Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
30 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.
The Secretary-General is in Kuwait, where he will participate in the third pledging conference for Syria.
Earlier today, he visited Baghdad, where he met with Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, President Fuad Masum and Speaker Saleem al-Jabouri. He also spoke by phone with President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
In press remarks, the Secretary-General recognized and appreciated the commitment of Iraqi leadership to maintaining the momentum for national reconciliation and unity. However, he remains extremely concerned about the security crisis in Iraq and its impact on civilians. He is also concerned by allegations of summary killings, abductions and destruction of property perpetrated by forces and militias fighting alongside Iraqi armed forces. The Secretary-General said that civilians freed from the brutality of Da'esh should not have to then fear their liberators. One form of violence cannot replace another. And the Secretary-General commended the Government and people of Iraq for providing sanctuary and support to so many Syrians fleeing the fighting in their country.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General addressed the summit of the League of Arab States in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. He told the Arab leaders that even when security responses are needed they must be done in a way that protects human rights. He said that fighting extremism while committing abuses is not only wrong, it is counterproductive.
The Secretary-General said he shared the Arab leaders' deep concern at the unravelling situation in Yemen and the tremendous toll it is having on the already suffering population.
The Secretary-General also met with a number of leaders on the margins of the summit, including the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, with whom he discussed Libya, Syria and Yemen, among other topics. In a discussion on the Middle East peace process, the Secretary-General underlined the importance both of Palestinian reconciliation and of reconstruction in Gaza. We have his remarks and readouts of his meetings available online.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will open the pledging conference on Syria in Kuwait.
Ahead of this conference, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that it urgently needs $121 million to prevent further deterioration of the food security situation and the collapse of regional food chains affected by the Syrian crisis.
In Syria itself, some 50 per cent of livestock have been lost and the cereal harvest has dropped by half since the beginning of the crisis in 2011. More details are available on the FAO website.
The Security Council heard briefings today about Boko Haram by Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Head of the UN West Africa Office (UNOWA), and Kyung-Wha Kang, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Mr. Chambas noted that Boko Haram was unable to disrupt the electoral process in Nigeria and said that following the regional forces' involvement in eastern Nigeria, the group's control has been reduced to only a few areas.
However, he said that its violence and brutality had intensified, including through the use of children as suicide bombers and human shields, and that its reported allegiance to the so-called Islamic State showed that its agenda went well beyond Nigeria.
On the humanitarian consequences of Boko Haram activities, Ms. Kang said that the ongoing violent conflict in north-eastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin had forcibly displaced at least 1.5 million people in Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
She added that as many as 3 million people in northern Nigeria will not be able to meet their basic food needs after July 2015 unless they receive well-targeted humanitarian assistance. In addition to insecurity, lack of donor support is constraining the expansion of the humanitarian footprint, Ms. Kang told the Council.
And you will have seen that over the weekend, the Secretary-General congratulated the people and Government of Nigeria on the largely peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections. This statement is online.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) welcomes the temporary deployment of a British Royal Air Force C-130 aircraft to South Sudan. This aircraft, which arrived on 28 March in Juba, will conduct daily flights to Malakal in Upper Nile State, to enable the delivery of vital supplies and vehicles to the UNMISS base and its protection of civilians' site. The operation is expected to last until mid-April.
The use of such aircraft will temporarily double the C-130 air-lift capacity of UNMISS to Malakal. With the impending rainy season, 60 per cent of the roads in South Sudan will be impassable and Malakal will be mostly reachable by river barges; the timing of the air operation is therefore crucial to re-supply the UN base during the dry season.
**Water for Life
The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke this morning at the General Assembly's High-Level Interactive Dialogue on the International Decade for Action, "Water for Life."
He said that by 2025, two thirds of the world's population could live in water-stressed conditions, with global demand for water jumping by 40 per cent by 2050.
The Deputy Secretary-General also noted that when communities lack access to water, tensions rise, adding that it is all the more disturbing when parties deliberately withhold water as a weapon of war.
He pointed to Da'esh in Iraq exploiting water access to control territory and dominate people.
The Deputy Secretary-General emphasized the need for "hydro-diplomacy" — making scarce water a reason for cooperation, rather than a reason for conflict. His full remarks are available online.
The Secretary-General's Special Adviser for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, will return to the country on Monday, 6 April, to follow up on the encouraging indications received during his last trip to the island regarding a possible resumption of the negotiations.
Mr. Eide will meet bilaterally with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders to continue discussions on prospects for the resumption of talks in the spring.
He will also meet bilaterally with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators.
The Special Adviser continues to be optimistic about the prospects for a return to structured, results-oriented negotiations, and looks forward to this visit as an important step towards renewing the momentum for the talks.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Vanuatu, Osnat Lubrani, warned today of a potential second emergency due to the destruction of 90 per cent of crops by Tropical Cyclone Pam.
She visited several islands in Tafea Province, and said that there is a possibility of long-term food insecurity on communities that rely heavily on farming as an income source.
Aid agencies have started to provide families with seed kits, and will support Government efforts in restoring community infrastructure and reviving economic activities.
As you'll recall, the UN is seeking nearly $30 million to help 166,000 cyclone-affected people for three months. To date, $9.4 million has been funded since the launch of the Flash Appeal on 24 March, but more support is needed.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Renata Dessallien, said today that she is very saddened by the death of Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteer Myo Kyaw Than, who died on Friday after sustaining gunshot wounds while working in Kokang.
She called on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety and security of civilians and humanitarian staff, noting that people simply should not have to risk their lives to help others.
For press conferences: this afternoon at 3:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, on the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) high-level integration segment on achieving sustainable development through employment creation and decent work, which is taking place today in the ECOSOC Chamber.
**Questions and Answers
And that's it for me. Questions? Yes, Joe?
Question: Yes, there were reports this morning that there's been some political interference with the Nigerian negotiate — the counting of the ballots and in fact a delay in the counting. Does the UN have any knowledge of the… of this, and would the Secretary‑General have any comment if, in fact, these reports are true?
Spokesman: Well, first, we'll have to see whether the reports are true. What we're looking to see — we're monitoring the situation on the ground, and we're looking to see how the electoral process will play out using the existing institutions, including, of course, the Nigerian electoral commission. As you'll have seen from the two statements that we issued in recent days, the Secretary-General wants to make sure that all parties maintain a peaceful attitude while the process of vote counting goes on and that any grievances that are channelled will be channelled through the national electoral commission, and we'll have to see how reliable that can be. If there's any further problems, we'll make further comments as necessary. Yes, Kristen and then Mr. Abbadi?
Question: I may have missed this at the very top of the press conference; If I did, I'm sorry. There's reports of IDP (internally displaced persons) camps being hit on the Yemeni border. Do you have any information on who was responsible for hitting the camps, casualty figures and so on?
Spokesman: Yeah, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yemen says that one its local partners said airstrikes hit one of the IDP camps and surrounding area in Hajjah and that there are reports of civilian casualties. The United Nations and its partners are working to verify this information. Mr. Abbadi first and then you.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. What does the Secretary-General think of the significance of the recent Arab League decision to form a unified army to fight terrorism?
Spokesman: Well, as you'll have seen, the Secretary-General was at the summit. He did comment on the efforts to fight terrorism, but he also made clear his own concerns. Like I said at the top of the briefing, at the same time that there are security responses, while those are needed, they must be done in a way that protects human rights; and as the Secretary-General made clear, fighting extremism while committing abuses is not only wrong, but it's also counterproductive. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask because on this bombing of the IDP camp in Harad, IOM (International Organization for Migration) and other UN sort of affiliates or credible people have been reporting for some hours that, you know, dozens of people at least injured and of those many killed. So I wanted to know, what is the UN's kind of comment on precautions taken in this military operations in Yemen? Even last week, Amnesty International reported children were killed in Sana'a. Was it something the Secretary‑General raised while he was in Sharm el-Sheikh? And what kind of… does the UN in fact believe not enough precautions are being taken not to in fact kill civilians in Yemen?
Spokesman: First of all, regarding this reported air strike, like I said, we are working to verify the information. Beyond that, the Secretary‑General did make clear while he was in Sharm el-Sheikh his concerns about the need to ensure that civilians are protected. You'll have seen the statement we issued at the start of this operation in Yemen, and the concerns that we had then still apply.
Question: Is it the UN's understanding that Sudan is part of the coalition, given the UN's own report on the use of Sudanese Air Force in Darfur and Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, is Sudan part of the coalition and should it be?
Spokesman: I don't speak for the coalition. They'll have to tell you who all the participants are in there. Yes, Sylviane and then Matthew?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding Kuwait meeting, do you have any breakthrough in the announcement regarding the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey?
Spokesman: There's no breakthrough regarding that. What we're trying to do is get as much support for Syrian refugees in all of the countries, including in Lebanon. And as you know, what we're aiming to do is to raise $8.4 billion throughout the year and this pledging conference in Kuwait will be an important step, and we'll see what kind of support we get for that. But any amount of money that is given there will be used to help all of the various refugees in communities in neighbouring countries, as well as, of course, trying to improve the conditions for Syrians displaced inside their own country.
Question: Does it mean there is no pledge yet?
Spokesman: The pledging conference begins tomorrow. What — what we're trying to do is see what kind of support that will happen. But, remember, this conference, while important, is just one step there. We'll continue to try to get pledges even after this goes, but let's see how much we can get as this happens. Matthew?
Question: How did the Secretary-General's meeting in Egypt with the Arab League go over the weekend?
Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen the readouts that we put out, including one between him and his meeting with the Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby. I'll just refer to you that.
Question: What kind of presence does the United Nations have on the ground in Yemen? Because I understand their mission was pulled out to Djibouti and other areas. Also, did you get any reports about hitting a hospital today and yesterday in Sana'a itself? Also in some IDP camps in the south, not just close to Sana'a.
Spokesman: I don't have anything about hitting of hospitals, but we would be concerned about any strikes that target civilian facilities and facilities such as hospitals that are intended to protect civilians, and we made that clear again in our statement and remarks last week. Regarding our presence on the ground, at this point, you're quite right that a large number of our international personnel were temporarily relocated over the weekend. About 100 international personnel moved out on Saturday. At the same time, there are 13 international humanitarian — largely humanitarian personnel and about 700 local staff and partners working to carry out the mandates that we have, including the critical humanitarian needs in Yemen, which, as you know, have further increased with these recent military operations.
Question: Just one follow-up on that. There are a lot of Somalis and African refugees in Yemen. Are there any arrangements for their evacuation? Yemen hosts over a million of the refugees, I believe, from neighbouring countries.
Spokesman: At this stage, there's no discussion about that. What we're trying do is make sure that all the people who are in need in Yemen are still being tended to, and we're trying to do that — we're trying to stand our ground and serve them as much as we can. Yeah
Question: [off mic].
Spokesman: Excuse me. There's some other questions so we'll get back to you. Yes? And then Olga.
Question: It's on — I had some other stuff, but I wanted to ask, of these 13 international staff of the UN or 700 local staff or partners, are any in that Harad camp? I mean, I'm wondering what the problem is with confirming that the airstrike hit it and who's using planes there.
Spokesman: Like I said, we're working to verify the information. That's where we are at this stage. Olga?
Question: Farhan, I just have a little question about Darfur. Is there any new information about Russian pilots abducted in Darfur? Because according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, they're still alive and they know the place where are those two pilots.
Spokesman: In order to enhance the chances that they can be returned safely, which is the hope that all of us have on this, I'm a little bit constrained from comment, other than to say that the relevant Governments are still working to obtain the safe release of these two Russian men. And we are very hopeful that that will be obtained. Yes?
Question: Are there any contacts with neighbouring countries to Yemen to receive refugees? Because obviously, this was happening and which continue — will continue, as the Saudis are promising, for a long time. Probably will create a very humanitarian crisis in the country, which is already impoverished. Are there any arrangements to host them in neighbouring countries or people fleeing the war zones?
Spokesman: Well, we certainly encourage neighbouring countries to open their doors at this time of great humanitarian need. As you know, the Secretary-General was in touch with a number of Arab leaders during the weekend's discussions in Sharm el-Sheikh and will continue to discuss with them the situation on the ground and what kind of steps can be taken to improve the humanitarian conditions that are now there for so many people who are now suffering in Yemen.
Question: Is Saudi Arabia one of them?
Spokesman: You'll have seen that he did speak with Saudi leaders, yes. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Yesterday there was a large demonstration in Tunis against terrorism where Heads of States and Government and higher representatives of other countries were present. Was the UN present at the march?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any UN presence at the march, but I can check. Yes?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I want to ask about Mali, Bangladesh, and the UN Pension Fund. Mali, on February 26 this report on peacekeepers' use of force in Gao would be presented — it would be made final, will present its final report by the end of March 2015. So where is it going to be presented?
Spokesman: That report is being finalized. Once we have some details to make public, we'll say it, we'll tell you from this podium. But it's still being worked on. It may drag on a few days past the end of March, which, as you know, is simply tomorrow.
Question: When it's ready, is it only going to be given only to the Security Council or will it be given to the public?
Spokesman: We'll give that information where it goes once it's done and we have something to say. Hopefully not much longer for that.
Question: On Bangladesh, there was — another blogger was hacked to death, Washiqur Rahman, and does the UN have any response to it? And somewhat relatedly, have there been further efforts to get Mr. [Oscar Fernandez-] Taranco or Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman or any UN person into Bangladesh to have a discussion?
Spokesman: Well, I don't have any high-level travel to Bangladesh to announce at this stage, but you're aware of our concerns and, of course, we have been calling for the respect of basic rights in Bangladesh, including the rights of people to freedom of expression. Given that, it's a matter of tremendous concern that different journalists and other intellectuals have been attacked.
Question: And just if — I want to ask —
Spokesman: Yes, that, and then it will be you.
Question: I just want to ask you this now. There have been a lot of calls by different — by staff unions, not so much in New York, since it's not clear who is the staff union, but Geneva and elsewhere, about alleged irregularities in the Pension Fund and a desire to sort of — by the current Chief of the Pension Fund to make — to change the rules so there's no… less outside review, and they said there will be an emergency meeting of staff about this Pension Fund coming right up. So I wanted to know, is the Secretariat aware of these concerns and what… how do they… how does the Secretariat think they should be resolved, and how would staff in New York be represented as to this $53 billion fund?
Spokesman: As you know, the Secretariat in the form of the Secretary‑General does not have control over the Pension Fund. It's not something that I can comment on. You'd have to take that up directly with the Pension Fund. Yes?
Question: On humanitarian aid in Yemen: are there any ships waiting, for example, if there's any reprieve or any interval in the fighting so they can go in? Also, Pakistan has many citizens there; they were trying to evacuate them from Aden. It seems they are stranded and very difficult to get them out. Are there any arrangements or talk with the Saudis to have a ceasefire so that such aid can be delivered and evacuations can be done?
Spokesman: There have been some pauses in the fighting that have allowed windows for people to travel outside of Yemen. In fact, it was during some of these windows over Saturday that we were able to get some of our own personnel relocated temporarily to Djibouti and to Addis Ababa. If there's need for further travels we'll make preparations at that point. Right now, what we're doing is monitoring the situation and seeing what other steps need to be done to ensure the safety and security of our personnel on the ground, and we trust that the countries that are involved in these operations will allow for further opportunities for different people to get their nationals outside, as need be.
Question: Your personnel on the ground, are they reporting any imminent humanitarian crisis at this stage?
Spokesman: We've made it very clear our humanitarian concerns. There is certainly a major humanitarian impact from these operations, and consequently, we've kept our — some of our team in place so that we can do as much as we can to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.
Question: Would the Secretary‑General call for a ceasefire in Yemen?
Spokesman: You saw what the Secretary‑General said, and I would just refer you to the language of his statements, including the remarks he made over the weekend. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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