HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STEPHANE DUJARRIC,
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
MONDAY, 23 JUNE 2014
SECRETARY-GENERAL DEEPLY CONCERNED BY CONFIRMATION OF DEATH SENTENCES IN EGYPT
- The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by recent court decisions in Egypt, particularly the confirmation of death sentences for 183 people and the sentencing of journalists, including from Al Jazeera today, to lengthy jail terms. Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.
- Separately, the Secretary-General notes that the constitutionality of the law regulating protest will be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court. He recalls that both he and the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns that the law could lead to serious breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and needed to be brought in conformity with Egypt’s international human rights obligations.
- The Secretary-General stresses that participation in peaceful protests or criticism of the Government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution. He believes Egypt will only be strengthened by empowering all its citizens to fully exercise their rights.
- Also on Egypt, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was shocked and alarmed by the verdicts and heavy jail sentences of between 7 and 10 years handed down to three Al Jazeera journalists on Monday, as well as 11 other defendants who were tried in absentia.
- Ms. Pillay noted that the verdicts are subject to appeal but said the Al Jazeera verdicts are the latest in a string of prosecutions and court proceedings that have been rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law.
- The High Commissioner expressed her alarm at the increasingly severe clampdown and physical attacks on both media and civil society activists in Egypt, which is hampering their ability to operate freely.
- The High Commissioner urged the Egyptian authorities to promptly release all journalists and other media employees imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities, including Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Bahar Mohamed, the three journalists who were convicted and sentenced on Monday.
- Asked about the Secretary-General’s efforts, the Spokesman noted that the Secretary-General has raised the matter of the journalists repeatedly in his discussions with Egyptian officials.
SECURITY COUNCIL: U.N. POLITICAL CHIEF DETAILS UNSETTLING DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
- Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, detailed the unsettling developments in the Middle East in a briefing to the Security Council this morning.
- He said that, with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations suspended since the end of April and despite restraint initially displayed by both sides, the situation on the ground has turned highly volatile with several disturbing developments. He noted that three Israeli students have been missing since 12 June.
- Mr. Feltman detailed the Secretary-General’s priorities for resolving the crisis in Syria, saying that ending the violence is the most immediate priority. It is essential to stem the flow of arms and fighters pouring into the country, and to this end, to impose an arms embargo.
- Regarding Golan, he said that recent serious incidents along the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)-supervised area of separation are a further grave reminder of the risk of regional escalation caused by the Syrian conflict. All must exercise utmost restraint, respect their mutual obligations, and halt firing of any kind across the ceasefire line.
- Asked about reactions to the Secretary-General’s six-point plan, the Spokesman said it was intended to spark new discussions among Member States on the way forward.
O.P.C.W.-U.N. MISSION SAYS REMOVAL OF SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS IS COMPLETE
- The Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations welcomes the removal of the remaining 7.2 per cent of chemical weapons material from Syria today.
- With this last movement, the total of declared chemical weapons materials destroyed or removed from Syria has reached 100%. The most operationally challenging task within the effort to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons programme has come to an end.
- In addition to the completion of the removal operation, the Syrian Arab Republic has destroyed all declared production, mixing and filling equipment and munitions, as well as many buildings associated with its declared chemical weapons programme.
- With the exception of twelve production facilities that are awaiting a decision by the Executive Council of OPCW, all of the declared Syrian chemical weapons programme has been eliminated in an unprecedented timeframe and under uniquely challenging conditions.
- A new chapter in the elimination process now begins. The Joint Mission thanks the Italian authorities for providing a port for transloading part of the cargo, after which the rest of the materials will be transported onward to the various destruction facilities.
- Asked about the Secretary-General’s views, the Spokesman said that he was very pleased by the completion of this phase of the operation. At the same time, he believes that the challenges of the work the Mission had been doing in an active combat zone cannot be underestimated.
U.N.R.W.A. WELCOMES AGREEMENT TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO PEOPLE IN SYRIA’S YARMOUK CAMP
- The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has received credible information about an agreement signed between Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups inside Yarmouk.
- The Agency would welcome any durable and binding agreement that achieves a cessation of hostilities, full humanitarian access and an end to the suffering of civilian in Yarmouk and all of Syria.
- In particular, the Relief and Works Agency is urgently seeking the immediate resumption and expansion of its humanitarian activities inside Yarmouk to enable it to offer a full range of humanitarian supplies, services and programmes to the civilians of Yarmouk. UNRWA stands ready to implement a rapid humanitarian response so that the immediate and longer term needs of Yarmouk’s civilian population can be met.
- The Agency will continue to advocate for continuous, substantial and safe humanitarian access to Yarmouk, and to ensure the protection of Palestinian and Syrian civilians.
IRAQ: U.N. STRONGLY CONDEMNS ATTACKS ON HEALTH FACILITIES
- The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the World Health Organization have strongly condemned attacks on health facilities in Iraq, and have expressed serious concerns about the implications on medical personnel, patients and health infrastructure.
- Two hospitals in and around Mosul have been damaged due to heavy shelling in recent days. Most recently, an NGO-run clinic in Tikrit has been damaged, affecting medical access for some 40,000 people.
- UN agencies continue to work with authorities in the Iraqi Kurdistan region to increase their efforts to help more displaced families fleeing violence. More camps are being planned in the region’s Sulaymaniya Governorate to accommodate the increasing number of displaced people from Mosul.
- The Spokesman’s office is working to set up a press conference for the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, on Wednesday, 25 June.
SECRETARY-GENERAL REITERATES SUPPORT FOR U.N. MIDDLE EAST ENVOY
- The Spokesman responded to questions he has received about the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry. He said the Secretary-General is aware of the recent comments.
- He fully supports Mr. Serry, who carries out his responsibilities in the pursuit of UN peace efforts with impartiality and full transparency, and as mandated by UN intergovernmental bodies. The UN's position and assistance efforts regarding the situation in Gaza have always been closely discussed with relevant Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
- The Secretary-General spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 21 June and discussed the current situation on the ground. The Secretary-General reaffirms the important role of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator in supporting efforts to achieve long lasting peace in the Middle East.
- Asked about the issue of abductions, the Spokesman noted that the Secretary-General has condemned the abductions of the youths. He added, in response to further questions, that the Secretary-General has also spoken out clearly about the protection of Palestinian civilians.
- Asked about allegations that Mr. Serry had tried to provide funds to Hamas, the Spokesman said that Mr. Serry clearly denied those allegations over the weekend. He reiterated the Secretary-General’s full confidence in Mr. Serry and the integrity and transparency of his work.
U.N. CALLS RESIGNATION OF AFGHANISTAN’S CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER A STEP TO PROTECT POLITICAL TRANSITION
- The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) acknowledges today’s resignation of the country’s chief electoral officer, the Head of the Secretariat of the Independent Election Commission, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhil.
- UNAMA recognizes the resignation as a step that helps protect Afghanistan’s historic political transition. The decision contributes to an orderly and timely electoral process under the country’s legal and institutional framework.
- The Mission also recognizes with appreciation that the decision puts national interests ahead of personal interests and seeks to remove any cause of distrust in the electoral process.
- The Mission further continues to call on the Presidential candidates to fully re-enter the electoral process, cooperate with the electoral institutions and respect their decisions.
- It has also strongly urged the candidates to take all steps necessary to prevent their supporters from making any irresponsible statements or actions that could lead to civil disorder and instability.
OVER 450,000 PEOPLE DISPLACED IN PAKISTAN’S NORTH WAZIRISTAN
- The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been informed that the Pakistani Government estimates that more than 450,000 people have been displaced in North Waziristan. Some 73 per cent are women and children. People are continuing to leave the area.
- Most of the displaced are staying with relatives or in rented accommodation: as of Sunday, only 18 families have moved into Bakakhel Camp that has a capacity for 200,000 people.
- Humanitarian organizations are supporting the Government response, with health activities including vaccinations, food distributions that started on 22 June, as well as water and sanitation activities.
- The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 46,000 people have crossed into Afghanistan in order to seek safety.
U.N. DISPATCHES PATROL TO VERIFY REPORTS OF CLASHES IN CENTRAL DARFUR
- The Joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) received reports of fighting between Salamat and Misseriya on 19, 20, and 21 June in Kabar, Salayle and Um Dukhun, south of Central Darfur state.
- Subsequently, the Mission dispatched a two-day patrol to the locations to verify these reports. It learnt from local sources that the clashes broke out following an alleged theft of livestock. Reports of casualties on both sides cannot be verified at this point.
- UNAMID is supporting peace and reconciliation efforts to calm the situation between the tribes and find a durable solution to this conflict.
SOUTH SUDAN: NEARLY 40 PER CENT OF DISPLACED CHILDREN IN BENTIU ARE ACUTELY MALNURISHED
- The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that aid agencies in South Sudan continue to scale up water, sanitation, health and nutrition services in the site for displaced people in Bentiu, to tackle the high rate of child mortality.
- Some 37 per cent of children at the site are acutely malnourished. Food and nutrition agencies are stepping up screening and treatment to catch cases of malnutrition as early as possible, including at the gate for new arrivals.
- Many of the people arriving in Bentiu are reportedly driven by food insecurity in their home areas, which are close to the frontlines in the conflict.
SECRETARY-GENERAL HOPEFUL THAT UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT’S PLAN WILL REDUCE VIOLENCE
- The Secretary-General spoke on Saturday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
- The Secretary-General praised President Poroshenko's peace plan. He expressed hope that President Poroshenko's plan would gain momentum and reduce violence and tensions in eastern Ukraine, and he reiterated the United Nations' commitment to help resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
- The Secretary-General also discussed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and reiterated the UN's commitment to working with the Ukrainian authorities to assist with internally displaced persons and other humanitarian issues.
- Asked about allegations of bias in the report of the human rights monitors in Ukraine, the Spokesman said that the team had been sent by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Secretary-General’s request and that he had full confidence in their work.
- Dujarric noted that Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic was expected to brief the Security Council on the Ukraine report this week.
SECRETARY-GENERAL TRAVELS TO NAMIBIA
- The Secretary-General has left New York and is now on his way to Namibia. He is expected to arrive in Windhoek tomorrow.
- While in Namibia, the Secretary-General will meet with President Hifikepunye Pohamba and other government officials. He will also participate in the commissioning of the United Nations House in Windhoek, which is home to 12 UN Agencies.
HEAD OF U.N. PEACEKEEPING UNDERTAKES 5-DAY TRIP TO THE MIDDLE EAST
- The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, is currently on a five-day trip to the Middle East, where he is visiting the UN's three Peacekeeping missions in the region.
- On Sunday, Mr Ladsous visited the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Headquartered at Camp Faouar. He thanked the UN Peacekeepers who continue to perform with courage, in a volatile and dangerous environment due to the deteriorating security situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. Mr Ladsous also held meetings with Syrian officials in Damascus.
- Next, the Under-Secretary-General will visit the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Headquarters in Naqoura, Lebanon, where he will meet with UN personnel and call on senior Government officials in Beirut.
- On Wednesday, Mr. Ladsous will visit the UN's oldest Peacekeeping Mission, UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), in Jerusalem. He is also expected to meet with senior Israeli officials and discuss the situation in all three Missions in the region.
WORLD MUST EMPOWER WOMEN, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL ON INTERNATIONAL WIDOW’S DAY
- Today is International Widow’s Day. The Secretary-General, in his message, says that it is our collective responsibility to safeguard the human rights and dignity of widows.
- Drawing attention to the fact that millions of widows across the world face persistent abuse, discrimination, disinheritance and destitution, he stresses that no woman should lose her status, livelihood or property when her husband dies.
- He calls on the world to take stronger action to empower women, promote gender equality and end all forms of violence against women.
NEW F.A.O. REPORT SAYS COUNTRIES NEED TO DO MORE TO RECOGNIZE VITAL ROLE OF FORESTS
- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released the latest State of the World’s Forest report today saying that countries should put more policy emphasis on maintaining and enhancing the vital contribution of forests to food, health and energy.
- For instance, wood energy is often the only accessible and affordable fuel for millions of people. Today one in three households uses wood as their main fuel for cooking and wood energy provides over half of the total energy supply in 29 countries, including 22 in Africa.
- Head of FAO José Graziano da Silva says that the world cannot ensure food security or sustainable development without preserving and using forest resources responsibly.
SPOKESMAN: SECRETARY-GENERAL WAS NOT SERVED PAPERS ON HAITI
- Asked whether the Secretary-General was served papers concerning cholera in Haiti, the Spokesman said that the Secretary-General was not served papers last Friday. He noted that the UN’s legal position on the matter has been clear.
- Dujarric added that the United Nations is committed to assisting the Government and people of Haiti in the effort to combat and eradicate cholera. As part of this continuing effort, he noted that a joint high level committee was recently established by the United Nations and the Government of Haiti, but added that the work being done to fight cholera needs funding.
*** The guests at the noon briefing were Ambassador Antonio Patriota of Brazil, chair of the Peacebuilding Commission and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Judy Cheng Hopkins.