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

18 August 2014

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

18 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.


**Secretary-General and Malala Yousafzai


Today marks a milestone on the journey towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals, as we are now 500 days from the conclusion of this process.  The Secretary-General met on this occasion with Malala Yousafzai and 500 other young people in the Trusteeship Council in an electrifying hour.  The Secretary-General highlighted progress made following the MDG road map, such as global poverty cut in half, more girls in school, more mothers surviving child birth and huge inroads in fighting malaria, tuberculosis and other killer diseases.  The Secretary-General said challenges were still daunting and called for accelerated action.  His full remarks are available online and I would also encourage you to take a look at the webcast and watch a very powerful young lady speak to the crowd.




The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that authorities in countries affected by Ebola should check people departing at international airports, seaports and major border crossings, and stop any with signs of the virus from travelling.  However, it reiterated that there was no need for wider travel or trade restrictions.


In a statement issued ahead of World Humanitarian Day, WHO also denounced the threats and harassment of health workers fighting the Ebola outbreak in West African countries and called for their protection.  The number of cases continues to grow.  It reached 2,127 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and a total of 1,145 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.  The UN System Coordinator for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, is meeting with the Secretary-General this afternoon.  He is arriving today from Geneva and we have tentatively scheduled a press encounter for him tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m.  I will be asking him later today, but that’s what we are aiming for and it will be in this room.


** Iraq


Turning to Iraq, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the United Nations and its partners are scaling up their efforts to address the needs of thousands of displaced people in Dahuk Governorate.  The UN refugee agency is coordinating with the Kurdistan Regional Government to provide shelter in camps for a minimum of 60,000 people.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and its local partner have doubled the number of field kitchens they now operate across Dahuk.  So far, WPF has provided 2.5 million meals.


The humanitarian situation in Amirli, 200 kilometres south of Erbil, is said to be deteriorating quickly.  An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people reportedly remain inside Amirli, primarily Turkoman Shiites.  There have been reports of severe food shortages, and the lack of fuel and power has affected the availability of water.  The Iraqi authorities have requested the assistance of the UN mission in lifting the siege on Amirli and providing humanitarian relief to the area.  The UN has been seeking a way to get food to the area but insecurity is affecting access to assess the situation and deliver aid.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that aid organizations are working to improve conditions for Iraqi refugees arriving in Syria.  Several thousand children are among an estimated 12,000 Iraqi refugees now sheltering at a camp in Syria after crossing the remote border between the two countries.  UNICEF says there has been a steady improvement in the conditions but there are still concerns about the risk of waterborne diseases due to poor sanitary conditions, especially in the current extreme heat.  UNICEF has delivered more than 3,000 water purification tablets together with other lifesaving supplies at the Nawrouz camp in Syria hosting Iraqi refugees.  More information is available online.


**Security Council


Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council today that the temporary ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has been holding, now on the fifth and last day of its current extension.  By the deadline later today — midnight Cairo time, or 5 p.m. here in New York — he urged the parties to reach an understanding on a durable ceasefire which also addresses the underlying issues affecting Gaza, or make substantive progress towards it.  At the very least, he said, we hope that the ceasefire will be extended and the situation remains quiet.


Mr. Serry reiterated his conviction that we must not leave Gaza in the condition it was in before this latest escalation.  Otherwise, the restrictions on the Strip – on exit and entry of goods and people — will continue to fuel instability, underdevelopment and conflict, and the next escalation will be just a matter of time.  He also expressed support for today’s announcement by Norway and Egypt to co-host a donor’s conference once a durable ceasefire is in place and once adequate access conditions have been established.  Mr. Serry will speak to reporters at the stakeout following today’s Council meeting.


** Gaza


Also from our humanitarian colleagues in Gaza: the number of displaced people in Gaza has risen again, with more than 237,600 internally displaced people taking refuge at 81 UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) schools as of yesterday.  UNRWA, the World Food Programme and the Ministry of Social Affairs have reached 150,000 out of a targeted group of 730,000 people with an exceptional food distribution to affected families who are not receiving regular food assistance.  The World Health Organization reports that they have been providing medicines and medical supplies to the Palestinian Ministry of Health to fill critical shortages in hospitals in the Gaza Strip providing health services for a total of 1.8 million people.  In recent days, 24 trucks with medical supplies were sent via the Rafah border crossing with the support of the Egyptian Red Crescent to be distributed to all hospitals in the Gaza Strip, benefiting 100,000 patients for a period of two months.


** Afghanistan


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, today congratulated the people of Afghanistan on the occasion of the ninety-fifth anniversary of the country’s independence.  The UN also welcomes the updates and refinements made to the ongoing comprehensive audit of the results of the presidential run-off election.  The improvements will strengthen the integrity of the process, as well as help meet the highest international standard and be consistent with the Afghan constitution and laws.  More information is available on the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) website.


** Libya


The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the grave escalation in the military confrontations in Tripoli and its suburbs.  The Mission strongly denounced the shelling of residential neighbourhoods, which has inflicted casualties among civilians, forced them out of their homes and caused damage to property.  UNSMIL deeply regrets that there was no response to the repeated international appeals and its own efforts for an immediate ceasefire.  The Mission has called on all parties to work to put an end to the security deterioration, which forebodes serious consequences on the humanitarian level.


Also on Libya, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has sent two convoys with humanitarian aid from Tunisia into Libya, the first one since the beginning of the current crisis.  Several thousand people recently displaced by on-going fighting in and around Tripoli received urgently needed medical supplies and relief items including blankets and sleeping mats. 


** Mali


And you will have seen, over the weekend, we issued a statement condemning the killing of 2 peacekeepers in a suicide attack in Ber, in the Timbuktu region.  They were identified as being from Burkina Faso.


**South Sudan


We have an update from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  The Mission reports that the situation in Bentiu and Rubkona in Unity State remained tense over the weekend, following clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Opposition forces on Friday.  Earlier this morning, the UN Mission reported sporadic fighting south of its base in Bentiu.  Over the weekend, the Mission also received reports of sporadic firing west of the Rubkona airstrip and near the Bentiu bridge.


The Mission also reports that three of its patrols travelling from Bentiu to Rubkona were stopped over the weekend by SPLA troops, who behaved aggressively towards them.  UNMISS reiterates its call on all parties to respect the life-saving work of the UN and ensure unhindered freedom of movement for Mission personnel and all humanitarian workers.  And I think that is it. In fact, I know that’s it from me.  Yes, Silvia?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stephane.  Did you say that Syrians are hosting Iraqi refugees?  Does that mean that 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon can go back to Syria?


Spokesman:  No.  I think what I said is that UNICEF was… I hope that’s what I said.  UNICEF is supporting Iraqi refugees who have fled into Syria.  Obviously, you know the decision to, for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, to return to their own country has to be their own decision.  But, I think we see instability throughout the region where people are on the move trying to seek shelter and trying to seek safety for themselves and their families.  Yes?


Question:  On the same subject.  Yesterday I think there were 2,000 Syrian refugees moved into Syria.  And Syrian Government…?


Spokesman:  Sorry, say it again.  2,000?


Correspondent:  Syrian refugees went back from Lebanon to Syria.  And Syrian Government sent buses to bring them back.  Was that done with the coordination of the United Nations?


Spokesman:  I did not, I have not seen those reports.


Correspondent:  I have a different question regarding the number of civilians killed in Gaza.  There are conflicting numbers, so far.  Today, Mr. [Robert] Serry said that over two thirds are civilians.  Other figure spoke about 75 per cent and third figure spoke about 89 per cent.  So, which percentage is correct, so far?


Spokesman:  I think, you know, obviously, the numbers used by the UN are those that we feel comfortable using.  Others are using other numbers and different proportions.  The numbers are put together by… these preliminary numbers are put together by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), their protection cluster.  And I think we’ve explained it here.  It is done through local sources, official sources and through NGOs.  And they are preliminary numbers.  Now, others may use other numbers.  These are numbers that the UN is using.  Young lady behind you.  She is very patient.


Question:  I got two questions on different things.  Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said at a stakeout today that UN was using the same causality figures as Hamas, designating people as civilians.  Does the Secretary-General have a comment on the statement?  And it seems the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, escalated last night with tear gas…  Some journalists were threatened and temporary detained for covering the protest.  Does the Secretary General also have further comment on the situation?


Spokesman: On the first one, you know, we are using the numbers provided to us by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.  As I said, they are sourced from many different, from different organizations and NGOs.  On Ferguson, I think, as I’ve said before, I think it’s important that the right to peaceful demonstration be respected and I think, as we’ve said about other places in the world, the right for journalists to freely do their work.  Mr. Lee?


Question:  Thanks a lot.  On South Sudan, I heard that… you read out about this aggressive behaviour, if you could say more… but mostly I wanted to ask you about what was viewed as attacks on the press there.  One radio station was closed down and journalists were arrested for reporting on the fighting, and apparently not just reporting SPLA’s line, but reporting from the other side.  And also, there was media that was told not to report in the Dinka language about sanctions against one of the Government officials, EU [European Union] sanctions against Government officials, they were told that they did not want basically people in the majority language to hear it.  So, what is the UNMISS… I don’t know if Ms. Loj yet is in place.  What’s their response to these publicly reported attacks on the press?


Spokesman:  Sure.  Uh, you know we’ve seen the reports of… let’s say, for example, I think one of those you mentioned — closure of a radio station, Bahkita.  These reports, I think, are very concerning to the Mission.  And there’ve been other instances of efforts to curtail the activities of journalists and media, including forced closures of media outfits and pressure on journalists.  The Mission calls on the government of South Sudan and opposition forces to respect the freedom of information and freedom of expression.  I think those freedoms are universal and need to be respected.  Then we’ll move to the stage left.


Question:  Thank you.  Russian Ambassador [Vitaly I.] Churkin reminded today that one month has passed since the adoption of resolution 2166 (2014) demanding the Secretary General has to provide a monthly report about the investigation of the Malaysian aircraft crash in eastern Ukraine.  Just wondering:  is this… such a document ready?  Can it be presented to the Security Council?


Spokesman:  It’s a useful reminder to me.  I will check and I will get back to you.  But, I’m sure those who should be paying more attention are paying attention.


Correspondent:  What happened with the black boxes… actually just investigators long time ago.  We still don’t know what…


Spokesman:  Let’s see what I can find.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  India has called off foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan next week, citing a meeting between Pakistani High Commissioner and a separatist leader in Kashmir and also incidents of cross-border violations.  Does [the] UN have a comment on that?


Spokesman:  No particular… No particular comment, because I have not seen those reports.  If I get something, I will let you know.  Yes?


Correspondent:  It’s very difficult to get an overview of the humanitarian situation in northern Iraq.  You get a whole list of things from the Pentagon, who are bombing and dropping packs of food.  Then UN doesn’t refer to it in any reports.  I don’t know if they coordinate or overlap or the area is just so big that people are working in different places.


Spokesman:  Thank you for your comment.  I understand…


Correspondent:  I meant.  No.  It’s a question.  It’s a question.


Spokesman: I do understand the gist of it.  I’ll rephrase in the form of a question.


Correspondent:  Yes.


Spokesman: I think we are trying to provide you with as much information as possible.  It is a complicated and complex situation, the security situation on the ground is, I think as I mentioned in respect to where the Turkomans are, make it difficult sometimes for the UN to actually even go in and assess what the needs are.  You know, I think we’ve… just today is an example that provides you with a pretty good list of what the UN is doing.  We heard Kieran Dwyer of [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] last week.  We’re going to try to bring him back tomorrow or Wednesday via video conference from Erbil to give you an update.  I think, you know, the way… there is obviously a… you know, contact, as Kieran put it, complex web of information sharing between military and humanitarian actors.  But, it’s obviously very fluid, a very fluid situation.  And we are trying to do our best to coordinate, mostly importantly, with the local Iraqi authorities.  But, we will try to continue to share as much information as we can with you.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  Again on Israel’s ambassador:  he said this morning that rockets found in UNWRA schools are handed back to Hamas and also rockets were shot from UN facilities.  Do you have any comment on that?  Also, can we have a more specific answer to young lady’s question… when Israeli ambassador said UN gets causality figures from Hamas?


Spokesman:  UN does not… UN does not, I mean, to put it in clear terms, UN does not just take… does not get its causality figures from Hamas.  The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, its protection cluster is tasked with trying to put together preliminary figures, which it does from various sources, including NGOs on the ground, health ministries, and put together what it feels comfortable putting out, right?  Those are the figures we use.  Others, whether people involved directly in the conflict or observers, may use other figures.  Those are the figures that we use.  As far as the rockets are concerned, I think the Secretary-General and others made it clear and called on Hamas and other Palestinian groups to respect the inviolability of UN premises.


Question: Can you provide any more details about the car bombing in Ber in Mali?


Spokesman:  The only thing I can do is to refer you back to the statement we put out yesterday.  But, I don’t have any fresh information, any fresh information on that for the time being.  Oleg?  Then we’ll go to Mr.…  No.  Okay.  You yield your balance.  He…  Yes, yes… so nice to see people cooperate.


Question:  Stéphane.  The escalation between, I mean… Islamabad is almost paralysed.  Does the Secretary General have any comment on that?


Spokesman:  I think we are aware of the situation, the political situation in Pakistan and we underline that everyone has the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and urge… we urge all people involved to ensure that marches in Pakistan remain peaceful and there is no violence.  Oleg. 


Question:  Thank you.  On Jeffery Feltman’s trip to Ukraine, was it rescheduled or is it still unknown when he would go?


Spokesman:  I hope to have something to announce, due fairly soon on that.


Correspondent: Another question on Ukraine.


Spokesman:  Yes.


Correspondent:  About the request from Ukrainian Government on the human rights mission.  Do you get any…?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any further update on that.  Matthew and then Nizar.


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you two questions about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  One is M23 [23 March Movement] has said publicly that they’ve named individuals.  They say at least 10 ex-CNDP Tutsi soldiers were executed… some of them executed after torture by DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] forces.  They’ve asked ICJR and SADC [Southern African Development Community] to look into it. I’m surprised… Is MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] unaware of this?  Does MONUSCO… are they aware of these charges?  Do they think they should play a role in… since they support FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces].


Spokesman:  I understand.  I don’t have anything from MONUSCO.  You are welcome to contact them.


Correspondent:  I also wanted… relatedly… I heard from a number of sources that FARDC, the Congolese army, DRC army, which is currently part of MISCA [African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic], will no longer be, remain with MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic], the UN mission beginning in September, after 1 January.  I was told it has to do in some way with human rights due diligence policy.  And I like you to… if you can find out from [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations]…


Spokesman: I can find out.


Correspondent: If that’s the case.


Spokesman:  Nizar.


Question: I have two questions.  One on Ukraine.  One on Saudi Arabia.  On Ukraine, today some of the victims who were shelled by the Ukrainian authorities spoke about use of special chemicals or gases that make them suffocate.  And some people died as a result of that.  Will the United Nations investigate whether chemical weapons have been used against civilians?  Another question regarding Sheikh Nimr al-Nimrwho has been in jail in Saudi Arabia for over two years now.  He may face soon in a few days death sentence simply because he is not Wahhabi.  And he was, this guy, this cleric, did not participate in any protest or carry any weapons, yet he has been there for two years.  Would the Secretary General appeal for his release?


Spokesman:  Let me see what I can get you on the second part of your question.  On the first part, obviously UN human rights monitors are there.  I would add on Ukraine that the Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by today’s alarming reports regarding an attack on a column of internally displaced persons attempting to leave the Lugansk region.  He urges all sides to respect the rules governing the status of IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees and to allow safe passage to anyone attempting to leave areas of active military operations.  This tragic incident makes the urgency of a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution even more stark.  In continuation of his good offices, the Secretary-General has asked Under-Secretary-General Feltman to return to Kyiv this week.  So, Joe.  Then we’ll call it a day because Mr. Serry is waiting for you downstairs, across down there.


Question:  Okay.  I’ll ask this as quickly as possible then.  The Central African Republic.  The peacekeeping force deployment.  Is that still relatively unscheduled?  I think it was supposed to be next month…


Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  It is ongoing and I was talking to some [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] colleagues recently and I’ve asked them to get an update.  I hope to be able to provide one for you.


Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.  Last question.  Yes.


Correspondent:  Thank you Stéphane. I asked Farhan last week about the Chibok girls in Nigeria.


Spokesman:  What?  Sorry.


Correspondent:  The Chibok girls in Nigeria.


Spokesman:  Yes.


Correspondent:  Their village of Chibok has continually being raided and raided by Boko Haram.  And the people are on the brink of starvation.  Does the UN have any plan to do humanitarian aid drops there?


Spokesman: I have not seen such plans.  Our support is really… is focused on community support, but I will try to get something from UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] to see.  I will just add, because I was now asked twice about Ferguson.  I was just handed this in response to your questions.  The Secretary-General is aware that [ United States] federal authorities have announced an investigation into the killing of Michael Brown.  He hopes local and federal investigations will shed full light on the killing and that justice will be done.  The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected.  He calls on all to exercise restraint and for law enforcement officials to abide by [ United States] and international standards in dealing with demonstrations.  Thank you.  And Mr. Serry is waiting for you at the stakeout.


* *** *

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