Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a short while, I will be joined by Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF’s [United Nations Children’s Fund’s] Global Ebola Emergency Coordinator. Dr. Salama has just returned from the three impacted countries and will speak to you about his mission there and UNICEF’s response. And then immediately following that, the Deputy Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Fanny Langella, will be here to brief you on the President’s participation in the second UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, which is taking place now in Vienna.
I will start off with a statement on the terrorist attack on the India‑Pakistan border. The Secretary‑General condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that took place yesterday on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border crossing with India. He expresses his condolences to the families of those killed in the attack and to the people and Government of Pakistan and wishes those wounded a quick recovery. Such terrorist acts are not justifiable under any circumstances. The Secretary‑General urges the Pakistani authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
A number of you have been asking us for an update on the situation in Burkina Faso. The Secretary‑General continues to follow with great concern the rapidly evolving situation in Burkina Faso. He calls on authorities to respect the rights of peaceful demonstration and assembly and protect the right to life and property. He notes that consultations are being held between the military and opposition parties, members of the civil society, traditional leaders, as well as the diplomatic community. Further to the joint UN‑AU‑ECOWAS (United Nations-African Union-Economic Community of West African States) mission, which visited the country from 31 October to 1 November, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for West Africa, Mr. Mohammed ibn Chambas, is also consulting with regional leaders, and is returning to Ouagadougou to continue engaging with all stakeholders. The Secretary‑General reiterates his call on all parties to exercise restraint, and hopes that the ongoing dialogue will soon result in an agreement on a peaceful transition arrangement that will facilitate the restoration of constitutional order in the country.
The Secretary‑General, as you know, is in Vienna today, where he spoke at the second UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries. He said that the post‑2015 plans to address global challenges must take account of conditions in landlocked developing countries. At the same time, he said, new hurdles — such as climate change and mega disasters — must be taken into account. The Secretary‑General met with Conchita Wurst, winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. He said that Conchita confounds people’s preconceived ideas of gender and sexuality, and she appeals to them to accept her as she is. He added that he is delighted she is using her talent and the Eurovision platform to take this message to a global audience. The Secretary‑General also noted the attendance of a UN staff member who was the first to receive full recognition for her same‑sex marriage, following the UN policy change announced this summer.
Earlier today, the Secretary‑General met with the new European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, and shortly he will hold talks with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz. We hope to have readouts of those meetings for you later. And as you will recall, over the weekend, the Secretary‑General visited Copenhagen, Denmark, where he took part in the launch of the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and spoke at the Copenhagen Energy Security Dialogues. He also met with the Danish Prime Minister and other senior officials, as well as with the Latvian Foreign Minister. Transcripts of his remarks and readouts of those meetings were issued over the weekend.
Before we hear more on Ebola from Dr. Salama, I wanted to mention that the Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Anthony Banbury, is in Sierra Leone today after visiting Guinea over the weekend. In both countries, he visited Ebola treatment centres in remote areas to see first‑hand how the Mission can fill the gaps in the response. In Sierra Leone, he met with Ebola survivors in Kenema and visited a logistics base run by the World Food Programme (WFP) in the Port Loko district. He also visited the newly‑opened Command and Control Centre, which is in charge of coordinating burials and ambulance pick‑ups. Tomorrow, Mr. Banbury will be in Liberia, before heading back to Accra on Tuesday. And we expect him to brief the Security Council next Monday.
Turning to Darfur, the African Union‑United Nations [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur (UNAMID) has received information about the alleged intention of the Government of Sudan to conduct a security search operation in the Kalma camp for internally displaced people near Nyala, South Darfur. UNAMID is concerned about a search operation’s possible impact on the civilian population. Since August, UNAMID has taken preventive measures to mitigate the impact of such an operation on the civilian population of the camp and to reduce the tension there. The Mission has also engaged the local authorities in South Darfur, in accordance with its protection of civilians’ mandate, and demanded that if there is a need for such selective searches, these should be conducted in coordination with the camp leaders and the UN mission. Such searches should be carried out respecting human rights and observing international humanitarian law. Government authorities in Khartoum have assured that there are no plans at the current time for any such operation in Kalma camp. UNAMID has also reminded the camp population that harbouring, aiding or abetting offenders who possess weapons contravenes international humanitarian law and that such weaponry should not be stored, handled or trafficked in Internally Displaced People’s camps. The mission remains engaged on this matter with all relevant stakeholders.
And from South Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the situation in Bentiu is reportedly tense and that humanitarian operations continue for the 47,000 people sheltered at the Protection of Civilians site. Critical aid staff remain onsite and are providing health, nutrition, water and sanitation services. United Nations partners have been able to assist about 150 people who sought refuge in the town's Catholic Church. Agencies have provided them with food, medicine and basic shelter supplies, and are assessing any further needs.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in [the Central African Republic] (MINUSCA) conducted a security operation in two districts of Bangui this past Friday, in coordination with Sangaris and national forces. Five individuals were arrested and MINUSCA forces seized firearms, ammunitions and other weapons. The same day, anti‑Balaka rebels ambushed two patrols, wounding nine peacekeepers, including two seriously. The Mission reiterated its determination to implement its mandate, even in a challenging security environment in which they work.
Speaking yesterday in Iraq, the Director‑General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Ms. Irina Bokova, voiced her grave concern at the systematic persecution of minority communities in Iraq and attacks against their cultural and religious heritage. We have a press release available online on that.
Yesterday, as you may know, was the first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, and the Secretary‑General issued a message to mark the occasion, saying that no journalist anywhere should have to be at risk of being killed to report the news. He said that in the last 10 years, more than 700 journalists have been killed for simply doing their job. And many more journalists and media workers around the world suffer from intimidation, death threats and violence. Nine out of 10 cases go unpunished. The Secretary‑General said that there is a UN Action Plan to help create a safe environment for journalists and media workers everywhere, and he called for everyone to stand up for journalists and stand up for justice. That message is available online.
Tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., the President of the Security Council for November, Ambassador Gary Quinlan of Australia, will be here to brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month . And that's it.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, over the weekend, many of the so‑called rebels handed over weapons to Al Nusra, some of them with their sophisticated American weapons, others were ambushed, of course, and taken over. Also, so many fighters are flowing into Syria. How does the United Nations view the role of mediation in such circumstances? And do they still encourage that everyone who can go and help, for example, in areas like Kobane, to continue doing that because that is a carte blanche to everyone to go there?
Spokesman: While I appreciate your analysis of the situation, I'm not sure I share it. I think the Secretary‑General's political efforts embodied by his Special Envoy, [Stephane] de Mistura, are in a challenging environment, as you know, as you have seen, as we all see every day, but that doesn't mean we can't keep trying. That's what exactly Mr. de Mistura is trying to do. On the flow of arms, I think we've reiterated our concern about the flow of arms and called for those to stop. And I think all the violence that we keep seeing just underscores yet again the need for the parties to come to a political and peaceful solution.
Question: How concerned are you about the weapons which have already in the hands of…?
Spokesman: The fact that there are tons and tons of weapons floating around Syria, and being used on a daily basis against civilians, is a matter of great concern.
Question: I want to ask about Burkina Faso and, relatedly, I heard this statement. Thanks for that, but Mr. Chambas, has he meet with the new… who does the UN think is in charge? Has Mr. Chambas met with that person? And as the UN spoken to Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé, who I know has done work for the UN in the past for Burkina Faso, what’s his role?
Spokesman: Mr. Chambas is on his way back to Ouagadougou. We will see if we can have from him a list of the people he's met with. I think there is a person who has proclaimed himself the transitional Head of State. Obviously, the situation in Burkina is extremely fluid for the time being, and that's why I think Mr. Chambas, as well as his colleagues from the African Union and ECOWAS, are trying to meet as many people as possible to ensure a very early transition of power.
Question: I guess in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], I saw that Mr. [Martin] Kobler had said that he's accepting Joseph Kabila's request for additional MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] support in and around Beni. Some people have seen it. I've seen the pictures. There are protests that are against the Government. They toppled the statue of Kabila. They burned the flag of his political party. Does the UN, obviously, in trying to protect civilians in Beni at the request of the Government, not fall into a position where it's basically serving as a security force for the Government in what many people are calling a sort of… said it in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], some things are being censored so that news of Burkina Faso doesn't come in, as kind of an African Spring? How does the UN not get sucked into this?
Spokesman: The UN operates within its peacekeeping best practices in terms of human rights. We, obviously, push hard for the right of people to peaceful demonstration. The UN is not involved in security operations to repress any peaceful demonstrations that may take place against the Government. Our operations are there in support of the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo]… yes, the FARDC against the rebel groups, which we've talked about quite a bit here.
Question: Can you see how that could be a conflict?
Spokesman: I think people can analyse situations differently. I answered to the best of my ability.
Spokesman: Yes. Hold on. Let this gentleman go first. Turkey, then Tunisia. Reverse alphabetical order.
Question: Thank you. Mr. de Mistura mentioned last Friday that they are planning locally freezing conflict. What is the Secretary‑General's position on that? And how it will apply on the ground?
Spokesman: I think, obviously, the Secretary‑General supports the ideas put forward by his Special Envoy. It would be up to the parties on the ground to follow the suggestion from Mr. de Mistura.
Question: Stéphane, during the weekend in Tunisia, the most controversial French philosopher Bernard‑Henri Levy was declared persona non grata by the Government, and a huge movement of the civil society was opposite of his presence in Tunisia because he was planning to meet Libyan departments for the reconciliation on Libya. What's the position of the United Nation of this event?
Spokesman: I have not… I did not see any of those reports concerning Mr. Bernard‑Henri Levy, so I have no comment. Maggie?
Question: Steph, any update on the UNICEF staffer who was flown to France?
Spokesman: The UNICEF staffer you saw was evacuated to France. That staff member is in a military hospital in France. We're extremely grateful to the Government of France for having ensured this medevac. But, I think as Dr. [David] Nabarro told you [Friday], the systems that we would like to see in place for the treatment of health workers who have come down with Ebola, either in country or medevac, is not what we would like it to be. We are relying on ad hoc arrangements. That being said, we're grateful for France this time, for other countries who have helped us in the past.
Question: I was going to say, so the person was definitely a health worker? Because I wasn't sure I had seen that.
Spokesman: Do you know what? Let me double‑check on that. Maybe my colleague from UNICEF has more detail. Anna, and then Abdel Hamid and then Evelyn.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I wanted to ask about the strategically important about gas fields in Syria. It's been reported that on 30 October, ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levan/Sham] forces have taken gas field off Sha'ar; and after that, there were also unofficial reports that they have already taken another gas field of Jahar, which is in the city of Homs in Syria. Could you confirm or comment on this? And also, US has reported that the air strike on their campaign against ISIS is not coordinated with the campaign of the President of Syria, Bashar al‑Assad. Since this uncoordinated effort proves to be not very efficient, don't you think that US should coordinate with UN, instead? Namely, with the Security Council? And do you think that this issue of Syria would enter the agenda of Security Council any time soon?
Spokesman: Well, I think the issue of Syria is very much on the Security Council's agenda. The UN is not in the business of coordinating air strikes, be it in Syria or Iraq. I think you heard John Ging, when he was here, he talked about deconflicting humanitarian… delivery of humanitarian aid and military air strikes. On the oil fields, those things are of concern. All the fighting is of concern to us. And I think the added danger in fighting in and around oil fields is also the potential for large‑scale ecological disaster. Abdel Hamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions, in fact. The first question is, last week, Israel shut down for the first time I think in 46 years the area of al-Haram al-Sharif. And it was condemned by many major Powers like OIC [Organization for Islamic Cooperation] and others and there was a meeting of the Jerusalem Committee. But, this incident went unnoticed by the United Nations. That is one. And the second question: If you can give us some details about the Trilateral Agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations about the reconstruction of Gaza. I saw a statement by Hamas leader who objecting two, three things. He said that this Agreement gave Israel the power to veto any amount of money going to certain individuals for reconstruction of their homes, and another veto to set the amount of construction material which can go to certain areas, and also a veto to not reconstruct in certain areas altogether. So, I don't know the details of this agreement. Maybe many don't know the details. So, if you can give us some details about this agreement. And what is the position of the UN about these vetoes? If it's true.
Spokesman: I think the important thing about the Agreement, it was facilitated by the United Nations and we're helping with the implementation. But, it is an agreement that really brings together the Government of Israel and the Government of National Consensus in Palestine, with the responsibility of the distribution of the activities of the aid in Palestine being under the authority of that Government. So, I think those are questions that need to be addressed internally within Palestine. We would like to see the Agreement… the aid come in as quickly as possible and at an increasing level, so that the reconstruction can start, especially rebuilding the thousands and thousands of shelters that were destroyed. On your other point on the closing of the… the closures, which I think were then rescinded very quickly, I think the Secretary‑General has spoken out against any provocative acts and had called for a continuation of what had been the existing status quo. So, it is a situation the Secretary‑General is watching very closely. Evelyn, then Oleg?
Question: Yes. Do we know… I saw the UNAMID release. Do we know why Sudan is sending military to Darfur? It's usually not a good sign. And, secondly, the SG has taken a positive stance many times on homosexuality, and yet about at least 79 or 80 UN members have statutes, laws on the books making it illegal. Is there any campaign there? Is he urging anything?
Spokesman: I think on your last point, the Secretary‑General has been urging a change in those countries for quite some time, having spoken out either very openly or in more quiet diplomacy directly with leaders of the countries concerned. He has taken a lead on the Free and Equal campaign launched by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). And I think he has spoken out very loudly on the need to ensure that all people benefit from the protection of human rights. On Sudan, I think, obviously, the statement I read underscores the concern of the UN mission in Darfur if there were to be such an active military activity in the camps. And I think you'd have to ask the Government of Sudan if they do so, why they choose to do so. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Is there any fresh reaction from the Secretary‑General on the elections that took place in the Ukraine on 2 November? And if it's possible, can you comment on the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to blacklist the international observers that were following the election?
Spokesman: I haven't seen anything on your second point. Obviously, the Secretary‑General remains very deeply concerned about the situation in Ukraine. He reiterates the elements of the statement which I read out on his behalf on 29 October, regarding the holding of the "elections" in Donetsk and Luhansk and that took place yesterday. He urges all parties to recommit on an urgent basis to the full implementation of the letter and the spirit of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, which are designed to bring peace and stability to Ukraine. Mr. Klein?
Question: Just as a follow-up on that, though. Is the Secretary‑General considering a more declarative statement as to the illegitimacy of the elections yesterday? Because the reason I'm asking is the Ukrainian Ambassador, who had a press briefing earlier this morning, indicated that international leaders, and he did cite specifically the Secretary‑General, as questioning the validity of those elections. So, I'm not hearing…
Spokesman: I think I would look up the statement that we issued on the 29 October, and hopefully that will answer the question.
Correspondent: It was an expression of concern and displeasure.
Spokesman: Again, I would refer you back to those statements we already issued on those. Mr. Lee and then…
Question: Two press questions. One is about Ethiopia. When the Secretary General was there, he said it was the second largest duty station. Second, did he make any comment on the sentencing for three years of Temesghen Desalegn, the editor there who was sentenced for provocation and dissemination of inaccurate information?
Spokesman: I don't know if that issue came up. What I can tell you is that I've just read the Secretary‑General's message on the day against impunity, his strong defence for the rights of journalists to go about their jobs free of harassment, imprisonment or death.
Question: That's partially why I'm asking. But, the other is a logistical question. It was reported by Bloomberg Business Week that the Secretary‑General is holding a presence conference in Vienna tomorrow as part of the UNIDO [United Nations Industrial Development Organization] thing with the Secretary‑General of UNIDO. I asked them whether it would be webcast. They said it's actually an informal press breakfast. Is it on the record? Is it off the record? What's your understanding of this event?
Spokesman: My understanding is I will check and get back to you. Nizar?
Question: I have two questions on Nigeria and Iraq. On Nigeria, some yesterday attacked worshippers in the mosque, killing 10 in the suicide bombing. Do you have any statement on that? Another thing is in Iraq, the ISIL or ISIS are selling females as slaves. What is the United Nations' position on those who buy such slaves? Are you going to send a message to whoever buys slaves, like females from minorities, will they be prosecuted? Will be brought to justice? Are they considered legal or illegal?
Spokesman: Clearly illegal. Slavery is illegal. I think the Secretary‑General has condemned the acts by the so‑called… by ISIS and others in the kidnapping of women and children, girls and boys and selling them. I think the Secretary‑General and others, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have said that these people will have to answer. These are grave, grave violations, crimes against humanity. And they will need to be answerable. Whether it's a buyer or seller, it's a crime. And on your second question, yes, we've seen, we just saw the reports that indicate that more than 20 people may have died in a Shiite ceremony in the north-eastern State of Yobe in Nigeria. We're trying to get more information. What I would like to say is the Secretary‑General hopes that a full investigation will be conducted and that perpetrators of these attacks will be brought to justice. And he once again calls for an end to violence in that area. Carla and then Matthew. And then we'll go to our guests. Your microphone, please?
Question: There seems to be… well, there is, blatant double standards. There was a great deal of support for the independence of Kosovo, and now the citizens of Donetsk have voted for independence from Ukraine. Considering the fact that the Government of Ukraine, the military in Ukraine has been slaughtering people in the east, it would seem as though there is a parallel situation. Why would the Secretary‑General be opposed to the elections in Donetsk if there was UN support for the independence of Kosovo?
Spokesman: I will leave the analysis, the compare/contrasts, the search for double standards to those of you who are journalists and analysts. All I can say is to revert back to what the Secretary‑General said, his hope that all parties in Ukraine and others involved recommit themselves to the Minsk Memorandum and Protocol, which are designed to bring stability back to Ukraine. And that's what I know the Secretary‑General is very much hoping to see. Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Lee and then we'll end it.
Question: Stéphane, there are reports that the 200 kidnapped girls in Nigeria have been married off. Does the UN have a response to that?
Spokesman: No. We don't have any independent confirmation. I think it's a horrendous situation that we're seeing, one that defies words. I think we've called again and again for the release of these girls. Our colleagues at UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] are working with the impacted communities and are preparing for the day hopefully when these girls will be able to come home. Mr. Lee?
Question: I wanted to ask about Yemen and Sri Lanka. The Houthis have set this 10‑day deadline for [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] al-Hadi to form a Government or I guess they'll take over more buildings in Sana'a. What… is Mr. Jamal Benomar there? What's the response? And the leader the Houthis who had been working the Union of Popular Forces Party has been assassinated in Sana'a and I wonder if there is any comment or response to that?Spokesman: Thank you for your question, for which Farhan gave me a note, which I should have read. Since arriving in Yemen in his most recent mission, Mr. Benomar has engaged all sides about the peace and implementation of the partnership agreement which has been signed on 21 September. On 1 November, the Special Adviser facilitated an agreement on the modalities of forming a new Government of national unity. All 16 parties to the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed on to the agreement. However, the assassination the next day of the Secretary‑General of the Union of Popular Forces, Mr. Mohammed Abdulmalik al‑Mutawakkil is an indication that Yemen's transition remains very fragile indeed. At the request of President Hadi and the Prime Minister, Mr. Benomar decided to extend his current mission by a week to support the implementation of the latest agreement. And upon completion of his current mission, Mr. Benomar is expected to report back to the Security Council.
Question: The question of Sri Lanka, to clarify something. A pro-Government newspaper there has reported that the Government is searching people down for having “blank human right complaints forms” to the inquiry of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. And since, obviously, there are people who are now charged with this and on the run, I wanted to know: Can you state from this podium or sometime today, are there even… do such forms even exist? Is there a blank form for this inquiry? And if so…
Spokesman: I don't know. You may want to refer that question to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights here.
Question: Okay. Even if it were to exist, should people be hunted down for having these forms?
Spokesman: Obviously, I can't tell you… I don't know of the existence of these forms or whether there is a police action against it. Obviously, it's important that people have the right to cooperate, should they wish, with any UN human rights investigation. If it's really critical, because otherwise, our guest has been very, very patient. Okay. Go ahead, sir. Please, quick. Doctor, if I could ask you to come up. Yes, go ahead?
Question: On the kidnapped Yazidi women, what tangible efforts he was… other than the SG strongly condemning, what efforts have been taken?
Spokesman: The UN has no military or police assets in the region. Obviously, we're doing the best that we can. But, we're very limited in the means that we have. Thank you.