Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
26 May 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Ireland, where he received, as you will recall, the Tipperary international peace prize. That was on Sunday. Accepting the award, he said that this is a time of test. The past 70 years would surely have been far bloodier without the United Nations. Yet, conflicts continue to exact an unacceptable toll. It is time for an era of stronger cooperation and action to respond to millions of people around the world who look to the United Nations to uphold its obligations and to maintain international peace and security. The Secretary-General also put out a strong call for Governments to defend the space in which civil society operates.
On Sunday, he gave the Iveagh Lecture at Dublin Castle. There, he said that the same-sex marriage referendum means that Ireland has decided to fully include members of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community into the life of the nation. Yesterday, he met separately with Ireland's President, Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and Justice Minister. He also met with resettled refugees from Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Myanmar and Syria. He expressed his appreciation for Ireland's resettlement programme, and also stressed the need for safe and regular avenues of migration.
This morning, the Secretary-General met with the Taoiseach, the Prime Minister of Ireland, and then met with young people actively working to promote sustainable development. He arrived in Brussels a few hours ago, and he will shortly take part in a dinner meeting with European Union development ministers, hosted by the EU [European Union] Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Kosovo, Farid Zarif, briefed the Security Council, commending Belgrade's and Pristina's ability to work together on subjects of common concern. He said that this has been of fundamental importance in overcoming the legacy of hostility and conflict. He also thanked the Security Council members for their sustained and constructive support with both parties, which he said remains essential for encouraging full implementation of the April 2013 agreement. His full remarks have been made available to you and the Council will meet on Somalia later this afternoon, we are told.
Our humanitarian colleagues say that many basic services in southern Yemen, in Taiz, have ground to a halt. The health ministry reports that several hospitals have closed because of a lack of fuel, and access to other health facilities has been limited by heavy fighting. Humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide life-saving assistance due to lack of access and high levels of insecurity. Ten civilians are reported to have been killed and more than 100 injured in the last few days alone.
Throughout Yemen, based on data collected from health facilities, over 1,800, exactly 1,870 people, were killed, half of whom are believed to be civilians, and about 7,580 people were injured between 19 March and 18 May. Figures are likely to be much higher given the recent reescalation of the conflict.
Regarding Syria, the World Food Programme (WFP) has called for humanitarian pauses in the fighting in Syria so that farmers can safely harvest and transport crops within the country to reach all Syrians in need. The WFP Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, said we must support unhindered and unrestricted food transport across front lines. This will ensure that food now available in one part of the country reaches Syrians wherever they are in the country. Without a humanitarian pause by all sides, providing unhindered access to Syrian food and opening corridors for transport, people will still go hungry despite a good harvest, and prices for food will remain high. More information on WFP's website.
This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke with Prime Minister Tamam Salam of Lebanon to express the UN's support for the Prime Minister and for Lebanon's stability after one year without a President of the Republic. Yesterday in Beirut, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, urged Lebanon's leaders to put national interests above partisan politics for the sake of Lebanon's stability, and to show the flexibility and sense of urgency needed to resolve this issue.
The Deputy Secretary-General and the Special Coordinator stressed that the presidential election is a Lebanese process and they have called on Members of Parliament to uphold the country's democratic tradition and convene to elect a President without further delay. The Deputy Secretary-General and Ms. Kaag commended the Prime Minister, who has succeeded in upholding a unified Government despite enormous pressures and who has shown remarkable leadership in the face of increasingly difficult circumstances.
Turning to Ukraine, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] reports that sporadic fighting continues at Donetsk airport, as well as in Shyrokyne, Avdiivka and Shastia. Many civilians continue to seek refuge in underground shelters. The Ministry of Social Policy has registered some 1.3 million people as internally displaced. This is an increase of about 44,000 people in the past three weeks alone.
The number of people fleeing Ukraine for neighbouring countries is also on the rise. UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] reports that about 857,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum, residence permits or other forms of legal stay in neighbouring countries — an increase of about 23,000 people in the past two weeks. Access to health-care services is severely constrained across the east and in non-Government-controlled areas in particular, because of lack of medicine and medical equipment. There is an increased burden on health-care facilities because of the influx of displaced families. More information is available from OCHA on their website.
On Myanmar, last Friday, the Secretary General's Special Advisor, Vijay Nambiar, and other senior UN Representatives visited Rakhine State. They met with the Chief Minister and other representatives from the State government, and also visited Ale Than Kyaw Village, hosting disembarked migrants. The UN commended both the Union Government of Myanmar and the Rakhine State government for the important rescue of over 200 migrants in the waters on 21 May. The UN also recognizes recent improvements in the conditions in Rakhine, including efforts to improve the situation of the displaced people, but has called for more efforts to ramp up development initiatives for all communities in the State.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, spoke at an informal briefing of the UN Human Rights Council. He spoke on a number of issues; and on Burundi, he said it is a country with deep and terrible knowledge of the potential consequences of outbreaks of violence, adding that following a decade of growing recovery and prosperity, the recent violence is a significant setback. He said that he remains encouraged by the mobilization of the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the East African Community, the European Union and the United Nations, and by the priority they have given to human rights concerns. He hopes Council can send a strong message to national actors and the international community to stop the current wave of violence.
On a related note, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the ongoing cholera outbreak in western Tanzania appears to be improving, thanks to intensive national and international efforts, but the risk of transmission remains high due to limited access to shelter, toilets, water and essential medical care for refugees fleeing the violence in Burundi. As of 25 May, the total number of cases diagnosed and treated was 4,408, and no deaths have been reported since last Thursday, while Burundian refugees continue to enter Tanzania through various entry points.
According to the UN refugee agency, the outflow of refugees from Burundi has not stopped, but rates are currently down to about 100 arrivals a day in each of the main receiving countries. There are more than 90,000 Burundian refugees in the region, mostly in Tanzania, but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
**Central African Republic
At a pledging conference on the Central African Republic in Brussels this morning, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, said that it is crucial that the level of response and commitment by donors and humanitarian actors in the country is maintained. The number of humanitarian organizations working in the country doubled since last year, but needs to continue to far exceed resources. Some 2.7 million people, out of a population of 4.6 million, require humanitarian assistance and protection, and the 2015 Strategic Response Plan is just 21 per cent funded so far.
From Mali, our colleagues at the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission there (MINUSMA) report that, yesterday, two peacekeepers travelling in Bamako in a UN vehicle were injured by gunshots and that one of them subsequently died. Malian authorities and MINUSMA are investigating the incident but we have no further information to share at this time.
From Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that the Kyrgyz parliament is scheduled to begin its first reading tomorrow of a draft law on "foreign agents", which could negatively affect the work of numerous civil society organizations working on human rights and delivering services in Kyrgyzstan. The human rights office calls on the Government of Kyrgyzstan to ensure that the freedoms of expression and association are protected in line with international human rights law and standards. The Office urges a review of this draft law to ensure that it does not restrict the important work of civil society organizations in the country.
From Geneva, the World Health Assembly just wrapped up its work today. I just want to flag that, over the weekend, delegates made a series of decisions stemming from the Ebola outbreak. These give the World Health Organization's secretariat the go-ahead to carry out structural reforms so it can prepare for and respond rapidly, flexibly and effectively to emergencies and disease outbreaks. And yesterday, they agreed on resolutions to tackle antimicrobial resistance, improve access to affordable vaccines and address malnutrition. More information on WHO's website.
As soon as we are done here, I will be joined by the Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, Magdy Martínez-Solimán. He will brief on his recent visit to Nepal. Tomorrow, at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania. I think I will stop here unless you have some questions. Carol?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to get your comment on these reports that the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights knew for months about the sexual assault allegations in Central African Republic and got distracted by other UN business before following up on it in March. What can you tell us about that?
Spokesman: I don't have much to tell you. I saw… we read the press reports, obviously, which were based on leaked documents from an ongoing investigation. I think it's very important that we wait for the conclusions of that OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] investigation, which looks at how all these issues were handled by the UN system. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some other… something on Yemen, but I wanted to ask you on that, to ask you specifically on this because, since the UN is mostly saying that Mr. [Anders] Kompass was suspended because he gave the names of witnesses and victims to the French Government, the statement by Ms. [Flavia] Pansieri says that the names in the report were fake ones, and there was no risk, therefore, for witnesses. So, this… I understand there's an ongoing investigation, but this sort of goes to the heart of the apparent retaliation against the whistle-blower. So, I'm wondering, is there no reaction to that? And she also says that he felt that the mission, the then‑UN mission in Bangui, MINUSCA, would not take any action. And there's a New York Times report that says that the Mission there did not tell "his boss", UN peacekeeping here in this building. So, there… outside of the investigation, can you get a clear yes or no whether the Mission in Bangui told DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], i.e., Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, who then reappears in the UN Dispute Tribunal trying to get Kompass fired…
Spokesman: On your last point, I think we've gone through this. You're taking as fact one side of papers that were submitted. I think Mr. Ladsous clearly denied the accusation that he called for Mr. Kompass to be fired. As I said, there's an internal investigation which will look at how the whole UN system handled the issue, including the peacekeeping mission. The report was handled through the human rights channel in Geneva, and I think it's important that all these reports of sexual abuse be handled properly through the right channel, in order to protect the victims and the witnesses.
Correspondent: But, just one thing. If you're using the OIOS investigation as basically the response to all of these troubling things that come out, this seems to imply that the OIOS report, when finished, will be public, that there will be an answer to these questions at some point.
Spokesman: I think very much… I think the OIOS reports are handled in the way they are handled, but we hope to be able to share, obviously, more information. I think we also, very importantly, would want to learn from the way this issue was handled and to improve the way we handle these kinds of cases. Mr. Bays?
Question: On Yemen, are the UN talks in Geneva going ahead on Thursday? And if not, why not?
Spokesman: I don't have anything new to add to the schedule of the talks on Yemen. Obviously, restarting the political track remains of primary importance to the Secretary‑General. I think we just have to take a look at the ongoing suffering that we're seeing in Yemen, the lack of access to aid, the lack of access to fuel to deliver that aid, which should force all of us, whether it's the United Nations and all parties involved, to redouble our efforts to sit down around the table and to reach a comprehensive political agreement. When I have an update on the schedule, I will share it with you. Ms. Lederer, and I'll come back to you.
Question: A couple of follow‑up questions. Is there any indication when the OIOS report might be released? And on… excuse me. On Yemen, there have been reports that the Yemen talks are being delayed. Are you saying that you don't know whether they're going to be delayed or whether they're still going to take place, and is… the Secretary‑General was supposed to stay and open the talks. Is he staying or is he coming back?
Spokesman: He's currently in Brussels on a pre-planned trip. As I told Mr. Bays, as soon as I have an update… I know you're all eager to hear it; I'm eager to hear it. As soon as I have an update and firm up the issue surrounding the Yemen talks, I will share it with you.
Correspondent: So, you are categorically saying that the twenty-eighth…
Spokesman: I don't think I'm categorically saying anything.
Correspondent: Okay. But, you are not confirming the reports that it has been delayed, to start with.
Spokesman: You know, I think… I would just listen to what I've just said.
Question: There was some leaks from Riyadh, saying that the Saudis have asked Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed for a few days' delay in order to rectify their military position on the ground. How true are these or not?
Spokesman: You know, I'm not going to comment on what people are leaking or saying left, right and centre. I think the primary goal here is to get the parties around the table and to stop the fighting. I mean, we're seeing an increase in fighting after the disappointment that the five‑day humanitarian pause could not be extended, and I think the suffering of the Yemeni people should stay at the forefront of our minds, in order to try to get a political solution.
Correspondent: There were airstrikes on Hajjah today, on the hospital centre where people… suffer kidney patients where victims to the airstrikes…
Spokesman: I don't…
Correspondent: Another attack which happened a few weeks ago near Sana'a has been reported to be with unconventional weapons from a veterans' website, which said this was unconventional weapon and they mentioned a huge bomb which was fragmented in Sana'a.
Spokesman: I don't have any details on the cases you've mentioned. We have seen, since the start of this conflict, unacceptable attacks on civilian infrastructure, on health infrastructure, which is only compounding the suffering of the Yemeni people and these need to stop.
Correspondent: Steph, you didn't answer my question on the OIOS report, of when it might be coming out.
Spokesman: No, I don't. Years of experience in this field have taught me not to give you an exact date on when investigations are done. Yes?
Question: So, Yemen, back to Yemen, the [Secretary-General] called for Geneva conference without preconditions. So, do you consider the Yemeni Government position a precondition for these talks, because they're insisting now that resolution 2216 (2015) should be implemented first? So…
Spokesman: I think we're… I think as… you're right. We would like to see people come around the table without preconditions. They may list those… their… their conditions in… you could say, in the opening round of the talks. What's important is that they come to the table. I'm not going to start commenting on what preconditions people may have already put out. What our message to all the parties is to come around the table and start an open dialogue.
Question: May I follow up?
Spokesman: You may.
Question: And the Yemeni Government, in the same time, is insisting on Riyadh conference outcome to be endorsed in Geneva or Geneva talks to be based on that conference in Riyadh. We didn't hear like a clear position from the [Secretary-General] on Riyadh conference outcome. Does he endorse the outcome? What's his position on…?
Spokesman: Well, I think the Riyadh… it was a very important meeting. Ismail was there. What we're focusing on is comprehensive political track… comprehensive political dialogue which brings all the parties around the table to start working on a way to end this conflict and to stop the suffering of the Yemeni people, which we're continuing to see as we speak.
Spokesman: I think I've answered your question to the best of my ability. Mr. Lee and then…
Question: Sure. Still on Yemen, since we're on this topic. I mean that sort of goes to the heart of it. Didn't he say there would be no preconditions? So, if the Riyadh conference that the Houthis didn't attend is somehow involved or a basis of these talks…?
Spokesman: I think… we're talking about getting people around the table. That's what we want to see. I'm not going to start to negotiate from here with the different parties.
Question: Sure. But how about… okay. One's kind of a strange one. I heard something like the children's parliament has been invited and would be flown in at UN's expense. Is that the case? Is it true that either the Yemeni Government or the Saudi side provided a list of accepting candidates under the categories of youth, civil society and women?
Spokesman: I think… I think all the different sides are engaged in… what could we say… a tussle. I think what we need to see is we need to see all of them… all the parties around the table. I don't have any specific information on the children's parliament.
Question: One more?
Spokesman: I'll come back to you. Linda and then Carol.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Also, a Yemen question: you mentioned that about 1,870 civilians have been killed in Yemen. Is there any kind of breakdown in terms or even an estimate of what portion of the civilians were killed by either side?
Spokesman: No. I doubt we have those numbers, because obviously, these are numbers we're getting from health partners and humanitarian partners on the ground. We don't have the forensic ability to give a hard assessment as to who is responsible for these killings.
Question: Just where is Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed today, and what is he doing?
Spokesman: That's a good question. I'd ask and I'll let you know right after the briefing. Olga?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Last week, the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Conference for treaty of… treaty of non-proliferation ended without any declaration, and as we understood, Canada, [United Kingdom] and United States were against… they are against adopting the document with some new conditions on organization of their conference of zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Does it mean that in the next five years till next NPT Conference there will be no work on calling such a conference, given the fact that the Secretary‑General is a co-sponsor of calling this conference with [the United States], [United Kingdom] and also Russia?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General over the weekend expressed his deep disappointment at the inability for the parties to reach an agreement. I think I would refer you back to his statement, in which he calls for them to continue to try to sustain the momentum that had been built over the last five years including new initiatives and the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. So, we very much hope that the parties will continue, and obviously, the end result was a clear disappointment for the Secretary‑General. Yes, sir?
Question: What's happening in Yemen obviously is collective punishment to all nations. It's weird that the Human Rights Council did not come up with any categorization of the situation there and Prince Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein has never spoken about Yemen so far, two months after the conflict started.
Spokesman: You know, I… I'm not sure the High Commissioner has not spoken out on Yemen. You and I can do our research, check if he has, and it's obviously up to the Human Rights Council and the Member States to decide how they handle the matter. [He later showed the correspondent a statement issued by High Commissioner Zeid on 14 April.]
Question: Do you consider what's happening there as collective punishment?
Spokesman: I'm not going to label it, except to say that we're seeing unimaginable suffering of the civilian population and continuing unimaginable suffering until the parties decide to meet around the table in a positive attitude.
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Burundi and also about financial disclosure and the Secretary‑General. On Burundi, obviously, I saw… well, the… an opposition political figure and his bodyguard were killed over the weekend, and it said a journalist who was accompanying them was also seriously wounded or possibly died. I wanted to know, one, does Said Djinnit or the UN there know what happened with the journalist? Two, the EU is pulling some people out. Is the UN pulling some people out of Bujumbura? And three, is it at all possible that we can, even if the Council doesn't… that there can be some briefing by Mr. Djinnit…?
Spokesman: Yes, we're trying to get Mr. Djinnit to speak to you. I'm not aware of the UN pulling anyone out. Mr. Djinnit is in Bujumbura, continues to be in Bujumbura. Obviously, as in any situation, we're watching the situation on day‑by‑day basis, but I'm not aware of any plans by the UN to withdraw any staff.
Question: And there were reports that opposition parties, after the killing of this one opposition leader withdrew from the talks that Mr. Djinnit is facilitating. Is that something you can confirm?
Spokesman: I think Mr. Djinnit is trying to continue to get as many of the parties around the table.
Question: And on this disclosure question, last week there was a lot of roundabout, so I want to ask a clear-cut question. It seems to be undisputed that the nephew of the Secretary‑General works with Colliers International, which had contracts with the UN and still either owns and manages the FF building, which is rented by UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]. So, my question was just, there a UN disclosure… financial disclosures form? It's not in the public one. I was told to check, and I did. Is there a non‑public… the non‑public financial form what used to be filed with PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), and I don't know if it still is, that deals with this issue of relatives being with a company that does business with the UN?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's fulfilled everything that he's been asked to do on the financial disclosure form, and I think, as he said very clearly in Seoul, he has no knowledge and no business and no relationship to what his… to what business his nephew may or may not have. And there's really… I mean, there's nothing for me to add on that.
Question: The only thing… I'm not asking about the project on Viet Nam. I'm not asking about that whole story line. What [inaudible] something what's sort of a much smaller, but more concrete thing that emerged is this idea that one would assume that a financial disclosure system of the UN would include whether there are relatives of the official that are with the company doing business with the UN. That's the only side I'm asking about. What you said doesn't really answer that. One, is PwC still in charge of the ethics disclosures?
Spokesman: Yes, I believe they are.
Question: Okay. And is… I mean, I guess are you willing to look at that form and say whether Colliers International in that connection is listed or is it going to be listed in the future…?
Spokesman: You know, I think one has to… again, I think the Secretary‑General fulfils everything he's been asked to do and more and has been… led by example on that front. I think in more general terms, there's only so much control one has over a family member. The Secretary‑General has absolutely no knowledge of his nephew's business and has no control over it, and I think has spoken eloquently on the issue in his press conference in Seoul. I will… go ahead.
Question: Regarding the Houthis' delegation which went to Muscat. Is there any coordination between the efforts of the envoy of the representative, Mr. Cheikh Ahmed? And did he… what's happening in Muscat with regard to the Yemeni dialogue?
Spokesman: I think the Special Envoy is trying to speak to as many of the parties as possible.
Question: Has he been in Muscat recently?
Spokesman: I don't think he's been in Muscat recently, but I can check. I will go get our guests and I shall be back, maybe.
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