The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Starting off with the Secretary-General who, as you know, is in Brussels today, he is continuing his visit there. Earlier, he addressed the European Parliament and spoke, among other things, about the challenges posed by migration. He said that, in dealing with migration, saving lives should be the top priority. While we need to see more effective law enforcement actions against traffickers and smugglers, he added, we also need safer alternatives to dangerous voyages, as well as legal channels, such as resettlement, family reunification and work and study visas. His full remarks are available in my office and online. Just to note that Peter Sutherland, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for International Migration, will be joining me as soon as we are done here at about 12:30 p.m. or 12:40 p.m., as my guest.
The Secretary-General began his meeting with a breakfast meeting with European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini. He welcomed a proposal by the European Commission for the relocation of 40,000 asylum-seekers as a step in the right direction and expressed hope that it would be accepted by EU Member States. He also met separately with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament. He is now attending an event called "Our World, Our Dignity, Our Future: the post-2015 agenda and the role of youth". We should be sending out those remarks shortly.
Back here, the Security Council adopted a resolution today reaffirming its commitment to the protection of civilians in armed conflict as well as to the protection of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel. Speaking at the open debate this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, said that the issue of protection of journalists is fundamentally about the right to information, respect for human rights and about not giving in to threats and intimidation from those who advocate and practise violence and intolerance.
He added that armed conflict not only endangers the life and safety of journalists, it also limits the free flow of information, eroding rule of law and democracy. Mariane Pearl, the wife of [The Wall Street Journal] journalist, Daniel Pearl, who was killed in Pakistan, also briefed the Council. The [Deputy Secretary-General’s] full remarks are available, as usual.
Back to Yemen, as we announced yesterday, the Secretary-General has asked his Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, to postpone the consultations in Geneva, which had been planned for 28 May, following a request from the Government of Yemen and other key stakeholders for more time to prepare. The Secretary-General is actively working to convene the talks at the earliest possible time.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that the conflict in Yemen is entering its tenth week and the numbers of dead and injured continue to grow. It estimates that almost 2,000 people have been killed and 8,000 injured so far, including hundreds of women and children. And almost 7.5 million people are in urgent need of medical help.
WHO says that the health system must be allowed to function, unimpeded by the insecurity. All parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, health facilities and health staff during conflict and to permit the supply of vital humanitarian aid, such as medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to areas where it is needed most, to ensure the right to urgently-needed lifesaving care.
An update from Burundi: the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Said Djinnit, will brief the Security Council by video link in closed consultations this afternoon. The consultative political dialogue was suspended at the request of the parties on 24 May, as you know, after the killing of Mr. Zedi Feruzi, an opposition leader. I would like to add that we, of course, reiterate our calls for calm and restraint, and we call on the Burundian authorities to uphold the human rights of all Burundians and to take concrete steps to prevent political killings and further violence.
Said Djinnit continues his work to resume the dialogue, and to get the parties to agree on concrete steps to create a conducive environment for peaceful, credible and inclusive elections in Burundi. We very much hope that the upcoming East African Community Summit that takes place this Sunday can help chart a way forward for a strengthened dialogue among Burundians.
Regarding Nigeria, more women and children have been used as suicide bombers in northeastern Nigeria in the first five months of this year than during the whole of last year, according to figures collated by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]. As of May 2015, there have been 27 attacks and in at least three quarters of these incidents, women and children were reportedly used to carry out the attacks. UNICEF is concerned that the increasing use of children as suicide bombers could lead to children being perceived as potential threats, and stresses that they are first and foremost victims.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, also condemned in a statement a wider pattern of women and girls being deliberately targeted by interlinked extremist groups, who share an ideological opposition to the education, rights and freedoms of women. And Ms. Bangura also issued a statement following her visit this week to Cuba to discuss conflict-related sexual violence with the delegations of the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]. She urged all parties to the peace dialogue to listen to the voices of women and put their protection and empowerment at the heart of the discussions. She also urged them to do everything possible to ensure that the gains that have been made at the peace table are not lost.
The number of hungry people in the world has dropped to 795 million — that’s 216 million less than from the period 1990-92 — according to the latest edition of the annual UN hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015. In the developing regions, the prevalence of undernourishment has declined to 12.9 per cent of the population, down from 23.3 per cent a quarter of a century ago.
Seventy-two countries have achieved the MDG [Millennium Development Goal] target of halving the proportion of chronically undernourished. The developing regions as a whole are missing the target by a small margin, as progress was hampered in recent years by challenging global economic conditions, extreme weather events, natural disasters and political instability. More information is available from the World Food Programme (WFP).
And still on the subject of hunger, the World Food Programme warns today that South Sudan has about 4.6 million people, or 40 per cent of its estimated population, facing acute hunger in the next three months. Unrelenting conflict and the onset of the lean season are intensifying alarming levels of hunger — both in conflict areas and in other parts of the country. Lack of funding and shrinking humanitarian access are compromising the relief agency’s ability to meet the needs of South Sudan. Currently, the funding shortfall for WFP amounts to $230 million for food and nutrition assistance.
And from Sudan, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Geert Cappelaere, expressed his concern today over reports of large-scale displacement, including possible forced relocations. He said that as conflict has increased in Blue Nile State, civilians continue to bear the brunt of fighting, while aid agencies are often not permitted to independently assess humanitarian needs and respond accordingly.
**Economic and Social Council
And a couple of things I just want to flag for you: ECOSOC, Economic and Social Council, Partnership Forum will take place tomorrow. The Forum, which is entitled “Partnerships in Support of Strengthening Health Systems: Building Resilience to Pandemics”, will focus on areas where partnerships are required to ensure that lessons are learned from the Ebola response in West Africa. Participants will include Bill Clinton, of the Clinton Foundation and forty-second President of the United States, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and high-level Government representation from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. A media advisory is available and it starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
I already mentioned to you that we will be joined by Peter Sutherland in a few minutes. Tomorrow, a busy day, as well: at 11:30 a.m., press conference here by Minister for State, Maria Böhmer of Germany, along with Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim of Iraq and the Director General of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], Irina Bokova. They will brief you on efforts to save the cultural heritage of Iraq.
And at noon, I will be joined by Jean-Paul Laborde, the Executive Director of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. And immediately following that, our good friend Jean-Victor Nkolo will brief you on the work of the General Assembly. I failed to mention, back to today, that, at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the Foreign Minister of Lithuania. Now that you answered my questions, Mr. Klein and Mr. Lee, and then we'll go around.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister of Libya?
Spokesman: Yes, obviously, we've seen the reports from Tobruk and are obviously concerned at this violent attack on the Prime Minister, which is… obviously, attacks like these are clearly unacceptable. The security situation in Libya continues to be a major occupation for us and the Secretary‑General calls on all Libyans to cooperate with his Special Representative, Bernardino León, and to engage in the political dialogue process. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I have some questions on Burundi. But, I just want to make sure if you have an if-asked on this. Tony Blair, resignation letter to the Secretary‑General. Do you have it?
Spokesman: Yes, we have read everywhere that Tony Blair has sent in a letter resigning as the Quartet envoy. We were told it was e-mailed to the Secretary‑General. We checked with the Secretary‑General as of a few minutes ago. No letter has yet been received. When a letter is received in his inbox, we will confirm it. But at this point, all I can say is that we've seen the press reports.
[Following the noon briefing, the Spokesman issued the following statement on behalf of the Middle East Quartet: The Quartet today expressed its deep appreciation to Tony Blair as he plans to step aside as the Quartet’s Representative. As the Quartet’s envoy on the ground during the last eight years, Mr. Blair demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace and made lasting contributions to the effort to promote economic growth and improve daily life in the West Bank and Gaza. The Quartet thanks Mr. Blair for his remarkable service and reaffirms its commitment to advancing peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.]
Question: On Burundi, I'd wanted to ask you this. The… in today's debate in the Council, a number of the Council members brought up the crackdown on media in Burundi alongside the, obviously, attacks on opposition and protesters, including the closing of three radio stations, the seeming shooting of a radio station reporter along with the opposition leader that was killed. I wanted to know, is the UN doing… given all that's being said in the Security Council chamber today, is the UN and its existing missions in Burundi doing anything to actually try to protect journalists in Burundi?
Spokesman: Obviously, the question of protection of journalists is one that's high on the agenda and you… as explained by the Deputy Secretary‑General himself this morning. It is critical for Burundi to move forward. A critical part of Burundi moving forward in a peaceful way and political dialogue is a free press and that a free press be allowed to operate. So, it's clearly part of the overall discussions that are going on.
Question: But, like, in the Secretary‑General's statement on the attack on the opposition leader, were you un-… was he or DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or whoever wrote it unaware there was a journalist also gravely wounded at the same time?
Spokesman: We may not have been aware of the full details, but obviously, attacks on journalists are condemned.
Question: And just one other question on Burundi. There's a lot of discussion there about… about the… there's a picture, in fact, of a police individual shooting a submachine gun and also a picture of him in a peacekeeper uniform. So, I wanted to know, is there… is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] doing anything to see whether people previously deployed or prospectively deployed… there's another individual named Mr. Donard as possibly deploying… are involved in a picture of shooting in a crowd?
Spokesman: I think… I haven't personally seen that picture. If it turns out to be true, as we've seen in other cases, you know, troop contributors are not permitted to use UN insignia, symbols, emblems on uniforms or planes outside of UN peacekeeping operation, so, obviously, if this turned out to be true, it would… it would be in violation of those understandings. Obviously, the vetting process of peacekeepers from all countries goes through… is cooperation between DPKO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). I think there's a special focus if troops would be coming in recently from Burundi; at this point, Burundian soldiers are continuing to serve in UN peacekeeping troops, and obviously, we… the UN has no operational or any control over the troops that have returned to the country. Mr. Barada?
Question: So many issues, but I want to follow up on Tony Blair's resignation. Were you aware of his intention to resign? And I have a question about the assault on Ramadi, and it was given a very sectarian name against an area that's mainly Sunni area. So, I wondered whether you have any comment on that. And I may ask later on Yemen.
Spokesman: On Mr. Blair, no particular, at least in my level, knowledge of his impeding… impending… resignation. Obviously, once that letter… we hear the ping and the letter arrives in the Secretary‑General's e-mail box, we will let you know. On Ramadi, we're obviously taking a look, keeping an eye… our colleagues in the mission there are keeping an eye on the operations. I think it's… as we've said in the past, in Iraq, and in more general terms, it's very important that counter‑offensives, which are needed against groups like Da’esh, be done in full respect of human rights and don't create additional sectarian issues.
Correspondent: On Yemen…
Spokesman: I'll come back to you, if you don't mind. Sir?
Question: Okay. Thank you. I'm talking about Middle East. There is a… there are reports that Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said that he's willing to talk to the Palestinians about the settlement and so forth. But, given the rhetoric coming out from Tel Aviv, it seems a two‑State solution has been virtually side-lined and given up. So, what does the Secretary‑General… has the Secretary‑General had any talks with the Israeli Prime Minister about…?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General's position on the Palestinian peace process remains the same. I think it was outlined clearly… it is outlined clearly in his periodic reports to the Security Council of a two‑State solution and for both parties to come to the negotiating table.
Question: So, these… the talks that he's calling for, the Israeli Prime Minister, what are they good for?
Spokesman: I think you would have… that's a question you need to ask the Israeli Prime Minister.
Question: And another thing. Mr. Blair resigning, I mean what did he accomplish, except whatever the…?
Spokesman: I think… you know, Mr. Blair's record… his record speaks for it… for himself. Mr. Abbadi and then Nizar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Burundi still, the situation is very serious. I read what Mr. Djinnit said. For example, the security situation is deteriorating and the number of states, including France very recently has suspended security cooperation with the country. What does the Secretary‑General think of the situation currently?
Spokesman: Well, you know, obviously, the… I think, as I said, the situation continues to be of concern and disturbing to us. I think Mr. Djinnit is very much focused on the political process, on encouraging the Government to uphold human rights. I think when we've seen these situations in the past with a failed illegal seizure of power, we have to ensure that whatever counter‑measures are done do not, again, as I said before, create more problems and that law enforcement be done within the strict balance of human rights… respect for human rights and international law. Our envoy Mr. Djinnit continues to be in Bujumbura, talking to many of the parties involved trying to encourage them to come to the table, but as you know, Mr. Abbadi, more than I, you know in these situations, UN mediation, we don't hold all the cards. It’s a matter of trying to persuade those in power and those in opposition that the peaceful way forward is the best way forward. Abdel Hamid and then Nizar?
Question: I have two questions, one on Tony Blair and one on Yemen. So, please bear with me. On Tony Blair, in fact, I'm asking why he has to submit his resignation to the Secretary‑General. The one who appointed him is former US President George W. Bush. And I think he should submit his resignation to the Quartet… you know, the UN is accepted to be one fourth of a group that dealing with the Middle East. So, why…?
Spokesman: You know, we're… that's a question for Mr. Blair as to who and why he's submitting his resignation to the Secretary‑General. He may well… he needs to send it to someone. You would have to ask him why he chose the Secretary‑General. We'll have to see the text of the letter. It may be submitted to the Secretary‑General and asking him to share it with the Quartet… his Quartet partners. It may be that he's sending four letters. I… that, I don't know.
Question: Regarding Yemen, the talks in Geneva have been postponed indefinitely, as we heard, and we don't know the exact reason why they were postponed. There are news reports saying that Saudi Arabia, in fact, trying to impose the Riyadh communiqué on the groups who are talking in Geneva. And the Secretary‑General was not happy with that. So, what is the real story behind the indefinite postponement?
Spokesman: Well, I don't think… I don't think it's an indefinite postponement. It's a postponement because we obviously… you know, the parties were not able to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together. We were not able to bring all the pieces to the puzzle together. It's clear we need to get to the parties around the table without precondition. Mr.… the Special Envoy, Ismail, is in Amman. He will be making a round of consultative discussions both in Europe and in the region. Just another go‑around to try to get people. As… whether it's in Burundi whether it's in Yemen, our Special Envoys are trying to use their powers of persuasion to convince people to come around the table. It's not an easy task. We're seeing the fighting continue. We're seeing the Yemeni people continue to suffer. A lot of people have different stakes in this conflict. We're asking them to put first and foremost on their mind the welfare of the Yemeni people who are continuing to suffer. Nizar, you've been very patient. Then we'll go to the back.
Correspondent: I have a question on Yemen and on laundering terrorism. This is a new term, I know. Making terrorism laundered. On Yemen, obviously, the Amir Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein made a statement on 14 April asking or calling for the trial or bringing to justice all those who have perpetrate any human rights violations in the conflict. And since then, we do not see any follow‑up on that statement, after reviewing what he said. Another thing today, there was a major attack on Hodeidah seaport, total destruction of the seaport altogether, which is one of the places that's supposed to be receiving aid. Obviously, the Saudis, as they warned, they…
Spokesman: I would love to hear a question mark.
Correspondent: Okay. They need more days, it seems. They are committing a lot more attacks…
Spokesman: Again, the question.
Correspondent: So, the question is here on the negotiations, on the pursuing those who are culprit of perpetrating human rights abuses…
Spokesman: Look, I think… we want to see… we want to see an end to this conflict, as I just was telling Abdel Hamid. We're seeing continued destruction of civilian infrastructure. We're seeing continued attacks on… attacks that are making civilians suffer. They need to stop. The Secretary‑General, I think, expressed his great disappointment that the five‑day pause was not able to continue in order for us to deliver aid. We were able to use that window to deliver some aid and fuel to deliver that aid, but it wasn't enough, and we need to see another halt in the fighting so we can see that. As in any conflict, there will need to be accountability. There will need to be accountability for those who commit violations. But, at this current phase, our focus is on stopping the fighting and getting people around the table.
Correspondent: I… I… I… I said I have another question on terrorism-laundering…
Spokesman: And on Hussein, you'd have to ask the High Commissioner.
Question: On terrorism-laundering, obviously, Jabhat al-Nusra is now being rebranded in Syria and being called the Army of Conquest, blessed by many regional countries. In Hadramawt, in Yemen, Al‑Qaida or AQAP [Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] is being rebranded, as well, and being incorporated in new army which is financed by regional countries, as well. How does United Nations watch these and how do they view them?
Spokesman: That is an excellent question that you should save for Mr. Laborde tomorrow, who will be here to talk about counter‑terrorism. Yes, please go ahead.
Question: Merci, Stéphane. On the Mediterranean Sea, the Secretary‑General, while meeting with Ms. Mogherini, said in Brussels that he was reluctant to support naval operations and then saying that there could be other options. What could be the consequences under the project of a resolution on the smuggling from the Security Council?
Spokesman: I think, obviously, the Security Council's debating that resolution. That is their right. I think what the Secretary‑General… he didn't say he was opposed to a naval operation. I think we were very impressed when we went to Italy to see first hand… the Secretary‑General was able to see first hand the Italian rescue operation. And I think the Italians and many other European nations which are now contributing to the rescue are to be commended for the work they're doing. I think what the Secretary‑General has been saying, and other officials have been saying, and Mr. Sutherland, I’m sure, will say it himself, is against any military or security focus on dealing with migrants. The focus needs to be on saving lives and then further down, in the longer term, obviously, creating better and more open avenues to migration. But, I will let Mr. Sutherland speak more eloquently on that. Yes, sir?
Question: Yes. Today, several members of the Security Council talked about the threat of… against journalism in Iraq in conflict zones, but, in the past two months, there's an increasing number of threats against journalists in the safer zones, in Baghdad, specifically, the bureau chief of Reuters, Mr. Ned Parker, was threatened and he had to leave Iraq. Do you know of any measure that has been taken by the UN [Assistance] Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to protect journalists, especially those that have been threatened by Shiite militias?
Spokesman: I think that the Deputy Secretary‑General's remarks focused not only on conflict zones, but also in non‑conflict zones. As to Iraq, I think the Mission did speak out on the case of the Reuters bureau chief who had to leave. I think the Mission has been speaking out in other countries of human rights and of protection of journalists. The protection of journalists is obviously… in any country, is first and foremost the responsibility of the State. Mr. Lee and then round two. And I don’t want to keep our guests waiting too long.
Question: I want to ask about Central African Republic and the financial disclosure programme at the UN. On the Central African Republic, President [Catherine] Samba-Panza is in Paris, and she has said “We regret not being informed earlier that this investigation was taking place”, she told reporters after the meeting with the president. So, I wanted to know, I… you… well, first of all, is there a UN response to that?
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, obviously, as I said before, there is an internal look as to how all these allegations were handled from an administrative point of view, who knew what and when and that is being… what is being looked at.
Question: Because that is… that's my second question. I've heard from people in OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] that the terms of reference of the investigation that you've repeatedly referred to here are essentially Mr. [Andres] Kompass. There's an OIOS investigation as to why Mr. Kompass gave an unredacted report to the French. So, are the terms of reference to which you keep referring…?
Spokesman: I've said what I said. If I have more to say, I will share it with you.
Question: And on this other one, I’m sorry, it's not to play gotcha, but I'm quite interested in it, the public financial disclosure, which was a major plank of the Secretary‑General, okay, yesterday I asked you if [PricewaterhouseCoopers] is still doing it, and it seems like it's not, because I looked at procurement, and KPMG has the contract to do it.
Spokesman: Okay. Then I will check.
Correspondent: And I…
Spokesman: I thought I…
Question: Yeah, yeah… that’s not the main point. That's not the main problem. The problem I have is, even directly on the Secretary‑General's main website, it says financial disclosure and it says most recent report, it’s of 2011, so I guess I don't… without… has… is something changed with the programme? Is this as central to the UN's…? It also came up on the Yemen envoy, has he filed? He's not listed…
Spokesman: No one said that he hadn't filed. The Yemen envoy has fulfilled all the requirements in terms of financial disclosure. As to the other questions, I can check. I'm not aware.
Correspondent: But I… because this came up while you were away. My question is, there's an option of making public financial disclosure, the disclosure of which is simply marking a box and saying, I don't want to disclose. But, he didn't do that. He's not listed in the list. If you look at the current list of UN [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General], he’s not there…
Spokesman: He's done everything that he is supposed to do. Sir. And then we'll go… Mr. Ali, we'll go. You've been very patient in the back. I need you to turn on your microphone. Thank you.
Question: Stéphane, on this plight of the Rohingya Muslims, who have sought asylum in Indonesia, [and] so forth, but there are reports that, in Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims in particular are being persecuted consistently and that is non-stop. So, is Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar…?
Spokesman: Well, I think… you may not have been here at the briefing yesterday, but I mentioned Mr. Nambiar was in Rakhine State yesterday.
Correspondent: Yes. I heard about that. So, what I'm saying is that is going on…
Spokesman: It's an issue he's raised and with the Myanmar authorities. He's still there. So, I don't want to prejudge the outcome of his visit.
Correspondent: Okay. And also has the… any deal been reached by Indonesia and the world, international… I mean, basically, I think it's going to be United Nations on any financial help to these countries, plus finding a place for these people…
Spokesman: Well, I think that's a very good migrant question, which I will let Mr. Sutherland answer. But, the gentleman with the beard in the back, you've been… did you have your hand up? I'm sorry. It's… I need my far-vision glasses. Mr. Ali?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Just a follow‑up to the question on Yemen. Following the postponement of this conference of Yemenis parties, what are Mr. Ismail [Ould] Cheikh Ahmed’s plans?
Spokesman: I think, as I just mentioned, he's in Amman, and he will go to Europe and travel to the region for the next… to the Gulf, around the Gulf and in Europe to have consultations with various Member States. Mr. Abbadi and then we'll stop to get our guest.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you mentioned earlier, the Deputy Secretary‑General went before the Council and spoke about the situation of journalists in conflict areas. He dealt with the issues, such as freedom of expression and protection of journalists and human rights, issues that are dealt with by the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee and the legal committee, the Sixth Committee. Why didn't the Deputy Secretary‑General make any link between the killing of journalists and peace and security, which is obviously the essence of the work of the Security Council?
Spokesman: You know, I… you and I may have a different interpretation of this speech, but I would say that he… overall that he did. But, I'm happy to do… and analyse the text with you, Mr. Abbadi.
Correspondent: I read the text. There's not one single mention of peace and security.
Spokesman: On that note, I will get our guest. Thank you.