Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
28 July 2014
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin, let me give you a heads up that following this briefing, there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation. So that should be after the noon briefing.
The Secretary-General spoke to reporters this morning on the situation in Gaza, saying that, as the world marks Eid al-Fitr, it is time for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire. In the name of humanity, the violence must stop.
He said that the death toll keeps climbing. The fighting has claimed well over 1,000 Palestinian lives — most of them civilians, hundreds of them children. And Hamas rocket fire has claimed the lives of three Israeli civilians.
The Secretary-General said that Israelis and Palestinians have a responsibility to stop the fighting now, to start the dialogue now, and to address the root causes that will finally break the endless cycle of senseless suffering. That means securing peace through mutual respect, an end to the economic strangulation of Gaza and the nearly half century of occupation. More suffering and siege conditions in Gaza will only hurt innocent civilians, further isolate Israel, empower extremists on all sides, and leave our world far less safe. His remarks are available in our office and online.
And we also issued a statement earlier today in which the Secretary-General called on parties to build on the current calm. With hundreds of Palestinian civilians already killed in Gaza and horrifying levels of physical destruction, he urges those responsible to step back from provoking or inflicting yet more tragic violence on civilians there.
The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council this morning on regional partnerships with UN peacekeeping, and he noted the cooperation between UN peacekeeping operations and regional organizations, particularly in Africa.
He said that partnerships with regional organizations should continue to be based on the comparative strengths of each organization. It is also important to draw detailed lessons from recent transition experiences in the context of Mali and, very soon, the Central African Republic.
Among other things, the Secretary-General expressed concern about the situation in South Sudan, which is the most rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the world today, worse even than Central African Republic and Syria. He repeated his call to the leaders of both sides to abide by the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed on January 23. His full remarks are online.
A total breakdown of law and order and a reign of fear and terror have been inflicted by armed groups on the population of eastern Ukraine. That's according to a new report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which covers the period of 8 June to 15 July 2014.
The report says that these armed groups, well organized and well equipped militarily, have intensified their challenge to the Government of Ukraine. In response, there has been an acceleration of Government security operations during July in the areas still under the control of the armed groups.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that the reports of increasingly intense fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are extremely alarming, with both sides employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles.
She said that increasing numbers of people are being killed with serious damage to civilian infrastructure, which — depending on circumstances — could amount to violations of international humanitarian law.
Concerning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane on 17 July — which came just after the cut-off date of this report — Ms. Pillay said that this violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. She called for a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation to be conducted into this event.
She also stressed to all those involved in the conflict, including foreign fighters, that every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that for the first time since January, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was able to distribute basic health-care items and medicines to Palestine refugees in need in Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus city in Syria.
Despite this positive development, the Relief and Works Agency was forced to halt the distribution of food in the camp over the weekend due to lack of authorization, interrupting food distributions that have been taking place since 16 July.
On Iraq, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that ahead of the Eid holiday, the Anbar Department of Health has increased the number of specialist doctors on duty in the main hospitals, the amount of blood supplies, and medical and therapeutic services.
At least one primary health care clinic in each district will be open in addition to the 24 clinics operating in the governorate. Routine vaccination activities are ongoing in all health centres.
Food distributions by the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners are ongoing in a number of governorates, including food parcels for 7,000 families in Erbil area and for 1,000 families in the Babylon area.
An estimated 1.2 million people have been displaced by the violence in Iraq since January 2014, including some 650,000 people who have been displaced over the last two months.
Over the weekend, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a statement condemning in the strongest possible terms the recent attacks in Afghanistan's western province of Ghor. At least 15 people were killed, including three women.
Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, said the killing of civilians was deeply troubling, especially when Afghans nationwide are celebrating Eid al-Fitr.
The UN has called for prompt and thorough investigation into these killings.
More information is available on the mission's website.
Today is World Hepatitis Day.
Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year. But it remains largely ignored or unknown.
On this day, the World Health Organization and its partners urge policymakers, health workers and the public to "Think again" about this silent killer.
The World Health Organization calls for coordinating a global response to the viral hepatitis; strengthening prevention, screening and control of the disease; and increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage.
More on this is available on the World Health Organization's website.
And last, I have a trip to announce.
The Secretary-General will depart New York on Tuesday morning for a trip which will take him to Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
In the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, he will hold talks with both President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and Vice President Moises Omar Halleslevens, and other Government ministers. The Secretary-General will also visit a wind farm in the Department of Rivas called Parque Eólico Camilo Ortega Saavedra.
On Wednesday morning, the Secretary-General will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet with President Luis Guillermo Solís and Foreign Minister Manuel González Sanz, as well as with representatives of indigenous groups.
The Secretary-General will give a lecture entitled "Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century" at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Secretary-General's official visit to Costa Rica will wrap up on Wednesday evening.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that the Secretary-General would not be meeting with Vice President Moises Omar Halleslevens of Nicaragua.]
And like I said, after this briefing, there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation.
Tomorrow, there is no noon briefing. UN Headquarters will be closed for the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have two separate questions. The first one is this morning Ban Ki-moon said that everybody expected a resolution but a presidential statement came out. Could you clarify what he meant by everybody? Is that the international community? Is that the talks that are going on? My second question is: does the Secretary-General intend to discuss the Nicaragua canal project with President Ortega as part of his visit?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding your second question first, we'll try to provide a readout of his meeting with President Ortega once that happens, and so we can give you the details of what they discussed at that point.
Regarding your first question, as you know, it is always in the hands of the members of the Security Council what kind of meeting they'll have, whether it will concern a presidential statement or a resolution. In the end, as you know, when we announced that a formal meeting would take place at midnight, at that point it was clear that it would be a presidential statement. Beyond that, the matter as you know remains in the hands of the Member States throughout. Yes? Matthew?
Question: Hi, over the weekend North Korea shot a missile into the Sea of Japan. Does your office have any reaction over that?
Deputy Spokesman: You've seen what our reactions have been to the recent missile activities by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and our concerns remained the same as in the last statement we issued on this a couple weeks back. Yes?
Question: Yes, I'd like to know, either if you could provide it now or perhaps get it for us, more details on the specific sources of data that OCHA relies on in reporting the number of civilian injuries and casualties in Gaza. For example, up until 23 July, in a footnote in its daily reports, OCHA said that at least the number of casualties was provided "by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza" that's under the auspices of Hamas, and then after that report it dropped that footnote. So I'd like to, because we get these numbers, numbers are thrown around, and I'd like to get more details on specific sources rather than the generalities that are now in there. Secondly, there was a report that I just saw before I came here that a hospital alleged to be a command and control centre for Hamas was blown up. At least one report indicated that that might have been as a result of an Iranian-supplied missile that Hamas was launching from that source, that hasn't been confirmed but that's one possibility. I wanted to know whether there was any comment or will be any comment by the Secretary-General on this latest development? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: We wouldn't have any comment on this while the details of that incident are still murky. Regarding your question about the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the work its doing, it provides its numbers based on the figures it receives from a variety of officials on the ground. Some of that comes from the local authorities, in terms of the Ministry of Health, some of that comes from different human rights groups, including groups such as B'Tselem, which is an Israeli group, as well as Palestinian human rights groups, and what it tries to do is crosscheck all the information it receives, so that ultimately the numbers it goes with have been verified. Yes?
Question: On Gaza, in the Secretary-General's statements, I haven't been able to figure out what his position is, it seems like one of the sticking points is that, for a ceasefire, is whether the Israeli Defense Forces would remain during a mutually-agreed ceasefire inside Gaza, searching out and destroying these tunnels. So, does he think that should be a part of the ceasefire or does he think that a ceasefire would mean the two sides would disengage and this incursion would end? And also what was the Secretary-General's or the UN system's role in this draft framework for a sustainable ceasefire that has been published, at least two versions of it, with the statement that the Israeli Cabinet rejected it on Friday.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding the work on a ceasefire, I wouldn't be able to give specific details of what a ceasefire needs to include beyond what the Secretary-General himself has been saying, that is to say that the Secretary-General has given our vision in a broad sense of what we want a ceasefire to achieve. Regarding the specifics, that's of course the topic of extremely delicate, extremely detailed negotiations that have been happening basically in the region and around the world, and we're trying to let that process play out in such a way that ultimately we can get an agreement that can put a halt to the fighting. So we wouldn't specify at this point what a ceasefire needs to entail. We want to have a durable ceasefire, we want to be able ultimately to get at the root causes. You've seen what we've had to say, but in terms of the specifics of what each party will commit to, that remains to be agreed between them.
Question: But a ceasefire would mean you don't shoot your guns, right? I mean, you're saying… Then the question is, can you retain soldiers in Gaza?
Deputy Spokesman: That is something ultimately that the parties themselves will have to work out. It's not something that we're going to comment on while the process remains under way of trying to secure an agreement.
Question: And his role on that framework?
Deputy Spokesman: What?
Question: I just wanted to know if you have any comment on that.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you're aware of his role in the broader sense. He was in the region up until this past weekend. He's visited all the various capitals. He's spoken many times each day with the various leaders involved — with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with those who are trying to help encourage the parties forward. You've seen the press remarks he's made on the road while he's been in the Middle East and from that you can gather the kind of discussions he's been having. He's trying his very best and will continue to keep pushing to get a ceasefire going. Yes, in the back? Yes, you.
Question: Yesterday's New York Times had a very large article explaining that the investigators into the shooting down of the Malaysian jet in Ukraine are unable, actually, to do their work or enter the area because the Ukrainian Armed Forces have not observed a ceasefire and the area's too dangerous for the investigators to do their work in. Has the Secretary-General anything to say about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've seen what the latest things we've had to say on the situation have been. I'd refer you to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today about the situation. And, regarding the question of access to the site, that of course was the subject of a resolution by the Security Council last week, so I'd refer you to that. Yes, Pam?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Paris talks after all the Cairo talks and other international meetings of the Secretary-General and other world powers took place without, as far as we've seen reported, Israel, Palestine or Egypt representatives. Can you tell us what came out of that meeting — of the Paris meeting?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General did not attend those talks. That was under different auspices so…
Question: And was anyone from the UN at those talks?
Deputy Spokesman: He's aware of them after the fact, but no, the UN was not participating in those talks.
Question: Okay, and just a follow up on Qatar, the Secretary-General said today that Qatar and Turkey were the intermediaries with Hamas, has anyone from the UN, the Secretary-General or others, talked to Qatar about supplying weapons? He's talked to a lot of different parties about supplying weapons that fuel the conflict. Has he talked to Qatar about supplying weapons to Hamas?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't have anything further to say on his discussions in Qatar beyond the readouts and remarks that we provided. We did put out details of his trip while he was in Qatar and that as you know was at the very start of his journey.
Question: Right, but did he speak to the Amir at all about supplying arms to Hamas?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he did speak to the Amir. We gave some of the details of that, I believe, a week ago and I don't have anything to add to that. Alright?
Question: I wanted to ask you, there was a report, I guess it was on Friday, about the UN in Geneva. The Acting Director said that he's going to solicit contributions from private Swiss banks for the renovation. He said that this could help them rebrand themselves from the financial crisis. The article didn't say… it's sort of like disclosures… I wonder are there any possibilities of conflicts of interest, given, for example, the multi-billion dollar Pension Fund, or would there be any prohibitions on banks that have contracts with the UN or are seeking contracts in the UN, making such donations? Would there be disclosure of who makes the donations? And I want to return again to the topic of last week, which is simply, now with the several days gone by, is it possible to know, in the smallest type, on whose plane or if it was an outside donation that the Secretary-General few to Cairo and came back to New York? And, two, this request that of the ten most recent trips, is it possible to know trips funded by non-UN sources? Who paid for them and where they went?
Deputy Spokesman: No, that would take considerable work involving going over the details of many different trip participants and trip captains. Regarding the flight back from Cairo, that was a commercial flight. I'm aware that several of the flights that he took were also on UN planes, so there was a mixture of commercial, UN planes, and as you know, as we pointed out, there was one Qatari-funded and one Saudi-funded plane.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later shared the following with the correspondents: "The General Assembly has asked the Secretariat to look for innovative sources of funding to cover part of the costs associated with the Strategic Heritage Plan for the renovation of the Palais des Nations. To that end, the Acting Director-General of UNOG actively engages with an increasing number of different actors, both governmental and private, in Switzerland and beyond."]
Question: Were those the only outside funded?
Deputy Spokesman: Those were it. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. This is in reference to your statement that you read out about casualties, including casualties in Afghanistan. I'm sure you have seen reports quoting American officials today that the Taliban have made major gains in Afghanistan. Is that the assessment of the United Nations team in Kabul?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've seen what the UN Mission in Afghanistan has had to say about its concerns regarding Taliban activity. One of the things that we've been trying to make sure is that you have a process, an orderly process of government formation in Afghanistan, so they can deal with challenges, including the challenges posed by the Taliban. Yes?
Question: The Norwegians had a serious terror threat since weekend which comes from Syria. I was wondering if UN knows if there is any communication between them — between the UN and Norway? I'm sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: Oh, we're certainly aware of the media reports. We don't have any specific reaction, but of course, you're aware of the concerns we have made throughout, that the problems in the Syria conflict could over time spread to other areas and this is a further example of that. Have a good weekend everyone, or have a Happy Eid rather. See you on Wednesday.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|