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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

8 January 2016

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


Good afternoon.  I will start off with a statement on the situation in Yemen.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the intensification of Coalition air strikes and ground fighting and shelling in Yemen, despite repeated calls for a renewed cessation of hostilities.

The Secretary-General is particularly concerned about reports of intense air strikes in residential areas and on civilian buildings in Sana'a.  These include the Chamber of Commerce, a wedding hall and a centre for the blind.  We have also received troubling reports of the use of cluster munitions in attacks on Sana'a on 6 January in several locations.  The use of cluster munitions in populated areas may amount to a war crime due to their indiscriminate nature.

The Secretary-General reminds all parties of the utmost necessity to respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, which prohibits attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to engage in good faith with his Special Envoy [for] Yemen in order to convene a new round of peace talks as soon as possible.

And on that very note, his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived in Riyadh today, where he will meet the Vice President and Prime Minister of Yemen, Khaled Bahah, the Government of Yemen's delegation to talks, leaders of Yemeni political parties, and senior officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this week, he was in Paris where he met the Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, on 6 January.  He then travelled to the UAE [United Arab Emirates], where he met the Foreign Minister and several other high-level Government officials.

We expect the Special Envoy to travel to Sana'a soon.

And just to flag that in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned the decision of the Government of Yemen to expel from the country the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He is also extremely concerned about the safety of the remaining national and international staff.

By impeding the UN's human rights work, the Government is failing to uphold its obligations.  Doing so can only be harmful for the country's return to peace and stability.

In keeping with the Human Rights Up Front Initiative, the Secretary-General stresses that the UN staff must never be threatened or sanctioned for doing their work, which is based on the United Nations Charter.  The Secretary-General reiterates his full confidence in the representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sana'a and urges the Government of Yemen to reconsider its position on his expulsion.

And today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, urged the Government of Yemen to reverse its decision to declare his Representative in the country persona non grata, saying it was "unwarranted, counter-productive and damaging to the reputation of the Government and its coalition partners".


And we also issued a statement on Libya yesterday, late yesterday, in which the Secretary-General condemned the deadly terrorist attack that took place near a police base in Zliten, in western Libya.  And he also condemned the ongoing attacks by Da'esh-affiliates on oil facilities near Sidra, in central [Libya].

**Sri Lanka

You will have seen in another statement that we issued late yesterday that the Secretary-General has congratulated the President of Sri Lanka and the Government and the people of Sri Lanka on the first year of the country's political transition.

He is encouraged by the Government's commitment to a broad reform agenda that aims to realize durable peace, stability and prosperity for the people of Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General acknowledges the initial steps the Government has taken to strengthen good governance, advance reconciliation and implement the resolution of the Human Rights Council of October 2015.  He urges continued progress in these areas and emphasises the need for inclusive consultation processes to address issues of transitional justice.


I wanted to flag that the UN Mission in Mali has started today to build two cantonment sites in northern Mali, one in the Timbuktu region and the other in the Gao region.  These are the first cantonment sites to be built to support the demobilization of former fighters.  The Mission welcomes this as a crucial step in the implementation of the Peace Agreement.

More available on MINUSMA's website.


And our friends at the World Health Organization wanted us to flag that the global supply of oral cholera vaccines is set to double after they approved a third producer, helping to address global shortages and expand the access to more countries.

In addition, this vaccine producer will allow for 6 million doses of the vaccine for 2016 alone, with the potential for further increased production in the future.

There are between 1.4 million and 4.3 million cases of cholera a year, and as many as 142,000 deaths.  And it is endemic in more than 50 countries.

**Democratic Republic of Congo-Central African Republic

And just lastly, in response to a question from one of your colleagues on the situation of the contingent from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) serving in the Central African Republic (CAR), I can tell you that following standard procedure, UN Peacekeeping has recently conducted a pre-deployment assessment on the readiness of DRC troops being rotated into the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Despite improvements between the first pre-deployment visit in November and the second one in December, UN Peacekeeping found that the progress achieved so far only partially meets the requirements set by the United Nations in terms of equipment, vetting and preparedness.  In light of this result, the battalion from the Democratic Republic of the Congo currently deployed in MINUSCA will be repatriated without replacement.

The UN acknowledges the contributions of the DRC troops to peacekeeping in the CAR, both under the African Union-led mission, MISCA, and subsequently with the United Nations.  This contribution helped the people of the Central African Republic during a critical time for the country and despite many challenges.

**Questions and Answers

Anyway, now that I've asked my questions, yes, sir.

Question:  …that the Yemeni Government sent a letter yesterday or I… maybe…

Spokesman:  Speak a little louder.

Question:  Okay, so there is a letter I read from the Yemeni Government to the SG criticizing the international organisations that they're not focusing enough on the humanitarian crisis in Taiz in Yemen.  How do you respond, and do you consider Taiz under siege and by whom?

Spokesman:  I think, I would say, quite to the contrary, I think the United Nations has been concentrating a lot of effort on the humanitarian situation in Yemen as a whole, including in Taiz.  We have not had the access we needed in Taiz, and we have found, you know, the point is that whoever is, is not enabling us to access Taiz needs to allow us to go in.  The intentional blocking of humanitarian convoys is not acceptable.

Question:  [off mic, inaudible]

Spokesman:  Well, we're not, we're not able to access it as we would like in order to put, get humanitarian aid through.


Question:  [off mic] Can I ask you why, why…

Spokesman:  Because of the continued fighting and our inability due to armed groups not allowing us to get in.

Question:  Staying, thank you, Stéphane, staying on Yemen, does the United Nations plan to deploy its own teams to investigate the use of cluster bombs by Saudi‑led coalition?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, obviously, we're getting reports both from our own people and other, other sources.  Yemen is, in many parts, an active, an active zone, but we've received enough credible information that it has raised an extremely high concern of the Secretary‑General as well as our human rights colleagues.  I mean, as I've said, you know, the use of cluster munitions in populated areas may amount to a war crime.

Edie, and then we'll go to you, Matthew.

Question:  On another subject, Steph, the Secretary‑General met the Chinese Ambassador this morning.  Could you tell us… could you give us a readout of that?  Did they discuss possible further action as a result of North Korea's test?

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  What I do know is that the Secretary‑General had told me he had planned to raise issues regarding climate change and the DPRK during that discussion.

Mr. Lee, and then we'll come back to you.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, on Yemen, first, on the cluster bombs, I'm sure you've seen the report and even photographs that one of the cluster bombs found there on January 6th was marked that it was made in the United States, in Tennessee.  This has come up at the State Department briefing, and I wanted to ask you.  Does the US, does the UN believe that those providing armaments, particularly now illegal, you know, possible war crime armaments, bear some responsibility?  And what… what would you say if US‑made cluster bombs were being dropped on Sana'a?

Spokesman:  I haven't, I haven't seen those pictures myself, but it's clear, as a matter of principle, those who sell arms also bear some responsibility in how they're used.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask about the Envoy's travel.  I mean, you know, he's… he went to France.  He went to the UAE, Saudi Arabia.  Did he… did he attempt… did he ask to go to Iran?  Has he spoken… when's the last time he spoke to Iran?  I ask that because Saudi leads the coalition.  The UAE is part of the coalition.  France sells weapons to the coalition.  Is there some… when is he going to Sana'a?  I guess it just seemed… it doesn't seem…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I, you may have missed it because were you walking in when I was reading, but I said he does, he will go to Sana'a soon.  So he's making a series of stops.  I don't think one needs to read too much into the order.  Obviously, Riyadh is a key point, and Sana'a is another key point.

Question:  I guess this is just a direct question.  Has he asked to visit Tehran?

Spokesman:  You know, as, whether it's Mr. de Mistura or the Special Envoy on Yemen, we try to announce the trips as they come.  Obviously, Iran, as a regional power, is also a critical piece of the Yemeni puzzle which we're trying to solve.  

Erol, you've been patient, and then we'll go to Mr. Klein, who's also been patient.

Question:  Thank you.  Steph, just a quick follow‑up as a matter of clarification.  When you say coalition‑led bombing, which air force actually dropped those cluster?

Spokesman:  Well, we don't, I don't have, obviously, we don't have that sort of detailed information, but we do know that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia are the ones using these, using warplanes.

Question:  And also, another question is, since we mentioned the travelling, do we have a plan of how many big… do we have a plan of how many big travels the Secretary‑General is planning by the end of this year and his tenure?

Spokesman:  In fact, the end of this year is the end of his tenure.  There will be, there will be quite a few travels, as it is a rolling announcement.  As travels become confirmed, we will announce them from here, but I can't, I'm not in a position to give you an overall picture at this point.

Question:  For example, the White House is saying that President Obama is going to have 16 major travels, just in comparison.

Spokesman:  I'm aware of what the White House has said.  We'll see what the Glass House says.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Mr. Klein.

Question:  Yes.  Germany, as you know, has been very welcoming to refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, but there have been reports that have come out concerning sexual assaults, I believe in Cologne and possibly other locations within Germany, some from refugees.  So I'd like to know what the Secretary‑General's comment is on that and to what extent… a reaction to continuing a sort of an open border policy or more welcoming policy of refugees could be affected by these sort of episodes.

Spokesman:  I have no insider access to the criminal investigation going on in Cologne.  Obviously, this sort of mass assault on women is horrendous.  We hope it's, and we know it's being thoroughly investigated.  But we will not from here jump to any conclusion as to what groups of people or who may be, who may be responsible.  So I will not, I will not make that, make that link.

There is obviously a heated discussion going on in Europe.  We would encourage Europe and other countries around the world to continue to be welcoming to refugees and to migrants and treat them with the respect they deserve and, of course, with the rights that they have.

Luke and then Colum.

Question:  Thanks.  Earlier in the week, I think it was on Monday, you said the UN was hopeful some sort of diplomatic firewall could be erected to prevent the Iran‑Saudi dispute from interfering with the Yemen and Syrian negotiations.  Five days on, a very critical time.  How does the SG evaluate progress…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think the, I think it's, you know, one doesn't want to jump to conclusions, and obviously, the tensions that were created are very serious, but I think it's a good sign that the Envoy on Yemen is in Riyadh, will be continuing his discussions, that Mr. de Mistura arrived in Damascus today.  He will be having meetings in Damascus and then going on to Tehran later this weekend.  So the discussions are continuing.  We're continuing our efforts on both political tracks.

Question:  Safe to say there's still momentum going forward…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  As long as, yes, Mr. de Mistura is working hard to keep the Vienna momentum going, and I think, as he continues his travel, he's keeping that momentum.

Mr. Lynch.

Question:  [off mic] Yes, a couple things on Yemen.  Have there been any previous complaints by the [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  Not…

Question:  [off mic] And do you think his departure will have an impact on the reporting on the ground on human rights abuses?  And finally, this… has the UN, the Secretary‑General or anybody else, approached the Coalition members, the Saudis or the Americans, to ask them to convince the Yemenis to reverse this?

Spokesman:  Taking your questions in no particular order, I think it's very important that UN officials be allowed to do their work.  If they're reporting on human rights, they should be allowed to report on human rights. 

Whatever happens in the end with the PNG-ed of the human rights representative, the UN will not stop reporting on human rights as it sees it in Yemen.  I'm sure there have been contacts through our colleagues in the Human Rights Office in Geneva at various, at various levels, and I'm not aware of any previous warning regarding the activities of the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  [inaudible] So the Secretary‑General hasn't talked to the Saudis…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General himself has not, but I'm sure contacts have had at different levels.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Also on Yemen, do you have any updated information about the Iranian embassy in Sana'a?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry?

Question:  Any update on Iranian embassy in Sana'a…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, the embassy, no, I do not.


Question:  My question was on the same subject.  Did Iranians send any letter to Secretariat about this event, these incident they claim that the Saudi‑led coalition targeted the Iranian embassy in Yemen?

Spokesman:  I think there has been a letter.  I'll check right after the briefing.  I do recall, I think I did see a letter.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding North Korea, would you have any details or further information about the role of the UN Secretariat in addressing the recent nuclear tests, you know, example, any contacts that have been made or any discussions?

Spokesman:  No, nothing that I'm able to share with you at this point.

Question:  On Syria, is Mr. de Mistura working with the opposition on the delegation that's supposed to represent the opposition in the coming talks?  Is it, is this part of his job, or does he prefer that someone else take care of this…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  There've been, you know, he's had contacts at various stops with opposition representatives.  There have been different lines of work, so to speak, within the International Support Group for Syria on the delegations and who represented, and that's, that's the way we're operating.

Question:  So you mean he… he's not working on…

Spokesman:  What I'm saying is that we're working with and through the International Syrian Support Group.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask, first, about the… the… the statement on Sri Lanka.  I'd asked, I guess, Monday and yesterday.  Yesterday I asked you about these new reports of torture that at least two groups say have occurred even under President Sirisena, and people there are also marking, you know, the seventh year of a killed journalist, Lasantha. 

So I'm wondering, it seemed like a pretty, he can write whatever he wants, but what is the answer to the Secretariat's review of… of torture allegedly occurring in the last year and of unsolved cases of dead journalists, et cetera?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, unsolved cases of harassment and killings of journalists need to be solved and the perpetrators need to be brought to justice.  On the reports of torture, I know our human rights colleagues are aware of the reports put forward by the NGOs that you'd mentioned.


Question:  On Libya, there seems to be increasing talk in European capitals about potential military actions to push back the Islamic State.  Would the SG encourage those countries to hold off on talking about those options until the unity government has been formed?

Spokesman:  I think our focus remains on the political track.  I think all these terrorist attacks that we've seen, all this violence that we've seen should help refocus and redouble the efforts of Libyan political leaders to come together in a government of national accord and to start rebuilding their State.


Question:  Steph, do we know as of today how many of [inaudible] candidates for the new Secretary‑General has been received and also whether it is true now or ruled that only those letters who came after the December 15th, the letter from Security Council and General Assembly was sent to all the Member States, is going to be considered?

Spokesman:  While it's a fascinating subject, it's a question to be addressed to the President of the General Assembly or the President of the Security Council and not to the one who speaks for the current Secretary‑General.

Mr. Klein.  Sorry, then we'll go to you, Dulcie.

Question:  Could you perhaps give us a status on the audit going on of the South‑South Cooperation office?  I mean, we haven't heard anything about that in some time.

Spokesman:  It's a good question.  It was on my to‑do list earlier this week to make that call so I will get that call to get myself an update, which I can then share with you.

Question:  Could you then insert something in the transcript?

Spokesman:  I can insert…


Question:  Or somehow…

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  I don't want it to drop.  That's the point.

Spokesman:  No, no, neither do I. 


Question:  Yeah.  If you could be a little more specific on how the manufacturers of cluster munitions bear responsibilities in these possible war crimes.

Spokesman:  I think the, there could probably be some sort of legal answer, which I'm not able to give you, but I think I would stick to what I've just said.


Question:  Thank you.  On DPRK, can you confirm if the SG was in touch with the DPRK's mission in New York or even with any DPRK official in Pyongyang?

Spokesman:  No, I will not, I am not able to confirm that. 

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Great.  I'll ask about Burundi, but I'll ask about ROK instead of DPRK. 

I wanted to ask, the… in… in the aftermath or after the Secretary‑General's comment praising the comfort women settlement between Japan and South Korea, there's been some criticism in the country, including just the… I guess the question, which is, did the Secretary‑General confer with any of the surviving victims?  Because many of whom are very dissatisfied with the settlement, saying that it should have been done personally, settlement should have been larger.  Did… what outreach, I guess, did he make before delivering that statement of praise?

Spokesman:  And what was your…

Question:  Burundi question?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  Maybe… all right.  On Burundi… there was a press conference by the Ugandan mediation of the Burundi crisis today, and they seen… or they… they… among other things, it appears that the Burundi side, the Government side, is asking for a change of venue, and the real issue seems to be whether anyone that the Government says was in any way involved in the events of May should not be part of the talks.  And I just wondered, is Mr. Benomar involved at all in this process?  It seems like the key point is, who's going to participate?  And also, what, what does the UN know about this desired change of venue?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Let me, I'll check with Mr. Benomar's team. 

You know, on, on your first question, there's not much for me to add from what has been said.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General's, I think, expression of support reflects the broad opinion of the international community, which has long encouraged both the Republic of Korea and Japan to improve their bilateral relationships by resolving the history‑related issues, most notably the tragic case of the so‑called, the comfort women.

The Secretary‑General, as well as the international community, recognizes the tremendous suffering of these victims during the Second World War.

Yeah, and then Dulcie.

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on Syria, Madaya, there is a hunger and yesterday in [inaudible] you announced there will be aid delivering to this city.  Is there any update on this…

Spokesman:  No, there's no update.  It has not happened today, as far as I know.  We said it would take a few days, so if there's an update to share over the weekend we will do that by e-mail.

Question:  Just wanted to clarify, the Yemen Government expelled the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative.  Is that the Yemeni Government in exile in Riyadh?

Spokesman:  It is the, the, the internationally-recognized Government of Yemen.  They declared the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights persona non grata.

Question:  Oh, also, just a request.  Is it possible we could hear from Jan Eliasson at the beginning of this year?

Spokesman:  I'm sure he, we would be delighted. 


Question:  Sure.  I understand that, I mean, the Secretary‑General did this town hall meeting earlier today, and I wanted to ask, it's, it's, various people have said that he, among his statements was that apparently that he said that he always flies commercial or only flies commercial.  And I wanted to know, since, in this room, we've discussed that the flight on the Qatari…

Spokesman:  He did not say that.

Question:  Okay. 

Spokesman:  He did not say that.

Question:  I guess what I want to do… what triggered in my mind, can we get a clear picture of… I've asked before to say on particular trips who's paying for the travel, just a percentage… you could even ballpark it.  What percentage of his travel is commercial, paid out of the UN budget and what part is paid by Member States or others?

Spokesman:  I mean, we can try to help you out in that regard.

Thank you.

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