15 May 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good morning.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York after participating in the opening ceremony of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Stockholm.  Following the ceremony, he met with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and with the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Anne Richard.  Readouts of those meetings are available online.

** Afghanistan

From Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in that country (UNAMA) welcomed today’s announcement of the final results of the 5 April presidential elections.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, commended all the candidates on a hard-fought but positive campaign.  With no outright winner declared by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in the first round, Mr. Kubiš called upon the candidates to display respect for the results and statesmanship as the process moves on to a second round run-off.

The UN Mission notes that the process leading up to the elections represented an improvement over past votes.  It also acknowledges the efforts made by Afghanistan’s two electoral institutions to increase transparency in polling, the counting of votes and the handling of complaints.  The Mission now stresses the importance of cooperation between electoral institutions and candidates in the run-up to the second round of polling, in order to safeguard national unity and stability.  And that statement is available online.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council is holding an open debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina today.  The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, presented his latest report on the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

** Nigeria

From Nigeria, Said Djinnit, who was sent as a High-Level Representative by the Secretary-General to Nigeria, concluded a four-day visit to the country today.  During that visit, he met with President Goodluck Jonathan and other senior Government officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Justice, as well as the Attorney General.

He reiterated the Secretary-General’s strong condemnation of the abduction last month of innocent girls in Chibok, and added that the United Nations is committed to do its utmost within its capacity to assist the authorities of Nigeria in their efforts towards the release of the schoolgirls.  As part of its assistance, the United Nations has initiated the preparation of an Integrated Support Package that includes immediate support to the affected families, the population and the girls after their release.

And Mr. Djinnit also expressed the United Nations’ deep concern at the lingering insecurity in the north-east part of Nigeria and the UN’s support to Nigeria’s efforts to restore security in the affected areas while stressing the importance of due respect for human rights.

** Syria

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, said that Palestine refugees in Syria face extreme hardship as a result of the ongoing armed conflict.

His comments came on his first visit to Syria as Commissioner-General, to see for himself the suffering of the Palestine refugees and call for expanded humanitarian access.

The Commissioner-General said that, as another generation of Palestinians experiences the trauma of displacement, their situation has become, in human terms, nothing short of catastrophic and yet is often being overlooked.

** Yemen

In Yemen, 14.7 million people — over half the population — need some form of humanitarian aid this year.  Ten and a half million Yemenis are food insecure, 13 million have no access to clean water or adequate sanitation and 8.6 million of those having no health assistance, including reproductive health services.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, said today that the international community needs to come forward with substantial funding to implement the 2014 response plan for Yemen, which remains alarmingly underfunded.  Only 18 per cent of the $591.6 million needed for 2014 has so far been secured.

**World Health Organization

Meanwhile, from the World Health Organization (WHO), the report that people everywhere are living longer according to their latest report — and that’s good news for all of us.

On average, a child born in 2012 will live six years longer than a child born in 1990.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that a key reason why global life expectancy has improved so much is that fewer children are dying before their fifth birthday.

But she noted that there is still a major rich-poor divide, with people in high-income countries continuing to have a much better chance of living longer than people in low-income countries.

Wherever they live in the world, women live longer than men.  Women in Japan have the longest life expectancy in the world, while men in Iceland live the longest.  The full report is available on WHO’s website.


From the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay:  she called today for increased protection for people with albinism, after the murder of a 40-year-old woman in north-western Tanzania earlier this month.

According to police reports, Munghu Lugata was brutally murdered Monday night at her home in north-western Tanzania.  Her attackers chopped off a number of her limbs while she was still alive.

These attacks, which are often motivated by the use of body parts for ritual purposes, have claimed the lives of at least 73 people with albinism in Tanzania since 2000.

Ms. Pillay said the killing sadly demonstrated that the human rights situation of people with albinism in Tanzania and other countries remains dire.

She said that all over the world, people with albinism continue to face attacks or suffer terrible discrimination, stigma and social exclusion.  The UN Human Rights Office has received reports of more than 200 cases of attacks against people with albinism in 15 countries between 2000 and 2013, but it is believed the actual number could be much higher.  There is more information on the UN Human Rights website on that.

**Press Conference Today

And just lastly, a press conference this afternoon at 1:30 p.m., a press conference here by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; the theme will be the Asian region.  The speakers will include Raja Devashish Roy, Chief of the Chakma Administrative Circle and the traditional raja of the Chakma peoples, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines.

That’s it.  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about South Sudan, but first I want to ask you about that helicopter.  I know that yesterday you said that the Secretariat was in touch with the Ukraine Mission, and there were comments made in Moscow overnight about the UN having committed to reveal the… what its investigation of the use of the UN helicopter or four helicopters in Ukraine.  What has the Secretariat found out in the last 24 hours?

Spokesman:  I don’t think there was a commitment made from here.  What I told you is that we have informed the Ukrainian authorities of our concern.  It is up to the Ukrainians to look into the situation and if there is an issue, to ensure that the letter of the standard agreement with peace[keeping] contributing countries is followed up on.

Question:  And diplomats told me that they believe the helicopters had served in Sierra Leone.  I guess what I’m saying is, isn’t there some duty on the UN’s part to figure out where…where the helicopters came from, how long they had been back in the country?  That’s what I’m asking about.

Spokesman:  I think we’ve asked the Ukrainian authorities and we’ve relayed our concerns to them and if I have more to share, I will share with you.  Go ahead, Matthew, you have a second question?

Question:  Oh, I did, oh thanks a lot.  I just… it’s about… on South Sudan, I was kind of expecting you to… obviously, there’s a lot of reports of renewed fighting around Malakal and basically the Information Minister of the country has said that the UN or the US should come and monitor, somebody needs to determine who’s violating the ceasefire agreement before any sanctions are imposed.  There’s also a report that the Ghanaians are meeting with the Government about getting their weapons back, all those many months ago.  So I didn’t know that they still hadn’t gotten them and I wondered, can you give some update on, on… did this stop the Ghanaian battalion from actually being in Bentiu with weapons?  And what’s, what’s the UN’s role or is this now a bilateral thing between Ghana and South Sudan?

Spokesman:  I don’t have an update with the issue of the Ghanaian weapons, thank you.  And as for the fighting, obviously, we are all very concerned by the continued fighting, we would expect both the Government and the Opposition forces and their leadership to ensure that they live up to the agreement.  As a result of the fighting, in various places, it has made the movement of UN personnel that much more challenging in the country.

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any more details of what it means to have integrated family support for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, we’re looking at and this is being led by our colleagues at UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund)is how to help, it’s basically victim… part of it is victim support.  And also, how do you then ensure that the girls that managed to escape, and those that we very much hope will return, go back to school?  How do you help convince the families to send them back to school?  The issue of girls’ education, as you know, is critical; so it is that kind of support, of gender support.  We don’t know in what psychological state these girls will return home, so it’s really a support for the families and support for the communities, and very much hoping that despite these incidents that girls will continue to be sent to school and that also working with the Government to ensure that the schools are safe.  Yes, Nizar and we’ll go to Edie.

Question:  Going back to this report about life longevity, I wonder if it mentions anything about why married people feel they live longer than their wives.

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to look at the report.

Question:  That was not my question.  Anyway, my question is regarding, yesterday there was a conference in Beirut about clerics from different sects, Islamic sects condemned Bahrain and accused Bahrain of being discriminating on sectarian bases.  They have expelled some clerics from Bahrain, deprived them of their nationality.  What does the United Nations have to say about that?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any specific issue about that conference but obviously we would expect the authorities in Bahrain to live up to their responsibilities in terms of human rights and freedom of religion.

Question:  Would we expect any statement on you know… regarding them, official one from the United Nations?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything specific on that right now.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Steph, on Mr. Djinnit, is he going to be coming back to New York, reporting to the Secretary-General, and is there any chance that we might be able to get to talk to him?

Spokesman:  If he does, I will make sure that we harvest him and bring him here.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Thank you.  The Indian elections are over, it was a week-long exercise and tomorrow the results will be out.  Does the SG have any comment, also given the fact that the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he will depart office after 10 years and has been the Prime Minister of India?

Spokesman:  I think we are… the democratic process is unfolding in India and it’s in a very big way, to use a lack of a better word.  Obviously, we are not going to have any comment until the elections are over.  Yes?

Question:  I have a question on Syria.  Yesterday, there was a panel discussion on the use of barrel bombs, and I was wondering:  has the UN officially confirmed the use of the barrel bomb by the regime and how has it been responding to this allegation?

Spokesman:  We have condemned the use of that sort of practice and we’ve also condemned the targeting, deliberate targeting of civilians by both parties.

Question:  But specifically on the use of barrel bomb?

Spokesman:  We’ve had statements on that issue.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you on Thailand:  it’s been now that the electoral commission there has said that elections won’t be able to be held by 20 July due to unrest.  And the military has said, has sort of made some comments about acting if there remains unrest, I’m wondering does the UN… I know that there have been some statements by the Secretary-General in the past, does the UN have any role, any comment on this? Is it offering to play some role in trying to get the country back on a democratic path?

Spokesman:  You know, as always and in general terms, the good offices are available should they be called upon by both sides in any issue; but obviously, we are watching the situation carefully with concern.  We’ve seen the violence over the last few days but we very much hope that both sides and all sides really will show restraint and show full respect for democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights.  Nizar?

Question:  Regarding condemnation of barrel bombing, is the barrel bomb more lethal than a Tomahawk, for example, or white phosphorus?

Spokesman:  You know, I’m not going to get into which is the worst way to die.  I think what we have been condemning and repeatedly condemning from this podium is the suffering of the civilians, the deaths of civilians and the deliberate targeting of civilians in this conflict.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record