Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
20 February 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I have a couple of statements to start off with.
**Statement on Nigeria
The first one being on Nigeria; the statement on Nigeria: following the postponement of general elections in Nigeria to 28 March and 11 April, the Secretary-General strongly urges the Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure these new dates are maintained, in accordance with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. He welcomes the commitments by the candidates to the presidency to respect the new calendar.
The Secretary-General commends the progress made by the Election Commission in the preparation for the elections, including the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards. The Secretary-General urges all relevant national institutions to continue to work with INEC to ensure all voters can exercise their constitutional right to participate in the elections freely and without intimidation.
The Secretary-General nevertheless expresses strong concern over reports of election-related violence. He urges all political leaders to adhere to their commitments under the Abuja Accord, to refrain from inflammatory statements and to immediately condemn any statements from their supporters that amount to an incitement to violence or subversion of the electoral process.
The Secretary-General reiterates to Nigerians that the United Nations will closely be following developments and is offering its full support to Nigeria at this important moment. His High-Level Representative to Nigeria, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, will remain actively engaged with the Nigerian authorities over the coming weeks.
And also on Nigeria, the Special Representative for Global Education, Gordon Brown, is urging Boko Haram to free the girls who were taken from Chibok last April, after the group released yesterday 158 women and children taken during a separate raid on Katarka, in December.
He said that now that Boko Haram had released some hostages, they should release them all and that there would be no let-up in the campaign to find them and free them.
Mr. Brown also said that if the girls were still prisoners by that time, the first full year of their captivity would be marked by a vigil planned here at Headquarters on 14 April.
**Statement on Syria
On Syria, another statement, attributable to the Spokesman:
The Secretary-General appeals to all parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to provide a reprieve for the long-suffering civilians of Syria. An immediate de-escalation is a much needed step towards a political solution to the conflict.
The Secretary-General takes note of the indication reported by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to the Security Council on 17 February that the Syrian Government has committed to suspend all aerial attacks and artillery shelling over the entire city of Aleppo for a period of six weeks. This is in order to allow the United Nations to implement the pilot project of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid starting with one district in Aleppo and building incrementally to others.
The Secretary-General recalls that Security Council resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas in Syria, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and expects the Syrian Government to follow through on its commitment. The Secretary-General also appeals to all armed opposition groups in Aleppo to suspend their shelling of the city.
The last four years of war have led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the greatest refugee crisis of modern times and created an environment in which extremist groups and terrorist organizations such as ISIL/Daesh are able to flourish. The Secretary-General recalls Security Council resolutions 2170 and 78 and stresses that there is no military solution to this conflict. This is a political conflict. Ending the killing, reversing the increasing fragmentation of Syria requires a political process, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 2012 that addresses the deep roots of the conflict and meets the aspirations of all Syrians. And that statement is available online.
Also on Syria, as you've heard, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has released its latest report, in which it says that unthinkable crimes continue to occur daily in Syria, with victims' voices in danger of being lost amid the horrors of a conflict now approaching its fifth year.
The report, the Commission's ninth to the Human Rights Council, charts the major trends and patterns of international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed from March 2011 to January of this. The report emphasizes the need for concerted and sustained international action to find a political solution, to stop grave violations of human rights, and to break the seemingly intractable cycle of impunity.
There is more information on the Commission's website and I think most of you heard from the commissioners a short while ago.
I've a readout of the Secretary-General's phone call to the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Mr. Pavlo Klimkin. The Secretary-General spoke to him just a short while ago. The Secretary-General commended the leadership displayed by President Poroshenko in efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, in the phone call, he voiced his concern at the still dangerous situation on the ground. The Secretary-General also expressed hope that the ceasefire agreed to on 12 February in Minsk would firmly take hold across the region.
On the possibility of a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, the Secretary-General informed the Foreign Minister that the United Nations would stand guided by any decision of the Security Council would make on this issue. The Secretary-General and Foreign Minister agreed to continue their discussion on matters of mutual concern.
Also from Ukraine, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that while the 15 February ceasefire has led to a decrease in hostilities in many parts of the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, it remains deeply concerned about the fate of civilians, as well as captured or wounded Ukrainian servicemen in the Debaltseve area.
Heavy fighting continued in that area until 18 February as a result of repeated breaches of the ceasefire by the armed groups.
The Office says that it is unclear how many civilians were trapped while fighting raged there, and how many have been wounded or killed, or whether they now have access to medical and other basic services. The High Commissioner's Office also expressed regrets that OSCE monitors were not, and still have not been, allowed access to this area. And more is available on the Office for the High Commissioner's website.
A trip announcement: The Secretary-General will travel for an official visit to Asuncion, in Paraguay, on Tuesday, 24 February 24, before heading to Santiago de Chile on 27 February.
In Paraguay, the Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with President [Horacio] Cartes and Foreign Minister [Eladio] Loizaga, as well as other senior officials and civil society representatives.
In Chile, the Secretary-General will attend the high-level event on "Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world", aimed at reflecting the last 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The Secretary-General will deliver the keynote address at the event and will also hold bilateral meetings with President [Michelle] Bachelet and Foreign Minister [Heraldo] Muñoz, as well as other international and national officials.
And he will be back at Headquarters in New York on Monday, 2 March.
A note from our colleagues from the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL): They issued a statement today strongly deplored the terrorist bombings in the city of Al-Qubbah in eastern Libya, causing many casualties.
The mission called the bombings a cowardly act. It believes that the best response to counter terrorism and violence is for the Libyans to forge ahead with the search for a political solution to end the conflict.
[In a statement later issued attributable to the Spokesman, the Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms today's multiple bombing attacks in the eastern Libyan city of Qubbah, which reportedly left dozens dead. He expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of these deplorable acts and to the Libyan people. These terrorist acts are an additional reminder that a political solution to the current crisis must be found quickly to restore peace and stability in the country and confront terrorism.]
And on Mali, the UN Mission says it has taken note of the declaration signed yesterday by the parties to the inter-Malian inclusive dialogue announcing an immediate cessation of hostilities.
It welcomes this as a potentially important step that can demonstrate good will and help build confidence in the talks currently ongoing in Algiers to reach a sustainable political solution.
It also calls upon Malian signatories to the declaration to strictly abide by its provisions.
The UN also calls upon the parties to make good on their commitment to fully participate in existing ceasefire monitoring arrangements and to cooperate with the UN mission on confidence-building measures.
And also on Mali, a team of independent experts appointed by the Secretary-General to look into the events surrounding the 27 January violent demonstration in Gao has arrived in Bamako and started its work today.
The three-member team met with officials from the Government of Mali and briefed them on its terms of reference. The team also expressed appreciation for assurances of collaboration from the Malian authorities. And the team will travel to Gao in the coming days.
And from Somalia, the Special Representative in the country, Nicholas Kay, has condemned, in the strongest terms, today's attack on the Central Hotel in Mogadishu that resulted in the death and injury of dozens of people, including senior members of the Federal Government of Somalia. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack.
He said that such an indiscriminate attack against the Somali people is a cruel and despicable crime intended to rob Somalis of their hope for a better future. He added that despite such inhuman atrocities, Somalis are successful in rebuilding their government institutions and security forces after more than two decades of state failure and conflict. The UN in Somalia will continue to work to help Somalis realize their hopes and aspirations for a peaceful and stable future.
[A statement attributable to the Spokesman was later issued: The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attack today at the Central Hotel in Mogadishu, during Friday prayers, which resulted in the death and injury of many innocent Somalis, including Government officials and Members of Parliament. In a phone call today to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia, the Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the Government of Somalia and the families of those killed, and wished the injured swift recovery.
The Secretary-General pays tribute to the Somali security forces, who brought the situation under control.
The Secretary-General also reaffirms the strong resolve of the United Nations to continue supporting the people and Government of Somalia, who are working to rebuild peace and prosperity in their country. The terrorist attacks cannot deter the collective will of the Somali people to move forward, or the commitment of the United Nations.]
Just a few more: from Geneva, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights today strongly condemned the racist behaviour of a group of Chelsea football fans during the build-up to a Champions League game that was taking place in Paris on Tuesday.
As you've seen, these fans were filmed singing a song flaunting their racism and repeatedly preventing a French citizen of African descent from boarding the Paris Métro.
In recent years, the Office of the High Commissioner has been engaging in discussions with both FIFA and UEFA about ways to enhance the effort to root racism out of football after numerous examples of racist behaviour by football fans, especially inside stadiums.
And more information on the High Commissioner's website.
**Questions from Yesterday
Catch-up from yesterday: I think you, Matthew, had asked about injured peacekeepers in Mali. And I can tell you that the UN Mission there, MINUSMA, reports that an accidental explosion at the mission's camp in Tabankort injured four peacekeepers.
Three of them have been evacuated out of the country for further medical treatment.
And someone asked about the UN delegation to talks in Khartoum about the exit strategy for UNAMID. The acting Joint Special Representative for the Mission, Abiodun Oluremi Bashua, led the talks from the UN side.
**Noon Briefing Guests Today
As soon as we are done here, my colleague Jean Victor [Nkolo] will moderate a press conference with the Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, and also Dr. Bruce Aylward, the Assistant Director-General for Emergencies for the World Health Organization (WHO).
**Questions and Answers
Mr. Roth. Your microphone, please.
Question: The Syrian Ambassador criticized your office, or maybe you indirectly, regarding statements on his country. Would you care to take the bait?
Spokesman: I think I may have heard what he said. We stand by the nomenclature we use in these briefings. Mr. Lee?
Question: So I actually had something else, but I wanted to follow up on that. I think what he's asking is do you only use the words terrorist groups to apply to al‑Nusra and Daesh, and everyone else is an armed opposition group? Or how do you make that distinction?
Spokesman: I think I would let the reports speak for themselves and I think we have repeatedly condemned terrorist acts whenever and wherever they occur.
Question: Just now the commission said, mentioned both in the report and at the stakeout abuses they say were committed by some of the Kurdish fighters. And so I'm wondering do you — does your nomenclature follow either in real-time or shortly after the issuance of their reports, or do you just…
Spokesman: No, I think it's about, it's also about the acts and abuses committed by any group, anywhere, are to be condemned. And that's what we do. And I haven't, we have not yet, I have not yet read the full report.
Question: And just one more thing about the stakeout just to get your real-time response. The Ambassador of Syria said that the event down in Washington, the countering violent extremism event, was in a way problematic because it wasn't within the UN, the framework, and may have even undermined the UN framework. Does Ban Ki‑moon, as the keeper of the framework, how does he view the relationship of this event to this 193…
Spokesman: If the Secretary-General felt the event in Washington undermined anything, he would not have participated in it. Ann?
Question: Yes. In this week's meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ambassador [Yuriy] Sergeyev stated that what the Russians called reunification of the Crimea was actually an occupation annexation following aggression. What does the UN Secretary-General view the status of Crimea? How does he view it?
Spokesman: The status of the Crimea for the Secretariat is guided by the relevant General Assembly resolution. Yes, sir?
Question: Francesco from La Stampa. Two quick questions. First one is on Libya. This morning both Tobruk and the Tripoli Government say that are not willing to negotiate for national coalition agreement. This affects in some way what has been decided in the last Security Council. And the second question is on Venezuela. Yesterday night Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma has been arrested and is held in prison charged with civil unrest and these counts are in the first anniversary of the violent arrests between the Maduro Government and your position. Do you have any comments about…
Spokesman: Sure. On your first question, I haven't seen the particular comments you're quoting or where they've been made. Our position consistently is that there needs to be a political solution to the situation in Libya. Mr. De León is working hard at that task. And what is critical is that all Libyan political parties participate in the talks. This was raised again by the Secretary-General in his meeting yesterday on Libya with [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry as well as the European Union's High Representative for foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, and he was also joined by the Foreign Minister of Egypt. And I think all emphasized the need for political parties, all the political parties in Libya, to participate in the talks.
As for Venezuela, we're obviously looking at that information that you refer to. I think consistently the Secretary‑General has called, publicly has supported, the efforts to bring about a dialogue between the political actors in Venezuela. And he very much hopes that all parties will redouble their efforts to advance in this process and that this initiative will receive broad support so that the challenges that, political challenges that Venezuela is facing will be dealt with peacefully.
Question: I know…
Spokesman: Mr. Roth and then Mr. Lee.
Question: [overlapping talking] But is he going to speak to the Government there? Will he condemn the arrests of the mayor and the…
Spokesman: As I said, we're following this information. If we have anything more to say, we will say it. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot.
I know we have guests waiting, further guests waiting, so I'll keep this brief. Two questions. One — it will be very brief. I wanted to ask you, I asked you two days ago whether Ján Kubiš is the new Nikolay Mladenov in Iraq. Now that the letter has gone to the Security Council, can you say anything more?
Spokesman: You know, I love this back and forth with you on senior appointments because it's the same.
Spokesman: It will be officially announced when it's officially announced from here.
Question: I guess on the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) one… it seem… well, the request is to make the process transparent, not the outcome.
Question: Speed it along. I wanted to ask you on Bangladesh, I saw the readout of the Secretary‑General's discussion with the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, urging, instruct, to engage constructively with the opposition. Because there's some, either confusion I've seen in the Bangladeshi press, is there, does this mean to meet with former Prime Minister Zia and to withdraw terrorism and other charges against her? And also, I wanted to ask this again because there's now a very specific list of Bangladesh military figures who are accused of abuses now and back in May 2013 who are now serving in missions, i.e., there's a list of people serving in a variety of UN peacekeeping missions. So I wanted to know, either now or later today, can Peacekeeping describe what review it's made of Bangladesh military figures given the concerns…
Spokesman: I don't have any information on the peacekeeping aspect. I think what the Secretary-General has been calling in his meeting with the Foreign Minister, in the letters that were sent, is encouraging the Government to seek concrete ways to de-escalate the situation and to engage constructively with the opposition for the long-term benefit and development of the country.
Question: And that usually means meeting.
Question: That would be…
Spokesman: Engaging in the opposition to me, the general definition of opposition are people who are not in power. Yes, Go?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The US and Iraq, the American and Iraqi army are supposed to launch the ground operation in Mosul in the coming weeks. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: No, I, you know, obviously, we've seen those, we've seen the reports. I think my only comment is to ensure that whatever operation takes place — and we're not privy to the details — that whatever operation takes place is very mindful of human rights and of the need to avoid civilian casualties, to avoid reprisals, and to ensure that the operation is conducted within the framework of international human rights obligations and international humanitarian law.
Question: Sorry if I missed it if you've been discussing it, but just to be clear, no formal request from Ukraine to the SG to the Security Council that you're aware of regarding peacekeepers?
Spokesman: No, sir, and I think that's what we just said in the readout.
Question: Did that come up in the readout? Because it has this line this about that peacekeepers are up to the Security Council. Did the foreign minister… who made the call? Did the Secretary-General call him or did he call the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: I don't know who requested the call. I can find out, but the point is, is that the, we will be, as always, on peacekeeping issues, the Secretariat will be guided by requests, by the guidance offered by the Security Council. Thank you. I will turn you over to Jean-Victor and the good doctors to talk to you about Ebola.
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