Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 March 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We will start off with an announcement that following the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that is taking place in Sendai, Japan, as you know, the Secretary-General will travel for an official visit to Rome, Italy, on 18 March.
In Italy, in Rome, he is scheduled to meet with the country's President, the Prime Minister as well as the Foreign Minister.
The Secretary-General will then travel to Turin for the annual retreat of his senior advisers organized by the UN Staff College, which, as you know, is based in Turin. The discussions will focus on development, peace and security, justice and human rights, ahead of the milestones year 2015 and beyond.
Back here, this morning, the Security Council is meeting on the cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations.
Speaking at the meeting, the Secretary-General said that in today's security landscape, the United Nations is working closely with regional actors in a variety of ways.
He said that the challenges we face are too complex for any one organization or nation to address alone.
The Secretary-General noted that that the strategic partnership between the European Union and the United Nations runs deep. At a time when we face multiple crises, strengthening this partnership for peace, human rights and sustainable development is more necessary than ever.
**United Nations-European Union
Just before that meeting, the Secretary-General met with Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and she is also the Vice-President of the European Commission.
They noted that the work to be done in the multilateral arena this year will be particularly important in helping shape our common future.
On Ukraine, they agreed that the implementation of the Minsk Accords was still an overarching priority, and that, in this context, enabling the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) to fulfil its responsibilities was critical.
The full readout will be issued shortly and will be available online and in my office.
Also today, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening session of the Commission on the Status of Women, noting that the session takes place on the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a landmark in the struggle for the human rights of women.
He said that 2015 is a vital year for advancing the cause of gender equality. If the new development agenda is to be truly transformative, women must be at its centre, said the Secretary-General.
He challenged all stakeholders to work together to achieve gender equality during the timeframe set by the new development agenda. He said that the goal must be 50:50 by 2030. As women thrive, the Secretary-General said, so will we all. If girls are held back, the whole world feels the pain.
The Secretary-General marked International Women's Day yesterday by participating in the March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights, which, according to the NYPD, was attended by about 4,700 people. He said at that march that the world cannot realize 100 per cent if half of the population is held back. He added that we have to fully respect and use the potential of all women. His remarks are available online.
Also during this session, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN-Women and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will host a high-level side event tomorrow at 11:30. That event aims to encourage countries to change their nationality laws, since women in 27 countries are still not allowed to pass their nationality on to their children on an equal basis with men, creating a cycle of statelessness.
You will have seen that over the weekend – last night to be exact – we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General's outrage by the continuing destruction of cultural heritage by Daesh, amid reports of the razing of the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site in the north of the country.
The Secretary-General urgently called on the international community to swiftly put a stop to such heinous terrorist activity and to counter the illicit trade in cultural artefacts, as demanded by the Security Council. The Secretary-General reiterated that the deliberate destruction of our common cultural heritage constitutes a war crime and that the perpetrators must be held to account.
Also on Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that military operations around Tikrit and Daur district continue to force people to shelter in Samarra.
They add that food partners recently distributed rations for nearly 50,000 people for 3 days. Household kits have been distributed to 500 families, with blankets, mattresses, stoves and fuel. And UNICEF has distributed hygiene and waste collection supplies – and mobile latrines and showers are being installed.
From Lebanon, the UN Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, praised the efforts of the Lebanese Army in safeguarding Lebanon's stability and security after meeting with representatives of the Lebanese armed forces in Ras Baalbek today.
She also met with the head of the Municipality of Ras Baalbek and other local representatives to discuss the situation along Lebanon's eastern border as well as the socioeconomic challenges faced by residents and local municipalities.
Also over the weekend, the Secretary-General condemned two attacks in Mali.
One attack yesterday targeted the UN Mission in Mali's camp in Kidal. Two Malian children and a Chadian UN peacekeeper were killed and 11 peacekeepers and three civilians were also wounded in the attack.
The other attack, on Saturday in Bamako, resulted in the death of five and injured seven others, including two experts working for the United Nations.
The Secretary-General encourages all Malians to reject such violence and intimidation and to continue efforts to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Both statements are online.
From Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues there report that according to aid organizations, thousands of people were forcefully evicted from displacement sites in Mogadishu in the first week of March.
The evictions took place at a very short notice and most people were forced to leave their belongings behind. The majority of those evicted moved to the outskirts of Mogadishu, where living conditions are even harsher than in the capital.
A quick note from the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): Yury Fedotov today spoke at the opening of the new session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and praised the Commission's vital role as a policymaking body on narcotic drugs within the UN system.
UNODC's work, Mr. Fedotov noted, sought to protect the health of people, including those suffering from HIV or hepatitis; ensure access to treatment services and essential medicines; promote fundamental human rights; build viable alternative livelihoods; and stop criminals from exploiting the vulnerable.
More information on the UNODC's website.
A senior appointment to announce for today: the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Stephen O'Brien of the United Kingdom as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
He succeeds Valerie Amos of the United Kingdom, to whom the Secretary-General expresses his utmost gratitude for her outstanding services to the United Nations and the global humanitarian community.
Mr. O'Brien is expected to bring innovative and strategic ideas as a strong humanitarian advocate with more than 20 years of experience in international development and health care.
His full biography is available in my office.
**Honour Roll Note
In our honour roll today, Monaco, the Principality of Monaco, has paid its regular budget assessment, bringing the total number of Member States who have paid in full to…? Come on, anybody paying attention here? 55, it's not that complicated.
After you are done with me, there will be a press conference by Chandra Roy Henriksen, Chief of the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, along with others to discuss indigenous women's rights.
Tomorrow, you have a busy day: there will be a press conference at 11:00 a.m., by Iryna Geraschenko, Special Representative of the President of Ukraine.
At noon, I will be joined by Jeff Feltman, who will be my guest, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who, as you know, has come back from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other places. And he will be here to talk to you about that and his future plans, travel that is.
And at 12:45 p.m., there will be a press conference organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN-Women on the report "2015 Map of Women in Politics – Data and rankings on women MPs and women in executive government".
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Masood, then Matthew.
Question: [off mic] 20 years since Beijing conference. Has the Secretary-General reminded the international community, and especially people from South-East Asia, how the conditions… status of women are in India? And that they are continued to be oppressed.
Spokesman: You know, I think the Secretary-General in his statement today, in the message that was issued for the day, I think made it clear that the issue of the status of women, especially the violence against women, is an issue that every country on this planet needs to deal with. It occurs in peace, it occurs in war, in rich countries, in poor countries, and it is a debate that every country needs to have and needs to focus on solving the issue.
Question: Yeah, the reason why I'm saying that, did he specifically mention…? There were no names, just…
Spokesman: We're all aware of the cases that are going on in India. There are other cases going on in other countries. What I'm saying to you is that this is a global issue that every country needs to deal with. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I want to ask about the OCHA succession. I guess, first, I want to say, in sort of the spirit of transparency, can you give a little more flavour of how the selection was done, whether there was in fact outside input on the panel, for example Peter Maurer and whether there was in the final list any women candidates given that the day that it is, and I guess more pointedly what would you say to those who say this shows that the UK does in fact own that post in the same way that peacekeeping is owned by France and DPA by the US?
Spokesman: I think on the selection issue, you know – not only the Secretary-General put out a note verbale to every Member State, the announcement went up on the web, consultations were also undertaken with concerned humanitarian partners. We do not as a matter of policy make public the short list or the members of the panel, but suffice it to say the Secretary-General has made it a point to ensure that there are, that women are represented in the highest functions in this Organization and that women candidates are very much encouraged to apply. I think if you look at the list of Emergency Relief Coordinators since 1992, you will see a wide range of countries.
Spokesman: Well, the list is there for everyone to see. Yes.
Question: The Secretary-General has made public his concern about the situation in Venezuela. Just minutes ago, the White House announced sanctions against officials of Venezuela as well as extension of the sanctions that they had issued last year. How does the Secretary-General see this situation, especially the relationship getting more heated between the United States and Venezuela? And especially right now where we have seen an increase on poverty, lack of food and basic supplies for Venezuelans as it stands right now in the country?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General's position was well laid out in his statement at the end of February. He's very much in support of the efforts undertaken by the OAS and UNASUR to ensure that there is a political dialogue going on in the country. I haven't seen the report of the sanctions; I was just getting ready for the briefing. So if there's something else, I'll get back to you on that. Ali and then Nizar and then Iftikhar. I'm sorry. You're all being very patient.
Question: [off mic] Secretary-General plausible action that is seeking from the international community to take regarding the situation in Iraq and the destruction of the Iraqi historical heritage?
Spokesman: The practical action, one, is to ensure that funding is cut off, that the trafficking in these illicit artefacts stop. That is a very important one. It is a reminder also about the issue of accountability, that those who commit these crimes are committing war crimes and that there will need to be accountability. And it is an appeal to those who are doing it to stop doing it, to ensure, to underscore the inhumanity of the destruction of not only Iraq's heritage, but we're seeing really our common heritage. Iftikhar and then we'll go to you, Nizar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Has the Secretary-General any comments on Mr. Netanyahu's reported statement that he would not cede an inch of illegally occupied Palestinian territory?
Spokesman: I think we've seen the statement. The Secretary-General's own position on what needs to be done to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue is well known, and it focuses around political dialogue and courageous steps by all concerned. Nizar?
Question: Given that the Israelis are still withholding the Palestinian taxes and the Palestinian Authority is really undergoing very stringent or very difficult situation, the situation in Gaza is getting worse and worse, of course. Shouldn't there be any action rather than just dialogue asking them, appealing for dialogue isn't enough.
Spokesman: Well, I think I was answering a slightly different question than the one you framed. On the issue of the payments, we have made it clear through public statements, through private conversations to the Israeli authorities, we've called on them to release the money that is owed to the Palestinian Authority. I think it's in everyone's interest that the Palestinian Authority receives the revenues that is owed to them so that it can carry on its work.
Question: [off mic] …by Mr. Netanyahu of the two-State solution is an escalation to the earlier…
Spokesman: I think our position remains the same. There's obviously a certain political context under which these things are being said in Israel. Our position remains the same. Yes.
Question: [inaudible] two weeks ago that the money that was promised from the donors, most of it is not there, so is there any progress on this front? And regarding the siege, I mean and the borders with Egypt, there's hardly – except for maybe two days ago people were able to cross only if they're sick and et cetera. Is the security… Is Secretary-General trying on this front to…?
Spokesman: You know, the issue of the crossings that need to be open from the Israeli side, the Egyptian side, is a critical one, is something that Mr. Serry very much spoke out loudly about in his last visit, his ultimate visit to Gaza, I think, last week. I think, if I'm not mistaken, we're seeing the Egyptian crossing being opened for two days for humanitarian purposes. It's a good step. But it is important that the people of Gaza have access to the outside world, not only for persons but also for goods and services, so that the economy can get back on track. As far as the money that was pledged, we're trying to get some numbers from the World Bank, which along with Norway and the Palestinian Authority are responsible for collecting that data. Let me, before I start, I just want to say there was a note handed to me, a statement I wanted to read out on the flight of – different subject – but on the flight of the Solar Impulse plane. The Secretary-General congratulates the Solar Impulse project and wishes them every success on the historic attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel. We take inspiration from their example and efforts to harness the power of multilateralism to address climate change and inspire the world to achieve sustainable development through innovative sustainable energy and renewable energy. With their daring and determination, we can all fly into a sustainable future. Yes, in the back.
Question: I wonder if you had a chance to read the report today in The Washington Post about ISIS says – I read only two lines – the Islamic State appears to be starting to fray from within as the [inaudible] and setbacks on the battlefield, despite the group's strength and so forth and so on. Has the Secretary-General read it? Does he have any reaction or information extra?
Spokesman: I don't think we have – it's obviously a very interesting article. I can't tell you that we have any information one way or the other to corroborate what's being said. Mr. Haider.
Question: Stéphane, on this Israeli Prime Minister continues… I mean warnings to international community not to allow any deal between Iran and the international community. Has anybody from the United Nations or the international community also thought about Israel's own nuclear programme, which has 200 nuclear warheads which are very much there, and there are reports that it will use it when it comes in Middle East. Middle East…
Spokesman: Okay. I hear a question in that statement. The Secretary-General has taken the issue of non-proliferation very seriously and has consistently called for global nuclear non-proliferation. And I will leave it at that.
Question: But Israel's own…
Spokesman: I understand your question; I've answered it to the best of my ability. Mr. Lee?
Question: I want to ask about Mali and something you'd said about Syria on Friday's briefing. On Mali, I saw that the statement by MINUSMA said that on the attack that killed a peacekeeper and two children, that they returned fire immediately 2 kilometres from the base. It just was unclear to me, does this mean that they used rockets in return? Did they go out to the site and were there any casualties? Did they in fact get any of the attackers given that they returned fire in this way?
Spokesman: No, I have an update that the peacekeeping and civilians that were injured in the attack were treated at UN medical facilities. I don't have any detail on that particular aspect, and I doubt that – and I may be corrected – that the peacekeepers have any rockets.
Question: Right. It's just the way it was phrased it said "we responded two kilometres away."
Spokesman: I will check.
Question: You said on Friday right at the end of the briefing in response to that New Republic article that you denied that the Chief Legal Counsel had ever characterized the air strikes on Syria as illegal. So I just… having looked at what you said, I wanted to ask two things. One, the question was asked to you about also whether DPA under Mr. Feltman had said that in fact the airstrikes were fine and, two, does the denial apply to all of OLA and senior staff of OLA, or only to Mr. Serpa Soares himself?
Spokesman: I think I said what I had to say on this and that there was no – you know, I've said what I've had to. I understand
Question: Two quotes were raised and [overlapping talking].
Spokesman: I understand. I've said what I've had to say own this.
Question: [off mic] Any progress on that since last week, I mean is he doing any endeavours, any new endeavours…?
Spokesman: He and his team are continuing to hold talks at various levels, but I will see what other update I can give you.
Question: Do you have any comment on the dissolving Hazem, which is considered one of the modest groups in Syria and also defection of Free Syrian Army units to the Syrian army, joining the Syrian army in their fight against extremists?
Spokesman: No, I do not have anything on that. Linda.
Question: Thank you, Steph. My question has to do with Ukraine. I was wondering if there was any update since late last week regarding funding for the humanitarian crisis there? I think you said there were about 5 million people in need.
Spokesman: I think it was about 13 per cent funded. I haven't received any updates. I will try to get some for you. Thank you. We will leave you with our next briefing. Aron, if you want to come up. Thank you.
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