9 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, welcome to this briefing and welcome if you are watching on the webcast.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General arrived early this morning in Lima, Peru.  He spoke at the opening of the high-level segment of the UN Climate Change Conference, where he said he was carrying a message of urgency and hope.  The Secretary-General said that we know that by addressing man-made climate change, we can build more resilient, prosperous and healthier societies.  He added that we must act now.  All countries must be part of the solution and all of society must be engaged.  In spite of recent positive announcements by countries such as the US and China, he said that he is deeply concerned that our collective action does not match our collective responsibilities.  He called on countries to deliver a balanced, well-structured and coherent draft text in Lima to be finalized in Paris next year.  We have his remarks online.

This afternoon, he will hold meetings with ministers and officials from Saudi Arabia, Russia, the European Union, the Group of 77, Bolivia and China.  The Secretary-General will also attend a Global Compact event called "Caring for Climate". 


On Ebola, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, briefed the press in Geneva this morning, following his visit to West Africa.  He said that the Ebola response strategy is right, is working, and that he has seen real progress.  However, he stressed that the response is highly complex and requires continuous effort by hundreds of different kinds of organizations and thousands of people.  You can watch his press briefing on the UN webcast.


The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it is reinstating food assistance to Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, thanks to a massive expression of support from the public, the private sector and donor countries.  By mid-December, Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, as well as Egypt, will have their electronic food vouchers — which we showed you here last week, known as e-cards — uploaded with an average amount of $30 for each family member, so that they can immediately use them to buy food from local shops.  After suspending food aid to nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees on 1 December, the World Food Programme launched an ambitious social media fundraising campaign, using the hashtag #ADollarALifeline that raised millions from individuals, the private sector and Governments.  Almost 14,000 individuals and private sector donors in 158 countries contributed $1.8 million. 

As a result of the campaign, WFP has to date raised more than $80 million — including contributions from Governments — surpassing the total goal of $64 million.  Those contributions permit the full value of the e-cards to be distributed to refugees this month, with some funds carrying through to January.  But of course, as you can see, this is very much only a stop-gap measure.  While we should be pleased this money has been received, it shows that these programmes really are able to work month to month and we need sustained support.

**Security Council

Back here, Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council on the Central African Republic this morning.  He said that the situation in the country remains volatile following the violence in Bangui in October, but that the political process is once again moving forward thanks to the efforts of the Central African Republic Mediator, President Denis Sassou Nguesso, as well as the United Nations and the African Union.  His remarks are available in my office and his briefing is available on the webcast.

**South Sudan

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has destroyed 25 firearms and hundreds of knives, machetes and other weapons confiscated from internally displaced persons living in the UN protection-of-civilians sites in Juba.  The weapons were destroyed at a public event held today in the Mission’s Tomping site.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Loej, said that the Mission had decided to destroy weapons in full public view to reassure all concerned parties that the weapons and ammunition will never be used to commit any acts of violence, including human rights violations.  These measures will maintain the civilian character of UNMISS protection-of–civilian sites.


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is leaving for Burundi today for a three-day visit during which he will take part in a ceremony on 12 December to mark the closing of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB).  Mr. Feltman will also, among other activities, meet with Burundian authorities and take part in a roundtable meeting entitled “Progress, Challenges and Prospects”, organized by the Government and its main regional and international partners.  As of 1 January 2015, the Mission will morph into a UN Electoral Mission in Burundi (to be known as MENUB, the French acronym) to observe presidential, legislative and local polls in 2015.


In a press conference in Tripoli yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, said that the UN will start its dialogue starting next week.  Mr. León said that the essence of the dialogue is based on respect for different views and the common interest to reach a political consensus.  He added that the UN cannot impose solutions but is there to facilitate the dialogue.  He also repeated to end airstrikes and violence.  His full remarks are available on UNSMIL’s [United Nations Support Mission in Libya] website.


Today, donor nations promised just over half a billion dollars for the work of the UN refugee agency to help almost 43 million forcibly displaced or stateless people worldwide next year.  Faced with multiple large-scale emergencies in the Middle East and Africa, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] presented its total financial requirements of $6.23 billion for the year 2015 at its annual pledging conference, the largest budget ever at the beginning of the year. 

While today's pledges are lower than last year and not sufficient to cover all needs, UNHCR says that they give the organization a vital funding indication ahead of the year, allowing it to plan and continue operations without interruption.  The Head of UNHCR, António Guterres, thanked the donors for their strong and steadfast support, but warned that the gap between needs and available humanitarian funding was widening, with major emergencies in Syria, the [Central African Republic] and South Sudan, among others.  There’s more information on UNHCR’s website. 


In Geneva today, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that two human rights defenders working on land and natural resource issues have been murdered in the south of Thailand in the space of four days, as they challenged the legality of large private sector projects in the area.  While police investigations have been launched into both killings, the Human Rights Office noted that in most previous cases, alleged perpetrators have not been brought to justice.  It urges the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough, prompt and independent investigation into all disappearances and killings of human rights defenders. It also calls on the authorities to implement protection measures for human rights defenders, particularly those working on land rights.

**Human Rights

Speaking of human rights, tomorrow is Human Rights Day, and this year, it will also mark a second important occasion:  the beginning of the Decade of People of African Descent.  A day in advance of those events, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will be visiting the Schomburg Center in Harlem this afternoon, where he will read passages of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He is also expected to deliver remarks at the Center, touching on the recent troubling time in the United States.  He is expected to talk about the Secretary-General’s recent call for peaceful demonstrations and for authorities to respect such non-violent expressions of opinion.  He is also expected to underscore how the civil rights movement in the United States is a striking reminder of the power of peaceful protest. 


In his message on the International Anti-Corruption Day, the Secretary-General called on everyone to come together for global fairness and equity.  He added that the world and its people can no longer afford to tolerate corruption.  The full message is available upstairs.

**Press Conferences

Press conference today:  as part of this briefing, we will have shortly Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, to brief you on the Genocide Convention.  As you will have seen, the Prosecutor of the ICC [International Criminal Court] will no longer be participating.  And then, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Coalition for the ICC.

Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., here, there will be a briefing to preview DESA’s [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] World Economic Situation and Prospects 2015 report. 

And then, at 11:30 a.m., there will be an end-of-year press conference by the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa.  We will brief probably around 12:15 p.m., 12:20 p.m. to give ample time to the [President of the General Assembly].  And at 12:45 p.m., here, there will be a press briefing sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic, for a briefing by His Beatitude Patriarch John X, who is the Patriarch of Greek-Orthodox Partriachate of Antioch and all of the East.

On that note, I will take some questions.  Mr. Lee?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I'm hoping that you have something ready on this released US torture report, which describes secret sites and essentially murder of individuals in them under… by hypothermia and other methods.  What does the Secretary-General think of what's revealed in the report?  Does he think that the officials responsible should be prosecuted?  And what’s his view of it?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think this is, in fact, going on right now.  We're taking a look at what's being released, so I don't have a specific comment as of yet.  Obviously, I think the Secretary-General has often clearly stated his position against torture and for the need for accountability.

Question:  Does he think chaining someone, just as one example, chaining an individual naked to a cement floor until they die, is torture?

Spokesman:  As I said, we're taking a look at what's in the report.

Correspondent:  That's in the report.

Spokesman:  But the… it's not that I don't trust you, Matthew.  But… so we will have… we may have more to say later.  Evelyn and then Benny?

Correspondent:  Can’t work the mike.

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  Then we'll go to Benny.  We're happy to go to Benny.  If you could use the microphone, please?

Question:  Yes.  That's a good idea.  Sorry to keep waiting.  On Ebola, we hear of a lot of contributions, but what seems to be missing are the health workers, the doctors, the nurses and everyone else, because if they come from overseas, they would have to rotate after a few months and not be there permanently.  Is there any information on that?

Spokesman:  No, obviously, the lack of health workers is a challenge.  What we're seeing both on the national level is the need to ensure that health workers and all the people involved in the fight against Ebola get paid and get paid on time, and they are the ones on the front lines doing amazing, amazing work.  We do have a substantial amount of foreign health workers, which is coming from other places in Africa, other places around the world, as we've seen.  Obviously, one of the challenges is, you know, unlike other disasters where, you know, foreign… let's say international workers come after an earthquake and hit the ground running, there is always a lag time because of the need for training and people getting used to their surroundings, in terms of health workers coming into work in Ebola treatment centres.  So, health workers may arrive in a place, but they still need to be trained and trained in the proper protocols in each centre.

Question:  You haven't seen any statistics on how many are missing or how many they…?

Spokesman:  Well, we can tell you how many… we can probably come up with rough figures of how many we are in theatre, but obviously, more is always needed.  Mr. Avni, and then we'll go to Richard.

Question:  Since the Secretary-General often talks about freedom of the press, is there any disciplinary action against a UN official who called for boycotting a newspaper?

Spokesman:  I think… which UN official are you referring to?

Correspondent:  I'm talking about our friend, Chris Gunness.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Just wanted to make sure.  You know, I think Mr. Gunness was involved in a rather heated Twitter exchange, and what he was… what he was referring to, and I think what he was calling for, is for people not to… he was not calling for a boycott of the specific media outlet.  He was instead making his objections quite clear on a single article that was found to be problematic, but I think on the broader point, I think while we rarely… excuse me, not rarely… while we regularly have disagreements with articles that are written about the UN or are critical of the UN, and while we may have challenges and tense relations with certain media outlets, I think all of us here at the UN uphold the principles of freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the rights of the media.  And that is the principle of the UN and Chris told us that he tried to make that clear in his tweets, for that matter.

Question:  Okay.  So, let me see if that is made clear in a tweet that he sent on 12:42 a.m., [4 December] from Jordan:  "Ultra-right Jerusalem Post carries anti‑UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] garbage boycotting me ie no quote.  Ask Steve Linde y boycott the JPost!  Don't read their lies."  “Boycott the JPost” means do not boycott…?

Spokesman:  I hear… I hear what you're saying.  Our principles are for freedom of the press, upholding the freedom of the press to write, and we would never call for a boycott of a newspaper.

Question:  Just one more point about this.  This was not a Jerusalem Post article.  This was written by Bassam Eid, who is a well‑known Palestinian human rights activist, who was opposed to UNRWA.  It was a well‑written, well‑reasoned polemic, which doesn't necessitate asking him for a quote.  So, I don't understand which part of "don't boycott" is boycott?

Spokesman:  You know, in subsequent messages, and we don't need to read the whole Twitter timeline here, because it would take us quite some time, I think Chris was very clear in his support for freedom of the press.

Question:  Are you saying Twitter is too long to read?  Twitter is… specifically is trying to be short.

Spokesman:  [laughs]  Richard and then Gilbert?

Question:  I wanted to ask on the WFP… reinstatement of the WFP programme.  Obviously, it's fantastic they got so much money, but it seems like that was for December, right?  What's going to happen in January?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, we hope to get more money.  We hope to have some news on that for you a bit later on.  But, obviously, I think as we are seeing with what happened with WFP, what happened with UNHCR, where they've stated what they need for the year — they did not get what they needed.  We're seeing not only chronic shortfalls in the response to our appeals, but also this whole system, where we have to go almost month by month, where it becomes difficult to plan, and it obviously becomes difficult for the humanitarians to fulfil their mandates.

Question:  Sorry.  One more on that pledging conference in Geneva:  were there resettlement pledges made, or was that just a money…?

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  Were there pledges by resettlement made?

Spokesman:  No, I believe it was in Berlin.  I'm not sure… maybe it was in Geneva, maybe you're right.  We would have to ask UNHCR.

Question:  Une question en français:  le commandant en chef au Mali aurait démissionné. Est-ce que son remplacement est connu déjà et quelles sont les vraies raisons de sa démission?

Spokesman:  Non et non.  Je n'ai pas d'information à ce sujet pour l'instant.  And the question was on… if you want to repeat the question in English just so they know what we were talking about.

Question:  Okay.  The chief commander from MINUSMA [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali] has resigned yesterday, so I was asking if… what was the reason… what was the reason that he put out?

Spokesman:  And I said, I don't have any information on that for the time being.  [He later said that the Force Commander had come to the end of his contract.]  Matthew, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Darfur.  I guess, again, whether there's been any progress at all on getting back to Thabit and doing this investigation.  Also, there's a new report in Radio Dabanga of gang rape in El‑Salam camp near Nyala, and they list the name of an individual they say was killed and quote the camp leader saying this was Government-backed militiamen.  Has UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] gone out there…?

Spokesman:  I have not gotten anything from UNAMID.  We will ask.  You're also free to contact their press people, but we'll see if we get anything on our end.  Olga?

Question:  I saw UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs posted some updates today for humanitarian situation on Ukraine, so humanitarian needs are still significant, as we can see.  And earlier, Russia announced to donate to World Food Programme to help Ukrainian people.  Can you provide more information on how the money will be spent?

Spokesman:  I will ask our colleagues at WFP obviously if that, we would welcome any contribution.  I could welcome any contributions on behalf of WFP, but I will try to get some details for you.  Thank you.  And I will go get Mr. Dieng for us.

For information media. Not an official record.