The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
Let me start off with a statement on the recent allegations of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic. In light of the recent serious allegations of sexual abuse against children in the Central African Republic by foreign troops not under the authority of the United Nations, the Secretary-General has decided to set up an external independent review to examine the UN system’s handling of these allegations. The review will examine the treatment of the specific report of abuse in the Central African Republic, as well as a broad range of systemic issues related to how the UN responds to serious information of this kind.
As I have stated here over the past few weeks, the Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual abuse by soldiers in the CAR [Central African Republic], as well as allegations of how this was handled by the various parts of the UN system involved. His intention in setting up this review is to ensure that the United Nations does not fail the victims of sexual abuse, especially when committed by those who are meant to protect them. In the next few days, we will be announcing who will lead this review and its terms of reference. That statement should now be available in my office.
The Security Council is holding consultations on Syria this morning. And under other matters, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, also expects to provide an update to the Council by video link on his work. That should be happening now or a bit later.
The Council President issued a press statement yesterday afternoon on Yemen, in which he said that the members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern about the grave situation in Yemen. In this regard, the members of the Security Council were deeply disappointed that the consultations in Geneva planned for 28 May did not take place. Council members urged Yemeni stakeholders to participate in the UN-brokered inclusive political consultations as soon as possible. The members of the Security Council also endorsed the Secretary-General’s call for a further humanitarian pause in order to allow assistance to reach the Yemeni people.
Still on the same subject, our humanitarian friends report that more than 1 million people are estimated to be internally displaced since mid-March in Yemen as a result of the conflict. The figure of displaced people is likely to increase as we get access to new areas. Half of the people displaced are in the northwest in Hajjah Governorate and Al-Dhale’e Governorate in the South.
Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, spoke today at the Arab Media Forum on “The Role of Media to Combat Terrorism”. He said that it is undeniable that extremist groups present a serious threat to international peace and security. And their effective use of social media to spread propaganda and to recruit vulnerable young women and men from all regions of the world to join their ranks is also undeniable. Mr. Feltman noted that there are almost 50,000 Twitter accounts supporting Da’esh, with an average of 1,000 followers for each of those accounts.
He said that in our efforts to counter terrorism, we also need the support of the world’s media. He said that we have to work closely with traditional and social media partners to get stories of courage out about returnees from violent extremist groups and victims of terrorism, who can turn their tragedy into a positive force to counter and prevent radicalization. Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General has said that it takes a bullet to kill a terrorist, but good governance will ultimately kill terrorism. His remarks are in my office.
From the UN [Support] Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), they tell us they continue to hold talks with Libyan stakeholders to promote dialogue and the need for a political agreement. Addressing Libyan political leaders and activists gathered in Algeria, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, stressed that continuing with the confrontation is not an option for the country’s future. He said that as the holy month of Ramadan approaches, it is important to focus on peace and reconciliation.
Over the next two days, participants are expected to discuss ways to improve the draft agreement. Mr. León added that now is the crucial time to make decisions that are fair and balanced, and to agree on a unity Government that represents all Libyans. His remarks are also available online.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stress today that Middle East and North Africa is the only region to have seen its overall prevalence of undernourishment increase compared to a quarter of a century ago. Conflicts and protracted crises in Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are the reason that some 33 million people in the region are chronically undernourished today, doubling that of 1990. However, the FAO underscores that 15 countries, out of the 19 in the region, have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of cutting in half the proportion of people suffering from undernourishment or keeping it below 5 per cent.
From Guinea, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mohamed ibn Chambas, spoke to the press in Conakry yesterday evening, following days of consultations in the country. He noted that the current mandate of President Alpha Condé would expire in five months, and that it is now urgent to start and conclude a dialogue on the organization of the next presidential elections. Mr. Chambas urged all sides to find consensual solutions to maintain a more serene political and social climate in the country, and preserve the stability of its institutions. He said he would continue to frequently visit Guinea to support such a process.
Regarding Myanmar, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today said that it is appalled at the two-year prison sentence handed down in Myanmar to U Htin Lin Oo on charges of insulting religion.
The Office said that he courageously spoke out against the use of Buddhism as a tool for extremism and that his treatment and conviction are in stark contrast to the treatment of those in Myanmar who are clearly inciting violence against minority communities, particularly against the Rohingya, said the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
His Office urges authorities to release U Htin Lin Oo unconditionally and to take all necessary measures to ensure that those who conduct peaceful advocacy, legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion, do not face reprisals. More information on the High Commissioner’s website.
Regarding Venezuela, the High Commissioner’s Office also says that it is concerned about the conditions of detention and the deteriorating health of Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of Tachira State in Venezuela. Mr. Ceballos has been detained since March 2014 on charges related to his role in the anti-Government protests last year. More information online.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] says that most child victims of violence in central and eastern Europe and central Asia find themselves unable to speak up and file charges in court, according to a report launched in Brussels today. Violations that are unreported or unchallenged in court include denying children with disabilities the opportunity to go to school or forcibly separating them from their parents and denying children from Roma or poor families in rural areas health care, identity cards or social welfare. More information online.
Tomorrow, my guest at the Noon Briefing will be Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, who is also, as you know, the Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. She will talk to you about the role of financial inclusion in achieving the sustainable development goals. Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: It seems this statement yesterday… which was issued yesterday regarding Yemen was met by Saudi Arabia by redoubling their campaign against their aerial bombardment to Yemen. And some of the targets… one of them is the dam of Marib, which is a very historical and big dam, important to the country. How do you view that?
Spokesman: Well, I think our caught for renewed humanitarian pause for cessation of hostilities will continue. We'll continue pushing for it. We'll continue putting out that message publicly and through various channels. As I've said before, I think every day that these talks do not start is just another day where the people of Yemen are suffering.
Correspondent: But, it seems that ceasefire is not… are not coming before Geneva talks.
Spokesman: We are, again, reiterating our plea and the plea of the Security Council to re‑enact a humanitarian pause, and it is up to those who are holding the weapons on all sides to listen and to heed to that call. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted… I guess I wanted to ask you about the announcement about the Central African Republic alleged sexual abuse. It's… I mean, at what stage is it in terms… has discussions begun with possible people to be on it? Does the Secretary‑General desire that this be done relatively quickly and that it be made public? And yesterday, I'd asked you about the use of private emails by some of the individuals involved in these. Is it… and you'd said it must be somewhere. So, I want to ask you again. Is… will you make a call from this podium that all evidence in the possession of the Under‑Secretary‑General of Peacekeeping Operations, the High Commissioner, OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], Ethics Office will be considered by this panel and should be preserved?
Spokesman: I will… the Secretary‑General would like to see this get underway as quickly as possible. Once we have a name… obviously, we're in deep discussions of identifying the right persons with the right credentials to lead this… we will announce it, and we will announce the scope of the review. As with any review launched by the Secretary‑General, it is the responsibility of staff members to cooperate fully and to do as they're asked. And I will get you… there is some language on e-mails, and we will… I will get that to you.
Question: And I guess… I mean, I understand, I guess, how these things work. Yesterday, the question was, what did the Secretary‑General do when he learned of these allegations? So, obviously… it's a credit to the UN that it responds to bad press, but what's changed since… since… he learned in March and now…?
Spokesman: It's not an issue of just responding to bad press. It's an understanding that there are systems that failed here, right? That this was not handled in the way the Secretary‑General would have liked it to be handled. And that's why he's calling for… he will identify someone to lead this review to look, as I said, at the broad range of systemic issues related to how we respond to this kind of information.
Question: And who… just finally, who will… just what's your understanding of who this panel will be reporting to, to the General Assembly, to the Member States?
Spokesman: They will report… they… his is impanelled by the Secretary‑General. We are committed at minimum, in terms of the needs of the press, to make a summary public. Obviously, other decisions of what is made public, what is not, will have to come a little later. We have to find a leader, and we have to agree on terms of reference. Yes, and then we'll go to you, Evelyn.
Question: Thank you. The US and several other permanent members of the Security Council had talks with the Houthi leaders in Muscat, Oman. Does the UN have any role… have any role in those talks? If not, were you being updated about those talks?
Spokesman: We are… obviously, the Special Envoy is in touch with all the parties, including the Houthi leadership. He's in, I would say, rather close discussions with them and all of the other relevant parties, including members of the Security Council, regional Powers, but our focus is on a Geneva‑based consultation. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the Central African Republic, is one question whether the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] should have gotten involved even if the troops were not UN troops? But the human rights monitors are UN.
Spokesman: I think this will be a broad review of how this was handled. Benny and then… go ahead.
Question: Yes. Following up on the question I asked yesterday. According to the Security Council's schedule that was given… handed out to us yesterday, the CAAC [children and armed conflict] report is due on Sunday. Will it be ready? And also, on the same topic, Senator Lindsey Graham and other congressional leaders have said that, if Israel is included in that report, they will work to cut UN funding. Is that part of the Secretary‑General's deliberation on this issue?
Spokesman: The… you know, we've all seen these various quotes from various congressional leaders in our host country here. It is the Secretary‑General's report. It is still in the process of being finalized, and I have no reason to believe we'll be asking the Security Council for an extension.
Question: But will it be ready by this Sunday?
Spokesman: As I said, I have no reason to believe that we will ask for an extension.
Question: Wait, wait. Just to make sure, are we talking about Sunday? Or are we talking about [19 June], which is the open debate? When will it…?
Spokesman: It should be… it should be ready on schedule as the Security Council… as it's on the Security Council calendar. If it's not, I will advise you, but my understanding is that it will be ready in time.
Question: Thanks, Steph. I wanted to turn to Iraq. We've seen the Islamic State closing the dam at Ramadi in the past day, stopping the Euphrates and its flow to many cities. I know a lot of people who have fled Ramadi have gone downstream. Are you hearing from humanitarian personnel that this is already having a big impact? And can the UN fill water gaps?
Spokesman: We've asked… we've obviously asked our humanitarian colleagues to see if we can get an update on that specific question. I think the use of water as a tool of war is to be condemned in no uncertain terms. We've seen this practice in other places in the region. Obviously, the UN, working with its local humanitarian partners, will try to fill in the gaps in the best way it can. But, these kinds of reports are disturbing, to say the least.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You already mentioned the Rohingya situation, and we all know what an inhumane situation is going on. The United States say Myanmar Government should treat minority Rohinya Muslims as citizens. How does the UN stand on this issue?
Spokesman: I think the UN has been working with the authorities in Myanmar to ensure that all the people in Myanmar are treated fairly. That would obviously include the population of Rakhine State and the Rohingyas. Nizar?
Question: On the issue of terrorism, Mr. Feltman today said that violent extremist groups such as ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham], Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. He excluded here probably Al‑Nusra and Akkab, among others.
Spokesman: It's not a… it's not meant to be an exhaustive and finite list. I think he was giving… he was giving an example of certain groups but the fact that other groups aren't on it doesn't mean they shouldn't be covered by what he said. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. A couple questions: one, in Darfur, Radio Dabanga has reported and others have picked up on kind of a seemingly systematic rape by the army in, around a place called Golo and elsewhere. And since it's… I've seen actually accounts where they interview a number of the alleged victims who describe in great detail how this took place. I haven't seen anything from UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur]. Is UNAMID aware of these reports? Does it deal within its mandate…
Spokesman: We'll ask.
Question: And I also wanted to… I'm sorry. This is a follow‑up. I had asked, I guess, Farhan [Haq]… civil society in Burundi has started to put together a list of individuals in the police there who are involved in cracking down on protests, and one of whom, they have provided a photograph of his letter of assignment to a D‑1 post in MINUSMA [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali]. The guy's name is Gottfriede Bizimana [sic]. I know Farhan said: We don't have anyone by that name. I wanted to clarify. The allegation is in late April, the Government of Burundi put him forward for this D‑1 post for MINUSMA. I wanted to know, is it pending? Basically, so it doesn't fall… or does the UN not agree that he's part…
Spokesman: He is… a person by that name has not been appointed to any position at the UN, as of, you know, yesterday. So, I don't know what else to tell you. I mean, obviously, there is a personnel hiring process in general terms. People apply. I don't have access to the list of applicants. I think what matters is who is hired and no one by that name… And if there's a letter… an actual letter… an offer of a post, that's something else, but I think people throughout the world apply to UN jobs via Inspira and I can't comment on who's applied and who's not applied.
Correspondent: Just to clarify, the letter is from the Government of Burundi…
Spokesman: That's a very important…
Correspondent: The allegation is that basically people are either being rewarded or provided with immunity.
Spokesman: I think what matters is who is hired in the end.
Question: All right. And one last thing, could I ask you? On South Korea, there's a report of South Korea basically… I don't… bragging may be the wrong word… announcing and confirming it has test fired ballistic rockets that can reach anywhere in North Korea. So, I guess I wanted to know; the Secretary‑General was there. He talked about, you know, calming things on the peninsula. What is his comment on South Korea's…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen…
Correspondent: It's in The New York Times.
Spokesman: I haven't seen, I don't doubt… I don't doubt that it's in The New York Times. I don't doubt its reputation. I haven't seen that particular report. I will look into it. The Secretary‑General's stance on the Korean peninsula remains the same. Mr. Avni?
Question: On the CAR, on the new commission, this is kind of a déjà vu. In… maybe 10 years ago, I don't remember the exact date, there was a similar event in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], after which there was an exhaustive UN fact‑finding report that was prepared by Prince Zeid. Now Prince Zeid, at least his name is part of the problem. Aren't you concerned that this is something that… that… that is repeated, that it repeats itself?
Spokesman: No, I think… Prince Zeid's very exhaustive report made a number of recommendations. Quite a large number of those recommendations were addressed to Member States, and they dealt specifically with UN peacekeepers, blue‑hatted peacekeepers, which is not the case in the Central African Republic.
Correspondent: As far as we know.
Spokesman: It is not the case in the Central African Republic, in the case we're talking about… the case we're talking about here. This review will look at how the report itself was handled, where the systematic failures were, and see where that leads. And I think Prince Zeid is dedicated both professionally and personally to this issue.
Question: Can I ask one follow-up?
Spokesman: Hold on. And then Evelyn.
Question: I have a question about Iraq. The $500 million that the UN… the humanitarian programme needs, only 40 per cent has been… like, three days ago, announced by the UN mission there, only 40 per cent has been received. Is there any update about that? Was there more money coming in?
Spokesman: No, I have not gotten a financial update, but we'll see if we can get one for you. Evelyn and…
Correspondent: Yes. On…
Spokesman: Your microphone, please, Ms. Leopold.
Question: Yes, Steph. On Yemen, the Secretary‑General is expected to name a date soon for another Geneva conference. Do you have any idea of the timeline?
Spokesman: We would like… no one more than I would like to make the announcement from the podium. We do expect an announcement soon, but like a good soufflé, the announcement for the start of political talks needs to be timed just right.
Question: In a week? In a month? In a year?
Spokesman: Sooner rather than later, I would hope. Yes?
Question: On the CAR review, I just want to get down the scope of it exactly. Is this going to look at when human rights reporting involves peacekeepers or is it going to look at kind of breakdowns, in any kind of human rights reporting situation?
Spokesman: The exact scope in terms of reference is yet to be determined, but at this point what we're looking at is to review the treatment of the specific report that we've all talked about in the CAR, involving the French soldiers and others, as well as a broad range of systematic issues related to how the UN system responds to the information of this kind. So it's looking both at the specific way this report was handled but also the broader issue of how we handle… when we come across these reports, how do we handle it? I mean, there were different agencies involved. Were the procedures followed? Were procedures… was there a lack of procedures where there should have been? It's fairly broad in its scope, but obviously, we're still waiting to get more details on the terms of reference and the scope.
Question: Can I just ask on a separate…?
Spokesman: Of course.
Question: On South Sudan, has the UN had any more interaction with the government there about [Toby] Lanzer's expulsion?
Spokesman: No positive interaction on the case of Mr. Lanzer. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Following up on Benny's question, it does seem and I… outside of documents that you call leaked and say may not be authentic, I wanted to know if you can confirm that, for a period between August until March, that the office of Prince Zeid, but also OIOS and Ethics, were told these rapes had taken place in Mali, MINUSMA, and not Central African Republic, MINUSCA, and comment on, seeming… this seems pretty fundamental in terms of… you can say that the issues were taken seriously, but they didn't even make sure which country, which Mission was being discussed. This appears in all of the documents.
Spokesman: No, I understand. I'm not going to comment on these things. This will be looked at… obviously be looked at by the review, and we'll see where that leads. Thank you, all. Have a great afternoon.