Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 August 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone – especially to the youngest member of our press corps.
I have the following statement, attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, on the attack on the Civil Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan.
The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist bombing today at the Civil Hospital in Quetta, Balochistan Province of Pakistan. The targeting of mourners at a civilian hospital makes the attack particularly appalling.
The Secretary-General urges the Government to do its utmost to ensure safety of the population and bring to justice the perpetrators of today's attack. He extends his heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He expresses his solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan.
The Secretary-General is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he delivered the key note address at the Argentine Council for Foreign Relations earlier today. In his discussion, the Secretary-General outlined some of the challenges and opportunities of our rapidly changing world and Argentina's key contributions.
With its historic transition into a solid democracy, the Secretary-General told the audience that Argentina sends a clear message to the world that a society can only flourish by respecting human rights, cultural and religious diversity, democratic processes and justice.
Over the past hour, the Secretary-General has met with President Mauricio Macri at the Casa Rosada. Following their bilateral meeting, President Macri awarded him the Gran Cruz of the Order of the Libertador General José de San Martín, Argentina's highest civilian honour.
Prior to leaving the Casa Rosada, the Secretary-General and the President addressed the press. We'll have those remarks for you later today.
Later today, the Secretary-General intends to lay a wreath at the Monument to General San Martín and the Armies of Independence, accompanied by Argentina's Foreign Minister, Susana Malcorra.
The Secretary-General condemned the improvised explosive device attack yesterday against a convoy of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), south of Aguelhok, in Kidal region, that claimed the life of one peacekeeper and injured four others. It follows a similar attack on the 5th of August that injured one peacekeeper in the vicinity of Kidal city.
The Secretary-General underscores that attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law and calls for the perpetrators of this attack to be brought to justice. He reiterates that attacks against MINUSMA will not weaken the determination of the Mission to fully implement its mandate in support of the efforts of the Malian Government, the parties to the peace agreement and the people of Mali to achieve lasting peace and stability. The full statement is online.
In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General commended the leaders of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) for their decisive action and welcomed the Government of South Sudan's acceptance of a regional protection force.
The Secretary-General remains deeply concerned about the continued fighting in the country and calls for an immediate end to the hostilities. He is outraged by the continued reports of serious human rights violations and abuses, including widespread sexual violence against women and young girls, committed by armed men in uniform. He calls on all parties to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians and demands that they take immediate steps to hold accountable those responsible for these despicable crimes.
On that last topic, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, said today that it is concerned about the reported increase in sexual violence in that country and called for stronger support for women and girls to protect their safety, health and rights. Women and girls face increased risk of sexual violence during conflicts, including being attacked while they seek firewood and food, and also have at times resorted to desperate measures, such as survival sex, to feed themselves and their families.
Also on South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) is extremely concerned by the continuing fighting and calls on all parties to recommit to the ceasefire agreed to last month.
The Mission reports that over the weekend Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in Opposition fired heavy weapons towards Sudan People's Liberation Army positions in Nassir in the Upper Nile area. The Mission is concerned by the proximity of the SPLA in Opposition's defensive positions to the Mission's base in Nassir, which endangers UN personnel and assets.
UNMISS also reports that the situation in and around Leer in Unity remains tense.
On Burundi, the UN Committee against Torture today expressed grave concern about reported reprisals against four Burundian lawyers who provided information to the Committee for a special review of Burundi. The Committee has sent a letter to the Burundian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, seeking urgent reassurances that no member of Burundian civil society would be subject to reprisals for cooperating with the Committee.
More information is available on the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced on Saturday that the Yemen peace talks are entering a new phase, during which the focus will be on working with each side separately to crystalize precise technical details.
He said that the talks in Kuwait were ending but that the Yemen peace talks would continue. The structure and mechanism will change during the coming weeks to give the parties space to consult with their leaderships.
The Special Envoy also referred to the preparation for another round of direct talks, at a time and place to be announced.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today reports that it has signed an agreement with the Governorate of Sulaimaniyah in Iraq to rehabilitate the main water network for Sulaimaniyah City.
The network provides drinking water for more than 1 million residents, refugees, and displaced persons.
Work on the project, which is supported by Japan, will begin immediately, the agency said.
I was asked last week about Special Adviser Han Seung-soo and his dealings with a company named Doosan Infracore.
Mr. Han disclosed this outside interest to the Organization, and the Ethics Office provided advice on the matter. Mr. Han was informed of the restrictions on his involvement with the company in the context of the nature of his contract with the Organization, under which he serves on a "when actually employed" basis.
The measures put in place serve to ensure that the UN staff rules and regulations are adhered to, that there is no conflict of interest, and that the Organization's interests are fully protected.
For press encounters, tomorrow at 10 a.m. there will be a press briefing here by the Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar Ja'afari, and members of the US Peace Council Delegation to Syria.
At 11 a.m., there will be a briefing on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, with a focus on indigenous peoples' right to education.
And then at noon, my guests will be Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, and the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft. They will brief on the forthcoming UN Summit on refugees and migrants.
And last, before turning to questions, I do have some sad news. Marco Vitelli, the son of our colleague Giampaolo Pioli, passed away peacefully yesterday morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with Giampaolo and his family.
**Questions and Answers
And that is it for me. Do we have any questions? Yes, Olga. Oh, Anna. Sorry. I messed up; sorry.
Question: That's okay. Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. One is about the kidnapping that happened in Kabul recently. One American, one Australian were kidnapped, and they were the members of American University of Kabul. And these kidnappings have become more and more frequent, and the people who are… perpetrate them usually wear a uniform, like some sort of military uniform, as if hinting to their organized manner or whatever. Does UN have any information on these groups? Are they really organized? Is this a syndicate or something? Who is sponsoring them? And what kind of steps are being taken about this issue?
Deputy Spokesman: We have no particular information about these groups. Obviously, we have been encouraging the Afghan authorities to move to find out how to resolve these situations, make sure that all kidnapped persons are returned peacefully, and, if there's a problem with criminal gangs, to bring all the perpetrators to justice. At the same time, this is not our particular area of responsibility, but we certainly have encouraged all of the people working in Kabul to take precautions as they travel.
Question: And my second question is about this perennial issue of foreign fighters in… in the ranks of Al-Qaida and Da'esh and other terroristic organisations. Like, there was reports about another Australian, a former Christian, Matthew Stewart, known as [Hamza], who became one of the commanders in Al-Qaida highest ranks. And there are other people who sort of fill at the ranks of Al-Qaida and Da'esh. Is UN doing something about foreign fighters? Is there a committee, you know, investigating this? Are measures being taken?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And, in fact, the Secretary‑General recently put out, just about a month or so ago, a report about foreign terrorist fighters. So we have submitted that to Member States with recommendations on how to deal with this particular problem. But, as you know, we are also dealing with the whole overall issue of preventing violent extremism and have a plan of action regarding that. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I might have missed this in the beginning, but does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the bombing in Quetta this morning?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. In fact, I read at the top of the briefing a statement condemning today's terrorist bombing, and you'll be able to see the full statement. Yes?
Question: Sure. Question about what you read at the end about Mr. Han and Doosan. But I wanted to… I was kind of expecting some statement by the UN about the protests and killings in Ethiopia over the weekend. There was a large‑scale protest in… in the rest of the country but even in the capital, where the UN has a big office. How… what is the UN's response to how many people does it think was killed? Does the UN have any role in trying to… to resolve this tension on the Oromo protests?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, we have concerns to make sure that all peaceful protests are allowed to proceed, and we would have concerns about any problems regarding that. Regarding this specific protest, we'll need further details, but… so we're following up with our offices there.
Question: But what steps has the UN taken… I mean, given that, you know, it has these offices in Addis and there… by all… many accounts peaceful protesters shot and… you know, shot and killed in Ethiopia over the weekend. What steps is the UN taking?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we'll check about our response to this particular thing. Like I said, we encourage peaceful protests to proceed everywhere in the world and would have concerns anywhere. As you know, we have offices in many, many countries around the world. That's not a particular point of concern. We are concerned, whether we have an office in a place or not. Yes?
Question: I've been asking this question for past four years, and since now UN is in downtime, maybe I can get some answer. If you look at the Syrian situation, on one side we have US. We have Syria. We have Russia. We have Iran. We have Saudis. We have so many other countries. On the other side, we have maybe 25, 30,000 soldiers with the used guns. Does UN know where they get their bullets from? And if they know… if they don't know, why UN doesn't find out? And if they know, why nobody stopped them? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, our Office for Disarmament Affairs is every bit as concerned with the spread and the flow of light weapons as they are of heavier weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. But, at the same time, it is very difficult to track down all the aspects of light weapons, including, for example, as you just mentioned, bullets. But I would refer you to the website of the Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA), which has quite a bit of work on this, and you can see the relevant information there.
Question: Do they name the names? Do they know who's giving the arms? Because the arms are either from Russia or from US, because these are the two big dealers.
Deputy Spokesman: There are periodic reports about light weapons, and so I would just refer you to the contents of those. Yes, Luke?
Question: Thanks. Pair of follow‑ups on Ethiopia: It's been pretty widely reported that the internet was shut down nationwide on Saturday. As you and Matthew both alluded to, there is UN presence in Addis. Was that… did that hinder UN work in any way or… sort of a technical question, but if the internet is down in a country, does the UN lose its ability to work?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware that any UN offices were prevented from going about their work over the weekend. But, in any case, we would have concerns about any efforts to crack down on the ability of people to exercise their right to freedom of expression. Obviously, any crackdown on the internet entails that, and so we'd have to determine what precisely happened there.
Question: And a second question. I know the Human Rights Council, I think in June, passed a nonbinding resolution that talked about a right to the Internet, obviously, nonbinding. I'm just curious. I was hoping you could help me understand how the Secretariat interacts with the resolution like that. I mean, this is not a universal human right yet. It's not formally enshrined. But does the Secretary‑General talk about the right to the Internet now in dealings with world leaders, or is it still sort of something that's being left to Geneva to deal with?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General has spoken about the contributions that the internet makes in terms of expanding the right to expression overall. And, if you look at the Secretary‑General's speeches on this topic in recent years, he's talked about the contributions that the internet and social media have had, including to such mass movements as the Arab Spring. So I would just refer you back to what he's been saying.
Question: But if there's a report of the right to the Internet being denied, it doesn't merit a response… it doesn't trigger some sort of formal warning from the Secretariat?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we'd have to look in to see what happens. There could be a reaction either by us or by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, depending upon the circumstances of what's happened. Yes?
Question: Yes, first on Burundi, the… the… thanks for the readout about the lawyers, but I wanted to ask this… I'd asked before about this journalist from Iwacu called Jean Bigirimana, and now his publication, Iwacu, seems to indicate that his body has been found. And there are number of press freedom organizations, human rights organisations involved in… saying that it has to be investigated. With the UN's presence there, has… what steps has it taken since this… this case… since he was disappeared and the publication went public with his disappearance? Has anything been done by the UN on this case?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we do monitor the situation of human rights in the country. We don't have any particular report on this case to share at this point. But they are looking into the circumstances of all of the potential human rights violations in the country. Obviously, any harassment, let alone killing, of any journalist merits a strong reaction and would need to be fully investigated by the authorities on the ground.
Question: Sure. And can… thanks. The Malakal report that was released on Friday, I guess I just… I mean, I… I wanted to ask you about this. It seems like one of the recommendations is that, going forward, any… any failure to respond by TCCs [troop-contributing countries] or police-contributing countries [PCCs] be… it said reported to UN Headquarters and to the TCC or PCC involved. But is this… in the spirit of kind of name-and-shame, which is taken to the sexual abuse issue, is there a problem with naming the… the contingents who… who… who either didn't respond or… or said they could only respond if their capital told them they could respond? Is the idea to make that public or to simply keep it in‑house?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, we're following up with the relevant countries and trying to make sure that any appropriate follow‑up is happening. We've also set in motion adjustments to the force structure to identify some of the issues in the investigation, but in terms of actions by the contributing countries, we're working with them to make sure that they do follow up.
Question: Right. And so is that… is that the sum total of the… because it was released on Friday, basically the Board of Inquiry's recommendations, but that is the… that's all you have on the… the DPKO's (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) response to this lengthy and pretty troubling report?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there is more. As it is, two commanders were repatriated following the Malakal incident. And, as you have seen from the report, we gave a detailed summary of the events in Malakal of the response by the mission and their recommendations in there. And so that describes the state of play. Okay. Hold on. Okay. One more.
Question: Sure. Yeah, okay. I wanted to just… on this issue of… and thanks for getting the answer even despite the time of year from the Ethics Office about Doosan. I wish… I mean… I guess I want to ask, given… you said that there's some… advice was given to him about how to operate to comply with the rules. I wanted sort of… sort of throw in a new fact, which is that Doosan also does business and has large contracts with, for example, Saudi Arabia. So I'm wondering, can you provide a little more detail on what the safeguards are for… for a UN Special Adviser to be on the board of a for‑profit corporation that deals not… not only does business with the UN but which does business with… with countries with… the Secretary‑General himself had said, like, Saudi financial threats caused him to change policy essentially. So I'm wondering…
Deputy Spokesman: That's… those are two very separate issues.
Question: So you say. I'm simply asking you, can you describe what the safeguards are?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, there are safeguards put in place. He brought this to the attention of the UN organization in 2015, last year, at a time, by the way, when Doosan did not have business dealings with the United Nations. Over that period, since then, guidelines have been prepared to make sure that there is no conflict of interest and that the organization's interests are protected. But, like I said, this is part of the way the process works in terms of dealing with officials, including those, like Mr. Han Seung‑soo, who are on a when‑actually‑employed basis and are not full‑time employees.
Question: Okay. Is it possible to know what these guidelines are?
Deputy Spokesman: These are the details I've gotten. I just got them over the past hour. Yeah?
Question: I want to follow up on that. I mean, could you check and see whether these guidelines can be made public? Because this should be part of the UN's objective of transparency. It goes to an issue of at least the appearance of conflict of interest. And I think, you know, it would be important to know how the UN deals in… in concrete… in concrete situations like this.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, okay. I'll…
Question: Could you check and see if they can be made public?
Deputy Spokesman: I'll check what sort of details they have on that. Yes?
Question: Iran is joining European Union talk about human rights situation in Iran. I was wondering if UN is joining groups to talk about the human rights?
Deputy Spokesman: The UN's views on Iran's human rights are well recorded. You'll have seen what the Secretary‑General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have had to say. The EU process is a different one, however.
Question: They're not going to send a representative or anybody to sit in?
Deputy Spokesman: These are not talks with the UN. These are talks between the EU and Iran. We have our own processes to deal with Iran.
Correspondent: All right; thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Have a good afternoon, everyone.
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