26 October 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’s Travels

The Secretary-General will travel to Madrid, Spain, on 28 October where he will take part in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Spain’s membership at the United Nations.  The anniversary event will take place on 29 October at the Royal Place.  The Secretary-General will also meet the King of Spain, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister as well as other high-level officials.  He is scheduled to speak to the press with the Foreign Minister on 29 October.

He is also expected to deliver a keynote address at the closing session of the Madrid+10:  Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism conference — that’s on 28 October.  While in Madrid, he will address students at the Carlos III University as well as members of the UN Global Compact and the civil society at the Caixa Forum.

On 30 October, he will go to Geneva, Switzerland, where he will meet with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer — and that meeting will take place on 31 October.  They are expected to speak to the press and we will provide the details as soon as we can.  That evening, the Secretary-General will attend a “Concert for the Understanding of Civilizations and Human Rights” performed by West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.  If you are in Geneva, go to the concert.

**South Asia

A powerful earthquake struck Badakshan Province in Afghanistan today and also affected a large area of PakistanThere are reports of damage across the northeast part of Afghanistan and in Kabul. Scattered reports at this stage indicate damage across the Northeast and in Kabul.  The government and UN are both hampered by the lack of phone service.  Early indications are that the impact of the initial shock may be relatively light, given the low density of population. Afghan disaster response mechanisms at the national and provincial levels have been mobilized, and the UN stands ready to provide assistance if requested.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Authority says that 148 people have been killed and 815 injured by the quake.  [Hospitals] are on alert around the main impacted region — around the Khyber region.  UN agencies are mobilizing emergency stocks as a preparatory measure in case support is required.  The UN and its humanitarian partners stand ready to support the Pakistani Government’s ongoing relief effort for the people affected by the earthquake and mobilize any support, if requested.  


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), on a separate note, has also condemned the killing of two human rights workers today in Jalalabad.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nicholas Haysom, called the attack an atrocity that threatens the vital human rights work carried out throughout the country.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, has also strongly condemned the attack, calling it cowardly and reprehensible.  The two human rights workers worked for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.  Six other staff members were injured as well when a remote-controlled improvised explosive device detonated against a minibus carrying members of the Commission.  More information online.

**Middle East

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterating Israel’s commitment to uphold the status quo at the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem in word and in practice.  He notes the Prime Minister’s affirmation that Israel has no intention to divide the holy sites and that it respects the importance of the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as reflected in the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, and the historical role of the King of Jordan.

The Secretary-General hopes that strengthened security arrangements between Israel and the Jordanian Waqf should contribute to ensuring that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.  The Secretary-General hopes that the clear, renewed commitments will contribute to resolving the concerns and put an end to the provocative rhetoric that has added to the tensions and violence over the past weeks.

Only by restoring calm will all parties be able to refocus their efforts on renewing confidence and creating the conditions on the ground, in the region and internationally for meaningful negotiations towards a two-state solution and to put an end to the occupation that began in 1967.  The Secretary-General also expresses his appreciation for the efforts of United States Secretary of State John Kerry, whose fruitful discussions over the past days with Prime Minister of Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the King of Jordan have led to the present outcome.


The UN [Stabilization] Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, reports that for yesterday’s elections, voting centres opened and closed largely on time.  The voter turnout is yet to be determined by the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, but most observers noted higher voter turnout than during the 9 August polls, when 18 per cent participation was registered.  In total, approximately 10,000 Haitian National Police officers and UN police and military were active, with a total of 48 security-related incidents being reported — that is half as much as in the previous round in August.  The final phase of the election cycle is scheduled on 27 December and will include local elections as well as the second round of presidential elections, if required.

**Côte d’Ivoire

Also on elections, the UN Mission in Côte d'Ivoire, UNOCI, says that the situation remained peaceful yesterday with some minor incidents in the western part of the country on election day.  [The Department of Peacekeeping Operations later corrected the record, saying that no security-related incidents were found to have taken place in the western part of the country.]  According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), tallying has just begun and provisional results are expected to be announced either later today or tomorrow.

The Mission supported the Ivorian police, gendarmerie and military personnel across the country with the provision of security.  A number of UN air assets are on standby to assist the Independent Electoral Commission in retrieving electoral materials from 11 hubs to Abidjan’s international airport.  Twelve Mission vehicles are also on standby in Abidjan to assist the Commission in collecting sensitive materials in the area, while UN police and peacekeepers have made necessary arrangements to escort these movements.


On Mali, three civilians were killed by the explosion of an improvised explosive device near Tessalit in the Kidal region over the weekend.  Two peacekeepers were also wounded, one seriously, by another explosive device when troops from the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) made their way to the location of the incident.  The Mission strongly condemns these acts, and there is a press release available in French.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has started to deploy a mission to conduct an assessment of the human rights situation in the country.  The first three members of the ten-strong assessment mission, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, arrived in Juba at the end of last week.  The mission will focus on the human rights violations that have impacted civilians since the outbreak of violence in the country in December 2013 — committed by people on both sides of the political divide.


From Syria, the humanitarian community estimates that at least 120,000 people have been displaced in Syria’s Aleppo, Hama and Idleb governorates since early October due to the ongoing fighting.  People have been mostly displaced within the affected governorates where they lived, close to their original towns and villages, while others have fled to camps near the Turkish border.  From Aleppo, most people have moved towards villages and towns in the countryside west of the city.  People need tents, basic household items, food, water and sanitation services.

Humanitarian partners continue to scale up their response to help the displaced.  Distributions of cooked meals and ready-to-eat food have started in Aleppo, Idleb and Hama but these need to be increased.  Also, six mobile health clinics have begun to provide medical assistance to the wounded and other patients in Aleppo.  Negotiations continue regarding the provision of additional humanitarian supplies to areas covered by the ceasefire agreement.


Speaking to the press after a meeting today on the Western Balkans migration route, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said that Europe must remain a continent of asylum, stressing the need for solidarity among European Union countries on the issue.  Guterres said that for this solidarity to materialize, the relocation of refugees [must be] recognized as a must, adding that adequate reception capacity must be created.

He stressed that the consensus reached on increasing reception capacities by 50,000 places along the Western Balkans route will make the situation more manageable and facilitate humanitarian assistance to avoid tragedies that could occur in chaotic movements as winter approaches.  The High Commissioner also noted there was consensus on a clear distinction at today’s meeting over people in need of protection — whom Europe is obligated to receive — and those who move for other reasons, whose dignity and human rights must be fully respected.

**Turn the World United Nations Blue

A couple of more adds:  in what turned out to be a truly global celebration, the Turn the World UN Blue campaign launched this weekend.  While we're still confirming final numbers, it seems that some 350 landmarks around the world in some 85 countries were lit up blue to mark UN Day and the UN's seventieth anniversary.

The wave of blue began with UN Headquarters on Friday evening and rolled out on UN Day, with sites including the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, the Sydney Opera House, Christ the Redeemer in Rio, Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers, Edinburgh Castle, dozens of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] sites, and many, many other landmarks.

Very early estimates show that in less than two days, nearly 60 million people were reached by #UNBlue images and messages and tweets were generated from nearly 20,000 different accounts.  A full list of participating sites [will be available] and if you want to see beautiful pictures, go to the UN Blue Flickr album.  

**Press Conferences

At 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Alfred De Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.  At 3 p.m., there will be a briefing by Idriss Jazairy, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

At 11:30 a.m., tomorrow, briefing by David O'Connor, the Chief of the Policy and Analysis Branch from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the 2015 Asia Pacific Disaster Report.  That is here.  1 p.m.: Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.  And 2 p.m.: Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla.  Luke?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Got to ask about this IARC [International Agency for Research on Cancer] World Health Organization (WHO) announcement about processed meats.  When there is a food product for sale at every one of the UN's cafeterias here in the building that is now classified as carcinogenic, does that at least occasion a conversation with catering services about whether to carry them or some sort of educational campaign?

Spokesman:  Well, there's always the turkey bacon.  I… in all seriousness, you know, I… we just found out this morning, so I'm sure there will be… conversations will be had.  And obviously, people are… should make their own choices about what a healthy diet should look like.  Mr. Lee?

Correspondent:  I think it's the processing that's the issue, not the…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  But, that said, I wanted to ask you about South Sudan, there's a… reports by something called the protection cluster there that 80 civilians have been killed mostly by Government attacks in Leer County in the month of October.  So people there are asking, where is UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan]?  And it seems that UNMISS has not sent any patrols.  They're in Bentiu.  And I wanted to know, is there any… can you find out if there's any plan…

Spokesman:  Where is UNMISS?  UNMISS has been, I think, providing protection for more than 100,000 civilians and has been doing a superhuman job, for lack of a more adequate diplomatic word, in terms of trying to protect as many civilians as possible.  The Mission does send out patrols where it can and observes what it can.  I will take a look at that specific report and get back to you.

Correspondent:  Yeah.  It seems like in Bentiu, they have peacekeepers from Mongolia, Ethiopia, India and Ghana…

Spokesman:  No, I am well aware of where peacekeepers are.  You're also talking about a country that's currently in the middle of a civil conflict.  I think the Mission is doing… is stretching itself and doing whatever it can to protect civilians.  So as I said, I will look into that specific report.

Correspondent:  In terms of just a more timely… in the CAR [Central African Republic], there's reports that two high‑profile ex‑Seleka leaders from Bambari have been killed in Bangui and that… by anti‑Balaka forces, and basically a confrontation is brewing.  And I wonder if you have anything on the mission there taking any steps.

Spokesman:  I've not gotten anything from the mission today.  I'll get back to you.  Nizar?  Then Pam.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Jerusalem, today, Netanyahu threatened to revoke the residence of tens of thousands of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.  How does the United Nations view that?  This is a very serious matter… 

Spokesman:  I have not seen…

Correspondent:  Ethnic cleansing, we are talking about here.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I have not seen that report.  I think, as a matter of course, the Secretary‑General has a message to all the parties not do anything unilaterally, to return to the negotiating table, and to do whatever it can to lower tensions.

Question:  On Yemen, there are reports that Colombian mercenaries have been sent to Aden in hundreds… some of them are associated with ex‑Blackwater company.  Is that legal in any way? I mean, to send mercenaries…

Spokesman:  As far as… the message the Secretary‑General to all the parties in Yemen is to focus first on the humanitarian situation and also on the political track.  I think the sent… if this were true… anyway, adding more military and fighting assets to Yemen is not the solution to the problem we're seeing in that country right now.  Pamela and then Abdel Hamid?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  The Secretary‑General called for a moratorium on Iranian juvenile executions, and this morning, we heard from Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur, saying that he… previewing his upcoming report, saying that he also called for that.  Has there been any response to the Secretary… has he made any… to the Secretary's open call?  And has he made any personal…

Spokesman:  There's been no response that I'm aware of.  But we're also… I don't think we've seen any reports of any executions of juveniles.  And, obviously, the Secretary‑General's position on that situation is quite strong and straightforward.

Question:  And I'm sorry.  Just on Bruno Rodriguez, what did you say he would be doing?  The vote is tomorrow.

Spokesman:  He'll be holding… the only thing I know he will be doing is he will be here at 3 p.m. to speak to you.

Correspondent:  Oh, oh.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  So there is an agreement between the Americans, the Jordanians and the Israelis about the situation in Jerusalem and… with new measures of security, especially planting more cameras near Haram al-Sharif.  So in the view of the Secretary‑General, this will address the issue — and not addressing the despair, frustration, hopelessness on the part of the Palestinian young generation, who grew up only under occupation for all those years.

Spokesman:  Abdel Hamid, I think, once again, you and I have a difference of opinion on how to interpret these messages.  As you know, the Waqf… the Jordanians have a special relationship and authority over Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  This is addressing one sliver of the situation.  I think the Secretary‑General, in his public remarks, whether there were… he was sitting next… standing next to the Prime Minister of Israel or standing next to the President of Palestine, was very clear about a need to end the occupation and to address exactly what you said, the despair and the lack of hope that we're seeing in young people living in occupied territory.  So this is not… the statement was addressing this particular sliver of the current tensions and an important one, I might add.

Correspondent:  But the first outcome is this new decision by the Prime Minister of Israel to provoke the IDs of the Jerusalemites.

Spokesman:  I addressed that question earlier.  Yes, sir.

Correspondent:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  We learned that some of these UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] employees… it was determined that they had been using social media.  Some allegations have found to be authentic, that they were using social media or other means to distribute inciteful messages, inciting violence against Jews.  And there are reports that they have been suspended without pay or docked… their pay has been docked or suspended.  I'm wondering if they should be… if you could clarify what's happened to them and also just… I'm sorry, a follow‑up would be, does the Secretary‑General feel that there should be a zero‑tolerance policy towards this…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General addressed the issue himself when he spoke to it on Friday at the press stakeout.  I don't have in the details of the disciplinary measures that UNRWA took.  I think what UNRWA said, there were a number of accounts that were fake, claiming to be UNRWA which were not UNRWA.  Others were, unfortunately, not fake, and you know, whether it's… there is no room for UN staff to espouse violence or incitement against anyone, and disciplinary measures are taken in accordance with established staff rules and regulations.

Correspondent:  Just to be clear, he did not answer the question about zero tolerance.  He did address the situation…

Spokesman:  There is no tolerance for people who espouse hate and incitement and who work for the United Nations.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I wanted to ask, on Friday at the stakeout, the Secretary‑General said he set up small task force on the means and measures about the John Ashe case under Susana Malcorra.  I wanted to ask two questions about that and then something related.  One, is PGA [President of the General Assembly Mogens] Lykketoft's office involved in the task force?  Two, given that Susana Malcorra received, in 2014, a South‑South Award for Ban Ki‑moon from David Ng's South‑South Awards, isn't… what can you say?  To some it seems like it's a problem.  If you're looking into the way in which Mr. Ng Lap Seng sort of penetrated the UN with this money, if you received an award from him, with all due respect, are you the right person to…

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I hope you're not implying there's any monetary…

Correspondent:  No, I'm saying that's his award.  That's his award...

Spokesman:  It was received on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  I think there is no one better than Ms. Malcorra to lead this kind of task force.  It is not one looking into anything untoward.  What it is looking into is to strengthening the way the PGA's office is run, probably making some recommendations to Member States on how to proceed and how to avoid situations that we've seen in the past weeks.  And, of course, Mr. Lykketoft's office will be kept on top of what is recommended.  But, ultimately, these will be recommendations that the Member States will have to take, in terms of allocating budgets or in terms of different oversight.  What we're looking at is to make recommendations to the Member States in that regard.

Correspondent:  But doesn't… I guess my question… that's why I said with all due respect.  This has nothing to do with the competence of Ms. Malcorra.  I'm just saying it seems like that's kind of a narrow focus to only look at the PGA's office.  If the idea is that this Macau‑based businessman did things that you want to look at that he did with the UN…

Spokesman:  There is an audit, right?  There is an audit that is being tasked that the Secretary‑General has requested of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], which will look at where the monies… the relationship, whether it's monies or otherwise, between the Secretariat and the two foundations as an initial step, and that is being run independently by OIOS.

Question:  And this was the related question.  Last week I asked, I guess it was Farhan [Haq], about this August 2015 conference in Macau on South‑South, which was, as it turns out, entirely funded by David Ng.  And on the list of participants are a number Secretariat staff, DFS [Department of Field Support], Global Compact.  So he said to me that somehow UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] would be answering.  My question to him and now to you is, what are the Secretariat's rules for travelling to such a conference, receiving… you know, free iPads, etc.?  And it's a Secretariat question.  Somehow he said UNDP would answer it.  I wanted to ask…

Spokesman:  Like I said, the OIOS will look into the different interactions between the Secretariat and the two foundations you mentioned.  There are well‑established ethical guidelines of people having to report gifts and travel done by… you know, offered by outside parties.

Question:  So did the UN pay to fly people to…

Spokesman:  I don't know.  What I'm telling you is that there are rules that are well established, if people accept travel that they have to declare it.  Thank you.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.