Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
13 November 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 held a series of separate meetings focused on Myanmar today, before leaving Nay Pyi Taw for Brisbane, Australia, to attend the G20 [Group of 20] Summit. He met with President U Thein Sein; the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Thura Shwe Mann; and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the Union Parliament Committee for the Rule of Law and Tranquillity and Chairperson of the National League for Democracy. In his meeting with the President, the Secretary-General commended the President's leadership in advancing the peace process between the Government and ethnic armed groups. In light of recent developments, he underlined the need for all stakeholders to take a leap of faith and move forward with mutual trust and confidence toward the signing of a nationwide ceasefire and beginning a discussion on the framework of a political dialogue.
Concerning the situation in Rakhine and the continued polarization between the communities, the Secretary-General took note of the recent steps taken by the Government in Rakhine, including the appointment of a new Chief Minister and consultations on the three-year Action Plan. At the same time, he stressed that the underlying causes had to be addressed through substantive and early action, including on the issue of citizenship. The Secretary-General's discussions with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi touched on her role in Parliament and in the broader political and socioeconomic sphere in the country. The Secretary-General underlined that there was great expectation that the upcoming elections in 2015 would be credible, inclusive, transparent and fair, and would provide solid evidence of the consolidation of the democratic process in the country. And we have the readouts available online.
On Ebola, the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) report a total of 14,098 cases of Ebola virus disease and 5,160 deaths. There is some evidence that case incidence is no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but steep increases persist in Sierra Leone, and the World Health Organization stresses that cases and deaths continue to be underreported in this outbreak. In Mali, there have been four reported confirmed and probable cases, and four deaths. The most recent cases are not related to the first Ebola patient in Mali, who died on 24 October. The UN Mission in Mali confirmed yesterday that some 20 UN peacekeepers are currently in quarantine, as they are being treated in the same clinic where a case was reported. All of them show no symptoms of the disease so far. The Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, as well as Tony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), just briefed the General Assembly and will be speaking to you at the stakeout outside of the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Chamber, as soon as they are finished, and hopefully we'll get a signal when that happens.
A new World Bank report says that Palestinian students attending United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools for refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan are achieving higher-than-average results in international assessments, despite the challenging circumstances under which they live. The report highlights how an approach that includes effective classroom practices of teachers, strong school leadership, assessments and shared accountability for learning, can support adaptability and performance in high-risk contexts. And there's more in a press release from the World Bank.
I was asked yesterday about the shooting down of a helicopter near the Line of Contact between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I can say the following: the Secretary-General shares the very serious concerns expressed by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Minsk Group and other international partners regarding the ceasefire breach on 12 November 2014 along the Line of Contact, including the shooting down of a military helicopter and resulting casualties among the crew members. He reiterates his previous call on all parties to fully respect and adhere to the ceasefire agreement. The Secretary-General also urges all sides to refrain from any actions likely to lead to further escalation of the situation on the ground and to fulfil their repeated commitments to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Secretary-General reiterates his full support for the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and the three Co-Chairs to assist the parties in pursuing a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
I was asked yesterday about the deaths and injuries that took place during surgical contraception in India. Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and Tewodros Melesse, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, today issued a joint statement about the tragic deaths and injuries sustained by women undergoing surgical contraception in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Dr. Osotimehin and Mr. Melesse are deeply saddened by the reports of these deaths and join their families, as well as the people and Government of India, in mourning the departed. It is critical to ensure the quality of service for all contraceptive methods, as well as the availability of a full range of modern contraceptives, which must always be chosen freely by fully informed men and women, without any forms of incentives. In addition, surgical contraception must always be administered in safe and sanitary conditions. More information can be found on UNFPA's website.
**Noon Briefing Guest
And tomorrow, I will be joined by John Ging, Operations Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), along with Emergency Directors Afshan Khan of UNICEF and Mabingue Ngom of UNFPA. And they will be here to brief you on their recent trip to Mali.
And that's it. Any questions before we all have to skedaddle down the corridor? Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Yesterday representatives at the General Assembly meeting on the reforms of the Security Council expressed great frustration at the lack of progress. The issue, as you know, has been debated for over 20 years now. Isn't this not the time for the Secretary-General to take the lead and present his own document that might gather wider consensus or wider agreement?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General has made very clear his desire that the United Nations Security Council be reformed in order to be made more broadly representative. And he favours any steps that the Member States agree to that would enhance the representation and the legitimacy of the Security Council. That said, it's very clear under the United Nations Charter that any reform of the Security Council has to be in the hands of the Member States. And so we do leave the proposals in the hands of the Member States and we hope that they will move forward on this. Yes, Matthew and then Oleg.
Question: Sure, great. I wanted to ask about Darfur and also about Haiti. On Darfur, do you have, I guess I will preface it this way: there has been a report of a joint letter to the Secretary-General from the leaders of JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] and SLA-M [Sudanese Liberation Army-Minawi], both about the rapes, alleged rapes in Tabit and calling for independent investigation by the International Criminal Court and expressing a lot of distrust in UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur]. So I wanted to know, one, have you gotten this letter? Do you have a response to it? And, two, in the last 24 or now 48 hours, what has UNAMID done to revive its investigation of what took place in Tabit?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. The officials from UNAMID, including the Force Commander, have been in touch with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous. They have made clear their commitment to increasing patrolling at Tabit, to increase their regular presence there, and we trust that they will do so. They are continuing with their efforts. I don't have any results of any… in terms of any further facts that they have gained about this. But I do believe that the Force Commander himself will be trying to visit the area, and we hopefully will get some details for you once that visit has taken place.
Question: More specifically, is there any effort by UNAMID to interview residents of Tabit without Sudanese military present, that seems to me that…
Deputy Spokesman: They are continuing their efforts on the ground. They will try to make their presence felt in Tabit, and they will also try to see what facts they can get. You're quite right that there has been military presence there; that is something that we've also drawn attention to and that's a source of concern, but we will see what sort of facts we can get. Evelyn?
Question: Is there talk… are there talks with Khartoum about that military presence? Because many of the… some of the media reports blame the military for the rapes, the Sudanese military, the Government military.
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, whenever we have an effort to find facts anywhere, what we want to do is be able to interview people in conditions where they feel free to speak and where it's clear they feel free to speak. If that isn't happening, that impedes on our ability to actually find facts and determine what actually has happened. So we are trying to do what we can. Of course, we have made clear that there was a military presence there and that could have had an effect on the information we have been receiving so far. Yes, Erol?
Question: Yes. Thank you, Farhan. A couple of things. First of all, in response to Mr. Abbadi that you have just given, are you saying that Secretary-General will not take the lead on this issue on Security Council reform by the end of his last, second tenure?
Deputy Spokesman: He has been speaking up about the need for Security Council reform repeatedly, and he will continue to do so. But ultimately the way the United Nations Charter is written, it's very clear that any efforts to change the Charter, any efforts at amendment of the Charter, have to go through a procedure involving the Member States. I would just refer you to the Charter itself on that.
Question: But can we be more proactive and ask the crucial Member, not crucial, some Member States to move forward, since this is the reform, the crucial reform of the United Nations?
Deputy Spokesman: Secretary-General has taken this issue up repeatedly and he will continue to do so. Ultimately, we cannot act in the place of the Member States on this. The Charter is quite clear on that. Yes?
Question: I had another one.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I'll have to get back to you after. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding the readout on the Secretary-General's meetings with the Myanmar leaders over there, you said that he addressed the issue of the suffering of Rohingya Muslims and also the key question of citizenship. Could you tell us what was the response of the Myanmar leaders?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't speak for the Myanmar leaders. I would just refer you to the fairly lengthy readouts we put out today and you can see what we have had to say for our side. For their side, you would have to ask them. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Very much said in recent days about Sudanese military not letting the UN into this Darfur city, but does the Secretary-General have anything to say about Israel not letting this Commission of the Human Rights Council into Gaza? And, also, was there any communication afterwards? Did they explain their decision? And would their commission formed by the Secretary-General of this inquiry, do you have any arrangements?
Deputy Spokesman: This is not the commission formed by the Secretary-General.
Question: I know, I know.
Deputy Spokesman: The Board of Inquiry is a separate body. This is a commission of inquiry that reports to the Human Rights Council, led by Professor William Schabas, and that is a separate group. We've seen the Israeli reports about this. The information that I have from our colleagues in the Human Rights Office is that the Commission of Inquiry is going to proceed with its activities as best as it can. And they are hopeful, as indeed we are hopeful, that they will get the access that they need to go about their work.
Question: Yes, but with the commission formed by the Secretary-General, do you have arrangements with Israel so he will let them through to Gaza?
Deputy Spokesman: As we said a few days ago when we announced the Board of Inquiry, the Secretary-General trusts that the parties will give the Board of Inquiry the access that it needs, and we will proceed with the work of the board right now. Yes?
Question: On Haiti I wanted to ask you this: Stephen Lewis, who used to be the UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS and has also worked for UNICEF, gave a speech last night, a Raoul Wallenberg speech at McGill University, and he said that although Navi Pillay in October 2013 said that the UN should make good and provide compensation to victims of cholera that when he called her in December he received back the following message: "The High Commissioner sends her greetings. She will not be able to speak to you on the subject of Haiti. She is happy to speak to you on human rights, but a conversation about Haiti needs to be dealt with by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General." And this is what he said publically. So I wanted to know, one, your response to it, and whether it's the case that the Secretary-General's office told Navi Pillay not to speak on the rights of cholera victims in Haiti to get compensation?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, first of all, Mr. Lewis, as you know, is now a private citizen. I wouldn't have any real response to the comments he has made as a private citizen. Regarding Navi Pillay, as you know, she is also now no longer the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I wouldn't be able to characterize what she may or may not have said about that.
Question: My question is…
Deputy Spokesman: From our position, of course, all officials in the UN are free to speak on all the various situations with which they deal. So certainly Ms. Pillay is free to speak on human rights conditions in Haiti while she was High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Question: So she is simply in her own mind decided to refer these calls?
Deputy Spokesman: I can't comment on that.
Question: Other officials said on camera that they can't speak to it because it's a legal situation or to speak to the Office of the Secretary-General. Was it communicated to that effect?
Deputy Spokesman: As you are well aware, we have nothing new to say about the legal position. When you ask me, as indeed you are asking me right now a question on Haiti, I'm answering you. The questions that you've been asking…
Question: My question is: was there a policy of informing high yield officials…
Deputy Spokesman: You are not letting me get my sentence out.
Question: I wanted to make sure you are answering me.
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, Matthew, if you are interested in the answer, don't keep interrupting. We continue to speak out on Haiti, and indeed I've been speaking out on that. On the legal position, there is nothing further to say. The position has not changed.
Question: Is Mr. [Edmond] Mulet going to speak again on this topic?
Deputy Spokesman: That is his decision. Yes?
Question: Thanks again. In the light of two days ago, exchange of diplomatic views of the Security Council of Bosnia Herzegovina, how does the Secretary-General view the Bosnia Herzegovina approach of speed or moving toward Euro-Atlantic integration, number one? Number two, does he have anything to say regarding the release of Mr. [Vojislav] Šešelj from Hague Tribunal? And, number three, what was the reason that the Kosovo debate was postponed today?
Deputy Spokesman: Okay, that is three questions, the third question of which is a question for the Security Council, so you would have to ask the Presidency of the Security Council about their schedule, their programme for the month. For the second question, as you know, Mr. Šešelj, the decision that was taken on him was a decision taken by the International Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and that is within their competence as a legal body. And for your first question, which I have now forgotten — oh, all right, Bosnia's integration, obviously, anything that helps to bring forward unity among the various communities in Bosnia and helps to further their mutual development is a welcome step.
Question: Just one more.
Deputy Spokesman: You've had three questions. Please let someone else have a chance. Yes, Dulcie?
Question: Hi. The peacekeeping panel review that has got 14 people on it, when do they meet? And when do they come up with a conclusion? And how will this process be open to the outside world? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, depending upon their availability, we do expect that their first meeting could take place sometime next week. And, if that happens, we are going to try to bring at least Mr. [José] Ramas-Horta but possibly other speakers to talk to you in one format or another sometime next week. Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then Oleg. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Going back to your answer regarding my question about the Secretary-General taking the lead in presenting some document to help the Member States reform the Security Council, there is nothing in the Charter, nothing, that prevents the Secretary-General from submitting his own ideas to Member States on how to proceed on this or that question. The only thing the Charter says is that the general conference, which has never been held, can be used as a vague and to reform the Charter; and that has not been, that has not occurred since the foundation of this Organization. So what I'm talking about is the Secretary-General presenting his own ideas on how to break the deadlock?
Deputy Spokesman: Anything that will actually break the deadlock would have to command ultimately the support of a huge number of Member States. The Charter makes very clear that changes to the Charter involve large numbers of Member States actually implementing and agreeing to those changes. Consequently, the best approach is one that develops from the Member States themselves and garners a larger and larger amount of support from the Member States. The Secretary-General is perfectly willing to encourage any effort that can command that level of support, but ultimately it does have to develop from the Member States themselves in order to have a chance of succeeding and being approved by them. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan, again. On Staffan de Mistura's activities, I understand he was in Cairo today. What is his next trip, is going to look like, he is going to Iran or anywhere?
Deputy Spokesman: We will try and provide details of his stops as we get them from his team. You are right that he is currently on a tour of the region, having completed his visit to Syria. And what he is doing, as he did in Syria, is discussing the proposals that he brought forward to the Security Council when he met with them on the 30 October, and he will continue with that effort.
Question: Also, on Syria topic, there have been talks about the possibility of having an international meeting in Moscow, connecting the Syrian authorities and opposition members. What is the Secretary-General's stance on this? Is this something he wants to see? Is there talks about a possibility of UN taking part in these talks? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, these discussions are at a preliminary stage. I don't have anything to say on that at this stage. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about the Secretary-General's trip to Myanmar, especially the meeting with the President Thein Sein. I read the readout, and I just wondered… and it has a lot of things in it, and this issue of press freedom. And I asked you yesterday about a journalist that was killed in security custody, and there also have been newspapers shut down and other attacks on the press. Is it… and maybe everything can't fit in a readout, but are you aware? Did this issue come up at all between the Secretary-General and President Thein Sein?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything to add to that readout. I think it was a fairly lengthy meeting, and other topics may have been included. But, certainly, the Secretary-General has made clear his own views about the need to ensure basic freedoms as the country proceeds towards elections. And that is a point that he drove home with all of his various interlocutors. Yes, Evelyn first and then you?
Question: In Burma, since President [Barack] Obama was speaking to the same people, is there any indication of what they said and responded to the criticism of how they treat the minorities, the citizenship case, anything else?
Deputy Spokesman: You've heard what the Secretary-General has had to say.
Question: Yes, but what is the response?
Deputy Spokesman: So that is what our position is.
Question: You can't give a response?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't have any response to what President Obama's visit is accomplishing. Yes?
Question: I'm saying of the people he spoke to? Nobody can do this?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't speak for them, beyond what we included in our various readout, which are available. Yes?
Question: Farhan, if I can recall the Secretary-General two times when he was, if I can use that word, campaigning for the post first time and the second time for re-election, he was at least mentioning his involvement and contribution in the Security Council reform and in the reform of the United Nations. Can you recall anything? And can you… how would you put that in the context, that actually now you have told us that he is not actually willing to take anything beyond the line that somebody has drawn, although it's not in the Charter, that is how I understood?
Deputy Spokesman: Please listen to what I've said. I spoke three or four times about this, and that's not what I said at all.
Deputy Spokesman: He has encouraged and he has pushed forward the idea that you need to have the Security Council be more broadly representative and any steps that enhanced the legitimacy are to be welcomed. He has not made his own specific formula. Ultimately any formula that works, that is one that has to command the respect of a large number of Member States in order for the UN Charter to be reformed. That's why it has to emanate from and be supported by a huge group of Member States. That's my basic position. The Secretary-General has been involved in this for a long time, including, by the way, before he was Secretary-General. He was at one point, as you know, the Chief of Staff for a General Assembly President, and they took up the issue at that point as well. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Can you tell me if the Secretary-General has made any statement or intends to make any statement regarding the Russian decision or announcement that it will work with Iran to build nuclear plants?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any comment on that. On the larger question of Iran, as you know, we have been following the negotiations, and we will continue to follow that, and we continue to insist that Iran meets its obligations to the international community, including to the Security Council and to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yes, Anne?
Question: Concerning the UN Security Council meeting requested by Ukraine, The New York Times reported today that a UN official expressed fear of what he called a frozen and protracted conflict that would entrench the status quo in southern Ukraine for years or several decades to come. Is the UN Secretary-General still optimistic about the possibility of stopping this aggression against
Ukraine by a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which should be concerned with maintaining international peace and security?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Ann. What you recapitulated is what one of our officials, Jan Anders Toyberg‑Frandzen, was saying at the Security Council. And that I would just refer you to his briefing, which is available on the webcast. The Secretary-General, of course, continues to call for dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv and efforts to de-escalate the situation. Yes?
Question: Sure, thanks. Because you brought that up, maybe you can, know or get an answer on this: he also in his briefings to the Council, he mentioned just as a fact that Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk had decided to suspend the payment of pensions and other, I guess, Government benefits in the rebel-held areas. Particularly in the case of pensions, what I wondered — he didn't say one way or another if it was a good thing, if it was justified. And some people would say like a pension is something somebody is owed wherever they live, and so that it might actually be kind of collective punishment to not pay you your pension because you live in a rebel-held area. I just wondered, is there a way you can find out either from him what is the [United States]'s view on that action by the Iranian Government?
Deputy Spokesman: His views were contained from the briefing.
Question: There were no views. He just mentioned it as a fact.
Deputy Spokesman: That is a briefing to the Security Council and mentioned it to the Security Council and they can respond accordingly. Yes?
Question: Farhan, is there reaction from the Secretary-General regarding the attack on the Egyptian naval vessel today in the Mediterranean and the death of nine soldiers?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any reaction now, but we will check. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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