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

29 August 2014

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

29 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.

Thank you to those of you who have shown up today. Good afternoon. We will try to make it brief because I know the UK President is waiting to go to the stakeout. A couple of peacekeeping updates for you…


On the situation in the Golan Heights, I have an update on the numbers regarding the peacekeepers.  Forty-four Fijian troops are being detained and 72 Filipino troops have movements who are still being restricted.  The updated figures follows cross checking and confirmation of leave records with the mission.  The United Nations is engaging — continues to engage — with a wide range of parties within Syria, and is making every effort to ensure the safety and security of its personnel.  The UN is also engaging with Member States who may have influence over armed opposition elements to encourage the safe release of the peacekeepers.  And I am sure you will appreciate that, as this is an ongoing operation, we are not able to share any more details.

** Mali Attacks

Also from Mali, we have just received an update from our colleagues in the UN Mission in Mali. They just reported to us that at around 12:00 local time, a MINUSMA [UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] military vehicle hit a landmine in the general area of Aguelhok.  A number of peacekeepers have been wounded of which three are seriously injured. An evacuation is being arranged.  Yesterday, in a separate incident, four mortar shells and two rocket-propelled grenades exploded in and near the MINUSMA Aguelhok camp, but it caused no damage or casualties.

**Secretary-General Travels

Turning over to the Secretary-General, he addressed today the sixth Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations in Bali.  He stressed that too many of our world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power, and that too many societies are fractured along cultural, religious and ethnic lines.  The Secretary-General said that the Alliance of Civilizations is making a difference on the ground, highlighting its work in places like Pakistan, the Middle East, Kenya and the Philippines.

Following that, he held a joint press conference with Indonesian President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono and the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilization, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.  Talking about Ukraine, the Secretary-General said that we cannot allow the situation there to escalate further and that all must do their part to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the crisis in a manner upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He added that there is an urgent need to ensure a secure border between the Ukraine and Russia, with international verifications, as discussed in the Minsk meetings.  He also condemned the detention of UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

While in Indonesia, the Secretary-General held bilateral meetings with the Foreign Minister of Spain [José Manuel García Margallo], and the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) [Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu].  The Secretary-General is now on his way to Samoa to attend the Conference of Small Island Developing States.  And the Secretary-General’s remarks and readouts are all available in my office and on the World Wide Web.

**Security Council

Back here, as you are aware, the Security Council held consultations on Yemen today.  Council members just adopted a Presidential statement on Yemen.  They adopted a resolution on the protection of humanitarian workers.  We expect the UN Special Adviser for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, and the President of the Council [Mark Lyall Grant] to speak to you as soon as I am done here.  Also, this afternoon, Council members will hold an open debate to discuss the UN Mission in Kosovo.  And next week, on 3 September, [ United States] Ambassador Samantha Power, who will be President of the Security Council for September, will be here at 12:30 p.m. to brief on the Security Council’s programme of work for the month.

** Ukraine — Human Rights

Moving back to Ukraine, some three dozen people are killed every day in eastern Ukraine, where intense fighting — including the use of heavy weaponry by both the Government and armed groups — has increased the loss of civilian life.  That’s according to a new report issued today by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Navi Pillay said that deliberate targeting of civilians is a violation of international law, and more must be done to protect civilians.  She added that it is urgent that the fighting and violence end in the east before more civilians are harmed or are forced to flee or face intolerable hardships trapped inside the conflict zones.

The report says that more than half of the population of the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk have fled, but not enough was done in time to evacuate people from the fighting in those areas.  Ms. Pillay called for justice and accountability to replace the impunity for major human rights violations that have occurred over the past four months.  The report says that at least 2,593 people have been killed in Ukraine between mid-April and 27 August of this year.

** Iraq

Moving to Iraq, our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that new UN estimates indicate that more than 1.6 million people in Iraq have been displaced since January 2014.  The internally displaced people are living in over 1,500 locations across the country, often in extremely dire conditions.  The increase is due to new violence in various parts of the country, particularly Ninewa, Diyala and Anbar provinces.  It is estimated that over 600,000 people were displaced in August alone.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners have conducted assessments for nearly 190,000 people since February.  Almost 6,000 have been approved for cash assistance; free legal assistance has been provided to about 9,000; and more than 3,000 have been referred for services and assistance.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) is hoping to deliver medicines and supplies to Al Alam district, in Salah Aldin Governorate.  The shipment will benefit some 15,000 people for one month.  WHO and the local health authorities in Dahuk are working together to reactivate the [tuberculosis] treatment programme in the governorate.

** Syria - UNHCR

Also from UNHCR, they announced today in Geneva that the number of people who have fled Syria will top 3 million today, with the High Commissioner, António Guterres, calling the Syrian crisis the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”  Nearly half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives.  One in every eight Syrians has left the country, while 6.5 million people — more than half of whom are children — are displaced within the country.  All of this comes amid reports of increasingly horrifying conditions inside Syria, with people going hungry and civilians being targeted and indiscriminately killed.  Mr. Guterres said that the world is failing to meet the needs of Syrian refugees and the countries hosting them, adding that while the response to the crisis has been generous, it falls far short of what is needed.  More information is on UNHCR’s website.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

And from Gaza, our humanitarian colleagues tell us 52,000 displaced people continue to seek shelter in sixty UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) shelters, in addition to people staying in Government schools and with host families.  More than 108,000 people whose homes were destroyed are expected to remain displaced for some time.  And food is still being distributed to about 830,000 people in Gaza.  Meanwhile, the UN Mine Action Service estimates that contamination levels from explosive remnants of war are higher than in previous conflicts in Gaza.  It says that nearly 1,900 explosive remnants must be secured or destroyed.


And a note on Ebola for your planning next week.  On Tuesday, as my guests at noon, I will have Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary-General, who will be joined by Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of WHO, and Dr. David Nabarro, the UN System Coordinator for Ebola.  They will be briefing you here at about 12:20-12:30 p.m.  Earlier that day they will hold a briefing for Member States on the Ebola situation.  Also, next Friday in Geneva, WHO will hold a meeting of international experts on potential Ebola therapies and vaccines, potential risks and benefits, also discussing uses and barriers for various options.  And there will be a press conference following that, and that is next Friday in Geneva.  More information is available on WHO’s website.

** Somalia

Moving on to Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, expressed concern today about the deployment of armed forces and violence in the country’s Sool Region.  Together with the US Representative for Somalia and the European Union Ambassador in the country, Mr. Kay has called for the immediate withdrawal of those forces from the area.  They have urged all parties to refrain from violence and make concerted efforts to de-escalate and resolve differences through peaceful means and dialogue.

**United Nations Mission in South Sudan

And today, in Juba, our colleagues from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) today paid their respects to the three Russian crew members who died when their helicopter went down in Bentiu earlier this week.  Andrei Berdnikov, Tuktasyn Ishmetov and Alexey Sazontov died in the crash on Tuesday.  Also attending the memorial service was Alexander Lobkov, who survived the incident.  The acting head of the Mission, Toby Lanzer, expressed his deepest gratitude and respect for the fallen crew, stressing that the United Nations is committed to ascertaining the exact circumstances which caused the tragedy.  There is a press release on the Mission’s website.

**International Day against Nuclear Tests

On this day, in 1949, as some of you may recall, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test.  This was followed by another 455 tests until 1991.  On 29 August 1991, Kazakhstan closed the nuclear test site near Semipalatinsk.  In a message dedicated to the International Day against Nuclear Tests — today — the Secretary-General notes the terrible effects of nuclear testing on local populations and environment.  He suggests that we all take a fresh look at the stories of survivors; listen to the words and imagine the effects of these detonations as if they were experienced by us.  Only then can we better understand the imperative to renew our commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons and tests.

**Data Revolution

And today, we are announcing the establishment of an Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.  His Group will advise the Secretary-General on measures that need to be taken to close data gaps and to strengthen national statistical capacities.  The Secretary-General said that the data revolution is giving the world powerful tools that can help usher in a more sustainable future.  The new Group is expected to submit its recommendations to the Secretary-General this fall.  And we have information in my office.

**Press Conference Today

At 4:45 p.m. this afternoon, there will be a press briefing on the conclusion of the sixty-fifth DPI NGO [Department of Public Information  Non-governmental Organization] Conference — "Post-2015 and Beyond: Our Action Agenda".  Speakers will include Maher Nasser, the Acting Head of the Department of Public Information, and Jeffery Huffines, the Chair of the sixty-fifth DPI NGO Conference.

**Press Conference Tuesday

In addition to the Ebola press conference I mentioned for Tuesday, there will be a press conference at 9:45 a.m. here by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and of the Palestinian Legislative Council.  This briefing by Dr. Ashrawi is sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations.

**Questions & Answers

Question:  Regarding the Golan and the kidnapped or the besieged officers or observers, there were reports and also some videos posted showing flags of Islamic State in the Golan, as well as Al Nusra.  Also, the video showed Israelis supporting by bombarding Syrian oppositions on the other side.  How can some States support such terrorist groups in such a place where there are resolutions against that?

Spokesman:  I think we have, earlier this week, we had reported on firing incidents and we had reported on shells going one way or another across the line.  We are in touch with — we have been in touch with the parties as I said earlier this week and obviously we would ask Member States to respect the positions of the UN.  Matthew and then Matthew.

Question:  Hi.  Earlier today, Poland barred the flight of the Russian Defense Minister over Poland.  Does the UN have are a response to that?

Spokesman:  I have not seen that report.  Obviously, we would hope that the situation in Ukraine is dealt with through, in the spirit of dialogue and building on the contacts that we had in Minsk and that inflammatory actions not be taken.  Mr. Lee?

Question: I wanted to ask about in the reduction of the number of Philippines peacekeepers that are being… whose movement is being restricted.  Does that reflect that some escaped or that yesterday the numbers…

Spokesman: No, I think…

Question:  …were too large?

Spokesman: It's strictly a bureaucratic issue where the battalions, the companies don't report on a daily basis the leave of soldiers.  So, it's really just a cross checking of roles.  But, it unfortunately does not indicate anyone who may have escaped.

Question:  In your communications with either the mission of the Philippines here, do you think this has any impact on their previously-announced desire to pull out of both Liberia and the Golden Heights?

Spokesman:  I have not seen a change in this and this would be done at the end of their tour of duty and obviously in an orderly matter.  Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the Secretary‑General's meeting with the Secretary-General of Islamic Conference, did they discuss how the two organizations can cooperate [inaudible] imposed by Islamic State militants?

Spokesman: I think, you know, the Secretary‑General relies very much on the cooperation of whether it be other regional organization or faith‑based organization to face the challenges that we see in the world.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  If I have more I will let you know.

Question:  I know the situation is delicate and you mentioned non‑State actors in this drama in the Golan, but — and you mentioned Al‑Nusra who is holding and who is detaining peacekeepers as this situation goes on?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, they are being, as far as we know, they are being detained by non‑State armed actors.  Some have identified… self‑identified themselves as Al‑Nusra, and I think it's a very, very fluid situation.  Affiliations aren't always very clear.  Our personnel on the ground are in discussions with various counterparts on the ground and trying to secure the release and the resumption of the freedom of movement of the peacekeepers.  Yes, sir.  And then we will go to Oleg.

Question:  I wonder whether the UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] personnel are conducting their regular work in other parts in the Golan and also have you figured out the whereabouts of these peacekeepers and what happened to the 81 observers who are condoned in their posts?

Spokesman:  It's 72 Filipinos.  We've revised the numbers.  That situation is unchanged.  And, obviously, we are trying to secure the release of the Fijians that are being detained.  But, details are sketchy and discussions are ongoing now, and I really don't want to go into any more detail at this point.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  My understanding is that wherever they are able to they continue to do their patrols.  But, obviously, the situation being as it is, it is… it's not like the mission can perform at full capacity.  Oleg.

Question:  Thank you.  On the same issue, did you manage to contact both groups and also in Syria, the US apparently are convening surveillance flights over Syria.  What's the UN Secretary‑General's view on this?

Spokesman: I have been asked that question quite a few times this week.  We have seen the reports.  Obviously, we would hope that whatever is done against groups like ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Shams] or others is done within the confines of international law.  The contacts that are had at a working level in the field, in the Golan, I really don't want to go into the details.

Question:  I mean, did you contact the 72 peacekeepers that are held in this area, the blocked ones?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We have some radio contact with them.

Question:  On the same subject, these groups and the observers are sandwiched between Israel and Syria, so the countries will have influence on that, on the situation, are either Israel or Syria or both.  How do you describe the Israeli cooperation in this respect?

Spokesman:  I'm not sure I completely understand your question.

Question:  Since they are in the buffer zone?

Spokesman:  I think the…

Question:  Separation?

Spokesman:  We have good contacts with the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] on a working level since the mission has begun and they have respected our operations and supported them in the way they should be supporting them.

Question:  How about the Syrian side?

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, of course, on the Syrian end, the situation in Syria is much more fluid and much more complex.  Matthew and then… You are Mr. Lee and he is Matthew now.

Question:  Since the kidnapping has security measures been enhanced for the remaining peacekeepers?

Spokesman:  Yes, and I would stress that you are using that word.  We are not.  Okay.  They are being detained.  Obviously, the Force Commander is taking whatever measures he can to regroup other peacekeepers and strengthen posts, and the security and the safety of our staff is [inaudible].

Question:  Thank you, [inaudible] from Radio Republic Indonesia and regarding to [United Nations Alliance of Civilizations] meeting in Bali, besides focus on the [inaudible] previously, you had the [inaudible] Indonesian President will talk about the recent election.  And, of course, you give more about the detail work, what they talk about and what is your end perception about new Indonesian President-elect, Joko Jokowi Widodo.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, I think the Secretary‑General and the United Nations welcomes the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power in Indonesia and he very much looks forward to working with the new President and I think also had a positive relationship with the outgoing President.  You had another part of your question or did I answer it?  I think I answered.  Okay, if I didn't you can come back.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about you gave the statement of Nicholas Kay about Somalia.  And there is something I wanted to ask.  A week ago he tweeted too that he had visited Puntand, Somaliand, Ethiopia and Kenya “all backed Somalia federalism”.  So, this has risen to some concerns because the President of Somaliland has disagreed and said that is not what they said, that they accepted his visit purely on UN system humanitarian thing.  So, he has tried to clarify it a bit and said he made something that wasn't quite clear, but he did respond.  And I wanted to know, maybe he is busy with, obviously, fighting and stuff over there.  From [the Department of Political Affairs] and the Secretariat's point of view, what is their understanding of the relationship between the political office on Somalia and Somaliland?  Do they believe that this visit implies contrary to what the president says?

Spokesman:  Let's see what I can get on that.  Thanks.  Mr. Roth and Nizar.

Question:  How long can the peacekeepers being held, detained, restricted can they hold out their reports that they may have two weeks of water and food left or perhaps less?

Spokesman:  Obviously, those whose movements are being restricted have food and water for some time.  So, at this very point it is not an extreme concern and we would very much hope to see that this situation is resolved fairly quickly.  Nizar.

Question:  Regarding the cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh al-Nimr, have you had any update on that?

Spokesman:  I have not yet.  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, there continues to be controversy about Australia and how it deals with refugees or those seeking asylum and most recently, while running this camp in [inaudible], they said that they intend to open up a camp in Cambodia.  And I wanted to know, I know in an earlier stage the Secretariat, or maybe it was UNHCR, but maybe it was the Secretariat had some comment on this.  Would this be more in compliance with international law or would it still be an outsourcing of its duties?

Spokesman:  I can't judge on its compliance with international law.  But, what I can say is that Member States have a duty to uphold international law when it comes to refugees and migrants, conventions that have been signed and they have signed up onto and that people need to be treated with the respect and humanely.  Nizar, Oleg and then we will let the Council President speak.

Question:  In Britain, the alert for terrorism is to the extreme and they put it to the extreme.  How is the counter‑terrorism office of the United Nations helping the [ United Kingdom] authorities on that respect?

Spokesman: I'd have to check.  I'm not aware of any specific contacts.  Oleg and then we will call it a day.

Question:  Stéphane, is there any understanding when the report on the preliminary findings of the plane crash in Ukraine is going to be out?

Spokesman:  No, but I will be happy to check.

Question:  Second question.  On this human rights report in the Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that there is certain distortion of facts in this report, especially concerning the situation on the Ukraine/Russian border.  They point to the findings of the OSC and that there was no border violations from the Russian side; in fact, it was the Ukrainian military that were shelling the Russian territory.  And what do you say to these?

Spokesman:  I think these — the human rights observers have a very important mission and they report on what they observe.  It is not meant to be a report that is to please both parties, one party or the other.  I think we can always expect that often both parties to a situation like this are not particularly pleased with the findings of the report, but I think these reports are critical in shedding light on the human rights situation in the area.  Thank you very much.  Have a wonderful weekend and I hope I don't see you over the weekend.

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