6 November 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 spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Burkina Faso

Starting off with Burkina Faso, we are expecting now any minute a statement on Burkina Faso, but what I can tell you right now is that the Secretary General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mohammed ibn Chambas, has welcomed the agreement reached yesterday in Ouagadougou between all the parties to resolve peacefully the political crisis in Burkina Faso.  He called on the parties to maintain their engagement and positive dialogue with the objective of establishing a coherent and consensual transition period.  Mr. Chambas is today representing the Secretary General in the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] extraordinary summit organized in Accra as part of the international community mobilization to resolve the political crisis in Burkina and also take the necessary measures against Ebola.


And turning to Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued yesterday an update on Ebola cases.  It reports a total of 13,042 cases and 4,818 deaths.  At the country level, the weekly incidence appears to be stable in Guinea.  In Sierra Leone, the weekly incidence continues to rise, while, in Liberia, it appears to be declining.  However, in all three countries, the World Health Organization stresses that Ebola transmission remains persistent and widespread, particularly in the capital cities, and that cases and deaths continue to be underreported in this outbreak.  It is also critical to remember what Dr. Salama from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] told you last week, which is that one has to consider the three countries as one block in this outbreak.  According to WHO, of the planned 4,707 beds needed in Ebola treatment centres, 22 per cent are currently in operation.  The establishment of more beds is in part held back by challenges in finding sufficient numbers of foreign medical teams to operate the Centres.  Guinea currently has two foreign medical teams operating Ebola treatment centres, and is in need of at least five more.  Liberia has three foreign medical teams and is in need of 13 more, and Sierra Leone has five teams, with 10 more needed to be deployed.

Still on Ebola, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ms. Ertharin Cousin, just concluded a three-day visit to Sierra Leone.  She said that the international community has made a lot of progress in meeting the needs of the victims of this crisis, but that we still need to scale up the response, to get better and to perform faster.  To date, the World Food Programme has provided food assistance to some 1.3 million people and is ramping up services to the humanitarian effort in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Besides, the World Food Programme is also providing crucial transport and logistics support, particularly to medical partners, building Ebola treatment centres and storage hubs for the entire humanitarian community, in both capital cities and remote areas of the countries.


Following today’s Supreme Court ruling in Libya regarding its Parliament, the UN Support Mission in [Libya] (UNSMIL) called on all parties to place the national interest above all other considerations.  The Mission reiterated its commitment to Libya’s sovereignty and independence, as well as its territorial integrity, adding that the UN underscored the need for all to act responsibly and not take actions that would escalate the existing polarization or lead to a further deterioration of the security situation.  The Mission, in accordance with its mandate, said that it remained committed to working with all parties to help Libya overcome the current political and security crisis.  It also emphasized the urgent need for all parties to forge consensus on political arrangements regarding the transition.  In this regard, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernardino León, will confer with all parties on the way forward.  We have more information available on the Mission’s website.


Also today, in Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met today with the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri.  Regarding yesterday’s vote in the Parliament to extend its mandate, the Special Coordinator said that this had spared Lebanon a further serious vacuum in the institutions of the State.  But, he added that it was a matter of regret that Lebanon, with its strong democratic tradition, remained unable to hold parliamentary elections.  He said that the United Nations remains ready to support preparations for parliamentary elections at any time.  Mr. Plumbly also hoped that Parliament would be able to move without delay to elect a President.  He said that its importance was obvious for Lebanon’s unity and the ability of the State to confront present challenges.  We have Mr. Plumbly’s statement in my office.


One note from our colleagues from the [Office for the] Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:  they said that according to government estimates, military operations in Pakistan’s North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies have uprooted more than 34,000 families since 20 October.  Provincial authorities said that 85 per cent of the displaced have been registered already.  Uprooted families are receiving food, polio vaccinations and health-care support in camps and within host communities, and the Government's response is being supported by the humanitarian community.  [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] said that, with winter rapidly approaching, further funding will be required to ensure that all of the displaced receive aid.


Yesterday I think, Matthew, you raised a question about Somalia.  And just in answer to you:  in his statement that was issued, I think, on Sunday, 2 November, the Secretary General's Special Representative, Nicholas Kay, expressed concern about allegations that [members of Parliament] were being asked to exchange votes for cash in the context of a potential no-confidence motion.  The UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) says it has not received any official statement from the Federal Parliament of Somalia following the Special Representative's statement.

**International Court of Justice

As we speak, the Security Council and the General Assembly are voting today to elect new members of the International Court of Justice.  As of this moment, five rounds have already taken place.


Shortly, I will be joined by the Secretary-General's Independent Expert Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.  The Secretary-General will be meeting with members of the panel later today to receive the report.  And the report is entitled “A World That Counts: Mobilising The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development”.  Presenting the report to you will be Assistant Secretary General and ex officio member of the group, Amina Mohammed, along with the Group’s Co-Chairs, Enrico Giovannini and Claire Melamed.  They will brief you on that report.  Mr. Lee?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Some other stuff, but I'm sure the Secretary-General has seen the Amnesty International's report today about the peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic.  They basically, I mean, they say a number of things.  Maybe you have some kind of response to it.  But, I wanted to especially ask you about the reporting aspect of it they describe a number of killings and attacks that have taken place in Dekoa, Bambari and elsewhere in [the Central African Republic] about, which, at least being here every day, I've heard nothing from this podium.  So, I wanted to know both substantively what's the response of UN peacekeeping to not protecting civilians and in terms of communications and transparency the response to what appears to be an underreporting similar to that analogous to that in Darfur?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Obviously, a big part of the Missions' mandate is the protection of civilians.  The Mission, its peacekeeping forces, its formed police units, are doing that to the best of their ability.  Obviously, it's a very challenging situation.  It's a challenging terrain in which they work.  And there is, obviously… one could always use more troops and more police.  I'm not sure they're up to their mandated force as of yet.  As far as reporting goes, you know we report from here whatever we receive from the Mission.

Question:  I just, I guess… thanks a lot.  I just want to ask one thing.  Because of the Darfur thing, I wanted to ask:  Their report is very detailed.  The report, it says names of places, number of people killed.  Maybe, first of all, does the Mission send it to [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] in New York and they're supposed to give it to your office?  At what point has this information in the Amnesty report, has it reached New York before or is it a surprise to UN?

Spokesman:  I can only speak to what I receive from the Mission.  Karim?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you repeat the two figures you gave on Ebola?  The number of cases reported and the number of deaths, I guess?

Spokesman:  That should be easy enough.  And your second question will be easier?  [Laughter]

Question:  And second question is following the UNAMID review, there seems to be quite a bit of discontentment from the US, UK, France in the fact that the review doesn't point any fingers… doesn't call for any sanctions.  I'd like to know if the former Head of Mission, Karen Tchalian, is still part of the UN system and if he might be sanctioned over this review?

Spokesman:  On your first question, the numbers of cases is 13,042.  And the number of deceased is 4,818.  I think the UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] report, the review, was fairly clear in highlighting where the mission had failed in reporting, in systematic reporting.  And I think we made that clear from this podium.  As I've also mentioned, instructions were sent to all missions to remind them of their reporting responsibilities.  I think we've already seen a change in terms of where UNAMID stands by what we were saying yesterday, talking about the allegations of mass rapes and the fact that our missions were, our efforts were turned back by Sudanese military officials.  That was the point of the review, to look at the systems and where they had failed.  As to the person you mentioned, something I should know, but I will double check.  Yes, sir.  And then Anna.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  I don't have those off the top of my head, but I will ask our colleagues at [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to provide some figures.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  On questions of deportation, you know, I haven't seen those specific reports; but in terms of what the Secretary-General has already said, he told the partnership group on Myanmar back in September that conditions of vulnerable populations, especially in [internally displaced persons] camps, remains precarious and unsustainable.  And he also has stressed, on a number of times, the need to address comprehensively the issue of status and citizens of the Muslim population in the Rakhine States, which, as you know, the Government's referred to as Bengalis, but are known as Rohingya by the population themselves and much of the world.  Anna and then Mr. Carpenter and then we will go to the back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask about China.  There have been some reports that there were some clashes between pro-democracy protesters and the police in the area of Mong Kok.  Do you have any updates on this?  And what is UN's official reaction to this?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports.  I'm happy to take a look at them.  Mr. Carpenter?

[The Spokesman later noted that the Secretary-General has continuously stressed the importance of respect for peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, as well as a commitment by all sides to dialogue and non-violence.]

Question:  Hi.  In the press conference with Dr. Salama from UNICEF, he said that these numbers being presented on Ebola casualties are probably grossly underestimated.  Is there any idea of, like, ballpark range of what the actual numbers might actually be?  Or is that something…?

Spokesman:  No.  I think the fact that they're underestimated I think is something that's accepted by all.  I think it would be hard to pin down by what percentage they may be underestimated.  It's also important to remember that, in an epidemic, in an outbreak as this one, there will be peaks and valleys.  And numbers will go up and down.  I think what we all have to do is kind of remain focused on the ultimate goal, which is no more cases in all three of those countries, which as Dr. Salama said, really constitute, from a medical point of view, one zone.

Question:  Thank you.  In Jerusalem, the tension is high again.  Some report says that Israel soldiers entered the Mosque of Al Aqsa with their boots on it.  And did Mr. Secretary-General spoke to the King of Jordan or Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu about this subject?  And what's his position?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any direct conversations between the Secretary General and the Prime Minister of Israel or the King of Jordan.  Our special coordinator, Robert Serry, is on the ground and has been in touch with various parties involved in this.  The Secretary-General has reiterated his very deep concern at the tensions we are seeing in East Jerusalem and has called on all sides to de-escalate the situation.  I think we're seeing very tense moments.  And it's important that we don't see any provocations that could lead to more violence.  Madame?  Micro, s’il vous plait.  Microphone, please.  I know you're recording, but I need to hear you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Anything on Staffan de Mistura in Syria?  Or is he around?  Is he coming back to New York?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have an update on Mr. de Mistura's whereabouts, but I will find him and report back to you.  Yes, he was here not long ago.  I'm not sure he'll be coming back any time very soon.  But, I'll find out and I will let you know.  Yes, please.

Question:  I'm sorry.  Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cyprus is in Cyprus now discussing… having talks with both leaders.  Is it possible for you to provide some transcripts from his talk to the reporters?  Because we don't know what is going on with both sides, and also he was earlier in Greece.  Would you provide some information, please?

Spokesman:  With pleasure.  It is not only possible, but it is my duty to do that, so we will do that.  Mr. Lee?

[The Spokesman later noted that after visiting Ankara on 28 October and Athens on 5 November, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, is in Cyprus today for a two-day visit.  The purpose of his visit is to find a way out of the current deadlock and secure a resumption of negotiations, which have been interrupted since 6 October over the issue of hydrocarbons.  In Ankara, Athens and Cyprus, the Special Adviser explored with his interlocutors possible options for the way forward.  These discussions are ongoing.  Regarding the Special Adviser's programme while in Cyprus, he met today with the two leaders, Mr. Nicos Anastasiades and Mr. Dervis Eroglu; Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides; and representatives of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot media.  Tomorrow, he will meet with the two negotiators, Andreas Mavroyiannis and Ergun Olgun, as well as with members of the diplomatic community.]

Question:  Sure.  I will ask about Libya and Western Sahara, but one follow-up on de Mistura.  The US put out a readout last night that he met with Susan Rice, former Ambassador here, and the US' readout is that Ambassador Rice underscored the US commitment to support the moderate Syrian opposition including through a train and equip programme.  So, I wanted to know, given what the Secretary-General has said about a flow of arms into Syria not being useful, if the US says that it told de Mistura to his face that they intend to equip the Syrian rebels, what did Mr. de Mistura say?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary General's position remains the same.  And I think you may be framing it a little more aggressively.  "Told him to his face"… yes, they were meeting together, of course they talked.  And as often in these things, people have different positions.  The US has its position and Secretary General has his.  And I'll see if I can get more readout from our end.

Question:  You know, you may have something on this.  In Libya, there's kind of turmoil where the Supreme Court has declared invalid the Tobruk parliament that the UN recognizes or Mr.… it seems that the UN recognizes it.  So, it may or may not exist anymore.  What's the response to this court decision?  And who does the UN now recognize in Libya?

Spokesman:  Matthew, I would never think I would say this:  You didn't pay attention.  You were here.  You didn't pay attention.

Question:  Strike that.  Western Sahara, one more?  I just want to recoup myself here.  There's been…

Spokesman:  Don't multitask.

Question:  There have been a series of documents leaked which I waited to ask about until now from the Human Rights… the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), concerning a staff member from Sweden who apparently is working for Morocco and producing a lot of documents about the review of Western Sahara's human rights.  And now your colleague there has said they're aware of the cables and they're looking into them.  I don't think he's dismissing them as falsities.  So, I wanted to ask you, because one of the cables has the current Under-Secretary-General of peacekeeping operations, Mr. Hervé Ladsous, writing glowingly of Morocco's human rights organs and essentially implying that a human rights mandate for MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] is not necessary.  And I wanted to know:  Is this a misreading, first of all, of a document that's now online?  I could provide it to you if you want.  And, number two, if that is a real document, is it appropriate for the Head of Peacekeeping to be, in the eyes of some, undercutting the human rights mandate and [Human] Rights Up Front and everything else about MINURSO?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those cables and I'm not going to comment on leaked diplomatic documents.

Correspondent:  I'll send them to you.

Spokesman:  You can send me whatever you'd like to send me, Matthew.  Great.  Thank you all.  If you stand by, we will get our guests.  And they will be here to brief you on the data revolution.

For information media. Not an official record.