Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 14 August 2015
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien is scheduled to visit Syria and Lebanon from today until 17 August, to see for himself the terrible humanitarian impact of the protracted conflict and violence in Syria. Humanitarian needs in Syria have increased 12-fold since the beginning of the crisis, with 12.2 million people needing assistance, including more than 5.6 million children. Half of the population has been displaced, making Syria the largest displacement crisis in the world, and more than four million people have been registered as refugees.
Mr. O'Brien is expected to meet with key officials in Damascus and Beirut to discuss ways of strengthening aid operations to save lives and protect civilians. He expects to meet displaced and refugee families in Homs and the Beka’a Valley, and to see staff of humanitarian agencies and our local partners.
Meanwhile, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, today condemned the continuing use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas in Syria. He said today that there is no justification for the shelling of Damascus neighbourhoods and suburbs, as well as other areas in Syria, which continues to indiscriminately kill and injure civilians. Mr. de Mistura renews his call on all the warring parties in Syria to immediately cease attacks affecting any civilians. Instead, he said, all Syrian efforts should now be focused on finding a political solution to the unacceptable situation in the country.
And from Burundi, our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that, yesterday, in the commune of Kamenge in Bujumbura Rural Province, a member of the CNDD-FDD and his wife were killed in their car as they were on their way home. Over the past two weeks, at least seven members of the ruling party have been killed by unidentified assailants.
The Office says that such attacks are indicative of a climate of reprisals, but also a worrying sign that some parts of the opposition are increasingly resorting to violence. They add that the situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate, with at least 96 people killed, mostly among the opposition, since the beginning of the election-related violence earlier this year.
The Office also says that at least 600 people were arrested and detained during this period, although a good number of them have since been released. There have been at least 60 cases of torture and many more cases of other ill-treatment in police and intelligence detention facilities.
The High Commissioner’s Office is urging all sides to resume dialogue before the situation spirals completely out of control. It also calls on leaders on all sides to take concrete steps to renounce the use of violence and resolve differences peacefully. It stresses that where there are violations and abuses, there needs to be prompt investigation with a view to bringing the perpetrators to account and justice to the victims.
**Central African Republic
And on the Central African Republic, as you will have seen yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General discussed the situation there with members of the Security Council. He said that an effective response to reports of sexual exploitation and abuse of power by UN forces, police or civilian personnel demands accountability — at the individual, leadership and command level — as well as accountability by the Organization and Member States. He said that the United Nations must lead. He said he relied on Member States in that sense. The Secretary-General said that too many incidents go unreported, too few cases are prosecuted and too often, justice is denied.
And on South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the movement of humanitarian supplies to Malakal and Upper Nile State has resumed, following last week's lifting of restrictions on the movement of barges on the River Nile and clearances to use the Malakal airstrip. In July, as you will recall, no barges arrived in Malakal and no flights were able to land at the airstrip from the end of June until 7 August. Between 15 and 24 July, World Food Programme (WFP) and Humanitarian Air Service helicopters were able to land inside the UN Mission [in South Sudan] (UNMISS) base, but they were only able to bring in minimal supplies.
OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] says that the lifting of the restrictions has allowed humanitarian partners to start re-supplying critical medicines, fuel, food and water treatment chemicals in Malakal. And as the rainy season leads to increasingly desperate living conditions, relief agencies are racing to cope with the influx. As of 10 August, more than 46,500 displaced persons were sheltering at the Malakal site, which was designed only for 18,000 people.
And the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Toby Lanzer, urged the international community to remain engaged in meeting the vital needs of vulnerable communities in Mali and to support efforts towards peace and development. At the end of a five-day visit to Mali, Mr. Lanzer said that humanitarian needs will only grow in Mali if there is no full commitment to peace and stability. This year’s humanitarian appeal for Mali for $377 million is to address the most pressing needs, and remains only 33 per cent funded.
And UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says it is concerned about the escalating violence in and around Nigeria and its impact on the situation of Nigerian refugees in surrounding host countries. The agency salutes the generosity and humanitarian spirit of Cameroon, Chad and Niger in opening their doors to tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict in north-east Nigeria over the past two years. But, UNHCR also says that, amid the fluid military situation on the border, thousands of people have been deported or returned to Nigeria from Cameroon and Chad in July and August. There is more on the UNHCR’s website.
And our friends at the World Food Programme say they are closely monitoring the El Niño weather pattern and preparing for the possible impacts it will have on food production. Over the next 12 months, El Niño could potentially impact food security of a large number of already vulnerable people who are dependent on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods in Central America, most of Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. More information is online.
And the Republic of Moldova has paid its regular budget dues in full, making it the 110th Member State to do so. Our thanks go to our friends in Chișinãu. It was close, it was close — it was an honourable try. No cigars at this briefing.
Just so you know, we will be briefing next week. In fact, Vannina [Maestracci] will be here to brief you most of next week. But, we will suspend, as we traditionally do, briefings in the last week of August. We will post highlights on the web, and of course, if there is major breaking news, we will be happy to call you into this room. Masood, you have earned it.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, on this report that ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] acquired mustard gas and used it on the Kurds, how will the United Nations or the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] determine as to where they got this gas? And is there a mechanism that they can use…?
Spokesman: At this point, we're, obviously, following these reports closely. We don't have any independent determination from our side as to what… exactly what happened. But, obviously, we condemn and are against any use of chemical weapons against civilians or against anyone for that matter.
Question: So, will a determination be made?
Spokesman: Well, we're… you're talking about an area in which the UN is not really present, but, obviously, we're continuing to look at the situation. I'll… I'll… I'll… if you'd said 110 [Member States who have paid dues in full], you would have been allowed a third question, but I'll come back to you. Michele?
Question: Thanks, Steph. The US and Chile are going to hold an Arria meeting of the Security Council on 24 August on Islamic State and attacks on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) [persons]. The name was left blank for which senior official is going to brief for that meeting. Do you know who that will be yet?
Spokesman: I don't have an update for you on that yet. I will check. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask on sexual abuse and UN peacekeeping. In this room, a couple of times, you've used this figure of 57 complaints and 11 having to do with sexual abuse or sexual exploitation in MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic]. And you've said to look at the report to UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] for comparison. But, when you look at that report, it doesn't… MINUSCA's not even in the top three. So, are the numbers that you're using are comparable to these numbers, or can you produce similar numbers for other missions to know what the scope of the problem is?
Spokesman: Those numbers that we have are the most updated numbers for MINUSCA. If we have other updated numbers for other missions, we'll share them with you.
Correspondent: That's what we've been asking for, for several days.
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you about a quote that was given by the Spokesman for MINUSCA that I'm sure you may have seen. Two… two… two… Foreign Policy magazine, the… just one second. I'm going to read you this quote, because I think you'll have a response to it. Mr. Hamadoun Touré said as follows: "When peacekeepers arrived at the site, they were attacked immediately with heavy weapons. I'm sorry, but I don't think someone would think of raping someone at this time. I think they just think of escape. He will think, I'm a human being before I am a man. If you're under fire, I think you're just saving your life. Really, in this situation, you don't really think of a girl," i.e. equating the rape of a 12‑year‑old with being a man or… what do you think of this comment and… and what… what are the implications of it?
Spokesman: I think the comment does not reflect in any way, shape or form the opinion of the Secretary‑General, the United Nations or the peacekeeping mission. Clearly, our thoughts and our work and our focus should be on the victims of sexual abuse, whether in the CAR [Central African Republic] or anywhere else. There is no excuse for rape, none, period. So, that's what I'm saying. So, the quote is of… does not in any way reflect the position of the Secretary‑General, the peacekeeping or the Mission itself.
Correspondent: Do you… I’d say the problems extend, go both below Mr. [Babacar] Gaye but also above Mr. Gaye. It seems like… the final thing I wanted to ask you is…
Spokesman: Matthew, I will come back to you. Yes?
Question: Today marks the second anniversary of the mass killings of protesters in Cairo's Rabaah Square by Egyptian authorities. Do you have a message to commemorate more than 1,000 victims there?
Spokesman: Not anything today. I would refer you to what we've said at the time.
Question: And today, the Human Rights Watch urged the UN Human Rights Council to launch an international inquiry into the killings. Do you support this call?
Spokesman: I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question?
Correspondent: The Human Rights Watch today urged the UN Human Rights Council…
Spokesman: Well, it's obviously up to the members of the Council to decide what they want to do with that. Masood?
Question: Sure. On this abuse of children… sexual abuses of children in Pakistan, where now more and more people are saying this judicial probe ordered by the Government is not trustworthy, that this particular thing should be handed over to the army. Now, is the Secretary‑General or the United Nations, any other body, going to go into Pakistan to find out as to what can be done about this? Because this is… crisis is becoming bad to worse since it first was reported.
Spokesman: I think… as I've mentioned here… I don't know if you were here… our colleagues in UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] were in touch with Pakistani authorities to see how they can assist in the investigation… not assist in the investigation, but assist at least in the care of the children that have been victimized by this unspeakable crime. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding the seventieth anniversary of the end of the [Second World War], Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the statement earlier this morning, so I wonder if the Secretary‑General is watching that situation and any comments from him.
Spokesman: Sure. The Secretary‑General has taken note of the message issued by Prime Minister Abe marking the seventieth anniversary of the end of [the Second World War] and is studying it. As the Secretary‑General had said previously, he hopes that, based on reflection and understanding of history, the countries concerned can achieve a genuine reconciliation and build peace and prosperity collectively in the region. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Stéphane, it looks like the latest round of South Sudan talks have collapsed, and I was wondering if… where the UN saw where the situation stands.
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, we've seen these reports. We have no confirmation that President [Salva] Kiir's actually left [for] Addis back [from] Juba. We also know that the parties continue to make efforts to narrow the gap between their existing disagreements on the draft agreement. We continue to urge both parties to reach a conclusive deal by the 17 August deadline. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Here's what I was trying to ask you about CAR, and I also want to ask about Burundi. The Government Accountability Project, who, you know, we've… you've said from there you respect much, said: "In demanding Gaye's resignation, the Secretary‑General apparently thought it's time to look serious about peacekeepers and sexual assault." They go on to say that, if the Secretary‑General were serious… and they go back to the Sangaris case that was… in which Mr. [Anders] Kompass was… was… says he was urged to resign by Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, they urged the Secretary‑General to suspend the investigation of Mr. Kompass if he's actually serious, as he said at the stakeout. What's your response to that?
Spokesman: I do respect GAP. It doesn't mean I need to agree with them. I think the Secretary‑General made an unprecedented decision yesterday, and he sent strong [message] to UN officials that there will be institutional accountability. On the CAR… on the Sangaris case, he has called for and implemented a full review, led by Marie Deschamps in Canada. We look forward to receiving that review and acting on its recommendations.
Question: I wanted to ask about Parfait. Obviously, in these remarks that you were… put online earlier today, it said that Mr. Parfait Onanga [Anyanga] is now replacing Mr. Gaye, beginning early next week. It seems pretty fast and it's obviously a very fast process. So, I wanted to ask, in terms of Burundi, what exactly is the sticking point on the… multiply decided imminent…?
Spokesman: There are two different situations. The consultations on appointing a new envoy for Burundi are continuing. As soon as we have something to announce we will announce it. Masoodji?
Question: Sure. On this Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail without charge, Mohammed Allan, who has been, it is now said he is on his death bed and has gone into a coma. Does the Secretary‑General have anything about that? Because he is in Israeli jail.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General… I don't know enough about… the Secretary‑General has… and I have to check these exact reports you mentioned. The Secretary‑General has called for the immediate release or the official charging of anyone held in administrative detention.
Question: Do you have any idea as to how many Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli jail…?
Spokesman: I do not… I do not have that number with me. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Thank you, Steph. On Libya, the talks in Geneva ended after only two days. Could you give us an update on whether this was sort of a positive or a negative outcome and what's happening on that? And, also, is there any progress in restarting the Yemen negotiations?
Spokesman: On Yemen, Ismail [Ould] Cheikh Ahmed is continuing to discuss… continues to stay in the region and talk to the parties. Obviously, we haven't been able to announce anything, so… so, as we say in French, the mayonnaise hasn't taken, if you'll excuse my translation. But, we're continuing to work hard on that and continuing also to push for humanitarian pause. I think Mr. O'Brien's statements the last few days in Aden and in Sana’a underscore the necessity for a humanitarian pause. On Libya, I think we shared with what you Mr. [Bernardino] León said after the end of the meetings. Obviously, he's continuing his work in trying to push the political process forward. Yes?
Question: A Syrian activist's video came out yesterday claiming that civilians were killed in a US‑led airstrike in the village of Atme in Idleb on Tuesday. And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said eight civilians were killed in that attack and coalition also verified that there was such an attack, but it was investigating whether there was civilian casualties. Do you have anything on that?
Spokesman: I think… you may not have been here yesterday, but I addressed that yesterday, and I will reiterate, obviously, we have no independent confirmation but that the Secretary‑General has repeatedly, since the start of this conflict, called on any military action against Da’esh to ensure that there is no… there are no civilian casualties and that it is done within the full respect of international law. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Myanmar and also about Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman. On Myanmar, I was kind of expecting you to have… maybe you do have… I wanted to ask you, what's the response of the UN and its good offices envoy, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, to the ouster of Shwe Mann as a primary rival of the current President right before the elections? Some people call it a coup. What is the UN's view of it?
Spokesman: What is your question on Mr. Feltman?
Question: Okay. The question on Mr. Feltman is, in two stories appearing yesterday in McClatchy, lengthy stories about Syria, Mr. Feltman is quoted about things that happened in the US State Department. "You're constantly pivoting from portfolio to portfolio," and the second quote is about "it's probably accurate to say we underestimated how bad it would be". But, in neither quote is he even… is he identified as a current UN official. It basically… it seems like… so I wanted to know, who is he speaking for in these interviews?
Spokesman: I don't know. I'll have… I'll look at the quotes. You can send me the article.
Correspondent: The Miami Herald and…
Spokesman: I haven't seen it. On Myanmar, we're obviously aware of the change in leadership within the Union of Solidarity and Development, the ruling party. However, Myanmar is approaching a critical period of impending elections and hope all such actions proceed in conformity with the law in a manner that strengthens the democratic framework, as well as respecting the rules and regulations laid down by the Union Election Commission. We call on all stakeholders to recommit to free, fair and credible elections in November.
Question: Just one more thing. I remember… did it come up that the Special Rapporteur, who I know is independent, but is part of… you know, is called the UN Special Rapporteur but said publicly in a press conference that she was not allowed to speak to Rohingya.
Spokesman: I think, again, the issue of Ms. [Yanghee] Lee had come up before. They are, indeed, independent, but the Secretary‑General has repeatedly called on all Member States to work with them in full cooperation and open all doors to them. Khalas. Thank you all very much. Masood, you're not quick enough. You, too. I'll see you in a week or so.
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