Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

29 April 2016

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York from Geneva, where, you would have seen earlier, he received the Olympic Flame as the torch makes its way to Rio de Janeiro for this year’s Olympic Games.  Speaking at an event on the Olympic spirit, the Secretary-General said that the flame represents timeless values that can never be extinguished and is a beacon of solidarity with all the peoples of the world.

This year, he noted, for the first time in the history of the Olympics, talented athletes who have been forced to flee their homes will get a chance to chase for the gold, forming a team comprised of refugees.  Win or lose, he said, the members of that team are champions of the spirit, and he added that he will be cheering them on with all his might.

The Secretary-General also spoke at a press with IOC (International Olympic Committee) President Thomas Bach, telling reporters that sports has the power to unite people.  We have those transcripts online.

While he was in Geneva, the Secretary-General met with Staffan de Mistura, and they shared their common concerns about the latest fighting on the ground, while noting that the cessation of hostilities is still holding.

**Syria 

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said today that the latest reports of civilian deaths and injuries in Syria, including bombings of marketplaces, medical facilities, revealed a “monstrous disregard for civilian lives by all parties to the conflict”.  He urged all sides to step back from a return to all-out war.

The High Commissioner warned that the violence is soaring back at the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities and he added that there are deeply disturbing reports of military build-ups indicating preparations for a lethal escalation.

And as you have seen yesterday, the Secretary-General did issue a statement reiterating his condemnation of recent indiscriminate shelling by Government forces and opposition groups; this is following the attacks on the hospital in Aleppo.  

And there is also a joint statement by WHO (World Health Organization) Director General Margaret Chan and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director Anthony Lake on the same topic.

**Yemen

The Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait have been continuing with discussions on key disputed issues, and plenary talks took place last night in which both delegations reiterated their commitment to negotiating in good faith in order to reach a peaceful and comprehensive solution.  The delegations will resume consultations on Saturday following the Friday holiday.

The Government of Yemen presented its vision on issues of withdrawal, handover of weapons and formation of security committees to the Special Envoy [Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed].  The Special Envoy also discussed the need for urgent measures to protect the Yemeni economy.

The Special Envoy also met yesterday with the members of the delegation of Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress.  The delegation is developing a paper for submission to the Special Envoy on their vision of security and political matters in the coming period.

**Security Council

The Security Council just a short while ago voted over the past hour to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara, known by its acronym, MINURSO, and that extension is valid for one year, until the end of April 2017.  In the resolution, the Council emphasized the urgent need for MINURSO to return to full functionality and request the Secretary-General to brief the Council within 90 days on that issue.

The Council’s vote was 10 in favour of the resolution, with Uruguay and Venezuela voting against and Angola, New Zealand and the Russian Federation abstaining.

**Mozambique

From Mozambique, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has received worrying information about ongoing armed clashes between national security forces and members of Renamo, the former rebel group which became the main opposition party.

The Human Rights Office says that security forces have been accused of summary executions, looting, destruction of property, rape, ill-treatment, and other human rights violations, while attacks against police and military forces have also been attributed to Renamo.

The lack of accountability for past human rights abuses and violations seems to be a key component in the deterioration of the situation.  The High Commissioner’s Office says it is particularly concerned about the killing on 1 April of Public Prosecutor Marcelino Vilankulo, and about the lack of progress in the investigation into the March 2015 murder of Gilles Cistac, a law professor who had denounced electoral fraud.  More information online.

**South Sudan

And on South Sudan, in a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the appointment by President Salva Kiir of the Ministers of the Transitional Government of National Unity.

He said he was pleased to note that both President Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar had achieved this important milestone of the peace process and he urged them to swiftly complete the establishment of all transition institutions.  The full statement is available online.

**Angola

The Resident Coordinator's Office in Angola says that the severe El Niño-induced drought is affecting 1.4 million people across Angola, in 7 of the country's 18 provinces.

Severe acute malnutrition rates have doubled compared to data for the first half of 2015, with more than 95,000 children affected, according to UNICEF.  Food insecurity is expected to worsen from July to the end of the year due to meagre crop yields and La Niña-related floods.

To strengthen the humanitarian response, a UN Drought Emergency Team has been established.

Food prices have already skyrocketed, reducing the population's purchasing power by an estimated 40 per cent.

**Jazz Day

Last, the 5th Annual Celebration of Jazz Day will be celebrated with a star-studded event featuring some of the greatest jazz musicians in a concert that will be hosted by President Barack Obama of U.S. and the First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House tonight.  It will be webcast on International Jazz Day as a one-hour program, “Jazz at the White House,” tomorrow evening on the United Nations, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), U.S. State Department and White House websites.  In addition to UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador and jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the concert will feature Sting, Aretha Franklin, Hugh Masekela, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny and many others.

One hundred and fifty countries are hosting Jazz Day events over the next few days.  And if you have nothing to do tomorrow evening, I encourage you to watch it because it will be on ABC, as I understand, in this country.

**Press Conferences

Press conference later today:  The Ambassador of China, the President of the Security Council, to brief you on the work of the past month. 

And on Monday we will be joined by the UN’s Humanitarian Chief, Stephen O’Brien, who will be here to talk to you about the World Humanitarian Summit.

And at 5:00 p.m. on that same day, Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta of Egypt, who will be the President of the Security Council for the month of May; at 5 p.m., he will be here to brief you on the work.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Yesterday the Secretary‑General received a letter from the Foreign Minister of Iran, asking for him to use his good offices on an issue that he said was urgent and extremely important for them, regarding Iranian access to funds and some U.S. court cases.  What is the Secretary‑General's response?  Is he going to discuss this with Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif?  Is he going to discuss it with the Americans?  What's the plan here?

Spokesman:  The plan is that we can confirm we received the letter.  We'll obviously take a look at it.  As a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General's good offices are always available, should both parties to the matter, the tensions or issues, request it.  Masood then Matt. 

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this conflicting, what do you call, claims about the air strike on Aleppo and the hospital, and so forth, what is the United Nations take on this particular incident?

Spokesman:  The take is, yet again, the immense suffering of the Syrian people, and that we have seen an extremely worrying rise in the violence over the last few days.  The cessation of hostilities may be holding, but it's extremely precarious.  And I think for those in Aleppo and other areas, the fact that it may be holding in other parts of the country is not much comfort.  I think, to reiterate the points that the Secretary‑General has made and his Special Envoy has made, is that we look forward to the leadership of the international support group for Syria, including Russia and the U.S., to help bring about a renewed calm and the respect of the cessation of violence.

Question:  Do you think there will be an investigation?

Spokesman:  We very much hope, but I think at this point, I think we need to be focusing on a cessation of violence across the country.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask… I'm assuming that you said something about Western Sahara in your opening that I missed because I was in the Council.  So I want to ask you about a bill that was passed out of committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, regarding, among other things, sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping.  Senators [Bob] Corker and [Ben] Cardin had said that the bill… it reminds that prohibitions on funding for gross human rights abuses also applies to UN peacekeeping operations.  I wanted to know, given that this may have an impact on UN funding and given the hearings that were held and the statement that the Secretary‑General was inept on this issue, what is your response to the bill passing committee?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, many bills go through many legal procedures in 193 Member States.  We're not going to start commenting on each bill as it passes various hurdles in each country's legislative process.  I think the Secretary‑General very much shares the concerns of all Member States on issues of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and other international forces.  I think the Secretary‑General has been very much focused on ensuring that Member States do their part and ensuring that the UN system does their part and ensuring that we put the victims at the centre of everything that we do in order to combat this issue.

Question:  But I guess what I wanted to know is, since the bill does sort of link or say that it's possible that UN peacekeeping is involved in, quote, gross human rights abuses, I wanted to know: do you have a response to that?  And do you have an answer to yesterday I'd asked you about a 61‑year‑old truck driver in Bangui?

Spokesman:  No.  I was expecting something.  I don't have anything on that.

Question:  Do you have any records of who was killed?

Spokesman:  Matthew, as I said, I'm trying to get some information on it.  I will get it to you as soon as I can.  No one more than the Secretary‑General is concerned anytime anyone, whether it's an international peacekeeper or UN peacekeeper or UN civilian, violates human rights or commits criminal conduct.  And he's extremely focused on ensuring that there's accountability and that there is no impunity.  Yes, sir, in the back.

Question:  On the Western Sahara, does the Secretary‑General consider the resolution enough to go back to the situation he wants to see with MINURSO, and is he satisfied with the resolution?

Spokesman:  Obviously we're pleased that the resolution is passed.  Our focus will now be on implementing the resolution and the tasks given to us, reporting back to the Council, and bringing the mission back to its full functionality.  Rhonda?

Question:  I have two questions.  The first is that earlier in April, the UN Headquarters announced that it's going to host the largest mission‑driven open source technology conference, 8-17 July.  And I wondered about this.  How do you find out more about it?  What is this?

Spokesman:  Good question.  I would like to find out more about it.  Leave me whatever you have, press release, and I'll try to help you.  [He later shared an advisory about the event.]

Question:  That's great.  Okay.  And the second question is:  There's a meeting today of the military staff committee with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  And in 2008, the Secretary‑General signed a partnership agreement with the Secretary‑General of NATO.  I'm wondering if that partnership agreement still continues, and basically the UN is fairly quiet about what's going on in terms of the relationship…

Spokesman:  I have no update on that agreement.  I think the Secretary‑General has often stressed the need on partnerships with regional organizations all over the world.  

Question:  Can you find out?

Spokesman:  I will try to find out.

Question:  I appreciate that.

Spokesman:  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on Syria, there is two different reports today, and the one is Russia and the U.S. have agreed to 72‑hour ceasefire in Lattakia.  And the other one is the Syrian Government called for regime of calm in eastern Damascus.  Can you confirm this report?

Spokesman:  We've seen these reports coming out regarding an agreement between the U.S. and Russia.  We're trying to get a little bit more details to exactly what that agreement entails and what areas it covers.  

Question:  So the cessation of hostilities should cover all of them, so it’s covered?

Spokesman:  No.  As I said, we're just trying to get more details and seeing exactly what this agreement covers and how it works.  So as soon as we have a bit more information, we'll be able to react.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Since Doctors Without Borders had taken up the issue of U.S. bombing of Kunduz hospital with the United Nations and now that the United States has taken action, does the United Nations have a reaction?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously it's clearly important that… I've seen the press reports regarding the sanctions passed.  I think it's an important step.  Thank you.  Masood, then Matthew.

Question:  Yes, sir.  Stéphane, on this rather serious development in the American election race, where one of the candidates supporters have said that Donald Trump can arguably drop an atom bomb anywhere in the world; do you have any reaction to this?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm not going to get dragged into the rather colourful rhetoric we've seen during this election campaign in this country at this point.  Thank you.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes, it's going to be soon Freedom Press Day.  Do you have any comment on the fact that in certain countries I just mention — Turkey, Egypt — the freedom of the press is always in the worst position ever, probably in the last years, and Egypt is becoming, for this month, President of the Security Council.  Does the UN have any message of the meaning of the freedom of the press coming in those days for certain countries?

Spokesman:  I think the message for freedom of the press is really addressed to all countries, is that the Secretary‑General stands for a free press that's able to report.  And he has spoken out and will continue to speak out when that's not the case.  And there will be a message on his… from him on World Press Freedom Day.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Some questions on Burundi.  First, did you have anything at the top about the postponement of the [Benjamin] Mkapa talks in Arusha?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  And I wanted to know… I've asked you several times about the reported non-payment of Burundian peacekeepers.  I have now seen a document that more than $4 million has been transferred by DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) to the Commerce Bank account in Paris that I'd also asked you about.  So I'm wondering, did they have any… have they gotten back to you about the multiple reports that this money, in fact, doesn't go to the peacekeepers…?

Spokesman:  You know, we pay the Governments, and we expect the Governments to ensure that the peacekeepers are given the money that is owed to them.  

Question:  And if you hear that they don't or find that they don't, what would you do?

Spokesman:  We would expect that they do, and I'm sure the issue would then be raised.

Question:  Stéphane, the report that Reporters Without Borders and CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), they are proposing the Secretary‑General to appoint a special protector for journalists.  Does the Secretary‑General have something to do about that?  Or does he…

Spokesman:  I think this is an issue that is being discussed.  Obviously, the already current protection for journalists from UNESCO, special rapporteurs and others, and it's obviously something that is being discussed.  Matthew?

Question:  I just wanted… I’m sorry to ask these again.  I had asked yesterday, I’d asked two things.  Number one, what… just for a simple statement… if the UN finds that a UN‑paid staff member in the office of the PGA (President of the General Assembly) in fact erroneously or fraudulently had an A visa, a diplomat's visa for purposes of immunity, what does the UN do?

Spokesman:  Matthew, I'm not going to go into hypotheticals.  We expect all UN staff members to abide by the rules, and if they don't, there are sanctions according to policy.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, there was some… maybe you have also said that the Kurdish People's Protection Unit, they were transporting dead bodies of Free Syrian Army fighters, dead bodies on an opened-up trailer and parading down streets and they were celebrating.  What's your reaction on that?

Spokesman:  I have not seen that video. 

Question:  Again, I'm saying it because, like you said on the person killed in CAR (Central African Republic), I'm going to keep asking this until you have an answer.  This one as well.  I'd asked you yesterday about the… and you referred me to Inspira about the position of strategic communications, and it is open, it is open.  Can you state…

Spokesman:  What does that have to do with anyone being killed?

Question:  No.  No.  I'm saying… because I end up asking you questions that you didn't ask from yesterday.  There were four or three that you said you’d get back.  This is the third.  The third has to do with is the position of the head of UNIC (United Nations Information Centre) in Brussels, a D1 or D2 position, to your knowledge?

Spokesman:  To my knowledge, it's a D1 position.

Question:  Right.  So what would explain a person leaving a D2 position in New York for a D1 position in Brussels?

Spokesman:   Because… You know what?  I don't want to get into personal issues of people, but sometimes people make career decisions based on all sorts of different things.  I'm sure you do and I do.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.