11 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

Good afternoon, everyone.  As you can see from the person sitting in the front row, immediately after this briefing, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Jean Victor Nkolo, will be here to brief you.  Before that, I’ll read a few notes and I’ll take a few questions.

**Burkina Faso

First off, the Secretary‑General continues to follow closely the situation in Burkina Faso.  He welcomes the ongoing discussions on the modalities of the transition process.  He encourages all Burkinabé stakeholders to finalize this document as soon as possible.  The Secretary‑General commends the ongoing efforts of the joint UN-AU-ECOWAS [United Nations-African Union-Economic Community of West African States] mediation.  He welcomes the various high-level delegations that have visited Ouagadougou this week to engage with Burkinabé stakeholders in support of their efforts to agree on a consensual, civilian-led transition, including the Chairperson of the African Union, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, as well as President Macky Sall of Senegal and President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo, who are currently in the country.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to reporters in Damascus today, one day after he met with President Bashar al-Assad and visited the city of Homs.  He discussed the UN proposal for a freeze — or “Tajmeed” in Arabic — which he said is a new way to achieve a de-escalation of violence, starting with the city of Aleppo.  And he added that the freeze meant that all sides would stop fighting and not move from their positions.  Mr. de Mistura said that his meetings with the President and with Government officials indicated they are studying the proposal very seriously.  The transcript of his press encounter is available in our office.


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been trying to prepare displaced populations in Iraq and Syria for the coming winter, but the Agency is increasingly concerned by a $58.45 million funding shortfall, which could leave as many as a million people without proper help.  The shortfall affects the Refugee Agency’s winter preparedness programmes, although it has already invested $154 million on winter aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people.  While the problem is most acute in Iraq and Syria, there are also needs in other parts of the region.  This will be the fourth winter away from their homes for many Syrian refugees and the first for the 1.9 million Iraqis who have become internally displaced this year.  Many fled with nothing.  Right now, UNHCR estimates that the winter shortfall will affect some 990,000 people, mainly newly internally displaced people in Iraq and Syria, including a gap of $27.4 million for IDPs [internally displaced persons] inside Syria, and $25 million for those displaced in Iraq.  There is more information on the Agency’s website.


Bernardino León, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, traveled to Tripoli today as part of his efforts to listen to the views of the parties and various stakeholders on the way forward.  He is also discussing the possibility of convening an inclusive dialogue.  Mr. Leon met Mr. Nouri Abu Sahmein today in the framework of his consultations with different political personalities to overcome the Libyan crisis.  And on Sunday, Mr. Leon travelled to Al-Baida, where he met with the Chairman of the Constitution-Drafting Assembly, Ali Tarhouni, to discuss UN technical assistance.  He later met in Shahat with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to hear his views on the latest developments in the country.  Regarding the bombings that took place in Shahat, Mr. Leon has condemned the cowardly act and stressed that such attacks will not prevent the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) from carrying on with its work to push for solutions for Libya's crisis.  Also today, the Security Council heard from Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, concerning its handling of the situation in Libya.


And the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says that violence by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria’s northeast continues to send thousands of refugees across the border into neighboring Cameroon.  According to Cameroonian authorities, some 13,000 Nigerian refugees crossed from Adamawa State after insurgents attacked and captured the town of Mubi in late October.  And the vast majority of them have now returned to Nigeria, saying that their final destination was Yola, the capital city of Adamawa State.  On the Nigeria side, a UNHCR team confirmed that thousands of Nigerians are now being hosted at Girei and at the National Youth Service centre in Yola, one of five sites in Adamawa State hosting internally displaced persons.  In other areas in the Far North Region that border Nigeria’s Borno state, Cameroonian authorities continue to report regular attempts by insurgents to carry out incursions into Cameroonian territory.  Meanwhile, in Niger, at least 1,000 people have arrived in the Bosso area, in the south of the country, following the capture by insurgents last week of the garrison town of Malam Fatori.  The new arrivals in Bosso say that Malam Fatori is now almost empty, as most inhabitants have fled without taking any belongings with them.  Children show signs of trauma.  At this point, it is difficult to know exactly how many people have arrived in the past few days.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that seasonal flooding has been reported in several regions of Somalia, affecting up to 50,000 people.  Humanitarian partners had pre-positioned emergency supplies ahead of the flooding, allowing for rapid response.

**“Name” Issue

As we announced last week, Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will meet with the Representatives of the two countries here at UN Headquarters tomorrow.  We expect that the Ambassador will speak to reporters afterwards around noon.

**Press Conferences and Events

Like I said, immediately after this briefing, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Jean Victor Nkolo, will be here to brief you.  And also, as I mentioned yesterday, for the first time in 70 years, the records of the United Nations War Crimes Commission are now open to the public at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.  Correspondents are invited to attend a panel discussion entitled “United Nations War Crimes Commission Records (1943-1948): Past, Present and Future” this afternoon from 1:15 pm to 2:30 pm in Conference Room 1, where participants will examine the historical significance of the records and their future potential use.

Any questions for me before we go to Jean Victor?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask again about the allegations of rape in North Darfur.  Radio Dabanga there has not only questioned, you know, the UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] press statement but has interviewed both victims and has quoted a local community leader in Tabit, basically threatening people that if they spoke on the rapes to UNAMID, they would face the consequences.  So I wanted to know, now at this remove… yesterday the President of the Council spoke about it, at this remove, what is UNAMID going to do to get to the bottom of it?  And also, the reporting to Ms. Aicha Elbasry’s allegations, who would brief the Security Council on that?  He said yesterday, the President of the Council, that they are looking to take it up and are looking for the right briefers.  Does the Secretariat have in mind either the author of the report or who would be the appropriate briefer?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  As the Council President informed you, they'll be looking at briefers, so we'll work that out with them.  Regarding your initial question, yes, we've been in touch with the UN-African Union Mission, UNAMID, who have informed us that security personnel were in fact present during UNAMID's mission to Tabit.  The African Union-UN Mission in Darfur will continue to look into the rape allegations in the area of Tabit, North Darfur.  As reported to the Security Council yesterday, the findings of the UNAMID team, which was granted access to Tabit on 9 November, are inconclusive and need further investigation.  UNAMID remains committed to this and it will revert with any additional findings that might shed light on these allegations.

Question:  [Inaudible] I just wanted to ask you again if there's been any reflection again on that line where it says residents… and I'm going to paraphrase it, residents said that they get along fine with the military.  Just seemed the line was such a clunker, basically, it was totally inconsistent with other reports…

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to second-guess how my colleagues write press releases.  Different press releases are written by different people at different times.

Question:  Who wrote this one?

Deputy Spokesman:  Someone from the Mission.  The point is: you're writing, trying to get all the information out as best you can in the circumstances you have.  What I have been able to say right now is that we are aware that security personnel was present during UNAMID's mission there.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  I'm not sure, maybe I've missed it, but has the Secretary‑General said anything about the latest situation in Israel with the stabbings and the taxi and the car attacks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we haven't issued any formal statement, but, yes, the Secretary‑General has been very concerned about the latest violence as a whole.  He remains deeply concerned over the continued violence and he has… he strongly condemns the attacks that have occurred, including the attacks on pedestrians.  Heightened tensions over provocations and access restrictions at the holy sites are continuing, and those also need to be urgently de-escalated.  The Secretary‑General urges all sides to show leadership and promote collective efforts to lower tensions and restore calm.

Question:  The reason you haven't addressed it so far is because you have no presence in the area?  Is that it?

Deputy Spokesman:  You just asked me and I gave you what we've been saying.  We don’t, of course, issue statements on each and every thing that has happened, but his sentiments remain the same regardless of the circumstance: that attacks on civilians are wrong and they are to be condemned.  Yes, Anna?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There has been an audiotape leaked in which Egyptian militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis declares their allegiance to ISIS in which they basically say that they would obey Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the ISIS, self-proclaimed leader, or whoever he is.  This might be very dangerous, because it means that ISIS infiltrated already the biggest and most influential Arabic nation.  And the situation seems to getting out of control, especially since we're dealing with this jihadist extremist domino effect, you know, which is going on in the region where more and more forces and more and more people pledge allegiance to ISIS.  Is UN going to address this, somehow?  I know you will say it's in the hands of Member States, and I know will you say it's in the hands of Security Council, but is UN going to address this to come up with some initiative to deal with this issue?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Actually, I wasn't going to say that, but nice try.  We have spoken out against the Daesh and the Secretary‑General has made it very clear we're encouraging all States to stand against the Daesh and all of their affiliates.  So it's certainly a matter of concern if any new groups join in with them.  Obviously, this can be stopped.  The Security Council has in fact also taken action against them in, as you know, in their recent resolutions.  And we're trying to see how we can continue to move forward with international solidarity against the sort of groups that have been perpetrating these brutal attacks that we've seen in recent months.  So we'll continue to stand against them and the Secretary‑General will continue to support all efforts to work against them, including the efforts that have been in place in Iraq and Syria itself.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, Farhan.  On this situation on the Indian/Pakistan border which has been going on, has the UN Mission in India and Pakistan, UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan], have they submitted a report on the last recent killings over there?

Deputy Spokesman:  The UN Military Observer Group, UNMOGIP, does collect information and data about all the incidents that appear in their area of operations and they'll continue to keep the Secretary‑General and the Security Council posted.  I don't have any real updates to give you, compared to what Stéphane [Dujarric] has been saying in recent weeks when you've been asking.

Question:  Will there be an update that can be, recently, because there has been no substantive updates from UNMOGIP so far?

Deputy Spokesman:  They do provide periodic updates, including to the Security Council.  There's no new information I have to give.

Question:  On the situation in Pakistan, there has been a spate of killings of minorities and so forth in Pakistan recently, day before yesterday and so forth.  Has Secretary‑General or the Human Rights Office in Geneva or in New York noticed that and has assessed as to what's happening and have they talked to the Pakistani Government about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we are concerned about attacks on religious minorities, including in Pakistan in recent days.  As you know, a few weeks back, we did have a statement about the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan and we stand by the sentiments expressed in that statement.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, you mentioned earlier, and I've heard this expression used before, about the concern of the Secretary‑General about provocations and restrictions on access to holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.  I want to get a sense of a little bit more detail of what that means.  For example, is he referring to the restrictions on the rights of Jews and Christians to pray openly on the Temple Mount — incendiary rhetoric by President [Mahmoud] Abbas and other Palestinian leaders in terms of Jews being able to visit the Temple Mount?  Can you just give a little more detail on what the term provocations and restrictions on access means?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said during his open briefing to the Security Council on the Middle East a few weeks back.  It was the same as what he was saying then.

Question:  Well, I'm just trying to… the… it doesn't really get into specifying what these provocations are.

Deputy Spokesman:  The language he used there is exactly the language to address your question.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I wanted to ask a follow-up question on Pakistan situation there.  It's been reported that a group of schools has viciously attacked Malala Yousafzai, a group they say they unite 150,000 schools across Pakistan.  And they called her a traitor and Western agent and all kinds of things like that, and basically they declared Monday "I am not Malala day", which is absolutely vicious.  And also on this note, they are blaming her for attacking Islam, denigrating Islam as a religion and the believers or whatever.  And last week, the enraged mob attacked Christian couple.  They were murdered in cold blood, and then their bodies were incinerated.  And it has been reported that the wife was pregnant, actually, at the time of the killing, which is absolutely atrocious.  Is Secretary‑General going to comment somehow on this or is there going to be an official statement from the United Nations on this?  Especially since we're calling for non-violence, you know, and tolerance, and Malala Yousafzai has always been praised by the United Nations as well as a champion of truth.

Deputy Spokesman:  And Malala Yousafzai continues to be praised by the United Nations.  The Secretary‑General has made clear his support for Malala, for her goals, for the cause of girls' education and he continues to stand by that.  So he is very clear that the work she's doing is in line with the work of the United Nations, and we will support her in those efforts.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  I'm a bit confused about Darfur.  UNAMID at first denied that there were rapes.  The residents there were shocked and said, yes, of course, we… they have lots of information on it and blamed the Sudanese Army, which in recent weeks have moved troops into Darfur.  So I wonder if you can unravel this, or is this another case where UNAMID is afraid to attack… to criticize Khartoum?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't say that they're afraid to criticize Khartoum.  In fact, a week ago, they made very clear that Sudanese Government personnel were blocking them from access to Tabit.  And we did say that up front and at the time.

Question:  Yes.

Deputy Spokesman:  It remains to be seen what evidence they can collect, but we'll keep in touch with them to try and get whatever information they have to make sure that they are able to look thoroughly at this.  And of course, what that means is that they need to have access to all the information that they can get hold of in order to make a reasoned judgment about what actually happened in Tabit.  Yes?

Question:  I just wanted to ask yesterday about the announcement of the Board of Inquiry, described as an internal and independent UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry.  By internal, how much of this report is going to be public?  That's my question.  I have a couple other questions on reports, but can you say what “internal” means?

Deputy Spokesman:  As with all United Nations boards of inquiry, the Board’s report will be an internal document of the Organization and not for public release.  However, the Secretary‑General intends to make publicly available a summary of its findings.  And as you may remember, that's what we did also in 2009.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to also ask about two… both the drone that crashed in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] that it was said initially that they were looking into it and it seemed that they would say how it fell.  Has that been finished?  And also, much before that, the helicopter that was shot down in South Sudan that killed four pilots aboard.  What's been the finding of the UN on whether Peter Gadet's forces shot it down or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  These are both cases that have been looked into.  I don't have any final findings on either of those cases to give to you.  Once we do, we'll certainly let you know.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On the peace plan of the United Nations envoy on Aleppo, peace plan for Aleppo, has the Syrian Government taken note of that?  Have they agreed to that plan, or where does it stand now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Staffan de Mistura did speak to the press today about this.  He mentioned that he had spoken and brought forward this proposal to President Assad just yesterday, and he did say that his meetings with the President and with Government officials indicated that they're studying the proposal very seriously.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Two quick questions.  One follow-up on the Egypt situation: I asked you before that question, which is the US… does the UN have any comment on the situation in Rafah in which houses are being razed?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Stéphane responded to your question last week.  And I'll just refer you back to what he said.

Question:  Well, he didn't…

Deputy Spokesman:  He talked about the need for any security operations to be conducted with respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.

Question:  Okay.  So there's no specific one about this.  Until… about the Board of Inquiry, the Gaza report… it says that the Board will also review and investigate incidents in which weapons were found to be present in United Nations premises.  But part of the problem for the Israelis as they presented it at the time was that UN facilities were used as shield to launch attacks or the proximity of UN facilities.  Is that part of the mandate?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say simply is that, drawing on all available information, included that provided by relevant parties, the Board of Inquiry will aim to establish facts which deaths, injuries or damage occurred at United Nations facilities and certain incidents in which weapons were found on United Nations premises.  I'd like to add also that the Board is not a judicial or legal body.  It will not make legal determinations or findings of law.  Yes?

Question:  Has the United Nations determined what the Rafah crossing and all the crossings Israel has had a stranglehold on not allowing anything inside the occupied Gaza territory?  Have the Israelis eased any of its restrictions so far?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you to what we've been saying in recent weeks, with the start of the functioning of the mechanism that the United Nations has developed along with the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, which has allowed for the start of some construction material to get into Gaza.  And we're hoping to have that become used more and more readily as the weeks progress.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Is there any update on Ukraine, with everyone monitoring it and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and press and whatnot saying that there's a lot of reinforcements and there's fear of a move of the separatists to the south, which would give an easy access to Crimea?  Is there any news on that whatsoever, or is this just going to be a separate little enclave forever?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've seen the vote in the General Assembly on that particular topic, and we stand by that.  Regarding the latest developments, of course, we're concerned about any continuing tensions, and we continue to urge the authorities in Moscow and Kiev to de-escalate the situation and resolve any tensions through dialogue.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes.  On the mechanism that you mentioned concerning the Gaza crossings, could you give us an update either now or provide us an update on the number of UN monitors who have been engaged to… as part of that framework agreement, to monitor the materials entering into Gaza to make sure that they are for civilian purposes, and the budget for those monitors and where that money is coming from?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe there's a fact sheet by the Special Coordinator's office, and I'll try to share that with you.  It's not like there's going to be a day-by-day tally on budgeting and so forth, but there is a fact sheet, and we'll share that with you.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, a couple of days ago, Uganda announced that it was suspending 15 people that had served in AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] in Somalia after allegations of sexual abuse.  Many people link it to a Human Rights Watch report that said that both Ugandan troops and Burundian troops, basically listed places and times.  So I wanted to know, since the UN supplies material to the Mission, did it have any role in the suspension?  Does it have any comment on the failure to act by Burundi on its own troops that were named in the report?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, these are troops for the African Union Mission in Somalia, so it's really for the African Union to comment on them.  Of course, we would encourage all countries to investigate the actions by their troops and so once… if they do carry out follow-up investigations, that's certainly a positive thing and we would encourage all countries to do that.

Question:  Just one question to understand: Does the human rights due diligence policy apply to the support that UNSOA [United Nations Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia] gives to the AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] unit in Somalia? 

Deputy Spokesman:  That's logistical preparation.  Of course, our human rights due diligence policy applies to the various transactions that we do.  Whether that would involve the troops that were named is a separate question.  But you really need… ultimately, Matthew, you really need to deal with the African Union because they're the ones that control the African Union Mission in Somalia.  Yes?

Question:  Following up on a question regarding Israeli restrictions in terms of entering Gaza, what is the status of the Egyptian restrictions for goods entering Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of goods entering Gaza, we've urged for all normal commercial traffic to be restored to Gaza, and we've said that to all our interlocutors, Egyptian as well as Israeli.  Yes?

Question:  I have a question about women’s rights in India.  There was a report yesterday of women… an Indian girl was stripped naked and paraded on a donkey in Rajasthan, and that she had… was accused of something by her relatives.  Has the Secretary‑General… has the United Nations noticed that also?  Because a number of these women's rights violations that keep on happening in India, one after another, and they are piling up.  Is there an inquiry that can be launched on these things?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, we're simply aware of the media reports.  We would hope that they will be looked into, and once we have any further details, we can make an informed evaluation of the situation.  But at this stage, we're simply aware of this.  And it's certainly a cause for concern, because women's rights should be upheld around the world. 

And with that, Jean Victor.

For information media. Not an official record.