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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

20 March 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.


I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Yemen.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attacks on two mosques during Friday prayers in Sana'a, as well as on a government building and mosque in Sa'dah, which have killed and wounded dozens of people.  He deplores the killing of civilians and extends his condolences to the families of the victims.

The Secretary-General calls on all Yemeni sides to immediately cease all hostile actions and exercise maximum restraint.  All sides must abide by their stated commitments to resolve differences by peaceful means, and should engage in good faith in the ongoing UN-facilitated negotiations in order to reach a consensus agreement in accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative and Implementation Mechanism, outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement.  He reminds all Yemeni parties of their obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General urges all to remain fully engaged with his Special Adviser on Yemen so as to enable him to continue to exercise the Secretary-General's good offices in close cooperation with the members of the GCC and the Security Council.

Also, Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Yemen, condemned the use of force in Aden in a statement issued yesterday evening.  The latest escalation of violence, including the airstrike against the presidential palace in Aden, threatens more than ever to drag the entire country into an all-out confrontation, in which civilians will bear the brunt.

The Special Adviser calls for an immediate cessation of all hostilities.  He further urges all parties to engage in good faith constructively in the ongoing dialogue to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis.


The Secretary-General called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel today to congratulate him on his recent electoral victory.

The Secretary-General told the Prime Minister that he looked forward to working with the new Government upon its formation.

The Secretary-General also urged the Prime Minister to release the tax revenue currently held by Israel but owed to the Palestinian Authority.  Lastly, the Secretary-General reiterated his view that the two-State solution was the only way forward and urged the Prime Minister to renew Israel's commitment to that goal.

**Secretary-General in Italy

The Secretary-General remains in Turin today on the second and final day of the senior advisers' retreat.

In a short while, the Secretary-General is expected to meet Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and sign an amendment to an agreement between the Government of Italy and the United Nations that will provide for an annual contribution of €500,000 to the United Nations System Staff College.  He will also say a few words to the press and we will issue a transcript as soon as possible.  The Secretary-General is expected back in New York on Saturday.


A new round of UN-facilitated talks on Libya began in the Moroccan city of Skhirat today.  The talks will allow the participants to follow up on previous discussions on the formation of a consensual national unity Government, as well as security arrangements to end the fighting and ensure the withdrawal of armed groups from Libyan cities, including Tripoli.

At a press conference in Morocco earlier today, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Bernardino Leòn, called the current talks a decisive round, especially given the increase in fighting and airstrikes in recent days, both in Libya and the region.

Mr. Leòn said that the negotiators are not only there to talk, but also to reach an agreement.  He reiterated that only an agreement reached by relevant parties will allow Libya to get out of the crisis.  More information is available on the UN Mission's website.


The UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, and the Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published today their first joint public report on the situation of human rights in the country.  The report documents gross violations and abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law committed in Mali between 1 November 2013 and 31 May 2014.

These include cases of summary and extrajudicial executions, arbitrary and illegal arrests and detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments, sexual and gender-based violence, recruitment and association of children with armed forces, looting and destruction of property.

The Head of the Mission in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, said that both the Government and the armed groups had to investigate the serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by their structures and their members.  He added that this was in the interest of reconciliation and the establishment of a lasting peace in Mali.

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said that amnesties must not be granted to suspected perpetrators of grave human rights violations and that the parties involved must be held accountable for their actions.  There is more in a press release.

**South Sudan

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, accompanied by the United States Ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome, David Lane, will make a three-day trip to South Sudan starting today.

Over the next three days, they will meet national and local officials, and families directly affected by the conflict and get an update on the troubling food security situation in the country.

WFP fears that food insecurity will only get worse as we move into the lean season without an end to the conflict in sight.

Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, said that more than 12,000 children have been recruited by all sides to the conflict and that teams on the ground are reporting a strong upsurge in recruitment at the moment, particularly in Upper Nile and Unity states.  There is more information in the Geneva briefing notes.


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, has condemned, in the strongest terms, the brutal killing and burning of a 27-year-old mentally challenged woman in Kabul.

Yesterday, an angry crowd beat the woman to death and then burned her body near a mosque, after accusing her of burning a copy of the holy Koran.

The UN-Women representative in the country, Elzira Sagynbaeva, has called on the authorities to investigate the incident fully and bring to justice all perpetrators who actively participated or aided the killing.  More information is available on UNAMA's website.


The World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting the Government of Vanuatu in providing immediate food assistance to some 162,000 people affected by Tropical Cyclone Pam.

The World Food Programme will supplement Government food rations with additional food where necessary over the coming weeks.  WFP then expects the number of people requiring assistance to begin to decline as commercial supply routes reopen and people are able to resume their livelihoods.  However, some people are likely to require assistance for several months.  A team of food security experts is on the ground in Vanuatu today to build a detailed picture of needs.

Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that strong winds, heavy rains and floods resulting from Tropical Cyclone Pam have caused extensive damage to agriculture throughout Vanuatu.  According to initial rapid assessments that the Vanuatu Government has led in four provinces, the banana crop throughout the country has been almost destroyed, as have most coconuts and all of the inland cabbage plants and leafy vegetables.  Root crops, which are an important local food source, have been uprooted and flooded in most areas, while the majority of fruit trees have been stripped and chickens and pigs have been killed.


Today in Geneva, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned that more than 120,000 people have been displaced in central Mindanao, in southern Philippines, since fighting broke out between Government troops and armed groups in late January.

UNHCR remains concerned about the safety of civilians as the conflict continues to spread into local villages.  An estimated 13 municipalities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato have been affected so far.  And many internally displaced people are sheltering in schools and public buildings.

UNHCR and other UN agencies are working closely with the local authorities to monitor the situation.  They have distributed blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, plastic sheets and other essential aid supplies to displaced families.  More information is available on UNHCR's website.

**Honour Roll

For the honour roll:  today, 63 Member States have paid their regular budget assessments in full, with Slovenia being the most recent.

**Special Event

And correspondents are invited to attend a special event featuring singer song-writer Pharrell Williams and environmentalists Sylvia Earle and Philippe Cousteau in an educational event for young people in support of climate action, today from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.

The event is organized by the Department of Public Information in partnership with the United Nations Foundation.

Correspondents must register with the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU) in advance.  Only ticket holders will be granted access to the GA Hall.


And that's part of a series of events today; and today is the International Day of Happiness.

This year the United Nations, with support from MixRadio, has launched the "Happy Sounds Like" campaign in all official UN languages, to share happiness through music, and show solidarity with those around the world suffering from poverty, humanitarian crises, human rights abuses and the effects of environmental degradation and climate change.

United Nations Messengers of Peace Charlize Theron, Lang Lang, Michael Douglas, Midori and Yo-Yo Ma, in addition to UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo and other artists, including Pharrell Williams and John Legend, among others, are participating by nominating their "happiest song" to the "world's happiest playlist" using the hashtag #HappySoundsLike

The Secretary-General nominated a song by Stevie Wonder, whom he designated a Messenger of Peace in 2010. Mr. Ban chose Mr. Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", saying that, to him, "It sounds like a new climate agreement and a new sustainable development agenda."

Nobel Peace Prize winner and children's rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi nominated the song "Vaishnava Jana To", saying it makes him happy because it helps him know we will end child slavery.  This was also reportedly Mahatma Gandhi's favourite song.

The full playlist is being launched in just a few minutes, in Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest Festival.  And I believe they are watching us live from the Festival right now.  So greetings to everyone at South by Southwest!

I would like to thank our supporters MixRadio for helping us reach out to such a broad, global audience through music.  And I would also like to thank Cody Simpson for helping us to pick the audience favourites with inputs from audiences around the world.  Thank you, Cody, for amplifying our message of solidarity with those around the world who face tough challenges each and every day.  Enjoy the event and enjoy the music and most importantly, everyone, on behalf of the Secretary-General:  Be happy!

We have the Week Ahead available to give you an update on the events happening next week.  And that is it from me.  Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Yes.  Matthew and then Olga?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to… given the UN's role in responding to Ebola, I wanted to know what the Secretary‑General's response is to this series by the Associated Press showing that – based on leaked emails and other things – showing that the World Health Organization (WHO) know, knew in early June of last year that there was a major problem with Ebola but didn't put out a global emergency notice until August.  And it goes through a variety of other problems, including WHO violating its own protocols in terms of infection and basically some are saying that there's probably a need to rewrite the constitution of WHO or to institute reforms much more fundamental than have been proposed in this room.  What does the Secretary‑General think of this picture of WHO?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, on the documents that have been leaked, those are apparently internal WHO communications.  As you know, we don't comment on leaked documents, and we don't have a comment on these.  You might want to check with WHO for anything further on that.

Beyond that, on the larger issue, the UN operationally has been on the ground since the beginning of the outbreak and has mounted a strong operational response.  The Secretary‑General's focus is on getting to zero cases.  National Governments and the international community have come together around a clear plan to stop the Ebola outbreak and continue to execute it.  Progress is being made.  The last part is the hardest and we must remain engaged to finish the job.  You've asked about deeper, wider reforms.  I think that is something that we as a UN system do need to think about and we may have something more to say in the coming weeks on this.

Question:  Yeah, thanks a lot.  Just one follow‑up:  Beyond the leaked documents, maybe I shouldn't even mention leaked documents.  Basically it's saying there's kind of a politicization of when to declare something an emergency and either out of deference to the country's concern or to the Hajj that decisions were made not to go public with it.  I was wondering:  Do you think the reforms will actually be directed at that, so that in the future the alarm is sounded in an objective way and not in a politicized way?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'll see what we have to announce about any future reviews down the line.  I don't have anything to announce on that just yet.  But like I said, let's stay in touch on that, because I think that's something that's being explored and we may have something more down the line.  Regarding reforms within the World Health Organization, I think you need to ask our colleagues in the World Health Organization on that.  Yes, Sanghwon?  And then… sorry.  Sorry.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  So yesterday, the Ukrainian Ambassador said today so… a consultation process of sorts has begun with the UN Secretariat on a possible peacekeeping mission.  Can you give us some details on what that process looks like?  Who from the UN is participating?  Who from the Ukrainian end is participating?  And how long is this process supposed to last?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General has made fairly clear to the Ukrainians that the deployment of a UN operation requires a decision by the Security Council.  In the absence of such guidance, he believes that all efforts should focus on the full implementation of the package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements that was agreed to on the 12 February.  The agreed package of measures provides for an unequivocal role for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in implementing the Minsk Agreements.  And for our part, the UN will continue to increase our support to the OSCE as appropriate, with a view to doing anything possible to reinforce efforts to de‑escalate the situation and ensure a durable peace.

Question:  So have the Ukrainians officially filed a request?  Because the last time the SG spoke about this, he said no such request was made.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage we have not received what's considered as an official request, no.  Yes, Olga?

Question:  So the… thanks, Farhan.  Follow‑up on the previous question:  Should Ukraine submit the request only to Secretary… Secretariat or to the Security Council also?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I just said, the Secretary‑General has made clear that the deployment of a UN operation would require [approval] by the Security Council.  Yeah, back into the microphone.

Question:  But do they… does the Security Council needs the official request from Ukraine or only their request to the Secretariat?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's really a procedural issue which Ukraine can decide on its own as it sees fit.  I wouldn't advise them one way or the other; but certainly the Security Council would need to take action for there to be any movement on that.  Yes?

Question:  Regarding the International Day of Happiness, a Gallup poll–

Deputy Spokesman:  Microphone.

Question:  Yesterday, a Gallup poll was released.  I'll just mention to you some… the… a couple of the main conclusions.  The 10 happiest countries are all in Latin America and the least happy region is the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of Saudi Arabia.  Any comment on the regional contrast – the regional disparities on this International Day of Happiness?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I would imagine that happiness is actually a hard thing to quantify in a poll.  If people are feeling satisfied in different areas, that's a great thing.  Of course, part of what we are trying to do at the United Nations is that we know that everyone in the world, of course, has a right to the pursuit of happiness.  In order to do that, there are many things which they need.  They need a strong and secure economic livelihood.  They need freedom from fear.  They need freedom from insecurity.  And as you know, there are disparities in those types of freedoms, those types of values around the world, and what we're trying do is make sure that everyone everywhere has a shot so that they… at obtaining happiness.  It's nothing you can really quantify.  The things we can quantify tend to be things like the Millennium Development Goals and the successors of the sustainable development goals that we're trying to adopt.  And we are trying to make sure that all countries will make progress on exactly those goals, and that is our own effort to try to contribute to helping with world happiness.  Carmen, in the back?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Haq, Antonio Rodiles, who is a Cuban dissident, had a brief encounter with the Secretary‑General less than a year ago in Costa Rica, regarding the request that Cuba ratify the social and economic and political pacts or conventions.  Since it had already entered into these conventions in 2008, please, is there any follow‑up in this regard and regarding this meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the meeting, of course, that's something that happened a while back.  And ultimately, the follow‑up is follow‑up that needs to be done by the Cuban authorities.  We, of course, encourage Cuba along with other nations to ratify all of the relevant United Nations covenants, including on civil and political rights and the various other covenants of the UN treaty system.  And we would continue to encourage them, also, therefore, once they have signed and ratified agreements to implement them fully.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the Iranian nuclear talks, can you tell us what the – if the Secretary‑General has had any recent contact with any of the negotiators and basically what kind of role, if any, that he's playing at this point?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has no direct role in this.  These are talks, as you know, that are on the one hand being conducted by the P5+1 group of nations and on the other hand by Iran.  We have encouraged those countries to come to the table in good faith, to work out their differences through negotiations, and we remain hopeful that there will be progress on that front.

Question:  But hasn't the Secretary-General spoken to the negotiators?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General has spoken to many of the different players and when he has done that – you know, he has spoken in the past with [United States] Secretary of State [John] Kerry, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and many others, and this has been one of the topics that gets brought up periodically in his conversations with the key players.  But, again, what he is doing is encouraging them to resolve their differences through negotiations.  He's not a direct participant in this process.  Yes?

Question:  Also on Ebola, Dr. [Margaret] Chan appointed an expert panel to assess the response to Ebola by the WHO.  I know you can't speak for them, but would the Secretary‑General support an investigation into the behaviour at the WHO?

Deputy Spokesman:  He certainly supports the efforts by the World Health Organization to determine how it can deal with the situation better so that in the future we are not caught shorthanded.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about this thing that arose yesterday around the Security Council meeting about the fact that the UN had granted a quote, granted a waiver to work with these two Congolese generals that are the reason given for not participating in the offensive on the FDLR (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda).  And the, the Foreign Minister of the DRC said that in that case… in the previous case, on the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) in Ituri, the UN had requested a waiver and it was granted.  This makes it seem like, who gives the waiver?  This is what I wanted to ask you about, which is basically:  Does MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on its own reach a determination that it can waive its rules and work with generals that have these bad human rights records, or is it a request made by MONUSCO to DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) headquarters here?  Was the request made in the case of the FDLR?  And most fundamentally, if the generals are the same, what does it say that a waiver was granted to fight the LRA but not to fight the FDLR, in terms of the UN's commitment to fight the FDLR?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that Mr. [Martin] Kobler was asked some of this at the stakeout.  I don't really have anything to add to Mr. Kobler's own comments on this matter.  He has given his views on this.  On the case of Generals Bruno Mandevu and Sikabwe Fall, the clear point is that in accordance with our human rights due diligence policy, we cannot extend the support if we believe that support will contribute to a course of action in which human rights will be violated.  And we do not want to be supporting anything that leads to gross violations of human rights.  And we'll have to stick to that.

Question:  But the reason I'm asking is because you say that we cannot support them, but in fact, the UN did support them, knowing their records.  It granted a waiver.  That's why it ‑‑ I'm asking you, how does the waiver process work?  Is it done by Mr. Kobler?  Is it done by–

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, Mr. Kobler has spoken to this at the stakeout.  I just refer you to what he said.  Yes.  Yes.  Sanghwon and then Matthew.

Question:  One final clarification on the Ukraine issue.  So there are no, there are no consultations… to clarify, there are no consultations today between UN and Ukrainian officials on the peacekeeping mission?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not necessarily the case.  There's certain… we are… we're in touch on a number of issues, but the position is, as I've just said, that right now, our policy is to focus on the full implementation of the 12 February package of measures; and in line with that, the UN will continue to increase our support to the OSCE as appropriate with a view to doing anything possible to reinforce efforts to de‑escalate the situation and ensure a durable peace.

Question:  I have a separate question on the Secretary-General's own readout on the call with the Israeli Prime Minister.  What does he think is the best way for Israel to renew its commitments to the two‑State solution and does he think a Security Council resolution reaffirming that the two‑State solution is the way forward would be helpful?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the question of Security Council resolution is firmly in the hands of the members of the Council and we'll leave that to them; but he did discuss the issue with the Prime Minister of Israel today, and let's see what Israel can do.  Matthew?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  On this International Day of Happiness, it is reported there are an unprecedented number of refugees since World War II.  Does the Secretary‑General's office have a message to the refugees struggling in this unprecedented numbers in 70 years?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've been very concerned about this and we want nations to do more to take care of the needs of all these refugees.  Obviously, this is a… that's a completely horrific situation, for so many people to be adrift; and one of the things we're trying to do with a day like today is to show the plight of all the people who are suffering uniquely, whether it's from natural disasters, whether it's from political conflicts or others, and we do want people on this Day of Happiness to remember those people whose needs are very great and who are currently suffering and need other people's help.  Yeah?

Question:  I wanted to… earlier in the week, I'd asked you about this:  the proceedings of the International Civil Service Commission and a document that seems… that many, including the staff unions, read to mean that the Secretary‑General is supporting and has obtained approval for raises to Under‑Secretaries‑General of 10 per cent and pay decreases to P-1 staff by 1 per cent.  You said you'd look into it.  Since the week is ending, I wanted to ask you, can you confirm it?  I'm looking at the document but I'd rather you say it.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I can't.  We are looking into it.  Once we have something, I'll let you know.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

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