Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 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. In a short while, I will be joined by John Ging, the Director of Operations at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, along with the UN Emergency Director from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Afshan Khan, and the Emergency Director from UN Population Fund (UNFPA). They will be here to brief you on their recent missions to Ukraine and Nigeria. So, we will do that right after this.
The Secretary-General is in Turin, Italy, where he has been chairing a meeting of his senior advisers. He also met today with the Mayor of Turin, Pietro Fassino, and expressed his sympathies to the Mayor for the local victims of yesterday's horrific attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Head of the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, briefed the Security Council this morning. He said that the upcoming elections will be a pivotal moment in the history of the Congo and that political space for civil society is a prerequisite for credible elections. He also reiterated his concern about the arrest of more than 40 civil society members just a few days ago.
Regarding the security situation, Mr. Kobler said that the Congolese Government has strived to restore security to its people and has succeeded in freeing much of the territory from the terror of armed groups. However, he said that the overall security situation is still not stable, and that any exit of the UN Mission, MONUSCO, should be gradual and progressive.
Mr. Kobler added that the greatest threat to peace and security in the Great Lakes region remains the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda or FDLR. On this, he said that the decision to suspend support to the Congolese Army against the FDLR upholds indisputable values enshrined in the protection of human rights. He added that the UN Mission wants both to support the fight against the FDLR and implement the UN's human rights policy.
He added that we owed this to the people of Congo, and we owed it to ourselves. Mr. Kobler said he was confident that the Government will take appropriate measure to remedy to the situation. His full remarks are available in our office and Mr. Kobler will speak to you at the stakeout after the meeting.
Meanwhile, on the FDLR, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, encouraged the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] Government and the UN Mission to engage in a structured strategic dialogue to resume full cooperation. The [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and the Great Lakes region have made considerable progress in overcoming the tragedies of the past, but they are yet to achieve irreversible progress for lasting peace, Mr. Djinnit said. And his remarks are also available in our office.
The Da'esh group may have committed all three of the most serious international crimes — namely war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — according to a report issued by the [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] (OHCHR) on Thursday. The report, compiled by an investigation team sent to the region by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights late last year, draws on in-depth interviews with more than 100 people who witnessed or survived attacks in Iraq since last June.
The report finds that widespread abuses committed by Da'esh include killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery, forced religious conversions and the conscription of children. All of these, it says, amount to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some may constitute crimes against humanity or may amount to war crimes. The report says that the pattern of the attacks against the Yezidi community pointed to the intent to destroy the Yezidi as a group and "strongly suggests" that Da'esh may have perpetrated genocide.
The investigation team also received information from numerous sources who alleged that Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia had committed serious human rights violations during their counter-offensive operations against Da'esh. It called on the Iraqi Government to investigate all crimes outlined in the report and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has strongly condemned the escalation of violence in the country. The Mission called the attacks wholly unjustified and reckless. It expressed deep disappointment that attacks against civilians and key infrastructures continue despite repeated calls by the UN and the international community to avoid the risk of escalating tensions at a time when Libya's leaders are engaged in peace talks.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative, Bernardino León, underscored the international community's firm stance against those seeking to escalate the fighting. The Mission continues to question the motives of the escalation, which can only undermine efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of the Libyan conflict.
A flight carrying relief supplies to Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam left the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai today. The aircraft, made available by the Government of the United Arab Emirates, is loaded with supplies from several non-governmental organizations and UN agencies, such as the World Food Programme (WFP).
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that priority needs are for water and sanitation support, particularly clean drinking water, as well as food, shelter and health care. The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, is airlifting emergency supplies — including basic health kits, 1,000 packs of water purification tablets and Vitamin A capsules — to people affected by Cyclone Pam in nearby Tuvalu.
UNICEF reports that more than 40 per cent of households in the northern islands of Tuvalu were seriously affected by flooding, and that those supplies will help to meet their immediate health needs. UNICEF is maintaining its focus on the hardest-hit country of Vanuatu, while providing support to other countries in the region — Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
You may have noticed that we have a new, modern, mobile-friendly UN home page. The Department of Public Information is pleased to unveil the new www.un.org portal in all six official languages. The new-look website has been completely redesigned and restructured.
Information on the portal is broken down by categories allowing the users to easily find and bookmark the pages they are interested in. For example, with a single click, journalists can access a dedicated section where they will find important resources such as 'Media Accreditation', 'Spokesperson of the Secretary-General', 'United Nations News Centre', 'Meetings Coverage', as well as subscribe to UN documents and receive e-mails or RSS feeds.
If you have any difficulty finding what you need, we have some frequently asked questions available in the office and you can contact them using the contact e-mail on it with questions or comments.
And for the honour roll, Malaysia paid its dues, becoming the sixty-second Member State to pay its contributions in full.
Like I said, in a short while, I will be joined by John Ging, the Director of Operations at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Afshan Khan, the UN Emergency Director from the UN Children's Fund. Contrary to what I said earlier, there will be no guest coming from the UN Population Fund. So, it's those two guests who will be here just in a second or two.
Then, at around 4:30 p.m., Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitė of Lithuania, along with Mustafa Dzhemilev, a human rights activist, will address the press at the stakeout area on the 1st Floor of the Conference Building, outside Conference Room 2. That's it for me. Yes, Joe?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. I'd like to kind of follow up on a statement you made yesterday with regard to the election victory of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, which did not contain any specific congratulations for his victory. Several world leaders have communicated their congratulations, other than President Obama, notably, so far. Does the Secretary‑General have any intention of extending a personal congratulation or have any communication with Prime Minister Netanyahu as to what he would like to see coming up? And, secondly, you referenced in your statement the occupation by Israel, and expectation or hope that Israel would end its occupation. Considering that the first‑year anniversary of the Crimean occupation is coming up very shortly, does the Secretary‑General have any intention of making a statement calling upon Russia to end its occupation of Crimea? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, those are two very different questions. On the first one, we have a procedure that we normally have in place when a formation of a Government is under way. And so, we tend to refrain from acting until the process of Government formation has concluded. Once that's happened, we do expect that the Secretary‑General will send a congratulatory letter to the victor of the elections. But, right now, of course, the process remains under way, and then, hopefully, it will be concluded swiftly. Like we said yesterday, we do hope that the Government that reflects the will of the Israeli voters can be established rapidly. Regarding the situation in Crimea, you've heard what we've had to say about it, and we stand by what we have had to say, and of course, you're aware of the General Assembly resolution that governs the situation and that remains in effect, as well. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask first about… I heard, obviously, what Mr. [Martin] Kobler said in the [Security] Council about the two generals or he said replaced by officers who formally commanded units with credible history of human rights violations. So, just now the Foreign Minister of the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Mr. [Raymond] Tshibanda said that the UN has previously worked with both of these individuals and he said specifically in Ituri fighting the Lord's Resistance Army. They gave a waiver. And I wanted to know… it has come up here before, but without a direct answer. Can the [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] confirm or deny that they've worked with these two individuals in the past? And, if so, why are they only choosing not to work with them against the FDLR?
Deputy Spokesman: We've said what we've said about these generals, and the concern that we have… the credible concerns we have that in future operations there could be a danger of future human rights violations. Beyond that, I would leave it to Mr. Kobler who does intend to speak at the stakeout and you can ask him.
Question: Sure. But, I guess I want to know, when did these concerns arise? I think you understand what I'm asking. He is saying that the UN worked with these guys…
Deputy Spokesman: I'm aware and, like I said, Mr. Kobler will speak to you at the stakeout, and you can address your questions to him. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. This is… today the Security Council called on Lebanon to… host more than a million refugees in Lebanon. There are a lot of refugees, more than 18 million, in Lebanon already. Do you think the United Nations think that can… can be… the United Nations is worried about the impact on the stability and security in Lebanon on own its institutions and the whole area?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we've repeatedly made clear the Secretary‑General's concerns about the tremendous effect that this huge refugee population has on the stability of Lebanon. This is equivalent to more than a fifth of the Lebanese population itself. And so, it's a tremendous sacrifice that the Lebanese Government and people have been making, and we appreciate that very much. At the same time, of course, what that means is that we have been urging the international community as a whole to step in and assist so that countries including Lebanon, as well as other countries in the region, Jordan, Turkey and others, have the support they need to deal with this massive refugee influx. As you are aware… just if I could continue one more thing, is that, in the next few weeks, there will be a meeting in Kuwait designed to step up the international assistance for the countries who have been dealing with Syrian refugees, and we hope that countries will contribute generously to that and the Secretary‑General will participate in that meeting.
Question: And what kind of message from the Secretary‑General will bring at this meeting in Kuwait on 31 March?
Deputy Spokesman: Well…
Question: What kind of message?
Deputy Spokesman: Part of his message… a very big part of his message is, as long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you're going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region. So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need. And, of course, it's, again, a very big sacrifice that they made, and we appreciate what the people of these countries have been doing to help the Syrian population. But, they also need help and support in that effort. Yeah. Yes.
Question: Great. First, I wanted to know, is there any comment by the UN or Mr. [Jamal] Benomar on the reported bombing of… in Aden, where President [Mansour] Hadi, by presumably the Houthis or Mr. [Ali Abdullah] Saleh… what's the UN's read on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. The Secretary‑General's concerned about the reports of armed clashes in Aden between forces loyal to President Hadi and forces loyal to the Houthis. And the Secretary‑General calls on all sides in Yemen to refrain from provocations de-escalate tensions and pursue their goals through the ongoing UN-brokered negotiations which, as you know, are called for in Security Council resolution 2201 (2015).
Correspondent: Okay. And also…
Deputy Spokesman: One more in the back and then you, yes.
Question: Farhan, I'd like to know what does the United Nations plan to do about this reported… I mean, that Pakistan has now highest number of polio… I mean, positive cases, so… and because the workers are being killed right, left and centre. So, is there a more aggressive policy that can be followed to, what you call, to counter that?
Deputy Spokesman: What the UN is trying do is make sure that there are health-care workers who can conduct the polio vaccinations that Pakistan so desperately needs. As you know, polio was nearly eradicated in every country just a few years ago, and now is resurfacing in countries, and at this point, it's particularly terrible that in a few countries, including Pakistan and Nigeria, that there have been efforts to harass, intimidate and even attack the people who are bravely trying to immunize people from polio, so that needs to be halted. Health-care workers need to be treated with respect, and for our part, our bodies including the World Health Organization and other agencies, are trying to make sure that polio immunization exercises continue.
Question: Is there something like Gordon Brown was suggesting day before that there is a programme which is devised so that it can warn schools that an attack is imminent? Can that also be some… some sort of programme that can be applied to the workers… health workers over there? Because Nigeria and Pakistan are the only one which have positive… polio positive cases.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what we're trying to do is make sure that the local authorities provide the necessary safety and security for health-care workers, which is essential in any case, but is particularly essential now that there's been a trend of attacks against those who are trying to inoculate people from polio. Yes.
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Haiti and Italy, totally separately, but on Haiti, the [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Sandra Honoré yesterday at the stakeout said that the MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] report into the shooting by UN peacekeepers at protestors is complete, that it's with [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations]. So, I wanted to know, is it true? Is it finished? And if so, what is the procedure for making its findings public?
Deputy Spokesman: We've been in touch with [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]. It's not public yet. But, we'll let you know once that changes. But, I believe it's gone to them for their review, and it's being reviewed.
Question: Okay. And on Italy, I wanted to ask the… the… the Foreign Minister, Mr. [Paolo] Gentiloni, since meeting with the Secretary‑General, has said that he raised to him the matter of these two marines and their trial in India, and as a direct quote, he said he sought new intervention by UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon who, "intends to do so in the coming weeks". This wasn't in the readout, but was this issue raised by Italy and will Ban Ki‑moon do this in the coming weeks, raise it to India?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, I can confirm, yes, the Foreign Minister did bring that up, but it wasn't part of the readout. But, regarding our stance on the issue, you've heard what we had to say about this particular dispute between Italy and India, and our position remains unchanged.
Correspondent: That it's bilateral.
Deputy Spokesman: Our position remains unchanged.
Correspondent: I just want to…
Deputy Spokesman: And one more. Or can we go to our guest?
Question: Yeah. About Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura… is he optimistic about his declarations… statement on Syria and Aleppo?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. de Mistura always tries to be as optimistic as circumstances will possibly allow.
Question: And do you know when Ms. Sigrid Kaag will be in New York?
Deputy Spokesman: She was here just two days ago. Yeah, she was here. She spoke to the press. Thanks. And now I'll bring our guests. Hold on one moment, please.
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