Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
4 December 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon one and all.
The Secretary‑General arrived in Paris earlier today to rejoin the meetings at the climate change Conference of the Parties, known as COP21. In an effort to underscore the critical role of local and regional leaders, the Secretary‑General attended a series of meetings at Paris City Hall.
He recently delivered remarks at a high‑level meeting for local leaders. The Secretary‑General told the assembled governors, mayors and other local and regional leaders that their leadership on climate change is critical, as it can inspire national governments to act more boldly. He saluted their efforts to build climate‑friendly and resilient cities and provinces. Those efforts, the Secretary‑General said, enables people to lead healthier lives and breathe cleaner air. That text is online.
From Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed its concern at reports of increasing human rights violations and abuses committed against Sunni Arab communities in parts of Iraq that have been reclaimed from Daesh.
Reports indicate that Iraqi security forces, Kurdish security forces and their respective affiliated militias have been responsible for looting and destruction of property belonging to the Sunni Arab communities, forced evictions, abductions, illegal detention and, in some cases, extra‑judicial killings. The Human Rights Office is particularly concerned about the situation of some 1,300 Sunni Arab Iraqis stuck near Sinjar in the no‑man's‑land between Kurdish security forces and Daesh.
Meanwhile, gross human rights violations continue to be documented in Daesh‑controlled areas. Individuals suspected of disloyalty or of not conforming to the ideology of the group continue to be targeted, and there are reports of kidnappings and the burning and beheading of civilians. The Human Rights Office urges the Government of Iraq to investigate all human rights violations and abuses, including those committed against the Arab Sunni communities, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.
The Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung‑wha Kang, is visiting Turkey, where she met today with representatives of the Turkish Relief Agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the authorities in Kilis, where there is a border crossing used by UN aid agencies and where Syrian refugees are hosted. Ms. Kang visited a refugee camp maintained by the Turkish authorities and met women staying there. She expressed her appreciation for the generosity of the Turkish Government, which is hosting the largest Syrian refugee population. She noted that Turkey has provided free health services to almost all refugees and schooling for many Syrian children and has established camps that host a quarter of a million refugees.
**Central African Republic
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, reports that over the past couple of days several incidents involving anti‑Balaka and ex‑Séléka groups in Bambari have raised tensions in the town. The Mission says that it intervened last night in response to an attack by a group of ex‑Seleka combatants at a camp for internally displaced persons in Ngakobo in Ouaka prefecture. The attack resulted in eight displaced persons being killed and several wounded, while five ex‑Seleka were also killed and two wounded. A peacekeeper from the Mission was also slightly wounded.
Yesterday, anti‑Balaka members attacked a commercial convoy headed to Bangui from Bambari, damaging a truck and looting its contents. MINUSCA responded forcing the attackers to withdraw and apprehended the alleged leader. Meanwhile, the Mission continues its support to the Central African Republic authorities for the forthcoming referendum and presidential elections. The Mission trained some 200 national police officers in Bangui yesterday on the electoral process, as well as 44 national trainers for polling staff, who will be deployed to the prefectures today and tomorrow. A sensitization campaign on the referendum was also launched today in eight districts of Bangui with the Mission's support.
**South Sudan/Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that recent fighting between local groups and the South Sudanese army in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan has displaced over 4,000 people into a remote region of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Two UNHCR teams have so far this week registered almost 3,500 newly arrived refugees in areas near the border in the eastern Congo's Dungu Territory. They also report that more than 1,200 Congolese refugees, previously in South Sudan, have fled to the same area as a result of the fighting. Registration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is ongoing in areas along the border and more arrivals are being reported. Refugees say their most urgent needs are shelter, food and medical care. There is more information online.
**Bay of Bengal
As the resumption of dangerous sea journeys in the Bay of Bengal looms, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that countries in the region have affirmed that the only way to reduce loss of life at sea is by working together. Delegates from more than 20 countries and international organizations met in Bangkok today for the 2nd Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean. Since 2014, some 95,000 people have made the dangerous journey in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, with more than 1,100 dying at sea and hundreds more found buried in unmarked mass graves. You can read more about this on UNHCRs website.
**World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its new Safe Childbirth Checklist and Implementation Guide – a single and practical bedside tool targeted at improving adherence to best practices around the time of delivery. According to WHO, the majority of maternal and new‑born deaths, which are preventable, occur around the time of birth, typically within the first 24 hours after childbirth.
Of the more than 130 million births that occur each year, an estimated 303,000 of them result in the mothers death; 2.6 million in stillbirth; and another 2.7 million in newborn death within the first 28 days of birth. These deaths mostly occur in low‑resource settings. More information is available on WHOs website.
Our humanitarian colleagues have asked us to inform you that next week, on the 7th of December, which is Monday, they will be launching the Global Humanitarian Appeal for 2016 in Geneva. The appeal aims to highlight the urgent humanitarian requirements and response plans to support millions of people affected by disasters and conflicts in some 37 countries.
There will be a press conference before the launch, at 1:45 p.m. Geneva time, and that can be viewed live on UN WebTV. Speakers will include Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien; UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres; Director‑General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Margaret Chan; and International Council of Voluntary Agencies Chair and President of Mercy Malaysia, Dr. Ahmad Faizal Perdaus. And more information is available on our humanitarian agency's website.
And also for Monday, we will have a noon briefing guest and the guest will be Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights and he will be here to brief you about Human Rights Day [10 December]. That's it from me. Are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions. One is I'd asked Stéphane earlier in the week about these emails that were released by Mr. Feltman that he forwarded to the State Department after he worked at the UN. And Stéphane said that was normal. And either now or later today, if you can confirm or deny that Mr. Feltman is going to testify before the Benghazi House Select Committee on Benghazi in Washington, and what the UN's position is on the UN official testifying in that way, mostly if he's going to go.
Deputy Spokesman: I would not have that sort of confirmation. That's really a question to ask the US authorities. That's their process, not the UN's process, and it concerns work that he did prior to joining the United Nations, so I'd urge you to contact them.
Question: Right. I guess what I want to is from the UN's position, is UN approval… of or, or or… okay required of this?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, it will be up to the US authorities to confirm whether they are even seeking to hear from him. That's up to them.
Deputy Spokesman: Of course, for UN officials to testify about their actions as UN officials, that's a different topic for which, as you know, we have our normal legal procedures. Regarding things that do not involve your UN duties, that would be a different matter.
Question: I guess my question is it seems like for at least a certain period of time there was some overlap. And I say that because Mr. Derek Plumbly's emails were forwarded to the US.
Deputy Spokesman: That was not an overlap. Once he started his position as Under Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, from that point, he's been working as a UN official, not as a US official. Yes, Edie.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Is there any update on the Vienna process coming to New York, on possible dates?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you have heard what the Secretary‑General said.
Deputy Spokesman: And as you know, he was asked about this yesterday, and he said he was aware of the reports. And of course he's looking forward to anything that moves forward that the Vienna process along. And of course, Mr. de Mistura is continuing with his efforts to work with the various parties and we're trying to get the talks going. I don't have, at this point, a date or venue to confirm, but certainly you'll have seen what the Secretary‑General said yesterday and we stand by that. Yes, Joe.
Question: There are reports that Pakistan returned to Europe certain migrants whom the European officials had said had documentation that they were citizens of Pakistan. Pakistan denied that, and refused to admit these migrants that had been returned to Pakistan, sent them back to Europe. So I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on that.
Deputy Spokesman: No. He doesn't have at this stage. We'd need to get further details about the nature of these people and just to make sure that their basic rights and their basic dignity is being respected. Of course, that is the key concern, but in terms of how this approach is going, UNHCR would need to look into the specific cases and what the papers are and what particular circumstances should apply to them. Yes?
Question: Farhan, thank you. We understand from our sources that the talks in Jordan are being held concerning the definition of which one is a terrorist and which one is not. And that these talks with experts and intelligence agencies will come to a conclusion before the convening of the Saudi conference on the opposition, which will be on the 8th until the tenth of this month in Saudi Arabia. Does the United Nations play any role in any of these events? And if so, what it is.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you will have seen what the Vienna Communiqué and the work of the International Syrian Support Group has been on this. This particular point of bringing together an opposition delegation has been detailed in the Communiqué. And as you know, there have been concerns to make sure that the representatives at those talks will not include members of terrorist entities. So given that, of course, we're appreciative of the role that Jordan is playing in trying to help ensure that that particular concern is handled.
Question: [Inaudible]… a short time until Tuesday for Jordan to come up with conclusion, so did the work start really early? Or do you have any idea?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we'll have to see whether the work can be done and can be done on time. Ultimately the point, more than timing, is to make sure that you can have delegations seated who will be able and willing to talk to each other. Ultimately the entire point of having talks is to have them be productive rather than have them break down over other disputes, including disputes over terrorism. Yes, Olga.
Question: Can I just follow‑up?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, yes, you may first, if that's okay with you. All right.
Question: Farhan, is it your understanding… I'm sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: I like the collaborative spirit amongst all of you.
Question: Farhan, is it your understanding that the Saudi and the Jordanian exercises need to be completed before a new meeting of the Support Group on Syria can be held?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't want to speculate on when separate steps of this process are accomplished. Our hope is that all of the various steps will be accomplished in time so that we can get talks going as soon as possible. As you know, the Secretary‑General's hope is to have a cease fire on the ground by January. And so we're in some ways working towards that particular time frame, but what can be accomplished in the coming days, we'll have to see. Obviously it's taken a long time as it is over these years just to be able to move the parties this far along, so it might take some time to bring them to talks with each other, but we're hoping that all the various components of that process will be worked out.
Question: Follow‑up please on... you were entrusted to finding proposals on cease fires. Were you part of the equation, the third prong of this, the three talks, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UN, will you be ready with proposals and achieving a cease fire by the time of the third round of Vienna talks happens?
Deputy Spokesman: We certainly expect to be ready with our own proposals and our own responsibilities once the talks begin, whenever that may be. Yes. No. Oh, right. I almost forgot you over that last bit.
Question: I'm still here. Thank you, Farhan. In a major speech addressing the federal assembly of Russia, Russia President called again to create the international front to fight the terrorism according to the UN Charter and the international law. Does Secretary‑General think that such, one, international front is possible?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly the Secretary‑General himself has called for greater international solidarity in the fight against terrorism, and so we encourage Member States to work together on proposals that would fulfill that. How that's carried out is up to the Member States themselves, but certainly we have tried from the work of the UN Secretariat, our Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and our various other bodies, including, of course, the relevant Security Council sanctions committee, to make sure that international solidarity against terrorism is strengthened and anything that helps that would be encouraging.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Yemen. I guess I'll say from our sources, we have a copy of the envoy's proposed ground rules for the talks and he seems to be saying that the parties, 12 on each side, shall not speak to the media or use social media in any way other than as approved by him. I wanted to know, is this normal? Is this the way in which the UN convenes such talks?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't confirm anything in a leaked document. I can't verify the authenticity of that. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Would you be able to share with us the role that the Secretary‑General may be playing or may plan to play between – on the tensions between Turkey and Russia?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you will have heard what the Secretary‑General himself has said about this. I don't have anything new to say beyond, of course, the fact that we hope that this issue will be resolved. It's crucial that the countries of the world are able to work past any incidents that arise. And as you know, when this particular incident first happened, he made clear the need for there to be a thorough investigation into how it all came about. But beyond that, of course, his hopes are that the countries which have a long and productive history together will continue to work together.
Question: Could you give us a status on the proposed agreement that Mr. Leon had worked on before he left between the two claimed governments in Libya? And also, is there any information on… you know, Mr. Leon was going to examine, reexamine his relationship potentially with the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and possible impact on what he had worked out? Do you have any information you can share on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on your first question, Martin Kobler, the Secretary‑General's Special Representative for Libya, is continuing with efforts to bring the parties behind – so that they can agree to the proposals that have been developed by his predecessor. As you know, he's been giving periodic updates through the UN Support Mission in Libya about the work that has been going on. So there has been progress made; of course, he's going to keep working until there's full agreement by all the key parties.
Question: Is there any evidence that this might be starting to unravel because of what happened with Mr. Leon and the statements that were made in relation to that and the UAE's role? I mean, we got the impression that it was pretty much almost a done deal at the time when Mr. Leon spoke to us, so why this delay?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, in any negotiation there's always periods of delay. You can say this about any of the diplomatic negotiations that we're going through at this stage. And it's just as true in this case. Mr. Kobler has made clear his belief that the parties are close and he's working with them, so he's going to keep working on that. And regarding your second question, of course, Mr. Leon has left the employment of the United Nations so we don't have any particular comment or anything to report or update for you on his post-UN job prospects.
Question: Well, have there been any contacts between UN officials, including perhaps Mr. Kobler, and the UAE to look into what happened and to try to tamp down any possible adverse effect from what happened with Mr. Leon?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Leon made clear before his departure that he himself was reviewing this. Beyond that I have nothing further to say. He's not our employee anymore. Yes?
Question: Staying on Libya, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry have said that they would be in Rome on 13 December for the Libya talks. I'm assuming Mr. Kobler is going to be there. Is there anyone else who is going to be there to represent the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, there's no one to confirm from our side. We'll have to see the closer we get to that. Yes.
Question: I want to ask about Burundi and also something on the DRC. On Burundi it was… I know you said you don't comment on leaked documents, but there was a letter that was circulated with the Secretary‑General's signature so I don't think it's a leak the day of the consultations on Burundi. It seemed to put forward three options, one of which was to a support team for the Special Advisor and the final, it said at the end "given the political realities, I recommend the Council consider authorizing option three". Then there's a more recent letter or a different copy of the same letter which says there's only two options and the Secretary‑General is moving forward with the support team. Which is it? And if it is the second one, what steps are being taken to create the support team?
Deputy Spokesman: Basically the second document that you cited is a final document that has been submitted to the Council. The first one, I believe, is not an official document and it was not submitted to the Security Council. That was a draft, which was in the process in fact of being reworked. So it's the second document that we're working on and the work is proceeding through the work of the Special Advisor Jamal Benomar and his team to work on different proposals.
Question: How... like, now, I thought before the answer was it was up to the Council so there was no… Can the Secretariat say how big a support team is envisioned? Are there going to be existing UN staff brought from other missions? How is it going to work?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that is being drawn up, but at this stage, part of the point is that the Security Council had already – as I believe council members themselves have expressed – had already authorized the creation of that particular office. So what they are considering now is the Secretary‑General's letter to them and any subsequent proposals.
Question: So was the letter changed after the stakeouts? I mean…
Deputy Spokesman: I don't know when in the drafting process something changes.
Correspondent: Usually a draft isn't signed is what I'm saying.
Deputy Spokesman: Documents go through a period of being drafted and it's not complete until it's officially submitted. That document was not officially submitted. It was a later one. Yes?
Question: On Libya, how long the United Nations Secretariat has giving Kobler time… what sort of time frame are you working on? Does he have limitless time to work on trying to get the parties to sign the agreement? And if like by the end of this month if they don't reach that sort of agreement, is there a plan B?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, our patience is not inexhaustible, but at the same time there's no point in trying to sacrifice a real chance for peace by setting an arbitrary time limit. So we'll give them time as long as it's clear that this is something that can be achieved. If Mr. Kobler comes to the view that ultimately they are never going to come to an agreement about this, then we'll have to think of an alternative. But right now we're not at that stage. Right now he believes, like I said, that we're quite close and that we do need a further push, but we can get to an agreement on these proposals.
Correspondent: But that's what Leon thought – he was very close and he's working in that sort of mode but…
Deputy Spokesman: They could both be right.
Correspondent: But I'm sure you're thinking of a plan B for… I mean, you're not waiting for him to say I throw the towel to start thinking.
Deputy Spokesman: I don't think that diplomats ever propose an alternative plan until the first plan is exhausted. We're on the stage of the first plan. Yes?
Question: The DRC question is kind of nitty‑gritty. I had asked Stéphane before about this case of OCHA and Lubumbashi. And he said the UNDP's legal division is conducting the inquiry into people who were not paid, Congolese nationals. They were living in front of the camp and they now say they have suffered a near-murderous attack as they lived in front of the camp. I wanted to know since they are right in front of a UN camp, is the UN aware of that and what's the status of this inquiry into money they weren't paid over months?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, this is a case that our colleagues in the UN Development Programme are working on, so I would advise you to talk to them about that.
Question: Yeah but the attack, are they working on that? Or… is that MONUSCO? I don't know if you're aware of it but there are people living in front of the camp and they were attacked.
Deputy Spokesman: I can't verify that report. I do know that on this particular question on what happened in Lubumbashi, this is something the UN Development Programme has been looking into. Have a good weekend everyone.
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