The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a short while, I will be joined by John Ging, Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), along with Emergency Directors Afshan Khan of UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) and Mabingue Ngom of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund. They will be here to brief you on their recent trip to Mali.
The Secretary-General is in Brisbane, Australia, where it is already the early hours of Saturday morning. Later on Saturday morning, the Secretary-General will give a press conference; that should be at around 7:30 this evening, New York time. Over the weekend, he will participate in plenary sessions of the Group of 20 Summit and will hold bilateral meetings with many of the leaders attending the Summit. We’ll provide the transcripts and readouts from those events as we get them.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the agreement that was reached in Erbil yesterday between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government on the budget. He called the agreement a very important first step towards a comprehensive, fair and constitutional solution to all outstanding issues.
The agreement will allow public sector employees in the Governorates of Erbil, Dahuk and Suleimaniyah to begin receiving their salaries. It will also allow the Kurdistan Regional Government to resume its contribution to the federal budget at a time of national crisis.
In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the agreement and encouraged the federal and regional authorities to build on this important first step and to solve all remaining outstanding issues within the framework of the Constitution. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq stands ready, within its mandate, to continue supporting this process.
The UN commission of inquiry dealing with Syria has documented shocking accounts of the Da’esh armed group’s use of terror to subjugate Syrians living in its areas of control, as well as the use of extreme violence against both civilians and captured fighters, in a report out today.
Based on over 300 first-hand victim and witness accounts, the report provides a unique insight from Syrian men, women and children who fled or who are living in Da’esh‑controlled areas. The report says that executions, amputations and lashings in public spaces have become a regular occurrence. The display of mutilated bodies has only further terrorized and traumatized Syrians, children in particular.
Da’esh has sought to exclude Syrian women and girls from public life. Women have been killed, often by stoning, for unapproved contact with the opposite sex. Children have also been the victims, perpetrators and witnesses of Da’esh executions. Among the commission of inquiry’s recommendations is a call to engage international accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, to hold individuals, including Da’esh commanders, responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Darfur, the Acting Joint Special Representative of the African Union–United Nations Mission, UNAMID, Abiodun Bashua, was in Khartoum today for a meeting with the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the allegations of rape in Thabit. The Acting Joint Special Representative stressed the urgent need for UNAMID to gain independent access to Thabit to follow up on its preliminary mission to the area on 9 November. At the same time, the Mission continues its efforts to shed further light on the reports of alleged rape and to receive unfettered access to potential witnesses and victims so that they can conduct a thorough investigation. The Mission says it is also concerned by reports in the media about the alleged detention of villagers in Thabit and is seeking to verify them.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today welcomed last week’s judgment by Malaysia’s Court of Appeal declaring a law in the state of Negeri Sembilan unconstitutional. That law criminalized Muslim transgender women for wearing women’s clothes or presenting themselves as women with fines and up to six months’ imprisonment. The Appeals Court found that the law infringes the constitutionally guaranteed rights to live with dignity, to work, to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, to freedom from discrimination, to freedom of movement and to freedom of expression. There is more information on this available online.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says it will have to reduce food rations to around half a million refugees, mainly from Somalia and South Sudan, living in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps in northern Kenya, as a result of insufficient funding. WFP says that it has done everything it could to avoid reducing rations but will have to cut them by 50 per cent, starting tomorrow, as it struggles to raise $38 million to cover its refugee operation for the next six months, including $15.5 million urgently required to address food needs through January 2015. There is more in a press release.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the number of asylum seekers in Europe from Eritrea has nearly tripled during the first ten months of 2014. And the number of Eritrean refugees has also increased sharply in Ethiopia and Sudan. So far this year, nearly 37,000 Eritreans have sought refuge in Europe, compared to almost 13,000 during the same period last year.
Ten new Ebola community care centres are due to open this week in Sierra Leone’s Bombali district as part of a new drive to bring Ebola care closer to communities. Built by UNICEF, the tented centres will boost the number of beds in Bombali, one of the districts worst hit by the current Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 1,000 people in Sierra Leone since May. UNICEF is planning to build around 30 more centres in neighbouring districts in the coming weeks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that progress towards eliminating measles has stalled and that the 2015 targets will not be met. The number of deaths from measles increased from an estimated 122,000 in 2012 to 145,700 in 2013. The increase in the disease is in large part due to outbreaks in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. However, sizeable outbreaks were also reported in other parts of the world, including in the Eastern Mediterranean region in countries such as Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine, where weak health systems and conflict and population displacement have hampered vaccination efforts. The World Health Organization says that renewed high-level political commitment is needed to reverse this trend. More information is available on the WHO website.
As the world copes with influenza, Ebola and other infectious diseases, the Secretary-General says that World Diabetes Day reminds us that non-communicable diseases pose an even greater threat to human health.
Affecting more than 350 million people in the world, diabetes is often misunderstood as a disease associated with affluent lifestyles when it is a growing problem in developing countries. Fortunately, the Secretary-General says, there are many cost-effective and feasible ways to address diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. This year’s World Diabetes Day focuses on healthy eating as an important component of both preventing and treating diabetes. The Secretary-General’s full message is available on our website.
That it is for me. Do you have any questions for me before we get to our guests?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I want to ask you about Central African Republic, but since you read this press release about the World Health Organization, I wanted to ask for a comment on this: it has been reported that the World Health Organization basically decided to ban a particular reporter, Jina Moore of Buzzfeed, for which she worked, in an e-mail that they sent, saying that she is banned because of – quote – “inaccurate reporting”. And I wanted to know, many people have said she is a pretty prominent reporter on Ebola. What is the UN position on, one, banning individual reporters based on not liking the reports; and, two, what sense does it make during the Ebola crisis to give out less rather than more information?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm aware of the media report. However, I'm not aware that these reports are correct. I suggest you check with the World Health Organization whether there is anything to this.
Question: They have said they believe it is legitimate to ban this reporter because they claim that one of their officials was misquoted. And I wanted to know from you, assuming that is true, and I don't know that is true, but I do know they banned her, is it the UN system's position that individual reporters can be banned from being provided information based on a report that the UN doesn't like?
Deputy Spokesman: I leave it to the World Health Organization to comment on the World Health Organization. Certainly we don't do that for misquotes around here; otherwise a lot of you would be gone from this room. [laughter]
Question: What about an Under-Secretary-General saying, “I won't answer particular media’s questions?” Is there a difference there? What's the difference?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can tell you is that at the United Nations, we invite all reporters. If we see incorrect reports, we try to correct them; that is our policy. You would have to ask my counterparts in the World Health Organization's communications department what their policy is.
Question: Is there a UN system-wide policy? No?
Deputy Spokesman: I've told you what our policy is.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes? No. Okay, never mind. I thought I saw your hand, okay.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I wanted to ask about the situation with Armenia and Azerbaijan. My colleague, Matthew, first raised this issue and you got back to us with a comment, for which I'm grateful to you both. But there have been some aggravated developments in the whole situation. You know that Azerbaijani forces hit Armenian helicopter, which was just training there. And there were three pilots, young men, in that helicopter; and we have no idea what happened to those guys, because up to now, the Azerbaijani side does not let the Armenian rescue mission get to the side of the crash of the helicopter that they hit to help these people, you know, to provide medical help or support. Do you think this is normal? Because they continue to keep the fire so the rescue mission could not even approach that site. And can UN make an official statement about this and maybe help not to aggravate the situation even more, you know?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Well, what I have to say on this is simply as I also had to express yesterday: the Secretary-General shares the very serious concerns expressed by the co-chairs of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Minsk Group and other international partners regarding the ceasefire breach on the 12 November along the Line of Contact, including the shooting down of a military helicopter and resulting casualties among the crew members. He reiterates his previous call on all parties to fully respect and adhere to the ceasefire agreement. The Secretary-General also urges all sides to refrain from any actions likely to lead to further escalation of the situation on the ground and to fulfil their repeated commitments to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Secretary-General reiterates his full support for the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and the three co-chairs to assist the parties in pursuing a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Question: Just a little follow-up, if you let me?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: Of course, we are talking about all parties. But an Azerbaijani military officer murders Armenian officer during NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] disciplinary trainings in his sleep with an axe, and not only he walks free, he becomes a national hero. As Azerbaijani snipers on a regular basis murder Armenian soldiers on the border during the armistice — this is normal — as their Azerbaijani military kidnap Armenian innocent villagers and torture them to death, I think: why don't we call and why can't we call a spade a spade? We are not dealing with parties here. We are dealing with clear aggressor and victims, innocent victims. So why can't we call an aggressor an aggressor, like Azerbaijan, and call for their full responsibility, especially since we know that these countries are in peace talks and every time such things happen, it's a provocation for an answer and prolonged war.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, thanks. I'm aware of your opinion, and I've registered that. At the same time, I've said what I had to say on this. And this is a call to all parties. We do want all parties to respect and adhere to the ceasefire, and that is where we are focusing our efforts at this point. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the MH-17 crash, there are some photos circulated in the Russian media, Russian TV showed some satellite photos, supposedly that the plane has been shot in the air by military, another military plane. I know that the Russians have already approached the UN Secretary-General with providing some information about the crash. Did they give you this photo? Are you aware of this information? What is your position to this?
Deputy Spokesman: I need to check whether the photo was something that has been provided to the Secretary-General, so I'll check with the delegation. As you know, he is traveling in Australia right now, but we will see. Of course, we continue to call for unfettered access to the site so that the investigation can proceed unhindered; and we have been doing that for some months now, and we continue with that. Yes?
Question: Great. Thanks a lot. I want to ask about Bangui, Western Sahara and something said in the Sixth Committee. In the Central African Republic, there are reports that the Seleka rebels were slated to be moved out of the capital by IOM [International Organization for Migration] and somehow this deal fell apart and that they have erected roadblocks and exchanged fire with peacekeepers. Is that the case? And what is the Mission's readout on the situation? And what are they doing to resolve it?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say on that is the UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, is extremely concerned by the deteriorating security situation in Bangui. The Mission stresses the need for an inclusive dialogue to resolve the crisis in the country and calls for on all actors to engage in such a dialogue and work toward re‑establishment of order and security in the Central African Republic. And you had a question on Western Sahara?
Question: I did. I wanted… and it's sort of a two-pronged question. And one has to do with whether… what Stéphane [Dujarric] said earlier in the week about Kim Bolduc, the new SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General]. I wanted to just kind of confirm it. In reading it, does that mean that she has never has been allowed in? And, if so, where has she been since August? What is the plan to resolve that? And I also wanted to ask you about regarding the cables that I base the initial question on. Can you confirm that OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] is conducting an investigation at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on at least two staff members who apparently leaked this information to the Moroccan Government?
Deputy Spokesman: On that, I cannot confirm that. As you know, the OIOS conducts its work independently. At some point, once they have completed their work, they apprise us [inaudible]. But I wouldn't be aware of any work that is ongoing. Beyond that, regarding Kim Bolduc, as you know, both Christopher Ross and Kim Bolduc briefed the Security Council on 27 October. And at that point, the Security Council reiterated its desire, first of all, to see Ambassador Ross's facilitation resume and reiterated its desire to see Kim Bolduc be able to take up her duties at the helm of MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] as soon as possible. And we look forward to the resumption of Mr. Ross's visit to the region and also to the deployment of Kim Bolduc.
Question: But is she currently, I mean, she is the SRSG?
Deputy Spokesman: She is the SRSG, but she has not been able to function with her MINURSO duties in-country.
Question: Okay, great. And you may have been asked this in previous years even. It seems like… but today in the Sixth Committee, there was a report on the Host Country Committee; at least two delegations, one in particular Cuba, says that they believe it violates the Host Country Agreement. And not only the diplomats but staff members of Cuban nationality are restricted in movements within 25 miles of Columbus Circle, i.e. the restriction that’s on… I knew it was on diplomats, but I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General has… whether this is the policy? Are you aware of UN staff members not allowed to go beyond that distance? And what is the UN Secretary-General's position on, essentially, restriction on movement such as is protested in other countries, restrictions on UN staff?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, these are issues that are taken up in the Host Country Committee; and so we, of course, have our own representation on that Committee. We have a person seated on that. So we try to make our views known, but ultimately it's up to the Host Country Committee to decide on that.
Question: Right, but if you complain in other countries about staff not being able to go…
Deputy Spokesman: You had three in a row. Let's spread it around. Yes, you, Matthew.
Question: Hi, Farhan. And you said that there is going to be a reduced rations with people in Somalia and South Sudan, about the amount of food rations they are receiving. Do you know what exactly the number of calorie intake they will be receiving, and how close it is to minimum amount of calories someone needs on a daily basis?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't. I do know that it's, of course, severe if you cut your food ration by half. This is… normally, you get more than you need for basic survival, but if you cut it by half, then that puts you very dangerously below that or around that level. But we need to get the precise calorie count from our World Food Programme colleagues. Yes, Iftikhar?
[He later added that the calorie count will go from 2,100 kilocalories per person per day to 1,050 kilocalories per day.]
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Any comments or thoughts on the reports that the [Barack] Obama administration is now focusing on the ouster of President, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't have any comment on that. You know what our efforts are focused on. We continue to focus on the need for a political transition and for a negotiated solution involving the Government of Syria and the opposition. To that extent, Staffan de Mistura has been visiting Syria, where he was in Damascus just a week ago, and other countries in the region, and he will continue with his diplomatic efforts. Yes, Edie?
Question: Farhan, can you confirm that Pope Francis is likely to come to the United Nations next year? He is… apparently he is writing a serious document on climate change and the impact.
Deputy Spokesman: I cannot confirm it at this stage. I think it ultimately would be for the Holy See to give the confirmation rather than us. What I can say is that we are aware of the media reports that he intends to visit around the time of the next General Assembly plenary. Of course, we would welcome a visit from him whenever it's possible, and we look forward to hearing more details as they emerge. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I wanted to ask about Boko Haram. It's been reported that Boko Haram militants have captured the Nigerian town of Chibok, the very town from which they kidnapped 200 or more girls. Is UN going to react somehow, maybe with peacekeepers or militarily or strategically to recapture it and to cease these, you know, Islamic threats from spreading?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't think we can be under any illusion we can react with peacekeepers. We have no peacekeeping mandate in Nigeria. We have been working on the ground, including with affected families and with the Government, to see what we can do to resolve this situation of the kidnapped girls, and we will continue with those efforts. If this news is correct that the town of Chibok has fallen, that, of course, would be another serious source of concern. But we have been expressing our concerns repeatedly about the continued activity by Boko Haram. And, as you know, we weighed in against the need to make sure that this group cannot terrorize people in so much of Nigeria. And with that let me get Mr. Ging and Afshan Khan and Mabingue Ngom. Just one moment, please.