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

17 May 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.

**Syria

Meeting in Vienna today, the members of the International Support Group for Syria (ISSG) reaffirmed, in a statement, their determination to strengthen the cessation of hostilities, to ensure full and sustained humanitarian access in Syria, and to ensure progress towards a peaceful political transition.  Among other things, the Support Group reiterated the objective of meeting the target date established by Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) for the parties to reach agreement on a framework for a genuine political transition, which would include a broad, inclusive, non-sectarian transitional governing body with full executive powers.  In this regard, they welcomed the Mediator’s Summary issued after the third round of intra-Syrian talks on 27 April by Staffan de Mistura.  The full statement is available online.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna just a short while ago, Staffan de Mistura noted the need to keep the momentum of the intra-Syrian talks and emphasised the need for credible development on the cessation of hostilities and a credible improvement on the humanitarian side.  He said that only 12 of the 18 besieged areas in Syria have been reached by humanitarian workers in recent weeks and he added that we need to explore all options within security limits in order to gain access to people in need.  And he also said that the next challenge will be to address the issue of detainees and abductees.  His remarks are also available and have been sent around.

**Colombia

Early today, you will have seen that we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), of an agreement on the separation of minors under 15 years of age from FARC-EP camps.  This agreement, achieved with the good offices of the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, heralds the end of the conflict for its youngest participants, recognized as victims.  That statement is available online.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

I had been promising you an update on how we have been handling allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations and special political missions.  I can tell you that, for 2016, the number of allegations recorded so far in peacekeeping and special political missions is 44, of which 29 have been reported in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and seven in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), two in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and one allegation in each of the following missions: UNMISS — [United Nations Mission] in South Sudan, UNOCI — [United Nations Operation] in Côte d’Ivoire, MINUSMA — [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission] in Mali, UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei], UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission in Liberia] and UNSCO [Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process].  And 39 of the 44 allegations involve uniformed personnel.

The note, which is available in my office, provides additional details about the follow-up to the allegations, as well as the nationalities of the personnel linked to the allegations.  We also have an update on the progress being made on key initiatives, including the vetting of all individuals being deployed for any prior misconduct and the establishment of Immediate Response Teams to gather evidence following reports of sexual exploitation and abuse.  And as you know, we set up a Trust Fund for victim assistance this past March, and the first pledge to that fund has been made by Norway in the amount of $125,000, and we encourage others to contribute, as well.  As I said, the note with a lot of details is available in the office.

**Haiti

From Haiti, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sandra Honoré, condemns in the strongest terms the attack yesterday in the southern city of Les Cayes against the police headquarters.  She commends the professionalism of the Police Nationale of Haiti in restoring calm and called for the prosecution of all perpetrators.  One officer was killed in the attack.  Ms. Honoré offered her condolences to the family.

**Libya

Further to yesterday’s questions on Libya — as we said then, the UN Support Mission for Libya remains based in Tunis.  While there are no international staff members currently based in Tripoli on a permanent basis, the Special Representative and other UN Mission staff travel in and out of Libya on an almost daily basis, in order to conduct their mandated tasks.  As a matter of priority, the UN Mission and the Secretariat are committed to re-establishing the office in Tripoli as soon as possible.

The Secretariat is currently planning for an eventual re-establishment of the UN Mission in Tripoli. In this context, the security of our staff members remains obviously a primary concern.  A guard unit is a mechanism that provides security for UN staff in the field.  So, a guard unit deployment would serve exclusively to provide security for UNSMIL staff and premises in Tripoli.  UNSMIL's return to Tripoli is in line with Security Council resolution 2273 (2016), which specifically recognized the need for UNSMIL to re-establish its presence in Libya and the need to make security arrangements to that effect.  As you know, UNSMIL is obviously a special political Mission and not a peacekeeping Mission.

**Homophobia

Today is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The day was established 26 years ago when the World Health Organization (WHO) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.  The Secretary-General has been a firm supporter of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.  He has stressed on various occasions that ending marginalization and exclusion of LGBTI people is a human rights priority and a development imperative.

Google is actively supporting the UN campaign “Free & Equal”, which released today a film, Why We Fight, featuring LGBTI rights activists from across the world holding up signs stating why they have joined the fight against discrimination.  In a message to commemorate the Day, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, called for full and complete access to quality health care, including mental health care, for LGBTI people.  The International Day is now celebrated in more than 100 countries and it has received official recognition by several States, international institutions such as the European Parliament, and by many local authorities.  Most United Nations agencies also mark the Day with specific events.

**Crimea

An update from Geneva, where our colleagues from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed deep concern at the ban imposed on the Mejlis by the so-called “supreme court” of Crimea on 26 April.  The Office said that the designation of the Mejlis as an extremist organization will leave Crimean Tatars even more exposed to human rights violations and collective punishment.  More is available on the Human Rights website.

**Telecommunications

Besides being Tuesday and the Day against Homophobia, today is what day?  It is the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.  And the theme for 2016 is “ICT entrepreneurship for social impact”.  Commemorating the Day, the Secretary-General noted in a message that information and communication technologies (ICT) provide smart solutions to address climate change, hunger, poverty and other global challenges.  They are key instruments, he said, for providing mobile health care and access to education, empowering women, improving efficiencies in industrial and agricultural production, and safeguarding the environment.

**Iraq

This just in:  the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, strongly condemned a series of terrorist suicide bombings today that targeted busy markets in Baghdad’s northeastern Shaab neighbourhood, Sadr City and the southern neighbourhood of Al-Rasheed, killing or wounding many civilians, including women and children.  More terrorist attacks were reportedly foiled by security forces.  He offers condolences to the families of the victims and wishes the injured a speedy recovery.

**Press Encounters

After we are done here, we will hear from our friend John Ging, who will brief you on his recent trip to Yemen.  Tomorrow at 2 p.m., there will be a press briefing by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  That's it.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  On the sexual exploitation figures, I note that the figures that you gave for 20… were for 2016.  And could you tell us what's happened with the investigations into the previous cases from the previous years that there have been several teams in some areas investigating?  Those were cases that go back.  And, also, with 29 of the 44 cases in the Central African Republic, is there any consideration of the repatriation of any other units?

Spokesman:  At this point, the investigations into the cases in the CAR [Central African Republic] are continuing.  Obviously, decisions will be made as the investigations go on.  Just to give you an example for 2015, for 22 of the allegations recorded in MINUSCA in 2015, 7 investigations are being concluded.  Three allegations were substantiated, two against the military, one against the police.  Four were unsubstantiated.  Fourteen investigations are pending completion, and one matter was marked "for information", indicating that there was not sufficient information to conduct an investigation.  More detail is on the conduct and discipline website.  But, as I said, the note which is available will have a lot more details.  Whitney… sorry.

Question:  On the repatriation?

Spokesman:  On the repatriation, as I said, obviously, the investigations are going on.  Once a decision has been made, we will go forward.  Carole?

Question:  I just wanted to follow up on the Kemo prefecture investigation.  They've been there since March.  You don't have an update?  More than 100 victims?  You can't tell us more about that?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigations are ongoing.  But, no specific update as of now.  Whitney?

Question:  Steph, the ISSG statement also said that WFP [World Food Programme] would start looking at airdrops to besieged areas if they continue not to be able to reach them.  The UN has previously said that airdrops are not the preferred method for delivering aid because it's dangerous and difficult.  Why do you think… why does the UN think this would be different this time to reach the besieged areas?  And also, will you have to get Syrian Government approval to do those airdrops?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, and I think… I don't think the statement contradicts that.  Obviously, the airdrops is a matter of last resort.  If there is no access by road, we will go ahead with airdrops.  As of 16 May, so that's yesterday, already WFP conducted, I think, 33 airdrops over Deir Ezzour.  Each of those operations have been an example of cooperation between the various parties involved.  Obviously, what makes airdrops difficult in an area where a lot of different people have assets in the air is coordination.  There has been coord… good coordination with the Government, with the Russians, with the US.  And so, obviously, the airdrops have been successful, but it's a lot of expense.  It's a lot of work in terms of coordinating.  And it is a matter of last resort.  Our preferred option remains full and unimpeded access by road.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, on the International Day… [inaudible], oh, sorry.  On the homosexuality, you have 100 countries celebrating equal rights, but there are at least 70 UN members who criminalize it in one way or another, and that's more… that's a lot of… is there any… are any of them included in the hundred or what?

Spokesman:  I would venture to say that those where, unfortunately, homosexuality is still on the criminal code are probably not participating in the celebration of this day, but obviously, that's something for… something to check.  I think the Secretary‑General has been clear in his travels throughout the world in his need to, first of all, decriminalize homosexuality and ensure full access rights for LGBTI people.

Question:  And as a follow‑up, is he getting any more flak for allowing… recognizing gay marriages, regardless of where they occur?  Do you expect Russia to move again in the GA [General Assembly]…?

Spokesman:  I think this… the issue was brought up in committee.  We continue… the Secretary‑General's policy continues and continues to be unchanged in that regard.  Mr. Charbonneau, then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Following up on the Syria question and… and throwing in also the Middle East peace process, there were supposed to be… or there were attempts to get meetings on both issues.  There was supposed to be Syria peace talks, hopefully, by the end of May.  Now, the French have said that the Syria peace talks in Geneva, they're hoping that… in June, so that's being pushed back.  And then the French President also announced that the Middle East peace talks are being delayed.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned that peace talks on both of these issues are just sort of kind of grinding on and not reaching any clear end?  They just kind of drag on.  And then one issue regarding the aid delivery.  Does… does the UN believe that the Syrian Government's denial of aid has been systematic?

Spokesman:  I don't know if I'm qualified to use the word "systematic."  It's been highly problematic, and it's been taking place in too many cases.  On the other issue you raised, I think it's two separate issues.  We have seen the reports that the Paris conference has been postponed.  We've taken note of that.  We'll wait for… we'll, obviously, wait for a new date.  The next kind of point on the horizon for the Middle East peace process is the release of the report of the Quartet envoys, which I would venture to predict before the end of this month, though my calendar predictions have not made anyone any money if you bet on them.  But we'd hope to see it by the end of… we hope to see it by the end of this month.  You know, on the Syria peace talks, it's really up to Mr. de Mistura to decide when the temperature is right, when he feels there's been enough concrete progress on the cessation of hostilities, on the humanitarian access.  He will keep an eye on things, and when he's ready to reveal a date, he will do so.  But, he is the… he's the orchestra leader, and I think we have to wait for him to feel that all the sounds are right.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  On… on sexual abuse and then one other thing, the… the… and I just want to be clear that… I wasn't sure from your answer.  As you know, you know, AIDS‑Free World and Code Blue had put a certain number, and they said they've seen a coded cable whose number is larger than 29.  So, I guess what I'm wondering is, is… in terms of CAR, they said 41 new allegations.  This was done… you know what they said.  So, you're saying those have not been processed yet or you're saying…

Spokesman:  Numbers get reported.  Always appreciate to see things, you know… unbaked things out in the press.  The point is here we are trying to be as transparent as possible by giving you… I mean, the update I gave you is one I hope to do on a periodic basis so we don't all have to wait once a year for the Secretary‑General's report.  I think you'll see the… the note will also show that a number of Member States have acted quickly in giving hard jail time to soldiers who have been found guilty.  One, South Africa, has also announced that they will be conducted… conducting a court‑martial in situ, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I think that's a hugely important step, because that will give the victims and the impacted community access to justice.  So, you know, we report the numbers that we can.  And, you know, Code Blue is free to do what it wants as it usually does.

Correspondent:  And I noticed… I mean, Darfur… UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] would be… would be counted, so you're saying there's zero allegations there.

Spokesman:  As for 2016, that's what I'm reporting.

Correspondent:  Sure.  And AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia], you wouldn't count because… even though the UN provides support to it.

Spokesman:  That's correct.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to… the AMISOM question, this is the related one I wanted to ask you.  There are many people within Burundi and Burundians outside of Burundi saying that… that one of the commanders who ordered these 12 December killings… his name is [inaudible]… has been deployed to AMISOM.  So, I wanted to know from you, what is the UN's role, if any, given that it provides material support to the AMISOM mission in… in ensuring that there's some human rights screening of a pretty high‑profile commander going there?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, first of all, that's a question for the African Union.  As for the exact procedures in terms of vetting for this non‑UN mission, I can try to find out.  Olga, and then Benny, then Oleg.  Then we'll go back to… then we'll go to Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just a follow‑up to Whitney's question on airdrops.  Even you said that airdrops is the last resort, but according to the ISSG statement, if there is no humanitarian access by 1 June to a lot of cities, World Food Programme should start the airdrops.  So, has UN started planning…?

Spokesman:  I think WFP is in a constant state of planning when it comes to airdrops.  You know, they've had… we had difficulties with the first ones over Deir Ezzour.  They went back.  They did some… they've done training runs.  And, again, I think the airdrops are a good show of cooperation between the various parties involved.  So, they're… WFP is operational on the airdrops.  But, we are also very much counting on and hoping to have access by road to those places.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  So, today is telecommunication technologies day, I think, and the Secretary‑General issued a statement saying that they provide smart solution to address climate change, hunger, poverty, and other global challenges.  Yet today Franz Baumann, a retiring ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] at the UN, posted a long piece about the internal communication system, the internal computerized system of the UN.  He's retiring.  He has to fight, like, paperwork, non‑paperwork.  Nobody… anybody who was… of us who tried to navigate that system knows the horrors of that system.  How could you explain the discrepancy that this technology is so great around the world, but so backwards at the UN?

Spokesman:  I don't have the details of Mr. Baumann's personal case.  What I can tell you is that, over the past few years, the UN has improved its ICT technology, whether it's Umoja or other systems like Unite Docs, which allows us to have better access to documents, safer access to documents.  But, when you are rolling out a system across the world to thousands and tens of thousands of staff, there will be growing pains.  But, Umoja was rolled out first in the field, a number of peacekeeping missions, was then rolled out at Headquarters.  It demands a time of adaptation, but in the meantime, the UN has been able to go about its business, pay its staff, pay its vendors.  I don't know what else to add.

Correspondent:  I encourage you to read the piece.

Spokesman:  Thank you, Benny.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Thanks for an update on Libya and the staff in Tripoli, but still, I asked Farhan [Haq] yesterday; I'm going to ask today again, how many international staff members are travelling to Tripoli every day and how many do you have… in national staff, how many of those do you have on the ground?  And also, on this guard unit that is considered right now, how many guard… armed guard units… not units.  How many armed guards do you need to… to ensure the security of the staff?  Because in some media, for example, in Italian media, there were pretty large numbers, which are much bigger than just for guard unit for ensuring the security of…

Spokesman:  You know, inasmuch as I appreciate your curiosity and your legitimate question, we're not going to go into details of how many guards we actually need, where they're posted, and so forth.  Same for the number of international staff that travel in and out.  Obviously, as you can imagine, despite the political… the forward political movement we've had in Libya, Tripoli remains a rather challenging place to work out of.  What we're trying to do with this guard unit is ensure the security of the staff and the premises in Tripoli.  The exact number will be worked out depending on, you know, obviously, security assessment teams.  And, you know, we're still very much in the planning stage on that front.

Question:  And a follow‑up.  Has the UN actually ever, like, contacted private guard companies, private security firms or, in this case, you're going to also vet somebody from the TCC [troop-contributing] countries?

Spokesman:  No, you know, we have employed private security companies to do security at UN offices, country offices in different places.  Those are properly vetted, and there's a procedure to go through them.  I mean, your… obviously, we have a guard unit… guard units in Baghdad is one place that I know of.  It is not uncommon for the UN to go through… to go through this route.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you indicated, the French Government has postponed the peace process meeting in Paris to the early June to allow Secretary [John] Kerry to get to the meeting.  Has the Secretary‑General decided to join the meeting?  And did he… is he coming up with any new ideas to the Quartet before it writes out its report?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the… you know, the report of the Quartet will represent… at least 25 per cent of it will represent the views of the Secretary‑General, as we make up one out of the four envoys.  So, we would have to wait for the report.  On the conference, we're waiting… the Paris conference, we're waiting for a date from the French Government.  All I heard in press reports today was that it would be sometime this summer.  Obviously, once a date is announced, we will make a decision.  Edie?

Question:  Going back to something about… that you said, you said that South Africa was planning to conduct a court‑martial in Situ in the Central African Republic.  Would this be the first?  And, as I recall, this is a process that the Secretary‑General or at least the UN has recommended and endorsed.

Spokesman:  I mean… as far as I can recall, as far as I know, I mean, in recent times, it is the first.  I mean, in a few years, we say… until… let me check, but it is my understanding it is the first.  It is, obviously, something we welcome very much, because, as you mentioned, it is something the Secretary‑General has been calling for as part of ensuring that victims have access to justice.

Correspondent:  Steph, sorry.  Just a qualifier.  It's not in the Central African Republic.

Spokesman:  Sorry, the DRC… I meant the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Sorry.

Correspondent:  My fault.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Thank you.  I didn't realize this was a crowdsourcing briefing, but I appreciate it.  Thank you.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Thank you.  On World Humanitarian Summit, Stéphane, how many States and leaders have confirmed to participate so far?

Spokesman:  The latest… that's a good question.  The latest number that I had was about [55] world leaders.  I'll see if that's been updated.  But, that's the latest number that I had.  Okay?  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  Follow‑up to Benny, and then there's something that I need to ask you today.  I noticed when you said people are getting paid, you said, you know, employees and vendors.  One of the complaints that he's made and that others have made, including the existing or remaining staff unions, is about the pension fund and the backlog.  And they're saying, very specifically, that, although USG [Under-Secretary-General Yukio] Takasu said that… that there's been a… a… 36 per cent of the backlog has been dealt with; they say it's actually 7 per cent, because new cases keep coming on.  And Baumann… but, I mean, staff who have smaller pensions also are complaining that… what's actually being done?  And what is the UN's response to a pretty sophisticated analysis by a staff union in Geneva that the number is false that was put out over iSeek…?

Spokesman:  My understanding from the pension fund is that the backlog is supposed to be cleared or at least dealt with in… majority of it by the end of this month.  We very much hope so.  Obviously, this kind of… you know, we talk about numbers, but each number is hardship for a retired staff member.

Question:  And what's the status of the request by Mr.… by the head of the… of the pension fund to sort of exempt the fund and its staff from rules?  I know there was a proposal…

Spokesman:  I don't know.

Question:  Okay.  This is what I wanted to ask you, and I'm sorry; I'll do it very briefly.  But, you were… I'm pretty sure you've read the article, because you were quoted in it.  You were quoted in The New York Times as saying that, if there are any access problems that there's a team… I mean, I can do the exact quote… there's a team of media liaisons that will solve it.  So, I want to ask you, today, in covering a meeting on the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], I had a media liaison with me, and I was repeatedly told by a guard:  "You can't be here.  Your pass doesn't allow it.  Why do you want to cover this?"  And I asked the guard his name, and he wouldn't give it.  So, I wanted to ask you, one, should security officers of the UN provide their name when asked when they're asking somebody to leave?  And, two, since you've said that the solution is MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit], this was no solution.  I had somebody… what's behind this?

Spokesman:  Again, I… just like the pension fund, I'm not aware of every case.  I'm sure…

Correspondent:  There's audio online now.  You can…

Spokesman:  But, I would encourage you to pursue this with MALU and not in this briefing.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  They were there.  You said what you said.

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  Speaking about security, as you know, I raised a question about the freedom of expression at the United Nations.  And my book, my newest book, An Undiplomatic Look at the United Nations, continues to be banned from the bookstore.  Now, I was told by a direct source that the procedure is this:  You submit a book to the bookstore, they send it to security for three weeks or a month in order to study to see if “there is any sensitivities”.  My question is this:  Would you confirm that procedure or deny it?

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi, I have a lot of respect for you, but, again, I think any decision, whether or not to take a book on in the bookshop is… the term "banned", I think, is misused, and I think it shows disrespect for books that are actually banned in different parts of the world.  The procedure you outlined would seem extremely surprising to me, but, again, as with Matthew, this seems to be an individual case that you should take up with DPI [Department of Public Information].  Oleg?

Correspondent:  [inaudible].

Spokesman:  As I said, I would find this very highly surprising.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  On the Nagorno‑Karabakh situation, there was a meeting yesterday in Vienna of Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents.  They reached some agreements, and people were hopeful about that.  I wonder if Ban Ki‑moon has anything to say to that.  Does he think that maybe this is the time for the UN to provide some good offices…?

Spokesman:  We understand that the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) is in the lead on this issue, and we continue to support them.  I'm going to go get Mr. Ging.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.