|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.
**Statement on Colombia
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General on Colombia.
The Secretary-General commends the Colombian people on the holding of Sunday’s presidential elections and looks forward to continue working with the Government of President Juan Manuel Santos in ongoing efforts to promote peace, human rights and development for all Colombians.
Today, Colombia is closer than ever to ending the hemisphere’s longest armed conflict through negotiations. This is a historic opportunity that should not be missed. The Secretary-General encourages the parties to bring the peace talks to a successful conclusion as soon as possible, building on the important achievements to date. He encourages the parties to listen to the voices of civil society, whose input and support are key to a durable peace.
The United Nations remains committed to supporting — as requested by the parties — the conclusion of the negotiations and implementation of the agreements reached.
The Secretary-General will be arriving right now in Geneva, where he will attend a special session tomorrow to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD. He is also expected to speak to media in Geneva tomorrow.
He has been travelling to Geneva from Bolivia, where over the weekend he attended the Summit of the Group of 77 and China that took place in Santa Cruz. He told the gathered leaders that the next year and a half will be especially crucial for future development and global stability. He said that the three priorities for the United Nations until the end of 2015: first, to accelerate the Millennium Development Goals; second, to continue progress towards a meaningful global legal agreement on climate change; and third, to carry over any unfulfilled Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals after 2015. His remarks are available online.
**Statement on Iraq
We issued a statement over the weekend reiterating the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq. He called reports of mass summary executions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) deeply disturbing and underscored the urgent need to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Secretary-General once again urged the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts this serious security challenge. The statement is available online.
** Iraq — Humanitarian
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported that up to half a million people have been displaced by the fighting in Mosul, including 300,000 of whom have fled to Erbil and Dohuk in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. UN agencies and their partners are providing assistance, including food and water supplies, to displaced families in Erbil. More sites and tents are being set up in Dohuk to accommodate the increasing number of displaced people.
More displacements are being reported from other areas in the country. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that over the weekend, some 3,000 displaced families from Diyala reportedly arrived in Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah Governorate. Humanitarian organizations are conducting assessments and providing assistance in both governorates. Inside Mosul, an estimated 25,000 displaced people have sought refuge in schools and mosques. Many have no access to drinking water as the main water station has been destroyed by bombing.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of food scarcity in shops and markets in areas between Mosul and Kurdistan. WFP continues to scale up its emergency response to reach more vulnerable people displaced by the violence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about health risks, including the spread of measles and polio. Measles is endemic in Mosul, and there have been reports of new polio cases in Iraq this year as a result of the Syria crisis. The World Health Organization has strengthened its disease early warning alert and response system in Mosul and Kurdistan. It is also launching emergency polio and measles vaccination activities for displaced people in Erbil and Dohuk.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, Aichatou Mindaoudou, briefed the Security Council this morning, on the situation in the country. She said that Côte d’Ivoire was on the road to long-term stability and highlighted the ongoing efforts to strengthen reconciliation and national cohesion. Ms. Mindaoudou said that the progress achieved had allowed for the withdrawal of 1,700 troops, as requested by the Security Council. She added that the next reduction of troops should be done with caution, keeping in mind the forthcoming elections in 2015.
And the Security Council is now holding consultations on Côte d’Ivoire, as well as on Liberia sanctions.
Then this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Council will hold consultations in connection with the agenda item “Letter dated 13 April 2014 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council” (document S/2014/264).
Over the weekend, in a statement on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General congratulated the Afghan people for exercising their right to vote in the Presidential run-off. He said that their participation across the country demonstrates, once again, the commitment of the Afghan people to shape the future of their country, and to reject violence and intimidation.
The Secretary-General commended the work of the Afghan security forces and everyone involved in supporting the electoral process, including the Independent Electoral Commission. He added that, moving forward, it is critical that Afghanistan preserves the unity, optimism and spirit of inclusiveness reflected in Saturday’s vote.
Also on Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission there (UNAMA) strongly condemned the mutilation of civilians in Herat as a punishment for having voted. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubiš, called such abhorrent acts against civilians a manifestation of weakness and desperation. The Mission reiterated that attacks directed against civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law.
In Geneva today, the [Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs] and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, gave a press conference, highlighting the main current humanitarian challenges. She said there was no let-up in the number of crises or their severity, as shown by recent developments in Iraq and Ukraine.
Regarding Syria, she said 9.3 million people were still in need, and 2.8 million refugees in neighbouring countries, amid unabated violations of humanitarian and human rights law by all parties.
On the Central African Republic, Ms Amos stressed that violence and insecurity were cutting off entire communities, with over half the population — 2.5 million women, children and men — urgently needing protection and relief to meet their most basic needs.
On South Sudan, she stressed that the situation continued to deteriorate due to violence, cholera outbreaks and malaria. She said there was no time to waste if we are to avoid a famine later in the year. We have her full remarks in our office.
And also, just to flag that Valerie Amos will visit Côte d’Ivoire starting Wednesday. During her mission she is expected to visit Grabo in western Côte d’Ivoire to meet displaced people and the communities hosting them, as well as Government officials and humanitarian representatives.
Ms. Amos is also scheduled to participate in the first of the regional consultations in preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. In that Summit, community groups, Governments, regional organizations, humanitarian and development organizations, academics and businesses from the region will discuss the future of aid, focusing on humanitarian effectiveness; reducing vulnerability and managing risks; innovation; and serving the needs of people in conflict.
** Sri Lanka
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed her deep alarm today at intercommunal violence taking place in south-western Sri Lanka yesterday, in which at least two people have reportedly been killed and scores injured. The violence happened on Sunday in the town of Aluthgama following a large rally of the Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena to protest an alleged assault a few days earlier by a Muslim youth against the visiting monk at the local temple.
The High Commissioner said that the Government must urgently do everything it can to arrest this violence, curb the incitement and hate speech which is driving it, and protect all religious minorities. Ms. Pillay said that the authorities must immediately bring the perpetrators of such attacks to book and make it clear to the religious leadership on both sides, and to political parties and the general public, that there is no place for inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to violence. At the same time, the security forces must use appropriate measures to contain the situation and ensure this tragic situation is not compounded by any excessive use of force.
As for press conferences, today at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals on “Early Childhood Development: The Foundation for Sustainable Human Development for 2015 and Beyond”. That’s it for me. Yes, Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the United Nations still stand by its assessment that Baghdad is not in immediate threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly we have been revising our assessments over the past few days. I can say that over the coming days, UN staff in Baghdad are being relocated temporarily to other areas as a precautionary measure. Today, some 58 staff have been moved from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan. The intention is to relocate them in Erbil, in Iraq. Some other relocations may also take place in the next few days. Yes?
Question: Excuse me, but that didn’t answer my question, which you addressed on Friday. And you said on Friday, at that point, the United Nations did not believe that Iraq was threatened. I’m asking whether you still stand by that assessment?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the fact that we’re going to be relocating some staff speaks for itself. The situation has changed on the ground in the last few days, and we’re adjusting our posture accordingly. Yes?
Question: And Farhan, as a sort of follow-up, of course still on Iraq, with the situation going from bad to worse, what is the assessment of the United Nations and the Secretary-General… that matter, whether the peace process in Syria is now worse and to that level, that it reached that end, what else does the Secretary-General… will undertake beside deploring and expressing his distressful feelings on the situation?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he’s already been doing more than that, as has the UN Mission in Iraq. As you know, we have a full-scale mission in Iraq, and it is doing what it can…
Correspondent: I was asking about Syria.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, it’s both things…
Question: So you started from the last…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I’m starting from the last, and then I’ll back into the other one, since it’s related to two things. And you’re aware that in the statement that we put out, we talked about the impact of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which, as you know, is active in both Iraq and Syria. Beyond that, on the Iraqi side, the UN Assistance Mission is there on the ground. We just read out some of the things they’re doing, and they’re going to continue to assist the Government and people of Iraq as they confront the current crisis. And of course, the sort of threat that’s been posed by these groups as they spread across the border is further reason why the insecurity that’s been happening in Syria for the last several years needs to be stopped, and this should put pressure on all countries — all countries in the region, the countries of the Security Council and indeed all well-meaning nations — to try to solve the crisis in Syria before it threatens more and more countries all around it.
Question: Just a follow-up, nice words, appreciated — easier to be said than to be solved, but what does the Secretary-General intend to do with the Syrian process with this situation developing in Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: You’re well aware of the work that we had been doing, and you’re also well aware, of course, that the previous Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had stepped down from his post just a few weeks ago as a result of the problems that he has long described to all of you in dealing with the various parties. We are trying right now to see how best we can continue with the sort of efforts he had been putting forward and what steps are needed, internationally and at the UN, to actually move forward on the peace process, but the Secretary-General, of course, has not given up on the peace process. He has not given up on efforts to bring the parties to direct negotiation, and he won’t. And like I said, the sort of crisis we’re facing now in Iraq should give everyone around, whether in the region or outside, pause to consider what to do because this is a crisis that is actually growing, and it’s threatening many, many different countries, and it’s in everyone’s interest to bring it to a halt. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Given the threat that’s emanating from ISIS or ISIL, how do you view or the United Nations view the recent statements by Youssef al-Qaradawi, the chief cleric in Qatar? And also, the kind of accommodating statements coming from Saudi Arabia to this group — they were blessed for what they did, and today we learned that they have been torching churches in Mosul, raping women in Mosul all over the place.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I would just refer you back to language of the statement we put out last night. In particular, as we said at that point: The Secretary-General warns against sectarian rhetoric that could further exacerbate the conflict and carry grave implications for the entire region. And of course, we stand against all of the violations of human rights that have been taking place on the ground.
Question: Does he view that the incitement by Qaradawi, by supporting such a group, is a terrorist incitement?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn’t comment on specific comments that I haven’t frankly seen, but like I said, we are opposed to all sectarian rhetoric that could further exacerbate the conflict.
Question: Another thing just to follow up on that, how does the United Nations feel now that Saudi Arabia, the main exporter of terrorists to the region, specifically to Iraq, more than 50 per cent of suicide bombers come from Saudi Arabia, is the main sponsor of the counter-terrorism office here? Shouldn’t that be reviewed by this time?
Deputy Spokesman: I have no way of gauging the validity of the comments you just made. Yes?
Question: Farhan, I wanted to ask, I was kind of surprised not to see a statement by the Secretary-General on what was described as the attack on the Russian embassy in Kyiv over the weekend. Do you have any response to whether the Ukrainian authorities upheld the responsibility of the Geneva Convention?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly we are concerned about the efforts on the ground that have led to greater violence, and you have seen the statement dealt with the violence on the ground. Beyond that, of course, we want all people of the various sides to refrain from any rhetoric that could further escalate the situation. We have been calling over and over again for de-escalation of the situation on ground and avoidance of any rhetoric that could further inflame tensions, so we continue to do that.
Question: Doesn’t the UN… I mean, I’ve seen pretty routinely condemn either attacks on embassies or diplomats, so it’s just surprising that in this instance you don’t… was there consideration of issuing such a statement? Or some nations have put it out, just the Security Council hasn’t. What led to the Secretary-General not issuing what’s basically a reflexive statement to date by the Secretariat on these…
Deputy Spokesman: It is not a reflexive statement. It’s very much an extensive statement that touches on a number of issues. We don’t go into the whys and hows of the construction of the statements.
Question: What about the attack on, on, on the embassy?
Deputy Spokesman: The basic point is that, as the statement itself says, is that we believe — the Secretary-General believes that the continuing violence in eastern Ukraine highlights the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a resolution of the crisis through negotiation and dialogue. That’s what our focus is, and it’s a focus on the implementation of the 17 April Geneva agreement, so that was the core of the statement.
Question: Sure, but I’m talking about something that happened in the capital, not in eastern Ukraine… the capital, an embassy being attacked in a way.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, but the statement was designed to stress the main root of the problem; but yes, beyond that, you are absolutely right that we are against any escalation of the rhetoric. We want all sides to work to de-escalate tensions.
Question: Let me ask this question about Iraq in another way. Does the Secretary-General’s representative in Iraq, does he think or he believe that the Iraqi army is now capable of repelling this so-called, at this point, attack of the rebels, which is coming through? And does he believe that the Iraqi army will be able to do it or people, at least it’s been reported the people in Iraq are scared and that they are wanting to leave the country, so it’s going to be mass exodus from there into other countries?
Deputy Spokesman: Again, I would refer you back to the statement. The idea is that there is a call, and the Secretary-General called on all Iraqi leaders, whether political, military, religious or community, to ensure that their followers avoid acts of reprisal. He is urging the country to band together to deal with this particular threat, which is to say the threat that has been posed by sectarian groups. And so that is what we’re hoping that all institutions, including the army, will handle. Yes?
Question: Farhan, he has not been able to at least ascribe as to which country is supporting what groups in this conflict?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly we would call on all groups to avoid support for extremist sectarian entities such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On Iraq, what is the UN position to the possible US military intervention?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn’t want to speculate on something beforehand. I would like to point out that the Secretary-General, in the statement over the weekend, did urge the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts this serious security challenge, and he called for full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in efforts to counter terrorism and violence in Iraq. Yes?
Question: Farhan, you said that 58 members of the UN staff in Baghdad were being relocated…
Deputy Spokesman: Have been already.
Question: Have been relocated. How big is the UN staff in Baghdad and is Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov staying in Baghdad?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have anything to say for today about Mr. Mladenov’s status. I do think that there will be further moves in the coming days. I believe that right now, in terms of international staff, we have probably a little bit less than 200 international non-essential and essential staff in Baghdad and the environments around it.
Question: And just to make clear, those 200 are still in Baghdad and the Baghdad area?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, 58 of those have already moved. Yes?
Question: Something else, but on… I mean I understand that you’re saying it’s speculative to talk about the US response in Iraq, but Secretary of State [John] Kerry, this morning, said, you know, specifically mentioned drones as a possible thing to use. So given statements made by the Secretary himself on the use of armed drones, is there any kind of guidance on how these should be used as an earlier response to the statement today that drones may be used in Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: As we have said repeatedly, any use of unmanned aerial vehicles needs to be in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law. Yes?
Question: Farhan, what is the Secretary-General and United Nations doing to rescue Turkish diplomatic staff and truck drivers?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you’ve seen the statement that we issued on the question of the Turkish staff a few days ago, and we stand by that. Beyond that, our Mission, Mr. Mladenov and the people in the Mission are on hand to follow up as needed. There’s nothing to say in public about any efforts at this stage, but the statement that we put out last Friday still applies. Nabil?
Question: Thank you. So how do you see the American-Iranian announcement about their cooperation in Iraq? Do you see it as a response to Ban Ki-moon’s statement?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, beyond that, as you know, the Secretary-General did meet with Mr. Eshaq Jahangiri, the First Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Bolivia over the weekend. We put out a readout of that, and I would just refer you to the readout, which mentions that the Secretary-General and the First Vice-President exchanged views on the current situation in Iraq and Syria — in particular, the role that Iran could play in helping to restore stability in Iraq and supporting international efforts on Syria. Yes?
Question: You said that 58 of your personnel in Baghdad were moved to Jordan, right? So are they going to stay there or are you going to move that back to Erbil?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the intention, once possible, is to move them to Erbil. Yes, Carla?
Question: I believe it was yesterday’s New York Times, questions were raised about why the army fled Mosul and made it so easy for it to be taken over by the ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Some people said that the army was given an order to stand down. Do you have any information about that?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I think that you need to ask the Government of Iraq about the behaviour of their army. Yes?
Question: It’s something on a completely different topic. What does the Secretary-General or United Nations… what would be the role in participation, in preparation of the big donors’ conference that is preparing sometime in July on the floods in Balkans?
Deputy Spokesman: Well there’s nothing I have to say on that right now. As we get closer to that donors’ conference, we’ll try to provide some more details.
Question: Do you operate with any dates or flexible dates, target dates that the conference is going to occur or not?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any information on that right now. I believe the planning for that is still proceeding. Once we have something firm to say, we’ll let you know. Yes?
Question: I wonder if you have issued anything regarding the arrest by Israelis in the West Bank, widespread arrests and attacks? I mean they arrested more than 150 Palestinians so far.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I would just refer you to the statement we issued Saturday night on this particular topic, about the abduction of three Israeli students. And in it, as you know, the Secretary-General urged all to exercise restraint and lend their urgent support for the release and safe return of the three youths.
Question: But since then, a lot of people have been arrested. I mean since Saturday up to today, most of these people have been arrested after that statement was issued.
Deputy Spokesman: Well you saw what the Secretary-General’s concerns about actions on all side were in that statement, so I would refer you back to that. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to… last week, for at least four of the days of the week, there was that Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence and Conflict in London. There, Ms. [Zainab] Bangura said that she committed that everyone in the UN system is fully committed to these principles, so I wanted to just ask you again, it seems like it’s a pretty straightforward question — what steps have been taken by the UN, since only two soldiers were convicted for the rape of 130 women in Minova? Is there some review being undertaken, with either in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] in New York or by MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] in the Congo, to reconsider continued support to the two units implicated in the rape, for which only two people have been convicted?
Deputy Spokesman: The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the UN Mission, MONUSCO, are reviewing the actions taken. But one point I would like to make clear is that it was the efforts of the United Nations and of its Mission, of the MONUSCO Mission on the ground, that helped push the commanders on the ground to actually follow through and have an investigation into what happened in Minova and that led to the trial process. We’ve made clear, and repeatedly made clear, our disappointment in the verdicts that were issued as a result of that, but we did push throughout the process for that sort of accountability to take place.
Question: Is two convictions for 130 rapes accountability? And if it’s not, how… I guess what I’m saying is like I heard Mr. [Martin] Kobler say the policy is clear. What is the policy when… with a conviction rate that low, is… does that satisfy the UN’s human rights due diligence review or not? And if so, why?
Deputy Spokesman: The human rights due diligence policy is a printed document. We can show you what the document says, and you can see that for yourself. But beyond that, what they were doing in order to have due diligence is to make sure that there was follow-up and accountability. We have made clear our own disappointment at the verdict, but ultimately the verdict is outside our hands — that’s something that happens under the authorities, under the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a sovereign State. At the same time, we pushed to make sure that there would be a trial process, and that’s something that was a result of our efforts to have due diligence on human rights. How the authorities on the ground follow through is one that we’re clearly unhappy with. It’s not something that we’re satisfied with. And, you know, you can give the number as many times as you want, but we’re as dissatisfied with the number as you are.
Question: Right, but is having a trial… does that satisfy the policy? That’s basically what I’m asking. Is that… is there, you’re basically saying it’s up to them to convict them, and I agree MONUSCO can’t convict anyone else, but they can suspend aid, and if they don’t suspend aid in this case, when would they ever suspend aid?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is reviewing what’s happened and seeing what kind of involvement, how it affects the sort of involvement we have. But at this stage, there’s no chance, as we understand it from the judicial processes, for a retrial or reconviction of those who have not been convicted. And that is one of the reasons why we made clear our disappointment at the time that these verdicts were announced.
Question: Regarding the arrests of the three Israelis… three teenagers, have you identified or exactly looked at… do you know where they were kidnapped, if they were kidnapped?
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t have any information about that. Like I said, the information we have is what we put out in the statement on Saturday night.
Question: But it was in the West Bank, right?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe so, wait a second… it was…
Question: So in Occupied Territories?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, it was in the West Bank.
Question: And they were there illegally, according to international law, and according to the United Nations in that part because this is an occupied territory?
Deputy Spokesman: We are concentrating on the abduction of innocent people, including youth. We are not trying to suggest that there is any justification for kidnapping youth.
Question: But they are occupiers.
Deputy Spokesman: You may have whatever your feelings are on this issue, but I’m sure you yourself would not believe that that justifies kidnapping someone who is a youth.
Question: Do you know if they were armed?
Deputy Spokesman: I am not aware. You would have to ask the Israeli authorities about information on this case. Yes?
Question: Can you, Farhan, on Iraq, specify that the activities that the UN Mission there cannot maintain due to the lack of the staff members?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, no, that is not the case. We will continue with the activities of the Mission. Some of the people will be relocated, but as I’ve indicated just a few minutes ago, some of that relocation is to other parts of Iraq. We are going to continue with our activities, whether political or humanitarian or otherwise. Yes?
Question: Farhan, the situation in Iraq, as it seems, it is very fluid, and it seems that it is being re-assessed. Can you please ask the representative in Iraq to give us a real update in real time now, because the situation over there is bad? And it is being reported by other news agencies that these… that it can fall anytime, Baghdad can fall anytime.
Deputy Spokesman: If it is possible for Mr. Mladenov to give a briefing by videoconference or something like that, we will see whether we can arrange that.
Question: The UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] letter, can I just ask one more time, have you… has the Secretary-General received the letter from three system-wide staff members, now more widely published?
Deputy Spokesman: I can’t confirm that he has received it. Like I’ve said, I’ve been asking. If I get something further on that, I’ll get back to you. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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