Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 May 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is, as you know, in Mauritius today. After meeting with the Prime Minister this morning, he said that he was there to highlight the important leadership role that Mauritius plays among small island developing States, as well as its contributions in areas such as climate action, promoting the ocean economy, and advancing sustainable development. He also noted the country's achievements in socio-economic development and in consolidating democracy.
The Secretary-General also addressed the Congress of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration, welcoming its members' commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes – a fundamental goal of the United Nations.
He also spoke at a special event on the Sustainable Development Goals, where he said that small island developing States have unique vulnerabilities. And a little while ago, he received an honorary degree from the University of Mauritius and he spoke to students about the need to advance sustainable development, as well as to empower women and young people. All of these remarks are available online.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General, as you will recall, was in the Seychelles, where he met with the President and the Cabinet and also addressed the National Assembly. He visited a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site, a nature reserve, to be briefed on the conservation work that [Seychelles] does. He was also briefed on the country's efforts to fight piracy when he visited one of the courtrooms used for prosecuting pirates, as well as a coast guard base. His remarks from the weekend are available online.
In a short while, I will be joined by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, and the Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, Karen AbuZayd. They will be here to brief you on the Secretary-General's report "In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants".
I also have a statement on terrorist attacks that took place in Egypt yesterday.
The Secretary-General condemns the deadly terrorist attack against police officers in Cairo yesterday.
The Secretary-General conveys his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Egypt. The United Nations stands firmly with the people of Egypt in their fight against terrorism.
Regarding Yemen, our colleagues in the office of the Special Envoy have confirmed that the parties have resumed their discussions today at the working group level. As you will recall, there are three working groups, dealing with political issues, security issues and prisoners. Those talks are ongoing in Kuwait - where the talks have been held under the auspices of the UN.
On Syria, I have an update from our humanitarian colleagues who inform us that on 4 and 8 May, two inter-agency convoys delivered critical life-saving assistance to 3,250 people in the hard-to-reach Syrian town of Qaratien in rural Homs province, with food, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, as well as other relief items.
On 6 May, an inter-agency convoy targeting 35,000 people in the hard-to-reach town of Bloudan, in rural Damascus, delivered essential relief items, including water and sanitation, health, hygiene and education supplies. This is the second of two convoys to the town, the first one of which was in mid-March.
Since the beginning of 2016, inter-agency operations have reached more than 780,000 people, civilians in need in besieged, hard-to-reach areas and across conflict lines. Many of these people have been reached more than once. While this progress is welcome, much more is required. The UN calls for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all 4.6 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations in Syria.
And the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said today that in the past two weeks, there were at least six attacks on medical facilities in different parts of the Syrian conflict by different parties to the conflict in the north-western governorate of Aleppo alone. He said that the latest attacks reflect the continued blatant disrespect of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, and may constitute war crimes. Mr. Dieng warned that the international community cannot allow the perpetrators of flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and human rights [law] to enjoy impunity. His statement, should you be interested, is online.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our humanitarian colleagues condemned the killing of a humanitarian worker from the NGO (non-governmental organization) Heal Africa. The worker was caught in crossfire Friday in Kitchanga, in the North Kivu province.
The security environment is deteriorating in North Kivu, affecting both civilians and the UN agencies and NGOs trying to support them.
This is the second death of a humanitarian worker this year – the first one was in neighbouring South Kivu – and the third since 2014.
The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), over the weekend, reiterated its call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the country, following the execution of six alleged perpetrators of serious crimes and crimes against civilians.
The Mission has encouraged the Government to expedite legal reform, which would allow the death sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment. More information on the Mission's website.
As you know, as you may know or as you should know, the fifteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues started today. The focus this year is on conflict, peace and resolution.
In his message to the Forum, the Secretary-General said that indigenous peoples are increasingly being drawn into conflicts over their lands, resources and rights. He added that lasting peace requires that indigenous communities have access to cultural, social and economic justice. The full video message of the Secretary-General is online.
At 1:15 p.m., in this very room, there will be a press conference by the new Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Alvaro Pop, a fellow Member of the Permanent Forum, and the Canadian Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) indicates that there has been an improvement in the application of the International Code of Breast-Milk Substitutes.
According to the report, 135 countries have now in place some legal measures related to the Code. This is up from 32 countries in 2011. However, only 39 countries have laws that enact all provisions of the Code – that is a slight increase since 2011, when that number was 37.
The Code calls on countries to protect breastfeeding by preventing inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. It also aims to ensure that breast-milk substitutes are used safely. More information on the WHO website.
Over the weekend, you may have seen, we issued on behalf of the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) a statement on the meeting they held on Friday, called "Impacts of 2015/16 El Niño phenomenon: Reducing risks and capturing opportunities". The President of ECOSOC issued a statement, which is available online and on paper in my office.
Tomorrow, press encounters: at noon, I will be joined by Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island [Developing] States (UN-OHRLLS), Gyan Chandra Acharya. He will brief you on the forthcoming Midterm Review of the Istanbul Programme of Action, which will take place in Antalya, Turkey, from 27 to 29 May.
From 10 to 11 May, in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the General Assembly will hold a high-level debate entitled "In a World of Risks: A New Commitment for Peace". Tomorrow at 9:45 a.m., outside the Trusteeship Council [Chamber], the President of General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoff, will be speaking at the stakeout.
As a reminder, if I'm not mistaken, the accreditation process for the World Humanitarian Summit, I think, comes to a close this week. If you or your colleagues have not signed up, you should do so.
Just to say that we welcome the Marshall Islands to the budget Honour Roll. They are the latest Member State to pay their regular budget dues in full, which brings us up to…
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Abdelhamid, you get the first question, if you have one, not that I need to provoke you to asking a question. Go ahead. [laughter]
Spokesman: No, no, I've nothing to say until you ask me a question.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I want to ask about the report of the Quartet. There have been some news saying that it's almost ready. And Haaretz mentioned that, in fact, it's almost single‑handedly written by the American envoy in the Quartet. What do… can you update us on the report of the Quartet?
Spokesman: The Quartet is preparing its report. My understanding is that it will be ready before the end of this month, the month of May, and it is a report of the Quartet, which, if my math is correct, includes four parties, of which the US makes up 25 per cent. Thank you. Joe?
Question: Yes. Last Friday, at an informal meeting of the Security Council on protection for the Palestinian people, the Venezuelan UN ambassador said, "What does Israel plan to do with the Palestinians? Will they disappear? Does Israel seek probably to wage a final solution, the sort of solution that was perpetrated against the Jews?" – an obvious allusion, of course, to the Holocaust. Does the Secretary‑General have any specific comment concerning this rather outrageous remark?
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, while we understand that an apology may have been conveyed by the Mission of the Venezuela to the Mission of Israel, I think the Secretary‑General was very disturbed when he heard that those comments had been made. I think any Secretary‑General rejects any comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany. I think, once again, the Secretary‑General would reiterate the UN's longstanding position against all forms of discrimination, racism, particularly anti‑Semitism, against which we must all act concertedly to pursue a peaceful coexistence.
Question: Follow‑up on that?
Spokesman: Mr. Lee, and then I'll come back to you. Go ahead. That's okay. Go ahead.
Question: Okay. The… I wanted to just… one is a request to see if you have some kind of if‑asked, and then there's a brand‑new question. Do you have any comment or statement on the joint statement of US and Russia today on Syria and the extension of the ceasefires?
Spokesman: No, we spoke to our colleagues in Geneva. They are… they've seen the statement. They're monitoring the situation on the ground. So at this point, nothing further to add.
Question: Okay. And this is… I wanted to ask you this. I know that, you know… on… on… in the wake of the indictments of John Ashe and Ng Lap Seng, there was the audit created. It seemed to be an attempt by the UN to find out interactions with entities related to Ng Lap Seng or… or… you know… and basically, since then, I've found there's… that… that the Secretary‑General has engaged with a new group called Global Governance for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is very much connected with the same individuals that were involved in South‑South News, in Ng Lap Seng's foundations. These involvements are as recent as March 2016. So I'm wondering, what is the screening process that's taking place? Is the audit… are you simply looking at the names that were mentioned in the indictment? Or is there some attempt… it seems to some that there's basically a continuation of the same process under other names?
Spokesman: I'm not… the audit looked at the names, obviously, that were mentioned in the indictment that were mentioned in the press. I'm not aware of the group that you mentioned.
Question: There's a picture of the Secretary‑General… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I'm just saying I'm not aware… there are a lot of the things I'm not aware of. And I'm not aware of this particular group that you raise. I'm happy to look into it.
Question: But I guess my question would be, given… obviously, there's due process. So the two individuals who have not yet… who have nod pled guilty, John Ashe and Ng Lap Seng, are one thing, but four people have pleaded guilty. [inaudible]
Spokesman: There is…
Question: And you'd think that the UN would search its database… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Again, I'm not going to comment on this particular case. I'm not aware of it. But obviously, we would encourage all parts of the United Nations to do as deep a due diligence as possible when partnering. I'll come back to you. [inaudible]
Question: One question…
Spokesman: No, I'll come back to you. Nizar and then Rami?
Question: On Friday, not only we were denied access to the conference on protection of the Palestinians, but also when the briefing was taking place here in this room at 6:30, EZTV did not broadcast the audio at all, and therefore, over an hour, the audio was silent. This never… this never happened before. The Palestinians not only need protection but also their voice obviously needs protection at the United Nations. What do you have to say about that?
Spokesman: On the first part of your question, Arria Formula meetings are the purview of the Security Council, so access or non‑access is up to them. On the second part, I'm no doubt it was a technical glitch, and I would not read anything more into it than exactly that. And I'm sure our… so… I'm sorry you were not able to record it.
Question: This never happened before. For many years… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Our… this is not… we run a complex audio-visual system here in the building with almost every room being wired. I will venture to say that mistakes have happened in the past. They are rare, but they have happened in the past. [inaudible]
Question: But this morning… To follow on that, this morning it was working perfectly. What happened over the weekend? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Again, I… Stuff happens. And we apologise to the Palestinian Mission for the mishap. It was a technical glitch. There's really nothing more to it. Rami?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Over the weekend, a court in Egypt handed out six death sentences, and two of whom are to journalists, Al Jazeera journalists. Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about this?
Spokesman: You know, we're obviously aware of what happened over the weekend. We're watching the developments in the trials, including the Al Jazeera journalists, closely and note with regret the recommendation to impose the death penalty. Our understanding is that proceedings are continuing prior to the actual sentencing, which is slated, I think, for June. We urge strict adherence to fair trial and due process standards. And I would also reiterate once again our position against the death penalty under any circumstances. Thank you. Yes, sir?
Spokesman: Yes. Erol.
Question: Just to clarify something, regarding that summit in Turkey, the US State Department recently advised their citizens on travel issues regarding Turkey. Do you think that it will affect somehow or are you aware of how you would like to comment on that?
Spokesman: You know, there's no particular comment for me to make. I think States are free to advise their own citizens in terms of travel. We, obviously, are working extremely closely with the Turkish authorities to ensure that the summit runs smoothly and that security is made to the highest possible standards. And on that end, I think we are very good… our security colleagues have very good relations with our Turkish counterparts, and we're confident that the summit will go smoothly. Abdelhamid?
Question: On Friday evening/Saturday morning, three children were burned to death in Gaza. They were on candle lights. The electricity was cut off. And such a tragedy, who's responsible for it? Why the Mis… the Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov did not even issue a statement, paying condolences for three children who were victim of the siege in Gaza?
Spokesman: I'm… obviously, our hearts go out to the families of the three children. I had not seen the report. I think Mr. Mladenov and his humanitarian deputy, Mr. [Robert] Piper, have expressed time and time again their disappointment at the lack of progress in terms of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Matthew, then Nizar.
Question: I wanted to ask, I mean, I've seen different statements coming out from the Yemen envoy at the Kuwait talks. But now there's a… there's a… a wire service report about a… a Saudi‑led coalition airstrike on… on this Amran base that I'd asked you about last week, which they claim was taken over by the Houthis. Others say it was controlled by them since 2014. Seems like… it seems like 11 people were killed, at least. Seems to be the end of this cessation of hostilities or at least in terms of major strike… [inaudible] What's the comment?
Spokesman: I think it's no surprise that the cessation of hostilities has not been respected to 100 per cent, which has been a disappointment. That being said, the envoy is continuing with his efforts on the talks. As I mentioned earlier in the briefing, the talks are continuing, and we're not going to let what may happen on the ground derail the political process to which we're all working very hard for.
Question: Sure. But it seems… I mean, the question was asked last week, which is that… the UN has obviously has had people in Yemen… does the UN believe that this base was already controlled by the Houthis… [inaudible]
Spokesman: That's not for us to say. Nizar?
Question: Yes, staying on Yemen, it seems there are systematic expulsions of Northern Yemenis from South Yemen, from Aden, in particular, from Mukalla, from other parts of Yemen. Whole populations are being evicted. Some of them are from Taiz, which has been under siege for a long time and is a conflict zone, as well.
Spokesman: I think… I didn't hear a question mark, but I'll just pretend there was one.
Question: As you… what's your position on these eviction of people?
Spokesman: It helps… You know, I'm pretty dim. It helps when you put a question mark in there. [laughter] I think all these things would point for the need for return to stability and peace in Yemen and, again, for all the parties involved to respect the cessation of hostilities and focus on the political process.
Question: These evictions are carried out by the gov… Hadi Government from the side of [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi…
Spokesman: I think it calls for return to stability.
Question: On Syria I have a question regarding the statement which was issued last week by Secretary‑General on Sarmada camp where 30 people perished as a result of bombardment. Today, the Syrian Government issued a statement, strong statement, saying that there was no attack there. There were no air sorties, neither Russian nor Syrian. And from the videos, those people who were killed probably most likely were bombarded by rockets. And these rockets could be in the hands of anyone. What do you have to say, especially that Secretary‑General asked… called for ICC (International Criminal Court) to investigate and to …
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has called numerous times on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. In the statement that we issued, we did not make any determination, because we're not able to, as to the responsibility for the attack. What is a fact is that many, many innocent civilians, men, women and children, who were seeking shelter were killed. And again, this should just refocus our efforts on the political process. Yes, sir?
Question: Just a follow‑up on Syria, on that particular point. You have consistently asserted that the solution can only be political, but thus far we see no breakthrough – apart from that… a successful ceasefire. Has the time come for you to adopt a different approach, at least to stop the bloodshed?
Spokesman: Well, I think we remain convinced that the only way to stop the bloodshed in the long term, in the medium term, and in any term is through a political process. I would have to agree with you that there's been no breakthrough, but I believe there has been progress, with the last round of talks, I think all the parties agreeing on the need for a political transition. Obviously, how that works still needs to be worked out. The ISSG (International Syria Support Group) coming together has also been progress. So we remain focussed on the political track. I'm going to go get the guests now. Thank you.
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