Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 June 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Earlier this morning we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General on the UK referendum on the European Union: The Secretary‑General has followed discussions surrounding the referendum in the United Kingdom closely. The vote to leave the European Union came at the end of intensive deliberations and rich discussions, not just in the United Kingdom, but across Europe.
Now, as the United Kingdom and other EU [European Union] Member States embark on the process of charting a way forward, the Secretary‑General trusts in Europe's well‑proven history of pragmatism and common responsibility in the interest of European citizens. At the UN, we look forward to continuing our work with the United Kingdom and the European Union – both important partners.
The Secretary‑General expects the European Union to continue to be a solid partner for the United Nations on development and humanitarian issues, as well as peace and security, including migration. He also expects that the United Kingdom will continue to exercise its leadership in many areas, including international development. He very much hopes that this will continue. When we work together, we are stronger.
The Secretary‑General arrived in Cannes, France, today after having attended the ceremony marking the signing of the Colombian peace accord in Havana. The Secretary‑General attended the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, which brings together the leaders of the global advertising industry. In his remarks to the plenary meeting, the Secretary‑General asked the industry leaders to create the biggest campaign for humanity: a campaign for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the biggest anti‑poverty, pro‑planet action plan ever adopted. He asked the industry leaders to help us transform a complex and abstract agenda into a personal and emotional story about how we can build a better world.
Following the speech, the Secretary‑General had an opportunity to meet the winners of specific campaigns designed for particular SDGs by young leaders from the advertising world. The Secretary‑General has since departed Cannes for Paris where, tomorrow, he will have a working breakfast with President Hollande. Before leaving Paris for Kuwait, the Secretary‑General will speak at the Sorbonne, where he will receive an honorary doctorate.
A UN inter‑agency convoy delivered life‑saving assistance yesterday for 37,500 people in need in the hard‑to‑reach town of Jirud in Rural Damascus. The convoy contained food, health, nutrition and non‑food items. Another convoy yesterday delivered assistance to some 22,500 people in the Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo city.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 900,000 people have received multisectorial assistance, including food for at least one month, through inter‑agency operations in hard‑to‑reach areas. This includes assistance for more than 334,000 people in 16 out of 18 besieged locations. This is a significant increase since March, when the number of beneficiaries who were reached stood at 240,000. The UN has on 19 June submitted the July access plan to the Government of Syria. The plan requests access to 1.2 million beneficiaries in 35 besieged, hard‑to‑reach and cross-line priority locations. This plan must be approved in full and without any conditions.
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Jan Eliasson, spoke this morning at the joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission. Stressing the importance of connecting peacebuilding and sustainable development, the Deputy Secretary‑General said that more attention needs to be paid to the periods both before the outbreak of violence and at the end of violent conflicts. He added that the Sustainable Development Goals will not be reached if we are not able to sustain peace in the world, urging for more investment in sustaining peace before, during and after conflicts. His full remarks are available in our office.
**Senior Personnel Appointment.
And I have one senior personnel appointment to announce: the Secretary‑General is appointing Andrew Gilmour of the United Kingdom as Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York. Mr. Gilmour succeeds Ivan Šimonović of Croatia to whom the Secretary‑General is deeply grateful for his exceptional leadership and advice on human rights issues and the integration of human rights in peace and security matters.
Mr. Gilmour is currently Director for Political, Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Human Rights affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General, a position he has held since April 2012. During this time, he has been responsible for spearheading the implementation of the Human Rights Up Front initiative. And more information on this appointment is available in our office. And that's it from me. Is there anything for me before we head to our weekend? Almost got away.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. A young boy, his name is Mohammad Badran, [age] 15. He was shot and killed by Israelis, and they said it's by mistake. Did Mr. [Nikolay] Mladenov notice that killing and did he say anything? And is he planning to say anything?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, he is looking into this. We take this very seriously, this reported killing of a youth. As you know, we have raised our concerns about excessive use of force, and this is one of those cases. So, we're aware that this is also being looked into. And we hope that it will be fully investigated. Yes?
Question: I wanted to ask you this yesterday. I would assume that you've seen the staff unions, at least four of them, put out their own statement about sexual abuse and accountability in the UN system. And as part of it, they said that one of the reasons that they felt a need to put this out was that "many staff are scared to report abuse for fear of retaliation". And I wanted to know, I've asked you about [Anders] Kompass, various people. This is on behalf of a large percentage of employees of the UN. What's the response of the Secretary‑General to a pervasive feeling among staff that if they report abuse, they will suffer the same consequence as, for example, Mr. Kompass did?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, Mr. Kompass was a senior official. It's not a question of an official above him trying to retaliate. He himself is a senior official. But, be that as it may, the basic point is that we want all staff to feel secure, and as you know, we, ourselves, are trying to provide as much information on sexual exploitation and abuse. As you see in recent weeks, we've made tremendous strides forward in terms of naming names, of contingents that are involved in these sorts of abuses, and we want to make sure that whenever there's any type of abuse, the information comes out and comes out promptly. So, the Secretary‑General has put in place over the years policies to protect people from the threat of retaliation. As you know, there are offices that look into these including the Ethics Office and the Office of the Ombudsman. So, we're trying to make sure that people do feel secure, and we want them to feel secure. It's certainly a matter of concern that if any staff member does not feel that sort of confidence because they should.
Question: Right. Just two different things. One, I didn't expect you to say that of Mr. Kompass. I mean, I think… didn't the review show that people above Kompass, he's the senior official, but there were people above him asked OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] to investigate him, and that's why he lost his job?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, they found different things that were improper, and I'll refer you back to the report. I don't believe that anyone has determined this to be a case of retaliation.
Question: And the other question is as part of the staff's request, they say institute a culture of change at headquarters so that military forces with records of abuse aren't contracted to peacekeeping missions. As an example of this, I guess, yesterday, you'd said that DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] is, in fact, considering bringing these 800 Burundian soldiers in. I'm just using this as an example. How would you describe… at what level are they going to vet people? Only at the level of commanders, at the level of individuals, at the level of battalions? How does it work?
Deputy Spokesman: The standard vetting procedure applies, and it applies for all officials. There are, as you know, many times when we have rejected specific individuals because they did not meet our standards in terms of vetting. In the case of the Burundian police, you'll have seen that we have also decided that there's a larger problem at work, so we're at present not accepting police contributions… further police contributions from Burundi. At the same time, we review the records of all countries, and if there are concerns about other sorts of countries or other sorts of contingents, that would be shown. But, I think the very fact that we took this action that we did shows that we are taking very seriously the human rights concerns that are associated with those particular police.
Question: I guess I'm just saying that there seem to be some people in Burundi who don't understand this distinction between police and military. Is it in writing somewhere, the basis on which this determination is made?
Deputy Spokesman: This is something that's being reviewed constantly. If there's any need to adjust our pattern, that will happen. But, we already looked at concern at that particular record.
Question: For the second week running, Friday prayers are suspended in Bahrain by the Government, by the laws. Also, there's a big congregation around Mr. Shaikh Salman's house where he's facing eviction of course. Will the Secretary‑General, while he's in Kuwait or before arriving there, try to contact the authorities to rescind that decision to strip Mr. Salman of his citizenship and to mitigate the repercussions?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've seen the Secretary‑General's own concerns as expressed in his statement last week about the stripping of nationality and about the actions that are being taken in Bahrain. And of course, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, High Commissioner Zeid [Ra'ad al Hussein], as well as Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, have specifically mentioned their concerns about the case of Shaikh Isa, so I would just refer you to those.
Question: Talk about that. Will he, for example, while he's in Kuwait try to use his office with the leaders of the region in order to influence Bahrain to make them rescind their decision?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I've just mentioned, we've made our concerns known at very senior levels already. As for what the Secretary‑General does in Kuwait, we'll provide you further information once that trip takes place. Olga.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. You just mentioned that the humanitarian response for July for Syria. Do you have any preliminary answer from the Government?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, for us, the important thing is for that plan to be accepted in full and without any conditions. That is what we're waiting for, so we're continuing our dialogue with the government on that.
Question: The Israeli authorities cut off the water supply to the northern part of the West Bank – Nablus, [inaudible] in the region. It's now it goes into its thirtieth day. A letter was sent from the Palestine mission to the Secretary‑General and to the Security Council about that. Is there any response… is there any contact with the Israelis? This is summertime and Ramadan. To cut down the water sometimes 100 per cent and in some cases 80 per cent. Why there is silence when it comes to the suffering of those innocent Palestinian civilians?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe the letter is being studied, and Mr. Mladenov and his office on the ground will follow up with the relevant authorities as needed. Yes, Oleg.
Question: Thanks for the reply on the agency letter. I would like to follow up. I understand that you cannot confirm the reports that it mentions, but will there be any formal reply to the letter from the Syrian opposition? I mean, they're clearly asking for something.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what I can say about that simply is the following that we're concerned about the reports of the use of incendiary weapons in Aleppo, Syria. While we're not in a position to verify these reports, it's important to note that Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of air‑delivered incendiary weapons in areas containing concentrations of civilians. We expect that all parties and states involved in the conflict will refrain from their use in this way. And that is all I have on that for now.
Question: Still, will you reply in any way to the coalition?
Deputy Spokesman: I think we'll study what we can do by way of reply.
Question: Speaking of replies to letters, I wonder if it's been clarified whether someone from the UN will go to Riyadh to discuss the review of the Children in Armed Conflict Report or if they're going to come here. This was unclear. I don't know if it was resolved in the meeting of the Secretary‑General with the Deputy Crown Prince.
Deputy Spokesman: The issue was discussed, and possible locations were discussed. But, there hasn't been a decision yet on any particular location. We'll announce that once that happens. But, at this stage, it's a matter of discussion, and we hope it will be resolved, and we can certainly have a dialogue about it in one place or another.
Question: So, there hasn't been a formal reply to also their request for the divulging of sources that were used to, you know, make the report on the Saudis and also the issue of venue?
Deputy Spokesman: It's not a written reply, but certainly, the Secretary‑General did meet with the Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia this week. This matter has come up in discussion, and that dialogue is continuing.
Question: Yesterday, in the meeting here in the building, the Convention of the Law of the Sea. Among rights of reply yesterday afternoon, there was Somalia saying… accusing… actually saying that South Korea had acknowledged that its trawlers had engaged in illegal bottom trawling off the coast of Somalia. Something I am pursuing… I wanted to know is this something that the Secretary‑General has ever been aware of? Does he have any view of the propriety of these corporations? I say it because Somalia, being one of the developed countries that he's visited, is he aware of this claim by Somalia that corporate interests from South Korea have illegally trawled the shores off the coast of Somalia?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the purpose of these discussions is to serve as a venue by which this sort of information can be shared. This is a positive thing in terms of allowing Member States to raise their concerns with other member states about actions including by corporations, not just by Governments. And of course, he's aware of the proceedings of the meetings that take place at the UN.
Question: And another one – since its Friday, I'll ask you this. There's been a two‑week‑long meeting of the Decolonization Committee with some controversy surrounding it. One of the controversies that existed was when the chairperson ordered the meeting to be adjourned because the Polisario representative couldn't speak, and the representative of Morocco said this is a shame… 50 years, it violates all precedence. My understanding is that security was called. I wanted to know, obviously, this is a building owned by Member States, but what's the protocol… what are the rights of UN security as regards to a permanent representative of a country in terms of a meeting being declared closed and a person not leaving?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, the rules for meetings are set by the Member States that share those meetings. They're the ones who organized the meetings, and they're responsible for the rules.
Question: But, what would be the repercussions of a permanent representative of a UN Member State not obeying such an order?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, we have a relationship with our Member States which depends upon a certain amount of adherence to the rules. The Member States themselves agree to the rules, and it applies to all of them equally.
Correspondent: Right, but what happens if it's violated, I guess, is what I'm asking you.
Deputy Spokesman: I really don't want to engage in it as a hypothetical. It's something that is dealt with case by case. Have a good weekend, everyone.
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