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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

13 January 2015

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

Good afternoon, everyone. 

**Secretary-General's Travels

The Secretary-General has departed India, following a day in which he met with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.  He also planted a tree at the Ministry of the Environment.

The Secretary-General spoke to reporters after meeting the Environment Minister, and said that he counts on the continuing leadership role of India in the ongoing efforts to address climate change issues.  He welcomed India's use of innovative technologies, such as the Canal Top Solar Power Plant that he saw during his visit to Gujarat.  He added:  "Nature does not wait for us.  Nature does not negotiate with us." Rather, he said, it is up to human beings to make sure that our world will be environmentally sustainable.  The transcript of that press encounter is online.  The Secretary-General and President Mukherjee discussed Security Council reform, sustainable development and climate change, as well as terrorism. 

**Security Council

The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, briefed the Security Council this morning.  She said that, during the past six months, the country continued to make important progress towards sustainable peace and sustained economic recovery.  But, she said that work still needs to be done in areas such as the fight against impunity and the reform of the security sector. 

The Special Representative said that as Côte d'Ivoire embarks on an election year, the country still needs support to ensure a conducive environment and to sustain the gains made so far.  She also noted that the UN [Operation] in the country, UNOCI, started to reduce its troops on 1 December, as requested by the Security Council.  She added that the mission had been restructured to be more mobile and visible, and better prepared to ensure the protection of civilians. 

**Darfur

The joint African Union-United Nations [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur, UNAMID, reports that, on 11 January, in North Darfur, a mission team going from the Tawilla Team Site to Martalat, north-east of Jebel Marra, was stopped at a Sudanese Armed Forces checkpoint.  The team was on its way to verify alleged human rights violations resulting from reported clashes around Jebel Marra.  UNAMID says that despite attempts to negotiate access, the team was not allowed to proceed and had to return to base.  The mission is raising this incident with Sudanese authorities.

**Nigeria

On Nigeria, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that it deeply deplores the vicious, ruthless attacks against civilians in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Baga, where Boko Haram has reportedly been operating since 3 January.  It adds that while the exact details remain unclear, it is fairly certain that mass killings and mass forced displacement have occurred.  The human rights office is urging the Nigerian authorities to redouble their efforts to create conditions for an effective investigation into the incidents in the north-east of the country, with a view to establishing the facts surrounding the killings and holding the perpetrators accountable. 

It also urges the Nigerian Government to act swiftly to restore law and order, while ensuring that security operations are conducted in line with international law and full respect for human rights. 

**Nepal

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is currently in Nepal, in his second visit to the country.  He met today with Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Constituent Assembly Chairman Subas Nembang, the Chief of Staff of the army, and party leaders.  Mr. Feltman conveyed the Secretary-General's strong support for Nepal's peace process and his appreciation for Nepal having more than 5,000 uniformed personnel in UN peacekeeping operations.  He also underscored the importance of concluding the work on drafting a new constitution, a key element of the peace process.

**Japan

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, is currently in Tokyo, Japan, for a series of meetings with Japanese officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence.  Tomorrow, he will also visit the Japan Peacekeeping and Training & Research Center.  And on Thursday, Mr. Ladsous will deliver the key note speech at the annual symposium organized by the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters. 

**Middle East

UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] has delivered warm clothing, blankets, heating supplies, cash and vouchers to more than 900,000 children in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey as the harsh winter season continues. 

In Syria, UNICEF winter supplies have reached 350,000 children and the distribution continues nationwide.  UNICEF Lebanon's winter items and vouchers have been provided to 200,000 children in the most exposed areas of the country, including in elevated areas such as Aarsal.  UNICEF teams are working to reach a total of 478,000 children in the coming weeks. 

In Jordan, UNICEF winter kits and cash assistance have benefitted 100,000 vulnerable Syrian refugee children and their families in camps and communities.  In Turkey, the winter response has reached 62,000 children, including 22,000 children from Kobane who are in Suruc.  And in Iraq, winter clothing kits have been distributed to more than 200,000 children in over 100 hard-to-reach and high altitude areas.

**Press Conferences

This afternoon, at 3 p.m., here in this room, there will be a briefing by An Myong Hun, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).  And then, tomorrow, at 10 a.m., the Permanent Mission of Spain will hold a press conference here to launch the NGO Peace and Cooperation school award called "Technology for Peace:  The Great Challenge".  That's it from me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Joe.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I might have missed this, but did you indicate when the Secretary‑General is expected to return to New York?  And has any thought been given to his making a stop in France to provide personal moral support to the people of France in light of tragic events of last week?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, the Secretary‑General's heart goes out to the people of France, and you'll have seen the message we issued over the weekend, where he did, in fact, try to give his support to what was happening with the rally in France.  That rally was attended on the Secretary‑General's behalf by Staffan de Mistura acting as Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General.  As for the Secretary‑General's own travels, as we've announced previously, he's on his way right now is basically a travel day, and he's on his way to Honduras where he will get to Tegucigalpa tomorrow, and then after that, he'll visit El Salvador.  He should be back in New York at the start of next week.  Yes, Evelyn.  Yes, microphone, please?

Question:  Sorry about that.  Thank you, Farhan.  On the same subject, was it not possible for him to fly in from India quickly?  It's not that far to go to the big march, and was he invited to go in the front row or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General was considering whether he should cut short his trip to India.  In the end, he decided to stay on with his programme and, like I said, Mr. de Mistura did represent the Secretary‑General.  You've seen we put out a lengthy statement on Sunday in support of the march while he was still in Ahmedabad.  And it was very clear from that, as we said in the statement itself, that the Secretary‑General declared his strong commitment to the central work of countering extremism, fighting anti-Semitism and upholding the rights to freedom and expression.  And he'll continue to press those points and those arguments as these events continue to unfold.  But, certainly, even though he was not there personally, his thoughts were with the people of France, and like I said, Mr. de Mistura represented the UN system.

Question:  Yes, US and UN, but it wasn't possible for the Deputy Secretary‑General to go there, or there was just no high‑level representation that was commented by anybody in the world press, but in this room, and I… I'm… I like Mr. de Mistura, but it's not the same thing.

Deputy Spokesman:  And you know as well as I do that Mr. de Mistura would contend that he constitutes very high-level representation, indeed.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economic minister, posted recently that he was behind the killing of almost 100 civilians in Qana in 1996 in the UN camp.  What is the United Nations doing to pursue this case, if someone of this rank is bragging that he was responsible for killing so many people in a UN camp?

Deputy Spokesman:  You'll have seen what we've said in the past, that is to say, many years before, about the events in Qana and the reports that we issued at that time and the views contained in them still hold.  We don't have anything further to say since then, although I know that the matter has resurfaced in the media there.

Question:  But there were many resolutions in the General Assembly, also the report of the [Secretary-General] at the time was condemning for this attack.  Shouldn't that be pursued on a legal matter?  This person's coming out and saying, "I'm responsible for that."  Is it… somewhere accountability in this case?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything further to say beyond what we did.  We tried to pursue accountability at the time, in the immediate aftermath.  And as you will have seen, we took actions then, including in the reports and in the resolutions pursued by the General Assembly.  Beyond that, I don't have anything further to say for the latest developments, but we did take action at the time.  Yes, in the… hold on.  There are other people asking questions.  Yes, please.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Laila with IPS.  Just backtracking to last week with the UN's sort of immunity from being accountable and having lawsuits against it for the outbreak of cholera in Haiti.  Just to know, we learned from a Reuters report that the UN is still reviewing that decision and it's still committed to eliminating cholera in Haiti.  So, just to know if… and hear it from you, if the UN has an official stance in terms of accountability, and if the Secretary‑General is expected to make a statement on that on his forthcoming visit to Haiti?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's no forthcoming visit to Haiti to announce on the Secretary‑General's part.  He'll be going, like I said, to Honduras and El Salvador.  Regarding your other points, yes, we have taken note of the decision that was made in a US court on Friday, and we welcomed it, and we'll review that further.  But beyond that, our focus now is where it should be, which is to say on eliminating cholera as much as we possibly can to in Haiti.  So, the United Nations is working with the Government of Haiti to make sure the National Action Plan developed by the Government of Haiti can be implemented, can be supported, can get international funds, and if that plan is carried out, we can continue to bring the rate of infections down and try to eliminate the disease.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  You said earlier that there's been mass displacements in Nigeria by Boko Haram.  Are there efforts being made to track these people?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, we've been in touch with the Nigerian authorities.  We're trying to see what information we can get about the displacements that have occurred.  You have seen what… you heard what I just read out from the human rights office and their concerns, and as you're aware, the Secretary‑General issued his own statement about the attacks in Baga and the areas in Borno State in recent days.  So, those are our concerns.  If we have any role to play in terms of humanitarian aid, we stand ready to be informed of that by the Government and the authorities of Nigeria.  But, at this stage, the words we have from the human tights office and the Secretary‑General are where we stand on this.  Ozlem?

Correspondent:  I was late a little bit [inaudible]…

Deputy Spokesman:  Your microphone doesn't seem to be working.  Try again?

Question:  I'm sorry.  Sorry.  Sorry for that.  I was late a little bit.  I was just wondering if the UNFICYP [United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus] report for Cyprus has been released.  I know there's an advance report, but I just wonder if it is officially released and when?  Also, can I get some information about the visit of Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide after he meets the leaders, please?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, well, you saw what we had to say last week about his visit.  If we get any further updates once Mr. Eide has met with the Cypriot leaders, we'll try to provide it at the time.  As for the report, the UNFICYP report, I do believe it's scheduled to have gone to the Security Council.  I don't think it's a public document, yet, but hopefully, that will happen fairly shortly.  So, if you're in touch with our colleagues who handle documents, they can let you know when it will be out on the web and in print.   Nizar?

Question:  Does the UN consider Jabhat al‑Nusra a Syrian armed opposition?

Deputy Spokesman:  You've seen what we've had to say about Jabhat al‑Nusra.  I'd just refer to you the reports of Secretary‑General.  Meanwhile, Mr. de Mistura will continue with his talks with the wide range of opposition members.

Question:  Okay.  Why is it… for example, when they kidnapped the 44 Fijians last August and September, it was clear that Jabhat al-Nusra kidnapped them and they were released after negotiating with Jabhat al‑Nusra.  Now, the recent report we received a few minutes ago, not even an hour even ago, says they were kidnapped by armed opposition members, armed Syrian opposition members.  So why are… why is this confusion about naming about Jabhat al‑Nusra here?

Deputy Spokesman:  The language of the report is based on what information we have that can be verified.  I wouldn't have anything further to say.

Correspondent:  But the Secretary‑General…

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard what we had to say at the time about the involvement of Jabhat al‑Nusra.  I don't have anything fresh to say about that incident from some months back.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  The last report by the Secretary‑General on the Golan states clearly that Jabhat al‑Nusra is there and kidnapping happened at the hands of Jabhat al‑Nusra.  So, in this recent report, they're trying to exonerate them from… by saying "armed opposition group".

Deputy Spokesman:  There's no effort to exonerate anyone.  You've seen what we've had to say and the criticisms we've made.  We continue to insist that none of the groups hinder or harass, let alone detain, the members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Farhan, China is trying to broker peace talks between the warring parties in South Sudan in Khartoum.  Is the United Nations playing any role in this at all?  Are they monitoring it or are they participating?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything at this stage to say about China's efforts.  You've seen both the efforts that the UN Mission in South Sudan has been making through its Special Representative, as well as the efforts that we've encouraged that are under the aegis of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, IGAD.  So, those are where we've focused on.  Of course, we appreciate any efforts to try to bring the leaders together and finally bring this long-running crisis to an end.  And if I have anything further to say about any specific details on that, I'll let you know at that point.  But, I don't have that right now.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment about the situation in Saudi Arabia of Raif Badawi being flogged in public?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we've expressed our concerns several times in recent days.  You probably weren't around to hear it, but the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office has expressed its particular concerns about this, which the Secretary‑General shares, in terms of the severity of that sentence.  We have been in touch with our Saudi counterparts and have made our views known to them about our particular concerns.  The one thing to point out is that Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and the Committee against Torture has also pointed out in the past its own concerns about the way that flogging is implemented in Saudi Arabia.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With the unfolding incident taking place in Europe, France with the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, yesterday in Germany, there was an anti-Islamic, far extreme right‑wing rallies in the City of Dresden that attracted 40,000 and counterdemonstrations.  How does the Secretary‑General see this expansion of the far-right movements in Europe on all sides in the light of his statement during the end-of-year press conference, where he warned explicitly about the far-right movement targeting Muslim communities?  Is there any idea the Secretary‑General taking the lead on this issue by, say, hosting an international conference to discuss this matters since there are innocent people who are usually targeted, and people who are in a vulnerable positions like immigrants in Europe?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General made clear, not just in his press conference last year, but even in more recent days, his worries about the targeting of Muslims and of migrant communities, as well.  The Secretary‑General is worried that the sort of repercussions caused by the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo's offices, as well as other parts of France could have repercussions in terms of the scapegoating and targeting of Muslims in other countries.  And he warned over the weekend that to allow for such a thing to happen is to play into the hands of the terrorists themselves.  He wants to make sure that the communities of the world, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or secular or whatever else, can unite together and can, therefore, in their unity defeat the forces of division and hatred that he feels could harm all of their interests.  So, he's been very clear on that.  He's spoken out and will continue to speak out, both against the sort of terrorist attacks we've seen against Charlie Hebdo, the anti‑Semitic targeting of a kosher delicatessen in Paris, as well as the attacks that have been harassing Muslims in places like Germany.  So, we want to make sure that people can unite together and will do whatever we can to make sure that that unity can be fostered.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Is there any attempt being made to link the deteriorating economic situation in Europe and actually in many countries throughout the globe to the rise of extreme right‑wing movements?  I do remember when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington[, D.C.], there was, at one point, the statement that 23 million Germans were confronting starvation at the time that the Nazi Party was in power in Germany.  And there seems to be very dangerous trend in that direction linked… it would appear to…

Deputy Spokesman:  Carla, it's… yes, it's true that there are many times when poverty can give rise to extremism.  What we, of course, have been trying to do at the United Nations is make sure that mass poverty is eradicated.  One of the Millennium Development Goals, as you know, is the effort to cut poverty worldwide by half.  And thanks to advances in many parts of the world, including in China, we've made some progress on that goal.  But, there are many other things that need to happen to mobilize people against the forces of extremism.  And we also keep trying to foster tolerance, dialogue and understanding.  So, that can happen, as well.  But, yes, to the extent that the economy plays a part, we, of course, encourage economic development that benefits a large number of people, so that that, in turn, does not become a breeding ground for extremism.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  I want to go back to the statement that the Secretary‑General made last week concerning the terrorist attack in France.  He indi-… he talked about violent extremism, terrorism and so forth, but I think he, as I recall, made it clear, at least in his view, that there was no relationship to any religious doctrines or underlying ideology that animated the violence.  I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General has reviewed and given consideration to a speech made earlier this month by Egyptian President [Abdelfattah] el‑Sisi at Al‑Azhar University in which he addressed the imams there and said there needs to be a revolution in terms of thinking in Islam and that the scholarly works have become so entrenched that they would cause, in his words, antagonism with the rest of the world.  So, I'm wondering to what extent the Secretary‑General is factoring in those thoughts in his own reflections.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, we have a programme called the Alliance of Civilizations, which tries to look at issues of how religions are interacting with each other and tries to see ways in which that can be improved.  So, the Alliance of Civilizations continues as an initiative to try to work out issues of tolerance and understanding amongst religions, to foster basically a better environment for them.  And he does encourage efforts among… in each religion to move towards an attitude of greater tolerance and greater understanding.  And to that extent, away from the sort of extremism that we've seen from some different groups.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, what is the United Nations view regarding the publishing of insulting cartoons by many publications, not just Charlie Hebdo?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has made clear the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech.  As he said last week after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, an attack against those principles is an attack on the very cornerstones of democracy.  And he continues to believe that.  He understands the need to respect people's religions.  He understands the need for tolerance.  But ultimately, one of the things that is sacrosanct is the idea that freedom of expression should be protected.  Yes, Sara and then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Follow‑up to my question about jailed blogger Raif Badawi, he received 50 lashes last Friday and he's set to receive another 50 lashes this Friday, for a total sentence of 1,000 lashes being beaten with a cane.  Are there any ongoing efforts in your dealings to get that sentence commuted?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been talking to the Saudi authorities, and we've made our views known about our concerns.  So, we'll see whether that can have any results.  You don't have a question anymore?  Okay.  Evelyn, do you still have a question?

Question:  Yes, briefly on… I'm confused about what's happening with the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army], the rebel leader, who was captured.  Does the US still have him?  Is he in the [Central African Republic]?  Is he going to get to the ICC [International Criminal Court]?  Have you been following that or has the UN been following that?

Deputy Spokesman:  The UN has been following that.  Because of the delicacy of the situation, I don't have anything to announce to you on this just now.  But, hopefully, in the coming days, we'll be able to express more clarity about where this particular suspect will end up.  At this stage, we'll let the dialogue proceed on the ground, however.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Concerning the informal meeting at the General Assembly on anti-Semitism on the twenty-second, is the Secretary‑General attending or do you have plans to send someone?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe either the Secretary‑General or the Deputy Secretary‑General will attend that, depending upon availability.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.



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