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8 May 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, I will be joined by Philippe Lazzarini, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, who will be here to brief you about the situation in that country, obviously. 

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is in Ukraine today.  He met with President Petro Poroshenko and participated with him in a commemoration of the end of [the Second] World War.  Speaking to reporters there, he said Ukraine contributed and sacrificed immensely to the fight against Nazism.  He said he was saddened to be in Ukraine amidst a debilitating conflict in the east and reaffirmed his support for a peaceful resolution, in a manner upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

The Secretary-General also attended a special session of the Parliament of Ukraine also on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the end of [the Second] World War, and he later met with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.  They discussed the critical reforms currently undertaken by the Government of Ukraine, as well as the way forward for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, based on the Minsk agreements.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General, as you know, also attended commemorations in Gdansk, Poland. And tomorrow, he will be in Moscow for commemorations there

**Yemen

From Yemen, the Special Envoy for Yemen for the Secretary-General, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has met with senior officials of the Yemeni Government in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  That was today.  He met with Yemeni President Mansour Hadi, Vice-President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin.  The Special Envoy also met with the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nizar bin Obaid Madani.  In addition, he had a meeting with various Yemeni political party leaders as he continued with his efforts to hear from all sides in the Yemeni conflict. 

Meanwhile, the armed clashes reportedly continue in residential areas in almost all of the districts in Aden, while a number of buildings were reportedly hit yesterday in fighting and airstrikes in Sa’ada Town and in neighbouring districts, including the Sa'ada Governorate building.  Humanitarian organizations report they are unable to access warehouses and have had to cease major aid operations in Aden.  The most recent casualty figures indicate that as of 5 May, that was three days ago, more than 1,400 people have been killed in Yemen since 19 March and nearly 6,000 people have been injured. 

**Syria

Meanwhile, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met today with various Syrians, including representatives of Syrian civil society and religious leaders, as part of his ongoing Geneva Consultations.  He underscored the importance of the voices of the civil society and religious leaders being heard and taken into account as we search for peace in that country.  He added that their representatives have an essential role to play in promoting peacemaking and reconciliation in the Syria of tomorrow.  Mr. de Mistura expressed deep sadness at the reports on the death of yet another Syrian Arab Red Crescent worker, coincidentally on the World Red Cross Red Crescent Day.  He condemned attacks on humanitarian workers and paid tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives while trying to help the Syrian people.   

**Burundi

And from Burundi, the Special Envoy, Said Djinnit, remains in the capital, Bujumbura, today to facilitate political dialogue among the country’s stakeholders.  Yesterday, he issued a statement condemning the acts of violence and called for restraint and the respect of human rights and for the [security] forces to exercise restraint in managing the demonstrations.  He reiterated the UN’s commitment to accompany Burundians in their efforts to consolidate peace, stability and development in their country.  Mr. Djinnit stressed the need to protect children, women and girls.  He also warned that those responsible for acts of violence should be held to account. 

And following the conclusion of the political discussions yesterday, representatives of the Government, political parties and religious groups today signed a joint statement, in which they condemned all forms of violence and called for the end to it and warned that those who commit or incite acts of violence will also be held accountable.  They called on their militants and sympathizers, as well as security forces, to exercise restraint and abstain from any act that could exacerbate tension and violate human rights.  And as you know, Mr. Djinnit briefed the Security Council by videoconference a bit earlier today. 

**Nepal

And from Nepal, our colleague, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nepal, said today that the main focus for relief teams now is to reach as many affected people as possible in remote, hard-to-reach areas, and to do so as quickly as possible to beat the onset of the forthcoming monsoon season.  Mr. McGoldrick said that improved airlift capacity and the decentralization of logistical support to five hubs was helping to speed up the flow of relief goods.  Some relief teams are travelling on foot to impacted areas while goods are being dropped off at agreed locations with communities so they can be picked up. 

Mr. McGoldrick said humanitarian agencies and their partners are reaching out to impacted communities via radio programmes and through mobile networks so that they know where and how to obtain the aid.  These networks are also being used to get feedback on the needs and concerns of people affected by the earthquake.  Meanwhile, two weeks into the earthquake, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that food is an increasingly urgent need as it overcomes several logistical challenges to reach hundreds of thousands of survivors in some of the hardest-hit areas.  So far, WFP and its partners have distributed food for 300,000 people since the quake hit and is bringing in more helicopters and engaging multiple fleets of small trucks to get supplies to hard-hit areas.  There’s more information on the WFP website. 

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And on the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], as a follow-up on Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous’s comments yesterday at the Security Council stakeout:  The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in that country, MONUSCO, continues its discussions with the Congolese authorities on the possibility for joint operations with the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym, FDLR, and the Alliance of Democratic Forces, the ADF, as the preferred and most efficient means to neutralize these armed groups in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. 

**South Sudan

And from a statement issued today in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, our humanitarian chief in that country, said that since the beginning of May, military activities south of Bentiu in Unity State have forced up to 100,000 people from their homes.  The Humanitarian Coordinator called on all forces engaged in military activities to protect civilians, in accordance with International Humanitarian Law, and to facilitate the work of aid agencies to assist people in need.  UN agencies and their partners are urgently seeking to access areas of Unity State to assess the needs of the people and to respond to them in a timely manner.

**Niger-Nigeria

And our friends at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] say today that at least 14,000 Nigerians have arrived at the border between Niger and Nigeria since 6 May to try to return to their home country.  They were taken to a transit camp in Geidam, in Nigeria’s Yobe State.  Nigerians have been ordered out of islands in Lake Chad that fall under Niger’s control because of a planned military action against Boko Haram, according to local authorities. 

Many of the returnees, who are fishermen and businesspeople, had lived in the Lake Chad region for more than three decades.  It is not yet known how many people are yet to return.  The humanitarian community calls on all parties affected by the Boko Haram insurgency to ensure the well-being and protection and assistance to civilians [and those] displaced [by] conflict. 

**Liberia

And from Liberia, our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and WHO and their partners are supporting a national week-long polio and measles vaccination campaign in Liberia.  The campaign, which started off today, had been scheduled for last year, but was suspended due to the Ebola outbreak.  The agencies, together with the Ministry of Health, aim to vaccinate more than 683,000 children against polio and 603,000 against measles. 

**Bay of Bengal

And just want to flag a new report by UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] that says that despite the risks, some 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis boarded smugglers’ boats on the Bay of Bengal between January and March of this year.  That’s nearly double the number during the same time as last year.  Agency staff spoke to hundreds of survivors of such journeys, and the agency estimates that 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015 as a result of starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.  More information online. 

**Appointments 

I have a personnel appointment today. Two, in fact.  The Secretary-General is appointing Mbaranga Gasarabwe of Rwanda as his Deputy Special Representative for Mali.  Ms. Gasarabwe, who brings more than 20 years of experience in development and humanitarian assistance with the UN with a particular focus on Africa, succeeds David Gressly of the United States, to whom the Secretary-General is thankful for his dedicated service.

And the Secretary-General is also appointing Mr. Mourad Wahba of Egypt as Deputy Special Representative for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Most recently, Mr. Wahba was Director of the Security Office in the Bureau of Management at UNDP [United Nations Development Programme].  He succeeds Peter de Clercq of the Netherlands, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful his dedicated service and contribution to the UN’s work in Haiti.

**Pakistan

And I was asked by one of your colleagues for a reaction to the helicopter crash in Pakistan.  We can say that the Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the crash of a helicopter in northern Pakistan today, killing the ambassadors to Pakistan of the Philippines and Norway, as well as the spouses of the Indonesian and Malaysian ambassadors and the crew.  He wishes to extend his condolences to the families of the crash victims and the Governments of Pakistan, the Philippines, Norway, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as a speedy recovery to those who were injured.  Done.  Mr. Lee and Mr. Klein?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask you about these alleged rapes in the Central African Republic.  Prince Zeid [Ra’ad al-Hussein] held a press conference today.  Just as an aside, I would have liked to have seen it announced from here on this very topic.  And he said… he was asked directly about what I've been asking you about, the statement in the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling that the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping asked the whistle-blower to resign.  And it was said, and this is why I want to ask you, because I know you said you don't agree with it, but this was a statement that was not contested at the time by the respondent.  So, this means that the UN… the people involved saw the claim and didn't have any problem with it.  I'm not saying that that means it's true.  When you say you don't agree with it, is that a personal position or a UN position?

Spokesman:  I don't think I said I didn't agree with it.  I said you're taking it as fact.  It's his position.

Correspondent:  Which the UN didn't disagree with.

Spokesman:  I'm just saying it's his position.

Question:  My question on this is, he said he'd like to say more, but would say it to some forthcoming, apparently, investigative commission.  Ambassador [Samantha] Power at the stakeout said the same thing, that all of this needs to be looked at independently.  So, what's the status of that?  Is the Secretariat having any role in that?

Spokesman:  There's obviously the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] inquiry going on into Mr. [Andres] Kompass and into everything related to that.  You know, I think the aim right now is to ensure accountability for the victims of these alleged rapes and horrendous abuse [that] these young children suffered at the hands the soldiers.  That's… that should be everyone's aim.  Obviously, there will come a time I think when we will need to take a look at how this issue was handled, but I will also add that there is obviously an internal investigation through OIOS and looking at Mr. Kompass.  At this point, I don't have anything to add. 

Correspondent:  The other thing… something you said yesterday was about this, there was no harm to the French investigation by not lifting immunity because they were written questions that were answered.  There's an article in Le Monde today that says that, yeah, written answers were provided seven months after the questions were proffered and was provided on 29 April, which just happened to be the date on which the exposé was first published.  I'm wondering… you can read Le Monde.  I can read it to you.  But, that's what they are saying, basically. 

Spokesman:  You know, I think that there are different timelines going on here.  The prosecutor in Paris has his own timeline.  What I can tell you is that on 10 October, the Permanent Mission of France of the UN sent a note verbale to the Secretary-General, to the Office of Legal Counsel with a request from the… from a French judicial authority, a vice-prosecutor, confirming they had a hard copy of the report, which obviously had gone from Mr. Kompass, requesting for us to waive the immunity of the investigator, the OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] investigator, who authored the report and allowed him to be interviewed. 

Following consultations internally, which obviously involve the Mission in the Central African Republic, which involved OLA [Office of Legal Affairs], which involved UNICEF, which involved the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, we wrote back, saying that we will fully cooperate, that we are offering to send them a copy of the redacted report.  And again, here, I can't stress enough the importance of shielding the identities of the victims.  I mean, there are a number of countries in Europe, for example, where it is illegal to share the names of rape victims or of minors who have gone under child abuse, so I think that the issue of protecting the names of the witnesses and those who have been abused is primary.

We also told them that the chief investigator was right now serving in a post in Chile and will provide responses in writing to any questions put forward by French investigators.  We stressed that this cooperation was done on a voluntary basis without any prejudice to the issues of privileges and immunity. That was a letter that we wrote to the French authorities on 5 November.  On 6 February of 2015, we received a letter from the French mission transmitting, obviously, documents that had gone from their own judicial authorities, the written questionnaire and which was for the investigator and reiterating the request to lift the investigator's… the investigator's immunity.  That was on 6 February. 

On 30 March, we reiterated our full cooperation to the French.  We provided them with a copy of the redacted report.  We transmitted to them the copies of her… the questions and answers, with the answers provided by the investigator.  We confirmed, yet again, that there was no need to lift immunity because this cooperation would be done on a voluntary basis without any prejudice to the investigation… to our immunities.  I think it serves to remind people… you know, the issue of immunity, I think, is one that is not always fully grasped by those that don't cover the UN on a regular basis.  The UN lifts the immunities of its staff members in a number of cases when they need to testify in front of judges, in front of courts.  We do that.  The immunity is not there to stand in the way of justice being served.  At this point, if there's no need to lift the immunity, it's not lifted.  If there is a need to lift the immunity to provide testimony before a judge or a court in a legal proceeding, it is studied.  It is very often done. 

So, I think we're looking at different timelines.  I think different bureaucracies have different timelines.  I've given you ours.  The prosecutor clearly has his or her own; I don't know the gender of the prosecutor.  That's where we are.

Question:  Just one follow-up.  I appreciate that.  This will be the… there's one date you didn't mention there, which is 12 March 2015, in which the whistle-blower was summoned in and told to resign.  He said and was uncontested by High Commissioner of the Office of Human Rights at the request of the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping.  So, my question is, what was the problem… I understand everything about protecting witnesses.  If the information presumably is provided to prosecutors, like there are rules against it, but it's not illegal for one investigative authority to share the information that could bring about a prosecution with that prosecuting authorities; what's the problem with that? 

Spokesman:  I think, again, on Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, I think he spoke to it… he spoke to it at the stakeout.  I've said what I've had to say about Mr. Kompass's allegations.  I think the High Commissioner spoke at length and eloquently this morning, so I have nothing to add.  I think it is vital for the work of the human rights organs of this Organization that, when people give us testimony with the understanding that it will be kept confidential, that it is in fact kept confidential.  I think the High Commissioner said clearly that the investigative responsibility, the criminal investigative responsibility, is in this case with the French soldiers with the French authorities.  It is with national authorities.

The human rights mechanisms in this organization conduct a lot of commissions of inquiry.  We have ones going on on Syria, on the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], to name just two.  People give us testimonies with the understanding that we will be… we will guarantee that this… their names will be kept confidential.  I think that is exactly the issue here, is that when people give us testimony with the understanding that it be kept confidential, we have a responsibility to keep that confidential.  The handling of Mr. Kompass' case administratively, what was said, what was done is being reviewed internally.  Mr. Klein and Miss Fasulo and Anna?

Correspondent:  Actually, I have another whistle-blower question. 

Spokesman:  Excellent. 

Question:  That seems to be the theme today.  The Government Accountability Project put out a release today decrying the apparent and voluntary transfer of plan by 13 May of Miranda Brown, who now works for OCHA, from Geneva to Fiji.  And it states that this appears to be continued retaliation for her disclosure of alleged misconduct when she was working previously at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  So, I'd like to get your comment on that.  Apparently it's a fact that she is being transferred.  So far, we don't know

Spokesman:  I will state the facts as I know them to you. 

Correspondent:  Okay, I appreciate it. 

Spokesman:  My pleasure.  The staff member you mentioned apparently had a dispute with another organization, I think you just mentioned.  And this discounts the assertion that any development related to her status within the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office has something to do with that dispute.  She also joined the High Commissioner's Office on a two-year temporary assignment to replace a colleague who was on another assignment.  At the end of her temporary assignment, and as a result of the other colleague returning to this post, the staff member was offered one of the only posts available at her level, which was in Fiji.  No equivalent post was available then, nor is available now, in Geneva.  I think there were some allegations that the Fiji office was going to be closed and I can tell you that no decision has been made as to the future of that office and discussions are ongoing.  Miss Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding Ukraine, it's been estimated that about 7,000 civilians have been killed, many more wounded.  Does the UN have a sense of who's responsible… proportionally, who's responsible for the killings of these civilians?  What portion Government forces, what portion separatists?

Spokesman:  We don't have any more information beyond what's in the periodic reports by the Office for Human Rights.  We, obviously… we don't have any military advisers or observers on the ground.  It is very challenging in a conflict such as Ukraine, which often takes place in urban areas, for an outside party like the UN to be able to ascertain who killed whom, because we're not able to investigate.  I think the overarching issue is that civilians continue to be killed, that civilians continue to suffer.  We made it through the winter.  We'd like to see a spring and a summer of peace in Ukraine.  There are measures that we are agreed to in Minsk.  It's up to the parties to live up to those commitments.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up.  What about the status of humanitarian aid? 

Spokesman:  I can get an update from OCHA as to where they are with that.  Anna?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question about UN time frames of investigations.  Ambassador Power has just said at the stakeout that when something like this happens… that happened in Central African Republic, the speed of investigation is crucial.  Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said himself that we could have done so much better.  Actually, the whistle-blower himself said that it took UN nine months to look into things.  God knows how many children were abused during these nine months.  Which is a regular timeframe for UN to look into things like this, and what is UN going to do to shorten it? 

Spokesman:  I think there is no… I can't speak to a regular timeframe.  Investigations… each investigation has its own complexity and challenges.  I think no one would disagree with the fact that things need to be done swiftly to protect… to protect the victims.  What the High Commissioner also stressed today is that by going outside of the formal channels, the official transmittal of the report was also delayed.  And I think the High Commissioner also raised some very important questions about who knew what and when, and others on the ground may very well know.  And I think all of that, in due time, should be looked at.  In the back and then Olga?

Question:  A chief adviser to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the United Nations of using the issue of climate change as a hook to lead the new world order.  She said there is little evidence of climate change.  Would you like to comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think I saw the comments.  I think from the Secretary-General's standpoint, from the UN standpoint, the science is clear.  The impact is clear.  I think that the point of conspiracy theories, I think, has passed.  We're way past that that discussion.  I think we now need to get moving on an agreement in Paris.  I would also note the statement by the gentleman you mentioned was discounted by the Australian Government.  Olga, and then we'll go a second round. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you provide us more information about the upcoming meeting of Secretary-General and President [Vladimir] Putin?  Will we have just a readout or will it be some press conference in Moscow?

Spokesman:  Either one.  We have to… I haven't gotten the full details of the Moscow programme.  If there is no press encounter with the Secretary-General afterwards, we will issue a read-out.  Obviously, one can imagine there are a lot of issues to be discussed between the Secretary-General and President of Russia:  Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, to name just three of the peace and security issues.  And climate change, as well as the upcoming talks in Paris and the larger development agenda.  One way or the other, we'll try to let you know what's happened.

Question:  Stéphane, is he going to go back directly to New York from Moscow or is he going to make stops, for example, in Geneva?

Spokesman:  As far as I know, he's coming straight back to New York, but that's what I know.  If that changes, you will be a second or third to know.  Yes?

Question:  Majed Gillie.  In the last 24 hours, there are new reports of the use of chlorine gas in Syria and north-western province of Idlib.  Does the UN has any personal information, more information about this or have any victims been treated by the UN agencies? 

Spokesman:  We don't have any first-hand account. I will check with our colleagues on the ground in Syria and I know it is very much an issue that is in full discussion in the Security Council currently.

Question:  And another thing.  The activist, Mohammed Tanari, that testified in the Security Council last month about this, he's coming back to the [United States] in a visit, he told Associated Press.  He's a leading test witness on this.  Is he going to come to the UN?

Spokesman:  As far as… I have no information of him coming.  You may want to check with some of the permanent missions that facilitated his appearance at the UN when he was last here.  Mr. Lee?

Correspondent:  Some country-specific questions, but I wanted to ask this one because it's a press freedom question out there.  Maybe you'll call it… maybe you'll strike it down.  There are a number of reporters complaining publicly in a their publications that they sought to attend a “Journalists at Risk” event yesterday inside the UN in which the ambassadors of France and Belgium spoke and that they were not able to attend it and was told the press was being “banned” from the event. 

Spokesman:  Banning the press is not something I like to do.  No press was banned.  I think there was miscommunication on the part of the organizers, who probably didn't coordinate the way they should have with our colleagues here.  A guest list was provided to our security services, which included journalists.  And those people on the guest list were able to attend.  I think there may have been misunderstanding where journalists wanted to come in with cameras who didn't have accreditation.  We tried to facilitate things as much as possible.  As always here, we're happy to host any event, obviously, the Member States are holding.  It just needs a minimum of coordination with the various services.  But, to say that press was banned, I think is a mischaracterization of what happened.

Correspondent:  Some are contrasting it to the speed with which journalists were processed to attend the Hillary Clinton stakeout.  They were saying that this was actually… there was more time to do them, but they were told it's impossible, it can't be done. 

Spokesman:  I would dispute that account, as well.  You had country-specific questions?

Question:  Actually, there are other ones.  The country is South Korea.  I just want to know, since it's out there and it has been reported in The Korea Times, can you confirm that the Secretary-General is going to South Korea for four days in and around 22 May? 

Spokesman:  I cannot confirm at this point, but I encourage you to attend the briefings next week.  All right.  Have a happy Friday.

For information media. Not an official record.