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

17 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone. 

**Iraq

Nickolay Mladenov, the departing Special Representative for Iraq, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Iraq, noting that almost-daily terrorist attacks continue to kill Iraqis.  He highlighted the violations of human rights by Da’esh and the equally worrying revenge attacks that have taken place.  Mr. Mladenov described himself as a “paranoid optimist” as he completes his tenure in Iraq — adding that he is optimistic because Iraq’s political, community and religious leaders have come together to save their country from terror, but that he is also paranoid because so many things can go wrong.

He said that Iraqis must be supported in building democracy and must be assisted in ensuring justice while being granted the respect and dignity they deserve.  We have his remarks available in our office.  Mr. Mladenov intends to speak to reporters at the stakeout once Security Council discussions on Iraq have ended.

**Ukraine

And we have just gotten word that the President of the Security Council is inviting Council members to a public meeting of the Security Council at3 p.m., this afternoon, in connection with the “letter dated 13 April 2014 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council”.

**Syria

After that, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, will brief the Security Council later in the afternoon in closed consultations about his recent diplomatic efforts.  As you will recall, he visited Damascus last week, where he met with President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials.  Mr. de Mistura intends to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout following those consultations. 

**Libya-Egypt

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said today that the mass beheading of Christians in Libya was a “vile crime targeting people on the basis of their religion”.  He urged Libyans to unite against extremists launching attacks based on religious, ethnic, national, racial or political grounds.  In their response to these killings, High Commissioner Zeid said, the Egyptian air force must ensure full respect of the principles of distinction between civilians and fighters, and civilian objects and military objectives.

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned, in the strongest terms, the killing of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya by Da’esh.  He deplores the targeting of people on account of their religious affiliation.  The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives as a result of this barbaric act and to the Government of Egypt.  The Secretary-General reaffirms that the ongoing dialogue in Libya is the best chance to help the country overcome its current crisis.  Only through dialogue can Libyans build a State and institutions that are able to confront terrorism.

**Yemen

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it is determined to continue its operations across Yemen despite clashes between rival factions, the President’s resignation and demands in the south for secession.  The World Food Programme is able to reach some of the hardest-to-access parts of the country through its partner Yemeni Non-Governmental Organizations, staffed by people from these areas.  Despite the significant security and operational challenges, WFP was able in January to reach about 1 million people.

**Japan

An expert team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed today a third review of Japan's efforts to plan and implement the decommissioning of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.  The 15-member team praised Japan for taking steps to implement planned measures to reduce radiological risks from the site and progress towards the safe decommissioning of the accident plant.

The situation, however, remains very complex, with the increasing amount of contaminated water posing a short-term challenge that must be resolved in a sustainable manner.  The need to remove highly radioactive spent fuel from the reactors that suffered meltdowns also poses a huge long-term challenge.  More on the report of the expert team is available on the Agency’s website.

**Ebola

On Ebola, the World Bank is teaming up with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and national authorities, by providing $5 million for urgently needed interventions in assisting rural households in Guinea.  Tens of thousands of people in rural areas of Guinea worst-hit by the Ebola epidemic will receive training on how to prevent the spread of the disease and support in producing food and generating income.

A total of 30,000 households will be sensitized on measures to counter the transmission of the disease in rural areas, and experienced rural development and field workers will undertake awareness activities combined with the provision of hygiene kits to rural communities.  More on this is available on the FAO website.

**India

Michael Bloomberg, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, is completing a two-day visit to India where he advocated for increased renewable resources, smarter cities, sustainable transport and urban climate adaptation.  During his mission, the Special Envoy met with the Prime Minister and representatives from the Government, business and civil society.  He made the keynote address at RE-Invest, where he said that he was impressed with India's ambitious commitment to scaling up renewables. 

Today, the Special Envoy visited the Disaster Management Office of Mumbai to observe how one of the world's most vulnerable cities to the impacts of climate change prepares for and responds to natural disasters.

**AIDS

UNAIDS [Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS], UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and other partners, such as the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, launched today in Nairobi, “All In”, a new platform for action in the fight against AIDS in adolescents aimed at encouraging strategic changes in policy and engaging more young people in that effort.

While major advances have been made in almost every area of the response to HIV, progress for adolescents is falling behind, with AIDS becoming the leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among adolescents globally.  Adolescent girls, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are the most affected.  In South Africa for example, in 2013, more than 860 girls became infected with HIV every week, compared to 170 boys.  More details on this new platform for action are available online.

**Turkey

UN-Women [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women] and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have condemned the brutal murder of Özgecan Aslan and continue to stand with the women and men of Turkey in the fight against gender-based violence.  The agencies have called for the effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention — a ground-breaking international agreement that Turkey ratified in 2012.  More information is available online.

**Honour Roll

And for the honour roll, congratulations are due to Algeria and Australia, which became the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth Member States to pay their regular budget assessments in full.

And that is it from me.  Yes, Sherwin?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  My question is about MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and its role with regard to the operation against the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda], and its lack of support now for the FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces].  Are you able to take us into your confidence and explain how we move from early January… early January, where there was great cooperation between the UN and the FARDC, to a State where you are no longer involved in this operation at all? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, one of the points I want to make is that there continues to be cooperation between the UN Mission, MONUSCO, and the Congolese Armed Forces, or FARDC.  The cooperation between MONUSCO and the FARDC will not cease.  For example, our military operations against the Alliance of Democratic Forces, the ADF, are still going on in Beni territory.  And in other provinces, MONUSCO is aiming to protect civilians and to restore State authority.  So, we still have strong UN support which is being provided to other operations.  The difference is with operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the FDLR.  With that, as you know, resolution 2147 (2014) of the UN Security Council clearly asked MONUSCO to neutralize armed groups through joint or unilateral operations.  And we'll act through MONUSCO under the instruction of the UN Security Council, because our mandate was initiated by UN Security Council members.  But, at the same time, you've seen what our concerns are about making sure that any actions that are taken are undertaken in accordance with our human rights due diligence policy and you've heard our concerns, in particular about General Fall Sikabwe and General Bruno Mandevu, and the contingents under their command.  And of course, we continue to be in dialogue with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and we hope that this issue will be resolved.

Question:  How do you respond, though, to the view that there's been a strategic undermining of the UN's role in this operation by the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] authorities?  There's a trust deficit between the UN and the FARDC.

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard what we've had to say in recent days and recent weeks.  You're well aware over the past several months that we had been building up preparations for action to be taken against the FDLR if they did not disarm by the beginning of this year, which, as you are aware, they did not do.  Given that, it was very important for us to be able to work jointly with the Congolese Armed Forces to deal with the threat posed by the FDLR.  We still intend to deal with that threat and we hope that we can work with the Congolese Armed Forces on this.  But you've seen what our concerns are, and they need to be addressed.

Question:  So you’ve become a junior partner in this operation, then?  When the FARDC decides you should be involved, that's when the UN will step up, correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  Once our concerns are addressed… I believe we made clear that we want to make sure that our human rights concerns are taken into account.  If… and that we can be sure that the contingents that are going in to this operation, we can trust that either the questions about our concern about the command are taken care of, or alternately, other sufficient mitigating measures have been put in place.  But, one way or another, we need to make sure ultimately that these are troops whose human rights operations… whose operations we can trust from a human rights perspective.  Once those concerns are addressed, we can proceed on that basis.

Question:  Follow‑up on this?  Thanks a lot.  First, I want to know whether the UN can say whether the FARDC has, in fact, begun any operations against the FDLR.  And you read the resolution and it says “unilateral”.  It says that the MONUSCO can take action as it did on M23 [23 March Movement], and so, I'm wondering, are there preparations to do just that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that same resolution 2147 (2014), also spells out the phrase “consent of all parties”, and that's an important phrase for us.  MONUSCO will act under the instruction of the Security Council, like I said.  It's got the technical capacities.  It has sufficient enablers and is well-trained and it has well-trained and well‑equipped professional peacekeepers to conduct such an operation successfully.  If there's any UN operation to be taken against the FDLR, it would have to be taken in line with international humanitarian law.  In this regard, contingency plans are being reviewed.

Question:  What is the role of particular troop-contributing countries in the Force Intervention Brigade in having a veto right over MONUSCO taking unilateral action?  Tanzania, South Africa?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the decision that taken by MONUSCO would be taken by the Force Commander and the Special Representative.  It's their decision.

Question:  So, there's no role.  If they order Tanzania into battle…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, whenever we undertake any operations, that's done in consultation with the troops we have at our disposal, so that we can be sure that these operations can be conducted correctly.

Question:  And is there a FARDC action yet?  Sorry.  I just wanted to get back to that.  Are you aware of any action taken by the Congolese Army against FDLR?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of offensive military operations, no.  You'd have to ask them.  Yes, Roger?

Question:  On the deferral of the Sri Lankan report, what are the details of the Government agreement?  Is it going to be new access?  Will the OISL [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation in Sri Lanka] be able to interview senior officials in the army?  Are they going to be able to examine mass graves?  And secondly, if these new levels of access yield information implicating Shavendra Silva, will the Secretary‑General encourage the Credentials Committee to recommend the General Assembly to reviews General Silva's credentials?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, in terms of the next steps, the Secretary‑General is aware that the new administration is planning to set up a domestic accountability mechanism and will be carefully assessing developments.  The Secretary‑General, as you're aware, met with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka last Friday, 13 February, and stressed the importance of Sri Lanka to show firm and clear commitment to accountability, reconciliation and human rights.  He also encouraged the Government to engage continuously with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  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 remains committed to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to address the postwar agenda.  The Secretary‑General is also aware of reactions from various communities to the decision by the Human Rights Council, and the Secretary‑General will positively engage with the new Government and support its efforts.   Regarding your question on Mr. Silva, at this stage, that remains hypothetical.  We'll have so see what the results of the next steps will be.  Yes?  Yes, please, Abdul Hamid?

Question:  I have two questions.  The first is about Egypt and France is calling for a Security Council… if you talked about it in the first part of the briefing, sorry.  I apologize for that.  Is there an attempt now to hold a Security Council meeting on what happened in Libya and propose a new draft resolution to be voted upon tomorrow or just an open meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that remains in the hands of the Security Council.  Ultimately, you'll have to check with the Security Council whether they're moving forward on any sort of a draft text.  We're not aware of any.

Question:  The second question:  There was a meeting on Sunday on… as you know, on Yemen.  And I tried to come to the building and the security stopped me and said:  “No, you can't,” and this is… you have to have special arrangement, but I said, there is a Security Council meeting and I'm supposed to go there and cover it.  Anyhow, they stopped me for a while, and they called their chief and they allowed me in, but why, I mean, we have to be even questioned if we coming to attend the Security Council meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's unusual.  As you know, for public meetings, the press are invited to attend.  I think you might need to take that up with our colleagues in the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit.  That shouldn't have happened.

Question:  One quick follow‑up on that.  The doors to see the actual meeting were locked during the Yemen meeting and I wanted to know… it may seem like a small thing, but it's supposed to be an open meeting.  On the third floor, between the press area and the area to actually watch the meeting, they were locked and they refused to open them.  Can you…?

Deputy Spokesman:  There were guards who were there?

Question:  Yeah, they said they were understaffed and they were not going to open them.  Given it was an open meeting, is that appropriate?  What can be done about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  It may just be a question of the low level of staffing, given that it was in the middle of a three‑day weekend.  Of course, that's not our policy and we… we'll try to make sure that these remain open in the future.  Yes, Michele?  You've been patient.  And then after that, you can go.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Question on Indonesia:  As you're probably aware there was a group of people executed last month for drug crimes and there's another group who are set to be executed shortly for drug crimes.  What… does the Secretary‑General have a response on this?  And can you let us know what communications he may have had with Indonesia over this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General has conveyed his views, including last week in a message… in a letter to the President of Indonesia.  Of course, we are well aware that Governments have their own legal proceedings, and of course, we respect state sovereignty.  At the same time, we've made it clear repeatedly that the United Nations opposes the death penalty under all circumstances.  In addition, of course, we uphold the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that in countries that have not abolished the death penalty, this punishment may only be imposed for the most serious crimes.  And so, we stick to that threshold and we've made that view clear.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Media reports had claimed that ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] has executed and burned more than 40 people in West Iraq at the area of Al‑Baghdadi.  Most of them have been working or are part of the police department and the crime, according to the media reports, happened close to a military base of the United States.  Have you heard… the Secretary‑General’s office have heard about that and what's the concerns or the information that you have gotten from the area?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, on this right now, all we have is the media reports, so, we have seen media reports.  Of course, as with all activities that have been perpetrated by the group Da’esh or ISIL, however you wish to call them, we have long deplored their very poor record of human rights and their high level of atrocities, and if there's evidence of further atrocities, we would condemn those, as well.  And I believe I have something important to read out before I take the next question.  Thank you.

I have a trip announcement for the Secretary‑General's visit to Washington, D.C.  On Thursday, 19 February, the Secretary‑General will be in Washington, D.C., to attend the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, hosted by the United States Government.  He's expected to address high‑level delegates gathered at the Summit on ways in which the international community can address the threat of violent extremism including through comprehensive multifaceted approach and we'll provide more updates on his activities on Thursday itself.  Yes, Sia?

Question:  Thank you.  Last week at the stakeout, the Ambassador of Syria and Iraq accused Turkey of buying oil… cheap oil from ISIS.  Since now it's official, does UN knew about it or know about it or going to do anything?  And I have another question on Iran.  Several Iranian activists have been jailed just because they spoke against the Government.  Is UN involving self on this situation, as well?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think, we stand up for the rights of human rights defenders to go about their work in every country, and we continue to uphold that.  In some countries we've tied to deal with Governments on a more quiet or informal basis, trying to see whether specific individual cases can be resolved, but I wouldn't have anything to say in particular about these ones.  Regarding the sale of oil that's in possession of Da’esh, as you're well aware, the Security Council just passed, a few days ago, a resolution against such sales, so any such sales would be in violation now of the Security Council resolution.  We have no first-hand monitoring presence on the ground at present, so we wouldn't be able to attest to who is behind this.

Question:  Okay.  When I go to doctor, they say:  “1 to 10, how do you feel?”  So, communication with and you Iran, 1 to 10, how is it?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have good communication with Iran, and we've been in touch with different Iranian officials repeatedly.

Question:  Do they listen?  Do they do what you… the UN's asking?

Deputy Spokesman:  As with many Governments, there are some issues on which we can cooperate fruitfully and others on which we may have differences, but have to try to resolve them.  And this is one of those cases.  The Secretary‑General, I believe, will meet the incoming Iranian ambassador to the United Nations this afternoon, in fact.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Would you please tell me about current situation of Bangladesh — any development?  Do you have any development on the situation in Bangladesh?  Extrajudicial killings are going on.  People are suffering.  So, do you have any update on it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything particularly new.  Of course, we've expressed our concerns about the loss of life and violence that have occurred in Bangladesh since the start of this year.  The Secretary‑General is personally committed to the stability and development of Bangladesh, which is one of the close partners of the United Nations, and given this commitment, he reiterates his calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to… there was a report that… local report in Bangladesh that Mr. [Oscar Fernández-]Taranco is going there on a visit, and this was denied by the Permanent Mission here, Ambassador [Abdul] Momen, who said he has not spoken to him.  Can you… I guess, because it becomes important, Ambassador Momen went on to say this is a terrorism problem in Bangladesh similar to that of ISIS, basically implying that there are not two parties to be mediated, but rather one party to be denounced.  I wonder, what's your response to that?  And is Mr. Taranco seeking to go to the country, and why hasn't he spoken with the Permanent Representative here in New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, right now on the first question:  There's currently no plan at this point for Mr. Fernández‑Taranco to travel back to Bangladesh.  He has been there before.  He has been tasked by the Secretary‑General to be in contact with the Government and the opposition and he will continue with those efforts.  But, at this point, like I said, there's no travel to announce.

Question:  Can I ask…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  Abdel Hamid and then Linda.

Question:  I have a question on Yemen, Farhan.  Since resolution 2201 (2015) adopted, there is no positive signals comes from the Houthis to respond and to accept this resolution and they have a deadline of 15 days to adopt some of the measures required by the resolution.  It doesn't seem so.  What is the Secretary‑General prepared to do or to recommend to the Security Council if they did not heed?  And where is Jamal Benomar, as we speak?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Benomar is going to be continuing with his diplomatic efforts.  At this stage, as you're aware, there is a time frame envisioned in the resolution and we'll see what happens within that time frame.  I don't want to speculate at this point what happens afterwards.  Let's see what the next period brings.  Meanwhile, Mr. Benomar is available to deal with the various parties, and he will continue with his discussions.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding Ukraine, would you have any information regarding the latest developments in the various aspects of the crisis?  In general.  And specifically regarding the role of the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've seen the statement that we had on this just a few days ago.  We did issue a statement on Ukraine on Sunday, welcoming the start of the ceasefire and, among other things, it expressed the Secretary‑General's serious concern over reports of continued instances of hostilities, including in Debaltseve, and the Secretary‑General reiterated his call for all parties to abide by the ceasefire without exception.  So… and the full… the text of the full statement is available in our office and online.

Question:  What about regarding humanitarian efforts?  Is there any UN role on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe we are continuing with our humanitarian efforts so the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is working on that.  I have some further details to share with you afterward if you need.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask about OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] and separately about South Sudan.  On this OIOS report about acceptance of bribes for UN police posts that I asked about last week, yesterday The Independent published a story on it.  They quoted a UN spokesman.  I don't know if it was you or Stéphane [Dujarric].  But, what I wanted to ask you about was the substance of it.  It said, “We cannot and should not prejudge the international investigation.”  Since the OIOS report has bank records and you've already taken action, apparently, and repatriated 10 police officers, doesn't the UN think its own report is true?  So, what does it mean to say that… is Côte d’Ivoire supposed to reinvestigate the case before taking action on the Deputy Permanent Representative?  And, finally, they also mention there are 36 Ivoirian police officers in MONUSCO and 60 in MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti].  How many have actually been repatriated?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, basically, once the OIOS report was received, we took decisive measures, including ordering the repatriation of all the UN police officers who were involved.  All those officers involved are either gone or in the process of leaving the peacekeeping operations on which they served, which is to say MONUSCO and MINUSTAH.  Beyond that, no police from Côte d’Ivoire will be extended beyond their current assignments and deployment of any subsequent Ivoirian police to UN operations has been suspended until confirmation from Côte d’Ivoire that action has been taken on the OIOS investigation.  And regarding… and regarding the quotes that you had referred to, yes, we're not going to prejudge the results of the national investigation, which the UN has asked the Member State to conduct.  We've insisted that the investigation be very thorough and comprehensive.  We've stressed that the UN should be kept fully informed of the results of the Member State’s investigation and that necessary action should be taken as a result.  But, saying that, now, of course, it's up to them to do it and we won't prejudge the results of their actions.

Question:  I guess it's actions versus investigation.  You stand behind your own report since you've already sent police officers home based on it, right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, of course.  The people who were found in the internal investigation to have received improper assistance in getting their jobs, those are… like I said, I've either all left or in the process of leaving.

Question:  I just wanted… on South Sudan, there's a report on Radio Tamazuj that quotes a Minister for Information of South Sudan very much saying that Radio Miraya may be shut down for having done an interview with an exiled politician.  He also defends the closing of a publication called Nation Mirror and says a variety of things about even possibly the Government throwing the Mission out.  Maybe those were intemperate words.  But, does Radio Miraya check its broadcasts with the Government before they go on and what's their response to the Government basically threatening them with censorship?Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, we try to go about our own work, including the information work that is a vital part of our missions.  Beyond that, of course, we are opposed to any efforts to impinge on freedom of the media or freedom of expression including, of course, of people who are fulfilling work that is under UN mandate, that is to say, our informational work.  So, we would continue with that.  Yes?

Question:  Lee Ling from Future Story News.  Apologize if I missed this earlier, but on Ukraine, has there been a comment or statement or position from the Secretary‑General since Sunday on… particularly on the latest developments on the ground there, the passing of the deadline for the pullout of fighters, claims by pro‑Russian separatists who have taken over Debaltseve?  Any updates since Sunday?

Deputy Spokesman:  We haven't said anything further to that statement.  I would like, as I did with your colleague, to draw your attention to the fact that in that statement, we expressed the Secretary‑General's serious concern over reports of continued instances of hostilities, including in Debaltseve, and the need for all parties to abide by the ceasefire without exception.  Yes?

Question:  Quick follow‑up:   I'm seeing a report of an urgent meeting at 3 p.m.  Will… can we expect to hear… do you have any information on that, on Ukraine?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I mentioned that that was happening at the start of this.  And we'll have to see what happens when the Security Council meets at 3 p.m.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have anything on peacekeepers injured in Mali?  There are two different reports, one of Mopti and one of, I don't know if it’s another place, but of peacekeepers being injured in an attack that killed two Malian soldiers.  Do you have any information on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't have any information on that.  We'll check.  Thanks.

For information media. Not an official record.