Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 February 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General just issued the following statement in his name on the death of Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
"I was deeply saddened," he said, "to learn of the death of my predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali."
The late Secretary-General was a respected statesman in the service of his country, Egypt. He was a well-known scholar of international law and brought formidable experience and intellectual power to the task of piloting the United Nations through one of the most tumultuous and challenging periods in its history and guiding the Organization for the Francophonie in subsequent years.
As Secretary-General, he presided over a dramatic rise in UN peacekeeping. He also presided over a time when the world increasingly turned to the United Nations for solutions to its problems, in the immediate aftermath of the cold war.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali did much to shape the Organization's response to this new era, in particular through his landmark report "An Agenda for Peace" and the subsequent agendas for development and democratization.
He showed courage in posing difficult questions to the Member States, and rightly insisted on the independence of his office and of the Secretariat as a whole. His commitment to the United Nations – its mission and its staff – was unmistakable, and the mark he has left on the Organization is indelible.
As the Secretary-General continued, he extended his deepest condolences to Mrs. Boutros-Ghali, as well as to the rest of the family, to the Egyptian people, and to the late Secretary-General's many friends and admirers around the world. The UN community will mourn a memorable leader who rendered invaluable services to world peace and international order.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, arrived in Damascus yesterday and had a meeting today with the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Al-Moualem. They discussed the need for unhindered humanitarian access to all besieged areas, regardless of which party is besieging them.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. de Mistura said that access to besieged areas is obtained for convoys, which are coordinated by the UN country team. He said it is the duty of the Government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid. He said that would be tested tomorrow.
And according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reports indicated that six hospitals and one primary health care facility were damaged or destroyed in air attacks yesterday in northern and southern Syria, including the only operational hospital in Azaz, cutting off health services to tens of thousands of people and reportedly resulting in civilian casualties, including of medical workers.
This follows reports of 13 attacks damaging hospitals in the last month. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Crisis in Syria, Kevin Kennedy, have condemned the attacks and called on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians, as required under international humanitarian law.
From Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said today that it is gravely concerned about the abhorrent and repeated attacks on medical facilities in Syria.
Also on Syria, the World Food Programme (WFP) in Jordan today launched an innovative iris scan payment system, which will allow Syrian refugees living in camps to purchase food items from local shops using the scan of their eye instead of cash, vouchers or credit cards. More information is available on that on WFP's website.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, briefed the Security Council on Yemen this morning. He said that the conflict in Yemen continues to kill and maim civilians, causing immeasurable suffering, while destroying livelihoods, homes, communities and essential civilian infrastructure. Since March 2015, more than 35,000 casualties, including over 6,000 deaths, have been reported by health facilities across the country.
He added that UN agencies and their partners are delivering assistance under extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances across the country. But he said that he was extremely concerned about the increasingly restricted humanitarian space. He noted that parties to the conflict were contributing to the reduction of humanitarian access.
And also on Yemen, the UN refugee agency says that it has delivered blankets, mattresses, and other emergency relief assistance for 1,000 conflict-affected families on Sunday in the embattled enclave of the city centre of Taizz.
This is the first time UNHCR has been able to access the city after more than five months of trying to bring in much needed aid. With the support of local aid organizations, the UN refugee agency conducted the distribution in three locations in the city: Al Qahirah, Salh and Al Mudhaffar districts.
UNHCR also says that displacement figures continue to rise in Taizz governorate, which now hosts the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. At approximately 400,000 people, this accounts for 16 per cent of the current total of 2.5 million internally displaced. There is more information online.
I have been asked in recent days about the use of cluster munitions, both in Syria and in Yemen.
I'd like to point out that the Secretary-General has consistently expressed his deep concern about the effect of the intensification of Coalition airstrikes, ground fighting and shelling in Yemen, despite repeated calls for a renewed cessation of hostilities.
He is dismayed in particular by the reported use of cluster munitions, both in Yemen and Syria. He again calls on all parties to these conflicts to respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, which prohibit attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemns in the strongest terms the killing of one of its staff members, who was abducted in April 2015 and whose death was verified only on Monday. The Mission calls on the Iraqi authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Amer al-Kaissy, an Iraqi national who serves as UNAMI's representative in Diyala, was abducted outside the Governorate building in the City of Baqubah on 26 April 2015. He is suspected to have been abducted by militias active in the area. The United Nations requested Iraqi officials at all levels to locate him and ensure his safety, and the request was reiterated by the Secretary-General in multiple reports to the Security Council since then.
An unidentified body was found near Baqubah on 14 November 2015 bearing signs of execution by a gunshot and was subsequently buried by local officials on 15 January 2016. However, local authorities failed to identify the body. Yesterday, friends of the staff member verified from photographs that the body had belonged to Mr. al-Kaissy and informed UNAMI.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, expressed his personal and the Mission's deepest condolences to his widow, three children and the larger Al-Kaissy family. The Special Representative expressed deep disappointment at the lack of progress in the case and the unfortunate outcome.
Mr. Kubiš will also brief the Security Council this afternoon.
And the UN Human Rights Office today said it is increasingly concerned about 559 Sunni Arab Iraqis who have been stuck for some three months near Sinjar in the no-man's-land between Da'esh and Kurdish security forces.
The Office said that since it last raised concerns about this group in December, their humanitarian situation has further deteriorated and they have not had access to food and drinking water since 4 February, while at least two children and two women have allegedly died due to the cold weather.
The Human Rights Office once again urges the Kurdish Regional Government to act as quickly as possible to ensure the safety, protection and access to basic humanitarian assistance for this group of extremely vulnerable people.
The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Paris to participate in the High-Level Meeting of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the 18th and 19th of February.
During his visit to France, he will also meet with senior Government officials.
On 20 February, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Turkey.
In Ankara, he will meet with national authorities, before travelling to Istanbul to participate in the Ministerial High-level Partnership Forum on Somalia. The Deputy Secretary-General also plans to visit refugee facilities in the area.
The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 24 February.
Earlier today, the Deputy Secretary-General delivered remarks at the opening debate of the Special Committee of the General Assembly on Peacekeeping Operations.
Speaking about last week's attack against peacekeepers in northern Mali, the Deputy Secretary-General said that peacekeepers are operating in ever more insecure environments today where extremist and criminal groups thrive from and exploit chaos and instability.
Mr. [Jan] Eliasson said that the Special Committee has played an important role for the policy agenda for peacekeeping operations over many years, and urged it continue providing support and to follow-up on the commitments made at last year's Summit on Peacekeeping. His full remarks are available online.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed his deep concern over the recent arrest of lawyers and the harassment and intimidation of Government critics and NGO (non-governmental organization) workers in China.
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said that he has raised and sought clarifications from the Chinese authorities.
He said that we are seeing a very worrying pattern in China that has serious implications for civil society and the important work they do across the country.
The High Commissioner said that he appreciated the opportunity to raise such cases with Chinese officials in Geneva and acknowledged their efforts to clarify the matters at issue. However, he said that the responses he received indicate that the authorities too often reflexively confuse the legitimate role of lawyers and activists with threats to public order and security.
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke about the value of hosting mega sports events as a social, economic and environmental sustainable development tool.
Stressing that sport has a tremendous and unique power to unite, he added that so-called "mega sport events", such as the World Cup and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, can spread that spirit of unity in mega-ways. His full remarks are available online.
I was asked yesterday about women peacekeepers killed in the attack in Mali on Friday.
Out of the seven deceased peacekeepers, one was female. All five injured soldiers, amongst which were two women, were evacuated to the Polyclinique Pasteur in Bamako, Mali.
At the noon briefing tomorrow, our guest will be Robert Glasser, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, who will brief you on disaster trends and losses in 2015.
**Central African Republic
Last, on the Central African Republic, we confirmed yesterday that there are four new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN peacekeepers.
According to initial information received by the Mission from humanitarian partners on 11 February and in keeping with the Mission's policy of full transparency, these four allegations involve peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The victims, four minors, were all residents of the Ngakobo camp for internally displaced persons in Ouaka prefecture and were allegedly sexually exploited and abused by peacekeepers between 2014 and 2015.
The Mission is cooperating closely with UN agencies and their partners to ensure that the victims have access to appropriate medical and psycho-social assistance.
These allegations follow MINUSCA's (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic) and UN agencies' active engagement with communities to encourage victims to come forward.
The Member State has been informed on the allegations yesterday and requested to convey within ten days their intention to investigate, failing which the UN will conduct its own investigation.
**Questions and Answers
And that's it. Yes?
Question: Yes. Thank you. Regarded to the trip of de Mistura and Damascus, do you have any more data how many trucks, which area, how many people is going to be part of the target of the peace operation which is supposed to start tomorrow?
Deputy Spokesman: What our understanding is, is the Government of Syria has approved access to seven besieged areas, and those include Deir ez‑Zor, Foah and Kafraya in Idleb, and Madaya, Zabadani, Kafr Batna and Madamiyet Elsham in rural Damascus. Humanitarian agencies and partners are preparing convoys for these areas to depart as soon as possible in the coming days. And, as the Special Envoy pointed out, the… he said in his remarks to the press in Damascus that the test will be tomorrow. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks. Some other questions, but on what you just read out on Central African Republic, I'd asked you yesterday about these very cases. And the e-mail that I asked you about, I want… I guess I want you… you've confirmed some of it but not other of it. The e-mail, the inside… the internal 11 February UN e-mail says that at least two of the four victims have since had babies from these sexual abuse and exploitation as minors. And I wanted to know, what… one, will you confirm that? And two, what… what, if any, is DPKO's (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) procedure or… or provisions for cases like this where there… you know, they've actual… they've had them. These are now their children. Will the UN step in or have the DRC step in or the individuals step in?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I've just said, the Mission is cooperating with UN agencies and partners regarding assistance for the victims. The Member State involved has been informed yesterday. It's been requested to convey within ten days their intention to investigate. And like I said, if they fail to do that, then the UN will conduct its own investigation. So those are the next steps.
Question: But is there any sort of… I think there'd been… at some point there'd been a discussion of a UN, either, Trust Fund. It had to do with cases where a child is born. Like, there's going to be expenses. So does the UN take care of that? DRC?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any comment on that at this stage. As you know, following, particularly, the report of Judge [Marie] Deschamps, we've been considering what further steps are needed in terms of protection. And so there's a review process that's going on in terms of our own follow‑up actions. I don't have anything on that just yet. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Yesterday, a 13‑year‑old girl… her name is Yasmine Rashad… was killed by soldiers and let bleed to death. And the health aid car was prevented from reaching her. She died in front of the soldiers. On Sunday, five Palestinians were killed. And on Saturday, a 17‑year‑old girl was also killed in Hebron. So all these murders do not inspire the Secretary or his envoy to issue a statement. However, Monday the 8th, the Secretary‑General issued a statement condemning the burning of a tent set by the settlers on Palestinian land, which he called a synagogue in the West Bank. So the information was wrong. And the reason to issue a statement was wrong. It is occupied land… [cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: Although it's… although you're entitled to your opinions, I'm waiting for a question still.
Question: The question is why he didn't issue a statement, nor his Special Envoy, who issued a statement when a settler woman was killed and he said nothing justifies the killing of a mother in front of her children. Yes, I agree. But does anything in the world justify killing a 13‑year‑old girl?
Deputy Spokesman: We do not believe that any civilians should be killed under any circumstances. We have raised concerns about the disproportionate responses from the security forces, just as we have raised concerns about stabbing attacks and other such violence, and we will continue to raise concerns about all the violence. This is what we… what we want to do is make sure that the Israelis and Palestinians realize that this constant atmosphere of random attacks and fear does neither of them any service. Regarding the question of the synagogue, I believe my colleague Stéphane Dujarric has replied to what you said just last week.
Question: He didn't answer.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I saw the briefing, so I watched his reply to you, and I have nothing further to add to his reply.
Question: He attempted to present me a statement on the many mosques…
Deputy Spokesman: I believe Stéphane said any number of facilities can be used for religious purposes. We are against attacks on any buildings, any structures that serve religious purposes.
Question: Farhan, can I just… I…
Deputy Spokesman: I'm just here to answer questions, not to have arguments or debates.
Question: No, I'm asking you, did the Secretary‑General ever issue a statement when a mosque was set ablaze by the settlers? In Aqraba, in 25 December, a mosque that serves 11,000 was put ablaze by the settlers, and no statement issued. This is my question, about double standard. Why there is double standard?
Deputy Spokesman: We've issued statements all around the world about attacks on all kinds of religious structures. Just a month ago, a mosque was attacked in Cameroon, and we issued a statement about that. And we would do so wherever mosques are attacked. We've also raised the issue of attacks on mosques in the reports to the Security Council about the situation in the Middle East…
Question: No, I talk about statement, Mr…
Deputy Spokesman: …so I would refer you to those. I would just refer you… we've had a clear record of opposing all such attacks. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you. Could you tell us the details of Boutros Boutros‑Ghali's death? What is the cause of his death? When and where did he die?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe he died in Cairo is the information we have, and that was earlier today. I also believe he was 93 years old. I wouldn't… since we are not the medical professionals who are attending to the body, I wouldn't want to speculate on the cause of death, but we had been aware at the UN of his health problems in recent days. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, there's been… I've seen… you may have seen a letter to the Secretary‑General about comments made by the head of UN‑Habitat, Joan Clos, who allegedly said in front of many people at a retreat in Nairobi and was also said to OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services), but I guess I wanted… among the things that's alleged in the letter is that he said kind of racially tinged comments, which many people… this is why it's been raised. And a number of delegations have expressed concern about it. So I wanted to know, what does the Secretary‑General do when he receives such a filing? And do you have any comment on this filing?
Deputy Spokesman: As far as I'm aware, this matter is being handled by our colleagues in Habitat, so I would refer you to the Spokespeople for UN‑Habitat.
Question: Does OIOS… I guess I'm wondering because I'm looking at the letter now. They wrote to OHRM (Office of Human Resources Management). They wrote to the Ethics Office. They wrote to OIOS. Does OIOS cover Habitat?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any response from OIOS to report. At this stage… from the Office of Internal Oversight to report. At this stage, like I said, the response is being handled by Habitat, so I would encourage you to follow up with them. Yes?
Deputy Spokesman: And then you. Why don't you… we'll go back and forth, yes?
Question: Again, do you agree that the official policy of the UN is that settlements are illegal? Is there any doubt about that?
Deputy Spokesman: There's no doubt about that. We've said that repeatedly.
Deputy Spokesman: And I can say it again at this point. We have clearly pointed out that this is a violation of international law.
Question: What made a structure built on a settlement that becomes sacred? What made it sacred? Why? Why a tent that's set by the settlers? They call it a synagogue, made it illegal… which is illegal, that if it is burned by anyone, which was no investigation of that, that the SG quote that it is important to condemn that. That is my question, which has no answer.
Deputy Spokesman: Abdelhamid, with all due respect, I will simply refer you back to the text of the statement that was issued. That is a statement that we stand by. We're opposed to all attacks on all structures serving each and every religion. And I believe you understand the reason that we do that, without fear or favour, for all groups. Yes?
Question: Okay. Sure. Just another… something else on Nairobi and then on… something on South Sudan. I wanted to know… I'd asked about this… the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) process, and I did get an e-mail response that the process, you know, the nominations were closed, and I'd asked about the Kenyan ambassador. I just wanted to ask you now. I guess, given all this… the interest in the next SG process being transparent, can you confirm that Adnan Amin of IRENA is also a candidate to head UNEP, Erik Solheim and John Scanlon? And if not, what's the rationale for not having, at this time, that process be transparent?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I cannot, and there's a reason for this. You'll realize that, some years back, the UN had briefly considered the idea of putting short lists of names of candidates. We stopped doing that, actually, after the first few tries, once it was clear that the people who did not get the job were actually worried about perceptions of having lost out. We want to make sure that there's an environment in which all of the most qualified people feel free to apply for the job and do so without the idea that their names would be brought up in public if they do not, in fact, succeed in getting that position.
Question: But wouldn't that same logic apply to next SG, and it seems to be something the General Assembly has said that's… the transparency is more important than the feelings of the candidates?
Deputy Spokesman: The process of the selection of the next Secretary‑General is entirely in the hands of the Member States. It's not one in which we weigh in.
Question: All right. South Sudan?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Question: I just want to see if you have…
Deputy Spokesman: Sure, one last one.
Question: There are reports that the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) has closed supply routes that lead to the Malakal protection of civilian sites. I'm asking this because… and it's been published by Radio Tamazuj over there, and I wonder, given all the interest now in besiegement and use of food as a… as a tool of war, does UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) have anything to say about these public reports of this blockage of food?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything from UNMISS on this, but we'll check with them. Have a good afternoon.
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