Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 March 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone.
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning attacks in Pakistan on 15 March 2015.
The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attacks on two Christian churches in Lahore, Pakistan, during morning services on Sunday, 15 March 2015.
The Secretary-General notes with grave concern that the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attacks while threatening to carry out more such acts in the future. He calls on the Government of Pakistan to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice and to do its utmost to prevent attacks against places of worship and protect religious minorities.
The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan.
**Secretary-General in Japan
The Secretary-General arrived this morning in the Japanese capital, Tokyo.
In Tokyo today, he met with political leaders and spoke, together with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a symposium on the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations. As the United Nations marks its seventieth anniversary, the Secretary-General, who is also 70 years old, said that the Organization is making plans to rise to today's challenges and seize tomorrow's prospects.
He said that the importance of the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, which he attended over the weekend, was tragically underscored by the terrible cyclone that hit Vanuatu and other parts of Oceania. The Secretary-General said that he had immediately met with Vanuatu's President and had instructed the immediate sending of an assistance team to Vanuatu. He added that the United Nations will take necessary action to mobilize humanitarian assistance to Vanuatu.
Also over the weekend, the Secretary-General had an audience with the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and met with leaders attending the Sendai Conference. Over the weekend, the Secretary-General also toured parts of Sendai and met with people who were affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and saw first hand the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. The Secretary-General wraps up his visit tomorrow to Japan, and will travel onwards to Italy.
On Vanuatu, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tell us that a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team arrived in Port Vila today, to support the Government in coordination, information management and assessment efforts.
Humanitarian assistance has begun in areas that partners have been able to reach. UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] is for example on the ground providing clean water and sanitation support, and household items are being provided to families in need. Other countries in the region as well as Vanuatu are also affected, such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. Given the widespread extent of the geographic area affected by the cyclone, it is expected that the response operation will be logistically challenging.
Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu's capital Port Vila on the evening of 13 March, killing at least 24 people and leaving 90 per cent of structures on the most populous island, Efate, damaged or destroyed, according to the Government.
In a message, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Martin Sajdik, said that Cyclone Pam is an urgent reminder that disaster risk reduction must be part of national, regional and global development strategies. The ECOSOC President added that Vanuatu is now facing a major humanitarian emergency and that there was no time to lose to take action. He also said that while addressing the immediate crisis, we must begin to think of medium and long-term actions to support Vanuatu's recovery. The Economic and Social Council stands by Vanuatu, its President said. His full statement is available in our office.
The Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) by a year today, with the mandate now running until 17 March 2016. The head of the Mission, Nicholas Fink Haysom, briefed Council members in a meeting this morning. He noted recent developments that have brought renewed hopes for an active peace process in Afghanistan, including reports on possible peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.
The UN Mission believes that there is currently an alignment of circumstances that could be conducive to fostering peace talks. Mr. Haysom added that parties need to be given sufficient space to build a level of trust. And we do expect that Mr. Haysom will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout following the meeting that is under way in the Council right now.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, arrives in Nigeria today for a two-day visit to convey the Secretary-General's support and solidarity to the people of Nigeria ahead of the general elections starting on 28 March. He is accompanied by the Secretary-General's high-level representative to Nigeria, Mohamed Ibn Chambas.
In meetings, Mr. Feltman will underscore the Secretary-General's message on the importance of holding the elections in accordance with the new electoral calendar issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He will encourage all relevant national institutions to work with the Electoral Commission to ensure that all eligible Nigerians can exercise their constitutional right to freely vote on the new dates set. He will also reiterate the need for all Nigerians to work together to create an environment that is conducive for the holding of credible and peaceful elections. Mr. Feltman will also discuss the situation in the north-east of Nigeria resulting from continuing indiscriminate and brutal attacks by Boko Haram against civilian populations.
**Deputy Secretary-General's Travel
The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will travel tomorrow to Turin, Italy, to attend the Climate Change Retreat and the Senior Advisers' Meeting. From there, he will proceed to Mont Pélérin in Switzerland to attend the retreat for the Secretary-General's Special Representatives. On Tuesday, 24 March, he will travel to Geneva to meet with the President of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and members of the Human Rights Council. He will return to New York after his travel to Geneva.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization is hosting today its first Ministerial Conference on Global Action against Dementia. Ministers from around the world, as well as experts from the research, clinical and NGO communities, are coming together to discuss the global problems posed by dementia, from research and drug regulation to care and human rights. Over 47 million people live with dementia worldwide and this figure is expected to almost triple by 2050.
Today in Rome, international experts gathered for a four-day meeting at the Food and Agriculture Organization to review phytosanitary standards for trade in plants and plant products. The purpose of the standards is to minimize the risks of plant pests circulating across borders and regions in the increasingly vast context of global trade. FAO estimates that between 20 and 40 per cent of global crop yields are reduced each year due to the damage wrought by plant pests and diseases.
**Questions from Friday
I have a couple of answers to questions that you gave to Stéphane on Friday.
Regarding the cafeteria, what I can tell you is that as part of the Capital Master Plan, the security of the UN Headquarters campus perimeter is being enhanced, including by physical barriers. Such arrangements cannot be made on the southern side of the campus, due to the proximity of the FDR drive. For that reason, the Department of Safety and Security has advised that there should be only limited occupancy of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Building and the South Annex Building following the completion of the enhanced security measures. The cafeteria in the South Annex Building will close and alternative food services will be offered elsewhere on the campus. Planning for these arrangements is under way and the new locations are expected to become available starting in late May or June 2015.
And on South Sudan, the UN Mission there is not supporting the national TV and radio. The story that was mentioned here on Friday shows the UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] Japanese engineering contingent realigning drainage at the TV/radio compound in Juba.
I have an appointment to announce.
On 29 December 2014, the General Assembly in its resolution 69/246 requested the Secretary-General to appoint an independent panel of experts to examine, and assess the probative value of new information related to the tragic death, in September 1961, of Dag Hammarskjöld and the members of the party accompanying him.
The General Assembly also encouraged Member States to release any relevant records in their possession and to provide to the Secretary-General relevant information related to the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.
The Secretary-General is today pleased to announce that he has appointed the following as members of the Independent Panel of Experts: Mohamed Chande Othman of the United Republic of Tanzania as Head of the Panel, Kerryn Macaulay of Australia and Henrik Larsen of Denmark.
The Independent Panel of Experts will, inter alia, review and assess the probative value of the information provided to the Secretary-General by the Hammarskjöld Commission as well as any relevant records or information released by Member States or by other sources.
The Independent Panel of Experts will commence its work on 30 March 2015 and submit its report to the Secretary-General no later than 30 June 2015.
And last the Honour Roll. South Africa has paid its budget in full, becoming the sixtieth Member State to pay its contributions in full.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. After repeatedly calling for the ouster of President Assad, the Secretary of State John Kerry now says that no solution can be found without negotiation… direct negotiations with President Assad. Has the Secretary-General come to the same conclusion?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, our stance is a separate one, as you know, from the stance of different Member Governments. Member Governments are free to determine who they wish to conduct their foreign affairs with. For our part, as you know, the various Envoys appointed by the Secretary-General, most recently Staffan de Mistura, have been in touch with both the Government of Syria and the opposition side. And in that regard, as you know, Mr. de Mistura has met with Mr. Assad, including just a few weeks ago. So he's doing that, but he's doing that again in the context of the Geneva communiqué and the idea of putting in place a democratic transition in Syria. But in order to do that and to make it achievable, he is in touch with all sides and, of course, he has been in touch with President Assad as part of that.
Question: Regarding the terrorist attack in Pakistan, there has been many, as you know… Has the Secretary-General ever spoken to the Pakistani leaders directly about this?
Deputy Spokesman: He has been in touch with the leadership in Pakistan about the various attacks, but as you've seen, we've also issued repeated statements including the one that I just read. The basic point is we have had concerns about how the situation is going and we have offered our support to the Government and people of Pakistan as they have to face these brutal terrorist attacks targeting not only, as in this case, religious minorities, but a wide spectrum of society. Yes?
Question: First about the readout about the Secretary-General meeting with the Prime Minister/General of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha. I don't know. Contrary or amplifying the UN readout, the Deputy Spokesman for the Thai Government has said that the Secretary-General invited the General to attend the General Assembly in September. So since like one of the topics was supposedly transition back to civilian rule, can you confirm that this invitation was made? And does that mean acknowledge… an acceptance by the Secretary-General that the so-called road map to transition back to civilian rule would not be completed by September?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can't confirm that. What we have to say is what's in the readout. What I can say about the invitations is the Secretary-General has been inviting all Governments to be represented at a high level for the September events. So an invitation extended to Thailand would not be prejudging what the Government of Thailand will be like in September. Even if there were a change in the Government of Thailand, the point remains the same, that we want Thailand as among… as well as the other Member States to be represented at the very highest level for the September events. Yes? Did you have a hand up or not? Okay. Then, Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Last week, I asked Stéphane if there are any updates on the situation with those two UN contractors captured in Darfur. Are there any?
Deputy Spokesman: Because of the delicacy of the situation, for us, the important thing is to make sure that people get released unharmed. So there's a limit to what I can say. I think on this what we can say is that the relevant Governments and parties are involved in efforts to make sure that safe release can be secured, but I don't have any particular update to give. Of course, our hope is that these two people will be released unharmed and as soon as possible.
Question: You said countries and Governments. But is the UN involved in the efforts in any way?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't have anything specific to say about UN involvement at this stage. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, over the weekend in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there was a meeting of youth for democracy from various countries, and there were a lot of arrests made, including a journalist, Fadel Barro. Many of them are still in detention and a US diplomat who was arrested was released, but the other, mostly from Africa, activists who were there were not released. And I wanted know, isn't MONUSCO in the capital? Do they have any comment on the arrest of youth demonstrators?
Deputy Spokesman: Our comment is that the right to peaceful assembly needs to be respected by all Governments and this is a case where it needs to be respected by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Question: Is there any effort… beyond this and I appreciate that, but is there any effort by MONUSCO in speaking to the Government to try to get these individuals, including journalists, released?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, I wouldn't have anything particular to say about their efforts. Of course, when we insist on the right of people to peaceful assembly, that information is conveyed through our various officials and through our missions, and we would expect the relevant Governments to follow up on the messages that we put out. Yes?
Question: Thank you again. Can you confirm there was the story that hackers leaked the exchange between Ban Ki-moon and South Korean President? Can you confirm that there actually was this problem, that the email exchange was hacked?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe Stéphane was asked this last week and what he confirmed is what we had confirmed at the start of the year, that there was in fact a phone call that took place between the Secretary-General and the President of the Republic of Korea on 1 January. Beyond that, we wouldn't have anything to say and we don't have any readout to provide of that call. Yes?
Question: I wanted to ask, there's an article in The Financial Times about Tony Blair's status as the Quartet representative, and it quotes a number of diplomats saying that his business, conflict of interests, which have been asked about in this room, have gotten out of control and there are some moves to transition him to a different status. And I wanted to know, since it is a UN Quartet, do you have any view of… One, is it true that there is a discussion? And if there is a discussion, is the UN involved in it? And what now can you say about these mounting — there's a UAE story now — basically enormous business contracts with countries in the region in the Middle East? What do you think of it?
Deputy Spokesman: We're certainly aware of the reports. Of course, the UN is one of the four partners in the Quartet. We wouldn't be able to speak for or decide issues of the Quartet on our own, so I wouldn't have anything to say on behalf of the Quartet until, and unless, the four members of the Quartet have agreed. Once, if and when there's an announcement to make by the Quartet, then we'll be able to make that, but at this point, we'll have to wait for the four members to agree on what to say about anything.
Question: Right, but the UN would be involved in any such discussion, not just…?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, of course, the UN would be involved as would the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States.
Question: I just wanted to ask, I saw the note to correspondents over the weekend about Philippe Douste-Blazy attending this conference in Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara. It was an interesting statement, but did he ask… I mean, I guess when somebody is a UN Envoy — and it could obviously give rise to a lot of reports that the UN endorsed this conference — did he seek sort of approval before he went? Did you know that he was going?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Douste-Blazy is on a dollar-a-year contract, and he doesn't have to vet all of his other activities with the UN. We're in touch with him about his UN activities. What we were concerned about is any effort to misrepresent his participation as participation of the UN. So we tried to make clear, as we said in the statement, that the Secretary-General did not delegate Philippe Douste-Blazy or anyone else to represent him or the United Nations.
Question: But are such either dollar-a-year or sort of part-time envoys, are they required… is there some guidance to them to sort of let people know in advance, [inaudible] such a statement from your office, to say, like, a little asterisk saying "in personal capacity" or… did he do that?
Deputy Spokesman: It behoves all of the people who are on these appointments to make clear when they are not acting in their UN capacity, that they are in fact not acting in their UN capacity. Their performance as UN officials is strictly reserved for various topics. So for Mr. Douste-Blazy, for example, he's an envoy dealing with innovative financing. He did not appear in that capacity in Dakhla.
Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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