The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good morning everyone.
**Noon Briefing Guest
I will be joined shortly by John Ging, the Operations Director for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). He will brief you on his recent trip to Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
And Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, is briefing the Security Council in consultations right now on the status of the talks with the Syrian parties. And once those consultations have ended, he will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout; we’ll let you know once he is ready to go there.
Earlier, the Security Council passed resolutions extending the mandates of the UN Missions in Darfur and Mali by one year and the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan by six months.
Today, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy is delivering much needed life-saving assistance to the besieged towns of Arbin and Zamalka in Rural Damascus. This is the first time an inter-agency convoy has reached these locations since November 2012. The convoy includes water, sanitation and hygiene items, as well as food, nutrition, education, health and other emergency supplies for 20,000 Syrian men, women and children in need.
Arbin and Zamalka were the last two besieged areas yet to be reached this year. The UN and its partners have now been able to access all 18 besieged locations in Syria through cross-line operations and airdrops. However, access cannot just be provided once. We continue to call for sustained access to these locations.
Also today, an inter-agency convoy is under way to deliver aid to the hard-to-reach location of Western Harasta City. Assistance includes food, water, sanitation and hygiene items, nutrition, education, health and other emergency supplies for 12,500 people. The last time the area was reached with inter-agency convoys was in November 2014.
Upon completion of today's convoys, since the start of 2016, more than 941,000 people, including more than 354,000 people in all besieged locations, have been reached with assistance through inter-agency operations, many of them more than once.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, today announced that the Yemeni peace talks would embark on a new phase for the next two weeks.
The Special Envoy said that, after extensive discussions with the participants, the main principles that will guide the next phase of Yemeni talks had been established. These principles are based on the working papers submitted by the two delegations and the recommendations of the specialized committees.
The two delegations will use the coming two weeks to meet their respective leaderships and will then return to Kuwait on 15 July with practical recommendations on how to implement the necessary mechanisms that will enable them to sign a peace accord and end the conflict in Yemen.
The Special Envoy will use the two-week period to meet with key Yemeni and regional political stakeholders to press for a comprehensive solution that will address the mechanisms discussed in the talks, which will ensure the security and stability of Yemen.
In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General condemned the terrorist attack at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport. He expresses his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Turkey. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General hopes that the perpetrators of this crime will be identified and brought to justice. He stands firmly by Turkey as it confronts this threat and stresses the need to intensify regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism.
Our humanitarian colleagues are announcing today the allocation of $10 million dollars from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to address the pressing humanitarian needs in the Lake Chad region and food insecurity and malnutrition in Chad’s Sahel belt.
More than 110,000 displaced people in the Lake region are living in precarious conditions, while in the Sahel belt, 1 million people are severely food insecure and 190,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Three UN agencies warn today that South Sudan is experiencing an unprecedented level of food insecurity, with more than a third of the population in urgent need of assistance.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) say that up to 4.8 million people in South Sudan will be facing severe food shortages over the coming months, and the risk of a hunger catastrophe continues to threaten parts of the country.
This number does not include 350,000 residents at the UN Protection of Civilians areas or other camps for displaced people, who currently are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Food insecurity and conflict are also forcing many families to leave South Sudan for neighbouring countries. In the last few months alone, an estimated 100,000 South Sudanese have crossed into Sudan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, and this number is expected to increase to more than 150,000 people by the end of June. More information is available online.
As I mentioned, we will have John Ging after my briefing.
Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Joan Clos, on the Global Sample of Cities within the framework of the UN-Habitat Global Urban Observatory.
**Questions and Answers
That’s it for me. Are there any questions for me before we turn to our guest? Yes?
Correspondent: Thank you, Farhan. I wanted to ask you about an incident that happened on my network, the network I work for, Rudaw Media Network. Last Friday, there was an attack on Rudaw. There has been casualties. And ISIS, 24 hour ago, claimed the responsibility for the attack, and the authorities say that this is… was an attack that was done by ISIS. It is the first attack against a major television in… station headquarter in the Middle East. And ISIS threatened to do more and threatened all the Rudaw Media staff. What is your comment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you're aware, we are against all threats to media, and, as you know, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), Ján Kubiš, has spoken out against this attack. We are distressed that Da’esh continues to pose a threat, not just to civilians in the areas it controls and to different communities, including different minority groups, but… and other religious groups, but also to members of the media. And this, once again, underscores the need for international unity against Da’esh. Yes, Olga?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I just want to go back to UNICEF statement a few days ago about children killed in Syria after the airstrikes. And UNICEF said that this information comes from the partners on the ground, and you and also Stéphane [Dujarric] mention few times that United Nations does not have observers on the ground so the information you get is from humanitarian partners. So… and the question is… I mean, you don't name those organizations. Are you sure they are, like, reliable sources?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, UNICEF vouches for the credibility of the partners with which it deals. Of course, the UN as a system has not only its own staff but people who we rely upon for the distribution of aid and the implementation of our various programmes of assistance on the ground. And we also, of course, receive information from them. And UNICEF believes that it has reliable information about the sort of violence that has been faced by the children of Iraq… or, rather, of Syria on the ground there. Sorry. Thinking of the previous question.
Question: So I just… I mean, to follow up, so are you sure this is correct information?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is something that UNICEF has verified, and I would stand by what our UNICEF colleagues are talking about. Yes?
Question: Are you still expecting the Quartet report to be released today. If so, do you have a likely time? We won't hold you to it, but it's just for our planning. And is there a possibility… we're happy to sign… to get embargoed copies?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we expect it sometime today. No, I do not know what time. And I very much doubt we will be able to put it out with an embargo. What we're trying to do is just get the report to you as soon as we possibly can. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you again about Wau… what happened at Wau in South Sudan. Now the Government has held a press conference saying 43 people were killed. As I'd asked you, I think, on Monday, the opposition has said… used numbers as high as 400. What is the UN's… between these two competing claims, one, what is the UN doing in terms of the gates? And, also, what… primarily, what does it say is the number of people that were killed?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we, at this stage, do not have a reliable number of people who were killed. And the reason why that is is because of access restrictions. We, at this point, are trying to get our personnel to as many places as we can. We have been doing active patrolling where we can in Wau. But in terms of getting the factual data of casualties, we would need to have better access than we currently have. And we have been pleading for sufficient access. But, at this stage, we simply don't have a way of having that count. And regarding protection of civilians, we are protecting civilians, but it's not at the UN base itself. Like I've said over the past days, we've established an adjacent site where there are people… basically 12,000 people are being cared for.
Question: I guess my question is, if this is one of the countries which the UN has a pretty large peacekeeping mission and a human rights component, how can it be that the UN can't… is allowing these two very divergent numbers to exist? Is the UN going to come out with a number, or is it just an attempt to not provide a number?
Deputy Spokesman: We would like to be able to get the information about exactly what's going on on the ground in a sufficient way, but for that, we need access. This is a problem that we faced in many different circumstances. If the parties on the ground do not allow access, we can't go about our work. We need to go about it, but they, in turn, need to provide the access. Yeah, Joe?
Question: If there was a question of legal interpretation of the UN Charter in terms of authority or voting requirements, duration of terms on various UN bodies, would that be something that the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) would undertake on its own, or… it's a two‑part question… undertake on its own or only at the request of a Member State? And related to that question would be whether the proposal for Italy and the Netherlands to split the two‑year term coming up on the Security Council is permitted under the UN Charter. Is that something that the OLA might render an opinion on?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding your first general question, the Office of Legal Affairs stands ready to provide advice upon requests of Member States as needed. Regarding your second question about whether this is permitted or not, what I can tell you is that, earlier, there have been previous incidents of countries sharing terms on the Security Council. For example, in 1956 and 1957, Yugoslavia and the Philippines each split a two‑year term between them. In 1960 and '61, the same thing happened with Poland and Turkey. In 1961 and 1962, the same thing happened with Ireland and Liberia. In 1962 and 1963, the same thing happened with the Philippines and Romania. And in 1964 and 1965, the same happened with Malaysia and Czechoslovakia. So those are the previous incidents in which, instead of parties being elected to a two‑year term, you had two different nations split and take one year apiece. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. In his remarks before the Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, the Secretary‑General said the following: "Stabbing, vehicle ramming… rammings and shooting have only one name: Terrorism." On what legal framework he based his conclusion? Is that… is there any UN framework… is there any UN legal document that allows him to define these acts… acts as terrorism? That's one. Second, doesn't that go in contradiction with his statement on 26 January, when he addressed the Council and said, “History had taught us that every occupation generates resistance”? The third note… question, isn't he the first Secretary‑General to condemn Palestinians when they commit acts of violence in the occupied territory against two groups, soldiers and settlers only, not against civilians? I mean, all Secretaries‑General condemned attacking civilians. But he isn't the first Secretary‑General to condemn Palestinians when they act in this kind of violent form against occupation forces in the occupied territories?
Deputy Spokesman: Leaving aside the editorializing, the basic point is that Secretaries‑General, including the previous Secretary‑General, have issued statements condemning attacks that have happened in places like the West Bank. That's happened many times before, and you can…
Question: Civilians. Yes.
Deputy Spokesman: And you can see our database of statements, and you will see the record of that. Regarding civilians, part of the point is that the Secretary‑General sees attacks that disproportionately target civilians and are intended to terrify them as terrorism. As you know, the Member States themselves have not come out in terms of agreement with an agreed definition… legal definition of terrorism. But he… this is what he has done as a basic guiding principle. And certainly, it's very clear that many people who have been attacked, including children, are civilians. As for what you said about occupation, his views on occupation remain unchanged. They're reconcilable. We want to see an end to occupation, but we also want and need to see an end to the attacks that endanger the lives of innocent civilians. You cannot have an end to this crisis if people are made to live in fear. And we want to bring an end to all violence and all fear in… among Israelis and Palestinians alike. Yeah?
Question: Sure. I want to ask something about Burundi. But first, a follow‑up on Joe's question about the Security Council election. One, just… just, I guess, factually and observation‑wise, I saw, after the ambassadors of Italy and Netherlands were in the PGA's (President of the General Assembly) office, Movses Abelian of… of now DGACM (Department of General Assembly and Conference Management) go in. So I wanted to know, was this based on a request… maybe you can find out… a request by the two countries or a request by the PGA? And was it to provide the kind of precedent that you gave? And as to the precedents, this is what… maybe you'll answer. It seems like, in all the previous cases, these were two different regional groups, or it was prior to the existence of regional groups. So the question becomes, like, in this case, they said yesterday they're going to consult with each other even… not during their year, i.e., Italy consulting with Netherlands during its first year; Netherlands with Italy. So it's kind of… this didn't take place in the past. So the question is, does that comply with…
Deputy Spokesman: That has also taken place in the past. If you remember a few years ago, there were two different two‑year terms for Argentina and Brazil where they agreed with each other that they would consult with each other, so that they had a certain amount of information sharing between the Argentine delegation for its two‑year term and Brazil for its two‑year term. That was just a few years ago.
Question: So what if somebody doesn't agree… what if the non‑sitting party doesn't agree to a press statement? So how does that work?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not here to prejudge what the agreement is that they will reach. That's for the parties themselves to do. What I'm just pointing out is the previous record of precedents.
Question: Right. Can you… Mr. Abelian, was this to provide legal advice or not?
Deputy Spokesman: That… ultimately, it's not for me to comment. He's there as the head of the division… the department that deals with General Assembly affairs and Conference Management. He's supposed to be there for events that involve the General Assembly. And this is a General Assembly event. The election of Security Council members is held in the General Assembly. Yeah?
Question: Okay. Great. Thanks a lot. On Burundi, I just wanted to know if you have anything on Mugamba. This was the place where the President had said disarmament was required or there would be a crackdown, and now there are reports that there is, in fact, a crack… you know, fighting and a number of people dead. And I wanted to know, since especially the UN sort of had advanced notice this would take place, given the threat, is the UN present in any way? Does it have any estimate of casualties? What's going on?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we've made our concerns known about Burundi, including about Mugamba, in past weeks. So I'd refer you back to that. If there's anything further to say at this point, I'll check and see whether there's anything.
Question: And Monday down in… in Federal Court, there was a hearing for Mr. Ng Lap Seng in the ongoing case, and Assistant District Attorney [Daniel] Richenthal basically widened the case and said they're going to be… there's more things they're looking at as to Ng Lap Seng, and he also described in more detail a, quote, conduit of bribery taking place within the UN. And I wanted to know, since you've said you're monitoring it, what is the UN's response to the new information that was presented on Monday?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, we are aware of the latest information, and, as I've pointed out, the situation of South‑South News is under review. It continues to be under review, but certainly, any new information is useful in light of that. And with that, let me go to our guest.