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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

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14 August 2014

Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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.

Alright, good afternoon.

** Iraq

As I mentioned to you yesterday, we hope to have Kieran Dwyer on the line very soon and he will update you on the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

What I can tell you is that the United Nations has declared a “level-three emergency” for Iraq — the highest global humanitarian priority for the UN and partner agencies. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nickolay Mladenov, said that the declaration will facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of communities affected by forced displacement. Since mid-June, UN agencies have scaled up assistance and reached tens of thousands of people with food, water, shelter, health care and medical supplies. And obviously, we will get more from Kieran.

Also on Iraq, the Security Council issued a press statement yesterday evening saying that its members are encouraged by the Iraqi President Fuad Masum’s decision to nominate a new Prime Minister-designate. The Council says that the nomination is an important step towards the formation of an inclusive Government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges. Council members have urged the Prime Minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, to work swiftly to form an inclusive Government. They have also urged all political parties and their supporters to remain calm and respect the political process. More information is available in my office.


I have a brief update on the Ebola outbreak. Between 10 and 11 August, a total of 128 new cases of Ebola, as well as 56 deaths were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. This brings the total to 1,975 cases and 1,069 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Regarding that crisis, the World Health Organization indicates that between 94 per cent and 98 per cent of contacts of Ebola cases are identified and followed up in Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, efforts are under way to strengthen contact tracing, but help is needed in this area. The Liberian Army has placed a third province under quarantine as part of the ongoing effort to stop transmission of the virus. More details are available on the World Health Organization’s website.

** Iraq

Just another note on Iraq, the Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed his deep concern about the persecution of Yezidis, Christians and other religious minorities by so-called “Islamic State" forces in Iraq. The Secretary-General has reiterated that any attack on the civilian population or segments of the civilian population because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity and those responsible must be held accountable.

The Deputy Secretary-General has today met with Bishop Sarhad Jammo and Bishop Francis of Iraq's Chaldean American Community, leading a delegation of Iraqi Christian representatives and community leaders from throughout the United States. The Deputy Secretary-General recognized the serious plight of religious minorities in Iraq at the hands of so-called “Islamic State" forces. He expressed his deep compassion for the victims and affected communities. He assured the delegation that the United Nations is now taking urgent humanitarian action. He also underlined the need for global solidarity and support to address the needs of these afflicted communities.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

As the Secretary-General announced earlier this week, he is departing New York today for a visit to Nanjing, China. On Saturday, he will attend the opening ceremony of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games. While in Nanjing, he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. The Secretary-General will hold a discussion with young people on their key role in promoting development. And he is expected back at work in New York on Monday morning.

** Gaza

Humanitarian agencies have welcomed the extension of the ceasefire in Gaza, which will enable access for humanitarian workers to carry out life-saving activities, to complete search and rescue operations in several areas, and to repair critical water, sanitation networks and electricity infrastructure. The removal of unexploded ordnance in built-up areas will continue, as will repair work to schools. Safe and secure transportation inside the Gaza Strip during the ceasefire will enhance the delivery of urgently-needed relief supplies.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [in the Near East] (UNRWA) has started to distribute maternity packages to mothers who have given birth during the current hostilities, and who are registered as displaced people in its shelters across the Gaza Strip. A total of 344 babies, 152 girls and 192 boys, have been born in UNRWA schools designated as shelters. The maternity packages contain essential items to help mothers care for their newborns while they are sheltering in temporary accommodation. More information is available from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, should you need it.

** Syria

The UN has sent four shipments of humanitarian aid to Syria from neighbouring countries under the terms of Security Council resolution 2165 (2014). This amounted to almost 50 truckloads, including food for almost 5,000 households; household items for 14,000 displaced families, hygiene and sanitation supplies for more than 15,000 households and medical supplies for more than 22,000 households, as well as various other items. The aid was delivered to several locations in the governorates of Aleppo, Idleb, Lattakia and Dar’a.

All the shipments safely arrived at their destinations without major impediments and the distribution of relief supplies by international and local implementation partners was able to begin immediately. The distribution of supplies from the first shipment from Turkey began after Eid on 28 July and is almost completed in one location, while distribution in a second location should be completed towards the end of the month or the beginning of September. The distribution of supplies from the first shipment from Jordan began on 7 August and has been completed in two out of four locations.

** Iran

Our Humanitarian Chief and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will visit Iran from 17 to 18 August. She is expected to meet senior officials in Tehran. Her meetings will focus on expanding regional cooperation on humanitarian assistance and strengthening the partnership between Iran and the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

And we have an appointment today, a senior appointment.

The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Bernardino León of Spain as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). He will succeed Mr. Tarek Mitri of Lebanon on 1 September. The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Mitri for his dedication and leadership of UNSMIL. Mr. León’s most recently served as European Union Special Representative for Libya, as well as European Union Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean. This makes his appointment official.

**Malala Yousafzai/Millennium Development Goals

I want to flag an event on Monday that will mark the 500-day countdown of the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals]. The Secretary-General and education advocate and co-founder of the Malala Fund, Malala Yousafzai, will hold an interactive conversation about the Millennium Development Goals on 18 August at 11 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. They will talk and take questions from young people in the audience about how we can all play our part to achieve the MDGs, from boosting education, eliminating poverty and hunger, and empowering women and girls, to protecting the environment. The discussion will be moderated by Amy Robach, news anchor with ABC’s Good Morning America, and John Ashe, President of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, will make opening remarks. And that will obviously be open and webcast.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman: Before we turn to Kieran, who is on the line, I’m happy to take some questions. Margaret?

Question: Stéph, last night you put out a statement from the [Secretary-General] on the Ukraine and it mentioned humanitarian aid. It said the support of the UN in coordination with international partners in terms of aid going into Ukraine. Can you give more specifics on that? What kind of coordination? What is the UN specifically doing on the ground to get aid into the Ukraine?

Spokesman: We’re working with the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], who would be in the lead on distribution of aid, and obviously we’re working very closely with the national authorities and Government on the issue.

Question: And what… is [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] doing anything?

Spokesman: [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] is part of the UN system and is represented in Kyiv. Yes, ma’am?

Question: Thank you, Stéph, as a follow-up to Margaret’s question, is the Secretary-General concerned that this very large Russian convoy could cross into Ukraine without the permission of the Government, thus possibly fomenting an outbreak of renewed violence there?

Spokesman: We’re watching the progression of the convoy very closely, and, I think, as the Secretary-General said, he would welcome the delivery of assistance to communities in need. But, that should be done with agreement of the parties concerned and under ICRC auspices. Matthew?

Question: Thanks. On Bernardino León, I wanted to ask you about cholera in Haiti. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right of water, Catarina de Albuquerque, has issued a report in which she says, again, as an independent UN expert, but as somebody whose reports are, you know, responded to by Member States of the UN, she said that she… she wishes to emphasize the obligation to investigate the allegations to establish responsibility for any violations and to ensure alleged victims the right to a remedy, including compensation if warranted. I wanted to know, as these Special Rapporteurs and human rights experts affiliated with the UN, sort of a drumbeat of calls for accountability arise, what’s the thinking within the Secretariat? Will there be a development on this or is there simply…?

Spokesman: The Secretary General recently came back from Haiti and spoke very strongly and spoke from the heart about what went on in Haiti and what the UN is doing. But, as for our legal position, it is unchanged. And we continue to do a lot of work with the Government of Haiti on health and especially on sanitation, and are working with the communities impacted by cholera.

Question: What about the families of the people that either died or became sick, particularly the families of those who lost their breadwinner? Is there any move within the UN system that, whether or not you acknowledge responsibility, that they somehow be helped?

Spokesman: Again, on these issues, and on working with the communities impacted, we are working with the Government of Haiti. Richard?

Question: Is the Secretary-General going to tell the Chinese President to stop its… what some perceive as its aggressive tactics on Viet Nam, regarding the oil rigs on the islands?

Spokesman: The Secretary-General in his previous trip to China and to the region has spoken out on the issue and has encouraged all the parties involved to settle their maritime disputes in a peaceful and negotiated spirit. Yes, sir? And then Nizar?

Question: Hi, yesterday, coinciding with the Pope’s visit to South Korea, there were three missiles shot by [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] into the Sea of Japan. Is there a statement or reaction to that?

Spokesman: No particular statement. I think you could refer back to what we’ve previously said on these occasions. Nizar?

Question: Do you have an idea about the flow of aid to Gaza in the lull between or in the ceasefire… current ceasefire now?

Spokesman: As I’ve mentioned, we’ve used the cessation of hostilities, the ceasefire, to distribute aid that we have already in Gaza, including maternal kits and all sorts of other essential items. The fact that there is no fighting enables humanitarian workers to move around and do what they need to do. I will try to get you an update on what may be coming into Gaza through the various crossing points.

Question: Today — sorry, another question — regarding in Damascus today, there was the army has regained Mleiha area, which is an area which has been under constant fighting for over two years now. Are there any plans to send help to the people who were trapped there? Or alleviate their situation?

Spokesman: Throughout this horrendous conflict, the UN and its national partners have tried to reach as many people as they can, whether they be in Government lines or in areas not held by the Government. What I’ve just said about the relief supplies having come through under the new Security Council resolution, I think, is a welcome development and wherever there are people in need, we try to reach them. Obviously, sometimes the conditions don’t allow us. Mr. Abbadi, then Oleg, and then Benny?

Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You just indicated that the humanitarian agencies in Gaza are distributing some aid, some products that are in existence already in Gaza. Does that mean that there is no new aid coming in?

Spokesman: I said what I know. What I told Nizar is that I would check about what may be coming in. But, I don’t have that information at my fingertips. There may be things coming in. We’ll check with [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. Oleg and then Benny?

Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Ukraine Foreign Ministry today announced that they requested Ban Ki-moon to renew this human rights mission on the Ukraine for another period. Did you receive such a request and will this be considered?

Spokesman: I’m not aware that we’ve received a request, so I will check. Benny?

Question: Is the Secretary-General — not the Secretary-General — but is [Robert] Serry in Cairo as part of the negotiations on the… or is he involved?

Spokesman: He has been in Cairo and he is on his way to New York at some point — I think either today or tomorrow. He will be here next week. He’s scheduled to brief the Security Council and we’ve already asked that he, at a minimum, do a stakeout after the Security Council presentation. But, he has been in Cairo. I don’t know if he’s in Cairo right this minute, but he has been in Cairo.

Question: Can you describe the extent of the UN involvement in those talks, if any? And whether it uses its relations, its contacts in Gaza with Hamas — it’s spelled Hamas, by the way — as part of the negotiations?

Spokesman: Thank you for the spelling bee. The Secretary-General and, obviously, represented by Mr. Serry, were instrumental in getting this ceasefire. We will continue to support the discussions in the best way we can. But, obviously, as they are ongoing, I don’t want to go into too much detail. Matthew and then Nizar, and then Linda?

Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you again about these incidents in Ferguson, Missouri. And the reason being that they’ve become, even they’ve basically been covered by all international media now. Journalists have been arrested. Tear gas was used on camera on unarmed protesters. So, I’m just wondering, beyond the general statements of yesterday, does anyone in the UN system intend to contact either local authorities — do you think…?

Spokesman: At this point, I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday. Nizar and then Linda? Then we’ll go to Kieran.

Question: On east Ukraine, all the reports coming from east Ukraine shows that the Government forces are shelling indiscriminately and many of the inhabitants can hardly survive with all this shelling and destruction. What’s the United Nations doing, I mean, regarding to make some distinction between civilians and combatants in this conflict?

Spokesman: Obviously, in any situation, it is the responsibility of the national Government to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected and that civilians are protected and are not harmed. This goes to the Secretary-General’s repeated calls for a peaceful solution to what’s going on in Eastern Ukraine. Linda, and then we’ll go to Kieran?

Question: Thank you, Stéph. You mentioned earlier the persecution of the Yezidis and the Christians and the other minorities. Can you give us a fuller picture in terms of the latest developments regarding this?

Spokesman: I think, Kieran, hopefully, will be able to do that when he speaks, but obviously, we’ve seen these horrendous reports of girls and boys being kidnapped and maybe sold into sexual exploitation, being sexually exploited; people being buried alive; all sorts of really horrendous acts against all the minorities found in northern Iraq. Whether it’s the Secretary-General, his Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict or Mr. Mladenov, I think, have spoken out and have called for cessation of these activities and for accountability. Very brief, yes?

Question: Because I’m not sure that Kieran will touch on that. Mladenov, is he involved in helping the negotiations over the new Government in Baghdad?

Spokesman: He has made the United Nations’ position very clear and well-known. Obviously, the formation of the new Government is the responsibility of the Iraqi political establishment.

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