12 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. Apologies for being late.  Before you ask, I don’t yet have a statement on Ukraine.  It is making its way through the obscure pipelines that lay above me and hopefully will come in as we speak.


The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on Yemen this morning, and he warned that the country is collapsing before our eyes and we cannot stand by and watch.  He said that a dangerous political crisis continues in Sana’a.  He said that President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and Government ministers and other state officials must be granted freedom of movement. 

The Secretary-General is concerned by reports of excessive use of force to disperse peaceful demonstrators, and the use of arbitrary arrest and detention of civil society activists and journalists.  He calls for the protection of human rights, especially the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.  He said that his Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is facilitating negotiations with all sides on a consensual and peaceful way forward, under dangerous circumstances.  All Yemeni parties must engage in these negotiations and cooperate in good faith, said the Secretary-General. 

Mr. Benomar also briefed the Council himself to say that Yemen is at a crossroads:  either the country will descend into civil war and disintegration, or it will find a way to put the transition back on track.  This largely depends on the political will of the Yemeni leaders.  Mr. Benomar said they all bear responsibility for the current status of affairs, as well as responsibility for finding a way to pull the country back from the brink.  The Secretary-General’s and Mr. Benomar’s remarks are available in my office. 

**Security Council

And the Security Council also today adopted a resolution condemning any engagement in direct or indirect trade, in particular of oil and oil products, and modular refineries and related material, with ISIL, ANF and any other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities designated as associated with Al-Qaida.  It also details steps for Member States regarding trade in cultural heritage, banking measures and arms transfers with such groups.  The Council also extends the mandate of the panel dealing with sanctions on Sudan. 


And on Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, welcomed today the commitments made today in Myanmar to end armed conflict in the country and to resolve grievances through dialogue.  A Deed of Commitment was signed by the President, the Speaker, political parties and ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar, which is marking Union Day today.  Mr. Nambiar said this is a historic moment, as it is the first time that a President of Myanmar has formally signed a commitment to build a democratic and federal union.  And Mr. Nambiar’s full statement is available online. 


And from UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that, following the deaths of at least 300 people trying to reach Europe from Libya earlier this week, there can be no doubt that Europe’s Operation Triton is a woefully inadequate replacement for Italy’s Mare Nostrum.  Mr. Guterres emphasized that the focus has to be about saving lives. 

Mr. Guterres called on the European Union to urgently set up a search-and-rescue operation similar in scale and reach to Mare Nostrum.  If not, he warned, it is inevitable that many more people will die trying to reach safety in Europe. 

The UN refugee agency has repeatedly urged European Governments to address the needs of people fleeing conflict and trying to reach Europe, with the aim of reducing loss of life at sea.  It also encouraged a greater focus on addressing the root causes of population movements, such as a political solution to conflict and the provision of safe and legal alternatives to dangerous boat journeys.  And that statement is available on UNHCR’s website. 


And the Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, James Rawley, participated today in the release of the Strategic Response Plan for 2015, which aims to address the humanitarian needs of 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.  The 2015 Plan requests $705 million to carry out 207 projects presented by 77 organizations.  Almost 80 per cent of the funding sought is to provide shelter and non-food items and to enhance food security amongst vulnerable Palestinians.  Over 75 per cent of the request targets Gaza.


Turning to Ebola, the World Bank announced today it has mobilized up to $15 million in emergency financing to provide 10,500 tons of maize and rice seed to more than 200,000 farmers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in time for the April planting season.  As you know, those countries were the three hardest-hit countries in terms of the Ebola outbreak.

According to the latest estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 1 million people could go hungry unless they have reliable access to food.  Movement restrictions have severely dented farmers’ ability to harvest crops, market produce, prepare fields for planting and maintain a steady supply of seed for planting in the next season.

Reports show that desperate farming families have resorted to eating stored seed originally intended for use in the next cropping cycle, while rural flight has caused harvest-ready crops to wither in the fields.  More information is available from the World Bank. 

**Child Soldiers

Today is the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.  In a message, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that children are increasingly vulnerable to recruitment and use by armed groups, as conflicts around the world become more brutal, intense and widespread.

Ms. Zerrougui said that Governments have made progress to recognize that children have no place in their armies, but that the recruitment of child soldiers is still a huge problem, especially with armed groups.  Situations in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Syria are of particular concern.  More information online.


And in response, I think, yesterday, to a question from you, Matthew, about the work of Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernández-Taranco on Bangladesh, I can tell you that, as part of his functions, he is in regular contact with Member States, including the United States.  In his meeting with the Assistant Secretary of State, Nisha Biswal, Mr. Fernández-Taranco discussed, among other issues, the situation in Bangladesh, expressing concern about the escalation of violence and stressing the need for peaceful de-escalation of the situation.

**Senior Appointments

A couple of personnel appointments today, both with UNHCR:  George Okoth-Obbo of Uganda is being appointed as Assistant High Commissioner for Operations and Volker Türk of Austria will take up his post as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.  Mr. Okoth-Obbo will succeed Janet Lim of Singapore, Mr. Türk will succeed Erika Feller of Australia.  The Secretary-General is grateful to both Ms. Lim and Ms. Feller for their dedicated service and commitment to UNHCR’s work.  Bios are available in my office. 

**Honour Roll

Honour roll today:  we thank New Zealand, which became the thirty-third Member State yesterday to have paid its dues of the regular budget assessment in full. We thank New Zealand. 

**Press Conference Tomorrow

In a short while, after you are done with me, I will be joined by Robert Piper, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, and David Gressly, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali. They will brief you on the Sahel Humanitarian Strategic Response Plan.  Tomorrow, 11 a.m., special briefing by the Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Mohammed [ibn] Chambas.  He will brief in a video link from Abuja, Nigeria, on the situation in Nigeria.  Sir, and then Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You just read the statement by Mr. Nambiar about the… about Myanmar.  But, as far as… there is no reference to the plight of Rohingya Muslims, nor a call, it contained a call for citizenship question.

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  Would you repeat the last part of your question?

Correspondent:  The statement did not have any reference to the plight of Rohingya Muslims, nor a call for the resolution of citizenship for these people.

Spokesman:  Well, I think that… you know, this was a statement on the end of the armed conflict in the country, which is a very important one, and it dealt with that.  Obviously, outstanding issues remain on what you've just brought up, and we continue to appeal for resolution on those issues.  Masood. I'll go back to you.

Question:  Yes.  Two questions.  One was about this journalist who was released in Egypt today.  I just wanted to find out, do you have any updates on whether the trial will resume in Egypt and…?

Spokesman:  No, no more, I have no more information than you may have.

Question:  On the situation in Bangladesh, which you just talked about earlier and you also read a statement, I mean, the thing is, it's an ongoing situation and where there seems to be no resolution because the opposition is constantly under strain of being arrested and incarcerated.  Does the Secretary‑General have, has any idea as to whether he can send a special envoy over there to…?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, you may have missed part of what I said yesterday, and that is the Secretary‑General has tasked Oscar Fernández‑Taranco, the Head of the Peacebuilding Office, to liaise with the Government and opposition leaders on exactly those issues.  That is something he is doing.  And the Secretary‑General is obviously personally committed to the stability of and development in Bangladesh, and we continue to deplore the loss of life.  And I think the key message is for a peaceful and… peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask a slightly, more specifically on Myanmar.  This same day the President, Thein Sein, has essentially taken away the right to vote that had been granted to Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities to vote on a Constitutional referendum.  So, it seems like this was big news today.

Spokesman:  You're talking about the issue of the ID cards?

Correspondent:  Yes.  And being able to vote…

Spokesman:  The issue of the ID [identification] cards, we've seen that.  We're very concerned about the reported notification that holders of temporary ID cards will be required to hand over their cards.  This is something that Mr. Nambiar is following closely and he's trying to get further details as to what this order actually means and how it fits in with things that have been, the Government had committed itself to before.  So, short answer is that, obviously, we're concerned by these reports, and we're trying to find out a bit more.

Question:  And, in fact, if they can't vote, will there will be a similar…?

Spokesman:  I think first step is, obviously, to find out what the situation is.  Second step is to talk about it.  Okay.  Roger?  Sorry and then Linda.

Question:  I understand the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is in the US this week.  Can you confirm whether he's had or will be having a meeting with the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that there may be a meeting later this week.

Question:  Will we be able to find out any information in that meeting or will it be a closed meeting?

Spokesman:  As much information as we can find out, you will be able to find out.  Ms. Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  With respect to Ebola, would you have the latest statistics in terms of the crisis in the three most affected countries?  And in addition to the need for food, what else is considered at the top of the list of needed items?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the need for food talks about the long‑term development need.  I think we've seen… you know, we've seen an up‑and‑down… some numbers are going down.  Some numbers have gone up.  I think while overall the situation is positive, there remains a number of hot spots which our colleagues are focusing on which still have to do with how people are buried and how… how on certain social issues, as well.  So, that remains of concern.  In terms of long‑term rebuilding, it also has to do with ensuring that the health system in those three countries is built up to what's needed to handle any future outbreaks and is resilient.  And I will get you some updated numbers.  Ken, and then we'll…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What's the Secretary‑General's response to the resolution that was adopted this morning on the… targeting the finance…?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the fight against terrorism, against ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham], against Al‑Nusra and Al‑Qaida goes much beyond just a direct military intervention.  I think it is welcome that countries now, there's a clear resolution from the Security Council which will help limit the access of funds to these groups and also touches upon the issue of historical artefacts and the trade in illegal artefacts, I think.  Not only is it a source of illegal revenue for these groups that enables them to continue to operate, but it is also robbing… by robbing the past of a country, you rob its future, and I think we've seen that in Syria, we've seen it in Iraq.  We're destroying the history, the rich history of these countries which will make it that much more difficult for the future.  Yes, ma'am?  And then we'll go to Evelyn.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  The UN has made several announcements of top personnel for January, now through February, and it seems to me from my last count, including today, you've named 13 officials.  Two of those officials were women.  The rest were not women.  So, where's the gender equality in these appointments for this year?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think I would urge you to take a look overall at the Secretary‑General's senior team.  I think he's made it a priority to appoint women and to have women in senior positions.  And if you look at his senior team, I think that is very much reflected.  Evelyn?  I need a microphone from you, please.  Yes?

Question:  Apologies for the delay.  To follow up on Linda's question, are there health… in your statement in Liberia, Sierra Leone and so forth, are there moves to build up health centres that don't deal with Ebola, but just pregnant women and so forth?

Spokesman:  What we've seen as a very, a negative side effect… another negative side effect on Ebola is the impact on the health system overall where either there weren't enough healthcare providers to attend to people who have non‑Ebola-related needs.  We saw a lot of health-care providers die of Ebola, and we saw a lot of people being unwilling to go to hospitals because they were afraid to catch Ebola.  And as you rightfully mention, any women, issues of maternal health were severely impacted by these issues.  So, this is all part of what will need to be the long‑term recovery.  Masood, Mr. Lee, and then we'll go to our guests who have been patiently waiting.

Question:  On Ebola, as a follow‑up, maybe… United States has decided that it will bring back all the US army personnel which were assigned to fight Ebola.  How does that impact…?

Spokesman:  We're extremely grateful for what the United States Government has done, what its military has done in sending military assets to help the people of West Africa.  You know, we appreciate the unflagging commitment of the US to ending this outbreak, and we… and its continued support for many civilians who will remain in place in West, many civilians from the US, dispatched by the US to fight Ebola in West Africa.  Mr. Lee and then we will go to our guests.  I'm sorry.  You've been very patient.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah.  You already mentioned that the Assistant Secretary‑General, Mr. Taranco, and the Assistant Foreign Secretary, Ms. Nisha Biswal, had a meeting yesterday in Washington, D.C.  So, can you please specify the outcome of the meeting very briefly?

Spokesman:  No.

Correspondent:  And…

Spokesman:  No, I think these are part of regular contacts between senior UN officials [and] senior officials from various ministries.  It's an ongoing dialogue.  I can't, there is no readout to share with you, I think, that would satisfy your answer.

Question:  And another thing is the main opposition, BNP Chairperson, three times elected, she’s… as Prime Minister.  She's confined.  And the rolling authority, they are not even allowing from yesterday… day before yesterday… even any food.  And their staff, they are eating some dry food having noticed or not in the news media came up.  So, what is your comment regarding these inhumane situation?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the Secretary‑General is concerned about the situation and he's calling for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing political tensions that we see, and it is something that his Assistant Secretary‑General, Mr. Taranco, is following closely.

Question:  Great.  Two on readouts.  One on corruption.  On readouts, yesterday I'd asked you about the Sudanese Presidential Adviser…?

Spokesman:  Yes, and he will… he will also be meeting the Deputy Secretary‑General this afternoon and we will get you a holistic readout.

Question:  I also noticed that, yesterday, he met with Ambassador Kohona of Sri Lanka.  I couldn't tell if that was a farewell call or not.

Spokesman:  It was indeed a farewell call.

Question:  And did the issue of not pursuing the Human Rights Council investigation into Sri Lanka arise?

Spokesman:  It was, indeed, a farewell call.  I mean, the Secretary-General's position on the, on the human rights investigation is unchanged.  He's obviously aware that the new administration is considering setting domestic accountability mechanisms and will be carefully assessing these developments.  The Secretary‑General has stressed the importance of Sri Lanka establishing credible mechanisms that meet international standards.  Advancing accountability, like other parts of the post‑war agenda in Sri Lanka, will lay the basis for the country to make further progress on peace, democracy and development.  The UN stands ready, as always, to support Sri Lanka's efforts to address the post‑war agenda as we have consistently affirmed.

Question:  And then the last, the corruption one is as follows:  It has to do with that OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report that was leaked showing the payment of bribes for peacekeeping posts.  I’d asked Farhan, but I wanted to ask you more because, this morning, I actually ran into the named deputy representative of Côte d’Ivoire, Bafetegue Ouattara, in the building, and since this report, which began in 2013 and was finalized in 2014, has banking records proof of the payment of bribes for peacekeeping posts, I just wondered what does the UN do?  I understand that the peacekeepers have been asked to return home, but the person who solicited and took bribes… does the UN have no recourse at all?

Spokesman:  You know, as you well know… As you well know, diplomats are sent here by their Governments.  We have no authority over them.  It is up to national Governments to take action against these, against individuals.

Question:  Is there nothing that a diplomat could do even inside this building that the UN would take action on?  This was soliciting bribes for UN posts.

Spokesman:  As I said, this person works for the Government of the Côte d’Ivoire, it would be up to them to take appropriate action.  I will get our guests.  And I apologize for not having a statement on the Ukraine.  I'm embarrassed.  But, anyway, we'll be right back.

For information media. Not an official record.