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

17 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.

Happy Friday.  Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General was in Russia this morning, where he met with the President of Kazakhstan and participated in a wreath-laying Ceremony at the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, before leaving Saint Petersburg for Athens, where he currently is.  Upon arrival in Greece, he visited refugees and other vulnerable people at the Athens Solidarity Centre.  He will shortly attend an official dinner hosted by the Greek President.

Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and will then fly off to the island of Lesvos to meet with refugees, as well as with local volunteers and authorities who have supported the refugees as they have been coming on to the Island.  And as we have said, he is expected back in New York on Sunday evening.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Michel Yao, joined humanitarian partners in the country today in condemning the recent upsurge in violence against the civilians in Ouham-Pende Prefecture.  The Humanitarian Coordinator called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law, to protect civilians and ensure that they can relocate safely from insecure areas.  Aid organizations warn that the increase in violence will likely cause additional humanitarian needs in the country, as well as lead to more insecurity, affecting aid and access.

**Iraq

And our humanitarian colleagues in Iraq have said that more than 15,000 people have fled Fallujah on 15 and 16 June, bringing the total number of people displaced since 23 May to over 68,000 people, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  Humanitarian workers are expecting the number to increase further and thousands more people could still be on the move.  Thousands of families may still be trapped in Fallujah.

These are estimates, as the UN has no direct access to the city and is not able to directly verify the situation in Fallujah itself.  However, we remain very concerned about the safety and well-being of people still in Fallujah.  Many of the displaced people are reportedly arriving in poor conditions and need all kinds of emergency assistance, notably water, food, shelter and medical care.  Meanwhile, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is rapidly building two new camps to relieve overcrowding, while the Government of Iraq has erected over 2,350 tents in the last days and is expected to provide another 1,000 shortly.

**France

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has come out with another report on the serious exploitation of migrant children, this one specifically in the camps of northern France.  The report, called Neither Safe nor Sound, is a joint effort by UNICEF offices in France and the United Kingdom.  It details findings of sexual exploitation, violence and forced labour in the camps.  Both UNICEF UK and UNICEF France have made specific recommendations to their respective Governments in the light of the study.  They include increased resources, improving information for and about the children and, increased training for the adults involved in working in the camps.  More information is on the UNICEF website.

**United States

And the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, has condemned the criminal attack that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  He offered his sympathy for the victims and expressed grave concern at the outpouring of hatred, homophobia and Islamophobia that followed this attack, which targeted the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

Mr. Dieng said that he was appalled by the immediate and shameful efforts of some political and religious leaders to manipulate and politicise the events in Orlando to fuel fear, intolerance and hatred.  He was particularly sickened to hear religious leaders commend the killings of [members] of the LGBT community.  Full statement is available online and has been shared.

**Desertification

Today is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.  In his message for the day, the Secretary-General warned that the livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of people are at stake due to desertification, land degradation and drought.  He highlighted the need for land degradation neutrality as well as sustainable, climate-smart agriculture.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) also launched today a report saying that evaluating the long-term potential of land will help the world sustainably produce enough food, fuel and fibre.

Also today, at a high-level event in Beijing, China, and the UN launched the Joint Action Initiative which aims to make the whole region along the “Silk Road” — where many countries are seriously affected by desertification, land degradation and drought — environmentally sound and ecologically sustainable.

**Press Briefing

And at 12:45 p.m., as I have mentioned to you yesterday, there will be a press briefing here by Ambassador Román [Oyarzun] Marchesi of Spain, in his capacity as the Chair of the 1540 Security Council Committee on the Consultations on the Comprehensive Review of Security Council resolution 1540 (2004).  That’s it.  Iftikhar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has the Secretary‑General been in touch with anyone in Islamabad or Kabul over the persisting border tension that… on Pakistan border at Torkham?  Is there any comments on that?

Spokesman:  No, obviously, I think we're very concerned about the heightened tensions we have seen along the border, and we would appeal for calm and restraint.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah.  Today, in Bahrain, they banned Friday prayers, which is very basic element of Islam, of course.  Do you have any position on that?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those particular reports.

Correspondents:  There were threats…

Spokesman:  No, it's not that I don't trust you, again, Nizar.  I trust you, but I just… I haven't seen the reports.  Mr. Abbadi.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The opposition… Syrian opposition group, Syria Campaign, published a report in which it accused the United Nations of disrespecting its founding principles, neutrality, independence and impartiality.  And it says that the UN follows conditions imposed by the [Bashar al-]Assad Government without any restrictions and that this is a culture of obedience.  Any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi, I think this came up repeatedly on 14 and 15 June.  I would refer you to those transcripts.  But, I think any attempt to frame the work of the UN humanitarian colleagues in Syria as other than impartial and dedicated to the well‑being of all the people of Syria is unfair and I think misguided.  Yes?

Question:  Stéphane, any reaction to the news of the US diplomats calling for airstrikes in Syria?  And also, we've been hearing even from diplomats here that [Staffan] de Mistura's plan for Syria is failing.  What's plan B?

Spokesman:  No, there is no… from where we stand, there is no plan B besides a political agreement to chart a way forward for the people of Syria as outlined by the Security Council resolutions.  Mr. de Mistura's consultations are continuing.  Obviously, when he feels the time is ripe, he will call for a new round of talks, but as he said, there are technical level discussions going on in various places, and those are continuing.  Mr. Lee?  Sorry.

Question:  Any reaction to the diplomats…?

Spokesman:  No.  No, no reaction.  Sorry, no reaction, stop, full stop.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about a discussion that was had last week in the Central African Republic parliament about UN staff breaking curfew and using prostitutes.  This is… I'm phrasing it this way.  It's described in an e-mail that was sent out to MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] staff by SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Gaye [sic] that have retained and published.  But, it talks about what seems… he also says:  "I'm very troubled by allegations that have been brought to my attention."  So, I want know, since you've said this from the podium that the Mission and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] makes public such allegations as quickly as possible in the spirit of transparency, what are the allegations referred to in this e-mail?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any new allegations.  I think the memo sent out by Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, which I think you meant to refer to and not Mr. Gaye, to all UN staff, I think, demonstrates the seriousness to which they take issues of behaviour and the commitment to hold all civilian staff, police, and others accountable and to the highest standard.  I think it's not abnormal for UN staff to be reminded as part of preventive measures of the various policies and rules that are related to conduct and discipline and serious consequences if those rules are not followed.

Question:  Okay.  I guess I want to ask you, yesterday you'd said an absolutely similar document was sent around by OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] about a critique of its own performance.  You'd said that you don't comment on big documents including one sent widely within OCHA with the same exact structure.  So, how do you decide… do you only comment on documents that make the UN look good, or what's the distinction between these two documents?

Spokesman:  You know, it's one… this is one of the few places in my life where I can make decisions.  So, I've made a decision.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you.  Stéphane, I wanted to follow up on my colleague’s question earlier:  What about the 1.5 million… over 1.5 million refugees in Afghanistan?  I mean, I know that you… the Secretary‑General expressed concern about a situation on the Torkham border, but what about the 1.5 million refugees who are being threatened to be repatriated to Afghanistan without their consent?

Spokesman:  I think refugees… first of all, I would say that we and I think everyone needs to acknowledge the generosity of the countries that are hosting the majority of refugees around the world, and as we know, more than 80 per cent of them are developing countries who face their own challenges.  However, refugees, according to international law, cannot be sent back against their will and should not be sent back to areas where they still face dangers.  Any repatriation of refugees needs to be done with a strict adherence to the international… international law and, specifically, Conventions on Refugees.  It's important that Pakistan and Afghanistan resolve whatever differences they are… they have peacefully and through dialogue.  Mr. Charbonneau?

Correspondent:  I have an unrelated question, a follow‑up question on Pakistan…

Spokesman:  It's either unrelated or it's a follow‑up.

Correspondent:  It's unrelated, unrelated.

Spokesman:  Okay.  That's fine.

Question:  Sorry.  I'll take that back.  Unrelated, because there are incidents of… incident of… of girls being burnt alive by their parents or their loved ones because they've been forced into marriages against their will.  Now, this is happening again and again.  Now, it… there's a slew of incidents that's happened in this month of Ramadan.  The Secretary‑General has anything to say about that?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has been from the beginning an extremely strong advocate through the… for the rights of girls and the rights of women to ensure that they are respected and given the rights and dignity that is due to them, whether it's through programmes of “He for She” or any other programmes to combat violence against women.  So, I think his stand is clear and should be clear to all.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  The first one is the UN human rights panel concluded that what happened to the Yazidis was a genocide and the genocide is continue… it's still going on against them.  And there have been… this is like an add on several other institution and international figures that are calling that this case of the Yazidi mass killing to be taken to ICC [International Criminal Court].  I understand the legal hurdles.  Why… can you explain to me why the Secretary‑General has not joined those voices of asking the case to be taken to ICC?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has time and time again highlighted the plight of the Yazidis and has said that the crimes that have been committed against them may be tantamount to war crimes if not crimes against humanity.  So, I think his position on that is clear.  And your second question?

Question:  A follow‑up on my first question, about that… with this panel's finding, the UN panel finding, do you think that will affect Secretary‑General's…?

Spokesman:  I think… I hope it impacts those who are charged to ensure that justice is served.

Question:  Okay.  My second question is about Iraq.  The governor of the Province of Kirkuk, the disputed oil‑rich city, just announced that he wants to break away from Baghdad and declare an independent federal region.  As you know, this is a highly disputed area between Kurds and the Arabs, and this caused a lot of political tension in Baghdad.  Do you have any comments about that?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, over the months and years, the UN presence in Iraq through its Special Representative have always had active dialogues between the authorities in Baghdad and other regional authorities and encouraged them to work together for the unity of Iraq and to ensure that… the best possible future for the people of Iraq.  James and then Lou?

Question:  It's a follow‑up actually on that.  As you know and as you've just heard, again, the COI [Commission of Inquiry] has designated this a genocide, and you used the word "tantamount" to war crimes in terms of the Secretary‑General's view on this.  Is there a discussion in the Secretariat about whether to use the genocide word, given that the body that's investigating this in the UN system now says it's a genocide?

Spokesman:  I think for… we're getting into legal definitions, which should not obscure the crimes that have been committed against the Yazidi people and the suffering for the Yazidi people.  For the Secretary‑General, the terminology of genocide needs to be designated by a competent judicial body.  This is an independent commission.  So, I think these legal definitions should not distract us from ensuring that those who have committed these horrific crimes, especially against women and against children, should face justice and at the earliest possible moment.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding the statement made by the… excuse me… the adviser on genocide in dealing with the Orlando massacre, I noticed that he said… he condemned the attack in Orlando as a criminal attack.  Yet, the Security Council characterized it as a terrorist attack.  And I was wondering what the difference is and if there's been some evolution in the characterization of the attack.

Spokesman:  I think there are different voices within the UN.  Mr. Dieng has issued his statement.  The Secretary‑General has issued his.  The Security Council members have issued their statement.  Again, like the previous answer, I think it doesn't… it is about condemning a horrific attack against a specific community.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just wondering if the SG has any reaction to the murder of the British MP [Member of Parliament] yesterday during the referendum… Brexit referendum in London.

Spokesman:  First of all, obviously, the Secretary‑General sends his condolences to Brendan Cox and to the family of the MP.  A letter will be sent from the Secretary‑General to Mr. Cox, and I think, from where we stand, this was a brutal murder, an unconscionable act.

Question:  Same subject?  Is it a terrorist attack?  Would you call it a terrorist attack, this one, especially the… it's a political one and it is done by fascist group…

Spokesman:  I think this is as far as I will go for today.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General has any message to the British people regarding the Brexit poll, which is due next week?

Spokesman:  The message is that obviously this will be a sovereign decision of the British people and that the Secretary‑General, I think, has always valued the very strong relationship that exists between the United Nations and a strong European Union, which is a critical partner of the UN, and I would refer you back to his speech he made in Saint Petersburg yesterday.

Question:  Have you contemplated, I mean, any repercussions regarding an exit from the European Union on the refugees…?

Spokesman: I think we contemplate… we contemplate a lot of things all over the world.  We'll have to see what the decision of the British people will be.  Michelle?

Question:  Separate topic.  But, has the UN responded to the Saudi letter regarding the Children and Armed Conflict report?  And have you received any requests to meet with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince next week?

Spokesman:  Not… on your first question, not yet.  We have not yet full… officially responded to the letter.  My understanding is that an official request has come to the Office of the Secretary‑General for a meeting with the Deputy Crown Prince.  And as soon as we're able to confirm something, we shall confirm something.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  When we confirm it.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, I think you will have seen there was a lengthy interview of Anders Kompass by IRIN, which obviously used to be UN-affiliated, now is no longer.  I wanted to ask you about a specific part of it.  He says:  “To my knowledge, and up to this date, the UN has neither taken any initiative to address the systemic issues of internal accountability raised by the behavior of UN officials towards me nor initiated any process of redress for the, ‘very real negative consequences’ suffered by me and my family and recognized by the External Panel.” 

Spokesman:  I think the panel has made it clear, the Secretary-General has accepted the findings of the panel. He has named Ms. [Jane Holl] Lute, who is following up on the panel.  We have taken the panel’s work extremely seriously.  And we have moved forward on these issues.

Question:  I had asked you this before, but because you say that, I mean, Stephen Lewis, in this building, had said that the Secretary-General personally never really has addressed… the findings of the panel were about the people very close to him, the Chief of Staff, Head of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], Head of the Ethics Office… where has he actually… what did he change after this?

Spokesman:  I respectfully disagree with Mr. Lewis.  I think the Secretary-General, who was the one in the first place who called for… who convened the panel, accepted the panel’s findings.  I would refer you to the findings on the individuals.  And has moved very swiftly on improving the system on how we deal with sexual violence and abuse.

Question:  Then why is there still this prostitution problem in the CAR [Central African Republic], discussed by the Parliament there months later?

Spokesman:  I think there will be… The point is there may very well be issues that come up.  I think it is how we react to them and how swiftly we react to them.  Mr. Abbadi?  Your microphone, please, sir.

Question:  The Deputy Secretary‑General is receiving Modibo Keita of Mali this afternoon.  What is the subject matter?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that meeting.  If I have something, I'll share it with you.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah.  On Yemen, it seems there is discord between the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates regarding the future of south of Yemen.  The Emirates declared that the war is over in the south and they have to reinforce the power of the Government in the south and forget about the rest of Yemen and then they changed their mind.  So, what's the latest on that and on the political process?

Spokesman:  I think the first part of your question, that's a question that should be addressed to both the Saudis and the UAE.  We're not here to insert ourselves in whatever discussions they may be having.  The talks are continuing in Kuwait under the chairmanship of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.  Just yesterday, the Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait have been continuing.  Yesterday, the Government of Yemen delegation met with the Ansar Allah and General People's Congress.  The Prisoners Committee also held a session in order to discuss the most effective mechanisms needed to advance progress on the issue.  So, the talks are continuing at their own pace, but the talks are continuing.  Majeed?

Question:  Is it true there's a Saudi-United Arab Emirates bilateral matter, but it concerns the Yemeni people…?

Spokesman:  I understand.  Our focus remains on the political talks which are continuing.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Doctors without Borders announced that they would not accept donation or funding from the European Union or its members in protest of the EU agreement with… about refugees with Turkey.  Any comments about that?

Spokesman:  No.  Mr. Lee?

Spokesman:  Sure, thanks a lot.  Two things on peacekeeping and something on the South Korean mission and the Secretary‑General.  In Burundi… it was said in this room that the police contingent of the Burundians in CAR, when they leave, will not be replaced from Burundi, but the question has arisen, there's also a military soldier, non-police of 800 soldiers, and so does the… doesn't the same logic apply?  What is the plan of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] when these 800 soldiers' term runs out?  Will they be replaced from within…?

Spokesman:  When we have something to update you on that, I will.

Question:  Okay.  I also wanted to ask, I heard the DPKO was about to take 900 Sri Lankan soldiers for the mission in Mali, and I wanted to know, given the war crimes issues that arose in the military there, what is… how exactly is it going to be vetted?  I've heard from people there that the human rights staff in the country is… is understaffed.  They have left.  How is the vetting being done?

Spokesman:  It is being vetted obviously very closely.  It is being vetted through the usual procedures, and we're very thankful for Sri Lanka's commitment to peacekeeping.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks.  I wanted to ask you, yesterday, the South Korean mission here put out a statement in Korea to the Korean press denying a number of things, saying that it was nothing inappropriate about the mission setting up meetings for the Secretary‑General with South Korean top political figures we've discussed here.  Here's the one I wanted to ask you about.  They directly denied that the mission has played any role in writing speeches or remarks for the Secretary‑General.  And I'm asking you this because I know someone who did just that at the mission.  So, I want to ask you directly, to your knowledge, does the… has the Secretary‑General had speeches or remarks written by staff members or advisers to the South Korean mission?

Spokesman:  To my knowledge, no.  The Secretary‑General has a full and excellent staff of speechwriters who work for the United Nations and who work for him and who write his speeches, whether he's delivering them in Korea or whether he's delivering them in New York.

Question:  And what role was the… I mean, so we'll see, because there's somebody that says that they did it.  But, in what role… what is the role of the mission in setting up meetings with… for the Secretary‑General?  I think you'd said that the mission suggested a meeting…

Spokesman:  Right.  And I think it's not unlike any other mission, when political leaders from other countries come and they want to meet the Secretary‑General, it is the mission that they represent who suggests meetings.  And then it's up to the Office of the Secretary‑General to accept or deny those meetings.  I think it's completely natural.

Question:  I was once… I… asked to speak to a Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korean mission and the purpose of the meeting was essentially to tell me how to write about Ban Ki‑moon and how…

Spokesman:  That's a question between you and the permanent mission of…

Question:  Seems like… it seems to implicate Ban Ki‑moon.  He's not aware of that?

Spokesman:  That's what… I will stop there because we're getting into…

Question:  What?

Spokesman:  Into an issue that's between you and that permanent mission.  Thank you all.  Have a wonderful weekend, and I hear the ambassador of Spain behind me.

For information media. Not an official record.