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

14 July 2014

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

14 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Thank you, those who came.

**Statement on Syria

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Security Council resolution 2165 (2014), which was just adopted a few minutes ago.

The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption of resolution 2165 (2014), which will allow the delivery of aid to people in need in Syria by the most direct routes.  The United Nations will proceed immediately with putting in place the mechanism mandated in the resolution.

At least 10.8 million people inside Syria are in urgent need of assistance.  Nearly half these people are in communities that are difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach.  This resolution is aimed at getting aid through the four border crossings specified to nearly 3 million people who have not had secure food supplies or access to basic health care for many months.

The Secretary-General particularly welcomes the reference in the resolution to the delivery of medical and surgical supplies, as these items have frequently been removed from aid convoys, in violation of international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General pays tribute to the staff of UN agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who have delivered aid to millions of people over the past three years in dangerous and difficult circumstances, and have lost many colleagues in the process.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties to the conflict and those with influence over them to enable unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need without discrimination, using all available routes; to lift the sieges illegally imposed by all parties on civilians; to end violations of international humanitarian law by all parties; and to ensure the safety of humanitarian staff.

That statement is available in our office.

** Libya

I also have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation in Libya:  The Secretary-General is extremely concerned by the dramatic increase in violence in Tripoli and the toll that recent fighting is having on the civilian population.  He calls on all parties to refrain from violence to achieve political objectives.

The Secretary-General believes that such actions undermine the sacrifices that so many Libyans made during the revolution in order to create a state based on the rule of law.  The Secretary-General reiterates the urgent need for dialogue among all Libyan actors to agree on a peaceful way forward for the political transition process.

Also, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has been reducing its staff in Libya for the past week because of the prevailing security conditions in the country.  The Mission says the reasons behind this are purely due to concerns for the safety and security of the staff.  After the latest fighting on Sunday and because of the closure of Tripoli International Airport, the Mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work in delivering advice and technical support while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff as well as their freedom of movement.

The Mission has reiterated that this is a temporary measure.  Staff will return as soon as security conditions permit.  The UN, which stood by the Libyan people in their revolution in 2011, will not abandon them as they seek to build a democratic state.  The UN looks forward to continuing to work with its Libyan partners and hopes to return to Tripoli as soon as possible.  More information is available on the mission’s website.

** Middle East

A statement we issued yesterday afternoon expressed the Secretary-General’s alarm that, despite the Security Council’s clear demand for a ceasefire, the situation in and around the Gaza Strip appears to be worsening, with grave implications for the safety of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.  He strongly believes that it is in the interest of both sides that steps toward dangerous escalation be replaced with immediate measures to end the fighting, thus preventing further casualties and greater risks to regional peace and security.  He demands both sides move in this direction now.

The Secretary-General does not believe that what is inherently a longstanding, serious political dispute between Israelis and Palestinians can be resolved via military means by either side.  He remains engaged with both sides to urge de-escalation and an end to violence.  It is time for Israeli and Palestinian families alike to feel a sense of peace and security, with trust in the other side, rather than fear, despair and hatred that characterize too much of the relationship in the current environment.  The full statement is online.

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

Pierre Krahenbuhl, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, travelled to Gaza today, together with Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley, to directly observe the situation resulting from the widening military operations.

He told reporters that he was deeply alarmed and affected by the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the devastating human and physical toll it is taking on civilians, including Palestine refugees.  He noted that at least 174 people had been killed and more than 1,100 wounded in the attacks.

Mr. Krahenbuhl added that, as a direct result of military operations, approximately 17,000 refugees have sought refuge in the Relief and Works Agency’s 20 schools in Gaza, with some being displaced to the very same classrooms for the third time in five years.  He expressed worry that already 47 UNRWA premises have been damaged by air raids and other firing.  He said that the inviolability of UN installations and premises must be respected, in accordance with international law.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General left New York this morning to begin his travel to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  In Haiti, he will first go to a village in the Central Department to launch, with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, the country’s “Total Sanitation Campaign”, which aims to scale up sanitation and hygiene interventions in rural areas.  He will also meet with the local community and with families which were affected by cholera.

Back in the capital, Port-au-Prince, the Secretary-General will meet with the President, Michel Martelly, as well as with parliamentarians.  He will have interactions with the leadership of the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, be briefed on its activities, and see the Mission’s work in the area of the rule of law.  Also during his visit, the Secretary-General will inaugurate the “Sports for Hope” Centre with the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach.

In the Dominican Republic, the Secretary-General will meet with the President, Danilo Medina.  He will also meet with the Presidents of the Senate and of the Chamber of Deputies and address a joint session of Congress.  The Secretary-General will then visit the Government’s “Quisqueya sin Miseria” programme, an anti-poverty programme which focuses on the most vulnerable groups.

** Afghanistan

Over the weekend, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a statement welcoming the agreement reached by the two Presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, on breaking the electoral impasse.

The agreement, which was facilitated by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, involves a complete audit of the results of Afghanistan’s Presidential election run-off.  Both candidates have committed to participating and abiding by the result of this comprehensive audit.

At a press conference yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ján Kubiš, hailed efforts by one of the country’s electoral management bodies, the Independent Election Commission, to start the implementation of the audit plan.  Mr. Kubiš called the agreement on the audit by the two candidates a sign of statesmanship, wisdom and responsible understanding.  The Mission has forwarded the agreed audit framework and procedures, including an audit checklist, to the electoral bodies.

The agreement also includes the formation of a government of national unity upon the declaration of the final results of the Presidential election.  The mission added that this would augur well for the future stability, prosperity and unity of Afghanistan.  More details are available on the mission’s website.

**South Sudan

We have an update from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  The Mission reported mortar and artillery explosions as well as small-arms fire yesterday close to its base in Renk in Upper Nile State.  On Friday, in Unity State, the Mission reported clashes between Sudan People’s Liberation Army and opposition elements, including heavy gunfire, south-west of Bentiu.  At its protection of civilians site in the state capital, UNMISS is protecting more than 40,000 civilians.  That same day, UN peacekeepers also heard heavy machine gun fire coming from Sudan People’s Liberation Army positions in Nasir Town, in Upper Nile State.

Meanwhile, as part of its ongoing efforts to decongest its sites, the Mission, over the weekend, voluntarily moved another 330 internally displaced persons living in the Tomping compound in Juba to the new protection of civilians site adjacent to the UN House property, also in Juba.  An estimated 1,300 displaced people have now been relocated to the recently opened protection site and the number of IDPs still living at the Tomping site is now estimated at about 13,000.

Overall, the Mission is protecting upwards of 97,000 displaced civilians at its sites across the country.  UNMISS once again calls on the main parties to the crisis in South Sudan to sincerely abide by and implement the cessation of hostilities agreements they signed earlier this year and bring hostilities to an immediate and enduring end.

** Somalia

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $1.4 million for an emergency campaign to combat measles outbreak in Somalia, which has already left thousands of children at risk of disability and death.  The funding will help vaccinate an estimated half a million children under 5 years of age in the worst affected areas of Banadir, Lower Juba and Puntland.

Around 4,000 suspected cases of measles have been reported so far this year, more than double the suspected cases reported during the same period last year.  Three quarters of cases were reported in children under 5.  In Somalia, measles is one of the leading killers of young children, a situation made worse by the lack of health services.  More information is available online.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

And we have two appointments to announce today.

The Secretary-General has appointed Mary Robinson of Ireland as his Special Envoy on Climate Change.  Mrs. Robinson will succeed Jens Stoltenberg of Norway.  The Secretary-General expressed his gratitude for Mr. Stoltenberg’s commitment in engaging Heads of State and Governments to promote ambitious announcements and action on climate change in advance of the 2014 Climate Summit.

Mrs. Robinson will continue to serve as President of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.  Building on that work, she will emphasize the urgency from a people-centred perspective and work closely with Special Envoys John Kufuor and Michael Bloomberg in mobilizing political will and action before the 2014 Climate Summit in New York on 23 September 2014.

The Secretary-General has also appointed Agostinho Zacarias of Mozambique as his Deputy Special Representative ad interim for the United Nations Office in Burundi.  Mr. Zacarias will also serve as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme.  He will succeed Rosine Sori-Coulibaly of Burkina Faso, who completed her assignment in May this year.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Ms. Sori-Coulibaly for her dedicated service and contribution to peace consolidation efforts in Burundi.  Mr. Zacarias most recently served as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in South Africa.  We have more information on these two appointments in our office.

**Press Conference

And last, tomorrow at 12:45 p.m., there will be a press conference here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein on International Criminal Justice Day, which falls on 17 July.  The Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, William Pace, will talk about issues facing the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute system.

That’s it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank, Farhan.  I wanted to ask, there seems to… about the impact in Gaza on UN-system facilities.  UNRWA has mentioned a certain number of schools that were touched by the bombing and then newspaper accounts have other numbers.  Do you know, what’s the extent, and also is there any other impact?  What can you say about the impact on the UN’s aid provision and other operations in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly any amount of fighting, wherever it occurs, makes the delivery of humanitarian assistance more difficult and more dangerous.  And so we always weigh in against that and we have said in the past few days that we want all sides to this conflict to abide by international humanitarian law.  Beyond that, the numbers that we have from the UN Relief and Works Agency is that 47 of its premises, including schools and other facilities, have been damaged by air raids and other firing.  Is that it?

Question:  I have a couple of questions.  One is, it’s said that Michel Djotodia has been formally named the head of the Séléka or ex-Séléka.  And I wanted to know, what is… given things that have been said since he stepped down, what’s the UN system’s response to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don’t have any response to this at present.  If we have any comment down the line, certainly we can let you know.  But, of course, right now in the Central African Republic, our work is with the transitional Government there and with President Catherine Samba-Panza.  Yeah?

Question:  Has there been any progress made by the Secretary-General in speaking with different Heads of State on the ceasefire in Gaza and Israel?  And I did receive the information from you that the UNRWA school in Khan Younis was damaged.  Can you give any more details about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we need to get some further details from UNRWA on that.  There have been a number of schools that have been damaged one way or another.  Like I said, it’s more than 40 different facilities.

Question:  This was the little girl’s school…

Deputy Spokesman:  This is one that has also been the site, in previous times, of different difficulties, but we will need to get some details on that.  Regarding the Secretary-General’s calls, his contacts with different leaders continue.  He’s been calling people, basically every day, trying to foster some amount of unity on getting the fighting to be halted.  But you’ll have seen the statement he issued yesterday, and that is where our views on this matter stand.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can… I’m curious to know, for the Secretary-General, what are the conditions again for the responsibility to protect populations, people?  Like say, for example, in Libya, the intervention at that time was because the Security Council took the decision that the regime was not… it was not responsible towards its people, to protect its people.  Now, I go to my question.  In the situation in this moment in Gaza, who is responsible to protect the people, the Palestinians that are in Gaza?  Because whoever is in charge there, Hamas, is not protecting them in the sense, it’s putting these people, these civilians, in a situation where they are becoming targets, while the Israeli are able to protect their own people from the attacks of Hamas.  In fact, so far, I think as of today, we don’t have any casualty, luckily, because Israel has been able to protect its people.  In Gaza, no one, nobody, no authority is protecting these people.  So for the UN and for the Secretary-General, who is in charge to protect the Palestinians, in this moment, that are in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has been working with both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to make sure that civilians can be protected.  And indeed, he has repeatedly spoken with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Regarding the concept of responsibility to protect, as you’re well aware, if authorities on the ground do not take up the responsibilities or are otherwise unable to fulfil their responsibilities to protect their population, the idea is for the international community to make greater efforts to do that, to make sure that civilians are protected.  And this is part of what the Secretary-General is trying to do, by working with other leaders to see what can be done to bring about a halt to fighting.

Question:  Can I just, I had a point… to the point to intervene?  When no one is protecting a civil population, they’re becoming a target and there is no authority left that is protecting them, like we’re seeing today.  In Libya, the international community intervened.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you’re well aware, those are decisions taken by Member States and it’s Member States, bodies of Member States, such as the Security Council and the General Assembly, that have the authority to create mandates for that kind of international involvement.  So it would be up to them in this case.  Right now, we’re trying to do what we can on the diplomatic front.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you… the military Government of Thailand has announced that it’s going to repatriate to Myanmar up to 120,000 Rohingya Muslims.  And I wanted to know whether the UN system, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar or anyone else covering Myanmar or Thailand, has any comment on that?  And I also wanted to ask again about… in Myanmar, these 10-year jail sentences for five journalists who were reporting on an arms factory.  Has there been any response by the UN system to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  On the second question, no.  We did check up and there has been no response to that.  On your first question, we’ll have to check and see whether any of the UN bodies, such as the refugee agency, have any views on that.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Do we expect the Secretary-General to make any remarks following his trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, either here or in country?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do expect him to make remarks in country, and we’ll try to put out those remarks once he issues them.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, on the evacuations of UN staff in Libya, or movement of UN staff, could you more specific where they’ve been moved to?  How many have been moved?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it’s really at this stage the bulk of the staff.  We’re not going to be giving precise numbers, but we had already mentioned the relocation of some of the staff a week ago, and in fact, at this stage, most of the staff will be relocated elsewhere.  I’m not giving the precise locations.  I believe some of them, at least, will be relocated to Tunisia.

Question:  And some will stay in country?

Deputy Spokesman:  There will be a small number.  I’m not giving the numbers, but there will still be a small number in country, but I wouldn’t provide that.  One of the things I wanted to make clear, though, is that this is a temporary measure.  We’re continually assessing the situation on the ground and relocated staff will return as soon as security conditions permit.  We remain committed to assisting the Libyan people with the political transition process and supporting Libya in building a democratic State based on the rule of law.  Yes?

Question:  On this appointment of Mary Robinson, I’m reading the text.  Is she going to remain on this Great Lakes?  What’s the future of that mandate?  Is she going to be replaced?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, she will not.  If you look at the press release, it thanks her for her service, which indicates that she will be leaving that position.

Question:  Will she be replaced?  Is that an ongoing function of the UN to still be out there?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll have to see whether there’s anything further we have to say about that, whether there will be a replacement.  If we have an announcement, we’ll let you know at that point.  But we don’t have that announcement today.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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