Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 June 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We will start off with a statement on the terrorist attacks in Turkey. The Secretary-General condemns today's terror attack in Istanbul. The explosion in the heart of the city, reportedly caused by a car bomb targeting a police bus, claimed the lives of at least 11 people and injured dozens more. The Secretary-General hopes that the perpetrators of this despicable terrorist attack will be swiftly identified and brought to justice. He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery. The United Nations stands in solidarity with the people and Government of Turkey.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, urged the Iraqi Government today to take immediate measures to ensure that all people fleeing the Da'esh-occupied city of Fallujah are treated in strict accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian law. He said that there are extremely distressing, credible reports that some people who survive the terrifying experience of escaping Da'esh then face severe physical abuse once they reach the other side.
Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the men for "security screening", which, in some cases, degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit confessions. There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups. The High Commissioner added that the security vetting must be carried out in a transparent manner, in full compliance with international law. There are more details in a press release.
According to our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of this morning, only a partial approval for overland transport of the second instalment of aid into Daraya, in Syria, has been received. We are reverting to the Government to request full access, in order to be able to send the full convoy with all the food that had been in the [June] plan. The convoys are very finely calibrated in terms of the kind of relief that was on them, and the second part of the convoy primarily consists of food.
The written request transmitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 5 June includes a plan for airlifts – not airdrops – as a last resort, to Daraya, Douma and Moadamiyeh in rural Damascus Governorate, and Al-Waer in Homs Governorate. That request would come only into play if, for whatever reason, we could not get land access.
From Haiti, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in that country, Sandra Honoré, and other members of the so-called "Core Group" took note of the presentation of the electoral calendar by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The "Core Group" remains deeply concerned that the decision to rerun the Presidential elections will have financial consequences and prolong the electoral process started in 2015. It reiterates that it is the responsibility of an elected Government to address the socio-economic and humanitarian challenges Haiti faces.
The "Core Group" urges all Haitian political players to scrupulously respect the electoral calendar to organize transparent and equitable elections in an impartial manner, enabling Haitians to elect a President of the Republic, parliamentary representatives and municipal and local authorities, as provided by the Haitian Constitution.
UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in south-east Niger following a series of attacks [since] last Friday by Boko Haram insurgents on the town of Bosso in the troubled Diffa region. UNHCR says that the attacks occurred on Friday, Sunday and Monday and that the situation in the town is unclear. An estimated 50,000 people fled following Friday's attack. More information on UNHCR's website.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our humanitarian colleagues say that the increasing insecurity is constraining the access of humanitarian organizations to thousands of civilians who need aid, humanitarian organizations warned in a joint statement. Eleven aid workers have been abducted in North Kivu so far in 2016, 31 in 2015, which is five times more than the previous year. Aid agencies are particularly alarmed by the impact that this growing insecurity could have on some 1.6 million vulnerable people who need humanitarian assistance in North Kivu province, including 780,000 displaced people. Eighty per cent of them are women and children.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also expressed its concern at the deteriorating security situation in Donetsk region of Ukraine and its impact on civilians caught up in the cross-fire. Power lines were damaged as a result of recent shelling, and civilians continue to suffer from interruption of electricity and gas supplies. The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to follow the ceasefire to prevent further suffering and to grant full and unimpeded access to people in need of humanitarian assistance.
**United Nations Children's Fund
UNICEF also released a study indicating that the vast majority of teenagers are aware that they can be sexually abused online. According to the report Perils and Possibilities: Growing Up Online, 80 per cent of the 18-year-olds believe young people are in danger of being sexually abused or even taken advantage online, and more than 5 out of 10 think friends participate in risky behaviours while using the internet. Findings are based on an opinion poll of more than 10,000 young adults in 25 countries. More information on unicef.org.
Tomorrow, 8 June, is World Oceans Day, which will focus attention on the health of the world's marine environment. The Secretary-General will mark the day by joining Hôkûle'a, a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe which is on a global trip promoting sustainable seas. The event will take place in Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, directly across the river from the UN, and you are all invited. Additional events will take place at Headquarters in the afternoon, and the Empire State Building will be lit up for the occasion. I assume that colour will be blue, I hope it will be. A media advisory is available.
You will have already seen, there will be a press briefing after this sponsored by the UK Mission on Anti-Microbial Resistance. Then Miroslav Lajcák should be at the stakeout at around 1 p.m. He is, obviously, as you know, one of the SG [Secretary-General] candidates. 5 p.m., Susana Malcorra will speak at the same location for the same event. And at 5:30 p.m., after both have spoken, the President of this very General Assembly will speak at around 5.30 p.m., at the stakeout.
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., press encounter by General Assembly President Lykketoft and Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, outside the GA Hall to brief you on the High-Level HIV/AIDS meeting. 12:30 p.m., press briefing here by Her Serene Highness Princess Stephanie of Monaco on the same event. Edie.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéph. I have two questions. First, could you tell us the difference between an airdrop and an airlift?
Spokesman: Yes. An air… sorry… an airlift… and I will be struck down if I'm wrong… is the use of helicopters to bring, by air, into urban areas needed supplies, which implies that the helicopter actually has to land. Since it's an urban area, the airdrops are not possible. So, that would be an airlift. And the airdrop is when we drop something.
Question: Okay. My question before that was: Human Rights Watch has put out a new report on at least 18 people being killed by Republic of Congo soldiers while serving as African Union and UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2015. What is the UN's comment on this report? And is it being investigated? Is any action being taken? How many of these killings occurred on the UN's watch?
Spokesman: Obviously, we welcome the Human Rights Watch report. I think everybody shares the goal of ending impunity. As for the cases they mention, we had flagged these issues back in June of 2015 with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We had sent the… a human… a fact‑finding… sorry. A… we had already called at that time for the sites to be secured. The Congolese authorities, Republic of Congo authorities, and the CAR [Central African Republic] authorities had also been notified. So, this is something we have been following up with the African Union and the Republic of Congo authorities for quite some time. We had received in May our preliminary information from the Republic of the Congo authorities on various investigative and judicial processes that are underway as well as interim disciplinary measures that have been imposed, and we're continuing to follow up with them. Yes, Carole.
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to come back to the decision to take Saudi Arabia… the Saudi‑led Coalition off the list of Children and Armed Conflict. You probably saw the reaction of a lot of human rights groups. They're seeing it as the UN caving in to Saudi pressure, and we're also a bit perplexed by what happened yesterday when at the briefing we were told that the report stands and there would be some minor adjustments and then they were taken off the list. Can… what… what can you… how can you update us on this?
Spokesman: We all agree that the report stands. The substance of the report has not changed. The body of the report, I think, to anyone who reads it, provides an extremely alarming picture of the suffering of children in Yemen and the failure of all sides, including the Coalition and non‑State actors alike, to protect children from war in Yemen. I think the numbers… the numbers that are in the report, I think, provide… show a six‑fold increase in the number of children who were killed or maimed in 2015 as opposed to 2014. The facts in the report are what the Secretary‑General believes is credible, verified information gathered from a number of sources, often collected in very difficult circumstances. And I think we all very much appreciate the very… the documentation, the important documentation, of the terrible human cost that we're seeing in Yemen. The sole change is in the Annex. As I said, through a statement yesterday, the Secretary‑General has removed the Saudi‑led Coalition from the list in the Annex. We expect that information should be provided to us by the Coalition, and we will then review it. The Secretary‑General has decided to do this to give the Coalition an opportunity to present information that Coalition members insist is important to our analysis. You know, I think it… as… at every attack against civilians, every attack against civilian infrastructure, the Secretary‑General has spoken out forcefully, has condemned it, and has always called for an investigation. The Secretary‑General notes that the Security Council plans to discuss this report in August. He expects that any Coalition information should be provided well ahead of that time to give time for a needed review.
Question: Can I just follow up? Just quickly, but why not keep them on the list until you finish this review? It just seems like it preempts the… your findings. And the other thing is, do you stand by that 60 per cent figure in the report…?
Question: We stand by everything that is… every fact and figure that is in the report. The decision to take them off is obviously… as we've said, is pending. We will review the information that they will provide, and we're waiting for them to provide us information. Michelle.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Is it not standard procedure, though, to leave someone on a list pending a review rather than removing them from the list? And did the UN consult at all with the Saudis or any other members of the Coalition before publication of this report?
Spokesman: You know, I'll be honest, not for once, but I will be honest. I think we're not in the standard operating procedure area anymore. The Saudis were consulted regularly, if not quarterly, by the Office of the Children and Armed Conflict's representative's office, and they were consulted throughout this process. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I guess I wanted to… yesterday you'd said we had received demarche from Saudi Arabia and others regarding the inclusion of the Saudi‑led Coalition in the Annex. Who are those others? Have you received demarches from any other countries or entities that are on… that are part of the Annex? And can you just describe… the same… between 1 p.m. when… or whenever the briefing was and when you said it stands and your statement at 4 p.m., what exactly happened? Just to… for… to understand how the office operates to have a complete… pretty serious reversal of policy.
Spokesman: I don't think it's a reversal of policy. It's… the world turns. The situation evolves. And that was the decision that was taken. There have been contacts from… from Jordan, from the UAE and others.
Question: [United States]?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware. And we have not been contacted by anyone else who is in… who's listed in other parts of the report.
Correspondent: And if they… they'd get the same treatment and hearing.
Spokesman: As I said, I'm not going to speculate, but as I said, we've not been contacted by anyone else. Masood.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Yesterday, the Saudi ambassador was very clear that the decision to take it off the list is irreversible. And also my question is that: there was Israel which was supposed to be placed on this blacklist but was also not placed under which pressure? What was the pressure that worked in favour of Israel and did not work in favour of Saudi Arabia?
Spokesman: You know, I don't want to relitigate last year's report. Last year's report was published. There's now a new report. The Saudi representative said what he said. I'm trying to explain as clearly as possible our position. I think you should ask those questions of him. I can only speak for the Secretariat.
Question: So, what about Israel? Why was it not placed? Because that was part of the report.
Spokesman: Again, we're talking about Saudi… the Saudi‑led Coalition. The report… I would urge you to look at the content of the report. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Al Jazeera has obtained documents that indicate that some UN organizations in Yemen are… have been addressing the Houthi representatives as they have… as if they are the legitimate Government of Yemen. And that's in formal letters and correspondences. Is there any explanation of that, and does it reflect a change in the UN position?
Spokesman: No, the Yemen… the Government of Yemen is represented at the General Assembly in the UN by its representatives, and that's the agreed representative of the Government of Yemen at the UN. In any situation where the UN is… plays a mediation role, the Houthis are a party to the conflict; we will speak to them and address them as needed. There are obviously also areas in Yemen where they are the de facto authority, so we will have to deal with them on that level. I can't… I haven't seen the document, so I can't speak to it. But, it is not uncommon for the UN to be in official communication with a party to the conflict. And, in fact, the Houthis and their representatives are sitting with the Special Envoy in Kuwait. Mr. Abbadi and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Last week, when few hundred refugees died in the Mediterranean, the Secretary‑General issued a statement in which he expressed his sadness. Now the International Migration for… International Organization for Migration says that, since 2014, there have been over 15,000 dead, a human catastrophe. How does the Secretary‑General describe the situation?
Spokesman: You know, I think the pictures that we've seen, the stories that we've heard out of the Mediterranean defy words, the human suffering, the human toll. The Secretary‑General has worked very actively to ensure that a spotlight is kept on the issue, that all those Member States that have the possibility of impacting the situation in a positive way do so. Everywhere he goes, he tries to meet with refugees and migrants to ensure that their voices are heard and their stories are told. What we're seeing in the Mediterranean is – and other places in the world – is a great motivator for the General Assembly's meeting that we will see in September, the high‑level meeting on refugees and mass migration. And, as we've said, the solution involves the countries of origin, the transit countries, the countries of destination, changing policies, and, obviously, also addressing the root causes of people being forced to flee, whether it is poverty, whether it is lack of proper institutions or whether it is war. Abdelhamid. Then Nizar.
Question: If you recall a few days ago, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in the occupied Palestinian territories issued a statement welcoming a gesture by the Prime Minister and his Defence Minister about considering looking into the Arab peace initiative with condition, they said if the… if it takes into account the developments. However, today, the Israeli President, Rivlin, visited a settlement, and that annoyed the Palestinian Authority. They issued a very strong statement, which created a rift, in fact, and made peace initiatives or trying to revive the peace talks make more difficult. Why, I mean, the… Mr. Mladenov saw some positive development in that, but he didn't see the negative development in breaking the international law by visiting an illegal city?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's position on settlements is clear. He has made his position clear as of last Friday in Paris, and I would refer you to that statement. His position is unchanged. Nizar.
Question: Yesterday, the Saudi representative said categorically that no cluster bomb ammunition was used in Yemen, whereas the cities in Yemen are littered with these bomblets. And, of course, you have videos, pictures, and Human Rights Watch reports and other reports confirming that. What does United Nations say about this?
Spokesman: We have in the past and we will continue to condemn the use of cluster bombs. Edie.
Question: The issue is, did Saudi Arabia Coalition use these bombs or the Yemenis inflicted that upon themselves?
Spokesman: Again, I'd refer you to what I just said. Edie.
Question: Stéphane, a follow‑up on the Saudi ambass… sorry… on the Saudi ambassador's statement that basically they will never go back on the list. If this pending review substantiates what the Secre… what you say the Secretary‑General… are the findings that the Secretary‑General stands by, will Saudi Arabia be put back on that list?
Spokesman: We will see what the review is, and then we will adjust the list as needed. Carole.
Question: Can you talk a bit about the report? I mean, that… how did you arrive at that figure of 60 per cent, which they say is wildly exaggerated?
Spokesman: The report, you know, which… Ms. Zerrougui's mandate comes from a General Assembly resolution. The methodology, the research, the MRM, the research mechanisms that they have were outlined in, I think, Security Council resolution 1612 (2005). So, there is a well‑established mechanism of review of the facts on the ground, and that's how they arrived at the figure. So, I would encourage you to look and read through the report, look at the methodology. This is not the first such report. We've been publishing for a number of years. And, once again, we stand by the figures that are in the report. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I guess these are questions about Central African Republic but also sexual abuse. Down… down in Conference Room 3 this morning, in one of the side events of the HIV event, Stephen Lewis said that the Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, has yet to react publicly and fully to the December 2015 CAR review panel report and that they're basically putting their faith in next SG. Do you… where has he responded publicly and fully, and will he take a question on this at his stakeout later this week?
Spokesman: He will take whatever question is thrown at him.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has, through the appointment of Jane Holl Lute, through the actions that have been taken by DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and DFS [Department of Field Support], I think, reacted very strongly to the report. There's more transparency. There are more updates. Contingents are being removed. Contingents are not being… are not being replaced. All sorts of measures are put in place. Trust Funds were established. So, I think the facts of what we have done since then, I think, speak for themselves with all due respect for Mr. Lewis.
Question: I guess then I'd like to ask about another mister, Mr. Kompass. Mr. Kompass has now resigned from the UN system and has said it's because he has found virtually total impunity in the wake of the charges that he forwarded to the authorities. Do you have any comment? Have you seen what Mr. Kompass has said about the UN system, and what's your response to that?
Spokesman: No, I mean I… we wish Mr. Kompass well.
Correspondent: And I have another CAR, just non-sexual abuse.
Question: Sure. This has to do with there's a report in the French media of prosecution of French soldiers in the… in the… got to say this right because it is in French… in the "Régiment d'infanterie de marine", and I don't want to get this wrong, "violemment agressé des civils" in 2014 they're being prosecuted. And I wanted to know, is this something the UN… now that the French authorities have… they didn't make it public at the time, but it's now been reported. Is this something the UN's either human rights people knew about or the mission, and what do you say about this…
Spokesman: I don't know about this particular case, but obviously, we welcome the prosecution of anyone accused of sexual abuse. Nizar and then Linda, and then we'll go to the guests.
Question: On the war in Fallujah, does the mission know exactly how many Sunnis are attacking the city and how many Shia are attacking the city?
Spokesman: No, I don't have that breakdown. But, obviously, I think the Secretary‑General, very clearly, shares the concerns expressed by the Human Rights Commissioner at reports of human rights violations. This is an issue that the Secretary‑General has raised repeatedly with the authorities in Baghdad every time he's gone there.
Question: Yeah, and Baghdad, I mean, the Government says that at least 35,000 Sunnis are on the attack there.
Spokesman: No, as I said, I don't have the numbers with me. Linda, and then that will be the last one.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Regarding Syria, I may have missed this, but what is the status of the Syrian Government's acceptance of airlifts and airdrops?
Spokesman: We're waiting for the clearance. We will not fly helicopters or planes without the express clearance of the Government of Syria and of all in making sure that all of the parties that have air assets in the area are also clear. It's too risky. Our main focus continues and continues to be land delivery. I think, as we've said, you know, one truck is equivalent to one plane. So, obviously, when you can get a multitruck convoy into a place, it's so much better, including… and helicopters are even less than a plane. So, that's why we're… we keep focussing on land routes. Yes. No, I have to go after, Nizar.
Question: For the fifth day, the civilians and populated areas in the city of Taiz in Yemen still under heavy shelling by Houthi rebels and their allies. Last Saturday, there was a statement by the SG, and he avoided to point out to the rebels but he called for investigation. When this investigation is going to be started…
Spokesman: Well, we would hope to see… we would hope to see a credible investigation take place. All right. We're going to get our guests.
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