Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 September 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council on the Secretary-General's latest report on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
He praised the Liberian people's ability to overcome the recent adversity, including civil wars and the recent Ebola outbreak. Mr. Ladsous stressed that now is the time to focus on the important work of continuing to build a unified and reconciled nation with an accountable Government committed to addressing corruption. Mr. Ladsous added that the United Nations will continue to support the people and Government of Liberia in building a viable and fully independent nation. His full remarks are in my office.
Also on peace operations, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is currently in India, where he is meeting with senior officials, including the Chief of Army Staff and the Foreign Minister. He expressed the Organization's appreciation for India's significant contributions to date and urged the Indian Government to increase its contributions, in particular in terms of much-needed peacekeeping enablers.
All interlocutors reiterated their strong and continued commitment to the eradication of conduct and discipline violations and to taking quick action should a case occur. Mr. Khare will proceed to Dhaka in Bangladesh from 13 to 15 September, where he is expected to engage in discussions with senior Government officials on both the challenges and opportunities related to UN operations.
A note from Darfur from our humanitarian colleagues. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Marta Ruedas, strongly condemned the fatal attack carried out Tuesday, earlier this week, in West Darfur against aid workers from the State Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The attack took place about 40 kilometres from Geneina in Kreinik area. Unidentified gunmen ambushed the vehicle, killing the driver and a security official. Two health ministry staff and a WHO doctor in the vehicle were unharmed. The assailants stole the vehicle and fled the scene. The Humanitarian Coordinator said that the incident demonstrates that insecurity continues to hamper the operations of humanitarian workers in Darfur. She added that over 2.5 million vulnerable people in Darfur need some form of humanitarian assistance, yet humanitarian workers are confronted by danger on a daily basis.
**Middle East Quartet
Envoys of the Middle East Quartet met in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia yesterday as part of their regular and direct outreach to Arab States.
The Envoys from the Russian Federation, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations met with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Dr. Abdul Latif Al Zayani, to discuss how to preserve the two-State solution, and how to create conditions that will enable the parties to return to meaningful negotiations with the goal of achieving the two-State solution.
The Quartet underlined the essential role of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in achieving a sustainable and just Israeli-Palestinian peace, and noted the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative for a comprehensive solution to the conflict.
On Yemen, I know you have been asking me recently about the Saudi funds and I've been updating you as we go along. I can tell you that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs signed an agreement in Riyadh today with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, for $5.8 million, $142.8 million and $8 million, respectively, in funding to support the aid operations.
This is part of the broader contribution from Saudi Arabia to the UN humanitarian flash appeal for Yemen for $274 million. The fulfilment of these Saudi pledges brings the total funding of the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan to 35 per cent, or $556 million of the $1.6 billion requested. The remaining Saudi pledges to UN agencies are for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for $525,000 and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) for $2.5 million.
On the political end, this afternoon, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, will brief the Security Council in closed consultations via VTC (video teleconference) from Riyadh, where he is currently.
On Syria, I wanted to clear up any confusion, on behalf of the Special Envoy, in the media about recent comments made by Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura regarding the refugee situation in Europe. During his last press encounter in Brussels, Mr. de Mistura said that the influx of refugees into Europe is due to the existence of Da'esh and the ongoing conflict in Syria. The Special Envoy said that more than 230,000 deaths have been recorded so far, due to the use of indiscriminate weaponry by all parties to the conflict. He, therefore, reminded the international community of the urgent necessity to join forces in finding a political solution to the conflict and putting an end to the bloodshed.
Meanwhile, from Afghanistan, UN aid agencies and their partners have warned that the number of people struggling to cope with food insecurity in Afghanistan has doubled in the last year. Today, more than 1.5 million people are considered severely food insecure. The agencies report that more and more people are resorting to extreme measures, including selling land and taking their children out of school to work, in order to cope with the problem. More information is available on the FAO and World Food Programme websites.
Speaking of the Food and Agriculture Organization, they announce today that its Food Price Index had registered its sharpest fall since December 2008. In August, the cereal price index went down 7 per cent from July and down more than 15 per cent from last year, with continued improvements in production prospects for 2015/16. Vegetable oil, dairy products and sugar prices are also down, while meat prices remain unchanged.
And our honour roll, we'd like to say a big thank you to Gabon for paying its dues in full. It is the 117th Member State to do so.
In a short while, I will be joined by telephone by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He will discuss ways to help Syrian refugee children.
This evening at 6:30 p.m., at the General Assembly stakeout, there will be a press encounter by Hector Marcos Timerman, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina, along with others, to brief on Sovereign Debt Restructuring Processes. That's 6:30 p.m., General Assembly stakeout, to talk about debt restructuring.
So before we dial up Mr. Brown, Mr. Lee.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: I'm sorry. He did win. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You're right. You're right. He won. He won. If you're the only one who participates, your chances are winning are fairly high. [laughter] Go ahead.
Question: Well, the images coming from Sana'a and other Yemeni towns show massacre after massacre of children by Saudi‑led coalition air strikes. Why is the Human Rights Council silent about this, number one? Another thing, we've not heard any condemnation to the city's aerial, especially in Hajjah. It's a very densely populated neighbourhood, where they wantonly destroyed many houses.
Spokesman: I think we have… as far as the Human Rights Council, it's a question to ask them. We have repeatedly called on all sides to ensure that civilians are not harmed and civilian infrastructure is not destroyed. Unfortunately, I think our calls have been unheeded, as we have seen. We've seen the fighting continue. I think the Special Envoy will brief the Security Council this afternoon – obviously, give them an update on the political front and I think we will wait to hear what he has to say.
Correspondent: The Secretary‑General must have something to say.
Spokesman: Well, I hear you and I think the Secretary‑General has said things directly and we will continue to say those things from here.
Question: One follow‑up on Yemen as well. Abdul Majeed al‑Zindani is a Sheikh who is listed on the terrorist list worldwide. He is in Saudi Arabia and he is travelling from United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia. How can these countries who are… especially Saudi Arabia, which has the counter‑terrorism office, hosting a person like that?
Spokesman: I think… listen, I don't have any specific information on the gentleman you mentioned. Obviously, it is incumbent on all Member States to abide by Security Council sanctions in place. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Questions about the Central African Republic: Seems like there was a… there were grenade attacks in the capital and the Mission may have said something about an attack on peacekeepers. It's unclear to me what the impact of that was. Do you have…?
Spokesman: I didn't get an update from the Mission today.
[The United Nations Mission in the country, MINUSCA, later issued a press release, which said in part: "La Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Centrafrique (MINUSCA) condamne avec la plus grande fermeté l'embuscade dont a été victime, aux premières heures du jeudi 10 septembre 2015, son Unité rwandaise de Police par des criminels non identifiés."]
Question: And you'd said earlier… couple other questions. In Cameroon, there have been protests by peacekeepers that served with the UN, saying they weren't paid. There's some 6 billion CFA francs unpaid. How does that work, in terms of the UN paying peacekeepers that are deployed on its missions? Was this money paid to the Government and in turn not paid to the soldiers?
Spokesman: I… my understanding… and I probably should not answer a question without full understanding, but my understanding is that the way the payments are made, they're made to Member States, who then pay the soldiers. Obviously, we would expect… I mean, I don't have the details of what exactly the issue is in Cameroon, but we would expect Member States to pay those soldiers who have served in peacekeeping operations.
Question: And just… fine… this is… while the Under‑Secretary‑General for peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, was there, apparently, at the end, he'd said that he had spoken to ambassadors of countries whose peacekeepers are charged with sexual abuse. It wasn't unclear from the very short story whether this also involved… included France.
Spokesman: I think the… you know, the issue came up in the Secretary‑General's discussions with President [François] Hollande when they were in Paris. The Secretary‑General raised the issue and the French Government said the investigation was under way and that obviously it would go about its… through the process, but if people were found to be… found guilty, they would be punished.
Question: And you'd said Mr. Ladsous would be… would be willing to take questions from the press when he returns.
Spokesman: Yes, we're working on details. It will happen in the coming days. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions about Turkey. A prominent pro-Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtas, said Turkey is on a brink of a civil war, and there's escalation there. I saw a statement of Secretary‑General about this. First question is: Has Secretary‑General been in contact with any Turkish leaders about this situation? And the second question, will the UN with… given the… the… the recent very dangerous development in Turkey, will the UN… is the UN having any diplomatic role right now to de‑escalate the situation in the region?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's position was expressed through statements. Obviously, we've been in touch with Turkish authorities through the Permanent Mission here. Yes, sir?
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. Trying to get some understanding here. The… I understand the Poles and the Slovaks said they would accept Christian refugees, Christians who are in danger of being beheaded by Da'esh. Peter Sutherland says this is a repudiation of everything the EU [European Union] stands for. A refugee is a refugee. Does a nation have the ability… the right… is it a repudiation of the UN for a country to say we have a quota of how many people we can take in and we're going to prioritize, let's say, Christians who are…?
Spokesman: I think… I would refer you back to what Mr. Sutherland said, with which the Secretary‑General has absolutely no disagreement. And I think whether it's the Secretary‑General or his envoys or other senior officials in the UN system have repeatedly condemned any sort of discrimination for refugees on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Refugees who fear for their lives need to have their rights respected and their dignity respected. We cannot start picking and choosing people on their… based on their religion.
Question: So… and Mr. Sutherland said a refugee is a refugee. So, therefore, Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas has said that the Palestinian Territory should accept the Palestinians. Shouldn't they accept any Syrian or any refugee? Does he have the right to say only Palestinians from Yarmouk can come?
Spokesman: The idea is that anyone who can claim refugee status, that claim should be honoured in accordance with existing international law.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Gentlemen, part two.
Question: Today, Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli Defence Minister, said that those who were responsible for incineration of Dawabshe family, who all perished in that fire, are in custody, but we will… we are not going to try them. They will not be subject to trial. How does the United Nations view that?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that particular… that particular report.
Correspondent: He said it on radio news…
Spokesman: I'm not doubting that he said it. I'm just telling you that I have not seen it. Obviously, I think in any case, anyone who is arrested on suspicion of a crime needs to be tried in accordance with basic legal, international legal principles. I think… so…
Question: Do you see that the… Israel has a responsibility at least to host the refugees coming from Yarmouk? These are Palestinians who were…
Spokesman: I think, as Mr. Sutherland said and as the Secretary‑General said, there is a global responsibility to deal with the refugees that we're seeing… that we're currently seeing. Mr. Lee?
Question: Two press questions. One is on South Sudan. The noted journalist there, Nhial Bol, who founded the Citizen Newspaper, which was closed down by the Government in the recent violence, has now said that he has faced security and safety threats and is quitting journalism and leaving the country. So it made me wonder. There are obviously those killings. There was the quote by President [Salva] Kiir that journalists should be careful, that he might kill journalists. What is UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] actually doing to protect the freedom of the press?
Spokesman: I think the issue of freedom of the press has been raised publicly and has been raised also on the ground with Government officials. And we will continue to speak out and ensure that countries have a responsibility to create a space that is open for journalists to practise their craft.
Question: And a little more… this is a bit more mundane, but I wanted to ask you this directly. I've noticed in recent days that the Secretary‑General has done a series of interviews, with the Guardian, ITV, maybe New York 1. So one thing I wanted to know is, I went to the web page, and I looked at press conferences, and at least… Q&A press conferences in this room. And the last one that I find is from December 2014. So is that the case? Is that… is there something…?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, since you are in this room every time there's an event, I think you probably have a pretty good record…
Question: How would you explain this, eight months, when it was said that he would do it every month?
Spokesman: I… I think the Secretary‑General, whenever he travels, has had press engagements. I mean, he is the Secretary‑General of the United Nations. So he does engage with the press globally wherever he goes. We also organize one‑on‑one interviews throughout the year. He also does press stakeouts when we feel there's a need and when he feels there is a need to do a stakeout. There was one not too long ago. And he does press conferences. There are an army of tools in our toolbox in order for the Secretary‑General to engage in the press. A press conference in this room is just one of many.
Question: And this is the… kind of procedural question is other… you know, I'm thinking of John Kerry, but I'm sure this is true in other countries as well. One, they do globally and in their headquarters. But they also… the spokespeople office for these people put out… they'll say, this interview took place and will air then. Sometimes they'll put out transcripts. How are we to know what was said?
Spokesman: You could also spend more days at the State Department. We all work differently.
Question: Right. No, but what's your reasoning for doing it – given there's a whole world interested in what Ban Ki‑moon says, why not make it more available?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is extremely available to the press.
Correspondent: I disagree respectfully.
Spokesman: There you go. I disagree respectfully as well. Erol?
Question: I commend that. Thank you very much. Stéphane, just short, to clarify, what is… how does Secretary‑General is really most of the time referring to this refugee crisis as a migrant crisis or refugee crisis?
Spokesman: I think it is both. A large number of people we are seeing currently going through Central Europe are refugees. There are other groups who are migrants. We're focused very much on people from Syria, but there are a lot of people coming from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Eritrea. We've seen… you could look at UNHCR's table. There are people coming Senegal. They're coming from a lot of different countries. Obviously, people… some people are migrants. Some people are refugees. But regardless of the label you put on them, it's about treating people with dignity, ensuring that they… the rights that they may have are respected, and it really is about going… looking through… for the long‑term solutions whether… or the root causes, whether it's stopping the conflict in Syria, whether it's organizing proper flow, management of migrants, which involves destination countries, transit countries, countries of origin. And those are the issues that the Secretary‑General and leaders will tackle on August… on 30 September here. Evelyn?
Spokesman: Microphone, please? You'll get back to me? Yes, go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Peter Sutherland has been on the record for years advocating open borders, the free flow of migrants for any reason, anywhere, every country. Migrants pick countries. Countries don't pick migrants. He has said that the EU should do everything to undermine the homogeneity of Member States. A country has no right or duty to have a national identity or a cultural identity. Isn't putting a man like this out front in charge of immigration/migration policy and as a spokesman really kind of like putting a paedophile in charge of a Girl Scout jamboree?!
Spokesman: You know, I think the tone of your reference is completely out of line, so I'll… I'll just…
Question: Let me rephrase it then.
Spokesman: No, I… it's all right. I'll… I'll… [inaudible]
Question: This is a man who is undermining… conflict of interest.
Spokesman: There is absolutely no conflict of interest. And I would encourage you to read what Mr. Sutherland said just recently in his press conference. The Secretary‑General has full confidence and high respect for Mr. Sutherland. And, really, I think your comparison is completely out of line.
Correspondent: I respect that.
Question: Yeah, on the Hungarian treatment of the refugees, they are putting them in camps and even not allowing them access to food or anything sometimes. How do you categorize this treatment?
Spokesman: I think, you know, we've all been shocked by a number of pictures we've seen out of Central Europe. I know my colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] are in contact with the Hungarian authorities, trying to offer help in how to manage the current situation. Evelyn?
Question: Speaking of UNHCR, can they cope with this? Do they have the staff and the money to cope with this amount of refugees?
Spokesman: They have the know‑how. I think they do have the staff. The money is a different issue. We're seeing our humanitarian appeals throughout the world completely underfunded, notably having to do with Syrian refugees, where UNHCR working with WFP had to cut rations, food rations, which is, obviously, one would clearly think one reason that is pushing people to go.
Correspondent: And one more thing. I'm just giving a shout‑out that our Dag Hammarskjöld journalists have arrived today, and for once, they've… for this one press conference, they're in the front row, from India, from Ghana, from Kenya and from Brazil and so thank you for…
Spokesman: We're happy to see that the gender balance is not respected at all. [laughter]
Correspondent: Yes, exactly. You know what it's like.
Spokesman: Matthew and then we'll go to Mr. Gordon Brown.
Question: Sure. This is on… I guess maybe it's on the transparency front. Yesterday I'd asked [Deputy Spokesman] Farhan [Haq] to confirm that Venezuela's Foreign Minister is going to meet with the Secretary‑General. She's in New York. She says she's going to do it. Can you confirm that that's going to take place? And can you explain why there was no written readout of the meeting with Colombia's Foreign Minister earlier in the week?
Spokesman: All right. Let me check. I will check.
Question: And Burundi envoy. You'd said it was imminent. It's three weeks later. [inaudible]
Spokesman: "Sometime," I said… I have a poor choice of words…
Question: How would you characterize it now?
Spokesman: Our discussions are ongoing.
Spokesman: I will just state the facts and not characterize them. Let me deal with Mr. Brown.
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