Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 April 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Just an update on the situation in Yarmouk: after days of the continuing siege and sustained violence inside the camp, no UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] humanitarian operations have been possible as of today. The situation in the camp remains extremely tense with street fighting continuing and unconfirmed reports of aerial bombardments of civilian areas.
UNRWA remains greatly alarmed that sustained hostilities continue to inflict unimaginable suffering to the 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian men, women and children trapped in Yarmouk, who survive under constant threat of armed violence, and remain unable to safely access water, food and basic healthcare. UNRWA is calling for a pause in the hostilities, humanitarian access to civilians who need assistance and the safe evacuation of civilians who want to leave Yarmouk.
All armed groups inside Yarmouk need to respect and comply with their obligations to ensure the protection of civilians. UNRWA calls on all parties to exercise influence over the parties on the ground to bring this about. We will keep you updated as we get more information.
From Yemen, our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs say that humanitarian access remains severely constrained by the continuing insecurity. According to [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] the most serious constraints are in Aden, Lahj and Al Dhale'e, the three governorates most affected by the violent conflict. The World Health Organization (WHO) adds that ambulances in Aden could not reach injured people in some districts earlier this week.
The Office for the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also estimates that 37 buildings were targeted, including five hospitals in Sana'a, Al Dhale'e and Aden. UNICEF says that yesterday's airstrike on the Al Rasheedi school in Yemen's Ibb Governorate, which left at least two children dead and two others injured, is a stark reminder of the appalling risks faced by children as the conflict intensifies.
It adds that such incidents underline the urgent need for all parties to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and for every effort to be made to protect civilian from violence, and for all to respect international law. The head of the [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] Office for Yemen, Trond Jensen, has expressed the humanitarian community's concern that the situation could turn catastrophic. He appeals to all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international law, to respect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow unfettered access for humanitarian supplies and workers, so that urgently needed supplies can be brought in.
National aid partners in Yemen are expected to conduct needs assessments in the coming days, including in Hajjah, Al Hudaydah, Aden, Al Dhale'e, Lahj and Abyan. Discussions also continue with local authorities to allow partners to undertake an independent humanitarian needs assessment in Sa'ada. On Friday in Geneva, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, is expected to brief the media and that should be available on the webcast from Geneva for you.
**Financing for Development
Back here, the Secretary-General spoke this morning at the start of the General Assembly's two-day interactive hearing ahead of the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, which will take place in July, as you know. He said that a successful outcome in Addis is crucial for securing an ambitious post-2015 agenda and a comprehensive agreement on climate change in Paris in December. The Secretary-General noted that all sources of funding must be tapped – public and private, national and international. His full remarks are available online and in my office.
From Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues say they are deeply concerned at the impact that fighting across Darfur continues to have on civilians, and at the most recent reports of aerial bombardment of villages in North Darfur. More than 10,000 people have been displaced over the past month due to fighting between tribal groups in two areas of Darfur, according to our humanitarian partners.
While most areas can be reached, and international aid agencies are working with local partners to distribute shelter, household and medical supplies to people in need, humanitarian workers have not been granted access to several areas in North Jebel Marra, Central Darfur. More information online.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Head of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Office in the country strongly condemns today a number of attacks by armed militia against sites hosting displaced people in Irumu territory in Orientale Province. The situation in Irumu territory has been of great concern since the beginning of the year both for civilians and for humanitarian organizations providing aid and assistance.
Chile has become the latest Member State to pay in full to the regular budget, making it the… how many are we up to? Sixty-ninth Member State to pay its dues.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow, I will be joined by Monos Antoninis, Senior Policy Analyst at UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], who will brief you on the Education for all Global Monitoring Report. Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. [Inaudible] on Yarmouk, and the Saudi intervention which is now being helped by the… seen by the international community, unless it is determined that this act of intervention was legal or illegal, how can we say that the aid being given to them is also legal and illegal?
Spokesman: I'm sorry. I don't think I understand the question.
Correspondent: The thing is that United States just…
Spokesman: Are you talking about Yemen or Yarmouk?
Correspondent: Yarmouk… oh, sorry. Yemen.
Spokesman: Okay. Maybe that will…
Question: Just announced that it will give aid to the Saudi… Saudi Government… international… Saudi government… meaning armed and ammunition to Saudi Government for its intervention inside Yemen. So, the thing is, since this is not being determined it is legal or illegal, this action… Saudi intervention… so, what is the position of the countries which are aiding them right now?
Spokesman: Okay, I'll try to answer your question as I understand it. The Secretary‑General's position on the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies have been stated, and it remains the same. Our focus and everyone's focus should be on finding a political solution to the current crisis in Yemen and to ensure that hostilities stop as soon as possible to ensure humanitarian access. I think we're seeing the civilian population in Yemen, which, even before this current conflict, were suffering from acute humanitarian needs including food shortages suffer even more. It's important that our humanitarian partners be able to do their work and to bring some aid to the civilian population, and parallel to that, obviously, to restart the political process.
Question: A follow‑up on that?
Spokesman: We'll go in order. Madame.
Question: I don't understand why the UN can't mention who's responsible or who's involved. Nobody could write a story like that. In Yarmouk, who's doing the street fighting and who did the bombardment? Does anyone besides the Syrian Government have planes? In Yemen, who… who did the targeting in Sana'a, and who is UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] talking about? And in Sudan, who did the aerial bombardment? Are we talking about…?
Spokesman: Thank God I'm not responsible for write stories about what I say from here.
Spokesman: What I can tell you, obviously, on the ground in Yemen, we're working with our very brave national staff that's there, our humanitarian partners. We don't have military observers. I think every one of you as you write your stories for all these places knows and probably pretty sure as who has what… has what means. Our focus is right now, what we're trying to underscore, is the continuing immense suffering of the civilian population in Yemen. And in Yarmouk, where the fighting has been going on, it's a very urban setting, very close quartered fighting. I'm not in a position from here to tell you who is fighting whom. What we do know is that the camp has been overrun by armed elements, and there have been also reports of aerial bombing. The civilians are trapped – 18,000 people, men, women and children, are trapped without access to water. And even before this fighting started, if I'm not mistaken, from December to March, there were no humanitarian deliveries to Yarmouk. And before that, they were very sporadic, so we are already talking about a population that was extremely vulnerable before this latest round of fighting.
Question: A follow‑up on the same subject. Can you describe the situation in Yemen? Is it a humanitarian crisis already or is it a humanitarian crisis in the offing? How…
Spokesman: You know, the situation in Yemen was a humanitarian crisis before this current round of violence. This has made it that much worse. And I think to my humanitarian colleague, I think, said the situation could turn catastrophic. We're talking about even before… before this crisis, millions of people being food insecure, needing humanitarian aid, to say the least. This current round of fighting is not helping.
Correspondent: Well, you keep saying that the situation… the position of the United Nations Secretary‑General is known. Two weeks after the crisis started or the bombardment started, we have almost forgotten what was the position at that time. If you can…
Spokesman: It's not changed. You can check the transcript. I think our focus currently should all be on bringing aid to the civilians that are trapped. Anna. Sorry, one second. We'll come to you.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. You've been quoted in today's New York Times, Mr. Dujarric, stating that another…
Spokesman: It happens.
Question: …4,500 people in South Sudan found refuge at UN bases, bringing the total number to 26,000. And at one point, Security Council mentioned possible sanctions against the parties that cannot make peace with each other. And I think we need to deal with roots of the problem, not consequences, though it's commendable that UN helps these people. Don't you think that UN should go a little further than just mentioning sanctions to these parties?
Spokesman: Well, you know as well as I do that the issue of sanctions is one for the Security Council to decide. The mission right now is giving shelter to more than 110,000 civilians. I think the Secretary‑General has been very critical of both leaders, of the president and the… and Riek Machar in their inability to reach a political agreement and, while that inability to reach a political agreement continues, their population is suffering. Matthew and then we'll go here.
Question: First, on… I guess on Yarmouk, the… Qatar has issued a readout saying the Secretary‑General called the foreign minister of Qatar and the only item they list is Yarmouk. Is that the case? Did the call take place? And were any other topics discussed?
Spokesman: No, the call did take place, and my understanding is that was the main topic of conversation.
Question: And I want to ask… there may be follow‑ups to this, but there was a press conference this morning by the [Deputy Permanent Representative] of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which it was said… complaining about the holding of a ship called Mu Du Bong in Mexico. But, what I wanted to ask the Secretariat about is he said that Mexico had said that they'd received advice from a UN Under‑Secretary‑General to continue to hold the ship and that since then they'd sought clarification from the Secretariat and were told that no such communications took place. I wanted to know, first, who in the Secretariat spoke to [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], and two, can you state from here that the Secretariat has not given any advice to… to Mexico to continue to hold the ship?
Spokesman: I'm happy to answer your question, but I think you need to give me a bit more detail, because we do have quite a number of Under-Secretaries-General.
Correspondent: Right. But, there are only two that come to mind. One would be Angela Kane and one might be…
Spokesman: Let's not assume anything. We can look into it but obviously, if you have more information. And then we'll go to the back. Go ahead.
Question: A while ago, I guess a month ago, you were asked about the women who were planning to cross the… the DMZ from North Korea to South Korea. And you were asked what the Secretary‑General's view was of this proposed peace effort and, in light of [Security Council resolution] 1325 (2000), where the Secretary‑General is supposed to be supporting women being act-… very active in the peace process. I'm wondering if you've gotten a response from the Secretary‑General and what this is.
Spokesman: I don't have a specific response on that. Obviously, as you said, the Secretary‑General, as a matter of policy, supports peace efforts and obviously the involvement of women in peace efforts. Erol and then we'll go to you, Carol.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Two questions. One follow-up on pure question. Follow‑up on Yarmouk. How would you de… and to that region actually. How would you describe, since we are responsible for writing our stories, how would you describe your information‑sharing with us based… those are based on intelligence, UN sources or media reports, mostly?
Spokesman: I… hopefully on intelligent UN sources.
Question: Okay. I will quote you on that. And the pure question is UN stated that it's very satisfied how Croatia is dealing with the victims of rape with the… within the agenda of how to protect women from… against violence. And what about the other States in the region, presumably Bosnia, in which 20 to 50,000 Bosnian Muslim women were raped according to the UN sources? What is your position? Are you satisfied with how they're dealing…?
Spokesman: I will check with… with the relevant Special Advisers on this and get you an update. Carol, and then we'll go to Matthew Carpenter.
Question: Stéphane, you can give us an update on Jamal Benomar? Is he planning to brief the Security Council or to brief the UN press and…?
Spokesman: The latest I have on Mr. Benomar is he's continuing to conduct a series of high-level consultations with a number of people in the region, and he's currently in transit, and we expect him in New York very soon. Once we see him on these shores, we will know more about what his plans are.
Question: And just to follow up, is it your understanding that in your call for a return to political talks, that the Saudi air campaign would have to be halted?
Spokesman: I don't think I want to get into the issue of preconditions. I think what we need to do is… is a return to the political talks. Mr. Carpenter, and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Hi, Stéphane. You said that the head of [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] in Yemen said the situation could turn catastrophic. Was that just a general qualitative statement or did he have something more specific in mind when he said that?
Spokesman: I think it's a specific qualitative statement about the state of the situation in the country where… you know, I think from what I've updated you today we're seeing schools, hospitals targeted, humanitarian workers unable to reach those who need to be… to be helped. And I think, again, to stress that we have to understand that, even before the fighting started, there were more people in need of humanitarian help in Yemen than throughout the whole of Sahel. Mr. Abbadi, you've been very patient.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the day of the reflection on the developments in Rwanda genocide, the French Government has decided to declassify some files pertaining to developments in the area at that time in 1994. Does the UN hold confidential files on the genocide and would it be willing to declassify them?
Spokesman: I think the UN files I think have been greatly examined in the Rwanda report. The rest of the files are in the archives. I can't tell you anything more. Erol.
Question: Follow‑up. Since we are commemorating the events of genocide in Rwanda and twentieth anniversary of genocide in Srebrenica, it would be fair to know which stage are the preparation at the UN regarding that event and what they are.
Spokesman: Okay. I will get you an update. Masood, and then Carol.
Question: Yes, Stéphane, I'd like to know whether the Secretary‑General has been briefed by P5+1 on the nuclear deal that has been reached by…
Spokesman: You know, there's been no formal briefing, and I would remind you that it's really a framework agreement they have reached.
Spokesman: The final agreement has yet to be reached, and the Secretary‑General very much hopes that it will be reached.
Correspondent: But, the thing is that he has not been briefed about the talks…
Spokesman: I'm not saying he hasn't. I'm just saying there's been no formal… formal briefing. Obviously, he's very much aware of the situation. He's been following it very closely, and he's being updated. But, there's been no formal briefing per se. Carol.
Question: On Yarmouk, who are you… who is… are UN officials talking to in terms of trying to get access to the camp? And… and… yes. Would the Syrians be helpful?
Spokesman: I think that my colleagues at UNRWA who are in Damascus are talking to whomever they need to talk to to try to get… to try to get access. I think that's… that's an issue that Mr. Krähenbühl, the Commissioner‑General, I think, touched upon in his press briefing. Yes. Go ahead and then we'll go in the back.
Question: With regard to… I think it's Article 99 of the Charter allows the Secretary‑General to bring issues to the Security Council. And in light of the fact that there's been no Security Council action supporting Saudi Arabia or other countries to bomb Yemen, is this something that the Secretary‑General…?
Spokesman: I think… the… the Security Council has been discussing the issue of Yemen.
Correspondent: But they're not support… they haven't…
Spokesman: I'm saying they… It's been… it's been…
Question: What's going on…?
Spokesman: It's been on their agenda.
Question: Back to Rwanda, last night at the commemoration, Ambassador Gasana said that the observance should be changed in title from Rwandan genocide to genocide against the Tutsis, is that something that the UN is considering sort of renaming in some respect?
Spokesman: Well, the official commemorations and the programme that is run by the Department of Public Information is done under the authority of a General Assembly resolution, and that's where we get our guidance. Matthew.
Question: Sure. I want to ask you two questions about Sudan. One is President Bashir gave a speech earlier today in El Fasher in Darfur which he described as very critical of the peacekeeping mission which he said what do we need UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] for? And I'm wondering, is the UN… since that's the base of UNAMID, what do they think of the speech? Where does it stand in terms of planned sort of drawdown? And there've been a series of leaked documents within the Sudanese Government which paint a pretty bad picture of Mr. Chambas and Mr. Menkerios. If the documents are true basically saying the Sudanese counted on them to side with them at every stage of the mediation. I'm wondering… I think Mr. Menkerios had said… declined comment… or one of them declined comment… one was traveling. So, I wanted to ask, what's the response…?
Spokesman: I will decline comment on leaked documents that may or may not be… may not be real. I haven't seen the speech. The strategic review and the drawdown… study of the drawdown is continuing.
Question: And on accessing Tabit, the site of the alleged rapes…?
Spokesman: No update.
Question: No update at all?
Spokesman: No update. Carol and we'll go…
Question: A question about Boko Haram. Is the Secretary‑General interested in setting up a Trust Fund to support the multinational force that is…?
Spokesman: Well, I think the… if I'm not mistaken, the issue of the multinational force is to come to the Security Council. Obviously, the Secretary‑General has called on countries in the region and others to support the multinational effort put together by the union. Yes, sir. Please.
Question: What's the Secretary‑General's stand on the military exercises of Russia, military parade?
Question: Day of victory.
Spokesman: You know, I think the commemoration of the end of [the Second World War] is an important commemoration – very important commemoration for Europe – extremely important commemoration for Russia in that sense, and countries mark that anniversary as they wish, and recognize the sacrifices made by the Russian people during that war. Mr. Carpenter.
Question: Follow‑up. What's the stand of the Serbian forces taking part into that parade while [European Union] is criticizing that?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the Russian Federation is free to invite whomever they want to participate in that parade. Mr. Carpenter, and then Edie.
Question: Stéphane, you said that unspeakable atrocities are being committed against Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk camp. Where is this information coming from?
Spokesman: Well, it's coming from our colleagues on the ground in UNRWA, from messages that are being… that are being passed out of the camp, but this is coming out from our colleagues at UNRWA. Edie and then we'll…
Question: Stéphane, there were reports today that Iran is sending a destroyer and other navy vessels to Yemen and with the [United States] announcing that it's sending military weapons to help its allies there, I wonder what the Secretary‑General's comment would be on that. And secondly, there's just been an announcement that the Islamic State group has released 200 Iraqi Yazidis who have been held for eight months, and I wonder what the Secretary‑General would comment on that.
Spokesman: I saw the pictures as I was getting ready for the briefing of the release. It's obviously a welcome one. I'm not aware of the circumstances of their… of their release, but obviously, any release of innocent civilians is to be welcomed. And I think one couldn't help but be moved by the pictures. On the second one, you know, we've seen those reports. I think we would encourage all to focus on de‑escalation and political solution in that effect. Mr. Abbadi, then Anna, and then Erol.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Later on this afternoon, the Secretary‑General is scheduled to meet with Hubert Vedrine, the former Foreign Minister of France. What is the subject of discussion?
Spokesman: As far as I know, it's a courtesy call. If it's anything else, I would let… I will let you know. Erol, and then Anna, and then Matthew.
Question: [Inaudible] are increasingly having opposing stance in the Middle East, especially in the conflict in Yemen. However, they do have… building their economic ties, et cetera. How the Secretary‑General view these visit in light of his concerns for the region, especially…?
Spokesman: No specific comment because we obviously don't know exactly what they spoke about, but dialogue between two leaders is always good. How's that? Anna.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Since the issue of genocide was raised, I think it's important to mention [the] 100-year anniversary of Armenian genocide which is going to be on 24 April, and lots of events are being planned globally in international circles, in different communities. Is UN planning something special about this…?
Spokesman: I will check if there are any events planned here. I will check with my colleagues at [the Department of Public Information]. Matthew.
Question: Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you again about this letter from the African Union about Western Sahara. You said you haven't seen it. I've heard since that Ms. Malcorra has seen it. Is there any response from the…?
Spokesman: It's been received. It's going through the channels and being processed as any letter from a regional organization would.
Question: Okay. And the other one has to do with the Pension Fund, as I alluded to. I wanted… I asked Farhan, then I asked you, whether the head of the investment committee of this $50 billion fund has resigned. And I wanted to ask now, that I've heard that a memo has gone to the Fifth Committee to that effect…
Spokesman: Yes, it has… he did leave. He did resign. And if I'm not mistaken, he said that after, I think, almost 10 years of service, he felt it was time to move on. We're obviously very grateful for the time and effort Mr. Pictet put into his role.
Question: I've heard also that his letter of resignation actually makes some criticism. Is that a full…?
Spokesman: No, I would… I would not agree with that assessment.
Question: Okay. And then… so, I guess… what's the process for actually appointing a new Chairperson of this $50 billion fund? What's the Secretary‑General's role…?
Spokesman: I will find out. Masood, Evelyn, and Nizar, and then I think we'll stop… then we'll stop this torture. Yours, not mine.
Correspondent: On Yemen… on Yemen, the thing is between United States helping Saudi Arabia and Iran coming into play also…
Spokesman: Masood, I beg of you. Please… you're using the microphone, but as you wave your hand, you move the microphone away from your mouth, and I can't hear you.
Question: I'm sorry. What I'm saying is between United States committing arms to Saudi and Iran coming into play, this is now promising to become a big sectarian, what do you call, crisis. Will the Secretary‑General at any point in time weigh on this particular…?
Spokesman: I think I kind of answered that question in my answer to Edie a few minutes ago.
Correspondent: Yeah. But the thing is…
Spokesman: [Inaudible] should focus on de-escalation, and as we have more and as the Secretary‑General speaks, we will share that with you. Yes. Go ahead. Sorry, Evelyn. Go ahead.
Question: Is there any news of how long Mr. Benomar is going to stay in this job?
Spokesman: Mr. Benomar continues as a Special Adviser with the full confidence of the Secretary‑General, and I think, as you've seen from his last… from his activities over the last few days, he continues to be very, very active.
Spokesman: I did pass over you and I'll come back to you. Go ahead.
Question: Well, my question is regarding two Red Cross aircraft were not allowed to land in Sana'a yesterday although they were given… they were bringing in relief. They were given the go‑ahead to go and then they were denied. Do you have any position on that?
Spokesman: I… I don't… I have to check with my Red Cross colleagues as to what exactly happened. What I can tell you is obviously it's critical that humanitarian aid be allowed free access to Yemen.Question: Thanks. ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham]. Almost everybody's referring to it as a Islamic State. While the… their actions are insult to Islam and to most of the Muslims. Would it… just a recommendation. Would it be possible to refer to that organization differently?
Spokesman: I think if you take a look, we have been referring to that organization mostly as Da'esh, and I think as the Secretary‑General and others have said, [Islamic State] is not a State and clearly a… very un‑Islamic.
Question: Can I follow up? Yes? No?
Question: Is that a recommendation for Secretary‑General to be… is that… if you refer to that organization as Da'esh, is that kind of [a] recommendation or appeal or what? How will you…
Spokesman: It's just a word that we've been using from here. Nizar.
Question: Well, encouraging such organizations or supporting them publicly or encouraging people to join them should be a crime since doing the same for any fascist organization is considered as a crime, incitement or encouraging to join them. Shouldn't it be applied equally on people's colours or petitions going out and showing support to this… such organizations?
Spokesman: Nizar, you're asking a dissertation‑worthy question. I think the Secretary‑General's stand against Da'esh and its actions has been clear and unambiguous. He's also called on Member States to do what they can to prevent people from joining, to stop people crossing borders who intend… who intend to join. So, I think I'll leave it at that. We will… Linda, you will have the last question and then I will leave.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I know you've addressed a lot of questions regarding Yemen today, and you've said that the [Secretary-General] is obviously calling for de‑escalation and favours a political solution. But, my question is, we know he's got various reps dealing with Yemen, but is he playing any kind of direct or personal role in perhaps speaking with both sides, the Saudi Arabian leadership, as well as Iranian?
Spokesman: He's been using the series of bilateral meetings he's had in the last week, whether it was on the sidelines of the League of Arab States meeting, in Baghdad, in Kuwait, to address… to address those various issues directly. He's following the situation very closely, and he is very directly involved. Thank you, all. Hasta mañana.
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