The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right, welcome. Happy Thursday!
**Noon Briefing Guest Today
In a short while, I will be joined by Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and she will brief you about her visit to the Middle East.
The Secretary-General is in Gdansk, Poland, today, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. He will participate in the commemoration ceremony this evening, as well as in a panel discussion with Heads of States and Governments on European integration as a lesson learned after the Second World War. Since his arrival a few hours ago, the Secretary-General met with the President of Poland [Bronisław Komorowski]. They highlighted the shared sacrifice in the victory over fascism and the need for unity to prevent future conflicts.
At the initiative of the President of Poland, the Secretary-General also took part in a trilateral meeting with President Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine. During that meeting, the Secretary-General encouraged the parties to the continuing conflict in Ukraine to swiftly and fully implement the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements. Readouts of these meetings are online and in my office. And as we have already told you, the Secretary-General will leave Poland for Ukraine tomorrow, before going on to Moscow later over the weekend.
And just another trip of the Secretary-General to announce: he will travel to Washington, D.C., next Friday. And on Saturday morning, 16 May, he will deliver the commencement address at Georgetown University's Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service. In his address to students, faculty and staff and parents, the Secretary-General will highlight the role of youth in today's changing global landscape and the need to strengthen collective action for a safer and more sustainable world. He will be back in New York on Saturday evening.
Johannes van der Klaauw, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said today that he is gravely concerned by the recent reports coming out of Aden with accounts of scores of people, many of them civilians, being killed and injured in hostilities. Civilians were reportedly targeted while they were trying to flee to safer areas, having been trapped in Aden with limited or no access to water, food and health care for weeks. He said that violence towards civilians and aid workers, and attacks on hospitals and other civilian infrastructure must stop immediately.
In the six weeks since the escalation of conflict in Yemen, more than 1,400 people have been killed and nearly 6,000 injured — many of them civilians — by airstrikes and fighting on the ground. The Humanitarian Coordinator strongly urges all parties to the conflict to provide safe passage for civilians from other areas of conflict and to observe their duty to protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law. As an immediate measure, Mr. van der Klaauw repeated his call for a humanitarian pause, to be observed by all parties, to allow civilians to escape conflict areas and access basic services, and to enable humanitarian agencies to provide life-saving assistance.
And as part of the ongoing Geneva Consultations, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met today with His Highness, Prince Mohammed bin Saud bin Khaled al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Information and Technology Affairs. Mr. de Mistura said afterwards that Saudi Arabia is a very important regional country whose opinions need to be taken into account during these consultations. It is clear that any political process to end the Syrian conflict needs to be supported and facilitated by the regional parties.
Mr. de Mistura also consulted yesterday with previous Special Envoy Kofi Annan, to better understand the process that led to the Geneva communiqué. He said that the consultation with Mr. Annan was important in order to better understand the complexities and various challenges surrounding the Geneva Communiqué, which is considered as a crucial tool in trying to re-commit all parties to a meaningful political process. The Special Envoy for Syria also discussed the rollout of the consultation process via telephone with other several interested parties.
And the World Food Programme (WFP) said that thousands of women and children in regions where Boko Haram violence has spilled across borders into Cameroon, Niger and Chad face a gruelling lean season and the prospects of malnutrition. In the first quarter of 2015, WFP provided food assistance to more than 100,000 refugees, returnees, and internally displaced and vulnerable local people, and treatment to more than 30,000 children and nursing mothers suffering from malnutrition in various areas of Cameroon, Niger and Chad [affected by Boko Haram violence].
But, due to a lack of funding, less than half the people WFP planned to support with life-saving assistance have actually received it. In Cameroon, displaced people and host communities missed out on food assistance for four months. WFP was able to provide food assistance in April, but only to some displaced people with reduced rations. The World Food Programme is also concerned about the precarious nutrition situation of new arrivals in countries bordering northern Nigeria. Malnutrition rates among children under five and nursing mothers surpass the 15 per cent emergency threshold and more information on the WFP website.
From South Sudan, the UN Mission in that country (UNMISS) reports that more than 500 displaced people have arrived at the Mission's protection of civilians site in Bentiu, in Unity State, [since] 3 May. Most of them have arrived from Guit County and the area of Nhialdiu in Rubkona County, where heavy fighting has reportedly been taking place between Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) troops and opposition forces. This new influx of displaced people brings the total number of civilians protected at the UN site in Bentiu alone to some 53,000.
The Mission is aware of reports claiming that SPLA forces have gained control of territory in Nhialdiu and Guit County that has been under the control of armed opposition forces for some time. UNMISS is unable to independently verify these reports. The Mission also reports that its patrols in Bentiu continue to face movement restrictions, which are impeding monitoring and protection activities outside the protections site.
And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the start of the lean season in June in Sudan will likely bring an increase in the number of people who are food insecure in Sudan from the current 3.5 million to 4 million people. The latest report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, indicates that the most affected people are in Darfur, with 70 per cent of people are food insecure. The UN continues to call on all parties to conflict in Sudan to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure safe, timely and unhindered access for aid organizations.
And our humanitarian colleagues say that, as of yesterday, more than 7,600 people have been killed and nearly 16,400 people injured in the earthquake in Nepal. More than 284,000 houses have been destroyed. Authorities and humanitarian partners have now reached all affected districts. UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] warns that nearly 1 million children in Nepal will not be able to return to school following the recent earthquake unless urgent action is taken to provide temporary learning spaces and repair [damaged] school buildings.
Nearly 24,000 classrooms have been damaged or destroyed, and the scale of the education crisis may grow in the coming days and weeks as more information comes in from remote areas. UNICEF is concerned that great strides made over the last 25 years in increasing primary school enrolment in Nepal — from 64 per cent in 1990 to more than 95 per cent today — could suffer a serious setback because of the earthquake and more information on UNICEF website.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, today spoke at the high-level General Assembly thematic debate, which is taking place in the lead up to the 2016 Special Session on the World Drug Problem. Mr. Eliasson said that we must first acknowledge that the drugs trade, in many cases, poses a threat to peace and security at the national, regional and international levels.
He called today’s meeting an important opportunity and urged the international community to seize the opportunity for open, comprehensive and in-depth discussions. He added that during the Special Session next April, we must be ready to challenge ourselves, consolidate our approaches and integrate a range of perspectives on drug issues.
And this was just handed to me, in case you were interested: the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is in Riyadh today. He met the Crown Prince and Minister of Interior, Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as the Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence, Mohammed bin Salman. He also met with the G14 group of ambassadors at a lunch hosted by the Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat.
Meanwhile, the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] reports that world food prices continue to decline in April amid hefty supply levels of basic agricultural commodities. According to FAO’s biannual Food Outlook report published today, global cereal production will likely decline by 1.5 per cent from last year's record-breaking output, but the impact will be cushioned by "exceptionally high" levels of existing stocks. More information on FAO’s website.
**Press Conference/Noon Guest Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., we expect to have a briefing here by Members of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Response to Health Crises. The Chair is Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and other panel members who will be here to talk to you. And then at around noon, I will joined by Philippe Lazzarini, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
And this afternoon at 3 p.m., at the UNICEF House, together with partners such as Walt Disney, UNICEF will launch a Global Innovation Centre and Innovation Fund to bring to scale creative and cost-reducing approaches to improve the lives of the children in the poorest places. UNICEF says about approximately 300 innovative projects focusing on priority issues to promote the survival, growth, and development of children as well as to reduce inequity are currently being developed. So far, over $9 million has been raised to support the Global Innovation Centre and the new Innovation Fund. That’s at 3 p.m. in UNICEF House; more information on their website.
And lastly, if you are looking for a nice musical event on this Friday, I wanted to let you know that our talented colleagues who make up the UN Symphony Orchestra will be performing a special concert to celebrate the UN’s seventieth anniversary. And that will take place at [New York University] tomorrow evening and will feature the world premiere of a “Piano Concerto for the United Nations”, written by Michael Vongova. And if you are interested in attending the concert, flyers are available in my office and if you’re interested in doing a story on the orchestra, let us know. Why don't I stop? Mr. Iftikhar.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. This discovery of 30 bodies in Thailand, mostly of Muslims from Rohingya State who are fleeing Myanmar's oppression points to the fact that UN efforts to ease the situation in that part of the world is going nowhere. Is the Secretary‑General going to take this matter up with the Government of Myanmar?
Spokesman: We're obviously looking into these horrific reports of mass graves. I think the Secretary‑General's efforts through his Special Adviser on Myanmar are very intense. Discussions are permanently ongoing. I think the… the speaker of the house of Myanmar was recently here. He met with the Secretary‑General, as well as the Special Adviser and it is something we continue very much to focus on. Abdelhamid.
Question: Yes, I have two questions. First… first, Saudi Arabia now said that they are willing to accept five‑day ceasefire in Yemen. Is there any comment on that development?
Spokesman: Obviously, it's something we're looking into. We just saw the press reports. We're trying to get some more information. Obviously, the Secretary‑General's call for a cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian aid to go through remains loud and clear.
Correspondent: And just as another development in Gaza, [Nikolay] Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for peace in the Middle East and the Special Envoy to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he just visited Gaza. And he had a statement. And I expected a readout of his statement from Gaza.
Spokesman: I haven't seen anything from his office, but I will take a look. Linda.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding Yemen, is it clear that the Secretary‑General's representative will be going to Iran and also to Yemen itself?
Spokesman: Mr. Ismail's schedule, I think, is being worked on on a day‑by‑day basis, so we're trying to update you daily. He's obviously in the region and will be talking to key players. I don't want to confirm ahead of time meetings and places, but obviously, he's doing his first on‑the‑ground round.
Question: But his… excuse me. But is Iran on his list of…?
Spokesman: As I said, I can't confirm that to you at this… at this point. Iran obviously has a critical role to play in what we're currently seeing in Iran… in Yemen. Cara, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you. The French prosecutor's office says the UN hierarchy rejected French efforts to hear from the author of the UN report alleging that French soldiers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic. What is the UN's reaction? And why not lift the immunity to allow that conversation?
Spokesman: Well, I think quite to the contrary, we very much cooperated with the French judicial authorities on this. They submitted a questionnaire to the lead investigator, who responded, so we are… we cooperated with them. We continue to cooperate with them. And I think the… the issue of lifting or not lifting of immunity is… is not really pertinent in this case. We are… we are cooperating with them, and the lead investigator very much cooperated with them.
Correspondent: But, they say they weren't allowed to speak with the report's author, which…
Spokesman: There was a… they submitted questions in writing, and the extensive questions were answered. Mr. Lee.
Correspondent: Sure. Something on Yemen, but on that same topic, I hear what you're saying, but basically Mr. François [inaudible] says that he wanted to wait until he had spoken with the UN aid workers Swedish national Mr. [Anders] Kompass before launching an investigation and that the UN had refused to lift his diplomatic immunity as required for a formal interview, and they also say that there were no interviews conducted with alleged victims or soldiers during the nine months after they got the report because of this failure to lift immunity. So…
Spokesman: No, I think what… what I'm saying to you is that we are cooperating with the French judicial authorities. We have cooperated with them. And they submitted questions to the lead investigator, and those questions were answered.
Question: And what about the… now the Central African Republic authorities say that they are going to sue the soldiers. And I wanted… so, one, I wanted to know if you have any response to that. And, two, they have obviously been prejudiced in bringing their own case which presumably would have been more active than the French case because they were never informed by the UN that children were raped allegedly.
Spokesman: I think the actions of the CAR [Central African Republic] vis‑à‑vis the French soldiers is a bilateral issue between the French and CAR.
Question: I asked this and I want to ask it again. What is the relationship between the UN system in the Central African Republic and the Central African Republic authorities when the UN system becomes aware of the alleged abuse of children in the country? Can you answer that?
Spokesman: I can't answer that in detail at this point.
Question: And can I have one last one? Sorry.
Spokesman: No, Matthew, I promise I'll come back to you. Let's do a first round. And then…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow‑up on Yemen — as just… a couple of hours ago, Foreign Minister announced the willingness of Saudi Arabia for a ceasefire five days for humanitarian basis. What's the level of preparedness of the UN agencies responsible for delivering the humanitarian aid to start operating if and when the ceasefire can be…
Spokesman: You know, obviously, we are waiting and our humanitarian colleagues I would say are eagerly waiting for the conditions on the ground to be ripe for them to deliver as much aid as possible. You know, there are various places in the region where resources are pre… are prepositioned, but we need to have the security conditions on the ground that would enable us to fly in aid safely and we need to have the conditions on the ground to allow us to bring in aid by sea, as well.
Question: Steph, what sort of coordination is there between the Secretariat and the African Union? I'm sure you've seen AU [African Union] chair, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s comments on Burundi’s President not basically seeking a third term and that the elections in Burundi should be postponed. Has that… are you talking to the AU commission and what's…?
Spokesman: We've obviously taken note of the views expressed by the Chairperson regarding the elections on Burundi. As you mentioned, Special Envoy [Said] Djinnit from his end continues to facilitate the political dialogue between various Burundian stakeholders. The objective of the dialogue remains to seek common grounds for creating conditions for the holding of peaceful, inclusive, and credible elections in Burundi. We look forward to working closely with the region and we welcome the Summit of East African community, which is scheduled to take part on 13 May.
Question: Could those conditions include President Nkurunziza stepping aside?
Spokesman: I'm not going to prejudge what the conditions would be, but we need to find… we need to create the conditions where the holding… we can have peaceful, inclusive and credible elections, but again, it is up to the Burundian parties to create those conditions. Your neighbour, yes, sir.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. In order to make this Yemen ceasefire, if it comes about, sustainable, will Mr.… Secretary‑General's Special Envoy be travelling to Sana’a and Aden and…
Spokesman: You know, as I… as I just told Linda who's sitting right behind you, we're not going to announce his travel scheduled ahead of time. He will go where he needs to go. And he will go where he's able to go obviously depending on the security conditions. But, the Special Adviser will have as broad of a consultation as he possibly can with the various parties.
Question: And that consultation, will the United States be a party to that consultation?
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, members of the Security Council have a role to play obviously. We are keeping the security… the Special Adviser as his predecessor, will keep the Security Council informed as it is required by… through the various… through the various resolutions.
Question: On Syria, what is it that makes the Secretary‑General optimistic if at all of these talks now…?
Spokesman: I don't think either myself on the Secretary‑General's behalf or the Secretary‑General has expressed any great optimism. We are realists at this point. Yes, sir.
Correspondent: Thank you, I am Zhang Wei from Economic Daily. Thank you for telling us very optimistic news European country celebrates and all over the world too for seventieth anniversary. But, in Asia, there has been a really sad picture. I listened [to the] debate that happened yesterday. Some country refused to apologize officially to the countries, you know, during [the Second World War]. Millions of people died and thousands of women raped and hundreds of thousands of women worked as comfort women. So this is really, you know, up to the 70 years, some country refuse to recognize and officially apologize.
Spokesman: I hear you… I would like to hear your question. What was the question? My comments for what you just said?
Question: [Inaudible] refuse to recognize truth happening during [the Second World War]. How is it useful if we always knocking the Peace Bell every day, is it useful?
Spokesman: Recognizing the Peace Bell is obviously very important. We all recognize that the devastation of [the Second World War] took place not only in Europe, but in many other parts of the world, notably in Asia. I think the Secretary‑General has addressed this issue in the past and, as he has said, he's urged the leaders of the region to be future oriented in remembering the past. This will generate a spirit of peace and reconciliation for generations to come. We should move forward in a spirit of cooperation for our mutual benefit to achieve common prosperity and shared goals. Evelyn and then we'll go to round two.
Question: Stéphane, I assume someone has been talking to both Saudi Arabia and the Houthis about the humanitarian pause because how will you know whether it's going to happen or not? And I have another question. The… on the Central African Republic, the 14 soldiers mentioned by President [François] Hollande who were alleged to be perverts, are they in France, or are they still roaming around? Can you find out?
Spokesman: That's an issue for the French investigators to find out, and as we've said, we hope that those who are found guilty of having committed these horrendous crimes face the full force of justice. Abdelhamid.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. The recognized government in Tobruk in Libya voiced its support for the peace plan put forward by Bernardino León, but we didn't hear from Tripoli. Is there any development…
Spokesman: No, I have not got an update from our colleagues. And I'm reminded that one of your colleagues asked this morning about the reports of new settlements being announced by Israeli authorities, and I wanted to say in answer to that question that the Secretary‑General is deeply concerned by recent announcements by Israeli authorities of plans to advance plans for 900 settlement units in East Jerusalem which are illegal under international law. Yes.
Question: Yeah, back to the Central African Republic. So, the UN team… human rights team in Bangui and the UNICEF team out of Dhakar did compile a report on the allegations and they did send it to MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic]. So, what happened with that report that was sent to MINUSCA? Was it sent to France? Did it end up in a drawer somewhere? Did the Central African Republic government… was it notified? Thanks.
Spokesman: I think, as we've said, the report was sent to the office… the high… Human Rights Office in Geneva. As we all know, it was shared unofficially in an unredacted form with French judicial authorities by a… by a staff member. It was then… from there on, the Human Rights Office and the UN has cooperated fully with the French… with the French investigators. That's as much as I can share with you at this time. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Two questions about Yemen, but I want to ask you about what you said about Central African Republic. I mean… yeah, the Central African Republic. Number one, there's a letter that's emerge from the French Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Nicolas Niemtchinow… I may be saying it wrong… in which he writes very formally to Anders Kompass on 30 July 2014, saying “je vous remercie pour cette information”, et cetera. So, is this the leak or was…? Are you or Mr. [Rupert] Colville saying that there was some other… when you said judicial authorities, it seems like the Ambassador of France in Geneva was saying to Mr. Kompass, thank you for giving us this.
Question: So, this is for the unauthorized?
Question: And the other one this is… I'd asked… I really wanted to ask this because it doesn't require OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services]. The ruling by the Dispute Tribunal that reinstated Mr. Kompass and said he should not have been suspended says in paragraph 9 that in a 12 March 2015 meeting, he was urged to resign by the deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said that adding that such a request had been made by the Under‑Secretary‑General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. What I want to know is, since these events, by your account, took place all under MISCA, not under MINUSCA, had nothing to do with the UN peacekeeping mission that began, why was a request by the head of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] made for Mr. Kompass to resign? That's…
Spokesman: I think you're… you're taking as fact something that one party to this administrative proceeding is stating. I'm not going to comment on the veracity of those claims. Obviously, this is all under investigation. But, I am not taking as fact what this gentleman said…
Question: But it's a very simple answer here which is you… in this building on some 30‑something floor, Mr. [Herve] Ladsous is there. It's a simple yes‑or‑no question. Did he ask for the resignation of Mr. Kompass and if so why?
Spokesman: I understand. I'm not taking as fact what was said.
Question: Does he deny it?
Spokesman: That's where I will go.
Question: May I ask you about Yemen?
Spokesman: You may ask me about Yemen.
Correspondent: Thanks a lot. I think you may deny it, but I'll ask it any way.
Spokesman: How about I just deny it now?
Question: Let's try it. Are you willing to confirm or will you deny a phone call between the Secretary‑General and Mr. John Kerry in early May, extremely early May, proposing from the UN's side a meeting in Geneva on 11 May to include at least Yemeni parties and perhaps Saudi Arabia and Iran and a response from John Kerry, "Don't do it. Wait for the Saudis", and the cancellation of those plans?
Spokesman: Listen. There was a phone call between the Secretary‑General and the Secretary of State. Yemen was high on the agenda. Obviously, we're dealing with a fast… not only a fast‑moving situation on the ground, but a fast‑moving diplomatic situation. There are various efforts at play. Nothing was set in stone one way or another. Right now the Special Adviser is in Saudi Arabia talking to the Saudis in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries. As soon as we're able to announce a location or a new political negotiation, we will do so.
Question: But, what's the relative weight of the various interlocutors of the Secretary‑General on Yemen? It seems from what I've heard and seen, it seems that the US position not to hold this on 11 May was taken extremely seriously. Are there other…?
Spokesman: I think… you know, there are a lot of the parties who are directly involved in the situation in Yemen and a lot of the parties who have influence on the situation in Yemen. I think as… as the Special Adviser's efforts are to bring all the parties forward, I think it's only right that he started off in the region for consultations and when we're ready to announce something, we'll announce it.
Correspondent: Just a procedural question. It seems like there was no readout given at the time of this call. How do you decide when to make… when to give… even if it's a kind of a bland readout to say the Secretary‑General spoke to a major foreign minister…
Spokesman: I can't tell you that there is a checklist or an SOP to that.
Question: Can I comment? You said…
Spokesman: You can comment or follow‑up?
Correspondent: What you said, in fact, you said the Special Envoy, but officially…
Spokesman: I know, I'm…
Correspondent: But, he's Special Adviser.
Spokesman: You'll have to excuse my age. Between the Special Adviser on Yemen and…
Correspondent: Benomar was a special…
Spokesman: Yes, I should use names instead of titles. It would be clearer.
Correspondent: My question, in fact, if there is any statement on the formation of the new Israeli ultra‑rightist Government that had been put in place last night and one of its first output is the decision to build 900 settlement units.
Spokesman: You know, I don't… the reports we've seen on the settlements, I think, came out of local authorities. But I'll… I won't comment on your description of the Government. What I can say is we're obviously following very closely the negotiations on the formation of the next Government. Once the new Government has been sworn in, the Secretary‑General will explore with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu realistic options for a return to meaningful negotiations on a two‑State solution. Yes, sir. And then… Carol. And then we'll go to our guest.
Question: This is a tricky question. Can you tell me how much… financially, how much the Secretary‑General has spent on these tours that he has taken recently to all the…?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General's travel budget is in all the relevant budget documents. Carol and then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to ask about the Secretary‑General attending the Victory Day parade in Moscow. Is there not concern that he'll be looking over as Russian tanks roll by given what's happening in Ukraine and…?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's position on Ukraine, I think, is well known. And I just stated it in following his meeting with a President of Poland and President of Ukraine. The Secretary‑General is in… making stops in Poland to commemorate the end of [the Second World War] as he is in Moscow to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the second… the end of the Second World War in Europe, and also to honour the tens of millions of Soviets who died during the Second World War in the fight against the Nazi regime. I will go get our guest and I will be back.