Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 June 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Yemen, spoke just now to the press in Geneva. He said that during the discussions that have taken place with the Yemeni parties in Geneva in recent days, he believes that a ceasefire and withdrawal of forces can be reached following further consultations.
He noted that he did not expect that a single meeting would solve all the obstacles in the Yemeni peace process. But, nevertheless, he said there has seen several positive signs in his separate discussions with the parties. Although the parties did not get to an agreement that can be signed, the Special Envoy believes that there is a willingness among all parties to discuss a ceasefire accompanied by a withdrawal of forces. And he once more reiterates the urgent need for a fresh humanitarian pause in the fighting.
He added that he is heading to New York to brief the Security Council on the preliminary consultations that just took place in Geneva. After that, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that he expects to travel back to the region. And meanwhile, aid agencies today called for $1.6 billion to help the most vulnerable 11.7 million people impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Of this total, a funding shortfall of more than $1.4 billion remains until the end of the year.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, said in Geneva, a looming humanitarian catastrophe is facing Yemen. People across the country are struggling to feed their families. Basic services are collapsing in all regions. Millions of families no longer have access to clean water, proper sanitation or basic healthcare. Deadly diseases such as dengue and malaria have broken out, and supplies for acute trauma care are running dangerously low. A staggering 80 per cent of the population needs humanitarian assistance – over 21 million people. And again, this just underscores the need for a fresh humanitarian pause in the fighting. And we have more information on OCHA's [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] website and in a press release.
Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali, Mongi Hamdi, congratulated the Platforme coalition of armed groups yesterday for their decision to disengage from the town of Menaka, in line with the security arrangements signed in Algiers on 5 June. He said this development, along with the announced intention to sign the peace agreement by the Coordination coalition of armed groups tomorrow in Bamako, were "clear and reassuring signals" for the Malian population and the international community that the peace process is on the right track. The Security Council also said in a statement that it looks forward to tomorrow's announced signing of the peace agreement by the Coordination. And on the ground, the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission [in Mali] (MINUSMA) reported today that approximately 60 Platforme pick-up trucks were observed leaving Menaka today.
And the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, and her colleague, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, today welcomed the adoption of a General Assembly resolution establishing 19 June as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Approved by consensus, the resolution aims to raise awareness of the need to end conflict-related sexual violence, stand in solidarity with the survivors of sexual violence around the world, and pay tribute to all those working on the front-lines to eradicate this scourge.
And the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, will begin a five-day visit to Malaysia and Indonesia on 22 June. He will meet with senior officials of the respective Governments, as well as leaders of political parties and members of civil society. He will also meet with senior officials of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss cooperation on the ASEAN-UN Comprehensive Partnership. This will be Mr. Jenča's first visit to South-East Asia. He looks forward to engaging with key stakeholders and strengthening ASEAN-UN cooperation.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for $20 million to urgently support farmers in earthquake-hit Nepal, where a million people face the risk of prolonged food insecurity. To date, only 13 per cent of the $23 million FAO has asked for has been received. The Organization found that in Nepal's six hardest-hit districts, half of all farming households lost nearly all of their stored crops of rice, maize, wheat and millet. More information on FAO's website.
And as you know, Sunday is the first International Day of Yoga… that's 21 June. The Secretary-General will deliver a keynote address at an event at UN Headquarters, which will start at 10 a.m. at the Visitors' Lobby and Plaza, where I understand there will also be a Yoga demonstration. There will also be a Yoga event sponsored by the Permanent Mission of India in Times Square. And just for your planning, the Secretary-General may have a bilateral meeting with a senior Chinese official also on Sunday, and there will be a photo-op that will be in the media alert.
Meanwhile, on Monday at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference in this very room to update you on the negotiations on the Financing for Development agenda. And as you know, the summit in Addis Ababa is coming up rather soon. Khalas. Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On this Yemen… the failure that is being attributed to basically both sides blaming each other for that, have the Saudis in some way and the coalition partners agreed to a ceasefire, at all? Are there any inclinations at that level?
Spokesman: Well, I think you have characterized them as failure. I think they have ended in the way they have ended. The Special Adviser… Special Envoy spoke on that a short while ago. Obviously, there has been yet no agreement on a humanitarian pause or a ceasefire. The discussions will continue even if the parties are not in Geneva, and obviously, Saudi Arabia and regional and global powers are part of the overall discussions.
Question: The Houthis are still there in Geneva. They are still holed up in their hotel… at least, that is what the news reports say. But, the Saudis and the foreign ministers have already… so basically, there is a standoff?
Spokesman: Well, you know, I would urge you to… I don't know if you had a chance to watch the Special Envoy's press conference, but I would advise you to watch it in its entirety. Yes, some of the delegations are leaving, but phone and other ways to communicate will continue. Yes, behind you and then Joe? Go ahead. Yes. I need you to turn on your microphone, please.
Question: I am from news… Yonhap news agency from South Korea. The South Korean Foreign Minister will visit Japan this weekend. He will have a meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister and that will be a breakthrough between the two countries, who have the tense relationship the last couple of years due to the historical problem. Do you have any opinion? What do you think of that?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has very much encouraged dialogue between the Republic of Korea and Japan as an important axis for peace and development in the region. And he very much hopes that the outstanding issues can be resolved. Joe and then Edie and Matthew?
Question: First of all, just in follow‑up on Yemen, and I did not have a chance to see that webcast, but any relationship between the reported bombings by Saudi-allied coalition forces in the capital of Yemen that are reported to have killed several civilians and the breakdown or at least a temporary suspension of talks, that is one question. My main question is regarding Pope Francis's encyclical in which, among other things, he was very sharply critical of the use of market forces like cap and trade as a mechanism to reduce emissions. I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General in his conversations, meetings with the Pope had discussed that specific mechanism and their respective views on it. And how does taking or removing that option of cap and trade market forces affect the overall approach of the UN negotiations, which is to… is based on the principle that each country would state its individual commitments based on its own, you know, economy, culture, et cetera?
Spokesman: On the first part of your question, I think that's a question to be addressed to the parties themselves, as to why they have left or why they cannot come to an agreement. Obviously, it's extremely unfortunate that the fighting has continued to this day. I think as I've just underscored, though, the continuing, tremendous humanitarian need that we see in Yemen that only gets worse day by day with almost complete collapse of the healthcare system, resurgence of diseases, issues with not enough trauma kits and so on. So, it's unfortunate. And the Secretary‑General and the Special Envoy continue to call for humanitarian pause. On your second question, I think Farhan [Haq] may have answered… that question came up yesterday. And I think the Secretary‑General very strongly supports the Pope's efforts to ensure that climate change remains at the top of the global agenda and to mobilize his authority, his moral authority, in that regard. The fact that the Pope and the Secretary‑General may not agree on every line, on every approach, I think, doesn't take away in any way the Secretary‑General's support for the encyclical. The negotiations, as you rightly said, are Member State-led. It is up to the Member States to reach an agreement, to reach a strong agreement in Paris. The Secretary‑General is obviously following very closely. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is there to support it and they continue to support it. But, I don't… you know, I would not… we are not dissecting the encyclical to see where we differ with the Pope. I think we very much agree and are… welcome the fact that someone with such a strong moral voice has come out to raise these issues of climate change.
Question: The problem is very strong language regarding market or criticizing market forces, cap and trade among them, could really sway countries or discourage countries that might otherwise come up with their own commitments and plans? So, they work at cross purposes. And I wonder if you had any discussions beforehand, was he taken by surprise by this?
Spokesman: I understand what you're saying. I mean, they have had a couple, a number of conversations on climate change. I can tell you… honestly, I don't know if the issue of market cap and trade actually came into it. But, overall I think the Secretary‑General spoke strongly in support of the encyclical and continues to do so. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions: First, on Yemen, is there any indication you… at all of when the next round of consultations on Yemen will take place? You said that Cheikh Ahmed said that he never expected anything to happen in this first round, so, obviously, he envisions future rounds of talks. And is there any indication on that? And if you want to answer that, then I have a second question on Burundi.
Spokesman: Okay, on your first question, we are taking this day by day, step by step. He is coming to New York to brief the Security Council. We would also make sure he comes out of the stakeout and speaks to you and it's likely he will go through another round of regional trips and stop in different places in the region to consult with the various interested parties. So the short answer to your question: there is no date set for a second round; but it is clear that discussions can still happen without people meeting in Geneva.
Question: On Burundi, the human rights group there said today that 77 people had been killed since late April when all of the protests began, and that over 1,000 have been arrested. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on these?
Spokesman: I mean, we continue to be very concerned at the overall level of political violence in Burundi. The Secretary‑General's Special Representative for Central Africa, Mr. [Abdoulaye] Bathily, will be making his way, will be in discussions, currently in discussions to see what his role would be in the continuing process, conversations and process and consultation process that had been undertaken by Mr. [Said] Djinnit, and he will be acting under the authority, under the mandate of the African Union which has passed the resolution during the Johannesburg [Summit]. So, the short answer, we continue to be concerned at the overall level of violence and I think, even without an active role by Mr. Bathily, it's clear that the Government needs to respect people's rights to demonstrate freely and peacefully and that the rule of law needs to prevail. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Sure, Stéphane. I have a number of questions, but I feel I have to ask this one first and it has to do with…
Spokesman: Are you getting me on two cameras?
Question: I actually am, yes, and here is the reason for it. Yesterday, there was an open meeting in the basement, in Conference Room 9, which the Secretary‑General was to deliver a speech to a number of generals, and Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous was there. I went to attend it and it was listed in the media alert. I was told not to take pictures at the photo op, but I continued to, because it was in the hallway. But, in Conference Room 9, the security detail of the Secretary‑General told me I had to leave the open meeting at the direction of the organizer, Mr. Ladsous. And I wanted to know, one, what do you say about an open meeting, the press being excluded from it? Two, what is the role of the security detail of the Secretary‑General in excluding journalists that were far away from it?
Spokesman: I think it was an unfortunate situation and a misunderstanding and the decision to open up the meeting in the AE for the [Secretary-General's] part was taken late and I think everybody that should have known didn't know, so it was a misunderstanding.
Question: But, I guess what was the problem, given the meeting it was on UN TV and you distributed his remarks?
Spokesman: What I'm saying is that it was a misunderstanding and that all the people who should have known that it was an open meeting were not aware.
Correspondent: Isn't the default… I mean MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] was there and MALU said to the security detail to the Secretary‑General, "this is an open meeting", and they said: "It doesn't matter, if the organizer says you are out you are out".
Spokesman: It was a misunderstanding.
Question: Can you say from this podium that meetings that are open, that journalists should be able to remain inside them?
Spokesman: Of course. Everybody should know how the meeting is classified. It was a misunderstanding. Everybody who should have known should have known.
Question: I also I guess related as to security, it came up yesterday and Farhan said what he said, but I want maybe to take a second shot at it. There is a photograph of Ban Ki‑moon shaking hands with an individual who is on the US Al‑Qaida terrorist sanctions list. So, what I wanted to know is, I mean, in diplomacy you may have to meet with anyone, but my question actually has to do with entering the UN premises and role of the security detail of the Secretary‑General, did they know that this individual was listed as having financed if not being a member of Al‑Qaida?
Spokesman: I think you're right. In diplomacy, we have to speak to the people we have to speak to. As for the Secretary‑General's security, I'm not going to get into the details of it, but obviously, it's there to protect the security of the Secretary‑General and they do what they need to do.
Question: But, what do you think of the Hadi or Riyadh delegation having as one of its members a US-listed Al‑Qaida terrorist?
Spokesman: I think I have used as many words as I can on this. Yes, Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you Stéphane. Continuing on Yemen, and this is about the new UN appeal for humanitarian purposes, what do you think… the question is whether the donors would be motivated to contribute in view of the security situation and with the United Nations unable to deliver aid that it already has?
Spokesman: Well, I think we are delivering some aid, not as much as we would like, given the security situation. Obviously, it's not easy to ask for funds while the fighting is going on, but the bottom line is that the people who need help continue to need help, so we need to keep asking and we hope the donors react positively to the request. Dulcie and Evelyn, then Joe?
Question: Do you have a date when the Pope is supposed to come to speak to the General Assembly? Is that the right context?
Spokesman: It's 20… I'll get back to you… [24 September]?
Spokesman: Talk to your colleagues. They are obviously better informed than I am, but I can try to get you better dates. [He later informed the correspondent that Pope Francis's visit would be on 25 September.] Evelyn then Joe?
Question: Is the [Secretary-General] at the yoga celebration on Sunday, is he going to wear the white suit that they are distributing?
Spokesman: I don't know. You will have to be there to see it.
Question: Is he going to exercise?
Spokesman: He may partake in some yoga, but I don't know how much. Okay, Joe? Sorry, sorry. Go ahead. Can you put your microphone on, please?
Question: You mean it wasn't broadcast that we needed to see what the [Secretary-General] was wearing in yoga? Yes, on Yemen again, how do we not say the talks have collapsed and there is no new date?
Spokesman: It's a question of perspective. Mr. Klein? Joe, sorry, no, it's the other Joe, Lauria. I'm done with you.
Question: On Yemen, and Cheikh Ahmed may have addressed this and I did not see his remarks, but if he didn't, did he get the sense or is there a sense that if the Houthis agree, this is hypothetical, to withdraw as the Saudi Yemeni Government side is demanding, that the Saudis would accept some discussions of power sharing… in other words, the Houthis could take part in a future Government or do they want to finish them?
Spokesman: Joe, I would encourage you to watch the webcast. I think it's probably up on the archive now. I don't believe the Special Envoy went into that level of detail.
Question: So, I'm doing that now. Do you know if the Saudis would accept Houthis as part of that?
Spokesman: No. This is almost being done live in parallel to this briefing here. I don't have that.
Question: Another question please, on the peacekeeping issue: I read an interesting story on IPS by Thalif Deen and he quotes the peacekeepers saying, why are they giving us condoms at the UN if we are not allowed even consensual sex? Does the UN provide condoms to peacekeepers?
Spokesman: Yes. It was a part of a long‑term effort initiated quite a few years ago by a Permanent Representative, Ambassador [Richard] Holbrooke, in order to fight AIDS. Transactional sex, transactional sexual relations are forbidden.
Spokesman: Consensual relations with beneficiaries [are] strongly discouraged. I'm not going to go into the different… you know, I mean, peacekeepers are people and they have private lives, and they may partake in activities that are neither forbidden nor discouraged.
Question: What about among staff members, there is no prohibition about that, is there?
Spokesman: I'm not going into the different permutations.
Correspondent: We're getting into the bedroom here at the UN.
Spokesman: We will move on to your neighbour, thank you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you say, the Yoga Day is this Sunday and we are very much enthusiastic on this day. And Saturday is the World Refugee Day and United Nations is observing this day since 2000. And this year is very critical for the refugees and we have seen so many incidents. So, what is your comment on this day, for Refugee Day?
Spokesman: Well, I think I would encourage you to read what the High Commissioner for Refugees has put out yesterday. I think we are in a time where we have never seen so many refugees and displaced people since the Second World War… pushed by conflict, search for natural resources, search for better jobs and better life. A number of countries are under tremendous pressure by the extremely high number of refugees they are harbouring without enough resources, and it is important that refugees worldwide are given the rights and respect that are due to them and that the burden of caring for refugees be shared amongst nations. Sir, then sir? Yes, you, sir.
Question: Thank you. On this explosive situation in Kashmir, which is now, again, there is a complete strike in the city of Srinagar and so forth and the Indian forces are again being moved. Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about this situation?
Spokesman: Nothing to add to what I think either you or someone else asked the question to Farhan in the last 48 hours. Mr. Lee?
Question: Continuing on transparency and/or retaliation, there is a decision by the UN Dispute Tribunal in Nairobi in a case called Mega vs. Secretary‑General, which describes a UN staff member of UN-Women complaining about irregular financial transactions and then having their contract terminated and the court has… the Tribunal, excuse me, has concluded they are appalled that the person was dismissed after reporting misappropriations and how little interest was taken in the report of corruption. So, this is actually the staff… one of the two staff unions has circulated to all staff here. And I'm wondering what is the response of the Secretary‑General to a seeming pattern both at Office of Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva, in Nairobi and elsewhere of continuing retaliation against those who report wrongdoing?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the specific case you mentioned; obviously, we respect the decisions of the Tribunal. Yes, there are a number of cases that fit the description you made. I would not call them a pattern. And they are being addressed individually.
Question: You said from here that Mr. [Anders] Kompass, the whistle-blower or alleged whistleblower, is being extended. Has his contract been extended? Because I was told it has not yet.
Spokesman: I believe it has or will be.
Question: The other one is: What is the status… it was announced with much fanfare there would be a high‑level panel to look into the CAR [Central African Republic] allegations?
Spokesman: I very much hope to be able to make an announcement in the first couple days of next week.
Question: And on Burundi, the independent UN expert on transitional justice put out this statement overnight, saying, basically, that under current conditions fair elections are not possible. And what I wonder is both Mr. Bathily, but also this MENUB [United Nations Electoral Mission in Burundi] and it's not clear what that Mission, and I've tried to ask a couple of times, there is a mission that is there, what are they doing?
Spokesman: They are working under the mandate afforded to them by the Security Council; obviously how they… the kind of support they give to the electoral process will depend on the consultations that we hope take place.
Question: And this is just to give a comment: Given that the Arusha process seems to indicate that the Constitution can be changed with an 80 per cent vote and given that the opposition now says they will boycott the parliamentary elections that are coming up before the presidential ones, is there a concern that things could actually become worse?
Spokesman: I think there is always a concern that things can become worse but obviously the future of Burundi will have to be decided by the Burundian people.
Correspondent: You just dismissed this question about Kashmir.
Spokesman: I didn't dismiss it. I said it had been answered.
Correspondent: No, but the thing is the situation has developed now.
Spokesman: I understand. What I'm saying to you is I have nothing to add to what has been said and if I can say more, I will. Thank you.
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