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15 April 2015

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.

Good afternoon.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, spoke at the Security Council’s open debate on women, peace and security today.

She presented the latest report of the Secretary-General on sexual violence, which she spoke to you at length yesterday at this briefing.

Ms. Bangura will start her visit to the Middle East tomorrow, where she is expected to visit Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.  Her first visit to the region comes at a time when the use of sexual violence is being increasingly seen as a tactic of terror by extremists groups.  

**Yemen

And we have a humanitarian update on Yemen.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the ongoing conflict has significantly exacerbated the humanitarian needs for millions of people.  For instance, in the Hajjah Governorate, nearly the entire population has been affected and people need access to food, water, shelter and sanitation.

The suspension of commercial flights to Yemen continues to limit access for international humanitarian staff in and out of the country.  Operations at sea ports are also restricted.  Armed clashes in southern Yemen have inhibited the delivery of supplies to areas with the greatest needs.

Despite the challenges, a second aircraft loaded with lifesaving supplies from UNICEF arrived at Sana’a International Airport yesterday, bringing nearly 76 metric tons of antibiotics, bandages and syringes, as well as IV sets and other materials.

UNICEF adds that the food and fuel crisis is intensifying rapidly.  Supply ships carrying wheat and fuel were recently refused entry at Hodeidah port.

Also, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that nearly 10.6 million Yemenis are now severely food insecure, of which 4.8 million are facing "emergency" conditions, suffering from severe lack of food access, very high and increasing malnutrition, and irreversible destruction of livelihoods.

So far more than 730 people have been killed and nearly 2,760 have been injured, according to WHO (World Health Organization).

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that more than 1,260 people fleeing conflict have arrived in Djibouti and Somalia over the past two weeks.  And it is making contingency plans to receive an additional 30,000 refugees in Djibouti and 100,000 in Somalia over the next six months.

**Migrants

And I just wanted to flag to you another humanitarian crisis.

Reports that some 400 migrants have died off the coast of Libya, when their boat capsized, have triggered a series of reaction from UN agencies.

The UN refugee agency is appealing afresh to Governments across the region to prioritize the saving of lives, including by urgently expanding and upgrading search and rescue capacities.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, stressed the importance of a robust rescue-at-sea mechanism in the central Mediterranean, bemoaning the fact that the Mare Nostrum rescue programme was never replaced by an equivalent capacity.

The refugee agency has shared specific proposals, including establishing a European robust search and rescue operation, a possible EU (European Union) scheme to compensate shipping companies involved in rescuing people at sea, and a pilot relocation programme for Syrian refugees arriving in Italy and Greece.

So far in 2015, some 31,500 people are known to have made crossings towards these two countries, Italy and Greece — and numbers have recently been rising further.

And the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, also issued a statement from Doha, where, as you know, he is attending the 13th United Nations Crime Congress.

He said migrant smuggling cruelly exploits desperation and provides the criminal networks with enormous profits.  We must confront the criminals and break up their network, Mr. Fedotov added, saying that cooperation among nations, intergovernmental organizations and civil society must be strengthened.

**Middle East

And from the Middle East, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, who is now in place, said he was encouraged by the Palestinian Government’s commitment to assume its rightful responsibilities in Gaza.

He met with Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and said that he was encouraged by the commitment of his Government to assume its responsibilities in Gaza, including on the control of the crossings as well as civil service reform and integration.  The UN stands ready to support any constructive effort in this regard.

Mr. Mladenov added that the UN remains committed to supporting the reconstruction of Gaza.  With the advent of a number of large scale housing and infrastructure projects, it would be important for Israel and all stakeholders to work together and accelerate the entry of construction material.

**Lebanon

Meanwhile, from Lebanon, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, this week visited Syrian refugees living in harsh conditions in informal settlements in south Lebanon.  He called for the international community to do more to ease their plight.

Lebanon is hosting nearly 1.2 million Syrian refugees, representing around a quarter of Lebanon’s total population.  The massive influx since the start of the Syria crisis in March 2011 has seen refugees settle in every corner of Lebanon, putting a huge strain on stretched services and infrastructure.

Mr. Guterres said that the situation in that country would be comparable to the US hosting more than 80 million refugees in just four years.

There’s more information on the UNHCR’s website.

**Mali

From Mali, the Head of the UN Mission in the country, Mongi Hamdi, strongly condemned today the suicide attack at the entrance of a MINUSMA camp in Ansongo, in the Gao region.  Three civilians have lost their lives in the attack, and seven others were injured.  Nine peacekeepers from Niger have also been injured, including two seriously.

Mr. Hamdi said this attack was cowardly and appalling, but would not deter the Mission from its aim to restore peace and security in Mali.

**Niger

And from Niger, our humanitarian colleagues say today that Niger’s national survey on food vulnerability in rural areas show that 2.5 million people — that’s nearly 15 per cent of the country’s population — are food insecure.

The Sahel, as you know, continues to face a chronic humanitarian emergency, also worsened by the current violence in Nigeria.

**Burundi

And on Burundi, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, gave a press conference today in Bujumbura, saying that Burundi is at a crossroads, and that its future may well depend on which path is chosen by individual politicians and their supporters, as well as various key authorities, over the next few weeks.

He stressed that both in and outside of Burundi many people are extremely worried about tensions rising sharply as the elections approach.

The High Commissioner said journalists have been harassed and threatened, as have human rights defenders.  He added that the militia of the Imbonerakure, which openly supports the Government, appears to be operating increasingly aggressively and with total impunity.

Ultimately, it is the authorities who have the obligation to protect all citizens and residents from intimidation and violence committed by any individual [or] group.  The High Commissioner stressed that criticism is a vital element of democracy, not a threat that must be crushed.

**Sudan

And from Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) received reports that some 20,000 people have been displaced in Geissan in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, following intensified fighting between the SPLM-N (Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North) and Government forces in the area.

Requests by aid organizations to travel to the area to verify the reports and assess humanitarian needs have so far been denied by the authorities.

Conflict has been ongoing in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since 2011.  Access to SPLM-N controlled areas, where hundreds of thousands of people are understood to be in need of assistance, has been blocked and aid operations in Government-controlled territory are also heavily restricted.

OCHA continues to call on the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular in relation to the protection of civilians, to ensure safe, timely and unhindered access for aid organizations, as called for in Security Council resolution 2046.

**Energy

And just about now, across town, the Secretary-General is speaking at the Future of Energy Summit organized by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The Secretary-General is expected to say that this year our overarching goals are to eradicate extreme poverty and to hold the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

He will stress that these goals are mutually reinforcing — and they can be achieved if we work together.

The Secretary-General will also spotlight how energy is a story of global progress, with global investments in renewable power and fuels having spiked nearly 15 per cent since 2013.

But with renewables still contributing less than 10 per cent of global electricity, the Secretary-General will highlight how incentives can shift this forward.

We’ll of course put out the speech.

**Questions and Answers

Voila.  Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding Yemen, these figures, about 730 killed, people on the ground and reporters mentioned over 2,000 killed, mostly civilians.  Today, for example, a whole family was wiped out in Saada.  The marketplace was targeted by aerial bombardment.  Also, in Hajjah, you mentioned Hajjah, that there is a dire need for food and water.  The water supplies were targeted by aerial bombardment.  And Hajjah is adjacent to Saudi Arabia so that means people can flee.

Spokesman:  Nizar, what is your question, my friend?

Question:  The question is here… it seems there is systematic targeting of civilians and these… in this aerial campaign and people are denied access.  As you mentioned in Hodeidah, the… the…

Spokesman:  Nizar, I'm still not hearing a question mark.

Question:  Yeah.  Here, I mean what is the position of the United Nations regarding the targeting of civilians systematically and the number of civilians…

Spokesman:  I think the… thank you for your question, Nizar.  The Secretary-General, the humanitarian coordinator, and I think for Yemen and others have repeatedly called and called loudly and clearly for all those involved in the current conflict to respect international humanitarian law and international law, notably not to target civilian infrastructures, be they schools, water treatment facilities, and so forth.  We are working very hard to try to deliver aid.  I think, as you just heard, food… ships with food on board have been denied access.  We have managed to land a plane in to our colleagues at UNICEF with medical supplies.  We'll continue to try to get as much aid in as possible, and that's why we're repeatedly called for cessation of the violence and for the… for humanitarian aid to be able to reach those who need it freely and as soon as possible.

Question:  Who denied the ship's access…?

Spokesman:  I'll try to get some details from OCHA.  But obviously, it is people who have the capacity to do that.

Question:  Has the Saudis allowed any refugees to cross the border into Saudi Arabia since Hajjah is very close to that?

Spokesman:  We will ask our UNHCR colleagues if they have an update on that.  Yes.  And then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Is there any updates on reports that Iran will be among those invited to the next Syria talks?

Spokesman:  No, as I mentioned yesterday to you, the invitation list is still being worked out.

Question:  Oh.

Spokesman:  But I think it is clear that Iran, like other countries in the region, has a role to play in settling the conflict in Syria.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask about Burundi and Western Sahara.  On Burundi, you read out what Prince Zeid had said there, but I wanted to know, there's a letter that I've seen a copy of that was supposedly directed to the Secretary-General from civil society groups in the country asking that he do a… what… about this the militia that you… that you named.  I wanted to know, has the Secretary-General received such a letter?  And also, is there any readout of his meeting yesterday with the Interior Minister, and was he aware that this same Minister was on film defending killings in 2013…?

Spokesman:  I have… Let me take it in no particular order.  I have not seen the letter.  I will check.  I asked for a readout.  I thought I would have it, so I hope to have it soon, of that meeting.  And once we have it…

Question:  Was it at the request of Burundi or Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  It was at the request of Burundi.

Question:  On Western Sahara… I just wanted to ask, there are reports and I wanted to know whether you or MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] know if they are true of a, quote, Moroccan crackdown on demonstrations in [inaudible] directed at the idea of there being a human rights monitoring mechanism so it…

Spokesman:  We will ask.

Question: …seems like…

Spokesman:  We will ask our colleagues in MINURSO.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the sexual violence, this is a crime that's not being discussed by the Sixth Committee or the Third Committee but by the Security Council, and I read Ms. [Zainab] Bangura's address to the Council this morning and what you said about violence, which is increasingly seen as a terrorist tactic by extremist terrorist groups.  But what are the specific links between sexual violence and international security?

Spokesman:  Well, I… I think… you know, we've seen sexual violence in conflict used as a tool of… as a tool of war, as a way of inflicting terror, as a way to punish civilian populations.  And I think in that context, it is clearly linked to international peace and security.  Mr. Lauria.  And then Mr. Carpenter.

Question:  Thank you.  I didn't come in here with a question, but I have one now.

Spokesman:  Glad I inspired.

Question:  You have.  You have.

Spokesman:  It's my job.

Question: On the proposed Syria meeting, yesterday you mentioned there would be one-on-one… it would be a one-on-one format.  So that [Staffan] de Mistura will speak one on one with whoever is invited?  Will they be speaking, the participants speaking with themselves one on one?

Spokesman:  I'm trying to help you visualize this and I'm trying to visualize it myself.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  It's not as if everyone who is invited will be in one location on one day.  Mr. de Mistura will do… you know, go from room to room.  This will be… it is not a one-time event.  It is more of a process.  It is a rolling event.  So different parties will either come to see Mr. de Mistura or he may go to see them, so I think that's the way we have to…

Question:  Okay.  So having said that, [Lakhdar] Brahimi met with the Iranians, I'm pretty sure about that… Has Mr. de Mistura done that and is he has…

Spokesman:  If I'm not mistaken, he has been to Tehran.  If I stand… if I stand corrected, I will let you know.

Question:  What's the question of the invitation?  He will go to Iran and talk to them.

Spokesman:  I think we're… you know, I answered the question about our… about Iran's role.  I just don't want to announce all the invitations until they've all been decided.  So, again, Iran clearly has a role to play, as do other countries in the region.  But I think we shouldn't be obsessed with invitation and Iran.  I think it's a question of who else, whether it's different parties internally to the conflict, in the region or globally, who will be invited.

Question:  So… why are invitations even necessary if they're not coming to one place?

Spokesman:  Invitations in terms of be invited to speak to Mr. de Mistura.  He's got to… I mean, we have to decide who he will be speaking to for the ones coming to Geneva.

Question:  But if he wants to speak to the Iranians he can do that now…

Spokesman:  We're talking about these invitations as part of this renewed process.

Question:  But then it becomes politicized.  We all remember what happened last time when had to reverse yourself.

Spokesman:  We can all do Monday-morning quarterbacking or Friday-morning…

Question:  What's today?

Spokesman: No, no, Friday… we can all do quarterbacking before the game.

Question:  Today's Wednesday.

Spokesman:  …or after the game.  I think Mr. de Mistura's initiative is meant to reignite the political process, reinvigorate it at the request of the Secretary-General, and I think in the face of the violence we've seen over the four-plus years now, it just reinvigorated that need to find a political solution.  Mr. Carpenter and then we will go to the newly seated…

Question:  Stéphane, any update on the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] base in Yarmouk?

Spokesman:  No, I have not received anything from UNRWA today.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Speaking about Iran, has the Secretary‑General decided that under no circumstances will he ever weigh in on the Iran nuclear deal that's been reached?

Spokesman:  Masood, I think we're… we're… we're…

Question:  No, I…

Spokesman:  There's no need to be that categorical.

Question:  I'm just…

Spokesman:  There is… Let me finish.

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  There is a framework for these Iran nuclear talks, which include five members of the Security Council plus… plus Germany, plus participation of the European Union, and obviously the participation of Iran.  It is a framework that the Secretary-General wholly supports.  He has been voicing his hope that a final agreement will be reached within the deadline, which will send a strong message on the issue of nuclear proliferation which would also ease the tensions in the region.  So he is weighing it in that sense.  He is not participating directly in this framework.  But he wholly supports it.

Question:  I understand.  My only thing was that when I asked last time, I asked you a similar question, you said that… about… whether he's been briefed by…

Spokesman:  He's fully aware… he is fully aware about the interim agreement that has been reached, but the United Nations is not a direct participant in this framework.  It doesn't mean that we're not cheering it on.

Question:  Yeah.  But… but that means that he will at some point be briefed about it, and he…

Spokesman:  Yes, he is fully aware… he's fully aware of the… of the interim agreement.  And he's following the issue very closely.  Ms. Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Turning to Ukraine, I was wondering if there's any update regarding humanitarian conditions there and, specifically, if there's been any change in terms of the UN role there and its partners.  And finally, I know this had been concern, weeks ago that the Ukrainian Government was withholding, I believe, pensions and financial payments to those Ukrainians in the east… pro-separatists…

Spokesman:  This continues to be an issue of concern.  I think yesterday through OCHA we highlighted the fact that those people in areas that are not controlled by the Government are having difficulty accessing their pensions, which only makes the situations worse.  The number of people now displaced by this conflict, I think, has reached 1.2 million.  The number of refugees has reached over 760,000, the bulk of them having sought shelter in Russia.  I think what is increasingly worrying are the lack of access to food and the impact that is having on nutrition of people in those areas that are not controlled by the Government of Ukraine.

Question:  Just to follow up.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Is the UN putting any pressure on the Ukrainian Government to release these funds?

Spokesman:  I think we would… it's something we would like to… obviously it's something we would like to see.  The problem is that also the Government doesn't have full control over its… its territory.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to the humanitarian situation in Yemen and the decision of the legitimate Government of President [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi and the Saudis and the other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries to use Djibouti as a hub for humanitarian aid staging for delivery to Yemen, is there any coordination between the UN aid agencies and the Yemeni and the Saudis regarding this humanitarian hub?

Spokesman:  I will check.  I had not heard about this, but I will check with our humanitarian colleagues.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  In regards to the crisis in the Mediterranean, you mentioned that the recent events have triggered actions from the UN.  I was wondering, is the UN partnering more with the European Union as a whole or with individual countries like… such as Greece or Italy.

Spokesman:  I think it's not an either/or proposition.  Our colleagues at UNHCR are work both at the EU level and obviously are working very closely with Italian and the Greek authorities as… as is our partner organization, the International Organization of Migration.  I think obviously Greece and Italy are on the front lines, but Italy and also Greece, I think, have been carrying a huge burden on behalf of Europe in terms of dealing with this huge increase of migrants, and also what we're seeing is an increase in the number of people who have died trying to make that crossing.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask about Sri Lanka and also about elections in Burkina Faso and Guinea.  In Sri Lanka, I know that the report was… of the Human Rights Council was delayed until September, and the Secretary-General at least had a meeting about it, if not publicly made a recommendation of that.  But the Government has now said through one of its ministers, Mr. Perera, that they will not complete or even begin their investigation by September.  They will only report to the Human Rights Council on the modalities of some future investigation. 

So many people in the country, including those, I think, Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman met with, feel kind of deceived and disappointed even with the UN.  Is there any… what's the UN's response to this changed timetable?

Spokesman:  Let me check with our human rights colleagues.

Question:  Also, is there anyone in the UN system working… there have been these riots in Guinea for two days now about elections and about pushing through a timetable.  Is Mr. [Mohammed Ibn] Chambas, or is there any UN...

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  And finally, maybe this… you'll have a comment on this one because others have commented on it.  In Burkina Faso, where I know there was some UN involvement and even a statement by the Security Council, people that formerly supported Blaise Compaoré basically been banned in running the election.  Anyone supporting in the third term is out.  Countries have commented on.  What's the UN…

Spokesman:  I'm afraid to say that I'm 0 for 3.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Good.  Nizar and then…

Question:  On Yemen again, the Egyptians have sent troops to Saudi Arabia with… they are carrying out exercises with the Saudis with the intention of land attack against Yemen.  How does United Nations…

Spokesman:  You know, I can't predict what military actions countries will take.  Obviously, I think we've seen reports of military exercises.  I don't know what the end game will be.  I have no specific… we have no specific insight on that.  As a general rule, obviously, we are… we very much hope that countries also focus on de-escalation and cessation of the violence.

Question:  Another thing.  On Egypt, there was an attack against the Media City in Egypt and some stations went off air yesterday.  Is there any…

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports.  I will check.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Northern part of Kosovo, situation… I'm sorry.  Situation there is pretty tense.  This week the police station in Zubin Potok was attacked.  What's the Secretary-General's view on what's happening there and on [inaudible] Serbs [inaudible] the institutions of Kosovo, since you have a mission there?

Spokesman:  I will check with the mission if they have anything specific, but obviously, I think we would encourage all the communities in Kosovo to work through dialogue and to work through the existing institutions.  Mr. Lauria, then Mr. Lee.

Question:  One on Iran and one on Yemen, please.  On Iran, you pointed out very clearly the Secretary-General is not a participant in P5+1.  How does he feel about other parties trying to muscle in on this and become P5+2?  For example, the US Congress, as you know.

Spokesman:  I… I… I appreciate you trying to drag me into what is a…

Question:  You're welcome.

Spokesman:  …a local battle, but…

Question:  But it's not a local battle.

Spokesman:  It is a… I think the representation at the talks is representative of the Government and of a country, and it is up to each country to deal how… to deal with how it is represented…

Question:  Of course it's not local because it has international implications, but I'll accept this answer.

Spokesman:  I appreciate that.

Question:  You're welcome.  On Yemen, the GCC initiative that put President Hadi in office and that this initiative was endorsed by Security Council clearly states that he be there for two years and there would be an election and that two-year term ended on 21 February of this year.  Do you have any view on how this man could still be considered a legitimate President of Yemen?

Spokesman:  What we see is breakdown of the political process in Yemen involving all the parties, those in power and those not in power, and we would encourage everybody to return to the table.  I think the resolution yesterday also fully supports the efforts of Mr. [Jamal] Benomar in that regard.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks a lot.  Hopefully, this might be a second strikeout, but I'm hoping not.  I'm hoping… I’ve asked you before… this is the third time.  The [Louise] Otis report on whistleblowers, the reason I'm asking you is that nine UN whistleblowers wrote to the Secretary-General, and one of their demands was that this Otis report and I know it exists because Mr. [Eduardo] del Buey talked about it in this room.  He said it would be finished by the end of 2013 so these people cover it more closely than I do and it seems maybe you do.  They say the report has never been released so can we find out where the report is?

Spokesman:  Yes, we'll find out.

Question:  This is more thematic one.  Maybe you can… whatever.  I won't predict.  But you were here yesterday when Zainab Bangura said that leaked report on pretty damning on UN peacekeepers sexual abuse — that was an internal report.  She said it didn't go to her office, that it only went to DFS [Department of Field Support] and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping].  And I wanted to know, what sense does it make for the UN to have an office on sexual violence and conflict that has no jurisdiction over sexual abuse by its own peacekeepers?

Spokesman:  I think… DPKO and DFS, I think, take these issues extremely seriously, and I think Ms. Bangura outlined that in terms of the drop in numbers knowing that one is one too many.  The mandate of her office is clear.  It was established… I won't say established because it predates me.  But her mandate is clear.  It is what it is.  And I think, as she says, whenever she comes across these things, she will… she reports them back to the Secretariat.  Thank you all.  Have great… I was going to say have a great weekend, but unfortunately I'll see you all tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.