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

15 August 2014

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

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

Good afternoon, everyone.  Happy Friday.


We have an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the situation near Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.  The acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Dr. Marzio Babille, continued his assessment today of the humanitarian emergency and response in Dahuk Governorate.  He met with displaced people in Zakho, the majority of whom are from Sinjar, as well as local government officials.  Zakho now hosts at least 100,000 displaced people in various locations around the city.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported a significant decrease in the numbers of new arrivals at the Peshkhabour border crossing point in Dahuk Governorate.  The total number of displaced people arriving from Sinjar since 6 August at Pehskhabour is estimated to be close to 80,000 people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners are providing food assistance for some 100,000 displaced people a day in Dahuk.  Since 4 August, WFP and its partners have provided almost 2 million meals to displaced people in Dahuk from six field kitchens, while in the town of Zakho 15,000 families have received ready-to-eat food rations — enough for a family of five for three days.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has pre-positioned 30 truckloads of relief supplies closer to areas where displaced people are arriving.  With its partners and the local authorities, UNICEF has delivered aid to 73,000 children, women and their families.  It has also distributed 34,000 high-energy biscuits for children under 5 and is also providing support to displaced children who have been separated from their families.

Yesterday evening, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the political situation in Iraq:

The Secretary-General commends the decision of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw his candidature and his pledge to support Mr. Haider al-Abbadi as nominee to succeed him.  This will allow the crucial process to form a new government to proceed swiftly and within the time frame provided for in the Constitution.  He acknowledges Mr. al-Maliki’s decision as a demonstration of his commitment to the orderly transfer of power in the best interest of the country.

The Secretary-General urges all political leaders in Iraq to build on this historic opportunity by redoubling their efforts to work together so as to build consensus on how to address the many urgent and grave challenges facing their country.  He looks forward to the swift formation of an inclusive, broad-based government ready to immediately tackle these pressing issues.

Also, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the decision and urged all political blocs and people of Iraq to stand up to the threats posed by terrorism, sectarianism and division.


Regarding the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Food Programme announced that it is planning on providing food assistance to 1 million people living in quarantine zones at the borders between Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said that staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.

WHO is coordinating a massive scaling up of the international response, marshalling support from individual countries, disease control agencies, agencies within the United Nations system, and others.

The World Health Organization also reiterated yesterday its advice against travel bans to and from affected countries.  It notes that Ebola is not airborne and can only be transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids of a person who is sick with the disease.

More on the response to the outbreak is available on the World Health Organization’s website.

Secretary-General in China

The Secretary-General arrived in Nanjing, China, earlier today, and he will attend the opening ceremony of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games there tomorrow.

While in Nanjing, he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

The Secretary-General is returning to New York on Sunday.

South Sudan

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) condemned clashes this morning in Bentiu, Unity State.  During the violence, approximately 340 civilians fled from Bentiu and took shelter with UNMISS troops stationed at the airport.

They were escorted from the airport to the Protection of Civilians (POC) area in the UNMISS compound outside Bentiu.

Toby Lanzer, who is Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said he was deeply troubled by this morning’s outbreak of violence and called on those responsible for today’s hostilities to refrain from any further violence.  We have his statement in our office.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Humanitarian Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Moustapha Soumare, condemned today the attack on Mayangu, a village in the Eastern Province of the DRC.  A man was killed in this attack and three children abducted, presumably by combatants of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The humanitarian community stresses that the Lord’s Resistance Army still represents one of the main threats to the population in this province of the DRC.  Last year, more than 30 people were killed and 180 kidnapped.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that its humanitarian partners confirm that 650 families — or about 4,550 people — have been displaced in northern Yemen after conflict arose in the Al Jawf Governorate on 10 August.  Additional unconfirmed reports from local sources indicate that between 7,000 and 14,000 people have been displaced.

Displaced people are reportedly staying with relatives or host communities in neighbouring areas, where they reportedly need food, water, health care, and basic living items.  Shelter is urgently needed for displaced people who have not found any accommodation.

The humanitarian presence is extremely limited in Al Jawf due to persistent insecurity.  Plans are under way to provide money through the Emergency Response Fund and partners are working to better assess needs.


The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, will visit Iran for meetings on 17 August with Iranian leaders and senior officials.

The visit is part of the efforts to advance dialogue and cooperation between the Agency and Iran.

Security Council

The Security Council will hold a meeting at 3 this afternoon to consider a resolution on threats to peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

Week Ahead

I have a few things to flag for next week.

On Monday, at 11 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the Secretary-General and education advocate and the co-founder of the Malala Fund, Malala Yousafzai, will hold an interactive conversation on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to mark the 500 Days of Action for the MDGs.

On Tuesday the UN will celebrate World Humanitarian Day.  At 9:30 a.m., the Secretary-General will attend the wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the Baghdad bombing.  Following that, at 1 p.m., he’ll attend another event organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.

Copies of the week ahead are available in our office.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?  No?  Okay, one?

Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you on Somalia, there’s been this fighting by the, the AU [African Union] but UN-supplied force against what’s described as a warlord, but it’s involved the capture of a radio station, Shabelle Radio, and the arrest of journalists for reporting on the fighting.  And I wanted to know what the comment of the UN or its mission there is on this fighting.

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s been no comment by the UN Mission, UNSOM.  You’d probably have to check with AMISOM, the African Union Mission, about the nature of that.

Question:  What about the closing of a radio station by the AMISOM forces?   It’s widely reported there.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any verification on that.  Again, you’d need to check with AMISOM about what its actions have been.  I haven’t heard anything from the UN mission itself.  Yes?

Question:  Is the Secretary-General’s wreath-laying on Tuesday at 11?

Deputy Spokesman:  The wreath-laying is, I believe, at 9:30.  Let me just check. Yes, 9:30.

Question:  What does it say that you’d like to wax poetical on the — oh, I’m sorry, my microphone…

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, yes, please.  Yes.  Everyone, use the microphones.  I can hear you but the world outside cannot.

Question:  I don’t really have a substantive question, but 11 years after the Baghdad bombing, which seems like yesterday, the UN is back in business, so to speak, in dire circumstances, helping the Iraqi citizens.  Do you have any thoughts on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you’ll have seen over the last 11 years, we’ve had a hard road, as have the people of Iraq.  The big problems have been faced by the Iraqi people, and we’ve tried to support them throughout that process.  Of course, we ourselves have had our difficulties.  As you know, the UN, 11 years ago next Tuesday, suffered the killing of the Head of its Mission, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and about 20 other people in the bombing of our headquarters at the time, at the Canal Hotel.  Since then, we’ve had a lot of changes in the way we do things, including the creation, by the way, of the Department of Safety and Security (DSS), so we’ve tried to improve safety conditions for UN compounds throughout the world.  Hopefully, that’s helped us to better serve the people of Iraq, because we’ve tried to keep our presence in places like Baghdad and Erbil.  And, as you know, in recent months, both of those areas have had their difficulties but the Iraqi people clearly keep trying.  It’s certainly a good sign that the democratic transition of power is proceeding.  Hopefully, that will help the people of Iraq unite against the threats that they face, including the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State, the Dawa al-Islamiya.

That’s about as much as I have to say about that for now.  We of course continue to mourn our fallen colleagues in Iraq, as elsewhere, and we continue to try to help the people of Iraq.  Yes?  Yes, you?

Question:  Haiti, Libya and Afghanistan.  In Haiti, it was reported, there was a magistrates’ decision that former president [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide should at least give evidence in a case and so there was a… his supporters rallied in front of his home, but it’s reported that MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] peacekeepers broke up the rally.  So I wanted to know, what’s the role of the MINUSTAH peacekeepers in the… in either bringing Mr. Aristide to court or what was their role in this clash?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll have to check whether MINUSTAH had any role to play.  Of course, the court decision is a domestic court decision, so we wouldn’t have any comment on that.

Question:  And also Mr. Bernardino León, who was finally, it was confirmed yesterday that he’s taking the post and you guys put out a statement that he starts 1 September.  He’s given an interview where he says he’s going to go to Tripoli as early as next week to have talks.  So I wanted to know in what capa… is he starting earlier than anticipated?  What’s the status of Mr. [Tarek] Mitri? Has he been removed from the position?  What…  What…

Deputy Spokesman:  No.

Question:  How do you explain the discrepancy?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, Mr. Mitri remains the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya until 1 September.  Of course, as you’re aware, once we name officials to posts, sometimes they undergo periods where they familiarize themselves with the work they’re about to do, but he will start up his duties on 1 September.

Question:  I’ve got to balance out the questions on this side of the room.  I don’t know, I can come up with seven of them here in a second.  But, I mean, does the UN high command feel that this resolution that’s going to be adopted later today really make a difference or do anything for a group that doesn’t exactly read UN documents at night and obey them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, let’s not put the cart before the horse.  There’s a vote that’s going to happen later this afternoon, and we’ll have to see whether a resolution is adopted.  For our part, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for united action to deal with the threat posed by the Islamic State, by the Dawa al-Islamiya.  So any action, particularly any action that helps unite the Security Council on this, is a welcome step.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I just wanted to ask.  Last Friday, so a week ago, in response to these questions about the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] documents, you’d said that there was an audit and so all that’s ongoing.  So I’m still trying to find out, then, there, turns out there was an audit of this programme completed in February.  I’ve asked Stéphane [Dujarric] twice, but I wanted to ask you.  Because I’ve… there’s now a new document published, which shows that Colonel Bashari of the Afghanistan Army, who appeared in previous documents, turns up on the list of people being double paid.  And he also threatened the UN worker who’s… who… who raised this issue and wrote these notes to file.  So I wanted to know again both:  Is the audit of February 2014 the same audit?  And what steps has UNDP taken to protect the individuals who the documents show were threatened by the Afghan military individuals who were being double paid?

Deputy Spokesman:  In fact, the February audit is a different audit.  I checked with UNDP.  That’s not the same.  There is an ongoing audit and we won’t be able to have much in the way of comment until that audit is completed.

Question:  If it’s an audit of the same programme, the first audit, which was done by Thornton, whatever the second name of that is, said that there was a lack of documentation, that basically… so it’s hard to understand how can there be a second audit of a payment situation where the first audit said there’s no records.

Deputy Spokesman:  UNDP’s auditing body does a number of audits.  These are different ones.  In terms of that, there’s an audit ongoing and we’ll try to get details on that once it’s been completed.  But it hasn’t been.  [UNDP also later wrote to the correspondent, clarifying that the audit that finished in February 2014 was distinct from the one that is continuing now, with the earlier audit by Grant Thornton having been carried out to enhance security for all United Nations personnel working in Afghanistan.  That audit is now available to the public.]

Yes?  In the back.  A third questioner.  Awesome!

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  When the Secretary-General visited Sochi, Russia, a little while back, we were told that he had met Kim Jong-nam of North Korea, the titular head, and had a lengthy conversation with him.  We were also told that he had invited him to the UN.  With the General Assembly coming up, has anyone from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] or their mission responded to the invitation on this?  And…

Deputy Spokesman:  We don’t have anything to confirm from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at this stage.  As you know, as we get closer to the General Assembly session in September, we share lists of how each delegation will be represented.  And we’ll provide those lists as we get closer to the event.  At this stage, I don’t have anything to confirm, though.

Question:  And just a follow-up.  Since he’s in Nanjing now, does he plan to meet anyone from the DPRK on this trip or the…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said just a few minutes ago, the people he intends to meet include the President of China and the President of the International Olympic Committee.  If there are any other meetings to confirm down the line, we’ll confirm them at that time.  Yes?

Question:  I’m getting paid by the word today.  UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], I think there was an announcement they would open schools in two or three weeks if things are holding.  Is that a little over-confident or can you tell us anything more on that?  And on Ukraine, well, I’ll wait so…

Deputy Spokesman:  You can space yourself out.  All right.

On the Relief and Works Agency, they’re working to provide aid to the population on the ground.  As Stéphane said a couple of days ago, the lull in fighting has allowed for a greater provision of aid.  For the time being, there’s no announcement to make about the schools.  But we’re hopeful that the current ceasefire that’s under effect — that is to say this current five-day ceasefire — will be extended, and let’s see what the talks of the coming days that are taking place in Cairo bring.  Yes?

Question:  Following recent clashes in Tibet, and of course because of the visit in Nanjing, do you expect any statement about Tibet or about the relationship with China?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll try to provide a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with the President of China once that’s happened.  If there’s any relevant details, we’ll share that with you.  Yes?

Question:  Unless I missed it, any concern in the Secretary-General’s camp on Ukraine attacking a Russia convoy today?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don’t have a comment to provide at this stage.  As we’d made clear, the delivery of assistance should be done with the agreement of the parties concerned and under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), so that’s what we’ve been pointing out about that.  We don’t have any first hand details, so there’s no comment on the incidents that happened earlier today.  [The Spokesperson’s Office later added:  We’re aware of the reports, which we cannot verify independently, and will follow related developments very carefully.  Such reports point to the urgent need for immediate de-escalation and a resolution of the conflict through dialogue.]


Question:  Does the SG have any comment on the Boko Haram kidnapping of boys and young men that happened?  And is there any update on when the envoy would be going back to Nigeria?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there’s no date at this stage on when our envoy, Saïd Djinnit, would be returning.  I believe that there’s a rough plan for him to be there in the early days of September, but there’s nothing to announce at this point.  Regarding today’s incident, we’re trying to get further details about what’s happened.  Of course, if there have been further abductions, whether of girls or of boys, it would be condemned.

Okay.  Yes?  Oh, actually, in the back.  You haven’t asked yet.  Carmen?

Question:  What would be the protocol for the International Committee of the Red Cross, what party would have to agree to this investigation or going into the lorries, and what would be expected of the Red Cross Committee?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m sorry; those are really questions of the International Committee of the Red Cross.  I can’t really answer for them.  Yes?

Question:  Final question as I proclaim victory over the left side of the room.  Has any… [laughter]

Deputy Spokesman:  Let’s not have this challenge, or else this could go on forever.

Question:  Well, speaking of challenges, I was just curious, has any world leader challenged the Secretary-General to dump a pail of cold water over his head to raise money for ALS, which it seems like everyone in the world is doing?

Deputy Spokesman:  I haven’t heard of this, but of course this is exactly how rumours get started, so now that you’ve said it, who knows what will happen next?

Okay.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

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