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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

23 January 2015

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

Good afternoon. 

**Secretary-General's Travels

The Secretary-General is continuing his visit to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum.  He began his day with a press conference on UN-Women's "HeForShe" campaign, which also featured UN-Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.  He said in his statement that our world will not change until men think differently about their roles and about what it means to be a man.  He said that can be done most successfully when men are enlisted to speak to other men.

The Secretary-General participated also in the World Economic Forum's plenary sessions on the theme, "Tackling Climate, Development and Growth".  He said that we are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail in upholding our moral and historical responsibilities, he said.

The Secretary-General also took part in an event with business leaders on creating coalitions for concrete action on climate change, followed by meetings with the head of the World Wildlife Fund, as well as with finance leaders.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will have several bilateral meetings and then will end his stay in Davos.

**Saudi Arabia

As you saw yesterday, we issued a statement last night expressing the Secretary-General's sadness at the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia.  The Secretary-General pays tribute to King Abdullah's efforts to address regional and international challenges at a time of turmoil and rapid change, and to promote dialogue among the world's faiths.  As the driving force behind the Arab Peace Initiative, King Abdullah left a tangible legacy that can still point the way towards peace in the Middle East.  The Secretary-General is also grateful for the King Abdullah's generous humanitarian and developmental support for people across the Arab region and the wider world.  And that statement was issued last night and the Secretary-General also mentioned it in his press conference in Davos.


And we also issued a statement yesterday in Yemen where the Secretary-General expressed his serious concern about developments in the country, where the President [Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi] and Prime Minister [Khaled Bahah] have submitted their resignations.  In these uncertain times in the country, the Secretary-General calls on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and maintain peace and stability.  As you're aware, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, is in Sana'a, where he is consulting closely with all sides to help find a way forward from the current crisis.  The Secretary-General again urges all sides to remain fully engaged with Mr. Benomar in his efforts.


And on Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues say they are deeply concerned by reports that a hospital operated by the international humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in South Kordofan State was directly targeted in an aerial bombardment incident on 20 January.  A patient and an MSF staff member were reportedly injured in the attack, which also forced the suspension of medical activities.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that this is the second such attack on the hospital, which is located in the village of Farandela, in the past seven months.  It stresses that the targeting of medical facilities is a serious violation of customary international humanitarian law.

The UN continues to call on all parties in the conflict in Sudan to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular in relation to the protection of civilians and to ensure safe, timely and unhindered access to humanitarian organizations.

**South Sudan

And a statement we are issuing right now:  The Secretary-General welcomes the Agreement on the Reunification of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed by the South Sudanese parties, in Arusha, on 21 January.  He calls for its immediate implementation, particularly the recommitment of President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement, and encourages the signatories to resolve the leadership issues within the SPLM.

The Secretary-General reminds the parties that time is running out.  He urges them to use the opportunity of the forthcoming IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development] Summit to reach a final agreement to the end of the conflict, including a power-sharing formula and measures to address its root causes and ensure accountability.  And that statement is now online.


And from Mali, the Secretary-General's Special Representative there [Hamdi Mongi] and his Chief of the Mediation, Ramtane Lamamra, have held consultations with concerned parties regarding the incidents in Tabankort these last few days and the overall tension in the region. 

They both reiterated the parties' obligations under international humanitarian law and urged them to create the necessary climate for the peace process to resume in February.  They called for an immediate end to hostilities and for the respect of their commitments under the ceasefire agreements that they have signed.  There is more information in a press release from the UN Mission.

**Central African Republic

And just to flag from our colleagues at the [Office of the] High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the Central African Republic:  UNHCR and 18 partners presented today the Regional Refugee Response Plan to assist more than 460,000 refugees from the Central African Republic who have fled to the neighbouring countries.

The plan calls for $331 million to provide food, clean water, shelter, health and protection, and other basic services to refugees from the Central African Republic who are currently in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo.  According to UNHCR, nearly 10 per cent of the population of the Central African Republic now currently lives in exile.  And that update is also available from UNHCR on its website.


And our other colleagues at the [Office of the] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today in Geneva that more than 5,000 people have now been killed since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.  The Human Rights Office says that the killing of civilians when an artillery shell hit a bus stopping for passengers in Donetsk yesterday further emphasizes the impact of the ongoing hostilities on civilians.

The Organization remains concerned about the lack of implementation of the 12 provisions of the Minsk Protocol and the continuing presence of foreign fighters in the east.  It reminds all parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians and requires that all necessary measures be taken to ensure the safety and protection of civilians.


And our colleague Sigrid Kaag, the new UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, has arrived in Beirut, where she met today with Prime Minister Tamam Salam.  She said after that meeting that they had discussed the stability and security of Lebanon and the importance of finding an early mechanism to elect a President of Lebanon.  They reviewed the security situation in the south, as well as the incident in Qunaitra, and Ms. Kaag also underscored the statement by the Secretary-General urging all parties to refrain from any actions that could directly or indirectly lead to an escalation of the current situation.


And regarding Syria, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has allocated some $100 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to boost life-saving relief work in Syria and 11 other countries where humanitarian needs are high, but financial support is low.  In the first of the two annual rounds of CERF funding to support under-funded emergencies, some $77.5 million will go to countries affected by the Syria crisis.  The highest single allocation will go to Syria, with $30 million, and the remainder will go to humanitarian agencies in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, which are hosting, as you know, a large population of Syrian refugees.


And the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, James Rawley, expressed concern today over the Israeli authorities' recent spate of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  He said that in the past three days, 77 Palestinians, over half of them children, have been made homeless.  And his statement is available online. 

**El Salvador

And from El Salvador, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomes the ground-breaking decision of the Salvadorian Legislative Assembly to pardon Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana — a 23-year-old domestic worker who suffered a miscarriage at the age of 18 after reportedly being raped.  She had been convicted of aggravated homicide because of that.  Colleagues at OHCHR say it's encouraged by the decision to pardon Guadalupe and welcome the steps taken to review each case in line with due process standards.  It hopes that the efforts will be made to reform the legal framework on sexual and reproductive rights in line with the recommendations from a number of human rights bodies.


And yesterday, you saw that we announced the advisory group of experts on peacebuilding; following up on a request by the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council, the Secretary-General announced yesterday his nomination of the following experts to form an Advisory Group on the review of the peacebuilding architecture.  They are:  Anis Bajwa of Pakistan; Saraswathi Menon of India; Funmi Olonisakin of Nigeria; Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah of Mauritania; Charles Petrie of France; Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala; and Edith Grace Ssempala of Uganda.  And the full terms of reference of the panel is in my office. 

**Honour Roll

And lastly, our daily honour roll:  I am pleased to announce that Bulgaria and Thailand have paid their dues in time and in full to the regular budget, which brings the total number of Member States who have paid in full to 12 — so we still have a way to go.  Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah.  In the statement you read out concerning Ukraine, you referred to foreign fighters in the east.  So, I'd like to know whether this really is intended to refer to Russian fighters, and if so, why was that not specified?

Spokesman:  This was an observation from our colleagues in the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I would refer you to them.  Obviously, it refers to fighters who are not Ukrainians.  Kirsten and then Raghida.  Your microphone, please?

Question:  Can you give us any more information on the situation in Yemen and what the Special Envoy is seeing there?  There's reports that the Houthis may try to form a presidential council of some sort.  Would the UN deal with them if they did that?  Are they… is he trying to get President Hadi back into the scene?  What's the way forward there?

Spokesman:  I think right now we're in… he's in deep discussion mode, so I don't want to get ahead of whatever may come out.  But, as I said, he is in touch with various players in Yemen.  I think this is a very uncertain and unstable time in the capital.  And he's really making the rounds.

Question:  This is a follow‑up on this question, actually.  Why can't we know with whom he's meeting?  The country's in shambles right now.  The president resigned.  Is he speaking with the Houthis, the leadership?  Who is he speaking with, Jamal Benomar… to do what?  I think we need a little more than what you just said.  And if you're not in a position to do it now, can you kindly take the questions and give us the answers?

Spokesman:  I always take questions kindly.  I will try to bring you the answers.  What I'm saying is that I think this is, as we saw, a time of deep uncertainty in Sana'a.  He is trying to meet as many people as possible.  We're letting him focus on his work.  When he's ready to share an update with us, we will share it with you immediately.

Question:  But to do what?  What is he trying to do?

Spokesman:  Well, to bring back some semblance of calm and stability and to find a political way forward.

Question:  Is that…?

Spokesman:  You know, what I think we see right now in Yemen is not only the political instability, but also the result of that instability where the number of people in need of humanitarian aid has gone way past 15 million, 15.9 million people, which is more than the total number of people who need help in the Sahel, to give us a point of reference.  So, there is an urgent need to… for the country to return to stability.  And that's what he's working on.

Question:  Is it the view of the United Nations and Jamal Benomar that this would require the return of the president to power?  Is this part of his mission:  to convince the president to step back into office rather than out?

Spokesman:  His focus is to try to find… help them find and return to stability and to find a political solution.  I'm not aware of any preconditions.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  One question that the Under‑Secretary‑General [Hervé] Ladsous declined to answer yesterday is what the UN has done in the case of the Panzi hospital, the hospital that deals with rape victims there, basically being closed and had its bank accounts frozen by the Government.  What has the UN done about that in the weeks since this has taken place?

Spokesman:  I will ask the Mission and see if I can get an update for you.

Question:  What's the UN's count of casualties in the electoral violence there?  FIDH [International Federation for Human Rights] says it's 42.  Human Rights Watch says 35.  And apparently, at least as of yesterday, the UN said 10.  How can you explain this low number?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, I think the… you know, we're relying on some of our local sources.  These demonstrations are, by their very nature, rather chaotic, and it's not always easy to get an exact count.  I think what… the sad thing is that there have been deaths, and I think the Secretary‑General, through his Special Representative, have called on the authorities to ensure people's peaceful right to demonstrate and has also called on the demonstrators to demonstrate peacefully.

Question:  Can I ask one more thing?  The overall question is, if, in fact, it's a Government that the UN and others are criticizing for killing unarmed demonstrators, how do you square that with this being the Government whose signature you're waiting to attack another armed group?  Are you going to continue to have the same partnership with the Government, given what's happened?

Spokesman:  I think… the Government in Kinshasa is the Government in Kinshasa.  The operation against the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] is a critical one and it's important that we do this with the Government.  Erol?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Just to put a little more light on what's going on in Cyprus.  As you know, the president of Greek side of Cyprus, to say like that, was very dissatisfied with the latest report on Secretary‑General on Cyprus.  Also… and sorry for not mentioning the name, the UN representative said that talks on Cyprus are going nowhere.  Can you please share with us what's going on, really?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the… Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide said what he said based on his interpretation of the current situation.  There's been no change to that assessment.  The Secretary‑General reported to the Security Council his report; as often with reports of the Secretary‑General on various issues and various national issues, various issues in general, sometimes there's criticism.  Sometimes they welcome the report.  There is really no… we're not going to get into a tit-for-tat with people commenting of that report.  Obviously, it's the Secretary‑General's report.  And he stands by it.

Question:  What direction the talks are going from the…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think… you know, Mr. Eide, I think, commented on that, said they were not going in the right direction.  Carmen?

Question:  Thank you.  In Cuba, some Cuban human rights activists have asked that there be a road map regarding any talks between Cuba and the US Government, but that it should also be conditioned to human rights.  Will the Secretariat be willing to facilitate this dialogue between the Cuban Government and the Cuban civil society?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General, as we had said a few weeks ago, very much welcomed this renewed dialogue between Havana and Washington, D.C, and has always said that he stood ready to assist them in any way we can.  Obviously, this discussion is ongoing.  I think this is day two of the more granular talks.  We'll have to see what comes out of it.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Got a few questions.  One is about Nigeria.  Nigeria has said that, one, that it's intending to call home its peacekeepers, presumably from UN missions, to fight Boko Haram, but they also have said from its senior security official that they have no need for the UN or African Union to fight Boko Haram.  So, I wanted to know, I mean, they… they… there's this multinational force they're trying to form.  Is there any kind of UN planning or any other role in that?  And also, has DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] been informed of the pullout of Nigerian peacekeepers?

Spokesman:  No, we've not been informed officially by the Nigerians.  We've seen the press reports, like you have, and obviously, you know, just to restate the fact that Nigeria is a critical partner to UN peacekeeping in terms of their contribution of troops in various places.  There will be meetings on Boko Haram, the situation with Boko Haram, on the sidelines of the African Union Summit, which the Secretary‑General will participate, and we'll probably get some more information for you at that point.

Question:  Given how serious… not just the bringing back our girls, but it seems to be escalating the number of people killed.  I guess, is the UN offering or urging Nigeria to accept outside assistance to confront this?

Spokesman:  Obviously, what is going on in Nigeria, the scourge of Boko Haram and other extremist groups operating in that area, is not a Nigerian problem only.  It's one that has impacts in the region and further afield in the continent.  And it's important that the international community as a whole work together in addressing this problem.  Linda and then we'll go back to Erol.  Your microphone, please, Linda.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Regarding ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham], ISIS or whatever you like to… however you'd like to refer to it, how much access does the UN have to those people affected by the ISIL's actions, both in Iraq and Syria?  Are there any latest developments?

Spokesman: Very… very limited access, obviously, if not… if any to the areas under the strict control of the group.  What we… where we are working is with the population who fled those areas and who are in need of… humanitarian needs.  The Secretary‑General's latest report on humanitarian access is due out very soon to the Security Council.  We'll be able to share it with you.  Go?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the freedom of speech in general, you said that the Secretary‑General is always for the freedom of speech and the press, but at same time you said yesterday that he's strongly against the hate speech.  Could you give us the definition of the hate speech for the United Nations?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General has always stood firm in defence of freedom of expression, which is a basic human right.  I think we're aware that in some countries, there are moves to criminalize or regulate so‑called hate speech.  I think you had quite an extensive press conference on that yesterday with both representatives of Germany and France.  I think, from our standpoint, we understand the reasoning behind such a decision, but there's also… it's important that any new laws are there to ensure that these laws are applied equally to all, so that the laws themselves do not generate further discord or perception of double standards.

Question:  I have a follow-up on that point.  I guess I wanted to know… I've been meaning to ask this for a few days.  In France, I mean, after the understandable, and I guess, laudable rallying around the cartoons and the right to draw what you want, the comedian Dieudonné was arrested for something he posted on Facebook.  And I wanted to know… really, it's a pretty… when you say equals, are you referring to that?  What does the Secretary‑General think of the arrest of a comedian right after the Government championed another form of satire?

Spokesman:  I understand.  I'm not going to get into the details of that particular case, but I think if you… if I could reread what I just said, I think it's important that any laws that are there to criminalize or regulate hate speech be applied equally so that the laws themselves don't generate further discord.  Mr. Avdovic?  Press your microphone.  You know, I insist on microphones so all your friends who are watching you on the webcast can actually hear your question.

Question:  Thank you very much, indeed.  I appreciate that.  Just in light of what Linda asked before and actually in the context for our colleague Stefano asked you a couple of months before, what is the official term of United Nations?  How do you refer to ISIL or ISIS, or what's the difference?

Spokesman:  I think… you know, various parts of the UN have referred to it different acronyms, or Da'esh.  I think the focus shouldn't be so much on what the name is, but on the condemnation of what they're actually doing on the ground and the suffering they're perpetrating on innocent civilians.

Correspondent:  But some people… but some people are saying, in all due respect, that actually, if we focus on the name, it is also focus on geography.  Because ISIL is more than ISIS or so…

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think this is a debate which many people have an opinion.  We welcome every opinion.  And I just gave you mine.  So, we'll leave it at that.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted a quick kind of a factual check which is there's reports that a UN facility in Libya has been fired out, last hour, which has been in Libyan news.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesman:  No.  I will check.

Question:  You mentioned Thailand.  So, I wanted to ask about… there's a… obviously… apparently, the country's still under martial law, but there's also this impeachment of Yingluck Shinawatra.  And I'm wondering, is there any, does DPA [Department of Political Affairs]… is this on the radar screen of the UN as something that would either take Thailand out of its nondemocratic situation or?

Spokesman:  I think we've obviously seen those reports.  We're aware of what's going on.  I would just repeat what the Secretary‑General has been saying all along, which is:  He's encouraged the Government of Thailand to ensure return to a more democratic process and to more constitutional order.  That was the message he delivered to the Prime Minister, and he continues to believe that.

Question:  And one… at the risk of being politically incorrect, I understand obviously the Hing of Saudi Arabia, I saw the Secretary‑General's statement, I'm trying to square it with what was said from this podium and from Geneva about the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi; is this something, without tying it necessarily to the condolence period, the incoming king, King Salman, can we say that the UN would be calling on him not to just postpone, but cancel this flogging of the blogger…?

Spokesman:  I think our position on cruel and inhuman punishment, wherever it occurs, is unwavering.  It doesn't change, no matter who the Head of State of any particular country is.  So, I don't see our position on that and our opposition to that changing, whether it's here or the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  But is it… I mean, it's sort of an opportunity… if…?

Spokesman:  I think I've answered.  Great.  Thank you, all.  Have a great weekend.

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