Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 February 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the killing of Thierno Aliou Diaoune. The Secretary-General condemns, in the strongest terms, the killing of Thierno Aliou Diaoune, National Coordinator for the UN Peacebuilding Fund in Conakry, Guinea, on 6 February 2015.
Mr. Diaoune was a trusted United Nations partner and a tireless advocate for the construction of peace, democracy and human rights in Guinea. The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of a full investigation into Mr. Diaoune's death. The Secretary-General presents its sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Diaoune.
Earlier today, the Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson delivered a message at the opening of the 2015 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on behalf of the Secretary-General. In that message, the Secretary-General says that, although the 2014 was meant to catalyse global action on the Question of Palestine, the year was grim for both Palestinians and Israelis.
He adds that today Gaza remains a desolate place under blockade and with much human suffering. He calls on donors to fulfil pledges made at last October's Cairo Conference for the reconstruction of Gaza. The Secretary-General says that this year, as the UN celebrates its seventieth anniversary and the Committee marks its fortieth year, it is important that all efforts are made to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights. His full message is available online.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the news of the meetings between President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama held in Maputo on 7 and 9 February. He congratulated both leaders for their commitment to dialogue. He hopes the meetings would pave the way for the peaceful resolution of outstanding issues in respect of the constitutional framework and the work of the National Assembly. The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support Mozambique as it endeavours to promote development, strong democratic institutions as well as sustainable peace and stability.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN [Integrated Stabilization] Mission in the country (MINUSCA) announced today that it had retaken public buildings in Bria, illegally occupied by ex-Séléka members. The operation, conducted with the support of French forces, took place after the repeated refusal of the armed groups to peacefully evacuate the premises, and aimed at ending the existence of a parallel administration. The Head of the UN mission, MINUSCA, Babacar Gaye, reiterated the determination of international forces to protect the population and support the restoration of the State's authority, for the organization of free, fair, transparent and open elections in the country.
The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, reports that there was shelling this morning in the area of Bentiu in Unity State, some two kilometres from the UNMISS compound. The situation has calmed down there since the morning, but remains tense. Shelling was also briefly reported this morning in Nassir in Upper Nile State, close to the town's airstrip. The UN Mission calls once again on both parties to urgently and strictly adhere to the Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed on the 23 January 2014. It urges the leadership on both sides to agree to an inclusive power-sharing agreement to begin a transitional phase of governance that will address root causes of the conflict and ensure accountability for crimes.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that there continues to be violence in Niger's Diffa region following Boko Haram attacks over the weekend. Several people were injured by a bomb blast in the town yesterday. It is estimated that some 100,000 people have left the town of Diffa, many by foot. Humanitarian activities have been temporarily reduced or suspended, and local hospitals are reportedly low on supplies.
The UN refugee agency today called for the search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean to be stepped up in the wake of yesterday's tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa, which has claimed at least 29 lives. The agency said that the incident is a reminder of why there needs to be a much more effective rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, especially after the Lampedusa disaster of October 2013. As you'll recall, more than 350 people perished in that tragedy.
UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that Europe's Triton operation, run by the European border protection agency Frontex, is no replacement for proper search and rescue capacity. Without proper search and rescue, the refugee agency said that they should expect further such tragedies. And there is more information on this on the agency's website.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a new report today painting a bleak picture of the increasing turmoil and lawlessness in Libya. The report, which was produced with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), covers the human rights situation in the country in 2014. It says that rampant violence, including in Tripoli and Benghazi, has badly affected civilians. Unlawful killings and summary executions, including targeted assassinations, have been commonplace.
Children have suffered tremendously, with large numbers unable to go to school, and some killed or maimed at home or during attacks on schools and hospitals. There have also been numerous incidents of violence against women, including threats, attacks and killings of female human rights defenders and politicians. The report will be formally presented to the Human Rights Council in March. More information is available on the Human Rights Office's website.
From Geneva, the UN Human Rights Office today said it was disappointed by Malaysia's Federal Court ruling to uphold a decision from last March sentencing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in prison on charges of sodomy. The Office said that sodomy is a crime that should not exist under international human rights law. There are allegations that this case has been politically motivated and the trial marred by violations of due process rights, raising concerns about the fairness of the judicial process.
Also, our Human Rights colleagues said today that they are concerned by a recently passed resolution in Venezuela on the norms to be followed by the Venezuelan Armed Forces when controlling public assemblies and demonstrations. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stresses that the use of the military for law-enforcement purposes should only be an exceptional way to respond to an emergency situation, when there is a need to support the civilian police.
I was asked yesterday about a report from the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the follow-up undertaken by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). What I can say about that it that the matter was investigated and the Permanent Mission of the concerned Member State was notified. Upon receipt of the OIOS investigation report, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations took decisive measures, including ordering the repatriation of the UN Police Officers involved. DPKO and OIOS ensured that the issue was thoroughly investigated and actions taken. Follow-up by the Member State is ongoing.
No police from Côte d'Ivoire will be extended beyond their current assignments. The deployment of any subsequent Ivoirian Police to UN operations has been suspended until confirmation from Côte d'Ivoire that action has been taken on the OIOS investigation.
While the number of full-dues-paying Member States remains at 32, I would like to pay special mention to Germany for its partial payment to the regular budget of $100 million.
And tomorrow, our guest will be the Chair of the Advisory Group of Experts on the Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture, Ambassador Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala. That's it from me. Any questions? Yes, you can go. Yes? Once you find the microphone, you can go. The microphone's not on yet.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Is it on yet?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: On this so‑called honour roll, can you please tell us about the United States, how much… does it owe anything, or has it paid up at all, or how much does it owe?
Deputy Spokesman: It has not paid in full so far this year. Of course, we're only in the second week of February right now. A number of Member States pay up later in the year, and some of them go by… according to their own fiscal years, so some of these are expected later.
Question: My question is also because was there any accumulation from last year?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe there are some accumulated from the previous year. We do expect the budgets to be paid in full over the course of the year. And right now, we're going back to the policy of informing you whenever we get those full payments. Yes, please, Go?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. So, the White House announced this morning that the American hostage, Kayla Mueller, has been killed. Without clarifying if she was killed directly by ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] or her death was caused by the Jordanian air strike, do you have comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe Stéphane Dujarric mentioned, when this was first reported a week ago, that if this were the case, we would pay our condolences to… for the family of the person who was, in fact, killed. Now that we know that she was killed, we do, in fact, pay our condolences. But, of course, we would still need details about what happened. We don't have any first-hand information on the ground of course, but, as always, we continue to be concerned about activities of the group Da'esh or ISIS, as you said. Yes, Joe?
Question: Does the Secretary‑General agree with [United States] President [Barack] Obama's statements, quoted at least or reported yesterday, that, number one, part of the fears about terrorism are stirred by the media and exaggerated by the media? And secondly, he was reported to have said that, at least in his mind, climate change is a more serious global problem than terrorism. Does the Secretary‑General have any views on that priority?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it's not our place to comment on or characterize the remarks made by other leaders. I would like to point out, as you're aware, that the Secretary‑General has repeatedly said that what climate change is, is an existential threat. In other words, it's a threat that can involve all of our very ability to exist on this planet. And as he said, in terms of climate change, there's no Plan B because there's no Planet B. So, that tells you a lot about how seriously he views climate change as a threat. Regarding terrorism, of course we take the issue of terrorism seriously. At the same time, we do try to make sure that people do not overplay the threat of this or that group. A lot of these things are… a lot of the issues of terrorism are issues that can be handled by cooperation among Member States to deny terrorist groups of funding, of support, and to deprive them of the resources and the personnel that they need to keep going.
Question: So, am I to infer from what you just said, putting aside what President Obama said, just looking at the Secretary‑General' views, that he believes that climate change, being as you said an existential threat, is a more serious global problem than global terrorism?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we don't actually put it like that, because we're not trying to grade different levels of threats. We're not saying… one thing we don't want is for people to lose attention of one problem because of another problem. We're aware that there are many problems…
Correspondent: You said that climate change, in the Secretary‑General's view, is an existential threat.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: Whether you agree with that or not is another matter, but that's his view. Is terrorism fuelled by global jihad and potential for instruments of mass… weapons of mass destruction to get into the hands of terrorists, does he view that as also an existential threat today?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, the question of weapons of mass destruction getting into the hands of terrorists is a separate issue — which has to do with the issue of weapons of mass destruction, which is yet another threat. Let's not confuse issues here. Terrorism is regarded by the Secretary‑General as a very serious threat. And there [are] certain things that Member States need to do in order to band together to defeat that common threat. There's a different challenge, a completely different type of challenge, provided by climate change, and there [are] things that Member States need to do there. One should not have to be at the expense of the other, and it's not a zero-sum game. You're supposed to tackle both. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks. I wanted to ask you about the response that you just read to the question I asked yesterday about the OIOS report, the leaked OIOS report. I wanted to know, first, it names specifically 10 police officers as having paid particular amounts of money to the Deputy Permanent Representative of Côte d'Ivoire. So, I wanted to… maybe I'm missing the first part. First, are those 10, have they been repatriated? Two, what action has been taken with regard to the Deputy Permanent Representative of Côte d'Ivoire given that the OIOS report shows his bank account receiving the money? Is that considered a crime? Is he still representing his country before the UN? And since you said it's ongoing, I've seen a copy of a 5 January letter from Ambassador [Youssoufou] Bamba, the Permanent Representative. Has there been any communication received since then, in terms of getting to the bottom of this? And have assurances been sought from any other troop- or police-contributing countries, regarding their practices of recruitment and selection of candidates for missions?
Deputy Spokesman: I've already told you how we're dealing with any recruitment from Côte d'Ivoire and that's quite clear. Regarding your question about the named police officers, all of those officers involved are either gone already or in the process of leaving. And like I said, we've ordered the repatriation of the involved UN police officers. Regarding your question about the Deputy Permanent Representative, our Department of Peacekeeping Operations met with the high‑level representatives from the Member States both at the level of the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative and informed them that one of its currently serving police officers, an important source of information on this matter, was allegedly receiving threats from individuals in Côte d'Ivoire. We're following up on that particular matter with that. Regarding how the country is to be represented, of course, that is a question to ask the Government of Côte d'Ivoire.
Question: Right. But, isn't soliciting a bribe to receive a benefit from the UN a crime in some way?
Deputy Spokesman: In terms of whether criminal charges would be levelled on the Côte d'Ivoire… the Ivorian official involved, that, again, is a question to ask the Government of Côte d'Ivoire. He's their official, and they will have to follow up.
Question: Do you think that this… the panel on peacekeeping operations under [José] Ramos‑Horta, is this the type of obviously kind of hole in the system that was exploited for personal gain that should be reviewed?
Deputy Spokesman: This is a clear-cut case of corruption which was found by our Office for Internal Oversight Services, and we're following up on that. Clearly, quite a good measure of the follow-up also needs to be handled by the Member State involved. Roger?
Question: Thanks. On Lampedusa, it seems clear that the deaths yesterday demonstrated that Triton is not Mare Nostrum. Would the Secretary‑General be in favour of the reinstatement of that policy, given its success and the seeming failure of Triton?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, the Secretary‑General wants Member States to make sure that appropriate measures are taken in the Mediterranean Sea, so that the people who have sent out on rickety ships are not imperilled by the practices that are foisted upon them by people who have essentially been cynically trying to send them out into the sea on vessels that are clearly not seaworthy. So, what he wants is for appropriate measures to be taken. But, I will refer you to what the UN refugee agency has clearly said about the need for search-and-rescue capacity. And the operation in place there right now is essentially a border protection operation. What's needed, they believe and we believe, as well, is a search-and-rescue operation. Yes, Erol?
Question: Thank you. Farhan, a couple of things: First of all, does the Secretary‑General think or did he have rather talks with anybody from Western Balkans in considering to appoint anyone of the Western Balkans officials, as Mr. Sven Alkalaj was, to any high position at the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: If we have any positions… announcements to make about positions being filled by people from the Western Balkans, we'll announce it at that time. I don't have anything in particular to say.
Question: And sorry if I missed that if you answered to this, yesterday Mr. Obama met Chancellor [Angela] Merkel. Another attempt of diplomatic solution for Ukraine was clearly made. And I know the Secretary‑General is a champion of the diplomatic efforts, but what does he, in particular, think about this push and tomorrow's expectations from the Minsk?
Deputy Spokesman: On that, I can say that the Secretary‑General welcomes the intensive diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing forth a lasting and durable ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and implementing the Minsk Accords. He's hopeful that the summit‑level meeting of the Normandy Format, as well as the trilateral contact group with rebel representatives, both scheduled for this upcoming Wednesday, tomorrow, in Minsk, will enable all parties to recommit to bringing this devastating conflict to an end while respecting Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
Question: What about the particular meeting, Obama-Merkel?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I just said, he welcomes the intensive diplomatic efforts that have been under way on this. Yes?
Question: Farhan, in light of the UN's and particularly the Secretary-General's call for the AU [African Union] to publicly release the Commission [of] Inquiry report into South Sudan, I wonder what the Secretary‑General thinks of the reasoning behind that decision that it would undermine the process of reaching a final peace agreement between the warring parties. What does he think of the reasoning given for the delay of that report?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've heard just yesterday what Ivan Šimonović, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, had to say about this and his own hopes on this. Regarding the Secretary‑General's position, he trusts that this decision is simply a deferral. He's made it very clear all along that accountability remains essential in South Sudan. And also, regarding that argument about the competing scales between peace and justice, as you know, the Secretary‑General believes that peace and justice are elements that reinforce each other. They need to be pursued in a complementary way which ensures that progress in one will promote, rather that jeopardize, progress in the other.
Question: Could I just follow up? Is there a bit of a disconnect between the UN's view of justice and peace and the AU's view? It seems that they don't hold that view.
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, the Secretary‑General and Mr. Šimonović have both made clear their hope that this is simply a deferral, and we hope that the matter will come to light.
Question: We see the same process happening with relation to the ICC [International Criminal Court] and Sudan for example, the deferral of justice for the sake of peace. Seems to… is this something you're taking up with the AU?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've heard what I just had to say. The bottom line for us is that without accountability, there cannot be sustainable, lasting peace. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Over the weekend, two former leaders of the United Nations system in effect called for the aspirants of permanent membership of the Security Council to drop their campaign and to consider longer-term, non‑permanent seats. And there have been three more proposals to make the Security Council more effective. Does the Secretary‑General have any views on this?
Deputy Spokesman: You're aware that the Secretary‑General has repeatedly said that the Security Council does need to be reformed. Ultimately, there needs to be a way to make it more broadly representative and enhance its legitimacy. How that will happen, as according to the UN Charter, is in the hands of the Member States, and we leave it in their hands.
Question: Just in that sense, Farhan, and we have talked many times about the Security Council reforms, does the Secretary‑General, now after this many years in the office, think that the push for the Security Council reform has to come from outside of the UN or from within the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, the push has to come from the Member States themselves. It's the Member States and only the Member States that can reform the UN Charter in that manner, and so the proposal would have to come from them. Yes, Go?
Question: Thank you. Let me come back again on Kayla Meuller. So, you said you need more information to comment. Does it mean that your comment can defer about the way she was killed?
Deputy Spokesman: It's unclear at this stage what the details were on how she was killed. Certainly, she was taken hostage by the group Da'esh and we have deplored that. Ultimately, it's their responsibility that she was in their captivity when she was killed. Yes?
Question: Thanks a lot. I want to ask about Nigeria and Gambia. In Nigeria, there was a statement by Mr. [Mohammed ibn] Chambas that DPKO will be providing a command, control and unity of purpose to this multinational joint task force fighting Boko Haram. And since the Security Council, to my knowledge, has not passed anything to that effect, is that true? Did he say that? And under what authority? I mean, they may well pass that, but was he speaking in anticipation of a resolution, or what was the basis of the statement?
Deputy Spokesman: Basically, what happens is that the UN stands ready to support what's called the operationalization of the multinational joint task force by providing, among other things, specific expertise to develop a concept of operations and address such issues of coordination, interoperability, command and control, and so forth. So, to that end, a small expert team from UN Peacekeeping is providing planning support for the operationalization of the multinational joint task force against Boko Haram. So, that is ultimately preliminary work.
Question: Right. And just to sort of understand, because I always hear from you that DPKO can't do anything without a Security Council resolution. Is there some sort of like, I don't want to… slush fund is the wrong name… is there some sort of general fund that can be used for forward-looking activity? Under what of its many missions and mandates is this being funded out of?
Deputy Spokesman: This is work that is just done by a small expert team. In terms of further details, actually, Mr. Chambas has indicated his willingness to talk to you and the press here by video conference, and we're hoping to set that up in the coming days so that he can provide some more details. Joe?
Question: I don't know, you may have responded to this previously. But, as you know, there is some division of opinion between some Western European countries like Germany and France and the United States regarding the possible provision of lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainians to counter the separatists and Russian support for the separatists. Does the Secretary‑General have a view, if the current efforts of diplomacy continue to languish, as to whether that's an appropriate step‑up measure?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think that's a hypothetical development down the line. You've heard what the Secretary‑General's views were about the current process on Ukraine, and I have nothing to add to what I just said a few minutes ago on that. Masood?
Question: I just want to know, continued incarceration of journalists in Egypt. Do you have any update? Because they just released one journalist, an Australian journalist, and several of them are still in jail. And are there any chances of them being considered for release at any time soon?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, you will have seen the statement that we issued after the release of Peter Greste, and our sentiments expressed in that statement from last week still stand.
Question: But, do you have any further updates on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, it's not the UN who will provide that further information. It would be the respective authorities in Egypt itself. But, you've heard what the Secretary‑General's sentiments are and his hope for the resolution of those cases. Erol and then Matthew?
Question: Just to follow up, Farhan, did you have any chance to look at that letter from Bosnia to Secretary‑General Ban Ki-moon a few days ago that I addressed with Stéphane?
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have any comment on that for now. Yes?
Correspondent: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about Gambia and Yemen. I thought that it was said in here that Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman had visited Gambia, but I've since heard that…
Deputy Spokesman: No, he did not. He was scheduled to visit Gambia. Instead he visited Burkina Faso, and then he went back. I believe Stéphane provided details last week of his visit to Burkina Faso.
Question: Right. Sure. What I wanted to ask is that I've since heard that, in fact, the visit was cancelled due to the publication of an article there. And I think I found the article. But, what's surprising to me is it said… I mean, there's a lot of opinion in the article, which I don't think comes from the UN system… that Mr. Chambas' visit was a failure and that Mr. Feltman's visit was going to be more serious. But, it says "according to a press statement from the UNDP" so I wanted to know, did UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]… I'm reading the article… did UNDP, were they in charge, I guess as the country team, of publicizing in advance Mr. Feltman's visit?
Deputy Spokesman: No.
Question: What was the basis of that?
Deputy Spokesman: I think that's inaccurate. We checked with Mr. Feltman's office. Really, ultimately, this was about scheduling and whether the meetings he anticipated could take place or not. And since they could not, he did not go.
Correspondent: Right. Okay. Well, I mean, my understanding is that it was cancelled because of this article.
Deputy Spokesman: I think that understanding is inaccurate.
Question: Oh, well… Okay. I wanted to ask about Yemen. Yesterday, you said that Mr. [Jamal] Benomar welcomes the renewed talks and the Secretary‑General welcomes them. There are obviously reports that some, at least two parties, one larger than another, have pulled out of the talks. Do you have any update on the talks and any comment on the [United States] seeming to say that it's closing its embassy completely, I mean in Sana'a?
Deputy Spokesman: Simply that Mr. Benomar is continuing with his work. The talks are continuing today, and he is continuing to discuss different proposals with the various parties. It is clear that one party, the Nasserists, made public their withdrawal yesterday. It's less clear what the other party, the Islah party, what their stance was. But, in any case, Mr. Benomar continues with his work, and we'll get further updates from him as that proceeds.
Question: Do you think he's going to brief the Council tomorrow by video or not?
Deputy Spokesman: I think that may actually be a briefing by the Secretary‑General, but we'll try to give you those details one we get them. Have a good afternoon… Oh, one more?
Question: I just wondered, Farhan, the UN basically concentrates on non‑State acts of terrorism in cases, most of them. What about State terrorism? Has it considered also State terrorism, as to what effect that has on the world?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, as it has been the case for many years now, the definition of terrorism and what comprises a terrorist group or terrorist entity remains in the hands of the Member States and the treaty language they are working on. They have to decide. Have a good afternoon.
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