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

23 March 2015

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

Good afternoon.

**Yemen

Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, briefed the Security Council by videoconference during its emergency session yesterday afternoon on the crisis in that country.  He said that he was working with all sides with the hope to resolve the current standoff and to avert civil war in order to put back on track the political transition.

Nevertheless, events of recent weeks and days seem to be leading Yemen further away from a peaceful settlement and towards the edge of civil war.  Mr. Benomar said that there is a prevailing sense amongst Yemenis that the situation is on a rapid downward spiral.  Many are also concerned that the conflict is taking on worrying sectarian tones and deepening north-south divisions.

He said that the UN continues to be engaged with the parties in a manner that neither gives legitimacy to those who used force to disrupt the political process nor diminishes the legitimacy of the President and Government nor harms the impartiality of the UN.  And he urged all sides in this time of rising tensions and inflammatory rhetoric to appreciate the gravity of the situation and to de-escalate by exercising maximum restraint, ceasing all hostilities and refraining from provocation and using violence to achieve political goals.

In a presidential statement, the Security Council, among other things, supported the legitimacy of President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi and called upon all parties and Member States to refrain from taking any actions that undermine the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen, and the legitimacy of the President of Yemen.

**Libya

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino Leon, is in Brussels today.  He is meeting with representatives of municipal and local councils from a number of towns and cities across Libya to continue working on confidence-building measures.

Yesterday during a press conference in Morocco, where the dialogue has been taking place, Mr. Leon said that the further discussions are expected to determine the names of people who will be part of the unity government.  He added that the UN remains committed to help the parties to do everything possible to counteract the military escalation and expedite the talks so that much-needed results are achieved soon.

More information is available online

**Singapore

Yesterday we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the death of the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

The Secretary-General was deeply saddened by the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore.  And he offered his condolences to the family of the former Prime Minister, the Government and the people of Singapore.

The Secretary-General is grateful for the strong cooperation between the Government of Singapore and the United Nations, and looks forward to deepening this partnership.

The full statement is available online.

**South Sudan

Over the weekend, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that up to 250 child soldiers, including four girls, one as young as nine, were released in South Sudan from an armed group, the Cobra Faction.  The Fund adds that another 400 should be released over the next two days.

The Cobra Faction has advised UNICEF that they have up to 3,000 child soldiers in their armed group.

The release happened in the remote village of Lekuangole, in Jonglei State.  It is the third release of children following a peace deal between the faction and the Government.  The Government’s National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) and UNICEF are working together to care for the children and reintegrate them back in their communities.

UNICEF and partners will begin the process of tracing their families, and where necessary providing psychosocial support.

And the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has assisted with the screening and verification of the children who have been released.  The United Nations continues to advocate for the unconditional release of children from all armed forces and groups.

And also on South Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that tensions and fighting were reported in the Greater Upper Nile States, with local communities fleeing towards the borders with Ethiopia and Sudan.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that aid agencies reached over 966,000 people with food in February, over half of whom were located in conflict areas.

Over the last week, 91 metric tons of relief supplies were airlifted on behalf of ten aid organizations to Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States.

OCHA also says that some $200 million of the $529 million pledged in Nairobi last month has since been committed.  It adds that it is vital that remaining pledges are quickly converted into commitments and disbursements to enable aid agencies to take maximum advantage of the dry season ahead of the next rains.

**Western Sahara

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, has returned to the region.  He will visit Nouakchott, Tindouf, Rabat and Algiers between 22 and 29 March.  He will also visit London and Moscow shortly thereafter.

**Vanuatu

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that more than 166,000 people on 22 islands in Vanuatu have been affected by last week's Cyclone Pam.  A flash appeal will be launched tomorrow in the capital, Port Vila, seeking funds to support the emergency response.

As you may have seen over the weekend, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Vanuatu, Osnat Lubrani, said that she saw first-hand the impact on families when she visited an evacuation centre, adding that it is a testimony to the serious work undertaken by the Government on disaster risk reduction and preparedness that all the families reached the centre before the cyclone hit.  That saved lives, as their entire settlement was destroyed.   

The full statement is online.

**World Meteorological Day

Today is World Meteorological Day, and this year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is focusing on the need for climate knowledge which remains an invaluable resource and a prerequisite for decision-making for climate action.

And in his message for the Day, the Secretary-General stresses that mitigating climate change and adapting to it are among the great tests of our time.  He reiterates the need for timely, reliable information, delivered to those who need it, in a form that is accessible and usable, in order to meet the challenges of climate change.

More information is available online.

**Follow-Up to Questions

I was asked last week about some communications made by staff representatives about the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) and salaries of senior officials at the United Nations.

I have been informed by the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) that what was tweeted and broadcasted by staff representatives is incorrect.  First of all, the conditions of service, including the salaries, of Assistant Secretaries-General and Under-Secretaries-General are set by the General Assembly and not by the ICSC or the Secretary-General.

At the moment, the International Civil Service Commission is reviewing the compensation package of the International Professional staff from the P-1 to the D-2 levels and as part of this review it is considering the structure of the salary scale.  Whatever the Commission decides in this respect will be presented to the General Assembly for its decision.  The General Assembly is the one to decide on all the recommendations.

**Honour Roll

For the honour roll, Uzbekistan has joined the ranks of those countries which have fully paid their regular budget dues for this year.  The total number is now 64.

**Press Conference Today

And in a short while, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Jean-Victor Nkolo, who you see before you right there, who will be here to talk about the passing of the former Prime Minister of Singapore and the upcoming unveiling of the Permanent Memorial on Slavery, as well as the slave trade commemorative events on 25 March 2015, which is Wednesday.

**Questions and Answers

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes.

Question:  I have some other questions, but I wanted to ask about the answer you gave for the questions from last week.  Thanks for getting that.  What I'd like to ask… I wasn't actually asking what they put on their Facebook page.  I'm asking about a document that's called Report of the Working Group on the Remediation Structure Refined Salary Scale Models/Structure.  It is an internal document of ICSC, but it very much describes increasing the number of steps and the amounts paid to higher ranked staff.  And I wanted to know what is the Secretary-General's position on what's been approved by ICSC then would be subjected to a GA vote?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I know the ICSC's recommendations are due not right now but later this year, I believe later in the summer, and would be considered by the General Assembly still later in the year.  The process first of all is still ongoing.  I don't believe that the ICSC has concluded that process. 

Beyond that, in terms of the question, the question not about raising people's pay at one level and decreasing at another but about whether the wage scales will be compressed or decompressed.  In other words, when you enter a level, how long do you stay at… within that same wage scale before you go up another step and another step beyond that?  You know, do you ascend quickly from one… from one step to the next step if you're at one particular level?  Or does it happen more slowly? 

And, you know, and is there that much of a difference from when you enter and when you leave, between the highest rank… the highest level at which you're paid entering… entering a level and the lowest level, the entry level.  And on these cases, the question is really one of compression versus decompression in other words.

And what we're trying to see is how the United Nations stacks up against other international organizations and whether our scales are comparable to theirs, are better or worse.  We want them, you know, in the broadest sense to be comparable, and that's where we basically stand.  But in terms of formulations, that is really in the hands, like I said, of the International Civil Service Commission, and then beyond that once they've come up with their recommendations later in the year, it's in the hands of the General Assembly.

Question:  When you say we, you mean the Secretary-General?  That is his position is to favour this…

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's position is basically that we want to make sure that whatever packages of whatever compensation we afford at any level is comparable to the best practices of other organizations so that we're in line with… with where they are.  How that is applied is really a decision for the Civil Service Commission.  Yeah, and like I said, it's not… again, it's not a question as was discussed last week of raising rates at one level and decreasing them so much as it is one of the question of compression versus decompression.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Following the visit last week by USG [Jeffrey] Feltman and Mohamed Ibn Chambas in Nigeria, does the Secretary‑General believe conditions now are… on the ground where we can expect a free, credible and transparent process?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are hopeful that there can be a free, credible and transparent process.  And this is what Jeffrey Feltman and Mohammed Ibn Chambas were trying to encourage.  And this is what we will continue to be pushing for.  We'll keep, of course, evaluating the circumstances until we get to this weekend's elections and we may have something more to say at that point.  But our hope is for an election where people can participate freely and where they can participate without fear throughout the country.

Yes, in the back.

Question:  Farhan, there will be meeting in Moscow for the Syria and some reports that Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura will attend it.  Can you confirm it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can't confirm his attendance but I'll check.  Yes.

Question:  Two questions regarding South Sudan.  The first, regarding this Cobra Faction, do we have any… or do you have any information regarding their funding and possible affiliation?  And the second question, regarding the UN tracing of children, what tactics are used or how do they go about tracing and verifying children affiliated with a family or group or a region?

Deputy Spokesman:  That work is done on the ground by UNICEF and its partners.  Basically, they try to make sure as they're in touch with different armed groups to get the names and details of the people who are released and then they, in turn, try to follow up on those details to track down their families and communities so that they can be reintegrated. 

Regarding the Cobra Faction, the information I have is available is the one that's been made available by UNICEF which is dealing with this issue and you can talk to them for anything further.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible] the media that the Iraqi army is perpetrating atrocities against minorities or other groups like the Sunnis in the areas which they are liberating from Da’esh.  Do you have any an independent source to verify these or to approve or disapprove of that?

Deputy Spokesman: We have, as you know, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, which has a Human Rights Office of its own and has been reporting regularly on the activities by various groups, whether they're the State authorities or other militia groups and others, and you'll have seen the various reports that we've put out including, as you know, one last week that was issued at the… by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning the violence perpetrated especially by Da’esh and in response to Da’esh. 

So we have concerns about activities by the authorities or affiliated groups including those that can contribute to sectarian violence and we've made that clear, and we'll continue to make that clear and take this issue up with the government of Iraq.  But I would also refer you also to reports such as the one we issued last week on this.

Question:  Another question.  The view that the Houthis are totally refusing to go to Riyadh and they suggest the only venue for any dialogue, is Jamal Benomar considering… suggesting another place other than Riyadh for negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Benomar is working with the various parties trying to see what he can do to bring the talks forward.  If he has anything further, we'll let you know, but I'd just refer you back to what he said yesterday at the Security Council.  Richard.

Question:  Can you tell us what happened yesterday regarding the fire where smoke filled our hallways?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, there was a fire in the gift shop area in the basement, and so there was smoke coming from that.  It seems to have been an electrical fire, and the situation was resolved after a short while on Sunday afternoon.  I do know that two members of UN security did go to the hospital as a precautionary measure and then we hope they're doing well now.  But the situation has… had been resolved.

Question:  Was this construction equipment there, or what was the source?

Deputy Spokesman:  It was… it was some sort of electrical problem as far as I'm aware.  I think it has to do with electrical… with electrical wiring being dampened somehow.  Yeah.

Question:  Farhan, since I was here and so was Richard, in this smoke, did the members of the security staff go to the hospital for smoke inhalation?

Deputy Spokesman:  For smoke inhalation… yeah, as a precautionary measure to deal with smoke inhalation, exactly.

Question:  And, on Yemen, has the Secretary-General… has he been making any calls in the region?  Is there any follow-up to what the Security Council did yesterday?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any calls today to spell out.  You'll, of course, have seen the activities that we've had up through then and the statements that he's put out, but there's nothing new today on this.  Errol.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Since Stéphane was giving us for days honour roll who have paid who is still missing in the game, I wonder since there are… there are States who are… whose ambassadors are complaining in the press from the Eastern Europe that the strong dollar is really hurting their position here in New York.  I wonder is there any effect, have you heard anything of that that the further payment could be delayed because of the strong dollar or something like that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those are internal issues for every country.  Of course, we're aware of the economic circumstances that each country has to deal with and are sympathetic to that, but, as you also know, the payment of dues is a treaty obligation, and so we entrust our Member States to come up with their dues in a timely fashion.  And of course, we give them credit as including through the honour roll when they do.  Yes.

Question:  One follow‑up on Yemen and also something on Mali.  I heard what Jamal Benomar said yesterday, but since then there have been two statements I wanted to ask if there's any response to.  One is by the new Foreign Minister of Yemen calling for a no-fly zone, making this request presumably to the Arab League, and also from the Foreign Minister from Saudi Arabia saying they'll take whatever necessary measures to curb Houthi advance.  So I’m just wondering, obviously, Jamal Benomar said there is no military solution and there should be talks, but is there any response by the UN to these two statements?  

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in general, like I said at the start of this briefing, Mr. Benomar did urge all sides in this time of rising tensions and inflammatory rhetoric to appreciate the gravity of the situation and de-escalate by exercising maximum restraint, ceasing all hostilities and refraining from provocation and using violence to achieve political goals.  And that remains our standpoint as a whole. 

Regarding a request to the League of Arab States, of course, that will be for them to consider.  

Question:  On the same subject, obviously yesterday, even Qatar mentioned that they will take whatever necessity since Benomar called for no foreign interference in Yemen and this was the position of the United Nations in general.  How do you categorize such statements by Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've just said what Mr. Benomar's position is and that's his position across the board.

Question:  Sure.  On Mali and then also DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo)… on Mali, given that there have been these protests in northern Mali of the I guess preliminary deal that was reached, it seems like there's at least some people there that don't believe it's a… it provides sufficient autonomy.  So I wanted to know, what is kind of the UN's role in the ongoing talks and what does the UN in that context think of Mali saying there will be no further changes, this is the deal?  Is the deal actually struck or does the conflict continue?

Deputy Spokesman:  We couldn't comment on different remarks made by any of the parties until the process is finished.  The process is ongoing and we'll see what kind of agreement they reach.

Question: I just wanted to ask on DRC, obviously, there was the meeting of the Security Council last week, but what is… what is MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) or DPKO's (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) estimate of how effective this military operation by the FARDC (Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo) has been in terms of the stated goal of the UN and of the Security Council to neutralize the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)?  Is it taking place?  Is the campaign winding down?  Have they gone back into the… basically there are reports that the FDLR has pulled back and beyond the reach of the army and will continue as a military force going forward.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't think we're going to evaluate the campaign until we've seen the full extent of it.  I don't know at this point how much longer this lasts and what this entails.  But, obviously, you've heard what Mr. [Martin] Kobler had to say and we'll continue to monitor the events and see what the results will be.  Yes.

Question: Yeah, Farhan, after the release of many prisoners from Aden, including hundreds of Al-Qaida prisoners, is there any effort to recapture these people?  Is the authority… are the authorities in Aden doing anything to recapture these Al-Qaida members?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't speak for the authorities in Aden. 

Jean-Victor. 

For information media. Not an official record.