Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 April 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Welcome to the noon briefing, and I'm sorry about my voice.
The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., this morning, where he has been attending events at the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This morning, the Secretary-General and the World Bank and IMF heads heard from the Presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone about efforts to deal with the Ebola outbreak in those countries.
In the international response to Ebola, the Secretary-General said, we have seen multilateralism at its best. As a result, he said, we have seen a significant decline in new Ebola cases. The Secretary-General said that our marathon effort has been a success but that the last mile may be the most difficult.
He later told reporters that we must focus on reaching zero Ebola cases and staying there. He said that this is now the toughest stage of the response.
And just a short while ago, the Secretary-General met with President Koroma of Sierra Leone, and they discussed the need to reach zero cases and then focus on recovery.
Last night, the Secretary-General spoke at the National Press Club on the many crises that the United Nations faces. He called for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen by all the parties. He said that it is time to support corridors for lifesaving aid and a passage to real peace.
The Secretary-General also made a special plea on behalf of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, saying that they are caught between the military machine of the Syrian Government and the brutality of extremist groups, notably Da'esh.
The Secretary-General also announced that he will visit the Vatican later this month and meet with His Holiness Pope Francis to discuss common concerns, including the encyclical on the environment that he plans to issue in the months ahead. The transcript of his remarks is online.
He will continue his meetings at the World Bank today and he will also speak at the Global Citizens Concert at the Washington Mall tomorrow.
In Amman, Jordan, today, UN agencies and humanitarian partners launched a flash appeal asking for $274 million to meet the life-saving and protection needs of an estimated 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict in Yemen.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for the country stressed that ordinary families are struggling to access food, water, health care and fuel for their survival.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that airstrikes are now affecting 18 of Yemen's 22 Governorates. Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and there are serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 760 people have died and nearly 3,000 have been wounded between 19 March and 14 April. At least 150,000 people have been displaced. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns that this figure could rise significantly if violence continues.
An estimated 12 million people are now food insecure and food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) says that 160,000 children are in need of urgent therapeutic treatment for malnutrition. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services.
The appeal is expected to allow aid organizations to provide medical supplies, safe drinking water, food assistance, emergency shelter and other essential support for the next three months.
OCHA adds that access to people in need remains severely constrained by insecurity and logistical challenges, including difficulties in bringing emergency supplies and aid workers into Yemen.
More information on the humanitarian needs and the response is available online.
On Ukraine, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today said that it is increasingly worried that the dire human rights situation in areas of the eastern portion of the country is likely to deteriorate further due to breaches in the ceasefire.
There are reports of intensified fighting, especially in the vicinity of the Donetsk airport and near the village of Shyrokine in the Donetsk region, where heavy weapons, including mortars, artillery and tanks, are reportedly extensively used.
The Office said that since April 2014 until 14 April — that's Tuesday of this week — at least 6,116 people — both military personnel and civilians — have been killed and 15,474 wounded.
The Office said that the actual number of casualties could be considerably higher. Hundreds of people remain missing and hundreds of bodies are still pending recovery and/or identification.
Civilians continue to suffer seriously as a result of the protracted conflict.
The Office said that the protection of civilians must be the utmost priority, and that those violating human rights and international humanitarian law must be held accountable.
It also said that the killings in Kyiv of a former parliamentarian, Oleh Kalashnikov, and of two journalists, Oles Buzyna and Serhiy Sukhobok, are also very disturbing and must result in a swift, independent and credible investigation, shedding light on these crimes and ensuring justice and accountability for those responsible.
And I expect to have something on this from the Secretary-General shortly.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Head of the [UN] Mission in the country, Martin Kobler, condemned today the murderous attack on civilians in Matiba, in the North Kivu Province.
He said he was deeply shocked by the killings and that it was absolutely necessary that the Congolese Army and MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) resume their cooperation.
The attack is suspected to be an assault from the Allied Democratic Forces, or the ADF.
The UN refugee agency on Friday welcomed Government efforts to contain a wave of xenophobia in South Africa but said it was extremely concerned about the attacks in the past three weeks that have killed six people and displaced more than 5,000 foreigners.
Those uprooted include refugees and asylum-seekers.
A UNHCR team has been sent to the coastal city of Durban to assess the situation and identify where the organization can support Government and civil society partners in their response.
The displaced are grouped in four tented shelters established by the local Disaster Management Centre.
South Africa currently hosts some 65,000 refugees and 295,000 asylum-seekers.
And you'll recall that yesterday, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed its concern on this issue.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, is seeking an immediate injection of $30 million to provide life-sustaining assistance to civilians in the Yarmouk refugee camp.
This appeal, which is calling for funds, is part of the UNRWA Syria Crisis Appeal, which provides critical humanitarian support to 480,000 Palestine refugees throughout Syria and to those displaced to Lebanon and Jordan.
Over the past days, UNRWA has significantly expanded its response in areas neighbouring Yarmouk, where civilians from Yarmouk have sought shelter. Yesterday, UNRWA was able to hold a fourth distribution to Yalda, an area that the Agency previously had not had presence. It adds that despite intermittent distributions of aid, the situation in Yarmouk is one of extraordinary misery.
And you can find more information on this on UNRWA's website.
On Iraq, aid agencies and local authorities report that an estimated 25,000 people have fled central Ramadi District because of military operations launched on 8 April. The families have reportedly fled to places including Khaldiya, Habaniyah and Baghdad.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners have provided initial emergency aid, including food, water, mattresses and hygiene items, to recently displaced families.
Additional assistance will be provided in the coming days. Medical NGOs have been mobilized to provide mobile health clinics in Baghdad and its surrounding areas.
We would also like to flag the launch in Washington of a new independent fund, called the Power of Nutrition, which is backed by leading organizations from private philanthropy and international development, including the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
It aims to unlock $1 billion to tackle child undernutrition in some of the world's poorest countries.
There is a press release on UNICEF's website with more details.
And for the honour roll, Serbia has paid its dues, and it is now the seventy-fourth Member State to pay its contribution in full.
On Monday, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the opening of the fourteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
And then at 1 p.m., there will be a briefing on financing for development by the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and the Director of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs' Financing for Development Office.
**Questions and Answers
And that's all I have. I'm not sure how long I'll last for questions, but please bear with me.
Go ahead. Oh, thank you so much. That's very kind of you. Thank you.
Question: I wanted to ask about the position of Yemen Special Adviser. And the reason I'm asking, and I know that yesterday Stéphane said, you know, he wouldn't speak about it, but Mauritania's ambassador to the UN, Mr. Khaled Alyemany, has given an interview, and he said that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is the only candidate and will be named. And so I wanted, this seems pretty extreme with a PR here saying that. So, one, I wanted your reaction, the reaction of your office. And I also wanted to know whether the Secretary-General has considered any women candidates for this job, in particular Lisa Buttenheim, the current Cyprus one, and whether he believes that countries, that countries concerned, particularly Saudi Arabia, should be able to take a Special Adviser of either gender. Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: Thank you for your question. We've seen the reports. They've been quite extensive. We have nothing to report on this announcement. Oh, thank you much. We've seen, we have nothing to report on an announcement, as Stéphane said from here yesterday. When we have something, we'll let you know. And just to let you know, there's no set candidate yet. So, but we will let you know as soon as we…
Question: And do you anything… is it… I mean, I understand the UN is owned by its Member States, but is this process helped by the Permanent Representative of a country saying openly our guy has the job, or is that helpful to the process?
Associate Spokesperson: You know, we're consulting with all of our partners in figuring out who the next Special Adviser will be, and Permanent Representatives are free to air their opinions and we take all of their advice into account. Yes.
Question: It seems the demand by the Secretary‑General for ceasefire in Yemen from all parties has been unheeded. The aerial bombardment has intensified today. Also, the al-Qaida has controlled a seaport. I don't know how all parties should adhere to this call. Does that include al‑Qaida? Also, are the Houthis attacking the Saudis so that the Saudis are — how does the Secretary-General figure out all these complications, complex situation?
Associate Spokesperson: I think, you know, his message has been quite simple. I mean, as you saw and as you just said, yesterday he did call for an immediate ceasefire, and that applies to all parties, regardless of affiliation, and he's also mentioned several times the need to counter the influence of extremist groups. And he said that we need to tackle the root causes of these groups. Conflicts only allow such extremist groups to kind of exploit that space. So I think that is what he would say to that.
Question: How does the Secretary-General view these reports coming from Yemen showing that the aerial, the Saudi aircraft are dropping weapons to areas controlled by al-Qaida, especially in Hadramawt area, where they now control most of the city, which is a very big city?
Associate Spokesperson: As you know, we only read the same reports that you do, so his call would be the same. You know, he also stressed yesterday the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen. And he has — first and foremost on his mind is obviously the protection of civilians, and I think that's what he would say.
Question: But where does the Human Rights Council stand from what's happening in Yemen? We don't hear much about…
Associate Spokesperson: You would have to ask the Human Rights Council about that. Lou.
Question: I just wanted to follow up on that, since my understanding is that the Saudis are not speaking to Benomar and have not been speaking to him for some time. So who is the — who is the UN's interlocutor with the Saudis? Is it the SG or his office himself? And did he get any, has he spoken to them since he made his call for a complete and immediate ceasefire last night?
Associate Spokesperson: You know, contacts continue at all levels. So — and I'm not quite sure if he's been in touch with the Saudis since last night, but as you will recall, last night, he did say that the Secretary-General was assured by the Saudis that they do understand that there must be a political process, which is in line with the Secretary-General's call for a UN-supported diplomatic process being the only way forward to resolve this situation.
Question: Just a quick follow-up. Yeah, he did say that, but, he was quite clear, an immediate ceasefire. And also, to sort of balance it out, is he in touch with the Houthis at all? With Benomar leaving and not being able to communicate with all of the sides or all of the players, how is this being worked out?
Associate Spokesperson: Mr. Benomar — the announcement of his moving on does not imply that the UN has stopped working on the issue. Rather to the contrary. We're still investing all of our efforts, so contacts with different parties at whatever level we need to still continue, and this is one of our top priorities and it will remain so. Go ahead.
Question: Again, I'm sorry, but on this same topic, and I just want to, because events seem to be moving pretty quickly. As to Mr. Cheikh Ahmed, because he's publicly listed as a candidate, I wanted to ask, I've looked at the public financial disclosure of UN officials and I haven't found his name. And I wanted to know — seems like it might — without trying to cast aspersion, it might — if the purpose of those disclosures is whether people have outside business interests, is there some way that your office can say why it's not there? And if so, if he's filed one and it hasn't gone online yet. And I want to ask a specific question whether he has any roles in businesses that have received financing from Gulf countries.
Associate Spokesperson: We do not know. I don't have any information on that. But we will check and get back to you.
Question: One more?
Associate Spokesperson: Go ahead.
Question: Just because, this is another thing that seems to be… you may be aware of it. It seems like the Secretary-General, while he's been down in D.C., was asked about the developments in the press in South Korea about the individual, Mr. Sung Wan-jong, who committed suicide, but apparently before he did, said that he had very close ties with Ban Ki-moon. That's why he was being prosecuted and said that they developed the Chungcheong Forum together. So I just wanted to, so if you could say from here — I understand that he said it's an unfortunate development. How… what was his relationship to the individual who committed suicide? Why does he think his name has come up in connection with this scandal? And does he have some kind of statement of…
Associate Spokesperson: I mean, all we have to say about this is we've seen the reports, and as we've said from this podium and the Secretary‑General has himself said many times, his focus is on his job currently and not on Korean domestic politics.
Question: No, no, sure. It's less a question about running for office there, then so much as if somebody, right before they commit suicide, says, it's kind of like "Rosebud", he said Ban Ki-moon, does he…
Associate Spokesperson: We have no comment. [laughter] We have no comment. Okay.
Question: Okay. I'm sorry.
Associate Spokesperson: No, no. Appreciate that. Yes.
Question: Do you have anything regarding the killing today of Izzat al-Douri, who was a senior aide to Saddam Hussein and who is one of the leaders in Da'esh in Iraq?
Associate Spokesperson: We've seen reports; we don't have anything. If we do, we'll let you know. Please.
Question: Is anything specifically planned relating to the anniversary of the Armenian, what many call, a genocide? Is the Secretary-General going to make any specific statement? If so, is he going to use the term genocide in referring to those atrocities?
Associate Spokesperson: We don't have any plans yet for the Secretary-General's participation in an event commemorating that, but if we do, we will let you know.
Question: Is there any consideration being given to him making a specific statement, because I think this is the 100th anniversary.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, it is. We have no plans on the table yet. But if that changes, we will let you know for sure.
Question: All right. Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: Go ahead.
Question: Hat's off. You really turned it around.
Associate Spokesperson: I'm so sorry.
Question: No, no. It's really — congrat — so I wanted to ask about the Sudan election, just because it seems like the… the polls are closed. People are saying there was only 30 per cent turnout, and 18 students have been arrested from the University of El Fasher for protesting what they call a scam election. Is the Secretariat going to have any statement down the road on the election and do you have any response to, or reaction or comment on the arrest of these students?
Associate Spokesperson: We've seen the reports. We have no reaction for now.
Associate Spokesperson: Is that it? Great. Thank you for bearing with me. I'm so sorry, and have great weekend.
Question: Feel better.
Associate Spokesperson: Thank you.
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