The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’m glad you all took a break from a three-day weekend to come here.
Earlier today in Hanoi, the Secretary-General met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, and he told reporters afterwards that they had a very productive discussion concerning Viet Nam's impressive progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They also talked about climate change, human rights and other topics.
The Secretary-General said that he and the President agreed that ensuring a smooth transition from the MDGs to the new sustainable development goals is a high priority for both the United Nations and Viet Nam. He noted that Viet Nam is currently serving on the Human Rights Council, adding that Human Rights Council members are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”. He said that this places Viet Nam in an ideal position to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by working to improve its own domestic human rights record.
The Secretary-General also held meetings in the afternoon with Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng and with Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, on many of the same topics that he had discussed with the President.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, continued the Geneva Consultations today.
He met with Islamic scholar Muhammad Al Habash, who shared his thoughts on methods and processes to facilitate a peaceful solution to the conflict, based on religious perspectives and traditions.
Mr. de Mistura also met with Hind Kabawat and Asma Kftarou from the civil society organization called "Tastaqil". They discussed the unacceptable suffering of the Syrian people and the urgent need to end violence and reach a political solution.
He also received a delegation from the Kurdish National Council, which shared views on ways to end the conflict, with due respect for Syrian diversity while maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.
And he met with Najla Riachi Assaker, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva of the Republic of Lebanon, who discussed ways to support Syria in launching a political process, as well as the urgent need to alleviate the humanitarian suffering and its impact on the neighbouring countries.
Mr. de Mistura also received with deep sadness the news of the kidnapping of a priest, Father Jacques Mourad, yesterday in Homs. He said that this grave act is unfortunately not the first of its kind, and is one of the sad consequences of this raging conflict.
Also on Syria: the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and its partners are preparing aid for some 11,000 people who fled the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra and surrounding villages when they were overrun by militant forces this week. Situated in central Syria, Palmyra had been sheltering thousands of people forcibly displaced from other parts of Syria for the past three years. It was reportedly captured from the Syrian army on Wednesday, along with the nearby World Heritage-listed archaeological sites.
About 8,000 people have found shelter in the village of Al-Qarayateen and a further 3,000 fled to nearby Furglus village. They are now described as arriving exhausted and scared. The refugee agency is now sending more relief supplies to Al-Qarayateen and Furglus to meet the rising needs, though UNHCR expects new arrivals will move further west towards the city of Homs.
Our humanitarian colleagues report continued damage to civilian buildings and infrastructure in Yemen. The deliberate or indiscriminate destruction of civilian infrastructure during conflict is against international humanitarian law and must stop. All parties to the conflict have an obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from the effects of attacks.
In Sa’adah City, preliminary UN satellite imagery analysis has identified widespread damage to infrastructure. Four medical facilities were identified within 100 metres of damaged and destroyed buildings. Also, in Haradh District, in the Hajjah Governorate, a warehouse that contained hygiene kits, water and sanitation supplies was damaged in an airstrike.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, reports that an investigation team has been deployed today in the town of Tin-Hamma, in the Gao region, to establish the facts following reports of serious human rights violations, including alleged executions of civilians following clashes between armed groups.
MINUSMA is also concerned with the increased number of armed confrontations in northern Mali. The Mission condemns the continuous violations of ceasefire which jeopardize the peace process.
MINUSMA deplores that the humanitarian access has been hindered as a result of the violence and calls on all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, warns that the escalation of fighting in recent weeks between the Government and opposition forces in South Sudan has resulted in violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law and has taken a terrible toll on civilians.
He added that since the escalation of fighting at the end of April, there have been alarming reports of gross violations, including killings, rapes, abduction as well as burning and destruction of towns and villages in various counties of Unity State. UN human rights monitors have been denied access by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to various sites in Unity.
The High Commissioner also notes that successive commitments to end the hostilities have failed to be implemented and there has been a lack of justice and accountability for the victims.
He urges the parties to the conflict to take all feasible measures to prevent harm to civilian lives and infrastructure, including the personnel and premises of the UN and humanitarian agencies.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is also deeply concerned that its compound continues to be caught in the crossfire. There have been eight fatalities among the internally displaced persons (IDPs) so far. There are over 1,600 IDPs currently being protected by UNMISS in Melut.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and 17 of its partners have launched the Regional Refugee Response Plan to protect and assist up to 200,000 Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries.
Since early April, nearly 100,000 Burundians have fled Burundi to Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the situation in Burundi remains tense and violence continues to be reported, aid agencies fear that the number of refugees may double over the next six months.
High Commissioner António Guterres praised the neighbouring countries for keeping their borders open and called on the international donor community to support the Response Plan.
More details about the plan are available on UNHCR’s website.
The Security Council, in a meeting this morning, adopted a resolution in which it expressed its intention to continue to take due regard of issues related to the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons when considering or updating mandates of United Nations peacekeeping operations and other Council-mandated entities.
Among other things, the Council, in its resolution, requests the Secretary-General to include in his reports and briefings to the Council on country-specific situations more comprehensive and detailed information and recommendations relating to the impact of the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
The resolution passed with nine votes in favour, none against and six abstentions — those were Angola, Chad, China, Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela.
The UN refugee agency today welcomed the landing of more than 200 people who had been stranded at sea off the coast of Myanmar’s Rakhine State. After they disembarked, they were taken to a reception centre, set up by UNHCR in collaboration with local authorities, in southern Maungdaw where they are receiving assistance.
The Agency is working with its partners to help the Government ensure that the needs of the people — including water, food, medical assistance and protection — are met.
It hopes that this recent positive development will be followed by other disembarkations in Myanmar and across the region. It reiterated that the priority is to save lives by getting people safely off these boats as soon as possible. It is estimated that up to 2,000 people are still stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal and a further 1,500 in the Andaman Sea.
Since Wednesday's announcement that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand would work together to assist people in distress at sea, UNHCR has been talking to Governments about support it can provide and has shared recommendations on the way forward, which include meeting emergency humanitarian needs and jointly finding medium-to-longer term solutions.
There is more information on this on UNHCR’s website.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that women and girls were disproportionately affected by the recent earthquakes in Nepal. Data released yesterday shows that 55 per cent of casualties were among women and girls.
The United Nations is working on providing protection support for women and girls, including providing them with dignity kits, and setting up safe spaces for women to get together, receive counselling, safe shelter and legal aid.
Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity, and in his message, the Secretary-General calls on everyone to recommit to global action to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, for people and for our planet.
He adds that the sustainable development goals and the broader post-2015 development agenda, which are under negotiation now, will provide an opportunity to mainstream biodiversity and promote transformational change in how economies and societies use and regard biodiversity.
We also have the Secretary-General’s message for the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, which will be observed tomorrow. Calling obstetric fistula a devastating yet completely preventable and, in many cases, treatable injury of childbirth, the Secretary-General says that we have a moral obligation to complete the unfinished agenda of eradicating fistula.
Today, at least 2 million women and girls live with the condition, and 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occur every year, especially among the poorest and most marginalized women and girls.
I was asked a few days ago about whether the United Nations has rented office space through the Colliers company. That’s actually a difficult question, in turns out, because Colliers International NY LLC is a company whose name has changed several times over the years. Although it became known by that name in 2010, it also used to be called GVA Williams many years ago.
The UN had a contract with GVA Williams from the 15th of June 2007 to 15th of February 2013. By then company had changed its name to Colliers International NY LLC and it was for "real estate consultancy and brokerage services".
Colliers, in the name of Colliers Tri-State Management LLC, is now the owner and landlord for the FF Building, although the lease to the UN is enacted via a number of leases for sub-“lots” between the UN and a subsidiary company called “304 E.45th LLC”. UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) also rents some “lots” in the FF building.
When the UN first rented space in the FF building, it was with GVA Williams. Apart from the leases for the FF building, the UN has no other contracts with Colliers International NY LLC.
For the honour roll, Guinea and Tonga have joined the ranks of fully-paid-up Member States to the Organization’s regular budget. Thank you both.
**Noon Guest on Tuesday
On Tuesday, we’ll have as our guest here at the noon briefing Mr. Magdy Martínez-Solíman, the UN Development Programme’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support.
He’ll be here to speak to you on his recent visit to Nepal to assist the Government in putting in place an early recovery plan for the country that will protect and restore infrastructure, services and livelihoods as immediate humanitarian efforts continue.
And that briefing on Tuesday will be our first briefing after a holiday weekend. On Monday, UN Headquarters will be closed and there won’t be any briefing, so this will be the last time we will have to see each other in a while. Any question before we go on, on our break?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Regarding… today there was… there were two attacks, one in Qatif in Saudi Arabia against a mosque, a Shia mosque, where people were injured, and another one in Sana'a with the similar groups committing such a crime. Does the United States… United Nations have any statement on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, we deplore all sectarian attacks. Regarding the attack on the mosque that took place in Saudi Arabia, we do expect to have a statement later in the day.
Question: On Yemen, can I ask a question? Obviously, after you've mentioned the atrocities committed by aerial strikes against infrastructure. Does the United Nations call for an investigation into war crimes in Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can just say again is that any of the acts that deliberately or indiscriminately destroy civilian infrastructure during conflict is against international human law… international humanitarian law, and we've asked for all that to stop. Yes.
Question: Yeah, sure. I guess first I want to ask about Burundi. You gave this readout about Burundians who have left the country. But I wanted to know, there were reports yesterday of two protesters killed with bullets, 11 injured, and I wanted to know, what… one, what Mr. [Said] Djinnit is doing there, and if he's not going to brief the Security Council if there's some way that what was mentioned here earlier of him giving a briefing here by video is possible given the continued unrest in the country.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding a briefing by Mr. Djinnit, yes, we've been trying. We were told it wouldn't be possible in the short term. So right now we haven't been able to do that. We'll keep trying to see when that can happen, but he's in the middle of some fairly delicate work.
Regarding Burundi, though, we also… just as I said, we expect to have a statement on Saudi Arabia. You'll have a very busy afternoon because we also expect later in the day to have a statement on the latest developments in Burundi.
Question: Thank you. On Yemen… actually, pardon, Saudi Arabia, the Houthis attacked some territories inside Saudi Arabia and seized the military base and now they are claiming that they will take part in the negotiations in Geneva only after Saudi Arabia stops strikes, airstrikes. So there's clearly need for new humanitarian pause or whatever it is.
Is Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed continuing there first to reach this ceasefire, and is there any success in this? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: He is continuing with his efforts, both to get some kind of halt to the fighting and to get the parties to come next week to the consultations in Geneva. He wrapped up his visit to Iran and… but he is staying in the region and talking with various parties. And he is going to try to have that move forward. Yes. Masood.
Question: Farhan, maybe you've been asked this question earlier. There is this Israeli minister in the new Cabinet who has been quoted in The New York Times as saying that all the… no agreement, no international agreement will… are valid anymore. The land that they occupy belongs to them, including the occupied Palestinian land. What does the Secretary-General have a reaction to?
Deputy Spokesman: Our dealings are with the Government of Israel as a whole, and we continue to deal with them and with the Palestinians on realizing a two-State solution, and we continue to uphold that, and, of course, you're aware of the relevant UN resolutions governing this issue, and we continue to expect that all side also abide by that.
Yes, Majeed first, yes.
Question: Thank you. There are reports from Iraq now after the fall of Ramadi, there are [inaudible] of army Shia militias in a country in very large amounts right now, and, you know, as the UN… also I talked about their violation of human rights committed by these militias before. What is the UN position about this, this [inaudible] of arms like unconditional?
Deputy Spokesman: What we expect is all of the parties on the ground in Iraq, whether Shia, Sunni, Kurd, or however, will unite to deal with the common threat posed by Da’esh. Obviously, we want to make sure that any arms that go to these groups are not used improperly for any sectarian purposes. What… it's important that the Iranian… that the Government of Iraq continue with its policy of being inclusive towards all members of society, and we want to make sure that all of the complements of Iraqi society are able to work together with each other as they confront this common threat.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. In Palmyra, do you have any information about Syrian troops preventing civilians from leaving? And do you know how many civilians are still there?
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have any figures on the civilians that are still there. I gave you some of the figures just now… of figures in terms of… figures of people who have been leaving from Palmyra, and, like I said, the UN Refugee Agency and its partners are aware of at least 11,000 people who have fled Palmyra and its surrounding villages for whom we're trying to provide aid.
How many more people remain in the area is still unclear at this point. But we do expect further groups of people to be departing, and we certainly hope that all of those who need to depart for their safety can do so.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, it's kind of… maybe an interrelated question. You're probably aware that this self-described whistleblower, Miranda Brown in Geneva, she was a WIPA whistleblower, then she worked with Mr. [Anders] Kompass in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Anyway, she was terminated yesterday, left service of the UN, the day before she was to be interviewed by OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] about the Kompass matter. So she's put out a statement saying she believes in part she was fired because she has witnessed evidence on Kompass' matter. She says he shouldn't have been suspended because there are… many countries have mandatory reporting of paedophilia charges. This is what he she claims that he did. And that the Government accountability project has asked the Secretary-General to reinstate her given if he's interested in getting to the bottom of the Kompass/Central African Republic sexual abuse allegations.
So I wanted to know, what is the response and what's the interrelation between firing somebody that's a witness in what's said to be a very important case for the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't have any comments on the Kompass case while the information is proceeding. We're going to allow it to continue to proceed. And I wouldn't be able to comment at that point.
Regarding the case of… that you just mentioned, I believe Stéphane [Dujarric] commented on it just about a week or so ago. I don't have anything to add to what Stéphane has said.
Question: Do you still expect her to testify? I've seen the request from OIOS for her to speak. It seems like if you're firing her she's not going to speak.
Deputy Spokesman: I would hope and expect if the Office for Internal Oversight Services needs some of this information for their investigation that it will be provided to them.
Question: Thanks again. You mentioned that Ould Cheikh Ahmed wrapped up his visit to Iran. Maybe I missed it… did you provide any readouts of his meetings? Who did he meet and what did he discuss?
Deputy Spokesman: No, he met with a number of officials, including with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. This is in line with his efforts to bring all of the relevant parties in the region together to deal with the situation in Yemen. Beyond that, I don't have any further readout.
Question: Farhan, follow-up to my question, which you are allowing me to say, I just wanted to ask you, what did the Secretary-General or the United Nations have any… engage in any of the new Israeli Government because the statement between Israeli Prime Minister before the election that there will be no peace deal before and then now more and more voices coming from the Israeli leadership that there is going to be no peace deal. Has Secretary-General and United Nations engaged in talk with them that there should be a peace process that should be started? [inaudible]
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General has spoken, including recently with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to make very clear his views that he expects the Israelis and Palestinians to continue to deal with each other seriously on the issue of a two-State solution. And that is an expectation we hold for the Government as a whole.
Now, I have the following statement attributable to the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General concerning Burundi.
The Secretary-General is encouraged by the ongoing political dialogue in Bujumbura. This involves representatives of civil society, political parties, religious organizations, and the Government with the facilitation of Special Envoy Said Djinnit and representatives of the African Union, the East African community, the common market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
The Secretary-General applauds the participants for the progress achieved so far in the discussions, especially on measures to reduce tensions and create propitious conditions for free, clear, inclusive and peaceful elections. He's concerned, however, about the ongoing humanitarian crisis involving refugees. He expresses appreciation to the neighbouring countries for their hospitality to the refugees and urges the Government of Burundi to create conditions for their return.
The Secretary-General encourages stakeholders to pursue the ongoing dialogue with a view to reaching a comprehensive agreement on all the issues they have identified. He reiterates the availability of the United Nations to accompany the people of Burundi and the region during this process.
Yes, in the back.
Question: Hi. Do you have a comment on the suspension of the ceasefire in Colombia that was announced today?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe we're studying the latest developments to evaluate what's happening. As you're aware, we have encouraged the parties to move forward on progress towards… towards peace, and so any progress towards a lasting and durable ceasefire would be very welcome.
Question: Yeah. Again, regarding Yemen here, do you have any update on the transfer of aid to… how… is there any progress with regard or smoothing of delivery of aid to the inhabitants?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. Of course, we're trying to provide aid to the inhabitants. Along those lines, of course, we've been asked in recent days about an Iranian cargo ship carrying aid. What I can say on that is an Iranian cargo ship is expected to berth in the port of Djibouti carrying what we understand is 2,500 tonnes of humanitarian aid, a contribution from the Government and people of Iran for conflict-affected people in Yemen.
We have been informed that the Iranian ship's cargo includes 1,200 metric tonnes of rice, 700 tonnes of wheat flour and 400 tonnes of canned fish, as well as medicine, water, tents and blankets. The cargo will be handed over to the World Food Programme in Djibouti and will be transferred to WFP-chartered vessels for shipment to the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and/or Aden, where it will be delivered to humanitarian partners on the ground for distribution to people in need.
Question: When will that be?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, it's… I believe the ship is lined up among other ships and expected to berth in the port of Djibouti and that will follow the normal procedures. Yes.
Question: Farhan, any what you call international aid or any aid package being involved to Indonesia Government for, I mean, taking these migrants from the sea, as they had said that they would want international community to take responsibility for them besides finding them another place to live?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware of specific aid being offered to Indonesia. I am aware that there will be a conference next week in Thailand where they will discuss a number of issues involved in terms of how to deal with the issue of migrants both from the countries from where they're emanating as well as from the countries that have been receiving them. Yes.
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I want to ask about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then something else. It's said that Under-Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous held an executive briefing yesterday in Geneva with a number of Member States, and one of the Member States at least has said that in the meeting… he said that that… as yet no cooperation between MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the DRC army in terms of fighting the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda), no solution, no progress.
And I wanted to know, is that the case? Because it was said… the last time he spoke at the stakeout, although he didn't take questions, that the UN might go it alone and that somehow there would be action against the FDLR, you know, in the near future. Is the UN any closer, or is it… does it remain as distant as it was?
Deputy Spokesman: No, in terms of that, what we've been saying and what Mr. Ladsous said remains the same, that we still are working to see whether we can get progress on the concerns that we've had, which we've been discussing for many months now, but we don't have sufficient progress to work with them on this issue.
Question: Okay. And I want… first… thanks a lot for this detailed answer on Colliers and its predecessor. So I wanted to ask… this is something that I wanted to ask. It has to do with, since it is public record that the nephew of the Secretary-General works for the company, and I understand it's your position that there's no connection between these contracts and that. I did want to know whether the disclosures, public or confidential within the UN of high officials, contain any disclosures of the employment or business interests of close relatives so that at least they can be known and checked. This is my question.
Deputy Spokesman: The procurement process goes through a process that is independent of other officials at the UN. There's a very clear process that… by which procurement works. And… and we have actually talked about this at length many times in the past, but it is unrelated.
Deputy Spokesman: Both to senior officials, but to any of their family members…
Question: But what I'm asking about is the disclosure process in the UN. I understand there's two forms of disclosure. There's mandatory internal disclosure that's not made public, and there's a voluntary public financial disclosure. What I'm asking is whether the internal confidential but to the UN, to the ethics office, disclosure of high officials involves business interests of close relatives that do business with the UN. That's just a factual question.
Deputy Spokesman: I don't really… I think that there's an implicit assumption in your question which I don't share.
Question: I'm not assuming anything. It's just a question.
Deputy Spokesman: The safeguards in the procurement process are built in to keep it separate from other officials.
Question: But I'm asking about the disclosure process, not the procurement process, just a question about what the UN disclosure process is. It's not about what my assumption of my question.
Deputy Spokesman: Disclosure to whom?
Question: There are two disclosures… high officials file with the UN detailed supposedly… I haven't… well, I have seen them, but I'm not… the detailed disclosures, and then there's the public website which gives less information…
Deputy Spokesman: There's…
Question: Does the detailed one contain close relatives that do business with the UN… that’s the question.
Deputy Spokesman: There is a series of financial disclosures where you detail your financial dealings as well as the dealings of your immediate family. And that is disclosed… and that is disclosed to an outside party that reviews these… these financial statements.
Question: And can I ask whether this one was disclosed?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, I believe the disclosure is reviewed, like I said, by an outside company. I… all I can attest to is what's on the website, and you can see that for yourself.
Now, you had asked… hold on. You had asked about Saudi Arabia.
I have the following statement attributable to the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the terrorist attack in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack today targeting a Shia mosque in the town of al-Qadeeh in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The attack caused many deaths and injuries as people were gathering for Friday prayers. The Secretary-General stresses that such attacks on places of worship are abhorrent and intended to promote sectarian conflict. He hopes that the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice.
The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and expresses his sympathies to the Government and people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Have a great, great weekend, everyone.
Question: I still have one question.
Deputy Spokesman: Oh, wait.
Question: There were many convictions against major banks in the United States, in Europe, who have been found guilty of rigging the foreign exchange. Given that this affects the wealth of nations worldwide, how does the United Nations view such convictions? They have been made to pay hefty penalties for their dealings.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly hope and expect that the judicial systems of the countries involved will be able to deal with any issues involving improper activities by banks.
Question: But who represents here the poorer nations whose foreign exchange is adversely affected by such practises?
Deputy Spokesman: If there are concerns brought by Governments about how transactions have affected them, those sometimes can be taken up by different international bodies, whether it be the UN, the World Bank, the IMF or local… local banking institutions. However, otherwise, the cases that you're talking about are really cases involving the judicial authorities in separate countries, and those are separate and apart from us.
Question: But how about the UN Global Compact — just one follow-up on that? Several of the banks that have been fined for [inaudible] manipulation remain members of the UN Global Compact which… and all that that entails.
Deputy Spokesman: The Global Compact is an effort to try and promote best practices among countries, among companies, and so that is where the Global Compact lies. It's not a judicial body.
Have a great weekend.