The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Security Council was briefed this morning by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for International Migration, Peter Sutherland. He said that the Deputy Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director General for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and he have met regularly to coordinate and discuss the UN’s response to the Mediterranean refugee and mixed migratory crisis.
Mr. Sutherland said that the situation in the Mediterranean represents, first and foremost, a security crisis for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in harm’s way.
He stressed that it is essential to remember that about half of those who reach Europe qualify for international protection as refugees.
An effective strategy to address the crisis, Mr. Sutherland said, including in the context of a Security Council resolution, begins with the immediate need to save lives. If we do not frame our response in this way, it would represent a moral failure of the first order, one that would undermine international law and security.
At the most basic level, he said, we need to engage in a systematic, intense dialogue among countries of origin, transit, and destination, and the UN stands ready to help foster, inform, and guide such a dialogue.
The Council was also briefed this morning by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, who also plans to speak to you at the stakeout at approximatively 12:30 p.m. And we do expect the President of the Security Council to speak at the stakeout at some point, as well.
The Secretary-General is back in New York today, after returning yesterday from Moscow, Russia, where, as you know, he attended the celebration of Victory Day.
In their meeting, the Secretary-General and President [Vladimir] Putin discussed in depth the way forward on Ukraine and agreed that full and good faith implementation by all sides of the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements” presented the best opportunity to bring forth a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
They also discussed the political process on Syria, Russia’s contribution to peacekeeping and climate change.
We issued a readout of this meeting, as well as of the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades, of the Republic of Cyprus. The Secretary-General welcomed the new optimism about the resumption of negotiations aimed at achieving a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.
**The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Secretary-General is alarmed by the recent violence in the city of Kumanovo in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and extends his condolences to the families of those killed and injured. He strongly supports the calls by the European Union and other members of the international community urging the State authorities and all political and community leaders to cooperate to restore calm and to fully investigate the events in an objective and transparent manner.
At this sensitive time, the Secretary-General calls on all actors to exercise maximum restraint and to refrain from any rhetoric and/or actions that may escalate tensions further. He also encourages the country’s authorities to address the concerns voiced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 17 March 2015 and to reaffirm their commitment to fundamental human rights and the rule of law by fostering an environment in which opposing views can be expressed freely.
Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, took note of the announcement of a humanitarian pause in Yemen by the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US Secretary of State on behalf of the coalition, to start tomorrow. She hopes that reports of agreement to the humanitarian pause by the Houthis are accurate. Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the ground in Yemen with hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians trapped in the middle of fighting and unable to access lifesaving aid, it is essential that this pause materialize.
Ms. Amos said that if the pause in fighting, scheduled to commence on 12 May, is implemented by all parties to the conflict, it will enable the United Nations and its partners to scale up its operations. Essential international staff are returning to Yemen. She called on all those engaged in this conflict to stop the fighting and bombing and give the people of Yemen respite. It is vital that all parties respect their obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law. A pause to allow aid in and people to flee to safety would be a lifeline.
Meanwhile, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, met with Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Federal Council Affairs, in Abu Dhabi. Tonight, he is headed to Djibouti, with the plan to fly into Sana’a tomorrow morning, ahead of the announced humanitarian pause. While in Sana’a, he hopes to meet with various Yemeni interlocutors, in particular the Houthis.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has taken note of the decisions taken by the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and he looks forward to the arrival of the National Coalition’s Envoy to Geneva.
Mr. de Mistura is indeed interested in receiving the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s point of view on the Geneva Consultations, saying that this is the whole purpose of the exercise.
The Special Envoy for Syria remains appreciative of ongoing efforts by the Coalition to contribute to a long overdue peaceful solution in Syria.
As you’ll recall, the Geneva consultations are a rolling process to seek views of all Syrian and relevant regional and international parties on the operationalization of the Geneva Communiqué. In this context, Mr. de Mistura continues to meet separately with all Syrian actors from inside and outside Syria. He looks forward to the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s engagement in this process.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has strongly condemned yesterday’s suicide attack against a civilian bus transporting employees of the Attorney General’s Office in Kabul.
Five prosecutors, including three women, were killed, and 19 other civilians have been injured.
The Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, says that an emerging pattern of deliberate attacks by the Taliban against civilian staff in the Attorney General’s Office and legal professionals is reprehensible and must stop.
So far this year, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for 11 separate attacks against legal professionals and court houses resulting in 114 civilian casualties. More information is available on UNAMA’s website.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, an important step on the way to peace in the country has been made during the Bangui Forum.
That’s according to the Head of the UN Mission in the country, Babacar Gaye, following the signature of an agreement yesterday by 10 armed groups, who committed themselves to give up the armed struggle.
Mr. Gaye welcomed the signature of this agreement and called on all signatories to guarantee that it is reflected on the ground.
From Sudan, the African Union–UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) expressed serious concerns today over the recent escalation of tensions between two tribes in East Darfur, the Rezeigat and the Ma’alia tribes.
The UN Mission encourages the leaders and members of both tribes to exercise maximum restraint, engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve their dispute and refrain from all acts that would lead to violence and displacement.
The Mission also welcomed the deployment of additional troops by the Government of Sudan to create a buffer zone between the two tribes, as well as its ongoing efforts to de-escalate the tension. More is available on the Mission’s website.
In South Sudan, the UN Mission (UNMISS) has also grown increasingly concerned about intensified military activities in Unity State, with reports of towns and villages being burned, killings, abductions of males as young as 10 years of age, rape and abduction of girls and women, and the forced displacement of civilians.
The Mission has experienced exceedingly limited access to the affected areas, as well as increasingly aggressive behaviour toward United Nations staff from soldiers at checkpoints.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said that ongoing hostilities in Unity State have obliged UN agencies and NGOs to evacuate staff from Leer and other locations, leaving over 300,000 people without lifesaving aid.
Renewed violence comes at a time when stocks of food are depleted, and at the height of the planting season when communities could be planting their crops to reap a harvest later this year.
Mr. Lanzer called for assurances from the parties to the conflict that the work of aid agencies can continue without delay.
From Guinea, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, welcomes the invitation extended by President Alpha Condé of Guinea to the leader of the Guinean opposition, Cellou Dalein Diallo.
He stressed that dialogue is the only way to resolve peacefully the current crisis which will help create the necessary conditions for the last mile in the fight against Ebola and establish a political atmosphere conducive to the holding of violence-free, inclusive and credible elections in the country.
Mr. Ibn Chambas will travel to Conakry on Thursday, 14 May.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, reports that earlier today, a MINUSMA armoured vehicle on patrol in the Kidal region hit an improvised explosive device (IED) or mine. No injuries were reported but the vehicle was damaged in the explosion.
This is the second such attack on a MINUSMA patrol in two days. Yesterday, an IED or mine detonated under a MINUSMA vehicle in the Mopti Region, seriously wounding two peacekeepers, who were evacuated to a hospital in Timbuktu.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs held a meeting in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, to update donors on the progress made regarding uprooted people returning to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The returns began this March in the three agencies of South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khyber.
Some 140,000 displaced people have returned home in the past two months, some after spending several years in host communities and camps. This represents some 8 per cent of the total number of people displaced.
In January, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the humanitarian country team launched a $433 million plan to support the needs of displaced population and the returnees. So far only $293 million has been secured. More information on this is available online.
And I have a personnel appointment: The Secretary-General appointed Mamadou Diallo of Guinea as the Deputy Special Representative for the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO.
Mr. Diallo succeeds Moustapha Soumaré of Mali. The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Soumaré’s outstanding contribution and dedicated service for the past three years in supporting the implementation of MONUSCO’s mandate and coordinating the activities of the UN system in the DRC.
Mr. Diallo currently serves as the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Regional Director for West and Central Africa. He brings to this position many years of experience with the UN system with over two decades of increasingly responsible managerial and leadership positions in development and humanitarian operations at the national, regional and international level. There is a full biographical note in our office.
**Questions and Answers
Any questions? Yes. Majid first.
Question: Thank you. Majid Guli of Rudaw News network. I have a question about Yemen. The UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen said that the humanitarian mission, like assistance to Yemen, should be led by his office and the UN Coordinator, but Saudi officials in Riyadh say that Saudi Arabia will lead the humanitarian effort and after the King, Salman, pledged to pay the full humanitarian relief asked by the United Nations, so the question is: Who’s going to lead the humanitarian effort to Yemen? Saudi Arabia or the United Nations coordinator?
Deputy Spokesman: You’re quite right that the humanitarian coordinator said this and what we’re trying to do is make sure that the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Amos, is the person who ultimately is responsible for the coordination of aid to Yemen. What we have tried to do is have someone who can liaise with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so that the sort of aid that they’re contributing, for which we’re very appreciative, can be coordinated properly through our channels. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I wanted to ask about an open letter which was published in Guardian to Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon from many social organizations, human rights activists and organizations and child protective organizations about the situation in Central African Republic, child abuse cases and the aftermath of it all and, especially, is there an official comment to this letter?
And the second question would be: There specifically was mentioned the UN Secretary‑General’s Human Rights Up Front Initiative. And the main principles, just succinctly, are that all the employees should demonstrate courage and they should report all cases of abuse and they will have full support of Secretariat. Do you think that these main principles were preserved? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. In answer to your second question first, yes, yes, I do. I think that nothing about the efforts to investigate how the evidence was handled should in any way deter people from speaking up under the policies of Human Rights Up Front. The entire point of the policy is that you can pass information up the chain of command of the UN and warn right away when things are happening. Any sort of warning, such as warning, for example, that children are being abused, is something that needs to travel up the chain quickly, more quickly, rather than through a bureaucratic process so that we can respond more quickly and so that fewer people can be harmed. And so we stand very much by that, and we hope that people will continue to act under the framework of Human Rights Up Front.
Regarding the open letter, our response is simply, as we have been saying, that these are atrocious acts that have been alleged and we hope to get to the bottom of this. We’ve passed the information that we have, which is to say the information that we ourselves were able to uncover about this from last year, to the French authorities and we hope and trust that the French authorities will investigate this fully. Yes?
Question: A follow-up on that? Yeah, I just wanted… I mean, the letter said — and this is a direct quote — the initial response of the Secretary‑General to the disclosure of this report is deeply unsatisfactory, and then it calls for an outside commission, commission… an independent, transparent and effective follow‑up investigation on how and why the information was not made, as you are saying, make it available up the chain or was not publicly made available until nearly a year later. I want to know: there’s direct criticism to what the response is to that; and also on Thursday, Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, when asked, said he denied what’s in the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling that he urged that the whistle-blower be resigned. So I wanted to know: since there was no opportunity for follow‑up questions on that and he came to the stakeout and didn’t take questions, is he denying he had any involvement in the Office of the High Commissioner’s interaction with Mr. [Anders] Kompass leading to his suspension, or is he denying that he asked him to resign? What exactly is he denying?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe what he denied is exactly what he said, which is available, I think, on your recordings and the webcast.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have anything to add to or qualify what he said there. Regarding your initial question, which I have actually forgotten part of now…
Question: Okay. Deep dissatisfaction with the Secretary‑General about 21 NGOs.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that. Then on… regarding that, we certainly hope that we can satisfy everyone about how this was done. We ourselves are looking into how evidence was handled, how the information travelled and let’s see how that was done properly.
Deputy Spokesman: If any further steps are needed, we can gauge that at the time. But right now, I would remind you that there are two investigations going on concurrently. The French are investigating what happened in terms of the actions by their troops, and we are investigating how this information was processed to see basically whether the rights of victims, the rights of witnesses, the rights of investigators were respected.
Question: When you say “we”, just one thing, do you know mean the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) report? These groups are calling for an independent and transparent report, which is not the hallmark of OIOS, transparent, at least.
Deputy Spokesman: I would dispute that. I think the Office for the Internal Oversight Services does thorough work and makes its reports public once they’re done. Yes?
Question: There was a ship carrying aid from Spain to Libya; it was attacked when it was sailing in international waters off the coast of Tobruk, and one crew member was killed. Have you received any notification or briefing from Mr. [Bernardino] León’s office and how does Mr. Secretary‑General think attacks on foreign civilian ships near Libyan coast affect the efforts to stop illegal migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, the Secretary‑General has made very clear repeatedly, including in his travels to Europe, his concerns that the first and foremost goal of any groups operating in the Mediterranean should be to protect and preserve the lives of all the civilians, including the unfortunate people who have taken to the high seas and who are placing themselves at peril. So any incident such as the one you’ve described that places people at risk is a matter of concern. There needs to be more of an effort to make sure that search‑and‑rescue operations and other efforts to ensure safe seas take place in the Mediterranean. There’s… as you know, in recent weeks, there’s been more of that, and many lives, possibly hundreds or even thousands of lives, have been saved. And so that is really the sort of course we’ve been advocating.
Question: By the way, did you receive anything from Mr. León’s office about this particular incident?
Deputy Spokesman: Not on this specific incident, no. [The UN Support Mission for Libya later issued a statement condemning the attack on the Turkish vessel off the coast of Libya.]
And before we go any further, I have the following trip announcement to make for all of you concerning the Secretary‑General’s forthcoming travels to the Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Ireland, and Belgium.
The Secretary-General will arrive in the Republic of Korea on 18 May 2015. During his visit, he will open the World Education Forum, to be held in Incheon. The Forum will be co-convened by the UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other UN partners. It is expected to lead the way in defining a new education agenda, building on the Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative.
While in the Republic of Korea, the Secretary-General will address special meetings organized by the UN Global Compact and the UN Academic Impact. He will also speak at a commemorative event marking the seventieth anniversary of the UN and other meetings related to the UN agenda. He is expected to meet President Park Geun-Hye, as well as with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Chung Eui-hwa, and the Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-se.
On 22 May, the Secretary-General will arrive in Hanoi, Viet Nam, where he is expected to meet with President Truong Tan Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Environmental sustainability and climate change will be the focus of his trip, and he will take part in the inauguration ceremony of the Green One UN House — an environmentally friendly building home to the UN family working in Viet Nam.
He is scheduled to visit the Chu Van An High School High to speak to students and teachers about the role of youth in promoting gender equality and preventing gender-based violence in schools and their communities. The Secretary-General will also speak to students at the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam.
On 24 May, the Secretary-General will arrive in Ireland, where he will receive the Tipperary International Peace Award and meet with the country’s leadership and a cross section of Irish civil society. Earlier this year, in thanking the Tipperary Peace Convention, Mr. Ban said that despite today’s grave challenges, he is convinced that our era offers remarkable opportunities to set the world on a course towards a more peaceful, prosperous, equitable and sustainable future for all.
On 26 May, the Secretary-General will travel to Brussels, Belgium, where he will hold talks with senior European Union officials and Belgian leaders. He will also address the European Parliament meeting in Brussels.
That’s it. Moshfiqul Fazal?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just on Sunday, 100… 1,400 Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants were rescued from Indonesia. And as you know that more than 1,000 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar landed in Malaysia after being dumped by the human traffickers in shallow waters of the island of Langkawi. So what exactly United Nations doing to stop this human trafficking? Because this going on in this region.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, you’re right. Human trafficking has been a very serious matter. We talked about the problem of human trafficking which, as you know, contributed to the deaths of Bangladeshis and Rohingya a few days ago, and we had mentioned that last week. Part of our concerns, as in the Mediterranean Sea, is that all efforts to deal with migrants on the high seas take special effort to focus primarily on rescuing their lives. A lot of people are placed in danger and they’re placed in danger also from the actions by smugglers who have been very predatory with regard to how they treat the people who are seeking to travel from one place to the next. As you know, we have tried also to deal with the issues of human trafficking through different treaties and through the work of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), but separate and apart from that, all parties on the seas should take steps first and foremost to make sure that people’s lives can be protected.
Question: Yes, Farhan, thank you. Maybe this question has been asked of you already. Does the Secretary‑General agree with the statement made by his Special Representative on Yemen that Saudi‑led airstrikes were a violation of international law?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have anything further to say about what Johannes van der Klaauw said. He talked about the need to respect international humanitarian law and the need to avoid targeting areas with a high civilian population. These are concerns, as you know, that have also been expressed by the Secretary‑General and by his Emergency Relief Coordinator from time to time. I also think that possibly sometime later over the course of today, we may have a further statement on Yemen containing the Secretary‑General’s views. So you can wait for that as well.
Question: But ‑‑ okay. But so far he’s not been able to endorse the views of his representative?
Deputy Spokesman: Concerns about the targeting of civilian infrastructure are concerns that have been expressed by the Secretary‑General in Yemen and, of course, in conflicts outside of Yemen as well. And so he still abides by those. And like I said, we may have a statement further from the Secretary‑General regarding his views about the possible humanitarian pause.
Yes, in the back?
Question: Yeah. Thank you, Farhan. The North Korean State media yesterday reported that the Secretary‑General, while in Russia, has met with Kim Yong Nam of that country, representing DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) during the event. Can you confirm this meeting and have a readout?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I can. I can confirm that the Secretary‑General had a brief meeting with Mr. Kim Yong Nam while they were both in Moscow. There’s no readout of that meeting to share, though. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. About this research project in North Waziristan, who is handling this project, United Nations or the Government of Pakistan?
Deputy Spokesman: Just reading the note. It just mentions that they launched a plan to support the needs of the displaced population and returnees. That’s under the auspices for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs and the humanitarian country team. Yes. Oleg, have you asked yet?
Deputy Spokesman: Then you get a chance before we get to the second round.
Question: Thank you. First of all, thanks for the readouts during the visit in Moscow. [President Petro] Poroshenko went a little further into the details of the discussion with Ban Ki‑moon. He said during the visit to Kyiv, there was an agreement on opening some sort of UN… he called this UN support office to assist implementation of the Minsk agreements. Can you confirm that there was such an agreement? And if so, when and where will this office start working? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can’t confirm that. The readout is as we have had it. I don’t have anything to add to that. Beyond that, there’s nothing to announce about a UN support office. If there’s something to announce later down the line, we’ll let you know the time. But at present, no. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Farhan. I just wanted to ask you about negotiations in Camp David. It’s been reported that King Salman from Saudi Arabia has withdrawn from the negotiations, allegedly because of some disagreements with the United States over Iran. Do you have a confirmation of this? And don’t you think that this going to hurt the coalition forces, especially in the operation in Yemen, because Saudi Arabia plays such a crucial role there? Is UN going to do something about this or not?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly don’t have a comment about the Camp David talks, which are for the United States authorities to comment on. We are not the organizers of that. Regarding Yemen, of course, we are dealing with all the various parties, trying to bring them together. As I just announced Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s recent travels and he’s also been in touch with the Saudi authorities. Yes?
Question: Regarding Yemen, the same thing, on 17 May, there are going to be talks in Riyadh. That’s announced by the Yemeni President. Is that an imperative for the UN peace process or what is that? Because in Geneva on Monday, there was also a conference scheduled by the UN about Yemen, too, so what is the difference between those two?
Deputy Spokesman: We haven’t scheduled the start of any process… of any talks yet. Right now, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is travelling throughout the region and he’s in contact with the various parties. We hope any efforts, including the one you just mentioned, will be helpful towards bringing the parties together, but we are trying for our own talks under UN auspices, possibly in Geneva, but at this stage we have neither a time nor any official confirmation of any such talks.
Question: About the 17 May, will the UN be represented at these talks?
Deputy Spokesman: I expect us to be represented in one form or another, yes. Yes?
Question: I wanted to ask about, on South Sudan, there’s a report that the Government there is rejecting what it’s called a Secretary‑General call, I guess, in a report for IDP’s that are now currently in UNMISS camps to be able to return to their… where they want to return and where they came from, in some cases in, “rebel‑controlled territory”. The Government is saying, no way. I want to know, is it the case that the UN is, in fact, proposing such return? And, two, if it is, what’s the response to the Government saying no return to where refugees actually want to return to?
Deputy Spokesman: We would implore the Government of South Sudan to take seriously the desire by people especially people who, as you know, have been inside UN camps sometimes for a year and a half to return to their place of residence. As we’ve made clear, it’s also crucial that people be free to return to other areas, including the areas for planting and harvesting so that the country can simply go about the basic task of being able to feed itself. So it is important that people be allowed the right to return. Beyond that, I would just refer you to the Secretary‑General’s recent report to the Security Council on South Sudan.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding Yemen, can you just clarify the role of the Secretary‑General in trying to play a role, you know, take some leadership or being involved in various conferences, calling… you know, calling the participants, etc.?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General personally has been involved, yes. He’s spoken to different leaders personally and including in meetings with them during his various travels. At this stage, as you know, we also have this new Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who’s on his very first trip to the region. And as I said at the start of this briefing, he does expect to travel to Sana’a tomorrow in advance of what we expect to be a humanitarian pause, assuming of course that that pause does, in fact, take hold.
If that’s it, have a good afternoon, everyone.