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21 October 2014

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.

**Ebola Trust Fund

First a statement on Ebola:

The Secretary-General welcomes the growing number of financial and in-kind commitments many countries are making to the global Ebola response.  Ebola is a major global problem that demands a massive and immediate global response.  Needs include trained medical personnel, mobile laboratories, vehicles, helicopters, protective equipment and MEDEVAC [medical evacuation] capacities. 

The Secretary General has established the UN Ebola Multi-Partner Trust Fund to provide a flexible, accountable, strategic and transparent platform to finance critical unfunded priorities and help reduce the rate of Ebola transmission. 

The Secretary-General thanks the Governments of Australia, Colombia and Venezuela for financial deposits and commitments to the Trust Fund totalling nearly $14 million.  The Republic of Korea has just announced its pledge of $5 million to the Trust Fund today.  Commitments and pledges to the Fund currently stand at $50 million, but much more is needed.  The Secretary-General urges all countries that have contributed to consider what more they can do, and those who have yet to contribute to do so as a matter of urgency. 

The only way to end the Ebola crisis is to end the epidemic at its source.  The people and Governments of West Africa are demonstrating significant resilience.  The world has a duty to provide the assistance for which they have asked.

**Ebola

An operational update from the ground:  the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that equipment is being airlifted in the affected countries this week to build logistics bases in more remote areas to be exclusively dedicated to the Ebola response.

A ship carrying some 7,000 metric tons of rice has arrived in Freetown, in Sierra Leone, from Cotonou in Benin.  It will unload part of its cargo in Freetown before proceeding to Monrovia, in Liberia.

And the Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Anthony Banbury, arrived in Guinea today.  He is meeting with the authorities, including the President, on the way forward with the Ebola response, and to brief them on the operational plan that the Mission produced last week.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the donation by the Government of Canada of 800 vials of an experimental vaccine against Ebola. 

Clinical safety trials for this experimental Ebola vaccine have already begun in healthy human volunteers and will be completed around December 2014, after which efficacy trials will begin. 

The World Health Organization will facilitate the distribution of the vaccine to clinical test sites.

And tomorrow, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee regarding Ebola is meeting for the third time.  It is convened to look at the latest events and to advise whether or not the World Health Organization needs to change recommendations on travel and trade restrictions.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

I have also a statement by the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Secretary -General condemns the decision of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to expel from the country Mr. Scott Campbell, Director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office.  He is also deeply concerned by recent threats against other staff of the Joint Office, in connection with their human rights work. 

The Secretary-General recalls that the Congolese people have suffered grave human rights violations, which the Joint Office has, over the years, helped to document as it seeks to promote and protect their rights, while strengthening justice and accountability.  Respect for human rights is absolutely essential for long-term peace and stability in the country.  The Joint Office and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) as a whole are mandated by the Security Council to assist the Government of the DRC and its people in this regard.  By impeding the United Nations human rights work, the Government is failing to uphold its obligations.  Doing so can only be harmful for the country's progress.

In keeping with the Human Rights Up Front Initiative, the Secretary-General reiterates that United Nations staff must never be threatened or sanctioned for doing their work, which is based on the United Nations Charter and, in this instance, mandated by the Security Council.  The Secretary-General expresses his full confidence in Mr. Campbell.  He urges the Government of the DRC to reconsider its position on his expulsion and to take urgent action to address the threats against other staff.  He encourages the Security Council to consider the implications for its work and objectives when United Nations staff are treated in this manner, and to consider possible actions. 

That statement is available next door in English and in French.

**Middle East

Turning back to here, the Secretary-General, as you saw, briefed the Security Council this morning on his recent visit to Israel and Palestine, and he told Council members that nothing could have prepared him for what he witnessed in Gaza. 

Regarding attacks on UN facilities, the Secretary-General said that he is planning to move forward with an independent board of inquiry to look into the most serious cases, as well as instances in which weaponry was found on UN premises.

He said that he fully understands the security threat to Israel from rockets above and tunnels below.  At the same time, the scale of the destruction in Gaza has left deep questions about proportionality and the need for accountability.

The Secretary-General also briefed the Security Council on Syria, noting that last week he had called on all parties to step up to protect civilians in the town of Kobane.  He added that a purely military response to the vicious new threat posed by Daesh could ultimately contribute to the radicalization of other Sunni armed groups and spark a renewed cycle of violence.

And he said that in Lebanon, he is troubled by a dangerous escalation since the August attacks by Daesh and [al-]Nusra Front on the town of Arsal.

**Turkey

After a two-day visit to Turkey, UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos reminded the international community of the gravity of Syria’s humanitarian crisis.  She called for additional support to people who have been displaced by fighting before the long winter sets in.  And she also called for more support to countries hosting Syrian refugees. 

Almost ten million people have been displaced internally or have left Syria altogether. In a matter of weeks, nearly 200,000 civilians have fled from Syria into Turkey. 

Ms. Amos stressed that the UN and its partners will continue to do all it can to help those in need but said that there is a limit to what the humanitarian community can do, and she called for an urgent political solution to the conflict.

**Lebanon

Also on Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, visited the Bekaa Valley today, and he said the UN will continue doing all it can to assist Lebanon in confronting the impact of the crisis in Syria.  That includes seeking additional international assistance to address the Syrian refugee crisis and for the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Mr. Plumbly saw for himself some of the present conditions of displaced Syrians there and met representatives of the Lebanese communities hosting them.  After that, he met with representatives from the Lebanese army to learn about the situation along Lebanon’s eastern border.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Jarmo Sareva of Finland as Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) for a period of one year.

Mr. Sareva will succeed Theresa A. Hitchens of the United States, to whom the Secretary-General is very grateful for her dedicated service and able leadership.

Mr. Sareva has a wealth of experience both in the field of disarmament and with the UN disarmament machinery.  We have his full biographical details available in my office.

**Bahrain

I have got some questions earlier today about the press reports regarding a letter that the Secretary-General has addressed to the King of Bahrain.

I have nothing specific to add on press reports.  I can say, however, I can confirm that the Secretary-General has written to His Majesty King Hamad [bin Issa Al Khalifa] of Bahrain in advance of the elections scheduled for 22 October. 

The Secretary-General has consistently called for a genuine and all-inclusive dialogue in Bahrain in the interest of peace, stability, reform and prosperity for all. 

The Secretary-General calls on the Government to continue to pursue a genuine dialogue with opposition societies and agree with them on a set of concrete steps towards meaningful reforms that are acceptable to all.

The UN hopes that the Government will make further efforts to this end prior to the elections. 

**Press Conferences

This afternoon at 1:15 p.m., here in this room, there will be a briefing on torture by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Ernesto Méndez; the Chair of the Committee against Torture, Claudio Grossman; and the Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Malcolm Evans.

Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  In the statement that you referred to a moment ago of the Secretary‑General before the Security Council, the Secretary‑General also said, "It is time for courage and vision to make the tough compromises that are needed now.  I challenge both sides to rise to the occasion."  Does the Secretary‑General think that they actually can rise to the occasion?

Spokesman: He very much hopes that they can, and he's pushed both parties in his discussions during his recent trip to do exactly that.  Matthew?

Question: Sure.  I wanted… Yesterday, you’d confirmed that the crash of this MONUSCO drone.  So I wanted to know, you’d said that…  some people said the site wasn't guarded.  I've seen pictures of it with nobody standing around it.  But I wanted to know: what is MONUSCO's position on why it crashed?  And I also — relatedly or not — I wanted to ask whether DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] is proposing the use of drones on the Golan Heights.  The Golan Heights was the topic of yesterday’s Security Council consultations, and we didn't get any readout, either by the president or Mr. [Edmond] Mulet or DPKO, so can you say whether — how these two might be related?  Is there some… if drones are crashing, is this the way that the UN should be going?

Spokesman: No.  Let me separate.  Unpack.  Unpack.  I have nothing on the Golan.  Yes, drones crash.  Cars crash.  Planes crash.  A lot of machines crash.  It doesn't mean that they shouldn't be used.  We're investigating exactly what happened, working with the contractor who's providing the… who's providing the drones, the [unmanned] aerial vehicles, rather.  My understanding from what DPKO told me is that the site is guarded.  Pictures don't always tell the full story.  As soon as I have an update, I will share it with you.

Question: Is there any sense whether it's mechanical failure?

Spokesman: As I said, we're investigating what's happened.  But we're in full confidence of the continuing use of the unarmed aerial vehicles.  Welcome back.  No.  Benny, you haven't left, so go ahead.

Question: Thank you.  Stéphane, the Turkish Cypriot leader, [Derviş] Eroğlu, sent a letter to Secretary‑General.  This is a follow‑up actually from yesterday's question.  And also in the meanwhile, Greek Cypriots started military exercises with both Israel and Russia.  Do you have any reaction to those exercises?  And also, is there going to be a letter from Secretary‑General to Turkish Cypriot side?

Spokesman: Unfortunately, I don't have a comment on the exercises, and I need check about the letter.  Yes, sir, in the back.

Question: Thanks, Stéphane.  Could you give us some more information about this independent board of inquiry that the Secretary‑General is planning on implementing Gaza?

Spokesman: Sure.  The board of inquiry — a board of inquiry is sort of normal procedure when there is damage to UN property or UN premises.  It is a, you know, Secretariat‑led process.  We've done them in the past.  I think the Secretary-General was clear on his intention to announce, to go forward with that board of inquiry in short order.  Mr. Avni?

Question: Actually, that was going to be my question.  When you say “in short order”, do you mean in the next few days?  Does he have a short list of who will head it?  And can you share any of that?

Spokesman: Sure.  I can give you the short list.  No. [Laughter] Short order means shortly.  You know, I'm not going to be tied down, but I would expect something soonish.  As for who will head it, who will participate, we'll make that list public when we're ready to go with the announcement.

Question: I actually wanted to ask about that, too.  I just — sorry.  I thought the board of inquiry, what triggered it was the destruction of UN facilities.  And they said it was automatic, when these things take place, there is a board of inquiry.

Spokesman: That's what I just said.

Question: I know.  But the tacking on the use of the premises for weaponry seems like — what are the possible ramifications?  Is the idea to discipline negligent or otherwise UN staff…?

Spokesman: I think we should all be just a little bit more patient.  We will announce a board of inquiry along with the terms of references, and I think things will be clear.  Yes. Mr. Go?  The Japanese gentlemen behind you, Mr. Avni, if you don't mind.  Microphone.  Sorry.

Question: Sorry.  This board of inquiry, does it mean you'll have some team on the ground or do you mean to…

Spokesman: You know, it will be led by the Secretariat.  I very much assume it will involve some travel, but all of that will be clear when we make the announcement.

Question: Could you give us any example of the past?

Spokesman: Well, there was… there's been, you know, these are routine things.  Some of them get more attention than others, when there's destruction of UN property.  If I'm not mistaken, there was one for the last operation in Gaza, and there have been others.  I'm happy to pull up some other examples.  Yes, sir?

Question: We raise… I mean, we ask question about the Japanese reporter in Seoul.  What is the Secretary‑General's comment on this, as of today, the particular issue?

Spokesman: You know, on this issue, I think we've said what we said in the past: the Secretary‑General is a firm believer in freedom of the press as in… and the freedom of expression as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that is his policy stance and his general stance.

Question: Okay, then, I have one question, a related question.  In summer‑time in Afghan, The New York Times correspondent wrote an article about the Afghan Government and after that, he was prohibited from going out of Afghanistan.  Then after that, August — in 20 August, the United Nations expressed its concern over acts of intimidation against New York Times reporter, Mr. Matthew Rosenberg.  You know, in Afghan, the UN comments in this particular, you know, issue but why in this — in Seoul issue, why doesn't the UN say — comment on this particular issue?  What is the stance?

Spokesman: The UN has a general stance. The Secretary‑General has a general stance in protecting freedom of the press and protecting the work of journalists.  I think in cases where we have a UN presence, it's a more active involvement.  Yes.  Mr. Abdel Hamid, yes?

Question: First, on the elections in Bahrain and Tunisia, is the UN involved in sending observers to the elections?

Spokesman: No, the UN — yeah, microphone.  The question was about if we're… if the UN is sending observers to the elections in Tunisia and Bahrain.  The UN does not send observers.  We often work with Governments on technical support for electoral commissions and setting up, like we did in Afghanistan and other places.  I believe we are doing that in Tunisia.  We're providing technical support to the Government.  I will find out about the situation in Bahrain. [He later said that the United Nations is not providing technical assistance to the elections in Bahrain.  For Tunisia, in early 2011, the Tunisian authorities requested the United Nations to provide technical and financial assistance to the electoral process of the democratic transition. In response,  the UN Development Programme, in coordination with the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division of the UN Secretariat’s Department of Political Affairs, set up the project “Support to the Electoral Process in Tunisia” (SEPT).]

Question: A second question.  On Sunday, a settler came out of the way and ran over two sisters, small children; one of them was killed.  Any statement, anything?

Spokesman: I haven't seen those reports, so I can't comment on it.  But I don't want to speculate on something I don't know, I haven't seen.  Señora?

Question: Grazie.  If we can just go back to Ebola briefly, I have one quick question.  If you can clarify the shipment of rice to Western Africa, where did it come from?  And also, is there a place where we can get the total list of countries that have actually contributed to the Trust Fund?  That have promised…

Spokesman: Yes.  You can use the Google machine and go to the UNDP Multi‑Donor Trust Fund page.  If you can't find it, Mathias Gillmann in my office will guide you.  The ship came from Benin.  It was loaded in Benin, Cotonou, the port of Cotonou in Benin, made its first stop in Freetown and will be heading to Monrovia.

Question: And the rice was given by whom?

Spokesman: It was done by the World Food Programme.  We would have to see if it was procured locally or globally.

Question: Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman: Yes, in the back?

Question: Thanks.  Please, could you elaborate more on the draft resolution on Central African Republic that was unanimously adopted by the Security Council?

Spokesman: I'm sorry, elaborate on?

Question: The draft resolution on Central African Republic that was unanimously adopted by the Security Council earlier today.

Spokesman: No, I don't have a particular comment.  The Security Council adopted its resolution.  Obviously, the Central African Republic is a big focus of the work on the Security Council's docket, as well as for the Secretary‑General through the peacekeeping mission that we have there on the ground.  Yes, ma'am? Go ahead and then next door.

Question: Hello?  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's Miriam Donnet.  Regarding the expel of Mr. Campbell, I was wondering, do you have any…

Spokesman: Yes, Mr. Campbell, yes?

Question: Do you have an example from the past when high‑level UN official was expelled, and therefore the Security Council had to act or acted in response to that?

Spokesman: You know, I don't have any examples off the top of my head.  Unfortunately… I think, unfortunately, UN officials sometimes do get expelled, often once doing human rights work.  I think you can see the strong reaction from the Secretary‑General, expressed in the statement today as an operationalization, so to speak, of the Human Rights Up Front policy and the need for not only the UN system but the Security Council to defend the work of human rights defenders.  Yes?

Question: Talking about Mr. Campbell, do you have any details about his expulsion or the circumstances?

Spokesman: You know, the circumstances — the reasoning, you would have to ask, was made by… clear by… was expressed by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We understand it's for his work linked to the human rights… to his human rights work.  And I think what is extremely troubling is also the threats against other members of his staff.  We're going on the first round first.

Question: Okay.  Mr. Ban said international law is clear: “Settlement activity is illegal.  It runs totally counter to the pursuit of the two‑state solution.  I urge the Israeli Government to reverse these activities.”  So what is the step that the Israeli Government will assist and continue its settlement activities?  Are you going to conduct as usual?

Spokesman: I think that, you know, the Secretary‑General has made his position clear, both in public and in private, and it is up to the Israeli Government and the international community to act.  Mr. Avni, then…

Question: Two quick questions.  In yesterday's meeting between Ban and the Israeli defence minister, did [Moshe] Ya’alon indicate that he would cooperate with the board of inquiry… that Israel would cooperate with the board of inquiry, and did they give any details on that?

Spokesman: We would very much expect not only Israel but any Member State…

Question: That was not the question.  Did they indicate…?

Spokesman: I'm not going to say anything beyond what was in the readout, but I would make it a matter of point that, whether it's Israel, whether it's the Palestinian Authority, whether it's any other… any Member State that is linked to a board of inquiry, we would expect them to cooperate fully.

Question: And secondly, in a readout that was sent by Mr. Ya’alon, he said that Israel would halt all aid to Gaza that is coming in if the Palestinians do what… if Hamas will do what it said it would do, which is reconstruct the attacked tunnels.  What's the Secretary‑General…

Spokesman: We very much hope that Israel and the Government of national consensus in Palestine continue to cooperate fully with the United Nations in the implementation of the mechanism so that much‑needed resources can come into Gaza.

Question: Even if it is constructed…?

Spokesman: You know, we're not going to go… I think we're… [overlapping talking] The monitoring mechanism put in place is to ensure that the resources that go into Gaza are used for the reconstructions of homes and businesses. 

Question: But the people in Gaza say it won’t.

Spokesman: I'm not going to go into hypotheticals.  I think both parties…

Question: It's not a hypothetical.  They say it.

Spokesman: Both parties agreed to the mechanism, and we very much hope it will be implemented.  Yes, Sarah?

Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up to Benny's question — it's not hypothetical because Hamas’ military wing, the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, have announced, they’ve openly announced that they're using tunnels that they're rebuilding.

Spokesman: I appreciate all of you reading news reports.  You ask me questions.  I have what I have to say on it.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up to our colleague Hamid's questions on the elections in Tunisia.  You indicated that the UN is sending a team to give technical support to the Government of Tunisia.  Normally, the United Nations sends an observers mission to observe the elections.  I participated in some of them myself.  What is technical assistance in this respect?

Spokesman: You know, I didn't say they will be sending a team.  I understand the country team is working with the Government on technical assistance.  I will get more details from my colleague in the country team in Tunisia.  Mr. Lee?

Question: Sure.  Let me ask on the Scott Campbell expulsion, it seems like the Secretary‑General is asking the Security Council to take action but the Secretariat itself has the power.  Can you say that… what would you say to those who say MONUSCO is actively working with…

Spokesman: Excuse me, gentlemen, excuse me.  Sorry.  Thank you.

Question: Continues to actively work with the DRC army and police and to provide material support to FARDC [Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo] actions.  This is something that DPKO itself could suspend.  Are they asking the Security Council to tell them to enforce some policy, or what…

Spokesman: The Security Council will have to decide what it needs to do.  MONUSCO obviously has a mandate that it's implementing.  It's continuing to work to implement its wide mandate.  I think the Secretary‑General's call to the Government of the DRC could not be clearer.

Question: But does MONUSCO work in support or in conjunction with the units named in Mr. Campbell's report in terms of the Congolese police?  Does the human rights due diligence policy of DPKO apply to this instance?

Spokesman: I will… my understanding is they do not, but we'll see what more details we can dig up.

Question: Can I ask by Ukraine?

Spokesman: Sure.  Let's let Abdel Hamid ask a question and then…

Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  In his remarks to the Security Council, the SG said he was… remained deeply concerned by unilateral action, restrictions and provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem.  And then he said Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu promised him not to change or refrain from altering policies with respect to the holy sites.  So the provocation is one thing and the promise was about not to change the status quo.  That means the provocations… there was no response about the provocation, when he expressed concern about the provocations.  What was the reaction of the Prime Minister?

Spokesman: I think we… during the trip, the Secretary‑General spoke about his meeting.  I'm not going to add to it.  The Secretary‑General was concerned about provocations, and I think he, for me, his statement to the Council is pretty clear.

Question: But the provocations are continuing and even escalating.

Spokesman: Right.  And we are condemning any provocations that happen in those holy sites.  A question about Ukraine, then we're going to go.

Question: Sure.  I'm sure that the… you, the Secretary‑General have seen this Human Rights Watch report saying that cluster munitions were used in attacks in Donetsk, and saying they were almost certainly from the Government side, including the shelling death of an ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] worker on 2 October.  So I wanted to know, one, if you have even now some response to it, given the communications that have taken place between…  And also whether on the Friday Security Council session, who is the briefer and can we expect this — at least the 2 October event to be addressed or will it be in this lag, as per usual?

Spokesman: I don't know who the briefer is.  We'll find out.  We'll find out, but I think obviously the briefings are updated on a daily basis.  The reports of use of cluster bombs are obviously extremely alarming.  We've seen them.  The Secretary‑General reiterates his call for an end to use of these indiscriminate weapons and the importance of a world free of cluster bombs.  And I think it's also an occasion to reiterate the Secretary‑General's call for a political solution to the current crisis in Ukraine.  Thank you, all. 

For information media. Not an official record.