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

27 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.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is in Santiago de Chile today where he attended a high-level event organized by the Government of Chile in cooperation with UN-Women called “Women in Power and Decision-Making:  Making a World of Difference” .  In his keynote address at the event, he stressed that progress in achieving gender equality was too slow and uneven.  And he added that words are not enough and that action needs to be backed by funds.

The Secretary-General said we need to change mind-sets, starting with men.  He urged for the appointment of more women at all levels, from Government to business.  And he also called on increased investments in gender equality to achieve a truly transformative new agenda for sustainable development.  His full remarks are available in my office as well as online.

And from Santiago, he also had a bilateral meeting with President Michelle Bachelet, who was, as you will recall, the first head of UN-Women.  And he expressed his appreciation for the measures Chile has taken towards women empowerment at the national level.  They exchanged views about the importance of gender equality in the framework of the post-2015 development agenda.  And we will issues readouts of other meetings as he has them and as they come to us.

**Yemen — Benomar

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, met yesterday with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.  Mr. Benomar expressed the hope that the President’s return to Aden will help to extract Yemen from the current crisis.  For his part, the President reiterated his commitment to dialogue, consultation and consensus, recalling that this approach saved Yemen in 2011.

They discussed the situation in the country and the possibility of addressing it peacefully to put the political transition back on track.  They also agreed on the need for all parties to engage seriously in good faith in the UN-brokered negotiations.  Mr. Benomar said he will announce the new location for the negotiations soon.  And there’s a full statement from him in my office.

**Yemen - OHCHR

Also on Yemen, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today in Geneva that it was closely monitoring, with great concern, the critical situation in the country where the political dialogue is faltering.  The Office urged a meaningful dialogue to avoid further instability in Yemen.  Noting the many mass demonstrations in recent months, the Office said that it had documented a number of unlawful arrests, arbitrary detentions, as well as targeting of journalists.  And there’s more online from OHCHR.

**UNESCO

This morning in Paris, Irina Bokova, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, otherwise known as UNESCO, spoke to reporters in Paris to express her dismay at the images of the attacks on the Mosul Museum and archaeological sites in Iraq’s Nineveh region.  She said a large number of statues and bas-reliefs have been disfigured or destroyed, in a destructive fury with the swinging of axes and the use of jackhammers.

Ms. Bokova emphasized that this tragedy is far from only being a cultural issue, and that this is also an issue of security.  She added that we can see now how terrorists use the destruction of heritage in their terror strategy to destabilize and manipulate populations.

**Central African Republic

And from the Central African Republic, the UN [Integrated Stabilization] Mission in that country, MINUSCA, said today that it launched a wide operation in Bangui, in cooperation with the national security forces.  The operation, which started yesterday, aims to combat the surge in crime in the capital.  MINUSCA said that it is patrolling the city and has also put in place checkpoints, focusing on two neighbourhoods in particular:  Boy-Rabe and Gobongo.  And the operation will be extended to other neighbourhoods.

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, a seven-member UN Board of Inquiry, which was constituted by the Department of Field Support to consider the circumstances of the crash of a UN-contracted helicopter in Bentiu, Unity [State], in August of last year, submitted its final report.  The findings have been shared with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the Permanent Mission of Russia, and other relevant stakeholders responsible for implementing the Board's recommendations.

While as all Board of Inquiry reports, it is an internal document, the facts made available to the Board indicate that there is a high probability that the helicopter was hit by anti-aircraft fire, which caused a mechanical failure and eventually leading to the crash that destroyed the helicopter.  The Board was not able to identify the attackers.  The location of the attack borders an area where both the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and the SPLA in Opposition operate and where the firing could have come from either party.

**Mali

And from Mali, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid organizations launched an appeal yesterday seeking $377 million to cover the needs of over 1.5 million people in that country for the current year.  OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] says that an estimated 2.6 million people are projected to suffer from food insecurity so far this year.  Some 715,000 children will be affected by acute malnutrition, which means they are nearly nine times more likely to die than children who are not affected.  Ninety per cent of malnutrition cases are in the south of the country where most of the people live.

**Somalia

And the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, today welcomed the recent release of 4 remaining crewmen from a Thai fishing vessel.  The crew, all Thai nationals, were taken hostage at sea by Somali pirates in April of 2010.  The mission to recover the hostages was conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funded by the Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia’s Trust Fund.  And Mr. Kay also called for the immediate release of 26 crew members abducted from another vessel.

**Security Council

And as you know, the Security Council here this morning had a meeting on Ukraine.  It was briefed by the Special Representative of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine, as well as the head of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

**Under-Secretary-General Amos

Speaking of missions, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos will be on a mission to Jordan and Lebanon from the 2 to 6 March.  In Amman, she will address the regional World Humanitarian Summit consultations.  In both countries, she is expected to meet with senior officials, key humanitarian partners and donors to discuss the impact of the Syrian crisis.

**Mobile Technology

And a few other quick notes:  The UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development said today that mobile technology is the key to bringing educational opportunities to the world’s poorest communities.  At a meeting at UNESCO in Paris, the Commission highlighted the lack of resources such as computers in classrooms in poor countries.  In some parts of Africa, for instance, 150 students share a computer.  More is available on UNESCO’s website.

**Zero Discrimination

And this Sunday, 1 March, will mark Zero Discrimination Day to celebrate diversity and reject discrimination in all its forms.  In a press release from UNAIDS, the Secretary-General called discrimination a violation of human rights that must not go unchallenged.  Nearly 40 countries, territories and areas today impose some form of restriction on the entry and residence of people living with HIV.  The head of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, added that some of the world’s most challenging problems can be solved simply by eliminating stigma and discrimination.

**Press Conferences Today

Press conferences today:  I hope you have no lunch plans because after me you will have a 12:30 p.m. briefing by the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Liu, Permanent Representative of China, who will brief you on the month that was.  Then we will have Jean-Victor Nkolo, the Spokesman for [the President of] the General Assembly.  And then at 2 p.m., Ambassador Angelo Antonio Toriello, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Sao Tome and Principe, will talk to you about the forthcoming Ebola Relief Concert which will be held on Monday in the General Assembly Hall.

**Nigeria

Lastly, a statement was just handed to me on Nigeria.  The Secretary-General reiterates his strong condemnation of the continuing indiscriminate and horrific attacks by Boko Haram against civilian populations in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.  The abduction and use of children, including as “suicide bombers”, is particularly abhorrent.

The Secretary-General is encouraged by the positive steps taken by the countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin, with the support of the African Union, towards operationalizing the Multinational Joint Task Force to counter the threat posed by Boko Haram in the subregion.  The Secretary-General calls on international partners to provide support to these regional efforts.

He urges the states involved to ensure that all measures taken to combat the terrorist threat of Boko Haram are conducted in line with international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.  He is concerned by the impact of combat operations on local populations in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, and calls on countries of the region to give the highest priority to the protection of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, including by providing them with life-saving support.  The UN is scaling up its humanitarian operations and increasing its human rights monitoring in all the impacted countries.

The Secretary-General is convinced that a military approach alone will not suffice to counter the Boko Haram insurgency.  Only through a multidimensional approach that addresses legitimate grievances, past and current human rights violations, and the root causes of the conflict, will we be able to effectively respond to the barbaric threats posed by Boko Haram to regional peace and security and to local populations.

That is it for me. Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, with what happened in Mosul yesterday in the museum, and the outrage of UNESCO about that, we notice there's a pattern in destruction.  This is not an isolated incident.  It happened many times in the area and it happened in Afghanistan.  It happened in Saudi Arabia.  There is an ideology behind that.  What can the United Nations do in order to convince those who call for such a culture heritage to be made accountable for that?  Is there anything the United Nations can do?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it's a broad question.  You're right.  It's not an isolated incident.  We've seen it very recently in Mali, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan.  The Security Council itself was seized of the matter not too long ago when it passed a resolution which tried to stop the illegal trafficking of looted items — because we know it is not only about the destruction of larger items, it's also about the selling of the smaller items in order to fund terrorist organizations.  It's very important that Member States and all concerned do not participate in the traffic of these looted items.  And as far as the ideology is concerned, I think this was something that was most recently discussed by the Secretary-General at the summit to combat violent extremism.  There needs to be a broad-based approach to combating extremist ideas.  I'll come back to you.  Michelle.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A question on Syria.  What details do you have on the three UN aid officials who have been expelled by Syria and how concerned are you about what impact this might have on the Special Envoy de Mistura's efforts to broker this freeze in Aleppo given that two of the officials were working in the Aleppo area?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. de Mistura's travels are going ahead.  He will have discussions with senior Syrian officials in Damascus, obviously to follow up on the Aleppo… on the proposed Aleppo freeze.  The information that I have here, that we have, concerns two staff members that have been asked to leave.  Both are essential staff members that have been working on humanitarian operations in Syria.  This could have a major impact on the vital aid operations in terms of our ability to carry out operations at the local level and also on negotiations for the safe passage of aid delivery.  We are continuing our work in talking to authorities to facilitate the unhindered and safe passage of humanitarian aid.  I think it serves as a reminder that UN humanitarian aid is neutral.  It's impartial.  And the only aim of our humanitarian work is to bring support and aid to the civilian populations who have been suffering for these past years in the conflict in Syria and to help the most vulnerable.  As far as reasons as to why they've been asked to leave, we have not been provided with any reason at this point.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  I need you to use a microphone, please, so the people on the web can hear you.

Correspondent:  If you happen to get any further data on the third member who we believe might be a UNICEF aid worker, I appreciate if you could…

Spokesman:  We will do that.  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just as a follow-up, you mentioned that Mr. de Mistura's going ahead with his trip.  Is the UN going to ask him to specifically raise this issue and the importance of these two people to the mission?

Spokesman:  I don't want to pre-guess or preclude what he will raise.  We will give you a readout of his meetings as they happen.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Some other things, but I wanted to ask you about the South Sudan report that you read out.  Because, I mean, you said that they were unable to determine who did it, that it came from an area between In Opposition and the Government.  But there was this audiotape of Peter Gadet threatening the UN to shoot down helicopters that was… you know, days before it was shot down.  So, can you say or find out whether these Board of Inquiry people listened to the audio and whether they found it not credible or… why it's not part of the report?

Spokesman:  They had all the information that was available to them.  As a general point, a threat is a threat.  I think what they were looking at is for hard evidence to figure out who had shot the helicopter, they were not able to come in with any conclusive information.

Question:  Do they use a different standard of proof than even a court because usually like it seems like…?

Spokesman:  A Board of Inquiry tries to establish what happened.  Obviously, they looked at the helicopter and all the information they had.  That's the conclusion they came up with.  I do have an update, in fact, on that third staff member from our colleague at UNICEF who tell us that they can confirm a senior UNICEF staff member has been asked to leave Syria.  The staff member is based in Aleppo and working on delivery of humanitarian assistance to children in need amid continuing violence there.  UNICEF will continue to do everything it can to help the children of Aleppo in an increasingly challenging environment.  Carla.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On 20 February, The New York Times had an article on malaria resistance to… so far, the best drug, anti-malaria drug, in parts of Asia, Thailand, Cambodia and so forth.  And a few years ago…

Spokesman:  Carla, with respect, could you rephrase this in the form of a question?

Question:  What is the UN's position or what is it doing on the advisability of flooding impoverished areas with medications that they don't have the health facilities to administer properly and people are so poor they very often cannot take the drugs as they are required to do?

Spokesman:  Obviously, this is an issue that our colleagues at the World Health Organization, the Roll Back Malaria campaign are looking into, and I will ask them if they have any further information.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is a follow-up to Nizar's question on UNESCO head’s statement [inaudible] reports that she has called for a meeting of the Security Council [inaudible] if these reports are correct, then [inaudible] power to call Security Council or are Member States?

Spokesman:  I think she did reiterate that call during her press conference in Paris today and I would advise you to… you could raise that issue of Security Council meetings with our next guest, who should be here in about nine minutes, the President of the Security Council.

Question:  Is the request [inaudible] come from Member State?

Spokesman:  Again, that's a question for the Security Council presidency to entertain.  Masood.

Question:  On this report on Libya by Security Council panel that an international maritime… sort of a force is needed to stop illicit oil trade and arm trade.  Does the Secretary-General have any… I mean, will he take this up with the Security Council members?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that report.  We can find out.  Obviously, all Member States have a responsibility to ensure that they do not support any illicit trade.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Let me ask you this now on this trip by Mr. Feltman to Sri Lanka.  I wanted to know:  can you confirm he's meeting with the Tamil National Alliance… that's tomorrow?  And how… will there be any readouts?

Spokesman:  We talked to our colleagues in DPA [Department of Political Affairs] to make sure we can get some readouts e-mailed over the weekend as they happen.

Question:  I wanted… separately, I wanted to know whether you can confirm that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) that a letter has gone to Member States to seek a new person beyond Ms. Carman Lapointe and whether the process will be, you know, transparent at least as the OIOS… excuse me, as the OCHA process where there's a panel, there's some kind of out… if it's an outside review position, will there be outside people on the panel?

Spokesman:  It’s news to me.  We can always ask.  Sylviane and then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you know when Madame Kaag will be in New York?

Spokesman:  No, we can check and then we can ask her to come over here.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  Steph, regarding the three staff members who were expelled, can you just give us a little context in terms of about how many UN humanitarian workers are currently in the area?

Spokesman:  Yes, they were asked to leave… I don't have those figures with me.  We'll share them outside, as soon as the briefing is over to get you.  But, there are a lot of UN humanitarian workers, and it also bears reminding that the bulk of the humanitarian work is being done by national staff or through national partners who are all doing heroic work.

Question:  If I may follow up, do you expect that Mr. de Mistura will be meeting with the Syrian President?

Spokesman:  I expect that he will meet with senior Syrian leaders.  I have avoided confirming meetings in this context before they happen.  Ken, yes?

Question:  Follow-up on this.  Can you clarify who the first two humanitarian workers are affiliated with?

Spokesman:  Two are from OCHA and the third one is UNICEF.

Question:  Can you confirm if all three have already left the country?

Spokesman:  No, for their personal safety and security reasons, I'm not able to confirm that.

Question:  Did the UN officially express the concern or…?

Spokesman:  Yes, of course.

Question: …to the Government of Syria?

Spokesman:  For any UN staff to be asked to leave by a host Government is a serious matter, and I think in this issue when we're dealing with humanitarian workers who are doing critical work in bringing through impartial and neutral aid, I think it is of extreme concern.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  Press freedom question, both in Bangladesh and about Bangladesh here.  One, there was a pretty high-profile hacking to death of a blogger in Bangladesh named Avijit Roy, and I'm wondering whether the UN system, CPJ and others have denounced it for obvious reasons.  What does the UN say about that?  And also our colleague who's asked a number of questions here about Bangladesh, I tried to ask MALU yesterday whether it was true as reported in Bangladesh that the Government of Bangladesh or mission made some inquiry with the UN trying to essentially question his accreditation or make it so he couldn't ask questions here.  And I wanted to know, what's the position of the UN on such inquiries?

Spokesman:  The UN's position is if somebody meets the accreditation criteria, they are welcome in this room and they are welcome to ask any questions.  I may cut them off if the preamble to their question is too long, but that's just my chair's prerogative.

Question:  Is it appropriate for Member States to try to essentially, like, cherry pick what journalists get to ask questions?

Spokesman:  The point is that once they're in this room, they're allowed to ask whatever they want.  Okay?  On the attack of the blogger, we spoke to our human rights colleagues who obviously condemned the attack and expressed the hope that the perpetrators will be quickly brought to justice through the due process of law, and they've added that it's obviously very important that the space for freedom of expression in civil society be upheld in Bangladesh.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  There is a report that says that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israel use its airspace to attack Iran if necessary.  I want to know what's the Secretary-General's position on that?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we've seen the report as you have.  We're not in the habit on commenting on blind reports in the media.  The Secretary-General's position for the peaceful relation among nations and the peaceful… for nations to resolve their problems peacefully is well known.  Nizar, I owe you a question.

Question:  Yeah.  There was a… there were reports about selling 10 Syrian artefacts, stolen artefacts, in London recently in a public auction.  What is the position of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  I think it is up to national authorities to keep a close eye on what's being sold in their countries, and museums, collectors, dealers have a responsibility not to fuel the market in stolen artefacts, which is, in fact, a way for fuelling terrorism.

Question:  What's the responsibility of the [United Kingdom] authorities in this case?

Spokesman:  I don't know the particular case, but there is a Security Council resolution which lays out the responsibility of Member States.  Masood and then we don't want to keep the permanent representative waiting.

Question:  [Inaudible] negotiations going on in this P5+1…?

Spokesman:  Can you speak a little louder?

Question:  I'm sorry.  On this Iranian nuclear programme, negotiations are going on.  The Israeli Prime Minister says that the P5+1 agreed to a nuclear deal with Iran.  Can you… can anybody in the United Nations…?

Spokesman:  Well, we're neither a P5, nor “+1”, nor Iran, so obviously, we have to wait for these discussions to conclude, and I think, for official statements to be made.  On that note, I wish you a happy Friday.

For information media. Not an official record.