Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
1 July 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, let's get started.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a high-level event to remember and honour the victims of the genocide at Srebrenica.
He said that the atrocious murder of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica will forever weigh on the collective conscience of the international community. The United Nations, which was founded to prevent such crimes from recurring, failed in its responsibilities to protect the lives of innocent civilians seeking protection from the conflict and violence around them, the Secretary-General said. The UN Secretariat, the Security Council and Member States share the blame.
The Secretary-General said that the international community has its own responsibility to learn from the massacre. In the two decades since, we have taken many steps to fulfil this fundamental obligation, with the United Nations having strengthened its work for prevention.
At the same time, the Secretary-General said, it is clear we must do more. The international community is still failing too many people in desperate need in places such as Syria and South Sudan.
He said that we need to promise the victims of Srebrenica to make right what was done wrong.
His full remarks are available in our office and on our website.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, convened an ad hoc Principals meeting to discuss the activation of an Inter-Agency Standing Committee system-wide level 3 emergency response for Yemen today. All agencies agreed to declare the level 3 for a period of six months, with an interim review planned for September.
More than 21.1 million people — over 80 percent of Yemen's population — now need some form of humanitarian assistance, with 11.7 million targeted for assistance under the Revised Humanitarian Response Plan.
Nearly 13 million people face a food security crisis and 9.4 million people have their access to water cut or severely disrupted, raising the risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases, including cholera. There are reports of dengue fever and malaria in the south and areas bordering Saudi Arabia. The health system is facing imminent collapse, with the closure of at least 160 health facilities due to insecurity and lack of fuel or other critical supplies.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is being forced to implement deeper cuts in food assistance for vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan because of a severe lack of funding.
In July, the World Food Programme will cut in half the value of food vouchers, or "e-cards", in Lebanon, providing only $13.50 per person per month. In Jordan, WFP fears that if it does not receive immediate funding by August, it will have to suspend all assistance to Syrian refugees living outside camps, leaving some 440,000 people with no food.
WFP is funded entirely by contributions from Governments, companies and private individuals. But its regional refugee operation is currently 81 per cent underfunded and immediately requires $139 million to continue helping desperate refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September.
Limited resources have already forced WFP to reduce its assistance to 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the five countries.
On 29 and 30 June, Envoys of the Middle East Quartet met in Cairo as the first step in their regular and direct outreach to Arab States. Over the last two days, the Envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby, and National Security Advisor Fayza Abou el-Naga. Discussions focused on ways to advance the two-State solution, and on how to create the conditions for the return to meaningful negotiations.
The Quartet Envoys underlined the pivotal role Egypt plays in achieving a sustainable and just Israeli-Palestinian peace and noted the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative for a comprehensive resolution of the conflict.
I was asked earlier about the recent shootings in the West Bank and I can say the following:
The Secretary-General condemns the latest shooting attacks in the West Bank. He notes with concern the high number of violent incidents over the past two weeks. He also calls on all sides to exercise restraint, remain calm and promptly bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice.
According to casualty figures released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), a total of 1,466 Iraqis were killed and another 1,687 were wounded in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in June. Of those numbers, 665 civilians were killed and more than 1,000 wounded. Those figures have to be considered as an absolute minimum, given the difficulty the Mission has in gaining access to conflict areas.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, gave an update to the Human Rights Council today in Geneva on Boko Haram. He said that interviews with former captives and survivors of Boko Haram attacks in north-east Nigeria indicate a pattern of vicious and indiscriminate attacks stretching back months, and even years.
Zeid also said that it was vital for regional security forces to refrain from adding to the suffering of the people in the conduct of their operations. He insisted on the need for greater attention to human rights by both the military and the police forces in concerned countries when carrying out security operations against Boko Haram.
He said he was dismayed by reports that adults, and even children, who have been held captive and even enslaved by Boko Haram for months — and who have been delivered from captivity by Government forces — are being subjected to detention, sometimes for lengthy periods, without charges. He also strongly urged for the most compassionate possible interpretation of the current regulations in Nigeria on abortion in the case of formerly captive women and girls who are pregnant.
The large majority of the 137,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe during the first half of this year were fleeing from war, conflict or persecution, making the Mediterranean crisis primarily a refugee one.
That's according to a new report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which says that one third of people arriving in Italy or Greece were from Syria, whose nationals are almost universally deemed to qualify for refugee status or other forms of protection. The second and third most common countries of origin are Afghanistan and Eritrea, whose nationals are also mostly considered to qualify for refugee status.
There was an 83 per cent increase in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from January to June — 137,000 compared to 75,000 in the same period last year.
The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April of this year, when more than 1,300 people drowned or went missing in a single month, compared to 42 last April.
The heads of UN agencies today issued a call for a comprehensive people-oriented approach to the irregular movement of migrants and refugees in South-east Asia ahead of a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) later this week.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Migration and Development, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also urged States to expand avenues for safe and legal migration while stepping up law enforcement, including the prosecution of those involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling syndicates.
They also continue to urge intensified efforts to identify and respond to the root causes of the irregular movement, and therefore call for the protection of the human rights of all migrants and refugees at places of origin, transit and destination.
Their full statement is available online.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said today it will scale up its emergency operation in eastern Ukraine to provide 500,000 people affected in the region with food assistance until the end of the year.
This is nearly triple the number of people that WFP has been reaching since November 2014 through food distributions in Donestsk and Luhansk. WFP will now also distribute food in three additional regions. There is more information on this on WFP's website.
Also, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that several aid convoys have reached non-Government controlled areas of Ukraine following the opening of a checkpoint in Donetsk region.
Access for humanitarian cargo to cross the contact line between Government-controlled areas and non-Government controlled areas has been suspended for three weeks.
From the World Health Organization: Cuba has become the first country in the world to receive validation from WHO that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's Director General, said it was one of the greatest public health achievements possible and a major victory against HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
As treatment for prevention of mother-to-child-transmission is not 100 per cent effective, elimination of transmission is defined as a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem.
The announcement comes after an international expert mission visited Cuba in March 2015 to validate the progress made in the country.
More details on this process are available on WHO's website.
I would also like to flag the latest Agricultural Outlook report produced by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
That report, available online, says that strong crop yields, higher productivity and slower growth in global demand should contribute to a gradual decline in real prices for agricultural products over the coming decade.
For our honour roll: We have only 91 Member States to go who have not yet paid their regular budget dues in full.
Our thanks go to Mauritius, which, because of its payment yesterday, became the 102nd country to join the Honour Roll. Thank you, Port Louis!
For press conferences: tomorrow, at 1:45 p.m., Ambassador Gerard Jacobus van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand and President of the Security Council for the month of July, will brief you on the Council's programme of work.
And that's it for me. Do you have any questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I… first, I wanted to ask you, yesterday I'd asked about Burundi and this MENUB (United Nations Electoral Observer Mission in Burundi) observer mission. Since then, at least six people are reported to have been killed in unrest in the area of Mutakora and Cibitoke has been closed off to the media. What is the report of MENUB?
Deputy Spokesman: All right. We are actually still awaiting the report from the UN Electoral Mission in Burundi, MENUB. It's going to have a preliminary technical assessment on the electoral process, including Monday's polls. The Security Council is to take up Burundi tomorrow. It will hear both from MENUB and from Special Representative, Abdoulaye Bathily, who's participating in the national dialogue aimed at helping Burundians reach agreement on how to create the conditions for credible, inclusive and peaceful elections. So we'll have to await that report.
Question: And beyond those two bodies, is there any UN body that's actually keeping track of, you know, those killed in the violence or restrictions on the press from covering this crackdown?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there is a Human Rights Office on the ground, and so we have been monitoring the human rights conditions. I don't have anything to report in advance of tomorrow's Security Council briefing, but they have been keeping track both of that and of other conditions related to the electoral process. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Farhan, there's a pattern of attacks by the Saudi‑led coalition in Yemen against monuments of certain sects and certain religions. Does the United Nations have anything to say about such an attitude?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly hope that all the parties to the conflict will respect both religious sites and historical landmarks, and, as you know, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has also raised its concerns about such sorts of attacks. So we would call on all sides to do that and, also, of course, to avoid any attacks that could further inflame sectarianism.
Question: On the mission of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the envoy, is there any progress? Is he going to Sana'a soon? And do you have anything to report?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is in Riyadh. We do expect him to travel to Sana'a sometime within the next week or so. And we'll provide any further details, but right now, he's working to talk to as many people on either side to see what he can do to bring about some form of a ceasefire.
Yes, Maria Carmen?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Perhaps I missed it at the beginning. But there's news out of Havana and Washington about the opening of embassies on 20 July. Will there be any statement regarding this? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, there may be. We are aware of this latest news. As you know, we've welcomed the progress in the bilateral relations between the two countries, and we may have something further to say on this as we evaluate the latest developments today.
[The following statement was issued later that afternoon: The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement today that Cuba and the United States will reopen embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C. The restoration of diplomatic ties is an important step on the path toward the normalization of relations. In keeping with the principles of its founding Charter, the United Nations supports efforts to promote harmonious and good neighbourly relations among States. The Secretary-General hopes that this historic step will benefit the peoples of both countries.]
Question: Yes, Farhan. About Iraq, there are reports that the United Nations and even the UN officials in Baghdad said that it will try to deliver aid to the refugees and those of need under the ISIS control in those territories in Iraq. Has… do you have any updates about that? Have they been successful?
Deputy Spokesman: This is not something we've been able to do so far. We obviously want to have access to as many people in need as possible, and we try to do as much as we can. Of course, given the nature of the fighting and the nature of ISIS's control over certain parts, there are places which have been hard to access. So we've been trying up until now to provide aid to people who can flee from those areas of ISIS — of Da'esh control to other areas. But if we can get further access, we would certainly try to do that.
Question: My second question is: Cardinal Peter Turkson on Monday told me that Vatican and others, they're looking if ISIS gotten hold of a territory and stop the fight, they might be looking into talks with ISIS, through other countries, other channels. Does the United Nations have any comment about this, possibility of talk with an organisation like ISIS?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't comment on how the Holy See conducts its affairs. That's the affairs of a separate UN member. But for our part, our position on Da'esh has not changed, and we have called on all States to be united in efforts to counter the spread of Da'esh. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask kind of two interrelated questions. It's been announced by the French Defence Ministry that two of its soldiers in the Burkina Faso have been suspended on allegations of sexual abuse of a 5‑year‑old girl. So I wanted to know, given these pending allegations in CAR [Central African Republic], which the UN was aware last year, first, do you have any comment on that? Second, is there any update on the panel, now that we're in July? And third, yesterday you told me to write to UNICEF for their position on their role in the non… seeming non-action on this, and I did immediately from this very room. And I just… I guess I want to tell you I still don't have an answer. So I'd like to ask you…
Deputy Spokesman: On the last one, luckily, UNICEF has conveyed to me something to share with you, which is the following: What they're saying is that the Secretary‑General has established an independent review into the process and the actions of the United Nations in relation to the Central African Republic cases. To support the integrity of that independent process, UNICEF does not plan any press conference on the issue. UNICEF continues to focus on the protection and care for the children who reported abuse, to monitor that they are receiving necessary support, and to protect the children from exposure to further traumatic experiences.
So that is for that. You've asked several questions. So please repeat those.
Question: A follow‑up to that one.
Deputy Spokesman: That's what I have.
Question: It seems like the panel is now an opportunity to not answer questions. One of the questions that I asked them was, simply, does UNICEF have a policy of telling host country Governments when they become aware of allegations of sexual abuse against their own nationals? This seems like they shouldn't be able to say that.
Deputy Spokesman: This is the response of UNICEF and that's where they stand. Regarding the activities of the panel, I don't have any further updates to provide. Right now, the panel is in the process of gathering information. I know that a number of UN offices are sharing whatever relevant information they have, and we'll have to see what they do with that.
Question: Are the three panellists in New York?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't believe that they are in New York right now. But certainly we will share with them whatever information we can and they'll take it upon them.
Question: Has the ten weeks begun? Has the clock begun of the ten weeks?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, the clock has begun. They're gathering information from… as I just said. And you had some other question?
Question: Burkina Faso, whether there's any comments on the peacekeepers there…
Deputy Spokesman: Those are not UN peacekeepers. That's a separate French force that has nothing to do with the United Nations. Yes?
Question: For Yemenis who want to flee the… of course, the conflict there, and there are millions of them, is there any other way other than to go to Djibouti and those who can go to Djibouti, their numbers are very limited. Did you detect any fleeing through the northern borders or the eastern borders?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, there have been… we are aware of Yemenis trying to take to the high seas to escape from the country. We've been reporting on that particular influx. From our standpoint, the big worry is that many Yemenis remain trapped in a country where they are in need of aid and they have not been able to get it. As I just said at the start of the briefing, I think before you entered, that more than 21 million people, more than four fifths of all Yemenis, are in need, are in humanitarian need. So this has become a very severe emergency, and we need to be able to support them. This is why, among other things, we need to make sure that there is a halt to the fighting and that there is sufficient humanitarian access that we can get aid to people.
Question: There was some reports yesterday that some of those who were trying to enter Saudi Arabia as civilians were shot at the border. Is there anybody monitoring that? Has anybody succeeded in getting into Saudi Arabia? That's the longest border, of course. And if there's any way to flee, especially in the northern governorates, they… their only way out is Saudi Arabia.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we don't have a presence at the Saudi border so I wouldn't be able to verify that. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. You mentioned, regarding Ukraine, some of the progress the UN has made in humanitarian aid. I was wondering if there's any update in terms of the level of fighting that's still going on there, you know, whether it's increased, decreased, and what kind of fighting is continuing.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we've given periodic updates through the human rights monitoring mechanism that's been on the ground there. And so they report periodically about the situation. It's very clear that the fighting has continued. We've made clear our various concerns about the situation of the fighting as it's progressed and we'll continue to do so.
Question: And just a follow‑up.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: Is there… in terms of casualties, again, is there any analysis of who's being killed?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, again, that's been done by the human rights monitoring mechanism and they've been reporting periodically to the Security Council. So the Council has received that information.
Question: Do you know when the new report will be coming out
Deputy Spokesman: I believe there was one that came out just about a week or so ago. Yes?
Question: Sure, thanks. I saw an interview by Mr. [Pedro] Medrano, the Special Envoy on cholera in Haiti, saying he's now leaving that post. There was an interview with UN News Centre. And I guess I wanted you to confirm, is that true? And given that he says there's been 16,000 new cases of cholera and that the interview doesn't mention in any way the widespread allegation that the UN brought cholera to Haiti, why is he leaving now? Will he be replaced? And what would you say to those who say where's the follow‑through?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, it's anticipated that he'll be leaving in the coming months. I don't have a formal announcement yet, but once that happens, we'll be able to say how we're handling this and who will take over those responsibilities. But that's going to be a little bit down the line. He's still on the job right now.
Question: Yeah. Before he leaves, can he do an interview with the media here, rather than just UN News Centre?
Deputy Spokesman: I'll certainly ask him.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes?
Question: Saudi Arabia has counter‑terrorism office, United Nations counter‑terrorism office. In the meantime, they also finance and operate stations that incite sectarianism and terrorism, the same ideology they are fighting. Many of these stations are based in Saudi Arabia. Others are in London and other parts of the Middle East. Is there any plan to curtail such incitement and cause the same ideology of ISIS, as propagated through these stations?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, that's really more an editorial comment than a question. So I don't necessarily agree with expression of your opinion — although, of course, you're free to express it. Regardless, of course, we call on all States to reject sectarianism and to abide by the values of tolerance that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we do so in this case as well. Yes?
Question: I have three questions, and they are questions. One has to do with a self‑described whistleblower of UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur], a Mr. Oriano Micaletti, who says that he's being investigated after he filed the complaint against Ms. Mindaoudou, who's now the head…
Deputy Spokesman: Mindaoudou. Aichatou Mindaoudou.
Question: Okay — who's now the Head of the mission in Côte d'Ivoire. And basically, I mean, one, I wanted to… if you can confirm, one, that he filed the complaint, two, that he's under investigation, and the third thing, which I only learned this morning, is that, is he… is the investigation of what occurred in Darfur being conducted from Juba rather than from Darfur, due to a failure of the board of inquiry or the investigators to get visas?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have details about an investigation. What I can say about Mr. Micaletti is that the abolition of his position was part of a streamlining exercise undertaken in 2014 following Security Council Resolution 2148. As part of this exercise, UNAMID's structure has been reorganized to improve its capacity and responsiveness to the new strategic priorities endorsed by the Security Council following a review conducted in 2014. This led to the abolishment of a total number of 1,260 posts, including that of Mr. Micaletti, which was identified following a process conducted by a work group comprised of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support and the UN mission, UNAMID, and endorsed by the Under‑Secretaries‑General of Peacekeeping Operations and of Field Support, as well as the Fifth Committee and its resolution in December 2014 approving UNAMID's 2014‑2015 budget.
Question: Just one thing on that. Because I see he's been quoted on Radio Dabanga and other places since then on, for example, displacement of people in Darfur due to Government attacks. And so is there any… has there been any review? I understand all the resolution numbers that you've listed. But that the elimination of these posts doesn't end up further reducing UNAMID's reporting on impacts on civilians in Darfur? Because that seems to have been what his job was.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have been trying to make sure the key functions of UNAMID will continue. This is why we've been in dialogue with the Government, as you know, and as part of that, we've also been in dialogue with the Security Council to make sure that the key functions of the UN mission, UNAMID, the UN-African Union Mission, will continue.
Question: Is it possible to find out whether this board, because he says… he himself says he's under investigation, but it's being conducted from Juba and not from El Fasher or Khartoum or elsewhere within the actual countries.
Deputy Spokesman: Sure. I can check. Have a good afternoon.
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