Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 31 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.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament. Stressing the importance of parliaments, he noted that this is a period when the world is gripped by multiple crises, when governance structures in many parts of the world are facing a crisis of legitimacy, representation and participation. The Secretary-General commended the valuable role of parliamentarians and the Inter-Parliamentary Union in helping to shape the ambitious and transformative sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. In particular, he noted that sustainable development goal 16 addresses democracy by calling for inclusive and participatory societies and institutions.
The task of implementing and monitoring these goals is huge, the Secretary-General noted. It requires Member States to work [in] strong and close partnership with civil society of all stripes. This has never been more important. And yet, for civil society, freedom to operate is diminishing — or even disappearing. The Secretary-General pointed out that dozens of Governments have adopted restrictions that limit the ability of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to work, or to receive funding, or both. As we embark on this new agenda, the State and civil society can and should be partners in building the future we want. His full remarks are available online.
And our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tell us that, in the past five days, civilians in the Yemeni city of Taiz have been caught between frontlines, subjected to indiscriminate violence and other human rights violations. Health records show that 65 people have been killed and more than 400 have been injured. Water, sanitation and health services in the city have collapsed. The local water company stopped pumping water on 18 August, denying 300,000 people access to safe water. Trash has not been collected for nearly two weeks and is piling up in the streets.
Al-Jumhoori hospital in Taiz, one of the main hospitals in the governorate, was hit by eight shells between 26 and 30 August. Of the 375,000 people targeted for food assistance in August, only 57,500 were able to be reached, and a polio vaccination campaign in seven districts of the Governorate had to be postponed due to the fighting. More than 3 million people in Taizz Governorate are at risk, as the delivery of humanitarian aid has become extremely difficult. Food and fuel are not reaching points of delivery and humanitarian workers are being harassed.
The Humanitarian Coordinator, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, calls on all parties to abide by their responsibilities to respect the lives and the rights of civilians. He urges all parties to allow the safe and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid throughout the Governorate.
And from Côte d’Ivoire, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has called all political actors to show restraint on the way to the next presidential elections, to be held in October this year. The Special Representative said these elections will be the occasion for the people of Côte d’Ivoire to put crisis behind them for good. The Special Representative has asked political parties to urge their militants to also engage in the irreversible momentum for peace in the country.
And I was asked a bit earlier by one of your colleagues about a recent spate of bombings in Nigeria, and I can say that the Secretary-General condemns the weekend attacks by suspected Boko Haram elements in Baanu and two other villages, all located in Borno State, that reportedly killed over 80 people, mostly civilians, 80 civilians. The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General, as you will recall, recently visited Nigeria, where he met some victims of Boko Haram violence. There is no justification for indiscriminate violence and killings. The Secretary-General reaffirms his solidarity with the people of Nigeria and reiterates the UN’s support to the Nigerian Government in its fight against terrorism, which should be grounded on international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.
The Force Commander of the United Nations [Stabilization] Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Lieutenant General José Luiz Jaborandy of Brazil, passed away from natural causes over the weekend. The Head of the UN Mission, Sandra Honoré, praised his leadership and presented her condolences to the family. And I expect a statement from the Secretary-General before the end of this briefing.
And from Somalia, the results of the latest Food Security and Nutrition Assessment for the country were presented today in Mogadishu. Compared to six months ago, the number of people who face a food crisis increased by 17 per cent, reaching 855,000 people. A total of 3.1 million people require humanitarian assistance. The latest assessment reveals that nearly 215,000 children aged under five are acutely malnourished, with almost 40,000 severely malnourished at a high risk of disease and death. The FAO warns that the situation is likely to worsen during the rainy season. Rains from October to December are affected by El Niño and floods are expected. More information on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) website.
And the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has announced that the next round of the UN-facilitated political dialogue will take place in Geneva later this week. As you know, last week the parties met in Morocco. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Bernardino León, has said that time is of the essence for Libya as the country continues to face more violence, a growing Da’esh terrorist threat and a collapsing currency. He added that now is the time for all leaders to set aside their differences, and put the country’s interest first and work towards the quick establishment of the Government of National Accord, as called for in the political agreement.
As you will have seen late on Friday, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General in which he said that he is horrified and heartbroken at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe. He said that these repeated tragedies underscore the ruthlessness of people smugglers and traffickers whose criminal activities extend from the Andaman Sea to the Mediterranean to the highways of Europe. It also highlights the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life. The full statement was made available to you on Friday.
Also over the weekend, we put out a statement regarding Egypt where the Secretary-General said he deeply regretted the decision by the Egyptian court of Cassation to uphold the sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists — Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste (Peter Greste was sentenced in absentia), as well as others. And his full statement is already online.
And lastly, Sierra Leone has become the latest Member State to pay its dues in full, becoming the — what number? It’s 115. You all lose. No questions today. All right. Yes, go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. First of all, welcome back.
Spokesman: Thank you.
Question: With this migrant refugee crisis in Europe and the loss of life, Stéphane, have you or has the Secretary-General spoken to any of the European leaders about the status of these people? Because Europe is kind of using the word "migrants" in order to avoid some of the responsibility when it comes to hosting a lot of these people.
Spokesman: Well, I think contacts have been had with various officials at different levels during this time of crisis, various UN agencies. I think it is very important that, to underscore the distinction between refugees and migrants. They have very clear legal implications and implications of rights of the people and responsibilities of the States in question. And the two, the two terms should not be used interchangeably. What we have seen in Europe recently is that the vast majority of people are refugees. They are fleeing violence. They are fleeing conflict. They are fleeing Syria. They're fleeing Iraq. They're fleeing Afghanistan. And whether people are refugees or migrants, they need to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that is a message that the Secretary-General, his senior officials, whether it's the head of the UN refugee agency, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and others at all levels, have been constantly calling for. Yes. Evelyn and then Masood.
Question: What town in Yemen were you speaking of?
Spokesman: Taiz. Okay, Masood.
Correspondent: Okay, I mean, last weekend and last Friday, I think the Secretary-General issued a statement asking Pakistan and India to talk, but there were no heed paid to it. On Sunday about 11 Pak-… I mean, people were killed, eight Pakistanis and three Indians. And UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] was there to witness the damage.
Spokesman: We, we've seen those reports. I'll waiting for… I'm waiting for some guidance on these latest incidents.
Correspondent: Okay. The thing is the guidance, something has to be said because, in Pakistan and elsewhere, there are reports that India and Pakistan can go to war. It can be a nuclear war.
Spokesman: Of course, I think the, we're… we're always following the developments in that part of the world very closely, and the Secretary-General will continue to encourage direct dialogue between Pakistan and India as a way to de-escalate any tensions that may exist. Mr. Lee, and then we'll go to Linda.
Question: Couple questions on South Sudan and some that weren't answered last week. One has to do with… it's reported that the… even after the signing of the… this agreement, that the Juba airport was declared closed. I've seen a memo from UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] to people saying don't go there, it's closed. And the reports are that weapons to basically resupply the fight have been flown in, have been moved by barge up toward Malakal. So, what I wanted to know is whether UNMISS… one, will you confirm that UNMISS has told people not to go to the airport? Two, have weapons to UNMISS' knowledge been moved up to Malakal, and is there fighting elsewhere in the country? And, finally, there was a Colonel Bakosoro who was jailed by the Salva Kiir Government during the last period of time, and I wanted to know if UNMISS did anything for his case. He was the governor of Western Equatoria State…
Spokesman: On your last question, I don't have any indication. We'll have to see if, in fact, Juba airport was declared a no-go zone for the UN. As for the reported violations of the ceasefire, we've seen, we've seen the reports that there were violations of the ceasefire after the, after the signing. We're not in a position to independently confirm those violations as the UN has no presence in the areas where the fighting was reported. And as for the monitoring of the ceasefire, as you will know from the agreement, that is going to be the responsibility of a, of IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development] and other parts so…
Correspondent: On the airport, I just wanted, because, whatever. I've seen the memo. It says the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army]…
Spokesman: You have it.
Question: Okay. So, when you ask them, can you also ask them, who, to the UN's knowledge, operates or has the contracts including for the UN at the Juba airport if it's a company called ENHAS and TB Holding Services? Just a yes or no.
Spokesman: I'm aware of them. I know of them. Linda.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding Yemen, would you have the latest total of casualties? And also is there a breakdown of which side is responsible for how many?
Spokesman: No, I do not, I do not have the latest, I don't have the latest breakdown of casualties. Obviously, as to assigning blame as to who is killing civilians, it's not, we're not in a position to make any determination, A, while the fighting is continuing, and B, we don't have the forensic ability on the ground to do that. What we do know is that, while there is no political dialogue, while there is no humanitarian ceasefire, the civilians, the most vulnerable people, are again, are again paying the price. I think the situation that I just described in Taiz is dire, for lack of a, for lack of a stronger word. We're talking about tens of thousands, now hundreds of thousands of people who constantly need aid. Meanwhile, on the political end, the Secretary-General's envoy is continuing his work. He's on his way to Oman, I believe. Today, he's on his way to Muscat, where he is scheduled to meet later today with representatives of the Houthis and the General People's Congress.
Question: One follow-up regarding migrants. You mentioned that, obviously, there are differences between migrants and refugees, and the vast majority of those in southern Europe or in other places are, qualify as asylum-seekers. So, what are the limitations? I mean, you mentioned there are legal differences between what's provided to refugees versus migrants. What are the limitations in terms of countries providing migrants assistance?
Spokesman: Well, I think people who are considered migrants, who leave their homes, not because of direct threat to their lives or persecution, but mainly to improve their lives, those need to be dealt with in each country through its immigration laws. Right? There are, each country has immigration laws in place. Those people need to be dealt with through immigration laws. Those are migrants, people who if they returned home would not face imminent threat of death or persecution. Refugees come under the protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention and have clear rights to protection. These people are facing imminent death and persecution if they were to go home. Obviously, there is a lot of discussion right now in Europe on how to best handle this. It's a complex… it's a very complex issue.
But, it's important that some comprehensive policies be put in place so they can be dealt, so this flow of people can be dealt with in a way that is, that is respectful of their dignity and of their humanity. I mean, we're, you know, I think, as the Secretary-General said on Friday, we're seeing the war in Syria manifest itself on the highways of Austria. I mean, it's, it's indescribable to see 70 people suffocate to death in a truck, and it also underscores the growing insidious role of criminal gangs. There is a criminal aspect to this. People are being, are being smuggled at great, at their great personal risk, at great cost, by criminal gangs who are, again, abusing them. These are people who are fleeing persecution, who are, again, being abused by people smugglers, and once they… they reach the shores of Europe, they need to be treated with dignity. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane, and welcome back. Well, last week Ms. Zainab Bangura, Special Representative for Sexual Violence and Conflict, again, briefed the Security Council about the wide, like ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] using the sexual violence and other groups as a tactic of war. And it's becoming increasingly that hundreds of girls were in a sexual slavery markets that are fleeing to Iraq or surviving. The local government can't help them. And I researched this. I couldn't find anything… any UN programme to help those survivors. Do you know of any programme…?
Spokesman: Well, let me look at, you know, obviously, the UN's humanitarian arms in Iraq and northern Iraq is helping people who are fleeing zones under the control of Da’esh and offering whatever support they can, whether that's material support in terms of food and housing and, obviously, would hope psychosocial support. I will talk to my colleagues at UN-Women and UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] to see what specific programmes they may have in place in those areas. Yes.
Question: Thank you. I have a couple questions about the Secretary-General's upcoming visit to China. I wanted to clarify, is he attending the military parade? I know it's one of the event… it's not the only event going on over there. Is that…?
Spokesman: Sorry. Say again?
Question: Is he attending the military parade when…?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General will be in China to attend the commemoration of the, of the end of the, of the Second World War, as he has done in, throughout the year, as he's done in Poland, in Ukraine, in Moscow. I think, obviously, the Second World War is one of the most tragic episodes of history in the twentieth century. Its end also marks the birth of the United Nations. The Secretary-General believes it's important to use this occasion to reflect on the past, look at the lessons we've learned and how we can move ahead to a brighter future based on these lessons. And that's why he's participating in these commemorations. And he hopes that all countries will use this time to reflect on the past and also, obviously, look to the future.
Question: Just a second question. Another Japanese Government expressed some concern about the SG attending the ceremony. Was there, did you guys receive that? Did you response to them?
Spokesman: I think the response is what I've told you, and the Secretary… explained to you, the Secretary-General's thinking behind attending the ceremony in Beijing as he's attended the ceremonies in Ukraine, in Poland, as well as in Moscow. Go.
Question: Thank you for the… Stéphane. Always on the same subject, Mr. Oshima, the speaker of the Japanese House of Representatives, visited the [Secretary-General] this morning, and, apparently, he expressed his concern for same subject. Do you know what was…?
Spokesman: I do expect to have a readout of that meeting shortly, so we'll share that with you. Yes, Ken.
Question: On the same subject, does the Secretary-General have to observe, attend in a military parade to reflect on the past and…?
Spokesman: I think he's attending the commemorations that are hosted and organized by the Chinese Government.
Question: Am I right to understand he's also… it's… because it's part of the whole ceremony, is he…?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the commemorations in different countries take different forms, and the Secretary-General is attending this commemoration as he is attending the, as he attended the commemorations in Moscow, as well as Kyiv and as in Poland. Mr. Lee, and then we'll go to you, Masood.
Correspondent: Sure. I want to ask about a newly reported case of sexual abuse or exploitation by UN peacekeeping. This one's in Liberia. Maybe you'll have something on it. The report is that the regional security officer for mount… Cape Mount County sought sexual relations with an underaged Liberian, sought to pay money for it, and it's been reported by the press there… picked up by AllAfrica. And I wanted, I don't see anywhere in it any UN response to it.
Spokesman: I don't have anything on that, but let me check.
Question: I had asked over… last week two questions, one I view as related. One had to do with there is a filmed statement by Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous put on UNiFEED. It was put on the UN's website, and it was taken down. There was no Q&A. What was that produced for, what was the purpose, and why doesn't he just take questions on it?
Spokesman: I think the… I think the, you know, I think the opinions expressed by Mr. Ladsous in the video are clear and his very clear condemnation of acts of sexual abuse and sexual violence. Mr. Ladsous is heading off to Bangui, I believe, tomorrow or in the coming days, to take a look for his own at the situation on the ground and to follow up, obviously, on what we've seen in the past month. He has expressed a willingness to then speak to the press upon his return.
Question: Okay. And on OIOS, there… there… I'd asked and I wanted to ask you whether the head of OIOS, Carman Lapointe, who apparently is leaving the service of the UN on 13 September, is, in fact, attending a RIAS 2015 conference in Manila from 8 to 11 September, and if so, what would be the point?
Spokesman: Well, I don't have an updated travel schedule for every [Under-Secretary-General], but I think, even if she is on the last days of the mandate, I think she has a tremendous amount of experience to share and things to share about what she's been doing over the last five years here. So, I don't see any issue with her continuing to travel and attend conferences as she sees fit, if she is, indeed, attending this conference.
Question: How many people from OIOS are going to the conference?
Spokesman: I don't know. I don't know. Masood.
Question: Yes, on this situation in Israel where Sudanese and Eritreans are not being allowed to work in Tel Aviv or Eilat City, and Human Rights Watch has said that it's against the human rights of these people. Does the Secretary-General have anything to…?
Spokesman: I don't have any specific information on this, on this case, but I would just go back to what I said to Linda, is that, obviously, people who are considered refugees need to be afforded the same rights and protection that come under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Yes.
Question: [Inaudible] do you think that Europe is not actually honouring that right?
Spokesman: I think, you know, we're seeing tragedies on the shores of Europe. We're seeing tragedies within Europe. There are… we are aware of discussions going on among EU Governments on how to best deal with this situation. We hope that they come to, to an agreement. What we do know is that we're seeing a small number of countries really bear the initial brunt, whether it's countries like the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Italy and others. This is not cases for just one or a few countries to handle. It needs to be a global and regional response to the situation.
It also under… underscores another issue which we've been talking about here quite a bit, and that is the underfunding of humanitarian appeals to deal with the situation in Syria and Iraq and the, and also with, obviously, with the refugee population in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Iraq. These people are fleeing because they fear for their lives, because they fear for persecution, because also the countries, the neighbouring countries to Syria are overwhelmed and don't have the resources to handle these, all these refugees. So, there needs to be a funding… full funding of all humanitarian appeals for the region, and there needs to be comprehensive policies put in place in Europe. Yes, ma'am.
Correspondent: I think I've brought this up before. The UN is always short of funding. The different agencies compete with one another. And I wonder when OCHA will have the power to say, this is it for everybody and these are the…
Spokesman: Well, I think that's a… it's a very valid question. It is also a question of Governments, of governance that Member States themselves need to… need to deal with. I think what we have seen since the creation of OCHA is a greater coordination of our humanitarian approach and also, critically, the creation of the Central Emergency Response Fund, which has enabled the UN to respond quickly to emergencies and, while the funding more, more funding comes in from Member States. Masood, and then Stefano.
Question: On this incarceration of the Al-Jazeera journalists by the Egyptian authorities, I know the Secretary-General issued a statement decrying the arrest and continued incarceration. Has there been any conversation with the United Nations and the Egyptian Government about…?
Spokesman: I think through the statement, the Secretary-General's stance is clear to all, including the Egyptian authorities. The Secretary-General has brought up the case of these journalists and other incarcerated journalists, whether they be in Egypt and other places, in many of his bilateral meetings, sometimes quiet diplomacy, sometimes more vocal diplomacy. And he will continue to raise the case of incarcerated journalists, as I said, both quietly and sometimes more vocally. Señore.
Correspondent: Thank you very much. On the way here, I don't know if you already talked about it, a specific issue on refugee crisis in Mediterranean and Europe.
Spokesman: I talked quite a bit…
Question: I know. I know you talked just the specific. I don't know if you talked…
Spokesman: If you haven't heard it, it's new to you. So, go ahead.
Question: The specific is this. The United Nations, months ago, I would say even more than one year ago, started to give numbers about how much money those refugees pays usually to arrive to [inaudible]. And we're talking about between $3,000-$5,000 for refugee. So, it looks like so simple sometimes when it's simple, but what the United Nations is doing to press the nations like the European nations and everything to change the policy on visa and permission to come directly from the country of origin? Because if they have this money…
Spokesman: There… there, Stefano, you raise a very important point. I think the issue of the refugee crisis we're seeing, the migrant crisis we're seeing, raises a lot of questions of things that need to be dealt with immediately, which is the focus on saving lives and treating people with dignity, to longer-term issues on managing migration flows, managing refugee flows, and it's a partnership that needs to be taken with the destination countries, the countries of origin, the transit countries.
The Secretary-General will convene a high-level meeting on the side-lines of the General Assembly to look at this crisis as it is now and to see where the UN can help in trying to focus on solutions and see where these, where the solutions can be found. But, again, it is something that… there are short-term, medium-term and long-term issues that need to be raised and managing the flow of migrants and of refugees to avoid people literally throwing themselves at sea with young children in, in boats that, that are not safe to cross the smallest river and putting their lives at risk. So, those are issues that all need to be dealt with. Yes, sir.
Question: Stéphane, on the high-level meeting on refugees, can you give us some more details…?
Spokesman: I will as soon as I can, but not right now. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about Myanmar, wiring and then some other unanswered questions. On Myanmar, do you have any, does you or Mr. Nambiar have any comments on the laws now signed about, regarding inter, interfaith marriage and conversion? There were a slew of laws that were described as these anti-Muslim laws. And I know Mr. Nambiar briefed the Council but he didn't speak to us afterwards.
Spokesman: I don't have anything here.
Question: Okay. On the wiring, remember this issue of the lack of electrical outlets of any kind at the stakeout? Nothing has happened in your absence.
Spokesman: It's, as much as I think my absence has to do, has any impact on anything that goes on in this building…
Correspondent: I'm checking…
Spokesman: It's New York. It's… things take time. Whether you're remodelling your house or putting new electrical plugs in off the Security Council, we are determined to get everybody the electrical power they need.
Question: Okay. And on this letter, I saw there was a letter, you know, the letter from, that was announced by your office from the Secretary-General to the Security Council about the mechanism for accountability, and it contained a draft letter back from Joy Ogwu for 31 August. I wanted to know, has that been returned? And I'd asked your office why it was…?
Spokesman: On the mechanism for?
Correspondent: The JIM mechanism for Syria chemical weapons…
Spokesman: No, it's in the hands of the Council.
Question: Okay. And I had a question about UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] that I want to ask you, which was that this cancelled, there's been a big dispute about the AU visit to Darfur and whether… who cancelled flights. Your office said that flights were cancelled. Then UNAMID there said no flights were cancelled. It's kind of important. Which was it?
Spokesman: I don't know. I'll check. Thank you. See you tomorrow, maybe.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|