Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
26 January 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, apologies for the delay.
Before we get started, something that will interest all of you, by about 2 p.m. this afternoon, we will make a call as to whether or not the building is closed for the rest of the day, and maybe make a call as to what will happen tomorrow. Just so you know, if the building is closed tomorrow, we will post highlights of major developments on the Spokesman's page by about noon tomorrow. But, if the building is closed there will obviously be no noon briefing because the building will be closed.
News-wise, this morning, the Secretary-General signed a condolence book for the passing of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the book, the Secretary-General wrote that King Abdullah guided his country's development and advanced regional peace and security, as well as counter-terrorism and that he contributed generously to humanitarian relief and anti-hunger programmes. The Secretary-General also noted the King's devotion to promoting inter-faith dialogue.
As you will have seen over the weekend, the Deputy Secretary-General travelled to Saudi Arabia. He represented the Secretary-General at a condolence ceremony to pay the United Nations' respect following the King's passing. The Deputy Secretary-General, while in Riyadh, also met with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the Crown Prince, and the Deputy Crown Prince. The Deputy Secretary-General praised King Abdullah's major contributions to the progress and prosperity of the Kingdom, as well as his efforts to address regional and international challenges at a time of turmoil and rapid change. The Deputy Secretary-General is now back in New York, and as you will have noted and as the tradition is when a Head of State passes, the UN flag is flying at half-mast today.
The Secretary-General is right now holding an internal high-level meeting right now concerning sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel. That meeting is intended to endorse recommendations in the Report of the DPKO/DFS [Department of Peacekeeping Operations/Department of Field Support] Working Group on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. The outcome of the meeting will be presented to the General Assembly in a forthcoming report by the Secretary-General.
At that meeting, the Secretary-General made clear the point that sexual exploitation and abuse undermines the noble work done by UN personnel who serve with honour in some of the toughest places on earth. He said that we must all be resolved to create a United Nations that lives up to the public's trust and that combats any form of sexual exploitation or abuse. The approach he is presenting to deal with such cases is based on three key elements: prevention, enforcement and remediation. The full text of his remarks is available in my office, or will be if they are not available already.
As you will know, the Security Council discussed Cyprus in closed consultations this morning. Under other matters, Security Council members also received an update on Yemen from the Secretary-General's Special Adviser Jamal Benomar, who spoke by video conference from Sana'a. This afternoon at 1 p.m., the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman, is expected to brief the Council in an open meeting on the situation in Ukraine.
From Yemen, the update that we received from Mr. Benomar is that he continues his work in Sana'a. He has been convening and chairing daily meetings of 16 political parties in order to build consensus on an agreement for the way forward. He met this morning bilaterally with the Houthi leadership, the President of the Islah party and senior leaders of the General People's Congress. Mr. Benomar also remains in close touch with Gulf Cooperation Council countries, as well as Security Council members.
From Ukraine, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that renewed fighting in the east of Ukraine and indiscriminate shelling has resulted in civilian casualties, triggering additional displacement and the destruction of infrastructure, with more than 900,000 people have been registered as internally displaced as of 21 January. The UN Humanitarian country team continues to appeal to all parties to the conflict to ensure full and unimpeded access to all in need, as well as to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff and supplies.
As you will have seen in the statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General strongly condemned Saturday's rocket attack on the city of Mariupol. He also further denounces the unilateral withdrawal from the ceasefire by rebel leadership, and particularly their provocative statements about claiming further territory. In the statement, the Secretary-General said that this constitutes a violation of their commitments under the Minsk accords. The Secretary-General urged all concerned to redouble their efforts to revive the Minsk accords. Ukraine's peace, territorial integrity and stability, intrinsically linked to that of the broader region, must be urgently restored.
I know a number of you have been asking us over the weekend for a reaction to the beheading of Haruna Yukawa. I can say that obviously the Secretary-General condemns this horrific crime, as he has been condemning all the crimes committed by extremist groups in both Syria and Iraq, and he again calls on anyone who is holding hostages in any country to release them unconditionally. I will add that the Secretary-General will be writing to the Prime Minister of Japan to extend his condolences for Mr. Yukawa's death.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Moving on to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Head of the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the country (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, congratulated the Parliament on reaching a compromise on the revision of the electoral law. Mr. Kobler said that the wisdom shown by parliamentarians in reaching a compromise and reconciling the different positions, in line with the Constitution and especially with regard to the electoral timeframe, is remarkable and will have a beneficial effect. He also applauded the political stakeholders for demonstrating their common resolve to preserve social peace, and a better representation of women that the new law guarantees.
Regarding Libya, a new round of UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue started today in Geneva. Libyan parties, including representatives from women's groups and the civil society, have gathered to continue discussions on ways to end the political and security crisis in the country. The Secretary-General's Special Representative, Mr. Bernadino León, said the current session follows a round of talks which were held last week in Geneva. He said that the atmosphere and discussions remain positive. He has encouraged all parties to approach the talks in a spirit of openness and reconciliation, guided by the national interest of the Libyan people.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, our colleagues of the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in that country, otherwise known as MINUSCA, condemned the abduction of the country's youth and sport minister, Armel Sayo, which took place yesterday. The Mission calls for his immediate release. It also says that it is using all means it can, under its mandate, to assist the national authorities in this matter. There is more information in a press release from the Mission.
Also regarding the Central African Republic, the Senior Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, Claire Bourgeois, is calling for greater protection of displaced communities after visiting Batangafo on Friday, where there are now more than 30,000 internally displaced people and a continuous influx of newly displaced. She said immediate action is needed to ensure the safety and protection of civilians who are at severe risk of attacks in the region, especially in the western area.
From Darfur, the African Union-United Nations [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur, UNAMID, facilitated today the launch of the Darfur Internal Dialogue and Consultations process at El Fasher University in North Darfur. The event brought together Government of Sudan, Darfur Regional Authority officials and members of the Darfur Internal Dialogue and Consultations Implementation Committee, as well as representatives of the Darfur civil society and internally displaced people, and UN and African Union UNAMID officials. This is an important step towards the integration of the Doha Document Peace Darfur at the grassroots level. More information on the UNAMID website.
Just a note from over the weekend: the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan, addressed over the weekend a special session of the Organization's Executive Board on the current Ebola outbreak. She stressed that it was West Africa's first experience with the virus, and that it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises. The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us, she said. She added that Ebola was a tragedy that taught the world, including WHO, many lessons, also about how to prevent similar events in the future. Factors of culture, history, geography, and weak road and health infrastructures produced a mix of opportunities that the virus quickly exploited, she highlighted.
Dr. David Nabarro, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy also addressed the Executive Board. He said that, as we enter 2015, the evidence is clear that the strategy to end the outbreak is working. He added that the goal is to track and contain Ebola until there are no cases anywhere, and that ending the outbreak will require sustained commitment from the global coalition of actors. And in the meeting, Dr. Chan also flagged the current plague outbreak in Madagascar, warning that fleas that transmit the disease from rats to humans have developed resistance to first-line insecticide. Consequently, plague established a foothold in the capital of Madagascar, affecting densely populated areas.
Our daily honour roll: as of close of business Friday, I am pleased to announce that Austria, Finland and Luxembourg paid their dues in time and in full to the regular budget. This brings the total number of Member States who have paid in full to 15, which gives us 178 more to go.
Weather permitting, 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here by UN-Habitat on the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development known as "Habitat III", which will be held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016.
2:45 p.m., Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and others will be here to brief, following the high-level panel in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.
And finally, at around 5:30 p.m., again in this room, briefing by the Minister of Defence of Colombia, Juan Carlos Pinzon. Of course, that will not happen if the building is closed.
And just as a matter of precaution, we have also been advised that the Holocaust remembrance events that were scheduled tomorrow have been cancelled. They will be rescheduled, we will let you know exactly when. There was an exhibit that was going to open this afternoon, that has been cancelled and a ceremony has also been cancelled.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. On Yemen, does the Secretary‑General believe that parliament in Yemen should take action? Because it's the only legitimate authority now in the country. And do you still see the initiative from the Gulf Council is still relevant? Is Mr. Benomar working on a new initiative?
Spokesman: Sure. The information we have on Mr. Benomar's activities, I've just shared with you. He is, as I mentioned, briefing the Council by video conference. We've also put in a request for him to do a video press conference with you as soon as it's practicable, we'll let you know. So I'm not… you know, the situation is fluid. As you saw, he is doing a series of meetings on a continuous basis to try to find a peaceful and political way forward. I'm not going to characterize what he believes the role should be for one institution or another. And obviously, on the Gulf Cooperation Council as I mentioned, he's keeping in close touch with them.
Question: Do you have any specific message to the Houthis? Because they occupied the presidential palace and they are taking control in the capital. Do you have any specific…?
Spokesman: I think… as I said, Mr. Benomar is on the ground. He's doing his rounds of talks. I don't want to get ahead of him. Obviously, what he's working on is finding a political and peaceful way forward. Ken?
Question: Thank you for your statement on the Japanese hostage situation. The video now demands the release of a prisoner in Jordan instead of ransom. What's the UN position on this new demand?
Spokesman: I think the UN position is unchanged, is that the Japanese hostage, Mr. Goto, needs to be released unconditionally. That's what we call for. And we call for the release of all other people who are being held against their will by extremist groups in the region. Matthew and then we'll…
Question: Sure. I want… some other stuff, but I wanted to ask you about some stuff you read out in the beginning. One is on UNAMID, what you said about this dialogue. I wanted to ask, one, there's a report on Radio Dabanga of renewed air strikes by the Sudanese Government in Jebel Marra. And I wanted to know if the mission had sent you anything on that. And also, two of the Security Council ambassadors this morning said they continued to ask DPKO to ensure that the Tabit site of alleged mass rapes is revisited. I want to know has any action been taken on that? Has there been any move by UNAMID?
Spokesman: The request to visit Tabit stands. There's nothing to report. On the reports of aerial bombings. I will check.
Question: Thank you. This week will take place in Costa Rica the third Summit of Latin American and Caribbean community. Does the Secretary‑General plans to attend or any other UN official?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General will not be… will not be attending. He has other travel commitments, which in fact, I will be announcing shortly. And I will check to see if… what level we're represented and if there's a message to be sent. So, check back with my office afterwards. Carla.
Question: In view of the UN concern for the protection of the rights of journalists and the importance of article 19, does…?
Spokesman: Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Please put the phone down. Thank you.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General or anyone at the UN have any comment on Chile's reopening of the investigation into the probable murder of the great poet Pablo Neruda, Nobel laureate? It's officially a reopened investigation.
Spokesman: No… no… I have not seen that report. No specific comment except to say that obviously all crimes need to be investigated fully and impartially. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two quick questions on Israel. The Secretary‑General recently condemned the demolishment of 70 [inaudible] settlements. Is that something he's going to be discussing with the President today in their meeting?
Spokesman: I think you're referring to a statement by his humanitarian coordinator James Rawley. The meeting is ongoing or will be going shortly. We'll provide you a readout.
Question: And follow‑up. If the building is closed for weather, are they going to reschedule that photo op?
Spokesman: No, the meeting has been brought forward… they're trying to get the Secretary‑General meet with the president today. Hopefully that will happen, if it hasn't already happened or maybe moved up. We'll get you the details. Oleg.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] report, I understand parts you read out on Ukraine, there was notice that the humanitarian community is pursuing… there are some advocacy efforts to address the issue of increased bureaucratic hurdles affecting access to the people. What precisely are these efforts? Are these contacts with the Government, to the… with the rebel groups in the East? What do they consist of?
Spokesman: Let me find out and I will get back to you. I don't…
Question: One more on this report. It said that the UN asked Russia to provide a full list of items that were in these 11 humanitarian convoys sent to the eastern Ukraine. Did Russia provide those?
Spokesman: Let me find out. That's a valid question. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Sure. Following up. I haven't yet seen the Secretary‑General's comments on sexual abuse and his new plan. But, what I wanted to ask is that I'd heard Ameerah Haq recently said the UN can't demonstrate its zero‑tolerance policy, which I take to mean, even if peacekeepers or other personnel are sent back to their country for prosecution, there's no reporting by the UN of whether, in fact, they were prosecuted or convicted. So, I wanted to know, if this plan, particularly the part about enforcement, actually addresses the public availability of information about what happens in cases of alleged rape…?
Spokesman: The plan in itself will be presented to the General Assembly in… soon. I think I would encourage you to read the full speech the Secretary‑General just delivered. A big part of that focuses on the responsibility of Member States. But, if you want to wait just a few minutes, you can actually read the whole thing for yourself.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask this. I definitely have seen… you know, the Deputy Secretary‑General went to Riyadh and the Secretary‑General signed the condolence book and you condemned this terrible beheading by ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham/Levant]. But, I wanted to ask specifically today, Monday, have been the first public beheading under King Salman. It took place in Jeddah, it's been reported. Mousa bin Saeed al… I guess it's Zahrani, not Zahtani, has been beheaded. I want to know what is the Secretary‑General's position on continued public beheadings?
Spokesman: Regardless what country we're talking about or who the Head of State is, the Secretary‑General's position, which is firmly against the death penalty and any… and various uses of it stands.
Question: Right. But, was this in any…? I've been reading all the statements.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's position against the death penalty is unchanged. Yes.
Question: Sorry. Just a clarification… follow‑up to Matthew's question. It was my understanding that the Secretary‑General signed the condolence book at the mission and the [Deputy Secretary-General] went to Riyadh.
Spokesman: Yes. Carla?
Question: In view of the fact that the referring of the situation of human rights in North Korea to the Security Council was based almost entirely on the reports of human rights abuses by defectors from North Korea, what is the position that one of the most important of those defectors has changed his testimony and retracted his condemnation of North Korea?
Spokesman: I think, as you had have seen, Mr. Kirby, who I think chaired the report, continues to stand by… continues to stand by the report. Your question. That was my answer. Oleg.
Question: There was an incident today in Strasbourg where the Parliament Assembly of Europe is taking place and the members of the Russian delegation to the Parliament Assembly were assaulted.
Spokesman: The Council of Europe or the European parliament?
Question: Parliament Assembly of Europe. They were assaulted, [inaudible], suffered punches or something like that. And later, there's this member of Ukrainian Parliament, Dmitri Linco, who acknowledged in his Twitter account it was him and his deputy who carried out the assault. And I wanted to ask a specific comment from Secretary‑General in this situation where obviously there's fighting on the ground and now we see even politicians resorting to violence.
Spokesman: I haven't seen that report and I can't… I have no way of knowing what actually happened, but it's obviously very important for tempers to calm and for all those who have… who are in a position of responsibility to act accordingly and for all those who have influence on the parties to use that influence to help find a political and peaceful way forward. Mr. Lee.
Question: I want to ask about Mali and also about Tanzania. In Mali, the MNLA [National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad] rebels have now said they may suspend their participation in the talks in Algiers on 8 February and they're specifically pointing at the airstrikes against them by the Dutch component of MINUSMA. And so I wondered… I mean, I heard the statements last week. Is… what's the UN response to that, given that the importance of these peace talks… were airstrikes by helicopters the only way to do what they did? And is that… is that the… what are the terms of engagement of the Dutch component…?
Spokesman: I think the terms of engagement are clear in the mandate. I'm not going to from here second guess tactical decisions made by military commanders on the ground. You know, what I can say is, as you know, as you mentioned, the Algiers peace talks are starting, I think, tomorrow. The Mission is very much involved in talking to all the parties encouraging all the parties, not only to participate but to respect their ceasefire obligations and to avoid any actions that could jeopardize a successful political process. I think, again, here in the situation, our efforts are finding a peaceful and political way out. I think the recent tensions in Tabankort which have been accompanied by extensive disinformation from all sides according to the Mission. The Mission will not be deterred in its effort to de-escalate tensions in the area.
Question: And on Tanzania, there's a newspaper, The East African, which has been published in the region for some 20 years and has recently been told to cease circulation and publication in the country with particular emphasis on an article it wrote about the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] rebels and potential either support or lack of willingness to fight them through the Force Intervention Brigade of MONUSCO. I know this is an overarching principle. This seems to be direct censorship related to an issue on the Council and on the Secretariat's agenda. What is the UN comment on this censorship?
Spokesman: Not that I would doubt you, but let me look into the incident and see what we can say. My money is that… this just in. So exciting. Come on. [Laughter]
Question: One more?
Spokesman: Come on. All right. Something I said? Something I didn't say? Oh, something I didn't say. To your question, Secretary‑General… waiting for the official trip announcement:
The Secretary-General is expected to be in Addis Ababa on Thursday. He is scheduled to address the opening ceremony of the twenty-fourth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union which is on Friday. He will also attend other meetings on the margins of the African Union gathering. These include the twenty-ninth Extraordinary Summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and an African Union Peace and Security Council meeting on South Sudan, Boko Haram and Ebola. The Secretary-General will also co-host an Ebola event with the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. And of course he will hold a series of meetings with the Heads of State and Governments present in Addis Ababa. That is it for me. So I will stop. Yes, sir.
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