Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

12 January 2015

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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General spoke today at the Indian Council for World Affairs, where he delivered a keynote address in which he discussed India’s role as a driver for peace in the region and the world, as a champion of human rights, and as a leader on clean sustainable development.  He told his audience that South Asia faces the grave danger of nuclear weapons. Each addition to the arsenals raises the risks of a nuclear nightmare. He called on India to renew its leadership on nuclear disarmament. 

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General met with Sushma Swaraj, the Foreign Minister of India. They had a broad discussion on climate change, peacekeeping, Security Council reform and gender issues.  The Secretary-General also met with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi, and they discussed the importance of ending child slavery worldwide. 

And the Secretary-General and Kailash Satyarthi launched UN70, along with other Goodwill Ambassadors — we are just putting out the remarks of that event. Among other things, in those remarks, the Secretary-General said that he is proud to stand for the equality of all people, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. 

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General was in Ahmedabad, where he spoke at the Vibrant Gujarat conference and met a number of leaders on the margins of that event.   He met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and thanked India for its significant contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations, as well as to United Nations conflict prevention and humanitarian efforts.  They also discussed the need for action on climate change, the post-2015 development agenda, and regional issues.  Noting concerns regarding sexual violence and discrimination, the Secretary-General invited the Prime Minister to join UN Women's “HeforShe” campaign.

The Secretary-General held a bilateral meeting with [United States] Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit.  They discussed international peace and security issues, including UN efforts to address the crisis in Libya, the urgency of returning to negotiations to achieve a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the need for progress on nuclear disarmament of the Korean peninsula.

**Sri Lanka

We also have a readout that we are just issuing now.  The Secretary-General spoke on the phone with Maithripala Sirisena, the President of Sri Lanka.  The Secretary-General congratulated President Sirisena’s election and the successful conclusion of the presidential election.  The Secretary-General and President Sirisena discussed the President’s 100-day plan and Sri Lanka’s post-war agenda.  The Secretary-General affirmed continuous support by the UN to Sri Lanka.  And that will be out shortly.

**Terrorism

We issued two statements yesterday concerning recent, horrific terrorist attacks.  In one, the Secretary-General responded to reports that hundreds of civilians were killed around the town of Baga, Borno State, near Nigeria’s border with Chad in the past week, as well as to a report on Saturday that a 10-year-old girl was used to detonate a bomb at a market in Maiduguri, also in Borno State, killing at least 19 people.  The Secretary-General utterly condemns this depraved act at the hands of Boko Haram terrorists.  The United Nations stands ready to assist the Nigerian Government and all affected neighbouring States in bringing an end to the violence and to alleviate the suffering of civilians with all available means and resources.

In a separate statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the march that took place Sunday in Paris in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks in the city earlier this week, and in solidarity with victims of terrorism across the world.  Staffan de Mistura represented the United Nations at the march and joined in expressing the Organization’s revulsion for terrorism.  The Secretary-General is strongly committed to the essential work of countering extremism, fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, and upholding the rights to freedom of speech and expression.

The Secretary-General calls for heightened efforts to promote tolerance and understanding.  In the past week alone, the world has seen horrific bombings and brutality, often with a sectarian dimension.  The world must address this violence and division in ways that do not exacerbate the problems and that ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law.  In the aftermath of this week’s events in Paris, he warns that in particular against targeting Muslims for reprisals.  Such unwarranted bias would only play into the hands of terrorists and contribute to the spiral of violence.

**Haiti

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.  In a statement, the Secretary-General paid tribute to the more than 200,000 victims, including 102 United Nations personnel, who perished in this tragic event.  We have the full statement online.  Among the other things it says, the Secretary-General said that Haiti’s recovery has not been easy.  There have been — and continue to be — setbacks along the way, and there is much work still to be done to ensure political and institutional stability, democratic governance and sustainable development.  However, let today be a day of remembrance and one of hope for a stable and prosperous Haiti.  Together, let us strive towards a bright future for Haiti.

**Ebola

On Ebola, two new World Bank Group reports issued today show that the socioeconomic impacts of the outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone are far-reaching and persistent.  In Liberia, the economy continues to shed jobs faster than they are replaced, with nearly half of Liberian household heads remaining out of work. Women are particularly vulnerable as the labour market stagnates and there are new concerns about the farmers’ ability to organize work teams given Ebola fears.

In Sierra Leone, the World Bank Group report found that wage and non-farm self-employed workers saw the largest declines in employment in urban areas.  An estimated 9,000 wage workers and 170,000 self-employed workers outside of agriculture are no longer working since July/August 2014.  Food insecurity is also high and there is some evidence of a decrease in utilization of health services for non-Ebola conditions in Freetown.  The reports are based on the data collected throughout continuous mobile-phone surveys. 

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that the total number of people facing food insecurity due to Ebola could top 1 million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved.  In December 2014 by itself, WFP distributed food to more than 720,000 people across the three main Ebola-affected countries.

**Afghanistan

From Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed today’s nomination of Ministers and senior officials as an important milestone in implementing the agreement for a National Unity Government.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nicholas Haysom, reiterated that the UN remains a committed and reliable partner of Afghanistan, and looks forward to working with all new Ministers and officials in support of the Government’s work.  The Constitution requires that the nominations be put to the Wolesi Jirga, the National Assembly’s Lower House.  More information is available on UNAMA’s website.

**Lebanon

Derek Plumbly, the outgoing Special Coordinator in Lebanon, met with the Lebanese Foreign Minister today and conveyed his condolences and those of the Secretary-General for the loss of life in the terrorist attack in the Jabal Mohsen area of Tripoli on Saturday.  The Security Council condemned the attack yesterday in the strongest possible terms.  Mr. Plumbly said that he was deeply impressed by the way that the leaders and citizens of Tripoli have come together following this vicious attack in sympathy with the victims and support for the security authorities.

**International Labour Organization

A new study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that while women are still under-represented in top management, the number of women in senior and middle management positions has increased over the last 20 years.  According to the report entitled “Women in Business and Management:  Gaining Momentum”, in 80 of the 108 countries for which ILO data is available, the proportion of women managers has increased during the reporting period.  Despite that progress, only 5 per cent or less of the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations are women.  ILO says that the larger the company, the less likely the head will be a woman.  More information is available on ILO’s website.  That’s it from me.  Are there any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, yesterday, there was some kind of Kristallnacht in Frankfurt, where Muslim shops were attacked by all kinds of fanatic people.  We've not heard any statement against that from the United Nations.  Is there a reason for that?  Another thing, I have more questions on Bahrain and other places.

Spokesman:  First of all, I would just draw your attention to the full text to the statement we put out about the Paris march, which also looked at the wider picture in France, but also throughout the region, and one of the points, as I just mentioned, was:  in the aftermath of this week's events in Paris, the Secretary‑General warns in particular against targeting Muslims for reprisals.  Such unwarranted bias would only play into the hands of terrorists and contribute to the spiral of violence.  What’s your question on Bahrain?

Question:  But, about xenophobia in Germany, shouldn't there be a specific statement for that country?

Spokesman:  This is something that applies across the board.  In countries, whether it's in Germany or elsewhere in Europe or outside, we want to make sure that the repercussions of the sort of terrorism that we've been seeing are not borne… are not the source of counter-attacks against Muslims worldwide.

Question:  On Bahrain, there's acceleration by the State to nationalize foreigners and change the demographics of the island.  Does the United Nations have any stand on that?

Spokesman:  Well, you'll have seen the concerns that we've expressed, that Stéphane [Dujarric] and I have expressed, in recent weeks about Bahrain.  I have nothing to add for now on that, but you've seen what we've had to say.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  There appears to be increased evidence that the Nigerian Government, and by its extension, the military is unable to arrest the threat posed by Boko Haram.  In your statement, you say the Secretary‑General says the UN stands ready to assist the Nigerians with all available means and resources.  What exactly does that mean?  And in the Secretary‑General's view, has there been sufficient international support given to the efforts of the Nigeria Government and the neighbouring countries in tackling Boko Haram?

Spokesman:  Clearly, there needs to be more done to deal with the threat that's posed by Boko Haram, and this is something that the Secretary‑General has been talking about.  Mohammed ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office on West Africa (UNOWA) has repeatedly been visiting Nigeria, in particular to show our solidarity and to see what kind of support is needed.  It's also clear, as we've said in our statements over the weekend, that the sort of violence and divisions we've been seeing in response to terrorist attacks, because of the terrorist attacks, that the world has to address the sort of violence posed by the terrorists in ways that do not exacerbate the problems, that ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law.  That's true, as well, in Nigeria.

Question:  Is the view, then, that the Nigerian Government has exacerbated human rights in attacking Boko Haram?

Spokesman:  No.  What we want to do, though, is make sure that as they tackle this completely legitimate security threat, that they do so in ways that ensure respect for human rights and for the rule of law.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Farhan, following up on Sherwin's question, how can… if the Nigerian Government hasn't been able to so far address this issue and Mr. Chambas is looking at ways… what kind of action can the UN take to actually try and spur some kind of action on the ground to address this terrible problem?

Spokesman:  At this stage, we're in touch with the Nigerian authorities and trying to see what kind of support they believe is needed and will determine, based on that, what kind of further support we can provide.  As you know, the UN has also been providing support, including psychosocial counseling for the families that have been affected by the kidnapping of the school children in Chibok, and we're trying to see what further kinds of assistance we can provide.  You've seen the briefings that Mohammed ibn Chambas has given, including at the Security Council just earlier, in recent weeks, and we'll continue to be in dialogue with the Security Council, as well about the sort of steps that are needed.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Farhan.  I can continue on the Paris march question and after all that happened in France, after this rally including 40 leaders against terrorists, is it possible that UN works on new programme to fight terrorism, especially in Middle East or Arab countries, or some peacekeepers can work on this programme or something like that?

Spokesman:  Well, in many countries, of course, the problems dealing with terrorism is not a problem that requires peacekeepers, but it requires effective cooperation among national Governments and their law enforcement agencies in terms of dealing with the threat posed by terrorists.  We've tried to provide help through our own counter-terrorism work, including the work of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, which, as you know, tries to foster that kind of cooperation across borders.  And of course, we'll see what further support is needed, but if the Member States require anything further from us, they can always make their own position clear.  Roger?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I want to ask on the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi; he's going to be flogged for the next 19 weeks.  Is the Secretary-General going to make any efforts to use his good offices?  Is he going to make calls to the Saudi Head of State, set up an International Commission of Inquiry, anything like that?  Is anything going to be done about this or is he just going to continue…?

Spokesman:  Well, you heard what I had to say last Friday about this case.  The Secretary-General himself is personally very concerned about this sentence.  We and the UN Secretariat have been in touch with the Saudi authorities, and we have made our own views known against this sort of verdict.  So, we have made our concerns known and we will continue to make our concerns known about this.  But, as I said on Friday, and I'll repeat the key points right now, Saudi Arabia has ratified the Convention against Torture.  The Committee against Torture, in its last review of Saudi Arabia in 2002, noted its concern at the sentencing to and imposition of corporal punishment, such as flogging, by Saudi judicial and administrative authorities that are not in conformity with the Convention.  And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, and the Secretary-General have both made their concerns known and will continue to do so.  Yes?

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  There are ample reports coming from Yemen expressing that Saudi Arabia is again supporting Al‑Qaida in Marib, and the tribes are associated with Al‑Qaida.  Although Saudi Arabia has the counter-terrorism office based in Riyadh, how does Saudi Arabia present itself as a guardian of counter‑terrorism and also in the meantime supporting Al‑Qaida in Yemen?

Spokesman:  I can't verify the allegations you've raised.  What we have done is called upon all States in the region to avoid supporting the various factions in Yemen so that the peace process there can proceed.

Question:  But, you have a representative in Yemen, Mr. Jamal Benomar, and of course, you could ask him about these reports.  These are very serious ones, especially now Al-Qaida and also those who came to Paris were originally trained in Yemen.

Spokesman:  Jamal Benomar has been providing regular reports about his work, which do not include the references you've made.  Yes, Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Is a military offensive by MONUSCO’s [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] forces imminent against the FDLR [Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda]?

Spokesman:  You've heard what we've had to say.  It's clear that the FDLR has not done the disarmament tasks that they were supposed to have done by the 2 January deadline, and you've heard what MONUSCO has said and the preparatory actions that we've taken for any potential military action.  That’s as much as I…

Question:  You say potential, though; but what's the point of having a deadline where a threat is issued sort of a red line, not in the [Barack] Obama vein, but maybe different that, at the UN, you have a deadline.  Why is there now talk of potential military action, when, in fact, a deadline was that military action would be taken if that deadline was missed?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, as you're probably aware, it… it's not something that we would announce in advance of the actual operation.  We've made clear that there's no military solution, but there will be no solution without military pressure.  At the same time, of course, any operations that are undertaken against the FDLR are and must remain part of a broader political strategy, so we're pursuing both that and we are at this stage planning for a potential military operation.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, as a follow-up, one of the issues was that President [Joseph] Kabila had not yet signed the joint declaration with the United Nations to launch an operation.  Has the President of Congo signed that declaration yet?

Spokesman:  I don't have any confirmation to give you on that, but I would refer you back to the readout we issued about a week… about two weeks ago of the Secretary‑General's phone call to President Kabila, where he did assure cooperation with the efforts underway to deal with the FDLR.

Question:  But there was pressure on this at the end of this past week.  Could you please check?

Spokesman:  Yes.  As of this stage, I don't have any confirmation that they've signed off on anything.  If that changes, I'll certainly let you know.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I just wondered why Mr. de Mistura represented the UN on the march in Paris.  Could you explain the reason?

Spokesman:  He represented us as the most senior UN official who was in Paris at that point.  The Secretary‑General would have liked to have attended.  He actually mentioned that in his remarks in India right now, but of course, as you know, he was in New Delhi and would not have been able to make it quite there.  Yes?

Question:  The Lebanese security or the Minister of Interior Affairs has blamed Da’esh for the attack in Tripoli.  Whereas the Security Council and [Jabhat] al-Nusra itself blamed themselves; they claimed responsibility for that.  How do you read this contradiction between the Minister of Interior Affairs in Lebanon blaming Da’esh where Al-Nusra alleged that they have perpetrated that horrible attack?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to the language of the Security Council press statement, which was issued with the Council members acting upon the best information that they had at their disposal.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.