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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

10 March 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

We are going to try to do this a little bit on the quick side to give time to Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, as there will be a press conference by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at 12:45 p.m., on a very important subject. 

**"Every Woman, Every Child"

As the Commission on the Status of Women enters its second day, the Secretary-General participated this morning in a high-level event of the "Every woman, every child" movement, to reflect on the progress made since the launch of the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health back in September 2010.  since 2010 alone, the world has saved the lives of some 2.4 million women and children, the Secretary-General said, adding that this young, dynamic partnership has already developed real momentum.

Our task is now to maintain and build on that momentum and complete the unfinished health MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], the Secretary-General said.  His full remarks are available in my office.  At around 1:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will speak at the Women's empowerment principles annual event, co-sponsored by the Global Compact, and as you know Hillary Clinton will be among the other speakers.  And this evening, he will also address an event commemorating Beijing+20 called "Planet 50-50 by 2030:  Step It Up for Gender Equality".  We will issue his remarks at that event. 


In four years of war, almost 4 million Syrians have fled as refugees, and another 1.5 million have migrated to find work elsewhere, while over 6 million Syrians (roughly 40 per cent of the population) have been internally displaced within the country.  That's according to a new report produced today by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). 

UNRWA also estimates that over 50 per cent of the Palestine refugee population has been internally displaced at least once.  According to the report, since the start of the conflict, the Syrian economy has lost $202.6 billion. As a consequence, four out of five Syrians now live below the poverty line.  That report is available online. 


A note for those of you who are interested in Cyprus: the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, will visit the country from 16 to 18 March.  His schedule will include meetings with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders and their respective negotiating teams.

As part of the outreach to others who have a crucial role to play in efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement, Mr. Eide will also host an event for women civil society representatives and the media from both communities.  He looks forward to this upcoming visit as a chance to continue his dialogue with the leaders on the resumption of structured negotiations. 


From Geneva, our colleagues at the UN refugee agency say that they are extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, particularly in areas not controlled by the Government.  The agency says that the lack of access to benefits and services previously provided by the central authorities has drastically worsened the plight of the civilian population.  This has been further aggravated by restrictions on the movement of people and goods.

Despite security risks, UNHCR and its partners have delivered emergency aid to some of the neediest civilians, including in areas under frequent bombardment.  For the first time, the agency has delivered aid to two areas in Luhansk – Novopskov and Markivka – which were previously inaccessible to aid agencies.  More information on UNHCR website. 

**South Sudan

OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] tells us that, for the first time in nearly 18 months, a humanitarian convoy from Juba arrived in Maban in Upper Nile State.  Poor road access due to seasonal rains and insecurity has led to restricted access up until now.

OCHA says that over 60 trucks brought shelter material and household items destined for Unity and Upper Nile States, which have been badly affected by the conflict.  Some of the aid will be used to preposition supplies ahead of the upcoming rainy season when roads will be once again inaccessible.


Two notes from our human rights colleagues:  the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein called today for action after a surge in attacks on people with albinism in East Africa.  In the past six months, at least 15 people with albinism in Tanzania, Malawi and Burundi were abducted, wounded, killed or subjected to attempted kidnappings, including three such incidents in the past week alone.  The High Commissioner says these attacks were stunningly vicious, with children being particularly targeted.  More information online. 


Also a note of concern about Mauritania from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which says it is closely following the judicial proceedings in Mauritania against members of two civil society organizations.

Three men, including former presidential candidate Biram Dah Abeid, are serving out two-year sentences on charges that include "illegal assembly" and "refusal to carry out orders given by the administrative authorities".  Another three people remain in detention in Nouakchott pending a verdict in their case, which is expected to be delivered on Thursday. 

The Office says it is deeply concerned at the severity of the sentences against all of these people.  The three men are appealing the verdict, but they remain in detention pending the appeal.


From Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that it has constituted a panel of independent experts to undertake an assessment on all aspects of WHO's response in the Ebola outbreak.  The panel will present a first progress report on its work to the sixty-eighth Health Assembly, which is scheduled to be held in May 2015.

**Honour Roll

Albania has now paid its regular budget in full, bringing the total number of Member States having paid in full to?  Fifty-six, excellent.  Thank you for paying attention.  On that rich note, Mr. Klein.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  I apologize if I may have missed this, but has the Secretary‑General made any comment at all about the stabbing of the American Ambassador to South Korea and if not is there any plan…?

Spokesman:  Yes, he did.  I think we talked about it in this room whenever it happened, I think last week.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General expressed his concern at the brutal attack on the Ambassador, wished him a speedy recovery, and called on the authorities in the Republic of Korea to conduct a full investigation and ensure the safety of diplomatic personnel.  Masood and then we'll go this way.

Question:  On this… one, do you have any comment on Australian Prime Minister's admonition to United Nations stop lecturing them on human rights and refugee rights and so forth?  Do you have any…?

Spokesman:  You know, I think… if I can be so bold, but I think the Prime Minister was referring to a report of the Special Rapporteur and Special Rapporteurs are independent and they play a critical role in the human rights architecture of the United Nations.  Their mission is to follow the mandate given to them by the Human Rights Council and to point out when any country falls short of its obligations under international law.  And I think it's… Mr. Mendez recently said, I think, yesterday or today, that he treats every country the same way, and he just tries to uphold international standards as he understands them.  It's important that every country that is part of, a Member State of this organization, I think, respect the work of these rapporteurs.

Question:  Do you have any reaction to the protest by Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers in Dubai against poor pay and dire working conditions?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those protests, but obviously, the rights of migrant workers and the need to ensure that they are fully protected is an important one and one that the Secretary‑General has raised in visits to the region.  Abdel Hamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying he would not abide by the decision of the Central Council of the PLO to stop the security cooperation with Israel.  My question first, don't you think the Secretary-General rushed in issuing that statement expressing concern about the decision?  That is one question.  The second, Netanyahu in his campaign said now he is not abiding by the two‑State solution and he will never order more withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories.  Isn't that worth also a statement?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think… I don't think the Secretary‑General rushed to judgment.  You and I may differ on that.  I think the Secretary‑General expects both parties to uphold past obligations, past promises, enter into good faith political dialogue and be ready to make concessions.  I think that is valid for all sides.  Anna.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to devote my question to Jody Singh, an innocent girl who was gang‑raped, eviscerated and thrown on the side of the road in India today, and she died eventually.  Documentary on this is being shown in New York, which is forbidden in India.  It's called India's Daughter.  And actually, one of the defence lawyers of her convicted rapist, Mr. Sharma, said we live in the best culture in the world…

Spokesman: Anna, I complete-…I completely respect the question you're asking, but I really just want a question.

Question:  This is crucial, a culture where there is no place for a woman.  How would you comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  If you read what the Secretary‑General has said this past week, if you read whatever… every speech he's made wherever he goes, he speaks out for the rights of women, for the rights of girls.  As an example, he's championed Malala Yousafzai in her campaign to get girls in schools, to get girls respected.  I think his speaking out on this has been consistent.  It has been strong, it has been loud, and he will continue… he will continue do so.  Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's been a while since the two contractors in Darfur were captured at the end of January.  Are there any updates on their status?

Spokesman:  I have not received one but I will get one for you.

Correspondent:  I understand that the negotiations are ongoing.

Spokesman:  I'll see if I can get you one. Matthew?

Question:  I want to ask about Myanmar and a Boko Haram post given out by the UN.  One:  there's this incident in Myanmar which, despite various statements praising the Government, students that were protesting an education law were beaten and 100 of them arrested.  And I'm wondering what's the UN's comment on that.

Spokesman:  We're obviously aware of these reports.  I think the UN's… and our position on upholding the freedom of expression and the freedom to demonstrate peacefully has been reiterated often and it is being reiterated now.

Question:  And can I ask about this post?

Spokesman:  Quickly.  I want to move quickly because I know Jeff is waiting.

Question:  And I just… maybe I missed it or maybe it hasn't happened.  I'll ask you.  Has the UN named sort of an Envoy to specialize on Boko Haram in the form of Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, longtime UN official?

Spokesman:  No, there's no Envoy post to that effect.

Question:  Does he still work for the UN?

Spokesman:  Yes, he definitely works for the UN.  He does follow the Nigeria file, but he deals with it internally and he's not an Envoy.

Correspondent:  So, he's a member of DPA.

Spokesman: He's a card‑carrying member of DPA.  Yes, he is.  Señora and then we'll… sorry.  We'll…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As far as the albinos, if we can go back to them for a second.  The albinos being persecuted.  Is this a new trend?  Has it always happened?  Has it worsened?

Spokesman:  It's a longstanding trend in parts of eastern Africa, which we have denounced repeatedly, which involves extreme violence against people with albinism.

Question:  What is extreme violence?

Spokesman:  Extreme violence means death, kidnapping and hacking off limbs.  Olga.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Pakistani authorities today have lifted totally moratorium of death penalty.  Does it mean that they haven't heard the demand of Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, who… I'm sorry.  Who…?

Correspondent:  Pakistan.

Spokesman:  Pakistan.  I think the… as the Secretary‑General has said and some of his senior human rights officials have said, there is a worrying trend of us going backwards in terms of the outlawing and moratorium on the death penalty and it is a worrying trend.  Go ahead.  We're not going to have time for second questions. I need to get Jeff.

Question:  I'm sorry.  I came late, but I just wonder if you mentioned any visit of UN Secretary‑General Special Adviser to Cyprus, Mr. Eide.

Spokesman:  I did.  16 to 18 March.

Question:  Okay.  Is he coming here before or do you have any…?

Spokesman:  I don't think he's coming here before, but I will ask that he comes here after.  Okay.  We will get Jeff.  And I'll be right back.

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