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

20 August 2014

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

20 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.

** Nigeria

I have a few announcements, and after we are done with my part of the briefing, we are going to be joined by Ms. Ratidza Ndhlovu, the head of the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) office in Nigeria, who will give you an update on UNFPA’s support given to the communities impacted by the kidnapping of the girls in Chibok.  I will start off with a couple of statements.

**James Foley

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the horrific murder of journalist James Foley, an abominable crime that underscores the campaign of terror the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues to wage against the people of Iraq and Syria.  He extends his deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr. Foley.  The perpetrators of this and other such horrific crimes must be brought to justice.  And that statement will be online shortly.  Another statement on the destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons.

** Syria

The Secretary-General welcomes the destruction of the declared chemical weapons material on board the United States Maritime Vessel Cape Ray.  This marks a significant achievement in the international community’s efforts to eliminate the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Arab Republic following the framework agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States of America.  The Secretary-General appreciates the cooperation of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and commends those Member States that provided crucial support to this process, as well as the United Nations-OPCW [Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] Joint Mission for its leadership and commitment.  He urges the Syrian Arab Republic to build on this historic milestone in order to ensure the full elimination of its chemical weapons programme, including the destruction of the remaining chemical weapons production facilities.  And that statement is also available online.

** Gaza

As you saw yesterday evening, we issued a statement, on the situation in Gaza, in which the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest terms the breach of the Egyptian-brokered humanitarian ceasefire which was to expire at midnight yesterday, local time. He is gravely disappointed by the return to hostilities.  And the full statement is available online and it was emailed to you as well.

Also from Gaza, our colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs say that the number of displaced is rising again, with some 400,000 people now uprooted in Gaza.  The UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) said today that there are now around 261,000 displaced people in 82 shelters.  An additional 115,000 of them are registered as staying with host families, 26,000 are in 7 Government schools supported by UNRWA, and a further 10,200 are in Government schools not supported by UNRWA.

According to the Palestinian Water Authority’s preliminary estimates, the cost of direct damages to the water system in the Gaza Strip will be over $30 million.  The $367 million Gaza Crisis Appeal has received just over one third of the funds requested.  And there are large gaps in critical sectors including health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and shelter.  [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] says many of the UN and non-governmental organization partners have received little or no funding for their projects.

** Iraq

Turning now to Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, Nickolay Mladenov, has expressed grave concern over the recent acts violence committed against members of the Sunni community in Basra Governorate.  Since 23 June, at least 19 Sunni civilian men have been killed and another 19 have been injured.  According to the human rights section of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), the perpetrators are reportedly “unidentified gunmen.”  Mr. Mladenov has called on authorities in Basra to do all they can to strengthen security measures to prevent further acts of violence or threats of violence against minorities.  He has urged the authorities to investigate the crimes and prosecute those responsible.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that UN agencies and partners are scaling up their relief delivery in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food assistance to approximately 200,000  people per day in Dahuk Governorate alone.  Shelter continues to be a major concern but the UN Refugee Agency reports progress in building camps in Dahuk Governorate, where displaced people are temporarily sheltering in about 640 schools.  Also, a cargo jet with 100 tons of emergency relief supplies has landed in Erbil with thousands of tents, plastic sheets, kitchen sets and jerry cans. More aid is its way by road, air and sea.

And I also wanted to just let you know that Kevin Kennedy has been sent as the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator on an interim basis and will be arriving in northern Iraq either today or very shortly.  And I spoke to him before he left and he promised to do some briefings by phone or video conference once he has settled in.

** Afghanistan

Moving over to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has expressed concern over the acts of intimidation against The New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg.  The reporter was informed yesterday that he would not be permitted to leave Afghanistan as he was under investigation for unspecified reasons in relation to an article he had authored.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, has said that any attempt aimed at preventing a media representative from freely carrying out his or her duties demonstrates a disturbing disregard for freedom of expression.  The Mission has urged Afghan authorities to review their actions, domestic laws and international obligations to safeguard press freedom in the country.

Also on Afghanistan, the UN said it is concerned about yesterday’s clashes between supporters of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign and workers from the Independent Electoral Commission.  Special Representative Kubiš has called on all parties engaged in the electoral process to abide by the relevant Codes of Conduct.  So far, more than half of the ballot boxes have been audited.


Moving on to Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) said late yesterday that it was seeing encouraging signs in Nigeria and Guinea.  The situation in Lagos, where the first imported case was detected in July, looks reassuring as all 12 confirmed cases are part of a single chain of transmission.  In Guinea, public awareness of the facts about Ebola is higher than other affected countries, according to WHO.  Respected community leaders have helped secure the cooperation of 26 villages that were highly resistant to outside help.  However, the outbreak is not under control.

As for Liberia, the UN Mission in that country continues to assist with regional and national efforts to contain the spreading of the disease and is providing assistance to the Government.  And in Sierra Leone, you may have seen that the UN issued earlier this week an appeal for an additional $18 million to bolster the Government’s efforts in halting the spread of the virus.  And yesterday, as you all heard from Dr. [David] Nabarro, he announced that he would visit all 4 countries affected by the virus in the coming days.

**Security Council

Moving back to New York, this morning, the Security Council held consultations on Sudan and South Sudan as well as other matters.  In the afternoon, the Council members will hold consultations on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions, as well as other matters.

** Great Lakes

And the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, today, in the first leg of his first visit to the region in his new capacity.  Mr. Djinnit will then travel to Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, South Africa and Tanzania.  He will meet with regional leaders and other key parties to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in Addis Ababa in February of last year by all countries of the Great Lakes region.

** Oman

And this morning, Oman became the 162nd State to join the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.  As you know, the Secretary-General has called for universal adherence to this important treaty.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow, my guest will be Mr. Wu Hongbo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  He will brief on the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held in Samoa in early September.

I will stop here and will take your questions.  Nizar, Benny and Evelyn.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The first to remind you about the situation of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr who is due to face court in Saudi Arabia in five days’ time.  Do you have any…?

Spokesman:  Reminder heard.

Correspondent:  So, you don’t have anything yet?

Spokesman:  I don’t like to hold onto things, so as soon as I have something, I’ll share with you.

Correspondent:  Another issue is Ebola virus that emerging in Liberia with regard to Ebola curfews.  How do you view, I mean, these curfews?  Are they acceptable to impose curfews, because of Ebola?

Spokesman:  I think this underscores, I think, as Dr. Nabarro said, the multidimensional threat that Ebola poses — not just a health threat, but potential political and security threat.  Obviously, it is important that the right kind of information be disseminated locally to avoid any panic and that public health authorities need to take the measures they need to take in order to prevent the spread of the disease.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest terms that the breach of the ceasefire in Gaza.  The UN apparently has a few people in Gaza and on the other side in Israel.  Can you shed some light about that breach?  Who initiated it?  How it happened?  Do you know how to spell the group that ended it?

Spokesman:  You know, Benny, I think you and I are not going to go on to a spelling bee everyday.  The situation on the ground is obviously of great concern to the Secretary-General — the return of hostilities that we’ve seen over the last few hours, the attacks, the rockets being aimed at Israel by Hamas, the strikes that have struck civilians by the Israelis.  I think this underscores for us the need for both sides to return to the negotiating table to understand that leaders have their responsibility not to let the situation escalate.

Correspondent:  Steph, did the Secretary-General condemn in the strongest terms a breach?  The breach was not an act of the God, I assume.  Who breached?

Spokesman:  Benny, I’m not going to get into… I think the situation is ongoing.  What is clear to us is that there was a breach of the ceasefire.  Evelyn?  Can you please use your mic, Evelyn?  If you could please use your microphone, Evelyn.  Thank you.  That’s okay.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Steph.  I have a letter here from the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, a major figure.  It was to the Secretary-General on 6 August.  I don’t know if you mentioned it or answered it, but he really wants as much as action and publicity as possible on the persecution of the Christians which he describes at great length.  Do you know anything about that?

Spokesman:  No, I have not, I have not seen, I have not seen the letter.  But, I think it’s, in fact, I’ve just, we’ve said today and repeatedly that we’ve voiced our strong concern and our condemnation of the persecution of minorities both in the ongoing violence in Syria…

Correspondent: They would like it to be spelled out a bit more.

Spokesman: Well, I think we’ve spelled it out fairly, very quickly.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about freedom of expression here in the United States.  One of our colleagues from Anadolu Agency was taken into custody, and his camera broken, his camera was broken and he was beaten by the police.  So, what would you like to say about it?

Spokesman:  Well, I don’t really know what the specific incident you are referring to.  So, I’m happy for you to share…

Correspondent:  In Missouri — Ferguson, Missouri.

Spokesman:  I think we have spoken out.  I think yesterday I mentioned it and the day before, the Secretary-General calls for the authorities to ensure that journalists are able to do their work and report freely, whether it be from Ferguson or anywhere else.  Michelle?

Correspondent:  Thanks, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Then, I’ll go to you, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Could you give us some indication of what contacts, if any, UN officials have with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for the purposes of delivering aid?  And if there have been contacts, whether those contacts might be re-thought now with what happened yesterday.

Spokesman:  No.  No, I can, no, sorry, maybe I’ll expand a bit on my two-letter answer.  No, I’m not aware of any contacts that may have taken place, but I would remind you, I think, as John Ging said not too long ago here, that, in terms of the delivery of aid, the UN and humanitarian actors need to speak to whomever they need to speak to get that aid through.  But, I’m not aware of any specific contacts between the UN and the Islamic State.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I wanted to ask, Israel is, in attempting to kill Muhammad Deif in Gaza, has killed his family and young child.  I wanted to know what’s the UN’s view of targeted assassinations carried out in this way?

Spokesman:  I think we have… we’ve spoken out quite a bit recently on the issue of civilian casualties and the condemnation of civilian casualties in this conflict, and also in general about the UN position against extrajudicial executions.  If…  Thank you.

Question:  The same subject, I mean, today, more than 12 houses were destroyed with all the families inside killed.  At least one family with eight members was totally obliterated.  I mean, shouldn’t that merit condemnation on that?

Spokesman:  I… You know, I think we have condemned, we have deplored very strongly the loss of civilian life in this conflict and we continue to do so.  Yes?  And then you, Benny.

Question:  Could you please confirm if there is emergency… an emerging Islamic State in the Central African Republic today?  If… does the Secretary-General is aware of it?  And what is his reaction of it?

Spokesman:  You know, nothing… nothing that I’ve… specifically that I confirm, but obviously, the Secretary-General has expressed his concern and has been following the situation in the Central African Republic very closely, including the issue of protection of, speaking out forcefully against ethnically and religiously based violence.  And I think his message when he was in Bangui not too long ago was for communities who had lived peacefully together for decades, if not centuries, to ensure to rebuild those links and to ensure that that can continue.  Mr. Avni and then Mr. Lee?

Question:  Just to follow up on Matthew’s question.  I don’t remember it, but did the Secretary-General condemn the killing of Osama bin Laden and his family?

Correspondent:  Extrajudicial.

Spokesman:  Benny, I… the Secretary-General’s general position on extrajudicial execution has been clear and I’m not going to go revisit past events.  But, thank you very much.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask a couple of peacekeeping questions.  One is, there is a report out of Bangladesh that, from the Chittagong Hill Tracts that an activist named Duran Babu Chakma was taken into army custody and has since died, been tortured and killed.  In any case, he is dead, they admit.  So, I want to go back to this still unresponded [to] by DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] study of the recruitment of peacekeepers from Bangladesh, which a human rights group in the region asked what DPKO does to ensure that it does not incorporate in peacekeeping missions soldiers who served in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.  I also wanted, related or not, on this issue that Barbacar Gaye did give an answer yesterday at the stakeout.  I wanted to ask a financial question, rather than human rights, which is that, what sense does it make, the UN is, you know, paying for MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], for MONUSCO in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] to police the country, and apparently will be paying, beginning in September, 850 FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] troops to be policing Central African Republic.  So, some people say like, what does, how does this make sense?  And especially, if the soldiers are good as Mr. Gaye said, why aren’t they in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] strengthening the army that many people needs such…?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, obviously we appreciate the contributions of Member States to peacekeeping, the troop contributions.  And I also think that obviously Member States have to balance their need locally and their interest in participating in the international collective security system, in a sense, through peacekeeping.  So, it’s up to every country to make that decision, but I think it’s also, it’s a positive sign that a country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo is willing and an active participant in peacekeeping missions.

Correspondent:  But, I mean, I guess, is it the UN’s position that FARDC is sufficiently reformed?  One of the predicates of MONUSCO was the idea that it is still listed as a child soldier recruiter.  It’s still…

Spokesman:  I mean, I think I understand your point. I think, I think, I think Mr. Gaye answered in terms of the quality of the soldiers and I do think that it makes, it marks an important statement for a country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo to commit troops to peacekeeping.  You know, whoever you speak to, and others may interpret in a different way, but I think it’s a… it’s an important statement.

Correspondent:  Some people say, basically, that since they were in MISCA [African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic], that the UN didn’t want to disrespect the African Union and send them home.  They are in fact leaving 1 January.  I wanted to ask you if the…

Spokesman:  I… I don’t know. I’m sure some people say a lot of things but…

Correspondent:  Some people on the Council say that.

Spokesman:  Some people say that.  I say things.

Correspondent:  Are they staying or leaving?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  I have no further information as to their return date if any.  Great, thank you.  We are now… Yes, one more question.  Then, we will ask our colleague from UNFPA to join us.

Question:  A follow-up to Nizar’s question. Has the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requested the release of Sheikh [inaudible] from the [inaudible] prison in Saudi Arabia?

Spokesman:  I don’t know. You would have to… to check with them.  I’m not aware; I’m now aware of what they may have asked for or not.

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