegation?

Deputy Spokesman:  The number of countries… the last number I had of countries that had sent their chiefs of staff or other senior defence officials was 106, so a little bit more than 100.  Yes.

Question:  Yeah.  On… there are talks about sending some ground troops into Yemen.  Will that be mandated by the United Nations in any way or justified to send Egyptian troops or other troops across the borders?

Deputy Spokesman:  The question, as you know, of military mandates is a question for the Security Council.  I'm not aware of any Security Council consultations or meetings on this so far, but if that changes, we'll let you know. 

Have a good weekend, everyone. 

For information media. Not an official record.