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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

24 November 2014

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

I want to welcome the three back rows, which are filled with students from NYU [New York University] studying communications. I hope the front rows are on their best behaviour to show a good example to the students.  Welcome to the UN and welcome to this briefing.

I was just handed out a note that there is no stakeout at 1 p.m. by the Counter-Terrorism Committee.  So there will just be a Security Council stakeout.  I am just advising you.

**Afghanistan

A couple of statements to start off: one on Afghanistan.  The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the suicide attack on civilians in Afghanistan's Paktika province on 23 November, which killed at least 50 people and injured more than 60 others.  He denounces this attack against men, women and children who were enjoying a community sporting event, not only as a grave violation of Afghan and international law, but as fundamentally abhorrent.

The Secretary‑General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and injured, and his steadfast solidarity with the people of Afghanistan in refusing to be cowed by such attacks. He hopes those responsible will be brought swiftly to justice.

**Burkina Faso

Another statement, on Burkina Faso.  The Secretary-General notes the appointment in Burkina Faso on 23 November of the 26-member Transitional Government and the convening of the first Cabinet meeting today.  He looks forward to the appointment of members of the Transitional National Council.

The Secretary‑General calls on all appointed transitional leaders to work in a collaborative and harmonious manner to ensure that the aspirations of the people of Burkina Faso are upheld.  He also urges all national stakeholders to address any contentious issues through dialogue to ensure a smooth transitional period leading to the holding of elections in November 2015.

The United Nations will continue to work closely with the African Union (AU), as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international stakeholders in support of the transition in Burkina Faso.

**Violence against Women

This morning, the Secretary-General joined the Executive Director of UN‑Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and actress Teri Hatcher, to "flip the switch" to illuminate the Empire State Building in orange tonight for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which will be observed tomorrow.

Speaking at the event, the Secretary-General said that the global pandemic of violence against women still continues, affecting at least one woman in three worldwide.  He added that women's rights are not only women's business, and that men and boys are finally taking their place as partners in this battle.

The UN building will also be lit in orange tonight.  A list of events for tomorrow's commemoration is listed in the Week Ahead and on the UN-Women's website.

**Ebola

In our regular update on Ebola, the Director of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, was in Mali over the weekend.  She visited an Ebola treatment centre in Bamako, and met with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, as well as Prime Minister Moussa Mara and other leaders to discuss Mali's ongoing efforts to stem the outbreak and ways United Nations organizations could enhance their support to Mali.  The visit occurred as the Government announced a new case of Ebola and said that two more suspected patients were being tested.  And the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) will formally open an office in the country on Wednesday.

Also on Ebola, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today it is delighted to report that their colleague who has been receiving treatment at a hospital in France has made a full recovery and is now back at home in Sierra Leone.  UNICEF thanks the Government of France for generously facilitating the medical arrangements for him and expresses its deepest gratitude to the medical teams whose expert care brought him home back to health and safety.

**Kenya

On Kenya, we issued a statement yesterday condemning the terrorist attack on a commuter bus in Mandera, in Kenya.  The Secretary‑General conveyed his profound condolences, and pledged the UN's continuing support to Kenya and the region in their efforts to fight terrorism.  He called for those responsible for the attack to be brought to justice swiftly.

The Secretary‑General's Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, added his voice, condemning the attack, saying that it showed a complete disregard for humanity.  Both statements are online.  

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN Mission in the country (MONUSCO) has reinforced its presence in Beni territory, in North Kivu province, in response to new attacks against civilians this weekend.  The Mission also increased its support for the Congolese Army by deploying additional troops of the Force Intervention Brigade and special forces from other units.

The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes, Saïd Djinnit, also said that those behind these massacres should be brought to justice and held accountable, and called on armed groups active in the DRC to disband permanently.  We have his statement in our office.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, a mission composed of humanitarian country team members, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the country (MINUSCA), visited the town of Zémio this weekend to assess the humanitarian situation after an outbreak of inter-community violence.  The Mission called on all parties involved to end violence and ensure the restoration of social cohesion in the region.

The violence in Zémio, a town near the border with the DRC, has left at least 14 people injured, 3 killed and more than 3,000 displaced.  Humanitarian actors, in coordination with local authorities, are assisting to reduce intercommunal violence and to ensure respect of humanitarian space.  A group of senior staff from the mission stayed in Zémio to facilitate support and the mediation process.

**Madagascar

Another note from the World Health Organization (WHO), which today warned about an outbreak of plague in Madagascar, with a total of 119 cases and 40 deaths.

Cases have been reported in 16 districts of seven regions, including in the capital, Antananarivo.  WHO says there is now a risk of a rapid spread of the disease due to the city's high population density and the weakness of the health-care system.  With support from partners, the Government of Madagascar has put in place effective strategies to try to control the outbreak.

The World Health Organization, for its part, is providing technical expertise and human resources support.  Personal protection equipment, insecticides, spray materials and antibiotics have also been made available.  More details are available on WHO online.

**Avian Flu

Another health note.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health warned today that a new bird flu strain has been detected in Europe and poses a significant threat to the poultry sector, especially in low-resourced countries situated along the Black Sea and East Atlantic migratory routes of wild birds.

Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have confirmed the new avian influenza virus, known as H5N8, on poultry farms, and German authorities have also found the virus in a wild bird.  H5N8 has so far not been confirmed to infect people.  However, it is highly pathogenic for domestic poultry, causing significant mortality in chickens and turkeys.  More information available on the FAO's website.

Spokesman:  That's it.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have some other questions, but I guess I wanted to ask, now that the Secretary‑General put a statement in advance of these Vienna talks on the P5+1, and they have just ended with further extension down the road, does he have any response?  Does he think that that is a good thing?  Does he… What does he think should happen in the months to come?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We have some… let me get back to you on that one and let me go to you, sir.  [He later issued the following note:  The Secretary-General is encouraged by the determination and commitment by the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran to overcome their remaining differences and to achieve a comprehensive agreement.  He calls upon the parties in the months ahead to sustain the positive momentum and to build upon the progress they have made.  He hopes that all sides continue to implement their agreed commitments with a spirit of mutual trust and in good faith.]

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  There is a girl, Asia Bibi, in Lahore, Pakistan who has been on death row since 2010, accused of blasphemy and she has time and again said that she is innocent; but, however, Lahore's high court has confirmed her sentence that she is supposed to be hanged, but we don't know when that is going to happen.  Can the Secretary‑General also call the President of Pakistan to give this person another chance?  Because it's a very tenuous charge.  So have you heard about this case and does the Secretary‑General know about this?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports; but clearly the Secretary‑General's position on the death penalty and his opposition to the death penalty is clear and well-known and obviously there needs to be… I think the issue, the general issue of tolerance for religious minorities is a critical one and people need to be… the minorities need to be respected and their rights to worship needs to be respected.

Question:  Will the Secretary‑General then basically call on Pakistan's President?

Spokesman:  If I have anything more on that, I will let you know.  Abdul Hamid? 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In fact, I was waiting to hear one word in your briefing about the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which is being celebrated as we speak.  There is a meeting in the Trusteeship Council and I think the Secretary‑General is there and he will give a statement, and the President of the Security Council, and the whole day is instead of the 29th, because it's Saturday and there will be few people in the UN, so the UN decided to celebrate it today, so I expect it to be mentioned. 

Spokesman:  You know, we… obviously the Secretary‑General's statement will be very public.  We don't usually flag his statements ahead of time.  But he is speaking, I think, in about 15 minutes and I would encourage you to listen to what he has to say and then we can…

Question:  Yeah, but the UN-Women, it was mentioned about the International Day of combatting violence against women. 

Spokesman:  That's because this is an activity the Secretary‑General already did this morning.

Question:  Then I have another question. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  Yes, sir? 

Question:  The other question is that the UN is known for its important, instrumental role in apartheid regime in South Africa.  And now we are witnessing another apartheid system after the Israeli cabinet on Sunday passed a new law defining Israel as the home of the Jewish people, which means 20 per cent of the population of Israel will be treated differently, and even they decided to cancel or to abolish Arabic language as an official language.  So it's a step and it will be followed by new laws which talk about the loyalty for the State and it might go into that road full speed, the apartheid.  I expect also a statement on this important development. 

Spokesman:  We obviously are watching this situation very closely.  As you know, it is not a law yet.  It is something that has been discussed in the cabinet.  It has not come up to the Parliament, to the Knesset; but obviously it's something we are watching very closely.  Yes, Anna? 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just want to say welcome to NYU students.  You are in the right place, you know, the UN, the roof of the world. 

Spokesman:  Ask me a question, thank you.

Question:  I have two questions on Africa actually.  The situation there is pretty concerning.  First one is on Sudan.  It's been reported that on Sunday negotiations started between Sudanese Government and two rebel parties which are going on in Ethiopia; and Thabo Mbeki, actually from African Union, he is the mediator in these negotiations.  These are very important.  And UN reported that 300,000 people died in this conflict and 2 million are displaced.  What is UN doing to facilitate these negotiations, maybe taking part or monitoring somehow?

Spokesman:  If I'm not mistaken, the number two person in the UN mission, in UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], is currently there at the talks to participate.  And, obviously, we encourage all the parties to come to an agreement, to successfully conclude these talks.

Question:  Will we hear back some results from that?

Spokesman:  Let's see.  If we have something to report, we will report it back to you.

Question:  The second question is on Nigeria, actually.  It's been reported that a horrible massacre took place this past Thursday, when 48 fish vendors were slaughtered, some of them were drowned in Lake Chad, the others were, you know, their throats were slit and stuff like that, really gory and horrific.  And Boko Haram, again, is to blame.  What is UN doing to stop this horrific organization?  Because we were talking always, "bring back our girls", you know, these 200 girls that went missing.  But unfortunately were we not only… we were not able to recover them but these terrific acts of violence are still ongoing and we seem not to be able to stop them. 

Spokesman:  Clearly, I think, what we saw over the weekend with the fisherman was another abhorrent crime, a group like Boko Haram showing absolute, complete disregard for human life, for any basic tenet of civilization.  The UN, through its office in West Africa, is working with the Governments most impacted, including Nigeria, to encourage them to address this at a regional level.  And, obviously, the issue of terrorism needs to be addressed in a police and military manner, in ways that are in line with international human rights standards.  But also needs to be the issues of… development issues also need to be addressed if we are going to address this in the long term.  But this is an issue we clearly are following very closely.

Question:  Do you think UN peacekeepers at some point might get involved? 

Spokesman:  I think we have been through this; the dispatching of UN peacekeepers is something that is solely within the remit of the Security Council.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Darfur, predominately about the… what steps UNAMID has taken to investigate or reinvestigate the alleged rapes in Thabit and also if you can both confirm and comment on the request made by the Sudanese Government that UNAMID prepare a plan to leave Sudan.  Apparently UNAMID has confirmed it got this.  What does the Secretary‑General think of the Government essentially saying get out of one of its largest missions at this time?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the joint mission because, as you will recall, it's both the UN and an AU mission, is preparing a strategic review, which will be presented to the Security Council early next year.  The determination as to whether to continue or to withdraw the Mission will be a decision made by the Security Council. 

On the town that you mentioned, on investigating these, the accusations of mass rapes, we continue to wait for the approval and clearance of the Government to send, to go in there either by air or by road.

Question:  And can I ask, there is now a… Radio Dabanga is reporting and quoting people about additional rapes in East Jabal Marra in two separate incidents and I'm wondering if UNAMID aware of these?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware they are aware, but we will check with the Mission.

Question:  Do you have anything… on DRC, as you probably know, they are different and they are pretty wildly different and very troubling casualty counts and some people say up to 100 people were killed with axes around Beni and some people say 50.  So it seems like it's, I mean, it's always serious, but is there any plan for the Force Intervention Brigade to try to neutralize the ADF [Alliance of Democratic Forces]?  Does the UN think the ADF is responsible?  What is gonna be the response to 100 deaths?

Spokesman:  I think we have sent in people to the region to try to figure out exactly what has happened and to also protect the civilians, and I think the call for all militias operating in the country in that area to disarm has been made over and over again.  Yes, ma'am? 

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment about the multiple credible reports of massacres of ethnic Russians in East Ukraine?  Evidently in the City of Mariupol, the hospitals report being inundated with rape victims and the term "Moskals" is being used for the ethnic Ukrainians and that is a pejorative, which is the equivalent of the pejorative that is used for Jews and for blacks.  The term ethnic cleansing is beginning to appear. 

Spokesman:  I think, you know, these issues are one of the reasons the UN Secretary‑General has pushed for the continuing presence of human rights monitor, who do their regular reporting, obviously, any reports of mass rape of ethnic… of attacks based on ethnicity would be very troubling.  And I think the Secretary‑General would reiterate his call to all parties to recommit themselves to the spirit and to the letter of what was signed in Minsk.  Yes, Anna? 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Continuing the topic of Ukraine, it has been reported that there were mass protests in Ukraine and Kiev, Independence Square, during Joe Biden's visit to this country.  Do you have a comment on this?

Spokesman:  People have a right to demonstrate peacefully.  Yes, sir? 

Question:  Okay, maybe a long shot, but I know that the Secretary‑General met with Chuck Hagel in April 2013 and said it had to do with UN peacekeeping, et cetera.  Now that Chuck Hagel has resigned, does he have any comment at all?  Does he have any thoughts of what the transition at the US Department of Defense should make for US peacekeeping?  Any reaction?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, I think, obviously, we are not involved in the selection process of the next Secretary of Defense, if that is what you are implying.  But I would say that I know Chuck Hagel has been a friend of the United Nations and I know the Secretary‑General has very much enjoyed his working relationship with Mr. Hagel.  Thank you.  Okay, Abdel Hamid, you get the last question for once.

Question:  There were elections in Bahrain on Saturday, the opposition main group boycotted the elections — if there is any statement?  And also there were presidential elections in Tunisia yesterday which went smoothly and in a very civilized manner.  So is there any comment on this?

Spokesman:  No.  On Bahrain I don't have anything for you except obviously what the Secretary‑General had said in advance of those elections.  On Tunisia, we are obviously very pleased that the elections went over smoothly and the UN country team had been providing technical support.  And my understanding is that there may be a second round and we hope that goes smoothly, as well.

Question:  Did you have anything on Iran?

Spokesman:  No, I did not.  I will have something shortly for you and we will squawk it out.  Okay, thank you all.



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