Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 March 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to arrive shortly in Italy, having wrapped up his visit to Japan earlier today. He will be chairing a climate change retreat and a meeting of UN Senior Advisers in Turin this week. Before leaving Tokyo, he met this morning with UNICEF [United Nations Children's fund] Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi and World Food Programme (WFP) Goodwill Ambassador Kurara Chibana.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council on the situation in Darfur this morning. He said that the security and humanitarian situations deteriorated significantly over the past year. He added that there had also been no tangible progress towards the resolution of the conflict during that period. He said that now, more than ever, the Security Council and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union need to intensify pressure on the parties to engage in direct negotiations to cease hostilities.
Regarding the African Union-United Nations [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur, UNAMID, Mr. Ladsous said that it had, over the past 12 months, implemented a series of measures to address the challenge of its troops' operational capabilities and effectiveness on the ground. He, however, noted that one of the biggest problems was the Government's denial of access for UNAMID to conflict-affected areas, which continues to significantly impede the Mission's ability to implement its protection of civilians' mandate. His full remarks are available in our office.
And this afternoon, Sigrid Kaag, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, will brief the Council in closed consultations. She is expected to speak to you at the stakeout once these consultations are over.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says it is seriously concerned about fighting that took place this morning and later this afternoon, in the vicinity of its compound in Bentiu, in Unity State, including an artillery shell which landed in the protection of civilians' site. The Mission strongly condemns today's breach of the protection of civilians' site's perimeter by SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] soldiers. UNMISS currently protects some 53,000 civilians in Bentiu.
The Mission remains committed to maintaining the civilian character of its protection sites, and reminds the parties that these sites provide safety to civilians under threat of violence. It calls on the parties to the conflict to refrain from activities that undermine the sanctity of the protection of civilians' sites, or hinder the United Nations' ability to protect or assist civilians.
And in Upper Nile State, the Mission reports intermittent fighting around its support base in Renk, with mortars fired from the vicinity of its base. According to the Mission, the fighting around Renk follows an SPLA offensive last week in and around Wad Dakona, a few kilometres south of Renk. Fighting around Wad Dakona and Renk constitutes the biggest military action since the peace talks collapsed at the beginning of the month. The UN Mission is not yet in a position to confirm movement and/or casualties on the ground.
On Vanuatu, aerial assessments following cyclone Pam continue to indicate that there is severe and widespread damage across the bigger islands of Efate, Erromango and Tanna, with around 3,370 people sheltering in more than 48 evacuation centres across the country. Aid organizations are stepping up relief efforts and continue to deploy supplies and personnel to support the Government's response around four key priorities: evacuation centres, assessments, aid distribution and shelter.
Water supply has been restored to 80 per cent of Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, with work continuing to restore water in other areas that are accessible. Water, sanitation and hygiene kits have been provided to families in evacuation centres. Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that while 1,400 shelter kits have arrived in-country, an estimated 12,000 kits and 24,000 tarpaulins are urgently required.
The Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, welcomed the lifting of the house arrest yesterday on Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdullah Alsaidi and other Cabinet members. He calls upon the Houthis to build on this gesture of goodwill by committing fully to Security Council resolution 2201 (2015) on Yemen.
Mr. Benomar expressed relief that his continuous outreach efforts with Ansarullah and other Yemeni and international parties have eventually yielded positive results. He considered the move a good gesture that may restore the missing confidence in the current political negotiations.
Mr. Benomar expressed the hope that the Prime Minister and the other released officials would actively resume their contribution to Yemen's political life and to the success of the negotiations, which aim at bringing the transitional process back on track and ending the serious crisis that threatens Yemen's unity, stability and security.
In Geneva, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented its ninth report to the Human Rights Council today, charting the major patterns of violations perpetrated over the last four years. Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission, told reporters afterwards that impunity emboldens perpetrators of atrocities and a coordinated accountability strategy and the will to implement it effectively are desperately needed. He said that the Commission continues to call for an urgent Security Council referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court or to an ad hoc tribunal.
Also today, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is scaling up its support to Jordan and other countries in the region affected by the humanitarian crisis in Syria. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva initiated three projects in Jordan to improve food security and nutrition by making better data available to decision-makers and preventing the spread of animal diseases across borders. There's more information on the FAO website.
One out of five Ebola infections hits a child; that's according to a report released today by the UN Children's Fund. Of the more than 24,000 people infected, some 5,000 are children, while more than 16,000 children have lost one or both parents or their primary caregiver.
While participating in the Ebola response, UNICEF and its partners have immunized thousands of children against other deadly diseases like measles, strengthened primary health care services, and helped to minimize the risk of Ebola infections when schools reopened. The report also stresses that planning for longer-term recovery must draw on gains made during the response, to build back better and address historical inequities. There are more details on UNICEF's website.
The UN refugee agency has started to relocate more than 50,000 South Sudanese refugees from flood-prone areas in Ethiopia ahead of the rainy season, which is expected to start in late April. The refugees are being moved from the Leitchuor and Nip Nip refugee camps in the Gambella region. They are being moved from the existing Pugnido camp to a new camp called Jewi which was opened over the weekend and is located some 18 kilometres from the regional capital Gambella.
UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that finding land with the right conditions to set up another refugee camp has been a huge challenge, as several sites that had been identified immediately after last year's rainy season were subsequently declared unsuitable. It adds that more land is still needed to accommodate new arrivals from South Sudan. There is more information on UNHCR's website.
The Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration, adopted by the General Assembly in December last year, has been opened for signature earlier today at a signing ceremony hosted in Port-Louis by the Government of Mauritius. The Convention will forthwith be known as the 'Mauritius Convention'. The Legal Counsel of the United Nations, Under-Secretary-General Miguel de Serpa Soares, officiated at the signature ceremony, in the framework of which the Convention was signed by the following eight States: Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Mauritius, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
We were asked yesterday about an attack that took place on Sunday against the wife of the opposition leader in Burundi, and I have the following to say:
The Secretary-General has expressed his concern at the report of an apparent assassination attempt on Sundayagainst Annonciate Haberisoni, wife of Burundian opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, as Burundi prepares for general elections in two months. This act threatens to heighten tensions and entrench polarization and distrust.
The Secretary-General urges the Burundian authorities to promptly launch a thorough and impartial investigation into the incident and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Secretary-General recalls the signing a week ago of the Charter on non-violence and urges all political parties in Burundi to publicly condemn all forms of political violence and acts of incitement to hatred or violence, in line with the Constitution of Burundi and the Arusha Accord.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
At tomorrow's Noon Briefing, my guest will be Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, and he will be here to talk about the need for safe schools. That's it for me. Yes, Joe and then…
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. First of all, is there any plan for Mr. Ladsous to come to the stakeout after the consultations?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. I believe there's a chance that he will go. I think that depends a little bit on the timing of when people come out, but he had indicated his willingness to go to the stakeout.
Question: In connection with his report this morning, he made one reference to the continued lack of access to the town of Thabit in North Darfur concerning the allegations of mass rape. What concrete steps have the UN peacekeeping forces or the UN more generally taken to try to get access? He made this one reference. He didn't ask any assistance from the Security Council, for example to put increased pressure on Sudan to provide such access. So, what concrete steps are being taken to try to resolve this impasse?
Deputy Spokesman: We have, ourselves, repeatedly called on the Government of Sudan to allow for access to Thabit. As you know, the peacekeepers have on previous occasions tried to get to Thabit, but didn't have the necessary clearances or were blocked from the area, and we'll continue with those efforts. Any help of course that the Security Council can provide would be excellent. As you can see, they were just briefed today by Mr. Ladsous, and we'll see whether they have any particular response to this continuing impasse. But, as you know, this is something that's gone on for far too long. These are extremely serious allegations and we need to be able to verify them. Yes.
Question: Thank you Farhan. Mr. Netanyahu yesterday said that he will never allow Palestinians to have a State, and Secretary‑General is in favour of the two‑State solution, and he was supporting this for a long time. What is his position now and if there will be any talks further solution, then how it can be?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, yes, we're aware of the recent remarks. Of course, we wouldn't have any comment on the remarks that are being made by different sides during this election season in Israel. We're aware of the context, in other words, in which a lot of this is happening. At the same time, of course, we have certain expectations that we continually will have for the Israeli and Palestinian sides regarding the peace process itself. And in that regard, we do continue to expect both parties to honour their past agreements and their commitments, including the commitments that they've made concerning the cessation of illegal settlement-building and the resumption of peace talks in good faith. And so, we'll continue to hold to that, regardless of who represents the Israeli side and who represents the Palestinian side that we'll have the expectation that they'll continue to push for the peace process and to negotiate in good faith on a solution that will see two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Yes.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I'm hoping you have something on this. In connection with the Secretary‑General's report on sexual abuse and exploitation in UN peacekeeping missions, the group Aids‑Free World run by former UN official Stephen Lewis has released the expert team report which sort of underlies and is referred to in the Secretary‑General's report and which seems to say that impunity is more the rule. It talks about particular missions and a culture of impunity and disdain, for example, in Haiti. And I just wonder what… basically Aids‑Free World is pointing out and saying that the public report is inconsistent with the underlying private report which is now distributed to Member States. What is the response of the Secretariat to that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it's not a question of a public report and a private report so much as it is two different documents going to two different audiences. The Secretary‑General's special report about sexual exploitation and sexual abuse is… has… is prepared by the Department of Management. It has input, significant input from the Department of Field Support, and it goes out as a document, as it has done. The other report that Mr. Lewis was referring to, the report of the team of experts, was prepared at the request of and for the use of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Peacekeeping… Department of Field Support. And that was an internal document that went to them. They're two different things. The team of experts report is an internal document that was intended to serve as one element of information and would help to provide some lessons learned and some best practices from within the Organization. And then it could be drawn on by the two Departments in their own work, and in fact, they have been drawing on that, trying to get some valuable information out of that and then help feed in that into other reports including the one that the Secretary‑General has put out.
Question: Right. But, it seems like the one the Secretary‑General puts out says that the underlying report has been addressed and Aids-Free World points out to at least six things that haven't been addressed, as the first example, that the internal report says that there's fear due to a stigmatizing of whistle-blower, that there's a reason that the numbers are low and they go through various reasons. So, what was done to address that… in terms of giving whistle-blowers greater assurance that if they come forward, they can speak? That's just one example.
Deputy Spokesman: There's a number of follow‑up activities. So, each recommended proposal requires some level of consultation and engagement with Member States and other stakeholders, and we're in the process of doing that. But, the whole idea is to take all the various recommendations and follow up on all of them so we actually can move ahead on all the various issues. And in terms of being able to help make sure that people will be free to speak out, we have also tried to take different steps to safeguard those who do speak out, and we do have whistle-blower protections in place and we'll continue to strengthen them and we rely on reports like this to give us the sort of information we need to improve how that… how those mechanisms are implemented, so that they can be as strong as possible for potential whistle-blowers.
Question: One last thing. They seem to say that the failure to kind of name names, basically that the punishment for sexual abuse is simply repatriation with no public reporting on what happens back home, is a major problem and basically doesn't create enough disincentive to engage in this abuse. What has the Secretary‑General done on this longstanding problem since this was announced… and I'll just ask as one sample case: there was this Canadian gentleman that was sent back from MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] to Canada and there was no… I asked in this room UNPOL and DPKO whatever happened, and they have been unwilling. Is there a policy of not saying if someone was disciplined or not, or if they were cleared, if that was the case?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, we try to follow up on cases. It takes time ,of course, for different cases to be resolved so that's part of the process itself. But, at the same time, we try to deal with individual troop‑contributing countries and other people who provide us with personnel to make sure that if anyone is culpable for any offence, that there is accountability in their cases, and we do have follow‑through to make sure that the individual States follow up on their various personnel. Yes, Olga.
Deputy Spokesman: Anna, sorry.
Question: It's okay. Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions, actually. My first question is on Pakistan. Since the resuming of the capital punishment in Pakistan, 12 people have been hanged recently and actually lots of organizations and public are divided on this. Like Human Rights Watch and other organizations like that, they are alarmed because of human rights violations, and they think that since the judicial system is not, you know, very perfect, lots of innocent people might suffer from this. But, on the other hand, Pakistani Government thinks that this is one of the most efficient measures to fight crimes, especially global terrorism. What is UN's stance on this? And if UN does not accept this, what other measures would it advise for Pakistan? This is the first question. The second question is about US Ebola patient, who is being treated in Maryland. It's been reported that the situation worsened, it's critical, and also that this patient was in contact with his colleagues, medical workers, possibly UN employees, we don't know for sure, in Sierra Leone. Do we have any further information on this? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, on Pakistan, you're well aware of our point of principle concerning the death penalty. You've seen the General Assembly resolution and the general call for all States to impose a moratorium on capital punishment, and we hope and expect that States will abide by the wishes of the General Assembly on that. We have never made any case for the death penalty as an effective means of fighting crime. So, that's where we stand across the board, not just with Pakistan, but with any country.
Regarding your question on Ebola, as you know, our Special Envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, recently talked about recent incidences of infections of different health personnel, and said that that's a reminder of the bravery of the national and international responders who have been putting themselves at risk every day to fight Ebola. Their sacrifice is remarkable as is their selflessness. But, part of the fact of these new infections is… is that they serve to underscore that, until we get to zero cases, you'll always have concern that there are different vectors by which the disease can still spread. So, there is the need to remain vigilant, there's the need to do as much as we can to make sure that health workers are also themselves protected and we need to do the most we can to bring this down to zero cases for once and for all. Roger.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I want to go back just to this report that was leaked yesterday. So, given the seeming contradictions between the Secretary‑General's report to the General Assembly in February and the leaked report for 2013 that was leaked yesterday, what would you say to those who would say that this points to… it's further evidence pointing to the need for more transparency in the UN and a freedom of information mechanism whereby this kind of report can be suppressed?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not really sure I follow your thinking. The report of the Secretary‑General is a public report. The other report is itself an internal document that was meant to be used by the officials in the relevant Departments, that is to say the Departments for Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support in their own work, their own follow‑up and ultimately to feed into reports like the Secretary‑General's report. But, that report is itself something that we put out periodically to keep updating people on how we're handling instances of sexual abuse and exploitation throughout the system. And we'll continue to have public reports to show just that.
Question: Okay, but there were contradictions between that report and the Secretary‑General's report from February.
Deputy Spokesman: But, as you're aware, different internal documents or different draft items don't have to be the same as a public document. They're feeding into them. They're sources of information. They're sources of recommendations. But, ultimately, there's a process by which the final documents are written. That's true of any report that we come out on any topic. There are different drafts. There are different bits of inputs that come from different offices but they're collated. They're put together. And then we put out a final document that becomes the public version. Yes.
Question: What happens to Mr. de Mistura's six weeks conflict-freezing zone in Aleppo? And Syrian coalition and Special Envoy here told me that de Mistura is trying to reduce the zones. Is it correct, or do you…?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. de Mistura is continuing his work with the various parties. He and his Deputy, Mr. Ramzy, have been trying to discuss both within Syria and outside, ways of enforcing or implementing a freeze plan that would start with the city of Aleppo. At this stage, we don't have any progress to report on that but the efforts are continuing and we'll see whether we can go farther with that. But, he has been continuing, both with Syrian parties and with parties in the region and outside to gain as much support as we can, so that we can implement this.
Question: Who is the obstructing side, Government side or the opposition side? Who doesn't want this?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately as with every negotiation, the point is to bring the parties together to have a full agreement. We've talked with all the various parties and we'll continue to work there to narrow whatever differences they have, so that we can finally get to an actual freeze. Yes.
Question: I wanted to ask, I'm sure you've also seen this, the report in The Guardian about the UN being pressured by Israel to cancel a meeting in which it was going to consider putting the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] on a list of child soldier recruiters. I've seen they have a quote in there that the UN has refused to confirm or deny Chief of Staff Malcorra writing to Ron Prosor, but I wanted to know: what is the UN's position on why this 13 February meeting at which it was to be considered whether the IDF… how it impacts children in terms of armed conflict? Why was that meeting cancelled? And what is the timeline to… it is said in the article that the UN… this is just a delay and it was going to be reconsidered. When is it going to be reconsidered and why was that initial meeting cancelled?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't really have anything to say about the initial meeting. What I can say on this is that the preparation of the annual report on children and armed conflict is overseen by the Office of the Special Representative for that topic, and is based on information verified by the UN on the ground and submitted to the Special Representative's Office. This report is currently under preparation and the content of the annexes which list parties to the conflict has not yet been finalized. The decision on whether to list or delist parties to a conflict is the sole prerogative of the Secretary‑General and this is a confidential process which is still ongoing. As such, we can't really comment further on it at this point, but the report is scheduled for publication in June. And as the process goes on, we'll continue to work on the whole process of listing or delisting, and then come out with a report.
Question: This report on 12 February calls to the UNICEF Special Representative on Palestine and Israel. Do you acknowledge those calls? And I ask it because: do all countries that are either on the list or may be on the list, do they have equal access… is there a process by which they try to rebut the information?
Deputy Spokesman: There is a process for every country… where information is presented to the concerned Member State and they have a process to rebut. Normally, by the time they have that… once it's gone to that point, the language on that is normally final or nearly final. But, then they have an opportunity to rebut and if they see any obvious factual errors that they can disprove, they can present that at that point, as with any point of rebuttal process. But like I said, that's an opportunity given to any of the concerned Member States once the material has come to a point where it can be presented to them.
Question: Can I ask a question…?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, but someone else has a question. Yes, Seana.
Question: Just a quick question. I may have missed it but did you provide the latest death toll for the cyclone in Vanuatu? And I know it's fluid.
Deputy Spokesman: The death toll is very fluid depending on information. Right now, the death toll we have has actually decreased a bit. The last figures that our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have seen were at 11. But, having said that, it's a little bit dicey because it can easily also go up again, and there are certain areas that have not been accessible, and we'll have to see what the figures are like once we get to those.
Question: Okay. But, at this point, it's 11 officially?
Deputy Spokesman: At this point, yes.
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask: you know, yesterday, you'd made this clarification that… or over the weekend, that Mr. Philippe Douste‑Blazy went to this Crans‑Montana forum in a personal capacity and that it behooves the officials in his position to make it clear that they're not there for the UN. But, I've now seen a press release by the Crans‑Montana forum, where they say that their group, which held this event in the Moroccan controlled part of Western Sahara, gave an award to "Mr. Philippe Douste‑Blazy, Under-Secretary‑General of the United Nations." So, did he receive that award? Is he aware of this press release? It definitely sort of implies that he's there as a UN [Under-Secretary-General] and accepting an award in that name.
Deputy Spokesman: That's precisely why we tried to make it clear that he was not there in any capacity as a UN official.
Question: Has he returned the award?
Deputy Spokesman: You would have to ask Mr. Douste‑Blazy. The point is, as I made clear yesterday, he was there in his non‑UN capacity, which he is entitled to do, but it has to be clear that he did not represent nor did anyone represent the United Nations in Dakhla.
Correspondent: And can you see why him receiving an award in this name on their own press release makes it seem like they definitely were trying to give that impression.
Deputy Spokesman: They were trying and that's why we are trying to correct that. It would be incorrect to say that he appeared as a UN Under-Secretary-General. He was not there in that capacity and we made that clear over the weekend.
Question: And just of you don't mind, on what you said about the reports becoming public, one suddenly came back to mind is the report from MINUSTAH on the shooting of demonstrators. I know it's been said a number of times it was being finalized. It happened in December and it's now March. Is that released? When is that report going to be released?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll let you know once it can be… once it has been finalized for release. But, at this stage, I believe what Stéphane has already said about this remains the case, that the person involved in this was suspended from duty. Thanks. Oh. One more?
Question: Thanks. On World Food Programme that you just mentioned. I remember a few months back, they were trying to run a funding drive in December, I think, for Syria, because they'd run out of money, and then I remember a couple of weeks ago from the podium, it was mentioned that they were struggling for funds again. What's the current situation?
Deputy Spokesman: The current situation is still that they need funds. As you know, they've been doing a number of campaigns including a social media campaign over the winter trying to get more funds so that they could keep up with their programmes. There's been some degree of success, but certainly more funding continues to be needed. The needs on the ground are very great and they don't want to have to cut back on rations or on vouchers. So, we would continue to need that.
Question: Do you know how far the shortfall is, as far as…?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe the figures are on their website. Yes.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I just have a quick question about Boko Haram. I was wondering if you could tell us what the role of the… the latest role of the UN is in addressing the consequences of the attacks.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you weren't around yesterday, but our Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Mohamed ibn Chambas who has been dealing the most on the issue of Nigeria visited… began a visit to Nigeria yesterday and they're talking to the Government on a number of issues including the threat posed by Boko Haram. I believe that we'll get some more details about their trip as it proceeds.
Question: Okay. But, just a quick follow‑up: what is the UN at this juncture doing there? Is it mainly humanitarian efforts along the borders or…?
Deputy Spokesman: There have been and we've talked many times in the past about efforts to help with the families affected by this, including education efforts, psychosocial counselling and others. And in this case, like I said, Mr. Chambas and Mr. Feltman will also be dealing with Government officials and others to talk about what further steps can be taken to deal with the problem. Thanks.
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