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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

1 April 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.

**Nigeria

Earlier this morning, we issued a statement regarding the results of the Nigerian presidential and parliamentary elections announced yesterday by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).  The Secretary-General also spoke by phone yesterday with President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Major General (Ret.) Muhammadu Buhari.

The Secretary-General congratulates President-elect Buhari.  He commends President Jonathan for his leadership throughout the electoral process and his statesmanship in upholding the democratic process.  He also applauds the Electoral Commission for having organized and carried out the elections in a professional manner under challenging circumstances.  He calls on all Nigerians to accept the outcome of the elections.  He also appeals to them to address any complaints they may have through existing legal and constitutional channels.

The Secretary-General believes the successful conduct of these polls is a testament to the maturity of Nigeria's democracy.  He hopes that the same democratic spirit will prevail in the conduct of the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections on the 11th of April.

**Yemen

A statement we issued yesterday afternoon expressed the Secretary-General's concern over reports of numerous civilian casualties resulting from ongoing military operations in Yemen, including an airstrike on the 30th of March on the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced persons in Harad, in the north of Yemen, and attacks against several hospitals in Dhale, in the south of the country.  These attacks left dozens dead and injured, among them children.

The Secretary-General reminds all parties involved in military operations in Yemen of their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians.  This includes the strict adherence to the principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution.  He also stresses that hospitals and other medical installations have a special protected status under international law.  The Secretary-General reiterates his firm belief in the necessity to resolve the conflict through peaceful means.

And today, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen said he was appalled by the killing of a volunteer with the Yemen Red Crescent Society in Al Dhale'e in southern Yemen on Monday.  He appealed to all parties to the conflict to ensure freedom of movement and access for humanitarian workers to carry out their work in safety, as well as unfettered access to those in need.  This includes allowing the free and safe movement of humanitarian aid supplies into and within Yemen.

**Iran

The Secretary-General met in Kuwait City yesterday with Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The Secretary-General and the Deputy Foreign Minister reviewed the situations in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

The Secretary-General underscored the extremely difficult humanitarian situation in Yemen, especially given the lack of access due to the fighting.

The Secretary-General discussed with Iran the need for all countries in the region to ensure that Iraq does not fall due to sectarian fighting.  The Secretary-General also requested Iran to do everything possible to support the Iraqi Government's efforts to promote national reconciliation.

On Syria, they discussed efforts to promote dialogue, a transitional governing body and an end to the conflict, in order to bring an end to the terrible suffering of the Syrian people.

**Iraq

The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, welcomes the recent victories of the Iraqi Security Forces in liberating the town of Tikrit from Da'esh and associated armed groups.

He called it "a victory for all the Iraqi people" and said that the United Nations stands ready to assist the provincial and national authorities in responding to the needs of the thousands of displaced.

Mr. Kubiš said that civilians' safety and security must be protected in line with fundamental human rights principles and humanitarian law.  He called on the Government to ensure that all Tikrit inhabitants who fled from Da'esh can safely return to their homes and that much needed humanitarian assistance is provided without delay.

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) also released its casualty figures for March, reporting that a total of 997 Iraqis were killed and another 2,172 were wounded in acts of terrorism and violence in the month.  The number of civilians killed was 729 and the number of civilians wounded was 1,785.

**Mali-FAO

On Mali, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is teaming up with the Government of Mali to restore the livelihoods of households affected by the armed conflicts and climate change in the northern part of the country.

Thirty-three thousand families will benefit from a new programme providing feed and veterinary products for cattle, as well as training in farming and nutritional good practices, with an emphasis on the needs of women's groups engaged in horticulture.

This project is part of a $100 million World Bank Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Programme in Mali.

**Malawi

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, is starting today a visit to Malawi, as the country recovers from the devastating floods which have affected more than a million people and left some 600,000 in need of food assistance.

While in Malawi, Ms. Cousin will visit flood-affected communities, Government officials and members of the donor community.

**UNEP

I've an appointment today.  The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Elliott Harris of Trinidad and Tobago as Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Mr. Harris brings over 25 years of international experience in the fields of international economics and development policy analysis, coupled with knowledge of the UN system, multilateral and interagency coordination processes.

A copy of his bio details is available in our office.

**Press Conferences Today

Following this briefing at 12:30 p.m., the UN Mine Action Service (MAS) and its partners will hold a press conference here ahead of the International Day for Mine Awareness, which is on the 4th of April.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the Permanent Representative of Jordan and the Security Council President for April, Ambassador Dina Kawar.  She will talk about the programme of work for the month.

**World Autism Awareness Day

And correspondents are invited to attend the launch of a global "Call to Action" inviting businesses to make concrete commitments to employ persons with autism.  The launch will take place tomorrow, Thursday, during an interactive discussion with the business executives to mark World Autism Awareness Day, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., in Conference Room 4.  Then, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press briefing on that topic right here in this room.

**Honour Roll

And now for the Honour Roll, the Marshall Islands have paid their dues, becoming the sixty-seventh Member State to pay their UN regular budget bill in full.

And that is it from me. Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Nizar.

Question:  Obviously the death toll of children is mounting in Yemen.  Are there any engagements with the Saudis, with others, to stop this barbaric campaign against the Yemenis?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're trying to be in touch with as many leaders as possible.  As you know, the Secretary-General has personally spoken to a great number of leaders in recent days, both during his travels and by telephone, and he's been encouraging all to do what they can to protect civilians.  You saw the statement we issued yesterday, and he's following up on that, and you'll also have seen what our Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Johannes van der Klaauw, has been saying on this.

Question:  Today there was a plane that was supposed to evacuate the Russian mission in Sana'a and obviously this was banned – although they had the clearance, the ATC clearance, still they prevented the plane from landing.  Are there any attempts to do that again?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there have been many different windows of opportunity for people, including the UN's own international staff, to relocate from Yemen, and we encourage the parties on the ground to do what they can to make sure that there are more such windows of opportunity, so that all those who feel that they need to go can do so.  Yes, Sherwin.

Question:  Your statement on Nigeria says that the Secretary-General appeals to Nigerians to accept the result.  Is there fear from the Secretariat that there could still be violence in Nigeria?  And in terms of the President-elect, President-elect Buhari, given his checkered history, a coup leader in the '80s, does the Secretary-General believe he's the right man to unite Nigerians, in a country that remains quite divided still?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not really a question of whether the Secretary-General believes it.  It's a question of whether the people of Nigeria, that is to say, the voters of Nigeria, believe it, and they have spoken.  And, of course, what we are pleased about, is that both Mr. Buhari and Mr. Jonathan have shown real leadership and have shown real respect for the process.  And that helps to ensure that there can be a peaceful transition, which is what clearly all the Nigerian people have been hoping for.  So regarding your first question, we're not fearful at this stage.  I think we're encouraged by what we've seen on the ground.  We're very happy to see the good mood of the Nigerian people and the fact that both the people on the winning side and the people on the losing side seem to accept the results and seem to respect the process.  And that bodes well not just for this election but for the parliamentary elections that are taking place in a few weeks from now and for future presidential elections.  It's good to get – put in place the idea that the process is real and legitimate, and should be respected by all.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about the status of the Yarmouk camp in Damascus.  It's being said that ISIS fighters have taken over some part of it.  Could you… what's the status and what's the UN's plan to react to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we've been in touch with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA.  And the Relief and Works Agency is extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrian and Palestinian civilians in Yarmouk where, since early afternoon today, intensive armed conflict has been ongoing between armed groups present in the area.  Credible information from public sources indicate that a variety of armed groups are engaged in fierce fighting in areas where Yarmouk's 18,000 civilians, including a large number of children, reside, placing them at extreme risk of death, serious injury, trauma, and displacement.  UNRWA's anxiously continuing to monitor the situation closely.  In the strongest possible terms, UNRWA demands from all parties respect for and compliance with their obligations to ensure the protection of civilians in Yarmouk.  The Relief and Works Agency further demands an end to the fighting and a return to conditions that will enable its staff to support and assist Yarmouk's civilians.

Question:  Have there been communications directly with ISIS or Da'esh fighters who have taken it over?

Deputy Spokesman:  I didn't say that anyone had taken it over.  I've said that there's intensive armed conflict, and I've told you what UNRWA has to say on that.  Yes, Go.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Palestine joins the ICC today.  Do you have any comment on that?  Does the Secretary‑General welcome that, despite his strong opposition by Israel?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've told you what we had to say on this many weeks ago.  As you know, we received the ratifications and this is part of the process that comes in.  As you're aware, the independent – International Criminal Court is an independent body of the United Nations, but we do encourage countries to support the Court and its operations, and we welcome any sign that its support is growing.  Yes, Olga.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  According to a new report of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and delivery of humanitarian aid there is expected to decline for eastern Ukraine because of lack of funds.  Is it an opportunity to call for a pledge conference for Ukraine, as for example, as the pledge conference for Syria in Kuwait that took place right a couple days ago?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't have anything to announce, but certainly, if our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs believe that there's a need for a pledging conference, we would try to organize one.  At this stage, we're encouraging countries to step up with donations, and clearly, they should be concerned about the idea that if we fall short, there will be many, many people throughout the country, and particularly in Eastern Ukraine, whose needs are not met, and we have to make sure that that does not happen.  Yes.

Question:  Farhan, Al-Nusra declared Idleb as Sharia law.  They are imposing Sharia law on their inhabitants there.  Do you have any position on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard our normal concerns about the sort of punishments and the sort of human rights violations that have been associated with groups like Da'esh, and we would have similar concerns about any similar types of acts and atrocities.  I don't have any particular comment on this, of course.  You know, we do not recognize them as a governing body for that city.  And you've seen, of course, what the Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria said about the violence in Idleb.

Question:  Did you send – did the United Nations send any relief supplies to Idleb after they took over?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, I would just refer you back to what we said yesterday from our Humanitarian Coordinator, Yacoub El Hillo.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  Two days ago, President Assad of Syria was interviewed by Charlie Rose, and he said two distinct things: one, that he's ready to open dialogue with the United States, and two, he will not discuss issues of his quitting power.  What does the Secretary-General think of those two specific issues?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the question of a political transition, as you know, our focus has continued to be on the need for a political transition in Syria under the aegis of the Geneva Communiqué, and this is where the UN's diplomatic efforts have consistently been placed, and Staffan de Mistura is continuing with those efforts now, and we would encourage all parties to continue negotiating under the auspices of the Geneva Communiqué.

Regarding relations with the United States, that's a bilateral issue between those two countries.  Yes.

Question:  Sana'a is inscribed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a cultural heritage site.  How does UNESCO feel?  We've not hear any statement from UNESCO regarding the bombardment of Sana'a, which is a very unique city in history.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe they are concerned about whenever their World Heritage sites are attacked and I believe they'll continue as we are all doing throughout the system to monitor the situation.  You've seen the statements of concern expressed across the board by the UN system, and our colleagues at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization share those sentiments.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  There was a big meeting of UN staff yesterday about the pension fund.  And I know I'd asked you Monday and you'd said it's entirely a matter for the pension fund.  But what came up there is that there is a special – representative of the Secretary‑General to the pension fund, Ms. Boykin.  I'm wondering what is her – or the Secretariat's response to the allegations of fraud, including the CEO of the Pension Fund's failure to disclose his role with JPMorgan Chase, the hiring of an over 90-year-old individual on a short-term contract, and there's a variety of them.  But I wanted to come back to you and ask you, what is the UN's Secretariat response to these troubling allegations?  

Deputy Spokesman:  I've actually been in touch with Carol Boykin and she is monitoring the situation and keeping abreast of all the recent developments.  I've checked to see whether she'd be interested at some point in talking to the press, and if that's the case, and if she has something to say, I'll let you know.

Question:  In the interim, I want – maybe you can get an answer to her from this.  Is it the case that the Head of the Investment Committee, Mr. Pictet, has resigned?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  Like I said, we ourselves do not speak for the pension fund, so I –

Question:  No, no, I'm asking about – I think the Investment Committee is the one who oversees Ms. Boykin's work, not the other part of the Pension Fund.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  But in any case, the bottom line is that since we don't speak for the Pension Fund, the most I can do is see whether I can get our representative, Ms. Boykin, to speak to you.  If she's willing to do that, like I said, I'll let you know and we'll try to set something up if she is.  Yes, Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Back to Syria.  The Secretary-General while speaking in the League of Arab States and then in Kuwait, he was speaking about operationalizing and fleshing out elements in the Geneva Communiqué.  What does this actually mean?  What does he think needs to be added to the Geneva Communiqué?  Is it struggle against terrorism?  What is lacking in there?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not a question of what's lacking.  What he's talking about, like you yourself just said, was operationalizing it.  In other words, taking it from a series of commitments on paper and making it real.  We're trying to get that done.  As you know, our Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who was also present at the League of Arab State Summit, is trying to see what he can do to get a freeze, starting in Aleppo, and there are other ways that we are trying to see what we can do to make the actual principles of the Geneva Communiqué a reality.  Yes.

Question:  As a follow-up, the Geneva Communiqué is now two and a half years old, while it kind of proved that it's not operationalizable right now.  Are there any thoughts that there should be possibly a renewal in commitments in the Geneva Communiqué or anything like, a new agreement?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are all trying still to work on the Geneva Communiqué.  The fact that it hasn't been turned into a real concrete development on the ground doesn't mean it cannot be.  It just means that the parties have not committed themselves yet to doing such a thing and we're trying to see what progress we can make so that it could actually become a reality, because ultimately, what we need is a firm basis for peace.  Yes.

Question:  Farhan, can I just get an update on what Mr. Benomar is up to?  You said yesterday he's in Amman.  And also, in the SG's meeting with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, did the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister call for political talks?  And did he express any intent for Iran to join political talks on Yemen?  

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not for me to speak for the Iranian side.  I've given the readout from our side.  It would be up to them to explain what their positions are.

Regarding Mr. Benomar, his office will be based in Amman, like I said yesterday.  He himself actually was on a flight with our colleague Stéphane Dujarric just this morning, coming here to New York City, and I believe he will now be in New York for some time.  We're actually trying to see whether while he's in New York he can speak to the press.  Yes.

Question:  Farhan, you mentioned some numbers about casualties in Iraq, something like 997 Iraqi fighters, I believe, were killed.  Then you mentioned 729 civilians were killed.  Is that correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  997 people in all, out of which 727 of them are civilians.  And the remainder of those are fighters.

Question:  So does that mean that two thirds of those who died were civilians versus fighters? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Actually, if I do the math in my head, it's more like three quarters, but yes.

Question: So is that considered acceptable or usual that so many civilians – that more civilians would be killed than fighters?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, it's not acceptable.  Ultimately, we see this also not just in Iraq but in many countries where you have a huge proportion of those killed actually being civilians and it's utterly unacceptable in Iraq and elsewhere.  Yes, Ken, in the back.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On climate change issue, do you have any message to the countries that fail to submit their national target until yesterday?  Including Japan, that is one major industrialized country.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I want to point out that the 31st of March is not actually an official deadline.  Submissions in the first quarter of 2015 were requested from countries who had their independent national determination commitments ready and should be seen as more of a milestone on the road to the Paris meetings later this year.  The fact that we've seen more than 30 countries submit their commitments so early in the year is in fact unprecedented and it's very encouraging and it's already setting a high bar for other countries to follow when they're ready to do so.  And we're encouraged by the level of ambition already expressed and appreciate the work that countries are putting into this well in advance of December.  It is the quality rather than the speed of submission that really counts.  And of course, the commitments themselves should be seen as a floor rather than a ceiling.  We expect to see the level of ambition increase over time.

Yes, please.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Knowing how the Secretary‑General is involved in the topic, I was wondering if there is any reaction from the Amnesty International press release on death penalty in 2014.  And in particular, on the fact that in 2014, there have been less executions but more death sentences issued, and especially for terrorism.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's a bit of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, the fact that there have been fewer executions is at least partly progress in keeping with the spirit of the General Assembly resolution that has called for a moratorium on all executions.  On the other hand, of course, regarding the passing of death sentences, we would like to remind people of the position of the United Nations that ultimately we're against any further impositions of capital punishment.  And again, we want them to abide by the letter and spirit of the General Assembly resolution on this.  Yes, Sylviane.

Question: Thank you, Farhan.  Do you have any update on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon?  The head of the defense was in New York here.  Did you have anything to say about this meeting and the outcome of this visit?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't.  I'm aware that he's here, but I don't have any details of his visit.  As you know, the work of the Special Tribunal goes on, and they are periodically providing updates on their trial proceedings, and of course, we encourage continued support for their work.  Yes.

Question:  A few days ago, there was a strike in Aden [inaudible], which was very close to the city.  And nobody has established what was the cause of that explosion which jeopardized the whole city as a whole.  Many people perished in the attack, and the houses surrounding it, they all cracked.  Will there be any investigation of that incident?  Also, there was an attack last night against a dairy factory in Hudaydah.  Dozens of people died in that attack.  Will there be any investigations in crimes – war crimes in this case?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of these recent incidents.  Again I'd refer you to the statement I read at the top of this briefing, which – the concerns of which apply to all the current violence that's going on.  Regarding investigations, as you know, our presence on the ground has decreased since the temporary relocation of international staff.  It's not really a role for to us play at this point.  Whether there will be accountability down the line – that's something we encourage, but ultimately – first what we need is an end to the fighting so that people can then go about finding out what happened in any of the attacks that disproportionately have armed civilians.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Thailand.  There's been something of a change and I know the Secretary-General has spoken about the need to return to civilian rule.  So they removed martial law in most parts of the country but invoked something called article 44, which gives the same General control over three branches of government and no legal accountability for decisions made.  And I wanted to know:  does the UN think it's a positive step?  Do they think it's further to go?  What's their view of the current status of democracy and civilian rule in Thailand?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's a complicated situation.  So first, we're going to need to look precisely at the legislation and see what it implies before giving any reaction.  But that's what our colleagues are going to be doing.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General accept the comments made by some prominent people recently that the Quartet has failed in its mission to advance the peace process on the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you'll also have seen what our outgoing Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said about the Quartet and his frustrations with the peace process as a whole.  Ultimately, what's needed is for the parties themselves to commit themselves, to recommit themselves to the process for a two-state solution.  The Secretary-General has urged them both to do so.  And the Quartet will continue to play its role.  In terms of what the Quartet can do to invigorate the process, that's really a matter that the Quartet members continue to discuss at different levels, and we'll see what kind of helpful role they can play, but first and foremost, the Israelis and Palestinians have to seriously commit themselves again to the need to pursue negotiations and to pursue the vision of a two-State solution.  Go.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Could you give us your view on that nuclear talk between P5+1 and Iran, which is still ongoing?

Deputy Spokesman:  My view is that it is still going on.  [laughter]

And we hope that it will continue to go on and offer some sort of results, and once we get to a point where there is some sort of result, I think we'll have some sort of comment.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about something that arose in Washington last week, which has to do with UN staff's ability to travel more than 25 miles outside of New York.  In this case it was concerning Cuban staff.  And the State Department can – US State Department confirmed they're negotiating with Cuba, lifting this restriction not only on Cuban diplomats to the UN, but I'd like you to comment on whether Cuban staff, i.e., employed by the UN, but from Cuba, are subject to similar restriction, and what the Secretariat has done either historically or recently to oppose that, and your position on the legality of the host country limiting UN staff to a certain distance from Manhattan.  

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there's a Convention on the privileges and immunities of UN and associated staff, so I would just refer to you that.  So for any problems that we have in any of the countries where we operate, we take them up with the local authorities, and in this case, it would also be an issue for the Host Country Committee.

Question:  Right, but can we either now or later today just get an answer from the UN, maybe it's OHRM or OLA, are you aware, because I am, of restrictions imposed by the host country on UN staff members from particular countries, and what's your position on that?  [overlapping talking]

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, our position is in line with the Convention on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations and associated staff.  So we have that as a clear point.  And then if we have concerns with any countries, we take them up at different levels.  And like I said, in this case, sometimes there would be issues for the Host Country Committee and we'd take it up there.

Question:  I'm just wondering, can the UN not say whether it has staff members based here in New York who are restricted from travelling?

Deputy Spokesman:  Whenever we have any concerns, we take them up with the authorities as need be, including with the Host Country Committee.  

Question:  Has the issue of banking for the different missions been resolved with the host country?

Deputy Spokesman:  You would have to ask the host country that.  Have a good afternoon.



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