The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
As you know, in just a few minutes, we will have Yukio Takasu, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, to talk about the financial situation of the Organization as the guest at today’s noon briefing.
Before that, I’ll just say a few quick notes and take some questions.
This morning, the Secretary-General attended a ceremony marking the return of the Peace Bell to its original location at the Japanese Garden. In his remarks, he said that sixty-one years after it was donated by the UN Association of Japan, the Peace Bell still represents the collective desire for the world to live in peace.
He added that now that it has returned to its home, we must also intensify our work to restore the bells of peace in villages and cities and countries around the world.
The Peace Bell is rung twice a year — on the first day of spring and on the 21st of September to celebrate the International Day of Peace. It was temporarily relocated to the Rose Garden five years ago during the renovations of the UN headquarters.
The Special Envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is conducting intensive consultations aimed at getting the political process back on track. He is in Paris today, where he met officials from the Office of the President and the Foreign Ministry, as well as the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperative Council [Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani].
Tomorrow, the Special Envoy will go to Riyadh for meetings with President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, Vice President Khaled Bahah and other Yemeni officials, as well as with Saudi officials. The plan is to travel from Riyadh to other regional capitals for further consultations. Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed was in New York until yesterday, where he met with Permanent Representatives from key countries in the region and members of the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that widespread violence has intensified in Aden governorate, with reports of heavy shelling and clashes taking place in seven districts, especially heavy in Khormaksar district, and of airstrikes in Sa'ada today.
Today, for the first time, clashes were reported in Attawahi district, where parties to the conflict were reportedly shooting at residents attempting to leave and shelling the boat in which they were trying to escape. Several hundred families have managed to flee to other parts of Aden governorate by boat.
Residents also report a lack of food, water, fuel and breakdown of basic services in both Aden and Sa'ada governorates, with several districts in Aden Governorate completely cut off.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the killing of two United Nations peacekeepers from the United Republic of Tanzania and the wounding of 13 others in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) earlier yesterday.
The casualties happened when a convoy of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or MONUSCO were ambushed and came under fire from suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) forces in Beni territory, North Kivu.
We had also reported yesterday that four other peacekeepers were missing. I can confirm now that all four missing peacekeepers have now been recovered and they are safe.
This attack followed an incident on the 4th of May when a MONUSCO helicopter carrying the Force Commander was hit by gunfire from unidentified armed elements in the same area.
The Secretary-General also condemns in the strongest terms the continuing atrocities perpetrated by the ADF against defenseless civilians in the Beni area. The UN remains committed to taking all necessary actions in line with Security Council resolution 2211 (2015) to protect civilians and neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC.
This morning, at around 4:45 a.m. in Mali, the Kidal compound of the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, was targeted by mortar fire, with some six to eight mortar shells being fired at the camp. The attack, which lasted about twenty minutes, did not cause any casualties or damage.
Then, at around 6:30 a.m., a civilian vehicle struck an improvised explosive device one kilometre north of the MINUSMA compound. Two civilians were wounded. MINUSMA peacekeepers responded to the attack and reinforced security. They conducted patrols to locate where the attack came from and ensure the safety of the civilian population.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, condemned these criminal and cowardly acts. He reiterated MINUSMA’s strong determination to continue to fulfil its responsibilities in support of Mali and its people in search of a lasting peace.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that 25,000 people have arrived in Nguigmi and Bosso in eastern Niger since the 30th of April, according to Government estimates.
These people were reportedly told to evacuate islands in Lake Chad due to planned military operations by coalition forces from Chad, Niger and Nigeria against Boko Haram. Some 5,000 Nigerians arrived in Diffa from the islands on the 3rd of May, many of whom were on their way back to Nigeria.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided displaced families with 10,000 litres of water, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is providing household kits for 5,000 people, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are supporting health facilities.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that it is deeply concerned at this week’s discovery of dozens of bodies in smugglers’ camps in southern Thailand. It calls on countries in the region to strengthen cooperation on counter-smuggling and counter-trafficking measures while ensuring the protection of victims.
In recent days, Thai authorities announced that they found the remains of some 30 people believed to be from Myanmar and Bangladesh, and initial police accounts cite illness and abuse as likely causes of death.
James Lynch, the agency’s Regional Representative and Regional Coordinator for South-East Asia, said that it is distressing to hear that people who escaped difficult conditions back home have had to put their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers, only to be killed before they could reach safety.
There is more information on this available online.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
And tomorrow the guest at the noon briefing will be Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. And she will speak to you about her recent visit to the Middle East.
**Press Conferences Today
Immediately following this briefing, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross and Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). He will have met the Secretary-General.
Yes, a press briefing here in this room at 1:15 p.m.
And finally, as Montenegro becomes the 85th of 193 Member States to pay its regular budget dues in full, this is the ideal segue to introduce Yukio Takasu, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will speak to you in the next few minutes on the financial situation of the Organization.
First, of course, we’ll take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, any word on if the UN will be organizing a Yemen meeting? There's the Riyadh meeting, but is the UN still going to try and do something on Yemen? And do you have a date yet?
Deputy Spokesman: The short answer to your second question is no, we do not have a date yet, but we're trying to get some sort of a conference going as soon as possible. Like I said, our envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is meeting with key Yemeni officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, including the President and Vice President. He also intends to travel around the region and see whether he can meet with representatives from the other factions including the Houthis and see what he can do to make sure that they will agree to convene a meeting. But that's in the planning. We don't have a date to announce just yet.
Question: Following up on that, is it true that the UN meeting after the Riyadh conference on Yemen would most likely be in Geneva?
And then I also wanted to ask about something that US Secretary of State John Kerry has said, that he is discussing with the Saudis the possibility of a humanitarian pause so that aid can get in. He said the situation's becoming increasingly dire. This, you know, echoes things that have been said here. Is the Secretary-General joining the US in this effort to persuade the Saudis to accept this, or does it have its own parallel push for some kind of humanitarian pause or, you know, larger ceasefire?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly on your second question, what the Secretary-General has been pushing for and has called for repeatedly is a ceasefire. Short of that, there is a need for humanitarian pause. Our humanitarian envoy on the ground, Johannes van der Klaauw, has made clear that it's particularly urgent to have some form of humanitarian pause to allow for aid to get in, and he's been pressing for that for… in particular, for there to be no shelling of the airport in Sana'a so that you can get aid flights in. And of course, the ports also need to be open so that fuel and other facilities can get in.
So we are broadly supportive of the effort for humanitarian pause, but that is… should be seen as just a stepping stone towards what we want, which is ultimately a ceasefire, and that would hopefully be accompanied, as we said, by talks among the various… among the various parties.
What was your first question?
Question: Whether the UN sponsored or organized process on Yemen would move to Geneva as opposed to Riyadh.
Deputy Spokesman: I think, as we've said about a week ago, one of the likely venues for these talks would be Geneva. We'll have to see, of course, what the parties themselves agree to, but having said that, that certainly is a possibility.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about this… the… the leaker of the Central African Republic rape allegations against the French forces. There's a… as I'm sure you know, there's a decision by the Dispute Tribunal to reinstate him or to suspend the suspension. And it says in it… this is what I wanted to ask you about. It says that he was met with on March 12th 2015, and the Deputy High Commissioner requested his resignation, adding that such a request had been made by the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations [Hervé Ladsous].
So what I wanted to know is — I've heard from this podium that these alleged child rapes had nothing to do with DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), that DPKO has no link to them. So, one, can you explain why the Under-Secretary-General of DPKO would ask for the resignation of the leaker? Two, why this was… this request was made pending the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) report, which is constantly cited as we can't say anything until OIOS is done.
And also, just finally, I wonder, is the abuse that's alleged in that report, does that make the French force Sangaris eligible for listing on the Secretary-General's Children and Armed Conflict abuser's annex? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the last, that would be a question for the Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict to consider. But they certainly consider a wide range of allegations against many different forces around the world, and it would be up to them to determine whether that is one of those. That would fall under their purview.
Regarding the details, you're quite right that the Office for Internal Oversight Services is continuing its investigation. While that happens, there's not a lot I can share about much of the substance of this to avoid saying anything prejudicial one way or another about the handling of this. Of course, what we've made clear is our concerns about the manner in which confidential information, in particular the identities of child victims of these extremely serious allegations, was communicated to external actors in possible breach of strict rules that exist to protect victims, witnesses, and investigators. And that is something that the High Commissioner… High Commissioner Zeid [Ra'ad Al Hussein] has made clear.
Regarding what you'd said at the outset, yes, I can confirm that the staff member who is placed on administrative leave on the 17th of April with full pay pending the results of the investigation, that yesterday a judge of the UN Dispute Tribunal ordered the decision placing the staff member on administrative leave be suspended pending the outcome of a management evaluation. The staff member has thus resumed service.
Question: I have one follow-up question.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: [inaudible] to do this in the correct way. My question is, it goes back to this, it's been said and it was said yesterday in a written response by your office that this… that the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy doesn't cover Sangaris because of the link or lack of link between UN Peacekeeping and Sangaris. So what I don't understand is, I understand the concern of the Office for High Commissioner for Human Rights about names being redacted and possible threats to victims, but what is the possible connection between the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping, which was not the author of the report and in which it has been said from here is not connected to the report or to the force, to asking for this individual to resign other than the nationality of the USG, which is French? Can you explain why his role in this…
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, I can't even confirm that particular charge. As I've said, many of these are pending the results of the investigation, and I will wait for that to come out to have the facts about this. The concerns that we have had are what I stated and what I just said again right now which had to do with the handling of evidence.
Question: But is that peacekeeping's concern? Sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: And regarding the… regarding the issue of Sangaris, yes, what we have said is that the nature of the cooperation between the UN and Sangaris forces was not such that we had any sort of command and control or operational links that would bring into play the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy. Yes.
Question: I have another follow-up.
Question: [inaudible] tape recorder up front, I'm hearing a whole nother briefing.
Question: I think it's coming from… [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that is in fact Mr. Takasu who might be playing the TV in the back. We'll get to him shortly. I will try to talk over him. Yes.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Just on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], the four missing peacekeepers, do you know where they were? Had they been detained by the armed group or…?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any details about what happened to them overnight. As of this morning, what we can confirm is that they have been returned. They're safe. Meanwhile, the people who were wounded as a result of yesterday's attacks have been transported for medical care.
Question: Farhan, it was reported that two tankers carrying fuel to Yemen, which were searched and cleared, are still standing miles away from Hodeidah airport, seaport, and the Saudis are not allowing it to dock inside. As I understand, these have got clearance from the United Nations and other agencies. Are you doing anything in order to let the Saudis allow these very vital two ships to dock?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen the repeated calls we've made for humanitarian aid to be allowed into the country. The humanitarian coordinator, Mr. Van der Klaauw, has been making that. You'll have seen what the Secretary-General and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, have been saying. And we have been talking to a variety of interlocutors about this need. Short of humanitarian pause, there certainly is a need to make sure that any humanitarian vessels, any vessels carrying legitimate humanitarian goods are clear to move.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, there's some other questions and then we'll get back to you.
Question: Everybody takes a follow-up.
Deputy Spokesman: Take one follow-up, and then there are several hands, but… please.
Question: During the clashes today in Aden, those refugees were leaving. At the same time there were bombardment from the air and from barges from the sea. Shouldn't… when refugees are leaving, trying to flee, shouldn't the allies, so-called allies, stop their bombardment on the city?
Deputy Spokesman: We have repeatedly urged for any actions to take… to account the need to protect civilians, and we do so again. You just heard what I had to say about the attacks there. And, again, our opinion on this is that the protection of civilians must be at the forefront of all such operations. Erol.
Question: Farhan, there are… there is a civil unrest, a huge civil unrest going on for two days in Skopje, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Is the Secretary-General concerned with that? Does he need to… does he want to comment on that?
And also do you have any highlights of his report on… regular report on Bosnia and Herzegovina that is going to be discussed next Tuesday on 12th of May in the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: The report's a document so you can see for yourself, and of course, the Council will discuss it. I believe it is out. It's available online. So I'd refer you to that. On the question of Skopje, we'll have to check and get back to you. Yes.
Question: Majeed from the Rudaw Media Network. Do you have any updates about the Geneva talks, about Syria? And especially there are reports that there are groups participating in the talks that have contacts with ISIS and al‑Qaida linked rebels in Syria.
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to the press and he took questions on a large number of things and he discussed very broadly the people who will be participating. We have also heard from his office that after his various meetings, he will try to give just a little brief update here and there, so you get at least some information on this.
Given the nature of these talks, we're not going to give out a huge amount of information about these consultations, which are really a stocktaking exercise, but he'll give bits and details more as it proceeds.
Question: As de Mistura yesterday said, these are not peace talks. You…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, exactly. They're not peace talks. They're consultations with a broad range of parties getting a wide range of opinions about where we stand and where we can go forward, what sort of headway we can make. Yes.
Question: Farhan, a little talk recently about the prospect of a woman becoming the next Secretary-General. I wonder, and please forgive my ignorance. I wonder whether the SG, the present SG, has ever weighed in on this debate.
Deputy Spokesman: He has, in fact. And he's said in several public venues that he thinks it's high time for a Secretary-General to be a woman. Of course, it's not in his hands to determine who that person will be, and he's not going to offer any opinions about who should be selected, but certainly, the time for a female Secretary-General has come.
Yes. Okay and then Maggie.
Question: Farhan, we do understand definitely that it's not up to him to mention his favourite or to mention who that would be, but did the Secretary-General talk, exchange the views of some of the prospective candidates from that part of… the women prospective candidates for the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Again, it's not his role. No one is going to…
Question: I know it's not true…
Deputy Spokesman: … the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to see whether he can help them become the next Secretary-General. So that's really not how this is structured, as you're well aware.
Question: It's not now question. My question was — did he have any exchange of talks, or meetings even, with those women prospective candidate? There are at least several. I can mention names because I'm following up that story probably the first.
Deputy Spokesman: I'll only know the answer to that question once we know officially who announces that they are candidates. He, of course, meets…
Question: How many so far?
Deputy Spokesman: He, of course, meets many, many women in very prominent positions in national politics and international politics and in the UN. Whether any of them actually run as candidates is up to them, of course. Yes.
Question: Back to Yemen. A few weeks ago, the humanitarian appeal was out for $274 million, and the Saudis fully funded it at that time. But there was some criticism from various corners about the fact that it was the Saudis fully funding it and they were leading this airstrike campaign. Has the UN accepted the money?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, we've accepted the money, and we desperately need it to make sure our operations can go on for the next several months. Of course, we'll continue to seek other funding as our work continues, and we'll try to coordinate our efforts with a wide variety of nations to make sure that the aid gets in. Yes, Stefano.
Question: Yes. I'm sorry, I arrived ten minutes late, so maybe you already said but there is a meeting of the… thing going on now with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Director of the Red Cross.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: The Italian Red Cross.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, and he will be here at 1:15 p.m.
Question: Yes, we know he's going to be here. He's going to do a press conference. My question is… is there going to be a readout from the Secretary-General from the meeting?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't expect a readout of the meeting, but he will talk to you right after he's met with the Secretary-General. Yes.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I understand there's a rush so, one, I don't know if you have an update on Burundi. But I have a question-question which has to do with another of these Dispute Tribunal decisions. It's a decision and I want to ask you because it goes to UN policy. There was a UNDP staffer who tweeted a reply at Helen Clark. She said something about governance is an important driver of success. They responded that UNDP was shutting down one office and received a reprimand and was told… this is the question I want to ask you about in this decision, in paragraph 8, they received a reprimand that said that as stipulated in UN staff rules and regulations, we do not criticize senior managers' decisions publicly. And so what I wanted to know is, is that true? Is that… is it, in fact, the… your understanding of UN staff rules and regulations that for a staff member to say a policy is hurting the people we're supposed to benefit that it's a… it's a thing to be reprimanded and removed? And if so, how can we re… should silence be… be construed as there may be a lot of the criticism out there? How does it relate to the ability to fairly cover what UN staff's own views of the programmes are?
Deputy Spokesman: We certainly encourage free… exchange of information and views among staff, but on this I wouldn't have any specific comments as… as you have yourself indicated this is a matter for UNDP. So I'll leave in the hands of UNDP.
Regarding Burundi, after a plenary session yesterday, Burundian stakeholders continued the political dialogue. Our Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, Said Djinnit, is facilitating work in smaller committees. The objective of the dialogue remains to seek common grounds for creating conditions for the holding of peaceful, inclusive, and credible elections in Burundi. Meanwhile, we welcome the arrival in Bujumbura of the foreign ministers of the East African community, and we look forward to working closely with the region on this.
And if that's it, let me get to our guest.