Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 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.
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the UN inquiry on the violent demonstration of 27 January 2015 in Gao, Mali.
The inquiry launched by the Secretary-General to determine the facts surrounding the violent demonstration that took place on 27 January 2015 in Gao, Mali, in front of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Regional Headquarters has submitted its report.
The inquiry determined that members of a MINUSMA Formed Police Unit used unauthorized and excessive force on civilian protesters during the demonstration, resulting in the death by gunfire of three protesters and the wounding of four others.
The inquiry also established that some protesters and organizers of the demonstration bear responsibility for the violence of the protest, which included Molotov cocktails, stone throwing and attempts to breach the perimeter of the Regional MINUSMA Headquarters in Gao. The inquiry noted that MINUSMA security forces were left to face the protesters on their own, in violation of the Status of Forces Agreement with the host country. Five MINUSMA police officers were wounded during the event.
The Secretary-General profoundly regrets the casualties among civilians resulting from the excessive use of force during this event by the MINUSMA personnel concerned. He condemns it as a violation of the MINUSMA Directive on the Use of Force. The Secretary-General is committed to ensuring that the responsible individuals are held fully accountable for their actions.
Steps are being taken in this regard with the authorities of Mali and the relevant police-contributing country. The Secretary-General encourages the Government of Mali to take the appropriate steps to prevent future such incidents. Communications, management and crisis procedures within MINUSMA will also be examined to prevent the recurrence of such acts.
The Secretary-General is committed to ensuring justice for the victims and their families according to local customs and appropriate United Nations procedures. MINUSMA is in contact with the local authorities and with the individuals and families concerned in this regard.
On behalf of the United Nations, the Secretary-General expresses his deepest apologies to the victims and their families. The United Nations, and MINUSMA in particular, remain committed to supporting the stabilization of Mali.
And that will be issued online shortly.
The Security Council, in its first consultations for the month of April, adopted its programme of work for the month. And this morning, the Council also adopted a resolution endorsing the drawdown of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to a military ceiling of 3,590 personnel and a police ceiling of 1,515 personnel.
This afternoon, Council members will receive an update on the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons programme from the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane.
Under other matters, the Council expects to hear from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous about the report on the 27 January incident in Gao, which I just mentioned. Mr. Ladsous will speak to reporters at the stakeout afterwards.
And under other matters, Council members also expect to hear from Vijay Nambiar about the situation in Myanmar.
Ambassador Dina Kawar of Jordan, the Council's President for this month, will brief you right after this briefing on the Council's work in April. And we expect that around 12:30 p.m.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) today strongly condemned recent air strikes conducted on the airport in Zintan, a town in western Libya.
The UN Mission has reminded all parties that such attacks on civilian facilities may constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. It continues to urge all military actors to refrain from violence at a time when significant efforts are being made to reach a comprehensive ceasefire.
More information is available on UNSMIL's website.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that intense air strikes on Idleb, Syria, and surrounding areas and heavy shelling of two villages north-east of Idleb city are causing civilian casualties and extensive damage. Humanitarian partners and local sources are reporting that more than 100,000 people are on the move.
Most hospitals and clinics in the city are damaged and unable to cope with the influx of injured people, who are being taken to field hospitals in the countryside or across the border into Turkey. The targeting of hospitals and medical workers is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law.
Humanitarian partners are responding to needs where access is possible.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has condemned today's suicide attack in Khost Province.
An estimated 16 civilians have been killed and another 40, including four children, have been injured, after a suicide bomber detonated explosive devices at a peaceful demonstration at the Khost Provincial Governor's residence.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative, Nicholas Haysom, has called the attack an atrocity and has urged those responsible to be held accountable.
More information is available on UNAMA's website.
I have the following appointment to announce.
The Secretary-General today is announcing the appointment of a High-level Panel on the Global Response to Health Crises.
The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, as Chair. The other panel members are Mr. Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim of Brazil, Ms. Micheline Calmy-Rey of Switzerland, Mr. Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, Ms. Joy Phumaphi of Botswana and Mr. Rajiv Shah of the United States of America. Brief biographies of the panel members will be circulated when this announcement is available in our office.
The Secretary-General has asked the Panel to make recommendations to strengthen national and international systems to prevent and manage future health crises, taking into account lessons learned from the response to the outbreak of Ebola virus disease.
In carrying out its work, the Panel will undertake a wide range of consultations, including with representatives from the affected countries and communities, the UN system, multilateral and bilateral financial institutions and regional development banks, NGOs, countries supporting the response effort, other Member States, health care providers, academic and research institutions, the private sector, and other experts. The Panel will be supported by a resource group of leading experts, which is to provide advice to the Panel on technical and other issues.
The Panel will hold its first meeting in early May 2015 and is expected to submit its final report to the Secretary-General at the end of December 2015. The Secretary-General will make the report available to the General Assembly and undertake further action as appropriate.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, has issued a statement today calling for people's freedom of movement during the planting season to allow them to access their land, plant crops, tend to livestock and trade without fear of violence.
Mr. Lanzer warned that freedom of movement is crucial to prevent a further deterioration in the food security situation caused by the conflict.
Traditional livestock migration patterns, agriculture and trading routes have already been significantly disrupted by fighting. Today, more than 2.5 million people in South Sudan are severely food insecure.
More information is available online.
The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that yesterday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand was granted permission to revoke martial law and to replace it with extraordinary powers under the Interim Constitution.
The High Commissioner said that he would normally welcome the lifting of martial law, but that he is alarmed at the decision to replace it with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all.
He said that this leaves the door open to serious violations of human rights.
The High Commissioner appealed to the Government to ensure that these extraordinary powers, even if provided for by the Interim Constitution, will nevertheless not be exercised imprudently.
There is more information on the website of the High Commissioner's Office.
In his message for World Autism Awareness Day, the Secretary-General says that he is greatly encouraged by the growing public awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the increase of public services to many of those affected.
He continues to urge everyone to join forces to create the best possible conditions for those with autism, so that they can make their own contribution to a future that is fair and sustainable for all.
At an event this morning, the Secretary-General and his wife, Madame Yoo Soon-taek, launched an employment "Call to Action", inviting businesses to make concrete commitments to employ people on the autism spectrum.
And at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the initiative with representatives from a German multinational software corporation.
Food prices are continuing to drop worldwide. That's according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): it says today that its Food Price Index continued to decline in March, dropping 1.5 per cent from February, and 18.7 per cent below its level a year earlier.
A sharp fall in the price index for sugar, together with declining prices for vegetable oils, cereals and meat, more than offset a rise in dairy prices. The index has been on a downward path since April 2014.
More details are available on FAO's website.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, today expressed concern about the future development of Small Island Developing States in the face of extreme weather events.
In the two weeks since the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan, both Vanuatu and Micronesia have declared a state of emergency following two separate cyclones which have caused deaths, population displacement and widespread destruction.
Ms. Wahlström also noted that this weekend many millions of people could be affected across the Philippines by typhoon Maysak.
Also on that, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that up to 1,200 people have been affected by the typhoon Maysak in Micronesia.
The United Nations continues to monitor the situation, but no request for assistance has been made by the Micronesian Government.
And now for the Honour Roll: Andorra has paid its budget, becoming the 68th Member State to pay in full.
And we are off tomorrow, which is a UN holiday, so the next briefing will be on Monday and we will see you then.
**Questions and Answers
Are there any questions for me before the Council President comes? Yes, Edie.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the Mali report, can you tell us where the MINUSMA members — what Member State they were from?
Deputy Spokesman: I can't say that here at this stage. What we're doing is pursuing with the Member State and we've been in active contact with the Member State throughout the handling of this particular incident to make sure that all of the appropriate responsibilities are exercised. At this stage, the members of that police contingent will be repatriated and we are relying on… on the Member State involved to see that the appropriate follow-up action is taken. As the Secretary-General has made clear from the statement, we certainly want justice to be done in this case and we trust that it will be done. Yes, Nizar.
Question: On the situation in Yemen, have you received any update on the humanitarian matters there? Also, we heard yesterday that there were further attacks on the same camps. There's targeting of [inaudible] everywhere and today there was a report from Aden — the Russian consulate was targeted by the aerial bombardment. Do you have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have first-hand information on these incidents. Of course, we've been concerned about the fighting. We've shared those concerns. You've seen the statement that we've issued on this. And the Secretary-General, of course, continues to hold to those statements, and his Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, continues with his own work and he is trying to do what he can to bring the parties back to negotiations in good faith.
Question: Further… just a follow-up. Al-Qaeda has controlled [inaudible]. Is there anything the United Nations can do about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately for us, the priority is to put a stop to all the fighting. We want the situation on the ground to be resolved and for the parties to re-enter into negotiations. Yes, Olga… Anna, sorry.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. One is about foreign mercenaries in the ranks of ISIS and al-Qaida. It's been reported, according to UN official report, actually, that 25,000 people who are fighting within their ranks from all over from 100 countries of the world. And it's been reported also that in less than one year, the number increased by 71 per cent. What kind of efficient ways do you see to stop this tendency? And the second question is about human rights situation in Azerbaijan. It's been reported that Azerbaijani authorities blocked the visit of a Georgian human rights worker who's been detained in the airport in Baku for 31 hours and then sent back home, and actually the head of Human Rights Watch in Europe said and he's been quoted in [inaudible], they've ruthlessly silenced many critical voices inside the country and now they don't want to let anyone in to bear witness to what they are doing. What are your comments on this? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding Azerbaijan, of course, we want all countries to make sure that human rights defenders and human rights experts are able to go about their work without any hindrance. And we would do so in this case as well. Regarding that report, I believe that report will be coming out as a UN document, and you can evaluate it for yourself. What's needed, of course, is for Member States to step up their cooperation and coordination with each other to prevent the efforts by such terrorist groups to expand their ranks. There are any number of steps that can be taken, and you've seen the resolutions and compacts that Member States have agreed to regarding, for example, the financing for terrorism and other such groups and we want all Member States to cooperate with that effort. Matthew.
Question: On the Gao report, couple of things. One, it sounds like if people kill civilians in using unauthorized and excessive force, does the report call that murder, manslaughter? And is the UN calling for jail time for those who did it? And will the actual finding of the report, the report itself, be released? And if not, why not?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the report is an internal report but the findings, as we said all along, the findings will be released, and in fact, the findings will be shared with the Security Council this afternoon. As I just pointed out, Mr. Ladsous will go to the Security Council. He'll talk to you afterwards and so the findings are being made public and, indeed, the main findings were what I had just read to you right now. Regarding the actions taken, ultimately, the individuals involved are going to be sent back to their home country to face justice. It will be for them to determine what to say, but how to treat this matter, but ultimately, what we have said and we continue to say is that these… this was the excessive and unauthorized use of force. It's a grave violation of the United Nations directive on the use of force, and ultimately, we and the concerned Member State have to be committed to ensuring that the responsible individuals are held fully accountable for their actions.
Question: But when you're saying they should be held accountable, what are you saying… what are you charging them with? If they were to be repatriated and charged with just a misunderstanding, would that be sufficient?
Deputy Spokesman: I can't be the one to make the charges. I'm not the court of law.
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately it will be up to an appropriate court of law in one jurisdiction or another to make that determination.
Question: Will the UN say what the contributing country does… will the UN make public what's ultimately done by the troop-contributing country?
Deputy Spokesman: We are sharing the findings, and of course, if there's appropriate court procedures, we'll try to make sure that all the appropriate information is there. Yes.
Question: Farhan, as far as the situation in Yemen is concerned, can you please tell us, is there any progress in… I mean, for UN to broker a negotiation settlement between the parties, and especially now that Saudis have become a major party in this, how would you come to resolve this situation?
Deputy Spokesman: The way that this will be resolved ultimately is the way that all conflicts will be resolved, through… ultimately, it has to be resolved through negotiations. Ultimately, it has to be resolved through some measure of compromise among the parties to deal with each other. You're right that that's not happening right now. And the situation on the ground is terrible. That has to change, and we are doing what we can. As you know, the Secretary-General met with a wide range of leaders in the region just a few days ago, and he will continue with his efforts. Mr. Benomar will continue with his efforts, and we'll try to do what we can to resolve this. Yes.
Deputy Spokesman: Evelyn.
Question: No progress has been made because Mr. Benomar apparently is here. No progress has been made at all.
Deputy Spokesman: That's not what I said. Right now there's fighting. It's difficult to make progress, but we're trying what we can. And ultimately, you'll be able to see progress once it is made. But right now the effort continues, and we're doing our very best to bring the parties back from the brink. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Could you repeat where the devastation in Syria was? I didn't get the name of it.
Deputy Spokesman: In Idleb. I-D-L-E-B. Idleb.
Question: And who did it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there's a number of fighting factions involved in here, in this. You're probably aware from your colleague asking questions about it in recent days that Jabhat al Nusra has been one of those involved, but there's quite a lot of fighting from different armed groups. Yes, Joe.
Question: Just to follow up on what you read out on Mali and the report, the Secretary-General has often spoke out against impunity. So… and I know you might say this is hypothetical, but let me frame it this way. Have there been discussions between the Secretary-General or his representatives and members of the… of this Member State involved, officials of the Member State involved, to get some sort of assurances that there will be real punitive consequences here? I mean… and what if nothing happens back in the home State? Is there a plan B?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, there have been discussions on this. And fairly extensive discussions, both within Mali and in the capital concerned, and we will continue to follow up to make sure that justice is done. Benny.
Question: Yes. There's one report at least that the Secretary-General after consultations with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] foreign ministers decided to replace Jamal Benomar. Can you update us as to the status of Jamal Benomar?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, well, as I said, just a few minutes ago, he's continuing with his work. Jamal Benomar continues to have the full support and confidence of the Secretary‑General. Right now he is going to be in New York for the next several days, and he'll continue with his work from here, and when he has further travel, we'll let you know about that. Yes, Mr. Abadi.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. What personal initiatives if any is the Secretary‑General taking toward resuming the peace process on the Middle East?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General is involved in this in several ways, both in his own capacity as UN Secretary-General but also as a member of the Middle East Quartet. And so in those… in those capacities, he's been trying to push forward with efforts to make sure that a two-State solution will continue to be the goal of the parties. As you know, he was recently in phone contact with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He continues also to be in touch with the Palestinian leadership, and he'll continue with those efforts. And as you're aware, Robert Serry is departing from the post as Special Coordinator, but he will be replaced in that… in that post by Nickolay Mladenov who will carry on with the work on the ground that we're doing to try to bring the parties together.
Before I take any further questions, I have the following statement attributable to the spokesman for the Secretary‑General on the terrorist attack in Garissa, Kenya. The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attack this morning on Garissa University College in Kenya, which has left dozens dead and injured with an unconfirmed number of students held hostage. He conveys his deeply felt condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the wounded. He hopes the situation will be brought quickly under control without further harm to those being held. And he calls for those responsible for today's attack to be swiftly brought to justice. The Secretary-General reiterates the solidarity with the people and the Government of the Kenya as well as the continuing support of the United Nations to Kenya and the countries of the region in their efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism.
Yes, Abdel Hamid.
Question: I have two questions, Farhan, on Gaza and on Western Sahara. On Gaza, do you have any update about the contribution and who paid and how much has been paid and who didn't pay?
And there is also a report supposed to be completed by the UN, internal report. Is it available so we can see it? That's on Gaza.
And on Western Sahara, in April, it's the time for the new report of the Secretary-General. He promised last year that this report will be different, and he would significant… significantly will suggest something new so to keep — to break the status quo, which has been going on since 1991. So where… what is the status of the Secretary‑General's report?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that report is… will… is still being worked on. Obviously, you'll see it once it comes out. It will be a public document as with the previous reports.
Regarding the Board of Inquiry on Gaza, the Secretary-General has received the report. He's been reviewing it. Once we can make the findings public, we'll let you know and that will be announced. What was your first question again?
Question: Donations and contributions.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. I believe the appeal for Gaza, the donations and contributions is available on the website of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. So I just refer you over to that. Carla.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Last night, there was an opening of the exhibit on land mine awareness. And I was wondering, does the United Nations have a listing, say, from 1 to 100, of the countries in order of density which are most infested with land mines or unexploded land mines? And do they have identification of which countries produce the land mines and are there any countries… any countries in Western Europe or the United States which would be on that list?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you can see the information that the UN mine action service puts out for itself. It does have reports of its activities and it has information on its website. So you can see that. And I believe it does detail the countries where the most intense mines… deployment of mines is. Ann.
Question: There is a front page article in The New York Times entitled "Norway Reverts to Cold War Mode as Russian Planes Reappear", quotes Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as saying Russia is willing to use force most notably in Georgia 2008 and most recently in Ukraine. As a preventative measure, does the UN Secretary-General have anything to say about the frequent invasion of warplanes into the peaceful Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and other aggressive moves by neighbouring countries involving Poland and the Scandinavian countries?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any comment on the newspaper article you've just read from, no. Matthew, and then Nizar and then Masood.
Question: Two things. On South Sudan and Gambia. On South Sudan yesterday, the director of UNMAS said that she's aware of these charges that the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) put land mines around Nasir and Upper Nile State. So I wanted to know, given that there's a UN mission there, has UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan), or can you find out if UNMISS has done anything to verify both the existence of the landmines and who used them?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure, we'll check on that.
Question: And on Gambia, back on 31 December, the Secretary-General said that he encourages a transparent investigation compliant with due process and respect of law about the coup attempt. And now three individuals have been sentenced to death for the coup attempt. And I'm wondering is there a follow-out by DPA and the Secretary-General to…
Deputy Spokesman: They're studying what the follow-up by the Government of Gambia has been. So they'll review how this situation is being handled including, of course, whether due process is followed and whether the appropriate measures have been taken. So we'll leave them to monitor how that's going.
Question: What about the death penalty?
Deputy Spokesman: You're aware of our concerns about the death penalty, which apply in this case as in all others. Yes.
Question: Today President Hadi of Yemen said publically in a televised interview that the leaders in Yemen no longer listen to him. No longer take his calls and also the military do not take his calls. Given that he doesn't control much of Yemen and the leaders don't listen to him, how legitimate he remains as the President for Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, President Hadi is recognized as the President of Yemen, and I would refer you to the recent presidential statement issued towards the end of March of the Security Council on that.
I'm sorry. There's only a small amount of time before the next guest comes in. Yes.
Question: [inaudible] reported that some of the opposition forces are… rebel forces are now [inaudible] has already Palestinian population, which is under siege. So… and have nowhere to go. Do you have any update on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I mentioned yesterday the concerns that the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, has about the safety and protection of Syrian and Palestinian civilians in Yarmouk. They're very concerned because there's about 18,000 civilians in Yarmouk, and there's been intensive armed conflict there over the past two days. I don't have anything further to say than that. Our concerns continue that… that the civilians… bless you… the civilians there are at risk from this heavy fighting and the Relief and Works Agency is continuing to monitor the situation. But what I can say about UNRWA is that, again, is that they demand from all parties respect for and compliance with their obligations to ensure the protection of civilians in Yarmouk, and they further demand an end to fighting. And with that, our guests are here. So I will leave you in the hands of the Ambassador of Jordan. Thank you. I wish you all a good weekend.
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