Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
25 June 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
First off, as you know, tomorrow we will celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. The Secretary-General will be in San Francisco, taking part in commemorative events.
The main event, which will start at 12 p.m. Pacific Time, will be shown "live" during a special event that will take place in Conference Room 2 at 2:40 p.m. here. UNTV will be able to provide broadcast quality video to those of you interested and they will provide more information on how to get the video soon.
The event in San Francisco, besides the Secretary-General, will also feature remarks from the President of the General Assembly, the Governor of California, the Mayor of San Francisco, and the House Democratic Leader.
More information on the event is available on the UN70 website.
You just heard from Georg Kell, the Executive Director, UN Global Compact this morning.
Speaking at an event marking the fifteenth anniversary of the UN Global Compact, the Secretary-General said that the initiative, which started as a simple call to action, has now become a global force for good.
He added that it has been instrumental not just in reshaping global business practices, but also in opening the UN's doors to a business community that for too long saw little common ground or shared interest.
His full remarks are available in my office and online.
I also have a related appointment.
The Secretary-General is today announcing the appointment of Lise Kingo of Denmark as Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact. She will succeed Georg Kell, who retires later this year after over 25 years of service to the United Nations.
The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude for the outgoing Executive Director's services to the Organization and for his commitment in fostering cooperation between the private sector and the United Nations. He is particularly appreciative of Mr. Kell's exemplary leadership in the creation and management of the United Nations Global Compact since its launch in 2000.
Ms. Kingo, who assumes the role on 1 September, will bring a wealth of experience and passion to the Global Compact, coupled with extensive knowledge and understanding of strategic leadership and implementation of corporate sustainability through building partnerships with key stakeholders. She was most recently the Chief of Staff, Executive Vice-President and member of the Executive Management at Novo Nordisk A/S from 2002 to 2014. We have more information on this appointment in our office.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that a shortage of funds is hampering humanitarian and development assistance efforts to meet the needs of 3.9 million refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria, as well as more than 20 million people in affected local communities hosting them in neighbouring countries, according to a report released today.
Only a little over $1 billion of the $4.5 billion called for in the regional refugee plan has been received as of the end of May, or about 23 per cent. The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has warned that we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.
Already, as a result of the funding shortfall, 1.6 million refugees have had their food assistance reduced this year; 750,000 children are not attending school; and lifesaving health services are becoming too expensive for many, including 70,000 pregnant women at risk of unsafe deliveries.
Some 86 per cent of urban refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line, while 45 per cent of refugees in Lebanon live in sub-standard shelters. There are more details on UNHCR's website.
You saw that this morning, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire for another year.
Also on Côte d'Ivoire, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, welcomed the signed commitment of 47 commanders from the Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI) to fight against sexual violence and ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law within all the units under their command.
She said this signing was another concrete step by Côte d'Ivoire in consolidating the gains achieved since the end of the conflict and she stressed that the chain of command must be fully engaged to work in ending the involvement of soldiers in sexual violence. More is available in a press release from her office.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, has condemned in the strongest terms the attack on a United Arab Emirates convoy in Mogadishu yesterday that has resulted in some casualties. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the attack was against civilians and international officials providing critical peacebuilding and State-building support to Somalia. More information is available online.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that two months after the first of two devastating earthquakes hit Nepal, some 2.8 million of the people affected continue to require vital humanitarian assistance.
Despite the needs, only 36 per cent of the $422 million requested for humanitarian assistance has been received so far.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also called on all partners to work together towards the early recovery and reconstruction of Nepal's health-care systems.
The agency warns that the health of people who survived the earthquakes could be at risk if we do not prioritize efforts to rebuild and restore regular health services. More information is available online.
**Democratic People's Republic of Korea
In his remarks to the press at the conclusion of his visit to the Republic of Korea, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said that the opening of a field office to work on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a breakthrough that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
He stressed that the people of the DPRK are currently facing the consequences of what appears to be the worst drought in living memory, compounded by decades of disastrous agricultural practices and chronic economic mismanagement.
To avert the extremely high risk of famine, the Government must engage with its neighbours and with humanitarian agencies. He added that the right to food, to health, and other social and economic rights are just as important as civil and political rights.
Mr. Zeid also met with three Korean women who were forced to become "comfort women" during World War II. Calling for adequate and universal recognition of their suffering, he said that he firmly believes and hopes that a satisfactory solution could be found. His full remarks are available on the human rights office's website.
And the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern today at credible reports of excessive use of force by police officers in Armenia, including against journalists, in their handling of protests in Yerevan on 23 June. The Office calls on the authorities to investigate the incidents thoroughly and promptly.
The Office welcomes the statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, expressing the Government's commitment "to democracy, fundamental freedoms and protection of human rights in Armenia". It encourages the Government to ensure that this commitment is translated in the way it responds to these protests, and it also encourages all parties to engage in a constructive dialogue and to refrain from violence.
In terms of questions we were asked these past few days: we were asked yesterday about civilian casualties in Yemen. Health facilities report that more than 2,800 people have been killed and 13,000 injured there since violence escalated in March. At least 1,400 civilians have lost their lives, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) reports that as of 16 June, at least 279 children had been killed and 402 injured since the escalation of violence.
We were also asked earlier about accountability in Sri Lanka. I can say that the new Government in Sri Lanka has passed a constitutional amendment which, if implemented appropriately, brings renewed hope for democracy and the rule of law. In this regard, it is important that the Government consults broadly with all political parties, civil society, and above all victims and their families, to ensure full national support and ownership of these processes.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights remains engaged in discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities on the need for transparent and inclusive processes to develop credible mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation.
And last, concerning earlier questions on violence in Malakal, South Sudan, we can confirm that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported violence involving Dinka and Shilluk youths at the Malakal Protection of Civilian sites on Tuesday. Clashes erupted during a violent demonstration by Darfuri traders and Dinka internally displaced people over the planned demolition of unauthorized shops in the new Protection of Civilians extension site. The Mission's formed police unit personnel intervened, using tear gas to disperse the crowds. There were no reported casualties from this incident.
For press conferences: tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., in this room, there will be a press conference ahead of the Rhythms of One World International Choral Festival. The festival is organized by the Permanent Mission of Romania to the United Nations and the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, with the support of the Department of Public Information.
And then tomorrow, as the guest at the Noon Briefing, I will be joined by Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, Thomas Pietschmann from UNODC Vienna, and Simone Monasebian, the Director of the UNODC New York Office. They will brief on the launch of the new 2015 World Drug Report.
**Questions and Answers
And that is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Abdel Hamid?
Question: Yes, Farhan. Rami Abdul, a member of the European committee to break the siege on Gaza, said that they have delivered a letter to the Secretary‑General, asking him to protect the Freedom Flotilla III, which is now about to sail from Greece to Gaza. First, do you confirm that the Secretary‑General received this letter? And, second, will he be doing something to protect the civilians, which is about 100 activists, sailing to Gaza as we speak?
Deputy Spokesman: On your first question, we'll check on whether the letter's been received. As you're aware, we have repeatedly asked all parties to be very cautious in their actions in Gaza to make sure that all parties, all civilians are protected, but also to make sure that the very fragile nature of the situation in Gaza and the situation among Israelis and Palestinians is not unduly affected. As you know, our main priority is to make sure the parties can return once more to negotiations with a view to achieving a two‑State solution.
Question: But in the meantime, Mr. Haq, there are 2 million under siege. They have been cut off from the whole world and life goes on, day after day, and they are still under siege.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, for us, we don't believe it as simply a case of life going on. We have continued both from our offices on the ground in Gaza all the way out through to the Secretary‑General to see whether we can end the series of measures that have severely hurt all of the people of Gaza. You will have heard what the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said to the Security Council regarding our concerns just yesterday afternoon. And, of course, we continue to press on those arguments. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the Secretary‑General have any thoughts on this huge death toll resulting from unprecedented heatwave in Karachi and does the United Nations plan to offer some aid to Pakistan?
Deputy Spokesman: I am not aware that we have received any actual request from humanitarian assistance. I'll check on that. But certainly our thoughts and our sympathies go out to all the people who have been suffering. It's amazing to know that hundreds of people have died from this awful heatwave that has struck Karachi and we certainly hope that the situation there will be able to improve very swiftly. But if we're called upon to do something, of course, we'll respond, but I'll need to check whether there's been any such request. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, about Burundi, one of the Vice-Presidents, Gervais Rufyikiri, has fled the country, and he said that after he came out in opposition to the current President running for a third term, he left in fear of his life to Belgium. So I wanted know, that seems pretty… he's an elected official, etc. One, is the UN doing anything to provide protection to people that feel under such threats within the country or trying to arrange for it? And what's the UN — how does this reflect on the dialogue the UN is trying to create?
Question: Well, first of all, regarding the Vice-President, you'll have seen, of course, there have been other people who have also fled the country, and you'll have seen the concerns we expressed at the time and those concerns remain the case. We want all the people of Burundi to be able to live without fear and we want, in particular, for the people who are going to be voting in any forthcoming elections to be able to do so without fear and to have the assurance that any elections will be free and inclusive.
Regarding the dialogue on Burundi, that dialogue, which resumed on 23 June, has, in fact, continued today with the Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily's participation. Meanwhile, in New York, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, met this morning with the Permanent Representative of Burundi to discuss the state of the electoral process. Yes, Majeed?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have a question about Syria. In the last 24 hours, the town of Kobane, ISIS has entered the town, and as we speak, there are reports that they are killing everybody they see there. And thousands are fleeing for their lives to Turkish borders. My question is, does the United Nations… I have two questions about this: the UN do anything to protect these people and ask the Turkish authorities to facilitate and open the borders? And the second is about the humanitarian relief. The reports are saying there is no UN presence or any organization there on the border to help the people there, that are fleeing Kobane.
Deputy Spokesman: It's clear we're not in the conflict zone in Kobane itself. There are people who are on the Turkish side of the border, including the UN refugee agency, who have been helping, and we would continue to try to provide aid for people who are fleeing from the fighting. And of course, in that regard, we would also encourage the Turkish authorities to continue doing what they have done in recent months, to be generous enough to allow people who are fleeing for their safety to be able to cross the border. Yes. Yes, Sia?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Since tomorrow is a big day for UN and everybody with the sleeve up negotiating with Iran, but yet there is no point of… no questions about human rights in Iran comes you. Is there sign that if negotiation goes well and the sanction lifts up, that means that countries like Iran cannot do harm to other international communities but yet they can do whatever they want inside their borders?
Deputy Spokesman: That's certainly never what it means in the case of diplomatic negotiations. We don't speak for the negotiators in this case: that is to say, the permanent five members of the Security Council+1, the P5+1 group, and Iran. Those are the ones… those are the parties conducting these negotiations. But regardless of the results of these negotiations, our concerns about human rights in Iran, as elsewhere around the world, would remain. Certainly, if there are concerns about Iran's human rights record, we will raise them up, as we have done in the past, as we did even just recently, for example, concerning the death penalty. And we'll continue to do so.
Question: Could we just say that if human rights does not get better in Iran, sanctions would be slowly lift up, not all of a sudden?
Deputy Spokesman: Again, I can't speak for the negotiators. This is not a UN negotiation process. The negotiators are working on a number of issues having to do with Iran's nuclear programme. But concerns about human rights in Iran as elsewhere remain one of the things that we will continue to follow up on. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Point of clarification and a follow‑up question: Where is the event on the signature of the Charter taking place?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe some of this is at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, but we'll have a lot of the various details for you, and you can provide… get those from our office. But later in the day, we'll also have details from the Department of Public Information for broadcasters. Yes?
Question: Sure. I'm sorry if you answered this. But this letter from the Yemeni parties, were you asked about it? You were asked… yesterday, Stéphane [Dujarric] was asked about a letter submitted by Houthis, GNC [General National Congress] and other parties in Yemen asking to meet directly with him, i.e., not with the envoy, [Ismail Ould] Cheikh Ahmed. And Stéphane said he hadn't seen it yet. I'm looking at the letter, but I'm wondering, has the Secretariat… is it aware of it? And what's its response to it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, right now, as you know, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is the person in charge of our dealings on Yemen, and he does intend to travel back into the region to talk to all the various main parties, and he will continue doing that for the time being. I wouldn't have any particular meetings of the Secretary‑General to announce on that. As you know, we announce his travels as they come, and his next travels are later this evening, where he will be tomorrow in San Francisco. Yes, Abdel Hamid?
Question: In fact, I have two questions. First, there are news reports that say that the Secretary‑General is going to Western Sahara. As Mr. Christopher [Ross] had reached almost a deadlock, no breakthrough, and there's plan that he would be going to the region. Is that the case?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any travel by the Secretary‑General to announce on Western Sahara.
Question: And the second question, I'm sorry. Yesterday, I raised the issue about WHO [World Health Organization] in Yemen, and we requested some more information about what WHO is doing in Yemen and, in fact, there are contagious diseases. Some of them are very mysterious. And there are some group of Yemenis who put a letter to WHO appealing for them. We don't know what happens to that appeal and if any of WHO can come and brief us.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, although, of course, they also do periodic briefings in Geneva, but WHO has been providing information, some of which we've been reading out in these briefings, including what Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien just mentioned a few minutes ago about the risks of dengue, where there are many cases of dengue fever that are taking place. And so they're working on the ground to deal with that, with the possibility of an increase of cases in malaria and other problems on ground. Yes?
Question: Thank you. On the refugees, you mentioned about 75 per cent of the money is not there. Is there any organizations chasing that money or they have to wait for the handout?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we're certainly pushing for this money. We know that with the huge number of crises in the world, there's a certain amount of donor fatigue that comes in from time to time. And you'll have seen just in the last few minutes, I talked about problems with funding in Syria, in Yemen, and in Nepal. But down the line, we need for all of these to be funded, because at the end of the day, what we're talking about is basic things like food and water for people who are at the end of their rope. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask two questions. One has to do with the panel on the Central African Republic sexual abuse allegations. The Government Accountability Project, watchdog of whistle-blower protections, has identified Article 5 of the terms of reference, where it says that information will be provided… I remember it was said from here the panel can get all the information. But it seems to say it will only be provided with the information to the extent consistent with OIOS's (Office of Internal Oversight Services) mandate. Since the mandate of OIOS is always described as being independent from the Secretariat, etc., does this, can you clarify what this means in terms of them actually getting information and address the concern that, if… if Carman Lapointe's decision to meet with Flavia Pansieri and the Ethics Office in Italy in March is one of the issues that people are most concerned about in terms of independence, how can she be the one to decide what information to give and not give to the panel?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the mandate, I mean, ultimately, the panel itself is operationally independent. They'll have access to any UN documents or communications that they want to examine and they have access to personnel and all UN staff will be required to cooperate with the panel. So they have a very broad range of powers in order to carry out their work. But how they will go about that, that's their decision.
Question: But this limitation on consistent with OIOS's mandate does seem to provide… it doesn't seem to say that they're going to have access to every document they want.
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, let's see how the panel works within this. Like I said, they have a wide range of powers and ability to get information across the UN system and they will be operationally independent. Yes, Luke?
Question: Question on the Malvinas‑Falklands debate going on downstairs. There's been about a half century of UN involvement on this without much to show for it. The C24 meetings are seen by a lot of the people as sort of a parody. I guess, given that, what else can the UN do to invigorate a more meaningful dialogue on this topic?
Deputy Spokesman: Any efforts to involve other parts of the system such as the good offices of the Secretary‑General would require the involvement, the request of both of the involved parties. At this stage, as slow-moving as the process may be, the Malvinas… the Falklands‑Malvinas issue is being handled in the committees appropriately, because that's the one basic venue they have to handle it, unless the parties themselves decide otherwise.
Question: Well, a follow‑up: You offer the offices of the Secretary‑General on this. But I wonder, is the SG frustrated that some of the parties to this conflict would use UN facilities for concerts on the issue but not use the good offices for negotiations, for example?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, the Governments in question are themselves ultimately responsible for how this issue is to be resolved. We have encouraged them to resolve the issue of the Falklands‑Malvinas amicably and through negotiations, but it remains in the hands of the parties themselves. Yes?
Question: Sure. The second question, it's more mundane or at least smaller and it's about bed bugs. On Tuesday, I'd asked you about what I understand the fumigation had happened over the weekend, and there was an answer later in the day. But I've since seen that like, whatever, other answers have been provided to other media that wasn't provided, including one that says, Huffington Post says they were given the e-mail and they were told that everyone will be back on Thursday. So since I haven't seen that in writing, I wanted to ask you, is that the case? And can you provide an update? I also understand that there's going to be a re-inspection two weeks from the first infestation. Is that true? And when are you calculating that from? Last weekend or Tuesday or Thursday or when?
Deputy Spokesman: There is meant to be re-inspection. That's the standard process by which fumigation processes occur. It's up to the experts to determine when that will happen. But, yes, except for a small number of people near the affected cubicles, staff were returning to the 34th floor to their offices yesterday, which is to say Wednesday, and then the ones in the affected area are to return today, Thursday. And, of course, as for different answers, you know, different reporters come in at different times and ask different questions.
Question: I'd like to make it ongoing, since, having asked about it, I would like to know until…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, no one gets to reserve a whole set of answers in perpetuity. I mean, you come and ask questions. You get answers. That's the way the system works.
Question: Okay. Then don't be surprised; I'm going to ask again.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Yes?
Question: Yes, North Korea's protesting madly about the office that the High Commissioner for Human Rights set up in Seoul. Has that reached here yet, any protests, the SG, anywhere else in this place?
Deputy Spokesman: We're aware of the various comments. One thing I can say is that the Secretary‑General is appalled by the repeated threats made against the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights office. And he calls on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea to retract them and cease making such threats.
Question: Can I ask one more question?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: Okay. Thanks a lot. It really is for a confirmation or denial. On this most recent case of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic, I've been informed by… I don't know how to put it, a senior UN peace operations official that the contingent alleged to be responsible for these acts is from Burundi and that the acts involve the purchase of sex for less than a dollar from a 12‑year‑old girl, and since these are so horrendous and since it was pretty much implied in this room that, henceforth, the UN would be saying at least what countries was accused, I'm asking you to confirm or deny both the country and the act.
Deputy Spokesman: I would neither confirm nor deny it at this stage. I do not have the authority to identify the specific contingent. But I have no denial on this.
Have a good afternoon.
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