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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

12 March 2015

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

After you are done with me, there will be a press conference here by the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa on the theme of "African women and girls speak on peace, security and development in Africa".  I will start off with a statement by the Secretary-General in his own words on fulfilling our collective responsibility in Syria. 

**Secretary-General Statement on Syria

The Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart.  They and their neighbours continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community, still divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction. 

In March 2011, thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform.  This legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities.  Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional Powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold. 

Today over 220,000 Syrians have been killed. Almost half of the country's men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes.  More than 4 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while a further 7.6 million people are displaced within Syria.  Every day brings more death, displacement and destruction, raising the fearsome prospect of the total collapse of this country and even more serious consequences in the region.

While global attention is rightfully focused on the threat to regional and international peace and security, which terrorist groups such as Da'esh pose, our focus must continue to be with the Syrian people.  Bringing the deadly Syrian conflict to an end is imperative if we are to extinguish the fires of violent extremism and sectarianism that burn throughout the entire region. 

The United Nations continues to provide daily life-saving assistance to the Syrian people.  In Aleppo, Special Envoy [Staffan] de Mistura is tirelessly working to bring about a suspension on the use of heavy weapons so that the UN can deliver additional humanitarian assistance to the city's beleaguered population. Later this month, I will chair an International Pledging Conference in Kuwait to raise funds to help the Syrian people and countries throughout the region that are bearing the heavy burden of hosting millions of Syrian refugees.  I hope that the response at the conference will be extremely generous.  I thank the Government of Kuwait for hosting the event for the third time.

Humanitarian assistance can only alleviate Syria's suffering, not stop the war.  For this, a political solution to this senseless conflict is necessary.  I call upon the international community to unite and lend its full support to UN efforts to forge an inclusive, Syrian-led political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué and which meets the aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom, dignity and justice.  It is also incumbent upon the Syrian parties themselves, including especially President Bashar al-Assad, to take decisive steps to end the bloodshed and to start a political process.  Governments or movements that aspire to legitimacy do not massacre their own people. 

The lack of accountability in Syria has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.  Each day brings reports of fresh horrors:  executions, widespread arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearance, as well as systematic torture in detention; indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, including with barrel bombs; siege and starvation tactics; use of chemical weapons, and atrocities committed by Da'esh and other extremist groups. 

We have an obligation to the Syrian people to help ensure that serious crimes committed over the past four years do not go unpunished.  The Security Council has in the past shown its ability to act against the use of chemical weapons in Syria and to compel the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Syrians.  I call upon the Security Council to take determined measures to resolve this crisis and on the way forward.  Let us work together now to build a better future for the people of Syria and the region. We cannot shirk this collective responsibility. 

**Syria – Humanitarian

Also on Syria, colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] report that some 14 million children across the region are now suffering from the escalating conflict sweeping Syria and much of Iraq.  The situation of more than 5.6 million children inside Syria remains the most desperate.  That includes up to 2 million children who are living in areas of the country largely cut off from humanitarian assistance due to fighting and other factors.  Some 2.6 million Syrian children are still out of school today.

Yesterday afternoon, we issued a call on the public, Member States, world leaders and the wider humanitarian community to join the #WhatDoesItTake social media campaign to express their frustration around the deteriorating humanitarian situation and to send a message of solidarity with the people of Syria, so they do not give up hope.  Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos said that Syrians need peace now, and they need to know that the world is committed to securing their children's future. 

And also, a Syrian note from UNHCR [Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees], that warned today that most of the almost 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt see no prospect of returning home in the near future, and have scant opportunity to restart their lives in exile.  Well over half of all Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in insecure dwellings – up from a third last year – posing a constant challenge to keep them safe and warm. A survey of 40,000 Syrian families in Jordan's urban areas found that two thirds of them were living below the absolute poverty line.


Turning to the Secretary-General, as you know, he is departing for Japan today.  As we told you last week, his first stop will be in the northern city of Sendai, where he will take part in the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which begins on Saturday.

In Sendai, the Secretary-General will meet world leaders attending the Conference, including Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Abe, and he will attend several side events.   He will also visit and meet with people in the impacted area of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  On Monday, he will travel to Tokyo, where he will speak at an event on the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations. 


On Ebola, you will have seen that a health-care worker from the United Kingdom was just flown home from Sierra Leone.  Dr. Nabarro, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Ebola, said that this incident is a reminder of the bravery of the national and international responders who put themselves at risk on a daily basis to fight Ebola and help the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

He said that their sacrifice is remarkable and that it is the selflessness and determination of national and international responders that is making the difference in the fight against Ebola.  Dr. Nabarro reiterated that the outbreak will not be over until the last case has been identified and treated.  He said for this, we rely on the responders who have stayed the course.  We need their help until the job is done and we must stay vigilant until we have dealt with the very last case.

**Hepatitis B

WHO [World Health Organization] issued today its first-ever guidance for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B, a viral infection attacking the liver and resulting in over 650,000 deaths each year – most of them in low- and middle-income countries.  The new guidelines lay out a simplified approach to the care of people living with chronic hepatitis B.


A couple of personnel related notes.  I just wanted to flag for you that the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) based in Montreal has appointed Dr. Fang Liu of China as its new Secretary-General for a three-year term, beginning 1 August.  Dr. Liu succeeds Raymond Benjamin of France, who has held the position for two consecutive terms since 2009.  She becomes the first-ever woman to be appointed at the head of the UN specialized agency dealing with civil aviation.  Her bio is on the ICAO's website. 


An appointment.  The Secretary-General today announces the appointment of Miroslav Jenča of Slovakia as the new Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  He will succeed Jens Toyberg-Frandzen of Denmark, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his leadership and acumen in the position.  Mr. Jenča will be responsible, among other things, for overseeing the divisions in the Department of Political Affairs dealing with the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Middle East and West Asia, as well as the Decolonization and the Division for Palestinian Rights.

**Sustainable Energy for All

We are also announcing today that Kandeh Yumkella is stepping down as Special Representative and Chief Executive Officer for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  The Secretary-General expressed his deep gratitude for Mr. Yumkella outstanding service.  He said that Mr. Yumkella has been a visionary and dynamic leader of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, helping shape the proposed Sustainable Development Goal on energy.  Arrangements are currently being made for the new leadership of this initiative and we will inform you as time goes on.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow, at 12:45 p.m., after this briefing, press conference here by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to launch a publication entitled, Evidence Changes Lives:  Realizing Evaluation's Potential to Inform the Global Sustainable Development GoalsKhalas.  I will take your questions.  Mr. Lee.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask about UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] and also Bangladesh.  UNAMID, I wanted to know if you had anything on this ambush that was reported by some but not apparently by UNAMID, at least to its press list.  That took place on Tuesday outside El Fasher.

Spokesman:  I got an update this very day.  I can confirm that on 10 March, a joint convoy traveling from Kutum to El Fasher made up of World Food Programme and UNAMID trucks being escorted by UNAMID peacekeepers was ambushed by unidentified armed men at a location 36 kilometres from Kutum.  The mission's peacekeepers responded to the attack, and in the ensuing exchange of fire, the driver of one of the trucks sustained non‑life‑threatening injuries.  He received medical care at the scene and was evacuated.  The assailants fled the scene.  Three UNAMID vehicles are unaccounted for as a result of the attack, and our colleagues in the mission are investigating the incident.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask on Bangladesh… I wanted to ask, the joint Secretary‑General of the BNP party Salahuddin Ahmed, who has been arrested and some people say mistreated in detention.  Given the calls from this podium to de‑escalate what the response is and whether there have been any further efforts to get either Mr. Taranco or others to the country?

Spokesman:  I don't have an update beyond reiterating what we've said here for political dialogue and for de‑escalating the tensions in Bangladesh, but I will try to get you some more.  Erol and then Abdel Hamid.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  There is no doubt, obviously, what you have read from the Secretary‑General's statement on Syria.  Where does he place the blame in this ongoing, I would say, Rashomon?  At the same time I didn't like to sound naïve, but it's somehow my job, and I would like to ask you, is Geneva process what we've heard now that and the Secretary‑General is looking for other directions or…?

Spokesman:  I think as I've said, the Geneva… the need to get people around the table for political talks within the framework of the Geneva process, which needs to be obviously Syria… for Syrian‑led political transition, continues.  And I think… I don't know what you were implying in your… part of your first question, it was not so much assigning blame than underscoring our collective responsibility.  Abdel Hamid.

Question:  Thank you.  I want to ask about Libya.  The House of Deputies that is based in Tobruk, which is recognized internationally, asked for a delay to go back to the negotiation table to Skhirat in Morocco for 1 to 10 days.  And there was another round of talks in Algeria.  So, are they in coordination?  And where do we stand now in the case of Libya?  That is one question…

Spokesman:  Mr. Bernardino is continuing his efforts, talking to as many parties as possible and trying to continue his effort to get them back to the table.  I will try to get you slightly more detailed update, as well.

Correspondent:  You know the news that some news leaked out and they were annoyed with it.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Anyhow, my second question has nothing to do… what is the procedure when the Secretary‑General travels?  Does he… about taking journalists with him?  Is that a procedure?  Is there…?

Spokesman:  You know, it's something we're trying to do.  Part of the challenge is obviously our own logistical arrangements.  Secretary‑General travels commercial the vast amount of trips, which makes it sometimes difficult for journalists to come around, to go along.  But, we are trying to identify trips in the coming year where journalists could come along and it would be feasible, but we… I don't know if I would like you to come along, but he would like you to come along.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In Kosovo, in a municipality called Ranilug, and I know you have a mission in Kosovo, which is run by a Serbian mayor and the population of that municipality is mixed.  The street is being named after Slobodan Milosevic, the war criminal and the man who started four wars in Balkans and, as we all know, did cause much damage.  Does Secretary‑General have a stand on this?  What's his stand?

Spokesman:  I can tell you that I was not aware of this street naming.  I will ask our colleagues at UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] to see if they have anything for me to share with you on this.  Mr. Lee.

Correspondent:  I want to ask about Sri Lanka and something else but just a follow‑up on logistics.  I've been meaning to ask you this and it seems like the right time to do it, so…

Spokesman:  Is there ever a bad time for a question?

Question:  No, I'm saying as a follow‑up on the trip logistics.  I noticed in the past, the Security Council does take media with it on its trips and until I believe this trip, it's always been arranged through your office.  It's been said, if you want to go on the trip, contact the Spokesperson's Office.  This time it was said contact the French Mission, but then it turns out there's actually co‑organizers of various legs of the trip.  And I just wanted to know what explains that change.

Spokesman:  You know, I think each trip is slightly different.  For various reasons, we didn't have someone travel on… with the Council this time.  But, I know the Council tries… the Council leader of the trip tries to make as many spots available, but it also remains a logistical issue.

Correspondent:  But, there is a Secretariat role on the trip, like the Terms of reference and all that.

Spokesman: Yes.

Question:  I wanted to ask on Sri Lanka, the new President Sirisena has said we don't need anyone from the outside, it's basically purely domestic.  And I know that Mr. Feltman was here recently.  This statement is from since then.  I wanted to know if there is any UN… is this what he was talking about in terms of a new openness?  Does the UN actually want to have a word in it?

Spokesman:  I think what Mr. Feltman said was fairly exhaustive in terms of the new climate in the discussions they're having.  So, I would refer you back to what he said.  I think the UN's call for accountability in terms of the violence that we've seen in Sri Lanka over the years, especially during the civil war, remains.

Question:  Can I ask you… this is kind of a… there's been a… a… I guess they're called hackers or anti-nuclear hackers in the Korean peninsula or based in Hawaii.  They've released blueprints and other information about nuclear reactors, but they've also released what they claim is a transcript of the conversation between the Secretary‑General and the President of South Korea on 1 January which actually came up in this room and there wasn't a readout of.  Is the Secretary‑General aware of that, is there in fact a call that he made, now that there is a readout.

Spokesman:  I'm not going to comment on the veracity of documents that may have leaked.  I think the call did come up and I confirm the call has happened, but as to whether or not that is the transcript or not, I'm not going to get into it.  I'd like to say I'd see you Monday, but it's not Friday.  So, I will see you tomorrow.  And we have our colleagues from the Office of the Special Adviser for Africa whom I will get.

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