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

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

23 April 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon. 

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council open debate on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace, a bit earlier this morning.  Addressing Council members, including the Crown Prince of Jordan, who is apparently the youngest person ever to preside over a Security Council meeting, the Secretary-General stressed that the role of youth lies at the heart of international peace and security.  He added that we have to encourage young people to take up the causes of peace, diversity and mutual respect.

The Secretary-General said that, while some young people commit heinous acts of violence, the overwhelming majority yearn for peace.  He called on the international community to give youth the "license" to steer our future and a seat at the negotiating table, adding that since they pay a price for the fighting, they deserve to help structure the healing.  His full remarks are available in my office and online. 


Also on the continuing issues in the Mediterranean, I just want to flag that there was a joint statement issued ahead of the European Union Summit on migration, which is taking place in Brussels today.  That joint statement was issued by the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration and Development, Peter Sutherland, and the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, Ambassador William Lacy Swing. 

In their statement, the officials strongly urge European leaders to put human life, rights, respect and dignity first when agreeing upon a common response to the humanitarian crisis ongoing in the Mediterranean.  They say the European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach, as enforcement alone will not solve the issue of irregular migration, but could increase the risks and abuse faced by migrants and refugees. 

The range of measures under consideration should include the setting of a State-led, robust, proactive and well-resourced search-and-rescue operation; the creation of sufficient channels for safe and regular migration; and a firm commitment to receive significantly higher numbers of refugees.  That statement is also available online. 


Turning to the humanitarian situation in Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said today that the escalating conflict over the past four weeks has worsened an already large-scale humanitarian crisis in that country.  He added that the supply of food, fuel, water and electricity across the country has been disrupted.  Schools, health facilities and private homes have been damaged or destroyed.  An estimated 2 million children are unable to attend school.  The country's health system is at imminent risk of collapse due to shortages of medical supplies and fuel for generators.

The Coordinator also welcomed any initiatives that seek to reduce the level of violence, notably shelling and coalition airstrikes in populated areas that harm civilians and civilian infrastructure.  Mr. van der Klaauw added that humanitarian pauses are urgently needed to safely bring aid workers and supplies into the country and for the aid to reach millions of people in need.  This requires the support of all parties to the conflict to facilitate the safe passage of aid and unimpeded access for humanitarians to affected areas, in accordance with international humanitarian law. 


Also, the Iraqi Government, according to our humanitarian colleagues, the Iraqi Government estimates that more than 100,000 people have now been displaced from Ramadi District and surrounding areas in Anbar Province.  OCHA says that the majority of new arrivals are dispersed across multiple locations, hampering rapid response efforts by both the Government and aid agencies.  In Anbar, UNHCR [Office of the High Commission for Refugees] and its partner have distributed relief items including blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans and plastic sheeting to over 15,000 people.

In Baghdad Governorate, food distribution continues, with the World Food Programme having provided food to more than 76,000 people displaced from Ramadi in Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala since the beginning of the response.  An estimated 2.7 million people have been displaced across Iraq since January of last year due to ongoing violence, making it one of the most complex humanitarian crises in the world.  This is in addition to 250,000 Syrian refugees that Iraq is hosting, as well as an estimated one million Iraqis displaced over the past decade. 

**South Sudan

Also on the humanitarian front, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, called today for the unconditional freedom of movement for aid workers, in response to deteriorating conditions for humanitarian organizations in Pagak, in Upper Nile State.  Aid workers have left the area until conditions improve, after being harassed and threatened.  His statement is online.

Meanwhile in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State, the UN Mission [in South Sudan] (UNMISS) reports that fighting resumed, including around an airport which is located about a kilometre south of the Mission's compound.  More IDPs [internally displaced persons] are arriving at the Mission's site.  As a reminder, we now have about 119,000 people sheltered in UN compounds across South Sudan, which continues to be an unfortunate record. 


Ahead of World Malaria Day, which is this Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on the global health community to urgently address significant gaps in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria.  Despite dramatic declines in malaria cases and deaths since 2000, more than half a million lives are still lost to this preventable disease each year. 

In 2013, only about 1 in 5 African children with malaria received effective treatment for the disease, 15 million pregnant women did not receive a single dose of the recommended preventive drugs, and an estimated 278 million people in Africa still live in households without a single insecticide-treated bed net.  More information on the World Health Organization's website. 


Also on health matters, the UN's Children Fund (UNICEF) and partners are supporting a massive campaign to immunize 7.9 million children vaccinated against measles in Sudan, following one of the worst outbreaks in the country in its recent history.  West Darfur remains the worst affected State, and the immunization campaign will be a complex operation, as ongoing conflict in some areas of Sudan could restrict access.  If you are interested, look at the UNICEF website. 

**Press Conference

As soon as you are done with me, we will be joined at 12:30 p.m. by DESA, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, to brief you on the fourteenth Session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration. 

**Western Sahara

Mr. Lee, you had asked about Western Sahara:  MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] has received reports of violence during a protest in Laayoune last week that resulted in protesters being injured.  The Mission has been in touch with the relevant authorities and will continue to follow up.  Khalas.  Mr. Abbadi, then Mr. Lee.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to the dire situation in Yemen, as you described it, the sanitation system is about to collapse and women and children remain without food and water.  Why doesn't the Secretary‑General, in the framework of article 19-9, the good offices article, recommend the Security Council the establishment of humanitarian corridors in Yemen?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, the Secretary… if you look at what the Secretary‑General said, has been saying over the last few days, I think that is very much the focus of what we're looking for, is a cessation of the violence to have humanitarian aid come in urgently.  We're not seeing that as of now.  And we hope… and keep calling for it and we hope it will happen soon.  I think as we've been saying from this podium for the last four weeks, the humanitarian situation in Yemen was desperate before the fighting and has only gotten a lot worse.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Also on Yemen, this morning, a P‑5 ambassador told me Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is the man.  And so, given the questions that have arisen here, I wanted to ask you three times at least, and maybe it's like Western Sahara, you just have to keep asking, but the question of public financial disclosure.  The 2014 version on the Secretary‑General's website, which lists many deputy SRSGs [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General] doesn't even list the gentleman's name.  One, I wanted to know why he's not listed there, but, two, the question I raised is just whether… a simple yes or no… whether he has any financial interest in a business which has received financing from Gulf States.  And…

Spokesman:  I will check… I will check the issue of the financial disclosure.  Okay did you have another question?

Question:  I do.  I do.  It's another one you're going to like.  It has to do with Armenia, which I know there were a lot of questions, but given that we're coming up on 24 April, I wanted to ask, there's a big commemoration that's being done there.  And I wanted to know, is there anyone from the UN system… maybe you've answered and I missed it, but is there anyone from the U.N. system, whether the… Mr. Dieng's office or somebody else, that will be attending that commemoration?

Spokesman:  Mr. Møller, Michael Møller, the head of the UN office in Geneva, will be in Yerevan, and there is… I think there is a side symposium not tied, where Mr. Dieng, Adama Dieng, will have a video message.

Question:  And can we get their…?

Spokesman:  Mr. Møller has no speaking role.  He's there to represent the Secretary‑General.  Mr. Dieng's video message, as soon as it's broadcast, the text will be made available to you.  Sir?

Question:  Johannes [inaudible] German television ZDF.  On the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, I have a question.  The General‑Secretary and others are criticizing the European countries on how they deal with the crisis.  What exactly is he criticizing and does he suggest any or what kind of steps does he suggest to the European countries to take?

Spokesman:  The big focus is on the loss of life.  And our immediate work is on preventing the loss of life at sea and to put together a robust rescue‑at‑sea operation.  We had Mare Nostrum before.  That operation is no longer working.  So, the immediate step is to get a robust rescue‑at‑sea operation.  That needs to be supported by all of the European Union.  I think the Italians, the Greeks, the Maltese have been carrying a huge burden in those terms and they need… it's a burden that needs to be shared.  Obviously, I think, as we just heard from the joint statement of these four senior officials, we need to have countries all over the world really and including in Europe absorb more refugees.  We need more streamlined process and we need to ensure that people are treated with dignity.  But, we need to put the… at this point, this very point, we really need to put their safety and saving of lives at the centre.  Sir?

Question:  Yeah.  Today, while relief aircraft was landing in Sana'a airport, the Saudi coalition targeted the vicinity of the airport itself.  The reporters were watching that.  How does the United Nations view such an action by the Saudi coalition?

Spokesman:  Sorry, can you ask again because there was noise behind you…?

Question:  I ask again.  While reporters were watching an airplane landing in Sana'a, the Saudi… a Saudi bombardment started in the vicinity of Sana'a airport.  How does United Nations view such an action?

Spokesman:  I don't have any particular information on the incident you mention, but it's clear that relief needs to get in to Sana'a and to Aden and to other places in Yemen, and humanitarian convoys, humanitarian planes need to be granted safe passage.

Question:  Health workers in Sana'a speak about this attack which happened few days ago against the area called Faj Attan was unconventional and people who inhaled the fumes coming out from that explosion speak about chemical weapons used in this process.

Spokesman:  Well, we've seen from press reports that the target of the attack seems to be a military depot of some sort, and we can only imagine what sort of chemical compounds, you know, having to do with missiles are kept there.  I think the point is, is that we need to see an end to the violence.  We've seen too much suffering…

Question:  How do you establish that it was…?

Spokesman:  I'm just saying we've seen those press… those press reports.

Correspondent:  Well, the video showed that there was one single explosion only, which was the bomb…

Spokesman:  That's what I have for you, my friend.  Yes, sir.  Then we'll go to Olga.

Question:  Thank you.  [Inaudible].  Three days ago, the Special Representative, United Nations Special Representative in Iraq met with Kurdistan region Government Prime Minister and the topic was about the new humanitarian crisis.  There are… thousands are coming to the Northern region and the Kurdish Government says:  we are not having enough… enough help from the United Nations.  Is there any urgent support from the UN that will go to…?

Spokesman:  Of course, we know the authorities in Kurdistan have been carrying a huge burden, not only of displaced Iraqis, but displaced Syrians.  The UN, through its humanitarian appeals, is trying to fund as much… as large an operation as possible.  That appeal, if I'm not mistaken, like many others, is underfunded, and we repeatedly appeal to Member States to help fund these humanitarian appeals.  But, obviously, the situation in the north of Iraq is a great focus of our work.  Olga and then Stefano.

Question:  Thank you.  Next week, the Conference of Treaty of Non-Proliferation starts at the UN.  Does the Secretary‑General have expectations that some talks on Iranian nuclear issue will take place on the sidelines of this conference?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we wish the session be as successful as possible.  On the Iranian talks, again, these are taking place outside of the UN framework, the P5+1 and Iran.  The Secretary‑General very much hopes that those talks will be concluded and a final agreement will be reached within the deadline.  But, I have no information as to whether any of the talks will happen on the sidelines here.  Señor Stefano.

Question:  Thank you.  Again on the situation of the migrants:  on the specific proposal, there are lists that have been circulating in Europe, of destroying… they didn't specify how, but destroying those vessels when they're empty hopefully in Libya.  What the UN… what does the Secretary‑General of the UN think about this idea?  They of course should have the approval of the Security Council.  What on this specific…?

Spokesman:  I think we're… we've expressed our opinion through this joint statement.  We'll see what comes out of the EU [European Union] Council.  I don't know if you raised this yesterday or someone else.  I think it's important that the focus… the lead responses crisis not be a security response and that whatever response is taken, that the safety of the migrants is at the heart of it.  Yes, sir, and then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Just a follow‑up question.  How robust the General‑Secretary thinks a robust action should be?  What does he mean with robust?

Spokesman:  Robust rescue-at-sea is… means a naval operation that will… to the best ability… to the best of its ability avoid the tragedy we've seen in the last few days where, in one… 800 people perished at sea.  It's about having the assets — the naval assets, the air assets — in place to prevent tragedy as much as possible.  What we've seen now is that the operation that is currently in place is not sufficient.  Again, the Italian Navy has done — and the Coast Guard and others have done a tremendous job, but it's not enough.  And I think it's not just an opinion, it's a fact when you see the number of people that have died in recent days.

Question:  Does it… sorry.  Does…?

Spokesman:  You have to turn your microphone on.

Question:  Sorry.  Does robust also include actions on the ships before they leave harbour?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, one of the… it's not a coincidence that most of these ships are leaving from Libya, which is not able to have an effective control of its borders, whether it's land border or sea borders.  That's why the political action, the political talks we are facilitating on Libya, that's one of the reasons they are so important, it is to enable the Libyans to have a strong government that's able to control its borders and obviously, that's part of the solution.  There are many parts of this solution, part of the solutions is also about having a real fundamental dialogue between the destination countries, the countries of origin and the transit countries, to ensure that people are safe and that their rights as migrants and refugees are respected, and that the rights of receiving countries are also respected.  But, it's about ensuring people's safety and their dignity.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Two press freedom questions.  One is in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, there have been recent sort of crackdowns on the press, but it's culminated in the editor of something called Nova TV facing death threats, a funeral wreath with a message "final farewell" nailed to his door, so various international organizations have spoken on this and I wondered: is it something that the UN has any view on?

Spokesman:  Our stand on freedom of the press and, of course, standing against harassment of journalists stands.  We'll take a look at this particular case.

Question:  And then I want… this is a longer standing case.  In Ethiopia, there are these Free Zone 9 bloggers.  It's coming up on one year they've been in jail for terrorism, basically saying they were going to blog.  So people, CPJ and others… I guess my question is: given that the UN is there, in Addis, with a big Headquarters, do they have any view of the detention of these individuals now for a year?

Spokesman:  Let me see what I can get.  Nizar, and then I want to go home.

Question:  In one of the raids against Yemen, Yemen Today television was targeted; four journalists and staff members were killed in the process.  How does United Nations view that?

Spokesman:  I think in… we need to see an end to the violence a cessation of the violence that we're seeing in Yemen, and as any conflict, unfortunately, recent conflict, conflict these days, we see the deliberate targeting of journalists and the media.  I don't know about this particular case, if this was, in fact, the particular case, but journalists need to be protected and journalistic institutions need to be protected.  Go ahead, Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, Ban Ki‑moon, speaking to the press, said that he already communicated his choice of successor to Mr. Benomar to the Security Council of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] States.  Does that mean that anybody he will choose or he has already chosen would be needed to be confirmed by the members of the Security Council?

Spokesman:  It's the usual process where the Secretary‑General would inform the Council and the Council would take note.  It's a basic diplomatic ballet which we go through most occasions when we appoint a Special Envoy, an Adviser, who has the full backing of the Security Council and a mandate from the Security Council.  Thank you all.  I wish you a great day.  I'll see you tomorrow, unless I can avoid it, but I'll be here.

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