Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 April 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
This morning, UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, the World Food Programme's Ertharin Cousin as well as the High Commissioner for Refugees and his Special Envoy Actress Angelina Jolie [Pitt] briefed the Security Council on the Syria humanitarian crisis.
Ms. Amos called for the numbness to the senseless violence and apparent apathy to end. She stressed that there is no humanitarian solution to the Syria crisis, adding that the only solution is through political dialogue that reduces and ultimately ends the violence.
She appealed to Council members to look seriously at all the options at its disposal. She urged them to demand that education and health facilities become zones of peace. And she also called on them to mandate a fact-finding mission to complement the work of the Commission of Inquiry.
As I mentioned, Ms. Cousin, Mr. Guterres and Ms. Jolie Pitt also spoke, and I expect the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Humanitarian Coordinator and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme to go to the stakeout at the end of the Council meeting.
Just as a note, UN agencies report that more than 220,000 people have been killed so far and over 1 million have been injured. An estimated 7.6 million people remain displaced within Syria and nearly 4 million people have fled to neighbouring countries.
Also on Syria, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will brief the Security Council in closed consultations. And he has told me that he will speak to you at the stakeout afterwards, and that will be later in the afternoon.
Also, you will have seen that our colleagues in Geneva today announced that the invitations for the Geneva Consultations went out a couple of days ago to as many stakeholders as possible, primarily Syrian and also other regional and international players.
The consultations would start at the Palais des Nations in the first week of May and last a number of weeks. Consultations with individual delegations will be aimed at taking stock of where they think we are now, almost three years after the Geneva Communiqué was approved.
And on this Sunday, the Secretary-General will depart New York. His first stop will be Italy, where he is expected to meet with Prime Minister [Matteo] Renzi of Italy on Monday. Obviously migration will be very high on the agenda.
On the morning of Tuesday, 28 April, the Secretary-General will have a private meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis.
He will then attend the opening of a workshop organized by the Vatican entitled "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity".
That same afternoon, he will then go on to Paris, where he is scheduled to meet the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He will address an extraordinary meeting of OECD Ambassadors.
On Wednesday, the Secretary-General will attend the opening meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) of the United Nations, which as you know brings together the heads of the organizations across the UN system.
While in Paris, he is also expected to deliver an address to the students at the Institut d'études politiques [de Paris], otherwise known as Sciences Po. He is also expected to have a bilateral meeting with President [François] Hollande of France, as well as his Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius.
And we will obviously keep you updated on the Secretary-General's activities throughout the week and he is expected back in New York on Friday.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with Mr. Nikos Kotzias, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece. They exchanged views on the "name" dispute between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They also discussed the state of play in the talks for a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.
Additionally, the Secretary-General and the Minister for Foreign Affairs also discussed the various ways to ensure protection of migrants and refugees who are making the journey across the Mediterranean Sea. They exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East as well.
On a related note, as part of his ongoing efforts, Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, also met with Nikos Kotzias to discuss the UN-brokered talks aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the "name" issue.
Right now, the Secretary-General is taking part in a meeting of the Partnership Group for Myanmar. We hope to have more information for you with a readout of that meeting when it concludes.
From Geneva, our colleagues at the UN refugee agency today said that the measures announced this week in Luxembourg and Brussels on migration are an important first step towards a collective European action.
The Agency says this is the only approach that can work for a problem of such a large and transnational nature.
It welcomes in particular the tripling of funding for joint maritime operations and appreciates the assurance given that this will mean an operation with similar capacity, resources and scope as the Mare Nostrum operation.
It also adds that it is crucial that everyone's focus is on saving lives, including the Libyan search-and-rescue area, which is where more most of the distress calls tend to come from.
More is available on UNHCR's website as part of their briefing notes.
This comes after decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion, and in the wake of a recent article in the Sun newspaper calling migrants "cockroaches".
The High Commissioner called on all European countries to take a firmer line on racism and xenophobia, which he said under the guise of freedom of expression are being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of migrants, as well as of marginalized European minorities such as the Roma.
The High Commissioner added that the nasty underbelly of racism that is characterizing the migration debate in an increasing number of EU countries has skewed the EU response to the migrant crisis, which, as we saw in the results of the EU Council deliberations, focuses on deterrence and on prevention of movement at all costs.
The full statement is available online.
Just an update regarding Yemen: UNICEF today said that at least 140 children have been recruited by armed groups. It added that as the conflict enters its fifth week, children remain the most vulnerable. Urgent action is needed to end grave violations against children, including their recruitment and use by armed groups, with parties to the conflict meeting their obligations under international law.
Our colleagues at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also added that it continues to receive disturbing reports of the humanitarian situation, including hospitals being unable to mobilize ambulances due to the lack of fuel and morgues not being able to keep up with the number of casualties in Yemen.
It urged all sides to the conflict to ensure that international human rights law and international humanitarian law are respected, and to ensure that all measures are taken to ensure that civilians are protected.
It called all sides to ensure that the humanitarian aid — that is so desperately needed — reaches people in Yemen.
An update from Mali, a UN vehicle was struck yesterday by a landmine around Kidal, in northern Mali, injuring seven peacekeepers from the UN Mission in the country, six of them seriously.
The Mission condemns this new terrorist act that aims to paralyze its operations in Mali and counter all efforts to restore lasting peace in the country.
We have been asked in the past, recently on the situation in Guinea: I can tell you that we are in fact concerned over reports of violence between security forces and opposition protesters that took place yesterday, which reportedly resulted in the death of one person and the wounding of four others.
The United Nations encourages all parties to exercise calm and restraint and to work together to resolve differences through dialogue and consensus in the spirit of the accord agreed to 3 July 2013.
It also urges Guinean stakeholders to continue to maintain the focus on the fight against Ebola, which requires national cohesion and solidarity.
As you know, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, is currently in Conakry [Guinea] to consult with President Alpha Condé, political actors and other national stakeholders.
From South Sudan, [more than] 280 children have been freed in the final release of children from the Cobra Faction, which is an armed group in that country. It is the last of a series of releases that have taken place since January following a peace agreement between the faction and the Government of South Sudan.
Prior to each release, UNICEF and the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) members conducted an intensive and detailed screening and verification process with each child.
A total of 1,757 children have now been released from the Cobra Faction since January.
Our friends at UNICEF have a press release on that.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we can confirm that yesterday, at around 5 p.m. local time, three UNMAS-contracted personnel travelling on the Goma-Rutshuru road in North Kivu Province were abducted by unidentified armed people.
Contact has been made with the alleged perpetrators and the United Nations is working with relevant parties on the ground to resolve the situation. As the situation is ongoing and in order to promote the safety of our colleagues, we will have no further comment at this point.
And from Darfur, the UN Mission says today it has repelled two attacks by unidentified armed men in Kass, South Darfur.
The ensuing exchange of fire resulted in at least four attackers killed and six peacekeepers and one assailant injured.
The first attack took place yesterday when about 40 gunmen on horses and camels opened fire on UN peacekeepers protecting a water point; the second attack was against a patrol in the morning.
The African Union-United Nations Acting Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Abiodun Bashua, condemned these attacks.
He called on the Government of Sudan to speedily investigate the incidents, saying that the continuing climate of impunity and failure to prosecute those who attack peacekeepers and humanitarian workers has to end.
On Burundi, the members of the diplomatic community and regional organizations met today in the capital Bujumbura, under the auspices of the United Nations, to assess the situation.
They took note of progress in preparation of the elections and strongly encouraged the Government, political parties and civil society organizations to refrain from any acts of violence and intimidation before, during and after the elections.
Their statement is available in my office.
For the first time since the start of the Ebola outbreak, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are conducting major nationwide immunization campaigns.
UNICEF-supported campaigns against measles and polio, among others, aim to vaccinate more than 3 million children, after immunization programs and routine health interventions were seriously disrupted by the epidemic.
**Senior Personnel Appointments
A couple more things: two senior appointments to announce:
The Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Ali Al-Za'tari of Jordan as his new Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), where he will also serve as UN Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
As you know, Mr. Al-Za'tari succeeds Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania who served as D-SRSG from March to December 2014.
We are also appointing Philippe Lazzarini of Switzerland as the Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon where he will serve as Resident Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Representative in the Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), who as you know is Sigrid Kaag.
Mr. Lazzarini succeeds Ross Mountain of New Zealand. The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Mountain for his leadership and distinguished service in coordinating the United Nations humanitarian and development efforts in Lebanon, particularly in response to the Syrian crisis.
Full bios are in my office.
On Armenia, I misspoke yesterday concerning Mr. Adama Dieng. In fact, the side symposium in Yerevan, for which Dieng sent a video message, wrapped up yesterday. We're trying to get you more details and a copy of that message.
Today we say Shukran, and Спасибо, as both Iraq and the Russian Federation have paid their regular budget dues in full, bringing the total number of countries that have paid up to 77.
**Press Conferences Monday
If you thought today was busy.
Monday, 10:00 a.m., briefing organized by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein on procedures related to the appointment of the UN Secretary-General.
And at 11:00 a.m., there will be a press conference by UN Women on the launch of their flagship report "Progress of the World's Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights".
12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and I will be sandwiched in the between.
At 2:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano.
And finally, at 3:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Spokesperson for the Foreign Minister of Japan, Ken Okaniwa.
Before I take your questions, I just wanted to [say] a personnel note that today will be the last time I brief in the presence of a dear colleague.
Abi, who is standing in the back, is retiring from the UN after almost 35 years of service, having served five Secretaries-General, and I would hate to count how many Spokespeople she had to endure.
The bulk of her career has been, as you know, to take care of you during photo-ops, special events and our annual jamboree at the General Assembly. I don't think I can think of anyone with a bigger heart than Abi. She has always been there for her colleagues and her friends and you, and I will miss her calm presence in the back of this room where she is often the only friendly face that I have.
**Questions and Answers
Back to business. Mr. Lee. Anna, Masood. Go ahead.
Question: I want to ask you quickly about two letters. One has to do with… there's a press conference that was just… still taking place, I believe, by this group called Women Cross DMZ, and added about an upcoming march they intend to go from North to South Korea, and they said they wrote to Ban Ki‑moon asking for his response and they got a response from the mission of South Korea which they somehow attributed to him, but did he receive a letter from this group? What does he think of the march?
Spokesman: I will check if they received the letter.
Question: Okay. I'm also informed of a letter from political parties in Yemen, including those representing Houthis and others, directed at the Secretary‑General making two requests. One, that Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed not be named as a replacement to Mr. [Jamal] Benomar and that someone be appointed or retained who actually they will speak with. And I wanted to know… you may not know of this letter yet, but I'm reliably informed it is either there or on its way…
Spokesman: All right. I will look for the letter.
Question: And I guess my question would be, do you… has the Secretary‑General… since we've already… we've heard from some of the ambassadors from the Security Council that he's put forward a name. Did he put any effort to speak to the parties on the ground in Yemen, the actual Yemenis?
Spokesman: I think the… when we're ready to announce the person, we will. Obviously, for a… an appointment as delicate as this… as this ongoing… to represent the Secretary‑General in this ongoing crisis, it is normal to have as broad of a consultation as possible, and what is obviously extremely important is that once that envoy is named, that adviser is named, that all the parties give him access and engage with him.
Question: If you get the letter, will you squawk it? Does it mean that these parties that wrote…
Spokesman: I think…
Question: …once consulted…
Spokesman: It's an ongoing humanitarian crisis. It's an ongoing conflict. And we are trying to get the political process back on track. So we'd like to have a special envoy as soon as… a Special Adviser as soon as possible, and again hope that all the parties engage with him.
Question: Didn't you have one? That's my question. Didn't you actually have a Special Adviser?
Spokesman: Yes, we have Mr. Benomar…
Question: Is it your understanding that he's entirely unwilling to continue in the post?
Spokesman: Well, I think he's… he's… he's expressed his desire to move on and, as we said, we are… we're in the process of naming somebody shortly.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I just wanted to ask why UN failed to recognize the first genocide of the twentieth century, the Armenian genocide, where million and a half Armenians were murdered by Turks. Just why.
Spokesman: I think we… you've raised this question before. I've had more clarifications this week. I have nothing to add.
Question: President of France, President of Russia, Mr. Putin… [inaudible] presidents are in Armenia so it's a global event, so why not we hear anything here?
Spokesman: First of all, you did hear something. We expressed what the position was. You weren't here yesterday. I also mentioned that Mr. Michael Møller is there to represent the Secretary‑General. I really have nothing else to add. Masood.
Question: Stéphane, first of all, I would like to, again, endorse your, I mean, emotions for Abi. She's absolutely wonderful. Thank you very much.
On Yemen and on appointment of the special… Secretary-General representative of the… why is it taking Secretary-General such a long time to find a suitable replacement of Mr. Benomar? And is it… is he waiting for signal from certain [inaudible] as people suspect from Saudi Arabia or…
Spokesman: I will object to your… to the premise of your question. It is not taking such a long time for the Secretary‑General to appoint someone. The process through which these appointments are made take time. It's just the process. I think the Secretariat, Secretary-General has acted quickly. Obviously finding the right person to lead this process is not an easy task. The process is under way. And we expect to have an announcement as soon as we can.
Question: Sir, can you please tell us… because 115 [inaudible]…
Spokesman: I… I'm fully aware of the what the situation own the ground is. What I'm telling you is that there is… there is a process that involves consultations. There's a process that involves an exchange of letters with the Security Council. There is a… there's a process and there are things that have to happen, but I think the Secretary-General, for his part, has acted as quickly as possible.
Question: Sir, but in the sense that has… has the Secretary-General been able to prevail upon the Saudis to stop this air campaign, which is killing people, on again, off again?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's position and call for that remain… remain the same. The situation on the ground is for all of you to judge.
Nizar, then Abdelhamid, then Mr. Klein.
Question: Staying with Yemen, yesterday it was a humanitarian disaster as it was characterized and the latest shelling on Yemen and airstrikes are continuing, of course. Is there… are there any initiatives, new initiatives in order to stop the killing in Yemen — number one.
Number two, what… is the United Nations willing to call for an investigation of banned weapons in Yemen?
Spokesman: I think the priority right now is for the fighting to stop. That is a primary focus right now. The appointment of a new Special Adviser to re-engage on the political process is under way. Mr. Benomar is also expected to give what would likely be his last briefing to the Security Council on Yemen on Monday as part of the ten-day reporting period as required by the relevant Security Council resolution.
Question: Pending that… between now and Saturday or Sunday…
Spokesman: Obviously, there are… there are contacts that take place regularly with the Secretariat at various levels. And the Secretary-General's call for political solution stands and his call for halting of the violence, more importantly, continues to stand. I will come back to you.
Question: On the humanitarian issue…
Spokesman: I will come back…
Question: Is there an update on the humanitarian…
Spokesman: Not more than I've added.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In fact, you answered part of my question about the ten-day period. I thought it was today that the ten-day. I expected the report…
Spokesman: I dare to say calendars of United Nations are often stretched a little bit.
Question: Thank you. But my question is about Libya. Do you have any update on when the next round of talks will be?
Spokesman: No, from what I recall having said, the talks ended in Morocco, Mr. [Bernardino] León had sent the parties back to consult and we're waiting to hear back when that next step will take place.
Question: Yes, thank you. Does the Secretary-General have any plans or considering plans to visit Moscow on 9 May for the observance of the seventieth anniversary of the World War II victory day? Particularly in light of the fact that this… obviously the end of World War II laid the foundation for the creation of the United Nations, the seventieth anniversary of which is being observed this year. Thank you.
Spokesman: As always, we have… thank you for your question, Mr. Klein. We have seen the press reports. Obviously, we will… when there is an official travel announcement, it will be made from this podium.
Question: But is there any… I mean, these things take a little time to plan. Can you tell us whether there's consideration…
Spokesman: As I said… there's quite lots of stuff I can tell you, but when we have an official announcement to make, we will make it.
Question: Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Haider.
Question: On Egypt, has the Secretary-General spoken to Egyptian authorities about the 20-year sentence…
Spokesman: The Secretary-General will be meeting the Foreign Minister of Egypt [Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim] later this afternoon, and we will issue a readout.
Question: Will he raise this issue?
Spokesman: I will issue a readout when it is…
Question: Okay. Again, belabouring the point, there a short list of candidates for this representative in Yemen?
Spokesman: You know, you can belabour the point. You can hit me over the head with a cricket bat or whatever other blunt instrument you want to use. You've been here as long as I have, if not longer. The process remains the same. The Secretary-General consulted and when we are ready to have a name, we will issue that name. We don't… we don't… we don't talk about short lists or any other lists.
Question: I think only reason we calling for… keep on asking you this question again because of the urgency of the situation.
Spokesman: No, I completely… I don't want to make light of it. I completely understand the urgency of it. We highlight on a daily basis here the horrendous toll the Yemeni people are paying for this current conflict. We're seeing the lack of fuel having an immediate impact on hospitals. Schools being shut down. Again, we see what happens in other countries when schools are shut down. The long-term effect that will have. That's why we need to see an end to the violence and a restart to the political process. I think no one is more aware of the situation than the Secretary-General. And you can keep asking because one day I will answer and I will tell you that we have someone.
Señora, and then up front.
Question: Thank you. I may have missed this, but can you please tell me if in there is an official position of the Secretary‑General on the use of drones by the American Government abroad to try to kill suspected terrorists?
Spokesman: You know, we have… we're aware of… obviously, we're aware of the use of armed drones and the recent… excuse me… the recent reports over the death of hostages that were killed in a UAV attack. I think the reports of these incidents, again, highlight the need for Governments to ensure full transparency and accountability in their counter-terrorism operations. And the incident itself and other incidents of the use of unarmed… excuse me… of armed unmanned aerial vehicle underscores a decision of the Secretary-General to commission a study by the Office of Disarmament Affairs aimed at improving transparency and accountability in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for targeted strikes outside of areas of active hostilities. And he looks forward to the outcome of that study, which he hopes can guide further deliberations by Member States on this matter.
Question: Do you know when the study will be published?
Spokesman: No, but I will find out. Evelyn.
Question: Yes. Is there any news on the Yemeni President Hadi? I heard he was ailing. Is there any truth to that?
Spokesman: I have no… no direct information…
Question: And to stay on that whole subject again, is there an ETA for the announcement of…
Spokesman: You know, on a very personal note, I hope as soon as possible, so I can actually answer your question.
Question: Because it was done to… unless somebody objected because it was given to the Council.
Spokesman: As I told Masood, there are well-oiled procedures for this. I think the Secretary-General more than anyone is aware of the need to have someone who can lead the political process.
Young lady in the back and then Mr. Lee.
Question: Hi. Lucy [inaudible] with Newsweek. Can you tell us anything about the report looking into the shelling of UNRWA-run schools last year, and do you know when that will be made available?
Spokesman: We expect a summary of the Board of Inquiry to be shared with the Security Council shortly and we'll advise you when that happens.
Mr. Lee, then Mr. Haider.
Question: I want to ask about Haiti and Sri Lanka. In Haiti, the Ministry of Public Health and Population just released numbers for the first quarter of cholera cases, 11,000 cases, 105 deaths, which they say is way up from last year and is higher even than 2012 during the height of the epidemic. And they blame it on a lack of humanitarian funding. So, since… one, given what many people see as the UN's role in bringing the disease to the island but also the Secretary-General's statements about raising money from Member States to address it, what's the response to this…
Spokesman: I will get an update of where we are on the funding.
Question: And where is Mr. [Pedro] Medrano? When he comes… I don't know… can he answer questions whether by video, phone, and some other fashion?
And I also want to ask for a readout. And the reason I'm asking for this readout is that the… he… there was a photo op and then, I guess, a private meeting between the Secretary-General and the new Ambassador of Sri Lanka, Mr. [Rohan] Perera, and I didn't see a readout from your office, but the press, the State press in Sri Lanka has said that the… the UN chief praises the Sri Lankan's Government's greater cooperation with UN. It's entirely positive. I just wondered whether this issue now of reneging on doing a report by September and instead only turning in modalities of some future report came up in this meeting given that they've…
Spokesman: This was… if I'm not mistaken, the presentation of credentials. There's no readout. It was a traditional greeting. The SG's own position on Sri Lanka has not…
Question: But just to… because I was there. They went behind closed doors for a good 10 or 15 minutes and… the Government was saying that he was praising him. Is that true or not?
Spokesman: I will see what I can get you.
Question: I'm sure you have only spoken about this North Korean crisis which China has referred to but it is becoming really ominous that they are building up nuclear arms. Now, has the Secretary-General been able to engage with anybody in North Korea about this?
Spokesman: I have nothing new to add on the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea].
Sir, and then Mr. Klein.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. United Nations Committee against Torture submitted a proposal to consider continuing impunity in Serbia for crimes against international law as per Amnesty International. Are you aware of this?
Spokesman: I am not, but I am now.
Question: Can you look into it, please?
Spokesman: I'd be delighted to.
Question: This will be a fairly easy one, I hope.
Spokesman: For you or for me?
Question: I… for you.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: For the weekend. The question really is simply whether there are any plans to make Mr. Benomar available for a stakeout or a briefing.
Spokesman: We'll ask him… we'll ask him if he can come out after he briefs the Council.
Question: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: That's easy enough.
Mr. Lee, then we should go.
Question: Okay. This is a… this is just a… it's a… a week ahead question. The President of the Syrian coalition has said he'll be in New York, he'll be in an Arria Formula meeting and in and around the UN for three days next week. And I wanted to ask you in advance whether the Secretary-General… I know there was this kind of… there was a meeting at the residence with the previous head of the coalition. Is there any… has a request been made for such a meeting? If so, will the meeting be done in the building, outside of the building?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of a request. And the Secretary-General is not here next week.
Question: Oh. Well, that simplifies it. How about if…
Spokesman: I know where you're going. I will check.
Question: Can we get a press conference here rather than in some other location?
Spokesman: No, press conferences here if it's not a UN entity have to be sponsored by a Member State, so…
Question: They have supporters clearly.
Spokesman: Well, that's neither…. that's not my business, so to speak.
On that note, have a great weekend.
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