Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
1 June 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone. We will have as our Noon Briefing guest in a few minutes Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Before he speaks, we will do this part of the briefing.
First off, the Secretary-General spoke this morning at the high-level event of the General Assembly on the Demographic dividend and Youth Employment. The Secretary-General stressed that a lack of jobs feeds insecurity, while a jobs-rich country can have a wealth of stability. He proposed four steps for empowering young people in a holistic manner: first, address high fertility in countries where there is still a large unmet need for contraceptive services; second, ensure that young people get quality education and training; third, coordinate planning and investments with a focus on human rights and human dignity; and last, build social protection systems to help end poverty and fight persistent inequalities. His remarks are available online and in our office.
Also, following the Noon Briefing and our guest, at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). He will brief you on the High-level thematic event on the Demographic Dividend and Youth Employment.
According to casualty figures released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), a total of 1,031 Iraqis were killed and another 1,684 were wounded in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict during the month of May. Ján Kubiš, the head of the UN Mission, said that current developments in and around the city of Ramadi and in Anbar Governorate once again showed grave consequences of Da'esh actions for civilians. He said that more than 237,000 people have been displaced from and within Anbar Governorate to date, while thousands were killed and injured, sometimes in the most horrendous way. Mr. Kubiš said that, for any military gains to be sustainable, the Government of Iraq must adopt a set of confidence-building measures towards disaffected communities, enabling them to assume a share in governing their matters, and assuring them of the State's ability to ensure their protection from violence, to deliver justice and create conditions for their fair participation in society.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, visited Sana'a from 29 to 31 May as part of his efforts to get the political process back on track, notably through the holding of Yemeni consultations in Geneva as soon as possible. He is currently in Saudi Arabia where he met with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi and Vice-President [Khaled] Bahah.
Also, a World Food Programme (WFP) chartered ship carrying vital food assistance destined for the Yemeni port of Aden was diverted yesterday to the port of Hudaydah following reports of ongoing fighting and security threats. The MV Amsterdam was on its way from Djibouti carrying over 5,700 metric tons of food — enough to feed around 60,000 Yemenis for a month. It was expected to berth in Aden on Saturday when the port authorities issued a security warning that made it change its course.
WFP will continue to try to reach Aden and surrounding areas by sending supplies from Hudaydah by road, as millions of people are in desperate need of food in areas that have been inaccessible for a long time due to the fighting. Another vessel, the MV Celine, which was carrying 7,000 metric tons of wheat flour, also docked in Hudaydah on 31 May as previously scheduled. Some 70,000 Yemenis are expected to benefit from that shipment.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, over the weekend strongly condemned the death of at least 70 civilians in Syria's northern Aleppo province by barrel bombs dropped from Government helicopters. He said that, while it is true that, unfortunately, the UN-proposed freeze of heavy bombing in Aleppo did not materialize, it is nevertheless totally unacceptable that the Syrian Air Force attacks its own territory in an indiscriminate way, killing its own citizens, as happened in Aleppo. Mr. de Mistura stressed that the use of barrel bombs must stop. All evidence shows that the use of such indiscriminate aerial weapons has been responsible for the majority of civilian victims. He added that the protection of civilians during armed conflicts is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law and applies in all circumstances and without distinction.
The latest report by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine says that serious human rights violations and abuses — including shelling, executions, arbitrary detentions, torture and human-trafficking — persist in the east of the country. This is deeply affecting the 5 million people living in the conflict-affected areas. Between mid-April 2014 and 30 May 2015, at least 6,417 people have been documented as killed while nearly 16,000 have been wounded in eastern Ukraine. This is a conservative estimate and the actual numbers could be considerably higher.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that even with the decrease in hostilities, civilians continue to be killed and wounded. He noted that millions of ordinary women, men and children in Ukraine have suffered tremendous hardship, violence and have been living in fear for more than a year now. He urged all parties involved in the hostilities to seek common ground, through sustained dialogue, to fully implement the 12 February Package of Measures, to end the fighting, and to ensure that all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are investigated, regardless of the perpetrators. The full report is available online.
**Central African Republic
Over the weekend, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, said he has urged several States to intensify their efforts to investigate allegations of very serious human rights violations by soldiers sent to keep the peace in the Central African Republic. These allegations include killing of civilians, summary executions, abductions and sexual exploitation of local women.
The High Commissioner said that in the wake of the revelations of alleged serious sexual abuse of children, currently under investigation by the French authorities, his Office had taken a deeper look into these issues. Some of the incidents have been at least partly investigated, and some States have apparently sanctioned some of the soldiers involved, but the fact that a number of foreign contingents may have been implicated is in itself a matter of enormous concern, he added. His statement is available online.
**Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons
Still from our Human Rights colleagues, I'd like to flag the second-ever official report on discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. That report to the UN Human Rights Council presents evidence of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions.
It contains 20 recommendations directed at national governments. These recommendations include to legally recognize same-sex relationships, to ensure access to legal identity documents that reflect an individual's self-identified gender, and to end abusive therapies and treatments, including so-called "conversion" therapy, forced sterilization of transgender persons and certain medical procedures on intersex children.
For the honour roll, Morocco and Viet Nam have paid their regular budget dues in full. We are grateful to them both, and this brings the total number of Member States that have paid to 94.
Like I said, after I speak, you will her first from Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. And then after that, at around 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Then, tomorrow, at around 12:30 p.m., the President of the Security Council for the month of June, Ambassador Ramlan bin Ibrahim of Malaysia, will be here to brief you on the Council's programme of work for the month. Malaysia's first day as Security Council's President is, in fact, today. That's it for me. Are there any questions? Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Where can we find the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] report?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe our human rights colleagues have that out and that should be available in our office, as well. We'll provide that to you. But, it should also be up on their website.
Question: Given Mr. [Said] Djinnit's facilitation in Burundi in trying to establish dialogue and an enabling environment for the upcoming parliamentary elections on 5 June and the presidential election on 26 June, does the UN believe that the conditions exist in Burundi for those elections to go ahead and that the results will be transparent, credible and fair?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have had our own concerns about whether you can have safe, fair and inclusive elections in Burundi and we've made clear what those are. Mr. Djinnit is talking with a variety of different parties in Burundi. We've certainly been pleased that the parties are willing to talk to each other about how they can sort out their differences regarding this. And that process is still under way. The Secretary‑General, for his part, is continuing with his own efforts to see what the next best steps should be. I do believe that he intends to communicate sometime today with President [Jakaya] Kikwete of Tanzania to also get a further update on the situation. But, ultimately, this is something that does need to be agreed among the parties and we need to make sure that however they agree on a course of action, they can come to an agreement that will ensure that any elections that are held are safe, are fair and are inclusive.
Question: The Government Spokesperson, if I may follow up, has said that the third‑term issue was a sovereign issue and that they consider the matter closed. Does the United Nations regard the third term issue of President [Pierre] Nkurunziza a matter that is closed?
Deputy Spokesman: We have already made clear our concerns to make sure that the Arusha agreements and the constitutional arrangements of Burundi are upheld. And we have said this, as you know, several times in recent months. But, beyond that, at this stage, our main concern is to make sure that the parties on the ground, the Burundians themselves can agree on a way forward and can agree on a way forward that will include safe, fair and inclusive elections. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot, Farhan. Farhan, this is about the alleged sexual abuse in the Central African Republic. I've seen an email from the staff union to the Secretary‑General and other high officials saying that the now leaked documents concerning OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] and the Ethics Office being directed by Ms. [Susana] Malcorra to meet with Prince Zeid and his deputy call into question the entire protection of whistle-blowers and… by the Ethics Office and asking basically for resignations of a number of officials. I wanted to confirm that the Secretary‑General has gotten it. I'd like to know what he thought of it. And I wanted to return to what was said on Friday, that the Secretary‑General knew "in the spring" of the alleged sexual abuse since… given the gravity of the charges, when did he know? And what did he do when he became aware of it and was it in turn in March? And what steps did he take after he learned of these extremely troubling charges? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we've actually talked about what the Secretary‑General and the UN system have done. That's been the case of the briefings that we've had in the past month or so. As you're aware, part of that response has been to make sure that we know what happened to the documents, that we're aware of follow‑up. Some of the follow‑up, as you know, is happening from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as I just said a few minutes ago, in terms of looking at any additional problems or charges that may be out there. Some of that is to make sure that the French authorities did follow up, which they are doing with the information that they got from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And then some of this, as you know, is part of an investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services. Regarding your initial question, of course, the Secretary‑General has full confidence in the work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and we trust it will proceed.
Question: Given that, often from this podium, you point to OIOS and you say they're independent; we can't answer for them; they're investigating; they're totally independent, how can you explain Susana Malcorra, the Chief of Staff of Ban Ki‑moon, summoning the head of OIOS and the head of the Ethics Office to meet what many people say to basically go after Mr. [Anders] Kompass, the whistle-blower? How independent is it if Ms. Malcorra can tell them who to meet with?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that's a mischaracterization of what happened. Part of what needs to happen when people are dealing with any sort of situation is to understand which office needs to handle it, whether it's a case for the Ethics Office to follow up or whether it's a case for the Office of Internal Oversight Services to follow up. That's a sample managerial decision of trying to figure out where a case belongs and that was — as far as I'm aware from the Office of Internal Oversight Services, that's what their issue.
Question: What the staff union is asking is: why would any staff member go to the Ethics Office with a complaint of retaliation if it's clear that the Ethics Office immediately meets with the high officials being complained of? And they're saying… the final thing I want to ask is that the US law that triggers the cut of funding for failure to protect whistle-blowers may well be triggered by that e-mail. That's why I'm asking for your response.
Deputy Spokesman: As we said at the start, this is not regarded as a case necessarily of whistle-blowing. That is something where I… you know, we're perfectly willing to see what the system itself says about this, but whistle-blowing is not just any act of disclosing a document. There's a certain… there's a certain standard set of procedures, and we'll have to see whether this applies in this case or not. But, certainly, there are whistle-blower protections put in place. There is an office, the Ethics Office, that can be relied on this. I don't think it's particularly helpful to look at this one case as an example of the system as a whole, because the system… every case has its unique attributes, and this is certainly a case that does have its unique attributes, and it may not qualify as a whistle-blowing case. I think we need to have an open mind about how that proceeds. Yes?
Question: On the same issue, did I get that right that Ban Ki‑moon heard about this case in March of this year?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe we were aware of this in March, in the spring, yes.
Question: You believe or you know?
Deputy Spokesman: I… this is what I… this is what I… you know, this is what the officials in his office knew, in March of this year. And that's certainly the chronology that I have of it.
Question: So, may I add two other questions here? One is, I would like to know which other states are supposed to intensify their inquiries? And the other thing is I didn't get so far the French soldiers, how many of them are still in the Central African Republic?
Deputy Spokesman: How many French soldiers are…?
Question: No, the ones that are… we're talking about these 11 French soldiers who have abused children, and I would like to know which ones…?
Deputy Spokesman: That's a question for the French authorities. They were informed of the people who are to be investigated. They received the information and are to follow up. So, it's for them to answer, you know, who's there and who isn't there. As for the… as for the information put out over the weekend by the High Commissioner, I don't have anything to add to that press release. I believe they may have something more to say in the days ahead. Yes?
Question: Thank you so much, Mr. Farhan. More than 50 activists and the human rights organizations send a letter to Mr. Ban Ki‑moon about continuing of violations through the Arabia human rights in Yemen. Did his office receive this letter? What is the reaction?
Deputy Spokesman: I'd have to check whether the letter was received. Yes?
Question: Also on Yemen, Farhan. What can you say about the result of the Special Envoy's talks in Sana'a? Are we any closer to having a Geneva conference, a new date?
Deputy Spokesman: There's nothing to announce just yet. He is working very hard to get that, and we're very hopeful that, even in the coming days, we can have an announcement, but we don't have one so far. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have a question about Iraq. There are recent reports about gruesome human rights violation in Anbar, the province of Anbar by pro-Government militias there, including a video that circulated of a man being burned alive by the pro-Government militias there. Does the United Nations have any comments about that? And the second one is about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. You mentioned the numbers, and there's a lack of funds there. Do you know any ‑‑ specifically how many programmes going to be shut, like in this month and the next if that fund remains this low?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we did warn of the need to get funds, certainly by July. And I do believe in the next few days our humanitarian colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will have further information to provide in terms of any fresh appeal for funds that we need. Regarding the human rights violations, we've made clear our own concerns about human rights. Ján Kubiš has spoken out about this, as has the Secretary‑General. In any instance in the fight against Da'esh, we want all the communities of Iraq to be united and we want to make sure that there is no cause for further violence among communities. Iraq has seen too much sectarian violence in the past years already. And we want to make sure that they do come together and so all… and we're reminding all parties, the Government, other militias and so forth of the need to work together. Yes?
Question: I wanted to ask, obviously, the President of Sudan, Omar al‑Bashir claimed re‑election by 94 per cent, and his inauguration is scheduled for 2 June. I wanted to know, who, if anyone, from the UN system will be represented at the inauguration ceremony? And if you have any… if there's been any communication by the Secretary‑General to Omar al‑Bashir?
Deputy Spokesman: There's not been any communication to date following that election, no.
Question: Who's going to attend? Is the country team sending someone?
Deputy Spokesman: I imagine it would be someone from the country team.
Question: Can you tell me who it sends once it happens?
Deputy Spokesman: Once it happens we will, yes.
Question: The British former Prime Minister Tony Blair has resigned as he was working as the Middle East envoy, the UN has accepted his resignation and UN will… anyone will be replaced in his position?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is a decision made by the Quartet as a whole, of which the UN is one component, and, yes, you're right, we have put out a statement following his departure from his post as the envoy of the Quartet. We don't have another replacement announcement to make. And with that said, let me…
Question: Can I ask a question on Burundi? I'd asked on Friday, Stéphane [Dujarric] said he would look into this Gottfroide Bizimana, who was photographed attacking demonstrators.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Stéphane did check with that. We checked with our peacekeeping colleagues who said there was no police officer with that name. Yes. Now let me get our guest.
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