Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Hello, please take your seats. Let’s get started. Good afternoon.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, arrived in Nepal today, together with Christos Stylianides, the European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.
During her three-day visit, Ms. Amos will meet with Government officials, community leaders and families affected by the earthquake. She also plans to visit areas affected by the earthquake outside Kathmandu Valley.
After arriving in the capital, Kathmandu, she noted that people are becoming frustrated despite the work which has already been done and continues, calling it a major coordination challenge.
Another senior UN official traveling to Nepal is Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), to see its operation to help survivors of the earthquake. While in the country, she will travel to remote locations where WFP is delivering food.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the death toll now stands at nearly 5,600 people and that more than 11,100 people have been injured, according to the Government. More than 130,000 houses have reportedly been destroyed and nearly 86,000 partially damaged.
Some 24,000 people are currently living in 13 camps across Kathmandu. Yesterday, the World Food Programme and its partners delivered more than 100 metric tons of food to the Gorkha and Dhading Districts.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that inaccessibility to some remote areas, the lack of helicopters, poor communication and security concerns remain the main challenges in delivering relief.
In the past 48 hours, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has delivered nearly 30 metric tons of supplies, including tents, water purification tablets, and first aid and hygiene kits.
This is part of UNICEF’s efforts to reach at least 1.7 million children in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake.
For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stepped up its efforts to deliver medical relief to people living outside the Kathmandu Valley, with a major focus on reaching the injured and preventing outbreaks of disease.
WHO is helping to coordinate international medical support in the mountainous region of Sindhupalchowk District, which has reported the largest number of fatalities of any region in Nepal.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is concerned about the impact of the earthquake on farmers, noting that those who miss the planting season expected to start later in May will be unable to harvest rice — which is Nepal’s staple food — until late 2016.
This, together with likely losses of food stocks and wheat and maize harvests, would severely limit food supplies and incomes in Nepal, where around two thirds of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Today is the Secretary-General’s last day in Paris for the meetings of the UN Chief Executives Board. This morning, he hosted a working breakfast meeting for certain agency heads to focus on the Financing for Development Conference, to be held in Addis Ababa later this summer. He also met with Philippe Douste-Blazy, his Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development. The Secretary-General then chaired a private session of the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations system.
The Secretary-General and the members of the CEB attended a working lunch hosted for them by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The discussions at the lunch, which also included a number of Chief Executive Officers of French companies, focused on climate change and the forthcoming Conference of Parties meeting in Paris this December. The last session of the Chief Executives Board focused on the new global threats.
Later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will meet with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo before attending UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] International Jazz Day celebrations.
We have received reports of widespread violence in Yemen’s Aden City. Houses were reportedly set on fire in Khormaksar District yesterday. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has also received reports that Al Jamourah hospital — the main hospital in Aden and the referral facility for the entire southern region — has been heavily damaged by today’s fighting.
The water and sanitation company that provides water to Aden Governorate has reported that it is unable to operate due to heavy shelling in Al Barzakh and Al Karae, where tanks supplying water to seven of Aden’s eight districts are located.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme today appealed to all parties in Yemen to allow the commercial sector and aid agencies to bring urgently needed fuel and food into the country, where a severe fuel shortage is threatening the delivery of lifesaving assistance to Yemenis hit by the conflict.
In the last two weeks, WFP has reached 700,000 people with emergency food rations in seven governorates. But the fuel shortage threatens to bring the operation to a complete halt.
On Mali, you will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary-General called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in northern Mali.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the serious ceasefire violations that have occurred in Mali in recent days at a critical moment in the peace process and as efforts are under way to bring all Malian parties to sign the draft peace agreement.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali, Mongi Hamdi, and the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, are engaging with all parties to de-escalate tensions and encourage continued dialogue. The Secretary-General urges the parties to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and adhere to their obligations.
That statement is available online.
Today is the last day of Jordan’s Security Council Presidency. Lithuania will assume the Presidency of the Security Council for May tomorrow.
And for the honour roll, Bahrain brings to 82 the number of Member States which have paid their regular budget dues in full. Shukran jazeelan!
**Press Conference Today
And lastly, following this briefing, Jean-Victor Nkolo, who has just walked into this room, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you on the upcoming General Assembly high-level thematic debate on strengthening collaboration between the UN and regional and subregional organizations, which will take place here at Headquarters on next Monday, 4 May.
That's it for me. Any questions for me before we turn to our colleague, Jean-Victor?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Nepal, does the Secretary-General have any plans to visit the earthquake-affected country?
Deputy Spokesman: Not at this time. As you know, there have been difficulties even being able to fly aid in and out of the country. We're trying to see what can be done to allow for more flights to go in at the airport at Kathmandu. At this stage, it would be unwise to tie up the airstrip or other such facilities with a visit by the Secretary-General, but we'll see when it's more practicable to do so later without harming aid efforts.
Question: On the Central African Republic, with regards to the probe into the allegations of sexual abuse by French troops, can you give us a progress update on developments on that front just based on the UN's own probe into the matter?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I discussed our probe into the handling of the information yesterday. Separate and apart from that, as you know, information was handed over to the French authorities and we have heard from them that they are investigating and they're following up. And we hope that they will be able to get to the bottom of this. I believe President [François] Hollande actually made some remarks on this to the press yesterday. And we're very encouraged by the signs that they intend to seek the truth.
As you know, these are very serious charges involving the exploitation of children. We want to be clear that that is totally unacceptable and that anyone who is involved needs to be held accountable and brought to justice. So the information on this has been communicated to the French authorities. They're now conducting a criminal investigation as we have been informed, and we hope that it will result in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Question: One follow-up, please. It sounds like the matter is now in the hands of the French authorities. Is the UN doing anything separately and on its own?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, we provided information to them for their use. As you know, these… as I said in a statement that we issued yesterday and read at yesterday's briefing, we had conducted a human rights investigation in the late spring of 2014. The findings of that have been conveyed to the appropriate authorities. Yes.
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I just… I wanted to ask about that because… at what point if… if Mr. [Anders] Kompass had not given the unredacted report to the French and if it had not appeared in the Guardian, when was this ever going to be made public? What… can you describe what the UN's process… once it hears testimony from nine-year-old children that they were raped by soldiers in an area in which it has a mission, how is it taken this long? What is the normal process once you have such a report? Would it ever have been made public [inaudible]
Deputy Spokesman: The normal process is to hand it over to the authorities who are in a position to prosecute and that was in fact been done and they have in fact been prosecuting. Of course, their investigation, their own work in this is continuing, and we respect the ability of them to turn… to continue with that investigation. Regarding that… the handling of evidence, as you know, we've… we said yesterday… and I'm not going to go over all of that again, what our concerns were, but it has to do with another thing that is a key priority of the United Nations, which is to say the protection of the sort of people who place their trust in us come forward with vital information as witnesses or as victims or as investigators, and we want to make sure that no harm comes to those people. And that's also an important priority to keep in mind.
Question: Sure. I have one follow-up on this.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, a follow-up and then Nizar.
Question: The question becomes — so what's the UN's usual procedure if it receives allegations of rape of children, it provides it to a country. How long does it give a country… when you say prosecution, has anyone been charged in the nine months since the information was provided, anyone?
Deputy Spokesman: That's not a question for me but for the French authorities. They are ones that are conducting the prosecution.
Question: Once you provide information about child rape by soldiers to a country, if no one is charged, when do you go public? Was it just a fluke that the Guardian published it, or would you ever have gone public with it? That's really now question. Is there a procedure for the UN to say children say they were raped and the country has not done anything? When does that happen?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, at some point, the relevant information comes out, but we also have to respect the ability of the authorities to conduct an investigation without our interference in their investigative process.
We don't try to interfere with countries' investigative processes. In the meantime, what we did through our human rights office in Bangui is conduct a human rights investigation in the late spring of 2014. That was in response to serious allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of children by French military personnel.
We… we tried to make sure that that will be followed up on, and in fact it is being followed up on. In terms of when it's being made public, I believe the French authorities have their own way of processing this, and you really need to ask them the question of how they disclose this sort of information as they go about this. But certainly we're not trying to prejudice or interfere with an investigation. For us, the main priority is accountability. The main priority is to make sure that whoever committed this, if… if there were crimes committed, that justice is done and that the people who committed these… these alleged crimes are held accountable.
Question: Is there a deadline for a country to actually prosecute somebody once they're given information such as this because you treat other countries differently? For example, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has said we won't work with the army because they didn't do certain judicial things. So what's the rule? Is it nine months, a year, a year and a half?
Deputy Spokesman: This country is in fact doing judicial things and we're respecting that process. Ultimately for us the important point is to make sure justice is done, and we'll continue it follow up on that. But they are in fact going ahead with that process. Yes, Nizar.
Question: On Yemen, when is it that the United Nations considered that war crimes are committed? Yesterday, I mean, we saw many civilian aircraft destroyed on the tarmac in airports like Sana'a and other airports like Hajjah. The infrastructure of Yemen is being systematically destroyed. When can the United Nations call for investigation of war crimes in this case?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we're aware of the reports that aircraft had been destroyed on the tarmac. Any of the activities that impede the ability of parties, including parties who are trying to help the needy in Yemen to go about their work, is a very serious offence.
You asked about definition of war crimes. That's not something that's been determined by any party at this stage. But we have made clear what our concerns are, and that does include things in… such as the shelling of airports, the shelling of aircraft and anything that restricts the flow of aid and the flow of anything that can help the people who have been suffering from this conflict.
Question: But the… some Iranian aircraft were prevented from delivering aid when they came and they mentioned that the freight onboard is purely medical and humanitarian. I mean, isn't that an offence in this case?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, we made clear our opposition to any efforts to attack vehicles or convoys that are trying to convey humanitarian aid. That aid needs to get through and all parties need to respect the right and the ability of humanitarian workers to travel and to distribute aid to people in need.
Question: Sorry. One last one on the subject — when do we expect something to come from the High Commissioner for Human Rights? I mean, being a Jordanian, and Jordan is involved in this, does that hamper the… his impartiality…
Deputy Spokesman: No, not at all. He has spoken out about the situation in Yemen repeatedly in recent weeks. I would just refer you to the statements by High Commissioner Zeid.
Question: Nizar, he pretty much asked the question I was going to ask. But in general as a legal question, the tarmac was bombed and air delivery can no longer land on that airport in Sana'a. Is that a crime against humanity to do something specifically to prevent the deliver humanitarian aid in general? Is that a crime against humanity to prevent humanitarian aid to a conflict zone?
Deputy Spokesman: You heard what I just said in terms of crimes against humanity, that's ultimately determined by experts or parties. It's something that people would have to evaluate once they've had a closer look at the various facts. I do think on Yemen we also may have possibly either today or tomorrow a statement by the Secretary-General reflecting his own concerns about the humanitarian situation there.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. With regard back again to Yemen — couple of weeks, the Government of President [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries announced that you're going to use Djibouti as a hub for humanitarian aid. I have asked Stéphane what level of coordination and communication between the various UN agencies responsible for delivering humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people, and I haven't had an answer. Would you have an answer on that because the Houthis are still preventing the arrival and delivery of humanitarian aid?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, we're opposed to any party preventing the arrival of humanitarian aid and, of course, we're in coordination with all the various parties trying to make sure that aid can get in and so we implore on all of them if they can do helpful actions whether it's the members of the Gulf Cooperative [Cooperation] Council or parties inside Yemen to allow aid to proceed.
Question: Hi. Just back to the French accusations, so my understanding is that these children were interviewed by UNICEF and human rights team in Central African Republic. This information was then provided to MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic]. When did MINUSCA hand over the material to the French authorities, and did they hand over everything that they knew to the French authorities?
And on another note, related note, what instigated the investigation? Who… who was representing the children who were making these accusations? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, yes, the children were interviewed, again… basically this was the result of the work not just of UNICEF but also of the Human Rights Office we have in Bangui. And that was conveyed… we are actually trying to get a… put together a chronology, in terms of what we can share, of the information and when it was disseminated, but, yes, it was disseminated then to the French authorities.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the… sorry… when is Ould Cheikh Ahmed going to come to New York, and is there any time frame for when the negotiations among the parties will be resumed in this regard? And also, on other matter, we know that [Javad] Zarif of Iran is still around. I know the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] met with him, but I wonder whether the Secretary‑General will meet with him and discuss the issues beside also the [inaudible] issue. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any plans for a meeting with the Secretary-General, who as you know is actually still not in New York. He's in Paris today. So he's travelling. If that happens… when he comes back, he will be back hopefully later tomorrow, but when he can start conducting meetings again, it will probably be a few more days for that.
Regarding your question on… the first question was on Yemen? Yes. On [Ismail] Ould Cheikh Ahmed. It's Ould Cheikh Ahmed, right? You said Ould? You guys have to…
Question: No "L", Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Deputy Spokesman: I’m hearing each of you say something different. So I'm now more confused than before. But anyway, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, I believe, is actually here in New York as of today. We're… we'll try to get some details of his travels because he will be here for some consultations for a few days, then he'll travel to some capitals, and I will try to get details once we can give those out of where he will travel to next. But what he's trying to do is make his first initial meetings with different parties and then see what he can do to bring the parties together for talks.
There is a possibility of talks potentially in Geneva, possibly in some other place, depending upon where we can get them together, but we're trying to get this as soon as possible, but he is going to start with those talks in the coming days and weeks.
Question: Sorry, a follow-up. Is he going to meet the parties in Yemen before resuming the official negotiations?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can't confirm that. Like I said, we'll… we'll… he's working out what his plans are for his travels. Once we can say what those plans are, we'll try to share them with you, but that might wait until next week until he's had a few days of discussions here in New York.
Question: Yesterday Khaled Khoja of the Syrian Coalition, from this room, he admitted that there is some kind of alliance with Al Nusra, which is labelled as a terrorist organization by the Security Council, and they work together in many areas like in Idleb and in the south of Syria. How does United Nations view such alliance?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I would just refer you to the relevant Security Council resolutions and the consolidated list as… that follows up on resolution 1267 and the parties that it names. It has a certain number of conditions which the Security Council takes seriously.
Question: Does that tarnish the reputation of the Syrian Coalition or the Al Nusra?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there is a Security Council list and I'd refer you to members of the Security Council for any response. Yes, Luke.
Question: On the migrant situation in Europe, it's been reported by the FT [Financial Times] among others that Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, is to circulate I believe 8 million questionnaires to the population asking, among other things, if they would approve of the Government holding illegal immigrants in detention centres and making them pay for that cost. I am curious if the UN would believe that language even would seem to legitimize xenophobia and more broadly what the UN would say to detaining migrants as a policy fix?
Deputy Spokesman: You've seen and heard what the Secretary-General has been saying in his discussions. He's made very clear that our focus needs to be on protecting and saving the lives of these poor people who have placed themselves at risk by taking to the high seas. And as you know, many of them in recent months, far too many of them, have perished. So our focus needs to be on them, not treating them as criminals, not treating them as threats, but as valuable people whose lives need to be protected. And he's been working and talking to the various leaders that he meets trying to make sure that there will be real understanding of that need.
Question: Great. I want to ask… sorry… about Conference Room 3 and something on Haiti. The Conference Room 3 question is as follows — this morning, as I'm sure you know, there was a… an event on North… on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the DPRK envoy sought to speak and there was some back and forth from the podium telling the UN… the UN technicians to turn off his microphone and, in fact, it was turned off for a time and eventually there was some talk of calling UN Security and eventually they did leave with UN Security. So I wanted to ask you, maybe here or shortly after the briefing, what are the rules in terms of invoking UN Secretariat resources such as turning off a microphone or calling Security to remove a diplomat of a country?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any of the details of this meeting so I need to confirm what exactly happened and who asked for what. I… I can't even confirm that that… what… the details of that.
Question: Okay. I just want… a request was made from the podium from the US ambassador to turn off the gentleman's microphone and it did turn off. I just want to know from you is this usual UN procedure or was it a mistake or…
Deputy Spokesman: This is not something I'd heard of. So we would need to look into it and see what's happened and who made any sort of request.
Question: On Haiti, you may have a statement on this. There's some footage that has come out of UN peacekeepers, they're described as the Brazilian, but in any case Blue Helmets, shooting at people in Cite de Soleil, and there's a gentleman on the ground dead; that supposedly took place Tuesday, or the publisher of the video says it was on Tuesday, and there are people with… against MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] signs. So I wanted to know, do you have anything on the death or the kill… of a civilian by MINUSTAH in Haiti on Tuesday?
Deputy Spokesman: No, in fact we have not received any report from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti concerning any sort of violent incidents in recent days. We will check with them on this, but… but as far as I'm aware, they have not reported any such incident. Yes.
Question: Just quickly, would Ould Cheikh Ahmed be addressing the press while he's in New York?
Deputy Spokesman: Since he's just starting out and he's only taking up his duties now after… just a few days after wrapping up his duties with the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Guinea, I think that it's probably a little bit early to expect it. We'll try to get him to the press as soon as possible, but these are his very, very first days, so I don't think that's going to happen.
Question: Regarding Mali, so can you confirm that this peace pact will be signed on May 15th? That's the latest news report. And is there an alternative plan if this pact does not get signed, because the Tuaregs are obviously not going to sign it. Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not going to speculate on what the future holds. Certainly, we would hope that by the middle of May this pact will be signed. Whether that happens or not, we will have… we'll have to see. I don't want to make any predictions at this stage. Yes.
Question: Yeah. Going back to Yemen, yesterday there was an attack on the oxygen plant in Sana'a, which caters for all hospitals there. That's obvious a war crime targeting a hospital… an oxygen plant. Another thing, has the United Nations heard about fatalities resulting from starvation in Yemen? Some people talk about that.
Deputy Spokesman: Not so far. There hasn't been anything for to us report at this point, but our worry is, unless we can get aid in, that there could be huge problems including starvation and including, of course, problems with medical care and, as I just mentioned, hospitals have also been hit. So, yes, we are against any of the violations of international humanitarian law including the targeting of plants that provide vital humanitarian supplies like oxygen or of places like hospitals. Yes.
Question: [inaudible] does the Secretary-General support the efforts that Mr. Benomar made to the end of bringing in Houthi [inaudible] power-sharing role in any kind of national unity government?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General had been fully supporting Jamal Benomar during his work. We made that clear, including in the announcement we made even of the appointment of his successor, and we do expect that Mr. Benomar will be available to a successor to share information with them as they proceed with the transition from one to the other.
Question: Follow-up on this, please.
Deputy Spokesman: Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Baltimore riot protests have now spread to various American cities, including New York. Last summer during Ferguson riots, the UN got involved in trying to ease the situation. In fact, the parents of the victim addressed the UN Committee in Geneva. Does the United Nations plan to help the United States authorities in Baltimore?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, we hope that all… the situations will be resolved. You'll have seen what the Secretary-General has said about the recent protests following judicial verdicts and you'll have seen our encouragement of peaceful protests, although that does not necessarily characterize all of the actions that have taken place in recent days. You'll also have seen what the High Commissioner has been saying about both the protests and what his perception of the treatment of African-Americans by police authorities in the United States, and I'd refer you to the High Commissioner Zeid's remarks. But anything we can say or do that would be helpful, of course, we will try and consider that.
Question: How would Ould Cheikh Ahmed be dealing with Houthis given that the [inaudible] Houthi is now on the list of those who are under sanctions?
Deputy Spokesman: He's going to deal with the various parties as he sees fit, but first let's let him start his duties and go about his work.
Question: Another thing regarding this issue.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: There were reports that the nomination of Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed was tied to the contribution made by Saudi Arabia of $274 million. Can you confirm this or deny it?
Deputy Spokesman: No, that's false. It was connected to his own expertise and he was deemed as the very best person for the job. It has nothing to do with the humanitarian contribution, which is a separate issue.
Question: This question about Jamal Benomar. Why was he changed?
Deputy Spokesman: Jamal Benomar stepped down at a point when he felt he could not do the job any longer. He actually spoke to the press about this, including most recently on Monday.
Question: But there was a media campaign by the GCC countries against him before prior to that.
Deputy Spokesman: Regardless what different media outlets say, you will have seen that we repeatedly affirmed the Secretary-General's support for Mr. Benomar. Mr. Benomar stepped out… down at a time when he felt that he could not continue to go about his work effectively with all the parties.
Question: On that same topic, on that… and one thing on Libya. You had said that Mr. Ould or Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Deputy Spokesman: You heard it both ways.
Question: I did hear it both ways. I'm calling him Wild, Wild Cheikh Ahmed. You said he did file this disclosure, but there's sometimes a delay. Is there an intention…
Deputy Spokesman: I didn't say that. What I said precisely… we checked with the ethics office. He did file his disclosure in lines with the rules and regulations. Not all disclosures are published for a variety of different reasons.
Question: My question is this — other DSRSGs [Deputy Special Representatives of the Secretary-General] [inaudible] Libya are listed on that webpage, and if they choose not to make it public, they check a box, so why is he different than other DSRSGs that make financial…
Deputy Spokesman: The ethics office said they got the information. It was appropriate and it was filed with the rules and regulations…
Question: …Ban Ki-moon has spoken a lot about this public financial disclosure. Why do some DSRSGs file and some don't?
Deputy Spokesman: And historically, and we have said this many, many times over the past decade — there are some reasons why some peoples are not included on the website… those are valid reasons, but as long as they… as long as they file it with the ethics office, and that has been done.
Question: And on Libya, the Libya Dawn militia has publicly stated that Mr. [Bernardino] León should be withdrawal as the envoy… I understand that they are militia, I wanted to know if there is any response by the UN to this statement?
Deputy Spokesman: No, Mr. León continues as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. He spoke to you just yesterday.
Question: I know…
Deputy Spokesman: And… and as you can see, he's going about his work with the full support of the Secretary-General. Jean-Victor.