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2 February 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and apologies for the delay.  I’ll start off with a statement on the situation in Egypt and a journalist that was just released. 

**Egypt

The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the Egyptian authorities to release the detained journalist Peter Greste.  The Secretary-General notes that there are other journalists still detained in Egypt and hopes that their cases will also be resolved shortly.  The Secretary-General again underscores the importance of safeguarding freedom of speech and association in Egypt.  He strongly believes that pluralism is the key for achieving long-term stability, including the guarantee that all peaceful voices are heard and represented.  The Secretary-General reiterates his continuing commitment to supporting the Egyptian people's struggle for stability, democracy, and prosperity. 

**Youth Forum

Just earlier today, the Secretary-General addressed the UN Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum.  Speaking to young people from around the world, the Secretary-General urged them to help the international community drive sustainable development that is people-centred and planet-sensitive, fight injustice and inequality, and become active global citizens. 

The Secretary-General called on all young people to denounce injustice and reach hands across cultures and communities.  He also called on them to continue to use their voices to defend our only planet Earth.  The Secretary-General also launched a digital and social engagement campaign called #YouthNow to mark the twentieth anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth.  The campaign celebrates the achievements made so far and advocates for more action, leading up to the post-2015 development agenda. 

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues say that rapid response teams are now able to access by air service areas in northern Jonglei State that had been cut off from normal supply lines since the conflict started.  The teams have started providing humanitarian assistance to the estimated 73,500 internally displaced in the area.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also says that an additional 48,000 people in host communities are reported to need food, water, health care and household items. 

**Sudan

Just a note on the six Bulgarian crew members of a helicopter contracted by the World Food Programme (WFP) that we talked about here.  They were, as you know, forced to land by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N) in Sudan’s South Kordofan State and were handed over safely to WFP in South Sudan today. 

The World Food Programme worked together with authorities both in Sudan and South Sudan to locate and recover the crew when contact was lost with the helicopter, last Monday, a week ago.  The Executive Director of WFP, Ertharin Cousin, said that she was greatly relieved that the crew members were back and unhurt.  A press release from WFP is available online. 

**Darfur

And from Sudan and Darfur, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that aid agencies have confirmed that 36,000 people have been displaced by fighting between Government forces and armed movements in Darfur since January.  This reflects an increase of about 16,000 newly verified displaced over the past week.  OCHA also says that the actual number may be higher, as aid organizations are unable to access parts of Darfur's Jebel Marra region due to access constraints and fighting in the area. 

Most of the latest arrivals have come to ZamZam and Shagra camps, near El Fasher.  Aid organizations continue to provide basic assistance in these locations.  This latest wave of displacement is part of a broader deterioration of the humanitarian situation across much of Darfur.  The UN continues to call on all parties to conflict in Darfur to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure safe, timely and unhindered access to humanitarian organizations. 

**Kenji Goto

As you will have seen, over the weekend, we had reacted to the death of Kenji Goto, the Japanese journalist.  I’ll just read out for the record.  The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the barbaric murder of Kenji Goto.  His death underscores the violence that so many have been subjected to in Iraq and Syria.  Once again, the Secretary-General calls for the unconditional release of all hostages held by Da’esh and others.  The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to Mr. Goto’s family, as well as to the people and Government of Japan.

**Syria

We have been asked by some of you for a reaction to the Syria talks that took place in Moscow last week.  As mentioned, we are supportive of any attempt to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis, including, most recently, the talks in Moscow.  And as you know, the talks were attended by a representative of Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura.  In that vein, we remain in close contact with our Russian colleagues as their important efforts continue.

**Iraq

From Iraq, according to casualty figures released yesterday by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), a total of 1,375 Iraqis were killed and another 2,240 were wounded in acts of terrorism and violence in January.  The number of civilians killed was 790 and the number of civilians injured, 1,469.  Baghdad was the worst impacted Governorate, with over 1,000 civilian casualties, 1,014 to be precise.  Further details can be found on the UNAMI page.

**World Meteorological Organization

A quick note from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  It reported today that 2014 had indeed been the hottest year on record, and is part of a continuing trend of warmer years.  Average global air temperatures over land and sea surface in 2014 were 0.57°C above the long-term average of 14°C for the period 1961-1990, which is used as a reference date.

**Aviation

Also flagging from our colleagues in Montreal at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), they are starting the second High-level Safety Conference.  Directors General of Civil Aviation and strategic decision-makers are gathered for three days to formulate recommendations for progress of key aviation safety activities.  In particular, the Conference will discuss emerging safety issues, including the one relating to global tracking of aircraft and risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones. 

**Honour Roll

Our honour roll on this Monday, first Monday in February:  Canada and Ireland are the latest to pay their dues in full to the regular budget, bringing to 25 the number of Member States qualifying for a place on the Honour Roll.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow:  12:30 p.m., the traditional start-of-month press conference by the President of the Security Council.  That is Ambassador Liu, Permanent Representative of China.  He will be there to talk to you about the programme of work.  Edie and then Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, could you comment on a published report and document saying that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov is going to replace Robert Serry as the Mideast envoy?

Spokesman:  Short answer is no.  Slightly longer answer, I think, is Mr. Serry's departure had been communicated.  As always, there's a lot of speculation as to who will replace senior officials when they leave and when we're ready to announce it, we will.

Question:  I wanted to ask about DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], but just a follow‑up on that:  I both heard from Security Council members and seen the document that he's written to the Council with the name of Mr. Mladenov.  So, I wanted to know has… maybe phrasing it a different way… has the Secretariat made its decision to Mr. Mladenov is the nominee and… and beyond that, if so, or in any case, what about the Iraq post?  It seems like it's a pretty extraordinary time to be… to be leaving it vacant.  Has the recruitment process begun?

Spokesman:  By answering your second question, I would answer your first, so I won't answer the second.  But, I will tell you that, as we know, we will announce the names when we're ready to announce the names from this podium.

Question:  Okay.  On the DRC, I wanted to ask you about the action against the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda], two questions… one a major question.  If you can be a little more specific on what the UN's MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and its Force Intervention Brigade's role are.  Have they fired any shots?  And is the human rights due diligence policy in place?  And is it… how does it relate to support being given to the units of the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] who are firing?  And do these units include the 391st and 41st battalions that were engaged in the rapes in Minova?

Spokesman:  The operational questions as to what operations are taking place, I think if they're answered, will be answered by MONUSCO.  If they're ongoing military operations, they will make the decision of what is announced and what is not announced.  In terms of MONUSCO, its support will be in strict compliance with the UN's human rights due diligence policy, and as you know, the policy requires that the UN ensures that its support to non‑UN security forces will not contribute to grave human rights violations.  The policy is being implemented by MONUSCO in close collaboration, obviously, with the national authorities.  And you know, if… I will find out on the specific units, but if problems do arise because of past issues, either related to the records of units or commanders, there are substantial grounds to believe that, you know, either the commanders or units, there are risks of human rights violations — support to those units is withheld unless adequate mitigating measures can be put in place.

Question:  And is Bruno Mandevu, he's been named as a commander.  Is that a problem for the UN?

Spokesman:  Obviously, if there are commanders that are… where we have issues then we are in discussions with the DRC authorities to see how… you know, how they can address the concerns that we have.  But overall, the operation is being done within the framework of our human rights due diligence policy.  Sylviane and then Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As a follow‑up, do you know when the nomination for the Iraqi replacement will be done?  And when Mr. de Mistura will be in New York?

Spokesman:  That would imply that the Iraqi nomination… that the Iraqi post would be need to be replaced, so obviously, the rules are the same.  When we have… when I'm clear to announce someone, I will announce it from this podium.  Stefano?

Question:  And when will Mr. de Mistura be expected to be in New York?

Spokesman:  I think he's expecting some point in February, but obviously, the… my sense is he'll be here around the middle of February, but the President of the Security Council will give you an exact date as to when he's supposed to brief the Council.  Signore?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  Yesterday, Prime Minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, complained with Secretary‑General because he said that UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force] in Lebanon is not… practically is allowing weapons to pass, to arrive in the south.  So, I would like to know, first of all, what was the reaction of Secretary‑General?  And also what is the… for the investigation of the UNIFIL soldier that died, the Spanish soldier, what is… who is going exactly, doing this investigation?  We have heard that Spain and Israel are going to do together, but what is the role of the United Nations in this?

Spokesman:  Obviously, national authorities are free to do whatever investigation they want to do.  On the UN end, we are investigating the death of the peacekeeper, the exact circumstances and… according to procedures and I know our colleagues at UNIFIL have already spoken to their IDF [Israel Defense Forces] colleagues and they're speaking to others.  So, that investigation is ongoing.  There was, indeed, a conversation between the Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister around the situation in the Middle East and including, obviously, southern Lebanon.  I think in terms of UNIFIL's mandate, UNIFIL is fulfilling its mandate to the best of its abilities and reports regularly back to the Security Council.

Question:  Steph, on Boko Haram, we saw the [Secretary-General’s] welcoming of the approval by the AU [African Union] of this regional task force.  Is there an understanding from the Secretariat's point of view whether this task force will require Security Council approval, resolution?  Funding is going to be an issue.  And the [Secretary-General] did say the UN stands ready to cooperate, so I'm just wondering what your role would be.

Spokesman:  Obviously, as the Secretary‑General said, he welcomes this development.  There needs to be a regional implication to fighting the scourge of Boko Haram.  Our understanding is that this may come to the Security Council at some point.  And obviously, we'll have to see what the Security Council's reaction… what our role… what they designate as our role to be, but, again, the UN stands ready to help in any way we can.  Roger?  Then we'll…

Correspondent:  Thanks.  On Raif Badawi.

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger.  His associate was released over the weekend and he is… his flogging on Friday was deferred for a third week.  Seems like there's some progress being made.  Given that there's a new Saudi Head of State, has the Secretary‑General made any attempt to press the issue?   Or will he?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's viewpoint, obviously, on this has been already expressed from here.  There have not been any direct contacts at this point between the Secretary‑General and the new King of Saudi Arabia, but obviously, his case remains an issue of concern for us.

Question:  I have two questions, the first one regarding the Spanish soldier.  Last week, the Spanish Ambassador said that he accused Israel of being responsible for the killing of the Spanish soldier in his press conference in the UN.  What's your comment on this?  And regarding Egypt, did the Secretary‑General talk, with his talks with Egyptian President, about the journalists in Egyptian prisons and is there any effort from the UN side to work on this issue?

Spokesman:  Well, I think on your second part, and as we've said from here, the Secretary‑General has on a number of occasions, in either meeting with the President of Egypt or the Foreign Minister, brought up his concerns with issues relating to freedom of the press in Egypt, including the case of the journalists.  And I think the Secretary‑General's statement today is a clear welcome… welcoming of the release of the journalist.  But, we obviously note that there are two… there are other journalists still being detained, and we hope those cases will be resolved.  On your first question, I think this was asked of me last week.  Obviously, the Spanish Permanent Representative said what he said.  In any death of a peacekeeper in the line of duty, there needs to be a thorough investigation as to find out the circumstances about how exactly that person died, and that investigation with the… led by our colleagues in UNIFIL is ongoing.  Matthew?

Question:  Actually, I mean, I just want to get a sense of this Board of Inquiry, of kind of how it goes about its work.  There's been a published video taken by the Spanish peacekeepers of the missile or… or projectile arriving.  And I wanted to know:  Has your office seen it?  Is that something that will be kind of evidence that will be considered?

Spokesman:  It's obviously… if there's video that does, in fact, exist, it's exactly the kind of things that the Board of Inquiry and the investigation will look at.

Correspondent:  It's widely available online.

Spokesman:  Well, I'm sure it is.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask about… because I heard the Secretary‑General's, you know, eulogy about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  So, I wanted to… again, with all due respect, to ask this.  Five online activists from Kuwait have been arrested for comments allegedly insulting the Saudi Government.  I wanted to know, is that… I guess I'm just sort of looking… obviously, it's… when somebody passes away, there's a lot to be said.  But, is there any… I haven't seen in anything that he said any kind of connection to this issue, to issues of freedom, whether it be for women or for the ability to speak in the country.  What does he think of people being arrested for…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has always spoken out in favour of people's right to express themselves freely and for journalists and bloggers to do the same.  Thank you.  Sorry.  Stefano and then we'll go.

Question:  On UNIFIL, they also report after the accident… actually, of the shooting, Israel through UNIFIL tried to reach Hizbullah, saying there were no interest in escalating the conflict and they understood that this would happen was because of the killing of Hizbullah before in Syria.  So, can you confirm this, that UNIFIL practically was in the middle?

Spokesman:  What I can… what I can tell you is that last week after the incidents, UNIFIL exercised its usual contacts and it's point of contacts are the Israeli Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces and… to ensure the message was passed through that the calm should be restored and we welcome the fact that the calm continues.  And also, the other UN presence in Lebanon, political presence in Lebanon is that of the Special Coordinator, Sigrid Kaag, who also had a number of contacts at the political level both in Lebanon and outside of Lebanon.  And I think the message from all of them was consistent, is to ensure that calm is restored and that the tensions de‑escalate.  And we're happy to see that it has.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.