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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

21 April 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Happy Tuesday.  Let's get started.

Tolerance

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the opening of the high-level thematic debate on promoting tolerance and reconciliation which started this morning in the General Assembly Hall.

Stressing that the global response to violent extremism must solve the problem and not exacerbate it, the Secretary-General said that we must look at the root of the problem and continue to stress prevention.

He said that to protect the innocent, we must safeguard our moral compass.  Nothing is more important than staying true to our values and strictly respecting human rights, even under gross provocation, he added.

Tomorrow, the debate will continue with religious leaders from different faith organizations from around the world.  The Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) and the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) will be available for you at the General Assembly stakeout, in the east neck area, at about 1:10 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.  And of course, the programme of this afternoon and tomorrow's events are available both in my office and through the PGA's office.

Middle East

The Secretary-General also briefed the Security Council this morning on the Middle East peace process.  He said that the prospect of a two-State solution continues to recede, with potentially explosive consequences.

He strongly urged the incoming Israeli Government to reaffirm Israel's commitment to the two-State solution and to take credible steps to foster an environment conducive to a return to meaningful negotiations, including a freeze of settlement activities.

The Secretary-General said that both sides face difficult choices.  But one choice stands above all:  whether to choose peace or the death, destruction and suffering that have defined the conflict for far too long.  Ultimately, he said, the parties themselves must demonstrate the commitment and courage necessary to chart a viable course towards a better future.

Somalia

Following up on yesterday's tragic events in Somalia, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said yesterday's horrific attack on UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) staff in the country is a reminder of the dangers faced by many humanitarian aid workers on a daily basis.

Ms. Amos said that attacks on humanitarian workers can constitute a war crime and are in total violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.  She added that the perpetrators must be held accountable.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that attacks on humanitarian workers have increased every year for more than a decade.  In 2013, there was a record high of 264 attacks, affecting 474 aid workers.

Yesterday, I was asked for more details on the UNICEF staff who were killed or injured.  Four of them were killed and another five are being treated for injuries sustained during the attack.  UNICEF has now released more information on them, and that information is also available online.

Yemen

Our humanitarian colleagues also say that three weeks of conflict and airstrikes have severely disrupted the supply and availability of food, fuel, water and electricity across Yemen.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), food and other items have nearly disappeared from most markets and shops in conflict-affected governorates.

An estimated 2 million children are affected by the extended closure of more than 3,700 schools across Yemen and, according to our humanitarian partners, at least 48 schools have been damaged and 49 schools are reportedly occupied either by armed groups or being used as shelters by displaced people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of the imminent collapse of health-care services in Yemen.  Health facilities are facing increasing shortages of life-saving medicines and vital supplies, frequent disruptions in power supply and lack of fuel for generators.

Mediterranean Sea

Today, UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees) welcomed European plans to tackle the challenges of irregular migration in the Mediterranean, but said that saving human lives at sea should remain the priority after hundreds of refugees and migrants lost their lives.

The refugee agency says it now believes the number of fatalities in the latest shipwreck over the weekend to have been over 800, making it the deadliest ever recorded in the Mediterranean. Only 28 people are known to have survived this latest accident.

Iraq

From Iraq, UNHCR also reports that Iraqi civilians fleeing violence in Ramadi face numerous challenges, including dwindling resources, checkpoints, entry restrictions and security procedures to navigate on their journeys to safety.

An estimated 114,000 Iraqis have fled Ramadi, located in Anbar province, over the past two weeks as conflict between Government forces and extremists intensified.

We have more information on UNHCR's website and their briefing notes.

Afghanistan

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, has called for greater protection for civilians in Afghanistan.

Mr. Šimonović, who has just concluded his seven-day mission to the country, said that Afghanistan continues to find itself in a paradoxical situation:  While there are new opportunities for peace talks, he warned that the conflict looks set to intensify as insurgents test the strength of the security forces.

His visit focused on the increasingly difficult security situation following the withdrawal of foreign troops and the transfer of security tasks to the Afghan National Security Forces.

And if you have questions, Mr. Šimonović will join us tomorrow as my guest.

Ukraine

From Ukraine, more than 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Ukraine, according to the Government and UNHCR.  More than 800,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that reports from aid workers on the ground indicate that displaced people are reluctant to return to non-government controlled areas because of insecurity and fear of possible persecution for political reasons.

It also says that the humanitarian situation in Luhansk is critical.  Food, medicines, shelter and cash are priority needs, while salaries and pensions have been delayed and there is massive unemployment.

Aid agencies continue to provide assistance — such as food, clothing, cash grants and medical assistance — to areas that can be accessed.

Funding for the humanitarian operation remains low, with the $316 million appeal only 21 per cent funded or pledged.

I was asked yesterday for a readout of the Secretary-General's call with President Poroshenko.  He did speak to President Poroshenko yesterday.

During the phone call, they discussed the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and agreed on the need for the full implementation of the "Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements".

The Secretary-General stressed the urgent need for traction on the political elements of these agreements and for the betterment of the humanitarian situation.  Regarding an international peacekeeping mission under a UN mandate, the Secretary-General reiterated that this was a matter for the Security Council to decide.

The Secretary-General underscored the United Nations' support to and solidarity with the people of Ukraine at this difficult time in the country's history and committed to continuing the UN's overall engagement in Ukraine.

Chemical Weapons

In a message delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General today in Ypres, Belgium, where the first chemical attack was recorded 100 years ago today, with a chlorine gas attack during the First World War, the Secretary-General underscores the need to remember the atrocities with the resolve to make sure that unlike that gas, the threats do not linger.

The Secretary-General said that we owe it to the victims of chemical weapons over the past 100 years — and future generations at risk of attacks — to remember that the world is not free from this threat.

The recent multinational effort to eliminate the chemical weapons programme of Syria was a momentous undertaking and an important achievement.  It reaffirmed international resolve against chemical weapons and it illustrated the power of collective action in service of a common goal.

Guinea

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is expected to travel to Conakry, Guinea, tomorrow.

During his stay there, he will meet with President Alpha Condé, political leaders and other national stakeholders.

Mr. Chambas has travelled to Guinea on two previous occasions this year — both in February and March — in the context of his good offices mandate for West Africa.

UNICEF

Our colleagues at UNICEF tell us that their Executive Director, Anthony Lake, met Pope Francis today in Rome to launch a new partnership in favour of disadvantaged adolescents.

The five-year collaboration will focus on expanding access to technology, sports and the arts — platforms for education, participation and peacebuilding.  There is a press release on UNICEF's website.

Previous Questions

Mr. Lee, you asked a number of times about Judge Otis, who was one of the members of the Redesign Panel that made proposals back in 2006 on a new system of administration of justice.

As a follow-up, a six-member panel has been appointed by the Secretary-General to conduct an interim independent assessment of the system of administration of justice at the UN, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 69/203.  The panel is expected to conduct the assessment over a six-month period.  We understand that the panel will convene for the first time in early May 2015, this year.

Press Conferences

Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., a press conference here on the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples with a focus on the Pacific region.  Speakers will include Valmaine Toki, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples and Professor of Law at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

And of course, as I mentioned, we will have Mr. Šimonović with us tomorrow as well.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any word about appointment of the special envoy for Yemen?  Especially, as you described, the situation has worsened so much.

Spokesman:  No, sir, I have nothing to add on that.

Question:  When will someone be named?

Spokesman:  A successor to Mr. [Jamal] Benomar will be appointed as soon as possible.  As you know, as well as I do, the nomination of a political envoy, especially for a situation such as Yemen, takes time.  Yes, sir?

Question:  An Egyptian court has sentenced the country's only democratically elected president to 20 years in jail.  Do you think his persecution adheres to the principles of justice and do you think the process was impartial?

Spokesman:  At this point, we have — we've taken note of the verdict, and I may have more to say on that, but not right now.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  On Yemen, I want to ask something about evacuations.  But first, I just… did you… were you able to get a readout of the meeting yesterday of the Secretary-General and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) ambassadors?  And was the issue of a successor to Mr. Benomar discussed?

Spokesman:  Yes, of course, that issue, that issue came up.  I think the GCC ambassadors briefed the press quite extensively after the meeting.  Obviously, we talked about the situation in Yemen, the humanitarian situation, the political… and the political track, and the issue of a successor to Mr. Benomar.

Question:  And the meeting with Oxfam, that happened right before that, did that concern the airstrike that hit Oxfam's warehouse in Yemen?

Spokesman:  I don't know if that came up.  I can check.

Question:  This is what I wanted to ask on Yemen.  On evacuations, IOM (International Organization for Migration), which I know is not a part of the UN system, but it obviously works with the UN quite a bit, today suspended evacuations from Sana'a airport, saying, among other things, that it's being asked for — too much information is being demanded about the identities of those being evacuated.  So, you know, have they declined to say who's asking for that information, but it made me wonder.  I know that UNODC (United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime), which is part of the UN, is working with Puntland authorities on refugees that arrive there from Yemen.  And what I'm wondering is, the place of counter‑terrorism… or is the UN playing some kind of identification-slash-counter‑terrorism, ID‑checking role in Puntland or anywhere?  And is it aware of this as a hindrance of evacuating people from Sana'a?

Spokesman:  Not to my knowledge.

Question:  What… why is UNODC—

Spokesman:  We can find out.

Question:  Can you find out?

Spokesman:  We can ask UNODC.  Mr. Klein and then Evelyn and then Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Last Friday afternoon, there was a conference held at the UN on persecution of Christians.  We learned that every minute… one Christian is killed every three minutes.  100 to 150 million Christians are under persecution worldwide and so forth.  I'm just wondering, in the Secretary‑General's statement this morning to the General Assembly, he did call out anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, that sow hatred and cost lives.  No mention of Christian persecution and, you know, we've seen the videos recently of the beheadings of Christians in Libya and so forth.  Was that… is there a reason for that?  Or was it an oversight?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the Secretary‑General, as either himself directly or through this podium, as we did yesterday, has condemned all religious‑based persecution; and, as we saw yesterday, the horrific deaths of the Christians in [Libya], which we condemned very clearly.  So I would say that… you know, that the Secretary‑General… you know, lists… in speeches, lists are not exhaustive and final.  I think the general spirit is that the Secretary‑General condemns vigorously any form of religious bigotry and targeting of people.

Question:  But the difference is that this is a continuing and escalating phenomenon.  So rather than just respond to individual episodes, which I know he did, it seems like this is a glaring omission in a speech on tolerance and extremism about the largest religious‑based persecution in the world today.

Spokesman:  You know, I think you and I can have different opinions, but I think the Secretary‑General's position on that is strong, and I think he condemns it… he condemns it outright.  Anna?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There has been some information circulating in the media that I hope you can vanquish for us, that Mr. Ban Ki‑moon does not acknowledge the Armenian genocide, especially taking into consideration the recent developments; we know Pope Francis acknowledged it as the first genocide of the 20th Century.  European Parliament passed a special resolution.  Germany acknowledged it, recognized it, and called it genocide.  Mr. Ban Ki‑moon, as UN Secretary‑General, shouldn't he be at the forefront of this movement of rightful recognition?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Anna, I hear your question.  I think you may have missed the briefing last week or the week before, where I answered that clearly and on the record.  I would also add it's not as if… for the United Nations, the determination of a genocide is made by legal body.  But I would not… I would refer you back to what I've already said.

Question:  Just one little addition.  In 1997, the International Association of Genocide Scholars unanimously passed a resolution stating that what happened to the Armenians absolutely conforms to UN's definition of genocide.

Spokesman:  Anna, I know.  I think, I think I've answered your question.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you mentioned, the General Assembly is holding today a debate on tolerance and reconciliation fostering peaceful inclusion of societies and encountering violent extremism.  When I brought this to the attention of someone outside the United Nations, their response was:  Aren't those just words?  How would the UN answer this query?

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi, your experience with the United Nations is longer than mine.  Words are our bread and butter.  Words matter.  Words are very important.  Words are the basis for action.  That's how I would answer.  Mr. Lee?  Then Ken, and then Evelyn.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about this.  Since the UN has a mission in Haiti, there's been some controversy.  First, there was a report that close affiliates of current president, holdover President [Michel] Martelly were charged with various crimes.  And then recently, on Friday, two of those accused were very swiftly released and cleared.  One's name is Woodly Ethéart.  The other is Renel Nelfort.  A number of countries that are observers of Haiti have raised questions about the rule of law aspect of releasing friends of the President after very serious charges, including kidnapping, money-laundering, etc.  So I'm wondering, MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), does it have any response to this?

Spokesman:  Sure.  They've taken note of the accelerated procedure by which the two defendants that you mentioned were acquitted of very serious charges, including kidnapping for ransom, drug trafficking, money-laundering and organized crime, just to name a few.  We further note yesterday's filing for an appeal with Haiti's Supreme Court by the Minister of Justice and Public Security against the fact that the lower court took the decision of releasing the two defendants.  The decision's been appealed.  And the UN stands by the Haitian judicial authorities to swiftly and effectively use the powers and functions conferred upon them under Haitian law to exercise judicial oversight in this matter and ensure the delivery of justice.  Evelyn and then Ken.  Sorry.

Question:  We keep hearing the horrific stories of the migrants.  They can't all stay on one island in Italy.  What are some of the plans of… where… where can they go?  The European Governments are not jumping up and down.  What is UNHCR doing?

Spokesman:  This is a very important question that you raise.  And both UNHCR and others have raised the need for burden sharing for countries to help those that are on the front lines.  If it's in the Mediterranean, it's, you know, Greece and Italy, of course, and Malta to an extent.  They need assistance from other EU countries, both in terms of intake and in terms of support to what we need, which is a robust rescue‑at‑sea operation.  And the same thing goes for the millions of Syrians who find themselves in Jordan, in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Iraq, and other places.  They're carrying… those countries are carrying an undue burden, and I know UNHCR and the IOM, which is in charge of resettling, has been pushing other countries to increase the numbers of migrants and refugees they take in.  Ken?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Sorry.  Stéphane.  Two quick questions.  First, on the readout of the phone call between Secretary‑General and Mr. Poroshenko.  So could you tell us which side raised the issue of this peacekeeping mission under UN mandate?  And also, what's the… does the Secretary‑General believe that this kind of, you know, mission helped the situation?

Spokesman:  It was… you know, this was a… this was an issue brought up by President Poroshenko.  And I think the Secretary‑General's position on this is unchanged, which is that the decision… you know, Security Council… a peacekeeping operation is the purview of the Security Council.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You referred to the migrant, to the death of 800 migrants as an accident.  Some see it as a mass…

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi, thank you for paying attention.  It was… as I was saying the word, I regretted saying it.  So I would… I'd like to correct it, but it seemed to be almost an act of murder for that sense.

Question:  Right.  Given the fact that this is a continuing story, didn't start today or yesterday, last year, more than 1,500 died.  Shouldn't the agencies, including UNHCR, have anticipated this kind of development and taken some kind of preventive measures?

Spokesman:  You know, I take a little objection to what you said.  I think UNHCR, IOM, and the UN at large has been very vocal in pushing those countries concerned that are on the front lines and the greater international community, the risk of what is, what is going on.  We do not hold all the cards.  I think UNHCR was very vocal when the Mare Nostrum operation ended.  Whether it was [Antonio] Guterres, we had Mr. Bill Swing here, who talked extensively about the need to re‑create Mare Nostrum or to an operation that would have the same capacity rescue at sea.

The ongoing push for political solution in Libya, we hope, would have a very positive impact on Libya's ability to control the flow of migrants as a resolution of conflict in Syria and Yemen and in other ‑‑ and Somalia and many other places.  So I think it's not as if the UN has been ignoring the problem.  I think on the contrary, we've been highlighting not only the current situation but the risk of escalation for the last few years.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I'm, I'm looking at the appointments of the Deputy Secretary‑General for today, and I see at 5, Kim Bolduc, identified as the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so I wanted to make sure that she's still with MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara).

Spokesman:  That seems to be a glaring mistake.

Question:  Because there are… some are saying that Mr. [Martin] Kobler may be moving on so maybe there's some double switch.

Spokesman:  That may be a… you know, as I've often said from here, myself and my colleagues are human.  And we sometimes make mistakes.  So…

Question:  Okay.  So there's nothing to read into this.

Spokesman:  No, I would not.

Question:  I'm very glad you answered on Justice Otis.  I just, rather than having it keep clanging around, what I wanted to ask…  I have an e-mail from your office.  She was asked to do a specific report about whistleblowers, and it's the one that was referred to in this whistleblower letter to the Secretariat.  And in May 2013 it said—

Spokesman:  I will go back to you.  I understand.

Question:  Okay.  We'll get to the bottom of it.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.  We'll see you—

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Olga, I do apologize.  I do.  You have the last word.  Yes.  Sorry.

Question:  Stéphane, if we're talking about mistakes, you mentioned in the beginning that there are 2 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, but according to yesterday's report, it's 1.2 million.  Maybe—

Spokesman:  This is the numbers we just got from UNHCR.  I will go back and double check before you write your story.  [The Spokesman later clarified that there were 1.2 million internally displaced people in Ukraine and 800,000 people who had sought asylum in other countries, for a total of 2 million people.]

Question:  Yeah, because it's—

Spokesman:  How about that?

Question:  So the question is, after Syria conference in Moscow, where some steps were agreed, is it possible to bring such consultations in the UN Headquarters or to—

Spokesman:  I think we're very appreciative of the Russian efforts and the two rounds of talks in Moscow.  As I mentioned, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura will launch a series of consultations based in Geneva, where he is based.  When we have more details to share with you, we will, but obviously, I think any attempt like we saw in Moscow to bring a political solution is a welcome one.

Thank you.  And I'll double check on those numbers right away.  Thank you.



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