Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 February 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.
As you know, the Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., today, and just earlier this morning, he addressed the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism hosted by the US Government.
Speaking to the delegates, the Secretary-General noted that addressing the profound challenge of violent extremism, in a manner that solves rather than multiplies the problem, may be the greatest test that we face in the twenty-first century. He commended Member States for their determined will to defeat terrorist groups and called on them to continue to respond decisively and concretely, while being mindful of the pitfalls.
The Secretary-General said that, together with the General Assembly and the UN Alliance of Civilizations, he will be convening a special event in the coming months that brings together faith leaders from around the world to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation.
On the side-lines of the meeting, the Secretary-General also met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and we issued a readout of that meeting earlier today. Later on, he is expected to meet with the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Foreign Ministers of Chad and Bangladesh.
He will also meet with the US Secretary of State, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, as well as the Foreign Minister of Egypt. We will have readouts of those meetings as they come in.
Regarding Syria, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, today urged the Syrian authorities today to release all those who have been held by Government forces and its militias, without due process and in some cases for years on end.
This is particularly worrying, given reports of widespread and systematic torture and other ill treatment, as well as terrible conditions of detention. Activists, lawyers and human rights defenders, who were already vulnerable prior to the outbreak of the conflict, have been particularly targeted.
The High Commissioner said that estimates of the number of people in Syria who have been held at some point or other in Government or intelligence detention facilities since the first protests began in Daraa in March 2011 range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Detention can all too often lead to enforced disappearance or to prolonged and arbitrary detention.
The full statement is available online.
On Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 41,000 people have been displaced by conflict in North Darfur and Central Darfur since the beginning of the year.
They also say that the number of people in need of assistance and protection may be significantly higher because humanitarian organizations have largely been denied access to parts of Jebel Marra where some of the heaviest fighting is reportedly taking place.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continues to call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and to facilitate immediate access for humanitarian organizations to people in need.
The World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and other humanitarian partners are providing food, water, sanitation supplies and emergency household kits to displaced people in Um Baru and northern El Fasher.
Also on Darfur, UN and African Union officials were in Khartoum to discuss UNAMID's exit strategy with the Sudanese Government.
A joint working group is expected to be established in early March with the view to preparing the exit strategy of the Mission from Darfur in stable and secure conditions.
UNAMID continues to implement its Chapter VII mandate as it focuses on three strategic priorities, including protection of civilians, mediation between Government and non-signatory armed movements, and support to local conflict mediation.
From the Ukraine, our colleagues at the World Food Programme tell us that they are scaling up their emergency operation in eastern Ukraine to feed close to 190,000 vulnerable people displaced by the conflict, as well as civilians trapped near the frontlines.
WFP has also stocked food supplies near the conflict areas in anticipation of further waves of displacement and for distribution to people impacted by the violence.
Over the next few months, WFP will increase its assistance, including a one-off distribution of locally-procured food to more than 110,000 people to meet their urgent food needs in largely besieged areas where access is limited and food supplies have dwindled. Food rations include staples such as rice, vegetable oil, pasta, wheat flour, and canned food.
In relatively stable areas with functioning markets and an influx of displaced families, WFP will distribute three rounds of food vouchers for nearly 80,000 of the most vulnerable.
Food prices have also risen dramatically in the eastern parts of the country. A recent survey found that prices in the area have gone up by 30 per cent for items such as bread and milk, and by 75 to 80 per cent for meat and cheese, compared to the same time last year.
Couple of notes: one from the World Health Organization (WHO), which today urged affected countries to scale up their investment in tackling 17 neglected tropical diseases in order to improve the health and well-being of more than 1.5 billion people.
This investment would represent as little as 0.1 per cent of current domestic expenditure on health care in affected low- and middle-income countries for 2015 to 2030.
Neglected tropical diseases include guinea worm disease, river blindness and sleeping sickness, and cause blindness, disfigurement, permanent disability and death, particularly among the most vulnerable.
The WHO report is online.
A story that caught our eye from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): they announced today that a handy new digital technique called iSharkFin could help protect endangered shark species and combat illegal trade in shark fins.
The new software allows for the quick identification of species of the iconic fish. It is a tool for custom officers and inspectors at fish markets as well as for fishermen keen on avoiding the capture of protected species.
Work on the project began in 2013, after five shark species were added to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
More details on the FAO’s website and maybe on the iTunes store if you can download the app.
Couple of answers to questions that have risen; earlier today, we have been asked about the report in Lebanese press concerning the death of a Spanish peacekeeper in UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). In answer to that, I can tell you that the investigation is ongoing; once finalized, the reports will be provided to the parties and to UN Headquarters. We are at the final stage of the investigation into the death of our Spanish colleague.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Southern Lebanon has an investigation mechanism that addresses any incident involving violations of resolution 1701. The focus of the investigations is to identify concrete steps that should be taken with the parties to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.
UNIFIL investigation teams collect and examine all material evidence and relevant information to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident. Just to reiterate, that investigation is ongoing.
Yesterday, I was asked about communications between the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. I can tell you that the Secretary-General has recently sent letters to the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition, saying that Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernández Taranco is acting on his behalf.
I was also asked whether the question of press freedom came up when the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj, met with that country’s Information Minister. I can tell you that Ms. Løj expressed concern over the intimidation and harassment of journalists and the decline in press freedom in the country. She received assurances from the Minister that South Sudan respects freedom of the press.
In our honour roll today, we thank Kazakhstan, which is the thirty-eighth Member State to have paid its regular budget assessment in full. Thank you to the Kazakhs.
**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow
Tomorrow, we will have Dr. David Nabarro, along with Dr. Bruce Aylward, to talk to you about Ebola. It will be in this room at about 12:30.
Questions and Answers
Question: I hope this works.
Spokesman: Let's go from left to right.
Question: The Afghan Taliban have signalled that they're ready to start peace talks. Does the UN have any information, details on this, comment?
Spokesman: No, obviously, the issue of reconciliation, political reconciliation, is one that we have been pushing for. Edie.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Two follow-up questions. First, on this special event with faith leaders that the Secretary‑General announced in Washington, can you give us any details? Is it going to coincide with the GA in September? Is it going to be before? How big…
Spokesman: Know what? My understanding is that it will be before September, but we are trying to harvest some more practical details for you.
Question: And as a second follow-up on the UNAMID story, the joint… the joint working group, who represented the UN at those talks?
Spokesman: It's a very valid question. And I will get you an answer. And I'm not prepared. Carol.
Question: Stéphane, Ukraine is calling for peacekeepers to be deployed. Does the Secretary-General have a view as to whether this would be helpful to shore up the Minsk accords? Thank you.
Spokesman: No, obviously, we've seen the reports. The U.N. has — the reports of — calls by the Ukraine authorities for the possible deployment of peacekeepers under UN mandate. The UN has not received any formal request on this issue, and as you know, UN Member States obviously authorize peacekeeping operations through Security Council resolution, and we will be guided accordingly.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is Mushfiqul Fazal. As you mentioned, the Secretary‑General wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and another letter to [inaudible] person, former Prime Minister. And after the — receiving the letter, the reaction we have seen that BNP-led 20 party alliance. They accepted and they are welcoming the initiative by the Secretary‑General has been taking. And the government side just denied to go for any dialogue. They said the Prime Minister [inaudible] adviser Mr. [inaudible] say [inaudible] question doesn't arise any certain dialogue or anything and Mr. Oscar Fernández Taranco sent a routine letter and many times Secretary-General given letter to the Prime Ministers. So nothing will be happen in terms of dialogue or anything. And Mr. Taranco has not been assigned for any dialogue or anything to solve the problem with the opposition and the State Minister of Foreign Affairs also denied for any dialogue. So what is the stand on this issue? The Government –
Spokesman: It's what we've said in the past, that obviously the Secretary-General is concerned about the violence that we've seen until Bangladesh, the political violence. Mr. Taranco, Oscar Taranco is asked — is working on the Secretary-General's behalf. And he will be following the situation and taking appropriate action as needed. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I wanted… two questions on investigations. You said that the UNIFIL… the killing of the UNIFIL peacekeeper is under investigation. I wanted… The Daily Star article in Lebanon quotes a UNIFIL officer saying, “We can't say they made a mistake. The rounds are getting nearer and nearer and eventually hit it, adding that the position was”… basically it was the Hannibal protocol. They believe that… I'm just wondering, are you saying that no UNIFIL officer said that…
Spokesman: I'm… nobody's kicking anything down the road. There's nothing I love more than anonymous quotes from people. What I'm telling you — you can read the article, but what I'm telling you is that the investigation is not over and I think for this investigation and any other one, it's important to wait for the facts to come out through the investigation. Now, people — it comes as no surprise that people on many issues talk left, right and centre. But I think it's important to wait for the end of the investigation.
Question: Okay. Here's the second one. And I think the reason that people speak is because often these investigations are never released. So I wanted to ask you about the Haiti investigation of the shooting by peacekeepers at unarmed demonstrators that took place last year and has been said repeatedly that it would be almost finished, that it is finished. Where is it?
Spokesman: I think — my understanding is it's close to finished. My understanding too is that the peacekeeper, the Jordanian peacekeeper that was shown in the video, has been suspended. But I will try to get you more details.
Question: And one other thing…
Spokesman: I'll come back to you.
Question: Thanks, Steph. My question on Burundi. In light of the PRST, the statement from the Security Council on Burundi, what is the Secretary-General's position on President Pierre Nkurunziza seeking a third term?
Spokesman: I think we are guided by what the PRST said. If I have anything else to add, I will let you know.
Question: Back to Ukraine, I know it's up to the Security Council to decide about peacekeepers but DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) has input on peacekeeping missions. We're always hearing how overstretched DPKO already is. So would there even be capacity to put forth some sort of peacekeeping mission quickly because obviously the ceasefire is in tatters and missions take months to go out?
Spokesman: Again, we're…
Question: And TCCs (troop-contributing countries).
Spokesman: We are talking here about a situation where no request has been received. Obviously, in general terms and as you know, we don't have peacekeepers hanging around waiting for assignment. So for any peacekeeping mission, once a mandate is received, we then have to generate the force from troop‑contributing countries. So all these things do take time. But I would reiterate that no request has been received. Linda.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Would you have an update on [inaudible] de Mistura?
Spokesman: No, it's in the works. We're waiting to get more details about when exactly that would happen. Abdel Hamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It was announced couple of weeks ago in this room that there will be an investigation of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools in Gaza and we haven't heard any update since that announcement. Is there any update?
Spokesman: Which investigation are you referring to?
Question: The UN…
Spokesman: The Board of Inquiry.
Spokesman: Yes. The Secretary-General has received that report, and he is studying it, and as soon as we have something to add, I will let you know. Oh, sure.
Question: Yeah. I also raised in this room that the word "occupied" has been missing in the lexicon of the United Nations. I heard Mr. Feltman's yesterday's speech in the Security Council. He mentioned the term "West Bank" and "East Jerusalem" several times without adding the word "occupied West Bank" or "occupied East Jerusalem". If it's not mentioned again and again, it shows that maybe there's an indication.
Spokesman: I don't think there's a change. The nomenclature is what it is. We've mentioned here the Occupied Palestinian Territories in various contexts. Yes, sir.
Question: [off mic] Question about this Ukraine situation. Does the Secretary‑General has any new sort of solution for Ukraine? One of the solution that's being offered that there should be a referendum and an internationally monitored referendum to come to some sort of an agreement in Ukraine.
Spokesman: I think he — you know obviously he's following the situation there very closely. We're all very concerned about the continued loss of life. What is the first and most important step is for the ceasefire to be observed and for the fighting to stop. We are seeing the impact on the civilian population. I mean, the fact that we announced WFP sending food for tens of thousands of people in a country where I would hazard to say a year ago, WFP had no operations in, where we're seeing millions — you know, close to a million displaced people. So the immediate goal for the fighting to stop.
Question: Yes. Other question is on this hunt for the Chief for Humanitarian Affairs, after Ms. Amos' departure, is there a short list and is there other interviews going on about the new Humanitarian chief?
Spokesman: Maybe the terminology “hunt” for a new humanitarian chief may not be the right one.
There is a recruitment process. There is no hunt process. There is a process under way. Ms. Amos will be leaving soon. We want to have somebody as soon as possible and that recruitment process is ongoing. When it is finished, it will be announced from this podium.
Question: Can you at least tell us the short list? Can you provide a short list?
Spokesman: I will not. I will not. There will be a follow-up.
Question: Back to Gaza. It's been about two weeks since the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the Arab League said that the countries that have pledged money to help rebuild Gaza should honour those pledges. Have there been any responses from the countries so far?
Spokesman: No, I think if you — Mr. Feltman was quite clear yesterday that there's still a gap in funding and a lack of resources for the various humanitarian and rebuilding projects in Gaza. But as the World Bank, along with Norway and the Palestinian Authority, are keeping tabs on the money, we'll try to get you some numbers from them. Yes, in the back.
Question: Thank you. If I may go back to the Taliban a second and your statement and see if we can have a more articulate one, my question is: of course, you have been pushing for reconciliation, but were you aware — was the Secretary-General aware that there was this attempt by China to work as a supporter of the dialogue between Talibans and Kabul, and are you following the developments? Are you optimistic?
Spokesman: We are following developments. I was not aware of what you mentioned about China, but it does not mean that people with a higher paid rate than I were not aware as well.
Round 2, Linda, then Matthew. Linda, go ahead.
Question: Oh, I'm sorry. Stéphane, would you have — would you know if the 2139 report on humanitarian conditions in Syria is out? And also if Valerie Amos will be briefing the Council?
Spokesman: I will find — when is it due?
Question: I think it's due today or sometime this week.
Spokesman: Okay. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask something else about Haiti, but first on this OCHA recruitment process, I know that earlier in the process, Farhan, I think it was, had said there's been a petition asking for outside participation in the review and he'd said, no, this is something that can be done in-house. So I wanted to ask you not who's on the short list, but as a general matter, can you confirm that the UN has in fact accepted at least two outside people on the review panel, some of whom have been named in writing, but just the general principles…
Spokesman: No, I understand. I think if you look — we can share with you — there's quite an extensive detailed report on how this recruitment process is done, which went to the General Assembly, I think, last year, and outlines the possibility for the Secretary‑General to reach out to outside parties. But I will not confirm the details of this recruitment process. When it's over, we'll announce it.
Question: And will you say whether you had an outside participation…
Spokesman: When it's over, we'll announce it. Yes, sir.
Question: Follow-up on this. Is there a candidate from one of the Arab countries in this recruitment…
Spokesman: You know, if I tell you I'm not going to share with you a short list, I don't think I will answer that question about this hunt. Seniore.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General have an intention to add some other expert or aid to help Bernardino León in the Libyan case?
Spokesman: Well, Mr. León is hard at work. I think he will reach out if he needs any particular assistance. Obviously, he's in touch with a lot of national Governments both in the immediate North African region and the African Union and in Europe on the issue.
Question: Stéphane, is there any update on Yemen?
Spokesman: No. We have not. Mr. Benomar continues his activities. If we have an update, we'll share it with you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Finally Haiti and Mali. On Haiti, the — I wanted to ask you about cholera, because I saw that the Deputy Secretary-General met with Mr. Medrano yesterday at 4:30. Obviously, some kind of a readout, but what I've seen is that Mr. Medrano has done interviews saying that he wishes that the issue of Haitians with cholera — 23,000 or something new cases last year — were higher profile and there's a danger of forgetting it. So I want to I guess ask you if he's in New York, why doesn't he do a press conference or a stakeout or — I mean, Mr. Nabarro did a stakeout, he's doing a press conference. Can you ask?
Spokesman: I'll find out where he is.
Question: Okay. And on Mali, I think this was two days ago when Farhan did the briefing. I had asked about these reports of at least — it seems to be two separate incidences, maybe it was one, but about a number of peacekeepers injured by IEDs and otherwise. I'm asking you because the Indian ambassador, at least in the Special Committee on Peacekeeping, said there's not enough attention paid to peacekeepers being injured. So what is the protocol for announcing from this podium…
Spokesman: As soon as we get information from the missions we pass it on.
Question: Right, but there were some deaths in CAR that took like a week. Can you ask the missions to tell you…?
Spokesman: Trust me. We ask them to give us as much information as possible.
Question: On Mali, can you…
Spokesman: And on that note, I will see you tomorrow.
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