Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 June 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will have seen, the Secretary-General just spoke at an informal briefing of the General Assembly on Ebola, saying we are in the last mile of the response, but the job is not done. He applauded Liberia on being declared Ebola-free on 9 May, but said we cannot celebrate yet. As long as there are Ebola cases in any country in the region, all countries are at risk. Community engagement and active surveillance are essential, and any lapse in vigilance could allow the virus to spread, the Secretary-General warned.
The Secretary-General called on the General Assembly to continue lending its political weight to the effort against Ebola — and on donors to continue their contributions. He also said that, on 10 July, here in New York, he will convene an International Ebola Recovery Conference to help mobilize the resources needed to start early recovery. His Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said it was essential to continue to support communities, for them to become more resilient to win the fight against this outbreak and to deal with potential future health emergencies.
Also here, the Secretary-General marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, otherwise known as UNRWA. This was at a ceremony this morning. He said that in the absence of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has become more than an agency. It is a lifeline. And at a time of turmoil in the region, UNRWA remains a vital stabilizing factor. The Secretary-General also repeated his call to the leaders of Israel, Palestine and all parties with influence to resume meaningful negotiations without further delay, and put an end to unilateral actions that erode trust.
And the Secretary-General also underscored the continued immense suffering of Palestinian refugees in Syria, especially in the Yarmouk camp. The Commissioner-General of the Relief and Works Agency, Pierre Krähenbühl, praised the work his Agency has done over the past 65 years and said that UNRWA is resolute in wanting to provide quality services to the Palestine refugee community.
Also from the region, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today that, one year after President Mahmoud Abbas announced its formation, the Government of National Consensus has been able to overcome many obstacles. These include the four-month withholding of Palestinian tax revenues and the insufficient disbursement of donor contributions, which has resulted in a contraction of the Palestinian economy.
Mr. Mladenov also welcomed the determination of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to find a solution to the outstanding issue of public sector employees in Gaza. He encouraged all parties to support this effort. The Special Coordinator added that genuine Palestinian reconciliation and unity are critical for improving the situation in Gaza, advancing reconstruction, and for addressing the wider political question of a two-State solution.
I just received this update regarding the activities from the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, who returned to Bujumbura after attending the East African Community Summit on Sunday in Dar es Salam, Tanzania. He is now consulting with Burundian stakeholders with a view to resume the consultative political dialogue.
Also, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, met yesterday afternoon with the First Vice-President of Burundi, Mr. Prosper Bazombanza. Mr. Feltman noted that the recommendations of the East African Summit provided the Government with an additional opportunity to create the conditions for peaceful and credible elections. He encouraged the Government to seize that opportunity to take concrete steps, specifically, to ensure security of the electoral process and of political and civil society actors; also the disarmament of armed civilians; strengthening of the national independent electoral commission; and the vote of refugees.
Mr. Feltman encouraged the Government to resume its participation in the consultative political dialogue in good faith. We remain concerned about the possibility of an escalation of violence and we reiterate our calls for calm and restraint. We urge Burundians to express their views peacefully. We reiterate our calls for calm and call on security forces to exercise maximum restraint in their management of public demonstrations and stress the rights of Burundians to express their views, and urge them to do so peacefully.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General has also spoken on the phone to President [Jakaya] Kikwete of Tanzania, and President [Eduardo] Dos Santos of Angola. That was yesterday. The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for the Presidents' respective leadership in helping addressing the political crisis in Burundi. He discussed how best the UN, the East African Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region could help defuse tensions and support the holding of peaceful and credible elections in Burundi. I expect to have a bit more in the readout of these phone calls shortly.
From Afghanistan, the UN [Assistance] Mission in that country (UNAMA) has expressed its outrage at the murder of nine aid workers from the People in Need non-profit organization. They were killed during an overnight attack at the agency's compound in the northern province of Balkh. No party has claimed responsibility so far.
On South Sudan: our colleagues at the UN refugee agency say that heavy fighting in South Sudan's Unity and Upper Nile States over the last two months has displaced more than 100,000 people and blocked humanitarian aid deliveries for some 650,000 people. Since the beginning of the year, 60,000 South Sudanese have fled the country, mostly to Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. The total number of South Sudanese who fled the country since December 2013 has now reached 555,000, while some 1.5 million remain internally displaced inside their own country. In that context, the UN refugee agency is extremely concerned that the 2015 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan is only 10 per cent funded. As you will have seen, yesterday afternoon, after the briefing, we issued a statement condemning the expulsion of the Secretary-General UN Deputy Special Representative, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer. And that statement was sent to you and is online.
From Libya, the UN Support Mission in that country (UNSMIL) condemned the suicide bombing that took place near Misrata earlier this week. The Mission says that the attack clearly aims to undermine the ongoing dialogue process, which is at a crucial juncture. The Mission continues to urge all Libyan parties engaged in the political process to work together to reach a political agreement and establish an inclusive Government that can effectively combat the scourge of terrorism and prevent terrorist groups from expanding their reach inside Libya. That statement is online.
As you will have seen, Stephen O'Brien was officially sworn in as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations. And that took place yesterday in New York. Mr. O'Brien said that he looks forward to working intensively with the humanitarian community at a time when there are so many people in need and so many crises demanding our urgent action. As you know, he succeeds Valerie Amos and the Secretary-General has expressed deep gratitude for Ms. Amos' dedicated service and commitment to helping the most vulnerable people affected by conflict and disasters around the world.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that some 2.8 million people remain in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the earthquake in Nepal. The Nepal Flash Appeal, which has been revised down from $423 to $422 million, is currently underfunded with only $120 million having been received so far. The fast-approaching monsoon season is expected to further complicate aid delivery especially in remote areas, which are the worst affected. Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal, said that our top priority is to provide vulnerable people of Nepal with the basics to ensure their survival throughout the monsoon.
**United Nations Children's Fund
Just two other notes: Child abuse and violence is costing countries in East Asia and the Pacific more than $200 billion per year, which is equivalent to 2 per cent of the region's GDP [gross domestic product]. That's according to new research commissioned by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and it is the first time the cost of child maltreatment in the region has been estimated. UNICEF's Regional Director Daniel Toole said that we all know that violence against children must stop because it is morally wrong, adding that the new research shows that inaction about violence against children results in serious economic costs to countries and communities.
As you know, and that's why you are here, after we are done, the President of the Security Council will be there at 12:30 p.m. And that is Ambassador Ramlan bin Ibrahim, Permanent Representative of Malaysia. And you're not ready.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you for giving me the honour to ask the first question. Can you please update us on the situation in Yemen and whether the Secretary‑General is working on another humanitarian pause and when? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, we would love and we are very keen to see cessation of the violence as soon as possible. I think, as you know, we were very deeply disappointed that the previous pause did not continue beyond the five days. The continued fighting and continued violence has very much hampered our ability to deliver aid. We, obviously, as you well know, through Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, are working on the political track, and when we have some more concrete information to announce on that, we will. Sherwin, then Matthew, then Olga.
Question: Thanks. With regard to Toby Lanzer's expulsion, have there been interactions behind the scenes? Has the Ambassador to the United Nations been summoned by the Secretary‑General? What is the relationship between the United Nations and the Government of South Sudan today?
Spokesman: Well, the relationship between the Government of South Sudan and the United Nations is a critical one. Obviously, we have a very important peacekeeping mission there. The UN is providing critical humanitarian aid, and that's exactly what Mr. Lanzer was doing. Contacts have continued at various levels, especially on the ground, in an effort to get the Government to reverse its decision, which as of now it has not.
Question: The Government has said it will not reverse the decision, and they've made reference to Toby Lanzer's utterances and activities which allegedly undermine the nation's sovereignty. How do you respond to that?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General and the United Nations fully back Mr. Lanzer in his activities. I think he was essential in the time that he was here in addressing the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan, ensuring that life‑saving aid would get through. I think almost every day we talk about the situation in South Sudan. I mean, we're talking about more than 1.5 million people internally displaced. Six hundred and fifty thousand people, 650,000 people have no access to humanitarian aid because of the continued fighting. And the United Nations, despite the violence on the ground, is continuing to do its best to deliver life‑saving aid. Matthew, then Olga.
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Burundi and CAR [Central African Republic], but just a follow‑up on Yemen. There are reports of Security Council members meeting directly or indirectly with the Houthis in Oman, not just the United States, but I've heard other of the members of the Security Council have basically set up kind of a second… looks to be second process of Yemen talks. And I wanted to know, does the UN have any involvement in that? Does the Special Envoy… is he involved in these talks in Oman or is it kind of a loss of relevance?
Spokesman: We're following what's going on. We have, as far as I know, not been represented in Oman. Security Council members or any Member State are free, obviously, to do whatever they wish to do. The Secretary‑General and through his Special Envoy are acting to try to find a political solution in accordance with the Security Council resolution on Yemen that was passed not too long ago, which specifically asked him to re-launch these talks.
Question: What would you say… I mean, to those who would say the replacement of the envoy and the decision to cede to this request to cancel twice, but at least 28 May, cancel the talks with Geneva has kind of made the UN mediation less relevant?
Spokesman: No, I would completely disagree. I think we're continuing, despite whatever odds there may be. We're continuing to try to find that political solution, and we have the full and unanimous backing of the Security Council.
Question: And on the same kind of theme, on Burundi, you… the readout of all these calls to other presidents. But, has anyone in the UN system spoken to the President, [Pierre] Nkurunziza, of Burundi? Has there been any attempt to actually speak to him?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any direct communication between the Secretary‑General and the President. We'll see what's happened on the ground.
Question: Have there been efforts? Would he like to talk to him?
Spokesman: I think… we are engaged with all parties on this. Olga?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I would like to clarify on humanitarian pause in Yemen. You said several times that Secretary‑General and his envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed are working to call the conference as soon as possible on Geneva. But, do they discuss right now… is it the topic of the discussions that the humanitarian pause should take place before the conference or…?
Spokesman: I think the conference… the consultations in Geneva should take place without any preconditions. We need to get the people around the table. We would also like to see an immediate cessation of hostilities, but it's not… we're not in a situation where we need to see a cessation before the talks begin.
Question: The Special Envoy has some talks with the representatives in the region and Yemeni parties. Is it the topic of the discussion that…
Spokesman: You know, everything is interlinked in a sense. We're trying to get… we're trying to get everyone back around the table without precondition. And we would also very much like to see an immediate cessation of hostilities to get the aid delivered. We'll go and then I'll come back to you, Benny.
Question: Thank you. Regarding Yemen again, there are talks again about the proposal to a five‑week ceasefire by the Saudi‑led coalition. Do you get any… the United Nations got any indication…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen any reports on that.
Question: Is there any indication by the Saudi‑led coalition that this kind of ceasefire is possible or any kind of ceasefire?
Spokesman: Well, we've seen a pause for five days. We would like to see… we would continue to like to see a cessation of hostilities to get the aid in. Signore and then George?
Question: Yes. I thought, if I understand correctly, there was a phone call between… or supposed to be phone call between Secretary‑General and the President of Burundi. Didn't happen. Farhan [Haq] announced that at this press briefing. And after that, I wonder if the UN considers a good step… a step in the right direction, the freedom of this American citizen today in Yemen.
Spokesman: I think the freedom of any hostage is to be welcome, whether an international or local. We would like to see anyone who's being held against their will freed. George, then Carole, then Benny. You came late, Benny.
Question: Stéphane, you mentioned that in South Sudan, there are about a million and a half people displaced and 800,000 with no access to humanitarian services. Do you happen to recall approximately now, and a year and a half ago when all this nonsense started, what the total population of South Sudan was?
Spokesman: No. But, I can probably use a Google machine and find out what the population of South Sudan…
Question: Okay. I can check. Thank you. Thank you.
Spokesman: Thank you. I should know. Carol, then Evelyn, then Benny. Sorry.
Question: I just wanted to clarify on Toby Lanzer. Did the South Sudanese give you a reason for the expulsion? And where is he now, Toby Lanzer? And what do you make of the fact that they made this decision when he was on his way out anyway?
Spokesman: He's out of the country on previously scheduled travel, and part of the reason he was out of the country is to raise funds for the humanitarian appeal for South Sudan. I think the South Sudanese Government in its public utterances has made its position clear. We'll go to the back and then…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, a UN ship carrying relief material to Yemen was diverted. Where is that ship now, or has it been able to dock?
Spokesman: I… let me check. I have not seen… I have not seen that report. But let me check. [He later informed the correspondent that the ship had docked in Hudaydah.] Evelyn, then Benny?
Question: Just to make that clear on South Sudan, there's no reason that you know of why it was…?
Spokesman: Well, obviously… when you declare a person persona non grata, you're displeased with him. The reasons given publicly and privately were very similar. Mr. Avni?
Question: Steph, can you update us, preferably every day… on where the Secretary‑General is at in his deliberation of whether to include Israel in that child report?
Spokesman: I think you will all… you will see the report when it's issued, and you will be able to read it and see what what's in it when it's issued…
Question: What are the guidelines that include whatever entity or States in that list, and are they applied equally to everyone?
Spokesman: I think you will see… I will ask you to wait and see the report and read it for yourself. Sherwin, then Matthew?
Question: Back to South Sudan, the UN has been very critical about the leadership in the country with regard to the civil war that's been ongoing there. Is this a case perhaps of tit for tat?
Spokesman: No, I think the Secretary… the UN and the Secretary‑General has been, I think, very frank in his assessment of what both the President and Riek Machar need to do, which is to get back to the negotiating table, put the interests of their people first. He said that fairly clearly, and we see as these peace negotiations, these talks led by IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] have not borne fruit. We see the continuing suffering and these staggering numbers that we talk about every day here. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Central African Republic but first just a factual. Who attended for the UN President [Omar al-]Bashir's inauguration?
Spokesman: The… the acting resident representative and resident coordinator attended the inauguration.
Question: Okay. Then what I wanted to ask is… and there are a number of questions, but there's one… in… it seems clear, and I know that you've disputed somehow the authenticity of these documents that came out, but in them, Prince Zeid, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, uses a private e-mail address, and some people have said, given… I'm sure you're aware of the issues that have arisen in the US about this, but what I wanted to ask you generally, what is the UN's policy on record retention on high officials conducting public business through a private address? Are these records kept? The same applies to Mr. [Andres] Kompass was asked to provide his version of the story to a private address. What would the distinction be? And also, as to the Secretary‑General, yesterday, Farhan said it was in the spring; it was in March. Can you… will you say did the Secretary‑General himself learn of the alleged sexual abuse in CAR at the staff retreat in Turin? And if so, what did he personally do or direct staff to do after he…
Spokesman: I have nothing to add to my answer that I gave you previously on that at this point. On the retention policy, I'm sure it's included in one of the many bulletins that we have, and we can look to it.
Question: What would you say to… basically, it looks like to the whistle-blower that he was being set up. That's what people are saying. He was told to put his… his version… after the three, OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], the Ethics Office, Ms. [Susana] Malcorra met in Turin, he was contacted and asked to put his version in writing, but to a private e-mail address, and the next thing you know, he was asked to resign. So what's… why was he asked to write… send to a private email address…?
Spokesman: I think the way… the way this was… the way this issue was handled within OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] and other places is being looked at by OIOS. And I'm not going to comment on it.
Correspondent: The final thing I'm going to say, and again, these e-mails… again, you can dispute the authenticity of them, but they say…
Spokesman: I'm not… I'm…
Correspondent: …the investigation is only about Kompass. It's not about anything else.
Spokesman: What I've… the investigation will lead where it leads. There's…
Correspondent: There's an OIOS rule that says… and Ms. Carman Lapointe has put in writing that the investigators of OIOS are not supposed to look beyond the terms that they're asked to investigate.
Spokesman: We've gone this back and forth. I have nothing to add or change on that. I will leave you in the presence of the president of the Security Council, who I'm sure is not far. Okay.
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