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

31 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.

**Republic of Korea

The Secretary-General, as you know, is back here in New York.  As you will have seen, he was in the Republic of Korea over the weekend, where he attended the sixty-sixth annual DPI (Department of Public Information) NGO conference.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General stressed the pivotal role of non-governmental organizations, which, as he put it, are at the vanguard of international action.  He recognized their tireless work on climate change, cluster bombs, landmines and human rights, just to mention a few.

He also reiterated his call on Governments to expand some political, economic, social space for NGOs to work freely, without any hindrance.

Turning to the situation within the UN, the Secretary-General expressed his deep disappointed that the Member States on the Economic and Social Council’s NGO Committee recently denied the Committee to Protect Journalists consultative status.  Furthermore, he re-stated his opposition to the exclusion of LGBT organizations from the upcoming High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.  These NGOs are close to the communities affected by the epidemic and they must be part of the response.  The UN is a big tent, he said, and NGOs belong inside.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the UN is deeply concerned over the fate of an estimated 8,000 Syrians trapped by fighting around the towns of Mare’a and Sheikh Issa in northern Aleppo Governorate following advances in the last three days by Da’esh into areas controlled by non-State armed groups.

An unknown number of people are also unable to flee due to fighting and the closure of the main road leading north [towards] the town of Azaz in north-western Syria.  We are deeply concerned that many civilians in these areas are at risk of attack.

Yacoub El Hillo, the UN Resident Coordinator for Syria, called on all parties to the conflict to ensure the unhindered movement and protection of civilians trying to reach safety, as well as their access to life-saving assistance at their current locations or on their way to [other] destinations.

**Iraq

As you will have heard, we will be joined by Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq and Deputy Special Representative in Iraq (UNAMI), and she will brief you on the situation in Fallujah.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, the Yemeni peace talks are continuing in Kuwait under the auspices of the Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who held bilateral meetings with both delegations yesterday.

The Special Envoy said afterwards that violations to the Cessation of Hostilities are unacceptable.  He added that economic decline, water and electricity shortages should motivate the parties to redouble their efforts towards reaching a comprehensive and peaceful solution.  He said that political bickering will only complicate issues and only a political solution will help resolve them.

**Central African Republic

Just to give you an update on the ongoing investigations being conducted jointly by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the continuing situation in the Kemo prefecture, in the Central African Republic (CAR).  Those investigations are being done jointly with Burundi and Gabon.

OIOS informed us that so far, more than 60 out of the 106 complainants have been interviewed by the joint teams.  Witnesses are also being interviewed in order to corroborate the testimonies.  The interview process is expected to be finalized in the coming few weeks.

As you know, these allegations date back to 2014 and 2015 and there is a lack of medical, judicial and other physical evidence, which means that the work of the investigators relies primarily on the testimonies of victims and witnesses.

There is progress, but it is going to take time to identify the alleged perpetrators and carry forward the investigation.  While the investigations continue, the UN is keeping about 8 to 10 staff in the area at all times.

In addition, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and their implementing partners continue to provide psychosocial and legal assistance in the area.  A UNICEF partner is also assisting all victims, both minors and adults, during the interviews with OIOS.

We will continue to try to update you as the investigations are ongoing.

**Chad

As you will have seen, on the trial of Hissène Habré, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that after years of struggle and many setbacks on the way to justice, this verdict is as historic as it was hard-won, with global ramifications.

He commended the ground-breaking agreement between Senegal and the African Union which enabled this case to proceed, saying that it is an excellent example of regional leadership and ownership in the fight against impunity for international crimes.

We also have a statement from Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, welcoming the judgment.  It represents an important milestone for international criminal justice in Africa and holding former Heads of State to account for sexual violence crimes through the use of universal jurisdiction, she said.

I do expect a statement from the Secretary-General on that, as well.

**South Sudan

Just a note on South Sudan: Our humanitarian colleagues say that following a needs assessment in the Greater Baggari area – that’s in Wau County in Western Bahr el Ghazal State — humanitarian partners estimate that about 21,000 people were displaced in various locations there after fighting erupted in February.

The displaced people are sleeping in the open and they are in need of food, shelter, health services and nutritional support.  They said that they were surviving by eating wild roots and cassava leaves.

During the assessment, aid workers distributed high-energy biscuits to about 2,000 children and pregnant and lactating mothers.  They also treated children suffering from malaria and diarrhoea.

**Gaza

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the execution of three men by authorities in Gaza today despite serious and widespread concerns that international fair trial standards were not respected, and in spite of appeals by many local and international actors to halt the executions.

These executions were carried out without the approval of Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas as required under Palestinian law, effectively denying these men their right to seek pardon or commute their sentence.

The Human Rights Office remains deeply concerned about further planned executions in the near future, and it reiterates that death sentences carried out pursuant to unfair trials are in violation of international law.

**Mali

You will have seen that over the weekend, the Secretary-General condemned the attack against a convoy of the UN peacekeepers in the country (MINUSMA) which killed five peacekeepers from Togo.

The convoy was ambushed by unknown assailants some 30 kilometres west of Sévaré, in the Mopti region.

**UNAIDS

A new report from UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) shows that the number of people accessing antiretroviral medicines has more than doubled since 2010.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 17 million people were accessing life-saving antiretroviral medicines at the end of 2015, with an additional 2 million people gaining access over a 12-month period.

This announcement comes as world leaders prepare to gather in New York for General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, scheduled to take place between 8 and 10 June.

**Tobacco

Today, as you know, is World No Tobacco Day and on this occasion, the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that recent moves to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products can save lives by reducing demand.

Plain packaging kills the glamour of tobacco products, which is appropriate for a product that kills people, said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.  There’s more information online.

**Press Encounters

Tomorrow we will be joined by Hilde Johnson and Ambassador Abadallah Wafy, Co-Chairs of the External Review of the functions, structure and capacity of the United Nations Police Division, as well as Mark Kroeker, member of the review team.

At 4 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador François Delattre, the Permanent Representative of France, who will preside over the Security Council for the month of June.  And he’ll be here to answer your questions, which I will now take.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  You certainly would have heard announcements of the Mayor of Paris to build a refugee camp in Paris.  So do you have any comments on that?  And what do you say to other countries which have not been particularly forthcoming on this issue? [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, I had not seen that report.  Obviously, I think, as the Secretary‑General had said repeatedly and others, there is a global responsibility to take in refugees.  The… as it stands now, I think more than 80 per cent of refugees are being hosted by developing countries.  And we all expect those countries that have more resources to do more.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  You mentioned the Burundian forces in CAR.  I wanted to ask you two questions.  One is, is it the case that… that, when they repatriate this summer, they will not be replaced?  And has Burundi been invited or not invited to this upcoming UN police event that will take place here in Headquarters this week?

Spokesman:  I don’t know on your first one.  And on the second, we can check who the participants are.

Question:  Also on Burundi, on press freedom, there was… on 30 May, the Minister of Public Safety put out a statement basically accusing various journalists, some by name, of promoting of crime and violence.  And so I wonder whether the Secretary‑General’s statements that he made in Korea about free… freedom of expression, etc., apply there and also in Egypt.  I’m waiting for a statement there…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  They apply across the board.  We, obviously, have seen the reports of new charges being brought against the Union of Journalists in Egypt.  We remain concerned at the situation.  We’re following it closely.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, yesterday the Bahrainian authorities sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the opposition, for nine years in jail for no evident crime.  Do you have any statement on it?

Spokesman:  I have not seen… I don’t have anything on that for today but I…

Question:  I asked about this last week, and it was due… the sentence was due yesterday.  So…

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  Even the Human Rights Council… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I will get back to you.

Question:  And the Saudi 31 people who are yet to be sentenced to death.  Do you have anything?

Spokesman:  Again, I think we reiterate and continue to reiterate our full opposition to the death penalty.

Question:  Another…

Spokesman:  I’ll come back to you.  Olga and then James.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  According to the last ISSG (International Syria Support Group) communiqué, the airdrops on Syria should start tomorrow, 1 June.  So what’s the assessment of the situation on the ground?  Is it needed, and will the airdrops start tomorrow?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we hope to have a bit more tomorrow.  The humanitarian situation has clearly not improved, and our colleagues at WFP (World Food Programme) and the humanitarian family are looking at the situation closely, and we’re aware of the 1 June deadline.  Mr. Bays?

Correspondent:  It’s answered.

Spokesman:  Excellent.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) attempted to fire another ballistic missile on Tuesday.  Does Secretary‑General have a view on that?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General’s view on the DPRK is unchanged and that the Security Council resolutions and sanctions should be fully applied and that the DPRK authorities should cease provocative actions.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Stéphane, it seems that the SG was disappointed with the International Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.  What is your assessment?  He was especially critical of the absence of the P5.  What do you say to that?

Spokesman:  Well, I’ll just say what he said, which is basically he was… I think he saluted Angela Merkel’s presence.  He was disappointed at the lack of high‑level representation of the G7 and other… and I think other wealthy countries.  I think he was pretty clear in his position.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  The Houthis are accused of… of launching a ballistic missile into… into Saudi Arabia.  Do… is there any news on that, aside from…

Spokesman:  I don’t have any… we don’t have any confirmation from our end, but, obviously, I think, as the Special Envoy says, any violation of cessation of hostilities is unacceptable.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I’ll come back to you, Nizar.

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim that dozens of civilians have been killed in Idlib by… claimed that Russian air strike.  Do you have any information on Secretary‑General on that?

Spokesman:  We have no ability to confirm who was responsible.  What we do know from our partners on the ground that there were, indeed, reports of multiple air strikes, including on the national hospital, killing about 28 people, including local aid workers and, I think, wounding more than 200 people.  Any targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, is to be condemned in no uncertain terms.   We call on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and to immediately stop these attacks.

Question:  It’s in Idlib, right?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Cambodia and South Korea.  On Cambodia, has your office issued a statement of concern about the crackdown there? Because some… they are saying that it was issued and it was stunningly timid.  They said it didn’t capture… that it’s basically Hun Sen cracking down on the opposition.  It’s not a two‑sided thing.  So I was looking at the counter there.  Has there been a statement on Cambodia?

Spokesman:  I always appreciate the analysis of our response.  We were asked and we answered.  There was no statement issued, and since I… I take it you’re asking what our position is.  The Secretary‑General is, indeed, concerned about the escalating tensions between the ruling and the opposition parties in Cambodia, particularly the arrests or attempted arrests of parliamentarians, who enjoy parliamentary immunity.  A non‑threatening environment of democratic dialogue is essential for political stability and a peaceful and prosperous society.

Question:  All right.  But you’ve seen the criticism that this seems to sort of equate the opposition that’s getting arrested with the…

Spokesman:  I think people are free to analyse and dissect our statements.  We would expect that is the case.

Question:  On that note, I wanted to ask about… the Secretary‑General, I saw that when he left South Korea, he said that he’d been misunderstood; there had been too much coverage of his… what was widely, widely reported as his attempt to… or… or… seeming intention to run for President.  And so he said, “I would add that the coverage of what was supposed to be an off‑the‑record meeting with the Kwanhun Club has led to over‑reaction, over-interpretation.”  I forget…  Apparently, you were there.  Was it off the record?  Because I’d asked about it here whether a transcript would be released.  It was said that it would be exclusive sometimes with groups of journalists.  I saw a photo.  It’s like a lot of journalists, like more than a dozen.  If, in fact, it was misunderstood… many people reported it.  They were there.  Was it off the record?  Was it an exclusive?  What did he say?

Spokesman:  There was a meeting that he organized with a group of senior Korean journalists.  Part of it was on the record.  Part of it was off the record.  Whether it’s a one‑on‑one interview or a group interview, we would not release a transcript.  I mean, we release transcripts of his press conferences.  The basic message from the Secretary‑General is that, up until the very last day of the mandate that’s been given to him by Member States, he will focus on being Secretary‑General and fulfilling that mandate.  Once that mandate is over, he will then decide how best to be a productive global citizen, but his… that decision will come after he leaves office.

Question:  But since he’s the Secretary‑General now, I wanted to ask you about that 1946 General Assembly resolution.  There seems to be a resolution that’s still on the books that says that, even… particularly right after retirement, a Secretary‑General should not have a position in a Government, given confidences he’s received from Governments.  So that’s on the books now.  Does it apply?

Spokesman:  Obviously, he’s aware of the resolution, and the rest is just speculation, because he will make up his mind as to what he will do after his term as Secretary‑General ends.  Nizar and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah.  On… on Yemen, why is it that Mr. Cheikh… Ould Cheikh Ahmed criticized or issues a statement when the attack is on Saudi Arabia, whereas daily air strikes by Saudi Arabia were not mentioned by him at all…?

Spokesman:  I think… Nizar, with all due respect, I think you’re misinterpreting what he said.  He said all violations of the cessation of hostilities are unacceptable.  And I think that is his message… blanket message across the board.

Question:  Okay.  On Hodeidah, there are reports coming from Hodeidah that people are starving there, that bombardment continues unabated, and that no real goods are going into Hodeidah, which is a very big city and it’s the biggest seaport in Yemen.

Spokesman:  Is there a question mark?

Question:  Well, what’s… what’s the situation there…?

Spokesman:  I don’t… I’m looking for… we hope to get some… I don’t have any information on the situation in Hodeidah right now, but if I can get an update for you, I will.

Question:  How… how about the… the inspection and verification mechanism?

Spokesman:  That is…  [inaudible]  It is continuing.  We’ll see if we can get you an update on exactly what they’ve been doing, but it’s fully functional.

Question:  If Hodeidah is not getting anything so how is…

Spokesman:  Nizar, you can keep asking me these questions on this issue.  If I have something, I will share it with you.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Stéphane, is the Secretary‑General aware that the leader of the Frente Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, passed away?  Do we expect any statement?

Spokesman:  We just saw that a little earlier.  We obviously express our condolences to his family, and we may have a little bit more to say.

Speaking on having more to say, I was just given a statement on the judgment against Hissène Habré:

The Secretary‑General takes note of the delivery yesterday by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese Court of the trial judgment in the case against Hissène Habré.

The Secretary‑General’s thoughts are with the victims of the crimes for which Hissène Habré has been found guilty.

The former President of Chad, has been found guilty of forced sexual slavery, voluntary homicide, kidnappings of individuals followed by their disappearances, summary executions and torture.

The Secretary‑General congratulates the African Union, and in particular Senegal, on the establishment of the Extraordinary African Chambers and expresses his gratitude to all those States who have contributed to this achievement.

The delivery of this judgment marks a historic day for the people of Chad, the region and beyond, as well as for international criminal justice.  The judgment sends a strong signal to those who would perpetrate serious crimes of international concern, including those at the highest echelons of political power, that they will be held accountable for their actions.

 

Question:  Yes.  Steph, has the Secretary‑General weighed in on the crisis between the Fulani herdsman in Nigeria and farmers?

Spokesman:  No, but let me see if I can get something on that for you.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, the chief negotiator of the Syrian opposition has resigned.  So… of course, there was a statement by the… I think by Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura but what does the Secretary‑General have to say about it?   And do you share some analysis that the… the negotiations are actually on the verge of collapse?

Spokesman:  On your second part, I’m not going to start doing postgame analysis while a game is still going on.  I think the… we’re waiting for a new date for the negotiations to be announced.  Obviously, we need to see a lowering of the violence, and we need to see greater humanitarian access.  On the resignation of the HNC (High Negotiations Committee) negotiator, we’ve seen it.  It’s an internal decision of the HNC.  We will, of course, work with all the parties and with the groups as necessary.  Matthew, then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in Haiti, I’m sure you’ve seen the… the commission that came out and said basically it should all be redone, that the election was so fraud-ridden.  So I’m wondering given… you know, MINUSTAH’s (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) there.  What is the position of the UN on that?

Spokesman:  We’ve obviously seen the report.  We’re taking a look at it; hope to have more to say a bit later.

Question:  And the Fijian… the Fijians have said they’re either redeploying from or are pulling back from UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) and Sinai and also separately a proposal they have for some special passport status for their peacekeepers.  But more in terms of just the staffing of the mission, what is… is there an attempt… will there be an attempt to replace them?  What’s the…

Spokesman:  I have not been told of any changes in the staffing.  Nizar, and then we’ll go to the guest.

Question:  You mentioned the… about the besieged town of Mare’a by ISIS.  Also, you said that some non‑state groups are bombarding or encircling the town.  How about the bombardment through the… across the border with… between Turkey and A’zaz and Mare’a, which is the same region?  Are you aware about it…? And also what’s the position on that?

Spokesman:  From where we stand, we want to see a cessation… a lowering of the violence across the board in Syria so as to create a more positive atmosphere for the talks and greater humanitarian access.  All right.  I’m going to make sure we can dial in our guest.  I’ll be right back.

For information media. Not an official record.