24 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. Happy Wednesday!


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General on Somalia.

The Secretary‑General welcomes the parliamentary endorsement of Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as the new Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Somalia.  He encourages the new Prime Minister, the President and the Speaker of Parliament to work together to regain momentum in the political process and to maintain [a] close working relationship with the interim regional administrations and emerging federal Member States.

The Secretary‑General commends the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, and his Government for their contribution to peacebuilding and State-building in Somalia.

The Secretary‑General urges all parties to work on swift establishment of an inclusive Federal Government.  Political leadership is required to deliver the ambitious agenda of peacebuilding and political transformation.  He encourages the country’s leadership to redouble their efforts to this end and take steps to prevent future political crises.

The Secretary‑General notes the significant progress made in pushing back Al‑Shabaab, building a Federal State and strengthening the institutions.  He underlines that much still needs to be done before the Federal Government’s mandate expires in September 2016, and he reaffirms the United Nations’ continued support.


A statement now by the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, James Rawley, who expressed his deep concern over reports of exchange of fire between Palestinian militants and the Israel Defense Forces in the southern Gaza Strip today, which resulted in casualties on both sides.  This follows a series of armed incidents since the end of November.

Mr. Rawley urged all parties to maintain and reinforce the ceasefire of 26 August and refrain from escalating tensions.


And an update on Ebola: the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) announced today that a staff member was tested positive for Ebola.

As you would recall, this is the fourth case of Ebola in the Mission.  Two of the affected UNMIL personnel died of the disease only three months ago.

Another member of UNMIL’s personnel who contracted the disease has recovered and was discharged from hospital earlier this week.

The head of the Mission, Karin Landgren, said that the confirmation of this new case is a stark reminder that we must all remain vigilant until there are no cases in Liberia or West Africa.

She added that Liberians can be proud of the progress they have made against Ebola since October, but urged them all to take extra care as they gather with friends and families over the holidays.

The Mission is taking all necessary measures to mitigate any possible further transmission — both within the Mission and beyond.

In line with World Health Organization (WHO) protocols, the UNMIL Medical team is conducting robust contact tracing to ensure that all people who came into contact with the staff member while symptomatic are assessed and quarantined.

Still on Ebola, the World Food Programme (WFP) welcomed today a $1 million grant from the African Development Bank (ADB) to their work in Sierra Leone.

With this grant, WFP will provide food assistance for two months to 30,000 people.

Today food production in Sierra Leone for 2014 is estimated to be 5 per cent lower than in 2013 and rice production is expected to dip by as much as 17 per cent in the Kailahun area, which is usually one of the country's most productive agricultural areas but has been severely impacted by Ebola.

In Sierra Leone only, over 11,700 metric tons of food have been distributed to more than 1.1 million people.

And in all three worst-impacted countries, WFP’s assistance has reached more than 2.2 million people, including villages and communities in quarantine or isolation.


In Haiti, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country and head of the mission, Sandra Honoré, and other members of the “Core Group” — Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States — welcomed the decision taken by President [Michel Joseph] Martelly to designate Minister of Public Health and Population, Florence Duperval Guillaume, as the interim Prime Minister.

In a joint statement, the Core Group commends the efforts undertaken by the President together with the Presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, representatives of political parties and other political stakeholders to forge the necessary consensus for the nomination of a Prime Minister and the formation of a Government of consensus.

It encourages all concerned to respect the constitutional legitimacy of the President, in order to preserve stability and create a climate of confidence, serenity and mutual respect, which allows for the holding of inclusive and fair elections, as soon as possible.


And a note from our humanitarian colleagues in OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]: the Under-Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, will travel to Phang-Nga Province in Thailand on 26 December to participate in the ten-year anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami remembrance ceremony.  This event is being organized by the Royal Thai Government.

As you’ll recall, the 2004 tsunami killed some 230,000 people and left an estimated 5 million people homeless or without access to food and water.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

A personnel announcement: the Secretary‑General is today announcing the appointment of Moustapha Soumaré of Mali as his Deputy Special Representative — on political issues — for the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, otherwise known as UNMISS.

He will succeed Raisedon Zenenga of Zimbabwe, who will be taking up the post of Deputy Special Representative of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). The Secretary‑General is grateful for Mr. Zenenga’s dedicated service and outstanding contribution to the work of the UN in South Sudan.

Mr. Soumaré is currently the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), where he also serves as the UN Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). We have full biographical details in my office.


And I was asked a question by Mr. Klein, who is not here, earlier about details about the delivery of aid into Syria.  Here is what we have from our colleagues at the Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs:

In line with resolution 2165, the United Nations notifies the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic in advance of each cross-border shipment, including details of content, destination, district and number of beneficiaries.

The UN Monitoring Mechanism notifies the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic of the delivery of humanitarian assistance from one of the border crossings authorized under resolution 2165.

The UN Monitoring Mechanism comprises unarmed civilians with relevant humanitarian expertise.  The Monitoring Officers are selected based on their experience and expertise, in accordance with established UN recruitment policies.

And with that I wish you a Merry Christmas and I may take a question or two.  Go ahead, Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Sure.  I wanted to ask… thanks a lot… I wanted to ask you to confirm and comment on the Government of Sudan ordering the UNDP country representative Yvonne Helle to leave the country by Monday.  There is already an e-mail by Ali Al-Za’tari, the Resident Coordinator, saying essentially she is gone, she will be missed.  So I wanted to know, even as for maybe based on your facial response you're unaware of this, what is the UN's policy?

Spokesman:  You studied me, too.

Question:  I'm profiling you.  What is the UN's policy when the Government orders somebody out?  Is it common to immediately accept it or is it sent to Headquarters to decide whether to combat it and fight it or oppose it?

Spokesman:  As you profiled, I'm not aware of this particular case.  Obviously, declaring a person PNG, to be asked to leave is a serious issue, which is discussed at Headquarters — but I will find out.

Question:  Some there say and, I mean, I've seen the e-mails and there is basically a one-hour gap between her e-mail to staff saying “I have to leave by Monday”, and Mr. Ali Al-Za’tari saying “not nice to see you go” but essentially, “sorry”.  I'm wondering, can you confirm that there is a protocol?

Spokesman:  As I said, these things are taken very seriously.  Senor? 

Question:  Stéphane, does the Secretary‑General have any plan to visit North Korea in the near future?

Spokesman:  No plans that I'm aware of.  Oleg? 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. 

Spokesman:  I was looking at you but I didn't call on you.

Question:  Yeah.  Well, some say it's not Ukraine.  Crimean authorities say that the peninsula was today totally cut off of power supply and later the power supply was resumed… was set to resume, but once again some say that this may raise the issue of collective punishment by the Ukrainian authorities as was with pensions and other stuff.  What is the reaction of the Secretary‑General?  Are you planning to contact the Ukrainian authorities?

Spokesman:  We had not seen this report, obviously.  Again, we would urge both parties involved to focus on positive steps and recommit themselves to a political solution.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Ukraine, once again, there was also new revelations concerning the MH17 case lately in the media and which was picked up by some authorities.  These are pointing to possibly Ukrainian pilot actually whose name is Vladislav Voloshin as the person who allegedly shot down the passenger jet.  So any reaction to this allegation in terms that the investigation is still going on?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, nothing to comment on.  Go?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, as you know, Sony Pictures is now releasing this controversial film tomorrow in some theatres.  And as for us on the Internet, do you have any comment on that?  Does UN welcome such move?

Spokesman:  No.  We have no specific comment on the decision by Sony.  I think the Secretary‑General talked about the greater issue of cybersecurity a couple days ago.  Matthew? 

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you something about the budget but just on another, you know, plane shot down in the news, just checking, is there any UN response to the pictures of the Jordanian plane shot down and the pilot held by ISIS?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I will have something for you on that.  Go ahead.

Question:  On South Sudan, the final report within the investigation of the downing of a UN helicopter, as I understand it was due this month but I haven't heard anything about that.  What is the status of the report?  Was it presented?  Will it be public or what is happening with it?

Spokesman:  I have not gotten… there has been no update that we have been made aware of here on the investigation.  On the Jordanian pilot, the Secretary‑General noted with concern the news of the downing of the Jordanian military plane which reportedly crashed around the City of Raqqa in Northern Syria and also noted with concern the pilot being taken as prisoner.  The Secretary‑General calls on his captors to treat the pilot in accordance with international humanitarian law.  Obviously the Secretary‑General is following the situation very closely and the continued armed conflict in Syria and is deeply concerned with the continued use of violence across the country, including the use of barrel bombs in populated areas.  He reiterates his strong condemnation of the indiscriminate use of such weapons against civilians, which is obviously in contravention of obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.  The Secretary‑General appeals to all Syrian sides to work immediately on reducing the level of violence and focusing on a peaceful and durable political solution to the conflict.  Yes? 

Question:  Just one.  Thanks for that.  I mean, given that ISIS has said alternatively that they have anti-aircraft artillery or anti-aircraft missiles, I guess I am wondering, does that seem to, the UN has not… they are saying that that is how they shot it down and it obviously changes some of this bombing campaign that has been going on.  Does the UN have any way to know what was used to bring it down?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, obviously, it's an escalation as it's the first reported downing of a plane; but we have no military observers on the ground.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you, obviously, this looks like this budget thing is going to go deep into Christmas Eve so I wanted to know, to try to get comment from you on this.  One of the stand-offs seems to be on the proposed outline of the programme budget for 2016-2017 and the G77 has put a document as an “L document” trying to fight back what they call cutback proposals — I'm assuming by the Secretariat, although you may say the Member States are demanding it, but G77 has a lot of Member States.  Where does the Secretariat come down on how this budget proposal should deal with the post-2015 development agenda, et cetera?

Spokesman:  The outline is the outline presented.  There is, as usual, a very passionate and heated debate going on in the Fifth Committee at the end of the year.  We respect the rights and the responsibilities of Member States to conduct that debate and we are not going to get into it while they are discussing it.

Question:  But it's your proposal, right?  I mean, it's the Secretariat proposal?

Spokesman:  It's the way the procedure works every year.

Question:  And can you confirm that the Secretariat is proposing and seeking approval to build a new UN building on the Robert Moses playground?

Spokesman:  I think the discussions are going on in the Fifth Committee.  The document is available online and we will leave it at that.  Last question before I have to wish you a Merry Christmas.  Go ahead.

Question:  Merry Christmas to you too.  So did the UN Mission in Haiti have any announcement regarding the time frame on the investigation of the peacekeepers who were shooting at the protesters?

Spokesman:  Not yet.  I would love to be able to give you an update as soon as I'm given an update.

Question:  Is there any scheduled press briefing by the peacekeeping panel review for next month?

Spokesman:  We will check with them what the situation is, but I think you will not really… I would not expect to hear from them in any in-depth way before the report is finished because obviously they are working at it. 

Question:  But how will they make this whole process is a little more open to the press, the NGO [non-governmental organization] world?

Spokesman:  I think there is, there is a procedure to which they are talking to civil society members and NGOs.

Question:  Right, that's a select group that apparently OCHA picked, so… and also the women's groups were picked separately, so the two groups that were selected…

Spokesman:  They are trying to speak to as broad a group of people as possible to have an informed report to give to the Secretary‑General.

Question:  So there will be no sort of public reporting or I don’t think they even have a website?

Spokesman:  I'll see if there is anything public and I'll get back to you.

Question:  Okay, thanks.

Question:  Just also on Haiti I wanted to ask, the end of the year request, the 77 Congress people that wrote to the Secretary‑General about a mechanism for Haiti cholera?

Spokesman:  The letter was received.  It will be looked at and it will be answered.  Have a wonderful Christmas, have a great New Year.  If we see each other before January 5th, it's not good news; but, otherwise, we will see you on the 5th.

For information media. Not an official record.