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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

29 February 2016

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

Good afternoon – apologies for the delay.


Speaking to reporters in Geneva today, the Secretary-General said that, by and large, the cessation of hostilities is holding in Syria, although there have been some scattered incidents.  He added that the Task Force that is meeting in Geneva this afternoon and all other members of the International Support Group for Syria (ISSG) are now trying to make sure that the violence does not spread any further and that the cessation of hostilities continue.  The Secretary-General expressed his sincere hope that the cessation of hostilities will continue and will allow us to deliver humanitarian aid.

Over the next five days, including today, the UN and its partners plan to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to about 154,000 people living in besieged locations inside Syria.  This assistance will include food, water and sanitation supplies, medicine and health supplies to people trapped in besieged areas.

Pending approval from parties to the conflict, the UN in Syria is ready to deliver humanitarian assistance to an estimated 1.7 million people in hard-to-reach areas in the first quarter of 2016 through UN inter-agency convoys.  We call on all parties to ensure that unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all of 4.6 million people in hard-to-reach or besieged locations across the country, and we also call for the immediate lifting of all sieges imposed by any of the parties to the conflict in all besieged towns in Syria, where close to half a million people are trapped.

And the World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that new funding of approximately $675 million, pledged during the London conference earlier this month, will allow the agency to reinstate its food assistance fully to Syrians.

The funds pledged will support a comprehensive restoration of food assistance for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt from March until the end of 2016.  The funds will also enable WFP to provide full food basket for families inside Syria from April until October 2016.

The new funds also support increased school meals and other in-kind activities that will help restore hope for a better future for the millions of people impacted by this crisis.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

And as I mentioned, besides speaking to reporters in Geneva, the Secretary-General also appointed today the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as United Nations Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding.   

Speaking to reporters with the co-founder and UN Messenger of Peace [Maestro] Daniel Barenboim, the Secretary-General said that Orchestra's every performance is a testimony to the power of music to break down barriers, to promote cultural understanding and to build bridges between communities.  He added that Maestro Barenboim and the Orchestra have agreed to perform at the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey which, as you know, will take place in May.

And the Secretary-General also today just finished a speech at the Human Rights Council, which started its new session today.  In his remarks, he said that one of his priorities has been to bring the three pillars of the United Nations together, and to use human rights as a compass.

The Human Rights Up Front initiative aims to achieve this by recognizing the value of identifying rights violations as early warning signs of crises to come, the Secretary-General added.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the World Bank Group's Fragility, Conflict and Violence Forum, which will start tomorrow.   

During his visit, he is expected to meet with the President of the World Bank Group and the Board of Executive Directors.  He will return to New York later [tomorrow].


And Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the vicious twin [suicide] attacks that took place in Sadr City on Sunday.  He said these were particularly vicious and cowardly terrorist attack on peaceful civilians who were going about their daily business in a market and was clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian strife.


And as you will have seen, we issued a statement last night expressing the Secretary-General's concern about the continued intense airstrikes and ground fighting in Yemen despite his repeated calls for a cessation of hostilities.

In this regard, he strongly condemned the apparent airstrike on February 27th that hit Khaleq market, in Nahem District in Sana'a, which killed approximately at least 32 civilians and injured 41.  The death toll is among the highest from a single bombing since September of last year.  The Secretary-General expresses his sincere condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and calls for a prompt and impartial investigation of this incident.

The Secretary-General also reiterates his call on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to engage in good faith with his Special Envoy in order to agree on a cessation of hostilities as soon as possible and to convene a new round of peace talks.


We also issued a statement over the weekend on the electoral process in the Comoros, in which the Secretary-General urged the Government, the candidates and all the other actors and institutions involved in the electoral process to play by the rules and refrain from the use of violence.

**Security Council

Just to note that this afternoon the Security Council will meet on International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as well as the [International] Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and other matters.  And this morning, you heard from the Chairperson[-in-Office] of the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] OSCE, [German] Foreign Minister [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier.   

**Press Encounters Tomorrow

And tomorrow our guest will be John Ging, the Director of Operations at OCHA, who will brief on his recent trip to Myanmar.  And at 5 p.m., Ambassador [Ismael Abraão] Gaspar Martins of Angola will speak to you on the programme of work for the Security Council for the month of March.

That's it.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to ask about Syria.  There are reports of violation of the ceasefire there and what's… what does the Secretary‑General think about this? 

And my second question is, in the language of the resolution and the agreement, it… the ceasefire only excludes the ISIS and the affiliates and al‑Qaida, al-Nusrah. But it's not clear whether the Kurdish groups are included or not.  Can you explain that?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, as for what the Secretary‑General thinks, I would refer you to what he said just a few hours ago in Geneva.  I think he… he spoke quite clearly.  There will be… there is a meeting going on now of the cessation of hostilities task force, the ISSG.  The UN, through Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, is participating in that meeting.  We'll see what comes of that.

As far as the fight against extremist and terrorist groups, I think, as Mr. de Mistura's often said, those are the ones outlined in the relevant Security Council resolutions.


Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Can you use your microphone, please?

Question:  Prime Minister of Iraq… can I have… do I have to repeat my question?

Spokesman:  No, I can… no, it's fine.

Question:  Okay.  The Prime Minister of Iraq is working with the United Nations.  Do you have any things to say about it and more information about this… this… Mosul Dam emergency?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, the situation concerning the dam in Mosul is one that the Secretary‑General has been paying attention to.  We're all concerned about the fate of the dam and the catastrophic impact… break of this dam.  And, as you mentioned, the UN is working with the local authorities.  I will talk to the colleagues in the Mission to see what else we can get.


Question:  The South African presidency today announced that President Zuma and French President François Hollande will co‑chair the UN High‑Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth. Do you have any details on this?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I think there was a bit of… we're still, obviously, waiting for an official announcement on our end, but what I can tell you is, obviously, the Secretary‑General is establishing this High‑Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth.  I can confirm that it will be co‑chaired by both President Zuma and President Hollande.  It will also include three other vice-chairs, Margaret Chan, Director of the WHO [World Health Organization], the Secretary‑General of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], Ángel Gurría, and Guy Ryder of the International Labour Organization. 

The Commission is established within the framework and as a follow‑on of the General Assembly resolution which recognized, and I'll quote, investing in new health workforce, employment opportunities may also add broader socioeconomic values to the economy and contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable [Development] Agenda.

And the resolution requests that the Secretary‑General to explore steps to meet the global shortfall in trade… trained health workers.  So that's exactly what this Commission will focus on.

And, obviously, the Secretary‑General looks forward to the joint leadership of President Zuma and President Hollande.

Question: Anything on why these two Heads of State in particular were selected to chair this?  I mean, it's focussed on health employment and economic growth.  Does that speak to anything peculiar or particular about these two countries?

Spokesman: Well, I think it's… they are not there to represent, I think, the… the focus of their two countries, but more to represent both the global North and the global South.

Edie and then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  The Washington Post yesterday did a seriously in‑depth front‑page story on… with many photos and examples of young women who claimed that they were sexually abused by United Nations peacekeepers in a suburb of the capital Bangui very… very near to the UN base.  And that many of them said they had either never gone to the United Nations or never been approached by anybody.

I thought that you had said, when this was raised last year… last month, that the United Nations was going to do outreach to different communities, and I wondered what had happened in this case.

Spokesman: I think… I think the… the article is… I think breaks the heart of anybody who reads it, and I think the Secretary‑General first among all those people. 

As we've said, we have put measures in place.  There has been increased outreach.  There can always be more.  Always more needs to be done.  I think we have seen over the past month a number of case… people coming forward with cases of reported sexual abuse by peacekeepers because I think they felt that they would be heard.  And we encourage people who have such cases to come forward. 

The Mission is, obviously, following up on the cases that are brought to the attention… that have been brought to our attention through this article.  Some of them were known and others not as known.  And there's being a follow… follow‑through is being done.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Burundi.  But I have a follow‑up on that.  Even in terms of cases that were registered by the UN, there's a case that they describe in the Washington Post of a 14‑year‑old woman… girl that says she was raped, and somehow the UN logged it in as transactional sex for food or money. 

So I wanted to know, just as a matter of policy, does the UN think that… that minors of 14 have consensual or transactional sex?  Isn't it like rape per se and how can you explain that this case even once registered was recorded in this way?  

Spokesman:  I think… you know, how we… first of all, it's clear that no minor has the capacity or has to… to wilfully… let me try that again. 

You know, having… having relations… for a peacekeeper to have relations with a minor, there can be no consent, if you're talking about a minor.  There are… we're obviously… as part of the overall review on sexual abuse, I think we have to look at how cases are being described and how they're being logged.  As I mentioned to Edie, I think we're looking into the issues that were raised by the article.

Question: I mean, are you acknowledging that… that… that the… the… she says rape, but even… that these are currently logged in by the UN as transactional sex?

Spokesman:  I can't speak to the current case.

Question:  It says… Ismini Palla was quoted saying just that.

Spokesman: I have no reason to… to doubt, and we fully back what is said. I'm saying we're looking at how case… how cases like that should be logged.

Question:  And I wanted to ask, it actually ends up being sadly related, in… the Radio Publique Africaine in Burundi has reported in a… in detail in a case, a rape case took place in Burundi in December in the… the jurisdiction of the national police in which they say that people that didn't speak the language of the country, they believe FDLR members brought in from elsewhere mass raped a girl and demanded to know where the rebels were. This was right before the 12/12, you know, mass killings in Bujumbura. 

So I'm wondering, this is a media that, from this podium, Ban Ki‑moon has said shouldn't have been closed, should be reopened.  They have a very detailed report.  What exactly is the UN going to… to do about this?

Spokesman:  You know, I think, as you may have seen, there are a number of human rights investigators who are on their way and should be arriving in Burundi, and these are exactly the kind of cases they should be looking into it.

Oleg and then…

Question: Stéphane, any updates on Yemen?  I remember Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, a couple of days ago, said that he plans to resume the negotiations in the beginning of March.

Spokesman:  No update to share.  He's currently in the region having discussions.

Question:  Yeah, staying on Yemen, this condemnation yesterday by Secretary‑General for the Nahem attack, Nahem marketplace attack, comes in the same day, in fact, when… yesterday, as well, [inaudible] refugee camp in Haji governorate was attacked by airplanes and scores or dozens of people were killed in that process. 

A lot of Yemeni reporters have said that the Yemen crisis has been underreported by the United Nations.  There is starvation in Yemen.  Over a million tweets yesterday were published on Twitter showing images of carnage, of starvation everywhere.  So the United Nations is accused of underreporting, undercovering this issue…

Spokesman:  What… what… what is the question?

Question:  And the crisis in Yemen comparing with Syria is far much larger…

Spokesman:  I appreciate what you're saying, but I just would like to hear a question.

Question:  These accusations, what does the United Nations say about accusations that you don't give Yemen enough attention like…

Spokesman:  I think… I think…

Question: …like Syria, for example?

Spokesman:  You know, we have been talking repeatedly about Yemen from… from this podium.  Other UN officials have, including the Secretary‑General, ensuring that the crisis in Yemen is not forgotten. 

Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is working on trying to get the parties back to the table.  We keep calling for a cessation of hostilities.  I think we've been highlighting over and over again the humanitarian tragedy that is going on in Yemen.  Yemen was already a very vulnerable country before the current state of fighting started.  There is now a man‑made crisis, which has plunged the Yemeni people deeper into suffering.

We are trying to report as best as we can from what is, in all intents and purposes, in many parts of the country, an active combat zone.

In many cases, once the conflict starts, we do realize that there has been some underreporting, because there was some places that we've not been able to get to, and information is not easy to get.  But I think the last thing we've been doing is trying to… is forgetting about Yemen.

Question: Yeah, follow‑up on that.  When was the last time Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed criticized the coalition for airstrikes, for example, against civilians?

Spokesman:  I think…

Question:  Sana'a is almost every day…

Spokesman:  I appreciate what you're saying.  I think his reports to the Council have been pretty direct, and the statements by the Secretary‑General when they're condemning airstrikes when they have been, as we just did, have also been frequent and as necessary as they should be.

Question:  Using… using…

Spokesman:  I will come…

Question:  Just one last thing.  Everyone is taking…

Spokesman:  I will come… I will come back to you.

Question:  Cluster bomb has never been condemned.

Spokesman:  I beg to differ, but we have been highlighting the terrible toll that cluster bombs have been taking.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In the report 1701 published on Friday on Lebanon on the application of resolution 1701, nothing has been said about the cut… the Saudi aid cut to Lebanon.  Do you have anything to say?  Is the UN is doing something about…

Spokesman:  I think we've raised… we've raised the issue of the current tensions between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and the Gulf countries in Lebanon over the last week, and I think we're encouraging all those involved to ensure and to do whatever they can to help support the political stability of Lebanon.

Olga, and then Madame and then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. Also to clarify about the ceasefire in Syria, there were… there was a letter sent over the weekend to the Secretary‑General by the opposition group about the violations and also some statements from Saudi Arabia about the violations of cessation of hostilities.  How will all this messages or all this statements will be clarified?  Will you collect all these and…

Spokesman:  We're obviously collecting what we're receiving.  The Secretary‑General addressed the letter in his remarks to the press just a few hours ago.  Again, the task force on the cessation of hostilities is currently meeting in Geneva, and we hope to have, hopefully, something from them afterwards.


Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  This isn't a question about refugees from Syria.  Do you have the latest statistics about how many refugees have arrived or made their way to Europe since earlier this year?  And also, what portion of the refugees these days are actually from Syria versus elsewhere?

Spokesman:  I had the numbers with me last week.  I'll try to get them for you.  I think the… the larger portion remains… that are coming in from Turkey into Greece remains Syrian.  

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  About Western Sahara, South‑South News and Government Accountability Project. 

On this Western Sahara trip that the Secretary‑General's going to take, you'd said on Friday that to go to Laayoune… you know, that the Secretary‑General has a right to visit any Mission, but that the… the de facto authorities, I guess meaning Morocco, would need to approve the plane to land.  Has… was the request made?  Also some people in Morocco are saying that the King had offered to meet Ban Ki‑moon in Laayoune.  Is that the case?  What can you say to explain, if he has the right, why, in fact, he's not going?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's part… trip will be in two parts.  There is a first part that will be going on next week, as we've announced, which will take him to Tindouf and to Mauritania. 

There will be a second part where the Secretary‑General will later this year very much will travel to Rabat and Laayoune.

Question:  Will that… I mean, a lot had been said by the current President of the Council, it was important to have this visit, particularly to Laayoune, take place before the April report.  Is that going to be after the report?  And if so, can you explain why he's not going this time, just as clearly as you can?

Spokesman:  As I said, it will be done in two parts.  These… often schedules have to be matched up.  This trip will take place in two parts.  The Secretary‑General's report in April will report on the situation up until… up until April.

Question:  Okay.  Can I ask… on… I'd asked you previously about South‑South News, which is pretty much in… is in this indictment of Mr. [Francis] Lorenzo and Mr. Ng Lap Seng as a conduit for funds for the alleged bribery at the UN, why its… its footage and a number of its pieces are included in UNTV in an archive, and I checked today.  They're still there. 

I wanted to know, since there's no other med… non‑UN media that I can find that has its material inside that archive, why is that, and why does it remain to be the case, given the fact that it's named as a vehicle for bribery?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think that's a question you can address to my colleagues in DPI.

Correspondent:  Okay.  They're not communicating…

Spokesman:  Nizar.

Correspondent: …too well.

Question:  On the humanitarian situation in Syria, in Madaya, of course, we saw emaciated people who were suffering from malnutrition.  Since there are… has been access to Madaya and others, have the… the observers or the… those people in charge of delivering food and aid spotted any kind of malnutrition among the armed groups there?

Spokesman:  I haven't received the… the detailed reports of what they've seen.

Question:  On… on… on the ship which was taken to Saudi Arabia to Jizan, WFP vessel, has it been released?  And did it go to Hudaydah?

Spokesman:  It's a very good question.  We should know.  I will check with WFP.


Question:  Okay.  Great.  Again, I'll keep it very short, but I wanted to ask you, the Government Accountability Project, which you know, which represented Mr. [Anders] Kompass and other UN whistle-blowers, has issued a letter on Friday in which they say… they call for… I guess I'll put it in personal terms… for my resident correspondent pass to be returned and my office.  And they say the action was retaliatory in response to independent critical journalism. 

I'd like to know what your response to this respected group reaching that conclusion is.

Spokesman:  My simple response would be no, and I'm sure they will get a response from whoever they addressed the letter to.

Thank you.

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