The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone.
The Secretary-General spoke to reporters in Seoul today and announced that he would visit the Kaesong Industrial complex in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Thursday. He said that the Kaesong project is a win-win model for both Koreas and that it symbolizes a good way to tap the advantage of South and North Korea in a complementary manner. He said that he hopes his visit will provide positive impetus to further develop it and expand to other areas.
The visit would be the first to the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] by a UN Secretary-General in more than 20 years. The Secretary-General reiterated his willingness to do whatever it takes to contribute to improving the inter-Korean relations and promoting reconciliation and stability on the Korean peninsula.
This morning, the Secretary-General attended the opening of the sixth Asia Leadership Forum in Seoul, where he spoke about the general situation on the Korean peninsula. He underscored that the relationship between the two Koreas is critical for lasting peace — not only in the region, but globally. And he added that maintaining peace and security in North-East Asia requires a commitment from all the region’s countries.
Later that morning, the Secretary-General participated in the opening session of the UN Global Compact Korea Leaders’ Summit in Incheon. In his remarks to the gathered business leaders, the Secretary-General congratulated them on their energetic participation in the local global compact business network. But, he also encouraged them to do much more, especially in confronting what he called the great issues confronting our planet: poverty, climate change and conflict.
The Secretary-General also attended the opening ceremony of the World Education Forum 2015. In opening the Forum, the Secretary-General said it was indefensible that 57 million people are still denied the most basic right of an education. He said that we will not be able to call this world prosperous if it is too poor to educate its children. All his remarks are online.
UN agencies are rushing humanitarian assistance to people fleeing Ramadi for the second time in a month. Nearly 25,000 people have fled Ramadi, following Da’esh attacks and fierce fighting in the city. Most of the displaced are fleeing towards Baghdad, with many trying to enter through security checkpoints.
In response to urgent requests from Iraqi authorities, the World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed thousands of immediate response rations, sufficient for three days, and will be distributing food at locations where internally displaced people are concentrating for safety. UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and its partners, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), are distributing thousands of emergency kits with drinking water, hygiene items and other essential supplies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has sent mobile health teams and ambulances to areas where the displaced are fleeing.
Within the past month, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations have provided life assistance to more than 130,000 people who fled Ramadi following Da’esh attacks in April. Tens of thousands of kits and rations have been distributed to more than 35 locations across Anbar Governorate. Thousands of families who had fled earlier had returned to their homes in Ramadi, when fighting again broke out, forcing them to flee a second time.
UN agencies are mounting this operation with stocks running low and funds running out. In Iraq, more than 2.5 million displaced persons and refugees are receiving assistance each month from UN agencies and their partners. But, funding for these life-saving programmes is nearly exhausted. By June, 56 health programmes will be forced to close, the majority in camps and settlements where IDPs [internally displaced persons] are concentrated. In July, the food pipeline will break.
In the framework of the Geneva Consultations, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met today with a delegation of the Sultanate of Oman led by Abdullah Nasser al-Rahbi, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. Ambassador al-Rahbi shared his Government's views on prospects for reaching a political solution in Syria through a constructive dialogue and measures to build trust.
Mr. de Mistura also received a delegation of the Republic of Iraq led by Mohammad Saber Ismail, Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. Dr. Saber briefed on his Government's efforts to contribute to a political solution to the conflict in Syria and the ongoing fight against Da’esh. The two also touched upon the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Syria and the overall trends in the region.
Special Envoy de Mistura noted the growing concern of the countries in the region about the deteriorating situation in and around Syria, and a need for an immediate political solution. He welcomed the readiness of the countries in the region and beyond to support the United Nations efforts to this effect.
The World Food Programme (WFP) warned that the recent five-day “humanitarian pause” in Yemen was not long enough to reach all those in need of food and other relief supplies. WFP dispatched food for more than 400,000 people during the pause, and managed to reach areas that were previously inaccessible, but this was only half the 738,000 people that it hoped to reach. Transporters were reluctant to send their trucks to hotspots, where fighting and shelling continued.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and its partners conducted assessments during the pause which have revealed enormous difficulties for thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict. The number uprooted from their homes since late March is now estimated to be more than 545,000. The temporary pause allowed UNHCR to fly in more aid, transport supplies from ports to distribution hubs in Sana'a and Aden, and pre-position and distribute aid to displaced people in previously hard-to-reach areas.
The heads of the UN refugee agency, the UN human rights office, the International Organization for Migration and the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Migration and Development today jointly issued a statement on the situation in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. They strongly urge the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to protect migrants and refugees stranded on vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, to facilitate safe disembarkation, and to give priority to saving lives, protecting rights, and respecting human dignity.
The statement says that grave events in recent days involving migrants and refugees — Rohingya and others — from Bangladesh and Myanmar confirm that vulnerable people around the world are moving in search of safety and dignity, fleeing persecution, abject poverty, deprivation, discrimination, and abuse. The four officials urgently call on leaders, with the support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to make saving lives the top priority by significantly strengthening search-and-rescue operations, to stop boat push-backs, and to provide for effective, predictable disembarkation to a place of safety with adequate and humane reception conditions.
They also call for immigration detention and other punitive measures not to be used, and to ensure that the human rights of all migrants and refugees are protected, among other recommendations. The full statement is available online. For its part, the UN refugee agency said today that time is running out for thousands of people in distress at sea, as countries in Southeast Asia deliberate over how to respond. It estimates that nearly 4,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh remain stranded at sea with dwindling supplies on board.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, briefed the Security Council via video conference from Addis Ababa this morning. Highlighting the Secretary-General’s latest report, Mr. Kay said that, while it is too soon to celebrate definitive success in Somalia, the international community must look at the progress made in the country, including a better-functioning governance, political dialogue and efforts to counter violent extremism.
Despite some progress, Mr. Kay remains concerned about the security in the country and the threats posed by Al-Shabaab in the wider subregion. He urged Council members to monitor closely and be able to respond to any sign that Al-Shabaab is benefitting from their links to extremist groups in Yemen. The humanitarian situation in Somalia remains alarming with 730,000 Somalis still unable to meet their most basic daily food needs. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian appeal for Somalia is only 20 per cent funded so far this year. Mr. Kay’s full remarks are available in our office.
In Malakal, South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) reports military movements in the area of Melut, in Upper Nile State. Three explosions were heard approximately 40 kilometres from the Mission’s base. Two-hundred and seventy displaced persons have arrived at the Mission’s protection site in Melut this morning, joining the thousand civilians already there, and another 250 to 350 civilians are also sheltering at a newly allocated protection area adjacent to the Mission’s base. The Mission continues to be deeply concerned by the overall escalation of the conflict, and once again calls on the Government and Opposition leadership to immediately cease all hostilities and resume negotiations, with a view to signing a comprehensive peace agreement.
On Burundi, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, met today with President Pierre Nkurunziza. Speaking to the press after the meeting, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the attempt to oust an elected government and the need for political dialogue to create conditions for holding free and fair elections. Mr. Djinnit continues to hold consultations with political parties, civil society and religious organizations, Government officials and the diplomatic community, with the view to reconvene the political dialogue as soon as possible. He will brief the Security Council tomorrow and we hope to have him brief you via VTC after that.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports today that a severe humanitarian crisis is developing in Tanzania as thousands of refugees from Burundi are seeking asylum due to the escalating political tensions. The situation is especially worrisome in the Kagunga village in Tanzania, where the original population has increased from 10,000 to 90,000, and where cases of cholera have been confirmed.
A Regional Health Management Team has established health posts at entry points and receiving areas, where asylum seekers are screened and provided with basic essential health services. There are currently 26,000 refugees in Rwanda, and 111,000 refugees in all three neighbouring countries, that is to say Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, issued a statement warning that women and girls continue to be killed in large numbers around the world. Estimates from UNODC show that at least 43,000 women were murdered by their intimate partners or family members in 2012. Mr. Fedotov has called on everyone to work in a spirit of partnership and cooperation to change laws, perceptions and behaviours, as well as to promote inclusive societies that provide women with security, opportunity and equality and prosperity. UNODC continues to encourage all those in the criminal justice system to respect and protect women and girls, and to view domestic violence as a serious crime.
For the honour roll, we would like to thank the United Arab Emirates for paying its regular budget dues in full, becoming the eighty-eighth Member State to do so — shukran jazeelan.
Immediately following this briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospect 2015 mid-year report. And then tomorrow, at 12:45 p.m., there will be a briefing here on the UN Sustainable Energy for All Forum, which is taking place this week. That's it for me. Any questions? Yes, Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, Farhan. In the aftermath of the robust appeal made by the United Nations officials on behalf of these refugees, I mean, floating around in the seas, how is it [inaudible] reacting to this and South-East Asia reacting to this, and what other measures can United Nations take in order to persuade these Governments to comply with international humanitarian laws?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are working with them on this very issue. You've seen the statement that was made by the officials today, and you'll also have seen the statement that the Secretary‑General issued on this just over the weekend. As we made clear in that statement, the Secretary‑General and the Deputy Secretary‑General have each been speaking to leaders in the region to various Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the countries involved, trying to encourage them to take steps both in the receiving countries and in the countries where there had been some push factors to see what can be done to deal with this problem. As you're aware, we expect on [29 May] that there will be a conference in Thailand with the Governments from around the region represented, and we'll try to have someone there present for that to see what also… what steps they can do collectively to deal with the situation but the sort of priorities we have are what I just said a few minutes ago.
Question: Any financial inducement like you would offer aid to these countries if they agree to take these refugees in?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, let's see what steps the Governments themselves are asking for. They'll all try to be present at this conference. In the meantime, of course, we are pushing for better search‑and‑rescue efforts on the ground, and there's been some response to that already. Yes, Oleg.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. As for the visit of Ban Ki‑moon to [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], will it be limited to the Kaesong Industrial Complex? Will he be going outside of it probably to Pyongyang or anywhere else? Will there be any officials he will meet while there? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: He will meet with officials there, but as he himself said at his press conference in Seoul, the… which officials he will meet there is still something that's being arranged. This invitation is something that has just been developed and so we'll see within the next couple of days what kind of itinerary he can have while in Kaesong. He does not expect to visit any parts of the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] beyond that area. Yes.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, sure.
Question: So, just to make sure, this visit was an initiative of Pyongyang, right? So, he was invited.
Deputy Spokesman: He… he has… his invitation there has been accepted by both Governments. In other words, the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Government of the Republic of Korea have both accepted these arrangements. This is something that the Secretary‑General has been trying to achieve and he's grateful that they're both… that they're both allowing this to proceed. Yes, Evelyn.
Question: Sorry. I may have missed it. Is he speaking to any [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] officials, and secondly, did he have any luck with the Republic of Korea on the migrants issue? Are they… because I saw in his speech he spoke about them quite a bit. Is… do they… do you have any information if they plan to take any?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't speak for the Republic of Korea, but he… I would refer you to his remarks earlier today where he does talk about the issue. As for the… as for your first question, yes, that had been asked earlier, and the basic point is that who he will meet there is still something that's being arranged. Yes, Emoke.
Question: Thank you. On North Korea, I'm sure you're aware that the SG's trip is going to coincide with the trip of the international women's delegation, who I believe are getting to Pyongyang today, and they will be trying to cross the DMZ [demilitarized zone] on Saturday. So, will the SG reference their trip? I mean, it's an international delegation.
Deputy Spokesman: We'll see. Again, the arrangements are something that are still being worked out. You'll know soon enough who he meets with and what he says there. Yes. Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Mr. Nikolay Mladenov had been appointed special coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territories for almost two months. We hardly heard from him. And when he visited Gaza, he gave some remarks, and I asked… I asked Mr. [Stéphane] Dujarric to give us a readout of his visit to Gaza, which was very strong remarks, and we haven't heard that… those remarks here.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, actually, you're in luck, because Nickolay Mladenov is, in fact, going to be briefing the Security Council this very afternoon about the situation in the Middle East, and you can have an update from him at that point. Yes.
Question: Sure. I want to ask two press freedom questions. One is on Burundi — there are these reports that the media or particularly foreign correspondents are not being allowed into this neighbourhood and cameras taken by the police. I want to know whether Mr. Djinnit is aware of what, what the UN thinks of that. And I wanted to ask, maybe if you can clarify or amplify. I saw the Q&A the Secretary‑General did in South Korea, and he said, "I have seen reports having to do with my nephew. While I'm fulfilling… whether true or not, while I'm fulfilling my duties now as Secretary‑General, while such unnecessary incorrect allegations or rumours cause inconvenience to my work as Secretary-General, so I'd like to ask you to refrain from doing that." So, because of the… like, what is he saying? Is he saying refrain from asking questions, refrain from…?
Deputy Spokesman: No. First of all, that's an abbreviation of the transcript. I'll refer you to the full transcript.
Correspondent: I looked… okay.
Deputy Spokesman: He makes a denial of any involvement in this issue. But, his basic point is that he will go about his own work. These questions really don't apply to him or his activities.
Question: But, who… my question is this. Who is he asking to refrain from doing what? That's a direct quote from what he said.
Deputy Spokesman: He's not making an order to anyone in the press. It's very clear, and it's particularly clear in the context if you look at the transcript that he's talking about an issue that for him, in his head, is resolved.
Question: But this is… okay because this is the one part of it. I guess I understand that if… if… that things are being played out in a court in Seoul and whether the nephew… what he said that the Secretary‑General did or not is, I guess, not going to be answered until it's answered there. But, there's a simpler question, which is, the nephew works for Colliers International, which is a New York real estate firm, and the Vice-Chairman said online that they do business with the UN. So my question is… and I asked you this before, but I'm going back to this because it seems like a very fair question — what are the rules when a relative of the Secretary‑General or any high official does business with the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Procurement at the UN is done through our procurement office. It is not done through any sort of issue having to do with family or family connections. It's a procurement process that all firms have to abide by, and that's how firms get contracts.
Question: So how did Colliers… how much business has Colliers done with the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: You would have to ask Colliers. As for UN procurement, it makes contracts by its normal activities. This is not connected to anyone related to the Secretary‑General. Yes. Oh, and… oh, wait. You had another question on Burundi. And on your Burundi question, see, you ask so many questions that it gets lost. On your Burundi question, of course, we'd be concerned at any efforts to crack down on press. We do have a small human rights team… team of human rights workers who are in Burundi and they're examining human rights issues and they'll follow up on any sort of allegations of any problems in the country. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Back on North Korea — can you tell us why Mr. Ban Ki‑moon is not going to Pyongyang directly meeting with and talking with the Government officials there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he explained the importance of his trip to Kaesong and what he hoped to achieve there. That's what he explained in his remarks in Seoul, so I would just refer you to that. That's where his visit is focused and that's where he will go. Ali.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the migrants in the Mediterranean, obviously, the EU [European Union] agreed collectively to use military in order to stop the flood of migrants from Libya towards the Europe. I wonder where does the United Nations stand in this regard? Because they're going to come again to the United Nations in order to push for draft resolution, including by… including a term to destroy ships in the sea or at the shores of Libya. This is one. And I have another question on Yemen.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first, on this question, the basic point is that our concerns in… whether we're talking about the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca or the Mediterranean see are the same. Ultimately, these poor people who are desperate enough that they are taking out to the sea and often on unseaworthy vessels, often times without food, their lives and the protection of their lives is paramount. And ultimately, the Governments of those particular regions need to take particular care to make sure that the protection of their lives will be first and foremost. We have talked about our concerns about any type of military options in this regard. What we would prefer to see is enhanced search‑and‑rescue and safe seas operations in all of the areas where migrants are in peril. Yes. Hold on one second, please. Yes. Okay. Yeah.
Question: And on Yemen, where does the United Nations stand regarding the decisions taken by Riyadh conference? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage we're studying the various decisions that have been taken. As you know, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is also trying his own diplomatic efforts, and we will see whether we have our own particular efforts to announce at this stage. As you know, he's been working to try to get a meeting of the parties together and when we can announce it, we will. Yes, Carla, then you.
Question: Thank you. Does the UN have any information on Victoria Nuland's visit to Russia ostensibly to try and resolve the Ukraine crisis? And can you comment upon this bilateral effort?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, that's a bilateral issue between the United States and Russia. Of course, we welcome their efforts to try to resolve problems including the critical problem in Ukraine through dialogue. Yes.
Question: Regarding Yemen, do you have any human rights team in Yemen accompanying the mission? Also, has WHO established whether the allegations of the use of chemical weapons against Sana'a population in certain areas, is that established or not? [Inaudible].
Deputy Spokesman: That is not established and you would have to check with WHO about any updates on that. As of now it's not established. Excuse me. Regarding your first question about whether we have human rights people on the ground, we do have national human rights staff on the ground, and we're trying to see as soon as we can to bring back some of the international human rights staff.
Question: Some of the… so, some of the tombs in Yemen have been targeted specifically, one or two maybe over 1,000 years old was targeted 14 times by the Saudi airstrikes. How does the United Nations view such an attack?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we would need to confirm that, but we would be concerned about the desecration of any historic sites.
Correspondent: About Sana'a… Sa’ada…
Deputy Spokesman: You're cutting off other people who are raising their hands patiently. You've had several. Next question, please. You'll get another turn. Yes.
Question: Thank you. You said in your briefing, Farhan, that the people who flee in Ramadi, they're coming to Baghdad, they're stopped at checkpoints to be screened to be allowed into Baghdad. But, the news talks about there are massive movement to prevent them from entering. There are militias, ethnically [inaudible] militia trying to stop the flow of the displaced people who are coming from Al Anbar province and from the city of Ramadi. Do you confirm that?
Deputy Spokesman: We do not confirm that, but it would be a matter of grave concern if people are being pushed away from areas of safety and back… into areas of grave peril. So, we would be very concerned at that, and we would urge all parties to allow people who are fleeing to safety to get to places where they need to go. Yes.
Question: Yes, Farhan. Do you have any comment on this arrest of BBC journalists in Qatar who was investigating the migrants who are being maltreated by the Qatari Government — the Secretary‑General, does he have anything to say about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Your colleague asked this yesterday. We're concerned about any efforts to… that… that could harass journalists as they're going about the course of their work, and we, as always, prevail upon all Governments to allow journalists to do their work without hindrance. Yes, Oleg.
Question: On the Ukraine are there any updates about this office that Ban Ki‑moon was talking… he said he would be convening consultations with the Security Council members. Are there any updates? Did he do these consultations and when is this office going to start working?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is the support office. We provided some details a few days back. I don't have any update on that since then, though. Yes.
Question: I wanted to ask, it's kind of a… we've discussed a lot these Tabit rapes in Darfur that took place in November and attempts by UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] to try to gain access and get to the bottom since they put out a press release saying that they hadn't happened. So, I wanted to ask you this. I know that Chief of Staff [Susana] Malcorra, Mr. Atul Khare, Mr. [Ivan] Šimonović… Mr. Šimonović were all convened to the Fifth Committee about the sexual abuse allegations in the Central African Republic. And my understanding… I was outside, so I was glad to speak to Ms. Malcorra, but after I did I learned from attendees of the meeting that when asked about UNAMID rape cover‑up allegations she said she was unaware of them. So, I wanted to know… maybe I'm getting a wrong report, but what has the UN done since November or since the last time it was raised in this room to try to actually either re‑enter Tabit or to conduct interviews from outside as some other organizations have done? What's the status of getting to the bottom of that?
Deputy Spokesman: As we've said repeatedly from here, we have upon many occasions tried to get access to Tabit. That has been unavailing. And of course, at this point, it probably renders any effort to get information direct first-hand information much, much more difficult and renders the task not especially worthwhile. But, we have tried to do that, and that included efforts at contacts with the Government in question.
Question: And can I… I mean, since… is the UN going to… because… given the importance of this Central African Republic sexual abuse allegation, can the UN give any kind of summary or readout or however any… you know, sanitized or certainly redacted of the presentations that were made to the Fifth Committee given that a number of Member States afterwards said they were unconvinced and one used the word the UN is in denial. There was a variety of criticisms. So, is there some one‑pager that could say this was the position that was taken?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I mean, the… these are… these are closed meetings. We wouldn't… we wouldn't be able to share the details of that. These are efforts to update the Member States upon their request about their concerns, and so we provide our officials to them as they request and give them the information that they need. And as far as that goes, I… as far as I'm aware, a number of them quite appreciated that exercise. Yes.
Question: Revisiting the issue of aid to Yemen, you mentioned the WFP is concerned about the lack of access to that. How do you describe the flow of sea delivery or air delivery to Sana'a and the other seaports?
Deputy Spokesman: We've described this and we'll continue to describe this as a major source of concern. Our particular worry at this stage is fuel. This is a country, remember, of something like 25 million people. They have dramatic needs for food, for water and for fuel, if this… if the country as a whole runs out of fuel, you know, there's so many things that cannot work, and therefore, there needs to be an ability for ships and planes to get into the airports and into the ports and deliver their supplies as per normal. That hasn't happened in many, many weeks and that has led to a very desperate situation. That has to end.
Correspondent: Even at this stage, it still remains the same. I mean, it…
Deputy Spokesman: There was some slight improvement in terms of our ability to get food and fuel in over the days of the humanitarian pause. That pause is now over, and we're back to the same situation as before. And it cannot go on like this.
Question: Just on the same subject, how about the inspection? Is it… earlier, you asked to make it to [inaudible]. Is it better now, the inspection of the cargoes in Djibouti and other areas before being shipped to Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we're certainly trying to get more aid through more quickly. Any effort to do that including the use of Djibouti as a hub, that can help, but obviously, the efforts to get aid need to be expedited. We're talking about the needs of an entire country full of people. Have a good afternoon, everyone.