Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
6 July 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everybody. Let's get started.
**Dag Hammarskjöld Panel
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the report of the Independent Panel of Experts dealing with the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.
The Secretary-General is pleased to announce that he has conveyed the report of the Independent Panel of Experts, which he appointed pursuant to General Assembly resolution 69/246, to the President of the General Assembly along with his own observations on the progress made and on the way forward in the search for the truth about the tragic death of the late Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, and of the fifteen members of the party accompanying him.
The Secretary-General's letter to the President as well as the transmittal letter of the Head of the Panel, the report of the Panel and its appendices have been issued in General Assembly document A/70/132 and are thus available to all Member States and to the public at large. The Panel has made significant progress in the search for the truth about the events of 17 and 18 September 1961. The following are among the most salient findings in the Panel's report.
The Panel found new information which upholds the original 1961 post-mortem examination of the 16 passengers on board SE-BDY. The Panel also examined and assessed the probative value of new information relating to the various hypotheses of the cause or causes of the crash. It found that the new information relating to hijacking and sabotage had nil or weak probative value. It found new information relating to "crew fatigue" which contributes to one or more of the hypotheses. Most importantly, the Panel found new information, which it assessed as having moderate probative value, sufficient to further pursue aerial attack or other interference as a hypothesis of the possible cause of the crash.
Based on these findings, the Secretary-General is of the view that "a further inquiry or investigation would be necessary to finally establish the facts. Such an inquiry or investigation would, however, be in a better position to reach a conclusive finding regarding the tragic events of 17 and 18 September 1961 with the benefit of the specific information requested by the Panel from the Member States concerned."
The Secretary-General will pursue the pending requests for specific information made by the Panel to certain Member States, and urges all Member States to declassify or otherwise make available any information they may have in their possession related to the circumstances and conditions resulting in the deaths of Dag Hammarskjöld and the other members of the party accompanying him. Accordingly, the Secretary-General recommends that the General Assembly remain seized of the matter and that it reiterate its encouragement to Member States to provide any relevant records or information.
The Secretary-General conveys his sincere gratitude to the Head and members of the Panel, Mr. Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, Ms. Kerryn Macaulay of Australia and Mr. Henrik Larsen of Denmark, and to all those who extended their cooperation to the Panel, including the former Hammarskjöld Commissioners – and above all to the eyewitnesses who waited so long to be heard.
The Secretary-General is convinced that the report of the Panel constitutes an indispensable step towards fulfilling our shared responsibility to establish the facts after these many years. This is our solemn duty to the distinguished former Secretary-General, Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld, to the other members of the party accompanying him, and to their families.
And that statement is available in our office and the report is available online.
As you will have just seen, if you followed the Global Launch of the MDG Progress Report, the Secretary-General is in Norway. He participated in the launch here in New York by VTC, alongside the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, and the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, both members of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Advocacy Group.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that the report confirms that the global efforts to achieve the Goals have saved millions of lives and improved conditions for millions more around the world. However, he said that progress has not reached everyone and that too many people have been left behind. The lessons from the MDGs can be our springboard for future progress, he said, adding that setting goals works, both as a guide and as a benchmark for greater accountability.
Upon arrival in Oslo, the Secretary-General met with the Norwegian Foreign Minister, with whom he discussed the forthcoming Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa and UN efforts in Syria and Yemen, among other topics. He also participated in a Humanitarian Forum on the role of civil society in humanitarian emergencies, stressing that our capacity to meet humanitarian needs is under unprecedented strain.
The Secretary-General also attended a side event of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development that will open tomorrow. We issued readouts of his meetings, as well as his remarks, and we expect to issue a transcript of his press conference shortly.
A team of United Nations experts, working as part of the Office of the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, has wrapped up a two-day visit to Guinea. The team's visit was part of ongoing support to Guinea's efforts to ensure accountability for sexual violence crimes committed in a soccer stadium in Conakry in September 2009.
While in Guinea, the team met with the Minister of Justice, civil society organizations, lawyers representing victims and service providers, as well as with the Panel of Judges which was set up to investigate and prosecute these crimes. With the UN team's support, more than 400 people have been heard, leading to 15 indictments, including for high ranking military officers. The team will continue to support the work of the Panel of Judges to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are held accountable.
I just wanted to flag that this Friday the Secretary-General will host an International Ebola Recovery Conference in New York in cooperation with the Presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, who are expected to be present. The conference, which will start at 10 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, aims to ensure that the Ebola-affected countries receive the support and resources they need. And it will take place in partnership with the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
Before this, on Thursday, at 4 p.m., there will be a pre-conference press briefing by Dr. David Nabarro, Special Envoy on Ebola, and Sunil Saigal, Principal Coordinator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Response to Ebola Outbreak. This is expected to take place in Room S-2723. A media advisory about the conference is available in our office.
And for the honour roll, our thanks go to the United Republic of Tanzania, which has become the 104th Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full. Thank you, Dar es Salaam.
And for press conferences, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on the forthcoming International Conference on Financing for Development, for which he is the Conference Secretary-General. That is it from me. Are there any questions? Yes, Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, last Thursday, I understand Secretary‑General made some calls to the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi of Yemen. There was talk about a truce that may… or a pause in the fighting for five days. Was such a promise made by Saudi Arabia at the time?
Deputy Spokesman: On that, what I can say is that the Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is still working with the parties to see whether he can establish either a humanitarian pause or possibly a ceasefire that would last for a significant amount of time. He is currently in Sana'a, where he is meeting with Houthi and other officials and he has also, of course, been in Riyadh a few days earlier. So, he is continuing to work with various parties. You're absolutely right that the Secretary‑General spoke with the Saudi Foreign Minister and with President Hadi, and we continue to work with the various parties, trying to see what we can do to get a humanitarian pause. Once… if there's such a thing that's happened, of course, we'll respond to that. But, I don't have anything to report on that just yet.
Question: But, did the Saudis promise, I mean, a lateral ceasefire for five days?
Deputy Spokesman: We are hopeful for a ceasefire that can be agreed to by the parties. I don't have anything to announce on that for now. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks, Farhan. I wanted to ask, over the weekend or even now a couple of days ago, seems like the Government in Burundi has said that they reject Mr. [Abdoulaye] Bathily as the mediator, saying he wasn't sufficiently deferential, or they didn't actually kind of register or meet with him. One, I wanted to know what your response is to their critique of what he's done. But, also, what's the next step? Is it the case that he's no longer mediating there? Who's representing the UN at the EAC [East African Community] meeting? And what… what's the Secretary‑General's thoughts as we approach 15 July? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Well, first of all, on the question of these remarks that you saw over the weekend in the media, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep appreciation for the work done so far by Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily as a member of the Joint International Facilitation Team. The Joint International Facilitation Team, of which Special Representative Bathily is a member, was established by a Summit of the African Union Peace and Security Council. The conclusions reached by the Facilitation Team were endorsed by all the organizations forming the team. We reiterate our full support for the diplomatic initiatives that Special Representative Bathily has conducted with professionalism and integrity, and in coordination with the other members of the Joint International Facilitation Team. You asked what he's doing right now. Mr. Bathily attended the East African Community, the EAC Summit today in Dar‑es‑Salaam at the invitation of the EAC Chair, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania. We will await the report from the EAC summit before considering further actions to facilitate political dialogue among Burundian stakeholders. The UN is committed to helping the Burundian parties create the conditions for peaceful and credible elections. This requires a corresponding commitment from the parties, acting in good faith, to achieve this goal.
Question: Can you see the election going forward on the 15… given the report that came out last Thursday and the impending presidential election with Mr. [Pierre] Nkurunziza running, can the UN foresee that as being even possibly fair, free and without violence?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is ultimately a question that's up to the Burundian parties themselves. You'll have seen what we have been saying in recent days, and we stand by what we've said. And, regarding further steps, of course, again, we'll await a report from the EAC summit before we consider further actions. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you. I'm Sheila from Al-Quds al-Arabi, based in London. The Secretary‑General issued a statement Thursday condemning the Palestinian shooting and wounding of four Israeli soldiers near the occupied city of Nablus. In the case of 17‑year‑old Mohammed Kasba, who was killed on Friday by forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint because he was trying to go pray, didn't garner the same response. My question is, why didn't the Secretary‑General issue a statement using the word "condemn" like he did when the Palestinians shot four Israeli soldiers, especially in this case, because by definition he was a minor?
Deputy Spokesman: We certainly did express our views about this at the time. On Friday, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, did come out with a statement with very tough language about this very incident, and I would refer you to what Mr. Mladenov said.
Question: I know he did, but my question is, why didn't the Secretary‑General do it himself?
Deputy Spokesman: I know that many of you are tempted to second‑guess why different words are used at different times. These are the statements and the words that we use. We did certainly react to that, and as… along with all of the violence that has been occurring, we have expressed our concerns, and we'll continue to follow up on that. Yes, Masood?
Question: A follow-up on that?
Deputy Spokesman: No, Masood first.
Question: Farhan, a follow‑up on question on Palestine. It has been years since the Israeli Protective Edge operation and now the reports are that the economic situation in Gaza is from bad to worse. Has anybody from the United Nations talked with the Israeli authorities to ease the so‑called blockades of Gaza instead of… what do you call… detaining the flotilla?
Deputy Spokesman: This is something that we have spoken of at length with the Israeli Government and with the Palestinian Authority many, many times over the years. You'll have seen even from our recent readouts that this is something that the Secretary‑General took up himself, including with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. So, this is a matter of extreme concern. The UN Special Coordinator's office on the ground is doing what it can to see what steps can be done to ease the pressure on Gaza and, of course, the Secretary‑General has been working on that from his standpoint as well. Yes?
Question: By denying the Palestinians the right of equating one killing to another, isn't there a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, where the occupied people have the right to resist occupation? A soldier who is occupying is different from a child who is resisting occupation, in this case.
Deputy Spokesman: The… the United Nations has spoken consistently and very forcefully about the state of occupation, and I would just refer you to our vast range of remarks and observations made over the past decades. Yes?
Question: In the briefing just prior to this one, they highlighted the Millennium Development Goals' success and its failures, and I was present at innumerable meetings where Jeffrey Sachs was literally pulling his hair out over the fact that trillions of dollars are spent on the military and only a tiny fraction of that spent on development. What does the United Nations have to say about these priorities which make it… make Governments more willing to kill than to heal people? And as a follow‑up, can you comment or would the Secretary‑General comment on the accusations that Greece has been irresponsible in attempting to protect its education and health-care system? And it would seem to me that those in Europe who are trying to impose austerity measures on the Greek people are being irresponsible and violating the human right to education and health care by imposing these austerity measures. And…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Yes. I think I get the gist of your questions, such that they are. On your first question, the United Nations has made clear the need to spend more on development compared to the spending on military expenditures. And we've done this over many years. And this is something that the Secretary‑General continues to hold to. I'd also refer you to the report on MDG advocacy that has been issued today, as well as to what the Secretary‑General has been saying from Oslo. Regarding your question about Greece, what I can say on the situation today is that the Secretary‑General takes note of the outcome of the referendum in Greece on 5 July. He hopes that there will be renewed consensus within the country for the future of Greece. The Secretary‑General is hopeful that a solution acceptable to both Greece and its creditors can be found and that Greece will be able to undertake the important and complex task of rebuilding its economy. Yes, in the back?
Question: On South Sudan, after the sanction against military forces in the country, the Government spoke out on the weekend, saying that they are doubting about the credibility of the allegations that the UN have… has against military forces especially from the Government side. Do you have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the comments from the Government, what I can say on that is that the United Nations' Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says it has scrupulously observed a policy of impartiality since its inception in July 2011. Since the current conflict in South Sudan began in December 2013, UNMISS has provided protection to all unarmed civilians facing a threat of physical violence, regardless of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or political affiliation, and it is currently sheltering over 142,000 IDPs [internally displaced persons] nationwide. And regarding recent violence in South Sudan, the UN Mission reports hearing three mortar rounds this morning fired from positions northeast of the Mission's compound towards Malakal town in Upper Nile State. Shortly after that, UNMISS observed approximately 400 SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] troops driving past its compound in the direction of Malakal Town led by tanks and armored personnel carriers. No fighting was subsequently heard, indicating that SPLA troops have regained control of the Upper Nile State capital and armed opposition forces had withdrawn from Malakal prior to the arrival of Government troops. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding the independent inquiry into the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and others, you mentioned that the SG is… says there obviously should be further examination. What was the methodology? I know the report will be made public, but what was the methodology used by the Panel to reach these determinations? And, secondly, the Panel is being requested to speak with Member States who should declassify or make available any information they have. Have not these Member States already made information relevant to the inquiry?
Deputy Spokesman: There are some Member States whose names are cited in the report who have yet to provide information that the Panel thought would be important. So, they're being encouraged to do so, and you can look at the report and also the appendices to the report, which have the details of the sort of cooperation we're speaking. Regarding the methodology, one of the most interesting things is that the Panel had interviews with eyewitnesses, 54 years, mind you, after the incident, who were able to provide new information that has… that they deem to what they call "moderate probative value". In other words, a certain amount of value for follow‑up. Part of that, and I'll just read just a tiny bit of this very lengthy report, but part of it is that of the 12 new witnesses, five referred in their statements to having observed more than one aircraft in the air at the time they believed they saw a large aircraft assumed to be the one carrying Dag Hammarskjöld, making an approach to land in Ndola on the night of the 17‑18 September 1961. Seven of the witnesses claim that the large aircraft was on fire prior to crashing on the ground. And there's more eyewitness testimony that's of interest if you look at the whole report. Masood?
Question: Yes. Farhan, I don't think to ask you, do you have any comments on the India-Pakistan border situation?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything new to say on that, no. Yes?
Question: I want to ask about Cambodia and also about Egypt. It's reported that Hun Sen of Cambodia has written to UN, to the Secretary‑General, to, I guess, borrow back or take back the maps given of border demarcation with Vietnam. Are those maps going back? Are… do you believe the maps in the UN's custody are kind of the gold standard of knowing where the border is, and where does this stand?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm checking with the relevant offices on that.
Question: And on Egypt, I wanted to ask, there's this law that's just about to become law, which would make it… subject journalists and others up to two years in jail for reporting any different casualty figures of clashes between the Government and "militants", so it obviously puts kind of a stress on journalists if they believe that the Government is underreporting. Is… does the UN system have any guidance, any comment, on this law? And I'd ask you about the Australian law which is already law so I know… I guess I'm asking you.
Deputy Spokesman: I would just repeat our concerns about any law that could hamper the free exchange of information provided by the media. Yes?
Question: Yes. Yesterday, when Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed was meeting members of the Mukhtar al-Shabi political party in Yemen, the Saudis attacked the… the premises of their central committee, the premises. It was destroyed during the negotiations. How does the United Nations deal with such an attack? Also, there are intensification of attacks on markets in Lahj, in Mualla and Hajjah. Many people got killed in these attacks.
Deputy Spokesman: We are concerned about the violence as a whole, which is why the Special Envoy and the Secretary‑General and others in the UN system are redoubling our efforts to see what we can do to get a ceasefire and we're hopeful that something like that can be achieved.
Correspondent: But, targeting civilian marketplaces…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we… our concerns about the targeting of civilian areas remains the same as it has, and we've spoken out about this in the past, and we have the same view. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you again about this… this UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] retaliation case. You'd said… I'd asked about the individual that… whose post was eliminated. You said this was a product last week of the budget. Obviously… what I've learned looking into it more is that a number of posts that were vacant remain on the books of the UN and his post was eliminated. So, I just wanted to know, is there some… what was the logic of the elimination? Also, I've seen now the complaint against…
Deputy Spokesman: I explained to you the logic of the elimination. I don't have anything new to add to that. But, what I said last week still holds.
Question: What about investigating him from Juba? You'd said at the end of that exchange that you would try to find out whether the investigation against him is being conducted from Juba rather than from Khartoum or El Fasher.
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have a response from our colleagues in peacekeeping yet on that. But we have asked them. Have a good one.
Question: One last question about Tunisia. The Tunisian Government has declared emergency laws. Also, they closed more than 80 mosques. Do you have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, no. We're monitoring developments. Have a good afternoon.
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