8 December 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 all of those watching on webcast.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General arrived yesterday evening in Chicago, and this morning met with officials from the United States, including the Federal Aviation Association, as well as the Secretary of Transportation.  He also met with the Mayor of Montreal.  He then attended the opening of the Extraordinary Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council.  As some of you may know, this year marks the seventieth anniversary of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which established ICAO and was signed in Chicago, 70 years ago.  In his remarks at the opening, the Secretary-General said that ICAO helps the UN address some of its most pressing issues on the global agenda, including in the areas of health, security and the environment.

The Secretary-General's last event in the Windy City was an event with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Rookery Building to showcase the efforts to promote energy efficiency in Chicago’s buildings.  Shortly, he will be taking off for Lima, Peru, where, as you know, he will attend the UN Climate Change Conference, which is already under way.


The fight against Ebola got a boost today with the arrival of 20,000 sets of Personal Protective Equipment from the Japan Disaster Relief Team.  This is the first batch of 700,000 [sets] of such equipment committed by the Government of Japan to the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).  The equipment should help provide critical protection to healthcare workers in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali.  At the official handover ceremony this morning in Accra, the head of the UN Mission, Anthony Banbury, thanked the Government of Japan and stressed the need for continued contributions from partners around the world to keep up the fight.

Meanwhile, the peacekeeper from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), who tested positive for the Ebola virus disease on 3 December, was evacuated from the US-run Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia to the Netherlands on Saturday.  Karin Landgren, the head of that Mission, said that she was encouraged that the medical evacuation process was organized quickly and efficiently, and that the patient, who was in stable condition, will receive the best possible treatment in a Dutch medical facility.


And the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has declared 2014 as a devastating year for children.  In a press release issued today, the agency said that globally, an estimated 230 million children are currently living in countries and areas affected by armed conflict, including some 15 million of them in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Palestine, Syria and Ukraine.  There have also been significant new threats to children’s health and well-being, most notably in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where, as you know, the Ebola outbreak has orphaned thousands of children and kept an estimated 5 million children from attending schools.  UNICEF says that, despite the tremendous challenges, the agency and its partners continue to provide life-saving assistance and other critical services, such as education and emotional support for children growing up in some of the most dangerous places on earth.  And more information is available on the UNICEF website.


And from the Philippines, our humanitarian colleagues say that Typhoon Hagupit, which made landfall in Eastern Samar on 6 December, remains unpredictable as it moves towards Batangas Province, just south of Manila.  So far, an estimated 1 million people have been relocated to 687 evacuation centres across the affected region and Metro Manila, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines.  Humanitarian partners continue to liaise closely with the national authorities.  Over the weekend, the World Food Programme (WFP) started providing transportation and food supplies in the impacted areas.

**Humanitarian Appeal

And speaking of humanitarian activities, in Geneva today, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, joined by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, launched the 2015 global humanitarian appeal, asking for $16.4 billion to help at least 57.5 million people across the world.  Ms. Amos said that the majority of the people who need assistance are in countries affected by conflicts.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs added that the crises in Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria, which account for more than 70 per cent of the funding requirements, will remain top humanitarian priorities next year.  And we have Valerie Amos’s remarks available online and in my office, most likely.


The UN Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) says that it has held intense consultations with all major stakeholders to create a conducive environment for the mission’s proposed dialogue.  UNSMIL reiterates that dialogue remains the most viable and effective means of addressing the political crisis in Libya.  The Mission has also stressed to all stakeholders that there will be no conditions attached to the dialogue, and that the primary objective will be to reach agreement on the management of the remainder of the transitional period, until a new permanent constitution is adopted.


And regarding Syria, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, as you know, is in Turkey, where he met with officials in Istanbul yesterday as part of his regional consultations.  While in Turkey, he met with a delegation of the Syria National Coalition, headed by Hadi al-Bahra, the president of the coalition.  During the meeting, Mr. de Mistura exchanged views on the proposed freeze in Aleppo and how to make it operational on the ground.  He also met separately with Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the Under Secretary at the Turkish Foreign Ministry.  And Mr. de Mistura is travelling today to Gaziantep, in southern Turkey, to discuss his plan with key rebel groups from Aleppo.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, head of the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] (MONUSCO), said yesterday that he was deeply shocked at the massacres that took place over the weekend in Ahili and Manzanzaba, in the North Kivu Province.  He condemned the attacks, which he said are intended to maintain a climate of terror in the region.  Mr. Kobler pointed to the urgent need to increase the joint actions by the Congolese Armed Forces and the UN Mission, and he urged parties on the ground to cooperate to allow for those bodies to step up their patrols.

**Human Rights

Tomorrow, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson will lead a public reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, right here in New York City.  The reading is part of a number of activities and actions taking place around the world to mark the commemoration of this year's Human Rights Day, which is on 10 December.  This year, 10 December will also mark the launch by the General Assembly of the Decade of People of African Descent.  The Decade will provide an opportunity to combat the continued inequality and disadvantage experienced by Africans and the African diaspora and to raise awareness of the legacy of slavery and colonialism.

And also on human rights, the Human Rights Council today elected a new President and Vice-Presidents for 2015.  Ambassador Joachim Ruecker, Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN Office in Geneva, is the President-elect.  And Ambassadors from Albania, Paraguay, Kazakhstan and Botswana have been elected to be Vice-Presidents for the one-year term, which starts on 1 January 2015.

**Press Conferences

After we are done here, the Deputy Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Fanny Langella, will be here to brief you on the President of the General Assembly’s participation in the Lima conference.  And tomorrow, you will hear after my briefing from the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. They will brief on the anniversary of the Genocide Convention.  And then, at 1:30 p.m., there will be another press conference related to the ICC, by the Coalition for the ICC on the 13th Session of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute.

Why don’t we stop here?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stephane, Israel attacked on Damascus and other areas in Syria recently; do you have any position on that?  Also, about the report of UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force], which shows clearly that there is collaboration between Israeli forces or between Israel and the rebel groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which is categorized as a terrorist organization, in the Golan.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I'll unpack your packed question.  On the activities in the Golan, there is no specific comment, because the report itself is a comment by the Secretary-General.  It's the Secretary-General's report.  He has his observations.  I think if you read the observations, you can underscore his grave concern at this situation, his call on parties who have an influence on the armed groups to bear that influence on them so that they cease their activities.  He also condemns the violations of the ceasefire by the parties.  And also stresses that the — underscores the cooperation he has seen by both parties to the Disengagement Agreement in support of the UN activities, so the report in itself is the Secretary-General's comments on the situation.  So, I'm not going to add anything to that.

On what happened at the airport in Damascus, we obviously are not in a position to determine who is responsible for those… for what happened.  What I can tell you is that our colleagues in the UN Disengagement [Observer] Force in the Golan did observe some activities.  Yesterday at 16:27 local time, UNDOF observed six aircraft flying at high altitude on the Alpha side.  Two of them subsequently flew north-east over the area of separation, entering the area of limitation on the Bravo side.  Any crossing of the area of separation is a breach of the ceasefire line.

Correspondent:  In the report, it says clearly the Syrian aircraft which was shot down a few months ago was shot on the Bravo side.  It was not… even off the Bravo side.  And that there was no evidence that it has flew over the separation zone.  However, it doesn't say that Israelis, by shooting down an aircraft in the Syrian side, violated the ceasefire or the separation agreement.

Spokesman:  I think any… you know, again, the report is the Secretary-General's report.  His observations are the comments, in a sense of what's happened in the period of observation.  And I think as I just said, any crossing of the area of separation is a breach of the ceasefire line.  Matthew and then Sherwyn?

Correspondent:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about… excuse me.  The report… that report that you're talking about says that, you know, unfortunately, some assets were left behind or captured.  And there’s now photographs published by Al-Nusra of their use of a UN-painted vehicle for a suicide bomb in Deraa.  So, I wanted to know, seems this kind of is directly like… this is UN material being used for…

Spokesman:  Any misuse of UN material is clearly unacceptable, whether tragically for criminal activity, terrorist activity or any other misuse.  We would demand that that equipment be returned to us.

Question:  Because of the danger of people believing that a UN vehicle would be a safe place to be and then getting killed by it, what efforts have been made by either UNDOF, UN peacekeeping or the UN system to get those vehicles back?  How many are gone?

Spokesman:  This is something that continues to be of concern to us and something we continue to work on.

Question:  Are there still missing vehicles?

Spokesman:  That's all I have.  Sherwyn?

Question:  Steph, is it fair for us not to say that MONUSCO is failing in its protection of civilians mandate?  We've seen a number of massacres, Beni, the latest this weekend… 36 people hacked to death.  What's happening in terms of intelligence gathering?  Why are not they not being able to see these attacks coming?

Spokesman:  I don't think it's a failure.  Obviously, the situation in the east of the country remains very volatile.  MONUSCO is working with the local… with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  They are putting great effort into the situation.  Obviously, as we all know, the area in question is vast.  The resources of the UN peacekeeping missions are what they are.

Correspondent:  Largest in the world.

Spokesman:  But, we're also dealing with an area… an extremely huge area.  The UN, along with the Armed Forces of the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], tries to be wherever they can.  But, we're continuing to see acts of violence which are reprehensible and which are condemned.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, on the attack in Kivu, media reports point the finger to the Allied Democratic Forces Group, originally from Uganda.  Do you have… can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything else on that.  Bu,t as you know, there is a deadline for the disarmament of these rebel groups in January.  Mr. Kobler, I think, has spoken quite forcefully about what will happen if that deadline is not met.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  There is a large number of NGOs from the Middle East and Europe that have made calls in the last couple of days for Governments to attend tomorrow’s Syrian refugee conference in Geneva to make some pledges.  Is the Secretary-General going to support these calls?  Is he encouraging Governments to attend?

Spokesman:  Yes, definitely.  We would like to see large representation and we would like to see large commitments made to the plight of these refugees.  I think, as we have been saying quite often from here, the appeals are chronically under-funded.  The needs are huge.  But, they also remain chronically under-funded.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General or the… someone at the UN have anything to say about the House bill that was just passed by a huge majority, which is calling for an increase in military presence in all NATO countries?  And if this is ratified by the Senate, this would lead to, obviously -- it would be kind of provocation.

Spokesman:  No.  We do not… we try and tend not to comment on legislation which is making its way through a legislative system.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Couple questions about Sudan.  One is the human rights leader, Amin Mekki Medani, has been arrested by the Government in Khartoum.  I wanted to know that, and also a newspaper called Political Scope has been seized.  And I wanted to know, I know that you had said that the office in Khartoum wasn't really a human rights office.  Is there any comment either from UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] or the UN system on what's seen as a crackdown on civil society?

Spokesman:  I'll look into the reports.

Question:  What about the letter?  I wanted to nail down that this letter sent by Darfuri civil society groups about the rapes in Thabit and asking for DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] basically to answer, was that actually received?  Is there going to be a written response by the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the letter.  We can check if it's making its way through the internal postal system.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Right.  Again, on Darfur, important is:  were you aware of this AFP [Agence France-Presse] report that…?  Of course, when I need, it it's not there.  Yes.  That said they had an internal report from UNAMID last week, and it said the Sudanese military had tried to intimidate villagers as the peacekeepers interviewed them.

Spokesman:  Obviously, our effort remains on trying to reach that town in order to try to clarify what has happened.  I'll see if I can get anything more from the mission.  But, that's where we stand at this point.  Mr. Carpenter?

Question:  Stéphane, what [were] the results of the fundraising campaign for the Syrian refugees?

Spokesman:  I just got off the phone with a colleague from WFP.  I think they're tabulating the results.  As soon as we have something to announce, we will.  But they're counting, which is always a good sign.  [He later added that WFP had said that the campaign was successful and that it would resume food vouchers for Syrian refugees for the month of December.]  Anne?

Question:  As noted in the week ahead at the UN, there will be a commemorative event on the eighty-first anniversary of the Holodamor of 1932 and 1933 in Ukraine.

Spokesman:  Of what?

Question:  Holodomor, tomorrow, 9 December in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium.  Do you have more details on this annual event and the names of any particular speakers?

Spokesman:  If you go into my office, you can ask Devi [Palanivelu].  She can probably tell you who is sponsoring that event.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  It's been announced in India that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be visiting India on 10 and 11 January and go to Gujarat.  What do you say to those reports?

Spokesman:  What do I say?  I say what I say every time there is the report of the Secretary-General’s travels:  Unless we announce it, it ain’t official.

Question:  Do you tell these interrogators to do the same?  Are you miffed?

Spokesman:  Am I miffed when things leak?  I don’t know; I'll let you answer that.  Have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.