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24 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.  I have a statement that we will be issuing shortly. 

**Disarmament

The Secretary-General, in a statement we are issuing right now, says that Angela Kane has informed him of her intention to step down as High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.  He would like to express his tremendous gratitude for her outstanding service and successful advocacy of disarmament and non-proliferation issues with Member States, civil society and the public.  Through greatly increased participation in international meetings and seminars either as a representative of the Secretary-General or on her own behalf, Ms. Kane has made a crucial contribution to the collective endeavour of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as civil society, to advance both the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda and the cause of ridding the world of the scourge of chemical weapons. 

Following Ms. Kane’s departure, the Secretary-General has designated Mr. Kim Won-soo as Acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.  The Secretary-General conveyed his appreciation to the work done by Ms. Kane in implementing his five-point action plan, which was launched in 2008 to revitalize the international disarmament agenda.  While much has been done, a lot remains to be achieved.  The Secretary-General expects Mr. Kim to follow through on it.  We will have that statement available for you shortly.

**Singapore

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke over the phone to Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, expressing his condolences for the recent passing of his father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.  The Secretary-General also visited the Singapore Mission yesterday to sign the condolences book and pay his respects.  He described the late Prime Minister as a legendary and remarkable leader who has transformed a once-small fishing port of Singapore to a vibrant and dynamic country.

**Bhutan

The Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan today.  The Secretary-General commended Bhutan’s achievements in democratic transition and sustainable development.  He also expressed his appreciation for Bhutan’s contribution to UN peacekeeping operations.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister discussed Bhutan-UN cooperation in advancing the global agenda, including sustainable development, climate change and conservation, and the need for appropriate and timely financing in all these areas.  That readout is available online.

**Libya

Following discussions with Libyan parties over the last few months, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, visited Tobruk and Tripoli to present some ideas to expedite the talks.  The proposed ideas include formation of a unity Government headed by a president and a presidential council composed of independent personalities not belonging to any party or affiliated with any group.  The ideas are guided by key principles, including respect for elections and their results, respect for the legitimacy of State institutions, human rights and the building of a State based on the rule of law. 

The Mission continues to stress that an end to conflict is in the hands of the Libyans themselves, and that the ideas are expected to provide a basis for a solution to the country’s political crisis.  Next Tuesday, Mr. León is expected to return to Skhirat, Morocco, where the Libyan political dialogue session is taking place, to help expedite the talks.  More information is available on the Mission’s website.

**Yemen

Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Yemen, returned to Sana'a yesterday after a visit to Riyadh and Doha in the context of ongoing consultations with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.  The Special Adviser resumed negotiations yesterday with all 12 political parties, including the Houthis, and will meet with them again today.  Mr. Benomar renews his calls for all sides to cease immediately all hostilities, to exercise maximum restraint, to de-escalate and to avoid further provocation.  He reiterates that peaceful dialogue is the only way forward.

**Nigeria

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is on a two-day visit to Cameroon, a country that is hosting refugees from two of today’s major displacement crises in Africa:  Nigeria and the Central African Republic.  More than 74,000 Nigerian refugees have crossed into the Far North region of Cameroon according to the authorities, including some 25,000 who escaped clashes in north-eastern Nigeria in the month of February alone.  In addition to the refugees from Nigeria, Cameroon is also hosting more than 244,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. 

The High Commissioner will discuss both humanitarian crises with President Paul Biya and also discuss the support that is needed to improve the living conditions for the refugees, internally displaced people and the host communities in Cameroon. 

Because of the insecurity in the Far North region, UNHCR has been moving refugees from the border areas to Minawao refugee camp.  Mr. Guterres will visit Minawao on Wednesday to hear the refugees’ testimonies first hand and see the conditions in the camp, which is now home to nearly 33,000 Nigerian refugees.  The relocation exercise is continuing.  The High Commissioner will also meet with some of the estimated 96,000 Cameroonians who have been internally displaced by the regular incursions by insurgents into the country.

**Vanuatu

The Prime Minister of Vanuatu and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Country launched an appeal today for nearly $30 million to cover the needs of the 166,000 people affected by Tropical Cyclone Pam.  The funds will ensure that those in need can receive assistance until mid-June of this year.  The support will be in the areas of water, food, shelter and health care, as well as protecting the vulnerable and helping children return to school.  Tropical Cyclone Pam caused widespread damage across the archipelago of Vanuatu, destroying infrastructure, homes and livelihoods in a country where more than 70 per cent of the population relies on subsistence agriculture. 

Although valuable Government and community preparedness activities minimized the loss of life, there are still critical needs.  Some 75,000 people need shelter and 110,000 people do not have access to safe drinking water.  As part of the new appeal, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is calling for nearly $5 million to help the 82,000 children who are in need of humanitarian assistance.  That is two thirds of all children in Vanuatu.  UNICEF is concentrating on ensuring that children in Vanuatu — as well as neighbouring Tuvalu, Solomon Islands and Kiribati — have access to clean water, sanitation and health services. 

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on Sudan and South Sudan, as well as on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan.  This afternoon, the Council has scheduled meetings on non-proliferation and on Sudan/South Sudan

**Disaster Risk Reduction

The third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction wrapped up in Sendai, Japan, last week.  As you’ll recall, the Secretary-General attended the first two days of the meeting.  The Conference adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which replaces the Hyogo Framework.  The Conference also adopted the Sendai Declaration, in which States stressed their determination to enhance efforts to strengthen disaster risk reduction to reduce disaster losses of lives and assets worldwide. 

**Tuberculosis

Today is World Tuberculosis Day.  In his message for the day, the Secretary-General said we are within sight of one of the great global health victories, having the opportunity not just to reverse the spread of tuberculosis but, by 2035, to end this epidemic.  However, he warned that victory is not guaranteed, with an estimated 9 million people still ill with tuberculosis in 2013, and 1.5 million people having died of tuberculosis that year. 

The Secretary-General, therefore, urged Governments, communities and health workers around the world to intensify their efforts in line with the strategy established by the World Health Assembly in 2014.  More is available on the World Health Organization’s website.

In a short while, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Jean-Victor Nkolo, will be here to brief.  Before that happens, are there any questions for me?  Yes, Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Did Ms. Kane indicate when her last day is going to be?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, I don't have a date for that.  But, like I said, the Secretary‑General has already accepted her offer of stepping down, and like I said, he is appointing Kim Won‑soo as the Acting High Representative.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  On the same subject, it seems pretty clear that she's pushed out, so that Mr. Kim could get that job.  Has there been any reactions from Germany or are they getting another high‑level post?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't agree with your characterization of this issue.  Ms. Kane has had a long and extremely productive career at the United Nations, and the Secretary‑General has been very appreciative of her work.  Beyond that, I wouldn't have anything to say on that.  And of course, in terms of further appointments, you'll know about further appointments as they come down the line.

Question:  While I have the mic, the Russian resolution, as you probably know, lost in the Fifth Committee over the Secretary‑General giving gay couples benefits.  I know the last time this came up last summer, you said there was some 40,000 UN staff involved, but with all the agencies not included in this, what's the number that you estimate?  Is it still the same or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the estimate remains the same in terms of the staff who are affected overall, the staff in Secretariat here and abroad.

Correspondent:  Because we are talking about staff that are now affected rather than staff that were affected before.

Deputy Spokesman:  This encompasses a wide number of staff.  Basically, it applies to staff of the UN Secretariat here at Headquarters, but also at our outposts abroad.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Deputy Spokesman:  There had been a previous policy.  This widens a policy to what… the people who are affected in terms of where… the importance of their marriage ceremonies and the recognition of their marriage ceremonies, it widens from affecting people whose home countries recognize those marriages as legal to those for whom the marriage is recognized as legal in the country where it was performed.

Question:  But, the additional people added, is it 40,000 for all of them or is there… do we have how many additional staff members…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that number is, in other words, the number of basically the large number of Secretariat staff who fall under the purview of this policy.

Question:  The new policy or the previous one also?

Deputy Spokesman:  They were affected under the previous one… policy as well.  Yes?

Question: Just a follow‑up on that.  In New York, particularly at Headquarters, again, could you tell us the estimated number of UN employees who would be receiving expanded benefits as a result of this policy?  And secondly, what is the estimate of the impact on the budget, in terms of these additional benefits?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'd have to see how many people apply under this to get a real indication of what the budgetary implications are.  Like I said, this affects all staff.  It's not that it affects only a handful of people.  But, this is applicable throughout the Secretariat to staff.  What this means is that, if your marriage ceremony was considered legal in the country where it's performed, then the UN will recognize it, as opposed to only recognizing it if it's legal in the country of your national origin.  That's the distinction that we have.  As for how many new people will… will then take up this policy, that remains to be seen.  They'll have to turn in the relevant paperwork of their marriage ceremony to the Secretariat if they are applying for any sort of benefits or recognition under that.

Question:  When you say, you know, the country where they're located, whether it recognizes same‑sex marriage or not, of course, the United States has varied rules depending on the State.  Now, in New York, same‑sex marriage is recognized.  So, in administering this, does that mean that the Secretariat will look to specifically the law currently in New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, would you look to see whether the ceremony when it was performed was done in a manner that is in compliance with the laws that are applicable to where it was happening.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Just to follow up on the same issue, this note today was also a question of the Secretary‑General's authority to implement changes to how the UN or the rights that the UN staff have.  So, what is the Secretary‑General's reaction after today's vote where the Russian position was defeated?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General does appreciate the support of those who recognized his authority as Chief Administrative Officer as per the UN Charter.  I'd like to repeat in issuing his bulletin last year, the Secretary‑General was acting under that authority in managing UN staff members.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you please tell us what have happened to the… Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura's plans regarding the freeze of the fighting in Aleppo or what is he doing nowadays?

Deputy Spokesman:  He's continuing with his various talks with different parties trying to build support for the freeze.  There's no progress yet to report on actually having it implemented on the ground, but he is continuing with his efforts, and he will continue with that further at the forthcoming summit of the League of Arab States that's going to take place in Sharm al‑Sheikh, Egypt, and he'll continue to talk with the leaders who are gathered there.  Yes.

Question:  [Inaudible] on this new controversy that has arisen that Israel has been spying on the talks, nuclear talks between P5+1 States or what?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of these reports, but we wouldn't have any comment on the media reports.  And with that, Jean‑Victor.  Sorry, Ken.

Question:  Back on the position of High Representative.  I'd like to know because there's an upcoming NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] review conference.  Which person is serving as the High Representative during the period?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll have to check whether that will still be before Ms. Kane's departure.  If not, of course, the Acting High Representative, like I said, has been named as Kim Won‑soo.  Yes.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  I believe last week it was said that there would be a UN team going to Nigeria and the various border States to, you know, look into Boko Haram.  I believe that… I mean…

Deputy Spokesman:  UN officials also went…

Correspondent:  Yes, UN officials.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we mentioned the travels last week by Jeffrey Feltman and Mohammed ibn Chambas.

Question:  Were there any developments that came out of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we had given some details last week at the time, and Mr. Feltman, of course, will be returning to New York.  And we'll try to get some further information once he's back.  Jean‑Victor, the floor is yours.

For information media. Not an official record.