Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
30 June 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today, I will be joined by Jeffrey O'Malley, UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] Director of Data, Research and Policy, and Dr. Nata Menabde, Executive Director of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Office at the United Nations. They will present the report Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Assessment. That will be right after we are done with the first part of this briefing.
Right at the start; the first thing I have is a statement that is by the Secretary-General concerning the third anniversary of the Geneva communiqué on Syria. So, these are the Secretary-General's words:
It should shame us all that, three years since the adoption of the Geneva communiqué on resolving the cataclysmic conflict in Syria, the suffering of the Syrian people continues to plumb new depths. More than 220,000 Syrians are dead. Almost half the country's men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes. Civilians face a barrage of barrel bombs and other horrendous violations of human rights such as torture and prolonged detention of tens of thousands. There must be no impunity for such inhumanity.
Different parts of the country are increasingly controlled by a patchwork of Syrian and non-state actors, including Da'esh and the Al-Nusra Front. The country's cultural heritage is under assault. Syria is on the brink of falling apart, putting at even further risk what is already the most unstable region in the world. The international community, and in particular the Security Council, cannot afford to waste any further time in ending the cycle of violence. My Special Envoy on Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, is engaging in a series of consultations on how the Geneva communiqué can at long last be translated into meaningful action to ease the plight of the Syrian people.
The human cost of further delay should be unacceptable to all — strategically, politically and morally. I appeal in the strongest possible terms to the international community to join together with my Special Envoy to genuinely work for the implementation of the Geneva communiqué before further irreparable damage is done to Syria, its people and the region. Three years after the parties themselves, and all those with influence on them, expressed support for a plan to end that suffering, it is time to find an exit from this madness.
Those, again, were the words of the Secretary-General on the third anniversary of the Geneva communiqué.
I also have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the formal submission of intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea.
The Secretary-General welcomes today's formal submission of their post-2020 climate change targets or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea. Both submissions represent an important contribution to building momentum and strengthening prospects for reaching a new and meaningful climate change agreement at COP21 (twenty-first Conference of Parties) in Paris at the end of the year.
With these two submissions, we now have post-2020 climate change targets from over 40 countries that together represent over 60 per cent of global emissions. The INDCs submitted today and since March offer a floor, and not a ceiling for ambition, and are critical for building momentum and trust on the road to COP21 in Paris.
The Secretary-General thanks the President of the People's Republic of China, H.E. President Xi Jinping, and the President of the Republic of Korea, H.E. Park Geun-hye, for their leadership and strong commitment in addressing climate change. He encourages other countries to accelerate the preparation and submission of their INDCS. A key step to reaching a universal and meaningful climate agreement in Paris is the timely submission of INDCs by all countries well in advance of Paris.
This morning, the Secretary-General welcomed Mayor [Bill] de Blasio here at Headquarters for the launch of a pop-up registration site for New York City's new municipal identification card called idNYC. The Secretary-General registered for an ID and encouraged staff and diplomats who live in the city to do the same. The pop-up enrolment centre will be open until 10 July.
On Burundi, the UN refugee agency says today that nearly 10,000 people left the country over the weekend, before Burundi closed its borders on Sunday evening. The refugees who arrived in Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that roads are being blocked and people suspected of heading to the border are forced off buses. Some have reportedly been arrested and others have seen their belongings confiscated.
In neighbouring countries, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] provides the arriving refugees with initial assistance, including hot meals, and transports them to transit centres and eventually refugee sites. Since pre-election violence started in Burundi, nearly 144,000 refugees have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring Tanzania and Rwanda.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has found evidence of widespread human rights abuses allegedly committed by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups during the recent escalation of fighting in Unity State — that is, since late April 2015. Survivors of these attacks reported that SPLA and allied militias from Mayom County carried out a campaign against the local population that killed civilians, looted and destroyed villages and displaced over 100,000 people.
Some of the most disturbing allegations compiled by UNMISS human rights officers focused on the abduction and sexual abuse of women and girls, some of whom were reportedly burnt alive in their dwellings. The UNMISS report says that there is a "new brutality and intensity" in the recent upsurge in fighting. It says that the scope and level of cruelty that has characterized the reports suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences. A press release and the full report are available online.
The UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, and its partners report that the number of displaced people within Libya has almost doubled from an estimated 230,000 last September to more than 434,000 now due to escalating fighting this year in different parts of the country. The agency has warned that the numbers could be higher since it has limited access in the country and is currently running its operation by remote management.
About a quarter of the displaced population, or an estimated 105,000 people, are in the eastern city of Benghazi, where UNHCR has been working with the municipality, as well as local and international NGOs to distribute aid, including mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets. It is also working with partners to reach people in Misrata, Tripoli, Zintan and other areas, despite mounting challenges. More information is available on UNHCR's website.
The World Health Organization says that, according to its latest figures, 3,083 people have died as a result of the current conflict in Yemen and an additional 14,324 people have been injured.
I have two senior personnel appointments to announce. The Secretary-General is appointing Michael Møller of Denmark as Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva. Mr. Møller is currently Acting Head of the United Nations Office at Geneva. He has served in this role since November 2013. He was previously Executive Director of the Kofi Annan Foundation from 2008 to 2011. Mr. Møller has over 30 years of experience as an international civil servant at the United Nations.
And the Secretary-General is also appointing Tegegnework Gettu, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, as the new Coordinator for Multilingualism, in implementation of General Assembly resolution 69/250. In this role, Mr. Gettu is responsible for coordinating the overall implementation of multilingualism Secretariat-wide.
Previously, this function was performed by Mr. Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, former Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service in this area. More information on these appointments is available in our office.
The Secretary-General spoke last night at the opening of an art exhibition entitled "We the peoples: Norman Rockwell's United Nations". He said that Mr. Rockwell's drawing called "United Nations", which will be shown at UN Headquarters this summer, lit a spark that became the "Golden Rule", a mosaic of which is at the UN. The Secretary-General said that the UN Charter is our birth certificate, and that Norman Rockwell's "United Nations" brings it to life. His drawing brings the message of the United Nations home. The Secretary-General's full remarks are on our website.
And for our Honour Roll: Italy has become the 101st Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full. Grazie mille, Roma. And that is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Iftikhar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Those were very powerful words by the Secretary‑General on the Syrian crisis. But, what new steps he proposes to take to end this crisis once and for all?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, the Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has been traveling and conducting talks extensively, both in Geneva and abroad, including in Syria, to have a series of consultations with all parties about the way forward. He is now going to come to New York next week starting, I believe, on 6 July. And he will then be briefing officials throughout the system, including the Secretary‑General and eventually the Security Council, to discuss what his recommendations are on the way forward in terms of what he's learned as a result of his consultations. And so, we'll try to pick up the process a bit. But, as you can see from what the Secretary‑General is saying, he wants to make sure that all sides, including as he noted in the statement, the Security Council, are ready to move forward. Yes?
Question: Yes, Farhan. We were told the negotiation of the — on the financing for development is somehow deadlocked? Could you confirm that? Can you share any confirmation on that? And will the Secretary‑General intervene to break that deadlock, if any?
Deputy Spokesman: The discussions on financing for development are moving ahead. I wouldn't say it's a deadlock so much as a normal pace of negotiations. As you know, in any phase of negotiations, there are certain bits of the text that get bracketed, certain items that need to be resolved. We are imploring all nations come together, whether developed or developing, and move forward on this, so that the summit on finding financing for development in Addis Ababa will be a success. Of course, they have sometime between now and then to get to agreement. But, we're trying to ensure that the parties will work together and get the language agreed.
Question: And there is no need for Secretary‑General to intervene, you are saying, or…?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General's key aides are in touch with the various parties. He's monitoring the situation. If he needs to step in, of course, he'll do so. But, at this stage, the idea is to let the Member States resolve their differences. And we do believe that they are moving ahead. Joe?
Question: Farhan, do you have any response to the Human Rights Watch report that just came out about Saudi‑led coalition apparently committing war crimes in terms of the whole town of Sa'ada being made a target? And do you think Saudi Arabia should respond to this? Because they haven't. And secondly, on artworks, this is not so crucial, but I'm curious when you mention Rockwell, the Marc Chagall stained glass window by the meditation room, is that ever coming back to Headquarters?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe it is supposed to do that sometime. As you know, it was moved away during the course of the Capital Master Plan. We'll have to see whether it does come back down the line. But, we'll be in touch with the responsible museum. Regarding Saudi Arabia, of course, you'll have seen what we have been saying in recent weeks and months about the activities not just by the Saudi‑led coalition but also by the parties on the ground. There's been a lot of destruction and fighting. I just mentioned that the death toll now, just from the World Health Organization figures, is now in excess of 3,000. We have to make sure that the fighting stops and that this country does not go over the brink. As you see, we've made these warnings about many, many countries, and you can see just from what I've read just a few minutes ago on Syria what happens if these warnings are not listened to and a country, in fact, can be, for all practical purposes, broken up into pieces over the course of years and years of brutal fighting. So, all the fighting needs to stop, and we're imploring that the parties to work with our Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who, as you know, is going to spend the next few weeks in Riyadh and in Sana'a trying to talk to the different parties and bring them to agreement.
Question: No specific response to the Human Rights Watch report? Or you will not after studying…
Deputy Spokesman: I mean, I don't speak for either Human Rights Watch or the Saudi Government. What I can say is that from the perspective of the United Nations, all of the violence, all of the sort of destruction that we've seen is quite serious, which is why we're trying to push our efforts to get the parties to have a ceasefire or at the very least a humanitarian pause. Yes, Kristen?
Question: Follow‑up: nevertheless, what Human Rights Watch is talking about is violations of international law conducted by Member States of the United Nations. Does the [Secretary-General] share these concerns that international law is being violated, and would he support the call for an investigation of some of these attacks?
Deputy Spokesman: Just as a general rule, whenever there are problems of atrocities and violations of international law, there needs to be some form of accountability down the line. At this stage, our focus has to be on stopping the fighting before it spins out of control. But, down the line, yes, all of the… all of the violence, all of the bloodshed in the recent months will need to be looked at. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks for that update on refugees from Burundi. I wanted to ask what you'd said… it was said yesterday, even though the AU [African Union] didn't send any observers because they found the situation unfair, that the UN was going to be observing. Right? Or…
Deputy Spokesman: It's a distinction. The observers that the UN Development Programme, UNDP, would have been fielding were, in fact, withdrawn. We did not conduct that activity. What MENUB is doing, the Electoral Mission, is its mandated task. So, I would refer you to the Security Council mandate.
Question: They have no report on the voting?
Deputy Spokesman: They will be making their assessment. I think we will have to wait until tomorrow to see what their assessment was of the situation.
Question: I guess I would like… because their media reports of grenades being thrown of, of underage children of running polls, a lot of irregularities. So, I wonder, if they'd been there, on the day of the election, can you get a description of what they did? How many polling sites did they visit? Where are they?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, as of today, MENUB… the UN Electoral Mission in Burundi… is collating its data. It's going to put out some information most likely by tomorrow. So, I think I'll have to ask for your patience for that.
Question: Okay. And just… just to understand the UNDP thing, you said support. Was UNDP sending actual observers to the elections?
Deputy Spokesman: They were providing support, but UNDP's activities were withdrawn, as we had explained yesterday.
Question: And when was that decided? Was that Helen Clark's decision?
Deputy Spokesman: This was a decision by the United Nations as a whole. Of course, Helen Clark and the Secretary‑General are in agreement on this, whether the conditions were suitable to carry out these activities, and the decision was it was not. Yes?
Question: Back on Syria, you mentioned this is the third anniversary of Geneva I… of the communiqué. And it's also the anniversary of the appointment of Staffan de Mistura, as well. What can you point to that… that's concrete that he's done since he's been appointed?
Deputy Spokesman: It's not the third anniversary of that. I think he's been in office for, I think, two years since… for a year or so…
Correspondent: His is one year.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, so he's been here for about a year. And, like I said, he's been conducting a series of consultations over the past several months with various parties, including both the Government and opposition sides. He's travelled to the region and held consultations in Geneva and now he'll be coming next week to the United Nations to report on what he thinks is the way forward in terms of how to operationalize the Geneva communiqué. That's the assignment he saw as his task, that you have this commitment that the parties had agreed to three years ago, but since then, the fighting, if anything, has gotten worse, not better. So the question is: how do you make this real? And that's what he's trying to do. And he'll have discussions on that here at headquarters next week. Yes?
Question: Farhan, since I was not here for quite a while, I have a couple of questions more, but first of all, did Saudi Arabia deliver $240 million as pledged for Yemen? And if not, what is the delay? Do you know?
Deputy Spokesman: We are in discussions with the Saudi authorities. They had a different idea in terms of how that aid would be transmitted. So, we're in discussions with them trying to see whether… how we can get that aid concretely delivered through UN channels to Yemen.
Question: But, they affirmed that they will?
Deputy Spokesman: They have made that pledge, yes. Yes. Yes, Dulcie?
Question: How much did Italy pay in its dues? And can you from now on say what the amounts are by these countries?
Deputy Spokesman: The amounts are up on our website. So, we can refer you to that. But, if you come back with us after the briefing, I can give you what Italy's amount was?
Question: Which website?
Deputy Spokesman: What?
Question: Sorry. Which website? And do you know how much will be paid?
Deputy Spokesman: I'll show you… I'll have you talk with my colleague after this briefing and you can get that information. Yes?
Question: On China's INDCs, does the Secretary‑General believe that's not nearly high enough to reach the 2°C limit? Because a lot of experts from different civil society groups have said that doesn't go anywhere near the requirements to keep it below 2 per cent, or 2°C.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, again, I'll just repeat a little bit of what I said in the statement. You know, of course, he appreciates the submission of the INDCs and how it… the way it contributes to the momentum before we get to the conference of parties. Like he said, the INDCs submitted today offer a floor and not a ceiling for ambition but they're critical for building momentum and trust on the road to COP21. And so, that's how we see it, as an important development. Yes?
Question: Sure. Two kind of, anyway, maybe inter-related questions. One, on this idNYC pop‑up shop, is it exclusively limited to diplomats and UN staff, or are other New Yorkers who are in the building able to use it?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe the City of New York has a press release on this that we can share with you that's got the various details.
Correspondent: And I wanted to ask you, also, the people that work for, I guess, Culinary in both the Delegates' Dining Room and the cafeteria…
Deputy Spokesman: Culinart?
Question: Culinart. Basically, they say many of them are going to be out of a job beginning 13 July. They say the Delegates' Dining Room will be closing for at least the rest of the summer, and the large cafeteria will be moved to other locations, and they're not sure if there will be as many jobs. Can you… what is the impact on actual… the people that work in the building of these two moves?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we… I don't speak for Culinart. Ultimately, they're the ones who make the decision on who is deployed where. We have a contract with them to provide services. I do know that there have been other summers, such as last summer under the previous holder of the contract, where, during the slow period in August, there's a shutdown in some of the facilities. We hope that whatever decisions Culinart takes it will be short-lived and they'll make appropriate decisions so that staff are treated responsibly.
Question: They basically won't have health insurance for the summer. I wonder, although they're your contractor, is there any practice you're holding them to in this regard?
Deputy Spokesman: We have contracts that we negotiate with contractors. And if they don't meet the terms of the contract, then that's a problem for them. But, ultimately, you know, for things like labour conditions, you're going to have to talk to Culinart. Yes?
Question: Farhan, probably I missed that. I do apologize if I did. But, Turkey announced that they are already mobilizing for about 20,000 soldiers to go in to intervene in Syria. Does the Secretary‑General has to say anything? Probably did or what?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we've seen conflicting reports on this. So, we'll have to see what actually happens, as opposed to the latest reports.
Correspondent: So, you didn't prove… there is no proof of that.
Deputy Spokesman: There are different reports about what might happen. Let's not speculate. We'll have to see what the future brings. And Oleg? Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I'm not sure if anybody asked, but is Secretary‑General following the situation in the Euro zone with Greece crisis and everything? Is he aware of what's happening? Is he confident of…?
Deputy Spokesman: He's very definitely aware of what's happening. Of course, we're watching as these developments proceed, and we certainly hope that the sides will be able to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution. Ultimately, as the Secretary‑General has made clear in many such negotiations past, this is a case where both side will need to compromise and let's see how they do that. And now let me get to our guests. Thanks.
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