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

13 August 2014

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

13 August 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.

Apologies for the delay.  Good afternoon.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, expressed their grave concern today at the continuing reports of acts of violence, including sexual violence against women and teenage girls and boys belonging to Iraqi minorities.  They say that they have received atrocious accounts on the abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes.  Some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery.  Ms. Bangura condemned, in the strongest terms, the explicit targeting of women and children and the barbaric acts the “Islamic State” has perpetrated on minorities in areas under its control.  And Mr. Mladenov called on regional Governments and the wider international community to help the immediate release of the women and girls held in captivity, and to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to protect its citizens.

Also on Iraq, the World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting the delivery of urgently needed health services to people affected by insecurity in northern Iraq, including tens of thousands of children, women and men trapped on Sinjar Mountain and many more who have escaped to safer areas.  The humanitarian situation of the civilian population on Sinjar Mountain is alarming, due to the narrow corridors for transporting essentials such as medicines, food and water.  The people stranded on Sinjar Mountain also have to face soaring temperatures, which are reaching up to 111˚F.  The WHO-supported health services include the deployment of two mobile medical teams to Sinjar Mountain to provide essential health services and the distribution of high-protein biscuits to civilians still stranded there.  The two teams will stay there until the evacuation of all the displaced people from the mountain.  Supplies used by the teams are being replenished by helicopters.


This morning, the Secretary-General chaired a UN system-wide coordination on Ebola.  He stressed the need for the entire UN system to support the World Health Organization's efforts in combatting the outbreak.  And yesterday, as you recall, the Secretary-General announced the designation of Dr. David Nabarro as Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Ebola, in support of the work done by Dr. Margaret Chan and her team.  He will be responsible for ensuring that the United Nations system makes an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the outbreak of Ebola.

** Somalia

Members of the United Nations Security Council arrived in Mogadishu this morning on a landmark visit to Somalia to review progress made by the federal Government with assistance from the international community. Council members demonstrated their continued support for the country’s efforts to ensure a sustainable peace.  The visit is led by the [ United Kingdom] Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, and Ambassador Usman Sarki of Nigeria.  During the visit the Council members met with Somalia’s President and Prime Minister, and with senior members of the Government and the federal Parliament, among others.  They also held discussions with the senior leadership of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and members of Somalia’s civil society.  And we have more in a press release from our colleagues in Somalia.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan — in Nassir, Upper Nile State, the UN Mission [in South Sudan], UNMISS, reported small arms fire and mortar fire from the direction of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) military camp towards the Sobat River, as well as Nassir market yesterday.  The Mission, meanwhile, reports the situation in Bunj in Maban County to be calm —– that’s where aid workers were killed last week. UNMISS continues to carry out daily patrols close to refugee camps and in Bunj town.  Yesterday, UNMISS extracted a humanitarian aid worker from Kaya refugee camp.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid agencies are still operating with minimal staff due to the tense security environment, but essential humanitarian operations are continuing in the four camps.  During a recent visit to Bunj, the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said the humanitarian community was committed to staying in Maban, and in other areas affected by the conflict, but that aid workers had to be able to do their work in safety.

Finally, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also says that aid agencies are sending a rapid response team to provide food, health and other emergency assistance to people in Longochuk County — which is also in Upper Nile State — in response to reports of exceptionally high levels of malnutrition there.  Upper Nile State has the highest annual number of acute malnutrition cases in South Sudan.

** Gaza

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 30 aid workers were killed in Gaza between 8 July and 12 August.  That number includes 11 staff of the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA), 7 medical staff killed while on duty, 4 other medical staff killed in their homes or while travelling, and 8 firefighters.  In addition, 74 aid workers were injured, including 38 medical staff injured at work and 34 civil defence workers.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Maria do Valle Ribeiro of Ireland as his Deputy Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau, where she will also serve as United Nations Resident Coordinator in that country.  Ms. do Valle Ribeiro will succeed Mr. Gana Fofang of Cameroon, who has served as Deputy Special Representative since February 2011.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Fofang’s commitment and dedicated service during his tenure in Guinea-Bissau.  Ms. do Valle Ribeiro is currently United Nations Resident Coordinator in Angola.  We have more on this appointment in my office.

** Armenia — Azerbaijan

Earlier this week, I was asked about the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  As you will have seen in a statement issued last week, the Secretary-General shares the deep concern expressed by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Minsk Group and other international partners regarding the upsurge in tension and violence along the Line of Contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.  He urges all parties to respect the ceasefire agreement, refrain from further violence and commit themselves to immediate de-escalation and continuing dialogue in the pursuit of a rapid and peaceful political solution.


Very shortly, the Secretary-General will meet the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia, and will receive from him a donation by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of $100 million for the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre.  The Secretary-General will make some brief remarks at about 1 p.m., but he will not take any questions.  The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre was launched in 2011 with an initial $10 million contribution by Saudi Arabia.  The Centre is located within the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force in the UN Department of Political Affairs.  I have run out of things to tell you, but I’m happy to take your questions. Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the last item, the Counter-Terrorism office.  Obviously, what’s happening in Iraq is the result of an ideology, of a terrorist ideology, the Salafi Jihadi, which originated in Saudi Arabia.  What is the Counter-Terrorism office doing to counter such an ideology and to change all the education which is taught in Saudi Arabi?

Spokesman:  I will not comment on your analysis and your viewpoint, but the counter-terrorism centre has a number of programmes, which includes helping young people who have participated in terrorist organizations reclaim their lives and return to societies.  I’m happy after the briefing to share more information with you about the briefing.

Question:  Will we have any of the Chief executives or Representatives coming here giving us a briefing on exactly what they’re doing?  Especially on the ideological…

Spokesman:  I hear you and I understand.  Matthew and then Mr. Abbadi, and then we’ll move to the left.  [Laughter]  Not ideological left.  We’ll move to the geographical left.  Stage left.  Sorry.

Correspondent:  I wanted to ask you about…

Spokesman:  Let’s start again.  Go ahead, Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Libya.  It’s reported today that the new Parliament met and has voted to request some assistance from the UN for protection of civilians and institutions.  And, although that may end up being directed at the Security Council, I wanted to know, was there anyone from the UN [Support] Mission [in Libya] , UNSMIL, you know, present at the meeting?  How did they understand it?  Is there any comment on the assassination of the police chief in Tripoli, you know, whatever, a day ago?  And also, I just wanted to ask you again about this Bernardino Leon because, since you said you couldn’t confirm it, I’ve received messages from diplomats saying it’s absolutely confirmed and he takes over in September.  And they’ve directed me at UNSMIL’s website, which I, for some reason, it’s not working well, but, saying that they too have said this, so I wanted to know:  what’s the status?

Spokesman:  Okay, on the second one, I mean, I’m happy to go over it again with you.  The Secretary-General puts a name forward to the Security Council.  There is a procedure.  That procedure is still ongoing and when the presidency of the Security Council tells us the procedure is completed, it is announced.  It’s the same for everybody.  And, I know this may come as a surprise to you, often during this procedure, there are leaks.  It happens.  It happens.  The point is, as always, until I announce it or the Secretary-General announces it, it’s not official.  That’s that.

On the first part of your question, the UN Mission in Libya continues to engage with Libyan interlocutors, from inside and outside of Libya.  As you’ll recall, on 7 August, a small UNSMIL team returned to Tripoli, led by the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative, to help conduct ceasefire talks with the parties in Tripoli.  UNSMIL continues to call for the combatants to heed Libyan, as well as international, calls for an immediate ceasefire and has noted with increasing concern the impact of the violence on the civilian population.  The Secretary-General and UNSMIL, as per its mandate from the Security Council, continue to call for the settling of disputes through an inclusive and Libyan-led dialogue, and stand ready to assist the Libyans in facilitating such a dialogue.  The Secretary-General stresses that the use of force to further political objectives is unacceptable.  The bottom line, as in any case, if there is a change in mandate and Mission scope, it needs to go through the Security Council.  As for the police chief, I have not seen that report but clearly, the Secretary-General, as I’ve just said, stresses that the use of force to further any political objectives is unacceptable.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Three quick Gaza-related questions.  First, yesterday in the press conference, the Secretary-General referred several times to all kinds of things both sides have done and several times to one of the sides, Israel, and even when he made a reference to what seemed to be like the other side, he didn’t mention by name.  Does the Secretary-General have a problem using the name “Hamas” as one of the combatants in this issue?  Second, today the…

Spokesman:  No.  Second question.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  But he doesn’t…

Spokesman:  I think we’ve had many statements…

Correspondent:  He never does.

Spokesman:  I think that’s untrue and I’m happy to share with you a list of all the times the Secretary-General has used that term.

Correspondent:  I would love to see that list.

Spokesman:  Perfect.

Question:  Second, the Israeli Ambassador met with the Secretary-General earlier today, complained about the naming of a man he said is very anti-Israel to head a Human Rights Council investigation.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?  And thirdly, there’s a UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] report internal report that say that at least 5 workers, UNDP workers, were performing tasks that were not supposed to be performed by non-staffers and that it had like a lot of… and their projects were not accounted for and there was no…

Spokesman:  Okay, I know the report.

Correspondent:  You’re familiar with the report.

Spokesman:  I get the gist of your question.  I will get you something from UNDP, because I believe I do have something on that.  On your second question, the Secretary-General did meet with the Ambassador.  Your information is correct.  As for the Human Rights Council, as you well know, the Human Rights Council is a Member State body, an independent body from the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General has no influence on the way it does its business.  It’s master of its work.  And the Commission was named and that is the prerogative of the Human Rights Council.

Question:  Just to follow up on that.  Is the Secretary-General concerned that the image of the UN is damaged because of the way this Committee was named?  One of the members of the Committee, the fiancée of a very famous Hollywood actor withdrew without… and it turned out they never even asked her.  Is he concerned that the UN comes out here not smelling like roses?

Spokesman:  I mean, thank God we don’t work in Odorama.  I think the work of the Council is the work of the Human Rights Council, just as the work of the Security Council [is the work of the Security Council].  The UN is a complicated and complex organization with many moving parts.  We get criticism from numerous sides on numerous occasions.  The Secretary-General continues to do his work, continues to speak out as he needs to speak out and those parts of the UN that don’t report to him and that are Member States assemblies, continue to do their work independently. Masood?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Stephane, on Gaza, you just said that it was 35 workers of UNRWA killed and more otherwise, can you please tell us how will these workers be paid the comp…?

Spokesman:  That’s not what I said.  I said 30 aid workers were killed, 11 of whom were UNRWA staff.

Question:  Eleven, so how will those UNRWA staff be compensated?  Will there be after the International Criminal Court makes a decision?

Spokesman:  I think, Masood, with all due respect, I think you’re mixing in a lot of things here.  What the ICC [International Criminal Court] does or will do is really not up to me to comment on.  How non-UN health workers will be compensated by the organizations they work for, I don’t know.  There are standing rules and procedures for compensation for UN staff that are killed and those procedures will be followed.

Question:  On, on ISIS [Islamic Stat in Iraq and the Sham] in Iraq.  Can you tell us, besides the United States, which is making the major effort of rescuing all these people trapped in the mountain - Yazidis trapped in mountains, so forth — what other international countries besides… is there France and Britain now supplementing the efforts?  Can you recount that?

Spokesman:  I think you may have come in a little late.  I talked about what the World Health Organization is doing, what the UN humanitarian is doing.  I have seen reports of other countries besides the [ United States], working on the humanitarian front.  I think as my colleague Kieran Dwyer said yesterday, there is a complex web of information-sharing between those militaries and the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi military and UN humanitarian actors on the ground.  We are doing our best to scale up our presence in that area.  Obviously, it is a conflict zone, an active conflict zone which makes things a little bit more difficult.  We will try to have Mr. Dwyer from [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]  back at the briefing tomorrow for you.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stephane.  Back to Libya.  The country, as you know, is in a state of anarchy, and yesterday, the Parliament passed a resolution calling for the international community to intervene to protect civilians.  Would the Secretary-General be in favour of such an intervention?

Spokesman:  I feel I may have answered that question in my response to Matthew.  I think the UN team on the ground is there, trying to conduct ceasefire talks with all the parties on the ground.  The protection of civilians is obviously critical and I think anyone would imagine any intervention and any help would have to be done in a coordinated way and hopefully very much under United Nations auspices.  Mr. Wachtel.

Question:  In regards to Benny’s question earlier, when you have that information from UNDP…

Spokesman:  With pleasure.  Oh, with UNDP, yes, sorry.

Question:  …UNDP on the allocation, the lack of oversight on the allocation of cement and other materials in Gaza.  When you have that information can you bring it to this room, though?

Spokesman:  I will bring it.

Question:  And speak to that.  I’m continuing, as you know, having issues with your colleagues who are in charge of pulling together statistics on casualties in Gaza.  And for the last 24 hours, they have not been cooperative, and yet, there still remains a lot of information that they have not disclosed and the whole situation looks very fuzzy.  Will they be forthcoming with statistics and will they in fact publish?  At the moment they have a count of 226 combatants killed in Gaza.  Does the UN stand by that number?  Is that what you officially are now going to report and that’s what all the media’s now reporting?

Spokesman:  The numbers that we get from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are the numbers that we use.  I’m aware of your dialogue with them.  On the particular numbers I mentioned, they come from [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], as is within [its] remit and mandate — to report on the casualties of aid workers.  And if I have more information, I will share that with you.

Question:  I misspoke a little bit in that, statistically, in the conversations that we’ve had, correspondences with your colleagues, they came to a figure of 226 combatants.  That number has not been published anywhere.  The UN is just publishing their estimates of just under 75 per cent civilian casualties.  Does the UN intend to publish a combatant number?  Why haven’t they?

Spokesman:  I will circle back to our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  You.

Question:  Thank you, Stephane.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction on the extremely tense situation in Pakistan, where the opposition is planning to take out a million-man march tomorrow on the capital, Islamabad, to demand fresh elections?

Spokesman:  Not particular comments.  But, to say that obviously, the right to peaceful demonstration is a critical right, as is the right of expression.  Mr. Roff and then, yes, you.  Go ahead.

Question:  Iraq.  A couple of points.  One, what is the Secretary-General’s response to the rather detailed, emotional letter of the Pope, unless I missed some comment before?  He writes, as he’s headed to the Secretary-General’s home country, he places before him the tears, suffering and the heartfelt crises of despair of Christians and other religious minorities, renews urgent appeal for the international community to take action and end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, that’s my first question.  Any comment?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General shares a lot of the expressions that have been expressed, not only by the Pope, but by others as to the humanitarian and human tragedy that we have seen.  It’s clear from the information we have, from the pictures that we’ve seen that what is happening may amount to crimes against humanity and may count up to war crimes, as well.  And I think the protection of civilians again here is critical.  We are doing what we can to help in that situation.  We’re trying to marshal resources, both financial and logistical resources, and it is one of those situations, as the Deputy Secretary-General said on another occasion, often without words.  Certain things, you run out of words to describe.

Question:  And the follow-up being:  there’s a sense people may not understand the UN system but maybe the Pope doesn’t… I mean he’s asking for help with the all aspects of the international community.  The Secretary-General was asked yesterday but his answer veered into Gaza when asked about why the UN can’t do more.  What is the response as you very coolly, diplomatically handle these topics?  You’ve got thousands of people up there.  Wasn’t the UN supposed to have a responsibility to protect?  Does the [Secretary-General] believe countries are really doing enough by tossing out humanitarian aid?  Shouldn’t there be more?

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, when you’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis in the middle of a combat zone, the most important thing is for cessation of hostilities — or, at minimum, for the creation of a humanitarian corridor for aid agencies to be able to deliver aid to those who need it.  As I mentioned, our colleagues of the World Health Organization are working with local authorities to create mobile clinics to treat those people who have made it down the mountain.  But, obviously, the fighting needs to stop.  Those armed groups that are in control of these areas need to respect the population, the minorities and stop the abuses that we’ve seen.  I mentioned at the beginning of this briefing the horrendous reports that we’re getting of sexual persecution and violence against the minorities that exist in northern Iraq.  Yes, madam.

Question:  [The] UN body on elimination of racial discrimination reviewed United States this morning.  Do you have any things to add on that or Secretary-General does?

Spokesman:  No.  It is part of the Human Rights mechanism and it is not for the Secretary-General to comment on it, but it is part of the regular work of all the Committees and the Commissions and the Special Rapporteurs.  Oleg and then Mr. Abbadi.  Oleg has been very patient.

Question:  Thank you, Stephane.  With the UN human rights office announcing the number of casualties killed over the course of fighting in Eastern Ukraine almost doubled last week, what efforts does the UN take to end these killings?  We know that the Under-Secretary-General’s trip was cancelled to the Ukraine.

Spokesman:  We will most likely be able to announce a rescheduling of that travel fairly quickly.  The Secretary-General, in fact, was on the phone with President [Petro] Poroshenko this morning and his message was the one he’s been giving to others, as well, to open up a dialogue and to find a negotiated settlement and more importantly to find a peaceful settlement to the ongoing situation.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General described very well the situation, the humanitarian situation in both the mountains in Iraq where the Yazidis are located, as well as in Gaza.  But, at the same time, he left the situation in a symmetric way.  He did say that over the mountains there is air drop of food, of medicine, of water.  Would he be in favour of such air drop over Gaza?

Spokesman:  I think these kind of compare and contrast issues are best left to others.  And I don’t believe air drops in Gaza would be of much use at this point.  What is clearly important is that the parties in Cairo continue their talks to extend the humanitarian ceasefire, so that both sides can feel they have made gains and that humanitarian aid can flow into Gaza again through the various crossing points.  Mr. Wachtel.

Question:  Stéphane, earlier, you said that it’s not really the Secretary-General’s position to be able to weigh in on what the Human Rights Council is focusing on, and how they put together their commissions to investigate issues.  Yet, there have been previous Secretary-Generals who have weighed in and given moral guidance and voice to decisions taken by the Human Rights Commission and the Council.  Why is Mr. Ban Ki-moon not doing that and why has he not, for instance, recommended to the Council on Human Rights that they investigate what’s going on in Iraq?

Spokesman:  It is not for the Secretary-General to get involved into the detailed work of the Human Rights Council.  The Human Rights Council has a mandate focused on human rights and we would hope that it follows that mandate.  Mr. Avni.

Correspondent:  Before my question, just on what you just said, I mean, the previous Secretary-General actually was very active in dismantling the previous organization that was before the Human Rights Council and so maybe it is not necessarily not his job to interfere.

Spokesman:  I think the work of — to use your word “dismantling” — the Human Rights Commission was done by the Member States themselves.  This is an organization of Member States and it was their decision.

Correspondent:  Well, you were the Spokesman at the time, so I won’t argue with you, but I remember distinctly that Annan said several times that… made a lot of statements about the way it…

Spokesman:  I won’t argue with you either, Benny.  Matthew?

Question:  No, no, no, I have my question.  This was just follow-up on Jonathan’s question.  The UN has an anti-terrorism office that deals mostly with the list that the Security Council has made of terrorists — Al-Qaida and the Taliban mostly.  Is the Secretary-General in favour of adding IS [Islamic State] or ISIS to that list?

Spokesman:  It’s a decision that will have to be made by the Member States in the Security Council.  Mr. Lee.

Question: I wanted to ask about Darfur, Missouri and Afghanistan.  On Darfur, I wanted to know if you have a comment on … what, basically, photos have come out of the Sudanese uniformed Abu Tira forces going through a refugee camp or [internally displaced persons] camp in El Salam and making the residents lie on the ground.  And Mr. Chambas was asked about it and said that this was entirely up to the Sudanese and it just seems sort of strange. I mean, I know there is a Human Rights component to these peacekeeping missions.  Does the UN, does UNAMID [United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] or does anyone in the Secretariat, are they aware of these photographs, published by Radio Dabanga and elsewhere of Sudanese officials entering the camp and…?

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  Ok.  And the Missouri, I just want to ask you this.  Unrelated, I guess, to this Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination review, I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General is aware of the large-scale controversy here in the home country about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and three days of protest and tear gas and still not the release of the name of the police officer who shot him.  Does he have, is there any, even generic or general, is there some, does he have any reaction to it?  Is he aware of it?  What does he think of it?

Spokesman:  You know, there’s no particular comment.  As in all cases, the right to demonstrate peacefully needs to be respected and obviously investigations need to be conducted thoroughly.

Question:  Just a quick question about David Nabarro.  When does he officially begin?  Has he already begun?

Spokesman:  He has officially begun.  He is in Geneva today.  I know that because I saw him on a video screen.  He was sitting next to Dr. Chan.  We expect him in New York sometime next week and we’ve already asked.

Question:  And he’ll come here?

Spokesman:  No, that’s not what I said.  I said we’ve already asked that he would come here.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Matthew, then that’ll be it.

Question:  I just wanted to ask, I know that I’d asked you on Monday about this UNDP audit that was cited as a reason they were not answering a questions about [Department of Safety and Security] and UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan].  Have you been able to find out from them whether this February 2014 audit was the one that they’re citing now or is there a new audit?

Spokesman:  I haven’t had a chance to actually follow-up but I will.  Thank you.

* *** *

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