Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 April 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Starting with an update from on Yemen from our humanitarian colleagues: the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF today warned that children continue to be killed, injured, displaced and put at increasing risk of disease as the conflict continues in Yemen. According to the agency, the conflict is exacerbating an already precarious situation for children in a country prone to food insecurity.
Of the 560 people who have been killed since the start of the fighting, an estimated 74 of them are children. Another 44 children have been maimed. Wherever security conditions permit, UNICEF is working with its partners to provide affected families with drinking water and health services.
It is also providing fuel for water pumps in three cities in the south, including Aden, where water systems have been repeatedly damaged in the fighting. UNICEF is concerned that the breakdown in water supply and sewage overflow could lead to increased risk of diseases and outbreaks.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that a plane carrying humanitarian staff landed in Sana'a yesterday, and two more planes carrying [medical] supplies are expected later this week. Plans are also under way for surgical teams to sail from Djibouti to Aden as soon as possible.
In the last 24 hours, about 12 metric tons of medical supplies have arrived in Aden from Al Hudaydah, and distributed to health centres and hospitals. Medical assistance has also been delivered in Sa'ada. Monthly food supplies have been distributed to more than 300 displaced families in Hajjah.
OCHA reports that some 159 stranded Ethiopian migrants have returned home from Djibouti, including 131 people who had been stranded en route to Yemen and 28 who were evacuated from Yemen by sea.
And OCHA's [latest] flash update will be available later today.
Today is the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. In his message for the day, the Secretary-General says we must use this occasion to look back on the past, to squarely confront the challenges of the present, renewing our collective resolve to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
The Secretary-General deplores conflicts and atrocity crimes in many parts of the world that continue to divide communities, killing and displacing people. He appeals to the international community to do more than just speak out about atrocity crimes and then fail to take timely action to prevent them.
Joining the Secretary-General, his Special Envoy for the Great Lakes [Region], Said Djinnit, commends the Government and people of Rwanda for their resilience and the manner in which the country has rebuilt itself, particularly through significant social reconciliation.
And later today at 6 p.m. in Conference Room 4, the Secretary-General will take part in a commemorative event on the genocide.
A trip announcement: the Secretary-General will travel to Panama City, Panama, on Thursday [9 April], to participate in the 7th Summit of the Americas, and will then head to Doha, Qatar, to attend the 13th UN Crime Congress that opens on the 12 April.
In Panama, the Secretary-General will address the Summit of the Americas and hold a series of bilateral meetings with participating leaders and senior officials.
And in Qatar, the Secretary-General will deliver the keynote speech at the 13th UN Crime Congress, which brings together Governments, policymakers and experts to exchange their experiences and intensify international cooperation in tackling the threat of transnational organized crime. And he will be back here on 13 April.
**Deputy Secretary-General Travels
Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General [Jan Eliasson] will depart New York for the People's Republic of China today. During his visit, he will hold bilateral meetings with senior representatives of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Development and Reform Commission.
The Deputy Secretary-General will also deliver a lecture at the Renmin University, as well as participate in a round-table discussion hosted by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.
On 11 April, Mr. Eliasson will travel from China to the Republic of Korea. He will represent the Secretary-General and deliver keynote remarks at the opening ceremony of the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu [Gyeongbuk].
And during his visit he will pay a courtesy call to President Park [Geun-hye] as well as hold bilateral meetings with senior Government officials in Seoul.
He will also attend the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) [meeting] which is scheduled to be held in Gyeongju.
And he will be back in New York on 14 April.
From Darfur, the Joint African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is able to confirm the dropping of 10 bombs which led to the killing of 14 civilians and the wounding of 18 others in Rowata, in Central Darfur, on 1 April. Yesterday, a verification patrol was dispatched to Rowata; while it was in the village, the team witnessed another aerial bombardment, consisting of five bombs dropped close to wherever they were standing. The UN Mission strongly condemns such aerial bombings, which cause widespread death, destruction and displacement of populations.
And from South Sudan, close to 4,500 displaced people have recently found shelter in the UN Mission in Malakal, in Upper Nile State.
This brings to total the number of civilians in that site close to 26,000, and overall [more than] 115,000 country-wide are being sheltered in UN compounds. And that is the highest number of displaced that the Mission has been protecting since the start of the present conflict in December 2013. New displacement of population are also reported by our other humanitarian partners in other parts of South Sudan, including 31,000 in Jonglei State.
And two peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were injured yesterday in the explosion of a mine while they were escorting a convoy around Kidal, in Northern Mali.
One of them is seriously injured and both were immediately evacuated. The Mission's Mine Action Service remain committed to continue their work against mines in order to protect the civilian population in Mali.
The Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, told reporters in Nicosia today that he sees no obstacle to a very early resumption of talks once the elections in the north of the country are over.
While in Cyprus, Mr. Eide met with the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. He appealed to the leaders of all Cypriots that he strongly feels that 2015 is going to be a decisive year, and that he hopes it will be a decisive one in the right direction.
Mr. Eide noted that the problem shared by Cypriots in the absence of a settlement, and that this is a time to think strategically and to understand that this is an opportunity that has to be grasped. The full transcript is available online.
A couple of notes from Ukraine from our humanitarian colleagues, and they say that access to health remains a major concern for the displaced and others impacted by the conflict.
At the end of March, the Ministry of Social Protection reported that there are nearly 1.2 million registered IDPs (internally displaced persons) across the country. However, difficulties in verifying residence procedures for them are affecting their ability to access social services.
The pressure on schools to accommodate displaced children is increasing because of limited number of available teachers and premises.
Meanwhile, UNHCR says that as of 2 April, the total number of Ukrainians who have sought asylum, residence permits or other forms of legal stay in neighbouring countries has reached 770,000, with the vast majority of them in Russia.
Despite the great needs, funding for the humanitarian operations remains very low with only 18 per cent of the $316 million required for 2015 having been funded or even pledged so far.
And also from OCHA — says that a severe storm struck the capital Dhaka and several districts of Bangladesh on 5 April. According to the Government, at least 40 people died and 300 were injured. The storm affected some 92,000 families, and destroyed nearly 30,000 houses.
The UN is monitoring the situation; stands ready to help the Government.
And lastly, I want to like to flag a report issued today by our colleagues at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) on new opportunities in geothermal energy for developing countries.
In some developing countries, as much as half of all food produced is lost post-harvest — due in part to a lack of affordable energy for food processing.
The report explores the uses of natural heat for food production and processing, including drying foods, pasteurizing milk and sterilizing procedures.
It says that Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya and Romania are among the countries that have much to gain from harnessing heat energy for agriculture.
**Press Briefing Today
And immediately following this briefing, Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, Executive Director of WHO's (World Health Organization) Office in New York, will be here to brief you on food safety, which is the topic of this year's World Health Day.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Nizar, why don't you ask a question for once?
Question: For once. Thanks, Stéphane. Stéphane, it seems these bombardments on Yemen are killing whole families, as we saw yesterday. There was nine-member family killed. Also, they are targeting convoys of trucks carrying flour to bakeries in many incidents; whole trucks were destroyed where they were taking flour for the bakers. Is it not high time for calling for ceasefire in Yemen?
Spokesman: I think the… you know, the Secretary-General, through his Special Adviser [Jamal Benomar], has been working on trying to get all the players around the table to reach a political agreement so that the fighting can stop. It is obviously… I don't have the details of all the — the cases you mentioned, but it's obviously incumbent on those conducting military operations that they do their utmost to protect civilians and protect civilian infrastructure. Edie. And then Matthew, sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Could you tell us whether Mr. Benomar is doing anything to try and arrange talks, or is that beyond the possibility of actions at this point because of the fighting?
Spokesman: Well, I think… I think the fighting only intensifies the need for talks. As to whether or not it's beyond the possible, I think we'll have to wait for the outcome. What is happening is that Mr. Benomar is continuing that task. He's currently in Doha in Qatar having discussions as… if I'm not mistaken, Qatar's currently chairing the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). So his work continues, and I think is even more important as we see… as we see the civilians suffering in Yemen. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I wanted… couple of things, but I wanted to ask about Western Sahara. The chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma, has said that she sent this pretty detailed letter to the Secretary-General about the need for human rights monitoring mechanism and the desire to have Mr. [Joaquim] Chissano, who's the AU Envoy, address the [Security] Council. So I wanted to know, has it been received? And especially has it been circulated, as was requested in the letter?
Spokesman: I haven't seen… personally seen the letter. If the request for it to be circulated is indeed in there, then I'm sure it will be circulated in due time. I can check for you after the briefing. And as for people addressing the Council, that's up to the Council, and the report is still in progress and it will be… when it's issued, will be issued.
Question: I guess… I understand that it's up to the Council to invite particular individuals, but given things that the Secretary-General has said about the African Union and the importance of regional organizations and regional cooperation, what does he think should be the role of the African Union in the issue of Western Sahara?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, I think as in all files that we deal with, regional organizations have a role to play, but obviously in Western Sahara, there is a Security Council mandate. Oleg and then…
Question: Stéphane, I'm going to ask you this. On the invitation on [inaudible] day which was sent to Ban Ki-moon according to Russian Foreign Ministry, can you confirm… I know that you don't announce planes… plans in advance, but can you confirm that he received the invitation and he's considering it? And…
Spokesman: You know, as I said, we announce the Secretary‑General's travel plans closer… closer to the date if and when we have an announcement to make.
Spokesman: That's what I have to say now. Masood.
Question: Yeah. Has the Secretary-General himself… because given the situation in Yemen, this has become bad to worse. Has the Secretary-General himself decided to talk to the Saudi Government, Saudi monarch to… what do you call… somehow be given access to the humanitarian agencies?
Spokesman: I think the issue of Yemen was very much on the forefront of the number of bilateral meetings the Secretary-General has had recently, notably in… on the sidelines of the conference in Kuwait. The issue of humanitarian access, I think, is a critical one and its incumbent on all the parties to ensure there is humanitarian access.
Question: Secretary-General still doesn't weigh in whether this intervention by the Saudis is legal or illegal?
Spokesman: I think what the Secretary-General's reaction to… to the action by the Saudis and their partners has already been announced, and it remains the same. Oleg. Sorry, Mr. Abbadi. We haven't heard…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You announced the travel plans of the Deputy Secretary-General. Mr. Eliasson has been particularly active in the past two years making speeches and travelling the world over. Are these early signs for his preparing to become a candidate for the post of Secretary-General?
Spokesman: I think it's… it's a very entertaining question, Mr. Abbadi, but it's one that I will not entertain.
Question: It's a serious question.
Spokesman: I'm not saying it's not a serious question. The Deputy Secretary-General has a role to play and his travels are linked to his current post as Deputy Secretary-General. Oleg and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. With one more troubling statement on Ukraine just as you announced, 18 per cent funded humanitarian plan, problems with access and everything else. Maybe it's high time to probably call for a donor conference on Ukraine?
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, we'll… if there is one, I will… I will let you know. There are a number of… you know, I think we're currently being… I would almost like to say overwhelmed by humanitarian needs, whether in South Sudan, Central African Republic, in Ukraine, in Yemen, in Syria. The common thread for most of these appeals is that they are underfunded, and I think… we should not have to wait for pledging conferences for donors to commit to these appeals.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have any update on when Mrs. [Angela] Kane will be replaced by Mr. Kim [Won-soo]?
Spokesman: No date. It should be easy enough for me to find out. I will let you know. Mr. Lee and then Masood.
Question: Sure, I want to ask about Bangladesh and then separately the UN Pension Fund.
Question: On Bangladesh, I saw the Secretary-General… or your statement on 3 April in response to questions received and basically saying it's great these elections are taking place and that is probably is good, but there seems to be complaints in the country that a number of the candidates in the opposition are still in jail, and people are having… are being blocked from registering. So I wanted to know, is it… is there more to be said rather… beyond this praise, and especially does the UN play any role whatsoever or seek to play a role in these elections?
Spokesman: No, I don't… obviously, the UN's participation in any elections is done at the request of the Government, whether it's technical help or any other kind of help. I really don't have anything to add beyond what we said last week in which the Secretary-General really encouraged all the political parties to find a way… a way forward in continuing to… on the path to de-escalation.
Question: Okay. And I wanted… I'd asked… last week there was this big meeting, very critical… by many staff, retirees, very critical of the pension fund. And I understand that, to some degree, that's kind of breaking away or separate. But I wanted to ask you about the investment committee, which I understand to be something that's appointed by the Secretary‑General and Ms. [Carolyn] Boykin as the representative of the Secretary-General. First, it was a yes or no question I asked last week, whether Mr. [Ivan] Pictet has resigned as the Chairman, and it seems like that should be yes or no.
Spokesman: I owe you an answer on that then.
Question: And what is the response? I guess either from Ms. Boykin or the Secretary-General himself to the pretty troubling allegations made and now publicly reported from this meeting in Conference Room 4 last week about conflicts of interest and retirees?
Spokesman: You know, I think the most important point to make is that the pension fund is very healthy, is well funded, and it is well managed. I think, as any… as with any pension fund, there are mechanisms… you know, there are mechanisms in place to prevent fraud. Those are issues that are always looked at. Those involve OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], and I think there is no… this whole confidence that the fund in that sense is well managed and well-funded. I think one of… some of the issues that were raised in the press and in other places had more to do with hiring practices and HR [human resources] issues. I think there have been no allegations of fraud in terms of how the fund is managed and, again, it is in a very good state and it is very… it is very healthy, and as you know, there are two sides to the fund. There is a side of… the liability side, which handles the relationship with the recipients, and then there is the… and then there's the other side, which is Ms. Boykin's side, which deals with… with the investments. Mr. [Sergio] Arvizú is the CEO and head of the liability side.
So I think obviously if people have any concerns, they can bring those concerns forward. But I think we're all… we should all be very confident that the fund is well managed and more importantly very healthy.
Question: But I just didn't… and thanks for that. The… there definitely were allegations of financial conflicts of interest. And so I… yesterday… last week it was said that by Farhan [Haq] that Ms. Boykin may in fact be willing to answer questions. And I want to know, is that going to take place? When might that…
Spokesman: We can look into that. But I think there are two heads to the fund, and, again, to stress that the fund has oversight mechanisms including, and most importantly, OIOS. Mr. Haider and then Nizar.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Do… I mean, is there any glimmer of hope for Yarmouk, which…
Spokesman: Is there any what? Sorry.
Question: Glimmer of hope for any sort of help going to the Palestinian refugees at all? It seems that…
Spokesman: I think that you…
Question: It seems that the situation continues to be inhumane day by day, but it's not… nothing is happening.
Spokesman: You know, I think it's…
Spokesman: I think we all share the concerns that you raise in your question. I think you heard from the Commissioner-General of UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] yesterday, gave you fairly extensive briefing. The key is for the fighting to stop, for us at the UN and UNRWA to gain the ability to enter the camp to distribute food and for those who wish to leave to be able to leave safely. I think we have about 18,000 people in the camp, which is down from a much larger number, and as I said yesterday, these… already the civilian population in Syria is very vulnerable, and the Palestinians in the camp are really the most vulnerable of the vulnerable populations. And efforts continue on the ground to try to gain access to the camp and ensure safe passage. Nizar and…
[The Spokesman added later that UNRWA has reported that the situation in the Yarmouk camp in Syria is evolving rapidly. UNRWA currently has no access to the camp and is unable to confirm the exact number of people who have managed to leave the area. However, it added that the situation remains extremely difficult for the remaining 18,000 civilians, most of whom are Palestinian refugees. UNRWA is looking into a mission to the area south of Yarmouk to assess the situation and determine how the agency can provide assistance. The UN continues to follow the situation in Yarmouk closely. It remains concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians in Yarmouk, and will do its utmost to support those displaced by the violence.]
Question: [off mic, inaudible] Has UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) made any visit to the city [Tikrit]?
Spokesman: Yes, we were in touch with UNAMI this morning. They told us they're looking into the reports of mass graves and the situation there. And I… I had hoped to have an update for you on that, but unfortunately, I don't.
[The Spokesman later added that UNAMI is closely monitoring the situation on the ground. The UN remains concerned by these reports, and urges the Iraqi authorities to do all it can to complete its investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable.]
Question: How about the return of the inhabitants of Tikrit, and today there was a press conference in Baghdad, live one. One commander accused some foreign helicopters of picking up Da'esh fighters right before the fall of the city and when they entered the city, there were none of them there.
Spokesman: You know, obviously, we're not there as the fighting… as the fighting goes on. As to whether the population will return, I think it has to be safe and calm for civilians to be able to return.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the situation in Aleppo, do you have any update — Idleb falls in the hand of ISIS? And now it's maybe the turn of Aleppo. What Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura is doing in freezing the situation in Aleppo?
Spokesman: You know, I think Mr. de Mistura and his team are acting on the Secretary-General's instructions and trying to find ways to revive the political dialogue based on the Geneva Communiqué. As for the situation in Idleb, our colleagues at OCHA are reporting the fighting and the shelling in and around Idleb are continuing. Heavy clashes reported close to Mastuba and nearby roads making it too insecure for people to move. It's unclear for us and our humanitarian partners how many people are still in the town, and in Government‑controlled areas some 25,000 displaced people are in Ariha and rural Hama, and shelters have been set up in schools while others are living in mosques with other lost families. Errol and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Yesterday… actually, today, there is news with your, I would say very proper reaction on yesterday journalistic question on Twitter and account in Turkey and you are always reacting, actually reacting on the journalistic question. I wonder whether you are in your office or at the United Nations on which level… this is the question… on which level? This is really follow-up, especially in the cases like Turkey when we have the repeated situation of these jeopardizing of the freedom of expression and this using of social network.
Spokesman: I mean, these are issues not specifically related to Turkey, but these are issues that often come up in the Secretary‑General's bilateral meetings as well as in the bilateral meetings of other senior officials. Mr. Abbadi and then Oleg.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In his message on the occasion of the day of reflection on the genocide in Rwanda, Secretary-General said I appeal on the international community to do more than just speak about atrocity crimes and then fail to take timely action to prevent them. Is he referring here to the Security Council and to the then Secretary-General?
Spokesman: No, I think he's referring to the current… to current situations that we're seeing around the world, most notably in Syria where we're seeing atrocities and we're not seeing any political movement. I think you could read it in line with what the Secretary‑General said at the League of Arab States when he expressed his frustration and anger at the situation.
Question: [off mic, inaudible]
Spokesman: Your microphone, please. Go ahead.
Question: Sorry. Why doesn't he refer specifically to the failure of the organization to take action in 1994?
Spokesman: Well, I think the… the history of Rwanda has been… and the UN's involvement was well documented by full report which came out in 2000, if I'm not mistaken, and I think this is something also the Secretary-General addressed very clearly in the speech that he delivered at the twentieth anniversary commemorations in Kigali [Rwanda] a year ago, and I would urge to you take a look at that speech. Oleg, then Matthew, then we'll go to our health guests.
Question: In the third round of talk on Syria, inter-Syrian dialogue taking place in Moscow, I understand that they are working on some joint document on humanitarian and political situation. What is the reaction of the UN to these particular new round of talks? And is anybody from the UN's side…
Spokesman: Yes, we are… someone from Mr. de Mistura's office is in the talks in Moscow, very much implicated. We obviously welcome any effort to restart the political dialogue and that's why we're there. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Just a follow-up on this question of the twenty-first anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. I wanted to know, I saw the statement by… you know, by the Special Envoy in the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, basically saying the FDLR [Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda] should be defeated. What can you say about the seeming contradiction at… despite these various statements of how important it is to eliminate the FDLR, the decision relatively at the last minute by MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] or the Force's Intervention Brigade and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] not to participate in this coming to a climax against the FDLR? And does it make it less likely they, in fact, will be defeated and will continue?
Spokesman: I think MONUSCO and our peacekeeping colleagues have very good reasons not to participate in that… in that. This is an issue that the Congolese Government also needs to deal with. And I think we had good reasons not to participate.
Question: The reason I'm asking about the contradictions is it seems this same human rights due diligence policy was explicitly waived in the case of pursuing the Lord's Resistance Army and was, at least in some people's mind, seemingly waived or delayed in the case of the Minova rapes. So it seems for this to be the one invocation of it as regards to the group that's the… basically the successor to the…
Spokesman: I think you and I can agree to have different views on this.
Question: And do you have any comment on the suppose… the apparent finding of the number 2 of the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] corpse, that he's in fact dead and it's now said that the last remaining LRA defendant is Joseph Kony? Is there any response to that?
Spokesman: Not any response beyond the fact that we hope Mr. Kony is found and brought to justice.
And, sorry, we have to have our guests. I'll see you in second.
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