Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
1 June 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I will start off with a statement on Mali: The Secretary-General is outraged by the terrorist attacks carried out yesterday in Gao, Mali, against the United Nations. According to preliminary reports, one peacekeeper from China was killed and a dozen UN personnel were injured when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated at a UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission camp in Mali. In a separate incident, one civilian contractor from France and two security guards from Mali were killed when the camp of a UN contractor, in another area of Gao, was attacked by unknown assailants.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the recent series of attacks directed against the UN peacekeeping mission that have killed 12 peacekeepers and injured many more in May alone. He reiterates that nothing can excuse these acts of terrorism against men and women who are serving with the United Nations to help the people of Mali to restore stability and peace across the country. The Secretary-General urges the Government of Mali, with the support of its partners, to expeditiously investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable. He also calls on the people of Mali to provide information on the attacks to the authorities.
The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Governments of China, France and Mali. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. The Secretary-General reiterates that the UN will continue to support the peace agreement and stabilization of Mali. In the coming days, the Secretary-General intends to present to the Security Council proposals to strengthen the Mission's posture and capabilities. He reiterates the long-standing demand to ensure that the UN peacekeeping forces there are adequately equipped to operate in a dangerous and unpredictable environment such as Mali. That statement is available online and in French, as well.
Turning to Syria, today, inter-agency convoys are delivering critical life-saving assistance to two besieged towns in Rural Damascus: Darayya and Moadamiyeh. This is the first time that the UN has been able to deliver any assistance to Darayya since November 2012. The Darayya convoy is delivering medicine, nutritional items for children and vaccines to some 4,000 people, while technical teams are assessing needs on the ground for future deliveries.
The humanitarian situation in Darayya is dire, characterized by severe shortages of food, medicine, medical equipment and supplies, health facilities and personnel. The UN is strongly advocating for another convoy to Darayya containing food in the days to come. The Moadamiyeh convoy is the first of three planned convoys, bringing food to some 22,000 people. It is the fifth convoy to the town this year, but the first time the UN has had access since March.
Turning to Yemen: the Yemeni peace talks are continuing in Kuwait today, and three sessions of those talks were completed yesterday, with separate sessions convened with the Yemeni Government delegation and the delegation of Ansarullah and the General People's Congress. At the working [group] level, the parties also discussed the lists that were exchanged earlier this week in order to release a number of detainees before Ramadan.
The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said that reports from several Yemeni cities indicate the magnitude of suffering that the Yemeni people are going through in light of shortages in basic services. This suffering should, however, turn into an incentive to reach a rapid and comprehensive solution as we approach the month of Ramadan. He continues to urge the parties to make concessions and put the interests of Yemen and Yemenis above all.
Meanwhile, the overall healthcare system throughout Yemen has all but collapsed, over 600 health facilities closing their doors due to the lack of financial resources to procure medicine, supplies and fuel for generators. Thousands of medical staff have also gone unpaid or left the country. It is estimated that about 10,000 children under the age of five – in the past year alone – have died from totally avoidable and preventable diseases, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Our colleagues at the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) today issued a casualty report for May, saying that an estimated 70 civilians have been killed or injured by hostilities across the country. This includes seven children who were killed and another five injured. The majority of deaths and injuries were caused by shelling, including mortars, artillery and other indirect weapons. Most casualties occurred in Benghazi. More information is available on the mission's website.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed ibn Chambas, is on a two-day visit to Nouakchott, Mauritania. This is the last leg of his tour of the G5 Sahel countries. Mr. ibn Chambas has already been to Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali in the last few days. In Mauritania, he is expected to meet with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other senior officials. He will discuss various issues related to the Sahel region, particularly the support of the UN, its partnership with the G5 Sahel countries and the implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.
Just to flag that the sixty-sixth UN DPI [Department of Public Information]-NGO [non-governmental organization] Conference concluded in Gyeongju, the Republic of Korea today. Representatives from NGOs and academia finalized and adopted a global education agenda. Called the Gyeongju Action Plan, the action agenda provides concrete guidance for NGOs around the world to urge governments to commit to and implement SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. More information online.
Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the end of Ebola virus transmission in Guinea. Forty-two days have passed since the last person confirmed to have Ebola tested negative for the second time. Guinea now enters a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly before they can spread to other people. WHO stresses that the risk of additional outbreaks from exposure to infected body fluids of survivors remains.
Following a recent visit to Viet Nam, singer-songwriter and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador, Katy Perry, has called for increased focus on children being left behind in one of Asia's fastest-growing economies. She visited UNICEF projects in rural Ninh Thuan province – which is considered one of the poorest and most remote regions of Viet Nam. The projects are aimed at ending exclusion for children with disabilities, as well as focus on child survival, education and early childhood development. More information on UNICEF's website, if you are interested.
AS you will have seen yesterday, we issued a statement last night expressing the Secretary-General's sadness at the death of Mohamed Abdelaziz, who had served as Secretary-General of the Frente Polisario. We also issued a separate statement in which the Secretary-General said that he was deeply saddened that hundreds of men, women and children have died in the Mediterranean Sea in the last few days. The text of those two statements is online.
**World Humanitarian Summit
Just a clarification as I have been asked over the past days whether the Secretary-General had met with a representative of West Papua while he was in Istanbul during the World Humanitarian Summit. I would like to make clear that, contrary to some media accounts, there was no meeting between the Secretary-General and any West Papua representative in Istanbul. We also have no record of any documents being officially handed over to the Secretary-General.
In a short while, I will be joined by Hilde Johnson and Ambassador [Abdallah] Wafy, Co-chairs of the External Review of the functions, structure and capacity of the UN Police Division, as well as Mark Kroeker, member of the review team. At 4 p.m., a reminder that Ambassador [Francois] Delattre, President of the Security Council for June, will be here to brief you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. My question is on Mali and, just following up on your statement, the Secretary‑General is going to make recommendations to strengthen the posture of the Mission. Are we talking about something similar to the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)? And if not, why not, given the number of deaths we've seen in Mali?
Spokesman: I think we'll have to wait to see the exact proposals. Obviously, they will have to be commensurate with the threat that exists in Mali, which is slightly different that we see in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] in terms of the types of forces that we have to engage in. So, I would just say we have to wait a little bit. But, I think we'll have to… it will have to be something that is country appropriate and appropriate to the threat that is faced.
Question: Officials, if you remember, were at pains to point out that the FIB would not be precedent setting and so we wouldn't see it necessarily in other missions. Does the conversation in Mali, though, not deem it necessary?
Spokesman: Again, I think the Force Intervention Brigade is appropriate for the situation in the eastern DRC. I think the threat that we're seeing from terrorist groups in Mali is different than what we're seeing in the DRC. Masood, then Matthew.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Thank you. Situation in Syria: After this attack on the hospital there, it was alleged that it was the Russians who did it, and then there were conflicting opinion that it… the rebels could have done it or the Government forces. Has the United Nations been able to determine as to who was responsible?
Spokesman: No, we have not, but what is clear is that civilian facilities, civilian infrastructure, health facilities were struck. And that is something that we have repeatedly condemned, and we'll continue to do so.
Question: Is there any way that you will reach any such conclusion that you can tell us about it?
Spokesman: We… as I said, we do not have the forensic capability in many of these cases to do so, but regardless of who is responsible, we know the results, and again, it's the Syrian people. Yes, sir?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about… I'm sure you've seen The Guardian piece about Mr.… Deputy Secretary‑General [Jan] Eliasson's letter about cholera in Haiti. And it's being portrayed as a possible breakthrough or change in position. I wanted to know if, in fact, it is, as the letter apparently says that the prom… that the promise of resources could be fine‑tuned or expanded as needed. And I wanted to know whether this involves any consideration of paying compensation to the families who had a breadwinner or other family member killed by the cholera.
Spokesman: What is… the UN's position on the legal claims has not changed. What has also… always been the case is the UN's determination to help the people of Haiti with the cholera outbreak and with the impact of the cholera outbreak. I think the Secretary‑General, if you look back to the statements that he made when he was in Haiti, expressed clearly the will and his commitment to help the people of Haiti. That also involves donors stepping up and funding the necessary projects that are needed to deal with the outbreak. The UN on the ground has already made… has already worked clearly in that… to that effect, providing assistance to national sanitation campaigns, ensuring that certain villages are free of open defecation, and also bring whatever support they can.
Question: I guess what I just… I mean, obv… the… the… the… the sort of… the piece is saying this represents a change in position. Are you saying that it's not… there's no change in position?
Spokesman: Well, I think… I'm telling you our position. Obviously, journalists are free to interpret it one way or another.
Question: What was the impact of five Special Rapporteurs writing to the Secretary‑General and saying that the UN's reputation is being injured by not offering compensation?
Spokesman: I think we clearly hear what the Special Rapporteurs are [saying]. The respect for human rights remains at the centre of what we do and how we try to act every day.
Question: And just one related question, because it's directly… maybe you'll have it or you can get it. What's happening with the Kosovo… it was said that it was recommended that the mission pay for lead‑poisoned children?
Spokesman: I have no update on that. Yeah?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. We saw many reports saying that the Syrian regime has been using… dropping hundreds of sea mines on the civilians' areas, especially in Aleppo. Do you have anything to say specifically on the use of sea mines against civilians in Syria?
Spokesman: I haven't seen those particular reports, but any use of those… any use of ammunition, mines, cluster bombs or others, against civilians is to be condemned. But, we have not seen… I have not seen any specific reports. I think what we have seen over the last few weeks is, unfortunately, an increase in the violence, an increase in the targeting of civilians. And that is something that we need to see stop. We need to see a lowering of the violence, and we need to see greater humanitarian access. I mean, we were able to deliver convoys to two towns today. It's, unfortunately, a drop in the bucket. We need unhindered and full access to those who need it.
Question: One more question. We saw Mr. Staffan de Mistura in one… his last press conference, I think, in Geneva. He mentioned conducting the airdrop might need the cooperation of the Syrian regime. Isn't it strange for… like, seeking for cooperation from the regime, who didn't approve the land convoys to process besieged areas? Why would they approve to cooperate with the UN on the airdrops…?
Spokesman: Well, I think that's a question you need to ask the Government of Syria. Obviously, airdrops are a very challenging and complex operation. I mean, we've seen it the last few weeks. Our colleagues at WFP [World Food Programme] do an amazing job, but it doesn't take much imagination to understand the complexity of doing airdrops over an area where different air forces, different militaries have active assets, whether they're airplanes or helicopters. Obviously, we're continuing to work on contingency plans. It was at the end of the last support group for Syria that we were talking about airdrops and a 1 June deadline. There will be a meeting of the humanitarian task force tomorrow, and we hope to have more information tomorrow.
Correspondent: A follow-up?
Spokesman: Why not? And then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. So, with… with the aid sending… sent today to Darayya, is the airdrops idea eliminated or it is still…?
Spokesman: No, not at all. Not at all. But, you know, I think the real issue here is we want to see is a lifting of all the sieges, regardless of who is besieging a town. Airdrops are a last resort. We would prefer land convoys. But, there are a lot of towns that cannot be reached. But, what we want to see is all sieges being lifted. What we want to see is unhindered humanitarian access, and we're not seeing it.
Question: And since… sorry. Since you said that you need the cooperation of the Syrian Government, are there talks with the Syrian authorities about the… about the…?
Spokesman: I don't think I… I don't think I answered that question in that detail. What I said is that these operations are very complex, and if and when our colleagues at WFP feel that the situation allows them to run these airdrops, then they will do it. But, it is… you know, even doing airdrops in areas where there is little or no military conflict is complicated. Doing it over the skies of Syria is extremely complicated. And we want to make sure that everything is done to ensure the safety of our personnel and that the safe… the airdrops go safely. But, as I said, there is a meeting of the humanitarian task force tomorrow, and we… hopefully, we'll get a bit more out of it then. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. With respect to the situation in the Mediterranean, the Secretary‑General expressed his sadness at the death of hundreds of civilians there. The media speaks about 1,000 people dead, including women, children, and babies. Why doesn't Secretary‑General use a stronger word instead of just a soft one, being sad? Why isn't he shocked? And why doesn't he condemn the policies that gave rise to this immigrate… these refugees in the first place, their displacement, as well as the policies of immigration of the European Union?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General as expressed his sadness, has expressed his shock, has expressed his anger at what has been going on in the Mediterranean over more than the last year. One can always argue about what words to use. But, the current situation is a great motivator for the efforts we're doing for the summit that will look at the mass movement of migrants and refugees that will be held in September that will bring together countries of origin, countries of transit, and countries of destination. There needs to be a lot of issues looking at policies, harmonizing of policies, to ensure that refugees and migrants are treated with respect safely within international law and that we take these smugglers, these criminals, out of the equation. I mean, there is a reason why people feel they are forced to go through the hands of criminals, who are basically putting them out to sea to die. There needs to be legal pathways of managed migration and a better handling of the refugee crisis. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Now that the Iraqi Government forces have slowed their offensive of Fallujah, is the United Nations now stepping up its operations to reach the trapped civilians in the conflict?
Spokesman: I don't have an operational update on the situation in Fallujah. I think you heard yesterday from Lise Grande. We're obviously ready to work and we're working with our local partners in areas as soon as it is safe to do so. Evelyn and then Olga.
Question: Yes. On the Syrian… sorry. On the Syrian convoys, all… I guess, can you repeat? All the medicine was not taken out of them; it was allowed to go through this time? And secondly, for the airdrops, in besieged areas, is it because of the Damascus Government not giving permission, or terrorists?
Spokesman: Well, I'm not sure… I think the point of the… of the airdrops is that, on an operational basis, our colleagues at WFP will do them when they feel that they have received the assurances they need that it is safe to do so. The Darayya convoy included medicine, nutritional vitamins for children, and vaccines to save about 4,000 people. And the other one, the other convey, which is the first of three planned convoys, to bring food to about 22,000 people. Olga?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Can you please update us? What are you waiting from the Quartet meeting that will start in 3 June already?
Spokesman: I mean, the Quartet meeting… there's a meeting of the Quartet envoys that is going on in Paris right now. So, I think they should be meeting as we speak. Mr. Bays, Mr. Avni. Sorry?
Question: It's not the answer of the question. What do you expect from the SG [Secretary-General] participation there…?
Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General will participate in the French‑led conference, which is obviously an important meeting. But, I'd like to see… let's see what comes out of the Quartet meeting.
Question: I'd like to ask about convoys, but very quick follow‑up on that. Are you expecting then that meeting taking place now in Paris and the big meeting happening on 3 June, the Quartet report in that – in that time frame?
Spokesman: I will refrain from any predictions of when we will actually see that report. Because I've lost money on betting.
Question: But before the ministerial meeting…?
Spokesman: I don't know. I don't know.
Question: Okay. To my question, which is a further question about the convoys. As you know, when the International Syria Support Group meeting met, it called for immediate unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access. To be clear, do you believe that is now in place?
Question: And… right. And in terms of what was on this convoy, were there limits put on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on what you could have there? You've mentioned medicine. For example, were there surgical kits allowed?
Spokesman: I need to get more details on your second question. I will get that. Mr. Avni?
Correspondent: Okay. Quick… two quick questions, actually. One about the convoys… about the airdrops, actually. If there is airdrops, do you know if it's going to be like clustered air… airdrops or one… because there's two forms… I'm… somebody explained to me. There's two forms…
Spokesman: You're slightly more of an expert than I am, clearly. Go ahead.
Question: One is like dropping big bulks of stuff, which runs the danger of… of people stealing it and stuff like that. And the other is just droplets of…?
Spokesman: The previous airdrops, I think all the airdrops the WFP has done has been with pallets.
Question: Pallets? Which is… yeah, the droplets, yeah. Okay.
Spokesman: No, which I… well, I… I would refer them probably as bulk rather than… but we can argue and go over the technicalities of it later.
Question: No. I meant is it like one big piece? Or is it…?
Spokesman: I think they're pallets. It's a pallet. I think it's like… if I'm not mistaken, I think it's 24 pallets per plane.
Question: Okay. I see. The other question, which is actually more interesting to me, is, Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, who is the top aide to [Bashar al] Assad, is reportedly going to be in Washington, D.C., this week. Do you know if the UN Security Council or any other organs have like a travel ban on her?
Spokesman: I do not, but it sounds like a great question for the 4 p.m. guest. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. This is regarding Syrian humanitarian aid. I was wondering if you could just update us on the level of actual contributions to the UN Syria appeal. And also, is the SG satisfied with how countries are responding? And does he see any correlation between low contributions and the exodus of refugees?
Spokesman: I don't have an update on the numbers for you, but I can get one. I think it is clear that all our humanitarian appeals are woefully underfunded. And I think what we saw last year, if I'm not mistaken, is, when WFP had to cut its rations to Syrian refugees in various parts in the Middle East, we did see an increase of departures of refugees from those camps… from those communities trying to reach… if you could just…
Correspondent: Sorry about that.
Spokesman: Okay. So, we did see… obviously, I think, if refugees in camps are seeing a drop in the amount of food they're getting, it is not surprising that it would act as a motivator for them to leave and to seek refuge someplace else. Pamela. One second, please. Pam?
Question: Thanks, Steph. The Secretary‑General said he was fully confident in the WHO [World Health Organization] assessments that there's nothing to prevent the Rio Olympics from going forward on the Zika front and… about a week ago, and there's been new information every day. Is he still confident that there's… there's not enough risk to give any warnings…?
Spokesman: I think the World Health Organization are the medical experts in the UN system. The Secretary‑General has no reason to second‑guess them, and we will be following their advice. At 4 p.m. is the President of the Security Council. James, then Matthew.
Question: I want to ask you about an ongoing situation in Somalia. The death toll seems to have risen now to 10. Have you got a reaction to this attack in Mogadishu?
Spokesman: No, I just saw the reports as we were coming in. We've asked our colleagues in Mogadishu for some information. Obviously, we understand it's an on… as you say, it's an ongoing situation, so we would like it to end, and then we will have some comment. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Sorry for the sound. I was trying to queue up a quote. Two quotes I want to ask you about. One is the Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, you know, he has been quoted as saying Ban… the Secretary‑General… I mean he may have said Ban Ki‑moon; that's I was trying to determine… can go to hell. And this has to do with calls to investigate the death of activist Solo Sandeng. So, I wanted to know two things. One is kind of a setup for you, a softball. What's the response of the Secretary‑General to this statement by the leader of Gambia? But, two, what has the UN actually been doing to… to try to bring about an investigation of the death of Mr. Sandeng and other… other activists…?
Spokesman: We've seen the quotes. The UN's position is unchanged, and I'll get an update from our colleagues in the region as to the contacts they've had.
Question: Okay. And the other quote is from the UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] meeting in Nairobi. There's been quite a bit of controversy when an Egyptian minister, Mohamed Hesham Shoeir, was caught… was saying in Arabic, calling the sub-Saharan African members of the group dogs and slaves. This was the quote. And so it's caused a lot of division in the African group. Some people are saying Egypt shouldn't represent Africa at such meetings anymore. Since it took place in a UN venue, what… does the Secretary‑General have any either insight or statement on try… this rift in the group?
Spokesman: No, no… obviously, whatever rift there may exist in the Africa Group needs to be dealt with within the group. It's a Member State issue. We would obviously hope that there is a minimum of decorum in any debate in an intergovernmental body. Erol, and then we'll have to go to our guest pretty soon.
Question: Mr. Dujarric, The New York Times reported that the upcoming summit in September on migrants, it's summoned actually by President [Barack] Obama. True or false?
Spokesman: They're two different things. There is a General Assembly summit, and then there will be a side event that will be co‑chaired, as I understand it, by the President and the Secretary‑General.
Question: So, the answer is one of them is yes or no, or both of them yes or no? I'm confused.
Spokesman: Let me try to make it clearer. There are two events. One is a UN event with the General Assembly and the Secretary‑General. The other one is a US event, which is a side event, which I understand will be co‑chaired by the Secretary‑General and the United States. Evelyn?
Question: Is there any reaction to the fact the Burundi correspondent of AFP and RFI has been singled out by the minister of public security as… as…?
Spokesman: I think we're obviously extremely concerned at targeted attacks or threats of attacks against the media in any country. Ali, then Masood.
Question: Stéphane, what is the level of… how active is the UN in the French initiative to relaunch the peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, given that there are other concerted efforts by the Egyptians and probably other partners? My question is whether the United Nations, which is a major partner in the Quartet, support the… expanding the Quartet to the national support group or Quartet plus?
Spokesman: Obviously, the Secretary‑General will be there… will be… will represent the UN at the meeting in Paris on Friday. So, he will speak. The issue of expanding the Quartet is one that's been discussed. We have seen some Quartet meetings that are in the expanded mode that bring in a number of Arab foreign ministers, as well. Masood?
Correspondent: Could I follow up?
Spokesman: I'll be back to you, Benny.
Question: I guess, Stéphane, can you tell me in… does the Secretary‑General… can persuade in his waning days as the chief of the… this organization to persuade India to have talks with Pakistan over Kashmir? Which are going on yesterday. Pakistan's Prime Minister even called Mr. [Narendra] Modi while he was sick and everything, but…?
Spokesman: I think, throughout his tenure, the Secretary‑General has always been supportive of any direct dialogue between Pakistan and India. Mr. Lee, then Mr. Avni, then we'll go to the guest.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask… this sort of follows up on the Secretary‑General's trip. There was a report issued today by the working group on business and human rights about South Korea, and it goes through a number of… of… of… you know, no country is perfect, but it definitely identifies what it sees as problems. And I'm just wanting to know, first… because just before he left, he gave a speech at the Korea society praising or congratulating Posco. They're named in this report as… as involved in Myanmar and land acquisition disputes that left people without compensation. So, I wanted… I know that part of this talk was off the record and the… at the thing you attended with the Kwanhun Club. Did this issue of the need for South Korea as its economy grows to incorporate human rights principles, was this discussed anytime during his trip?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General would support the inclusion of human rights in any business practices.
Question: And the other one is just one other… just relatedly, knock this out of the way. This may be an easy one for you. There's a lot of the coverage in the South Korean press today saying that… that… the… the… linking the desire of the Secretary‑General to visit North Korea to an… to saying that this would put him over the top or make it… or be… be extremely positively viewed by the… by the South Korean electorate, and therefore, I guess I just want to ask you to say whatever he attempts to do in the next seven months has nothing to do with a potential run for President.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, is focused on being the Secretary‑General of the UN, fulfilling his mandate to the last day in office. Mr. Avni, then we'll go to our guests.
Question: As Secretary‑General of the UN and a member of the Quartet, does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about the statements yesterday by the Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister that… reiterating their support of the two‑state solution and calling for… and saying that the Arab initiative is a good start for… for peace process…?
Spokesman: If I'm not mistaken, his representative, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, issued a statement supporting what he had heard. Thank you.
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