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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

9 July 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Yemen

So we'll start off with a statement on Yemen.

The Secretary-General thanks President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi [of Yemen] and continues to encourage his support for a humanitarian pause, as conveyed in a letter received on 8 July.

He notes that the President has communicated his acceptance of the pause to the Coalition to ensure their support and collaboration.

The Secretary-General has received assurances through his Special Envoy from the Houthis, the General People's Congress and other parties that the pause will be fully respected and that there will be no violations from any combatants under their control.

The Secretary-General looks forward to the commitments of all parties to the conflict in Yemen to an unconditional humanitarian pause to start on Friday, 10 July, at 23:59 (GMT + 3) until the end of Ramadan.

It is imperative and urgent that humanitarian aid can reach all vulnerable people of Yemen unimpeded and through an unconditional humanitarian pause.  Full and unhindered access by humanitarian agencies to all parts of the country, including through sea and airports, should be ensured with a view to reaching people in need, including with essential medicines, vaccinations, food and water.

The Secretary-General reminds the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and calls on all sides to contribute to preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in the country.

The Secretary-General is grateful for the efforts of his Special Envoy to continue to engage with all Yemeni stakeholders to take confidence-building steps towards a durable cease-fire and develop a mechanism for the withdrawal of forces, release of political prisoners and the resumption of an inclusive political process in accordance with Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).  These measures will form part of subsequent agreements which will require further consultations.

The Secretary-General encourages all parties to the conflict to extend their full cooperation and support to his Special Envoy on the way forward.  The Secretary-General firmly believes that the only sustainable solution to the conflict in Yemen is through peaceful and all-inclusive political dialogue and negotiations.

And that statement will be available in my office and should be emailed out to you as we speak.

Question:  So is that, Steph, just to make one thing clear, is that actually the announcement of, that this humanitarian pause is going to take place?  Because I heard a line in there saying that the Secretary-General is still asking all the parties to comply.

Spokesman:  We look forward to the commitment of all parties to the conflict in Yemen to an unconditional humanitarian pause to start on Friday, 10 July, at 23:59 (GMT +3), which includes all the parties to the conflict until the end of Ramadan.

Let me just go on a little bit.

Just some additional notes from our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs):  They underscored that there are over 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Yemen – 80 per cent of the population and millions of people one step away from famine.

During a humanitarian pause, humanitarian agencies and their partners aim to reach people in need with essential medicines, vaccinations, food and water.

And if they have the adequate access, aid agencies plan to stockpile supplies throughout Yemen, including supplies for nutritional assistance for acutely malnourished children, emergency shelter, water and sanitation and medical supplies, which could benefit over 2.3 million people, and food for 1.2 million people for one month.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says in a recent assessment it has put the number of food-insecure people in Yemen at close to 13 million.

Since fighting escalated in April, WFP has assisted close to 2 million people in the country through the distribution of 25,000 metric tonnes of food assistance in 12 governorates.

Syria

Meanwhile, regarding Syria, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says that more than 4 million Syrians have now become refugees in neighbouring countries, making the Syrian conflict the worst refugee crisis for almost a quarter of a century.  The latest figures from UNHCR released today put the total number of refugees from Syria to just over 4,013,000 people.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said that this is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation.  It is a population that deserves the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into abject poverty, said Mr. Guterres.

At least an additional 7.6 million people are displaced within Syria, many of them in difficult circumstances and in locations that are difficult to reach.  More information on the UNHCR's website.

And the World Food Programme (WFP) says today they have reached the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, in northern Ar-Raqqa Governorate, for the first time in eight months, delivering desperately needed food assistance to 10,000 people.

**Burundi

And back here, the Security Council heard this morning from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, and from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé Brook Zerihoun on the situation in Burundi.

The High Commissioner said that an escalating pattern of politically motivated violence, coupled with this country's history of recurring bloodshed and atrocities, should alert us to the potential [for serious crisis].  Already more than 145,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, and this movement has increased drastically in recent days.

He added that, contrary to some recent reports, the massive outflows of refugees appear to have been sparked, not by rumour, but by precise and targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror.  Refugees interviewed by the Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania continue to refer to the Imbonerakure militia as the main threat, but some have also stated that militants from other groups are also employing violence – a new and disturbing trend.

Mr. Zerihoun shared with the Council the assessment of the UN Electoral Mission in Burundi (MENUB) of the 29 June elections, in which it concluded that the environment was not conducive for free, credible and inclusive elections.

He said the East African Community (EAC) summit communiqué provides a clear path forward.  The United Nations remains ready to provide whatever support is needed.  Burundian parties must accept that political dialogue and compromise are the only way out of the impending downward spiral.

**Central African Republic

And our colleagues at the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) said today that it has repatriated 20 peacekeepers to their home country.

This follows the inquiry concerning the incidents on 10 June, in which four individuals arrested during a security operations were apparently the victims of excessive force resulting in the deaths of two of them and the hospitalization of a third man.

You'll remember that at the time, the Head of the Mission, Babacar Gaye, deplored the deaths and injuries and stressed that these acts could potentially constitute serious human rights violations, for which the perpetrators should be prosecuted.

**Great Lakes Region

And the UN and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have reaffirmed their willingness to work closely with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, as well as regional organizations, to support the repatriation of FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) combatants.  And there is more in a press release from the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes.

**Ebola

And just to flag that today the technical consultations of the International Ebola Recovery Conference started today.  The consultations, led by the three impacted countries, will focus on discussions on the recovery process.  The Finance Ministers of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are expected to present their 24-month recovery plans.

And I also wanted to remind you that at 3 p.m. here, Dr. David Nabarro and UNDP's (United Nations Development Programme) Sunil Saigal will brief you before the high-level conference, which gets under way tomorrow.

The Presidents of the affected countries, as well as high-level representatives from the AU (African Union), the African Development Bank, the European Union, the Islamic Development Bank and other partner organizations are expected to participate in tomorrow's segment in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, and, of course, the Secretary-General will have opening remarks.

At the conclusion of the conference, Dr. Nabarro and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark will brief the press at the stakeout between the Trusteeship Council and ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council).  And that will be between 4:30 and 6 p.m. tomorrow.

More information on the conference, including programmes, lists of speakers, etc., are at https://ebolaresponse.un.org/recovery-conference.

**Food

And the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) says that favourable worldwide conditions for cereal crops are expected to lead to better-than-expected production this growing season.

However, FAO remains concerned about a sharp shortfall in maize grown in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as poor production in other food insecure hotspots.  And that's according to the latest Price Index (FPI).

**Honour Roll

And today, Myanmar became the 106th Member State to have paid its regular budget dues in full and on time, so thank you, Yangon.

**Africa

Tomorrow, in addition to what I've already said, at 10:00 a.m., Conference Room 3, DPI (Department of Public Information), as well as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), will organize a round table on "The General History of Africa:  Learning and Teaching about African Heritage".

It will be led by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Maher Nasser, the Officer-in-Charge of DPI; and the Permanent Representative of Kenya, as well as the DPR (Deputy Permanent Representative) of Brazil, the Permanent Observer of the African Union.  And this is an open event and is held in cooperation with DPI's Remember Slavery Programme.   

**Press Conferences

And 5 p.m. tomorrow, another press briefing by Ernesto Samper Pizano, Secretary-General of the Union of South American Nations and former President of Colombia, following his meeting with the Secretary-General.

**Questions and Answers

So that is it for me.  Yes?

Question:  The truce or the humanitarian pause announced from the 10th at midnight until the end of Ramadan, which is roughly about seven days, we've seen the letter that the President sent to the Secretary‑General.  It stated a very short truce, about five days, and also asked for guarantees that there are no violations or no piracy of humanitarian aid by the Houthis and spoke about setting up of some sort of a mechanism for monitoring the truce.  Now, it does not really, what you said, aligns with what he mentioned in his letter.  Has there been communication… further communication that we don't know about and the President of Yemen accepted or is this an effort in part… on the part of the United Nations to create a humanitarian pause?

Spokesman:  I can't speak for President Hadi.  Yes, we did receive the letter.  We've had consultations through the Special Envoy and others at various levels.  What I would just reiterate that the Secretary‑General looks forward to an unconditional humanitarian pause and looks forward to the commitment of all parties to honouring that unconditional humanitarian pause.  Now, obviously, as we move forward, as I said in the statement, there will be the need to establish mechanisms for further confidence‑building measures, including the release of political prisoners and so forth.  But what we are looking forward to is unconditional humanitarian pause.

Question:  My question really… [inaudible] but the Yemeni Government, the legitimate Yemeni Government on this proposal by the SG…

Spokesman:  We are in a situation where we feel we have the expressions necessary by all parties to announce the start of this pause on Friday, 10 July.

Masood and then… go ahead.

Question:  Yes.  Stéphane, one of the things that is difficult in this Yemen conflict is that Saudi keep on bombing and they're not accountable to anybody, as yet.  And the United Nations keeps on saying that they should stop bombing.  So now what is the mechanism that United Nations has to monitor these strikes which are coming daily and killing people?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it will be very clear come Friday evening whether this pause is respected or whether it's not… whether it's not respected.  I think we just have to wait until then.

Question:  Is…

Spokesman:  I'll come back to you.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  It's along the same lines, so I'm not sure if I can get a different answer from you.  One of the other requirements was the withdrawal of Houthi troops.  It sounds to me like that has not been agreed to at this stage.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  You know, again, I think you're right in your assumption.  [laughter] What we are looking forward to is an unconditional humanitarian pause.  Obviously, there will need to be some confidence‑building measures, as the Secretary‑General said, to build towards a sustainable and long‑term ceasefire.  But what we're talking about here is an unconditional humanitarian pause.  We look forward to all the parties respecting that pause, and I think, as we've been saying here for weeks on end, the people of Yemen deserve this.  The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the day.

Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Some Burundi questions.  But on this same topic, does this… can you, one, characterize not the communications with Mr. Hadi, but with Saudi Arabia that's running the, you know, coalition, the Saudi‑led coalition.  And does this… this means… the Secretary‑General's understanding is no airstrikes during this time period, and I guess no further advances or use of heavy weapons by the Houthis?  What is it… does the pause mean no firing of… what does it mean to each of those two sides?

Spokesman:  What it means is that, if you read the statement, the President… Secretary‑General notes that the President, President Hadi, has communicated his acceptance of the pause to the coalition to ensure their support.  A humanitarian pause means no fighting.  It means no bombing.  It means no shooting.  It means no fighting.  It means exactly that:  a humanitarian pause in the fighting that we've seen, to enable our humanitarian colleagues to get the aid to where it's needed, to preposition, and stockpile, and to reach the millions that need it.

Question:  Right.  But just as an example, there are… for example, policing, who's doing policing in these various cities?  So presumably like some level of… of… of… of either armed… like, things happen.

Spokesman:  Obviously I think… [cross talk] In any area in the country, there is a… there is de facto control and, obviously, there is a need to ensure safety and security.  What we're talking about is a humanitarian pause in the fighting that we've been witnessing for weeks on end now.

Question:  So just one last thing on this.  So the commitment on airstrikes is through President Hadi to the… to…

Spokesman:  You know, the… [cross talk] Obviously, President Hadi is a critical interlocutor with the coalition.  And as I've said, we've taken note of the fact that he's conveyed to the coalition his acceptance.  We expect everyone involved in this conflict to honour this humanitarian pause.

Question:  The Ebola event tomorrow, what is the main objective for that meeting?  Is that just to listen to the national strategy in order to know how to finance them or set up a new global strategy to attack this?

Spokesman:  The… I think what's important now is we need to mobilize resources, mobilize effort for the recovery phase of the Ebola crisis.  We need to help these countries – the three impacted countries need help to get to zero, to stay at zero and obviously to start rebuilding the infrastructure which has been severely impacted during the Ebola crisis, most notably the health infrastructure and also the education infrastructure.  It's a way for the international community to stand in solidarity with the three impacted countries and to show that solidarity with the financial commitments that will be needed to move forward on the recovery phase.

Ann and then Masood?

Question:  Yesterday's lead article in The New York Times read "Islamic battalions stocked with Chechens help Ukraine battle Russia".  Since the Chechens had fought against Russia in two bitter wars and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is now reporting that Russian military equipment continues to pour into Ukraine, do you expect the UN Secretary‑General to make any statement about the escalating situation in Ukraine, which now involves the Chechens?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General continues to be concerned by the situation on the ground in Ukraine.  The fighting… the sporadic fighting we continue to see by the humanitarian crisis, which continues to worsen, and I think he will reiterate his call for all the parties to support the package of measures agreed to through the Minsk Protocol.

Question:  Yes, sir?

Spokesman:  Hold on.  We'll still stick to the first round.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So given this is… evidently, there's a humanitarian pause.  What of the Saudi pledge, the money that was pledged in April?  We haven't really heard a lot about that.  It's since emerged there's a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)…

Spokesman:  I think it's right now in the Memorandum of Understanding phase between the Saudis and the various UN agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.

Question:  Can I just follow up quickly?

Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  On those MOUs, is that something that is common?  Is that something that…

Spokesman:  I think, you know, it is something that is increasingly common with donors and UN agencies.  I think it's important that donors feel comfortable in how the money will be used, that the UN remains accountable.  So obviously we welcome these agreements and MOUs.  It's public funds that are being transferred to the UN.  I think a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the UN.  Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we're doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.

Question:  If I may, just one final follow‑up:  Given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, is there any worry about conflict of interest here, when they're doing MOUs with various UN agencies?

Spokesman:  I wouldn't say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by UN humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.

Linda, and then we'll go to round two.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding the humanitarian pause in Yemen, would you mind just going over the timeline again in terms of when it begins and when it ends?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We would… sorry.  I have… basically, we look forward to the pause starting at 23:59 on Friday the 10th, GMT + 3 which would be local time in Yemen, until the end of Ramadan. 

Masood?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  That would be 20… just before midnight local time, yeah.  We always get tripped up in the time zones, no matter how worldly we are.

Question:  That is what the UN has called for, right?

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  That timeline… ceasefire, timeline of ceasefire, the United Nations has given that?

Spokesman:  That's what we're announcing, yes. 

Masood?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.  According to latest figures as of June, there are 5,800 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and of that, 150… almost, over 150 are children and 45 women.  So what does the Secretary‑General or United Nations or what is UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) doing with them to be released or to be Israeli Government to be answerable to the…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the latest report you mention, but I would refer you to the Secretary‑General, the Secretariat's past statement on that in the regular Middle East briefings.

Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in Tayé Brook Zerihoun's briefing to the Council about Burundi, he said that there's been no formal forum for dialogue since 26 June, and then the permanent representative of Burundi said that there is some discussion of moving back the election a week to 21‑22 July, he said, consistent with the Constitution.  So I wanted to know, is Mr. [Abdoulaye] Bathily part of these discussions?  And what does the UN think?  Does the UN think that a one‑week extension is… addresses the issues that were raised by…

Spokesman:  I think the issues of the political climate and to create a political climate is conducive to elections in Burundi will be discussed through the facilitation mechanism, which will be led by Mr. [Yoweri] Museveni and supported by the UN.

Question:  But since he's saying… as of today, he said there is no mechanism, so it's going to begin between now and the 15th or now and…

Spokesman:  Again, this will be led by President Museveni, so I would urge you to ask questions in that direction.

George?  Okay.

Question:  Couple more?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  One is on Haiti.  There's a letter of 150 Haitian‑American organizations and personalities, from literary figures to elected officials, again, asking Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon to create some kind of an accountability mechanism for families or survivors of people killed by cholera in Haiti.  And I wanted to know, is there a response to this pretty large letter?

Spokesman:  We'll take a look at the letter and respond accordingly.

Masood?

Question:  Yes.  Latest crackdown by the Egyptian Government on the press in Egypt.  Does… do you have anything to say about that?

Spokesman:  I think Farhan [Haq] addressed that last week.

Question:  Yeah, but it is… this has been announced…

Spokesman:  No, I understand.  I don't think I have anything to add to what we've already said.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted… another one on press freedom.  The Sri Lankan President, [Maithripala] Sirisena, who I know that has been… some of his moves have been praised by the Secretary‑General, has decided to reinstitute something called the Sri Lankan Press Council that has the power to put journalists in jail for their reporting, clear… you know, only for speech or writing.  And I wanted to know, since groups like CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) are condemning this, does the Secretary‑General have any view on that?

Spokesman:  We'll take… we'll take a look.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General [would] urge any country to ensure that laws are there to support press freedom and not impede them.  I'll take a look at the specific case.

Question:  Possibly on that same front, this is a factual question.  Yesterday there was a consultation… closed‑door consultation about South Sudan.  And afterwards, Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous didn't speak at the stakeout, declined questions on the stairway.  But afterwards, there were at least two stories saying he told a small group of reporters that he was requesting an arms embargo on the Government or all sides on South Sudan.  I wanted to know, one, is that the UN position?  Two, where and how did Secretary‑General… Under‑Secretary‑General Ladsous who's… he's a public official.  Like, is this really his position?  Why didn't he go to the stakeout or say…

Spokesman:  I think… [cross talk] Yes, he is, indeed, a public official.  UN officials give interviews left, right and centre.

Question:  Was this filmed?  A transcript?  Is there some way…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Matthew, I understand.  There's no… you know, we don't provide transcripts of interviews that journalists do, just as we don't provide transcripts of interviews the Secretary‑General does with individual journalists or group of journalists.  What I can tell you that obviously the… you know, the issue of… I mean, I think we've seen in South Sudan the toll that it's taken on civilians since this started more than a year ago, and that if the flow of weapons and equipment is not stemmed, civilians will continue to die in large numbers.  I think the Secretary‑General, the UN, feels that it's time to end the supply of weapons and military equipment to all parties on the conflict.  Now, obviously, the decision of an embargo is up to the [Security Council], but it is clearly our position that we feel that continued flow of weapons to all members should stop.

Question:  I guess my question, since… the two predecessors at DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) used to do these kind of announcements at a stakeout.  I guess I'm… I think…

Spokesman:  Listen, I think… [cross talk] I think there are…

Question:  To have that news.

Spokesman:  There are different modes of communicating.  Mr. Ladsous has done numerous stakeouts.

Question:  When was the last one?

Spokesman:  You can check, but he often does a stakeout, or other senior DPKO officials do a stakeout.  Senior UN officials are all free to use different methods to communicate and we're also available daily here to answer those questions.

Question:  One final question.  Has the panel on the Central African Republic sexual abuse issues spoken to Mr. Ladsous yet, and can you describe the status of the panel's work?

Spokesman:  No, the panel will begin its work very shortly.  Who they will speak to, when they will speak, I don't know.  I don't want to know.  It's up to them to do their work independently.  And it will be then… they will then make… report back to the Secretary‑General.  The Secretary‑General has clearly said that that report will be made public.  And we can see who they've spoken to.

Thank you. 



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