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16 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.

**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Washington D.C., today where he will soon have a working lunch with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

He met in the morning with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and discussed the UN’s work on many issues of mutual concern, including Ebola, climate change, Syria and Yemen, and he will raise those and other issues this afternoon when he meets with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As we get readouts, we will share them with you.  And as you know, this evening, he will speak and take questions at the National Press Club, with a speech and a Q&A which should be webcast on C-Span and hopefully on our own Web TV.  And we hope to have perhaps embargoed copies of his remarks available to you early this afternoon.

**Yemen

Humanitarian update on Yemen:  the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners will be distributing food for some 105,000 displaced people in Aden over the next few days.

But the agency remains concerned about the challenges of feeding millions of people, who are now food insecure, amid a deteriorating security situation.  It has appealed to all warring parties to allow it to replenish its food and fuel stocks to save lives.

Yemen imports almost 90 per cent of its basic food from abroad.  The World Food Programme is also extremely concerned that the challenges in importing food will further affect people’s ability to feed their families, especially the poor and most vulnerable communities.  More information on the World Food Programme’s website.

Also on Yemen, you would have seen the note to correspondents we issued yesterday evening saying that the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has expressed an interest in moving onto other assignments.  The Secretary-General greatly appreciates the tireless efforts Mr. Benomar has made over the years to promote consensus and trust on a peaceful way forward in Yemen.

A successor is expected to be named in due course.  Until that time and beyond, the UN will continue to spare no efforts to re-launch the peace process in order to get the political transition back on track.

**Education

And a new report from the UN Children’s Fund and the UN Educational, Scientific and [Cultural] Organization, better known as UNESCO, says today that one in every four children and young adolescents in the Middle East and North Africa are either out of school or at risk of dropping out of school.

That represents more than 21 million children at risk of missing out on an education.

The report notes that impressive progress has been made in raising school enrolment over the past decade, with a 40 per cent reduction in the number of out-of-school children in the region.

But that progress has recently slowed due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality of learning and obviously conflict.

And that report is available online.

**South Africa

And a number of you had raised some questions about the recent xenophobic attacks we have seen in South Africa.  I just want to share that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says it remains concerned about the repeated incidents of this kind which date back as far as 2008 in communities that are poor, marginalized and in situations of vulnerability.

While acknowledging efforts made by the Government of South Africa in response to the xenophobic violence in the country, the UN is also concerned about populations that have been displaced as a result of this violence and encourages the Government to provide adequate protection to all affected persons, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

It also encourages the Government to accelerate enactment of legislation against hate crimes; hold those responsible for acts of violence and violations of human rights accountable; and formulate future policy responses to the situation of migrants that conform to international standards.

**Libya

And regarding Libya, a new round of UN-facilitated talks on Libya convened in Skhirat in Morocco yesterday.

The UN Mission (UNSMIL) says that significant progress has been achieved in earlier rounds.  Since the last round of talks, which ended in March, participants had the opportunity to consult with their constituencies on a proposal regarding a comprehensive solution to the conflict in Libya.

The participants are expected to present their remarks on the overall framework outlined in the “Draft Agreement on the Political Transition in Libya”, which includes key issues of forming a government of national concord and security arrangements.

The Mission once again has called on all parties to refrain from taking any military action or decisions that could undermine the dialogue process, and allow it to move forward in a conducive environment.

**Lebanon

And from Lebanon, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, and the Heads of Mission of the Permanent Members of the Security Council, Italy and Germany, met today with the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros el-Rahi.

After their meeting, they said that they shared the Patriarch’s concern over the protracted vacancy of the office of the Presidency, soon to reach the one-year mark — in particular that this stalemate is undermining Lebanon’s ability to address the security, economic and social challenges it faces.

They also committed to send a strong message to Lebanese leaders to adhere to the country’s Constitution and to call on all parties to act responsibly and to put Lebanon’s stability and national interests ahead of partisan politics.

**Senior Appointment

And a senior appointment to announce today:  the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Cindy Smith of the United States as Director of the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, UNICRI.

Ms. Smith will succeed Jonathan Lucas of Seychelles to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service and commitment to the United Nations.  The Secretary-General is particularly appreciative of Mr. Lucas’ exemplary leadership in the implementation of UNICRI’s mandate during a very challenging period.

Ms. Smith has a wealth of experience in the field of criminology and justice issues, policymaking and education.  She is currently Senior Coordinator for International Programs in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in the United States Department of State.

**Honour Roll

And today we say dziękuję, which means thank you in Polish, because Poland became the 73rd Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full. So thank you to our friends in Warsaw!

**Questions and Answers

And on that good note, Iftikhar.  Go ahead.

Question:  Regarding Mr. Benomar, why did he feel the sudden urge to leave the post in this — in the middle of a crisis?  The press reports say that he — the Saudis and the Gulf States, countries do not want him there.  Any comment?

Spokesman:  No, I… you know, I’m not going to speculate on what ambassadors left, right or centre are saying about Mr. Benomar.  He’s expressed his interest to moving on from this post.  I think the Secretary-General, as I said, is very thankful for his service.  A successor will be named in due time.  In the meantime, Mr. Benomar remains in charge of the file… will continue, will continue with this file for the time being.

Question:  I asked why it happened so suddenly.

Spokesman:  Well, I, as I think he’s, you know, I think you can… we can all take a look at the situation in Yemen, and he’s expressed a — he’s expressed his interest in moving on.  Ms. Lederer.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on Mr. Benomar, could you elaborate a little on what in due course and in due time really means?  And secondly, will Mr. Benomar be getting another UN job?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, I’ve been in this, working in this Organization for quite some time, not as long as you’ve been covering it, but I don’t think I’m going to speculate on time frames.  The, obviously, now that he’s expressed his interest to move on, we would want to find a replacement as quickly as possible.  When we’re ready to make that announcement, we will make it.  Second part of your question?

Question:  Yes.  Will Mr. Benomar be—

Spokesman:  Oh, I think that, obviously, that, that depends.  I’m not in a position to say that at this point.  Abdelhamid, then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary‑General have any idea what to do in Libya in case this comprehensive peace plan failed?  Does he have the plan B?  What is the anticipation in case this collapses altogether?

Spokesman:  I don’t think we want to anticipate collapse, as we’re working for success.  I think Mr. León is working very hard against some very, you know, against some pretty strong odds.  I mean, we’re seeing, as the talks are going on, we’re seeing air attacks in Tripoli.  I think he has again called on those parties to refrain from such actions during the talks.  I think Mr. León is an enthusiastic negotiator and he’s putting all his heart and mind into it.  And I said our focus is really on finding the political solution because there is no other solution.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Mr. Bryce[-Pease].

Question:  On Yemen and then on the FDLR.  On Yemen, I’m, I would assume you have seen this report that the Saudi airstrikes killed 31 people in a dairy factory in Hudaydah.  This is a Human Rights Watch report.  They make it pretty clear it may have been an errant missile, but it killed 31 civilians.  And I’m wondering, what’s the, is there any comment from the Secretariat on that?

Spokesman:  Obviously, as we said here, that it is incumbent for all the parties in this conflict to fully respect international law which clearly includes the non-targeting of civilian infrastructure or civilian infrastructure, schools, facilities, civilian infrastructure in general.  We have no way of knowing what exactly was the intended target.  What we do know is that in many instances, since the fighting has started, civilians are the ones who are suffering, and I think that’s why the Secretary‑General wants to see a halt to the violence, restart of the political process, and most urgently, the free flow of humanitarian aid going in.  I think we’re seeing the food situation getting dire and dire every day.  As our colleagues at the World Food Programme said, you know, when you’re a country that imports 90 per cent of its food is already vulnerable at any time and a time of conflict, that just increases that vulnerability very much so.

Question:  And also on Yemen, I’m sure you’ve seen the reports — I don’t know if the UN is the source of them — floating Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as a possible replacement.  What I want to ask, I know you’re not going to say yes or no, but given he was so recently appointed to UNMEER, can you say that whoever’s working on Ebola will probably stay in that job?  Or—

Spokesman:  I think, you know, whenever there’s a senior vacancy at the United Nations, a lot of things float, a lot of names float around.  When we’re ready to announce, we will announce.  Obviously, the Ebola file is one of, it’s very important to the Secretary‑General and to the United Nations, but when we’re ready to announce somebody, we will.  Sherwin.

Question:  Thanks for the update on South Africa.  I wonder if the UN had a broader understanding of why this is happening in South Africa today.  I mean, think a lot of people in South Africa and around the world are scratching their heads given the role the international community played during the struggle for democracy in South Africa in terms of hosting, you know, people in exile and so forth.  So what’s your sort of read why this is happening in a country with such a history?

Spokesman:  You know, I’m not going to speculate on reasons and history.  I think what we’re seeing, not only in South Africa but throughout the world, that migrants are at great risks at a time… in times of economic trouble, migrants are often first targets.  Migrants have rights.  They need to be protected.  Governments need to ensure that legislation is up to international standards, and the underlying causes need to be addressed.  Now, if people have grievances, these need to be addressed peacefully and through dialogue, but migrants are a vulnerable population.  And whether it’s in South Africa, in parts of Europe, or all over the world, we’ve seen it become increasingly targets.  Oleg and we’ll go up to the front.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Ukraine, there was an incident with a journalist killed this time, not in the zone of the conflict, but in Kyiv near his home, raising issues of freedom of the press and possible suppression.  Is this something Secretary‑General would condemn and what’s his—

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, we’ve seen these reports which looks… of the, of the death of this journalist.  We very much hope that the Ukrainian authorities will investigate this case fully.  Yes, go ahead.  You need your microphone.  You can ask two questions, but you need to have your microphone.

Question:  I have two questions.  Thank you so much.  The first one, as you said, Mr. Ban is in D.C.  The Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is also in Washington, D.C.  Will there be any meeting there?

Spokesman:  No, there will not.

Question:  And the second one is the situation in the province of Anbar, Iraq, is deteriorating.  ISIS is advancing.  Yesterday more than 50 people are dead or missing, including a 2‑year‑old boy.  What is the latest update about humanitarian, also the violence situation in Iraq, from Iraq?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, we’re taking a very close, keeping, our colleagues at the UN Mission in Iraq are keeping a very close eye on what’s going on in, around, Ram… I can’t pronounce… around Anbar province in Ramadi.  We reported displaced families have apparently arrived in areas within Anbar Governorate, including Khaldiya, Habbaniyah, Amiriyat al Falujah and Ramadi city, as well as in Baghdad and Hilla.  Those families are reported to be in urgent needs of food, shelter and household items.  Humanitarian personnel are working to verify the reports and encourage all parties to ensure the protection of civilians that are fleeing the conflict in Ramadi.

Access to affected areas is limited by security constraints, obviously, as fighting is going on.  Prior to the current bout of fighting, some 400,000 Iraqis were already displaced.  Two are within Anbar Governorate since January 2014, including 60,000 people in Ramadi district according to the International Organization for Migration.

Yes, please.

Question:  There is journalistic report regarding the Gaza Strip saying that there is a rise in the percentage of people committing suicide, especially—

Spokesman:  The rise in what?  I’m sorry.

Question:  People who are committing suicide.

Spokesman:  Uh‑huh.

Question:  Especially people under the age of 30.  My question is, I have two questions regarding this.  Can, is there any UNRWA or other UN reports regarding this or any studies?  And what is, is there any also news regarding the siege on Gaza and the, any UN efforts to lift the blockade?

Spokesman:  I will check with our colleagues at UNRWA and OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] in Gaza on that.  Obviously, the situation in Gaza remains dire for the population that lives there.  Not enough goods are coming in through the mechanism for reconstruction, but obviously, there needs to be free flow of goods, of humanitarian goods coming into the region.  I think this is an issue that Mr. Mladenov has already spoken out about as I mentioned yesterday.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, on, on the FDLR.  There’s a report now, I’d asked you a couple days ago, and you said you might check with MONUSCO, but there’s now a report of 30 civilians kidnapped in Ituru, and it’s very much attributed to the FDLR that they were put into a vehicle and driven away.  I’m wondering, once again, even if MONUSCO is not going to participate in the military attempt to neutralize them, what about protection of civilians?  What is MONUSCO’s role when civilians are abducted in this way?

Spokesman:  I will check with the mission.

Question:  Also, switching to another mission, on MINURSO, I remember yesterday, again I’m not trying to, you said would you check with MINURSO whether this alleged crackdown by Moroccan security on protestors in Layoune happened.  Have they said anything, yes or no?

Spokesman:  I will check again.  I have not gotten anything.  Carol.

Question:  Back on Yemen, can you shed some light on the type of consultations that might be going on for the choice of a new envoy a for—

Spokesman:  I think—

[inaudible]

Question:  Countries in the region been consulted—

Spokesman:  As, you know, the choice of the envoy remains a choice of the Secretary‑General.  As in any, as choosing any envoy who’s involved in political negotiations, especially in such a tense area and one that’s in conflict, we would obviously have broad consultations with people directly involved, people in the region, and so forth.  So I, you know, the aim is to have, is to have a, an envoy who is empowered, who is, and who can talk to all the parties.  So that obviously requires some prior consultation.  Ms. Fasulo.

Question:  Thank you.  Following up on South African xenophobia, would you have any further details about where these migrants and foreigners are from?  You know, which countries—

Spokesman:  From what we know, quite a few of them are from Zimbabwe and from countries directly bordering South Africa and, in general, South Africa.  We can ask our colleagues at IOM and UNHCR if they have a bigger breakdown, but they’re mostly from countries that are bordering South Africa.  Abdelhamid and then—

Question:  A few days ago, Stéphane, I asked you about UNICEF’s position in participating in a cartoon festival in which Israel will be honoured.  The pressure on UNICEF to withdraw from this festival, and I ask you if you can get a statement from as why they are participating in this festival, which is as it is known that in the summer 540 children were killed by Israel in Gaza alone.

Spokesman:  So let me tell you what I have from UNICEF.  They tell us the main organizer of the cartoon festival is RAI, the Italian State broadcaster.  The Italian committee for UNICEF — you know, every country has a national committee for UNICEF — has been partnering with the festival called Cartoons on the Bay.  It has been running for several years and has an independent jury and aims to showcase individual cartoons of social and educational value from a variety of different countries such as Russia, China, Cuba and Brazil in previous years.  If you have further questions, I would ask you to ask UNICEF.  Oleg.

Question:  Stéphane, yesterday you were talking about two ships with wheat and, I believe, petroleum that were not allowed into Yemen.  Did you figure out who was not letting them in?

Spokesman:  We have not gotten a satisfactory answer on that point.

Question:  And on a separate issue, are there any updates on the two captured UN staff in Darfur?

Spokesman:  Nothing.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Go.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any update on this Syrian talk in, this coming Syrian talk in Geneva, if the invitation letters—

Spokesman:  No.  We will let you know when they do.

Question:  So once the invitation letters would have been sent, you can give us—

Spokesman:  We will, as soon as we have more of an update.  I think, you know, we came out with this announcement because obviously there were some leaks.  As soon as we’re ready to share more information, we will.

Question:  You mean, you can give us the list of the participants?

Spokesman:  As soon as we have more information, we will share it with you.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about the pension fund and human rights, separately.  On the pension fund, they did have, there was the town hall meeting.  So I wanted to ask you this because this was because it was said it would address all questions.  One of the questions that was raised was whether on the allegations that Mr. Takasu issued to the note of correspondents about, whether there’s a OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] case number, whether there’s actually an investigation.  My understanding, since it was a closed meeting, but from a number of people that were there, is that no case number was provided and people were left with impression there is not an investigation.  How does that work?

Spokesman:  I think it was a closed meeting in the sense that it was an internal meeting to the staff of the United Nations.  It was very much open in the sense that current staff and obviously retirees were invited to participate.  There was quite a large participation.  Duty stations from around the world — whether it was in Goma, in Germany, in Vienna — participated.  I think it was an open exchange.  I think Ms. Malcorra reminded the staff that this, that all these issues needed to be addressed through dialogue and that she was always available to talk and so is the Secretary‑General.  It’s not a one‑off thing.  I think this dialogue will continue, but it is one that really regards the staff and the retirees.  And I think everyone had an opportunity, a lot of people had an opportunity to speak.  And the dialogue will continue.  I’m not going to go into the details of case numbers or no case numbers in terms of OIOS.

Question:  One thing I know it was Farhan and not you, but he did say, he said this, as these questions arose, particularly about the investment side, he said that he’d spoken with Ms. Boykin and she may actually answer questions.  It’s also my understanding she didn’t say a word in this meeting.  So I guess I want to just say that the questions that had been raised here—

Spokesman:  We’ll see what we can do on the media side, but, you know, Ms. Malcorra was flanked by the two heads of the pension fund and they were there, and I think their participation was a very strong signal and I think the whole exercise is really to allay the fears.  I think when people talk about pensions, everybody gets a little worried, and I think it was a very good exercise.  Your second question.

Question:  Sure, it’s on the Maldives.  Former President Nasheed has been barred from speaking with the lawyers he wants to represent him now that he’s been jailed on these charges.  And I’m wondering first, is there just, a comment but more substantively, is there any DPA [Department of Political Affairs] involvement?  Is DPA reaching out to the Government?  Is it trying to bring about some—

Spokesman:  I think we’ve, we’ve talked a bit about the Maldives here, and if I have anything to add, I will let you know.

Thank you, all.  Have a great day.

For information media. Not an official record.