|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.
**Secretary-General in Rome
The Secretary-General and the members of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) had an audience with Pope Francis in Rome this morning, and during the audience, the Secretary-General made remarks, expressing his concern about recent intolerance among peoples and faiths. He noted the tensions in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria and Ukraine and said that, across the UN agenda, he sees the need for calm, compassion, cooperation and courage.
The Secretary-General said that he deeply appreciated Pope Francis’s personal commitment to eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development. And he said that he counts on the Catholic Church, under the Pope’s leadership, to continue to work closely with the United Nations to promote a life of dignity for all. We have his full remarks online.
The Secretary-General also had a bilateral meeting with the Mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, today. During the meeting, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of cities and the leadership of mayors in adapting cities to tackle the climate change challenge. He will continue to chair the meetings of the Chief Executives Board in Rome and will return to New York tomorrow.
On South Sudan, the Mission in the country, UNMISS, says it hopes that the meeting between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar — who have arrived in Addis Ababa — will reinvigorate the peace process, produce a political solution and put an immediate end to the violence.
And in the country itself, the Mission reports Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition troop movements in and around Bentiu, including close to the Mission base.
Yesterday, the Mission reported sporadic gun fire in the proximity of its base there, where more than 23,000 civilians are being protected. The Mission reports that one internally displaced civilian was wounded as a result of a stray bullet, and received medical treatment within the Bentiu base. The Mission also reports it has been asked not to land flights in Bentiu during the next 72 hours.
The Mission once again calls on all parties to the conflict not to station troops or fight in the vicinity of its compound and sites where civilians are being protected, and to respect the sanctity of UN premises.
Also, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that the UN report describing gross violations of human rights in South Sudan underscores the extreme urgency of bringing the conflict to an end. That report was released yesterday, as you know.
She said that South Sudan’s leaders needed to take immediate concrete actions to halt this conflict, and stop the killing. Pillay added that in the light of what this report reveals, there can no longer be any excuse for President Salva Kiir or Riek Machar continuing to avoid identifying and arresting their force commanders and other individuals implicated in the commission of serious violations.
The High Commissioner also continues to urge both President Kiir and Dr. Machar to publicly, loudly and unequivocally denounce such acts by their fighters and other followers, and to make it clear that anyone committing such crimes will be arrested and prosecuted.
Following yesterday’s telephone conversation between the Secretary-General and President [Goodluck Ebele] Jonathan of Nigeria, the Secretary-General has asked his Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, to travel to Abuja as his high-level representative to Nigeria. In his meetings with senior Government officials, Mr. Djinnit will offer the help of the United Nations and discuss how we can best support the authorities’ efforts to safely return the kidnapped girls to their families.
In addition on that, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that it is alarmed at the recent wave of attacks on civilians in north-east Nigeria. The brutality and frequency of these attacks is unprecedented. The past two months have seen multiple kidnappings and deaths, creating population displacement both inside Nigeria and into neighbouring countries.
The agency says that refugees and internally displaced people alike are reporting acts of extreme violence, and showing clear signs of distress and fear. Some have witnessed friends or family members being randomly singled out and killed in the streets. People speak of homes and fields being burned to the ground, with villages completely razed, or grenades being launched into crowded markets killing people and livestock.
Terrorized students who had survived attacks on their schools in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States have told the refugee agency how they saw friends being killed or kidnapped. There are further details available on the UNHCR web site.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) drew attention today to the challenging humanitarian situation in Syria, where aid agencies are continuing to try to deliver urgently needed aid to the 240,000 people living under siege. There are about 3.5 million people who need help in some 262 locations that aid agencies cannot reach.
Humanitarian workers need more support and facilitation to move around Syria, first and foremost from the Syrian Government and then from the opposition armed groups.
The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the murder this week of prominent human rights lawyer Rashid Khan Rehman in Pakistan brings into stark focus the climate of intimidation and threats which permeate the work of rights defenders and journalists in the country.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had expressed concern when she visited Pakistan in 2012 about the many journalists, rights advocates and public officials who were receiving death threats for opposing the blasphemy laws. She had urged the Government to take security measures to ensure their security and work were not compromised.
Her Office condemned the killing of Mr. Rehman and urged the Government to carry out a prompt investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice. It also urged the Government to redouble its efforts to prevent and investigate such attacks, whether committed by State or non-State actors, and to send a strong message that perpetrators will be held accountable.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo — Minova
You may have seen that the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, reacted yesterday to the conclusion of the Minova trials, expressing disappointment that only two persons were convicted of rape.
She said that the verdict did not reflect the magnitude of the crimes of sexual violence that were committed and failed to do justice to all victims who had the courage to bring this case to court. Ms. Bangura urged authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo to pay reparations and take immediate measures to protect survivors, witnesses, legal counsels and human rights defenders who advocated for accountability.
You will recall that both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Mission in the country also expressed disappointment at the military court’s judgment, pronounced earlier this week.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, warned today that without immediate action, the country’s fragile food security situation could worsen in the coming months.
In a press briefing in Geneva, he said that a combination of delayed rains, rising food prices and continued conflict is further worsening the humanitarian situation in Somalia and that resources for aid remain critically low. He added that some agencies and non-governmental organizations have so few resources that essential life-saving projects are facing closure.
UN agencies and humanitarian partners appealed for $933 million in 2014 to carry out life-saving work but have only received 15 per cent of the funding so far. There is more on this online.
The Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern today at renewed violence in Venezuela. On Wednesday night and early Thursday, Venezuelan troops rounded up more than 200 youth movement protesters who had been camping peacefully outside the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] offices in Caracas and other parts of the city. According to official figures, a total of 243 people were arrested.
The majority of those detained, who include 18 minors and one pregnant woman, have reportedly been taken to Tiuna military premises. Lawyers and families have complained about lack of information about the whereabouts of those detained. Hundreds of other demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the arrests of the youth and the dismantling of the camps. A policeman was shot dead and three others reportedly injured during clashes.
The Office of the High Commissioner also expressed her concern at reports of violence and attacks in and around Venezuelan universities. The Office reiterated her call to the Government to ensure that people are not penalised for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression and for sustained and inclusive, peaceful dialogue based on Venezuela’s human rights obligations.
**South China Sea
I was asked at yesterday’s briefing about the South China Sea. I can say that the Secretary-General has noted with concern the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, in particular between China and Viet Nam in the last few days. He urges the parties concerned to exercise the utmost restraint and resolve their dispute in a peaceful manner, through dialogue and in conformity with international law, including the UN Charter.
Following this briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru to brief on the Preparatory Commission for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
On Monday at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on good governance.
That’s it for me, questions? Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Deputy Spokesman: Please speak into the microphone.
Question: On these human rights defenders and the journalists threats that are going on, using the so-called blasphemy law, which creation of [inaudible]. Now, can’t the Secretary-General send one of the human rights defenders or ask them to go over there but this situation is creating almost panic conditions in Pakistan and the journalist community, so can he send one of his human rights defenders over there to somehow recommend that this blasphemy law should be repealed, which is being used by the extremists to target the human right defenders and journalists?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the human rights experts, as you know, the rapporteurs of the system, are independent experts. They can follow up on their own briefs as they so wish, and they, of course, can report back to the Human Rights Council on this. You’ll have seen what Navi Pillay said, which was extremely strong, and she can also follow up, but she already raised concerns about laws that can disproportionately target groups such as journalists, human rights defenders and others and so she is continuing to take action on this and we’ll see whether the human rights defenders in the UN system can also look at this in their own capacities. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I had some other questions but I wanted to ask you about the Minova statement that you made. I did… I saw a UN News Centre piece saying a statement issued by Ms. Bangura’s office, but then try as I might I couldn’t find… I wasn’t sent a safepin and I couldn’t factually find the statements. So I wanted to know, one; how was this statement by Ms. Bangura’s office issued other than to UN News Centre, and number two, met with the mounting litany of UN officials saying that they are disappointed, what is actually going to done on the Secretary-General’s stated policy of if… if… I guess… one is disappointed at… at the lack of accountability for abuses by an army unit that the UN no longer supports it. What’s the… are these statements to replace that process or is that process going to take place?
Deputy Spokesman: No, that… those two are different tracks. Obviously, the process of reviewing how the situation has been handled and what further steps need to be taken will continue aside from the disappointment that we’ve expressed, but we think it’s important also to express our disappointment given our own involvement in pushing for this very process to take place. Obviously, different national Governments, different national judiciaries have their own policies and their own procedures, but we need to see how… how well these were followed and how they were applied in this case. And regarding Zainab Bangura’s statement, I believe that should be up on her website and I believe we made it available on our counter. It should be available online and in one of the websites because she does have her own.
Question: Sure, no, I checked that. I wanted to… I wanted to ask you when you say like… I’m assuming that these UN officials, including obviously Navi Pillay’s office, Ms. Bangura’s office, I mean they do analysis before they issue their… their… it’s not like they sort of… do they not analyse it to say they were disappointed? Is there any way to not feel that there’s an impunity component to a 130 rapes with two people found guilty?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the statements speak for themselves. They said what they said and you can see from what they said what the reasons given for their disappointment are. We at… you know, in terms of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Mission needs to see how this affects our own cooperation with specific battalions, ut that review will happen separately of this.
Yes Matthew, other Matthew. There are two Joes, there are two Matthews. There’s lots of people.
Question: Does the UN have a position in the confrontation of the South China Sea, which country actually has sovereignty over the disputed territory?
Deputy Spokesman: I think I’ve said what we had to say on this just seconds ago. I don’t have anything to add. Yes, Oleg?
Question: One quick follow-up. Did Secretary-General call any of the sides of the conflict in South China Sea coast? Clearly there’s danger for escalation, there are dozens of warships, there have been collisions, any steps taken?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I’ve said what I have to say on this for now. Like, I’ve said I don’t have anything to add. Joe.
Question: Ok, my question is… goes back to the statement you read about Secretary-General’s meeting with the Pope. I’m wondering whether anything came up concerning the activities that two UN committees that have criticized the Vatican on a number of issues, not only child abuse but also inserting itself into Canon Law on such issues as abortion and so forth. These are UN committees. Is the Secretary-General, first of all, have any opinion as to the merits of the positions of those committees, and did any of this come up during his meeting with the Pope?
Deputy Spokesman: Well in terms of what came up on… during his meeting with the Pope, he gave very lengthy remarks during the audience and I will just refer you to those remarks and that sums up the various points of discussion that we’ve had. Regarding the work of the committees, as you know, these particular committees who are reviewing them were committees of Member States who are going about their role of reviewing the records of different UN Members, and we’ll let them continue with that process. I believe that, regarding one of those committees, their final report is due later this month, I think around the 23 May. Yes, Ken?
Question: Thank you Farhan, follow-up on South China Sea. So am I right to understand that Secretary-General has a plan to visit China this month, and if so, who is he meeting with and is this issue going to be a topic?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don’t have anything to announce about his travel at this point. If we have an announcement, we’ll make that at the time, and of course, anytime he has meetings with senior officials, we’ll try to put out readouts, but that’s something that we don’t have any comment on at this stage. Yes, Masood?
Question: On this… I know that Secretary-General has sent his Special Representative to Nigeria, but is there any way that the Secretary-General or the… I mean or can suggest to the international community, take this matter on an urgent basis. It seems they are just sitting around, we’re sending this person, that person is going. Nothing concrete is being done, I mean, there should be some army action by the Nigerians at least to send the army units to at least go look at what is happening. How to save those girls from these so-called [inaudible] absolutely… So can that be done?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, your comment is duly noted and you’ll have seen what the Secretary-General, Navi Pillay and others have had to say about this, beyond that of course we’ll try to provide some details of Mr. Djinnit’s work once he gets on the ground, but the hope is that he can bring some further impetus to this process. Of course, our main concern is the safety and well-being of these girls and there are plenty of people, plenty of leaders and plenty of Governments and others, who have aired out their concerns in recent days, but the hope is that we can all work together in terms of actually solving this problem and bringing these girls back to safety.
Yes, Asma, you had your hand up? Oh excellent, I misjudged your gesture. Nassir you did.
Question: Yes, first I have a question regarding the evacuation of Homs today. It seems the United Nations was there, was present, at least one from the Mission was there. Can you tell us… how many people have been released? Also, while you mention 230,000 are still under siege… by relieving Homs from such siege, what is the situation with the latest number about those who are under siege now?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the number that the Humanitarian Officials of the UN system gave today was in fact 240,000 so it’s still 240,000 roughly of people who are under siege. Regarding Homs, our role during this process has consisted of general observations for the evacuation process. We’ve also provided contacts and facilitated communication among the parties regarding the whole operation. And, of course, the process itself, the negotiations have been brokered by the parties themselves and we trust that they will continue to carry out their understandings.
Question: Follow-up on that. Can you tell us what happened in near Nubel and Zahra? I understand that the rebels have stopped convoys for some time and delayed the delivery of aid to the… how is the situation now?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I’m not aware that there’s been any improvement of access thus far to Nubel and Zahra. Of course, like I just said, it’s the parties themselves who negotiated and brokered this agreement and it’s up to them to follow through on all of the understandings that they’ve reached with each other.
Question: But… but the UN was there, escorting in that convoy?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I believe that in terms of the events in Homs that the Damascus Office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria participated with two vehicles. I’m not aware of our participation in the convoys in Nubel and Zahra, I believe what we still need is access to get into those areas. As you know, we’ve been trying to provide aid to a number of places, Nubel and Zahra among them, but as I just pointed out a few minutes ago, we continue to face problems with humanitarian access. Both problems created by the Government of Syria and by the Opposition.
Question: How many civilians are there in Nubel and Zahra to your knowledge?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware of what the precise numbers are. Like I said, the numbers of people, the overall numbers of people affected by sieges throughout the country is about 240,000. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Thank you, once again. On Ukraine, there are reports that escalation is continuing, there reports of casualties among them, 12 year old child was injured and orthodox priest was killed. Has the Secretary-General had anything to say on that… what contacts does Jeffrey Feltman have over there in the coming days?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you are aware, Jeffrey Feltman has been on the ground, I believe today is his last day there in Ukraine and the Secretary-General will try to hear from Under-Secretary-General Feltman once his mission is done and get some briefing about what the situation on the ground is like. So he does look forward to receiving an update and of course we continue to monitor developments on the ground and if we need to respond with any further statements in the coming days, we’ll provide that out to you.
Question: Can I ask a follow-up on that? Is Mr. Feltman going to brief the Security Council, is there any plan for that when he returns?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it’s up to the Security Council members to determine their schedule. Of course, it can’t be ruled out that he won’t brief different bodies once he returns. Certainly, he’ll brief the Secretary-General and he is willing to brief other bodies as needed, but let’s see what the Security Council members themselves have to say about that. Yes?
Question: As a moral voice of the international community, can’t the Secretary-General ask the Nigerian Government to at least show that some action, the army should go into action and look for these guys? I mean, nothing is happening. I mean, I mean… I’m sorry to… belabour this point about these girls who have been missing for such a long time. I mean it’s absolutely criminal what the… even the Nigerian Government has not been able to put its army into action.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you’ll have seen what the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights among others have said about this. They’ve expressed their own anguish and frustration quite clearly. Yesterday, as you know, we put out two statements containing the Secretary-General’s views on this matter. Beyond that, we’ll see what success Mr. Djinnit has in terms of pushing forward with the sort of points that we’ve been making.
Question: Is there no duty on Allamah, the Islamic Allamah, to issue a statement in this regard especially from Mecca to say that what’s done, being done, has nothing to do with Islam and this really tarnishes Islam. This is another voice that may affect these people who are … claim to be Muslim, at least.
Deputy Spokesman: Well on such matters, our hope always is that all people of goodwill, everyone who has influence or potential influence among the various parties, can help to create a climate by which the matters can be resolved peacefully, and so we would do the same in this case. We hope that all people of goodwill can make their voices heard and create some sort of climate by which these girls can actually be freed from this hideous condition.
Question: Sure, I like to ask about Guinea-Bissau and then some press freedom questions, and I’ll ask them quickly but I’ll like to ask them to you. One is on Guinea-Bissau, can you confirm that Jose Ramos Horta is leaving… a published report said that he’s leaving to go work at ubrainTV based in Tokyo and quote, “he has been an adviser for ubrainTV for more than a year.” I wanted to know, is it permissible to be a fulltime SRSG and also be an adviser to a for-profit company? Was this cleared by the ethics office?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any information about any other business that Mr. Ramos Horta may or may not have, so I don’t have any comment on that. Certainly, he continues with his work right now though.
Question: And on press freedom, can I ask these questions? Ok, I wanted to ask you… and see whether there’s a comment on any of these. One is, Yemen has deported a journalist named Adam Baron, who was described as one of the few foreign correspondents in the country, and I wanted to know if the Secretariat or Mr. Benomar has any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any comment on that at this stage, no.
Question: Myanmar has deported a journalist called Angus Watson for supposedly reporting on media freedom protest. Is Mr. Nambiar or the UN Secretariat have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Again, at this stage there’s no comment. We’d have to look at what the details of the case are.
Question: And Ethiopia has jailed and US based twitter has suspended the accounts of the so-called Zone9 bloggers that I asked here about a week ago. Since there’s a UN office in Addis, I’m wondering, are they aware of this arrest of journalists and now suspensions of their accounts or on what basis that would have been?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe we have some language on this, but I don’t have it with me right now. But we’ll try to share that with you, if we’ve got it.
[The Spokesperson had said the following on 2 May 2014:
Matthew, you asked earlier this week about journalists in Ethiopia. I want to draw your attention to a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued today. In it, Navi Pillay says she is deeply concerned by this recent wave of arrests and the increasing climate of intimidation against journalists and bloggers prevailing in Ethiopia. Pillay also notes that the Ethiopian authorities continue to use the Charities and Societies Proclamation Law, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Mass Media Law to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. She says that the fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations. And that working with foreign human rights organisations cannot be considered a crime. You can see her full statement online.]
Question: Yesterday, I asked about this child who was sentenced to ten years in Bahrain, he is ten years old, for participating in a protest. Also today I have another… I’m still waiting for the answer for that question… regarding Raif Badawi, Saudi who was sentenced to ten years with 1,000 lashes and 267,000 dollars fees. Do you have any statement regarding him?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding your latter question, yes. We are concerned about his conviction and sentencing. This is the latest in a string of arrests and rulings recently that are indicative of an increasing trend of repression of freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief in Saudi Arabia.
I don’t have any reaction yet on the question on the boy in Bahrain, but I’ll see whether we can get something.
Question: A follow-up….
Deputy Spokesman: Ok, one follow-up, but our guests, well, not my guest, but Mr. Buchanan’s guest is right there in the back room so we’ll get to him, so last one.
Question: It’s understood that three of the monarchs, Saudi Arabia’s monarch’s daughters are under confinement for ten years or over ten years now and they recently… there are reports coming from them by Skype saying that they are deprived of food and water. Is the United Nations following that… this was even publicized by televisions.
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware of the details of that and we don’t have any comment on that at present.
And with that, please I’d like to welcome over to the centre stage Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey, who is here brief you on the Preparatory Commission for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
Thanks very much, have a good weekend, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record