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

8 July 2014

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

8 July 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 afternoon.

** Gaza

I will start off with a statement from Gaza.

The Secretary-General condemns the recent multiple rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza.  These indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas must stop.

The Secretary-General is extremely concerned at the dangerous escalation of violence, which has already resulted in multiple Palestinian deaths and injuries as a result of Israeli operations against Gaza.  He reiterates his call on all actors to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further civilian casualties and overall destabilization.  It is imperative now to restore calm.  The unsustainable situation in Gaza will also need to be addressed in its political, security, humanitarian and development dimensions as part of a comprehensive solution.

And that statement is available in my office and online.

**South Sudan

On the third anniversary of the independence of the Republic of South Sudan, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the South Sudan’s independence, the Secretary-General recalls the hopes and expectations of the people of South Sudan when their country was established on 9 July 2011.  Those hopes were dashed by the conflict that broke out in December of last year.  Thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, and atrocities have been committed against civilians.

The South Sudanese people are bearing the brunt of the failure to stop the fighting.  They are living in squalor, their livelihoods have been lost and they are plagued by hunger, disease and insecurity.  Over 1.3 million people have been driven from their homes and, unless the resources are forthcoming and the parties cooperate, hundreds of thousands face the possibility of famine in the coming months.

The Secretary-General reminds the leaders of South Sudan that this is a man-made crisis.  It is their responsibility and within their power to stop it.  He calls on them to live up to the expectations of their people, lay down their arms and return immediately to the negotiations table.

The Secretary-General reassures the people of South Sudan that the United Nations stands with them and will continue to make every effort to provide them the protection and humanitarian assistance that is their basic right.

And also from South Sudan, Hilde Johnson on her last day as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, spoke to the press in Juba.  She said that South Sudan had been saved from fighting… excuse me… she said that South Sudan had to be saved from fighting and from failing.  She said the leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), whichever faction they belong to, were all responsible for this crisis collectively.  She added that after decades of sacrifice and suffering to get their freedom and independence, these leaders turned on each other.

Finally, she said that the United Nations and UN Mission in the country were here to stay and would continue to support the people of South Sudan.  And the full text of her statement is also available in my office and online.

Also from South Sudan, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the World Food Programme (WFP) are stepping up their joint mission to reach desperate people in remote areas of the country.  In these areas, the number of children at risks of death from malnutrition-related causes has increased dramatically and a hunger catastrophe is looming.  An estimated 235,000 children under the age of 5 will require treatment for acute malnutrition this year — that’s twice as many as last year.  The situation is most dire in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states where data indicates that as much as 60 to 75 per cent of the population is severely food-insecure.

** Afghanistan

And from Afghanistan, the UN Mission in that country (UNAMI) says it has taken note of yesterday’s announcement of the preliminary presidential run-off results.  It is aware that the results are not final and are subject to change, and that it would be premature for either of the candidates to claim victory.

The Mission continues to encourage the electoral institutions to fully carry out their mandates while demonstrating utmost impartiality, transparency and responsibility.  The Mission also urges the institutions to cooperate with the framework of their mandate to conduct additional audits in a rigorous and timely manner.

The UN Mission reiterates its call for the candidates to exercise restraint and take all necessary steps to control their supporters to prevent them from making any irresponsible statements and from taking steps that could lead to civil disorder and instability.  We have more information in my office.

** Iraq

From Iraq, the UN Children’s Fund led a second humanitarian mission to Sinjar in Iraq’s Ninewa province yesterday.  An estimated 8,000 families have fled to Sinjar from neighbouring Tal Afar, and are in need of assistance.

The humanitarian team reported that access to clean water and sanitation remains critical.  Some 35,000 children are displaced in Sinjar and remain the most vulnerable to diseases.  UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to supply emergency medical kits but have warned that the area suffers from severe shortage of medical capacity.

As a result, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, has announced that the UN is preparing an extensive emergency response in Sinjar.  And more information on the humanitarian situation in Iraq is available online.

**Security Council

You know what, back here in the Security Council, the Secretary-General’s Special representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that despite the efforts to promote development and consolidate democracy, the region continues to be confronted with the daunting scourge of transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, piracy and growing terrorist activities.  He called for decisive collective, decisive concerted efforts to fight these threats to regional security and stability.

And on Nigeria, he added that the country was at the crossroads with growing insecurity in the north-east and increasing political tensions in the lead up to the 2015 general elections.  He added that the Boko Haram crisis was now affecting the subregion and asked Council Members to continue to support efforts aimed at preserving stability in the country.  And his remarks are available in my office and we do expect him to come to the stakeout a little bit later today.

** Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, the UN Senior Humanitarian Officer on the scene, Claire Bourgeois, has strongly condemned the recent attacks against civilians in Bambari and Paoua.  On 7 July, people who had sought refuge at the St. Joseph Cathedral in Bambari were attacked.  This followed an incident on 4 July where gunmen threw a grenade into a mosque in Paoua, injuring 34 including four seriously.  And we have a press release available in my office on that.

** Somalia

And from Somalia, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that the food insecurity in Somalia will deteriorate in the coming months due to poor rains and drought conditions in parts of Somalia.  According to FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia, some of the areas where food crisis is expected include the agro-pastoral regions of Bakool, Gedo, Middle Juba, Hiran and Lower Shabelle.  In parts of Mogadishu, where rates of malnutrition have surpassed emergency levels among displaced communities, conditions are expected to deteriorate even further.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, has called on the donor community to make resources available immediately so that aid organizations can carry out emergency assistance.  The humanitarian appeal for Somalia is only funded at 25 per cent.  An estimated $700 million is still needed to reach almost 3 million people with assistance until the end of the year.  And we have more information available in my office.

**Sri Lanka-Australia

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is deeply troubled, deeply disturbed that Australia has returned 41 asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka, apparently without adequate screening of their protection claims and needs.  It says that the international law requires that each case be properly and individually examined on its own merit, and is not something that can or should be done hurriedly.

The Office welcomes the High Courts of Australia’s issuance of an interim injunction against the return of 153 other Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, reportedly including 40 children.  It hopes the matter will be subject to a full judicial review in light of Australia’s obligations under international law.  And more information is available on the website.

** Japan

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that Typhoon Neoguri is located in the north of Japan’s Okinawa, where 540,000 people have been advised to evacuate.  The typhoon is expected to turn eastward and make landfall in Kyushu on 10 July, continuing to move slowly across Japan.  OCHA stands ready to support its regional office, and its regional office is in close contact with the Japanese authorities.


UN-Women today has appointed British Actress Emma Watson as its new Goodwill Ambassador.  The Executive Director of UN-Women says that the engagement of young people is critical for the advancement of gender equality in the twenty-first century.  She added that Ms. Watson’s intellect and passion will enable UN-Women’s messages to reach the hearts and minds of young people globally.  And more information is available on the UN-Women’s website.

**First World War Anniversary

Finally, the Department of Public Information would like to invite you, the journalists, to a special event this evening at 6:30 p.m. in ECOSOC to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War (WWI), the Permanent Missions of France and Germany, in cooperation with DPI are organizing a commemorative event to promote the principles of peace and reconciliation.

The event will feature remarks by the Secretary-General, readings from letters and diaries of participants of WWI and musical performances by the Grammy-award winning ORPHEUS Chamber Orchestra, featuring compositions by Samuel Barber, Ludwig van Beethoven and Maurice Ravel.  I never thought I’d be able to talk about Beethoven and Ravel at a noon briefing.  There you go, first time for everything.  Yes sir, Karahman?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Stéphane, quickly on Gaza, has the Secretary-General talked to the Quartet members?  What is he doing to kind of de-escalate the situation in his capacity?  And also in Iraq, is the UN talking to ISIS about how to deliver some of the humanitarian situation and how is it going to be coordinated there?  Thank you.

Spokesman: On Gaza, the Secretary-General is obviously following the situation very closely, [Carla, I would really ask you to put down the newspaper, thank you] Quartet envoys were in touch a few days ago.  The Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator, Robert Serry, is obviously in touch with various, with both people on the Israeli and Palestinian side.  And as more becomes available I will share that with you.  On Iraq I’m not aware of any direct contact between the United Nations and ISIS.  Obviously I think as we’ve all been saying, from this podium and I know John Ging talked about it a few weeks ago, when it comes to the actual access, UN and international NGOs talk to whomever they have to talk to, to try and get aid through.  Matthew?

Question:  Some other stuff but to just to follow up on that, yesterday Farhan had said that this letter from Mahmoud Abbas was seen by Serry and that the Secretary-General had yet to see it.  I’m assuming he has now seen it and I’m wondering what’s his response to the various requests made by Mahmoud Abbas.

Spokesman:  Great, I mean I think you know we’ve received the letter, we’re taking a look at it but I think one would also have to say there is an investigation going on by Israeli authorities on the horrendous killing of the young Palestinian teenager.  We’ve seen a number of arrests in this case.  We hope that the investigation will continue and will be thorough and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Question:  What about the film beating of the Palestinian-American teenager where it seems pretty clear that the authorities did it and… it’s open and shut…

Spokesman:  We’d like to see, I think, in all these cases, we’d like to see a thorough investigation done by the Israeli authorities.

Question:  Follow-up on that, a thorough but not independent as you, because the Israelis are a party and they are at war with the Palestinians and they’re occupation forces so they can’t be impartial in this case.

Spokesman: I think we’ve, as I said, we’ve already seen the results of the investigation, the partial results of the investigation of the killing of the young Palestinian teenager and we would look to the national authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and I’m told for those of you who are interested that Mr. Djinnit will be at the stakeout shortly.

Question: [inaudible]  This is something that recurs all the time.

Spokesman:  Well I think, well, I would refer you back to the statement that I just said.  And the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for a de-escalation of the situation.  Yes? Iftikhar and then Joe.

Question:  Thank you, Steph, does the Secretary-General have any comments on the Indian Government’s decision to close down the UNMOGIP office [UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] in New Delhi?  Now this, this decision, as you know, has implications on Kashmir dispute which is on the agenda of the Security Council and also that this Mission operates under the authority of the Security Council.

Spokesman:  No definitely, I agree with what you just said … we have received, the Mission has received the Indian Government’s request to vacate those premises which it is currently using in New Delhi.  The UN Mission is currently conducting a market survey to assess the costs and identify the costs of alternative locations and UNMOGIP is in contact with the Indian authorities and will continue its cooperation on this matter.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No I said we’re looking for…

Question:  They really want these premises?

Spokesman:  We’ve been asked to vacate the premises.  We’re now looking, as I said, we’re conducting a market survey.  I’m not familiar with the real estate market in New Delhi but we’re looking at it and trying to find some, seeing what the costs would be.  Joe and then Edie.  Sorry, go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, in response to the crisis at the US-Mexican border of the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America, a UN refugee agency official reportedly called upon the US to broaden the definition of refugee beyond a seeking of political asylum to also allow the entry of children in this case affected by high crime and economic conditions.  I’d like to know whether the Secretary-General has any comment on broadening the definition of refugees or eligibility for asylum.

Spokesman: I haven’t, I haven’t seen those comments.  What I would just say is that obviously every country, every nation has a responsibility to uphold international conventions on migrants and on refugees and they need to be treated with respect and with care.  Edie?  And then Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Two questions:  first as a follow up on MOGIP, from what you said, can we assume that the United Nations does want to keep some kind of an office in New Delhi?  That’s what it appears from what you said…

Spokesman:  I’m assuming it so I think it’s safe for you to assume it.

Question:  Okay, secondly on Afghanistan.  Does the Secretary-General accept the preliminary results of the election or does he believe that both candidates should wait until this investigation is over and an official result is declared?

Question: May I add…

Spokesman:  Let’s go, let’s do a smorgasbord.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yes, the situation has now worsened in Afghanistan with calls for establishment of a parallel government by influential warlords and also there are threats by Mr. Abdullah Abdullah to carry out massive demonstrations in Afghanistan.

Spokesman:  So I think, you know it’s, this is an Afghan-led electoral process.  The UN’s message from the beginning has, the UN has called on all the candidates, and now the last two candidates, to accept and to work with the independent electoral commission and the complaints commission.  These are preliminary results and it’s a step in the electoral process but it’s not the final step.  I think it’s important that the electoral commission implement further audits and other measures that could enhance the credibility and the transparency of the electoral process.  I think as in any election, it’s important that not only the candidates, but the people that are participating in the election, have faith in the credibility of the results.  So if audits need to be done, they should be done.  And the UN Mission and the Secretary-General’s message is to, for all the candidates, is to avoid any inflammatory language and to work and participate in the Afghan electoral process, which includes cooperation with the electoral commission and the complaints commission.  Mr. Abbadi and then Carla and then we will go to the back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Back to Gaza, the Secretary-General has called on the parties not to escalate tension there and he has pointed to the need for comprehensive solution, which has taken 65 years and has not come yet.  Shouldn’t the Secretary-General under article 99 go to the Security Council and draw their attention to possible widening of the conflict into a war in Gaza?

Spokesman:  I think the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine as it’s officially known, is very much on the Security Council’s agenda and I think the one thing the Secretary-General cannot be accused of is not bringing to the attention of the Security Council the situation currently between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the wider Middle East.  I think there is a monthly briefing to that effect and the messages from the Secretariat have been very clear.  Carla?  Let me just take Carla and I’ll come back.

Question:  There was an article on the possibility of separating Iraq into three separate ethnic enclaves and we have seen recently the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, now South Sudan, and now there is a lot of talk of the separation of Iraq into three parts.  What is the UN position on this?  Assuming they all want to join the UN.  I mean the number of States in the UN would…

Spokesman:  The focus currently on Iraq in the UN is to encourage the formation of a government in which all Iraqis feel they are fairly represented.

Question:  Since this comprehensive solution to the situation in the Palestinian territories is far-fetched at this time and the Secretary-General knows it is an ambitious goal he is setting.  What are the interim solutions you think should be taken?  Ceasefire under what conditions?  How should the issue of killing the two young Palestinians near [inaudible] prison which started before the abduction, or the alleged abduction because up to now we don’t know whether these Israelis were abducted by Palestinians or not.  Nobody claimed responsibility for it.  So how, what are the interim solutions for this?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-general is clear in his call for halting of the violence and de-escalation and for direct political contacts between the two.  Erol?

Question: Thank you, Steph.  On a more broad issue I would say or returning back to the sustainable development or so.  There are reports recently that are saying that UN is overstating, even using the word trumpeting, on their success of eradication of poverty by 2015, which is coming soon.  In the meantime, what do you say on that?  What the Secretary-General really means on that?  Whether it’s going to be successful, possible mission to reach that goal and did, in the meantime, the definition of the eradication of poverty change and we are not aware of it?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of a change in the definition.  I think yesterday you had quite an extensive briefing on the MDGs which gave you a fairly sober look at what still needs to be done and what has already been achieved.  The message is clear that from now until September 2015, we need to accelerate our efforts to try to meet the goals that we can and it’s clear from the report yesterday and other reports that we’re not going to be able to meet all those goals.  So I think the UN’s assessment has been very sober.

Question: Stéphane, Australia’s coming in for frequent criticism from the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] for its treatment of asylum-seekers, and in particular, boat people.  And Australia regards itself as a good global citizen.  I wonder what the view is within the UN about how its harsh treatment towards boat people is undermining its reputation?

Spokesman:  Well, far be it from me to assess the reputation of the 193 Member States in this Organization.  What I can say on the facts, I think you’ve just heard me amplify the message from the High Commissioner for Human Rights the need for asylum claims to be treated individually, for asylum-seekers to be treated along the lines of international law, to be treated humanely.  I think that is the Secretary-General’s message, whether it be in Australia, in the US on the US southern border, or anywhere else where people are forced to flee conflict, poverty or other situations, and are seeking refuge and shelter.  Karahman, Matthew and then Joe and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  On Gaza again, Stéphane, to be more specific, has the Secretary-General spoken to President Abbas or Prime Minister Netanyahu or even President Obama over the phone about the crisis?  And also, I mean, with all due respect, whenever Israel feels bored, or, you know, they just go and have an operation on Gaza, it’s like a punishment, it seems like.  Has the Secretary-General tried to tell this to Israeli leadership over, you know, before the crisis took place because this was coming?  Everybody…

Spokesman:  I’m not sure, not that you’ve asked me if I agree, but I’m not sure that I agree with the premise of your question.  The Secretary-General’s call for the end of violence, for a show of restraint, by the Israelis has been repeated, it has been clear, understanding, also, the legitimate security concerns of the Israelis.  As for contacts between either the Israelis and the Palestinians, when I have something to share with you, I will.  Joe, and then Matthew, and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  First, Israel has shown a considerable amount of restraint, getting 50, 60, 70 rockets…

Spokesman:  Gentlemen, let me just stop you right there.  You are all welcome to have a dialogue and a debate and I’m not the moderator.  I’m just here to answer questions.

Question:  I have to correct the record.  There have been too many irresponsible statements being made.  The country’s under assault, 80 rockets a day.  But secondly, my question is considering Palestine’s claim of statehood, its status as an Observer State in Israel, as an Observer State in the United Nations, excuse me, has the Secretary-General specifically called upon the Palestinian Authority to do everything it can within the territory in which it is currently administering to search for and arrest those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers and also to prevail upon its partner, Hamas, in the Unity Government to cease the rocket attacks?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General’s message on ceasing the rocket attacks have been often stated.  On the investigations, we’ve seen that the Government led by President Abbas has made efforts and has made statements in order to try and find the perpetrators of the three Israelis who were found dead and we’ve taken note of that.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about Ukraine.  The Government has been quoted as saying that, promising the separatists a “nasty” surprise in Lugansk and Donetsk, and it doesn’t seem that there is any ceasefire in place.  And there seems to be, there is now some dispute, about what, should a ceasefire have preconditions?  What would the Secretary-General say to this upcoming “nasty” surprise?  And does he have any or the Secretariat have any view of the newspaper called Vesti in Kyiv that was attacked with Molotov cocktails and tear gas?

Spokesman:  No, I haven’t seen that report.  As for a surprise, nasty or any sort of military operation, I think what Farhan told you yesterday about the Secretary-General’s message that military means alone cannot provide a solution, and he’s renewed his call for a ceasefire that would be upheld by all parties, and that there needs to be a political and a diplomatic dialogue.

Question:  I mean, is the UN playing any role?  And there seems to be various people talking to President Poroshenko, including, you know, France, Germany…  Is the UN, is there any UN kind of role in trying to…?

Spokesman:  The UN’s role is focused on the human rights observers, obviously the Secretary-General’s good offices are always available, and we’re also in contact with our colleagues at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe].

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is there any announcement from the UN Mission in Libya?  There have been reports that some of its personnel have been evacuated to Italy?  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  Yes, there is, we have…  The Mission is temporarily reducing its number of staff in Libya owing obviously to the prevailing security conditions, as you can imagine.  That decision to bring down the number of staff was taken solely on the assessment of security and the need to protect our staff, and it’s a temporary move that will be re-assessed on a regular basis and we’ll continue to provide the critical work.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  How big is the reduction?

Spokesman:  How big is the reduction?  I’m not going to go into numbers.

Question:  Just as a follow-up, is it both from Benghazi and Tripoli, is it from other places?

Spokesman:  It is, you know what, I’m not going to assume anything.  If I can get you more information after the briefing, we will.  Evelyn?

Question:  I may have missed it but have all the OSCE monitors been released or some of them still in captivity by, in the east?

Spokesman:  To my knowledge, and you should check with the OSCE, they have not all been released.  Linda, and then Mr. Abbadi, sorry.

[The Spokesman later clarified that the two groups of OSCE monitors abducted have since been released.]

Question: Going back to South Sudan, we know it’s the third anniversary.  Anniversaries are often a time to evaluate and assess conditions.  Since it seems as if things are worsening and we know the UN SRSG is leaving today, are there any new approaches being thought about perhaps to deal with the crisis, you know sort of breaking away from the status quo?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think as you know the mandate of the Mission has changed.  We’ve been given a slightly different mandate from the Security Council, so that is obviously a different approach, and, you know, as soon as we have the name of the new SRSG we will announce it.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, back to Gaza, I am aware that the Secretary-General periodically informs the Security Council on developments in the area.  This is not regular development.  This is a crisis, and besides it’s an urgent crisis.  Shouldn’t the Secretary-General draw the attention of the Security Council on to this urgent crisis so as to prevent development, its developing into a major war which might threaten international peace and security in the region?

Spokesman:  I think you and I will have to agree to differ.  I think the Secretary-General has brought to the attention of the Security Council on a regular basis the situation in the Middle East.  Thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.