Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 November 2014
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I'll start off with an update on Burkina Faso. The Secretary-General expresses appreciation for the mission undertaken by President John Mahama of Ghana, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and President Macky Sall of Senegal, who are currently holding consultations in Ouagadougou. The three Heads of State arrived in the Burkinabe capital today to join mediation efforts by the joint UN, African Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] delegation. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for inclusive dialogue to continue and encourages all parties to reach an agreement for a peaceful and civilian-led transition as soon as possible. And the Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. [Mohammed ibn] Chambas, also welcomed the support provided by the three regional leaders, as well as by Edem Kodjo in his capacity as the African Union Special Envoy, to find a solution to the political crisis. The joint UN-AU-ECOWAS mission is continuing its consultations with all the parties and other forces to ensure a democratic and civilian-led transition in Burkina Faso. And it will continue its efforts to help resolve the crisis in line with the national Constitution.
An update on Ebola. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group focused exclusively on the private sector, announced today a package of at least $450 million in commercial financing that will enable trade, investment and employment in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Initiatives include support to fund critical imports in these countries, support to 800 small and medium enterprises to help ensure business continuity during the Ebola crisis, and investment projects for post-epidemic economic recovery. The IFC says it is committed to finding and creating opportunities to encourage private investors to play a large role in the recovery of markets directly and indirectly affected by the Ebola outbreak in the three countries. A full press release is available on the World Bank's website. This announcement comes as a new study from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) finds that the current outbreak is impairing the ability of Governments to raise revenue, increasing their exposure to domestic and foreign debt, and may make them more dependent on aid. In total, the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are experiencing a shortfall of $328 million to be able to function at pre-crisis levels. The gaps are caused by increased spending to tackle the Ebola crisis and fiscal constraints resulting from a slowdown of economic activities such as tourism, mining and trade. As a result of the current Ebola outbreak, Government expenses have risen by about 30 per cent in all three countries and fiscal deficits are also on the rise. More is available from UNDP.
An update from Darfur. The African Union-United Nations [Hybird Operation] in Darfur, UNAMID, is calling on the Government of Sudan to grant UNAMID unhindered access to all of Darfur, especially to areas where alleged incidents affecting civilians have been reported, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement. The mission is making the call after a verification patrol was denied access to Tabit, in North Darfur, by Sudanese military at a checkpoint. The mission is deeply concerned about media reports of an alleged mass rape of 200 women and girls in Tabit and is investigating the veracity of this information. Today, UNAMID dispatched a team to the Zamzam camp for internally displaced people to assess possible displacements from Tabit, as alleged in media reports. Following a thorough assessment and interaction with residents and community leaders in the area, the team concluded that no recent displacement from Tabit had occurred. As part of the investigation, UNAMID's Human Rights officers have also met with the Chief Prosecutor of North Darfur, who said that he had not received a single complaint about any rape incident from Tabit.
A number of you might have seen the statement we issued yesterday by Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, confirming that the temporary Gaza reconstruction mechanism has commenced its operations, with a priority on making available reconstruction material for urgent shelter repairs. As of Monday, some 700 beneficiaries were able to purchase much needed construction material in order to start the rehabilitation of their homes after the recent devastating conflict in Gaza. Mr. Serry said that it is essential that the implementation of the mechanism now be urgently accelerated in order to reach some 60,000 homes in need of repair involving the use of cement or other materials in advance of the winter season. The UN is fully engaged towards completing the surveying of these 60,000 homes, including raising sufficient resources to help those in need. The Special Coordinator will continue his efforts in the coming days with the parties to urgently expedite the work. As the mechanism becoming operational, it is more important than ever that the donors who made pledges at the Cairo conference come up with the money that was promised.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN [Organization Stabilization[ Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) announced today that more than 200 people were arrested in relation to the recent attacks against civilians around Beni in North Kivu. Among them were members of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces who are believed to be responsible for these attacks. Weapons, ammunitions and other military equipment were seized. The operations were carried out by the National Police and MONUSCO's police, while MONUSCO military forces are also intensifying their patrols in the region.
This morning, we announced that Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has invited representatives of the two countries to meet with him here at UN Headquarters next Wednesday. Both sides have accepted. Ambassador Nimetz will meet with the two representatives separately and then jointly, with the purpose of continuing the UN-brokered talks aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the "name" issue.
**Noon Briefing Guest
Tomorrow, I will be joined by Professor Enrico Giovaninni and Claire Melamed, Co-Chairs of the Secretary-General's Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. They will be here to brief on their report, "A World That Counts: Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development".
I failed to read out a note on South Sudan. Our colleagues there report that high tensions are continuing among displaced civilians sheltering in the Mission's sites in Bentiu and Malakal — which is in Unity and Upper Nile States, respectively. Yesterday, UN police were attacked at the Bentiu site by civilians armed with machetes, steel rods and spears, while they intervened to break up fighting among youth groups. Five internally displaced persons sustained minor injuries. Meanwhile, 2,700 displaced people who had been living in the original site outside the Jonglei State capital of Bor have been relocated to a new location. The Mission reports that in Juba some 3,000 displaced people have arrived at the sites in Tomping and UN House in Juba over the past two months, mostly from Upper Nile and Unity States. Overall, as a reminder, the Mission is protecting more than 102,000 civilians in its camps.
I'm done. Oleg?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On a separate issue, a question on South Sudan. Is there any update on the status of the two UN personnel captured back in October? Did you announce anything on that?
Spokesman: I do not believe I have an update on that. That's it? Edie?
Question: Stéphane, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the latest incidents in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount?
Spokesman: I think, as I have been saying from here, we're deeply concerned about the continued violence and tensions we're seeing in Jerusalem, notably today's attack on pedestrians, which the Secretary-General strongly condemns. I think one person was killed, several others were wounded. I think the heightened tensions that we have seen over the provocations and access restrictions at the Holy Sites are continuing, and I think they need to be urgently de-escalated. The Secretary-General continues to urge all sides to show leadership and promote collective efforts to lower the tensions and restore calm. Yes, sir?
Question: A follow-up on that. Does the Secretary-General intend to take any further action with regard to UNAMID or is the revision the end of the matter of that episode?
Spokesman: I think we briefed at length on the review. I think you are already seeing a change in the way the mission is reporting. Just today, we made very clear what had happened. The UN had tried to send a mission. The Sudanese Government refused to let them through. There are now reports that are coming in from the Mission, I think, as a result of the review. So, we're seeing these results, we're seeing these results clearly. As you know, there is a broader strategic review of the mandate of UNAMID which will come to an end, I believe, in discussions in Security Council early next year. Your microphone, please?
Correspondent: If I may follow up, the "P3" has made it very clear to the Secretariat that they found the report — that the report must be followed by visible concrete action to deal with the shortcomings discovered and that if there are shortcomings and misconduct, there must be accountability. And they wanted from the Secretary-General, to urge him to take the necessary action to deal with this further.
Spokesman: You know, I think the Security Council as a whole mandates the Mission. As I said, we're focusing on the strategic review, but on the other hand, we're also seeing very clearly the immediate results of the review in terms of the reporting we're putting forward. Nizar and then Matthew and then Evelyn?
Question: The Secretary-General condemned the attacks on the pedestrians in East Jerusalem. How about the continued attacks every day on the Al Aqsa Mosque, on the holy shrines, the Islamic ones? Shouldn't these… don't these merit a condemnation, as well?
Spokesman: With all due respect, Nizar, I just did talk about the issue of the restrictions and the provocations, which I clearly said need to be de-escalated. I think the Secretary-General is calling on all sides to show leadership and to de-escalate the tension and to promote the collective efforts towards peace.
Correspondent: But, even-handedness here, dealing with both cases, one with condemnation, the other one with concern. You are not…
Spokesman: I think you're doing what you're supposed to do, which is analysing our words very carefully, but I think if you look very broadly, I think the Secretary-General's message about leadership to all sides, to both sides, to de-escalate the tensions, to avoid unilateral action, and to go back to finding a peaceful solution to the issues. Mr. Lee? Nizar, I promise to come back to you.
Question: I have some other stuff, but I wanted to follow up on the Darfur report. I have to ask: Is it still the case that Secretariat has only provided the executive summary to members of the Security Council or has it provided the full report? And also, more generally, there are complaints arising that the [United Nations Multinational Integrated Stabilization] Mission in the Central Africa Republic (MINUSCA) is maybe not the defending civilians enough, but is definitely not reporting here about things that have happened. It said this that town of Bambari is basically now a ghost town. Many people have been killed there. And I wondered, at an earlier stage, there was a lot of reports from your podium what was happening. What's happening with civilian deaths in the Central African Republic?
Spokesman: I think we are reporting on what the mission in Bangui is sending to us. I think as I said last week, even before the executive summary and the Secretary-General shared the results of UNAMID with the Security Council, instructions were sent out to all peacekeeping missions to redouble their efforts at reporting, so as soon as we get information from the missions, we share it with you. Evelyn? Your microphone, please.
Question: On the mass rape in Sudan, according to media reports, this was the Sudan army, which you said a few days ago, they were coming into Darfur. I don't know if the two are related. But, what happens if Khartoum is responsible for this? Is the [Secretary-General] briefing on that? Is the Security Council…?
Spokesman: I think we'll have to see what the Security Council decides to do. Obviously, the reason for sending that Mission to the area was trying to gather and harvest first-hand information. We were blocked by the Government of Sudan to do so. I'm sure my colleagues in the Mission will try to find some other ways to harvest information, talking to officials, but allegations of rape, whether it be one or 200, on a scale that defies words, is something that we will continue to investigate. Anna?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I wanted to ask about the situation in Burkina Faso. The UN warned them after the military coup, after the revolution turned into this horrible military takeover, they've been warned that if they do not go back to normal, if they do not pass on the power to civilian leaders, then there would be consequences, such as sanctions and other actions that UN is going to do. Do we have any idea what kind of exact sanctions we are talking about, and when we will have a clear picture of what the UN is going to do with other countries to solve this?
Spokesman: There are quite a few things in your question. On the issue of sanctions, it will be up to the Security Council to decide if there are indeed sanctions. Regional mechanisms, whether it's AU or ECOWAS, have their own processes to deal with these kinds of situations. I think what we're seeing right now is a situation that remains extremely fluid. I think the presence of the three Heads of State, the presence of a joint mission shows that everyone is engaged, trying to ensure that this fluid situation leads to a very concrete and very quick transition to a civilian Government that has broad support. But, I think, right now, our focus is trying to calm the situation and trying to move to a civilian-led Government. Go ahead. Mike? Listen, I think the events, these are the kinds of events that don't lend themselves to a fixed timetable, I think the first thing is to get to that transition, to establish a timetable for a very quick return to civilian rule.
Question: On Burkina Faso, the situation, what had happened in Burkina Faso might happen sooner or later in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo], Burundi, Benin. As the authority on this country also want to change their Constitution, is there any kind of concrete action that the UN can take, aside from monitoring in order to prevent the situation?
Spokesman: Obviously, in terms of monitoring this, the UN would have to be invited in. But as a broader answer to your question, I think what we have seen in Burkina Faso and other places, and not just in Africa, clearly shows the need to heed the message for good governance and for institutions, government and public institutions that respond to the need of the people and that are resilient to change. Mr. Avni?
Question: I asked Farhan yesterday and I didn't get an answer, so I will repeat the question: does the UN have anything to say about the razing of Palestinian homes, systemic razing of Palestinian homes near the Gaza border by Egypt?
Spokesman: I think… let me see if I can get some guidance on that, but we would, you know, I think any operations that deal with security issues need to be done in full… within the full framework of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Mr. Carpenter?
Question: Hi, Stéphane. The New York Times has an interesting article about the search for the next Secretary-General. I was wondering, is the Secretary-General's office have a comment on this?
Spokesman: I'll let you take a guess. [laughter] I'll give you the answer, which is that the selection of the next Secretary-General is firmly in the hands of the Member States, and I don't speak for them. Yes, sir, you've been patient.
Question: I'm sorry. I'd like to go back to the UNAMID. Can you tell us any reason why the Secretary-General and the United Nations did not heed the call of Fatou Bensouda, the ICC [International Criminal Court] Prosecutor, and many countries in Security Council on 27 June to have an independent investigation? Instead of investigation, you had a revision that's not independent, because the five employees and the head of them is a retired employee of the UN and it's not public. What she asked for is a public, and it's a secret. Why isn't the UN heeding this call for transparency and fairness?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General's decision to conduct the review was done as a result of the Prosecutor's call, was done as a result of the articles that we saw in the press. I think the review was thorough. I think we're seeing the results of that review already. And there is a broader strategic look at the review of the Mission's mandate, which will go to the Security Council.
Question: There is a difference between a review and an investigation.
Spokesman: Even though your microphone is not on, I hear you, but I really have nothing else to add to what I have said. Mr. Lee?
Question: I wanted to ask about Sierra Leone and also Somalia. In Sierra Leone a journalist, David Tam-Baryoh, has been put in jail, maximum security prison, for his reporting on Ebola under a law that says that it is a crime to undermine Government efforts to fight the epidemic. He's also questioned the third term for the President, [Ernest Bai] Koroma. So, I wanted to know what is the UN system, given its involvement through UNMEER [United Nations Mission on Ebola Emergency Response] and otherwise, what do they say about this case? Also, it seems does UNMEER have any human rights mandate or component to it? I thought all kind of UN entities had some overarching or inherent Rights Up Front…
Spokesman: There's a country office in all three countries. Human Rights Up Front does apply to all UN staff and missions. What is… I don't have the particulars of this case, but it is clear that journalists need to be allowed to do their work free of intimidation and fear.
Question: What about a law that says, obviously, it's important to fight Ebola, but should a journalist be, should a law exist in which you clearly could be arrested for…?
Spokesman: I think, clearly, the media has a very important role to play in fighting… in part of our response against Ebola, whether it's fighting stigmatization or other issues. Linda?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Regarding ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham], can you give us any kind of update regarding UN activities or the UN role there at this point?
Spokesman: In terms of where?
Correspondent: In terms of addressing ISIS.
Spokesman: I think, in terms of the military action against ISIS and other extremist groups, that is in the hands of a coalition. The UN is not involved in that military aspect. What we are trying to do desperately is to get aid to those people who have been impacted by the current conflict, whether it anybody Syria or in Iraq. Yes? One second.
Question: Many experts are talking more and more about the rise of the influence, the political influence and role of the UNDP in many countries. For example, in Tunisia, UNDP is very influencing civil society, and our civil society is very politicized. What is your comment on that?
Spokesman: I'm not sure I agree with the premise of your question: that UNDP has a growing influence in every country. UNDP and the UN system as a whole is there to support the Government's works in cooperation with the Government. I know they do that very much in Tunisia, and the role of civil society is critical to a healthy democracy, so we work very well and very actively with civil society. Evelyn? Your microphone, please.
Question: Thank you for reminding me again. Every day we hear an appeal for these overlapping crises, one country after another on Ebola, and everybody is short of money. Is there any overview, not how much money is needed, since the agencies compete against each other, but what the donor countries would have to cough up percentage-wise compared to what they're doing to somehow get closer to what people think is needed? Because it's… it's a tragedy here.
Spokesman: I agree. I think no one will disagree on the tragic aspect of this. I'm not sure I agree with you when you say there's no money out there. I think there is money out there. It's a matter of new donors stepping up to the plate and a number of them have, and I think when we… we're very thankful for those donations. But there is money, and I think…
Correspondent: I don't think there's no money, but they're short.
Spokesman: Some countries are obviously short of money. We've seen on the Ebola crisis, developing countries give. I think a lot of countries have to make the decisions of where they want to give, but we are facing a huge humanitarian need across the world. And we're desperate for not only Member States but NGO [non-governmental organization s] and foundation support.
Question: Yes, but I'm just curious if… are they giving 5 per cent and you want 10 per cent? Are they giving 20 per cent and you want 25 per cent?
Spokesman: We need to meet those appeals. I think it's up to each State to decide how much they want to give. Nizar?
Question: Touching on the refugees issue again, countries like Lebanon and Jordan, Turkey and Iraq even… even Syria are receiving refugees. Shouldn't there be some kind of, rather than donations, burden sharing? Those countries who haven't received any refugees should, in the region and abroad, outside the region, should share some of the burdens, since they cannot give any more donations.
Spokesman: We have repeatedly said that in terms of Syria that Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan are carrying an outsized burden in terms of the refugee population. We see it in Lebanon, where they've taken on the equivalent after quarter of their population in refugees, and the impact that has and the potential destabilization impact it can have in a country. I agree with you. We need more countries to do more.
Correspondent: But, rather than some countries in the region, which are very rich, rather than contribute…
Spokesman: I know where you're… I've been down this road with you before, Nizar.
Correspondent: About even recruitment from these refugees, using the camps of the refugees to recruit and send terrorism.
Spokesman: I will just reiterate that too few countries are carrying too big of a burden on refugees and others need to do more. Carla, go ahead and then we're going to wrap it up very quickly.
Question: What is being done to address the situation of the African refugees… North African refugees who are drowning at least once a month?
Spokesman: I think we've talked about this often from this podium. The High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. [António] Guterres is in the building. It's something he's talked about. It's something that needs to be addressed, both in trying to bring stability to the countries these people are leaving from and for European countries to help and assist, what Italy and Malta have done, which is also, going to burden-sharing, also carrying an oversized burden. Matthew?
Question: With Somalia and one thing on the Secretary-General. In Somalia, there's a fight between the President and the Prime Minister and each is seeking… well, the President is seeking votes of no confidence against the Prime Minister, and apparently Envoy Nicholas Kay said that he believed the Parliamentarians are being paid cash for their votes. The reason I'm asking is, several Parliamentarians have asked him to provide proof or retire. I wanted to know: did he say it? Does he have evidence?
Spokesman: I will check. I had not seen this.
Question : On the Secretary-General, I'm sure you've seen these stories, sort of a second round of them, saying that he may run for president in [the Republic of] Korea in 2017. I asked Farhan and he said he's currently focused on his job. I don't know. I'm sure you know how these things go. Is there no chance he will run? Is he leaving the option open? What does he make about this turmoil in [the Republic of] Korea?
Spokesman: Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations and that is the sole focus of his work. I mean, I think you've seen and you can all know that he has quite a lot on his plate on the UN agenda, and that is the sole focus of his work.
Question: What's on his agenda in 2017?
Spokesman: This is the sole focus of his work. Oleg and then…Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Again, on Ukraine, there has been work, building by the Ukrainian authorities, building a wall between… on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Is the Secretary-General aware this operation? What does he think about it? Does he think it's helpful or unhelpful for this situation? There are also allegations of a possible wall that is being built, that will be built possibly between the eastern and the other part of Ukraine. What does he think about it?
Spokesman: Where was this wall that you said was being built?
Correspondent: It's built on the Ukraine-Russia border.
Spokesman: I haven't seen anything on the wall. Obviously, I think, as you would have seen the Secretary-General's speech at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] yesterday and his strong message for all parties to de-escalate and support the letter and the spirit of the Minsk Accord.
Correspondent: On the extension of the Parliament in Lebanon, it's the second time the same Parliament extends its mandates for another term.
Spokesman: I don't have any guidance on that. If I get something, I will let you know. Last question?
[The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said that today's vote of the Lebanese Parliament to extend its mandate would spare Lebanon a further serious vacuum in the institutions of the State. But, he added that it was a matter of regret that Lebanon, with its strong democratic tradition, remained unable to hold the parliamentary election. He stressed the United Nations' ongoing readiness to support preparations for parliamentary elections in Lebanon. Mr. Plumbly expressed the hope that Parliament would move without delay to elect a President. The United Nations Secretary-General in his latest report had again urged Lebanon's leaders to show the sense of urgency and flexibility needed to open the way to the election of a President. Mr. Plumbly noted the absence of any international impediment to this, and its importance for Lebanon's unity and the ability of the State to confront present challenges.]
Question: On Ebola, the United Nations are focusing in West Africa, but we know that, in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, there are many students from this region that are hosted in our country and there is a risk of Ebola one day. So, is there any plan from the UN to help the local authorities to face an outbreak in the future and to prevent against this outbreak?
Spokesman: I think what needs to be done is the countries need to follow the guidelines from the WHO [World Health Organization]. We need to ensure that people are screened in the right way, in a way that respects their rights, that doesn't stigmatize them, and obviously the World Health Organization and other parts of the UN are more than happy to work with local health authorities to ensure that they're prepared for the worst case scenario. Thank you very much. Enjoy your lunch.
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