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

8 June 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.

**Papua New Guinea

I will start off with a statement on Papua New Guinea:  The Secretary-General is concerned by reports of violent clashes between students and police in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  He calls for calm and stresses the importance of respect for peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, and a commitment to the rule of law, dialogue and non-violence.

**HIV-AIDS

The Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly high-level meeting on HIV/AIDs this morning, stressing that enormous progress had been made, and recalling that the Millennium Development Goal number 6 of halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS had been met.

He also said he was particularly happy that new HIV infections among children are down by 56 per cent in the past fifteen years, with four countries having eliminated them completely: Cuba, Thailand, Armenia and Belarus.

However, the Secretary-General warned that AIDS is far from over.  Over the next five years, we have a window of opportunity to radically change the trajectory of the epidemic and put an end to AIDS forever.

That requires commitment at every level:  from the global health infrastructure, to all Member States, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations, to the UN Security Council that has dealt with AIDS as a humanitarian issue and a threat to human and national security.

It means making sure that we all meet the annual target of $26 billion in funding; continued advocacy to the most vulnerable; removing punitive laws, policies and practices that violate people’s dignity and human rights; and guaranteeing that everyone affected has access to comprehensive HIV services, without discrimination.  That statement is online.

**World Oceans Day

This morning, or just about right now, the Secretary-General is across the East River in Long Island City, where he is attending a World Oceans Day event with the President of Palau.

Welcoming the traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hôkûle‘a, the Secretary-General said that the canoe's voyage is a testament to the power of island people.

The Secretary-General, while attending the Samoa Conference in 2014, boarded the same canoe and gave them his message in a bottle — a message, he said, which promised to rally world leaders for a better future.

The Secretary-General's remarks at the event and his message for World Oceans Day are, or should be, online.

**Climate Change

Last night, you saw we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General commended the joint statement on climate change made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama, announcing their support for early entry into force of the Paris Agreement.   

**Syria

Today, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) received reports of attacks in eastern Aleppo city, hitting two medical facilities and resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries.  The recent escalation of violence in Aleppo and surrounding areas since late April has resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of people, many of them children.  It has also caused damage to schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, and hindered humanitarian aid operations.

The UN consistently condemns attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure and the violence that is leading to more unnecessary suffering.  Such attacks can constitute violations of international humanitarian law.

We call on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access, as required under international humanitarian law, in order to safeguard the lives of all civilians.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has requested access to reach 17 besieged areas under the June [inter-]agency convoy plan.  We have now received approval for Daraya, Douma and Moadamiyeh; in all, we have received approvals for 15 of the 17 locations besieged areas under the June plan.

The only besieged locations where we have not received approval are Al Wa'er in Homs and Zabadani in Rural Damascus.

**Iraq

The UN remains deeply concerned over the humanitarian crisis unfolding as tens of thousands of people flee Fallujah in Iraq.

Displacement is dramatically increasing as military operations in Fallujah continue.  More than 20,000 people have fled Fallujah and surrounding areas since 22 May.  Humanitarian workers are receiving reports that hundreds more families are trying to flee.   

The eight camps prepared in advance have been stretched to their limits as thousands of people have fled in recent days. The Government of Iraq and the UN and its partners are working to rapidly scale up camps and other assistance in preparation for possibly tens of thousands of more people that could leave Fallujah in the next days.

More resources are needed to ensure that assistance is sufficient.  All of the UN and our partners’ resources are directed towards providing assistance to people fleeing Fallujah.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council had a meeting on the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Serge Brammertz, the Prosecutor of the ICTY and Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, briefed the Council.  He stressed that his office will continue to monitor and support national courts prosecuting war crimes committed in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

**Health

A couple of more notes:  poor air quality, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the Pan-European region according to the latest Outlook prepared by UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE).

Air pollution is now the greatest health risk in the region, with more than 95 per cent of the EU urban population exposed to levels above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

**Child Labour

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the ILO (International Labour Organization) launched an online learning course aimed at policymakers to make sure that child labour prevention measures are included in agricultural and rural development programs.

As a side note, 60 percent of all child labourers — almost 100 million girls and boys — work in agriculture.

The agencies launched the course ahead of the UN's World Day against Child Labour, which is to be observed on 12 June.

**Appointment

The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Major General Per Lodin of Sweden as Chief Military Observer and Head of UN Mission for the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, otherwise known as UNMOGIP.

Major General Lodin succeeds Major General Delali Johnson Sakyi of Ghana, who will have completed his two-year assignment in July of this year.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Major General Sakyi for his contribution to UN peacekeeping.

Major General Lodin has had a distinguished military career in the Swedish Army since 1978.

**Press Encounters

And I am disappointed to tell you that Princess Stephanie of Monaco has cancelled her briefing.  I was very much looking forward to meeting her, in fact.

**Questions and Answers

Ms. Lederer?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Could you tell us whether the UN is going to try again to… with the Syrians to get land convoys to al Waer and Zabadani or, if not, whether the UN plans to go ahead and try and seek to deliver aid by air?

Spokesman:  Well, we're continuing to seek permission for those areas for land convoy.  Obviously, the air option continues to exist, though we do need clearance for air operations, as well.  But, as we've often repeatedly stated here, the aim is really to try to deliver as much aid as possible by road.

Question:  And… and is there any deadline?

Spokesman:  We'd like to see it as soon as possible.

Question:  On the same subject, you mentioned Zabadani.  What's the situation in Kefraya and Foah?  Recently, there was a lot of shelling in Foah.  A few days ago, five people were killed as a result of that.  What was the last time you delivered food to Foah?

Spokesman:  I'll have to check.  I don't have that specific information.  But I will check.

Question:  But why… why Zabadani comes here four times and not Foah? 

Spokesman:  We are trying to deliver as much aid to any area, whether it's besieged or hard to reach.  Lou and then Mr. Lee?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  It's now come out some details about the kind of pressure that the UN was put under by the Saudi‑led Coalition, with members of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) demarching the UN and really pushing hard to get the Coalition removed from the Children and Armed Conflict blacklist.  Can you say anything more about the kinds of pressures… I mean, funding to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) was threatened, was mention of, you know, discussion of a possible fatwa, sort of criticizing the UN.  Could you expand on what you said yesterday?

Spokesman:  I think those questions are best addressed to our interlocutors.  Obviously, Saudi Arabia and others made their viewpoint very clear in various conversations.  But I can only speak to our side.

Question:  Well, just a follow‑up.  We did speak to the interlocutors and, you know, got their view and denials.  So that's why I'm asking you.  I mean, on the receiving end, what more you could say, countries that pressured the UN…?

Spokesman:  No… I mean, I think we've made it clear that there were a number of contacts between Saudi officials and people within the UN Secretariat.  But, again, what they said to us, I think, is for them to either deny or confirm.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Some other things, but on that, I wanted to ask you something.  The… the… the perception is that… that… and this is why I think you should… well, I'm asking you to address the financial aspect of it, because it ends up appearing, many countries are on various human rights lists and annexes, and it appears if a country either threatens to withdraw its money or has money that it could pay that it comes off the list, which sort of devalues the other countries that are on it, devalues the whole process.  So what can you say about the perceived nexus between a country's financial strength and willingness to threaten the UN with withdrawal of it and being taken off lists to those who remain on the list?

Spokesman:  I think what I would say is that the report as it is, the content of the report, the body of the report stands.  Every word stands.  And we stand by the figures and the information contained in the report.  It paints a horrific picture of the suffering of Yemeni civilians and especially Yemeni children.  And I think that report is out.  And it's public.  And it's for everyone to see and we're not walking back from the report and the content of the report and the narrative that's in the report.

Question:  Sure.  And thanks… but I guess I… just on the policy issue.  For… I mean, the narrative portion is still there, but UN list, it does compile lists.  There are blacklists on various topics, and if it's the case that… that… that parties that have money are willing to threaten to withdraw money can be taken off the list, the whole list is not credible.

Spokesman:  I think that's your interpretation, and I'm not going to go into postgame analysis on it.  Masood and then Mr. Bays and then Ali and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This morning, from a report in Moscow, Israeli agriculture minister travelling with [Benjamin] Netanyahu to Russia is quoted as saying that part of West Bank areas seized should be evacuated of all the Palestinians, annexed.  Do you have any position, anything to say about this?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular report.  I mean, the Secretary‑General's position on the peace process is clear.  It was outlined not a few… only a few days ago in Paris and his strong support for a two‑State solution with a viable Palestinian State.  Mr. Bays and then we'll go to the others.

Question:  It's a follow‑up on Syrian aid access.  You gave a list of places that the Syrian Government says it's given permission, but giving permission and aid arriving don't seem to be the same thing.  And I… used example of Daraya, nearly a week since the first convoy arrived in Daraya.  Mr. [Jan] Egeland said he'd hoped the second convoy will come on Friday.  Daraya is only a very short drive in Damascus.  Why… if you've got permission, why is this convoy not travelling, and isn't it totally unacceptable, as those people haven't had food?

Spokesman:  I don't have the mechanical details.  What is clear is that there are too many hurdles, too many processes through which the UN and its humanitarian partners need to jump through to get aid to those who need it.  What we have been saying from the beginning is that we need unhindered and open access to humanitarian aid.  We shouldn't be in a position to have to negotiate for every convoy.  We shouldn't be in a position to have to negotiate the exfiltration of people who are wounded in hard‑to‑reach and besieged areas.  We work under the constraints that are imposed on us, and I think, whether it's from this podium or Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien or Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, Mr. Egeland, I think everybody decries them at every point that is possible.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Since the late Muhammad Ali was United Nations Messenger of Peace and he did a lot of work for this organization in spreading its message, will there be any representation at his funeral by the United Nations?

Spokesman:  Yes, we very much hope so.  We're working on the details of that.  I should have something to announce a bit later on.  We're just… as… just before the briefing, we were trying to get something together.  Okay.  Yes, ma'am.  Sorry, Evelyn was first, then we'll go to you.  Sorry.

Question:  Thank you.  In Aleppo, who did the bombing?  Syrian Government denies it, but Doctors Without Borders say that barrel bombs were rolling around.  And there's only one combatant that use barrel bombs.

Spokesman:  I don't have any firm information at this point as to who did it.  The point is that we know that medical facilities were hit.  Medical people were killed, and civilians were killed.  Yeah?

Question:  Just to follow up on James' question, do you have any details on why the food aid convoy has not yet reached Daraya?  And on the 15 of the 17 besieged areas for which you have received permission, do you have plans to send those convoys in the coming days?  Do you have any sense of timing?

Spokesman:  They will be sent as soon as possible.  I will try to get an update from our humanitarian colleagues on Daraya with some numbers and timing. Yeah?

Question:  Stéphane, I read in some Lebanese newspapers that UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) stopped transportation or using shuttles it used to use to move local employees from different cities to its premises in Naqoura.  Do you have any information about security procedures?

Spokesman:  No.  First I heard.  We'll check with DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations).

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Sure.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  On South Sudan and Burundi.  In South Sudan, there's a number of media reporting that students in Juba University were abducted, picked up, detained without charge by military intelligence and the national security service.  And so I'm wondering, since this is the capital of the country and there's an UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) there, is UNMISS aware of this?  Do they have any comment on it?

Spokesman:  Nothing's percolated up to here.

 

Question:  Okay.  This is one… this has come up in here, and it has to do with the, I guess, described repatriation of the Burundian police in MINUSCA (United Nations Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) and CAR.  There were some doubts expressed in Burundi about… about… you know, I want to ask about a letter.  I've now seen the letter of repatriation, and it seems to say that this will take place on 31 July, that it was based on an 22 April meeting held with the Burundian Foreign Minister and other… so I want you to confirm those two things and also that Burundi was actively disinvited from the UNCOPS (United Nations Chiefs of Police Summit) event that was held last week.

Spokesman:  What I can tell you about UNCOPS is that Burundi, with a long record of service in UN peace operations, for which we remain grateful; however, given the current allegations of serious and ongoing human rights violations in Burundi, a decision was made here at UN Headquarters to postpone engaging Bujumbura in decisions on future deployment of their national police force and peace operations.  As for the other dates, I'm not in a position to confirm.

Question:  And just on UNCOPS, that event, it says repeat… in a number of places, that there were 100 countries represented, but nowhere did I find a list of the countries.  Is there some… can I ask you to, like… who would have that?

Spokesman:  We can try to find the list. [He issued the list of participants following the briefing.]  Nizar?

Question:  In Kuwait, Abdel Salam, the Spokesman of the Ansar Allah group, accused of the Saudis of trying to give 50 children, African children who are were in Saudi Arabia illegally as immigrants, immigrants who… illegal immigrants, in the exchange of prisoners.  The Saudis are presenting them as prisoners of war, whereas they are African children, have nothing do in this conflict.  What is the position of your representative, Mr. [Ismail] Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and the United Nations regarding this?

Spokesman:  We'll look into reports.  Obviously, our colleagues in Kuwait are working with both… all the parties in Yemen to put into place the exchange of children, detainees.  We can see if they have any more details, but obviously, it's a very important step as a confidence‑building measure to have an exchange of child detainees.  But I'll look into the particular case of these African children.

Question:  Well, this exchange should have happened before Ramadan, right?  And… and it looks like it's not due soon.

Spokesman:  You know, I think a lot of things should have happened at some point.  It's a very complicated process as the… every day, the fighting continues.  The talks obviously are extremely challenging, and we'd like to see this… the operationalisation of this exchange as soon as possible.

Question:  Staying on Yemen, I asked about Hodeidah last week whether there are any deliveries of aid to Hodeidah or even commercial shipments.  What's the situation?  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  No, no new updates.  Okay.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Two questions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  One has to do with Mr. [Anders] Kompass, who I understand that yesterday, you know, you'd said that you wish him well.  You may have seen a statement issued by the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying that Kompass' resignation appears to be a damning indictment of the leadership of the United Nations, that it's failed to end the horrific sexual exploitation and said that zero tolerance basically has not resulted in zero abuse.  Do you have any response to that?  It seems like this Kompass thing has gone… it has legs to it.  Do you have… what's your response to what was said?

Question:  I have nothing to add to what we've said.  Mr. Kompass' resignation comes into effect in July as he had… in August, I think, as he had requested.  We wish him well.  I think we have gone over and over again the many steps the Secretary‑General and the UN system has taken as a whole to combat sexual exploitation and abuse, which is something that the UN cannot do alone, that it falls also very much so on the responsibility of those Member States who contribute police and soldiers and, of course, the Security Council.

Question:  Can I do the second question?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  And… and… and… I'm… I'll just do it this way.  I've asked you about this aide‑mémoire that was sent by the UN to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  So I want to ask you about it again.  What I want to ask you about…

Spokesman:  My answer's not going to change.

Question:  No, here's what I want to ask you about specifically.  You call it a leaked document.  It's hard to understand if it's sent from the UN to a committee.  It's leaked.  But this is my question.  And it's sort of a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) like question.  The document says that what was violated is something called the UN Handbook for Safety and Security Personnel.

Spokesman:  Matthew, Matthew, your personal issues will not be discussed here.

Correspondent:  You're calling it personal…

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Masood? 

Question:  But if you can punish journalists, where is the document?  I'm requesting the handbook.

Spokesman:  Talk to DPI (Department of Public Information).

Correspondent:  I did, and they don't have it.

Spokesman:  Talk to them again.

Question:  On this occupied West Bank statement of the Israeli minister, is the United Nations representative over there…

Spokesman:  Where?

Question:  In… in… West Bank, United Nations representative in West Bank…

Spokesman:  Is the UN represented in the West Bank?  Yes.

Question:  No, yes.  I mean, is there somebody from United Nations in touch with the people of West Bank to tell them that this is not going to happen or is going to happen? 

Spokesman:  The UN has a large… the UN has a large presence in the occupied Palestinian territory and is in constant touch with both the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.