The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
The Secretary-General transmitted today to the Security Council and other bodies the public summary of the Board of Inquiry regarding incidents affecting United Nations personnel, premises and operations in the Gaza Strip during the recent conflict. The Secretary-General expresses once again his deepest appreciation for the bravery of and outstanding efforts undertaken by UN staff members in Gaza during the course of the conflict. He also welcomes the professionalism displayed by the Board during the course of its work researching and analyzing the events depicted in the report.
He thanks the chairman, Patrick Cammaert, and its Members for concluding this inquiry. He also appreciates the cooperation provided by the Government of Israel in the course of the Board’s work. The Board also appreciated its reception by the Palestinian Authority and meetings with local authorities in Gaza. The Board reviewed and investigated seven incidents involving the loss of 44 Palestinian lives, at least 227 injured or damage at UN facilities. The Board also reviewed three incidents involving weapons found in UNRWA [United Nations Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East] schools, including instances in which Palestinian armed groups may have used UNRWA school premises to launch attacks.
In his letter to the Security Council transmitting the report, the Secretary-General has expressed his "profound and continuing concern for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and Israel, and their right to live in peace and security, free from the threat of violence and terrorism". Reflecting his personal anguish at this deplorable turn of events, the Secretary-General notes: "the agony of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and the tragic, decades-long predicament they endure there, is reflected in the report of the Board of Inquiry. We should also bear in mind that Israeli civilians in southern Israel continue to face the threat of rocket and terrorist attacks by Hamas and other militant groups."
Beyond the report’s contents, it reminds us that there has still been no progress on the critical elements that would secure long-term peace for the people of the region. What is needed now more than ever is a durable cease-fire, which includes an end to arms smuggling, the opening of the crossings, more progress on the reconstruction of Gaza, and greater steps towards implementing the Beach Camp accord which addressed the much needed Palestinian reconciliation. More importantly, we need to give new momentum to the search for a resolution of the conflict in the Middle East. For this, direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must resume, and the international community must support the process with full engagement.
You will have seen over the weekend, we issued a statement by the Secretary-General on the earthquake in Nepal. That sentiment was echoed again this morning in a message, delivered on the Secretary-General’s behalf by the Deputy Secretary-General, in which he expressed his deepest sympathy and condolences to the people and Government of Nepal at this moment of grief and humanitarian plight after the horrific earthquake affecting large parts of the country.
As of today, the Government reports that 3,351 people have been killed and 6,833 injured. Eight million people have been affected in 39 of the country’s districts. More than 1.4 million people need food assistance, including 750,000 people who live near the epicentre in poor quality housing. This is the largest earthquake since 1934 to hit Nepal. Food trucks are on their way to affected districts outside the Kathmandu valley and distribution is expected to begin on the 28th of April.
UN and humanitarian partners are supporting teams that are deploying to affected districts to assess the most urgent needs, and the Humanitarian Country Team is coordinating international relief efforts to support the government. The priority will be to address the needs of the most vulnerable and save lives. This means search and rescue and debris removal to find and save people.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos today released $15 million through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to allow international humanitarian organizations to rapidly scale up their operations and provide immediate assistance to people in desperate need. The recipients will use the funds for the most immediate, life-saving needs, including shelter, water, medical supplies, logistics services and other relief items.
For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) is mobilizing to meet the needs of the people whose lives have been shattered by the massive earthquake in Nepal. WFP teams specializing in logistics and emergency response have arrived in Kathmandu and others are on their way to assess the scale of the disaster.
The Secretary-General arrived in Rome today, where he has met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. He discussed with them his concerns about the situation of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and emphasized the need for all authorities to focus on saving the lives of those who are at sea. The Secretary-General, Prime Minister Renzi and High Representative Mogherini have since travelled to Sicily, where they are getting a first-hand look at Italian naval operations to protect people on the high seas.
**Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
In a message delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary-General, said this morning at the opening of the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that eliminating nuclear weapons is a top priority for the United Nations. No other weapon has the potential to inflict such wanton destruction on our world, and the NPT is the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime and an essential basis for realizing a nuclear-weapon-free world.
He called upon States parties to work hard and constructively in the coming weeks to produce an outcome that strengthens the Treaty. We need an outcome that promotes its universality, ensures compliance by all Parties with all provisions, and reinforces the NPT’s principal goals — to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and bring about their elimination. His full remarks are available online and in our office.
Jamal Benomar, the Special Adviser on Yemen, gave his final briefing on the situation in that country to the Security Council in its closed consultations this morning. He will speak to reporters following those consultations.
Over the weekend, we had announced that the Secretary-General has appointed Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania as his Special Envoy for Yemen, succeeding Mr. Benomar. In this role, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed will work closely with the members of the United Nations Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Governments in the region and other partners, as well as the United Nations Country Team for Yemen.
Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed will be arriving in New York later this week, direct from his Ebola-related functions in West Africa. He will immediately start intensive consultations with interested Member States on what role the UN could play in facilitating peace talks at the earliest opportunity. And the Secretary-General expressed his sincerest gratitude to Mr. Benomar for his tireless efforts aimed at assisting the Yemeni people in realizing their aspirations for change through peaceful transition.
And we also announced the appointment of Peter Jan Graaff of the Netherlands as the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), replacing Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. In his role as Acting Special Representative, Mr. Graaff will work closely with the Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, and with the Governments in West Africa and other regional partners.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than 114,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Ramadi, Iraq, according to humanitarian partners. The Anbar Provincial Council reported that families continued to return to Ramadi City over the last few days. Heavy fighting was reported over the weekend north of Fallujah. Humanitarian agencies and partners continue to respond to the needs of the displaced people. Some 1,100 people in Abu Ghraib District and the Doura area of Baghdad, received core relief items through the UN refugee agency. UNICEF distributed 1,584 water and sanitation kits, including water, hygiene items and buckets in Baghdad Governorate.
In a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General appealed to the Government of Indonesia to refrain from carrying out the execution, as announced, of ten prisoners on death row for alleged drug-related crimes. Under international law, if the death penalty is to be used at all, it should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, namely those involving intentional killing, and only with appropriate safeguards. Drug-related offenses generally are not considered to fall under the category of “most serious crimes.” Recalling that the United Nations opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, the Secretary-General urged President Joko Widodo to urgently consider declaring a moratorium on capital punishment in Indonesia, with a view toward abolition.
**Central African Republic
Our humanitarian colleagues say that we must prevent the Central African Republic from becoming a forgotten crisis. Nearly 900,000 people have been forcibly displaced – both to neighbouring countries and internally — since the outbreak of violence in December 2013. Inside the country, 2.7 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.
However, the funding shortfall does not allow us to ensure the protection of all of the displaced or to meet the minimum to meet the huge humanitarian needs, says Clare Bourgeois, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the country. She also called on partners working in transition and early recovery to step up and help families restore their livelihoods and resilience, as well as for support to judicial system to accelerate their support in the fight against impunity for crimes committed in the crisis. There is more information on this online.
Also on the Central African Republic, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, arrived in Bangui over the weekend. During his four-day visit, Mr. Ladsous will mark the achievement of full operational capability of the UN Mission there (MINUSCA) established a year ago. He will meet with the transitional authorities, shortly before the opening of the National Bangui Forum on the 4 May, and he will also fly to several regions of the country to see first-hand the country’s achievements and challenges.
The UN Mission in South Sudan or UNMISS reports shelling and exchange of fire between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition elements for approximately two hours this morning in Bentiu, Unity State. Government troops prevented a Mission patrol from reaching Bentiu this morning and UNMISS flights to the Unity State capital have been suspended.
The security situation in Malakal in Upper Nile State remains relatively quiet and the city is largely deserted. On Sunday [26 April], a UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) team cleared Malakal Airport of unexploded ordnance left over from last week's clashes. The Mission reports that it extracted 10 women and children on Friday, who had been trapped by the fighting along the road between Malakal and the neighbouring county of Baliet, and brought them back to the Mission’s protection-of-civilians site.
A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that more than half the people living in rural areas worldwide do not have access to essential health-care services. That represents more than double the number of those without access in urban areas. The report, which revealed major health access disparities between rural and urban areas, says that the largest differences exist in Asia. However, the highest numbers of people without health coverage are in parts of rural Africa. More information is available on ILO’s website.
And correspondents are invited to attend a presentation and questions and answers session entitled “Toscanini — A Conductor Stands Up for Justice”, tomorrow from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Conference Room 3.
And last Friday, Stephane was asked for an update on the funding for cholera response in Haiti. The Government of Haiti's 10-Year National Plan for the Elimination of Cholera requires a total of $ 2.2 billion. As of December 2014, 18 per cent, or more than $407 million, has been mobilized against the National Plan. Of this amount, nearly 13 per cent, or $285 million, has been disbursed.
And for our honour roll — we have payments from Israel, Japan and Sri Lanka bring to 80 the number of Member States which have paid their regular budget assessments in full. Thanks to all the contributors.
**Press Conferences Today
And immediately following this briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and other officials. Then, at 2:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano.
And at 4:00 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Spokesperson for the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Ken Okaniwa. And finally, at around 5:00 p.m., the Permanent Representatives of Jordan and France, along with the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova and Secretary General of INTERPOL, Jürgen Stock, are expected to address press outside of Conference Room 5 of the 1st Basement.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
And tomorrow my guest will be the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, Lassina Zerbo. That’s it from me. Any questions? Yes, James.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, if I can try and get some clarity on the Gaza report, because your summary and the letter from the Secretary‑General both talk about weapons being found and also schools that were hit. So, can I just ask… for some clarity just by asking this question — is it true that the seven schools that were hit with the loss of 44 lives that were all designated as emergency shelters were all hit by Israel? And the second part of the question, is it true that the places where weapons were found were completely separate schools that were vacant and not designated as emergency shelters?
Deputy Spokesman: I'd just refer out to language of the report, which… the summary of the report, which states the details. And you can see that the facts are there. You're right that there's a difference between the three schools where weapons were found and the seven other sites that were attacked. Along those lines, regarding the seven incidents in which death or injuries occurred at or damage was done to UN premises, the Secretary‑General in his cover letter did deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at UN premises being used at emergency shelters. And he made clear that UN premises are inviolable and should be places of safety particularly in a position of armed conflict.
Question: One quick follow‑up. Does the Secretary‑General believe those incidents and those deaths of 44 people should be referred to the International Criminal Court?
Deputy Spokesman: It's not our business to determine what cases the International Criminal Court takes up. You'd have to take that up with them. Yes, Ali.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On Yemen, when is Mr.… the new Special Envoy on Yemen… is going to come to New York and assume his responsibilities? And when Mr. Jamal Benomar will be in the… in the back scene helping him? This is on… I have another question on NPT. Mr. Javad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran just talked on behalf of NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] countries and said that NAM is determined to establish a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. I wonder whether the Secretary‑General shared this idea. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding your first question, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to come to New York by the end of this week. He's currently finishing up his work in Guinea. And as I said, at the start of this briefing, he is working hard… he will start to work hard to get the parties together for dialogue and we're trying to get that going as soon as possible. Today was… is Mr. Benomar's last day briefing of the Security Council. After that he finishes duties, although, of course, his expertise is available to his successor as needed. And, of course, regarding having regions free of nuclear weapons, of course, the Secretary‑General wants ultimately to see a world that is free of nuclear weapons, but I would refer you to the remarks that were made on the Secretary‑General's behalf by the Deputy Secretary‑General this morning. Luke.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I want to ask about the situation in [inaudible] particularly at the airport in Katmandu. We've seen reports of chaos on the ground, aid flights having trouble landing because of the crush on the runways. Given that you're talking about a big relief effort to be launched tomorrow, I wonder who the UN is coordinating with on logistics. The AP [Associated Press] just reported no one was in air traffic control the last hour and what assurances does the UN have that aid flights will actually be able to get in tomorrow? Because so many are being turned away.
Deputy Spokesman: You're absolutely right there's been a huge amount of pressure on the airport in Katmandu. There have been problems with aftershocks and there have been problems with the large number of flights now trying to get in for aid. We have a humanitarian country team that's coordinating the international relief efforts to support the Government and they will continue with that effort and we'll try to continue to work out the logistical problems at the airport. But, information's being gathered to… assess the extent of the need and a clearer picture is likely to emerge in the next 48 hours. Joe?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I just want to follow up on James Bays’ question. In the seven schools that were hit that caused casualties, were there any weapons found in those schools?
Deputy Spokesman: I'd refer you to the language of the report itself.
Correspondent: I want you to give me a short…
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, those incidents were separate from the incidents involving weapons found at UN schools. The weapons found at UN schools as the report makes clear were found in schools that had been vacated for summer studies.
Correspondent: So, you're saying there were no weapons in those seven schools then. The only weapons were found in the three vacant schools.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And you can see that for yourself in the summary that we're making available.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. On Yemen and Gaza. I'll start with Yemen. The Secretary‑General appointed Mr. Ismail Ould. The word O‑U‑L‑D means Ould, means son.
Deputy Spokesman: Really?
Deputy Spokesman: I apologize for the mispronunciation.
Question: And he appoint him as Special Envoy, when Benomar, he was appointed Special Adviser. Is there any difference between the two titles? And what does it mean for the second one, the Special Envoy?
Deputy Spokesman: There will be slightly different functions. As we made clear in our announcement regarding Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed's appointment… thank you for the guide on that… that the basic point regarding… regarding his appointment is that he's going to work closely with the members of the UN Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Governments in the region and other partners, as well as the UN country team for Yemen, and so, those will be his basic duties. And he has terms of reference along those lines. What was your other question?
Question: On Gaza, isn't the responsibility of the Secretary‑General to recommend something if the UN premises were attacked and human lives were lost and someone violated international law is just to stay silent after that? Doesn't he have the moral responsibility to recommend something?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, and he has recommendations, and you can see, like I said, the report for yourself. In his cover letter, the Secretary‑General says the following: that UN premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situation of armed conflict, is the matter of the most gravity that those who look to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trusts denied. I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated.
Correspondent: But, there's no action recommended, not to be repeated…
Deputy Spokesman: Again, I would refer you to the report which speaks for itself. Yes.
Question: Thanks a lot. I want to ask about Burundi and Darfur. On Burundi, over the weekend, the ruling party nominated the current president for a third… to run for a third term. And there have been crackdowns by the police, the closure of a radio station, Radio Public Africaine, and others… I'm wondering other countries have spoken. What is the UN's response to what's happened?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, we're following the situation in Burundi very closely and we're deeply concerned over the violence over the weekend, including of a number of deaths following the announcement that the president would seek a third term and we urge a swift investigation into the violence. Said Djinnit, the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes is in Bujumbura to convey the UN’s concerns and work with all parties on defusing tensions.
Question: Also on Darfur, I saw the clarification put out by UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], but the Government of Sudan is saying that the UNAMID peacekeepers killed seven civilians, and I wonder, what… beyond just UNAMID putting out a press release, some of which in the past have been press releases that the UN has ultimately walked away from, is there an intention to do the type of report that was done in Mali when people were killed or in Haiti when people… when people were shot at?
Deputy Spokesman: On that, I actually expect that we will have a statement from the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General responding to the latest events in Darfur. So, I'll wait until… until we get that.
Question: But, is the protocol if a Member State alleges that UN peacekeepers have killed civilians to do such a report, or is there no such protocol?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said… first of all, I… as you know, you're aware of the press release from UNAMID, which is their clarification of the situation, and then beyond that, we do expect to have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson. Yes.
Question: Thanks for that, Farhan. Also, follow‑up… following up on Burundi, could you tell me a little bit more about what Said Djinnit is doing, if he's given any word what kind of discussions he's had with the Secretary‑General and Security Council about what's going on in Burundi? Second part of the question is, given that BNUB [United Nations Office in Burundi] its mandate is over, what kind of presence does the UN has in Burundi?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, right now, like I said, the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes is there, and he has a presence. He will work with the parties, and he'll convey his concerns. As you're aware, the Secretary‑General in recent months had communicated his views including to President [Pierre] Nkurunziza and the Minister for the Interior and I would refer you back to what he… what we've been saying about those particular concerns and Mr. Djinnit will continue to go forward with those. Yes, Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. A follow‑up on Yemen. Among the parties you mentioned with which the new Special Envoy will speak to, you did not name Houthis. Will he be speaking to Houthis group also?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, certainly, he would. Yes, Uslam. Then Masood. Uslam first.
Question: Yes, thank you very much. You know the Turkey Cypriot people have elected their new leader, Mr. Mustafa Akinci to show commitment to a solution. What is the UN game plan to make sure that the Greek Cyprus is going to reciprocate to this demand again? And also, I want to mention that it's the first time that the two leaders that are going to be on negotiation table have voted for a UN settlement plan in the past. So, how do you evaluate this and is there going to be a statement from the spokes… from Secretary‑General about election of Mr. Akinci, please?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly take note of the election, and we are always hopeful once the election season is done that we will have in place governments that are willing to talk to each other and willing to finally resolve the situation in Cyprus. As you know, Mr. Espen Barth Eide had been meeting with the parties repeatedly, and he has been talking about his hopes that the parties are willing to deal with each other seriously and resolve their decades‑old disputes. We will… we'll have to see where we go with that, and of course, we welcome the efforts by the new governments to meet with each other and to reach agreement on key issues.
Question: So, there won't be any statement from Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: At present, like I said, we take note of the election. I don't have a statement as such, but we are always welcome of anything… of any development that indicates a greater willingness to move forward on these decades‑old issues. Masood.
Question: Yes, Farhan. I believe that the Secretary‑General was briefed by the… by the parties negotiating this Iran deal. Is the Secretary‑General at any point in time willing to comment on it? Does he have anything to say about it? That's one question.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, well, as we've said many times before, we're very hopeful that the parties will… will come to a productive result of their talks with each other. You'll have seen the statement we issued a few weeks ago concerning the talks that were taking place in Lausanne, and we're aware that by the end of June, they hope to resolve other issues and we will continue to encourage their efforts.
Question: On… can you also have a comment again... I mean again and again… on the construction efforts that have been started again. but the Israeli Government which has become the norm [inaudible] in the occupied territory?
Deputy Spokesman: I would just refer back to our normal lines. As you're aware of the concerns we've had about such activities in the occupied territories. Yes.Question: I wanted to ask if your office has a comment on… this afternoon, there begins a process of consultations about how the next Secretary‑General should be picked, and there was a press conference in this room in which world federalist movement… basically, a number of groups are saying there should be a more open process, that there should be multiple candidates, that candidates should make statements. There was some talk about disclosure of finances paid by… by candidates' countries to other countries for their votes. And I wanted to know, as… the Secretary‑General, as someone who ran and went through this process, what is his... what is his response? What does he think could be improved to ensure the best Secretary‑General is chosen in the future?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, this is really a discussion among Member States and the Secretary‑General welcomes the interest placed by Member States and the discussions that they're having. So, he certainly hopes that there will be vigorous debate on how to improve the process so that it can be seen as effective and legitimate to the world's people.
Question: But, I guess what I'm saying as someone who actually… who ran it and [inaudible] another issue that's arisen in both today and something held Friday was about the way Under‑Secretaries‑General are selected and pressures apparently people say are brought to bear on the Secretary-General to appoint nationals of particular countries. Is there any forum or format for him to give his views to this reform process?
Deputy Spokesman: On this, of course, really, the key views are the views of the Member States themselves. It's they who decide who the Secretary‑General is. It's certainly not Ban Ki‑moon's place to determine that any more than it was for any of his predecessors. He does have his own views, and as you know, he's repeatedly stated his view that it's high time for a woman to be appointed Secretary‑General. But, in terms of the specifics of how a Secretary‑General is selected, he'll let the states discuss this amongst themselves and he welcomes their interest and their discussions. And with that, I'll give one more question, but our guests are already at the back. You have the last word.
Question: Yes. Today is supposed to be a report on the 10‑day period spelled out in resolution on Yemen. So, is the report coming out today?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Benomar has been giving an oral report to the Security Council right now in their consultations, and like I said, he does intend to speak to reporters once the consultations have ended. Have a good afternoon, everyone.