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7 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and welcome to Friday.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

We will start off with the announcement of the Secretary‑General’s upcoming trip.  He will leave New York on Monday, 10 November, for a trip which will take him to Myanmar and Australia.

His first stop will be in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, where he will attend the sixth summit between the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ninth East Asian Summit.  The Secretary‑General will meet with leaders on the margins of these meetings.  He will also hold talks with senior officials from the Government of Myanmar and others.

He will travel then to Australia, to attend a Group of 20 leaders’ summit which takes place in Brisbane, in Australia.  The Secretary‑General will also hold bilateral meetings with other attendees of the G20 summit and participate of course in G20 sessions.  He will be back at the office in New York on 18 November.

**Ebola

Today we want to express our sincere thanks to the Government of Japan for their latest contribution to the international effort against the Ebola virus. 

The Government of Japan announced that it will be providing $4.02 million each to the Governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.  That money is to go towards the purchase of medical and epidemic prevention equipment.  In addition there will be a financial contribution to the UN Ebola Response Multi-Partner Trust Fund of $5.94 million to support the activities of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, otherwise known as UNMEER.

This new contribution of $18 million marks the completion of the allocation of $40 million, which was announced by Prime Minister Abe on 25 September at the Secretary‑General’s High-level Meeting on Ebola which took place on the margins of the General Assembly.  We thank the Government of Japan and encourage other Governments, who may not have yet contributed to the efforts to do so.

Meanwhile in Geneva, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed the impact of the Ebola crisis on essential health services in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  UNICEF said that the quickest way of getting health services to function again is to stop the virus.  The Agency is increasing its presence on the ground to support basic health services as well as social mobilization.  In the past three months, UNICEF has shipped almost 3,000 metric tonnes of life-saving supplies, including protective equipment and essential medicine.

**Burkina Faso

Moving on to Burkina Faso, the Secretary‑General obviously continues to follow the situation on the ground very closely and he welcomes the ongoing efforts of the joint UN-AU-ECOWAS [United Nations-African Union-Economic Community of West African States] mediation.

The Secretary-General commends the decision by the extraordinary session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government to establish a Contact Group led by the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, to join the international mediation efforts.  The Secretary‑General also welcomes the decision of the African Union to appoint Mr. Edem Kodjo as its Special Envoy to facilitate dialogue among Burkinabe stakeholders.  He looks forward to the appointment of an ECOWAS Special Envoy.

**Darfur

Regarding Darfur, Zainab Bangura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said she is concerned about the allegations recently reported in the media of mass rape of 200 women and girls in Tabit, in North Darfur.

She called on the Government of Sudan to allow immediate and unhindered access to the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) to investigate and verify whether these incidents have occurred and if so to ensure accountability, as well as for humanitarian actors to ensure appropriate services for any survivors.  It is critical that in the process of verifying the facts that the safety of survivors be of paramount concern.

Ms. Bangura reiterated the support of the United Nations to Sudanese authorities to address in a comprehensive manner any incidents of conflict-related sexual violence.  Her Office also stands ready to cooperate with the African Union in line with the UN-AU Framework of Cooperation on Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Africa.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN Mission in that country, UNMISS, says it is concerned by the serious violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) as signed by the Mission and the Government.

The Mission reports that four trucks carrying a consignment of armoured vehicles and equipment for Ethiopian peacekeepers in Juba were stopped by National Security Service (NSS) personnel on Wednesday on the outskirts of Juba.  The truck drivers were assaulted by the security agents and accused of transporting weapons to armed opposition forces, and the vehicles were impounded.  As of this morning, the Mission is still trying to obtain the release of all trucks and their cargo. It calls on the Government to immediately release the trucks along with the consignment of vehicles and equipment.

UNMISS also reports that a fact-finding mission on Wednesday to Raga County in Western Bahr el-Ghazal state was denied permission by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to visit a site outside of the town that was allegedly bombed by Sudanese Armed Forces aircraft earlier this month.  The Mission was also prohibited from visiting a local hospital, where residents allegedly wounded in the bombardment have been receiving medical treatment.  The Mission reminds all parties of the inviolability of UN assets and the need to ensure unhindered movement of UN personnel, including to Raga, so that the UN Mission can fulfil its mandate.

**Sri Lanka

And as you will have seen from Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, spoke out against what he called the continuing attacks by the Sri Lankan Government on the integrity of the UN Human Rights Office’s investigation into alleged grave human rights violations and abuses in the country.

He also condemned the intimidation of human rights defenders and individuals who may wish to cooperate with the investigation.  The High Commissioner said that the Government of Sri Lanka has refused point blank to cooperate with the investigation despite being explicitly requested to do so by the Human Rights Council.  There is more information on the High Commissioner’s website.

**Water

The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke yesterday at the Economist’s World Water Summit in London, where he warned that the world today is experiencing a surge of water-related crises.  He noted that the eastern basin of the Aral Sea dried up completely in August, for the first time in 600 years. California is experiencing an unprecedented three-year drought.  Climate change is manifested through more frequent and intense storms, more destructive floods and more devastating droughts, he said.

He added that the demand for water is projected to grow by over 40 per cent by 2050.  An estimated 1.8 billion people will soon live in countries or regions with water scarcity.  Two thirds of the world’s population could be living in water-stressed conditions by 2025.  The Deputy Secretary‑General urged action to deal with these challenges and said that water and sanitation must be available, accessible, safe and affordable for all, without discrimination.  His remarks are online.

**Philippines

From the Philippines, the UN Resident in the Philippines, Louiza Carvalho, noted the progress made in supporting the people and Government of that country in the year since the islands were hit by Typhoon Haiyan.  The Humanitarian Country Team has served roughly 3.7 million people with food assistance, almost one million people with rehabilitated water systems and 4,900 temporary learning spaces have been created for children over the past year.  The Humanitarian Coordinator noted the extraordinary resilience of the Filipino people who, despite the unprecedented destruction and tragedy that struck, pushed through individually and collectively.

Meanwhile, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], in its Geneva briefing today, said that most of the 4.1 million people who had been displaced by the typhoon had either returned home to rebuild, or been relocated.  Solutions were still needed for some 20,000 people either living in shelters or with host families.  And at the same time, UNHCR continues to highlight the urgent need for the Philippines to adopt legislation to protect the rights of internally displaced people, in what is one of the world’s most natural disaster-prone countries.

That’s it and it’s Friday — we will have the Week Ahead for you.  And I will stop here and take some questions.  In the back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  Yes.  You're in the middle.  In the back.

Question:  Thank you.  Follow up to the Myanmar visits next week, how will the Secretary‑General deal with the ongoing crisis in the Rohingya refugee camps, and on a more general basis what is his perspective on the political reforms that have been happening in the country for the past couple of years?  Are they still on the right track?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General, during his stay in Myanmar, which is both a multilateral visit and a bilateral [one], where he will also have some bilateral meetings with… he'll see the President and other Government officials.  He will also meet with Aung San Suu Kyi so the issues of political transition in Myanmar will obviously be on the agenda.

I think as you will recall concerning the Rohingya, the Secretary‑General in comments he made in September, which obviously still stand, highlighted the conditions of the vulnerable populations in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps and said that those remain precarious and unsustainable.  He also added the need to address comprehensively the issue of status of the citizenship of the Muslim population in Rakhine State which as you know the Government of Myanmar refers to as Bengalese but which most of the world refers to as the Rohingya.  So no doubt that will be part of the discussions, but we'll issue some readouts afterward.

Question:  One month ago, President Macky Sall in the magazine… the pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique declared that he supports the re-election of President Blaise Compaoré because according to him it can bring stability to the region.  And now Mr. Ban say that he invites Mr. Macky Sall to join the international effort so how can be credible in Burkina Faso, Mr. Macky Sall, after his declaration?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General did not invite Mr. Macky Sall.  He welcomed the formation of a contact group as led by the President of Senegal.  The President of Senegal expressed his opinion.  It's not for me to comment on them.  Obviously, we're facing a situation in Burkina Faso which is extremely volatile, which is unclear, which has the potential to have negative impact throughout the region.  And I think it's only right that the leaders of the region, whether it's President Sall or the President of Ghana, the regional efforts — ECOWAS and AU — do what they do with the parties in Burkina Faso to ensure a transition to civilian-led Government as soon as possible.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about the, what you, the things that you said about Darfur in the last two days and just ask you if maybe now or later today to respond to… there are witnesses in Darfur who actually say that the UNAMID investigators, rather than being stopped outside Tabit went inside and interviewed four people and after that they were spoken to by Sudanese military intelligence.  And so these are credible people that have been reporting on Darfur for some time and see the reports being issued by UNAMID although as a reaction to the quote “cover up report” as not being accurate.  And I wanted to know, can you check with them to be sure that the UNAMID investigators didn't in fact enter Tabit Tuesday at 5 a.m. which is the… and whether they were spoken to by Sudanese intelligence and decided to say that they hadn't been able to enter the town?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to judge the credibility or lack of credibility of people who have been reporting on Darfur.  I mean, they report.  What I can tell you is the Mission clearly stands by its reporting.  They've sent us a bit more detail, said the verification patrol comprising of military police and civilian personnel on Tuesday, 4 November, that it was sent on Tuesday, 4 November, from Shangil Tobaya to Tabit to 14:50 hours,  I assume local time.  The patrol was denied access at the outskirts of the town at a Sudanese military checkpoint.  Attempts to negotiate access to Tabit were unfruitful and the team returned to the base in Shangil Tobaya.  We've repeated… the Mission's leadership has repeated its call to the Government to grant the UN, to grant UNAMID unfettered access to the whole of Darfur and obviously especially in areas where we're trying to investigate horrendous reports of mass rape.  So that's a longer, a long way of saying that the Mission stands by its reporting.  Go and then Oleg.  And then Nizar.

Question:  Thanks. Regarding Ebola, could you give us the amount donated or pledged to the UN fund after this Japanese contribution?  I may have missed it maybe.  Could you give us again? 

Spokesman:  The total that we have, yes.  As of yesterday, we had… the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] overall needs and requirements was $988 million.  It was about 59.4 per cent funded.  As for the Trust Fund, the commitment is $60.6 million.  The pledges is 58.7 million.  So the Japanese contribution of 5 million right now is in the pledge column.  As soon as we hear that the check has been cashed, it will go in the commitment column.  And I'm sure we will see it move to the commitment column very quickly.  Okay.  Oleg and then Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Ukraine, was there any or is there any reaction of Ban Ki‑moon on the shelling of the school in Donetsk and also there were in the last several days numerous claims coming from Kiev and also from NATO that the Russian troops and some tanks have entered Ukrainian territory.  Is the UN in the position to independently verify these reports?

Spokesman:  No.  On the troop movement, no, we're not, at this point from here, able to verify it.  Obviously, the increased tension that we're seeing in the last few days is of great concern.  The shelling of a school is horrendous, inexcusable by any means.  I understand two young men died in this shelling.  And we hope that whoever is responsible is brought to justice.  And once again, we would appeal to all to recommit themselves to the spirit and the letter of what is in the Minsk protocol.  Nizar.

Question: I have two questions.  One about Syria and the other about what's happening in Jerusalem.  The tension, of course, in Jerusalem is very high, attacks against the worshippers in Al Aqsa mosque and Haram al Sharif.  And also the dwellers, with more threats on the house demolishing today.  Do you have any statement on that?  On Syria or should I postpone that until after…?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question: On Syria, Mr. de Mistura is going to Damascus tomorrow.  Who is going to meet and are there any opposition figures that he's going to have dialogue with?

Spokesman:  As soon as we have a confirmation on Mr. de Mistura's travel, we'll share that with you.  Obviously, I think the Secretary‑General remains very concerned about the tensions that we're seeing in Jerusalem, the violence that we've seen, and we urge both sides again to do whatever they can to de-escalate the violence and that whatever security measures are taken be done in full conformity with international human rights law.  Carla.

[The Spokesman later confirmed that Mr. de Mistura would be going to Damascus tomorrow, to discuss the ideas that he raised in the Security Council last week.]

Question:  Stéphane, I noticed there's going to be an Ebola consultation [inaudible] other practices that contribute to forms of…

Spokesman:  I need to you use your microphone, please.

Question:  There will be informal consultations on the draft resolution entitled “Combating the glorification of Nazism, racism, xenophobia and related tolerance” at 1:00, Conference Room C.  First question — is Conference Room C in this building or the North Lawn Building?  And second question: does the UN have, in view of the fact that the UN was established following the Second World War against the Nazi scourge, does the UN have any comment upon the resurgence of Nazism throughout large parts of Europe, from Lithuania to Greece?

Spokesman: Conference Room C, I believe, is in this building, but I wouldn't believe what I say, and I would look at a map.  And I'm sure we can point you in the right direction.  As for your other rather broad question, obviously, the rise of extremism and of intolerant ideologies is always of concern.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Please, Ken.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just quick follow up on the Ebola.  So to get the broader picture, can you list the other major financial contributor but Japan?

Spokesman:  You mean who else has contributed?

Question:  Right.

Spokesman:  Yes.  One second.  In terms of, and I would say these are contributions to the Trust Fund:  Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Estonia, Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Romania, UK, Venezuela.  Pledges for the Trust Fund: Azerbaijan, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Norway and Sweden.  But I would add that a lot of other countries have given in different ways, have fielded hospitals, have helped with MEDEVACS [medical evacuations].  So these are things that may be done outside of the strict UN financial requests.  There are also larger numbers of donors to the overall appeal.  So the list that I gave you is really just limited to the number of countries that have contributed to the Multi-Donor Trust Fund.  We will check with our OCHA colleagues to see what the larger number of countries that have contributed to the overall appeal [is] and, again, you know, a lot of other countries have donated and have given in kind.  And I think we also need to recognize the efforts of the three impacted countries themselves and the frontline health workers in Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea, who have suffered the most and really have shown the greatest of efforts.

Question:  And just one on the South Sudan.  The situation seems to be getting worse.  So are you expecting to, for the Security Council to have any sort of emergency meeting?

Spokesman:  One would have to ask the Security Council what their plans are.  The Secretary‑General keeps the Security Council updated on its latest developments on its peacekeeping missions.  Yep.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask a question about freedom of information.  Given that nearly half of Member States now have legislation with respect to FOI, I wondered if the SG has a position on whether the UN itself should have an office or whether he's articulated anything in statements before?

Spokesman:  Yes, it has been an ongoing issue.  Plans were shared with the General Assembly, which could not come to a consensus on what that would look like within the United Nations.  I'll get back to you.  Miss Fasulo.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Microphone, please.

Question:  I don't know if you mentioned this already, but I gather that the new IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] report on Iran has come out and it again says that Iran continues to block IAEA efforts.  And the conclusion basically is that there is no change and that the Agency is not able to say that Iran's nuclear materials are strictly for peaceful purposes.  Has the SG responded to this, or do you expect him to respond to the…

Spokesman:  I have no specific comment on the IAEA report, which I don't think the Secretary‑General would comment on specifically, but just to reiterate his position that he would hope that Iran lives up to its international commitments.  Anna.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just to follow up, financial question on Ebola.  The amount that's being requested and being received, does it have a time frame?  Is it for three months?  Six months?  Or for the overall elimination of the threat of Ebola?

Spokesman:  It's for the overall elimination of the threat, but obviously it may need to be updated as the situation evolves.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up because the Philippine President announced that the country's donating a million dollars for the Ebola response as well.  Has the UN been informed of that?  Is it going to the Trust Fund or the overall appeal as you mentioned?  And number two, on the UNHCR statement, would you have more details about the kind of legislation that the UN is pushing for the IDPs after the typhoon?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On the second part, I would refer you to the High Commissioner for refugees.  On the first one, let me put it this way, I have not been informed, which doesn't mean the UN hasn't been informed.  If this is in fact a case obviously we would very much welcome it.  But it is up to the Government of Philippines to then indicate where that money is slated to go.  That's not a decision of the UN.  Let's go to the second round.  Nizar.

Question:  On xenophobia, is the ideology of ISIS or ISIL (inaudible) and the likes of them considered as part of hate language and should be categorized as xenophobic?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go and analyse the policies of these groups.  I think we have condemned in no uncertain terms the actions taken by ISIS, by other extremist groups that target minorities, that target people who don't think like them and who don't follow the same path as they do, and I think we've condemned those very clearly and unequivocally.

Question:  Another question regarding the negotiations between Japan and China, the failure to agree about the islands.  Does the United Nations…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has repeatedly called for a dialogue amongst all the parties involved in these discussions.  Mr. Lee and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Okay.  Great.  I have to ask about FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act for the UN, I have to ask you, I've heard this question before, it's up to the General Assembly.  I just wonder what would you say…it seems like the Secretariat has within its powers through Secretary‑General bulletin or otherwise to commit itself to responding to requests for information that shouldn't, that's not confidential but that's not on the website, i.e., get a written request, send documents back.  What does the Secretary‑General think of that doing that?  And I ask it because I ran into Alicia Barcena yesterday who said she's raised to the Secretary‑General in the context of this data revolution or big data making many more things available on the UN website.  Does that require the…?

Spokesman:  I understand.  There are a lot of things that are available on the UN website.  I think a lot of things are public.  Other items can be accessed through the archive, through a request through the archives.  On the Freedom of Information, I really have nothing to add to what I've said.  Obviously, any sort of new structure would have financial impact and would obviously have to impact the Member States.  It is not solely within the discretion of the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Let me… and thanks.  I want… here's an example.  The question of the Secretary‑General's travel and if and when it's gifted by a Member State or others, this seems like this information that's simple to provide.  It's not currently provided on the website anywhere but it's something that the Secretary‑General could say in the interest of transparency, when we received a written request, we're going to routinely disclose it.

Spokesman:  I hear you but I really have nothing to add to what I've already said.  Yes, sir.

Question:  I had, sorry, quick follow-up on my previous question.  You said plans were shared with the GA.  I understand that was back in 2007.  So obviously quite a lot of time has passed since then.  Has he made any statements about…?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think I've answered — Member States failed to reach a consensus on the way forward and that's where we are.

Question:  So he hasn't…?

Spokesman:  That's where we are.  Go.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does Secretary‑General have any comment on this 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall?

Spokesman:  No, frankly no specific comment or none that I can actually come up off the top of my head.  But it is something no doubt that he welcomed.

Question:  And the report of the Secretary‑General on 1701, Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS are referred to as extremists.  But they are characterized as terroristic groups.  Why is the change of categorization here?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into the linguistics.  As I said, we've seen what these groups have done, and we've condemned their acts.

Question:  But there should be…?

Spokesman:  I understand.  I hear you.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I asked you about the memo concerning Mr. Ladsous and Western Sahara.  I sent it to you.  You want to ask, I'm hoping there's something on that but yesterday the king of Morocco gave a speech and many people have commented on it, because despite the UN having a mission that’s supposed to hold a referendum, he emphasized that it must be emphasized that Morocco's sovereignty over the entire territory is effective, inalienable and non-negotiable and that there should be no attempts to include human rights monitoring in MINURSO's [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] mandate.  Some people say this is a direct… I don't think it necessarily violates the Charter but it's a direct assault on what the Mission is all about.  So I was wondering, has the Secretary‑General seen that speech or Mr. Ross, and is there any response to, to, to…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We've obviously seen the speech.  We remain committed to our work as per the mandate of the Security Council on Western Sahara, and in that respect, the UN looks forward to the speedy resumption of the negotiating process and the facilitation of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary‑General, Christopher Ross, as well as the deployment of the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Western Sahara, Kim Bolduc, who is also obviously the head of MINURSO, the Mission there.  And as you know, both Mr. Ross and Ms. Bolduc briefed the Council on October 27th and afterwards, the Council reiterated its desire to see Ambassador Ross' facilitation resume as well as to see Ms. Bolduc be able to take up her duties at the helm of MINURSO as soon as possible.  We look forward to the resumption of Mr. Ross’ visits to the region and also to the deployment of Ms. Bolduc.  Nizar and then Khalas.

Question:  Well, two days ago, the attacks in Syria has widened to include Ahrar al Sham, a group which is not categorized as a terrorist group yet — maybe in the future they will.  But how does the United Nations view widening the scope of attacks, aerial attacks by the coalition?

Spokesman:  I have no particular information on the incidents that you mention.  So I…

Question:  They obliterated…

Spokesman:  I will take a look and we'll see what we can get.

Question:  Food service?  One question.  Totally off the wall.

Spokesman:  Just because it's before lunch.

Question:  Exactly. [Laughter]  I wanted to ask you, many of the people that work in food service here inside the building, cafeteria, Delegates Dining Room lounge, Vienna Cafe, they say they believe that they will lose their jobs on December 31st because the contract is going from Aramark to a company called Culinary.  So I wanted to know, one, can you confirm the contract has in fact been given to a new company and, two, has the UN, is it its understanding or is there any requirement in the contract that those already working here not be laid off en masse on New Year's Day?

Spokesman:  I will check what the contract says.  Obviously we're very appreciative of the work that this personnel has done over the years.  They're a great bunch of people.  But let me see what the contract says — if there is a new contract and what the obligations are towards existing staff.  Thank you. 

For information media. Not an official record.