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18 March 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.

**Tunisia

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunisia.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms today’s attack against the Bardo Museum in central Tunis and deplores the loss of life.  He conveys his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this deplorable act.  The Secretary-General also expresses his solidarity with the Tunisian people and the Tunisian authorities.

**Papal Visit

I also have a note to correspondents that will be issued right after this, informing you that His Holiness Pope Francis will visit the United Nations Headquarters on the morning of 25 September 2015.

The Secretary-General welcomes the visit of Pope Francis as an important part of a historic year in which the United Nations marks its seventieth anniversary and in which Member States will take major decisions about sustainable development, climate change and the future peace and well-being of humankind.

During the visit, Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly.  His Holiness will also have bilateral meetings with the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, and will participate in a town hall gathering with United Nations staff.

The Secretary-General is confident that His Holiness Pope Francis’s visit will inspire the international community to redouble its efforts to achieve human dignity for all through ensuring greater social justice, tolerance and understanding among all of the world’s peoples.

**Secretary-General in Italy

The Secretary-General is in Italy today, where he met earlier in Rome with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  The Secretary-General thanked the Prime Minister for Italy’s strong support for the political and humanitarian work of the United Nations in Libya and Italy’s contribution to global efforts to address terrorism, including in Syria and Iraq.  They also discussed the need to address the root causes of irregular migration and of terrorism.  The Secretary-General further expressed his gratitude for Italy’s support to United Nations peacekeeping operations, especially in Lebanon.  They also discussed the situation in Ukraine.

The Secretary-General also met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, with whom he discussed Libya, Syria, migration, climate change and the sustainable development goals.

Earlier in the morning, he met Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and spoke to the press afterwards.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that he is very concerned about the increasing presence of the so-called Islamic State, or Da’esh, in Libya.  He praised Italy’s strong support for the UN efforts in Libya and Italy’s efforts to counter violent extremism.  Those remarks and the readouts of his meetings are available in our office.

The Secretary-General is now in Turin, where he is chairing a retreat of the senior officials of the UN system.

**Haiti

The Security Council is meeting on Haiti this morning.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country and Head of the UN Mission, Sandra Honoré, said the country had made measurable gains towards the holding of long overdue elections by the end of the year.  She called on all political actors to continue a genuine dialogue and a transparent and consultative approach.

She also said it was time for Haitian authorities, including the Electoral Council, to demonstrate their capacity and assume even greater ownership of the electoral process.

As Haiti enters a complex electoral period, with a planned reduction of its military personnel, Ms. Honoré invited all partners to make an additional effort in fully staffing the police component of the Mission.

Her full remarks are available in our office and she will speak to you at the stakeout after the meeting.

Prior to the meeting on Haiti, the Security Council also heard a briefing from the delegation that just visited the Central African Republic, Addis-Ababa and Burundi.

**Vanuatu

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that due to Cyclone Pam, 11 people have died in Vanuatu, according to the Government.

More than 3,000 people have sought shelter in 26 evacuation centres but people are beginning to return to their homes.

Assessment missions to some of Vanuatu’s worse-hit provinces have found that food, water, medical supplies, shelter and hygiene kits are urgently needed.  Communication within and between the country’s islands, as well as access to affected areas, is the greatest challenge to the humanitarian operation.

Nearly half of the 30,000 houses in the worst-affected parts of the country have been damaged by the cyclone.

Aid agencies continue to support the Government providing help, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) having airlifted kits to cover 50,000 patients, while shelter kits and household items are being dispatched in the coming days.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) are also supporting an emergency Government-led vaccination drive to protect children affected by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.

There are fears of a serious measles outbreak in the country, which already has very low rates of routine immunization and suffered an outbreak of measles, a potentially deadly disease, earlier this month.

Six teams have been deployed in the capital, with six additional teams expected to be trained to begin vaccinations by the end of the week.

More information is available online.

**Maldives

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, today expressed strong concerns about what he called the hasty and apparently unfair trial of the former President of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, who has received a 13-year jail sentence.

The High Commissioner said that Mr. Nasheed was sentenced following a rushed process that appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices, and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.

The High Commissioner also noted that the courts refused requests by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, as well as domestic and international observers, to monitor the trial proceedings.

There is more information on the website of the UN Human Rights office.

**Iraq

On Iraq, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it is collaborating with the Government to implement a school meals programme in Thi Qar, one of the most disadvantaged governorates in the country.

The World Food Programme plans on distributing nutritious meals to 21,000 vulnerable primary school children across 73 schools in southern Iraq, until the end of May 2015.

There are more details in a press release from the World Food Programme.

**Tobacco

Non-smoking is becoming the new norm worldwide, according to new data presented today during the sixteenth World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) in Abu Dhabi.

The new report on Trends in Tobacco Smoking by the World Health Organization finds that in 2010, there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over.

That’s 78 per cent of the 5.1 billion population aged 15 and over, and this percentage is projected to rise to 81 per cent by 2025.

The World Health Organization calls on Governments to intensify action to combat the tobacco industry and dramatically reduce consumption of tobacco products.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Mustafa Dzhemilev, Human rights activist and the leader of Crimean Tatars, and this briefing is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine.

And then at noon, I will be joined by John Ging, the Director of Operations at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, along with UN Emergency Directors from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  They will be here to brief you on their recent mission to Ukraine and Nigeria.

**Honour Roll

And lastly for the honour roll, Turkey paid its dues becoming the sixty-first Member State to pay its contributions in full.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it for me.  Any questions?  Yes.

Question:  Given the election victory of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, does the Secretary‑General believe a prospect for a two‑State solution — and for that matter, a peace deal — are essentially dead?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General welcomes the announcement of the preliminary results of yesterday’s Israeli general elections and hopes for the rapid establishment of a new Government that reflects the will of all Israeli voters.  It’s incumbent on the new Israeli Government, once formed, to create the conditions for a negotiated final peace agreement with the active engagement of the international community that will end the Israeli occupation and realize the creation of a viable Palestinian State living in peace and security alongside Israel.  This includes the cessation of illegal settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The Secretary‑General firmly believes this is also the best and only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic State.  He urges the Israeli Government to resume without further delay the transfer of the tax revenues it is obligated to dispense to the Government of Palestine, in accordance with the Paris protocol.

Question:  You’re not actually dealing with what the Prime Minister has said, that under his watch, essentially, there will be no two‑State solution.  What do you say to that?

Spokesman:  We’re aware of the comments that were made in the course of the electoral campaign and you’ve heard what I just had to say which involves our expectations on the parties.  Yes, Joe.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Speak into the mic.  Thanks.

Question:  I wonder if you could elaborate on that one line about — I think I understood if Israel’s not committed to negotiations for a two‑State solution, its democracy is in danger, perhaps no longer be a democratic State.  What are you saying there, that—

Spokesman:  Well, to repeat, the Secretary‑General firmly believes that the way that we have spelled out is the best and only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic State.

Question:  Only way.  So that, therefore, would be an apartheid State?

Spokesman:  I’ve said what I said.

[overlapping talking]

That’s what I had to say on that.  Yes, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General has to say anything about this 14‑year‑old boy who’s about to be executed — Pakistani boy — who’s about to be executed on murder charges in a few hours?  Does he… will he make an appeal to the Government of Pakistan?

Spokesman:  Certainly, we have made clear, as we repeatedly do, our opposition to capital punishment.  You’re aware that the Member States in the General Assembly passed a resolution a few years back calling for a moratorium on all executions, and, of course, we have already made clear — and it’s a clear concern also in the Convention on the Rights of the Child — the execution of all minors.  So for any number of reasons, we are opposed to the carrying out of capital punishment against anyone who is not an adult, but, of course, above and beyond that, we would urge a moratorium by all States in all cases of imposing the death penalty.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  First, I wanted to ask something — yesterday the Security Council met about [resolution] 1701 (2006) and the question arose, what’s the status of UNIFIL’s or the UN’s investigation of the Spanish peacekeeper that was killed, allegedly by Israeli retaliation?  But what’s the — where does it stand?  When will that report reach a conclusion?

Spokesman:  Well, I believe some of the details about that particular incident were shared in the Secretary‑General’s report on 1701.  So I’d simply refer you to the language in the report on that.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask, this ICSC [International Civil Service Commission] is meeting but I’ve seen a document which seems to indicate that the Secretariat has proposed and has now gained acceptance for a proposal that would involve 10 per cent pay raises to Under‑Secretary‑Generals and in fact pay decreases to P-1 and lower-level staff under the term of decompression, meaning bringing — making the differences between the two more extreme.  And I’d like — maybe now or sometime, can you explain why… how this would be consistent with the idea of calls for reduced inequalities around the world while increasing them in this UN system?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware whether that information is accurate.  So I’ll actually need to check whether that is in fact the case.  I know that there is a regular dialogue that goes on between the Secretary‑General and the International Civil Service Commission.  But whether that’s one of the details, I can’t actually confirm that.  So I’ll need to check.  Yes, Mr. Fazal.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Farhan.  You know, on Bangladesh, the situation of Bangladesh as [inaudible] and the disappearance and the people, it is increased by elements and it is increased too much.  Very recently, one of the former State Minister and the spokesperson of the opposition, he… the law enforcement agency, they kidnapped… his family claimed that he was kidnapped by the law enforcement agency, but the Government is denying.  Today is eight days, crossed, but nobody knows where he is.  And everywhere, it’s going on.  So what is your observation?  What is United Nations, is the United Nations doing anything in this regard?

Spokesman:  Well, we’ve discussed this a few times in recent days, and you’re aware of what Stéphane and I have said about the United Nations’ concerns and its efforts concerning Bangladesh.  I don’t have anything new to add on that today, but the concerns that you were mentioning are in line with what we’ve been talking about, and the need for all sides to engage in dialogue and for the authorities to allow for freedom of expression, for freedom of assembly and freedom of the media.  And so we’re continuing to hold the authorities to those points and, of course, we would be concerned about any breaches of that.  Yes, Ozlem.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You know Mr. Eide has ended his visit to Cyprus, and he seems to be very optimistic about resumption of talks.  Do you have any idea that he will be coming to UN to meet with the Secretary‑General?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, we’ll check when he comes next.  I believe he will certainly be coming for the next time that the Security Council discusses Cyprus.  But we’ll check what the date of that will be.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask a follow‑up.  You heard Gordon Brown say that the party responsible for the abduction of these 89 boys in South Sudan was a warlord and I think he used the word terrorist as well.  But I wanted to know:  what is UNMISS’s understanding?  Because the Government there is actually summoned in a general… an SPLA General Olony  in connection with this abduction and it’s kind of… and has made representations that General Olony will be releasing the children.  So it doesn’t… is… is a sitting member of the SPLA a warlord and a terrorist, or who’s responsible for the abduction?

Spokesman:  Well, I would concur with Gordon Brown that this person was a warlord.  We need to check what the nature of his relationship is.  As you know, a number of different alliances have either been formed or been dissolved over the course of this particular conflict.  So it’s not clear what his relationship is with the Government.  But UNMISS will be checking up on that.  Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, the Syrian opposition coalition sent a letter to the Security Council asking for establishment of a no-fly zone.  And understanding that it is not possible in the current circumstances, in the Security Council they're acting… asking to… for the countries to act outside of it, to establish a no‑fly zone.  I wanted to ask:  what is the stance of the Secretary‑General on this… these unilateral actions possible?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Of course, you’re well aware that the Secretary‑General has made clear his preference for any decisions on any type of military intervention in Syria to be something that is agreed to in the Security Council, given its role as the arbiter for threats to international peace and security.  And so we would expect this to be a matter for the Security Council.  Yes.

Question:  And as a follow‑up, in this letter, they are saying that there was an attack with chlorine on the 16th of March.  Can the UN confirm that there was some sort of that happening?

Spokesman:  We don’t have any confirmation of that at this stage.  Of course, you’ll have seen the work that has been done in particular by the Organisation for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons to deal with any lingering issues having to do with the use of chlorine, and they continue to look into those matters, so if you stay in touch with those, they can have further details.  Have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.