Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 July 2014
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic today. This morning, he addressed a joint session of the Congress. He stressed the Dominican Republic's important contributions in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. He also noted that President Medina had asked for assistance with expanding education and equal opportunities, creating decent jobs and combating inequality and said the UN stood ready to work with the country.
Yesterday evening, upon his arrival in the Dominican capital, the Secretary-General met with President Danilo Medina. Speaking to the press afterwards, he commended the President for his leadership in the adoption by the Dominican Congress in May of a law that addresses the problem facing thousands of Dominican-born persons of foreign descent. He said that the new law is an important step towards the recognition of the Dominican nationality of these individuals, and he encouraged the Dominican authorities to keep working hard to resolve statelessness and protect human rights.
At a press conference before leaving Haiti, the Secretary-General said that the security situation in the country has improved markedly, but serious challenges remain. He said he is especially concerned that Haiti's political transition could suffer a regression. He emphasized that the holding of inclusive elections in October is essential for the continuity of parliament in 2015, and for the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law. His remarks are online.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says it supports the call today from the Federation of Afghanistan's Civil Societies for a ceasefire between Government forces and other armed groups during Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative, Ján Kubiš, expressed full support for the call, saying that Ramadan is a time of peace and community, and should be observed in a spirit of compassion and unity. The UN Mission notes that, in light of the sanctity of this month, Afghan families should be able to worship and celebrate in peace, without fear of violence.
Also on Afghanistan, yesterday the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attacks in Paktika and Kabul. The Secretary-General has also issued a statement, as you would recall. Security Council members remain concerned about the threats posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other terrorist and extremist groups, to the local population, national and international security forces. They underlined the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.
More information is available online.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, yesterday congratulated the Council of Representatives on the election of a new Speaker and Deputy Speakers. He urged all political blocs to support the Council's efforts to find agreement on key legislation, including the budget for 2014. He added that the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) stands ready to support their work. Mr. Mladenov called the election an important step towards restarting the democratic process. He strongly encouraged Iraqi political leaders to swiftly move forward by electing a new President and forming a new Government.
Also yesterday, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura, voiced grave concern at reports of sexual violence in Iraq, including several cases of rape near Mosul. More information is available online.
Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning in its closed consultations on South Sudan. She will speak to reporters at the stakeout once she is done. Hopefully if that happens soon, we will let you know.
This afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled consultations on the Central African Republic.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the revised response plan for Sudan now urgently requires $982 million to assist 6.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, or about 20 per cent of the population. Humanitarian needs include shelter, protection, nutrition, health, and drinking water.
The Office says that more people have been displaced in Darfur in the first half of 2014 than in any single year since 2004. Some 85,000 people have been driven across the border to seek refuge in Sudan, particularly in White Nile State. Given the scale of these new needs and the declining capacity of relief agencies, the delivery of basic humanitarian services in Darfur is inadequate. Aid agencies in Sudan have reassessed their priorities and refocused primarily on the immediate delivery of lifesaving assistance.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, said today that studies by both her office and others have revealed what she calls a "disturbing" lack of transparency regarding Government surveillance policies and practices. Ms. Pillay said that this includes de facto coercion of private sector companies to provide sweeping access to information and data relating to private individuals.
Ms. Pillay said that this is severely hindering efforts to ensure accountability for any resulting human rights violations despite a clear international legal framework laying down Governments' obligations to protect the right to privacy. Her office has been working for more than a year on issues relating to the right to privacy in the face of modern digital technology and surveillance measures. A new report issued by the office today stresses the need for vigilance and procedural safeguards against governmental surveillance programmes. More information on this is available on the website of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Secretary-General today called the plight of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America an urgent humanitarian situation affecting tens of thousands of children. In a message to a conference on this issue under way in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, he said that unaccompanied minors, some of whom are under the age of seven, often rely on unscrupulous human smuggling network exposing them to harm, exploitation and abuse to make this journey. The Secretary-General called upon Governments of countries of origin, transit and destination to urgently protect the human rights of migrant children.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that Typhoon Rammasun has crossed the Philippines' island of Albay and has passed through the metro Manila area. It is expected to leave the Philippines by tomorrow morning. The typhoon is projected to affect 43 million people, with 136,000 households living in areas highly susceptible to landslides and storm surge. People have been evacuated from vulnerable areas, and authorities have provided food and other aid. The Humanitarian Coordinator, Luiza Carvalho, said that a task force has been set up to enhance readiness to respond and is on standby.
A new report by UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS] shows that more than half of the 35 million people living with HIV today do not know they have the virus. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that whether you live or die should not depend on access to an HIV test. He added that smarter scale-up is needed to close the gap between people who know their status and people who don't, between people who can get services and people who can't, and between people who are protected and people who are punished. The report shows that people will seek life-saving treatment when they find out their HIV-positive status, with nearly 90 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa who tested positive getting access to antiretroviral therapy. The full report is available on the UNAIDS website.
I have an appointment to announce. The Secretary-General has appointed Miguel Trovoada of São Tomé and Príncipe as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS). Mr. Trovoada succeeds José Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his leadership. Mr. Trovoada, a former President of his country, most recently served as Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission. We have more on this appointment in our office.
In terms of previous questions, I was asked yesterday when Ameerah Haq will be leaving her post as Under-Secretary-General for Field Support. I have been told that she has informed her colleagues that she will be leaving in October.
On Monday, I was asked about reports of potential repatriations from Thailand to Myanmar of people who, to our knowledge, are not Rohingya. Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) do not have any information on what was discussed between the two Governments, but is very concerned by inaccuracies reported in the media which are causing anxiety among the refugees and concern among humanitarian workers. The Thai Government has consistently reassured UNHCR that any refugee returns to Myanmar must be voluntary and conducted in safety and dignity. UNHCR is not aware of any changes in the Government's policy, and will continue to support its efforts to protect and assist refugees from Myanmar.
Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine. He will brief on the current political and security situation in Ukraine. That's it from me. Yes, Iftikhar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. There seem to be complete absence of a diplomatic process to bring about cease-fire in Gaza, in the conflict around Gaza. Is the United Nations taking any initiative at this stage to bring about any settlement while the bombardment continues?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes; in fact, the Secretary-General is continuing with his calls to world leaders, and in fact, he's doing some today while he's on the road in Santo Domingo. And he will continue with his efforts, trying to get as much agreement among different leaders so that they can work with the respective parties in order to bring about a halt to the fighting. And you'll have seen what we have said about the various plans that have been in place, and of course, our views remain the same. What we want is ultimately to see a halt to all the fighting on the ground and a return to negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Question: He has no plans to visit the area?
Deputy Spokesperson: There's nothing to announce at this stage. He'll evaluate that as that comes up.
Question: A follow-up on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Certainly.
Question: Today, some doctors in El-Wafa Hospital spoke about forbidden or banned weapons used, like DIME. Are there any investigations into these allegations? Also, there was a massacre near the beach. Today, four children who were playing football were targeted by Israeli boats and killed immediately. Others were injured. Do we expect any condemnation to such actions? Especially that 90 per cent of victims in Gaza are civilians.
Deputy Spokesperson: Regarding civilian deaths, you'll have seen the statements that we've already issued about this and our concerns about civilian deaths, and we continue to stand by those statements. You'll have seen, for example, what we issued over the weekend. And in terms of our work on the ground, at this stage, what we're trying to do is provide humanitarian assistance to people in need and, of course, a secure end to fighting and a political solution. That's what we're doing. There's no talk of any investigation at this point.
Question: There was a letter, apparently, from [President Mahmoud] Abbas to the SG, asking for some kind of protectorate for civilians, not clear what exactly he meant by it. But has the SG received it and responded?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we received that letter and we're studying it. Yes, Joe?
Question: Yes, in your statement referring to the humanitarian crisis involving the unaccompanied children from Central America into the US, did the Secretary… I didn't hear any reference to the use of the term "refugees", which other UN officials have used to describe these children. Does the Secretary-General have a position on whether these unaccompanied children under international law should be regarded as refugees, and thus entitled to additional protections in the destination country?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I think I'll just refer you to the full text of the statement, which is available in our office and online. I think it speaks for itself. It's fairly self-explanatory.
Question: Well, not exactly, because there have been other UN officials who have specifically described these children as refugees, and I'd like to know whether the Secretary-General has a position on that. Does he agree with that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, the Secretary-General's position is contained in his statement, so I would just refer you to the full text of his message. Yes, Erol?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just a couple of follow-ups first: that you said that the Secretary-General to world leaders. Can you advise you which world leaders he is talking right now, or since yesterday regarding Gaza?
Deputy Spokesperson: The most recent one I'm aware of is a phone call that he made with the President of Indonesia earlier today.
Question: Okay, just one more. Yesterday, you said that there are 170 or so victims on the Palestinian side. When I asked about the Israeli side, you said that UN doesn't have that figure, if I'm correctly…
Deputy Spokesperson: I said that the Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, did not have those figures.
Question: Okay. There are some other reports in discrepancy with your report, media reports from the Palestinian side, saying more than 200 now has been killed and more than… about 2,000 has been injured. And, again, what about the victims or injured on the Israeli side? Can you tell something?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we're certainly aware of media reports that there was one fatality on the Israeli side yesterday. Beyond that, like I said, the figures we're getting are the figures we get from our office on the ground; so, in other words, the reason that there are discrepancies is that we go by the numbers that we get from bodies like the Relief and Works Agency, which are on the ground in Gaza. So those are the numbers we're sticking with.
Question: Can I ask you another question?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, let's spread this around. Please, let's get to people who haven't asked yet. Jonathan?
Question: Farhan, I'm going to have a question about Iraq, but just a follow-up to what was said earlier about the UN and trying to mediate a cease-fire. What is the UN's official position, vis-à-vis the Egyptian initiative that the Israelis had agreed to and that Hamas had not agreed to yet? Is the UN trying to join in with that effort or is there a separate effort, or where are we?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah, I actually said this yesterday, but the Secretary-General, as I had pointed out yesterday, was aware of the Egyptian plan to which Israel had indicated its acceptance. He had spoken, over the weekend, with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, about that plan; and he had wanted the sides to abide by that. That continues to be his stance on that today.
Question: But did Hamas relay any message through UNRWA or any mechanism to the UN about their position and why they did not want to sign on to the cease-fire?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don't have any information from Hamas beyond this, no. Matthew?
Question: Sure, I have a question on Egypt, but I want to ask this first. There's been a ruling in the Srebrenica cases where the State of Netherlands has been liable for the death of 300 Bosniaks in Srebrenica. And what I wanted to know is, one, I wanted to ask if you have a response to it. But two, BBC says the Hague Code ruling means that there is a growing acceptance that individual States can be held liable for deaths in a UN-mandated operation. And I wanted to ask for you to comment on how this might relate to cholera in Haiti. Many people have said that it was the Nepali contingent came, that there may have been negligence by DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], but the UN cites immunity. Under this decision, would the UN feel comfortable with a Member State, TCC [troop contributing country], being found liable? And also, you sent out the Dominican Republic press availability, but I didn't see any Q&A. Was there any Q&A or is it the case… maybe there was a second one sent out? I saw the Haiti one had one question on cholera. Has there been any more statements by the Secretary-General on cholera during this three-day trip there?
Deputy Spokesperson: What we've put out are the sum total of what he's been saying. I believe he has a couple more occasions today when he'll issue remarks, including to the joint session of Parliament in the Dominican Republic that I just mentioned. So there are a couple things outstanding, but beyond that, the things we've put out in his press availabilities are what he has said. Regarding your question on Srebrenica, we're aware of the press accounts. However, you'll understand that we'll need to study the judgement in greater detail before being able to comment on it.
Question: Follow-up on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah.
Question: Beside waiting for, studying that case, et cetera, what is, again, can you reaffirm or affirm that the standing of this Secretary-General, since he was in Srebrenica, used so many times, I would say, the Srebrenica massacre and genocide in his political speeches; now, this kind of ruling from the moral point of view, as the champion world diplomat, what he has to say, immediately?
Deputy Spokesperson: You know what he has said about Srebrenica as a whole, and in fact, we've issued a number of statements and reports on Srebrenica. One of those that I want to refer your attention to is the report that was issued many years ago on Srebrenica to the General Assembly, which is A/54/549. And I just want to quote from that because that underscores the views that we had on this, and remains true today. One of the things it says, for example, is: "The United Nations experience in Bosnia was one of the most difficult and painful in our history. It is with the deepest regret and remorse that we have reviewed our own actions and decisions in the face of the assault on Srebrenica. Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder."
And it goes on to say that the tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever. It also adds: "In the end, the only meaningful and lasting amends we can make to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who put their faith in the international community is to do our utmost not to allow such horrors to recur." And that's something that has been a guiding principle ever since then. And you'll see the speeches that the Secretary-General has made, and we stand by those. Yes, Linda first and then Jonathan?
Question: Thanks Farhan, regarding Syria, we know that Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura was appointed recently. Can you give us an update in terms of his whereabouts, his activities and any events that are planned?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, Mr. de Mistura and his Deputy, in fact, are here in New York this week and they'll be having consultations with officials as they start to get acclimatized to their job. Yes, Jonathan and then Evelyn?
Question: Given the instability in Iraq right now, just generally on a regular day-to-day basis, the residents of Camp Liberty are very fearful that there's another attack that's going to take place on them. Do you know anything about any information related to such concerns? And also, when is the last time that UNHCR or UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq] visited Camp Liberty, and are there plans to visit it in the coming days?
Deputy Spokesperson: I believe that there are regular, periodic visits to make sure that camp conditions are adequate. There is, in fact, a new report by the Secretary-General regarding the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, which should be coming out as a document shortly. Among the contents of that, the Secretary-General appeals to Member States to contribute to a durable solution for the relocation of Camp Hurriya residents outside of Iraq and come forward with offers to accept residents into their territories. So that's part of the latest report to the Security Council. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: In Iraq, do you know who's doing the raping? Does it say at all? We know that ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham] has done quite a bit of it, to women who don't want to pay attention to their crap. But I'm sure they're not alone.
Deputy Spokesperson: I'd just refer you to the full details of the press release that came out from the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Ms. Bangura. Certainly, among the cases that she detailed were cases of rape near Mosul, which, as you know, has been taken over by the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
Hold on one second. Let me just see what this is. [receives paper.] Valerie Amos will be at the Security Council stakeout in 5 to 10 minutes, for those of you who are interested in going there. Hold on… Ivan?
Question: Thank you. The commandant of Horlivka city in east Ukraine said that he can present pieces of cluster bombs to the United Nations, the cluster bombs that were allegedly were used by Ukrainian forces. Navi Pillay said on that, that if there will be facts that can be considered, what can be the procedure of such steps? Is it possible that the monitors who are already in Ukraine can come out and look at the pieces of the bombs? Is the decision of the Security Council required and so forth? What are the options?
Deputy Spokesperson: There's already, as you know, the Human Rights Monitoring Mission on the ground in Ukraine and if anyone has useful information or evidence to give to the human rights monitors, they're certainly free to do so and then the human rights monitors can evaluate that, as it's presented to them. Yes, Asma?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I just wanted to know, in a specific way, what is the United Nations position from what Israel announced today? They asked Israeli Palestinians to evacuate their homes, thousands of Palestinians. And also, I wanted to know what do you mean by "studying" the letter which you get from Mahmoud Abbas? And I wanted to know more information about this letter. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesperson: On the letter from President Abbas, once we get letters, as you know, there's times that we study them, try to evaluate their contents and that's what's happening. It's being analysed. Regarding the actions taken on the ground, I would only reiterate the calls that we have been making. As you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for maximum restraint, and he continues to do so. And he continues to call for a halt to fighting. Matthew and then Iftikhar?
Question: Just one follow-up, I just wanted to know if there is specific movements happen today concerning to the letter. Any calls between the Secretary-General and the Israeli authorities or something like that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Like I said, his last call he made on this issue was with the President of Indonesia, but his contacts are continuing, and of course the contacts of his people on the ground, such as Robert Serry, are also continuing. Yes?
Question: One question about Egypt, there's a statement today from the State Information Service of the Egyptian Government saying that President Sisi received a phone call from, quote, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Sahel Region Romano Prodi. And it talks about a variety of issues that they discussed. Can you confirm that he is no longer in that post?
Deputy Spokesperson: Romano Prodi has ceased his time as the Special Envoy for the Sahel. We announced his successor.
Question: Sure, I remember that. So, I guess I'm wondering, so I guess he's calling just as an Italian politician or is there some…
Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn't speak for him one way or another, so I wouldn't be able to characterize in what capacity he calls. He's no longer the Special Envoy for the Sahel, though. Yes, Iftikhar?
Question: Farhan, would you clarify the United Nations role in the wake of settlement brought about by Secretary of State John Kerry in Afghanistan? I understand that the UN will have a supervisory capacity when the vote is audited, but what about the second phase of the plan, when the Afghans decide to change the system of the Government and change it to Parliamentary form and create a post of Prime Minister? Will the UN oversee this process also?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I don't have any comment to make on later phases of this plan. You'll have seen what we said over the weekend about the plan and it detailed our reaction, as well as the UN's role as we go into the next phase, which is the auditing phase. And so, I'd refer you to that. We'll come to any further phase afterwards. Kentaro?
Question: Farhan, on Syria, President [Bashar al-]Assad was sworn in for this third term, so do you have any comment on this? And how much do you think this will have impact on the peace negotiations? And on this occasion, do you have any message to the President?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don't have any specific comment at this stage, although, of course, we're aware of the events that took place. I just want to reiterate what the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, that there's no substitute for a political solution to this conflict, and of course, the Secretary-General remains committed to finding such a political solution. Linda and then Evelyn?
Question: Regarding the killings and wounding of Palestinians, does the UN have a breakdown in terms of who's been killed in terms of militants and civilians?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, there's no overall breakdown. The toll on civilians has been very high, according to the information we've received from the UN Relief and Works Agency. Evelyn, you had your hand up?
Question: Yes, will you have Mr. de Mistura appear before us?
Deputy Spokesperson: We are trying to see what we can do, to do just that. If we have any progress on that, I'll let you know.
Question: How does the United Nations view targeting hospitals? The el-Wafa has been informed that the Israelis were targeting it and they asked for evacuation, targeting a hospital. Do you believe that el-Wafa hospital is a military target? And if it is targeted, how do you categorize such an attack?
Deputy Spokesperson: Our point of principle is that we are against the targeting of hospitals and indeed, in regard to this conflict, we have been saying that we do not want to see any sites for humanitarian workers or any related facilities to be targeted.
Question: Regarding the use of…
Deputy Spokesperson: Hold on. There's other questions, please.
Question: I actually have a follow-up to Nisar's question, which is, would the UN also oppose the use of hospitals to store rockets and other weapons?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, yes. Both things: hospitals and such facilities should not be used for military purposes, nor should they be targeted. We want them to be safe areas, safe from any type of conflict.
Question: Are you going to investigate the use of DIME… according to the hospital, which showed… the doctors today showed that there was the use of forbidden weapons, like DIME, in this conflict.
Deputy Spokesperson: As I said to you, just minutes ago, our priorities on the ground right now are to bring an end to the fighting and also to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are most in need. Yes?
Question: I'm sorry to ask this again, I'd asked you about these journalists in Myanmar that were sentenced to 10 years for reporting. The reason I want to ask this again… there's now, IFEX reports that up to 50 reporters are now facing charges for non-violent, sit-down protest, where, you know, U Thein Sein, an event he attended, was based on these arrests. And so, I know that the Secretary-General has in other circumstances commented on the arrests and jailing and sentencing of journalists, and I wanted to know, is this different? Why is this different? And does he have any comment now that 50 journalists face charges for protesting it?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen any comment from any of the UN bodies concerning the specifics of this case. Of course, our point of principle on this is that journalists need to be able to go about their work free of harassment or arrest, and we want to make sure that the freedom of the media and the rights of the media are respected. If we have anything specific, I'll let you know, but for now, we do not have that.
Question: Isn't there a Good Offices Envoy? I guess I'm just wondering who's monitoring this?
Deputy Spokesperson: We do not have any comment from him on this. We did check. Yes? Are only about half of the microphones working?
Question: I guess it's every other chair, is what it is, and then they get tangled.
Deputy Spokesperson: Good to know.
Question: But thank you. On Libya, there's to be a briefing tomorrow, you may have said this at the very beginning, and then, in consultations and maybe a press briefing. Is there a name of a person who would be briefing the Security Council tomorrow?
Deputy Spokesperson: At this stage, our expectation is that Tarek Mitri, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, will brief the Security Council by video conference.
Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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For information media • not an official record
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