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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

24 July 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Noon Briefing Guests

My guests at the noon briefing today will be the outgoing President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Martin Sajdik of Austria, and the incoming President, Ambassador Oh Joon of the Republic of Korea.  Ambassador Sajdik will brief you on his work over the past 18 months, and then Ambassador Oh will present his agenda.


The UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has condemned an attack on its camp in Aguelhok, which was targeted by mortar fire this morning.  Preliminary reports indicate that at least four mortar shells landed in the vicinity of the camp.  There were no casualties and the attack did not cause any material damage.  MINUSMA peacekeepers immediately reinforced the camp's security and sent out patrols to locate the area from where the shells were fired and ensure the safety of the civilian population.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O'Brien, travelled today to Bentiu town in Unity State, where he met some of the 103,000 displaced people sheltering in the UN protection of civilians site, as well as aid organizations and senior Government officials.  He also travelled to Nyala in southern Unity, where he met displaced families at a health clinic and food distribution site.

Mr. O'Brien said that all parties should abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and spare them the impact of the conflict.  He commended aid workers in deep field locations who are working in extremely dangerous and difficult conditions to deliver lifesaving assistance. He noted that they continue to be targeted, threatened, beaten and killed in the course of their work.  At a time when needs are increasing, he said, parties to the conflict have a responsibility to support and facilitate the work of relief agencies, and aid workers must be protected.  Tomorrow, the Under-Secretary-General is expected to hold a wrap-up press conference in Juba.


In Somalia, health partners working with UN agencies have voiced concern over the scaling down of life-saving health services due to funding shortages.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia this year, requiring $863 million, is only 31 per cent funded so far.  As part of the plan, aid agencies have only received 8.5 per cent of the funding needed for health care services.  Over the past three months, at least 10 hospitals across Somalia have either closed or curtailed their services.  At least three other hospitals are at risk of closure in the near future.  Basic health posts and clinics are currently struggling to meet primary health needs, and many agencies have withdrawn health workers from some areas.  And more information is available on the World Health Organization's (WHO) website.


The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is actively consulting with the Government of Yemen, Yemeni political groups and Member States in the region in order to secure a comprehensive ceasefire and the resumption of a peaceful and inclusive political process. He is travelling to Riyadh today, where, as we mentioned earlier, he intends to meet with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansour] Hadi and Vice President [Khaled] Bahah, as well as with Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials.


The UN refugee agency said today that it was extremely concerned about the situation in Greece, which has accepted more than 100,000 refugees this year.  The country is experiencing real hardship, and the situation is continuing to deteriorate.  The agency said that in some situations, local volunteers and tourists were doing more for refugees than the Greek authorities.

It added that Greece, in spite of all its difficulties, needs to assume full responsibility for the refugee population, of whom only five percent have stayed in the country, with the majority moving across the Balkans to Germany and Nordic countries.  The agency also noted that Europe needs to take more robust action to support Greece.  For its part, the UN refugee agency is assisting the Greek authorities on the ground, providing water, hygiene kits, and interpreters.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, three months after the devastating earthquake hit Nepal, hundreds of thousands of survivors continue to require and rely on urgent humanitarian assistance.  Shelter, food, livelihood support, water, sanitation, protection and medical and psychosocial care remain top priorities.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for the country has urged the international community not to fail the most vulnerable communities, with the monsoon season underway and the winter fast approaching.  UN agencies and their aid partners have only received 50 per cent of the $422 million humanitarian appeal so far.  And more information on that is available online.


Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) say that recent heavy seasonal rains have caused flooding throughout the Sagaing region of Myanmar.  The Government reported yesterday that some 70,000 people have been affected by the floods in 11 townships, with nine people having died and more than 12,000 houses having been damaged.  

Authorities there report that more than 40,000 people have been severely affected or displaced by the floods. Local authorities, the Union Government, the military, the Myanmar Red Cross Society and local civil society organizations are providing food, water and other basic necessities to those affected.  The United Nations is part of a joint team currently visiting the worst affected areas to assess the situation and humanitarian needs.  The UN has offered support and stands ready to assist response efforts there.


In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Office said a draft law adopted by the Cambodian Senate today threatens the existence of a free and independent civil society in the country and the crucial work that NGOs [non-governmental organizations] carry out on development, governance and human rights.  The Office urged the Constitutional Council to reject the bill, which carries provisions that breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia has ratified and which is recognized in the country's constitution.

It also expressed its concern over the conviction and sentencing last week of 11 opposition activists for participating or leading an "insurrection", following a post-election protest which turned violent on 15 July.  The Office said that it monitored the trial and noted irregularities in its conduct.  There's more information on the UN Human Rights Office website.


From Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) today welcomed the European Medicines Agency's positive review of the efficacy, quality and safety of a malaria vaccine, calling it a major milestone for malaria vaccine development.  This October, WHO will review the vaccine's impact from a public health perspective, including its cost effectiveness, affordability and distribution.  And more information on this is available on WHO's website.


And lastly, the Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra, today delivered a message on behalf of the Secretary-General at the annual General Assembly Commemoration of the Nelson Mandela International Day and Prize Award Ceremony.  In his message, the Secretary-General called on everyone to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela by actively fighting for human rights, development and peace in our communities, and our world.

As you know, the first-ever Mandela prize was awarded to Dr. Helena Ndume, an ophthalmologist from Namibia, and Mr. Jorge Sampaio, the former President of Portugal.  Congratulating them, the Secretary-General added that they are recognized for their commitment to social justice and their actions to empower suffering people.  Also, the new UN Food Garden is about to be opened by Ms. Malcorra, and Penny Abeywardena, the New York City Commissioner for International Affairs, in commemoration of Mandela Day.  And that's from me. Do you have any questions?  Matthew?

Questions and Answers

Question:  I'd like to ask:  Now, this morning or today, the election results of the contested and boycotted election for Burundi were announced.  I wanted to ask, one, if you had a comment on it.  But, as to yesterday's comment about the elections being broadly peaceful, there was an Amnesty International report that came out that describes police abuse of peaceful opponents and, you know, the EAC [East African Community] has also said the conditions weren't free and fair.  It seems like what the Secretary-General said is at odds with what Amnesty International and the EAC said.

Associate Spokesperson:  Let's parse that out a little bit.  So, starting from when the Secretary-General took note of the broadly peaceful elections:  You know, he had long… he had expressed his concern, both in the run-up to and after the election period, of potential violence.  And what he meant to say was, given all the concerns and the fears of a massive wave of violence, relatively speaking, he noted that it was broadly peaceful.  And your first question was… oh, on the election results.  We've seen the reports.  We're studying them and as we said this week, we have a Security Council-mandated observer mission called MENUB [United Nations Electoral Mission in Burundi] on the ground and we are awaiting their assessment, which should be coming in the next couple of days, we hope.

Correspondent:  I appreciate that.  I guess I tried to ask this yesterday, but I just want to ask it again.  I've at least received a lot of communication from Burundian people who didn't under… thought that the Secretary-General's statement was basically saying the election was fine, which is not…

Associate Spokesperson:  He didn't say the election was fine.

Correspondent:  Broadly peaceful.

Associate Spokesperson:  He said "broadly peaceful conduct of polling", which is not to… which is just to mention that again, just to reinforce again, that he had expressed his concerns in the lead-up to the election about the potential for massive violence.  And given that, he was taking note of the fact that it was broadly peaceful.

Question:  Has MENUB communicated anything to him?  I guess that's what I'm asking.

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General obviously made his statement taking into account reports from our colleagues on the ground, so we don't operate in a vacuum, as you know.  Anybody else?  Yes.

Question:  I'm from Al Quds al Arabi.  At the Security Council briefing on Monday, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed his concern about the imminent construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Under international law, East Jerusalem and the West Bank are viewed as occupied territories, which means that construction of any Israeli settlements is illegal.  So my question is:  Why hasn't the UN stepped in to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes and more and more construction of these Israeli settlements?  And does the Secretary-General and the UN believe that the idea of a two-State solution is far gone?

Associate Spokesperson:  So, let's start with the settlement situation first.  As I'm sure you're aware, the Secretary-General, since he's taken office and become Secretary-General, has long spoken out and underscored that the building of settlements is in contravention of international law.  I think he's made that clear on several occasions.  And that any kind of settlement activities, as the kind that you've mentioned, is detrimental towards achieving a two-State solution, which has long been his goal and which he has actively worked towards, both personally and through his representative in the Quartet.  I'm sorry, your second question?  Sorry.

Question:  That's okay.  The second question is:  Does the Secretary-General or the UN believe that the idea of a two-State solution is far gone? 

Associate Spokesperson:  That's the solution and that's the basis on which we've been operating when it comes to the Middle East peace process.  We think it's the only viable solution for the situation, and as Mr. Mladenov mentioned yesterday, and I'm sure you've read, currently we are at a bit of an impasse, but Secretary-General strongly urges the international community to help set the tone and create the environment that would be most conducive to a resumption of a dialogue in a timely manner.

Question:  Sure.  And on Yemen, thanks for the update on the UN's envoy.  There have been a lot of reports and quotes about a process taking place between the party of former President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh and the [United Arab Emirates), [United States], [United Kingdom] and Cairo.  I wanted to know: Is the UN aware of that?  Is the UN in any way taking part in that?  And how does it relate to Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's trip to Riyadh?

Associate Spokesperson:  I had the same question myself.  My understanding is that we were not involved in those talks, but we've seen the same reports you have and we would welcome any type of dialogue that would bring the… that would bring the parties closer together towards discussions to resume dialogue on a democratic transition.

Question:  You may have seen this report as well, but so hopefully… it seems like although the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] says it hasn't gotten aid into the Yarmouk camp for months, that it's somehow been delisted from being listed as besieged and basically that's a decision made by the Secretariat on the advice of OCHA. Is that accurate and is it not besieged?

Associate Spokesperson:  You know, what we have for you on Yarmouk is our colleagues at OCHA say that they continue to monitor all hard-to-reach and besieged locations in Syria.  And Yarmouk remains one of our areas of most serious concern.  Thousands of civilians remain trapped in the area and thousands more have been displaced to the surrounding areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham.  The last humanitarian mission inside Yarmouk took place on 28 March.  And the last successful mission to the surrounding areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham was on 7 June, when 1,200 family food parcels were distributed.  Our colleagues at OCHA reiterate that all parties to the conflict must at all times allow rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, including in Yarmouk and the surrounding areas.  So, our short answer is, whatever we call it, the situation is still dire and we are still trying to get aid and access in there.

Question:  Right, but just because it doesn't come up that often, basically it's saying in the previous report there were 440,000 people listed as besieged and now it's down by 18,000, which is the number in Yarmouk.  How is that definition made?  I understand maybe it doesn't make a difference.  Maybe OCHA is equally concerned.  But, how… Why would it have come off and how is the concept of besieged determined?

Associate Spokesperson:  Again, I don't know how we determined this.  It seems a bit of an issue of semantics.  People are people, and regardless of the number, we don't have access to the area, as we've said.  If we haven't been in Yarmouk since the end of March, that's a long time ago.  And so we just like to, again, spotlight that this is still a situation that's extremely dire and that we're still trying to get access.  And we continue our call to ensure that we're able to deliver aid to the people who need it.  Anybody else?  Thank you.  Happy Friday.  Do you have another question?

Question:  You may have the information.  This event of opening the garden, which I guess is happening now.  What's going to happen with the food?  Where will the food go?

Associate Spokesperson:  My understanding is it's going to be donated to City Harvest.  I might need to confirm that.

Question:  The announcement seemed to say they are setting up these gardens in various unused places on the UN campus.  Is this the only one or are they looking into gardens elsewhere?

Associate Spokesperson:  That's the only one I know of so far, so let's hope that we'll have more on our campus.  I'll bring out our guest if you'd like to stick around.

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